“We Did The Thing!” – Self Doubt and Self Care

I wrote the title for this blog enthusiastically and with happy tears in my eyes because I have recently experienced something I want to share with the world. Then, I stared at the screen, started typing, hit the backspace key, typed something else, and stared some more. The truth is that I don’t know how to talk about this in an articulate way. I have expressed parts of the feeling to individuals as I have deemed it necessary, but, ultimately, the emotion is too huge to pin down in a few words.

I am, however, going to try. I think it is necessary for me to talk about it as a human. I think it is necessary for me to talk about it as a woman. I think it is necessary for me to talk about it as an individual with autism. I think it is necessary for me to talk about it as an individual with chronic pain. I will do my best, and I will ramble, but I will be as sincere as I damned well can be.

I don’t trust easily. I’ve never had close humans whom I’ve felt I could tell anything to or whom I felt I could call if I needed support. I’ve never felt comfortable asking for help. I have always stringently avoided inconveniencing people. I have kept up appearances as much as I possibly can. I have forever tried my best to deal with me… myself.

Over the past few years, I have learned the importance of self care, the benefits of therapy, and how to speak to myself more positively. I had not learned, though, how to rely on others for support (or trust others to support) until two weeks ago.

I like to consider myself a fully-formed emotional being who is self-aware and capable of doing grown-up things. Unfortunately, life, which is complicated and often ugly, can sometimes smack a person around and you don’t always behave as gracefully as you should. Sometimes you break the fuck down. Sometimes the world ends. Sometimes things are just bad. Sometimes you end up in a parking lot somewhere and you don’t want to exist. Sometimes you are in such personal crisis that everything seems dark and dreary and hopeless.

It was in such a moment that I learned that other people are more than just social outlets. Apparently, and this is still new so bear with me, other people who are not family or in romantic relationships with me are capable of caring about me enough to want to help me. Other people do things like show up in parking lots with water and chocolate and hugs. Other people offer to meet for ice cream just to talk without wanting anything in return. Other people check in to see how things are. Other people offer beds and coffee and make dinner and out-of-season Christmas happen. Other people share their ups and downs and feel happy when they hear about ups and sad when they hear about downs in return.

These other people are called “friends.”

It isn’t as if I haven’t had friends all my life, but I don’t think I’ve allowed myself to have this level of friendship with other people before. I had to reach one of the lowest points in my life to finally be able to look up and see all of the hands being reached down to lift me up. And there were so many hands, and they all glowed with unconditional love and compassion.

This is where typing becomes tricky, for the tears, they are a’flowing. It has been a long thirty-five years of striving to feel accepted and loved for who I am by ME, let alone other people. I am trying very hard to let the love that I feel for humanity extend to myself. I know that I am a lovable, likable person. What I have never really believed or understood was that other people see me this way, and I am overwhelmed by how truly cared for and supported an uplifted I feel. I genuinely hope that other human beings have felt this feeling at some point in their lives. I want this feeling for everyone.

I am spending this week engaging in radical self care to eliminate some of the disquiet of self doubt that eats away at me moment by moment. I know that to move forward in a positive way with my life, my relationship with my self, and my relationship with others… I have to regain some of the self esteem that has been lost to years of pain.

I will leave you with this. One of my lovely friends, with whom I discuss aforementioned ups and downs and with whom I celebrate and commiserate, and I have a saying. It is silly and motivational and it puts our intention into the world:

“We did the thing!”

It means that what ever it is that we want or need to do is already done and we were successful. We aren’t going to do it. It is done. We aren’t doing it presently. It is done. We did the thing. The thing is accomplished. Wipe of the hands. Be it difficult and stressful or fun, we did it.

Whatever you have to do, it is already done. You did the thing. But you aren’t alone…

We did the thing.


Chronic Pain, Chronically Hiding

Much has been said about the hidden nature of pain and disorders that don’t show in the body. There are memes galore covering, “just because people with chronic conditions don’t look sick doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering as much as people who do.

Bodies are funny things, the way they trudge along through the world, allowing people with certain very serious medical condition to look pretty as peaches, while less serious conditions can seriously affect a person’s appearance.

Whether the pain that a person lives with is emotional, physical, inside, or out… it takes a toll. Pain causes changes in a person that the casual observer might mistake for exhaustion or a world-weariness. Our loved ones know, however, that the hollowness around our eyes… the pulled look in our face… the smile that isn’t quite right is the pain oozing out of us.

I’ve spoken about my pain on Facebook, and rather candidly so, because I think it is important for me to be honest with myself about who I am and what I am living with. I have said things like, “I try to focus on the good things, because that is what I want to remember when I look back at these years.” I mean it. I don’t want to remember the pain. I don’t want to remember that I stopped taking pictures of myself because I hated the way Botox changed my face. I don’t want to remember the hospitals and the needles and the constant feeling of someone grinding a broken bottle into the left side of my head. Yet, I still think I have to be real about it.

Those are pretty awful things to recall. And, when I really look at myself honestly, they are shameful things. I don’t want you to know how much I hurt. I don’t want to talk about how miserable I am. When I made my vlog about my condition the other day I had to detatch myself as much as possible. When I talk about it… when I think about it… it’s too much for me. It’s overwhelming to think of the amount of pain I am always in. It doesn’t feel like any human could possibly bear this.

And yet I am..

And yet I am.

Here I am, living, somehow. I’ve split myself in two… and I’m in denial most of the time about my capabilities. This is often to my detriment. Frequently, I push myself far too hard. I lie about how I feel because I sense how uncomfortable it makes people.

Today, a fellow sufferer asked, “How are you? Really.”

That’s like chronic-pain-code for, “Fess up, what’s going on. Don’t lie, because my life is shit too. Don’t you dare lie. We suffer and we owe each other to be honest when we can with the people who understand.”

I was honest. I told her all about the shit storm of worries and chaos in my world. The lack of money. The excess of hurt. The constant stress.

She determined we needed hugs and glitter.

You cover everything in glitter when you hurt, because it distracts you from the reality of the situation.

Hi, I’m Chastain. I hurt all of the fucking time. I have no idea how I stand it or how I’m still alive. I don’t want you to see this part of me, so I’m going to turn around, count to three… and when I turn back around I’ll be smiling.

And none of this will have ever happened.

How Stigma Can Inhibit Healing | Irish Katie / Amberville

An amazing piece by Amber of Amberville

“Depression can hit anyone, any age, any position in life. It does not discriminate.

People suffering with anxiety… they are lonely. They say they have no friends. life becomes an endless tunnel. They have such a hard time talking with anyone. To have friends, oh yes they want friends, they know how special they are. They can not climb the wall to get out to form friendships.

We need to take down these walls.”

via How Stigma Can Inhibit Healing | Irish Katie.

Toxic Friendships | Psychology Today

My friendship with D. is over. She cut the chord but I handed her the scalpel. She crossed a line and blamed me for her hurting herself, among other things. I told her she needed help, and her response was to emotionally blackmail me.

Nearly two decades of friendship and dealing with her problems, issues, tantrums, complaints, obsessions… and it was time for me to remove myself. It doesn’t change how much I love her, and maybe someday she will get the help she needs. But I can’t be her cheerleader if she won’t take steps to help herself.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about toxic friendships, and this bit from Psychology Today really sums up why I stayed as long as I stayed:

I’ve arrived at the following list of tenets—along with some suggestions for combating them—with the help of many years of treating people in this situation, and from living life. Hopefully they’ll help to clear up some of the mystery surrounding the inability to “let go” and stop friendship abuse:

1. If you tolerate friendship abuse, there’s a good chance your threshold for other types of abuse is high. Ask yourself if you are currently being abused in other contexts such as in your primary relationship or at work. Question whether you have a tendency towards self-deprecation or even masochism. If you suffered from any form of abuse in your youth, you’re more at risk for seeking it out and staying in it as an adult.

2. If you have a fear of being alone or of being on your own, you’re more likely to have trouble letting go of even the most negative person in your life. Examine whether abandonment has been a lifelong issue for you. Many people who’ve experienced loss or abandonment as a child hang on—in real time—in an effort to cope with or repair a childhood loss. Remember, the more independent you are the better equipped you’ll be to go your own way if you must.

3. Everything is a tradeoff. If you feel that your selfish friend brings enough to the relationship to merit maintaining it, so be it. Just remember to do an honest assessment of the “give and take” so that you don’t fool yourself into staying in a bad situation for too long a time.

4. Is it a matter of assertiveness? Don’t be afraid to find out just how good a friend you’ve got. Oftentimes people are unaware of their behavior and some are open-minded enough to take constructive criticism. Gently tell your friend how one-sided you feel the relationship is. If he or she  values the relationship as much as you do, perhaps you can start a new and better dynamic. If you’re at the point of dumping your friend, then you have little to lose by the confrontation.

5. In my opinion we tend to choose friends who are somewhat like us on a deeper level—as we do in our primary relationships. Hence, there’s a really good chance that your toxic freind might fear loss as much as you do. If your buddy can be vulnerable enough to own this, perhaps you’ll both work to keep the union intact. A word of warning: While your friend might fear loss, the fear might not necessarily manifest the same way yours does. So, don’t be surprised if you’ve gone to deep and touched a raw nerve. There’s risk involved, but the reward might be to rid yourself of anger, hurt, and ambivalence…whether the relationship lives or not.

via Toxic Friendships | Psychology Today.

You Might Be an Aspie…

When I was a kid, my mother did a lot of community theater, and I was in charge of costuming and makeup because I was this mature little wunderkind. All of the grownups thought of me as a kind of small grown up. Another couple in the theater group had two kids around my age. While our parents were at a cast party those kids stayed at my house one night. The son was very outgoing and fun, but the daughter didn’t say much and wouldn’t really talk or anything. I, being the “hostess” (I was probably eleven and they were in middle school), was in “please everyone mode.” I kept trying to lure her out of her shell because I wanted her to have a good time like the other kids.

And that was the first time that D. and I hung out.

“A tragic comedy of eminent domain…”

A few years later, when I was a Freshman in high school and D. had just graduated, we were not friends, but saw each other in passing at different theater functions. I was doing light and sound tech and stage management at that point, and her parents and uncle were heavily involved with the community theater group. I worked for the arts foundation that sponsored the group and was on the board for both, and we had gotten a grant for a local Thezbian (Randy, artiste extraordinaire) to write a play about two towns that are now under Summersville lake.

Gad and Sparks were both demolished and flooded in the 60’s to create the largest man-made lake in West Virginia, Summersville Lake. The play was about an old Appalachian woman who had lived on the outskirts of the town of Gad all her life, and her struggle with the government as they tried to take her home and dam the Gauley River to create what is now Rt. 19. Rt 19 ultimately made the town of Summersville become the city of Summersville, and Summersville dethroned Richwood as country seat of Nicholas County, West Virginia soon after.

Summersville is where I grew up. Richwood is where my mother is now being eaten by cancer.

Are we all caught up?

I was the production manager for Gad, and D.’s mother, father, and uncle were in the play along with my mother. D. worked at Mr. Movie and had been living in an apartment with her boyfriend, who worked at Dairy Queen. D.’s boyfriend had left her for another girl, a fatter, uglier girl, I would later find out, and D. was distraught… so her mother had been dragging her to rehearsals to get her out of the house. D. would sit at rehearsals with a huge notebook and she wouldn’t really speak to anyone. She definitely wouldn’t smile.

I decided that D. needed to be my friend because I didn’t have any friends who weren’t grown ups and she was as close to my age and as close to a teenage girl as I could muster. So I tried to talk to her, unsuccessfully. After several failed attempts I went the long way and talked to her mother. I found out all about the breakup and the apartment and D.’s job at the movie store that just made her obsession with movies all the worse. I found out that D. had no friends and that her mother had always worried and fussed over how weird she was, considering that D.’s brother was so outgoing and made friends easily.

D. was a problem for her mother, and I declared that D. was a problem that I was going to fix for her family.

So I invited myself over to D.’s for a sleepover.

It was really as tactless as that.

The theater, my old stomping grounds. D. was sitting on the right hand side from this perspective, third row back, third seat in. I took this picture when I visited Summersville in 2010, the first time I had been back since my mother's wedding in 2002. D. was with me when it was taken.

I walked over to the girl and I said that she should have me over tonight for a sleepover and asked what I could bring. She said okay, but that I didn’t need to bring anything. After play rehearsal I, 15 at the time, asked my mom to stop and get us some chips and some wine coolers. My mom, being the type of mother who was more of a friend than a mother, acquiesced.

D. and I have been friends ever since. We found each other because we needed to.

No One Here But Us Lesbians!

As grown-up type people, D. and I live very very different lives. Yes, we both write. We both have close to zero real-world friends. We both have social lives squirreled away on the internet. She’s a lesbian. I’m pansexual. Neither of us is good with women, or men, or people. We both have strained relationships with our mothers who, although we know they love us, have done wrong by us most of our lives by making the wrong decisions about raising us because they weren’t armed with the correct tools at the time. We both have horrible tantrums, and crazy health issues. We’re both depressed. We’re both desperate for someone, anyone to understand us and love us.

But outwardly… D. is living on full government disability in a trailer in her parents backyard in West Virginia. She has not, essentially, changed since I met her when she was 19, except that she has probably gotten worse. She wasn’t cutting herself nearly as much when she was 19 and we were together all the time. In fact, it was really when I went away to college that she got bad with her cutting. And she was still working and being a contributing member of society at 19… which she just can’t be now. She can’t stand people. She still doesn’t smile. She’s just oh so alone.

I, on the other hand, got knocked up by my internet boyfriend when I was 19 and have had a fun adventure since then. When I met D. I was obsessed with the X-Files and heavily involved with community theater (as was obvious already) and I was kind of a loner, and weird, and friendless… but I faked it well enough. But when I had my son, I had to learn to fake it better. Suddenly it wasn’t about me, it was about this little baby who needed me, and I had to do things to take care of it. My boy really was an it the first year of his life. I had horrible postpartum depression and was in a nowhere relationship with his abusive biological father who ignored me to play EverQuest. The baby was a thing to be dealt with, and I did the best I could.

I pretty much lived with D. during my pregnancy because my mother was so heartbroken that her smart, perfect, fat little baby girl had gotten pregnant out of wedlock that we fought constantly. I couldn’t stand D., however. She wasn’t “useful.” (No non-pregnant woman was.) She wasn’t carrying a life, and I knew then… that she would be a child forever. That was the big gap that developed between us, I think… my son. My son was the big gap between me and my mother because he ended my unhealthy codependent relationship with her… and with D. because he made me see that D. could not grow with me as a person, as much as I needed and wanted her to. And I resented her because I didn’t want to be this grown up. I just wanted things to stay like they were.

Now I’m married to the man of my dreams and I have a cushy corporate job with fat benefits and a big house an a reliable car. Yes, I’m on Long-Term Disability from work, but it’s due to a medical condition that I can’t help, as opposed to D.’s  inability to do anything to better herself…

Or so I thought until I took that damn Asperger quiz.

Aspergirls and Stimming

All of this does have a point, and, if you’re ready for it, I promise I will get to it in a moment.

My husband has a hard time maintaining friendships and has very stilted relationships with his family. As a rational human being, he knows this isn’t necessarily normal. He thinks he has Fragile-X but won’t lower himself to be evaluated by a mental health care professional. He heard a story on NPR about a guy who was diagnosed with Aspergers late in life because of a quiz his wife found for him online.

So my little family took the quiz, and I thought it would be a fun exercise in showing us how normal the three of us actually are. As you may recall from the quiz results I posted on my blog a bit ago, and while my husband and son turned out as neurotypical as can be, I scored high on the Aspie scale.

I genuinely had no idea that the things that I’ve been working so hard to overcome my entire life aren’t things that everyone had to work hard to overcome. I thought, sure, I have some social anxiety, but I’m a good actress and I can fake my way through anything if I have a point of reference. I didn’t realize that my husband thought I should take the quiz because he has thought that my OCD rituals to bathe and leave the house are excessive, or that my constant repetition is weird, or that my cute clapping and crying about things when I’m happy is odd, or the fact that I like to hide and sneak around is peculiar, or that my obsessive planning before social situations was different. I did not know that my son thinks that having to ask for hugs and kisses is unnatural and that he’s frightened of my tantrums or that my tone of voice is upsetting to my family.

I did not think that my inability to make and definitely to keep friends was something that was wrong with me, I just thought that I was bad at choosing the right people to be my friends.

I really didn’t know that all my life I’ve been wholly different than a large part of the human population. I have always joked about thinking that everyone is just like me and they just pretend to like different things to make the world interesting for me to live in… but it isn’t really a joke. I really don’t understand why anyone could ever like olives or pickles or being touched by people casually.

I really had no idea that I might have Aspergers. I just thought I was weird and unlikeable.

For serious.

So here is where I am with the whole thing, and I know I promised a point… getting there, pinky swear. I don’t think that having Aspergers is a bad thing. I know people with Aspergers, and they’re awesome and sexy creatures of logic and reason that I dig entirely. Aspergers is a gift, not a disability. How cool is it to be a little smarter than the average bear, and a little more aware of your surroundings, and a little less bogged down by layers of societal bullshit with which everyone is heaped? How cool is it that I could be part of a growing population of adults just discovering that they are special in this really weird way that makes them so fucking self-centered, and yet so honest and open at the same time? I mean really, I feel like a door has been opened in my life and I can look back at all of the depression and all of the failed friendships and relationships and instead of wondering and crying I can understand what caused them and possibly avoid making the same mistakes in the future. God has blessed me and my family with this shiny new tool box and handbook that lets us figure out how I work and how to fix many of the broken things in our love and life. That’s the most amazing gift I have ever received.

I don’t know that I have Aspergers Syndrome. I do know that it is likely, and that it feels right, and that everything that I have learned and read in this short time since 4/9 speaks to me in a way that NOTHING has ever spoken to me before. I am working on getting screened and also having my son screened so we can have some official diagnosis attached to things. Having that is a big step in what I feel is the right direction for living the rest of our lives much much more fully.

I’m reading a book called Aspergirls by Rudy Simone from which I have learned that only 1 in 4 people diagnosed with Aspergers are women, and that it is theorized that this is NOT because women don’t get Aspergers, but because so many women are misdiagnosed with so many other mental/behavioural disorders! Think about how many people are walking around right now who have no idea that they are different in a way that is absolutely valid and okay to be different, but who feel at complete odds with the world around them because they just don’t have a NAME for how they are different. It overwhelms me to think that the moment of epiphany that I am living right now is happening to so many people these days, but not as many people as it should be.

Which brings me, finally, to the much-promised point, and back to my friend D..

In Aspergirls, the author discusses “stimming” which I can only assume stands for a certain kind of stimulation or lack thereof. When people with Autism or Aspergers are having a tantrum, upset, or even happy and excited, they stim. They jump, spin, rock, run. They do these things to calm themselves and tune out the things that are triggering the negative feelings within them. When I am agitated I first flee, then I lock myself in the bathroom and lean against the wall. Sometimes I rock. I also scratch my thighs when it’s really bad. I pick at my face. I have a list of things that I do that are odd when I am upset. The author also talks about the fact that self-harm is not the norm for Apsergers stimming, but can happen as the result of suppressed stimming, bullying, abuse, etc.

D. is a cutter. She’s not shy about it. She has words and lines and all sorts of things carved into her entire body. In a way it’s beautiful, but mostly it’s sad. I made the mistake of telling her I found it sexy once, which is true… I do like cuts, but it was wrong to enable her like that. She does it when she has been set off by one of the many many things that set her off…

And as I was reading my book last night I was thinking about D. and her cutting and her sad, stunted life in West Virginia… and how she always “got” me when no one else did, even though she didn’t grow along through life with me…

And I thought, “D. needs to take the quiz.”

And so D. did last night at 3 AM while right after I messaged her about it. D., like me, and like many people with Aspergers, has a fucked up sleeping schedule.

D. doesn’t see, yet, why this is a good thing to find out. Yet, with all the problems with holding jobs and dealing with people, and with all of the battles in court she has done to keep her disability because of her mental health… this can only help her. It just further cements the foundations of our friendship. I always understood that D. had medical reasons for her situation, but I never understood that, just as I beat myself up for my inability to overcome certain things, I have held her to the same unrealistic expectations.

Even if it turns out that Aspergers is not the correct diagnosis for me, I really hope that this can improve her life, like I think it will improve mine. I hope hope hope.