I’m borderline, bipolar, and autistic.
You’d think that between those three, there wouldn’t be any common ground. There is, oddly enough, a lot of shared symptoms and triggers- but that’s not my point. The commonality I want to talk about today isn’t what happens in my brain, it’s what happens in other people’s brains.
The most common phrase I hear is, “But you don’t look…”
But you don’t look autistic.
But you don’t look bipolar.
But you don’t look borderline.
The question I always want to ask in return is, “Well, what did you expect me to look like?”
I’ve had people think that I’m too smart to be autistic, too kind to be borderline, and altogether too human (I know, right?) to be bipolar. I’m expected to be completely socially inept, or emotionally manipulative, or downright violent.
These are signs of social stigma, not of who or what I am.
Autism is a spectrum. It varies wildly from person to person, and even then, from situation to situation. Personally, I feel like an alien much of the time, because unspoken rules go right over my head. I’ve had to learn most of them, and I’m still finding many that I don’t know about.
Moving house with another human? How the hell do you navigate that?
Most of my noticeable autistic traits are more to do with sensory differences. I find great pleasure in simple things like fur and water. I struggle immensely with loud crowds, because I can’t differentiate between noises. Sometimes it hurts, and I’ll cry.
I have never been violent.
Borderline personality disorder is a tougher one.
I’ve had many, many people- too many, really- tell me that when they first met me, they kept their distance. Apparently I surprised them by not being a cruel, aggressive, emotional wreck of a person.
Borderline has a terrible reputation for extreme and vicious mood swings, irrational overreaction, and manipulation taken to sociopathic levels.
What it actually is, is a rawness of emotion. We feel everything very intensely, and yes, there are a few of us who explode and take this pain straight to the perceived source: you. The main aspects of BPD are intense fears of abandonment, problems with self-identity, and suicidal ideation.
NOT, as most people have come to think of it, bunny-boiling serial killer women or sad-eyed Winona Ryder having adventures with a psychopath.
I am not an external borderline. I used to be, long before medication and therapy, but much of my borderline traits are and have always been internalised. Rather than hurt other people, I am more inclined to hurt myself- and I haven’t self harmed in a very long time.
I have never been violent.
Extended periods of mania and depression.
Why does bipolar have such a negative reputation?
You know what I do when I have manic episodes? I spend a lot of money, and then I clean the house at five am. Really, manic me is amazing. Last time I was manic, I studied basic chemistry for three days straight. The only thing I harm when I’m manic is my bank account.
When depressed, I’m just… Well, depressed. Everyone knows the basics of depression.
I’m running out of steam here, but that’s because my brain has been playing with words all day and needs a break. I’ll cut to the chase in a moment.
The point I’m trying to make is maybe I don’t look mental because you don’t know what that looks like. We are just people. We aren’t more dangerous, more hurtful, more self-involved than any other person. If anything, we’re more likely to hurt ourselves.
Apparently yesterday was Bipolar Day, and I figure that something needs to be said. Maybe the reason I don’t look the way you expect is because you’re looking for something that’s not there.
I’m tired of being told I don’t look autistic/borderline/bipolar.
Because I do. This is what it looks like.
Just a person, just like you.
I spoke to a friend about what it’s like to be autistic yesterday. We were discussing what it’s like to have circumstances change and how that throws things off for us.
I think of being autistic as being like one of those sculptures that looks like a misshapen mess unless you look at it from a certain angle. An optical illusion. Our sense of self is perceived from all possible angles- we are whole and complete, but sometimes we see ourselves from the messy angles, where all the wires and bits that stick out don’t make a coherent form. When our world is at peace and undisturbed, we are looking at life from the angle where it makes sense, where the objects and lines pull together to make something whole. When we are disrupted, that perception shifts, and what was once clear form becomes mere noise.
People entering our space, touching us without our consent, making painful noises, having confusing facial expressions… This can shift our fragile sense of stability. While yes, we are the whole sculpture, messy angles and sensible angles, our world only makes sense when it’s pulled together. When we come at it from the wrong angle, it’s just… Wrong. Upsetting. Confusing.
If we spend a long enough time in this space, it becomes distressing. Someone entering our home for an extended stay, uncomfortable clothing, loud places… These things can turn our world and leave us feeling misshapen and full of holes. We aren’t, though. We’re a whole being… Sometimes we just aren’t standing in the right spot to feel it.
I thought I’d share some of my time-management stuff. I have a blog about Chittering Acres Studio in the making but it’s not ready yet, and I felt like writing a thing. I don’t know whether it’ll be helpful for anyone else, but my last post (not here) with the simple cross-off-when-done task list was quite unexpectedly popular. So, here’s how I function now that my life has changed considerably. I’m now living at home with family again, and my routine has merged with their routine. Along with that comes my uni work and a need to exert more control over my money and spending habits, since I don’t have the nice cushion of a partner to fall back on.
The first image is my budget. Right now it’s a bit tight because I had to have my beloved cat put down, and vet bills are a pain in the arse. I keep it simple- things I need, things I need to pay off, and things that happen every fortnight like board and putting money aside for food if I’m out of the house. I get paid every two weeks, so I make sure to keep that in mind when working out the numbers- I don’t work out the whole month unless I have something that needs to be worked out specifically, in which case I put that in a sheet to the side. An example of something that spreads out over more than one pay period is the assorted debts. I have their general info in the main section, and then I work out how long it will take me to pay off, and in what increments. If I pay one off before the others (as you can see with the bag) the money I’d have otherwise put towards it goes towards the others instead of slipping back into my spare money pile.
The other two pictures are of the word documents I use to organise my weekly routine and my uni assignments. The weekly routine one is old because I’m neurotic about strangers knowing my movements. Never upload to the internet the times you plan to be out of the house or otherwise vulnerable, predators will take advantage of it.
My weekly routine is full of things I might not necessarily do in green. As you can see, all of my gym and exercise stuff is in green. I was never sure how many spoons I would have on any given day, so I wrote down all the possible things I might like to do should I have the ability. Other necessary tasks that I couldn’t miss out on are highlighted in purple. If I’d had other non-uni-related weekly happenings, they’d be there in blue, but as it is I’m a bit of a shut in, so the only weekly necessity I have is… Well, uni. I worked out what time of day would be best for these by tracking what times of day I spent alert and on the computer most, and what times left me the least disturbed by other people in the house. As you can see, it’s the same time every day thanks to the weekly routines of my family.
The third picture is how I keep track of assignments. When they’re due, what parts to work on when, and when different sections of the semester start and end. I didn’t manage to capture it but I also have “Results Released” elsewhere in the document. Assignments that are yet to be done are in plain text while assignments I’ve completed are scratched out. I also change the colour of the days to grey to show which dates have passed- making it really easy to see any assignments I’ve missed or which are late. I have… More of those than I’d like.
All of these were created in either Microsoft Word or Outlook and are simple enough. I don’t have a great grasp of Outlook and I only use the default settings when making tables in Word.
Try it for yourself, and see how you find it! Good luck. 🙂
The following is simply a comment I posted in response to this video, posted by a friend of mine on Facebook. I say a few things I feel very strongly about and I figure I should probably keep this blog alive, so in the spirit of trying to start living again, here you go.
Small hints of truth wrapped up in a lot of needless sensationalism.
I can see where you are and how you think, sweets, but this video is not something you want to say sums up your view, because then your view is heavily biased, selective of information, and incapable of change or adaptation.
The thing is, most people do understand the great machine we’re a part of. Most people do grasp these things. The problem is that people don’t like change, and they don’t like a lack of security, and they don’t know how to manage without a world that has been hundreds of years in the making.
Also no, a world without pharmacology would not be better. A world without global trade would not be better. A world without global communication and technology would not be better.
Instead of eradication, you must think in terms of adaptation and gentle change. The aggression in this video, the patronising voice of so many of the people who believe in it… It will get you, and them, nowhere.
You’ll find that if you educate people in how to survive outside of ‘the system’ they will tend to move towards doing so. People don’t like being trapped but they do love the safety provided. If you want change, educate. Teach. Teach skills as hobbies. Teach advanced skills for those who want to take it further. Don’t yell about how broken the system is, everyone already knows that and the people who don’t are the people who don’t want it to change.
So teach. Instead of this video, share TED talks about survivalism. Share pop culture like Naked and Afraid. Show people what cool things you can do with a pocket knife, or how you can make ink from mushrooms, or how to make their own soap. Educate them in how penicillin is made, and what plants work best in their climate. SHOW them the world they could be living in and they’ll do all the work themselves….
All you have to do is provide the start for an autodidact and ask them to teach what they know to others.
Change is happening. It’s just slow, and you can’t push hard. A little information, a little hope, and that’s all you need.
I plan to write more on this.
Maybe I’ll explain soap making, or how my gardening is going. Perhaps I’ll post my plans for my ideal home, or what new things I’ve learned. No doubt, mental illness and autism will show up from time to time. I talk a lot about these things, why not here?
I still write. I’m still writing. I just want to add a little variation to this blog, make it more… blog-like.
SO there you go.
So after having a particularly bad rage day, complete with a meltdown, my friend Jason decided to ask me about it. I found the conversation good to have, and maybe a good run down for anyone who doesn’t experience these horrible emotional occurrences. What follows is the log of the conversation, in case anyone is interested.
Jason: As a person that doesn’t crazy rage. Is it something you are aware of or is it more like a panic attack? It just picks you up and dumps you somewhere else?
Me: Ummm…. I’m not aware of it when it’s happening. I feel.. Simultaneously in control, and not in control. I feel like the rage is valid, but if I try to back off or drop the argument it just sort of goes crazy, like it did today.
Jason: Like you are sort of aware but you don’t really have control… So there is no “I’m just raging” moment until it’s completely over?
Me: Sort of. I could start off as reasonably angry at a thing that’s worth getting angry at, but the moment I try to turn my attention away from it, my emotions and self-control go completely out of whack and start clinging to anything that requires processing, and my rage transfers there.
And because the rage doesn’t make sense, especially if it’s at a person, any kind of attempt to reason with me just makes me worse and tends to trigger other emotions like panic or intense sadness and then it becomes a meltdown and won’t stop until I self harm, sleep, or Liam sings to me. Which doesn’t happen anymore. So today I fell asleep.
Jason: Can you sit with the feelings with out focusing on the thing?
Me: No. Noooo.
It’s a really uncontrollable experience. I have no control over what I’m doing. Even if I realise I’m raging, I literally can’t stop. I can’t go sit somewhere quietly or I’ll have a sort of really angry panic attack where I feel like I’m going to literally claw myself to shreds.
Jason: Maybe channeling? Like punching bag?
Me: I get urges to tear off my flesh with my nails.
Jason: Ok that’s a little like channeling. Just not positive.
Me: I haven’t tried a punching bag, but walking helps sometimes. I walk around in circles for hours. I used to scare Liam because I’d just get up and leave the house and walk to the park or the beach or Lyn’s place.
Jason: Those are good things
Me: Rages and meltdowns are probably where I look the craziest to other people.
Jason: Yeah, because they’re terrifying. Lucky they can’t see what’s actually happening in your head.
Me: Eh… Maybe if they could they would see I’m no actual threat.
Or would understand.
To them it just looks like I suddenly turn on angry bitch mode and tear them a new one for no reason.
Jason: People have trouble processing stuff. Very few even attempt to do it. No warning? For these rages?
Me: No warning at all. It just happens.
Me: With meltdowns there’s a warning, because that feels like reaching a limit. It can happen really fast, but I show signs of stress and upset before having a meltdown. Rages just turn on like a switch.
Jason: What about general frequency?
Me: Depends. Sometimes I can go months without either. Sometimes they happen less than an hour apart.
Jason: Are you angry first? Or could you be happy patting Hannibal…?
Me: Sometimes. Usually. Usually rages are just anger that lost its anchor. Sometimes they’re a trigger I don’t know about, or a random thought I don’t notice. They’re definitely triggered when I’m trying to talk to someone and my processing gets all mixed up and I can’t think straight. It’s like an immediate reaction to things being out of place, like my brain has glitched and self control fell through the floor.
Jason: Ah ok I get it now. It’s the anchor. Could you have a backup anchor?
Me: Not really. If I can, I don’t know how yet. I used to run anger past Liam or Lyn, but that usually requires they be there in person. When I’m by myself or if I’m non-verbal at the time, it’s a bit of a lost cause.
Jason: What about an object. Like a stress toy or your chewy thing. Or a photo of xena in your wallet?
Yeah, they help with meltdowns. Meltdowns will turn into shutdowns if I have my stimming things with me.
They don’t help with rages. Most of the time they make rages worse, because I’ll get angry that they’re not helping. Although, chewing things helps with the clawing urges.
Jason: Packet of gum? Cold shower. That pretty much turns your brain off! But needs to be proper cold.
Me: I haven’t tried that, but I will next time. Hopefully I’ll think of it.
Not with meltdowns though. Meltdowns would be horrible in a cold shower.
Meltdowns require curling up somewhere totally removed from stimulation.
Jason: You seem to have meltdowns covered. At least strategy wise.
Me: Yeah. Just need to work on the rages. 😛
I do not understand respect.
As a vague concept, sure, it’s fine, but this dance people do, this strange back and forth of anticipated response and intuitive reaction baffles me. I suppose I’m classically autistic in that way. All of my attempts to learn timing and social cues comes from trial and error. I learn my scripts from films and books, mimicking behaviour, slipping words around my tongue that seem appropriate even though I don’t understand their use.
“Oh but I must leave him!” The actress cries, dramatically turning toward the sunset, hands clasped to her breast. “I love another!”
I watch romance movies with frustration. I don’t see why they can’t just talk to each other.
Their petty secrets don’t make sense.
Sometimes I miss the cues, but most of the time I don’t. I do the expected thing, even though it makes no sense to me. Smile when they smile. Laugh when they joke, even if it’s not funny, even if it hurts. Simply stating you find a thing amusing is not enough; your emotions must be painted on your outsides, flashing signs to prove that A Social Interaction Has Been Had. Never say you’re not actually interested. That is rude, even if it’s true, even if they know it.
The conversations about my lack of reaction are more awkward than applying the correct face and saying my lines. A pantomime wouldn’t be a pantomime if the villain were caught with the first cry of “He’s behind you!”
You absolutely must allow them to tell the story, even if you know the ending.
I say my lines. I rehearsed them when I was young.
I corrected them when scolded, and bolded them when praised.
I remember once confusing a genuine plea for secrecy (over a broken lampshade) with a joke, thinking then that a husband would not fear his wife because the world was simple and I was naïve. I thought it funny. I told the wife the funny, funny joke.
It turned out not to be so funny after all, and they thought me a troublemaker.
I have learned never to state the obvious.
If you can see the truth in someone, why not speak directly to it? Why must the things we know be hidden? We aren’t playing poker. Feelings are not cards, trauma is not a lucky bet.
Your mother hurt you but I’m not her, I am your friend.
You will leave me, and that’s okay.
I know I’m not the ideal mother for your grandchildren. You don’t have to tell me otherwise, I do understand.
Our family member is wasting away because of her abusive husband.
Mental illness runs in the blood. It’s that simple.
For the sake of appearances, say nothing. Say nothing.
All this posturing and lying and maintaining awkward stories to save face, to show respect.
To continue the dance, even though saying what you mean saves you pain, saves us the complications.
Is this what people do? Is this what comes naturally? Why?
Yet we autistics are the ones with the masks.