A Florida Vacation: Hollywood Studios

We discovered much to our relief and delight that we weren’t staying in a crappy motel but in a fancy hotel. I had my own bed and my brother had his own room. The hotel had nice amenities such as a large outdoor pool and room service. Since we were too exhausted to go out to a restaurant that night we took advantage of room service. After dinner my brother decided to tell me how much he hated Disney World.

“How can you hate Disney world? Disney World is awesome” I replied.

“That’s just your opinion.”

“Yes, obviously it’s my opinion since it came out of my mouth. I don’t think I should have to put a ‘This is my opinion’ disclaimer on everything I say.”

“But you always state your opinion as if it’s a fact.”

“Well, what is there to hate about Disney World?”

“Let’s see…the long lines, the huge crowds, the loud noises, the ridiculous prices…”

“Well, don’t you like the rides?”

“Not really. I’m so tall that there’s not enough room for me to stretch my legs in them and I’m uncomfortable.”

Soon after that I discovered much to my dismay that my other traveling companions are not big fans of Disney World either. You’re probably wondering why three people who hate Disney World decided to go to Disney World. I wondered the same thing. It sounded like my brother came because he felt like he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter and he wanted to spend time with us over his break from work.  He said it was a shame that his break coincided with the Disney World portion of our trip rather than the Fort Lauderdale/Key West/Miami portions.

As for why my father who hates Disney World decided to take his girlfriend and his son who also hate Disney World to Disney World, I’m not entirely sure. I’d like to think he did it for my sake but being at Disney World with three people who hated Disney World really put a damper on my fun. Getting my traveling companions to actually go to the parks was like pulling teeth and required a lot of nagging on my part. We never even made it to Animal Kingdom.

The day after we went to Magic Kingdom, I tried to get us all to Hollywood Studios first thing in the morning but my traveling companions were having none of it.

“Let’s stay around the hotel pool until noon and then go to Hollywood Studios. You can’t spend more than 5 hours at Disney World anyway” my father said.

“Sure you can” I replied.

The hotel pool was nice though. It included a lazy river in which you could float on inner tubes and a water slide.  As I glanced at the water slide I was reminded of my childhood days when my mom would take us swimming at a public pool that had a water slide. I loved that water slide and my mom loved it as much as I did.  She went on it over and over again. At one point I saw one of the lifeguards point to my mother and heard him say to another lifeguard “Why does that grown woman keep going on the water slide?’

The advantage I have in looking young enough to be an adolescent is that I don’t have to worry about getting crap from the lifeguards about riding the water slide as a grown woman. It didn’t seem like this lifeguard had a problem with adults riding on the water slide anyway. He happily chatted with Gabrielle when she made her way to the top of the water slide. Gabrielle ended up having the same hesitations about riding the water slide as she did about riding Space Mountain. She continued to chat with the lifeguard and let several children go on the slide before her. She called to me from the top of the water slide and said I should try it. When I told her I already had, she told me to do it again. When I did so and she saw that I survived she went down the slide herself. She also survived.

By the time we left the pool it was after one. Then my dad got trapped on a long business call and by the time he got off it it was after 2. When we looked for my brother he was nowhere to be found. We finally decided to go without him, as he wouldn’t be too upset about missing out on Disney World anyway.  By the time we arrived at Hollywood Studios it was after 3.

I insisted we go on The Tower of Terror first because that’s my favorite ride in all of Disney World. Once again my father and Gabrielle spent the entire time we were in line debating whether or not they would go on the ride. Gabrielle ended up riding with me while my father sat it out.

The next ride I wanted to go on was The Rockin” Roller coaster. Deciding whether or not they wanted to go on this ride was easier for my father and Gabrielle because when they saw that the wait was 90 minutes they decided they didn’t even want to stand in line. I wasn’t thrilled at having to wait 90 minutes but I remembered it as being a fun ride and I decided that with my Kindle the wait was manageable. It was agreed that I would wait in line and go on the ride by myself. I would meet up with my father and Gabrielle afterwards to see the Fantasmic light show.

While I was in line an announcement came over the loudspeaker. Disney said they were sorry but the wait time was going to be longer than anticipated. At this point the people surrounding me craned their necks around the crowd in front of us to try to determine how much longer we’d have to wait.  Some people decided ‘fuck it’ and left the line but I stuck it out until the end.  We made it to Fantasmic just in the nick of time.

When we were trying to decide what to do for dinner I suggested eating at Downtown Disney. However, I knew that just like Hollywood Studios had been MGM the last time I was there, Downtown Disney also had a new name. I didn’t know what the new name was so I Googled and as best I could tell Downtown Disney was now the The Disney Boardwalk. It was conveniently located near Hollywood Studios. I called my brother (who had forgone Disney World in favor of working out at the hotel gym and napping in his room) and told him to come meet us at The Disney Boardwalk.

When we got there it appeared to be a hotel.

“I think we have the wrong place” I said.

“Let’s see. Maybe the shops and restaurants are behind the hotel” my dad replied.

When I asked a hotel employee where the shops and restaurants were he gave me a baffled look.

“You mean the gift shop?”

“I’m looking for the place that used to be Downtown Disney.”

“Oh, the place you’re looking for is Disney Springs.”

I called my brother and told him, just kidding, he needed to meet us at Disney Springs, not The Disney Boardwalk.

When we got there it took us about an hour to find a restaurant that had a wait time of less than an hour. The restaurant we settled on was a pretty good one. The waiters were friendly and the food was served in large portions. After the appetizers were ordered my brother turned to me and said “Father just ordered ribs with his appetizer without realizing it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The waiter realized that English is not Father’s first language so while he was explaining all the appetizers he slipped ‘Do you want ribs?’ in there. Father was confused and just said yes. He had no idea he was ordering ribs.”

Sure enough when the ribs arrived my father was surprised by them. He ate them anyway though. My brother then turned to me again and said “See, this is one of the reasons I hate Disney. They’re sneaky bastards who shamelessly grub for your money in any way they can.”

We were way too stuffed to order dessert but as we walked towards our car we decided ice cream would be nice. Unfortunately it was late and we couldn’t find any. As we entered the parking lot my father asked me if I’d had a good day. I acknowledged that although I hadn’t gotten ice cream and I hadn’t seen as much of Disney World as I would have liked, it had been a good day.

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Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

 If you need further proof that we’re haunted by the ghosts of our past, you’ll certainly find it in A Little Life. My feelings about this book are very mixed. I was torn between thinking it was tragically beautiful and thinking it was tragedy porn. I decided it is tragedy porn but it’s well written tragedy porn with literary merit.

Jude Fawley of Jude the Obscure is regarded as one of the most tragic characters in literature. Well, when it comes to tragedy, Jude Fawley has met his match in Jude St. Francis, the main character in this novel. This Jude was abandoned in a dumpster as a baby. Throughout his entire childhood and adolescence he is horrifically physically, emotionally and sexually abused by many people, several of them people he trusted to care for him. When he grows up he attends a prestigious college, becomes a successful lawyer and finds a group of good friends. A law school professor and his wife legally  adopt him as their own child (this professor lost his own son to a devastating disease when he was a little kid.  Pretty much everyone in this book experiences great tragedy in their lives.)

Yet Jude remains a tortured soul who is left with many physical and emotional scars as a result of the abuse he endured. The man who deliberately ran over him with his car left him partially crippled and his condition worsens over time. Throughout his life he endures traumatic flashbacks to his past. He suffers from low self esteem and has relationship issues with his friends, his lovers, his adoptive parents, his co-workers and his doctors. He has trouble opening up to people, believing that he’s deserving of their love and trusting that they’re not going to abandon him. To cope with all of this he regularly engages in self mutilation.

The tragic events don’t end with his childhood either. The poor guy just can’t catch a break in life. As you may know from my previous book reviews, I’m pretty morbid in my tastes in literature. Not only do I have a high tolerance for tragedy in literature, I have an appreciation and a craving for it. Yet even I have my limits and this book pushed me past them. I can only endure so many graphic descriptions of childhood sexual abuse and self mutilation before it becomes overwhelming and I start feeling nauseated.

I think the harsh realities of life should be depicted in literature and I certainly don’t want them sugar coated in order to avoid making the reader uncomfortable. However there’s a difference between tragedy that is plausible and endemic to the story, and tragedy that is artificially manufactured to create melodrama. There’s a difference between tragedy for the sake of illustrating a point or a truth and tragedy just for the sake of tragedy. Too often it felt like this book fell in to the latter categories.

Yet overall I did like A Little Life.  It was well written and it was emotionally gripping. It provided a lot of good insights, reflections and food for thought especially on subjects such as the nature of trauma, grief and friendship. I could feel the pain of the characters to the point that it became my own pain. Jude is such a tragic, vulnerable character, one that generates a lot of sympathy and compassion. Sometimes you just want to reach through the pages and hug him, to take away his pain, to convince him that he’s a good, valuable person who’s worthy of love and happiness.

Of course as the reader you are powerless to do that. Unfortunately the characters in the book who love him and try desperately to help him are also powerless to do that. There’s this notion that love is all you need, that love is always enough, that love can overcome anything. Unfortunately that’s often not the case. Sometimes the victims of trauma will struggle with and be devastated by their trauma for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the loved ones of the trauma victim will struggle with and be devastated by the pain of desperately wanting to save someone who cannot be saved.

There’s also a tendency to want to sort people who have suffered severe abuse and trauma in to two separate categories, two distinct dichotomies: those who were able to overcome their demons and achieve success and those who succumbed to their demons and failed at life. As Jude proves, it isn’t always that black and white. One person can fall in to both categories. Jude is very successful in some areas of life but struggles greatly in other areas as a result of his past. He is both a victim and a survivor.

Usually when a character commits suicide, it is at least somewhat surprising to the reader. I was not the least bit surprised by Jude’s suicide. I would have been surprised if he hadn’t committed suicide. When I read about it rather than being shocked by something I didn’t see coming, I sarcastically said to myself “Oh darn, and here I was thinking they were all going to live happily ever after.”

As saddened as I was by Jude’s suicide. I couldn’t help but consider it a miracle that he lasted as long as he did and I couldn’t help but feel glad that he had finally been relieved of his suffering.


Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

This is my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. It’s about a woman named Mae who gets a job at a powerful internet company called The Circle that’s rather Google-esque and Facebook-esque. At first it seems like her dream job and everything is perfect. This is a company that really seems to care about the well being of its employees, that goes above and beyond to make sure they’re happy, healthy and having a good time.

There are all kinds of lavish parties and social events, special interest clubs, visits from celebrities, exquisite food, fancy decorations, comfortable dorm rooms in which employees can spend the night on campus and doctors to check up on the employees. The Circle even agrees to put Mae’s ailing father on her healthcare plan. Yet there’s also a dark side to The Circle and working there gets very stressful.

There’s a lot of pressure exerted on Mae to get perfect scores on her customer service reviews, to get lots of views, smiles and zings ( the equivalent of likes) and to rise in the company’s PartiRanks, which is based in her performance in those areas. Then there’s the pressure exerted on Mae to participate in The Circle’s social events, especially those that match up with her interests and experiences (her supervisors know all about her interests and experiences since they’ve searched through her social media profiles.)  In their efforts to connect people from all over the world together, to make information readily available to everyone and of course to grow their business, The Circle becomes very controlling and overbearing. They are invested in the lives of their employees not just in the workplace but outside the workplace as well and the boundary between the two soon becomes very thin.

Some of Mae’s family and friends resent the intrusion on their privacy and at first Mae does as well but after her supervisors admonish her for going kayaking without posting about it on the internet she quickly becomes brainwashed to the point that she agrees to go transparent, meaning she wears a recording device that broadcasts almost every second of her day in real time for the world to see. With the help of her supervisors she develops three central tenets to represent The Circle : Sharing is caring, secrets are lies and privacy is theft.

After that the novel becomes rather Orwellian. It is a novel that is both creepy and hilarious. What makes it so creepy is that as ridiculous as everything that happens in the novel is, it doesn’t seem all that far fetched. With the way things are headed in the real world, someday living in a society that resembles the one in this book doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.

I’m a big fan of the internet and an avid user of social media but I recognize its inherent creepiness and I’ve noticed the levels of creepiness steadily increasing as time goes on. It’s gotten more invasive, more in you face, more stalker-y. Things that used to be private are now public.

It always freaks me out when right after I’ve read or talked about something on the internet ads geared towards that subject start popping up everywhere. No matter how many times I tell the internet that I don’t want to give it my phone number so that it can secure my account or my location so that it can serve me better, it won’t stop asking me for it. I think the use of the like button and emjois has become rather excessive.

There were several instances in this book that reminded me of my own real life encounters with the internet. When one of the founders of The Circle introduced a kind of universal social media profile with one log in across all social media sites I was reminded of something I encountered on WordPress called Gravatar. I asked a friend of mine who had it how she got it and she said she had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently she had been signed up for it without her knowledge or consent because the internet is creepy like that.

In this book multiple tragedies occur as a result of the invasive cyber crazed dystopian society The Circle is creating but the leaders rationalize the tragedies and continue on in their quest to take over the world. Maybe Mae couldn’t have been expected to realize that her ex-boyfriend would be driven to suicide as a result of her having The Circle and the networks of people connected with them track him down and pursue him after he’d gone off the grid to escape their influence but I thought it was foolish of her not to realize he would be horribly distraught by it.

At the end of the book the mysterious man who has been pursuing Mae throughout the novel reveals himself to be one of The Circle’s founding fathers. He tells Mae that The Circle has gotten out of control, that it’s become different than what he planned, more than what he bargained for, that it’s a destructive force that must be stopped. At first I thought that Mae might listen to reason and prevent The Circle from reaching ‘completion’, that the book might have a happy ending. Being the morbid thing that I am, I was disappointed because I wanted it to have a “He loved Big Brother” type of ending.

Luckily for me, it did end up having that kind of ending.  It ended the way I originally predicted it would, in the best and most (in)appropriate way it could have ended.

When I went to review this book on Goodreads and post my review on Facebook I was asked to give the book a star number rating. Then I was asked to review a number of places I had visited recently, places that had been tracked through my Facebook activity. That’s exactly the kind of thing that happened in The Circle.

A Florida Vacation: The Magic Kingdom

My flight to Orlando was uneventful and pleasant enough. The only problem was that when we landed there were a few planes ahead of us on the runway so we had to wait about half an hour to get off our plane.  I find sitting still on a grounded plane to be much more intolerable than sitting still on a flying plane so by the time we finally did exit the plane I felt like my butt cheeks were about to fall off.

Disney World pervaded the atmosphere of the Orlando airport. There were Disney signs, Disney memorabilia, and people wearing mouse ears. I snapped a picture of those people in their mouse ears, getting as close as I could without seeming like a creeper. As we waited for our luggage my dad lamented what a shame it was that we’d only be seeing The Magic Kingdom and not any of the other Disney parks. He explained to Gabrielle that we’d be staying in a crappy motel with one bed between us but it was okay because we’d only be there for one night.

We made our way to The Magic Kingdom and surprise, surprise, there was my brother! My father then revealed the true itinerary of our trip and Gabrielle was delighted although she did admit that all my father’s talk of Florida and all the time he’d spent researching Florida on the internet had aroused her suspicions.

Our first order of business was eating because I was starving. I’m pretty sure that the hot chocolate I got was actually coffee but I didn’t feel like making my way back through the crowds and lines to exchange it. Our next order of business was going on rides. To our dismay we found that the lines for most of the rides were very long. We wanted to get fast passes but it seemed they had changed the fast pass system since the last time I was there. We had trouble figuring out how to get them and once we did figure it out they were all gone. Now you had to book you fast passes way ahead of time and we hadn’t had the foresight to do that.

Now that I have a Kindle I don’t mind waiting in long lines so much but my Kindleless traveling companions didn’t have much tolerance for it so we went on the rides that had shorter waits. Of course the length of the line is inversely related to the quality of the ride but as far as I’m concerned there are no bad rides at Disney World so I enjoyed It’s a Small World, the Winnie the Pooh ride, the Dumbo ride, the Goofy ride, the train through Tomorrowland and the teacups even though the teacups made me feel nauseous.

The line for Space Mountain was long but we decided it was worth the wait. Actually I decided it was worth the wait and my travelling companions grudgingly agreed to stand in line. Once they got in line my father and Gabrielle were still undecided about whether or not they would actually go on the ride and the whole time we were in line they debated it back and forth. In the end they did go on the ride and they enjoyed themselves (at least I think they did.)

While we were waiting in line for the haunted house it began to rain very hard. My traveling companions decided to take shelter in the nearest shop but I stubbornly remained in line. A few minutes later I had to concede defeat though because I was drenched from head to toe. I looked and felt like a miserable wet rat.  At that point we decided to call it a day and leave The Magic Kingdom.

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Some More Books I Read This Year

A Dog’s Purpose ( W. Bruce Cameron)- If reading about a dog dying once isn’t sad enough for you try reading about a dog dying over and over again. That’s what happens in this book as the dog keeps getting reincarnated as a different dog with a different purpose in life. In addition to the sad moments there a lot of funny and sweet moments. It’s not great literature by any means but it’s an entertaining, big hearted book that shows all the ways in which dogs enrich our lives and we enrich theirs. Any dog owner or dog lover will be able to relate to and appreciate the story.


A Dog’s Journey (W. Bruce Cameron)-This is the sequel to  A Dog’ Purpose and it’s more of the the same except the dog’s owner is more psychologically disturbed this time. Eating disorders and suicide attempts come in to play. It’s not surprising that the girl has issues since her mother is one of the worst fictional narcissists I’ve ever encountered and a real piece of work. In most of the dog’s incarnations it’s a big dog but in this book he becomes a little dog with attitude at one point. That was his funniest incarnation. I was also amused by the dogs’ opinions of and interactions with cats in both books.


The Turner House ( Angela Flournoy)-  I chose this book in honor of Black History Month and I was pleased with my choice.  This book did a great job of portraying racism and the African American experience (not that as a white person I can ever fully understand that experience) but it was about so much more than that. It was about poverty, urban decay, addiction, mental illness, physical illness, family function, family dysfunction, the ties that bind us and the ties that sever us.

This book goes back and forth in time focusing on the lives of various different members of a 13 child family. It pays particular attention to the man who is in therapy because he’s seeing a ghost (called a haint) and his sister who’s struggling with a gambling problem. Meanwhile, all 13 of the siblings are arguing over what to do with the family house now that their sick mother is no longer living in it and it’s putting them in to financial debt.

By the end of the novel the house situation is not resolved and it’s not made clear whether or not the haint is real but I was satisfied with the ending.  It ends with a family gathering and it has a “Circle of life” feel to it. Regardless of whether or not the haint is an actual ghost, it’s made clear that the ghosts of our past will always haunt us and regardless of what happens to the Turner house, it’s clear that home is where the heart is.




Adventures in Mental Illness: Part 6

I know that the Payne Whitney psychiatric clinic was named after a man named William Payne Whitney and I know that Payne is not the same as pain but I can’t help but feel that it’s not the best idea to have a name that sounds identical to the word pain in a hospital’s name. It’s inevitable that pain will be experienced in a hospital but this is an instance where we don’t need truth in advertising.

At the Payne Whitney clinic I experienced some of the worst emotional pain of my life. I was enveloped in a cloud of intense, non-stop, relentless, all encompassing misery.  I was overwhelmed with sadness, grief, fear, guilt, regret,anger, loneliness and shame.  I felt hopeless, helpless and worthless.  While I experienced all these intense negative emotions, I also experienced a kind of emotional numbness.  I shut down emotionally as a form of defense and as a coping mechanism. I went in to zombie mode as a result of the emotional trauma I was experiencing and as a result of the side effects of the anti-psychotic medications.

I had no motivation to get better because there was no getting better as far as I was concerned. I did not deserve to get better and I was not capable of getting better. This was the end as far as I was concerned. Maybe I would spend the rest of my life in a mental hospital. Maybe I would be released from the mental hospital but if I was not imprisoned by the physical walls of a mental hospital, I would be imprisoned by the metaphorical walls of my mental illness and all the horrible mistakes I’d made. I just couldn’t see myself recovering from something like this.

A few years ago an ex-boyfriend who was angry at me had referred to me on the internet as a piece of human waste. At the time I thought it was a cruel and ridiculous thing to say but now I felt like a piece of human waste.

I’m known for my good memory but I don’t remember much about Payne Whitney. The only thing I remember about the other patients was that there were a lot of Hasidic Jewish men with hats and curls on the sides of their heads. The only interaction I remember having with any of the doctors or therapists there was when a social worker told me that during group therapy she’d seen me picking my nose. When I just shrugged it off she said “Here’s a word of advice: Look around you and observe what other people are doing. If you don’t see other people doing that you shouldn’t be doing it either.”

I have no memory of how I filled my days at Payne Whitney. I just remember the visits my mom made to me at night and a few visits from my dad as well. I remember on election night my mom teased me that Obama was going to lose by one vote. I have this memory of my dad spoon feeding me green beans. That memory doesn’t make much sense because I don’t like green beans and I’m capable of feeding myself but I suppose I was so out of it that I was having trouble lifting a spoon to my mouth and that I had become indifferent to assaults on my taste buds.

One time when my mom visited me she was so stressed out that she started having heart palpitations and asked one of the doctors to examine her. When she would try to hug me goodbye at the end of our visit a staff member would step in and say “I’m sorry, we don’t allow physical contact here.”

My mom brought a friend along on one of her visits. At the end of the visit her friend burst in to tears. “This place is so horrible and it’s so horrible seeing Kira like this” she sobbed.

At one point my mom was offered the option of signing away my rights as an adult and becoming my legal guardian but she did not do it.

I remember getting phone calls from my sister and my godmother. I remember fearing that my sister would speak harshly to me and criticize me but she just said compassionately “I understand that you’re going through a rough time right now.”  I remember struggling to think of something to say to my godmother before asking her how her baby was doing. When I had first dropped out of school and my godmother was trying to talk some sense in to me I had helped bathe that infant. Now she was walking and talking.

“The doctors are having trouble diagnosing you” my mother said to me on one of her visits.

“Why don’t they diagnose me with Crazy -NOS (crazy, not otherwise specified)?” I quipped.

We both laughed.

“If you ever write a memoir, Crazy-NOS should be the title”.

At the time the idea of writing about my life seemed preposterous because I would never want to share something so shameful with the world but I agreed that if I ever did write about it I would call it Crazy-NOS.

A Texas Vacation That Became a Florida Vacation

I recently went on a Florida vacation. I’d known I was going on vacation a few weeks beforehand but it wasn’t until two days beforehand that I learned it would be a Florida vacation. Up until then I’d been under the impression that the majority of the vacation would be spent in Texas. The plan was to visit my brother who’s doing a medical residency in Houston. My dad said that on our way to Houston we would take a connecting flight from Orlando and that would give his girlfriend,Gabrielle, who’s from France, a chance to breathe the Florida air. I said that as long as we were in Orlando, we might as well do more than breathe the air. We might as well visit a Disney park. My dad agreed to spend a day at The Magic Kingdom.

My dad told us we’d be leaving February 22nd and returning March 8th but I thought I heard him say we’d be returning February 28th so I had it in my head that we’d be spending four or five days in Texas. A few days before we left I decided to double check the dates with my dad and this time it was confirmed for me that we would be returning on March 8th. My dad explained that my brother would return to work after a few days and then the rest of us would road trip through Texas since Texas was a big state with a lot of interesting sights to see.

I mean no offense to anyone who lives in or loves The Lone Star State, but while I was fine with spending a few days in Texas, it’s not a place where I’d want to spend a few weeks. My mom sensed my displeasure so she decided to reveal that I’d actually be spending the entire time in Florida. The itinerary was Orlando, then Fort Lauderdale, then Key West. then Miami. My dad had been pretending we were going to Texas because he wanted to surprise Gabrielle (She had been asking to go on a Florida vacation for a while but he had kept telling her it was too expensive.) We weren’t meeting my brother in Texas. He was meeting us at The Magic Kingdom.

When my mom first revealed this information to me I was dumbfounded. I just kept staring at her incredulously and stammering things like “Huh?..but how…why did..what the fuck..?” while she kept warning me not to tell Gabrielle and ruin the surprise. My parents know I’m not very good at keeping secrets or lying so I’m sure that’s why my father decided to deceive me along with Gabrielle.

At first I was a bit disappointed. I’ve spent a lot of time in Florida but I’ve never been to Texas. Although Texas had never been very high on my list of places to visit, I was looking forward to seeing it and checking it off on the list of U.S. states I’d been to. However, when it came down to it, I’d rather spend a few weeks in Florida than a few weeks in Texas and I’d never been to Fort Lauderdale, Key West or Miami.  Once I readjusted my expectations of the trip, I was looking forward to it more than I had when I thought it was to Texas.  I was just hoping Gabrielle hadn’t gotten attached to the idea of going to Texas but I learned that she’d been to Texas before plus she didn’t seem like the kind of gal who dreamed of cowboys and buckwheat.

On the day we left for our trip we had to get up at 4 in the morning but Disney World is worth getting up at 4 in the morning for. When we got to the airport I got asked by security how old I was because apparently I looked like I might be under twelve and thus exempt from having to take off my shoes when going through the metal detector. I think there must be some portrait of me aging in a closet somewhere because on multiple occasions in my adult life I’ve been asked what grade I’m in (if you’re a literary snob like me you’ll get the reference.)

Once I went through the metal detector I was told that an area of my body had set off an alarm and I would be subject to additional screening. I think I might be radioactive or something because this happens every damn time I go to the airport.  At least this time the pat-down I got didn’t include a crotch grab and when pat-downs don’t include crotch grabs I like them because they resemble massages.

As I was presenting my boarding pass to the ticket agent, someone came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and said “Excuse me, is this your phone?” He was holding up a blue Iphone that I recognized as mine. “Thank you” I said and thought to myself “Phew, that was a close one.” I would have been so upset and in so much trouble if I’d lost my phone at the airport.

As I walked down the tarmac towards the plane I decided to check my backpack to make sure I had my computer. To my dismay I discovered that I did not have it. “Oh shit!” I exclaimed. Then another person came up behind me and asked if I was missing my computer. When I told him that I was, he told me they had it at the desk. I went back to the desk and sure enough there it was.

Just like being mistaken for an adolescent and setting off metal detectors is par for the course for me, so too is losing things. Keeping track of my possessions is a constant struggle. My phone and my computer are both important possessions and if I’d lost both of them at the airport I would have really been up shit’s creek without a paddle so it was a good thing that with the aid of a couple of good samaritans I was able to locate them in time.

I boarded the plane, fastened my seat belt, took one of those obnoxious airplane selfies and set off on my Texas vacation that had become a Florida vacation.

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Some books I’ve read this year

It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis)-As we all know, unfortunately it did happen here. This is a novel written many years before Trump came to power about a president named Berzelius Windrip who bears a remarkable similarity to Trump. He even decides he wants to live at a hotel rather than at The White House. The results of Buzz Windrip’s presidency are disastrous just as the results of Trump’s presidency have been and will be disastrous. Many people are killed or put in concentration camps as a result of going against Buzz. I hope it doesn’t come to that with Trump but I wouldn’t put it entirely out of the realm of possibility. Things don’t end too well for Buzz or his supporters either and I’m sure that’s how it will go for Trump and his supporters too. There were no winners in the 2016 election.

In the beginning of the book the protagonist is reluctant to take part in the resistance against Buzz Windrip but by the end of the book he has become one of the leaders of the resistance. Resistance is what we need in our real world that is unfortunately emulating this novel and fortunately I’m continuing to see a lot of people resisting against all the bullshit of Trump and his administration.  While I’m not an active member of the resistance, I am rather fond of my Resist t-shirt that features a picture of Smokey the Bear (brought to me courtesy of the National Park Service.)

Since this was billed to me as being representative of Trump and the clusterfuck that surrounded his election, I found myself frustrated that certain relevant points pertaining to it were not included in this book but I had to remind myself that the author didn’t actually intend for it to be representative of him, as it was written before he was even born.  I’ve heard this is not one of Sinclair Lewis’s best books but I haven’t read any of his other books and I liked this one well enough.

A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness)– This YA novel is a quick read. Some editions include illustrations. The plot concerns a boy whose mother is dying of cancer and the monster that comes to visit him. This book made good use of allegory. Fantasy and reality were well blended. The painful, complicated, conflicting emotions that are experienced when a loved one is dying were explained in a way that young readers could understand.

A friend asked me if I thought the book was too predictable. I didn’t think it was too predictable. The parts that were predictable were that way because they had to be and there were parts that defied expectations. I liked the part where the monster told the boy a fairy tale in which it seemed pretty obvious who the good guy was and who the bad guy was but the boy was shocked when the monster punished the person he thought of as the good guy rather than the person he thought of as evil. The monster then explained why the man he thought of as good deserved to be punished.

Lily and the Octopus (Steven Rowley)– After I read a book about a human dying of cancer I decided to read a book about a dog dying of cancer. I was drawn to the book because the dog had the same name as my dog.  I didn’t realize that the octopus in the title symbolized a tumor growing on the dog’s head. Like A Monster Calls, this book makes use of metaphor and allegory, blends fantasy and reality.  It’s a sweet story and it tugs at your heartstrings, especially if you’ve  ever loved and lost a canine friend. Make sure to have plenty of tissues handy when you read this.

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)– I read my first Neil Gaiman book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane a few years ago and I was blown away by it. Ever since then I’ve been vowing to read more Neil Gaiman books but I didn’t get around to it until this year. I chose American Gods because I’d heard good things about it and there’s a show based on it coming out soon.

I find it kind of challenging to describe this book. The plot involves a guy who has just been released from prison and experienced the death of his wife taking a job as a bodyguard for a mysterious conman. They then embark on an epic supernatural journey that involves the old gods of mythology trying to fight against the new ‘American Gods’ that are taking their place. These new gods reflect America’s preoccupation with things such as celebrities, media, technology and drugs.

This is a book full of symbolism, a lot of which I’m sure went completely over my head. It is a blend of fantasy, mystery and horror. I don’t like any of those genres on their own but when they’re all blended together in a literary way, it works for me. I found this book creepy and unsettling. Since I’m a morbid person I can appreciate a book that leaves me feeling that way. Neil Gaiman is an author unlike any other author I’ve read.

My Stroke of Insight (Jill Bolte Taylor)– This book was assigned to me by my therapist. It is a memoir written by a neuroscientist who experienced a stroke. Given her profession, she obviously had some special insights in to what happened to her neurologically. While reading this book it was often unclear to me whether these were insights she had while she was having/recovering from the stroke or insights she arrived at after the fact.

I had no idea that a stroke could be in any way pleasurable so I was shocked by the feelings of deep euphoria she experienced when the stroke hit. She described it as a feeling of being at one with the universe, of there being no boundaries between herself and the rest of the world. While I would never wish to have a stroke, that does sound like a pretty cool feeling that I wouldn’t mind experiencing. I think the closest I ever came was that time I was on a (legally prescribed) Ketamine trip.

The euphoric feelings were a result of the damage the stroke did to the left hemisphere of her brain. Before she got into the details of her stroke in the book she spent some time describing the differences between the right and left brain. Among those differences is that the right brain tends to be peaceful, accepting, interconnected with the world and living in the moment while the left brain tends to be judgmental, focused on the past and views the self as a separate entity.

Of course the left brain also performs some vital functions and the stroke left Jill Bolte Taylor severely impaired. It took her 8 years to recover. The decision to recover was a conscious choice for her. I applaud her decision because my lazy butt would have been very tempted to remain impaired and floating on cloud 9, rather than put in the hard work towards recovery and get back all the negative emotions associated with the left brain.

One of the main reasons Dr. Taylor decided to recover was that she wanted to share the insights she had gained from her stroke to help not just other stroke victims but people in general. She believes people can lead  more peaceful, fulfilled lives if they allow themselves to tune in to the propensities of their right brain.

She does provide some valuable insights. She noted that while recovering from the stroke she was drawn towards people who gave off positive energy and who focused on her accomplishments rather than on what she could not do, that those were the kind of people who were instrumental in her recovery. Whether you’re recovering from a stroke or not, it’s best to surround yourself with those kind of people and limit contact as much as possible with negative people who point out your faults.

The insight she provided that I found the most valuable and that spoke to me the most was when she pointed out that when a negative thought or feeling floods the brain, it only has a natural biological lifespan of about 30 seconds or so. If it persists after that it’s because the person is choosing to focus on it and we can learn not to focus on it, to shift our focus to something else. God knows I have a tendency to perseverate on negative thoughts and emotions. After reading this book, now more so than ever, when I experience a thought or emotion that is causing me distress, I make an effort to say to myself “Enough already, brain!  Let’s stop thinking about this for now.”

The Problem with Being Smart and Stupid at the Same Time

I have been told many times in my life by many people that I am very smart. Telling someone that they’re smart is generally considered to be one of the highest compliments you can pay them and usually when people tell me that I’m smart they do just mean it as a compliment but sometimes there’s more to it than that. Sometimes the declaration that I am smart contains a certain subtext or is followed by certain other declarations about me.

It goes something like this: You are too smart to have a learning disability. You are too smart to have a developmental disability. You are too smart to behave in the manner that you do. You are too smart to have the kinds of problems that you do.You are too smart to struggle with such basic skills. You are too smart to require the kind of help you are requesting. You are lazy, you are rude, you are not trying hard enough. You are mistaken about your diagnosis, you are using your disability as an excuse.

How does one define intelligence?  A classic measurement of intelligence is the IQ test. This test is divided in to a verbal IQ and a performance IQ. Usually one’s verbal IQ score and one’s performance IQ are similar. A 10 point difference between one’s verbal IQ and performance IQ is considered to be significant. I have a 60 point difference between my verbal IQ and my performance IQ (the verbal IQ is the one that’s much higher.) The neurologist who tested me said it was one of the largest discrepancies he had ever seen and because it was so large giving me an overall IQ score was essentially meaningless.

The discrepancy between my verbal and performance IQ as well as the struggles I’d faced throughout my life led to me being diagnosed with Nonverbal Learning Disorder. NLD is characterized by deficits in visual spatial skills, motor skills and social skills. It is also characterized by excellent memory, vocabulary and verbal skills.

I am someone who speaks and writes eloquently. I communicate insightful ideas in an articulate manner, I use big words and I spell those words correctly. I remember pretty much everything that was ever said to me and that ever happened to me. This leads many people to conclude that I am smart. They are not wrong about that but there’s also another side of me.

I am also someone who has never held a job or lived on my own. I am someone who struggles with tasks such as brushing my teeth,washing my hair and opening cans. I am someone who flaps my hands, jumps up and down and paces around in circles. The people who hear me speak or write first are often surprised to find out I’m disabled. The people who see me pacing around in circles or struggling with basic tasks first seem surprised when I start speaking in full sentences. The people who have seen me do all those things often have trouble reconciling those two sides of me. They often make false assumptions and come to false conclusions about me (see paragraph 2.)

You can’t entirely blame people for their false assumptions and conclusions. They work within their own context, draw on their own experiences and believe the things they’ve been conditioned to believe. The child who reads and writes well above her grade level is not consistent with the general perception of a child with a learning disability. It can be hard to understand why someone who expresses astonishing social insights for someone their age cannot maintain friendships with their peers. It can be hard to understand why someone who can produce the most brilliant essays, make the wittiest comments and win every argument cannot tie their shoes, button their pants or write legibly. It is easy and convenient to assume that if one can succeed at seemingly complex tasks, their failure to perform seemingly basic tasks is not due to any kind of lack of ability or disability but to laziness, rudeness, lack of caring or character flaws.

Not many people are knowledgeable about NLD.  Many people in the psychology and education fields have never heard of it. It’s not in the DSM and there’s debate over whether or not it’s a valid diagnostic category. When people hear the term Nonverbal Learning Disability, they tend to assume it means you cannot talk when on the contrary many people with NLD are very verbal.

Nonverbal refers to the fact that NLD does not impair one’s verbal abilities but one’s ability to process nonverbal information. The majority of learning disabilities are language based and when some people see that you excel at language they act as though NLD stands for Not Learning Disabled. Nonverbal learning disabilities are significantly more debilitating than language based learning disabilities but there is less awareness of them and less services dedicated to helping those affected by them. I struggled in public school and was put in a school for the learning disabled for a trial period but my parents were told that since their school dealt with kids who had language based disabilities there wasn’t much they could do for me. When I applied to colleges I got in to most of the colleges I applied to but I got rejected by all of the learning disability programs I applied to. The rejection letters essentially said “Sorry, you are not eligible for our services because NLD is not a real learning disability.”

Before I received my NLD diagnosis at age 12 a few other diagnoses were considered for me. Autism was not one of them. In those days autism diagnoses were mostly reserved for the more severely impaired individuals who were greatly limited in their ability to use language. These days autism is thought of more as a spectrum disorder with varying symptoms and levels of severity. My stereotyped movements are not generally considered to be a symptom of NLD but they are considered to be a symptom of autism.

Some consider NLD to be an autism spectrum disorder, others don’t.The Division of Developmental Disabilities considers NLD to be “just a learning disability” and thus I am ineligible for disability payments from them unless I get tested and get an official autism diagnosis. That test costs a few thousand dollars.

Now I tend to tell people I’m on the autism spectrum. At least most people are familiar with autism, are inclined to take it seriously and have some knowledge about it. The problem is a lot of people do not know as much about autism as they think they do. Some people seem to think that knowing one or two people on the autism spectrum makes them an expert on autism but as the director of a program for young adults on the autism spectrum that I was in said “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

I’ve had people insult me by telling me they know people on the autism spectrum who do not act like me so therefore I must be using my disability as an excuse and I’ve had people “compliment” me by telling me I don’t seem autistic. Accusing someone of using their disability as an excuse (especially if it’s a disability you do not have and are not well informed about) is just rude and presumptuous. “You don’t seem autistic”is usually well intentioned. A lot of neurotypical people seem to think it ranks right up there with “You’re so smart” as one of the highest compliments you can possibly pay someone on the autism spectrum but I’ve yet to encounter anyone on the autism spectrum who actually considers it to be a compliment.

A woman once came up to me to tell me that she’d heard I was on the autism spectrum and she’d been observing me for signs of autism but had not seen any. I was tempted to start shouting “Wapner, Wapner, three minutes to Wapner!” (It’s a Rainman reference) but I restrained myself.

Then there was the time I was at the gym with a group of other young adults on the autism spectrum. A guy who frequented the gym came up to me and started making conversation.  He talked about that group of people he saw me with. He said he’d seen some of them engage in odd movements and behaviors. This guy had caught me at a time when I happened to be sitting still and now that I was talking to him I was making an effort to stay still and “act normal” but if he’d watched me long enough he would have seen me engaging in “weird” behaviors similar to those of the peers I went to the gym with. “So, do you work with those people?'” he asked me. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I replied “No, I’m one of them.”

A lot of people expect and want there to be a sharper delineation between smart and stupid, weird and normal, us and them. The truth is that sometimes “weird” people are a lot like “normal”people in some ways and sometimes people are smart and stupid at the same time (please know that I’m using the word stupid in a tongue in cheek manner in much the same way I use the word crazy. I do not think having a learning or developmental disability equates to being stupid.)  That person sitting next to you in your college class who aced the test that the rest of the class bombed, wrote one of the best essays the professor has ever seen, and makes intelligent contributions to class discussions might be the same person who struggles to dress herself, prepare simple meals for herself and make small talk with her peers.

The truth is that sometimes people who appear brilliant and very competent in some ways, struggle in other ways and it’s not due to laziness, rudeness or character flaws. It’s due to a disability, a disability that is often not visible and is not very well known but is very real and very debilitating.

I outlined the three categories of dysfunction in NLD but there is a fourth category, one that is not an official category but might as well be,considering how common it is among those with NLD. People with NLD are prone to depression, anxiety, low self esteem and suicide. I’ve never attempted suicide (although I’ve certainly thought about it) but I can check off all those other boxes. There are organic neurological reasons that people with NLD are prone to psychopathology but a lot of it has to do with their life experiences and the way society tends to respond to them.

Misunderstood is a word frequently associated with NLD. There’s a popular article on NLD called The Misunderstood Child. In my online NLD support group we were asked to sum up NLD in one sentence. The person who summed it up best said “A lifetime of misunderstandings”.

The misunderstandings go both ways. You misunderstand other people all the time and other people misunderstand you all the time. It’s easy to internalize all the messages you get that you are lazy, rude, uncaring, weird, abnormal, defective, etc,  Since NLD often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed, a lot of people with NLD don’t know they have it. Since their intelligence and assets can in some ways mask and compensate for their deficits, there tends to be denial that there is a serious problem. Early intervention tends to be critical in disorders such as NLD  but unfortunately the window for early intervention tends to coincide with that time period where parents’ concerns about their child are dismissed. They’re told that the kid is just a little immature, a little behind but since they’re so smart they’re going to be just fine. Unfortunately those kinds of disorders don’t tend to get better with age. They tend to get worse.

It almost seems as though emotional problems are inevitable with NLD and as though having NLD is incompatible with having high self esteem. Your verbal intelligence does tend to be a source of self esteem and you may not want to tell anyone you have a disability but when it becomes a choice between having people make false negative assumptions about you and revealing that you have a disability, revealing that you have a disability seems like the more attractive option. You may not want any special help but when it becomes a choice between failing miserably and having a breakdown or revealing that you have a disability in order to get the help you need, getting the help you need is the more attractive option. When the validity of your struggles and your entitlement to help are denied based on your high verbal intelligence, you find yourself in this bizarre position of having your intelligence turned in to a weapon to be used against you and of feeling like you need to convince people that you’re not quite as competent as you seem.

Of course it’s also not fun when people assume you’re more impaired than you are and announcing your own disability to the world is one thing while having someone else announce it to the world for you is quite another thing.  A few years ago my beloved dog died suddenly in a tragic accident. The next day when I went on the train I thew up as a result of the grief I was experiencing. I know that the woman who announced to the train “There’s a young lady with special needs who’s sick and needs assistance”had good intentions but dear God, lady, did you have to make one of the worst days of my life even worse than it already was by publicly referring to me as  ‘special needs’? I wondered what exactly tipped her off that I had special needs and if she had any idea of the nature of my special needs. I wondered if she thought I was intellectually impaired.

I’ve said that the term “neurotypical privilege” needs to be more of a thing. I read a ‘neurotypical privilege checklist’ blog and the points that most resonated with me were “I am not expected to alter or suppress my natural ways of moving, interacting, or expressing emotion in most circumstances’ and ‘If I fail to alter or suppress my natural ways of moving, interacting, or expressing emotion, I do not fear public ridicule or exclusion because of this.’ Replace the words ‘alter and suppress’ with the word ‘explain’ and it’s still true.  Telling myself that all those ‘Are you okay?/ Why are you moving like that?’ questions I get when I go out in public are well intentioned doesn’t do much to ameliorate the discomfort they make me feel.

Despite my verbal prowess and the way I have with words, I cannot give anyone a long, through, eloquent explanation as to why I move, interact and express emotion in the ways that I do nor can I give a detailed explanation as to why I struggle in the ways that I do. If “I have a disability” won’t suffice as an answer, the best I can come up with is “Because my brain is wired differently than yours is” (and sometimes if the question is being asked in a rude or aggressive manner I feel like tacking on “Now please fuck off and leave me alone.”) No one knows for sure what causes NLD but in some cases it seems to be associated with brain damage/trauma. I did not experience any clearly identifiable brain injury or trauma in my life so maybe I just got lucky.

The terms high functioning autism and low functioning autism are controversial. What qualifies as high functioning vs low functioning is subjective, some people are high functioning is some areas but low functioning in others and the degree to which an individual is functioning in a given area can depend on the day. If high functioning is defined as having good verbal skills then I’m pretty high functioning. However, there are people with severely impaired verbal skills who are able to hold jobs whereas I have never been able to do that so in that respect those ‘low functioning’ people are higher functioning than I am.

There’s this unfortunate misconception among some that high functioning autism is not real autism. It’s just autism lite, the diet coke of autism. It just means being a little quirky and maybe having a really amazing special skill like being able to mentally calculate the first 1000 digits of pi. As long as you can talk and you aren’t smearing feces everywhere, it’s all good.

There’s no point in comparing high functioning and low functioning autism as if they’re competing against each other in the suffering Olympics but suffice it to say, there is plenty of suffering, struggle and hardship associated with high functioning autism. Yes, the ability to verbalize ones’ thoughts and feelings does serve as a protective factor against some of the emotional pain experienced by those on the lower functioning end of the autism spectrum who are unable to do so but it also comes at a price. If you can ‘pass for neurotypical’ in some areas some people expect you to pass for neurotypical in all areas and that’s just not possible. When they see that you have not only adequate but superior language skills, that you express yourself not just adequately but brilliantly, bring on the perplexity, the bafflement, the inability to understand this paradox of a person who seems so smart but struggles with the simple tasks most people take for granted. Follow it up with the accusations of being lazy, rude, spoiled, uncaring, of using one’s disability as an excuse, of being mistaken about ones’ diagnosis.

The accounts of real and hypothetical children with NLD are pretty heartbreaking to read.  They tell the story of a kid who’s very bright and develops an impressive vocabulary at an early age but who’s also physically and socially awkward. They tell of a kid who reads well above his grade level but who struggles to write his name, use scissors and draw simple shapes. They tell of a kid who impresses all the adults around him with his verbal intelligence but who cannot make friends with his peers. They tell of a kid who’s repeatedly criticized, picked on and bullied for reasons he does not understand and for behaviors he cannot help. They tell of a kid who becomes increasingly depressed, isolated and overwhelmed as the demands placed on him become increasingly complex. They tell of a kid who is left with little hope that things will ever get better, who has come to the conclusion that he lives in a world that is not structured to accommodate him.

If I feel sorry for myself for having a disability for too long, I start hating myself for indulging in self pity and sometimes I find myself annoyed by the ways in which other adults with NLD complain about their problems but when I read about the struggles children with NLD face (and most of the writing on learning disabilities focuses on children) I feel nothing but sadness and compassion for them. I struggled a lot as a child and I know I had it much easier than many other kids on the spectrum have it. People with NLD are often perceived as lacking compassion but that’s usually just another way in which they are misunderstood. Sometimes it’s much easier for them to be compassionate towards others than towards themselves.

I saw a long list of strategies for helping kids with NLD. The bottom of the list said “And most importantly: COMPASSION.” That is really what it comes down to in the end.  A lot of people are not compassionate towards those with NLD because they don’t understand the disorder and once they gain a greater understanding of it they become more compassionate. The state of the general knowledge and understanding of it as well as the support services available is still pretty abysmal but it’s better than it was years ago (one of those college disability support programs that rejected me on the basis that NLD was not a real learning disability now has a disability support program specifically dedicated to NLD and autism spectrum disorders.)  Unfortunately there are some people who just don’t want to be compassionate and you cannot force them to be. There are assholes who will go out of their way to make a person with NLD feel like shit and there are angels that will go out of their way to help them. I’ve encountered my fair share of both.

No one with NLD can expect to have an easy life but it’s not all pain and suffering. The verbal prowess that comes with NLD is your gift, your saving grace and your rallying cry  even when it does become a source of frustration in comparison to your abilities in other areas. It would be nice if I could be talented in all areas of life but given the choice I’d rather have excellent verbal skills and crappy fine motor skills than vice versa. At least having good verbal skills means that when someone decides to insult me for my impaired skills in other areas of life, I can deliver a clever comeback (even if it’s only in my head and after the fact.) That inability to tell or tolerate a social lie, which can spell disaster in certain social situations, also translates to a certain honesty, genuineness and integrity that you don’t see in many people and that even neurotypicals can appreciate.

Some say that NLD involves trouble understanding humor and that people with NLD tend to lack a sense of humor. People are people and not diagnoses though so I can say that sense of humor has never been a problem for me (some of the funniest people I’ve known have been on the autism spectrum.). And thank goodness for that because if I wasn’t able to have a sense of humor about all my struggles and painful experiences, I’d be even more of an emotional wreck than I already am. I’m also thinking my sense of humor is the only reason certain people like me, are willing to put up with me or have refrained from killing me.

I do struggle with certain social skills and as a child I struggled with making friends but the ability to make and keep friends was a skill I was able to develop with age. Once again, thank goodness for that because without friends I’m even more of an emotional wreck. I’ll probably never be in the position of hiring someone for a job but when it comes to making friends I’ve learned not to discriminate based on age, sex, race, religion, disability or species for that matter. When it can be so hard to find a friend who accepts you for who you are there’s no point in limiting your pool even further. I’ve learned to be accepting and forgiving and not to judge anyone based on what other people think. God knows there are plenty of things I get judged for and plenty of people have expressed ideas about me that are not true, kind or necessary.

Sometimes I feel as though I live on an entirely different plane of existence than my neurotypical friends and peers. There have been times when that chasm between us has felt so deep and so unbridgeable, when I’ve felt so sure that they would judge me and be disappointed in me, that I’ve withdrawn in shame. There have been times when I’ve felt so sure that they did not understand me, that they could not relate to me, that I’ve lashed out in frustration. Yet there have always been people who love me unconditionally, who are willing to forgive, to try to understand, to reach across that chasm. And sometimes that chasm isn’t quite as deep as it seems.

The insults/complisults/ expressions of concern I get as a result of my disability tend to fall in to three main categories. 1. It’s pointed out to me that I don’t act normal 2. I’m told that it’s a shame that my life is the way it is because I’m so smart and have so much potential. 3. I’m compared to a child.

No one needs to point out to me that I’m not normal. I figured that out a very long time ago. Others have tried to comfort me by telling me that normal is relative and normal is boring. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand it seems like a rather dismissive thing to say to anyone with a developmental disability because there are absolutely societal standards of normal and they absolutely tend to deviate from those standards in a way that is generally considered to be unacceptable. Plus many people would rather be boring than have to suffer. On the other hand, I can appreciate the truth in that statement. A person on the autism spectrum is behaving in a way that is normal for the brain that they have. They just happen to have a type of brain that is in the minority. If they started a community where the majority of people had autism they could lecture all those neurotypical people about how abnormal they are. And I do appreciate being interesting even when it comes with suffering.

Being told that it’s a shame that I’ve wasted my potential when I’m so smart? Oy, that’s a tough one. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry forever. It causes me a lot of shame, sadness and guilt. I know that in some peoples’ eyes (and often in my eyes as well) I’m a loser, a failure, a parasite and a spoiled brat. I look at some of the people who are wildly successful and I know that in some ways I’m much smarter than they are so I should be just as successful but I also know that in other ways I’m much stupider than they are.

Yes, the past is the past and every day is a new day but the past affects the future. There are bridges that have been burned, permanent self inflicted emotional scars that have been left on me and years of my life I will never get back. Can I make myself the helpless victim of a disability and thus validate the people who accuse me of using it as an excuse? From the tangled knot of the past can I unweave the biology that was my destiny from the bad choices that I was ultimately responsible for?  Was I in a world that wasn’t structured to accommodate me and if I’d gotten more support would I have made different choices? Some of my experiences are unique to me and my disability but I know that wondering about and wanting to change the unchangeable past is universal across all humanity .

Being compared to a child is hurtful because I know there’s a lot of truth in those comparisons but I also find humor in them. Honestly when I get compared to a teenager I almost take it as a compliment because I’m often compared to a 9-year-old, a 5-year-old or a 2-year-old. Yes, I am rather child like in my emotional outbursts, my inability to financially support myself or live on my own, to walk and chew gum at the same time, to sit still, to pay attention to things, to brush my teeth in a way that will prevent them from falling out, to shower without flooding the floor, to get the shampoo out of my hair, to keep my room clean, to button my shirt, to go a day without tripping over or bumping in to something, to eat without getting food everywhere but when’s the last time you saw a five-year-old write a blog like this?


























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Adventures in Mental Illness: Part 5

I wasn’t just going to the mental hospital, I was going to the back ward of the mental hospital. It was decided that my behavior would be too upsetting to the other mental patients so I was placed in solitary confinement. If I though the stabilization house was bad, this was much worse. At least in stabilization I could talk to the staff and the other residents who were there with me. At least there were occasional scrabble games and walks outside. Here there was nothing. I was confined in one room all day and the only times anyone at the mental hospital interacted with me was when they gave me my meals.

Suffice it to say, I was completely and utterly miserable. If only I was as crazy as everyone thought I was. Actual psychosis would have been almost welcome at this point. I would have given anything to escape the horrifying reality of being all alone in the back ward of a mental hospital.I felt as though I had hit rock bottom and would never be able to recover. I had been deemed unfit to fraternize with other mental patients. It didn’t seem like there was any hope for someone like that.

When I talked to my mother on the phone she told me I had been kicked out of Innercept because they had decided my behavior was too upsetting to the other residents. She had been looking around for another mental health facility to put me in and had tried to get me in to McLean mental hospital. I was familiar with McLean because I had read/seen Girl Interrupted (If only real life mental illness were as glamorous as Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie made it seem.) McLean wouldn’t take me though. They said they had no place to put me. My behavior meant that I could not be put in the main ward with the general population but they couldn’t put me in the ward for the psychotic patients either because my reality testing was perfect.

“I want to die!” I cried in to the phone.

“No, honey bunny, you don’t want to die. You want to get better.”

“I can’t get better. I  want to be euthanized!”

Euthanasia did seem pretty appealing at that point. If only that guy who brought me my trays of food would also bring me a syringe that would put me to sleep forever. If only he could inject it in to my arm so that I could be enveloped by a blissful fog that would permanently release me from my physical and emotional prisons, from this hell on earth, from this world of intense, unrelenting psychological suffering.

One of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced, one of the worst feelings in the world, the kind of feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy was that feeling I got every morning when I woke up in the back ward of that mental hospital. It was a feeling of horror, a feeling of unreality as I had to acknowledge over and over again that this was not all a bad dream. This was my truth, this was my life, this was what I had done to myself.

Eventually my mom called me to tell me that she was flying down to Idaho to get me. She had been told that if she brought me to an emergency room in New York she could probably get me admitted to a psychiatric hospital called Payne-Whitney.

Before my mother arrived at the mental hospital Marlene came to pay me a visit. The first thing she said to me was “So, you’re in the back ward of a mental hospital…” The last thing she said to me was “So, when I call your mom a year from now is she going to tell me you’ve been permanently locked up in a mental hospital?” I got the impression Marlene wouldn’t be all that surprised or devastated if that ended up being the case.

When my mother arrived at the mental hospital Marlene informed her that Innercept would be sending her a bill for the mattress I’d destroyed with my vomiting and diarrhea. And with that I was off on the next leg of my adventures in mental illness.