The River, Part Two

In 2017, I wrote a post called The River, which told the story of me running away from the source of my heart aching. I wasn’t really looking for anything at all, but- as history unveils- these are usually the times we find exactly what we had been missing. You feel like you know yourself or your partner well enough, but the truth is, it takes a hell of a lot longer than a year or two to get to know very important truths about any one individual. I’ve been in relationships that last three months, tops, and- being completely convinced I’ve figured out this person isn’t for me- made my escape in some form or fashion. But when I met my guy, the situation was different.

I met him at work. I remember it like it just happened. I was brand new- my first day- sitting at a long table, folding and bagging baby onesies. His tall, lanky ass came bouncing through from the printer room and my supervisor stopped him.

“Hey JJ!”

He came to an abrupt halt, turned on a dime and threw up his arms like Bruce Lee. “HA!”

My supervisor pointed across the table, “This is Ashley, she’s new.”

He dropped his arms to the front and back of his waist and bent halfway, bowing his head. “I’m JJ.”

I smiled- “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t know then how nice it really would become, or that our rollercoaster relationship would suffer peaks and valleys, prompting a lot of hateful thoughts, harshly spoken words and painful, burning tears. A lot of break-ups and reunions. I didn’t know then that it would take almost five years to get a full understanding of how nice it actually is.

At that time, he was with another girl and I was with another boy and neither relationship was working to our advantage. He was being used and I was feeling uncertain. He was one year into his relationship and I was two years into mine, and while both of us were making attempts to build our futures with these people, both plans fell completely through. My then boyfriend was living, working, and gigging in Birmingham and his then girlfriend was making plans to move to Mississippi to live close to family. A few months passed and both relationships dissolved. By that time, JJ and I were coworkers who were comfortable enough with each other that we would hide and scare each other, or upon meeting one another, would start swing dancing together. He was a goofball, and so much fun. I loved that we were able to be total idiots together when nobody was looking. It was just about the only thing that made that terrible work environment somewhat tolerable. We helped get each other through our days. Fast forward through hell and back, that’s where we are now- only our bodies are slower and we have since moved on to MUCH BETTER job situations.

When you are bipolar and on the autistic spectrum, you feel things intensely. Although it was a slow, gradual process, when I fell for JJ, I fell really, really hard. I had thoughts like we are meant to be together and everything I’ve been through led me to you, etc. He, on the other hand, has ADHD. Do you know how difficult it is to maintain a happy, cohesive, responsible relationship when two people battle these things daily?

It’s not possible! Or… maybe with a lot of time and training and patience… it is.

It took four years for me to feel secure and confident that JJ really loves me. He would get distracted regularly or interrupt me or look at other women or say inappropriate things, etc. etc. that led me to feel insecure, not only with our relationship, but with myself. The events detailed in The River was my response in feeling completely lost and simply finding myself again. And I really did. But even after that, and up to as recently as this year, I have had to take cleansing breaks from the seemingly impossible love affair, regardless of how much I truly love this guy, for the sake of my own sanity.

Out of all the popular love affairs I could compare our chemistry to, Benny and Joon sticks out the most. When you love someone so deeply, and share an other worldly chemistry with another human, shit happens. A lot of shit. A lot of wonderful, magical, unbelievable shit.

I wonder where we will be five years from right now…

Conversations with Myself

Working and living in an area of non-stop small talk, often times the most intimate conversations I have are with myself. I think constantly. My brain is thinking about multiple things, beginning around the hour I become conscious, to the moments leading up to me quickly shutting down my brain to RELAX.

Anyway, conversations with myself- self talk as the Providers describe it- can do two things:

  1. Cause total chaos, leaving you exhausted and disheveled
  2. Cause total bliss, leaving you weightless and satisfied

Oh, you aren’t exactly like me?

I guess I forgot.

There are days when I feel euphoric- something I would compare to an acid trip. Maybe it’s the season, the weather, or nerve damage? I couldn’t say. What I can say is that some days feel like the polar opposite, and these are the days I would like to focus on right now. Because we always start with bad news. And when I say we, I actually refer to my two vastly polar opposite personalities. One is happy and excited. One is tired and annoyed.

A little, somewhat popular, album was released when I was fifteen years old. It recently turned twenty years of age and I thought, you know what? I really would like to discuss how this particular piece of timeless art shaped me in my most vulnerable and bitterly angry years, when I was attempting to break the rules and figure out who the hell I really am.

Why am I so angry? Please explain this to me in song, Maynard James Keenan.

Lateralus was released May 15, 2001 and it was the spring, then summer of Tool, which then became the following twenty years of more Tool which involved digging into and appreciating and supporting more side projects. Hell, a winery was birthed out of Tool. And a farm. Life.

Come to think of it, even… my child.

Hooked on everything that these people involved with these projects produced, I felt like I had found this secret garden of information that a handful of other local, angry teenagers and I clung to for emotional support and strength on the days when we had ZILCH internally. The local music scene thrived- not because of Tool, but thanks to this similar angst that Tool had seamlessly tapped into, harnessed with leather straps, and made their bitch. It was an inspiring time for angry artists, and holy shit- was I angry.

I met my child’s father the summer a drunk man decided to get behind the wheel of a heavy automobile, which he half ass managed to operate until he ran my friends and I off the highway around a curve just in front of my friend’s house. We hit the embankment, flew in the air, and nose dived into the ditch, while the dumb, intoxicated redneck sped away, leaving three good looking teenage girls in a smoking vehicle to die a horrible, untimely death. My friend’s mom heard the crash and sprinted down her driveway, spraining her ankle. I was stuck in the backseat, unable to get my seatbelt unclicked, while a motorist who had stopped was screaming to get out because the car was on fire.

Oh cool, this is it. I’m gonna die in front of Britney’s house.

Self talk.

I didn’t actually want to die. I enjoy living and being happy. But those are the words I said to myself, in such a sarcastic “gee, this is such a surprise” kind of way. After brushing my hilarious sarcasm aside, I got serious and worked harder to unbuckle, and with a fractured L4, got out of the car that was definitely not on fire, and ran however many yards, crunching glass and gravel, collapsing upon meeting my friend Britney and her mother- who were sobbing and gasping upon realizing it was me. “Yeah, another accident.” (I believe this would have been the sixth.)

My dad and sister pulled up. Just one week prior to this, my sister had major scoliosis surgery. She was recovering with stitches still holding her fragile halves together. I saw her crying and I felt so terrible that she was upset because I knew she was in so much pain herself. The ambulance arrived. I was strapped tightly to a hard board to stabilize my spine (gravel and glass cutting into my back), where I would remain for the next six to eight hours. I drifted in and out of consciousness but remember drinking the absolutely horrid MRI juice, VoLumen (short for Liquid Voldemort), and hurling barf upon meeting my Doctor, who replied with “Oh dear”.

Oh dear, indeed.

I recovered that summer in a back brace, with orders not to drive. The summer all of my friends were graduating without me and I couldn’t even celebrate. So, I spent my time writing. A lot. Whether in notebooks or LiveJournal, I was getting my thoughts out of my head. I was sharing. A lot. I was visiting chat rooms and sharing there, too. And this is how I connected to my child’s father, Ricky. Another Tool fan.

-Something cool I said about my favorite band

-Something he said in agreement

-More words exchanged

He then looks at my profile and sees that I am female.

-Holy shit, I thought you were a dude.

-Ha, no.

Then we continued talking about our favorite band Tool for four hours.

Then we continued talking about the reasons we admire the band Tool.

Then we continued talking about the various things that we have been through that led to the mindset which allowed for appreciation of the band Tool.

Then we moved in together.

Then we made a baby.

Self talk is important. Sometimes self talk can seem like something that produces filth and you suffer for it. Often, those around you suffer as a result, too. But every so often, when you’re lucky, you get a diamond in the rough.

Twenty years later, and he and I still maintain. He is the person who gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. “When you talk shit to yourself, add something nice.” We can communicate. I know the pieces fit. He appreciates that I have been on top of all the responsibilities in raising our child, and I appreciate that he hasn’t laid one finger on her. Be patient.

I talk to myself daily. And yeah- you do, too. Whatever you tell yourself, never forget- add something nice.

Ashley is Autistic

It took years- nearly thirty-two- for me to reach the conclusion that I am autistic. Even now, at thirty-five, I started to type that I “have” autism, when in reality, this doesn’t make much sense to me. And, in developing relationships with people in the community, I have found that they agree. Autism isn’t a disease. It isn’t a mental disorder. It is just the way our brains function. It is simply who we are.

Everyone is different, no doubt. Everyone has a unique way of thinking. Autistic people tend to think in such a way that someone with a “normal” sense of the world around them may look at them as though they are from an alternate universe. Autistic people are commonly outcast, or tend to fade into the background in social situations. Social cues are difficult to catch, and many times a crowd of people can be overwhelming. Autistic people usually take everything at face value, and it is sometimes difficult to understand why a person feels or thinks the way they do. So, like someone with a “normal” thought process, autistic people are equally baffled at the way other people generally feel. Small talk is annoying, for example. I honestly could care less how your day is. What I want to know is if you had any challenges that arose and how you dealt with them, and how I could potentially assist you through your struggles. This isn’t to say that I won’t listen to or engage in small talk, it simply means that I enjoy deeper, more meaningful conversation. The kind of conversation most people don’t feel comfortable with. It sucks, but I believe engaging with the autistic community over the last few years has allowed me to really connect to people who make sense to me, and people who have helped me make sense of myself. It has been special and empowering!

Autistic people have various characteristics, but share a lot of similarities in the way we think. The sensations we feel. The ticks and habits. The mood swings. The intensity. The drain. The STIM. It is exhausting coping with the every day life tasks for an autistic person. And a little secret for those who might sense you are also autistic- the society we have built is not very accommodating to those who think and feel the way we do. In fact, I had to do my own independent research for years to even get a grip of what, why, and how I feel and think. Psychology has always been an interesting subject to me, and after working in mental healthcare and completing two semesters of psychology, along with my own reading, I believe that my being autistic plays a big role in this general curiosity about the human brain. The shitty part about all of this is that all of my former research, prior to reading a book written by an autistic savant, doesn’t give autism any amount of justice. Autistic people are badass, and the more we engage in sharing our stories, the more we are lifted up in the community, and the more we can see that there is still a lot of work to be done in the general field of mental healthcare.

There are very limited resources, especially here in the American south, that paints the full scope of what autism truly is. So, please allow me to give you some more insight and resources. First, I will explain the reasons I felt strongly that I am autistic. If you are unfamiliar with psychology or autism, none of this will make sense to you, but these are some things that, I strongly feel, played a role in my being autistic:

Genetics (although it’s yet to be proven, I do believe other family members are autistic, my mom and daughter being among them)

I was born addicted to Phenobarbital, a seizure medicine (not a good thing)

Took early interest in music and film (Listening and rocking back and forth to music for hours, crying at movie scenes as early as age 3)

Fractured spine and concussion age 8, was confined to a reclined wheelchair, body cast, and home tutoring for nine months

Wrote a lot, won essay contests and participated in Writers Conference throughout school- very vivid imagination

Family trauma, developed bipolar disorder entering puberty

Fractured spine again, age 18

Family trauma, ten car accidents, PTSD

Hyper sensitive to loud, high pitch noises

Special interests in photography, art, nature conservation, human rights, etc.

So, there are multiple factors that can play a role in a person being autistic. The cool thing- and I can not yet explain why- is that autistic people generally gravitate to each other. In other words, it is rather easy to navigate social situations when you lock on to other autistic people. And you typically stick like glue. My mother was non-verbal until she was five years old. Her first words were “Good gracious alive! Look at that big pink gorilla!”

I was her shadow. And funny enough, my sister was mine. The same can be said about the relationship of my daughter and me. It is as though a light bulb flickers on and we find our way, helping each other navigate through life.

I attribute my ability to cope so well to the support I received throughout my life. I was never forbidden to spend hours at a time in my room, wearing headphones, blasting music in my ears while “dancing”. I was never forbidden to wear my hat backwards. I was never forbidden to cling to my security blanket (until I passed it down to my own daughter). I was never made to feel like what I was saying or doing was weird, unless I was outside of my typical social circle. And even then, sometimes I would be completely aware of my weirdness.

On the flip side, I have experienced negative social consequences among my peers. I’ve been called a lesbian- as though that were some sort of insult- countless times. Whether it was my lack of fashion sense, or the fact I could care less to fit in, or because I didn’t flirt back, sometimes I would be made to feel as though I did not belong or that I was somehow a threat, or less than. I’m not a lesbian, but given that homosexuality is somewhat related to autism, it makes sense to me now. And I still could care less. It is just yet another obstacle that our communities which aren’t quite cookie cutter enough have to navigate in order to somehow make our living. That, I feel, is the exhausting part. The good news is, more and more people are becoming aware of this. And the better news is, more and more people are becoming accepting of this.

Born on a Blue Day is a book written by an autistic savant, Daniel Tammet. This fella is intelligent beyond words, and breaks autism down so well, that once I began reading, I couldn’t put it down. I felt like I was connecting to my long lost brother. It was so enlightening to me that, even after more than a decade of digging into psychology, everything began to make perfect sense. This, along with connecting to other people in the community, has been a blessing. I have completely not only accepted who I am, but fully embraced myself. In the past, I struggled immensely with questions. Why this? Why that? Now? Not so much. I love myself, and this helps me cope with bipolar disorder. It is a win win- for everyone.

So instead of society trying to sweep the stigma surrounding autism, bipolar disorder, mental health under the rug and pretending like everything is just totally cool… look at it differently. I believe the stigma might be rooted in the negative events which have happened that were blamed on a person’s disorder. “This guy killed someone and pleads insanity”. When I make a mistake, I don’t blame it on anything other than my own stupidity. I’m not saying that mental disorders don’t play a role in producing thoughts that lead to making terrible choices, but the fact that they are blamed after the action makes me angry. This is something that should be said: mental disorders play a role in good things happening, too. The very same can be said about drugs. That is a subject for another day, but this is the truth. Bill Hicks said it first. And now that I think about it, I think he may have been autistic, too.

For more information on autism, visit these links:

Born of a Blue Day – DanielTammet.NET

#ActuallyAutistic and rejected by the autistic community | The Autism Cafe

Home | Autism Speaks

What is autism? – NHS (www.nhs.uk)