Tag Archives: marriage

Dating While Autistic and in My 40s

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”     – Carl Jung

Yes, autistic people have partners and have children. Autistic people can and do get married. Being autistic does not mean a person won’t have romantic connections with other people.  Some autistic people find it easy to be in romantic relationships and some might struggle.  Struggling in relationships is not solely restricted to autistic people. Lots of people with different neurologies have relationship struggles.  Being autistic and/or having autistic children DOES NOT increase the chances of divorce.  This is a misconception that just won’t die.  The myth is that the divorce rate in families with autism is 80%. This is not true!  The myth has been debunked!

Under a Looking Glass: What’s the truth about Autism and Marriage?

Researchers in Baltimore investigated the supposed 80 percent divorce rate for parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Unlike other studies, this one was particularly large – using data from almost 78,000 parents, 913 of whom had a child with autism – and included families from across the United States. The bigger the study, the less likely the results are due to chance or something unique about the pool of people studied. The researchers, from Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University, found no evidence of an 80 percent divorce rate.

In fact, parents of children with autism split up as often as parents of children who don’t have autism, according to their research. In this study, about two-thirds of the children lived with their two biological or adoptive parents. That was true whether the children had autism or not. The severity of a child’s autism symptoms had no effect on the likelihood that parents would go their separate ways.

I am autistic, and, yes, I was once married. My divorce was not caused by my neurology nor was it caused by the neurology of my children.  I was in an abusive marriage, which I have written a lot about.  My ex has tried to blame my neurology as to why he did the things he did, but it really came down to him using projection and refusing to take responsibility for his actions.

Here is a list of a few of my previous posts about my abusive marriage:

Now that I got that out of the way, I want to address a different topic – dating. The last time I was dating anyone was when I was in my twenties.  Dating in the mid to late 90s was very different compared to today.  For one thing, there was no social media yet.  According to the Complete History of Social Media: Then And Now, the first recognizable social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. In 1999, the first blogging sites became popular.  I didn’t even know this until just now when I looked it up. This wasn’t a platform I had access to.  I didn’t have a cell phone until after my daughter was born, which would have been in early 2001.  Texting was still in its infancy at this point.  There was no YouTube, or SnapChat, or Facebook.  There was no Twitter, or Instagram, or Tumblr. Myspace wasn’t even around yet.  The World Wide Web became available in 1991, but to access it you had to dial into it through the phone line. There were no dating apps.  No one used the word “apps”.  Meeting and staying connected to people was very different when I was in my 20s.  A person had to either be “fixed up” with someone by a third party or you had to meet a person somewhere and talk to them face-to-face and decide if you want to see this person again.  I know, weird, right?

Here we are in the year 2019 and I am now in my 40s. I am a single mom to two older teenagers.  I hadn’t had much dating experience prior to being married and for much of my adult life I had been in a toxic, abusive situation that resulted in me developing Complex-PTSD as well as both my children developing symptoms of PTSD.  My ex left seven years ago and the divorce officially happened five years ago.  Seven years is a long time. On average, a person in an abusive relationship will attempt to leave 7 times before finally leaving for good.  I was no different.  I was trauma bonded to my ex and a trauma bond is very difficult to break. My ex came back after the first three years.   It didn’t last, because after a while he fell back into his abusive behavior patterns.  I hadn’t dated anyone that whole seven years, that is, until now.

Let me tell you, dating in your 40s with children is weird! Dating as an autistic woman with Complex-PTSD makes it so much more difficult and scary. It is a whole different landscape these days, and, luckily, my counselor has been helping navigate.  My children have been providing a lot of encouragement as well.  Yes, my two autistic teenagers who have never dated anyone are helping their mother figure out how to date in this modern age.

When I first entered the dating realm in my 20s, I didn’t know I was autistic. I didn’t know that I was developmentally delayed.  I didn’t understand my sensory needs.  I hadn’t been exposed to what a healthy relationship was like.  I knew I didn’t want to get married until after I finished college, but I did date.  Having children was also very important to me.  My biological clock went off long before I was ready to get married.  What ended up happening was that I married what I knew.  The skills I had acquired growing up prepared me to live in a toxic marriage. 

I knew how to navigate a situation like that. I knew how to survive.  My adaptive skills that I had acquired growing up as an undiagnosed autistic child served me well.  It got me to where I am today.  Those skills kept me alive, but I didn’t know how to live.  I am very good at surviving, but I found myself at a loss when it came to actually living my life without being in a constant state of fight/flight/freeze/fawn. 

I needed to unlearn my old adaptive skills first before I could relearn new healthier adaptive skills that would allow me to successfully be in a healthy relationship. This process of unlearning and relearning takes time and it is not necessarily a smooth transition, especially since it requires a person to process layers of trauma that caused the old adaptive skills to develop in the first place.  This process left me in a sort of grey zone of not knowing what to do or expect when I finally did meet a man I wanted to date.

This void, if you will, is very anxiety provoking. As an autistic person, I need routine and predictability.  Even if it was toxic, I knew how to navigate in my old life.  That old life was “home” to me, but I didn’t want that “home” anymore.  I wanted to know what it was like to be in a healthy relationship.  That required change and change is scary, particularly for an autistic person.  I couldn’t make the change happened without help.  The hurdle was too large for me to get over without assistance.  That is why I went back into counseling after 12 years when I was first diagnosed with PTSD.

During the time I have been in trauma therapy and unlearning and relearning adaptive skills, I joined a dating app. My counselor encouraged me and I felt it was time.  This dating app matched me with a gentleman that I probably would never have met on my own.  Different towns, different school districts, but we have so much in common.  We started chatting through the app.  Then we decided to meet. That was over two months ago and our relationship has steadily progressed in a positive direction since.  I am in my 40s and I officially have a boyfriend.  For the first time in my dating life I feel genuinely loved for the person I am, my true autistic self.  I feel accepted and seen as a person, not just seen as some extension of another person to be used as they saw fit.  It is an amazing feeling, but I still struggle with trust.  This struggle comes from being a domestic abuse survivor.  I am working on learning how to trust again, taking things slow, and enjoying every moment of it.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know what this new experience will New Beginningslead to, but I am grateful for this new man in my life. Not only is his showing me what being in a healthy relationship is like, he is also showing my children that there are good men out there, good fathers out there who do actually emotionally support their children and provide for them without being asked to. 

My children’s negative memories about their father will never go away, but my hope is that this new experience can help build more positive memories for them. My children like this new man in my life. They like how he treats me. They have both told me that they don’t feel like they are walking around on eggs shells with this new man like they feel around their father.  There haven’t been any red flags or warning signs that this new guy is a danger either.

My children haven’t seen their father in over a year and a half. They don’t speak to him. At this point, their father still represents a danger.  He caused so much damage, but tries to pretend like everything is fine and everything is “normal”.  This situation is not fine nor is it “normal” in anyway.  This is one of the big reasons why it took me so long to get back into the dating scene.  I didn’t feel safe.  I didn’t know how to trust again.  This new man in my life has been showing me, little by little, that I can trust again.  It is a rarity for me to be able to relax around other people.  I find myself relaxing with him.  I feel better within myself and I like who I am when I am with him.  He makes me feel pretty without doing anything.  I had to learn that this is what it feels like to be respected by a romantic partner. 

He doesn’t push me into things. He is patient and understanding. He shows compassion and is empathetic. He is considerate of my needs and wants to learn about my neurology. He has even asked about words he should and should not use.  This is incredible to me.  I have not experienced this type of situation before.  He sees who I am and wants to learn more so that he can be more supportive!

I feel like a teenager again learning how to do all this romantic stuff all over again. It is confusing at times and other times it feels natural.  I am a 44 year old autistic woman learning how to date again in the modern age.  It is fun and thrilling and scary and tiring all at once.  Thanks to the development of social media and dating apps, I have been able to experience romantic love at a level that I never have before, a healthy, respected love.  Autistic people love, they have relationships, they have romantic partners, and they do get married and have children.  This process might look different from the societal norms of today. It might be slower, there might be more confusion, more heartache, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  

Moving from Surviving to Healing

It has been a while since I have posted. It has been a very busy period of time.  In April, I had a huge emotional trigger that sent my life spinning.  This showed me that I had some deep emotional trauma that was demanding to be heard.  I realized that I needed help with this. So began my struggle into finding a counselor that not only accepted my insurance, but who was also familiar with Autism and was trauma-informed.

With the help of my son’s counselor, I was able to find a suitable counselor for me. I have now been officially diagnosed with Complex-PTSD and it has been officially determined my ex-husband’s treatment of me is the primary cause.

My counselor has helped me realize that I do have a lot of skills. These skills have kept me alive up until this point. What has happened is that I am now in this gray area where my skills are no longer working.  I need different skills to help me move forward into the next chapter of my life, one that is free of domestic abuse.

I am still scared. I want him out of my head, but this is going to take time.  According to counselor, my neurology has led to my memories being stored in separate protective bubbles rather than in an interwoven web.  These bubbles leak and interfere with everything else in my life.  This has led to my previous attempts at counseling to fail, because (1) no one realized I was autistic, (2) no one saw that I was in an abusive marriage and I did not have the appropriate words to understand what was happening to me, and (3) traditional forms of trauma therapy does not work when memories are stored in the way mine are. 

It has been 12 years since I last was in counseling. I was diagnosed with PTSD 15 years ago due to a medical trauma. Over a period of three years, I was traded amongst five different counselors, was put on 10 different anti-depressants, five different anti-anxiety medications, and three different sleep aids. Nothing worked and I had paradoxical effects from the various medications. It was finally determined that there was no point of me being on the medications, so I was slowly tapered off. Counseling ended around the same time.  Another five years would go by before I was officially diagnosed with Autism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Social Anxiety.

I have known I am autistic for about seven years now. I also know now that I am a domestic abuse survivor. 

It has now been officially determined that both my children exhibit signs of PTSD as well.

All three of us are autistic. All three of us present differently.  All three of us have been harmed by a covert narcissist who used passive aggression as a weapon, but who can also be incredibly charming, particularly to those who are not his target.  It can become extremely difficult to get people to believe you that you are being harmed when there are no visible bruises or broken bones.

I do not know what it is like to be in a healthy relationship. My children do not know what it is like to have a supportive adult male figure in their lives. I married what I knew.  I already had the skills to survive with someone like my ex-husband, because I had grown up in a similar environment.  He felt like home to me and I didn’t understand why. 

My counselor is helping me find self-acceptance. I am still disappointed in myself.  I don’t understand why I put up with all the bullshit for so long.  We were married for 15 years.  He has been with six other women over the past six and a half years. The first three were during the last two years of our marriage.  My children and I already knew about the sixth girlfriend, so it was quite a shock to me that the letters he sent us in April to declare her presence in his life had such an impact on me.  I fell into panic that ebbed and flowed for weeks.  He knew just how to hurt me.  His letters were full of invalidation and denial of all the harm he had caused, not just to me, but to our children as well.  Once again he made me feel worthless and no good. 

Logically, I know that I have a lot of worth, but my heart is still struggling with all the internalized ableism that I was subjected to for so long. The thoughts are not my own. The thoughts that haunt me were put there by others who did not see my worth and sought control.

I was to be kept in a box of their making and contained under their authority. My needs and wants did not matter. I was expected to comply with their wishes and not assert myself in any way. 

But I did . . .

I fought back . . .

I broke out of the box, but my wings are damaged and it is going to take longer than I expected to heal.  

The second attempt at visitations ended a long time ago. My children have stopped talking to their father. They won’t even call him “dad” anymore.  My son refers to him as “my father” and my daughter refers to him by his first name.

Yet, he still periodically, out-of-the-blue, sends letters to our children that are short, unemotional, and invalidating, but at the same time claims that he loves them. I believe he feels something for the kids, but I wouldn’t call it love. Love is a verb and he has no idea how to love the kids. Whenever he claims that he loves them, it is like a slap in the face.  They don’t believe him.

Emotional abuse is a very real thing and it has life-long effects on people who have been subjected to it. It is important to believe people when they say something is not right. An abusive marriage takes time to build. This process is slow, insidious, and can happen under the radar.  I am only now learning just how deep and damaging the trauma was that I was subjected to.  I only now understand that I was subjected to not only emotional abuse, including verbal abuse, but also mental and financial abuse as well. 

He is a gun enthusiast. The last time I heard, he owned seven different guns.  He also carries concealed.  He has never threatened me or my children overtly.  He does everything covertly.  The threat is unspoken, but very obvious. My 16 year old son came up with a safety plan on his own on what to do if his father shows up unannounced.  My son should never have felt that he needed to so that, but the threat is real even if it has not been spoken out loud. Guns don’t make me feel safe.

I have written additional material over the years about being in an emotionally abusive marriage.

Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse Posted on June 9, 2014

Abuse and Its Many Forms Posted on October 29, 2018

Toxic Shame – You might struggle with it and not even know it! Posted on January 10, 2019

Here are some additional resources:

The Domestic Abuse Hotline

Domestic Violence and Abuse

How to Recognize the Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse

Three charts on: how emotional and economic abuse go hand-in-hand

A Productive Rant

Privilege, Societal Barriers, the Roll of the Genetic Dice, and the Choices We Make in Life

Rolling Dice

There are days that I find myself wanting to claw at the walls and people’s faces. Some days I feel like I am suffocating, being smothered by everything. Other days I am so fatigued that I find it hard to breath. I feel that I have to fight my muscles just to keep breathing. It is not one thing that is causing this. It is never one thing.

I realize some people would view this as me whining, that I should just be content that I even have a job at all and that I have a roof over my head. I even think I am whining. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful, but there comes a time when there is just too much that has been going on for too long.

Why do my kids and I continually struggle when others don’t? It really has to do with privilege, societal barriers, the roll of the genetic dice, and the choices we make in life

I chose to marry a man that turned out to be emotionally abusive and then abruptly abandoned us.  Did I know he was going to become abusive? No, not in any way.  Everyone liked him. I felt I had known him all my life. The choices he has made has caused a lifelong impact on myself and our children.   

I chose to go to college and become a teacher, something I wanted to become since I was seven years old.  I was born to be a teacher. Unfortunately, the society that I live in does not really look kindly upon teachers or schools for that matter. Lots of negativity, lack of resources, and lack of support.  

Then I chose to go back to graduate school to get my master’s degree, because I had essentially become a dinosaur in my field. I was a long-term science teacher with only a bachelor’s degree.  I needed to make myself more hirable so I could support my children better. That was my thought and when I started my master’s program, we were still a two income household. I knew that, in order to complete my original plan of completing a science education graduate program, I would need the assistance of my husband. He agreed that it was time for me to go back to school and that he would be there to help me.

Our Education System

It wasn’t even two months after I began my program when my husband left. I managed for two years without his help, but due to my learning needs, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the program. I was attending an online graduate program from a different state.  The school would only help me if I went to the disability office on campus.  That was going to be impossible, so I decided to transfer to another school. Again, another choice on my part that was due to being put into a position that was not my choice.

I managed to find and get accepted into a different online graduate program from a different state, one that believed in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) standards and supported all students in many different formats. I graduated two years later with a Master’s in Education with a focus in Autism. 

In order to complete my degree, I chose to amass student loan debt, because, in the country I live in, college is very, very expensive.  I do not have the privilege of coming from a well-to-do family that could pay for my college education. I either needed to take out student loans or not get my graduate degree.  Neither my degrees guaranteed me a well-paying job with benefits. There are no guarantees in life. 

I also chose to become a mother, twice.  Did I know that I would have complications? No, there were no indications.  Two months of bed rest with my first child (pre-eclampsia) and four months of bed rest with my second child.  There was no warning that all hell would break loose with my second pregnancy. I was almost paralyzed. I have a beautiful son and a beautiful daughter, but my body never fully recovered after my second pregnancy. I have ongoing medical problems stemming from pregnancy complications and Ehler-Danlos Syndrome. 

I am autistic, I have Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, and I also can’t build up antibodies from vaccines. This is all due to the roll of the genetic dice.  My titer levels show no evidence that I was ever vaccinated even though I received vaccinations multiple times, even in adulthood. So, yay for me.

As a person who must rely on herd immunity to protect myself from preventable diseases, I have no patience for anyone who is an antivaxer or anyone who claims vaccines caused their child’s autism. No patience what so ever.  There is a current measles outbreak happening in my state right now.  I am appalled by the self-righteous ignorance of people. They don’t care and they think they know better.

I am digressing . . .

We moved four times in the last six years. We moved due to financial, family, work, and school reasons. Was all this moving by choice? Yes, it was by choice. It has been six years of just the three of us trying to survive.  You do what you have to do to keep going and sometimes you have to make really hard choices so you don’t end up out on the streets.

This brings me back to privilege.  Why have my children and I had to struggle for so long? 

I did receive food assistance for four years up until it was decided that I made just a little too much money. This is a societal barrier.  The problem is that, sure, I work full-time, but I don’t make a living wage.  The state took away the support I needed to feed my children.  We ration food. That is hard on the body and the mind.

I am grateful for my job. My years of teaching and my master’s degree opened the door for me to be able to work in the non-profit sector where I can help families with children with disabilities navigate the education system.  I pay it forward by helping make the world better for one person/one family at a time.  This job does not pay a whole lot, but it does allow the flexible schedule that I need to be the parent that my children need.  They have weekly medical appointments that requires a lot traveling.

I have also been homeschooling for the last five years. This was not something that we had planned on.  Homeschooling became a necessity so my children could be successful and reach their potential.  My own health needs require that I have a flexible schedule.  There are days that I am unable to leave my bed, and then there are other days that end up being a 10-hour work day. I do understand that having a flexible work schedule that allows me to work the majority of the time from home is a privilege.  

There was a time that I worked three part-time teaching positions while attending graduate school and homeschooling full-time. That lasted for three years. I don’t remember sleeping much, but I made it work. Now that both my children are part of the Home Link program, which is part of the public school system. I have better schooling support for my children and they are thriving in the alternative learning experience that is available here. I do understand that this placement is a privilege and I am grateful for it.

Even though I have find myself in a better employment and schooling situation, I find that my burnout never seems to end. I have been at some level of burnout for at least two decades.  I don’t have a proper word to describe this never-ending burnout. I do have better days, but it is a constant struggle to even move.  Life keeps going so I must keep pushing myself forward, which only drains me further. It is out of sheer determination that I can maintain my daily responsibilities, but more and more things keep getting piled on. So, I remain stoic and keep treading water. Unfortunately, a person can’t tread water indefinitely. This concerns me greatly.

Life shouldn’t be this hard. Yes, I understand that there are people who have it worse than me.  My point isn’t about my situation alone.  My point applies to everyone who has to constantly struggle in a country that is considered a first world nation and a “Leader of the Free World”.

Do you know what the United States is ranked first in?

As of 2015 the U.S.:

  • ranks 1st in prisoners
  • ranks 1st in death by violence
  • ranks 2nd in ignorance
  • ranks 14th in education
  • ranks 22nd in gender equality
  • ranks 44th in health care efficiency

U.S. Has The Worst Rate Of Maternal Deaths In The Developed World

More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising.

Inequality

The US has the highest income inequality of all rich countries.

Poverty

The US has the second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries

According to a 2012 UNICEF study, 23.1% US kids live in poverty. Other studies place the number a little lower, at about 20%, but both numbers are much higher than in other advanced countries. For black and Hispanic American children, the poverty rate is even higher, at 36% and 31%.

Survival BiasI need to ask that people stop telling others that it was their choice for why they ended up in a particular situation. Poverty is a systematic problem; there are societal barriers in place that prevent many from climbing out of poverty. 

For those of us who have been trying everything to make our lives and the lives of their children better, stop dismissing us by saying that we should just be happy and grateful with what we have. No, just no. 

 

“Every inspirational speech by someone successful should have to start with a disclaimer about survivorship bias.” – xkcd comics

No one should be expected to be happy when they are struggling day in and day out.  For those who keep saying that such and such worked for you, stop!! That is survival bias, otherwise known as bootstrap mentality.

I need people to stop telling others that happiness is a choice. You are not helping Happiness is not choiceanyone. Happiness is not a choice!!  Stop telling people with mental illness and/or disability that all they need to do is choose to be happy.

For many years now I have been focusing on living in the moment, to find happiness in the moment, because my life has been very stressful despite everything I have tried to do to fix the situation. This has been going on for so long that I found myself becoming really irritable.  I had to allow myself to dive into the root cause of this ongoing irritability.  I came to the realization that I am not happy.  Even those moments that I focus on are no longer enough for me to find joy in life. My irritability has been coming from me not wanting to accept that I am not happy. I was being stubborn and didn’t want to face reality.  This brings me to the next part of this productive rant.

Both my children have been described as having anhedonia. I have found that I also have it.

What is anhedonia? To put it simply, it means the absence of joy.

The clinical definition is “Anhedonia, a term first used by Ribot in 1896, is a diminished capacity to experience pleasure. It describes the lack of interest and the withdrawal from all usual pleasant activities. Chapman et al.  defined two different types of hedonic deficit: physical anhedonia and social anhedonia. Physical anhedonia represents an inability to feel physical pleasures (such as eating, touching and sex). Social anhedonia describes an incapacity to experience interpersonal pleasure (such as being and talking to others).”  

So, what’s the point?

What is the point if you find no joy in life?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to this question.

My resilience has gotten me this far. I am not the type to give up. I am a survivor.  I know that I am going to keep on moving forward.  That is who I am.  I keep swimming. 

But, I am so tired . . .

I worry about my children. I find myself crying at night, because I am afraid that my health will continue to decline so badly that I will become a burden on them.  I don’t want that. I cry at night, because I don’t know if my health will let me go back to teaching full-time in the classroom and I know that once the child support stops in 2021, my income will drop significantly. I cry at night because I wish for a better life for my children.  They did not deserve the crappy deal they got with their emotionally abusive father. I cry at night, because I don’t know what it feels like to be in a healthy, supportive, romantic relationship and I have no idea if I will ever know. It has been six years and I haven’t even started dating anyone else and that is not due for the lack of wanting to start. Just trying to survive takes precedence over dating.  I cry at night, because of my stoicism. I do not have the ability to turn it off, and even if I did, I need to remain strong for my children. They know I struggle and they worry. They don’t need the stress of seeing their mother crying. 

I am so tired . . . but, I keep swimming.

I will keep treading water for as long as I can.

I am in this place, because of privilege, societal barriers, the roll of the genetic dice, and the choices I made in life as well as the choices other people in my life made. Choices have a ripple effect not only in your life, but in the lives of others.

I ask that when you make a choice, please be mindful of the impact it will have on those around you. Even if your intent does not come from a place of malice, it is the impact that counts. The impact always carries more weight than the intent.

Intent Versus Impact: When Making a Difference Doesn’t | Miriam Barnett | TEDxTacoma – VIDEO

 

(Image sources linked to images. I do not own any of the images.)

 

Toxic Shame – You might struggle with it and not even know it!

(Trigger Warning – Mention of suicide and abuse.)

“Toxic Shame”, just reading those words makes me cringe. I didn’t know until recently that there was a term for it, but I am very familiar with the effects and damage that toxic shame causes.  In my experience, toxic shame can cause generational damage as well.

What is toxic shame?

To answer that question, I first have to explain what ordinary shame is. According to Mary C. Lamia Ph.D. , “as a self-conscious emotion, shame informs us of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, regret, or disconnection. Shame is a clear signal that our positive feelings have been interrupted. Another person or a circumstance can trigger shame in us, but so can a failure to meet our own ideals or standards.”

brene brown

In the article, What is Toxic Shame? , it is the shame that has become toxic.  That level of shame is described as “internalized shame” that hangs around and alters our self-image. For some people, toxic shame can consume their personality. For others, the shame lies beneath their conscious awareness, but can easily be triggered.

The article further explains that “toxic shame differs from ordinary shame, which passes in a day or a few hours, in the following respects:

  • It can hide in our unconscious, so that we’re unaware that we have shame.
  • When we experience shame, it lasts much longer.
  • The feelings and pain associated with shame are of greater intensity.
  • An external event isn’t required to trigger it. Our own thoughts can bring on feelings of shame.
  • It leads to shame spirals that cause depression and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
  • It causes chronic “shame anxiety” – the fear of experiencing shame.
  • It’s accompanied by voices, images, or beliefs originating in childhood and is associated with a negative “shame story” about ourselves.
  • We needn’t recall the original source of the immediate shame, which usually originated in childhood or a prior trauma.
  • It creates deep feelings of inadequacy.

“If not healed, toxic shame can lead to aggression, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and addiction. It generates low self-esteem, anxiety, irrational guilt, perfectionism, and codependency, and it limits our ability to enjoy satisfying relationships and professional success.”

 I understand all of this.  Shame and guilt have been used as weapons to manipulate me, to control me, to make me comply with another’s wishes, to make me submit.  It is an awful experience and it stays with you.  For much of my life I had no defense against this.  I was conditioned to be a co-dependent early on. I was taught that my needs came secondary and that I must never disappoint.  It was the end of the world if I disappointed, so I complied, much to my detriment.

Taking responsibility for things that aren’t yours (false responsibility) and toxic guilt are two things that often go hand in hand with toxic shame. A person ends up becoming overly agreeable which opens them up to being easily manipulated. Shame corrodes the person from the inside and can affect all areas of their life.

This is not something that just goes away. My conditioning followed me well into adulthood. Mix in my autistic brain insisting that “rules are rules”, my unwavering loyalty, my need to help others, my fear of disappointing people, my social anxiety traits, and my full-blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well as never being taught growing up how to advocate for myself (I learned as an adult) and I ended as someone who has, overtime, developed Complex-PTSD from being subjected to years and years of emotional neglect and abuse.

Keep in mind that shame and guilt are two different feelings.  Brene’ Brown, researcher-storyteller, explains in her TEDtalk – Listening to Shame:

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

I was not the way they wanted me to be.  My masking took a huge toll on me, but, in my mind, I had to comply. It was how I avoided the shame and guilt trips.  If I just complied, then I was spared the emotional gut punching. By complying and trying to please, maybe I could feel valued and not worthless, at least for a little while.  If I objected in anyway, advocated for myself in ways that contradicted them, and/or insisted on maintaining my personal boundaries, then the shaming would begin. The shaming is still happening, but instead of complying, I get angry.

My neurology and my ability to parent have been attacked for years.  This started when I had had enough and drew a metaphorical line.  I wasn’t going to tolerate being treated like that anymore.  I should never have had to fight those closest to me in order to have my individuality and identity, but I did fight for over three decades.

How does toxic shame become generational?

Parents can unintentionally or intentionally transfer their shame to their children through verbal messages or nonverbal behavior. If they were subjected to toxic shame, then they might project that shame onto their own children and the cycle continues. This is even truer when a parent has an untreated personality disorder or untreated mental health issue. Some examples of this include: a child might be feeling unloved in reaction to a parent’s depression, absence, indifference, or irritability or feel inadequate due to a parent’s competitiveness or over-correcting behavior.

Toxic shame makes it very difficult for a person to accept themselves. A person can find that they hate themselves, that they feel absolutely worthless and have no value what so ever. If this person is also autistic who is trying to live in a world that is not designed for them then that feeling of worthless and emotional pain only grows exponentially.

Up to 50 percent of autistic adults have considered ending their own lives, a rate two to three times that seen in the general population (1).  There was a time that I wanted to die.  I wasn’t suicidal. I just wanted my physical, mental, and emotional pain to end – more on that here.

According to Luna Lindsey:

Shame sends two of these three messages: 

  • I am intrinsically unacceptable which will make me always be alone
  • I am inherently unfixable and therefore will always be a source of trouble for those who do love me.

And shame (and resulting anxiety and depression) causes so much pain, that the third ingredient is an easy leap. After suffering long enough, suddenly death seems like a relief.

Luna continues on and suggests some possible solutions:

Affirmations – “For starters, when I feel this way, I often find relief from reading the well-crafted and autism-specific affirmations by Liane Holliday Willey which are posted on the WrongPlanet forums. These work most of the time, except for when, for whatever reason, I’m feeling overly cynical and don’t believe them.”

Self-Acceptance – “Because of these differences, there are many behaviors that will always be difficult or even impossible for NTs to accept, and you have to accept that, too.”

Identify your strengths (Aspie Superpowers) – “These are examples of how ASD makes you particularly awesome. They are the other side of the coin, your X-ray vision to the kryptonite. For examples, see the two links at the beginning of the paragraph. Come up with your own list. During shame-filled times, go over them and remind yourself of your strengths.”

Consider coming out –According to Brené Brown, shame requires secrecy, silence, and judgement to survive. Without these things, it will die. Consider finding a safe space, free of judgement, either with safe family, or safe friends, or with a therapist, or online at a place like WrongPlanet. Bring your shameful moments to light. If you feel judged, then go back into your shell until you do find someplace safe.”

To close, I would like to share a poem by Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance:

May all beings

Heal and awaken

Into the love and awareness

That holds and honors

The fullness of being.

(Poem found at The Power of Mindful Empathy To Heal Toxic Shame)

 

References:

  1. Segers M. and J. Rawana Autism Res. 7, 507-521 (2014) PubMed

Abuse and Its Many Forms

(Content Warning:  Discussion about the different forms of abuse and a personal story.)

Abuse can come in many forms. Some forms are so imbedded into society that they are often overlooked, ignored, and/or dismissed. So, what constitutes being abused?  According to the Lanark County, Ont. Coalition against Family Violence, a single act may not constitute abuse, but if someone is doing something to harm or control you then you are being abused. You have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe in your home.  Abuse is a violation of an individual’s human and civil rights and in the worst cases can result in death.

The East Riding Safeguarding Adults Board has compiled a list of ten types of abuse:

  • Discriminatory
    • race
    • gender
    • gender identity
    • age
    • disability
    • sexual orientation
    • religion
  • Psychological
    • emotional abuse
    • threats of harm or abandonment
    • deprivation of contact
    • humiliation
    • blaming
    • controlling
    • intimidation
    • coercion
    • harassment
    • verbal abuse
    • cyber bullying
    • isolation
    • unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks
  • Financial or material
    • theft
    • fraud
    • internet scamming
    • coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, including in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions
    • the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits
  • Organizational
    • neglect
    • poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital or care home
    • poor practice in relation to care provided in one’s own home
  • Neglect and acts of omission
    • ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs
    • failure to provide access to appropriate health, care and support or educational services,
    • the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating
  • Physical
    • assault
    • hitting
    • slapping
    • pushing
    • misuse of medication
    • restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions
  • Sexual
    • rape
    • indecent exposure
    • sexual harassment
    • inappropriate looking or touching
    • sexual teasing or innuendo
    • sexual photography
    • subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts
    • indecent exposure and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into
  • Domestic
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • sexual abuse
    • financial abuse
    • emotional abuse
    • so called ‘honour’ based violence
  • Modern slavery
    • slavery
    • human trafficking
    • forced labour and domestic servitude

Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

  • Self-neglect
    • a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care one one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding

NO ONE DESERVES TO BE TREATED LIKE THIS!!! NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ABUSED!!!

GrieveThis is a very difficult topic to be writing about. I grew up in an emotionally and verbally  abusive home. I was in an abusive marriage for 15 years.  I married want I knew.  That was my “normal”.  Everyone who has survived an abusive situation has a story as to why they stayed.  Everyone does.  I am no different.

Growing up, I didn’t feel safe and I felt there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know the language.  All I knew was that I felt safer staying in my room by myself and listening to my music.  It wasn’t until I become a teacher and took classes on abuse that I started to learn the language.  Even then it took my years to finally break free of the situation I had found myself in.  I was taught to just deal with the verbal abuse.  I was taught that the worse thing I could do was disappoint my family.  I had to comply with whatever I was told.  I was conditioned to be a codependent and it was my job to keep everyone else happy.  I learned at a young age that my needs didn’t matter, that my voice didn’t matter.  This continued way into adulthood and into my marriage.

A part of me wants to write about all the different things that were done to me in the name of love, or at least, that was what I was told. It was for my protection, it was because a person cared, it was because I needed to be a better daughter or a better sister or a better wife or a better mother.  That I couldn’t be trusted in making decisions for my children or that I was broken or that I was just a bad person.  The list goes on.

My ex-husband has admitted that he was trying to contain me, to keep me in a box. Letting me spread my wings was frightening to him.  In his mind, by keeping me in a box, he was protecting me.  I know my mother thinks in those same terms.  In her mind, I  needed to be protected.  In order to do that, in her mind, I needed to be controlled and contained.  I was not allowed to be me.  I feel like a shadow around my parents. Something that just stands in the corner until requested.  I feel the most disabled when I am with them.

Remember, you have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe in your home.

I have a parent who attacks my neurology. This parent is very ableist and doesn’t even know or wants to know what ableism is. This parent is about control and will manipulate (covertly and overtly) to get it. This parent has problems, but is in full denial.  My ex-husband has untreated mental health problems and a destructive personality disorder. He did get a full psychological evaluation, but refuses to get professional help. My ex-husband and this parent are both passive aggressive, manipulative, and emotionally abusive. My other parent is verbally abusive.  This parent’s anger management problem is right out there in the open.  My ex-husband also has anger management problems, but his is silent and terrifying.  As I said before, I married what I knew.  This was the world that I grew up in and remained in it as an adult.

Four and a half years ago I had had enough. My marriage had already ended.  I had learned that I was stronger and more resilient than I even realized.  I drew a line with my parents, a healthy boundary. I would no longer tolerate the ongoing abuse. I cut off contact to my parents.  Not completely, though, we still email every so often, but I don’t feel safe with them.  I have tried multiple times to reason with them, but was told they are not going to change.  I had to think about myself and my children.  It all really hit me when my children began asking each of their counselors why their grandparents treated me the way they did.  I had to make a change for my own welfare and for my children’s future.

AbusersSomewhere in the back of my mind I knew growing up there was a problem with my family. The cycle of abuse goes back several generations on both sides. I had promised myself that the abuse stopped with me. I was not going to allow the cycle of abuse to continue with my children.  Unfortunately, their father had other ideas. He emotionally abused and neglected them.  The good news is that his cycle of abuse was caught earlier.  My children have been in counseling since they were little learning to cope with the cards life has dealt them.  They are stronger and more resilient for that earlier intervention.  I am still determined to make sure the cycle of abuse in my family stops with me.  I will not allow the abuse to continue.

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself.
  • Believe when someone tells you something is wrong. I tried to reach out for help many times, but no one would believe me.
  • Listen with compassion.
  • Don’t be judgmental.
  • Encouragement is key.

Here is some helpful information about stopping abuse:

Here are some additional blogs that I wrote about trauma and abuse:

 

Trauma Does Not Define You

In Greek, trauma means “wound”. Originally trauma referred to physical wounds, but nowadays trauma also refers to emotional wounds. The psychological reaction to emotional trauma also has a name.  It is more often referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  I am very familiar with PTSD.  I was diagnosed with it about 14 years ago. This original diagnosis arose from a horrible medical trauma that I endured and also from the behavior of those closest to me at the time.  Since then, my diagnosis has changed to Complex-PTSD due to what I have come to realize were years of emotional and mental abuse at the hands of my ex-husband and what I endured as a child growing up.  I married what I knew. 

Growing up in a household where verbal and emotional abuses were tolerated really confused my autistic brain. I was told I was loved, and I believed it, but the behavior was not what you do to people you love. As a teacher, I learned the phrase, “at least he is not hitting me”, is a red flag that something is very wrong.  I heard that phrase over and over again growing up.  I was taught to comply, to make excuses.  I was conditioned to be a codependent.  Talking about any of this outside and inside the family was and still is discouraged.  I knew something was off with my family, but I didn’t know what it was.  It just felt uncomfortable.  Yet, I still married what I knew.   

Emotional abuse is insidious. It starts slow and under the radar.  You have no idea what is really happening, only that something doesn’t feel quite right.  The perpetrator may even pull back and be charming again when you call them out on something.  Everything might seem perfectly fine again, but over time that uncomfortable feeling starts up again and it gets worse and worse each time.  It is incredibly confusing.  Before you know it, you find yourself trapped telling yourself that you just have to wait for him to cycle back to being the man you married.  This is what is called the cycle of abuse.  You find yourself holding out for the good times to come back, and that is the perpetrator’s biggest weapon, playing on your hope. You find yourself holding on for something that will never come, real peace and real love.   

As a child, I would wait out the aggressive verbal outbursts and the passive aggressive manipulation until we could feel like a family again.  While growing up, I had no idea I was in this perpetual state of fight or flight. I was always on edge and preferred to be in my bedroom.  Now I understand why I did isolated myself, but back then, that was my “normal” and it was exhausting and frightening.  As a spouse, I did the same thing. I waited out the passive aggressive emotional abuse until the good times returned.  I married what I knew.

According to SAMHSA, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. These experiences may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. Having your ACEs score is like having your cholesterol score.  The score is a guideline to help you learn your risk factors for particular things. 

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime | Nadine Burke Harris (TEDtalk – video)

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.ACEs Impact

The Impact

ACEs scores are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance abuse.

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

The ACEs study used the top ten reported adverse childhood experiences when designing the questionnaire, which consists of ten questions and involves your life prior to 18 years old.  Five questions are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five questions are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one.

I went through the questionnaire  and had a score of 3/10. I had both my children take the questionnaire as well.  Their scores varied.  My daughter had a score of 8/10.  My son first had a score of 4/10, but then he adjusted some of the questions to reflect one parent, his father, and he ended up with a score of 6/10.  I knew their scored would be higher than mine.  They have dealt with a divorce and a father who emotionally neglected them and emotionally abused their mother.  Even with that, learning their scores punched me in the gut. 

I reminded them that their trauma does not define them. Trauma can affect yourself-definition either consciously or unconsciously. Trauma hurts, and as hard as it is to grieve, trauma is not who you are. Your ACEs score is not what is wrong with you; rather it reflects what has happened to you. Just as trauma does not define you, your ACEs score does not define you.  What makes the difference is getting help and developing resilience. 

Prevent ACEs

We Can Prevent ACEs – Video by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are an important public health issue. Learn how everyone can help prevent ACEs by using strategies to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children.

Part of healing from trauma is stating what happened. It is important to share your story in whatever way you are able to, but being able to takes time.

A few days ago in the car, one of my children stated, “Dad committed acts of domestic violence.”

This was the first time either one of them has used the term “domestic violence” in connection with their father. My marriage ended six years ago.

Finally being able to share this information out loud with me meant one step farther away from the trauma and one step closer to healing.

Where do we go from here?

  • There is no time limit on grief.
  • Everyone grieves differently.
  • Don’t let trauma consume you. Don’t live there.
  • No wallowing!
  • Get help!
  • Strive to heal.
  • Obtain and utilize healthy coping skills.
  • Do what makes you feel good in a healthy way.
  • Reduce risk factors.
  • Increase protective factors
  • Get involved in community.
  • Talk to someone.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Find what makes you feel your true self.
  • Most of all – Be gentle to yourself!!!

 

Ramblings of an Autistic Single Mom

NOTE: The Aspie Teacher blog is the story of my family’s journey. My first blog was Geeky Science Mom’s Tumblr which I started in September 2012 and my writings gradually progressed from there. Periodically I look back over my old writings to check on the distance I have travelled in this journey that is called my life. This is one of those checks.

————————————————————————————————

I am autistic and I am also a mother of two amazing young people who are autistic as well. I am also single.  My children see their father maybe two hours every week, sometimes it is less.  He is not really involved in their lives.  For the past four years I have been working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  Somewhere in there I managed to earn my Master’s degree. I have been homeschooling/unschooling both my kids for the past three years and will continue to do so until both my kids graduate high school in another 2-3 years.  It has been a challenging balancing act.

I see articles online about single parenting with autistic children. It strikes me odd how bleak the authors describe their lives. One author claims that single parents of autistic children “can’t have it all”, that they “will never be compensated financially or professionally for the thousands of hours I’ve spent over the last decade taking my son to treatments”. Other authors complain about having to give up their career, complain they can’t go on trips, complain that it was the Autism that caused the divorce, and complain about the “grueling therapy sessions” (if they are grueling for you, how do you think your child feels?)

Parenting is hard no matter what the neurology of the child is. The reality is if you are a single parent, something has to give.  You can’t expect to have everything and the reason why you “can’t have it all” has nothing to do with your child’s neurology. It really does take a village to raise a child, so when part of that village is missing, it gets that much harder.

I willingly chose to put my career on hold when I became a parent. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom for five years. At the time, my husband had a good paying full-time job with benefits.  Being a single income family lead to finances being really tight, and we lived in a small duplex, but it was worth it.  The only time I was a home owner was when both my ex and I were working so we could afford a mortgage. As a single parent, I am a renter once again. This time, my rental is even smaller than the one we lived in back when my children were babies. Housing costs are higher and there is a housing shortage where we live.

My children have weekly counseling visits and my daughter has weekly occupational therapy (OT) sessions (something she personally asked for). We live in a rural area. Services are in another county all together. We are on the road a lot and I am fortunate enough to have the type of employment that allows me to take my children to their appointments.  I have never put my children through “grueling therapy sessions” and I never will.  Applied Behavior Analysis (AB A) sessions, which is considered the go-to treatment for Autism, are anywhere from 25 to 40 hours per week for 12 months a year for at least 2 years with sessions typically provided in 2-3 hours blocks.  I spent three hours observing an ABA session in June 2015 as a requirement for my Master’s degree program. It was horrible – Initial Reaction to ABA Observation.

My divorce finalized on June 23, 2014, but we had separated in October 2012. We tried to get back together after being apart for three years. Our attempt lasted a year and a half. My ex just doesn’t want the responsibility of a family.  It has almost been five years since we first separated and I have not tried dating. I have had to let myself grieve.  Looking through my old writings, I see many blogs that focused on sadness and grief.  I have had to allow myself to process those emotions. I have also had to be present for my children.  They have been grieving, too.  There was no room for romance in that.  I have to allow my heart to heal before I can allow anyone else in.  I am still healing.  Everyone grieves differently and the time it takes to adequately heal is different for everyone. When you have been in an abusive situation, it can take even longer to heal and you need to give yourself that time or you could very well fall into a similar situation.

Some of my previous writings describing my journey through grief:

Grief 2

[Image description: Sea green colored background with black lettering. “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do it lean to swim.” – Vicky Harrison]

Then there is my issue of living in a duality of perception. I wrote that blog in June 2016 and it helped me realize some things about myself.  When I found myself unexpectedly a single parent, I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  My family isn’t in the area.  I was in graduate school at the time and I was working part time.  How the hell was I going to support two kids with special needs on my own!!!???!!! This thought was screaming in my head.  I was so filled with fear and shock I had no time to be angry, at least not yet.  My anger came later.  The grief cycle is an interesting, complicated thing. As I tell my kids, a very wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sort of thing.

I never thought I would get to the point where I would even consider letting my ex back in my life, but I did and I learned a lot from that experience. I learned about letting go, something I had been really struggling with for years.  As a content teacher, I didn’t think I could teach outside of Science (my area), but I found out I could.  I didn’t know I could teach myself how to do basic home and car repair along with all the other family/parenting/home stuff I had been doing for years, but I found out I could. I didn’t know I could parent on my own, but I found out I could.

I learned I was autistic five and a half years ago. Both my children had been diagnosed by that time. I have learned so much since then.  My life has been turned upside down and inside out, but I kept moving forward knowing that another sunrise would signal another chance for me to try again.  I kept learning and adapting.

It wasn’t the Autism that caused my divorce. In fact, divorce rates are similar for parents with and without autistic children, so don’t believe the myth that divorce rate in families with autism is 80%. It is definitely not (80 Percent Autism Divorce Rate Debunked in First-Of-Its Kind Scientific Study).

Looking back to where I was when I first became a single parent, I couldn’t really think of the future. I was in full on survival mode back then.  Looking where I am now, all I can say is “wow”.  I have come so far from that place where I found myself crushed, lost, and desperate just trying to make it day by day.

My journey is not complete, not in a long shot, but I find myself no longer in that place of desperation. I have found a future where I am valued and wanted.  I have found a future where I have developed skills I didn’t even know I had.  I have found a future where my children are seeing a future for themselves as well. I have found that my mind has a sense of ease now.  I still have a lot of stress in my life, but nothing like it once was.  I feel a sense of peace inside me now.  Do I still cry when I am alone?  Yes, my grief will take time to process. Where there was once soul crushing pain, there is now a sense of understanding and a level of acceptance of the reality of the situation. As I stated before, I had to adapt. I had to find peace on my own, and I did.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

 

**Image is not mine. Source is linked with image.