I’ve been thinking yesterday and today about bullying and Asperger’s/autism. Not so much in the obvious way, whether being on the spectrum left me open to bullying (although obviously it did), but whether it contributed to it in a more subtle way.
When I was about thirteen, I was bullied by two girls who were friends with each other. I don’t remember much of what they said or did to me. I guess I’ve blotted it out. I imagine it was a lot of verbal harassment (the usual pattern for when I was bullied), although I do have vivid memories of them throwing bits of broken saw blade at me in woodwork class. After a couple of weeks I went to the teacher to complain about them, only to discover that they had already complained about me. One of the girls was black and they said that I was bullying her because I was racist and bullying her friend for being friends with her. This horrified me and I didn’t know what to say. When the teacher asked if I was racist, my self-doubt kicked in and all I could say was that I didn’t think so.
At the time I was very upset by all of this. In retrospect, I feel the teachers could have handled it better, maybe getting her to tell why she thought I was racist and what she thought I had been doing to bully her. Lately I’ve been wondering if my Asperger’s played a part. At the time, I assumed that the racism allegation was a deliberate lie to get me in trouble and to avoid being punished for their own bullying of me. Now I wonder if it was a misunderstanding. As virtually the only black girl in a Jewish school, I’m sure the girl who bullied me was on the receiving end of bullying herself. This thought didn’t occur to me at the time, when I divided the world into bullies and victims with no movement from one side to the other; I probably also only associated racism with neo-Nazi extremists, not the more subtle everyday racism many people experience. I wonder if, primed by her own experience of being bullied, my bully took my social anxiety and possible autistic spectrum disorder as evidence of deliberate rudeness to her on my part. I can’t remember if she ever tried to be friendly towards me and I reacted awkwardly, but it certainly could have happened.
The pain and confusion around the incident still hurts, though, and the racism accusation may well have fed in to my pure O (pure obsession) OCD, my belief/fear that I could do terrible things and my pure O and depressive/low self-esteem thoughts that I am a terrible person. By a curious chance, I happen to know that she seemed to turn out OK, becoming an actor and musician. I saw her on TV a couple of times, although IMBD and Wikipedia don’t list her as having done anything for a couple of years, so I don’t know if she is still working in those industries. I used to feel resentful about that, but now it’s just yet another instance of other people doing well while I stay lonely and in psychological distress.
Even many years on, my inter-personal communication is not always good. I can be blunt and to the point at times; at other times I over-compensate by becoming too verbose. I just had a conversation with my parents which went downhill rapidly, probably in part because of communication differences. It was over the phone, which I always struggle with anyway, but I like focused conversation, whereas my parents like to ramble, with all kinds of unnecessary details and tangents. I think they also like to talk for the sake of talking, to get things off their chests or just to create a social interaction, whereas I, like many autistic people, assume that every conversation has a point my interlocutor wants to get across or a problem to solve and I become confused, frustrated and/or irritable if I can’t find the point of what they are saying.
I also tend to be precise with my language and I can be quite pedantic about things like grammar and correct word usage, whereas my parents, my father in particular, can make mistakes in grammar and use malapropisms. These annoy me a lot, even though I know they shouldn’t. I can usually understand what they are saying, but part of my brain says that this is not standard English and I can’t understand it, so I query it, resulting in annoyance for them as well as for me, as they think I’m being pedantic and deliberately obtuse, which I suppose I am in a way. They also make huge jumps from one subject to another and sometimes back again later that make sense in their heads, but not in mine or, again, I sort of understand what they are talking about, but find myself impelled to question to be sure. I’m not quite sure how many of these communication issues are autistic, but I know some of them are.
Otherwise today has been a difficult day. I had a blood test in the morning and an eye test in the afternoon. The latter was very problematic because I shook again, which I haven’t done for a while. It’s probably a medication interaction, but triggered by anxiety. Before the test I had to stare into various machines for physical measurements of my eyes and when the puffed air into my eyes to check their pressure, I shook a little from the shock of it. This probably set me up to feel that I would shake in the eye test itself, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure enough, I felt my space was being invaded when the optician was changing the lenses I was wearing or held anything over my eye and I shook, which I guess is Asperger’s again, as it’s the sense of space being invaded that creates the anxiety. I hope that didn’t change the outcome of the test, because apparently I need new lenses in my glasses.