The Struggles of Living with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

CW: suicidal ideation mentioned in an article linked to this one.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon an article that describes a condition called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.  For the better part of a decade, I thought I was dealing with generalized and social anxiety disorder.  But reading that article made me come to realize that I was instead struggling with rejection sensitive dysphoria and that I was struggling with it my whole life.  Now I know that these intense feelings that come out of nowhere was my brain simply misunderstanding small slights and and failures as something catastrophic, even when I was fully aware that it was just a small slight or a small failure or fearing that one was going to occur.  And the word dysphoria literally means “unbearable”.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria is little known, but a major struggle for many who have ADHD.  Those who struggle with it and don’t realize it often cope with it in one of three ways;

  • They become people-pleasers.  They go out of their way to make others happy in the hopes that they won’t face rejection–often at the expense of their life goals and ambitions.
  • They stop trying.  The anticipation and fear of rejection is too unbearable to cope.  They often have dealt with it numerous times in the past and this is the only way to reduce the chance of rejection occurring–often at the expense of their life goals and ambitions.
  • They strive for perfection.  They must be the best at what they do or else they’ll face criticism and rejection, which they cannot afford to deal with.  And when this goal inevitably fails…you can probably guess what’ll happen.

As for how it appears, from my research it primarily presents itself in one of two ways

  • The extreme emotional reaction is internalized, and appears to be a major depression episode if it’s a particularly bad episode.  Depression can sometimes occur, though.
  • The emotional reaction is externalized, which can manifest as a sudden, intense rage towards the situation or person that caused the reaction.

It appears that rejection sensitive dysphoria is present from birth as it seems to be genetic, and could be a part of ADHD itself.  It’s often confused with many other conditions such as PTSD, social anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, persuasive demand avoidance, and bipolar disorder.

Many ADHDers were probably diagnosed with one or more of those and got the necessary treatment, for that condition.  And when the treatment failed, they probably wondered what was wrong with them and why the treatment failed.

All of a sudden, many of my anxiety issues and extreme emotional reactions over the years made sense.  It also explained why most people didn’t experience such an extreme reaction to rejection and criticism.

  • Why I’d always fall apart after a real or perceived rejection, slight or wrong.
  • Why I could not maintain a goal of doing everything in moderation for any longer than a few months.  This is one of the main reasons I’m dealing with extreme autistic burnout right now.
  • Why the thought of disclosing my autism was so painful, much more so than disclosing my ADHD.
  • Why I’d sometimes feel that I have to get things absolutely perfect the first time, even when that is impossible to achieve, such as trying something new.
  • Why I’d restrict myself to avoid disappointing or worrying others.
  • Why I sometimes feel the need to be unnecessarily strict with myself when there was no need to.  In fact, this never made things better, only worse.
  • Why crippling anxiety hit when I needed to ask for help or applying for a job.  Although in my case, the latter has a very real chance of occurring.
  • Why my anxiety would nearly always get bad when I was offered anything suddenly, causing me to refuse it in the heat of the moment, like a reflexive reaction against something dangerous.  It didn’t matter if if I wanted it or not.  This has deprived me of potential job opportunities, friendships and romantic relationships over the years.
  • Why I always expect rejection, even when the chance of it occurring is little to none.  This didn’t really become an issue until the rejections started to pile up.
  • Why I always expect criticism if I don’t get things “perfect”.  Like rejection, it didn’t really become an issue until they piled up.  Thanks to the systematic ableism in society, criticisms were plentiful if I didn’t do stuff the neurotypical way and pace.

It makes sense that this gets worse when rejections and criticisms pile up as is often the case for those with ADHD due to executive dysfunction, dysregulated attention span as well as impulse and emotional control issues.  And it gets worse with co-morbid conditions, which are also subject to discrimination.

In my case, it was present during my childhood and presented problems on occasion, but didn’t become a severe problem until I became an adult and wanted to move forward with my life.

  • Seeking work became nearly impossible.  The high risk of rejection because I’m autistic didn’t help either.
  • Agreeing to go to an event became a promise to myself to attend, a promise that must never be broken under any circumstance, even when there was no promise made and the other party would understand if I didn’t show up.
  • Why I couldn’t give both myself and a college student a second chance at becoming friends with me after being ostracized by her friend in October 2013.  Internalized ableism was part of the issue, but rejection sensitive dysphoria was also to blame.
  • Why I felt like a failure if I needed help on something like a class assignment, even if it is an assignment the entire class is struggling to understand.
  • Why I felt the need to set impossible to achieve goals.  Bet you can guess what happened when the goals inevitably fell short.
  • Why the realistic goals I had were so hard to achieve….because my mind was focused on the unrealistic ones to eliminate the chance of criticism and rejection.
  • Why I felt so guilty when extreme autistic burnout hit in August 2018.  I’m still dealing with this burnout as of June 2019 when this was written.
  • Why I have such a hard time giving myself permission to do just the things that I can do and at my own pace instead of always being productive and always achieving.  It’s the sole option for me in order to move forward these days, and one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my entire life.  Staying away from stress helps.
  • Why it’s so hard for me to relax and rest during any period of time that I’m awake, especially if I had drank too much caffeine.
  • Why my anxiety didn’t go away entirely when I stopped taking Adderall.  I was dealing with rejection sensitive dysphoria all along, both before I went on it, while I was on it and other stimulant medications, and when I went off of it.  Stimulant medications while very effective for hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention and executive dysfunction, they are useless for rejection sensitive dysphoria.
  • Why I’d sometimes leave Skype groups and Discord servers on impulse when I was dealing with episodes of imposter syndrome, emotional overload, internalized ableism and rejection sensitive dysphoria at the same time.  Believe me, dealing with all four at the same time is pure agony.  And there is no warning beforehand, so I don’t see it coming until it’s too late.

Now that I know about the primary cause of my anxiety, that means that I have a name for it at the minimum and that things make sense.  And I have a fighting chance to get it treated so that I can have a fair shot at life without extreme anxiety and fear of rejection taking over whenever I try.  And more importantly, I have a fighting chance to be at peace with myself and reduce the risk of extreme autistic burnout in the future.

 

 

 

My Dealings with Imposter Syndrome

Very recently, I’ve come across something known as Imposter Syndrome.  For those of you unaware of what it is, Imposter Syndrome refers to a pattern of behavior where somebody’s accomplishments cannot be internalized.  Instead, they doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.  Many people who struggle with imposter syndrome are high achievers.  Disabled and neurodiverse people are also prone to struggling with imposter syndrome due to experiencing and expectations to meet neurotypical standards.  And when they inevitably fall short, when they are criticized for falling short, it is like even their best efforts are never good enough.

I realized that as I read through various articles about imposter syndrome affecting both neurodiverse and neurotypical people, the more I realized that I have been struggling with it for my entire life.  Frequently, I had felt as though I was a fraud and that my successes were solely good luck instead of the skills I had.  That if I disclosed that I was autistic, people would suddenly see me as a fraud.  The latter does have a chance of actually happening because of the stigma autistic people face.  But the former has almost no chance of happening, despite my fears.

When I had successfully gotten into a summer internship at the local workforce center back in 2010, I had thought the staff pulled a few strings to let me in, because I was certain I had failed the interview.  I was certain that despite my best efforts, I had failed to act like a perfect neurotypical.  It was my anxiety that led me to these beliefs.  The fact that I got in was because the staff knew me, knew I was autistic, and gave me a fair chance.

When I had won first place in a local Skills USA competition for CAD drawing in early 2011, I had thought that was pure luck as the year went by.  In fact, I insisted to the class at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year that it was pure luck instead of my skills.  I had won the competition fair and square because I had really learned the basics and the standards of how to draw and dimension the objects in AutoCAD.

Later on, it manifested in a fear of being discovered that I was an autistic person living in a neurotypical world.  In this case, the fear was valid, because of the ableism autistic people face in society around the world.  If I disclosed, I feared that I would automatically be seen as incompetent, violent, and a weirdo because of the stigma associated with autism.  And in many cases, that would have actually happened.  But there would also have been many cases where it would not have happened.

During my years attending a local community college, I was constantly worried about being exposed as a fraud.  While I did have accommodations such as extended time on tests, I very rarely used them worrying that others would see me as a faker if I actually used them.  This was due to both imposter syndrome and internalized ableism.   However, during the last year I had attended college, I found it easier to use the accommodations because I was actively learning to overcome internalized ableism.

Many times over the years, I felt that I must not fail.  That I must succeed and get it perfect from the very first try.  This has led to me giving up easily or not even trying in the first place.  It very well could be that part of the reason I have perfectionist streaks is because of imposter syndrome.

Now that I’m aware that I have imposter syndrome, I hope I can deal with it like I have been working on reversing my internalized ableism over the past two years.

Autistic Burnout and the Holidays

It can be hard for many autistics to handle the holidays. Changes in routine, reuniting with family, social expectations, and lots of food. And let’s not forget the noise and the bright lights during the Christmas season, which for many with sensory sensitivities, can cause sensory overload and sometimes lead to meltdowns or shutdowns.

Add autistic burnout to the mix, and chances of overload and meltdown are much greater because the autistic person’s energy resources are depleted. Sadly, that’s my experience this holiday season.

I’ve been dealing with extreme anxiety and mood swings since August when my current burnout got really bad. I’ve been having a record number of meltdowns because I no longer have the resources to cope that well with situations like sudden changes in plans or errands being thrown on me at the last minute. And not to mention being terrified of having a meltdown in public and being harassed or punished for it due to it being misinterpreted as bad behavior by everybody around me instead of a response to extreme overload.

My fear came terrifyingly close to becoming reality when I had a sudden mood swing from a positive mood to a really bad mood one day while coming home from a walk one day back in mid-August, and my anxiety hit me really hard, which ended up freaking out a young man who was walking in front of me to the point that they ran away from me, nearly triggering a full-blown meltdown. Fortunately, the meltdown was only a silent one.  All I could do was continue my walk home and try my hardest to ignore other people’s negative reactions to me. My natural autistic behavior often does tend to put people off in the first place due to misunderstandings and the stigma towards autism. And that does often make me anxious and I end up worrying when the next negative reaction will be and who will be the next person to give the negative reaction. The experience terrified me so much that I could no longer take walks by myself for three months. Over the past month, I’ve taken walks on occasion, and slowly, my anxiety lessened as my body and mind re-learned that its safe to take walks alone.

Since September, I was terrified that I would have a major meltdown during one of the family reunions this holiday season. My anxiety was somewhat of an issue during Thanksgiving, as was the negative self-talk of internalized ableism trying to persuade me to put everybody else’s Thanksgiving dinner needs above my own. But I managed to persuade myself to put what I wanted to eat for Thanksgiving dinner onto my plate. I did verbally snap at myself once after we were all done eating because I had a sudden mood swing, and I did go next door to my aunt’s house to spend some quiet time alone so that there was zero chance that I would have the meltdown I was dreading would happen for months.

A week and a half later, I went to my family’s annual Christmas reunion. I feared that it wouldn’t go very well at first.  I felt more comfortable around the family after attending the Thanksgiving reunion, thus I was far less anxious, and I didn’t have to deal with the negative thoughts like I did on Thanksgiving. For the first time this year, I was able to act like my natural autistic self and feel comfortable doing so.  My sensory sensitivities tend to be very mild unless I am anxious.  Since I wasn’t anxious during the reunion, I didn’t experience sensory overload.  In fact, I enjoyed the event, even more than I enjoyed last year’s Christmas reunion.

For much of December, anxiety has been somewhat less of an issue now than it was a few months ago because of the positive experiences during the family reunions and slowly getting back into my walks, but it is definitely still a problem.  During the last few times I ran errands, I haven’t been dealing with sensory overload as bad as I did during the summer.

But over Christmas, my energy crashed again.  I had tried to help run an event on a small online game.  It went well, but the price for running it was going nearly non-verbal and a bout of depression.  I’m very frustrated that I’m still going through burnout, and struggling to allow myself time to really relax.  Whenever I do, I end up feeling guilty that I’m not dedicating most of my time towards productive things.  I know I need to rest and make that my top priority, but what stands in my way is nagging negative self-talk, fear that nobody would believe me if I told them I was going through burnout, and the fact that this is the first time I’ve dealt with a burnout that’s lasted for many months.  I have no idea for how long I need to keep a strict regime of rest and relaxation in order for my energy to really come back.

2018 overall has not been a good year for me.  Dealing with increasing levels of severe anxiety, and then being diagnosed with ulcerative procititis, dealing with severe autistic burnout which caused me to drop out of college and cease practically everything, and a death in the family on the final day of 2018.  I hope 2019 turns out to be a better year, and that I can slowly get back into things, but only time will tell.

 

Autistic Obsess—I mean Autistic Passions

Autistic passions are just as varied as neurotypical passions.  Autistic people often learn everything they can learn about their passion.  And often, autistic people use their passions to help themselves learn things, by applying the things they’ve learnt to their passions.  These passions can often help autistic people relate to other people, especially those who have the same passion.  And often, these passions can lead to a career.  And that includes passions that relate to a certain comic, TV program, or game.

Unfortunately, the intensity of autistic passions is often perceived as annoying, inappropriate or weird by neurotypical people.  Many neurotypical people view autistic people as broken and in need of fixing, and that includes their passions.  And that includes many who don’t believe autism needs to be cured, but that they still need to learn to act more neurotypical in order to function in society.  This often leads to neurotypicals discouraging intense autistic passions, sometimes to the point of making them change their passion to something else, or make them branch out into other things instead of just the single passion.

Some people will discourage autistics from talking about their passions, perhaps even try to change it to something that makes them more comfortable.  Passions might go ignored because it’s seen as an autistic obsession.  Passions might be discouraged because it’s seen as an autistic obsession.   Passions might be seen as weird because it’s seen as an autistic obsession.  If the passion is something perceived to be for kids only, it’s seen as an autistic obsession if the autistic person is a teen or an adult, even if they continue to learn stuff through that passion.  This applies to autistics with multiple passions as well as those with just a single passion.  When neurotypical people pursue the same passions, they don’t go ignored and are much less likely to be seen as weird, and instead, they are often encouraged.

This teaches autistic people is that nobody wants to hear about their passion and that they need to mask their autism in order to be seen as a good person.  And if they want to pursue their passions, they can’t disclose their autism if they want neurotypicals to see their passions as passions instead of obsessions.  This can often lead to lost opportunities at careers.  All because the perception of passions changes when an autistic person is known to be autistic.  And if the autistic person discards their passion because neurotypical people don’t seem to like it, that can lead to lost social opportunities as well as a lost career path.

A few examples of passions:

  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Dinosaurs
  • Elevators
  • Buses
  • Trucks
  • Trains
  • Cars
  • Art
  • Music
  • Computers
  • Astronomy
  • Video Games
  • Movies
  • Television programs
  • Anime

What career paths are possible from the above examples?

  • Paleontologist
  • Computer Technician
  • Network Specialist
  • Transit Planner
  • Bus Driver
  • Train Operator
  • Truck Driver
  • Auto mechanic
  • Video game developer
  • Computer Programmer
  • Astronomer
  • Actor
  • Writer
  • Producer
  • Director
  • Animator
  • Photographer
  • Singer
  • Artist
  • Music Artist
  • Repair Technician

That’s twenty-one possible careers, and those are just the careers that I thought of on the top of my head.  Many other careers are possible from those examples I listed alone.

Autistic passions, if allowed to be pursued, can often lead to a career and a higher chance at securing employment.  If the stigma towards autism is ended for good and autistics are allowed to be themselves, the chances are much higher that their careers will be successful.  Neurotypical people often have successful careers that stem from their passions, and we need to ensure that future generations of autistic people also have the same chance at a career that stems from their passions.

My Struggle with Internalized Ableism – Part II

There’s those days that I get so disgusted and angry with myself. Those are usually the days where internalized ableism is being fed by my anxiety issues.  Almost always, the two co-exist.

I often feel an overwhelming need to continually prove myself competent, especially  now that I’m in my late twenties, so I overload myself with helping out with online social activities. And when I don’t do that, I still feel that intense pressure to prove my competence, for otherwise people will still see me as that incompetent person incapable of doing anything. And if I slip up even once, that proves that I’m still that incompetent person who can’t do a single thing right.

And if something happens, then there comes the temptation to punish myself for being autistic and not trying hard enough to fake neurotypicality.  It could be the loss of a friend, talking about my problems to a friend a second or third time, having a meltdown, breaking a social rule, social plans that don’t work out, events that I’m interested in that I was never invited to (because others assumed that I wouldn’t be interested in going).  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, internalized ableism dictates that it’s my fault and mine alone, and that I need to either try much  harder to blend in, or stay away from everybody, even those closest to me.

Often times, I’m scared to death of being dismissed, ignored, and figuratively being kicked whist in the middle of a meltdown, or even being punished for having a meltdown.    And I have internalized ableism to thank for self-destructive behavior related to those issues.  Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, that’s how it feels to live with internalized ableism.

Unconditional love has become a lost skill for me.  It can be hard for me to remember that there are people who do love me when the negative self-talk of internalized ableism is running at full speed, especially after something goes wrong, real or perceived.

I’ve tried so hard to break the cycle of internalized ableism and the self-destructive behavior that it causes many times over the years, but I have not been able to succeed at doing so.  Part of the reason I suspect is my anxiety issues from dealing with constant misunderstandings and ableism, and from ADHD traits, as it can be impossible at times to stop the negative thoughts without drinking a caffeinated beverage.

I almost always end up succumbing to my impulses in the end, which throws me back to square one for the same reason, every single time.  And I’m growing sick and tired of it.  Ten years ago, I expected myself to be somewhere, not here continually throwing myself back to square one after I punish myself for being autistic whenever something goes wrong (or I think something has gone wrong).

Currently, I’m attempting to seek mental health treatment, but that’s taking a long time.  And I need it NOW, preferably before Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So that I can have a chance at making some happy memories at the end of the year, and start to make some real and sustainable progress in terms of regarding loving myself unconditionally before my thirtieth birthday.

Dear Anxiety, Stop Ruining my Life!

Dear Anxiety,

You are way out of line by dictating my life for far too long now! You’ve interfered with numerous friendships, banned me from pursuing relationships, and making it nearly impossible to communicate at times. You make me have meltdowns on Skype and Discord just because you think it’s funny to try to get me banned from groups.  You think it’s funny to get me to punish myself for being autistic and watch with glee as my heart becomes broken.  You make me so afraid of people at times that I have to stick my nose in a book on buses and take alternate routes to my destination to stalemate you.  You don’t want me to spend time with family in peace; instead you make me spend all my time with my family worrying about what they think of me.  You make general social situations hard to bear most of the time because you want me to change who I am to make everybody else happy at my expense.

Stop with your bullying right now or I will find a way to restrict you to your original purpose only! My life is mine to live and my decisions are mine to make! Not yours! You’ve been the cause of many struggles over the years, and this is the last straw! I deserve a life without you restricting me so much that I’m unable to follow my dreams!

Sincerely,

A very angry autistic adult

My Struggles With Anxiety and Some of my Struggles With Social Situations.

Throughout the past decade, I’ve been struggling with major anxiety.  Much of it, I now realize, is social anxiety, which often manifests as selective mutism.   I have a lot to talk about, so this blog will be fairly long.  All of it of it needs to be said in one blog, and I’ll link to other posts I wrote in the past where appropriate.

The anxiety didn’t really become an issue until I realized just how bad the misconceptions and stigma towards autistic people was.  That was in late 2008, when my social skills were at their peak, when I was a high school senior and I still had some ability to make friends.  Believe it or not, I actually had a few friends in high school.  I feel part of the reason was because I felt comfortable making friends and having a few friends from elementary school who really knew me going to the same high school as me.  Yet, the anxiety was beginning to build up as the school year went by.  Later in the school year, I was sometimes spending class time worrying about what others thought of me, particularly those that didn’t like me very much for a multitude of reasons, mostly due to the fact that I was autistic whether they knew I was or they didn’t.

Near the end of the school year in April and May of 2009, I was a bit more prone to what I now realize as social overload, becoming more frustrated than usual when I couldn’t predict other peoples’ reactions.  But I was able to hold it in reasonably well.   During this time, I did take two days off of school due to the death of my grandmother, something that did overwhelm me for a short period of time.

Near the end of 2009, I began attending a high-school college program as part of my school district’s transition plan.  For a short while, four months to be exact, I was able to make friends, until my peers realized how different I was, and especially how unwritten social rules and expectations didn’t come naturally to me.  To them, being as different as being autistic was a bad thing.  Needless to say, my chance at having true friends was flushed down the toilet for the remainder of the three years I spent in the program.  In fact, the only chance I had at making friends was outside any teen or young adult program, and that was only if I at least tried to partially mask my autism so I wouldn’t be seen as weird or incompetent.  And partially masking was as far as I could possibly go towards acting neurotypical.

As far as masking went, it became harder to do as time went on and my sensory sensitivities began to get worse by early 2011.  If you guessed that people’s reactions were to avoid me and give me weird looks when I was overwhelmed and the mask dropped almost entirely, you’re spot on.  Later in the year, I realized that part of the reason I was so anxious was because I was lacking in B vitamins and was often dehydrated.  My anxiety got a bit better, but was still a huge problem.  Yet if I tried to talk about it in the real world, I was shut down and dismissed.  Had that not happened, I probably might have gotten professional help for my anxiety back in late 2011, help I so desperately need.

By 2012, the anxiety was beginning to manifest into internalized ableism.  In fact, the negative self-talk of internalized ableism is driven mostly by my anxiety and partially due to ADHD.  As it was little known outside the autistic community, it would be another five years before I learned what internalized ableism was.  And it was thanks to being treated as though being autistic was wrong for so many years that made internalized self-hate a major problem to the point that I felt I had to end friendships on occasion if I wasn’t  “normal enough” to have friends.

However, in late 2012, things started to look a bit better as far as a fair shot at social situations went.  I still attended the same college, but I switched to real college classes.  The negative attitudes and the social ostracism I faced almost completely vanished, but my fear of it happening again remained strong.   By this point, I could keep new friends as long as a semester, but once it was over, I felt I either had to change or lose those friends.

By mid-2013, I had enough of the anxiety, and went off my ADHD medication.  Once I was through the withdrawal, I was starting to feel less anxious and feeling that I could be myself again.  However, my internalized ableism began to become an issue in late 2013, which I describe in more detail in a blog post I wrote back in April.   At least I wasn’t dealing with the sensory issues that would make me almost entirely drop what exists of my neurotypical mask, and I was closer to my happy-go-lucky self that I was when I was much younger.

My anxiety wasn’t much of an issue in 2014, except whenever I tried something new.  Same went for early 2015.   But, my self esteem was in free-fall due to autistic burnout in early 2014 that ultimately led to me failing a class for the first time ever.  As a result, I ended up on financial aid suspension in May 2015 after failing two more classes.  I tried to get tutoring for my math classes, but I couldn’t seem to stay in it.

The culprit? Anxiety.  I’ve always struggled to seek help for a problem I had with an assignment, almost never being able to do so.  I suspect it was because I always had somewhat of a perfectionist streak, wanting to go it alone at all costs.  Fear of getting punished for doing something wrong was another reason why, yet I was unaware of this for nearly my whole life.

The vast majority of my meltdowns in recent years had a root cause of anxiety, frustration with life issues, and stress.  They often happened online, as it was easier for me to communicate with written words rather than verbal words, and almost always in places where I felt comfortable to communicate.  In fact, meltdowns were the primary cause of me leaving an online community, which I did on a frequent basis.

Another issue I have with anxiety is whenever someone offers me something, like a staff position in an online community or a friend wanting to hang out, I always ended up not responding, saying no, or flaking out at the last minute.  It was always because I was afraid of what strangers would think of me.  So afraid, that I would often wind up catastrophizing about potential bad situations, usually always what I thought was the worst-case scenario.  Getting kicked out, loss of friendship, and even getting into trouble for something I didn’t do, and worse was what was running through my head a lot of the time.

Another thing that affected my anxiety was that I was almost never invited to do things with my friends.  I know now that most of it was unintentional and due to how neurotypicals and autistics communicate differently, and how my anxiety prohibited me from expressing interest nine times out of ten, even with the power of the internet and the written word.  In fact, since mid-2012, I was rarely ever excluded on purpose due to being disliked, hated, or thought of as “a bad person”.  The fear never went away, but kept lingering on as if it felt the need to protect me from potential future threats.

By my mid-twenties, thanks in part to the anxiety, negative self-talk, due to society’s negative attitude, fear that I am always breaking some unwritten rule or expectation I’m completely unaware of, and misconceptions towards autism, I had developed serious trust issues to the point that I felt that I couldn’t fully confide in anybody whatsoever at all.  It pretty much meant that getting truly close to anybody was an impossible feat, something I only wish that I could do.

Making friends was pretty much a cycle of meeting them, getting to know them a little, become comfortable talking to them, then the anxiety, fear, and self-hatred strikes, and I often wind up leaving at the mercy of the flight or flight response.  The only option of coming back is the other person wishing to remain in contact with me and actually reaching out to me.  It does not matter if I did something wrong or inappropriate, or I didn’t do anything at all, but I thought I had.  It was almost always the latter.

These experiences pretty much add up to a near-textbook description of Social Anxiety Disorder (although these days I suspect it’s actually rejection sensitive dysphoria).  Yet, I struggle to get this out to people I trust verbally, no matter if it was to a family member, a friend, or even a doctor.  The best I could get out was either a jumbled set of words that get misunderstood, or only the part of the story I could talk about before I shut down due to the anxiety.  And often, I greatly feared being dismissed like I was lying to get attention or told to “get over it”, since talking about mental health issues carries a social stigma just like how autism is stigmatized.

Last, but far from least, sometimes I’ve found myself going entirely non-verbal when the anxiety got bad.  Being put on the spot, and sometimes due to overload and the issues I talked about before are a few root causes I’ve discovered.  For a couple of months now, I highly suspect that selective mutism is another anxiety issue I’ve dealt with for practically my entire life.  From what I’ve read, it’s rarely associated with autism, given that autism is widely regarded in the neurotypical community as a communication and social disorder.  It’s widely known that some autistics are verbal and some are non-verbal.  I feel that many autistics who are usually, but not always verbal actually do struggle with selective mutism.  The best way I can describe going mute because of anxiety is like you’re being paralyzed by fear.  Your desire can sometimes be very great to get it out, but it just doesn’t come out no matter how hard you try.

I’m far from alone in the autistic community to struggle with an anxiety disorder or any other mental health condition.  In fact, a majority of autistics have talked about their experiences with it, and that it is not because of their differences that make them vulnerable to it, but it was their life experiences of being mistreated by society, almost always both intentionally and unintentionally.  That is very much true about my experience of dealing with other people.

About unwritten rules and expectations, that never comes naturally to autistics, and if it does, it’s bits and pieces all jumbled up in an impossible to organize way.  I don’t blame anyone for not teaching me about these expectations as only autistics themselves were aware of it way back in the nineties when I was a small child.  Even if I did know them all, I would still have struggled as my brain is wired differently than most people’s brains, like a Mac in a Windows society or a cat in a dog society.  Writing them down and teaching them in a way that you’d teach somebody how to read or write while respecting the natural way and dignity of autistic people.  Oh, and meet their needs half-way as in compromising instead of expecting autistics to masquerade in public in a perfectly made neurotypical costume.  A lot of this is unintentional due to the widespread misunderstandings, myths, and stigma towards autistic people.  Some of it is, sadly, intentional, often due to fear, hatred, or contempt.  And like most autistics, I still struggle with it to some extent, and I always will because the rules were made in a way that only the majority understand by instinct, and it isn’t autistic people.

I was always interested in social interaction, but when I was a kid,  but I didn’t know how to go about it very well if at all.  I pretty much only socialized with those who took the initiative and interact with me.  That didn’t change until the tail end of eighth grade thank in part to a friend of mine when I found myself comfortable enough to talk with other people after many attempts in the past that often ended in disaster.  Nowadays, it’s anxiety that’s often prohibiting me from social interaction, especially in person in the real world.  Anxiety disorders are not fun, not even one single bit.  Sure, anxiety is natural, but it doesn’t become a problem until it is way out of control for variety of different reasons.

This has been something I’ve been wanting to talk about for seven years, but I could not get it out in full until now.  Severe anxiety is a real issue, widespread even among the non-autistic community due to a variety of reasons as infinitely large as the number of reasons it is a major problem in the autistic community.  We as a whole aren’t quite to the point of destigmatizing anxiety and mental health issues, same goes for any other kind of difference you can think of.