Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My Glasses

I am myopic, in other words, nearsighted. Which means that to me, everything looks bigger and blurrier than it does to average-vision people. Glasses refract this image so it is smaller and crisper, allowing me to see the world sort of like a very mildly myopic person. My mother is also nearsighted with astigmatism, my father is farsighted with very slight astigmatism and my brother is farsighted. Typically, myopia gets more severe as you grow, and hyperopia (farsightedness) gets less severe.
I am supposed to wear glasses, but I rarely do. Recently, they broke and we're waiting to get around to getting me more. Before then was a long stint of me wearing them far more consiostently than usual. Before that, I used to constantly lose them until I ended up going a few years without them.
At the period of my life, 10-12 years old, when I was being bullied a lot, I vwas very resistant to wearing glasses. Partly, I kept losing them because I was, and still am, very disorganized. I set things down and then have no clue where they are. But during the long stint of wearing them regularly I was still disorganized, but took the effort to keep track of them.
Partly, they bothered me. My ears ache sometimes after wearing them a lot, and I can't stand to lean my head against something while wearing my glasses. I newver sleep with them because they hurt my head if I do, since I sleep on my side (My back hurts if I don't, although it hurts a bit even if I sleep on my side).
But that's not all. There were two psychological factors involved, I think. One is that the school wanted me to wear glasses so I could see the blackboard. If I'd lost my glasses, I had a good excuse for goofing off - "I can't do my work because I can't see the board!" It was usually a lot of effort to get me to use work-arounds, and I resisted them, so the teacher would often just give up. This never worked in my first school, where I had a teacher aide who would just read the board for me and tell me what to write. But when the only teacher had about 30 other stuidents to deal with, I could fade into an off-task background. I wasn't disruptive, just resistant to doing schoolwork.
More importantly, there was the bullying. A bit of it centered on my glasses. Most of it was other things, but those other things fit either or both of a) things I had no control over or b) things I didn't want to change because they were important to me. For example, I was unaware that my thinking process differed a lot from others, and it's unchangeable, so that's a). I liked my intense interests and couldn't help being interested in things like that, so that's a) and b). I liked to read and didn't want to give that up, so reading a lot was b). Most of those things I still consider the sort of things only bigots mistreat people for or ask them to change.
Glasses were one of the few things I could control and didn't feel were important to me. I harbored the hope that if I didn't wear glasses, if I had laser surgery sao I didn't need glasses, I'd be liked by other people. Of course, back then, any changing myself to suit others was done involving mental twists to hide my "giving in" from myself, because I'd sworn to myself to refuse to conform. I convinced myself I just hated glasses, and pretended people teasing me had nothing to do with hating glasses.
There are other examples of this. I started becoming socially withdrawn without noticing, just avoiding or ignoring others like the stereotype of an autistic in their own little world. I only act this way around kids my age, and when I'm fairly calm, like when school's just started or I meet someone outside of school, I can push through the fear of others and interact, but it takes work, and I still hide parts of myself, putting on an NT act. Around kids I just act like a very smart and knowledgable kid, and around adults like a "little professor". I'm not scared of them, so I act as feels natural.
It's ironic. Most autistic self-advocates say that being yourself is easier for autistics than putting on an act. This is true at first, but when you have so much built up fear, it's frightening to show who you are to others. Donna Williams, in her books about her life (Nobody Nowhere and Somebody Somewhere) seems to attribute this fear to autism, saying "autism is not me, it interferes with being me", but it's rejection and the psychological effects that linger on that interfere with being yourself. Donna Williams was mocked by her mother and brother for acting autistic - early on she was told "don't echo what I say" and with no idea what that meant, she echoed it and got hit, later on she was called a "blonk" (stupid person) who "wonked" (did odd things with words). I was mocked by classmates for acting weird. I think I remember the word "nerd" being applied to me, for example, though when people are being verbally aggressive I blank out on the words and only process tone of voice or just start feeling unsafe without realizing they said anything (the second is more common when the insult is directed at another person and I'm somewhat further away).
I also thought every teenager started having crushes on the opposite gender, because of sex education. I wish they'd talked about gay people and asexual people, or at least gay people, when describing crushes, but the teachers seemed to assume everyone would be straight, and I assumed so as well. I assumed I was straight, and started analyzing the appearance of boys and deciding what I liked. I now realize this wasn't actually a crush, because it was entirely chosen. I compare it to Data appreciating music, he just analyzes patterns. Most people get an emotional response to music (I get neither, music with words I respond to the words but the music itself is just background noise and isn't processed further than "music" or sometimes a certain instrument if Dad asks me to pay attention).
Anyway, so for what passes for a conclusion to all this, I'll just say that the effects of being mistreated for certain traits are complex, and tricky to untangle. It's not as simple as I used to think, in that you either give in and conform or fight back. You can give in and fight back on different things, and even do mental wrangling so you aren't sure whether you're pretending or being true to yourself. And hiding yourself can be a habit that is scary to break.
I remember once I was spending time with an NT my age in school last year (a brief interlude in years of homeschooling, but not brief enough for me) and she asked me about giftedness, since I'd mentioned I was gifted. I started talking about giftedness, and since that's part of an obsession (neurodiversity) I kept talking, and talking, and talking. Then I realized I'd been talking a lot, and felt this feeling of fear, like "OK, am I going to get bullied now?" and immediately apologized for talking too much. My friend replied that it was OK, she was interested in what I was saying. So I continued. But after then, though I figured intellectually that she'd react the same way if I monologued again, I was still hiding that part of myself because I was scared.
I admitted, if the subject came up, that I was gifted and autistic and had been sexually abused, but the various traits associated with those I tended to hide when around others (with exceptions). Recently, on the radio, I heard of something called "covering" that some gay people did. That means that their sexual orientation is no secret, but they never embrace their partner in public. They hide their love. This is also what is meant when people say "I'm OK with them being gay, but don't flout it". "Not flouting it" is covering, and I did that without realizing it.
Ettina