grad school, routine

Thrown Off

Okay… I have to write this post. If I don’t write this post right now, at the moment I’m thinking about it, then I’m just going to put it off for the millionth time, and then, a few days from now, I’ll inevitably tell myself hey, you should write a blog post, and then just not do it, and be back at square one. Additionally, I have to write this post because if I don’t write this post, the gap between the last time I had a blog and the next blog will just keep getting wider and wider, and, well… we don’t want that.

So I’m writing this post. I’m not sure it’s going to be the most coherent post that ever hit this blog. In fact, it might be one of the least coherent. But I’m writing it, and I’m going to try to put it up tonight, and I think that’s what matters.

It’s October 19th. You last heard from me on September 1st, at which point I was admitting that the difficulties of adjusting to a brand new schedule thanks to starting grad school were definitely hitting me. I was also very optimistic in the post on September 1st, thinking that I was going to be able to get back into the posting-once-weekly routine that I stuck to for the entirety of undergrad. As evidenced by the fact that it’s now October 19th and I’m writing on this blog for the first time since then, that clearly isn’t happening. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep, so I won’t tell you that I’m going to get back into the posting-once-weekly rhythm, at least not at the moment. I will tell you that I want to write this post now to make a point about why I’ve been gone so long.

And, well… there isn’t one big, groundbreaking reason. The reason I’ve been gone so long is very simple. Starting grad school has been an incredibly difficult transition, and nothing feels right. That’s why I’ve been away from this blog. I’m having an incredibly difficult time. In the weirdest way, I think I might be having an even more difficult time with this transition than with starting college. I know that doesn’t make any sense at all, since I’m living at home, not in a dorm, and I should have been able to fall into this routine way more easily than with the beginning of undergrad, where literally everything was new.

Except… it’s not easy. It’s the opposite of easy. I want to do my very best to summarize some of the things I’ve experienced over the course of the past month and a half, but I’m not even sure I’ll be able to do this justice. This will be my best attempt, and we’ll see where we wind up at the end of the post.

I’ve started graduate school. You already know this, because, at the time of my last blog post, I was in the thick of the first week of classes. As I mentioned then, I started out pretty strong on Day 1, and then the newness of everything sort of “caught up with me” on Day 2, and it was getting really stressful right around the point I wrote out that post and put it up. I wrote a post on the eve of starting grad school, but I don’t think the me who wrote that post fully comprehended just how weird I was going to feel once classes actually started.

It’s now about halfway through the semester. People keep asking me how I’m doing. Earlier in the semester, I felt pretty comfortable admitting that I was having a hard time with the transition, but my answer to this question now has taken a form that’s mostly a lie: “Oh, I think I’m getting used to it!”

I am not getting used to it. I just say this to people to be nice. No one, with a casual how’s school question, is signing up to hear about how your disability is making your life completely miserable because you apparently can’t handle basic change.

I don’t want to sound like a downer, because this is very much a first world problem. There have been no major, external problems in my life since starting grad school. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to go to grad school in the first place. This was what I wanted to do after graduating from college, and this is the path I chose. It’s not even the act of attending grad school that’s causing me to feel the way I feel right now. It’s the fact that things have changed. It’s the whole new routine of my life, and it’s the fact that I’m now entering the ‘real world,’ the start of actual adulthood, and I feel by no means equipped to deal with anything in the real world.

But I don’t think, even as I’m writing this out, that this makes any sense at all. I want to try to walk this back a little, and explain in less emotional terms what I’ve been experiencing since school started.

To put it very simply: I feel completely thrown off. This happens to me whenever I experience a major routine change, but I think this is the most severe it’s ever been in my life. The next, closest thing I can compare to this is the way I felt when COVID hit, and my schedule suddenly looked very different than it had. But this is very different, because I’m experiencing this huge change in my schedule with a consciousness that this is permanent. I will never go back to the way my routine was as an undergrad— something which I got very, very used to, and came to feel comforted by. This is my new normal, to use a COVID term. And that’s the part that my autism is having so much trouble with.

Purely from a comfort standpoint, I recognize that there are elements of my current situation that could be worse. For example, as already mentioned, I’m living at home while attending school. This is hugely preferable to the alternative, which would be living in an apartment by myself. Even though I pretty much had dorm living down to a science while at college, that was a very different situation, since it was, in essence, “temporary,” and I still considered my permanent address to be my parents’ house. Moving back here has been a return to a familiarity that existed all through undergrad; the only difference is that I’m not going back and forth between here and a dorm.

So that isn’t a problem. The problem is everything else. I keep thinking that I miss the way I used to be, while I was an undergrad, because I had finally reached a point as an undergrad where I really felt like a socially functional human being, and, to be very blunt about it, I’m just… not that, anymore. I barely even text people back, and it’s worse and more apparent now than it ever was during school breaks as an undergrad. I am, in essence, ruining every relationship I have with people outside of my family, because I’m in a complete communication shutdown.

Why am I bringing any of this up? Because, I’m realizing, this is what happens when an autistic brain experiences a gigantic life change. I’m starting to think that I genuinely cannot handle the real world. I know that this sounds very melancholy, but it’s more or less a reflection of the way I feel. I know that I’ll be fine, and that I’ll eventually “get used to” this, because there’s legitimately no other option— but I have no idea what the path toward that is going to look like. If the past month and a half have been any indication, it’s not going to be quick.

For the first time in a long time, I’m genuinely ashamed of being autistic right now. The entire process of trying to adjust to this new life has been so mortifying. I cried in public yesterday, on campus at my school, and I could feel people looking at me funny. The reason I was crying was I ran into a problem which required fixing and created stress, but I assure you that a neurotypical person would not have cried over this. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I cannot get it to stop.

To be honest? I am completely lost as to what to do next. Like I said earlier, I know that I’ll be fine— but I think I’m in a very difficult place right now, the likes of which I haven’t been in awhile. I can’t think of any other way to describe this other than that I feel so incredibly thrown off. I wonder if maybe this is the way I felt when I moved away to college, and it was just too long ago for me to vividly remember. I feel like I would have remembered feeling like this. This is why I think this is something new.

I want to write more about this, but I think I’ve exhausted my motivation for the day, so I’m going to put this up and hope for the best. I apologize for the lack of coherence in this post, but maybe this will give a good and honest glimpse into the brain of an autistic person who’s in the midst of an extremely difficult period of adjustment.

Here’s where else you can find me. I’ll write again soon, but I’m not sure when. I’ll try not to take another six-week hiatus.

Next Time: I’ll attempt to address some of my feelings about being an adult and growing up.

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grad school, routine

When Change Hits You

You might have to forgive me in advance, because I have the strong suspicion as I sit down to write this post that this might turn out to be one of those blogs that’s more meant as therapeutic for myself than informative for you. I sincerely apologize. I will also do my best to ensure that this is not the case, but you really never know what can happen, especially on this blog. I should issue an additional preliminary apology for the fact that I’m attempting to write this blog in the twenty or so minutes between right now, when I’m starting it, and the time when my first class of the day starts. I’m going to make my best attempt at getting it done before class kicks off.

So… hello. I’m writing this while sitting in a classroom at my grad school. I guess this was sort of implied, since I already told you I’m waiting for a class to start, but you never know. It could have been a Zoom class. (By the way, very thankfully for my attention span, I don’t actually have any Zoom classes this semester.) I’ve gotten here very early on account of living an hour’s commute away from my new school and wanting to avoid getting stuck in really terrible traffic, which, while it means I have to wake up at an ungodly hour, also does help me actually get here on time.

And it’s the third day of school. For me, anyway. In actuality it’s the fourth, since classes started Monday, but I didn’t have a class until this time on Tuesday morning. I want to make an attempt at writing, in a very broad sense, about this transition. As you know, since you heard from me last week, the lead-up to this transition has been very overwhelming. I told you that you wouldn’t necessarily hear from me on Tuesday of this week, since I correctly anticipated that Tuesday would be a busy day because it was my first official day of classes— but I did promise you a post, so here we are on Thursday. I think that waiting a few days to write this post has actually helped contribute content to the post I’m about to write. All things work out for the best.

So, to begin: I’m back in school. I really took a lot of time for myself this summer, which was very nice, but has sort of given me whiplash in that the re-establishment of a school schedule coming to me all of a sudden has definitely and completely changed the routine that I was previously used to. With this said, I think that this transition has been made a little ‘easier’ by the fact that I’m not starting a full-time job or entering a completely different environment where I know nothing about what to expect. Even though this isn’t the same school that I attended for the four years of undergrad, it’s still a school, and I, as a person who has been going to school my whole life, know how school works. It’s true that grad school is different than any other kind of schooling a person would have had up to the point that grad school starts, but there are still classes, instructors, assignments, and other things that I’m used to.

Make no mistake, though: I’m very much aware that this is not the same place I’ve been for the past four years. I was thinking briefly about the fact that the transition into college was super difficult, and, in fact, was the reason I decided to start writing a blog. I was trying to draw comparisons between that transition, and the difficulties experienced by the me of four years ago, and the transition I’m going through now, from college to grad school. In some ways, those things are similar— but I think there was one marked difference four years ago. I didn’t have a bad high school experience, and I liked my school for what it did for me— but I didn’t miss high school once I got to college.

I think things are a little different here, because I have something to miss. I wrote at length toward the end of senior year about how much I was going to miss being at my particular college, and now that I’m somewhere else, I’m definitely feeling that more. Yesterday, for example, was Wednesday. I wrote a handful of times about my experiences leading music ministry in college, and although I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of my schedule with that while I was there, I will tell you that Wednesday was an important day of the week in that respect, and I got extremely emotional yesterday at the knowledge that I won’t be in that position in that exact way ever again.

But I don’t want to get too much into that, because I think it’ll just make me upset. What I actually want to focus on in this post is the following: the first day was fine. Yesterday was rough. I think it’s finally hitting me that my life is changing in a big way.

And I mean yesterday was really rough. I think that the first day was a little easier because there were a lot of moving parts, and I was preoccupied with making sure I got to class on time, found all the rooms, and had everything I needed. Yesterday was a little easier logistics-wise, but it was emotionally terrible.

To give you a useful example of how bad it was, I’ll tell you this: I cried in public yesterday. It was during church, so I guess that’s better than just doing it randomly in class, but it still wasn’t ideal. I can’t even begin to tell you how deeply embarrassing it is to cry in public when you’re already overwhelmed and you just wish you would stop feeling like that. I feel like this is a deeply autistic experience that I’ve had many times, especially when I’m having trouble with change or transition.

Luckily for me, I didn’t really have to interact with anybody while I was in my state of public emotional distress yesterday— except for a very kind nun, who probably noticed that I was crying but didn’t acknowledge it directly, and just said hi instead— but I was thinking about it while it was happening, and I reached the conclusion that I wasn’t even sure what I would have said if someone had gotten concerned and asked me what was wrong. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that I would have just gotten more upset if confronted about my distressed state, so it’s for the best that I didn’t run into too many people while I was crying. I remember sitting there and thinking that I just couldn’t wait for the day to be over.

It’s the third day of school now, and I’ll be honest: I’m still not feeling great. I think I’m still so in the thick of how I feel that it’s hard for me to summarize or describe it, except by writing this very incoherent blog post. There might be a small benefit in me writing this in real time, that being you’re getting the true, authentic picture of what an autistic person goes through during a big transition like this one— but on my end, it honestly doesn’t feel so great. I want to try and summarize some of these feelings in a more coherent way at some point in the future, but not today.

Class is starting in about five minutes, so I need to wrap things up. If there’s one thing that you take away from this post, it’s that I react to change in a very emotional way. I’m definitely going through that right now, and I’m feeling the growing pains. In a future post, I’ll talk about how embarrassing that is, and how ill-equipped I am to deal with it.

For now, here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: I take an unintentional hiatus again, and come back to explain why I’ve been struggling.

grad school, routine, the real world

One week till grad school!

First of all, you should be proud of me. This is now the second Tuesday in a row, after last week, when I’ve actually delivered on a blog post that I promised to write. As you may already know, I sort of went on at length last week about various points related to executive functioning, routine, and the fact that returning to consistency on this blog is a way for me to maintain some level of familiarity in an otherwise very fluid schedule. I’m writing this post now because, in true executive-dysfunction fashion, I’ve spent most of this morning doing absolutely nothing at all, and I can’t stand to do nothing anymore. Writing this will technically check something off of my unwritten ‘list’ for the day, so here goes nothing.

Also, I should apologize. I misled you last week, in the “Next Time” note at the very bottom of the post. I mentioned that I was going to use today’s blog post to attempt to address the recent struggles I’ve been having in the writing field, which is something I’ve gone into vaguely in the past on the “creativity” side, but haven’t really touched the “publishing industry” aspect of. Although I intended to do that today, I think I’m going to hold off. It’s not so much that I have a reason to delay this, but more that I have another idea to write a post, and I think the second idea is more timely as of this exact moment.

So anyway. That was a lot of words to get to the point of what I’m trying to say, which is: I’m not going to blog about the writing stuff today. Because of the way writing is, there will definitely be a lot of opportunity in the future for me to touch on that on this blog. Instead, today, I want to talk about the particular way I’m feeling right now as I anticipate the start of grad school, and how that’s been impacting my state of mind in these last few weeks of summer.

When you last heard from me, in the first proper post following my update earlier this month where I mentioned I’d be getting back to weekly blogging, I took the opportunity to explain in a very long and rambling way that my schedule this summer has basically been nonexistent. Although I have a job where I work on the weekends, the majority of my time this summer has been for myself, which, as I mentioned, has been great for creative writing reasons as well as for the general purpose of rejuvenating, ahead of the start of classes for grad school. As an autistic person, spending a summer on my own time without a structured schedule has felt both complicated and incredibly freeing.

But the truth of the matter is: summer is now coming to an end. A week from today, provided I get into the classes I want to register for, I’ll be on campus at my new school, experiencing my first day of grad school. I don’t think it will come as a surprise to pretty much anyone who either knows me or has read this blog for awhile that I am extremely nervous for this transition. I went through a lot of growing pains when I first started college, and it honestly took me pretty much right up until COVID hit to even feel comfortable on campus.

I’ll do the math so you don’t have to: that’s almost two entire years. My master’s program is, in total, two years long. So by the same logic, this transition is going to take so long to adjust to, that there’s a strong possibility I’ll be just about ready to finish up with the program by the time I finally get comfortable. And yes, okay, the argument could be made that undergrad was different because I was living away from home and the routine displacement was a lot more severe, so of course the transition was extremely hard. But I think something that I’ve been realizing recently is that once I got adjusted to undergrad, that life became my routine. I got extremely used to living away from home for most of the year, while spending breaks and summers at my house. I’ll be living at home for graduate school, so I have the benefit of not having to adjust to living in a whole new place. But I’m still moving from one very familiar school environment to a new one, and I know it’s going to be a lot.

To give you an idea of how the anxiety and anticipation for this transition is affecting me, let me give you a small picture of the past week of my life. I’ve been trying to “get my ducks in a row,” so to speak, for the start of classes, and anyone who has ever started at a new school will know that this requires a lot of enrollment paperwork, onboarding modules/virtual training, and checking small tasks off of a long to-do list. It’s become very obvious to me recently that my autism makes it really difficult for me to intake information when the various to-dos and tasks are all over the place, rather than being listed out in one clear way. Even though I’m pretty sure I have everything taken care of in order to start school, the scattered nature of the enrollment tasks has left me constantly anxious over the past few weeks that I’ve left something out.

I can tell that even the way I wrote the last paragraph conveys my stress over pre-orientation to-do lists, because I’m pretty sure it’s not coherent. I don’t remember feeling this way about this particular part of starting undergrad, maybe because my parents were still handling some of that for me at that point, but maybe also just because I’m feeling the weight of adulthood really starting to sink in.

More broadly, I’m extremely nervous for this change. There are so many unknowns associated with starting at a new school, and I’ve been known to completely spiral into anxiety (and sometimes even write entire, badly crafted novels) over these transitions in the past. I’ve made it no secret on this blog that I hate change, even when that change is in the form of an exciting new opportunity, like grad school. The reason for this is that change alters my routine. When I’m used to something, it’s so hard for me to get excited about the prospect of that thing changing, even if the change is something that has to happen and/or is inevitable.

So, the bottom line right now is this: I have way too much to think about. I’ve definitely noticed my own stress levels picking up for the past couple of weeks, and today, as I stare down the one-week-remaining countdown, I can tell that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. My hope for the stress dying down is that I’ll feel better once I understand “how things work” in terms of my day-to-day routine with classes and my job at grad school. Once all of that is set in, I should be able to move from the anticipatory anxiety stage into the adjustment stage, and from there on out, things should get a little less stressful.

For now, I’m feeling very anxious. This has begun to interfere with most other parts of my daily functioning, which is something that normally happens to me when I’m experiencing high levels of stress. For example, I’ve been completely unreachable on a social level. I’ve written at length about the concept of going off the map socially before, and the fact that I’m just flat-out awful at maintaining communication with people, which makes me a pretty bad friend— but right now I feel completely socially paralyzed, because of the level of stress that I’m experiencing. I can’t even bring myself to send texts right now, and there have been multiple instances recently of me missing emails because they get buried in my inbox and I get overwhelmed by the amount of incoming information.

For a person who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be inside my head, this may make it sound like I’m either being lazy or just ignoring people because I feel like I can’t be bothered, but I promise you that it’s so much more complicated than that. If I were able to communicate with people like a normal human being, it would probably make my life a lot easier. As it happens, I have an extremely difficult time with that, especially when I’m already on-edge for other reasons.

All of this is probably coming across as extremely scatter-brained, and I apologize. I’m not sure how many times I can reiterate the fact that I’m very nervous for this transition, except to tell you this one last time. I think that writing about it in cycles the way I’ve been doing for several paragraphs is just contributing to my stress, so I should do the best thing for myself and call it quits for this particular post. I hope that, if nothing else, this has given you a glimpse into an autistic person’s brain while processing an impending, major routine change.

The next time you hear from me, classes will have begun. I’ll have plenty to say about the initial onset of the transition, I’m sure. I have orientation this coming Friday, which is arguably a scarier concept than the actual start of classes themselves. We’ll see how it goes. Either way, I’m going to write again next week. Maybe not on Tuesday, but definitely at some point next week.

Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: A report on the official start of grad school.

routine

Permanent Vacation

Not only am I doing this post on the specific day I said I was going to last time you heard from me, but I’m even writing it a day in advance. You should seriously be proud of me. After an entire summer of not writing on this blog, I’m back into the swing of things very quickly. Actually, not to turn this into a total autism teaching moment before I’ve even properly introduced the post, but I think writing on this blog on Tuesdays has been such a consistent part of my routine for the past four years that it felt weird not to do it during my summer hiatus. If anything, getting back to this now feels natural.

So, hello. Sorry to start you off with that. I guess it was relevant. I’m back on a Tuesday, after a brief interlude for a random post on a Friday. I was honestly getting super restless about not writing on this blog, and I guess I finally cracked. It’s not that I was actively avoiding writing on here; I was just really struggling to come up with things to write about. I was also definitely taking the time (and yes, it wound up being a lot of time) to process being out of college.

It’s been almost three months since my graduation ceremony. I wrote at considerable length about the idea of getting ready to graduate college, and the fact that I very much didn’t feel ready to take that next step into the “real world” and accept my transition into autistic adulthood. I also wrote after the fact, with the post I put up in June, about some of my reflections a month removed from the graduation ceremony. I think that I definitely have a lot more thoughts about the way my autistic brain has handled no longer being an undergrad, and I’ll plan to share some of them on this blog as I get back into writing here weekly.

But for now, I don’t actually want to write about that. At least, not directly. Instead, I want to fill you in on what I’ve been up to this summer. I can’t exactly account for not having written on this blog, because I think in order to do that, I would have to have some big, concrete reason for taking a two-month hiatus, and I… sort of don’t. I mean, I do have reasons. It’s just none of them are really that big of a deal. In the past, if I’ve skipped a blog post, I usually give you some kind of reason for it, the way I did here. Because I skipped, like, eight weeks’ worth of blog posts… I don’t really have a good reason.

But I do have some general reflections. And hopefully, after this blog post is over, you might understand a little bit what I’ve been up to this summer.

I will now address the title of this post. Apparently, Permanent Vacation is the name of a movie, but I got it from the back of one of my brother’s shirts. In reality, the title of this post comes from a joke I’ve been making with my family all summer, that I’m on “permanent vacation.” Given that two weeks from today, I’ll be in classes at grad school, this is not technically true. But this summer has felt a lot more like a “vacation” than most of the other summers since I got old enough to need a job. Bear with me now while I go on a brief digression. I promise that I will eventually tie autism into this post. In true short-attention-span autistic fashion, I’m taking forever to get to the point.

I touched briefly on my summer job situation when I wrote in June, but to give you an idea of what I’ve actually been doing for these three months away from school, I started out with more responsibilities than I have now. I had a remote, work-from-home job for the first month of summer, helping out one of the professors from my college with the last bit of a research grant. Once the money had run out from that, I was sort of “on my own” effective immediately. The only “job” I’ve had for the remainder of the summer has been church music, which I did during the school year as well. And even though that’s a perfectly good job that I don’t intend on stopping, the “hours” for a job when you’re a church musician are… pretty much one hour per day, twice a week, unless you get lucky and there’s an extra church day in there somewhere. For example, when this post goes up, “yesterday” (as in Monday) was an extra church day, so I go to work on a day that wasn’t Saturday or Sunday.

But as you can imagine, even though it is a job, being a church musician doesn’t take up a significant amount of time, at least not when stacked up against actual part-time summer jobs, like the one I held for two summers at a farm stand or even last summer’s eight-week research job.

You might be asking yourself, well, Madison, why didn’t you get a “real job” this summer? And the answer is… honestly? I was really burned out when I finished school.

I mean really burned out. I don’t know if I ever actually directly addressed this, but I was working a lot at my primary on-campus job during the entirety of senior year, more than I ever had before. Coupled with the fact that I was working on senior theses, applying to grad school, and trying to enjoy my last year of college… it made me feel extremely busy, all the time. I think, by the time graduation came around, I was so done with working that I sort of needed the time for myself to “recover.” When I saw the opportunity to take the research job for the month of June and continue doing my church music until grad school started up, I decided that would be a good course of action.

More than anything, I think the reason I’ve spent this summer the way I have is because I was really desperate for some “me time.” This was especially the case on the heels of the last two or so months of senior year, when I was feeling really inspired to work on my hobby of creative writing for the first time in awhile. I think I wanted to really take advantage of feeling inspired to work on that while I knew I had the time to do so, and this summer felt like the perfect opportunity. I’ve written a little bit on this blog on the fact that I stake a lot of my worth as a ‘creative’ person on whether or not I’m producing anything creative, and when it comes to my writing, I always feel really good about myself when I’m actually able to write, and brain block doesn’t get in the way.

On that count, I would say I’ve succeeded. I’ve written almost every day this summer, and not even just random stuff that I hate but stuff that I actually enjoy writing and reading back when I’m done. Up to this point, I’ve pretty much kept my writing as a concept off of my blog because I haven’t felt that it’s necessarily directly relevant to my autistic experience, but I want to change that moving forward. This isn’t to say that I’m going to turn this blog into a “writing blog,” but I think there are many situations related to my writing that make me very aware of how autism impacts my life.

I’ll say more on that later, but for now, just know that I’ve really felt fulfilled in that sense this summer. And that honestly means a lot to me, because this is an area in which I’ve really struggled in the past, especially while I was going through undergrad and often felt like I had all the creative energy sucked out of me by the academic, social, and emotional pressures of being a college student. Moving forward, I feel a lot better about being able to balance writing with my life outside of writing, and I think that this summer has really been the reason for that.

But anyway. I’ve written two entire pages in Google Docs and haven’t really gotten to the point of why “permanent vacation” is at all relevant to being autistic, except for the digression about writing. The point I’m trying to get at is this. I’ve written it before, but it’s worth repeating: “me time” inherently leaves room for a struggle with executive dysfunction.

And, look: I’ve had a little bit of that this summer. There have definitely been a handful of days where I wallow in self-pity at the end of the day because I realize that I haven’t been nearly as “productive” that day as I would have liked to be. Executive functioning difficulties mean that you can sometimes lose an entire day to your brain’s chronic delay on functionality (not a clinical term, but my attempt at explaining), and it’s frustrating beyond words. I think I’ve been a little better about avoiding it because I’ve felt so inspired to work on my writing this summer, which eats up a lot of time and very much feels “productive”… but even that isn’t foolproof. I still struggle.

The issue, of course, is that having all of this precious time on my hands has made me reluctant to give it up. After all, it feels great to have a lot of free time, and my impulse as a creative person is to fill that with working on creative things. To an outsider, such as my family members, this can look like being lazy or simply “not wanting” to do anything. In reality, I think that my reluctance to structure my schedule this summer has come from a place of wanting to spend as much time as possible working on my writing and other things which I normally would have less time to do. I don’t know if this makes sense the way I’m explaining it, but it definitely makes sense to me.

Something that has cropped up more recently, though, which I’d like to continue writing about in my next post, is the idea that having a lot of free time leaves your brain open to emotionally overworking itself. My latest fixation has been stress. Since pretty much the start of August, I’ve been extremely stressed out about a number of things, among them starting grad school soon (which will be a gigantic transition), fear of the dentist (it’s a long story), consciousness that I’ve been completely socially isolated and not necessarily wanting to change that but feeling very guilty about it, and the process of trying to pursue publication with my writing, which is a whole can of worms I won’t open today. All of this has been building up in my head, and I’m aware that it’s probably going to get a little worse before it gets better.

My current state of mind can probably be chalked up to this: trying to avoid executive dysfunction as much as possible, while also trying not to let the building stress in my head get in the way of me enjoying my last two weeks of summer before it’s time to get back into a structured schedule. I’m only marginally succeeding. I guess, at least, that’s something.

So I’ve left you with a lot of thoughts in this blog post, probably not all of them coherent, but I hope this might give you something to chew on until I write my next post next Tuesday. And I actually do mean next Tuesday. Unlike my false promises in June. Now that I’m back into the swing of this, it definitely feels normal again.

And who knows? Maybe this small return to normalcy will help with my upcoming transitions. Which I’m still scared about, by the way. But here’s where else you can find me, and I’ll see you next week.

Next Time: The stress of starting grad school is really starting to hit me.

Uncategorized

Episode VII: the blog awakens

From the depths of the blog, she speaks!

Hello. Welcome back to this blog that you may or may not have forgotten existed. Even though I’m the one who writes on this blog, and therefore am entirely personally responsible for its functioning and content, I occasionally forget it exists. Even when I am writing on it on a week-to-week basis. Be assured that I never completely forget this blog is a thing, which is why I’m writing here now. But in case you forgot, yes. I am here, and I do in fact still write on this blog.

Lest I fake you out too much, I should note that the post I’m about to write isn’t really a post on any one dedicated topic. It also might not be as long as you’re used to seeing posts from me, especially the consistent ones during the school year. But I did want to get something out on the blog today, because I keep having these moments where I think “hey, you should really write on the blog,” and then I don’t write on the blog, and I go through that cycle again and again. To save myself the repetition of the cycle, I am now writing on the blog.

I want to do a few things with this post. First, I want to reassure you that I’m not dead. The last time you heard from me was way back in June, when I was writing at the one-month-since-I-graduated-college mark. I wrote in that entry that I had taken an unintentional hiatus for a month between my graduation ceremony and the day I decided to write that post. Because it’s now August 12th, and you’re hearing from me for effectively the first time all summer, I should note that the “unintentional hiatus” definitely extended itself.

But why haven’t I written on the blog all summer? Well, I’ll get into that in a post that goes up this coming Tuesday. Because yes, I want to get back into Tuesdays. Maybe not every Tuesday. But some Tuesdays. To give you a vague and loose explanation, I’ve had very little of a structured schedule this summer. This has been both good and bad, in different ways. Again, I want to write about that at length in the post I’m going to put up next week, so I won’t go too much into it now, but just know that it’s been an interesting summer for executive functioning.

My main purpose of being here today is to tell you, in clear terms, that I’m not going to stop writing on this blog. A few of my family members have asked whether or not that’s part of my plan, I want to emphasize that I’m very much not intent on stopping this. Although the original purpose of my blog was to document my experience as an autistic person going to a four-year college, and I have since graduated from said college, I don’t want to stop writing on the blog just because the four years are technically up.

So I’m not going anywhere. Since starting this blog, I’ve gotten a lot of personal fulfillment from this blog, and I’ve also been able to connect with a number of really great people online who have come into contact with what I’ve written. I know that I’m not a “famous blogger” or anything like that, but I do think that this blog could at least serve as a resource for someone who wants to learn either about my personal experience, or the variety of autistic issues that I’ve attempted to tackle on here (or both of these things). Not only this, but writing on this blog for the four years I was in college brought a lot of consistency into my routine in a small way, and if you’ve read almost anything I’ve written, you know how important routines are to my general functioning as a human being.

This very long digression does have a purpose, and it’s to say that I’m going to continue writing on this blog going into grad school. I know I sort of started getting at this the last time I wrote, back in June, but I want to make that clear, because I think there was a level of ambiguity to my last couple of posts leading up to graduation where I kept saying I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to this blog. I’ve made that decision now, and I’ll be starting consistency back up with a post this coming Tuesday. Again, I’m not sure if I’m going to have something to write every single week, but I won’t be taking long breaks the way I have this summer.

The issue, of course, if you could call it an issue, is coming up with what to write on the blog, now that I’m out of college. I will, of course, continue to write my “general informative” posts, the ones I’ve been doing the whole time this blog has existed, which have come alongside the more personal posts about experiences I’ve had that are relevant to the autistic life. An example of a “general” post, for those who might not know, would be this one from the spring where I expressed frustration about the lack of resources available to autistic people to make our lives easier in the very neurotypical world we live in. I do these kinds of posts all the time, and I can certainly continue them.

I also want to shift my focus, in what I would argue is a natural transition, from writing about the college experience as an autistic person to writing about the autistic transition from adolescence into young adulthood. I’ve lamented about growing up before, and I’ll probably do it again in the future. It would probably not come as a surprise if I told you that I’m very nervous about entering the “real world” now that college is over. As of when I’m writing this, my new student orientation for graduate school is in two weeks, and my classes start two weeks from this coming Monday.

It’s going to be a huge transition. I’m not good with change, due to my aforementioned love of consistent routines, and the difficulty I have adjusting when those routines change. This is especially the case when I’ve gotten used to a routine or an expectation for how my life looks, and then things are going to change. The transition into college felt this way, and the transition out of college is feeling very similar. I keep subconsciously thinking that I’m going to move back into the dorm I lived in for three years at my college in a few weeks’ time, and things will start back up the way I was used to.

That isn’t going to happen, and it’s going to be incredibly difficult. But because this blog is meant as a personal journal as well as an informative resource, I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going.

In the meantime, I have some reflections to share about this summer. I’ll be able to get two blog posts in before my classes start, so keep your eye out this coming Tuesday and then the Tuesday after that. Once I get back into the routine of writing on here, I think it’ll be a lot easier to keep up with it.

So… yeah. Sorry for disappearing for the whole summer. I do have some insight about that that I think is very relevant to this blog, so you’ll hear more about it later. Until then, I’m not dead. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: It’s been a summer of interesting executive functioning experiences.

college, discussion, writing

I’m a college graduate!

Okay… I’m biting the bullet.

Hello. Welcome back. You may have noticed that I have been on hiatus for a month. I’m breaking this hiatus to write this blog post, mostly because I’ve been thinking to myself for the past handful of Tuesdays that I should really write a blog post. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, for reasons I’ll do my best to explain in this post, but I’m doing this now because I don’t want to continue thinking that I should be doing it when I’m not doing it.

So here we are. On my blog. Actually writing a post. I’ve never taken a break as long as the one I just took for the past month. Today, in fact, marks exactly one month since my graduation ceremony, since it was on May 21st. I didn’t choose to break my hiatus on this particular day on purpose, but I do think that the timing is sort of fitting.

The last time you heard from me, I was doing my very best at summarizing my senior year of college “in review.” As anybody who has read this blog for more than a few entries would know, I do the whole “things in review” thing a lot. I did it for each of my four academic years of college: freshman, sophomore, and junior along with the aforementioned senior-year post, and I’ve also done it with summers, and fall semesters. The wrap-up posts at the end of different parts of my completion of college have been helpful in keeping me on track with what the actual purpose of this blog was to begin with.

You may ask yourself, what was the purpose of this blog? By the way, I’m speaking in the past tense not because this blog is something which no longer exists, but because the establishment of the blog was something that happened in the past. As I wrote way back at the start of my freshman year, I started this blog with the original intent to document my experience as an autistic person going to college. That was it. That was the original purpose, and there wasn’t much detail beyond that.

I’ll be completely honest, since there’s been no shortage of me roasting, cringing at, or otherwise reflecting on my past self on this blog, and tell you the following: I didn’t have a plan when I started this blog. I had no idea how often I was going to post, or what kind of things I was going to write about. The way I wrote on this blog for the first six or so months sort of reflects that lack of a plan. I came up with topics on a week-to-week basis, sometimes delving into uncomfortably whiny territory, and sort of just wrote from my own experience. While it might not have been the most organized thing in the world, it was authentic to the adjustment to college that I was undergoing, and for that reason, I think that it was effective.

I think that the biggest success of writing this blog for the entirety of being in college was just that: the authenticity of it. Anyone who was reading along on the blog pretty much experienced all four years of college right along with me. I made it a point to note pretty much anything that happened in my life that was either a.) major enough to constitute a milestone, like declaring a double major or getting into grad school, or b.) relevant to my having autism. The vast majority of the posts fell into, as I’m sure is no surprise, category B.

One of my timeless refrains throughout the time I spent writing the blog while in college was that starting this blog made me so much more aware of the multitude of ways in which autism impacts my life, even in a mundane, day-to-day way. Something that I’ve really gotten through my head as a result of the reflection necessary for the writing of this blog is that my brain is just simply wired in a completely different way than what’s considered “normal.” I’ve learned, over the past couple of years, that it’s okay to accept my autism as an explanation for why something is inexplicably difficult for me when it feels like it shouldn’t be. I don’t meant to sound like I use my autism as an excuse, because I’ve forced myself through a lot of experiences which were otherwise pretty unpleasant for the sake of trying to adjust to the real world. But I do know, now, that autism just makes my life a lot more complicated. I’ve realized that it’s the reason behind a lot of things which were previously unexplained for me.

That’s been a comforting thing, for sure, because at least it gives me answers to some of the questions I was asking myself throughout high school, but it also is a difficult thing to sit with. Hand-in-hand with this realization has come my awareness that some of this is never really going to get easier. I wrote awhile back about my own frustration with the lack of resources available to autistic people, particularly autistic adults who are trying to make the jump from being a disabled/neurodivergent adolescent to being an adult in the ‘real world.’ The ‘real world’ is something that I’ve long since said is not built for people like me. But the reality is that I’m growing up in it, so I’m going to have to figure out a way to deal with it.

Anyway. All of this has been a lot of reflection. I think that the month removed from the blog gave me a bit of opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of writing the blog weekly for the past four years, and what I got out of it personally. I said at the start that this blog was for ‘journaling’ purposes, more or less, but I’ve realized that my blog is also informative, even if to a relatively small number of people. I want to continue to run this blog for both of those reasons. I’ll tell you more about what my plans are for that at the end of this post.

But for now, let me shift gears a little bit, and tell you what I’ve been up to for the month that I’ve been away.

I’m a college graduate! My ceremony was really nice and thankfully only a little bit emotional; I think I got most of the really emotional stuff out during the last few weeks of actual school. A fun fact: I graduated college on the same day, at the same time, as my younger brother graduated from high school. It’s safe to say that my family was not happy about this, and neither was I. We were able to have a joint graduation party the following day, so all’s well that ends well.

So I graduated. The diploma is within my sight line in my bedroom right now. In fact, I graduated Magna Cum Laude, which I’ll count as an accomplishment. Because this is my blog about my life, I can even brag a little bit and tell you that I was given the departmental awards from the academic departments of my two majors. For someone who never thought she was cut out for college to begin with, this was honestly really huge.

So what happened next? I unpacked (most of) my stuff, and then summer set in. Like I said, I didn’t mean to take a hiatus. In fact, I meant to write a blog post as early as the Tuesday after my graduation ceremony. It was supposed to be some kind of broad reflection on college as a whole, and I’ll write that post at some point, but not right now. I wound up not doing it at the time I planned to, but I don’t even exactly know why. All I know is that, in true executive dysfunction fashion, one week of no blog became two weeks, and then two became three, and so on, and now it’s June 21st.

If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t spend the past month of my life doing nothing. My family keeps joking with me that I don’t have a “real” summer job, because the summer job I do have is a work-from-home one; I’m helping one of my undergrad professors with a research project that I’ve worked on since I was a sophomore. I’m also working as a church musician on weekends and at intermittent weekday occasions, which is something I’ve also done for a long time. I’ve decided that this is the summer of the “side hustles,” and it’s working out pretty well for me.

The other big thing that I’ve been doing for the past month, though, is worth noting if for no other reason than I’ve written about this on my blog before. I did a long lament awhile back about the effects of being neurodivergent on being a “creative” person. For myself, being a “creative” person pertains to writing, which is something I’ve done since I was probably eleven and started writing my infamous Club Penguin fan-fictions. (See my post giving a timeline of my special interests if the previous sentence made you chuckle.)

I pretty much spent the latter half of college on a hiatus from “serious writing,” or writing with the intent to pursue publication. I wrote plenty during this time, mostly working on self-indulgent stories that helped me with character development, style/craft, and continuing to have a creative outlet— but, as I’ve written about at length on this blog, the pandemic took a lot out of me, as did difficulties with my mental health, which have been a longtime “byproduct” of my autism. For this reason, I took a break from “serious writing,” which I think was necessary for my growth as a writer.

So why am I bringing this up? Well, because starting around spring break and continuing into right now, I’ve been “seriously writing” again. The past month of my life has been dedicated to completely hyperfixating on a novel that I’ve been actively writing since March, even though the idea for the story dates back to when I was in high school. You should know that High School Madison came up with a solid ten or so ideas for novel-length stories, wrote about half of them, and kept the other half for safekeeping (or because they were super underdeveloped at the time). The one I’ve been working on this spring and summer was part of the second half.

I won’t go on a tangent about the story itself, because then we’d be here for another ten paragraphs. Instead, I’ll tell you the reason I feel that this is relevant to this blog in particular: the story is about an autistic kid. It’s also about music and being famous on the Internet and a bunch of other stuff that I won’t get into, but the main character being autistic is really important to me, and I’m happy that I got my writing bug back.

I’ve now been going on for quite some time, and somehow I feel like I’ve managed to say very little in this blog post at all. I’m glad, at least, that I wrote it. This isn’t the end of this blog, by the way. I know that I kept going back and forth on whether I wanted to use the end of college as the end of my blog, but I don’t want to leave this blog behind entirely, especially because I think that the process I’m about to undergo— the transition into actual, post-college adulthood, as an autistic person— is an experience for which my reflection will be valuable and relevant, even if for no other reason than to keep track of it for myself. As I said at the start of this post, I want this blog to be both personal and informative. I hope to keep that up.

I do think that the posts this summer will be slightly more intermittent than you’re used to. I don’t know if I’ll be doing a post every single week. But I do want to start it out that way, so for now, expect to hear from me soon. As always, here’s where else you can find me.

And by the way… thank you for reading. If you’ve been with me for awhile, thank you, especially, for coming on the journey through college with me.

Next Time: A little fast-forward to the latter half of the summer.

college

Senior year: in review

I need you to know before I start this post that I don’t really have the emotional capacity to actually write it right now. I mean, I’m going to write it anyway, but if I sound a little scatterbrained, you’re going to have to cut me some slack. It’s been an extremely draining past week, mentally and otherwise, and although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s all been for good (or at the very least bittersweet) reasons, that doesn’t mean that I’m not really tired. I don’t feel like putting myself through another entire emotional rollercoaster just to write this blog post— but in the interest of providing an authentic perspective, I’m probably going to have to do that.

So it’s been a week. The last time you heard from me, it was what I can best describe as “the calm before the storm.” Pretty much directly after I wrote that blog post, I started to get kind of emotional about this whole “graduating from college” deal. I’m going to try to keep my thoughts in this post separate from the thoughts that I’m reserving from next week’s post, so, as difficult as that’s going to be, I’m going to reserve all the general emotions about being finished with college for now. We’ll save that for next week.

What we’re going to do right now is something I’ve done before. In fact, this is the fourth time. I’m doing the “year in review” post, which I did for my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, and am now doing it for the last time. At least when it comes to undergrad. If we’re being completely honest, I have no idea what happens to this blog after graduation. I intend to write at least through next Tuesday, because I have a post planned for then, but I don’t really know what I’m going to write about once I can no longer write about being in college. After all, I started this blog to write about being autistic while in college, and, as of this coming Saturday circa 3 PM, I’m not going to be in college anymore. One could make the argument that I could continue to write about being an autistic adult, something which is deeply complicated and which intimidates me a lot. But I’m going to make that decision at a later date, not today.

So anyway. That was a tangent. The point is that I’m here today to write about my senior year in review. I will, again, do my very best to keep this post separate in its content and mood from the post I’m going to write next week, which will deal more directly with the idea of graduating and the way I feel about that. This post isn’t for present reflection, but for looking back on the past year. We’ve done this before, and it should be easy.

I’m doing this post today, even though graduation is this coming Saturday, because as of right now, I am done with my finals, which completes my academic requirements for the year (and for all of college). I finished my last exam today around 2:30, and I drove home a little while later, so I’m writing this from my house, not from the dorm. Packing up your dorm room, by the way, is already a painstaking process to begin with, and add the knowledge that you’re never going to live at your college again, and it becomes not only annoying and time-consuming but also emotional.

But anyway. All of that is done. My dorm room supplies are now occupying my bedroom at home, and I’m going to have to tackle that unpacking project tomorrow. For tonight, I want to get this blog post done, and then attempt to relax. The point is that I’m finished with finals. I consider this a good time to do the year-in-review post, while I wait for it to be time to go back for graduation exercises.

So senior year. I can safely say, to start out the reflection, that this was my best year of college. It was also by far my busiest. You saw that firsthand on this blog, with the freaking out I did last semester about my senior thesis, and the various posts that came in late because I either forgot it was Tuesday or had so much going on that I just couldn’t get a post in on a Tuesday. I didn’t know it was possible to be more busy in my routine at school than I was for the first three years (excluding the virtual part), but apparently it was.

Luckily, this didn’t really ruin my year. This year was full of a lot of new experiences for me, like leading the music group that I’d been a part of as just a member for the three prior years. I wrote both senior theses, successfully, and generally did well in my classes; the fall semester was my best semester yet when it comes to grades. I did a lot of research and presentations, and even got some chances to do things the likes of which I hadn’t really done before, like the talk I gave a few weeks ago. I also got into graduate school, which was a huge weight off of my shoulders, and really helped to make my spring semester a lot more fun, since I knew what my plan was for after graduation. In this way, I would say that I accomplished a lot this year.

But more importantly, I would say the reason this year was better than all the others is because I didn’t spend it in my room. My freshman year, I was absolutely notorious for being a complete recluse. By the time I got comfortable being social at school, we got sent home for COVID, and I felt like I was playing catch-up for a lot of junior year because everything had changed so much with the pandemic. This year, I finally just decided that leaving your room is in fact a good thing. I wrote a post a little while back about how putting yourself out there is for the best, and I would say that the thing that really made the difference this year was the fact that I put myself out there.

I’ve written on this blog about social battery, and the idea that too much social time can really drain me. I would say that I did experience my fair share of feeling socially burned out this year, but I think that even more than that, I was trying to take advantage of what I was conscious was a limited amount of time left on my college campus. One of the reasons this has been such an emotional past week for me is that I’ve been very aware, in many ways, that I will never be quite in the same place again as I am right now. In other words, this particular setting in my life, at college with this certain group of people, will never exist again. I’ve been aware of that for pretty much the entire year, and I’ve been trying to take advantage of the opportunities I have to exist in that space before it’s no longer a fact of my life.

But I think the strongest testament to the fact that this was a very good year is that it’s so hard to think about it being over. Even as recently as the end of junior year, I was happy that the year was over, because I was in the very immediate-future mindset of wanting to spend the summer at home. While yes, last summer was a good one, and I’m even looking forward to this coming summer quite a bit, but there’s a fundamental difference between the way I feel right now and the way I felt last year. I didn’t have any qualms about the school year being over last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. I was excited for summer break, and that was the end of it.

I am not ready for this school year to be over. Not even a little. But it’s over— or at least academically, it’s over, and it’ll really be over this Saturday. And I’m going to have to learn to live with that.

All in all, I would count senior year as a win. This year more than ever, I’ve learned to appreciate what I have in the time that I have it, and I’ve done my very best not to wish things away just because they’re not what I’m used to. I think I’ve done a pretty good job at appreciating the time I had left in college while it was getting away from me, and even though that doesn’t mean that I’m ready for it to be over, I’m at least at peace with the fact that I made the most of it. Senior year is the year that I made the most of, where I fell short for various reasons the previous three. For that, I’m proud of myself.

I’m going to be done with this now, before I can get too ahead of myself, or otherwise get emotional. I’ll see you once I’m a college graduate. Until then, here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: A reflection on college.

college, the real world

The School Series, pt. III

Alright… we’ve officially entered the era of my blog where the posts are going to get very difficult to write. Even now, as I’m sitting down and attempting to write this, I’m very reluctant to do so. This isn’t because I don’t know what to write about, but because it’s going to be kind of an emotional one. But I still have a lot to do, since today signals the end of classes and the start of finals, so I’m going to make my very best shot at writing this so that I can go on to the next thing.

So we’re back, for the third and final installment (for now) in the school series. If you recall, I set out on a small mission on this blog a little while ago to write posts about each of the schools I’ve attended, beginning with my elementary school and then, much more recently, continuing it with my high school. As I write to you now, I have officially completed my very last day of classes as an undergrad. It isn’t my last day of classes in general, since, as we have discussed on this blog, I will still be a student for several years to come, but today is no doubt a big achievement and milestone for me.

As such, today is a bit of an emotional day for me. I didn’t really expect today to be emotional, but as I’ve gone through my day and realized that this was my last time attending classes on my current college campus, I’ve become more emotional with the progression of the afternoon. There have been a lot of instances over the past couple of weeks, including the talk I gave two weeks ago, where I’ve realized that the ‘lasts’ and big milestones of my college career are no longer approaching but are upon me, which has made my upcoming graduation more and more real.

Today is May 10th. A week from now, I will be finished with finals, which will wrap up my coursework. Eleven days from now, on the 21st, I will have completed my graduation ceremony, and I’ll officially have my bachelor’s degree. Although we’ll have more time later to reflect on the general way that this semester has gone, as well as to be sentimental about the fact that college is over, I want to spend today concluding the school series. And to do that, I want to continue the theme of writing about schools that I’ve attended. Since today signals the conclusion of classes for my final semester of college, I’m going to do my best to write about my college.

And like I said earlier, this is going to be hard.

But we’re here, and I have to do it. So let me do a recap. I don’t think I ever really told you about the way in which I decided that I was going to attend this college in particular. When I was a senior in high school, during April, I was going through a serious crisis as to where I was going to go to college. I’ve made pretty clear, both through the original laments during my freshman year as well as the various reflection that I’ve done since then, that I didn’t really want to come to college. Let me clarify, though: I always wanted to get a college education. I just didn’t want to move away from home.

I decided to attend this college because, so to speak, the perfect storm happened right before I had to make my college decision. Not only did I receive a really generous scholarship from this school, but I also had a series of experiences which I would probably call divine providence, all of which pointed me to the fact that this college was the perfect one for me. Looking back, the fact that it took me so long to decide on this college is very funny, because I could NEVER picture myself attending any other school. I know that all of this worked out the exact way it was supposed to.

To say that this college has shaped me would be a massive understatement. Transitioning from life at home during my teenage years and young childhood to a life living on my own at college was the hardest adjustment I’ve had thus far. When I move home this summer, to be living at home throughout getting my master’s degree, I know that it’ll be a different kind of adjustment— still difficult in its own way, for sure, but different, especially because it won’t require establishing an entirely independent and new routine. Living at home is something that is familiar to me, and even though my education is going to change, there are certain things that will be predictable about next year, so the adjustment will be different.

Anyway. That’s not really what I was talking about. The thing that I want to emphasize is that the logistical adjustment to college was so deeply difficult that it impeded my social adjustment. This was absolutely to be expected, since I’m autistic, and I knew that it was going to be hard to come to college. But this was the case, and this was, I think, a big part of why my freshman year was a little wonky, up in the air, and isolating, in terms of my social adjustment to college life.

As I’ve discussed very much ever since COVID arrived, I started to feel ‘comfortable’ at college right around the same time that we all got sent home from school. This was a huge impediment to the normalcy of my college experience, and it would be a lie to say that it wasn’t. It isn’t at all the case that COVID ‘ruined’ my college experience, because I firmly believe that I’ve made the best of what I’ve had while in college, in my own way, even despite COVID. But COVID did change my college experience from what it would have been in a pandemic-less world. There isn’t much use in dwelling on the what-ifs of what might have happened if COVID had never become what it was and is, so I won’t do that. I did think, however, that this post deserved a nod to the impact that COVID had, because it was huge, and it shaped over half of my years as an undergrad.

So with all of that out of the way. Let me tell you about this school.

First of all, something that I joke about all the time, but which is absolutely true, is that college has made me a lot more religious. I was religious before I came to college, but attending this school— which is a Catholic school, and I myself am Catholic— has made this so much more of an active, living part of my life. It’s reached the point where my faith is not only part of my work, as a music minister, but also of my future plan for a career, since the master’s degree I’ll be going for in the fall is in Theology. This doesn’t really have much to do with being autistic, I guess, but this is a huge part of my life which has been irreversibly changed by my experience in college. This is one thing that I’m extremely grateful for, and always will be.

Academically, this school has been the absolute perfect fit. I wrote when I declared it that I’m a double major in Theology and History, which is the perfect union of my interests and has helped me to prepare for what comes next. I’ve taken classes that I’ve loved, and I’ve built great relationships with professors, in an academic environment that has been extremely beneficial for me due to its small size and opportunity for personal research. I wrote a little about my research in a post over the summer, when I talked about my project that I did as a summer job. In general, I would say that this school could not have been a better fit for me in terms of not only academics but also the various musical things I involved myself in outside of my classes. I built the perfect schedule for myself, which was a product of the environment I’m in. All of this goes back to the idea that this is the perfect college for me.

In addition to that, I finally learned that social isolation is not a good thing during my time in college. I’ve come to accept that social situations are always going to be hard for me, and that there isn’t any changing that. But I’ve also come to accept that being open about my social difficulties, both on this blog and in my daily life, is something which can help me to maintain real friendships with people who understand me for who I am.

The friends I’ve made in college have been incredibly kind to me in that they’ve accepted my difficulties and included me regardless. While I haven’t touched upon this directly this year, I did write last spring about how it was incredibly difficult to think about saying goodbye to some of the people who had touched my life in real and meaningful ways. My college friendships are on a different level than the ones I kind of maintained in high school, and the thought of all of those ‘cutting short’ with the event of my graduation is a lot to handle. I realize that graduating doesn’t mean that I’ll fall out of touch with my college friends, but the fact remains that we won’t be in the same place like this ever again. I don’t want to think about that too much, even though it’s staring me in the face.

Writing this blog in college has been incredibly beneficial to my understanding of myself, which has helped me to grow. This started as a random, fun exercise, which was more or less motivated by the idea of “just wanting a blog,” and has turned into not only a journal but also an avenue of self-expression and almost a therapeutic exercise. This school has been a place where, by writing this blog as well as just generally reflecting on my experiences, I’ve been able to come to terms with the fact that things are never going to be easy for me, but that that doesn’t mean I can’t grow or even thrive. I’ll save some of this for the senior year reflection, which I’m going to try to do next week, but I would say that over the course of this academic year in particular— with COVID winding down a little, me willing to come out of my social shell, and me understanding a lot more about myself, my interests, and my aspirations, I’ve finally started to thrive.

Of course, this is happening just in time for me to graduate. Which is a whole host of emotions all its own, which I won’t write about now. I’m trying to stay on task and keep this post focused as a reflection on attending this school in particular, but you’ll probably see over the course of the next couple of posts that the ideas are going to start blending into one another. You’ll have to forgive me for that.

But for now, since I’ve been going on for quite awhile, and because I don’t want to get too emotional about this stuff too soon (I still have to get through finals!), I think I’ll be finished. Here’s where else you can find me, and I’ll see you once my exams are over.

Next Time: Senior year in review.

the real world

The School Series, pt. II

Aaaand just like that, we’ve arrived back at Tuesday. I wish I could say that I was feeling motivated to do this, but that would be factually inaccurate. It’s not that I’m fundamentally opposed to writing a blog post today; I’m just not feeling particularly inspired. I think that senioritis is really starting to kick in, but given that today marks exactly one week remaining until my classes conclude for the semester (and, therefore, for my entire undergraduate career), I feel like I’m allowed to have senioritis at this point.

So here we are. I’m taking the opportunity of today’s blog post to continue a series that I started right before April. When we arrived at April, I had to take a month-long detour for autism awareness month, which I just wrapped up last week with a reflection I wrote on giving a talk for autism awareness at school. Now that it is no longer April, I will be moving back into the territory of “the blog content is whatever I feel like posting from week to week,” so here we are.

To be more specific, I want to continue the series I started about schools. Here’s where I began this series, back in March, with a post about my elementary and middle school (which was the same place, since it was a K-8 program). I told you that this would be a series in three parts, so we’ve now officially arrived at part two of three. I am going to write about my high school.

And to do this, I want to also say a few things about being autistic in high school in general. I haven’t written much on this blog, at least in any meaningful way, about my experience as a teenager in high school. I did tell that one story on the blog my freshman year about how I got up onstage at assembly and said a few things about autism awareness, but I should be clear that that episode was the extent to which I was publicly articulate about my autism while in high school. The rest was sort of just me floundering along and trying to navigate high school’s social world, which, as we all know, is complicated.

The closest I’ve probably gotten, besides the aforementioned school assembly story, to writing about high school was the series of posts I did about my high school friends. The first post of that type occurred my freshman fall semester of college, when I found out, and then lamented about, the fact that a handful of people I was friends with in high school had gotten together for a reunion Friendsgiving over college Thanksgiving break, and that I hadn’t been invited. Obviously, in the moment, this stung. I had an extremely difficult time with the college adjustment for many reasons, not small among them social ones, and knowing that the people who I, at that time, considered pretty much my only ‘friends,’ had gotten together without me, felt hurtful.

But something happened to me as I wrote on this blog more and more, and became more mature— and that something was an increased frequency of personal self-reflection, thanks to having to write about myself and my issues weekly in a public way through this blog. And as I began to self-reflect more and more, I drew the conclusion, which I wrote about here, that I actually isolated myself on purpose in high school. I did this for a few reasons, including, primarily, that I was stubborn and had a tendency to clash socially with people, but also because I think I had this internalized idea that people who have autism aren’t supposed to have friends because it’s difficult for us to learn social cues, so I actively avoided having a social life. Yes, I get that this sounds super strange, and in hindsight, it was super strange. But I also don’t think that this was a problem which was unique to me, necessarily.

Okay, so let’s actually talk about my high school. I’ve just spent the past few paragraphs summarizing previous posts on this blog which have had to do with high school in some way. I’ve never actually told you, in depth, about my high school experience.

The first thing I should say is that high school is a confusing time, where you grow as a person, experience a lot of “firsts” like driving and becoming a teenager and maybe dating (though not in my case), and, for various reasons, a lot of people say that high school sucks. I would concur that being a teenager kind of sucks— not that it’s, like, a thoroughly negative experience which no good can come out of, but just that it’s a tough time in a person’s life, and growing up isn’t easy. However, in the case of my high school experience, I can confidently say that I was supported in a way which made being a teenager a lot easier.

As I discussed in my post about elementary school, I’ve attended private school all my life. It would be incorrect to say that this is not a massive privilege which has impacted the quality of the schooling which I have received. For that, I am extremely grateful. I remember my parents asking, once I had started college, whether or not I missed high school, and I gave them the following reply, which still holds true to this day: Four years of being in high school is long enough, but the high school experience which I had was perfect for me, because it was exactly what I needed to grow.

My high school is a boarding school in a small, isolated Massachusetts town, about thirty minutes away from my hometown. I did not live at my high school; I was what they call a “day student,” one who commutes to and from school every day. Even as a day student, attending a boarding school profoundly shaped my experience of high school. I was able to meet classmates and make friends (yes, actual friends, despite my personal reservations back then about what friendship was supposed to look like) from all over the world. I tried many new things which I had never done before, like being in the school musical.

Something incredibly important to my high school experience, which I think my high school really had in common with my middle/elementary school from the previous school post, was that I was extremely well supported by the teachers and staff members there. This was a place where teachers truly took the initiative to form personal relationships with their students, and that really made the difference for me. Even the adjustment to high school itself was hard, and the teachers and other supportive adults helped to make that so much better.

As with college, the transition to high school symbolized an immense change which I was averse to at the time that it happened. This was something I knew I could not prevent, but which I wanted to avoid at all costs. During the first semester of my freshman year of high school, I also received my autism diagnosis. This was incredibly validating and liberating, but also a signal of real difficulty for me in my life. Autism impacted my high school experience in a profound way, start to finish, even if some of those issues are only really coming to light now, in hindsight, as I reflect four years after I graduated.

My experience in high school was incredibly formative in that it helped me to truly ‘come into myself,’ so to speak. More than anywhere else, I think my high school was a place where people knew me for who I was at the time, in an even more significant way than they did while I was in middle/elementary school. This isn’t to say that those in college don’t know me for who I am now, because they do. But my experience in high school was profoundly personal in that I was existing in a community which was really striving actively to help me grow into myself, and that was meaningful for me. It’s still meaningful.

All in all, I would say that I made the best of the years of high school that a person struggling with autism can make. I was in the perfect environment for myself, my comfort, and my growth, which challenged me just enough to help me become a person ready for college, but which felt familiar enough to feel like home. Going back to my high school is still like going home, especially because of the aforementioned teacher relationships. While I think the teenage version of me would be surprised to hear me reflect upon those years so fondly, I acknowledge a lot of the growth now that I just could not have really seen in the moment.

This isn’t to say, of course, that I didn’t have challenges in high school. They were plentiful, and they were difficult. High school marked my first real struggle with my mental health, which, at times, was a pretty severe issue that impeded my happiness. This wasn’t necessarily due to external factors, but to the way my autistic brain is. It was important to me that, through all of that, I felt supported— and I did feel supported, even in the times when my own mind would convince me that I was experiencing something incredibly isolating.

My youngest brother, who is seventeen, is preparing to graduate from this same school now. In fact, he and I graduate on the same day at the same time, which is a fact that’s stressing my family members out sufficiently, and which disappoints me, because I would have liked to attend my brother’s graduation. But I think that this has really made me reflect more lately on my own experience in high school, and what that meant for me.

I hope that this has given you a little to think about, even though I know that this post has been more personal than anything. We’ll wrap up this series next week, and until then, here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: The third part.

autism awareness month, college

True Life: I gave a talk at school!

Hello, blog! Twice in one day! The quick post I made earlier today doesn’t really count, but even still, the blog’s statistics will count it. I’m writing to you from a state of being very tired, but for good reasons. This week is a very busy one, and I probably could have delayed this blog post the way I’ve done for a handful of posts over the course of this spring semester… but I’m not going to. I want to write about this while things are still ‘fresh’ in my mind, so to speak.

Here we are at 9:45 PM on Tuesday. For those who may have missed it, or didn’t hear: I did something very exciting today at school, which directly pertains to this blog! Back at the beginning of April (or maybe it was the end of March, I am not sure), I was asked by the student government organization on campus if I would be willing to give a talk on autism. This was because they wanted to host an event having to do with Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month, which, I think, is going to be my new, semi-official term to refer to April, after reflecting a lot on the various terminology discourse.

So because of the kindness and initiative of a few very wonderful people at school, I am now writing on this blog to reflect on the experience of the talk I gave, which occurred earlier this evening! The reason I was writing on here once already today was to put the Zoom link on this blog, just in case anybody caught it and wanted to tune in. I should note that the Zoom session was recorded— I was there physically, but there were plenty of people tuning in on the call— and so, once they send me the video, I should be able to get that file for anybody who is curious. I was thinking about possibly putting it on YouTube, but we’ll wait and see. Here was my opening slide, just because I want to share it:

Anyway. My talk was part of a series that the Intercultural Center on campus has been hosting this year called “True Life,” which my mom compared to TED Talks, which I think is mostly accurate, but I would add an addendum: True Life talks are normally very personal to the speaker, and often deal with topics that present challenges in daily life in one form or another. I was very lucky to be part of this series, and I cannot express my gratitude enough to the people who helped it happen.

So I want to do a little reflection on that before I go to bed. I’ll not only tell you what I talked about, but I’ll tell you what I took away from the experience of doing the talk, which, for the purposes of this blog, which is mainly to publicize my thoughts about various autistic experiences, is probably the more important part. There’s also the fact that most of what I talked about tonight at the talk was stuff that you, the blog readers, hear about pretty much week in and week out.

So yes, I hit all the classic topics— the complicated conversation around how to refer to autism and its various associated traits, the fact that my experience is only my experience and cannot be universal, and, I think most importantly, the fact that no two autistic people are the same, nor do they experience autism in the same way. I did, with my talk, basically the same thing that I set out to do on this blog every week— I talked about general autistic topics, and then used my own experience to explain some things about what autism is like.

Because my talk was a general one, and because I did not necessarily know what my audience’s level of familiarity with autism was going to be like, I did some basic definition stuff, had a slide about the eternal label and symbol discourse in the autistic community, and then got into specifics of my life. This was basically a presentation that was half me generally summarizing autism and its affiliated topics (like awareness/advocacy, what language autistic people use to refer to themselves, and what traits characterize the autistic experience), and then, in the other half, slides representing various facets of my autistic life.

The more personal-story slides were: My Diagnosis Story, The Transition To College, Masking: “You Don’t Seem Autistic,” Sensory Processing, Executive Functioning & Routine, Special Interests, Social Challenges & “Autistic FOMO,” Emotional Processing, and a more reflective slide called Growing Up. The final slide adopted a similar tone to the post I made about being an autistic adult when I turned 21 last summer. I’ll have more to say on that last topic for sure, but anyway, you can kind of see that I covered all the greatest hits.

I’ll tell you something that I told those at my presentation tonight: this was my first time speaking publicly about autism, and not just writing about it online, since I was in high school. I relayed the story of my five-minute assembly announcement on April 2nd, 2018, back on Autism Awareness Day during my freshman year here, and that was the last time I ever spoke about autism to other people in a public setting like that, up until today. Which, if you do the math, makes over four years of separation between the two. And what I did tonight was a much bigger deal.

To be a bit more reflective: I was really, really nervous. This was in part because I have a habit of speaking quickly when I’m making any kind of presentation, to the point where I kind of get out of breath. This was also because I had never given a presentation on something so vulnerable and deeply personal before. Although my presentation was more lighthearted and informative than anything else, there were moments during the personal slides when I disclosed truths which were uncomfortable, embarrassing, or generally just vulnerable, and that was a new experience in public speaking.

I also thought that I wasn’t going to have enough to say, and trust me, I could not have been more wrong. I think I severely underestimated the amount I would be able to talk about each slide. It turns out that having a captive audience while you talk about something so huge and complicated in your life means it’s not that difficult to talk for a long time. In fact, I went for 45 minutes, when I thought I was going to struggle to hit the 30-minute mark.

But the main point that I want to talk about doesn’t actually have to do with any of the logistics of my talk. What I want to say right now is that I have never felt more supported than I did tonight.

I mean that truly and wholly, and here’s why. Between the Zoom room that the talk was hooked up to, and the actual lecture hall/theater at school in which I gave it, there must have been at least forty people there. So many of those people were friends of mine, or even family, who were able to connect on the Zoom. (We all got a good laugh in the lecture hall when my dad logged onto the chat room and his display name was just “Dad.”) People with whom I’m friendly but don’t necessarily have a close personal friendship came to the talk. Two wonderful staff members who know me were listening. Even one of my professors, who has been a mentor to me throughout my time at college, and to whom I disclosed that I’m autistic about a month ago, tuned in to see my talk. In addition, total strangers were there, some of whom asked me really thoughtful questions.

I cannot help but take all of that to heart. Talking about being autistic is not necessarily something that comes very easily to me, because, like I said earlier, it feels very vulnerable and is not something I have done often, but tonight went so, so well, and I could not be happier about it. This was one hundred percent due to the fact that so many people supported me. So from the bottom of my heart: if you are reading this and you were someone who saw my talk tonight, thank you so, so much. I truly cannot express how grateful I am that so many people near and dear to me showed up to hear about my experiences.

I am very tired, and I have a big day tomorrow— I am defending my senior thesis to the Theology department here, and although I feel ready to do so, I should also definitely be getting some sleep. I could rave about how happy I am that my talk went well, and that the turnout was so good, for at least another few pages. For now, I am going to sign off— but seriously, thank you so, so much to those who came to the talk tonight. An additional thank you to all those who helped it happen. Thank you for giving a space to autism awareness & acceptance.

Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: Time for part two of the “schools” series that I started before April.