college, social

I Don’t Get Out Much

So here’s a fun fact that might surprise you if you know me: I went to my first college ‘party’ recently.

Before I go on, let me provide you with a few annotations to the above statement. The first is that I put ‘party’ in quotes for a reason; that being, it wasn’t really a party. Or at least it wasn’t a party in the sense that people traditionally think about college parties— lots of students packed into a small space, abundant alcohol, super loud music, lewd activities happening in dark corners. Maybe that’s a pretty stereotypical portrait of a college party, but I guess that goes to show you the reality of me never having been to one before. If you know me, or even if you’ve read this blog for a little while, the fact that I’ve never been to one will probably not surprise you even in the slightest. Even considering I’m more than halfway through my third year of college.

Anyway. So if it wasn’t a real party, then what was it, and why did I feel the need to call it a ‘party’ (in quotes) if it wasn’t one? Well, it was… a social gathering. To be fair, this wasn’t my first social gathering of college. I may be a bit of a recluse, but I’m not that much of one. It’s just that this social gathering was something I would classify as a party in my head, even though it was on a small scale.

Here’s what it actually was: an outdoor campfire, hosted by one of the senior RAs at my school, with a group of that RA’s friends, and any other people who happened to be passing by and want to stop and talk. There was music, and at some point, people were even making snow cones with the snow from the ground (we’re in New Hampshire, lest you forget) and maple syrup. I was there for over an hour, and there was socializing going on, and it took place on a Friday night between the hours of 9 and 10:30 PM, so I count it as a party.

So what was I doing at this social gathering, you ask? Well, good question! As you know, I don’t get out much. The fact that I’m calling a campfire, which took place outside in the cold, with a maximum of 15 people at once gathered there, and was hosted by an RA, a party, really goes to show you that I don’t get out much in the first place. The point is that I did get out, last Friday night. And it was enough of a learning experience for me to write a blog about it.

The reason I found myself at this social gathering is that I was invited. One of the roommates of the RA who hosted the fire is a good friend of mine, and we were leaving a church event (because nothing says ‘Catholic college’ like leaving a church event at 9:00 on a Friday night), and he mentioned that it was happening, and lo and behold, I found myself there.

Here’s the thing: I obviously would not have ventured out at 9:00 on a Friday night and sought out this social occasion for myself. The sole reason I found myself at that fire last weekend was because my friend invited me. I know this seems kind of self-explanatory, since I wouldn’t have even known it was going on if I hadn’t crossed paths with him at the church thing and had him mention it to me, but the point is that I only socialized that night because somebody took the time to invite me to do so. Without the prompting from my friend, I would’ve gone to bed at 9:15, and that would’ve been my Friday night.

And now here’s a bit of social honesty which might make me seem a little strange: when I do social things, I don’t usually do them for myself. I actually am pretty certain I never do social things for myself, because, as reclusive and unnecessarily edgy as this sounds, I don’t like going out. But I like having friends, a lot, and I understand that a part of friendship is doing social things. When I do social things, I do them because I want to be an active friend. I don’t want to be a recluse, and so I have to leave my room every once in awhile. Even if I don’t feel up to it, or if I think I’m going to feel awkward, or if I’m being mopey about my social life.

Friendship, in my slightly stilted, autistic understanding, works sort of like an exchange. When people think of me, and include me in things, I feel that I owe them something— because they do that out of their own kindness, and that means a lot to me. Being an active friend, and doing social things, is how I attempt to do my own part in the exchange of friendship. When someone includes me, I owe it to them that I follow through and stay involved. I’ve learned over the years that if you turn down too many invitations, or flake on people too many times, they’re going to assume you just don’t want to hang out. If you remember my extremely mopey freshman year Thanksgiving post, I’ll give you some perspective, two years removed: I really didn’t deserve to be at that gathering of my high school friends. I’d done nothing but turn down their invitations to hang out, all through high school. I hadn’t held up my end of the friendship bargain, and they’d assumed, as a result, that I didn’t want to be part of the group.

Friendship is a two-way street, and I won’t lie and tell you that putting in my part of the deal is easy, as a person with autistic social skills. The thing I’ve learned is that I can’t just use autism as an excuse for being antisocial, because that’s going to result in me having no friends, the way I felt like I did coming into college. Being socially isolated is not a good thing, as I explained in this blog post from quarantine. To be sure, I place a huge value on alone time, to recharge and recoup— but too much alone time means you’re isolating yourself from people who genuinely care about you as a friend. And if you do that too much, you’re going to lose those people. Friendship doesn’t work like something you only do when you feel like it— you have to put in the effort, or it’s no longer going to be there anymore, just as was the case with me and my high school friends.

Now, to give my high school friends some credit: I do still see them on occasion, during school breaks and such, and they’ve been kind enough to continue inviting me from time to time when they hang out, despite how whiney and dramatic I was about us drifting apart when we moved on to college. The thing, I guess, about my high school friends, is that I barely see them, since we’re all all over the place now for school, and that’s okay, because that’s how our lives are now.

The point I’m maybe working towards here is that I think there’s this idealized picture of college. It involves a lot of partying, a lot of fun, and a lot of socializing. Two and a half years into college, I can say with certainty that I’m not living out the stereotypical college experience. None of that has anything to do with coronavirus, to be honest, because I’d be just as antisocial as I am now even without all the coronavirus stuff in place. But last Friday night gave me a small glimpse of what college actually is like, for people who aren’t socially stunted, and that put me in an interesting, reflective place, which led to this blog post. 

I think the best social occasions of my college life thus far have all occurred because friends thought of me, and I took them up on spontaneous offers. I still remember going over to a senior friend’s apartment one Saturday in the fall of 2019 because she invited me for pancake breakfast. She might not remember that morning, but I do— I was so touched by being included that I kind of teared up a little bit when I was walking back to my dorm. Last Friday was another example of being included. There’s a special kind of belonging that comes when people invite you to group gatherings, and maybe that’s just because I’m not used to it.

Did I live it up at the campfire? Ha, definitely not. In fact, I felt a little awkward— not that that’s new for me, in social situations. I bounced around between conversations, awkwardly latched onto the two people there who I knew well, and did my best. Even though it was a little weird, I’m glad I went. Because if I don’t put myself out there, I’m never going to be included the way I want to be.

It’s not that I’ve ever actively been ‘on the outs,’ socially, so to speak. My middle school, where my ‘social life’ began, was a place where everyone is friends with everyone, so I didn’t really get any experience there. I wasn’t a loner in high school, but I wasn’t popular. I have friends at college, but not a close-knit group of them. Because I’ve felt I have to overcompensate socially all my life, just to keep afloat, I can’t even tell you how much it means when somebody invites me somewhere, includes me in something, or thinks of me in times when I feel I’m isolated. If I can keep paying my dues socially, and putting myself out there, even if it feels weird, I think I’ll count college as a social experience I did right.

For now, though, that’s all. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: On auditory processing.

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college

You’re Always At Home!

Friends, forgive me, for I am experiencing what we might call ‘blogger’s fatigue.’ I don’t know if this is an actual term that has already been invented or not, but if not, I’m creating it now. It’s the way you refer to the experience of running a blog that posts weekly, and starting to struggle to choose topics to write about on a week-to-week basis. My weekly blogging schedule isn’t going anywhere, but I do have to get more and more creative when it comes to figuring out what I’m going to write about this week. The vast majority of posts over the past six or so months have been social, and guess what: I’m coming to you with yet another social one today. In my defense, as I’ve said before, and will say again, my social experience of the world is the largest part of my life that’s affected by my autism.

Anyway. All of that is sort of a precursor or an aside. An interesting byproduct of the COVID thing has been that it’s given me less opportunities to be outside of my comfort zone, because there are less opportunities to do anything, period, outside my normal routine. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m mostly adjusted to life-during-pandemic (contrast with me at the start of the pandemic), so having settled into a daily routine that’s not new anymore, I have less to write about, because there are less new things happening in my life. This is, in a way, a good problem to have, especially when it comes to my personal case of despising changes to my routine. But I also don’t want to claim that the pandemic has been a good thing, because it goes without saying that it’s been the opposite. The point I’m attempting to make in this unnecessary digression is that me having adjusted to my ‘new’ schedule is good for my own personal comfort level.

But on the note of my personal comfort level, let’s actually get around to the blog topic for today, which is going to be the following fact: I am always at home.

This may strike you as odd, since I am, as you know, a residential college student. But let me explain. I’m going home this weekend. I was also home two weekends ago. I haven’t even been on campus for spring semester for more than a month, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time already. Because I know myself, I can predict that I actually will likely be home on an every-other-weekend basis for the remainder of the semester. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

A quick look back at the past two and a half years reminds me that I definitely haven’t spent more than four weeks away from home consecutively. This actually goes for my entire life, not just my life at college, but the point still stands. The case of me being away from home for four weeks actually only happened once, and I can pinpoint exactly when it was: it was the start of my freshman year. My parents thought it would be good for my adjustment if I wasn’t allowed to come home until late September, and looking back, this actually was good for my adjustment, because it forced me to get used to life at college. But following that long period of sticking it out (and trust me, it took forever to go by), I established a relatively steady routine of coming home pretty much every other weekend, and it has lasted up until now, as you can tell based on the plans for my February and spring semester which I just shared with you.

This is maybe not a surprising fact for those of you who know me well, but I’ll talk about it anyway. This isn’t even unique to “COVID college,” as I’ve come to refer to it; as I just said, this has been my pattern for the entire time I’ve been at college, and COVID hasn’t changed it. I simply do better when I’m going home every other weekend or so.

“Madison, why do you go home so much? Don’t you know that the point of living at college is to live at college?” Yes, I do. And I do live at college; I assure you. I actually think that if Freshman Me had my way, I probably would be a commuter, since I live only about 45 minutes from school. Obviously, this would not have been good for me, and, as is usually the case, I have my parents to thank for saving me from near certain disaster in terms of building my endurance for the real world. The point is that being at home every couple of weeks doesn’t really feel that frequent to me. And I think I’m a special case in terms of the frequency of my home visits.

So why do I go home that much? Well, the simple answer is that I need to recharge. This is in terms of social battery, but also just in terms of getting a real opportunity to relax. As I think I’ve written here before, relaxing at home is just a whole different ball game in comparison to relaxing at school. There’s virtually no such thing as ‘relaxing’ at school for me, even with how used to being at school I am. I’m known to lose entire weekends spent at school just sitting around my room worrying about all the things I probably could be but am not doing. I pretty much did it just this past weekend. I will legitimately sit down at 8:00 PM on a Saturday night, in my desk chair (always my desk chair— never my bed), intending to watch a movie or something, and then just decide to go to bed at 9. I am almost physically incapable of relaxing in my dorm room, or anywhere else on campus.

Why? I mean, I think the answer is simple: because it’s not home. I wrote a little about the difference between being at home and at school in the winter break roundup post a couple of weeks back, and I think that’s a huge reason I go home so much. There’s also the fact of actually seeing my family in person, because although I’ve learned that I’m in contact with home via call and text a lot more than the average college student does (and I mean a lot more), obviously, seeing someone in person is not the same as talking to them on the phone.

As you might be able to imagine, being home as much as I am has impacted my social life here. There were a few times last year when I got calls from friends (okay, pretty much just one or two friends) on Friday or Saturday nights, for one reason or another, and I would be home, so I wouldn’t be able to socialize. This makes me sound like I’m someone who is way higher in demand socially than I am or ever will be, so let’s just stop that train right there. The point is that the situation has arisen before where I’ve been at home when someone is asking me what I’m up to on campus. Yes, I know that this means I’ve potentially missed out on a couple of experiences— but on the whole, my social life is what it is, and I have to do enough for myself without going over the limit.

Of course, all of this makes me kind of lame. I’ve had friends tell me before that I’m always at home, and I never really have any answer for them other than there’s a part of me that has to make going home a regular part of my college life. Without that safety net, I would never be able to function here on the level that I do.

Leaving home, once I’ve been there for a weekend, is always hard. It’s even harder when it’s been a school break, as we saw recently with my spring 2021 semester re-entry. But what I will say is that even though it totally sucks to leave home, and even though I’m a pretty big baby about it, and even though college will never substitute for home— once I’m back in my dorm room, it’s pretty much like I never left. And we’re back to the cycle of being unable to relax, until I go home again.

If something goes wrong with COVID on campus this semester, and we get told we can’t leave campus, that is going to be a huge, major, serious problem for me. But for now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my fellow students will not be stupid, and will not jeopardize the ‘freedoms’ we have this semester just to go and party in the city on a weekend evening. And for now, I’m taking it one week at a time. We’ll cross that bridge if we’re unlucky enough to come to it.

Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: So what happens when I actually do socialize on campus?

media, special interests

Autism and Fandom

Welcome back, friend! For the first time in what feels like awhile, I’m finally getting you a general, informational post that doesn’t just have to do with me. I guess the argument can be made that even when my posts are personal and specific, there’s an applicable lesson to be learned about autism through my experiences, but today, it’s going to be a little less difficult to discern what you can learn about the greater autistic experience. I want to take you to a sort of taboo subject today— not taboo in the sense that it’s particularly ‘inappropriate’ or anything like that, but taboo in the sense that a lot of people think it’s weird. If you’ve noticed from my blogging trends, I’m slowly operating with less and less self-consciousness, and caring less about what people think of me based on what I write on this blog. There’s no way to avoid sounding cringey sometimes, and today is one of those times.

Today, we’re going to talk about autism and fandom. And to do that, I probably have to define some terms for the class.

So what is fandom, exactly? If you Google the word ‘fandom,’ your first result is a company called Fandom, which I’m pretty sure is responsible for all those super specific subsets of Wikipedia that have to do with one particular topic. (You know, like Wookieepedia?) But even though ‘fandom’ is the name of that online company, that’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, I want to refer you to the sidebar definition that comes up upon a Google search: “A fandom is a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest.”

That’s kind of a wordy definition, so my apologies. Basically, a fandom is a group of fans of something, usually defined by their sense of community via the Internet or through other mediums, which is the way in which they all gather to talk about the thing that they’re fans of. This makes it sound like a fandom is like a book club but on the Internet, and… well, I guess that’s not entirely wrong. But I don’t want to get hung up on the definition of what I’m writing about today. Instead, I want to tell you the answer to what you’re definitely thinking right now: what does this have anything to do with autism?

And I’ll tell you. Fandom, as a phenomenon, has everything to do with autism. Because fandom is where special interests live and grow. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the level to which we associate fandom with being something cringey, immature, and weird, and the correlation between that and the number of neurodivergent people who choose to participate in it. Spoiler alert: there’s an obvious pattern. And I’m going to break it down in less complicated terms for you.

There are a lot of fandoms on the Internet. As a general rule, I’m going to talk about fandom being something that exists within the confines of the Internet, but you should know that it doesn’t actually end there. People who go to Comic-Con, for example, are participating in fandom for whatever comics/movies/series they’re fans of. But for the most part, the existence of social media and Internet communication has really made the concept of fandom take off, particularly among my generation. Basically, what you can do if you’re really, really into some piece of media is go online and meet other people who also love that piece of media, and then you guys can talk about the stuff you like.

So, for example: the Star Wars fandom. This is a huge and recognizable one that you can see both on and off the Internet. There are so many die-hard Star Wars fans in this world. The same goes for the Marvel franchise. There are people who spend a good amount of their free time engaging with content that has to do with their favorite movie, book series, TV show, or other piece of media. This is what fandom is.

I should emphasize that fandom isn’t just the white, twenty-something, dorky guy with a huge collection of fan stuff that you’re probably picturing right now as my stereotypical Star Wars or Marvel fan. There are a lot of different ways that you can be a fan of something, like this: the kid who collects all of the Pokémon cards, or the teenager who can recite every episode of their favorite TV show, or the person who runs an Instagram or Twitter page about all things to do with a famous singer. The point I’m trying to make here is that fandom is pretty much just the concept of being interested enough in anything that you choose to dedicate some of your free time to it besides what would be considered ‘casual enjoyment.’ And yes, often that does involve getting involved in some kind of online community, particularly for my generation.

Now that I’ve spent, like, half the blog post defining my terms, I want to actually get around to what this has to do with autism. And the answer is: everything. Because as you can probably tell, fandom is the perfect place for an autistic person who has a special interest to ‘fit in,’ without seeming like they’re obsessed with something super specific for no reason.

If you notice, I named examples that could be associated with being ‘nerdy,’ because fandom is often stereotyped as something ‘nerdy’ or ‘geeky.’ The level to which a lot of people are invested in pro sports is no different than someone being super into Star Wars— following all the games relates to knowing all the movies, and knowing the players is like knowing the characters, et cetera. It’s just that sports are a lot more ‘socially acceptable’ in our society than Star Wars is, so the Star Wars fan gets called a geek or a loser while the sports fan is just your average everyday American.

Anyway, none of that is actually the point. The point is that I think there is a huge correlation, which I have actively observed and witnessed on the Internet, between those who involve themselves in ‘geeky’ fandoms and those who are neurodivergent. And the reason is that, when there are a bunch of other people spending time on the Internet talking about something you love, and you’re autistic and have a special interest in that thing… you fit right in. It’s a place you can go where people won’t look at you funny for rambling on and on about your favorite thing, because it’s a community designed specifically for talking about that thing. Special interests thrive in fandoms, and fandoms thrive because of them. I think fandoms are just as much a ‘safe’ place for autistic people to embrace their special interests as they are something fun.

I’ve been involved in fandoms before, starting pretty much when I got access to the Internet. There have only been two major instances of me being super active in an online community in my life thus far, but both times were because I needed a place to filter out all my thoughts about my special interest. In the context of the online communities I was a part of, none of this looked weird, and I would consider those spaces to have been good things for me, on the whole, because I was able to get some of my special interest ramblings out into the void instead of letting them stress me out.

Though I’m not active right now in any fandoms, since my special interest, since this summer, has moved back to being my own creative work (yay!), I was involved in a fandom online during quarantine, and that’s where I first started to really notice the amount of other autistic people I was interacting with. My generation has this peculiar habit of putting traits about themselves in their bios online, so I was able to see pretty clearly that there were a lot of autistic people in the community. I also know that this wasn’t unique to the particular thing I was doing during quarantine; this is just something that happens when a bunch of people who are really invested in something gather to share their interests. Of course you’re going to find a lot of autistic and neurodivergent people there. Obsessing over random things is what we do!

I think the downside of fandom being so accessible on the Internet for people who tend to hyperfixate and obsess is that it can easily take up a ton of your time. During quarantine, this was not so much a problem, since, you know, it was quarantine, but in middle school, which was when my other active fandom involvement happened, I really wasn’t great at regulating my free time, and spent pretty much all of it on my special interest. This is something that just happens to autistic people, with or without the community of other obsessive people accessible to you, but the whole fandom thing really enables you to let your whole life be consumed by your special interest. Which is cool if it’s, like, your career, but not so cool if you’re a full time eighth grader and you spend all your free time on your fan-fictions.

But, you know. You live and you learn. I hope this blog post has maybe helped de-stigmatize something that society shames, now that you know how much autism is related to this phenomenon. And for now, that’ll be all. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: I’m always at home.

social

The Dating One

So to start, I’ll say that I didn’t actually plan on doing this particular post this week. I was going to do it next Tuesday. But I decided, you know what, why not just do it now. I’m using a holiday as inspiration that will have passed by the time next Tuesday rolls around, and I think it’s better to do holiday-inspired posts before the actual holiday happens, rather than after.

Also, yes. I really am about to subject you to another holiday special. In my defense, it’s sort of been awhile. That post about social battery from right after Christmas doesn’t count. And also in my defense, I’ve had the idea to do this blog post for, well… a long time. So we’re finally getting around to doing it. And if you haven’t already guessed, yes: this is going to be a Valentine’s special.

I know. Yikes. Let’s dive in!

First of all, this isn’t technically my first Valentine’s special. I did one my freshman year, which I will now link you to, as cringeworthy as the post you’ll find under that link is. I think it says something about how long I’ve been doing this blog that I’m now able to cringe at some of my earliest posts. Not only does that show growth, but it truly shows that no matter how non-cringey you think you may be at any given point in your life, your older self will always cringe at you. I’ll probably even cringe at myself for this, a year or so down the road, for the amount of times I used the word ‘cringe’ in this paragraph alone. But to prove my own point, here’s a blog post about that very phenomenon.

Anyway. The post I linked you to above is, like I said, from my freshman year. In it, I say some things about myself that I no longer consider to be true. You see, when I was a freshman, I believed myself to be “aromantic”— which is just a fancy way to refer to ‘not interested in romantic relationships’ that I learned on the Internet. Make no mistake; I believe that being aromantic is a real thing, and that there are really people out there who aren’t into romance for whom that label applies. I just know that it’s not true about myself. Because, spoiler alert: I’ve had relationship experience since I wrote that blog post. Which you might know, if you caught the dropped line in one of my posts from the fall about how I’d recently gone through a breakup.

So anyway, the point is, I’m not actually “aromantic.” I think, looking back, I was using that word to describe myself because of difficulties understanding the way I experience ‘romance’ as compared to my neurotypical peers. I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of labels for sexual orientation here, because that’s beside the point, but I think it’s interesting and notable that I wrote that blog post in the first place, because it kind of emphasizes my own total confusion about the way dating works, and gives you an example in real time of that confusion. Freshman year me said, “I don’t experience crushes on guys the way I’ve seen them portrayed in media, described by my peers, and otherwise represented in the world around me, so maybe I just don’t experience crushes in the first place!”

None of that is actually the main focus of what I want to talk about today, but I think it’s an interesting update, so to speak, on the way I view my own relationship to the concept of dating, and how that’s changed since freshman year.

Today, I’m going to totally put myself on blast. I’ve never written about the relationship that I mentioned ended last fall, and actually, to tell you the truth, I thought that when I got around to writing the 2021 Valentine’s special, it was going to look a lot different. I thought, today, that I was going to be writing a post about the ways in which my relationship with my (now-ex) boyfriend is different from a relationship between two neurotypicals. I thought this would be cute and informative, and I pretty much had the idea right from when that relationship started that I was at some point going to write a blog post about it. Obviously, since I’m no longer in that relationship, this is going to look a little different.

This Valentine’s Day, I want to tell you why I absolutely suck, as it turns out, at handling the whole dating thing. And to do that, I’m not just going to talk about the one actual boyfriend I’ve had in my life. I want to take you back to when I was younger, and do a broader look at my relationship experience.

I think my first “relationship” came about because of my inability to say no. I put “relationship” in quotes because it was eighth grade, but still. A male classmate who was a longtime friend of mine asked me to be his girlfriend, and I was surprised— I was completely unsure of how to distinguish my friendly liking to him with any possible crush I might’ve had. Because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or lose him as a friend, I said yes. We “dated” for probably around three weeks, held hands at a school band concert (scandalous, I know), and then I broke up with him over text, like a total jerk.

And look, I get it: this was eighth grade. But for me, it’s actually a perfect example of my inability to put my own feelings first in relationships, because I’m worried about upsetting people, hurting their feelings, or losing them as friends. I find saying no really difficult, and I am fully conscious that that fact could have gotten me into a lot more trouble, and put me in harm’s way, a lot more than it actually has in the years since I’ve become a young adult. I think the only reason I haven’t been hurt in relationships more than I actually have in practice is because I’m so bad at the whole dating thing in the first place.

I wish I could begin to articulate in a meaningful way the level on which dating is difficult as an autistic person. My lack of real experience in itself is a testament to that fact. The boyfriend I was with for about seven months of 2020 was my first boyfriend since the eighth grade situation, so really, my first real boyfriend to begin with. That relationship more or less fell into my lap, and I wasn’t actively seeking it out… it just happened.

A good portion of the relationship happened during quarantine, and we didn’t see each other that often from the time we started dating in the spring all through the summer. When we got back to school, and therefore did have the opportunity to regularly see each other, the problems began. Despite being on the same campus, we were seeing each other maybe once a week, and two times out of three, in group settings with his friends— so we weren’t really getting ‘quality time.’ This bothered me, but I failed to articulate it. I let the issues in our relationship persist, and bottled up the ways in which it was hurting me— and then all at once, I let it out, and broke up with him out of the blue. I could tell it took him completely by surprise, and we basically haven’t spoken since.

Here’s the thing that you should understand: I was totally smitten with this boy. The reason I’ve stayed away from dating for such a long time is that when I get a crush, it really affects me. There’s a danger as an autistic person in developing feelings for somebody, because a crush can easily turn into a special interest, and it reaches a level that’s unhealthy and unproductive. The difference between past crushes and this relationship was that it actually worked out for me. The level to which the crush took up my attention faded once he was actually my boyfriend, but the level on which I liked him stayed constant.

In essence, what happened is this: I let a relationship that wasn’t making me happy go on for awhile, and then handled the breakup super badly, because I was so caught up in the fact that I had a boyfriend in the first place and then suddenly didn’t have one. Having a boyfriend, for me, was not only a milestone but also a huge sign of functionality. I felt like it meant I was finally thriving at college. You’ll be able to find obvious hints to how pleased I was with myself right around the quarantine era of blog posts, and I’m telling you now that a lot of this sentiment was due to having a boyfriend.

Anyway, I took the breakup hard. Going through your first breakup is, as it turns out, not a fun experience at all, even when you’re the one who caused it. I’ve mentioned several times on here, but it bears repeating, that autistic people feel emotions a lot more strongly and in hard-to-explain ways in comparison to our neurotypical peers, and my breakup emotions were no exception. This contributed to my really bad mental health spiral at the end of last semester.

All of this is to say that I, as an autistic person, handle relationships really badly, as it turns out. Even though I wouldn’t want it back, I blame myself entirely for the way that relationship ended, and for the fact that my ex and I don’t speak to each other. I definitely could have handled it a lot better than I did.

But ultimately, you learn from your mistakes. And as I said, I honestly think I was a lot more hung up on having my first boyfriend in the first place than any of the actual internal issues in the relationship. I’ve always considered myself someone for whom dating is near impossible, thanks to my host of social issues— hence my first experience with dating coming at such a relatively late point. Maybe this is the reason that I called myself “aromantic” two years ago. There’s most definitely a correlation between autism and having difficulty in the dating scene.

In the months since my breakup, I’ve resolved not to seek out a relationship unless it seeks me out first. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be alone forever, but I’ve never had a problem being single, and I’m comfortable in the idea that whatever happens in my love life is going to happen, whether I try to force it or not. Maybe next time, whenever that is, I won’t handle it quite as badly as I did the first time.

Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: Let’s venture into some more uncharted territory to talk about autism and fandom.

college, discussion, media

An interview with me!

Wow, what’s this? My blog, active on a day that’s not Tuesday? Well, you’re in luck, friend, because this week is the two-for-one special! I’ll be brief this evening, since I don’t have original content of my own to share. But nonetheless, I have something very exciting!

I’ve been featured in an interview on another blog! I was very grateful when a writer for the blog Learn From Autistics reached out to me through my contact form on this blog, and we were able to do an e-interview. I got to talk about autism and college life, which is the whole reason I started this blog in the first place.

HERE is where you can read my interview. Thank you to the lovely people at Learn From Autistics for the opportunity to share my experiences! I hope you, reader, will enjoy it. See you next week!

sensory

Sensory issues: light

Hello, reader! For the first time in what I feel has been far too long, I’m going to talk about a slightly more concrete topic today. I feel like I’ve been on a streak for several months where the majority of my content is mental health or daily life stuff, and I have to explain to you how it has to do with being autistic. I apologize for that, in a way, because this blog very much started out as me writing about broad topics that very obviously have to do with autistic life and autism awareness, but has gotten more specific as we’ve gone along. I attribute that, as you might be able to imagine, to the fact that the longer it’s been since you started doing a weekly blog post, the more specific the topics you write about are going to get.

Anyway, the point is. I’m circling back to something less vague and abstract today. It’s been far too long since I’ve done any kind of sensory special— so today, let’s talk about my light sensitivity!

As is the case with many of my sensory issues, it only became clear to me in a relatively recent part of my life that I’m actually sensitive to light. I’ve reiterated this several times over on this blog, and I’ll continue to do so, but growing more comfortable talking about my autism has led to me realizing that autism affects a lot more of my life than I thought it did. My sensory issues are far and wide, and I’m actually experiencing one as we speak, because I’m wearing a pair of uncomfortable leggings as part of my work uniform while I write this blog out, and I am, as the kids say, straight-up not having a good time. (If you want to read more about my sensory particularity about clothes, here’s a good post for that.)

But we’re not focusing on clothes today— I’m focusing on visual sensory issues, which are honestly probably the group of sensory difficulties we talk least about? I mean, pretty much everyone who knows a little about autism can note that a lot of autistic people are sensitive to loud noise, and plenty of people also know that certain tactile textures can bother us. I even think there’s enough understanding about sensitivity to taste and smell among autistic people— but we don’t really talk about visual sensitivity. So let’s do that now.

I am, as usual, going to use myself as an example. I even have a recent story to share, to highlight the topic. Let me take you back to this past Saturday night, where I ventured off my college campus to pick up some food.

(“Madison, how could you? Going off campus to get food is unsafe!” It was a masked curbside pickup, and I didn’t leave my car. But thank you for your concern.)

I may have to give a bit of background information on the place in which my college is located for this story to fully set in. My college isn’t in an ‘urban area,’ because we’re surrounded by residential neighborhoods, but we’re about five minutes across a river from the largest city in the state. The city is definitely not a ‘city’ like Boston is a city, but I define ‘city’ as ‘has tall buildings and is hard to drive around in,’ and Manchester ticks those boxes.

Anyway, why am I going into details about what constitutes a city? Well, I will tell you: it’s because driving in a city at night is, as it turns out, a little bit of an overstimulation for me.

I knew this, prior to going out this past Saturday, and have known it since freshman year. The basic truth is that there’s just a lot of light going on in a busy urban area at night, and bright, artificial light really bothers me, as it turns out. I’m able to function in situations where everything is really bright around me, but it’s a little difficult, because there’s so much in my vision at once.

The number one type of light that really messes with me is a strobe. That can be any type of flasher, like the ones on fire alarms, but also— a lot more common in daily life— lights on emergency vehicles. This post isn’t about my bad driving skills, but I always have to take a second to re-focus when I pass an emergency vehicle with its lights on. It’s not only when I’m driving that this happens; I always try to hold my hand up and block strobes out of my vision, even if I’m just walking by a fire truck or something, because it’s very disorienting for me, and makes my head hurt a lot.

I wish there was a slightly more eloquent way to describe the sensory experience of bright, flashing, or artificial light to you, but I can only try to explain what goes on in my head when there’s a lot of light at once in my vision. Sunlight, although this might be obvious, doesn’t bother me at all. Any natural light is fine, as is artificial light that isn’t too harsh. Fluorescent ceiling lights, as another example, are really not a good time. If I sit in a room for too long where the lighting is harsh, it affects my ability to focus, and I get a pretty bad headache.

Another place this comes up in my life is— though I’ll admit it hasn’t been a problem in the age of staying at home and doing nothing— at concerts and shows. I once went to a concert in high school with a friend’s family where the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was performing, and something I did not know about this particular music group is that their concerts are not only musical experiences but also laser light shows. Needless to say, it was overwhelming, as has almost any experience I’ve had watching a performance or even movie where the lights get busy.

This isn’t necessarily something that happens for every autistic person. As I’ve said before, autistic sensory issues vary greatly from person to person, and I’m just one example. But I hope this gives you a helpful example of what it can be like, by reading about my host of sensory difficulties.

That’s all for right now. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: Another holiday-inspired special.

college, routine

The Imminent Re-Entry

So here’s a fun fact that will make those of you who know me personally feel old: my younger brother left for college this morning.

Why is that relevant to my blog? Well, it almost isn’t. It’s relevant to my life, but not necessarily my blog. I just thought I would share that piece of information for those who might want to feel old. And also, I’m going to use it as a segue to talk about a fact which should probably have become obvious to most of you by now: college students are going back to school. Which means that school is in my very near future.

For your reference, I actually go back this Friday. Our classes start on Monday, but I have to do the early move-in for a testing date and a quarantine. Let’s hope that all goes well with my test (maybe pray for me), but as long as that’s the case, I’ll be back up and running at college the next time you hear from me.

This is relevant in that it’s been awhile. You may recall that the last time I wrote about being at school was when I did the fall semester in review back in November. You may also recall that last semester did not, by almost any means, go well for me. You can read plenty of reflection by me on why that was the case if you feel like going back through my blog to the late 2020 entries, but I’ll sum it up now for your convenience. The first half of this school year didn’t go well due to a combination of social factors, changes in my routine at college, and generally not-good mental health things.

And, look: that’s okay. Not every semester is going to be perfect. Sometimes, things are hard to get through, and I’ve grown to reluctantly accept the lack of consistency of ‘how things are going.’ There’s a reason I’m bringing this up yet again— which, by the way, trust me, if you’re tired of hearing about my bad fall 2020 semester, you’re not nearly as tired as I am of thinking about it. The reason is that thinking about going back to school is, of course, making me think about last semester. It’s all I have to go off of in terms of what school is like during COVID-time, or as I like to call it, ‘corona college.’ So as I envision my spring 2021 semester, there’s only so much I can use to imagine what it’ll be like.

Anyway. What’s the point? The point is that I’m going to be back in my dorm room at this time three days from now, and I’m really, really not looking forward to that.

But let’s unpack that a little, since I’ve given a variety of mixed signals on this blog. If you recall way back when the great COVID exodus from college took place, I wrote in my blog post directly after that that I had been having a really good time at college, and that I was extremely frustrated for having been sent home right in the middle of that good time. I understand that this is a selfish perspective to have taken, given what was going on in the world in March, and what continues to be going on in the world today. I’m not claiming that this isn’t selfish; I’m merely telling you that this affected my life quite a bit. I’ve been over the whole routine disruption thing a million times on this blog, so I’ll spare you the exposition, but the point is that college just has not been the same since we were sent home from the spring 2020 semester.

And yes, I understand that this is the case for literally every college student right now. I understand that I’m not special, and that my struggling with Corona College is not unique to me because of my autism. What I hope you might understand is that for me, the routine disruption of college completely changing took place right at the point where I felt I was finally adjusting to college. And for someone who took a year and a half to be able to return to school after being home for a weekend without crying… well, that was significant.

So you may ask yourself, what’s new about any of this? You’re reading a blog post about me being reluctant and apprehensive about an upcoming start to a semester. Gee, it’s almost like you’ve read that one before. Multiple times.

The point right now is this: college is not getting any easier for me. And when I think about this upcoming semester, I’m completely terrified for my mental health. I don’t want to reach the place I was in the middle of the fall 2020 semester, and I’m afraid of being isolated, unmotivated, and driven down. It doesn’t help that this is the worst time of year for me, and that my brain has already started to give me trouble about it.

I think the upside is that I’ve made extremely efficient use of this winter break, both in terms of patching up my emotional well-being and taking time for myself. I’ve definitely gotten the break I was so desperate for at the release of last semester. But that upside comes with something of a downside, or at least a weakness: I’ve completely isolated myself this break, in what is yet another really selfish move. I think I spent probably a grand total of 5 hours being social, this entire break. While this definitely helped me recharge my social battery, it’s going to be a rude awakening come next week. Next week, I’ll no longer be living the extremely cushy reality of my relaxing routine at home, with its free time, lack of sociability, and general comfort. I’ve gotten very used to that these past two and a half months— which has been great while it’s lasted. It’s not going to be so great when I’m missing it.

I’m about to lean into even more discomfort, and the bottom line is I’m not looking forward to it. The classes and the homework have always been the easy part, and my workload is going to be less this semester than it was in the fall, so that might help a little. It’s everything else that scares me. I hope that when I come out on the other side of the spring 2021 semester, I’ll be able to give you a better in-review post than the one I did in November. But until then, you’re going to have to see me through it.

I’ll see you once the semester has actually started. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: Let’s do a sensory special, the visual edition.

the real world

A Danger To The Roads

Friends, sometimes, you’re completely not in the mood to write a blog post. And yet it’s Tuesday, and you made a promise long ago that your blog would publish new posts on Tuesdays, so here you are. Trying to get your thoughts together. For better or for worse…

Well, anyway. Hello. I come to you today with a general blogging topic, and as usual, I’m going to use myself as an example while we talk about a broader phenomenon. Today, I’m going to finally face the music and tell you that I’m an awful driver. Does this sound specific? Well, it kind of is. But let’s draw back a little and talk about the relationship between autism and driving.

To be clear, I’m talking about driving a car. I got my license “on schedule”— so right when I turned the legal age for it, which, where I live, is 16 and a half. For those of you who, like me, are not good at math, that means that I’ve been driving for four years now— and I have to tell you a secret. I literally haven’t gotten any better at it. At all. Not even a little.

It’s taken me awhile to accept that I’m a terrible driver. I used to be in denial about it, even after getting into an accident within my first month as a licensed driver and having several other incidents where I had to get my car repaired thereafter. Lately, I’ve been less reluctant to label myself as a terrible driver, because I’ve come to the conclusion that I actually am one. Ultimately, accepting that I’m an awful driver doesn’t hurt my pride that much. I’ve been through enough difficulty with driving to accept this.

But what does me being a terrible driver have to do with being autistic? At face value, it might not seem like there’s much that connects the two things. I didn’t used to think driving and autism had anything to do with each other, but in my recent acceptance of being an awful driver, I’ve come to terms with the idea that it might have more to do with being autistic than I thought. This is a common trend in my life— I observe a phenomenon which has always been true for me, and wonder if it has anything to do with autism, and find out that it does, even when I’ve never thought about it that way.

Anyway. I looked it up. It may not be surprising to you to learn that autistic individuals sometimes learn to drive later than their neurotypical peers, or that some choose not to get their licenses at all due to anxiety about learning to drive and being on the road. Other autistic people do get their licenses, but drive in such a paranoid, anxious state about road laws that they’re the kind of person someone with road rage would honk at for doing 10 miles an hour below the speed limit at all times. My relationship with driving relative to my autism is in a third category— I’m the driver who spaces out easily.

Now, writing this out I realize that I make myself sound like a total danger to the roads. I’ve said before that maybe I am a danger to the roads, and I hope there are no RMV people reading this who would want to take my license away. The truth is that I’m a competent driver when it comes to getting from here to there, but I’ll have a passenger in my car and they’ll tell me that my driving skills terrify them.

I’m not conscious of the fact that I’m a bad driver while I’m driving; it happens more in the time between drives, particularly when someone who rode shotgun (usually one of my brothers) is telling me they were scared while I was driving them around. I think a good portion of my “being a scary driver” factor is the fact that I’m prone to spacing out, and being behind the wheel of a car is an optimum time to be alone with my thoughts. The road and the rules are still there, but I don’t understand people who say that they only think about driving when they’re driving. Don’t you get bored that way?

I know that if you know me, and you read this blog post, you’re probably never going to want to get in a car with me again. That’s valid. I probably wouldn’t want me to drive me around, if I could witness my own driving from a passenger’s perspective. But because I am the driver, I live in blissful ignorance. And I’m probably a danger to the roads.

When you fill out your license application, there’s a spot where you have to designate whether you have any conditions which could interfere with your ability to drive. When I filled out this application, I wrote no— but I’m honestly surprised, knowing what I do now, that you aren’t required to designate being neurodivergent when you fill out those applications. I’m not saying that neurodivergent people shouldn’t be able to drive, because obviously, I’m a person with my license, and I would prefer for myself and people like me to be able to have that privilege— but I’m surprised, nonetheless, that neurodivergence doesn’t mean you have to face an extra round of testing or something like that.

“Madison, you’re advocating for discrimination!!!!!” I mean… a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right. And there are definitely autistic people who have a better handle on this whole driving thing than I do, but I am among the challenged. Again, I don’t think that neurodivergent people shouldn’t be able to drive— I just notice the percentage of us who don’t drive, and understand that those of us who do are either super vigilant about road rules or distracted drivers. Which leads me to a number of questions.

At the end of the day, I’m fine. I just think there are more and more things about my daily life as college passes me by that come to my attention as distinctly different from the neurotypical experience. And sometimes, you have to accept your flaws. Like being a little bit of a danger to the roads.

Anyway. Here’s where else you can find me, and I apologize for this post. Next week, we’ll get back to the more typical.

Next Time: Back-to-school is approaching.

identity, social

Home Movies

Wow, so here’s a true fact: I got the idea for this week’s post topic right at the New Year, and now that it’s actually time to write about it, I feel like it’s been literally forever since I actually had the thought that spurred the post idea. I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think it means that time is passing slowly, which is probably good, because that’s how I want winter break to go. But we’re also in that weird part of January where time doesn’t feel real, so who even knows what’s going on anymore.

The point is, it’s Tuesday. This much, I’m confident about. And because it’s Tuesday, it’s time for another blog. Today, I want to talk about something I noticed about my younger self, and relate it to myself now.

I also feel that I should apologize before I go on. I’m well aware that as of the past couple of months, the vast majority of my posts have been about personal experiences rather than about broad topics or information about autism. I think I can attribute that to the fact that I’ve now run this blog for over two years, and eventually, a person is going to start running short on super general topics about autism to write about. In other words, I think this blog is getting more specific because I’ve been doing it for awhile, and there are less broad topics to cover.

With that being said, I very much want to try doing some more of those informational-type posts again, so look out for those in the coming little while. For now, let’s do yet another exposé on embarrassing facts about myself. I feel like we do a lot of roasting on this blog at my expense. But because I’m the author of the blog, I have literally nobody to blame but myself.

To the point now: we have a New Year’s tradition in my family where we watch old home movies. My mom used to be a menace with the video camera back in the day, and we have two boxes of tapes and CDs to prove it. Pulling it all out on New Year’s and putting it on the TV is entertaining and often hilarious, because there are some really funny moments we’ve picked up in the various videos over the years, and we’ve learned which ones contain the funny stuff.

Here’s what’s not as funny: watching myself as a young child.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that I’m only embarrassed by this because I’m me. The rest of my family finds it funny when Small Madison throws a fit in a home movie because people are implying that they’re going to change something she planned on happening, or because her brothers are playing with one of her toys, or because she’s overwhelmed by a crowd. It’s just… hard to watch, myself. Because even though I’m no longer, for example, seven years old, I can recognize that a lot of those traits still exist in myself. Which leads me to believe that, even in my daily life as a twenty-year-old, I must be a pretty annoying person.

To explain this more accurately, I have to give you an example. On New Year’s, we watched a video that my mom took at one of my grandparents’ annual Christmas Eve parties, when I was seven, and my brothers were five and three. In the video, I’ve just started taking piano lessons over the past year, and I’m super excited to play Jingle Bells for the party crowd on my grandmother’s electric keyboard. The problem is that nobody is paying attention to me. I’m sitting there, continually starting and re-starting the song, and then shooting dirty looks around the room when people won’t quiet down and listen.

I know that this seems like the behavior of a frustrated small child, who doesn’t understand that people at parties don’t usually stop their conversations to listen to a beginner piano arrangement of Jingle Bells. At face value, this might not seem like it has all that much to do with being autistic. But I assure you— witnessing it myself, as a twenty-year-old, I’m positive that it does.

What people may not realize about me in that video is that not only do I want attention (and I most certainly do want attention), but I also feel that people won’t be able to hear or focus on my music if they’re still talking. This is a sensory issue for myself that seven-year-old me is projecting onto everybody else. Because I’m easily overwhelmed by crowds, parties, and the phenomenon of multiple conversations happening in my proximity at the same time, I’m not able to truly enjoy the music I want to play unless it’s quiet. And because all of that is happening, I assume that other people also won’t be able to hear my music. So it’s not just that I want people to pay attention to me— there’s an entire sensory thing going on in my head.

That’s one example, and here’s another that I remember. In another Christmas video, my brother and I are planning to sneak over to my grandparents’ house and leave a tiny, sparkly, fake Christmas tree in their living room. My mom is taping us as we get ready to go, and she’s going over the “plan” with Small Child Me. She mentions that I should go through the front door, and I tell her no, I want to go through the back door. My mom tells me I have a better chance of going unnoticed by my grandparents if I go through the back door. I get upset and tell her, “I just don’t want to do it that way! It’s not how I planned it.”

This is a small issue, because she winds up convincing me to go through the front door in the end. But it drives another point home— even when I was very small, I was super preoccupied with plans, and would get visibly bent out of shape if somebody suggested that something I had planned out was going to go differently than I’d imagined it would. I wanted to be able to predict the way everything was going to go in my daily life.

I guess these observations aren’t all that groundbreaking. They would seem obvious to, for example, my parents, who witnessed me being a pain all the time when I was younger, and continue to do so. Because that’s the point I’m getting at here: I’m no less of a pain now than I was when I was little. I just get upset about different things. I no longer get mad at people who won’t listen to me play piano at a Christmas party, but I do get frustrated easily when I’m trying to say something in a large group and feel like no one is listening. The difference is that instead of throwing a fit, like I might have when I was a small child, I just get quiet and stop talking.

In terms of the planning stuff, I haven’t changed one bit. The moments when I annoy other people most are when I’m trying to get them to make a plan when they don’t want to (see: the way my mom has to plan out everything we’re going to eat for dinner at the beginning of a given week), or worse, when someone suggests we’re going to do something that I hadn’t anticipated being on my schedule (see: a random social gathering on a perfectly good Saturday night). I am fully aware that I get extremely touchy when my schedule gets thrown off, and I’m not always a pleasant person to be around when that happens. In that way, I haven’t matured one bit.

I think the bottom line is this: over the past couple of years, I’ve become a lot more retroactively self-aware. This has led me to realize more and more that things I did when I was younger, as well as things I still do now, have a lot more to do with being autistic than I may have realized in the past. I wasn’t just a pain in the ass as a child for the sake of being a pain in the ass; I was struggling with a lot of behavioral issues specifically because of my autism.

Does this help me in any meaningful way? Maybe not, because like I said, I still struggle with these behaviors; they just might not manifest in the exact same way as they did when I was younger. But being aware of this in hindsight at least helps me understand why I seem like such a brat in all those home movies. That’s something, at least. And like I said, these blog posts are getting more and more specific.

But that’s okay! Because this is, after all, a blog about my life. I’ll see you next week— and here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: I’m a terrible driver. Let’s talk about that.

college, routine, the real world

2020: in review

Wow! I think the fact that it’s a new year just hit me for the first time, because I actually had to write out “2021” for the first time while creating the document for this blog post. I use a dating system, so at the top of my screen right now, it says 2021.01.05. That’s crazy! I feel like I’m in that John Mulaney bit where he says 2029 doesn’t feel like a real year. I get that that’s still eight years away, but eight years ago was 2013, and that doesn’t feel like that long ago, so… whatever. I won’t get all philosophical about the passage of time.

But that opening is related to my blog topic today, because I’m going to do a calendar-year-in-review post. I know that I’m kind of notorious on this blog for doing “things in review,” and most of the time it’s semesters or school years that I’m rounding up. I don’t know if I did the year 2019 in review, but I could probably look back in my blog history and check. I don’t think I did. It doesn’t matter whether I did, but I’m doing this one for 2020, because… well, I don’t know why. I just am. And you, as the reader, are unfortunately going to have to deal with me. You did kind of sign up for this, by clicking on whatever link brought you here.

I want to start this post out by saying that I’m not going to come to you as if we’re in a quirky, relatable commercial. You don’t even want to know the amount of times over the past week or so that I’ve seen the infamous ‘2020 Sucks’ commercial. Or heard about it on the news. Or received emails about it. And I’m not talking about any one specific commercial, for the record— I’m talking about a type of commercial, a general rhetoric running through advertising right now. It’s not unique to advertising, per se, but it’s definitely prevalent in advertising. What I’m talking about is this: how many times over the past week have you heard a commercial that’s basically like, Wow! What a year! 2020 was full of unprecedented times, but now we can put it behind us. That’s why you should buy our product!

First of all, yes, that messaging makes absolutely no sense, since 2020 being a quote-on-quote ‘terrible year’ doesn’t inherently have to do with people trying to sell me things on the television. But advertising seldom makes any sense, and that’s not the point. Companies just want you to give them money. It doesn’t matter why. And we’re not here to talk about advertising. My point with bringing that up is to tell you that I don’t want to write about 2020 the way people are talking about it on TV, the radio, or the Internet. I don’t need to tell you that this was a weird year for everybody, because of course it was. We all know that. We’re all dealing with the weirdness of 2020 on a daily basis, even now that it’s no longer 2020. Nobody needs to read a blog post about that, especially because it has nothing to do with being autistic.

Instead, I just want to… talk about the year. The end of the calendar year is an opportunity for self-reflection, and if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m a pretty big fan of self-reflection. It’s, like, a solid sixty percent of what I do in these posts. And so, with all of that in mind, we’re going to make an earnest attempt at reflecting on my performance as a human being in 2020. Without harping on all the unprecedented times. I think everybody is well aware at this point that the times are ‘unprecedented.’

The first thing you should know is that 2020 was not all bad for me. And yes, I completely understand that I’m speaking from a position of being a privileged and lucky person, in that the pandemic did not affect my life or my family in some of the ways it affected others’. To ignore others’ experiences and make a generalization that 2020 ‘wasn’t that bad’ would be ignorant, if I were trying to make that a blanket statement. But I’m not. I’m telling you that for me, 2020 wasn’t the worst. Sure, it wasn’t the best, either— but it definitely wasn’t the worst. And because this blog is about my experience, that’s something I wanted to clear up right out of the gate.

I think the best way I can characterize this past calendar year is not that it was awful all around, but that it was… weird. I get that a lot of people feel that way, so this is not a unique experience for me. I think the biggest thing about 2020 that messed with me was the immense amount of routine interruption that took place within the confines of the year— and which continues now, but honestly, since this is a pretty typical winter break for me, I’m not feeling it as much as I was when I was at school or while the lockdowns were happening. As much as I’m tired of the phrase ‘unprecedented,’ there was a lot about this year that was unprecedented. Starting, obviously, with the whole being sent home from school thing.

But because I’m not reviewing the pandemic part of the year only, I want to go back further than that. Here’s what you should know: everything was going pretty well for me when March rolled around. I had just conquered my choir’s Eurotrip, which very much felt like something that wasn’t going to be doable for me pretty much the entire time, because of how far outside of my comfort zone the experience was. That was huge for me— and so were some of the other things I did in the two months preceding spring break. I wrote briefly about doing some work with my school’s politics program for the New Hampshire presidential primary, which, yeah, was not the biggest event of my year, but did burn me out quite a bit.

The point is this: I was feeling really good when the initial lockdown happened. I was set to have what probably would’ve been my best semester at college yet, and I was looking forward to it a lot. I had finally, from my perspective, ‘settled in.’ Sure, it took a year and a half for that to happen— but I’d done it, and that was huge for me. That was a major accomplishment, so much so that I was already calling spring 2020 my best semester yet and it hadn’t even been midterms yet.

And then we were sent home from school. And you know the rest. I don’t think that what happened this year ‘ruined’ my year, whether in school or out of it, because, like I said, I’m lucky, and I haven’t felt the full force of the changes in daily life the way a lot of other people have. That doesn’t mean, however, that my routine hasn’t changed. I’ve had to adjust to a lot of new things this calendar year, and that part of it has been really, really difficult for me.

I would say, now that it’s January, that I’m pretty much used to this, and by ‘this’ I mean the new routine of life with restrictions, lockdowns, and the new way college looks all factored in. Do I like it? Definitely not. Do I wish that we could go back to the way things were, when I thought it was going to be the best year yet, and everything was going well for me? Absolutely. But would I actually want to go back to that point in my life? No. I’ve done a lot of growing this year, and a lot of accepting things I can’t change, and that’s taken a lot. I’m more mature and more well-adjusted than I was even at the start of 2020, and I’m continuing to adjust to new circumstances all the time. I wouldn’t want to do a regression on all of that personal progress.

I’ve been pretty upfront about the fact that fall 2020 wasn’t my best semester. The summer, on the whole, was okay, if a little bit weirder and less eventful than summers past. The latter half of the year went worse for me than the first half did, but I’ve had a lot of improvements since winter break began.

I’m trying to approach 2021 with a better attitude. I think 2020 has done me well in terms of getting me used to big, crazy things happening that I never would’ve expected. Does that mean I’m suddenly great about changes in routine? Not by a long shot. But now at least I’ve gone through some changes, and I can say that I’ve gotten through those adjustments with no major crises. Mostly.

2020 allowed for some growth in other areas, too— my increased amount of free time meant I finally started writing again, which is great, because 2019 was a major writing drought for me, and that’s a creative outlet I never wanted to lose. I’m getting a little better about time management and executive dysfunction when I have to make my own schedule, and although I’m definitely not the best at that part yet, I at least am becoming more aware of the fact that it’s a problem. I’m trying to be better about communicating and staying in touch with people when I can’t see them in person.

All in all? It hasn’t been the worst. It also hasn’t been the best, but I would characterize 2020 for me as ‘weird’ a lot quicker than I’d say it’s ‘the worst year in history.’ Which is a real thing I heard in yet another commercial the other day. The worst year in history? Give me a break. Most stressful in modern history, maybe. But I know about a lot of international wars, deadlier plagues, and terrible societal living conditions that would disagree with you.

Anyway. That’s neither here nor there. I’ll see you later— and here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: I had a revelation recently about my younger self.