Transcript for Off the Top of my Head 002 – Autism, Impostor Syndrome, and the Consequences of Suppressing Autistic Interests

Transcript (Cleaned up for most instances of “umm,” “aah,” and “you know.” Side notes for clarification and descritions of certain actions are also present in [brackets].)

All right. So, um. Hey, everybody. It’s Tim again. Um, before I get started, I’m going to let you know that I’m going to be talking about some very serious topics like bullying, mental and emotional abuse, etc. So, I’m just getting that out of the way. So, anyways, today’s topic is about autism and Impostor Syndrome, and uh if you don’t know what Impostor Syndrome is, it’s about feeling like a fake. So, you know even when you’re skilled enough, you think you’re a fake. Basically, that’s what that is. And also, I’m going to talk about the consequences of suppressing the interests of autistic people. I know this is a big topic to discuss right off in my video series. But I, it’s one of the issues that weighs the most heavily on me. This has been bothering me for a long time. So, I’m doing this video as a way to get things out and feel better. So, it’s going to be intense. Excuse me if I pause to collect my thoughts or if my emotions get ahead of me ’cause sometimes I get really emotional about stuff like this. So, anyways, so, ‘kay, and another thing I might be repeating myself like I’m about to right here. Basically, Impostor Syndrome is when you feel like a phony, and like you’re going to be found out. I know at least of one autistic person who has reported this, and that’s John Elder Robison, who’s written books like Switched On and Look Me in the Eye. And, you know, I feel like a fake, too and I’m going to get into that, but, um, anyways, let’s get started.

My story of having my suppressed… my. My uh,. Excuse me, I’m jumbling words here. My story of having my interests suppressed probably isn’t unique among autistic people, so, it’s certain that what I’m about to tell you is but one of many iterations of one of the most evil things that can ever happen to an autistic person, and that’s having their interests suppressed. So, I’ll tell you about my interests. I have several categories of interests. Like… I’m stereotypical in that I like computers, but I’m not really that hot at math. I mean I’ve been getting better at it over the years, but I’m not like a math whiz. Um, yeah, I really love to build computers. This is one of the computers I built. This is my Linux box I like to play around with Linux in. And I’ve got my big computer I built about four years ago when I was entering into a doctoral program for education instructional technology, then my health started to go by the wayside, but that’s a story for another day. Photography is another one. I love film cameras and I love Super 8 millimeter film. And I have a 16 millimeter camera that I need to get fixed, but, um, I don’t have the money to get it fixed. I’d love to get it fixed. It’s about maybe $700 or more to get it fixed. I also like video games, of course, Whenever my vision is up to it, I like to do amateur speedrunning. I also, because I discovered my autism, I’m interested in neurology. I’m also interested in things like optometry and how that relates to autism. It’s taken me time to dig through that. Um, and I really love languages. I’ve studied several languages like Japanese, French, and all that. I have a bachelor’s in French, I have a master’s in French, and I also have another master’s in applied linguistics which is basically a field of linguistics that, like , say, one little specialization is how people acquire and learn language and how to make materials better so that people can absorb language better. But my number one interest; my biggest obsessive interest is Japanese animation (or anime) and manga (Japanese comics). I got interested in those when I was around fourteen years old. I watched AKIRA on the SciFi channel and I really liked it because it was different from what I had seen before. And the year after that I watched a series called Project A-Ko, and that was, uh, that was what sealed the deal. But, also, the same summer I watched AKIRA on the SciFI Channel, my friends introduced me to JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games) and the first one I played was Final Fantasy 6. It was known as [Final Fantasy] 3 back then, but I played that and I got hooked almost instantly. So, uh, anyways, soon afterwards, I decided I wanted to learn Japanese, and for my 15th birthday, my family bought me some basic beginner Japanese tapes and books. Um , audiocassettes and books. And I still have them and it’s been an obsession ever since. And I started learning Japanese… [Light flickers] Excuse my LED light, it flashes every now and… It’s the best one for lighting the situation. Anyways, I developed a reputation in high school, people would… [Light flickers again] People… I have to turn that off. Well, I hope that the lighting’s better. Oh, well. I hope the lighting’s okay. Um, but anyways, I developed a reputation when I was in high school. People didn’t believe I was learning Japanese, so they’d come up to me and ask me:

“Do you really know Japanese?”

and I’m like “Yeah”

“Speak some for me.” So, I’d say a few basic phrases and they’re like “Oh, wow!” and my reputation so preceded me in some cases that, you know, I mean, I was known all over the high school. And for my senior year, I was nominated for Brainiest Guy. Of, course, I lost that. But, oh well.

But the late 90s and early 2000s, that period was one of great optimism for me because I wanted to learn Japanese, you know, I wanted to go to college and learn it. And, uh, but, Texas is a really poor state for Asian languages, learning Asian languages. The only university in the state of Texas that offers Japanese is UT Austin. And, you know, the SATs, you know, I did poorly on the SATs, so there was no chance of getting into it. You know, right away. And, you know, my optimism started to end in early 2001 when I got sued by this guy I rear-ended. I only did $400 of damage to this guy’s vehicle. But he sued me and his lawyer treated me like I had attempted to murder somebody. And my autistic brain back then couldn’t handle that. You know, I was like “How could anybody treat somebody else like that over something so minor?” And, it caused me to spiral into depression, and despite my depression, I wanted to try to go to Austin Community College; move to Austin in 2003, hoping to use Austin Community College as a back door to get into UT. Because I figured that if I could test out of all this Japanese that I could, that I would impress an admissions board at UT and get in. But my depression got the better of me and I couldn’t find work. I only had a temp job for about a month and then I had to move back in with my family. And when I moved back in with my family, I just felt defeated. I felt like a failure. Like a huge failure. And even though my depression lingered when I moved back in with my family, it just lingered.

Now, depression leaves one vulnerable and muddies the waters of perception and judgment, regardless of neurotype. If depression clouds the faculties of a neurotypical, imagine what it does to an autistic person. The inability to quickly process social information and cues – and yes, non-autistic folks, we can process such information, but not as quickly as you can – the inability to quickly process social cues coupled with my depression paved the way for extreme vulnerability and the most painful period… extremely painful period in my life from early 2004 to late 2010 where I met the most despicable, evil people you can ever imagine.

Now I’m not going to talk much about… much details about these people. I’m not going to talk about how I met them. I’m not going to talk about a lot of instances of abuse. I’m racking my brain for… you know, I’m racking my brain for examples. It’s hard to think about that period still, even though I haven’t talked to these people for almost seven years. It still hurts to think about what they did.

So, in early 2004, I encountered a small group of people who seemed friendly enough at the time. They shared some interests of mine, except for anime and manga. And it was an attempt for me to branch out as a person, but it backfired terribly. Um, let me pick up my notes here. So, after getting to know them for a while, you know, both ways, they decided after about hearing about my interests and how enthusiastic I was about them, because you know, I’m really passionate about anime and manga, They decided to toy around with me thanks to my very, very, very clouded perception. And they wanted to, they made it, they talked to me in such a way that they basically made it sound like my hobbies and geekiness were what was wrong with me and that needed to go. They implied that if I wanted to be a decent and acceptable person that I would have to give up anime and manga and reinvent myself, and it, you know… Excuse me for a moment.

This, this, you know. There was a cycle of abuse. You might have heard of battered person syndrome, where… Hang on. I’ll put a link or something in the description. It’s just hard for me to talk about. But I’ll describe as best I can the abuse I went through without giving away too much. People don’t have to touch or hit you to abuse you.

Now these people had some of the same intellectual interests as I did and we talked about academic topics and everything. They would intellectually engage me and be friendly. Then they would ask me how it was going to reinvent myself and I would talk about my efforts and then they would tell me that I wasn’t doing well enough and then they’d berate me. They would make fun of my interests and it would contribute to my depression. Now although I haven’t been clinically depressed since 2003/2004, I was diagnosed with chronic depressive disorder. Talking about this to the psychiatrist who diagnosed me with autism, he said “You have this underlying melancholy related to the abuse you’ve gone through” and said he told me… this is what my psychiatrist told me. He said that “You’re going to have to do the best you can to get back to going along with your interests… To doing the best thing with your interests as possible or you’re going to end up with another major depressive episode.” And when I took a Beck Depression index not long afterwards, I was right on the cusp of having another major depressive episode. But the big story of that is for my book. So, anyways… let’s turn the page to my notes. So this abuse, it affected my ability to learn Japanese during this period from 2004 to 2007… that early part I was still making plans to go back to Austin. But they made fun of my anime… my anime hobby, my Otakudom, so much that by early 2007 I had given up on plans to go back to Austin. And when I moved to Lubbock in 2009, a year before I cut all ties with these people in the back of my mind I was like “I still want to do Japanese, I still want to do Japanese, I still want to do Japanese.” You know it was there and anytime they’d tell me to watch less anime and try to do something else, you know, anytime I would watch anime, I’d feel guilty because of that but anime made me really really happy. So this cycle went on for almost 7 years until I started breaking ties with them in April 2010, and I finally quit talking to them altogether in November 2010.

And I want to take a moment to say… let me stop here and acknowledge and thank some people for getting me through these times. I want to think Dr. Kenneth Rivers. He is a retired professor who was at Lamar. While all of these interests of mine were being suppressed he got me into French and kept me hooked on it. And, you know, it takes a really special person to do that and to work with an autistic person like that. And that and Dr. Yaw Oteng who is also a professor of French at Lamar and you know he increased the motivation that Dr. Rivers gave me. And several other professors like Catalina Castillon, Dr. Bridges getting me interested in Spanish. And then when I got to Tech, Texas Tech Dr. Diane Wood and Dr. Price, Dr. Joe Price they really helped too.

And I’m grateful I was obviously depressed and my vision had catastrophically failed and affected my ability to learn and study language but I’m grateful… I’m grateful… I’m grateful to them for that. So thank you so much. And I’m grateful for the friends I got at Texas Tech, too. There are so many I can’t name who were so nice and I’m grateful… I’m grateful that you befriended me. You know, sometimes I’d be really happy but sometimes I’d be real depressed. But in spite of all that… but in spite of all that you befriended me. Anyway and I’m happy. I wouldn’t trade any of you for the world. If I could rewrite my life, I’d meet you in different circumstances but I’d never get rid of the people I met while I was at Tech or at Lamar.

So anyways, I’m going to talk about my instances of Impostor Syndrome and the health consequences and some of the psychological damage that this abuse did. Let’s see here. So on top of my untreated sensory impairments; and I didn’t start to receive any treatment for my sensory impairments until about 2009, but I didn’t know about my autism until 2014, so it was like the vision therapy I had been getting [hadn’t] been effective because I didn’t know about my autism until much later. But on top of the sensory and motor impairments, it made it hard for me to study language. And another thing, too, I’d like to thank the people I’m working with at Bellaire Family Eyecare, The Vision Learning Center in Houston/Bellaire Texas because my vision is at the point before catastrophically failed. My vision catastrophically failed in 2006 and it made it hard for me to study language, and I think that part of it was because of the abuse. I think that was part of it, but thanks to the people I work with in the Houston area my vision is where it was before it catastrophically failed. But now I have to take it beyond that, and that’s another story for my book. But the sensory and motor impairment impairing my ability to learn language and to use it made me feel like a phony. For example, like in the French program at Tech I was afraid I was going to be found out for my poor usage of French but all these native French speakers were telling me “Wow, you’re pretty good! You’re really talented with French!” and one of my French professors said that my French was “formidable” [pronounced in French]. And there was a native Parisian, his name was Arnaud [pronounced “ARE-NO”], he told me that my accent sounded really cool in French. And a Haitian who spoke French told me my French was pretty good. And I took a test, I took a proficiency test and I ended up on the near-native part. So, when I first started there, I felt like such a phony. I was like “I’m not going to be able to say a word in French and I’ll be found out as an impostor and be deemed unworthy for the French program.” and I would practice my Spanish a bit with native Spanish speakers and I felt like a phony because I would strain. I’d have muscles all over my body strain because of my motor impairments that made it hard for me to speak sometimes. But, you know, I felt most like a fraud with the Japanese students, my Japanese peers at Tech. I was so afraid of being found out as a phony with Japanese, that I wasn’t so good. And pile that on top of the abuse I received that affected my ability to learn Japanese and I felt just like a phony. And, I know this sounds ridiculous, but I have a translator friend who lives in Tokyo who has had such a big impact on my life. I first met him years and years ago. His name is Michael Santone, he’s a really great guy. I had translated some things for the former band director in my hometown. He was the band director then. The band director was a friend of the Santones and he had bought this item from Japan and he had locked himself out from this technological item, it was like an early predecessor to VR goggles and he knew that I knew Japanese. So he asked me to translate the password section, the password lockout section, and I got him out of the password lock, and about a month or two later, Mr. Santone saw my work and wanted to meet me. So, over the years, my plans to learn Japanese got affected and stuff, you know I kind of felt like a phony, and it made me afraid to talk to him or a long time. And I’d occasionally bump in and out of contact with him but earlier this year I decided to get back in touch with him for good, and doing that made me feel better. Now that I think back on things, it was pursuing my own interests again that led me to all kinds of things, like, someone in my Japanese class noted my autistic behaviors. This was back at Tech when I decided to go for Japanese again. When I started to feel less and less like a phony. Uh, anyways, it was deciding to pursue my interests again that helped me discover my autism, and being in touch with people makes me feel like less of a phony. I’ve still got some things to shake off, but I know I’m going to shake it off. It’s just a matter of me finding a way until my vision is fully functional, finding ways to work around my disability now that my vision has recently gone back to the point it was at before it catastrophically failed. I’ve got this. That’s how impostor syndrome made me feel around certain people.

Some more impostor syndrome things I felt, like fears at a job, like a translation job. I would have these irrational scenarios thinking of a boss going “Can’t you interpret in real time?” or “Can’t you do things quickly?” or “You don’t know every word? You’re not ‘fluent!'” Although there is a difference between fluency and proficiency. Language nerd moment here, being fluent means you’re able to speak with the least amount of stuttering/stopping. Proficiency means being able to use the language grammatically accurately; grammatically correct and accurate. They kind of play into each other, but in some ways they’re kind of separate. So, that’s another example of how Impostor Syndrome plays out.

Now another thing that impostor Syndrome did to me is that as the years since I left high school went on, I would avoid my former classmates like the plague except, like, a couple of them who stayed real close friends with me after high school. And I felt embarrassed not because I didn’t live up to their expectations, but they were expectations I had for myself. Because as I said, [the] late 90s/early 2000s were a period of optimism for me. I was like “Yeah! I’m gonna go on and learn all these languages and be a translator and all that.” But as the abuse went on and as the sensory issues got worse – untreated – it made me feel more like a phony and I would be deathly afraid to run into high school classmates because I would expect them to go like “Yeah! What have you been up to? Going to Japan?” and stuff and I would feel embarrassed and I would feel terrible I hadn’t fulfilled my goals that I had set for myself [that] I was so optimistic about. People who knew me in my late high school/early college years would, you know, they noted that I was a very hyper person. I was very hyper and optimistic until I got depressed and sometimes it would come out and then it went away after the abuse started. I’m trying to get that person back. I’m working so hard to get that person back because, like, being myself is the only way that I’m ever going to be happy. I’m gonna do the best I can to become who I Know I’m supposed to be. And one of the examples of me avoiding high school classmates. There was this jerk who bullied me in civics class my senior year. He like, made it hell. I’m not gonna give any names out, but, back in 2007, when the abuse was at its height, I ran into him. He’s like “Ah! Tim Turner! How’s it going?” and I’m like “Not this dude!” and then, like, another person distracted him; another friend of his distracted him and was like “Heeeey!” He [the guy who bullied me in civics class] was like “Wait here, I wanna talk to you.” I just up and booked. I ran away from him because I didn’t want to talk to him about my stifled plans – my frustrated plans and, you know, I didn’t want to talk to him. People who were nice to me made for an even more awkward meeting. I would be like “Uh, uh, uh” because of my brutal honesty as an autistic person. You know, I don’t like lying, I don’t like deceiving people, and it just hurt anytime I ran into a high school classmate who was nice. But, in 2015, I got back on Facebook because of the crushing isolation and I’m like “Well, might as well tell my story now.” But, that’s what Impostor Syndrome did and still does a bit to this day.

So, some of the damage to my health and psyche. I would avoid stuff about topics I love for a long time. Not only would I feel like a phony when it came to Japanese or other languages and traveling, but I would just avoid anything to do with Japan because I hadn’t gone. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for almost 22 years now. 22 years! But thanks to employment problems and everything else; because people were like they were because of my autism, I was like; I would just avoid stuff about Japan, which leads me to another thing. People who traveled, especially if they went to Japan; I would feel this terrible envy. And , to me, my take on envy is envy is supposed to push you to… Envy can push you to do better, and that’s what I tried to do while my sensory impairments were rampant, but as they got worse, and I couldn’t channel my envy into something productive. Well, my take is that if envy can’t be channeled properly, it becomes one of the most corrosive emotions that a human being can ever experience. I mean, we’re talking Alien creature blood corrosive. You know, from the movie Alien in 1979; that series of movies. That corrosive. And, I know it’s petty. It sounds petty talking about how I feel, but in an autistic person like me who’s obsessed with this stuff, it can be the worst thing ever. Envy can be a very corrosive emotion, not just for regular people, but especially for autistic people. And, I would feel so petty for being envious of people who traveled or went to Japan. You know, that’s just terrible.

But another consequence of the abuse was that it kept me from wanting to share my interests and ambitions with people, especially after I quit talking to these people [my abusers]. I didn’t want to open up to anybody because I was afraid that they were going to mentally and emotionally abuse me over my obsession with anime and manga. And, the envy, the anger, the post-traumatic stress, my heart would occasionally feel like a stone. That’s a terrible feeling to have; to have your heart feel like a stone after having your interests suppressed for so long. Because after I quit talking with these people, after I quit talking with my former abusers, I would feel angry, then I would feel depressed again, then I’d feel angry, my heart would feel like a stone. The envy, ooh. That is something that I would not wish on my worst enemy – something like that.

Let’s see. And feeling left behind is another psychological consequence of having my interests suppressed, besides the envy. You know, I feel years behind in watching anime and reading manga because I can’t afford it, because of certain things. It’s just terrible. I feel left behind and it makes me feel like a fraction of the person I should be. And then I get really emotionally numb sometimes. Sometimes, I can’t feel anything. And I have to be reminded constantly of my passion for anime and manga. And shout out to my friend Amanda for cheering me up like that recently. And, you know, this isolation and envy and all these other feelings make me feel hopeless sometimes. That I’ll never get to do what I’ve wanted to do in life. That I won’t have a job – a Japan-related dream job – or a job related with Japan at all and be able to use my French or my Spanish. You know, and things like that. And, you know, it’s just… that’s just the long and short of it; of the consequences of having my interests suppressed like that. Had my family known about my autism; had we known about my autism back then they would’ve taken measures to help; to prevent me from falling into depression or being abused. And you know, that’s one of the things not knowing about my autism while growing up. It really hurt. It hurt more than it helped not knowing about my autism. But I’m thankful to my parents. They did a really great job raising a person, as they put it in their own words “marches to the beat of his own drum” and not knowing about the ins and out of autism specifically, but they did a really great job and I’m always grateful to them and I’m grateful to my family, too.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. I’m surprised I didn’t melt down or anything while that was happening. I haven’t had a major meltdown since November of 2015, which is good, but I’ve had kind of mini-meltdowns, and as long as I don’t… as… I’ve gotta find a way to get back to where I’ve always wanted to be in not only… not only in… You know, I’ve gotta reach out somehow and be involved and be the person I’ve always wanted to be. And one way or another, I’m gonna find my way out of this.

So, that’s pretty much a wrap. [Notices TV has turned off] See. Well, my TV went off. How about that? [Laughs] Well, anyways, let’s see here:

You can find me on Twitter: @AdAstraAspie

Facebook: facebook.com/AdAstraAspie

WordPress: adastraaspie.wordpress.com

I’m also on Instagram, too. (adastraaspie)

So, anyways. This hasn’t turned out to be a short video, but I’m glad I got this off my chest. So, I will see you around. So, until next time, I’ll see y’all.

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2 thoughts on “Transcript for Off the Top of my Head 002 – Autism, Impostor Syndrome, and the Consequences of Suppressing Autistic Interests

  1. Ad Astra Aspie, your blog is currently included on our Actually Autistic Blogs List (anautismobserver.wordpress.com). Please click on the “How do you want your blog listed?” link at the top of that site to personalize your blog’s description.
    Thank you.
    Judy (An Autism Observer)

    Like

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