Continued from Naturally AUTISTIC magazine – 2016 Spring Issue p. ?
Not him. I was always sent to the principal’s office. I was placed in in-school suspension, where I had a can of spray sprayed into my eyes and I had to go to the eye doctor and get drops put into my eyes (I had been wearing glasses since I was three). I was inappropriately touched in particular areas by the black boys and they got away with it. I was eventually placed in an alternative school where I was the only white female in an all-black male classroom. Here was another black male principal. This place was only about three miles (4.8 km) from home and would often walk off campus in hopes to be excluded. It never worked. At this time, I was seeing a white female social worker. In my 40s, I read my psych evaluation from that time. I could read between the lines and see that she seemed to gloat when I would accept responsibility for the bullying directed towards me. How could I change my race and gender because that would have probably been the only way to have gotten it to stop? Now I am 15 and my mom was told the best place for me was an adolescent psychiatric ward. During the intake exam, the male psychologist gave me a physical. He said that I should learn to examine a particular part of my anatomy which was well endowed for my age. I thought the disease he was teaching me to be aware of was an old person’s disease, not one for someone my age. He spent too long in that part of my anatomy and I felt like he was abusing the power of his position, but there was nothing I could do about and turned to face the wall while he did his evil deed. We would have to see him once a week and I would have a hard time looking him in the eye after what he had done to me. I had a male Jewish social worker while in there. I had to basically “take a number” to see him, meaning I had to tell staff that I needed to see him. He always made time for his other clients, but not me. That Christmas (1985), mom had to fight him to get me a chance to come home for the day. I got a SIX hour pass. I was very huggy in my younger days, but it stopped when I was in the facility. It was stated that I was allowed one hug per staff member per shift. It was stated so in my chart, which was held over my head. I was told to do things like put up with the bullying directed towards me while in the facility when I would rather escape it and go to my room. There was court dates every three months and I always got more time and was told I was a candidate to be sent to the state facility in another town. Finally, mom said she was ready to try me at home. I was supposed to get a discharge party. I didn’t and that angered my mom. Now, I went to a private school for people with learning disabilities. Mom and I both wished I could have attended here sooner because the difference was night and day. I was bullied, but not as bad. It was here I did well in history class. When the history teacher broke the class into teams for a quiz bowl-type of situation, whatever side got me was ensured of a win. I remember one year having chicken pox during final exams and mom got it where I could take them later. It was the history one I did the best on. So good that the teacher had to go back to the text book to look up the answer on one question. I was on the journalism staff and yearbook staff. The yearbook teacher got frustrated with me one year over the fact that every other picture of me in the book was of me. She was also the same teacher that decided to have a Christmas pageant. It was a musical of sorts since it had three songs in it, more or less. When it came down to choose who would play the lead, one of my male classmates said, “Andrea, you take the lead because you are the only one of us who can sing worth anything.” The teacher agreed and I was given the lead. I was also the one to beat when it came to costume days. I was beaten on Constitutional Day 1987, which was a day that we celebrate the document’s 200th anniversary. The only reason I was beaten was because the individual went and rented his. We didn’t have a prom and one of my classmates told me that if we did I couldn’t come stag. It was my prom. I would go stag if I wanted to. We were lucky to get class rings. In high school, I had two female friends that were interested in riding horses and I also took riding lessons. I graduated third in a class of six.
Now I Am In My 20s
I attended Central Piedmont Community College in my city. Here I would be taking pre-algebra over and over again. I was tested and learned that I will never ever pass seventh grade math, also known as (AKA) check book math. I was not driving when I was started college and relied on a fellow high school classmate to get me to school. One quarter, I had pre-algebra as the last class of the day. The teacher got frustrated as she ran over and I needed to get to my ride. I got up to leave to catch my ride and she said, “Even though you are learning disabled doesn’t give you a free pass out of here.” I caught my ride. I eventually learned to drive right before my mom caught her first bout of cancer. My car was a 1990 Ford Mustang. I also became interested in guys at this time, but my flirtation style was not the best and there was others egging me on. I would sit in the line of sight of these two long blonde-haired guys (one worked shipping and receiving and the other was a groundskeeper) in hopes they would come talk to me. Instead, they reported me to the dean of students and I dropped out. But before I had dropped out, I took some music classes and travel and tourism classes. I took singing lessons where mom and I learned once again about my perfect pitch as well as having about a seven octave range and I could belt. My voice teacher had recitals twice a year and she was also in a band that performed at weddings so she had sound equipment. One recital, she told me I would be using her mike and I would be the first one to perform on the night of the recital. The room she rented for the night had to be about 40 feet wide (12.2 m) or more and about that high and deep as well. The video recorder was set up in the back of the room. I preformed my two songs and then went to sit by my mom. She leaned over and told me that the mike was not on because the teacher was messing with buttons when I was through. When I got the video tape, it was evident that the only mike picking me up was the one on the video recorder. I took travel and tourism classes with the head of this department being anti-Disney parks and he told me so. By the time I had dropped out, he had changed his tune about Disney parks. That was one of my “little professor” areas. I had kept up with Disney parks since the age of six and still do to this day. I went to Carolina School of Broadcasting here in my city, where I was the only female in an all-male classroom. We had a final project and I tried my hand at comedy and failed, but one classmate decided to interview his other classmates. He asked one question in particular, “Who do you admire the most in our class?” I don’t remember what I replied to this question, but each one of them replied: Me. I had to leave the room when this was played because I was so overcome with emotion. Don’t worry, they were happy tears. I also remember we had to write an advertisement for a business. I wrote one for a place that did NOT exist except in my imagination. I blew the minds of staff who were all people who had or were currently working in the broadcasting industry over it. They asked me if the place was real and I said that it wasn’t. They replied that I could sell air conditioners to Eskimos in Alaska; I was that good. It was this period I would try Vocational Rehabilitation and since this did some major damage to my psyche it will get its’ own section in my life narrative.
Vocational Rehabilitation And My Only Paying Job
Vocational Rehabilitation (Voc Rehab) is run by the state Department of Education. The individuals who work here are usually NOT disabled and come across glad they are NOT working for the Department of Motor Vehicles. In the disabled community we have the saying, “Nothing about us without us” and Voc Rehab fails this. The first case manager I had here asked me if I played. I sat there thinking, “What does play have to do with work? You play on your dime, not the company dime. The two are incompatible in my eyes.” I told her no, I don’t; she replied that she did. I had two more psychological exams, one of which really painted me as a monster. I was still having psychotherapy, AKA talk therapy. I quit one social worker who was a Jewish woman because she was asking me to do things I didn’t think were age appropriate. I quit that original case manager and got another one. My case was outsourced to a job coaching agency that was eventually found to be embezzling money. They got me a job at a non-profit that got respite (basically babysitting) and life skill coaches for families that had an individual who was intellectually/developmental/mentally challenged in some manner. My first boss here had a degree in Special Education. She was a dream to work with. I eventually went from working 20 hours a week to 40 hours. But midway through the one year I worked there, the company split in two with one part serving the city I lived in and the other part to serve the region around the county I lived in. I was NOT allowed to choose what boss I would go with because if I did I would probably still be employed to this day or so, my mom and I think. I was also on THREE medications to hold down this job: Prozac, Ritalin, and BuSpar. I wasn’t able to have a good working rapport with job coaches because I was so high functioning. I was treated as an afterthought. Someone to attend to once all the other more oppressive cases were taken care of first. I had two volunteer jobs during this time: One they got me and another I got myself. The one they got me before the paying job was at the Red Cross, where I would take down names and addresses for their department that offered rides to people to reach their doctor appointments. If they had gotten me a computer to input the information in, I would still have that job. But no, I had to write it down and my handwriting is abysmal, to say the least. I am scared to fill out forms. The other volunteer job was at a bird of prey center. When I was fired from the paying job, I still had the bird of prey center job. (I quit this volunteer job before my father got ill with heart valve/pacemaker and prostate cancer.) The job coaching center was not well staffed. They expected me to find the jobs to replace the one I lost. How I got that paying one, my mom and I figured out, was because one of the job coaches was working for the place so they had an inside angle, so to speak. They always seemed to drop the ball. With the volunteer job (bird of prey center), I would sign up a month in advance for exhibits and this particular occasion I had signed up to do the local spring show at an exhibition hall in my city. The day of the show came and they called me asking me to come fill out some papers. I was just in there a couple days before filling out papers. I told them I had plans for the day and I was going to keep them. I called my case manager and complained and got a harsh phone call from the head of the job coach agency over complaining. About the day I was fired from the paying job. It was a Friday in March of 2000. My boss came in and told me to clean out my desk; I was fired. He, along with the human resource person, watch me clean it out like a common criminal. The CEO (Chief Executive Officer) said my check would be cut and handed to me. When I arrived home that day, which was before lunch, my mom was surprised. She asked why I was home at this hour and I told her I was fired. She told me to call my case manager. I did and the one person that should have seen this coming didn’t and they were shocked. A job coach’s job is to act as an intermediary between me and the employer and tell me what I am doing right and wrong at the job site. This is what happened when that rapport was not there. I remember one day at the job coach’s office I had made an appointment and it was an hour after the made time that anyone acknowledged me being there. Mom and I spoke with the case manager and it was then my case was closed because I violated my IEP (Individualized Education Program) since I quit seeing my social worker. She told me to file for disability stipends from the government and to use the special transportation service. Apparently the case manager forgot that I drove myself to work except for when there was snow on the ground. Mom put her foot down to the special transportation service. What about my unwritten contract for professional service? Huh? It would be ten years before I would work up the courage to try them one last time. The third time is the charm, but it wasn’t. It was this time I wanted to go to Connecticut School of Broadcasting. This case manager wanted me to embrace my inner geek. I sat there thinking I didn’t want to do that and lady wasn’t there things about you, you didn’t want to embrace why I was any different. She had me attend a support group for people with autism and their friends and family. I went to it and I was not enthralled at all. I thought this is what I am supposed to be like. She got me a volunteer job at a radio station that is the local affiliate for the Rush Limbaugh Show. Fans of this radio talk show wear patriotic things, not unlike I do. The case manager wanted me to tone down my patriotism and quit wearing make-up. The make-up part was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my mom’s eyes. It was a good thing this fell through because the shooter of the two journalists in Virginia had applied for a job at that same station. I guess God was looking out for me. I learned at a disability rights convention in my state capital that that Voc Rehab was to pay for a fair portion of tuition to the school because that school was accommodating to me. The Voc Rehab case manager wanted me back at the community college, which was not. I also asked her where I could meet men and her reply was, “Don’t think that way.” It was said right in front of my mother, too.
Other Psychotherapy Events
I went through 25 years of psychotherapy. You heard about the early ones; here are some that happened in my 30s right before I said enough was enough. I had one psychiatrist or psychologist, I can’t keep separate which one gives medications and which one doesn’t and this was a med one, I told her what my American dream is: To have a man, a job, a child, and pets (a cat and a horse). She told me to give up on it and my mom agreed with her. It took a week for me to find the courage to tell my mom how much agreeing with the doctor hurt me. Then there was the one that told me point blank that I was incapable of love. This made me feel like the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast,” my favorite Disney movie. It made me thinking of the scene where the Beast is placing the bell jar back over the enchanted rose and mumbling under his breath, “No one can ever love a beast?”
Riding plays a part of my life now. As you remember, my first taste for it was in high school, but I wasn’t interested in competing until my 30s. I compete in a sport called dressage, which has a rich history all of its own. It is called dancing with horses. I tried a therapy barn and they had to have me quit when I started to get overweight. Most therapy barns have either age or weight requirements or both. From there, I went to another therapy barn that was run out of the city-owned equestrian center. It was from there I found the doors to competition. I found a horse to lease that I eventually I would compete against non-disabled people and do well. This horse was in my dad’s name, so I could keep my disability stipend. I was thrown from this horse and broke my arm. I was good about wearing a helmet. When that happened I kept my wits about me while my parents and the person I was leasing the horse from were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I was like calm and collected. I was like, “Who has a phone? Dial 911” and I gave the information needed. In my riding, I learned I had perfect seat which is needed. I learned to ride independently at the second therapy barn. I can compete in two worlds: Special Olympics and against the non-disabled. I have contacted the governing bodies of my sport asking if there is any rules against me competing in their sponsored/sanctioned events. They asked if I needed special equipment to stay in the saddle, like Velcro on my riding pants. I replied telling them I just needed my glasses. They replied and said they had no rules against me. If I needed the special pants, I would have been in para dressage. I always bring home ribbons when I compete. I want to be the first autistic person to have competed in both the Special Olympics and Olympic Games, but for now I can’t get to the state games because the barn I ride at doesn’t have the necessary trainer for me to go to the games and there is no trailer to carry the horse—who is part draft horse (Percheron)—I ride to the state games. Equestrian games are only at the state and global level, not nationally. I love my riding and am known for my couture when it comes to riding. I can’t drive home from riding because I fell asleep at the wheel at a stop light about a mile (1.6 km) from my house. My parents have to take me now. Why, you ask? When I ride, I pour my heart and soul into it, concentrate very hard, and it wears me out.
Mitigating Health Issues
As well known about our kind, we are prone to have health issues. I am no exception. I have had vision problems since childhood and wear glasses for them since the age of three. I wear no line bifocals since the age of 30, because I was too vain for the lined ones. I have a lazy eye, too. My flat feet blister easily and because of them I have to wear shoes that lash on my foot somehow, because the fore part of the foot is wide and the heel area is almost non-existent. I have mitral valve prolapse (an improper closure of the valve between the heart’s upper and lower left chambers) and it flares up when I am stressed. I learned at about age 30 I have hypothyroidism, but it wouldn’t be until I am almost 45 that I learned I was born with a small thyroid that could be the cause of my autism (http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/stories-of-others/andreas-story/). I also learned I have hemochromatosis due to my Celtic heritage on both sides. Both of my parents were carriers of it. I have lymphedema in my left leg because of what I chose for my stimming activity: Not leaving sores alone. My somewhat picky eating habit—I won’t eat most fruits and vegetables—means I have weight issues, and I have degenerate disc disease as a result. I have sleep apnea, for which I use a retainer type device, and adrenal insufficiency. I take medications for my thyroid and adrenals, and vitamins for hair loss and anxiety/metabolism issues.
Thoughts About The Future And Today
Now I am a 45-year-old woman who wonders if all she has to look forward to is burying her parents. There are days I wished they would hurry up and die so I could die. My autism feels like an albatross around my neck getting heavier with each passing second. I am coming to terms that my life will never be beautiful like my cousin, who is normal. I know there is no such thing as normal and it is a label, but I see labels as a necessary evil. They help to define us so we can get the optimal care that we need to have as beautiful a life that society will allow us to have. I am thankful that my uncle on my mom’s side let me live in a small house on his property instead of having to go to a facility. He passed away in October of 2015. When it becomes mom and me, mom will have to go to a nursing home because I do NOT think we could live together without butting heads together frequently. I feel obligated to bury them since I am an only child. I live on about 8,000 United States Dollars (USD) a year and 3,000 of that I have to turn over to my parents. So I really don’t have money for activities. I frequent a couple of game sites, but that is it. I have also tried dating sites; no luck there. I live in a country that I feel treats me like a third-class citizen. I taught my cousin this definition on wealth. I saw her as wealthy because she has a husband, a job (cafeteria worker at the local high school in her small town), a daughter, and pets. She is surrounded by love and acceptance. I still remember the one New Year’s Day she asked me to make a resolution to be happy because she has never ever seen happy. I told her I couldn’t do it and be true to myself. She holds out that I will be wealthy like her, but I need to tell her that thanks to feminism and society’s prevailing attitudes towards people like me that I never will. I sit here in tears knowing it is the truth and that it will break her heart, but I know she will keep holding out hope. God, please help her see that which I do. Yes, I am a Christian and believe that when I go to Heaven then I will be happy beyond measure there. Here, I feel like I am in prison being punished for being not normal. To me, dreams are the realm of the normal folk, not people like me. I am a metal head, meaning I love metal music and there is a song by Metallica that I have a hard time listening to and that is “Unforgiven.” There is a two lyrics in there that hit home for me, “Never free, never me” and “Never shine doing what was shown.” I guess I will be free when free of this body. Also, lyrics from “What Is Eternal” from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Beethoven’s Last Night” is appropriate as well: “Could it be my life’s worth ended there with my birth” and “While judged on a scale that’s been heavily weighted.” All I want is a place in the sun no matter how fleeting here.
What I would love to aspire to do if there were NO barriers, not even financial ones:
- I would love to own my own home that has two master bedrooms in it that is located in a neighborhood full of people who love horses. Yes, there is a neighborhood located like that in the Charlotte area. (http://www.classicahomes.com/communities/ChevalMeadows/) It has its own equestrian center located on the grounds (http://www.jolicheval.com/). Why two master bedrooms you ask? One would be mine and the other my man’s and that would solve the problem of the hogged covers, the hogged bathroom countertop, and the toilet seat issue would be solved. They have a floor plan that has this and two laundry areas as well. The house would be solar powered, have fire sprinklers, security system, panic room, tank less water heater, and two staircases to the upstairs area (one featuring a slide), electric fireplaces, and each room with an air conditioner unit you set to the temperature you desire.
- I would love to own a Friesian horse that I would name Mustaine after Dave Mustaine of Megadeth fame. That would be his barn name. His show name would be The World Needs A Hero, which is the title track of the Megadeth album of the same name. I would use him (he would have to be “fixed,” unfortunately) to compete in two worlds. I can and have competed against intellectually challenged and “normal” in my sport of dressage and have done EXTREMELY well. Why a Friesian? They are extremely showy and love being the center of attention. They are a light draft breed that can carry me easily and can excel at my beloved sport.
- To meet Michael Poulin, who was on the USA Olympic Equestrian team that went to Barcelona, Spain in 1992. I would love to have him be made a Special Olympics Ambassador for Equestrianism. I would also love to train some under him.
- To train to tour with my favorite rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO). I want to train in voice under Jeff Scott Soto, Russell Allen, Zak Stevens, Rob Evan, and Jon Oliva. In dance (ballet, Irish Step, and Cossack) under Misty Copeland and Michael Flatley, to name a few. In violin under Mark Wood and Roddy Chong. If you are a fan of TSO and of Savatage, which is the precursor of TSO, you will know that some of my trainers have ties to the band. They are either current or former members who toured with the band.
- To have a custom-made violin from Mark Wood Violin (http://www.woodviolins.com/concertseries/). It would have a special paint job to match my favorite fabric. It would be named Stradivarius Americanus and billed as the violin Stradivarius would make if he was alive today.
- To audition after each training session with Paul O’Neill and Al Pitrelli. Paul O’Neill is the one who brought about TSO. He and Al are the creative geniuses, along with Jon Olivia, behind TSO.
- To have some custom made clothing out of my favorite fabric, which is no longer made. I have found a company in California that can recreate it. I have two companies that can make the items I want: Denver Bespoke, who I found on Etsy; and Top Hat Imagewear, which makes the jackets TSO wears on tour.
- To have the car of my dreams which is a red Jeep Patriot (red represents the blood of patriots: past, present, and future) that has the satellite radio and GPS turned on. A Jeep Brute, which is where they take a Jeep Wrangler and make a truck out of it for the horse trailer I would need for Mustaine. I don’t want to be lost in the sea of Chevy, Ford, Dodge and Toyota trucks you find at horse shows. You see, my motto is “Why blend in when you are born to stand out.”
- I know Mr. O’Neill’s dream is to perform on Broadway. I would love to help him achieve this dream by using my life story as the basis for a Broadway show. He did a CD called “Beethoven’s Last Night.” My story would be like a part two to that called “Beethoven’s Belle.” Beethoven had a hard time embracing his deafness. I have a hard time embracing my autism.
- To start a franchise company called Asperger’s Associates Inc. and work with Rising Tide Car Wash (http://risingtidecarwash.com/) and Puzzles Bakery & Café (http://www.puzzlesbakerycafe.com/) to offer franchises to large cities offering employment to those on the spectrum. I know this is somewhat of a sheltered employment situation, but from what I have learned from talking to some at Rising Tide and learning about them, autistic individuals are treated with loads of dignity and respect that the sheltered situation wouldn’t really do. I have learned that places like Goodwill Industries will pay the disabled pennies on the dollar and it is legal and has been since about 1938, give or take.
- To find a long haired man. Why a long hair? For one thing, I came of age during the age of hair bands, and the other is the patience it took for them to grow it is the same they would use to get to know me as a person. You see, I know what it is like to have others force society standards on them and I would not do that on another unless it falls in a grey area. I am a black and white person here.