Relating to Fictional Characters – Part One: Lisa Simpson 

  
I’ve spent much of my life with my nose buried in a book or watching episodes of The Simpsons over and  over again. I love the escape and familiarity that comes with these hobbies, and it’s also really enjoyable to relate to specific fictional characters. 

Lisa Simpson is by far the character I relate to the most. We’re both vegetarians, activists, socially awkward, writers, voracious readers, saxophone players, disbelievers in things such as angels, naturally skeptical, factually driven and compelled to do what we believe is right, even if it comes at a great personal cost. We also both have a Mensa level IQ and a love for animals. 

Some people debate the possibility that Lisa Simpson could be on the Spectrum, but it seems very clear from everything I’ve read and personally experienced about female autism that she has a long list of Aspie traits. Many of them are in the list above of the things I can relate to about her character. 

Lisa often says the wrong thing socially because it’s factual, not emotion based. She does have struggles with her emotions and depression, though, which is something that hinders many individuals with autism, including me. Her strong sense of right and wrong and her black and white, all or nothing thinking are also common for female Aspies. Not to mention her inability to understand the social motives of others, combined with her apparent inability to make and keep friends. 

Some people may point out Lisa’s apparent lack of meltdowns as a sign that she’s not autistic, but the show has actually shown her break down many, many times. Additionally, she goes to her room frequently to have some alone time, and she has an obsession with horses (one of her primary special interests) that has lasted since the very first episode. 

Like many fictional characters, Lisa Simpson may never be officially classified as on the Spectrum. It’s worth noting that Fox has a history of not wanting TV shows to give characters that label (such as Bones), but this doesn’t mean that at least some autistic traits aren’t being explored anyway by the creative team behind several different shows. 

Ultimately, it matters less what her official title is and more that women like me have someone on TV who we can relate to. If Lisa Simpson was an adult and a lesbian, we’d practically be the same person. In my mind, that makes it seem like a virtual certainty that Lisa is a fellow Aspie. 

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The Soothing Nature of Positive Repetition 

  
Repetition is a funny thing. When I worked for Corporate America, certain forms of repetition made my stomach tense up and left me wanting to climb out of my own skin. The right type of repetition, however, can be very soothing for Aspies. 

For example, watching The Simpsons always has a calming effect on me. If I watch a couple of episodes in a row, my mind actually feels clearer, and I even have improved emotional stability for a while. 

This is one of the best types of positive repetition in my life. I’ve seen the majority of the episodes before season 15 at least 50 times each, and I still love the new seasons too. Knowing almost every line and being able to say them along with the characters is comforting and soothing in a way that may not make much sense to a neurotypical, but it’s seriously one of the best things ever. 

Aspies who have something (or multiple things) that calm them definitely shouldn’t attempt not to experience it (or them) frequently. It’s harmful and unnecessary. Instead, a favorite, soothing show, book, album, etc. should be worked into that person’s sensory diet. 

Our sensory processing can be complicated enough without robbing ourselves of something familiar and comfortable. Asking for things like this that we need from others can feel scary or even alien at first, but learning to speak up and address our needs is a great way to make life a little friendlier.

Rewriting Negative Thought Patterns 

  
I have been in and out of therapy since my teens, but only a couple of therapists were really able to help me. Both of them focused on psychotherapy/CBT techniques, so this is what I was looking for in a new counselor after discovering my Asperger’s. 

For me, traditional, in-person therapy is not very helpful. It takes me way too long to open up, and I never truly feel comfortable. Therefore, off and on throughout the past several years, I’ve turned to online therapy.

I found one counselor who was extremely helpful and began the difficult work of helping me break through my negative thought patterns and rewrite them into something positive. Unfortunately, she ended up needing to take a medical retirement due to Lyme disease. I haven’t found anyone else as competent in the years since. 

After discovering that I’m an Aspie, I tried to find someone who specializes in CBT and has at least some experience with Asperger’s. I kept getting shut out over and over again. I finally found one person, but her rates were so astronomically high that I didn’t pursue it any further. 

Then I had a stroke of luck combined with a meaningful coincidence. While researching an article for one of my clients (I’m a content writer), I stumbled across another online therapy site. None of the counselors there had the skills I was looking for, but the site did offer its own app that helps coach people through their negative thought patterns. 

I’ve been using the iCouch CBT app for about a week, and it’s already made a big difference in my life. Now, instead of stewing in negativity and constant catastrophizing, I’m able to gain some much-needed insight on my own. 

Writing about the issue at hand and allowing myself to let all of my negative thoughts/feelings out is beneficial in the same way as journaling, but then the app prompts me to look at things from an alternate, more positive and reality based point of view. 

After doing this exercise a few times, I’ve developed more resiliency when dealing with situations that usually trip me up. I’m sure my track record won’t stay perfect, but being completely honest with my thoughts and helping myself find a better way to look at things has been way more helpful for me than talking to most of the therapists I’ve encountered. 

This app does cost money ($2.99), and A pointed out to me later that there are some similar apps that are free. So if you’re interested in trying a self CBT app, you might want to look into all of your options before committing to anything. I’m okay with having spent $2.99, though, because it’s way better than the cost of even one therapy session. 

This may not work for everyone and definitely shouldn’t be a therapy replacement for people who are currently suffering from serious depression, but it is an option for people like myself who need help with negative thought patterns and haven’t been able to find the right fit with a counselor. 

Photo by pleasingfalsetto

Systemizing and Cataloging Interests 

  
As a child, I loved the tactile sensation of flipping through the library’s card catalog. The modern way appeals to me too because it’s so much quicker and more in-depth, but I do miss the appeal of such a well-built, physical system for cataloging information. 

Over the years, I’ve kept countless lists about my most ardent interests. I used to have a meticulous system for cataloging my comic books and baseball cards. Later on, I started a journal that was dedicated to keeping a list of every new book, movie, album and experience that I had. 

More recently, I’ve become obsessed with Goodreads and Letterboxd. These apps and websites are perfect for organizing a catalog of two of my top interests: books and movies. I can now easily store my want to read or watch lists, and I can keep a list of every movie and book I complete, along with my rating and review of each title. 

This type of systemizing really appeals to me, and I often spend more time organizing my lists than I do actually reading or watching movies. I also feel compelled to update my book progress regularly, and I want each movie I watch to be assigned to the exact day that I saw it. 

Some might see all of this as an irritant or even a waste of time, but for me, there’s beauty and order in the cataloging. I know this is a common Aspie trait, and it’s one that enables me to feel more relaxed and in control of my daily recreation. 

As an added bonus, it’s always nice to be able to refer to my notes about what I’ve read or watched so that I can remember things more accurately. I have a tendency not to remember much about things of this nature after a few months, aside from my general impressions about whether or not I enjoyed it. It’s also interesting to read or watch something at a different time in my life to see if my feelings about it decline, stay the same or improve as a result of my current frame of mind and overall circumstances. 

Feeling Like a Loser Because of a Meltdown

lisa loser

I understand that meltdowns are part of being autistic, but this knowledge doesn’t make me feel like any less of a loser for having them. This feeling becomes exacerbated when a meltdown comes at an extremely inopportune time such as what happened today. A and I drove four hours to meet up with her mother, so naturally, I had a meltdown when it was time to go to dinner and ended up staying behind at the hotel.

The entire situation is complicated by the fact that her mother has been less than supportive of our relationship and always looks at me as if I’m some type of disgusting bug. They had a big falling out last year and didn’t talk for a few months. Now they’re working on repairing their relationship, and meeting up today and tomorrow is a piece of that.

The trip was chaotic for me, and then things got worse when we reached the hotel. They gave us a key that didn’t work. We went back to the front desk, and they reset the key. This should have been all good, but it turns out they had given us a key to an occupied room. So we went back to the front desk for the third time before things were straightened out.

After finally getting into our room, we discovered the TV wasn’t working. This wouldn’t normally matter, but The Walking Dead season finale is on tonight, and watching it is very high on my list of priorities. The TV did get fixed, but the combination of everything that happened, along with my nervousness about seeing her mother and the fact that she arrived more than an hour later than originally planned put me into meltdown city.

As soon as I felt the irrefutable signs of a meltdown coming on I began to panic because there was no time for it. A was very sweet and caring, and she told me to stay in the room, order some food and she’d go to dinner without me. I know she meant it and was trying to do what was best for me, but it made me feel like such a loser.

I HATE feeling socially handicapped in this way. This has been an issue for me my entire life, and I’ve only recently learned why I have this type of reaction. I keep telling myself that this is part of how my brain is wired and that I need to be kind to myself in these situations. That’s all well and good, but it’s really difficult to unravel a lifetime of social conditioning and feel okay with allowing myself to have meltdowns sometimes.

I feel like I made life overly complicated for A today because I couldn’t deal with things as a neurotypical person would. I know I put unnecessary stress on A, and that makes me feel so sad and small. In my good moments, I wouldn’t want to lose all of my positive Aspie traits in order to be “normal.” But in moments like this, I wish more than anything that I could stop having this type of issue. I feel like a burden on A and a loser for not being able to hold off the meltdowns and deal with life in a more typical way.

Emma Dalmayne has written one of the most accurate descriptions of a meltdown that I’ve encountered to date:

When you have a meltdown, it’s as if the world is ending. Everything is too much and you feel like an overwhelming darkness has engulfed your very being. Irrepressible anger that may seem completely irrational to an outsider can be inwardly devastating us internally…

…it can take me missing throwing something into the bin or my PIN failing to go into my online banking properly and I will puddle, literally explode/implode and sob like my heart will break. It will be because of a build-up of things, and frustration will be the reason.

There’s also the depressive meltdown, the one that makes you feel like you’re nothing, worthless, and like the world would be a better place without you.

There’s no rationalizing with someone in either of these meltdowns. If you tell us it’s OK, it’s not. You are trivializing our distress and it will make us worse. “Stop” or “Get a grip” are also triggers, because we would if we could; no one wants to feel this way.

This is 100 percent accurate, and I’ve had both of these meltdown types countless times. The frustration/anger ones are very self-damaging, but the depressive meltdowns are the worst. Today’s meltdown fits into the second category, and it left me wanting nothing more than to hide in a small corner or to somehow escape my body.

Apologizing for Apologizing 

  
I have spent my entire life apologizing for one thing or another. Most of this is because my emotional reactions to situations always seemed abnormal, which made me instantly feel sad and remorseful, even when I hadn’t done anything wrong. 

Lately, I can’t stop apologizing for apologizing. A tells me all the time that I don’t need to say I’m sorry for the things I say or do that aren’t bad/wrong/hurtful. My reaction? “I’m sorry.” 

I’ve recently realized that I’ve been apologizing my whole life for my Aspie traits. Having a meltdown isn’t my fault, nor is the way that I process things. And yet I can’t stop apologizing, which is then followed by another apology. 

When something happens that brings out one of my less desirable Aspie traits such as being unable to turn off the negative soundtrack in my head, I feel like I’m insignificant. My cheeks get hot, and my stomach gets tight. I instantly feel sad and have the urge to cry. All I want in those moments is for it all to be taken away and to stop being so different from others. So I apologize for myself and my behavior, and this makes me feel even worse. 

I know that I need to be more accepting and compassionate to myself, but that’s not easy after 38 years of being trained to hide or apologize for things such as my social awkwardness and heightened emotions. Even worse is the fact that now I’m so hyper aware of my Aspie traits that I feel even more compelled to apologize. 

I realize that I’m actually apologizing for the way my brain is wired, and that makes no sense at all. It’s like apologizing for having green eyes and brunette hair. 

I really need to learn how to let myself be a person with Asperger’s during the good and bad times without constantly apologizing for everything that comes along with it. After 38 years and a lot of self-work, I’m still reacting to some things the same way, so that’s clearly part of my Aspie nature. Now if only I could stop fighting it and be more understanding of my own natural quirks… 

Pushy Salespeople and Bright Lights 

  
I’ve been in sales before, so I understand that making a sale equals paying the bills. However, most likely due to my Aspie nature, I was never a pushy salesperson, nor did I act smug toward others. And you know what? That allowed me to be successful. 

Although I’m much better off in my current field as a content writer, I am able to relate with most people in a one-on-one setting. Being laid back and kind led to a lot of sales, so I can’t figure out why so many people think they should be aggressive instead.

The other day, A and I went into a T-Mobile store so that she could order a new phone. The bright pink florescent lights were atrocious, as was the music, and my head started spinning from sensory overload immediately. 

Next came the smug salesperson who wanted to talk me into switching my phone plan. I made it clear I wasn’t interested, but he persisted. The look on his face, combined with his tone, caused me to instantly shut down. 

Instead of suffering by pretending to be interested in what he had to say, I told him, “I’m not going to have this conversation with you.” It might have been a bit rude according to typical social rules, but it allowed me to make the space that I needed for myself. 

It astounds me that stores continue to push bright lights and tacky sales pitches at consumers. Is this really the best way to sell a product? Even A was feeling overwhelmed by the store, so what is a neurodiverse person supposed to do? 

I ended up walking out of the store and waiting for A to finish. Here’s a tip to any neurotypical sales people who might be reading this: if someone tells you they’re not interested and they love their current service/product, don’t push the issue by continuing to talk about it. That’s not going to get you a sale, and it’s going to make neurodiverse people like me feel way more uncomfortable than necessary. 

It’s experiences such as this one that make me want to buy everything online. No pushy salespeople and no bright lights equals happiness.