Studying on the Spectrum- Invisible Chronic Stress
A quick warning to you all, I refer to a lot of bad times in my life in this article so if you're triggered easily I wouldn't read it. As most of you may know I have been studying to earn a diploma in cinematographic makeup art. This is basically makeup for film and TV so I'll be learning how to do everything from glamorous red carpet looks to gross injuries of many kinds.
This is what I wanted. I wanted to learn as much as possible about something I find fascinating and I have learned a lot, from hygienic practices to knowing what questions to ask during a consultation. However, I would've learned a lot more if I had been given the help I needed. As a neurodiverse individual I have problems with understanding. Not only do I misunderstand by taking things literally but when words are used inefficiently (eg; using over complicated words unnecessarily or avoiding a simple way of explaining a simple concept). The information overloads my brain and I can no longer think, let alone translate the questions and tasks I'm given into actual English.
Also there are a bunch of other issues that I can't articulate well but for now we are just focusing on stuff I can communicate...
All neurodiverse people struggle with these kinds of things on a daily basis, especially during any kind of study or schooling.
So, I exchanged a bunch of stressful emails with the administration and my teachers and, after several phone calls crying to my mother, she called up the administration and told them that I'm on the spectrum and need a bit more help. And after a long conversation, where the administrative staff reassured my mother that they have worked with many people on the spectrum and they have staff on the spectrum, the plan was to have my teachers email me more specific instructions. And, yes, I got emails. But they were not specific at all. Instead I got some half arse effort at "better" communication and I noticed myself getting -arguably- irrationally angry.
Now, of course I was angry about this specific situation but when I was able to clearly identify my anger, I vividly visualized every time I was similarly let down, as if it was all part of the present situation. This brought me to one of the most traumatizing experiences I can still remember and one quote from my childhood ran through my mind after all the visualizations...
"There can't be anything wrong, she is still smiling."
This was said to my Mother after she had come to my Primary school because I would come home covered in injuries, crying about not feeling safe but not being able to communicate well enough to be able to tell my Mum why I didn't feel safe. My teachers and the principal of the school didn't lift a finger to even check if I was okay..
..Little did they know, I was being bullied so badly that it got very physically abusive. But because I have working face muscles apparently I was totally fine?...
This brings me to the psychology of a High Functioning individual. Most of you probably know about the differences that gender can make to the presentation of spectrum conditions; and if not, basically women on the spectrum are often overlooked when it comes to an ASD diagnosis because women are great at masking and can adapt to society pretty well (generally speaking). However, there are many High Functioning males too, that are also really good at adaption and all that (like come on, nothing on the spectrum has anything to do with your chromosomes or gender identity, stop associating stuff that has nothing to do with sex or gender, with sex and gender). Anyway, my point is, I am guessing the majority of you reading this, who are also high functioning or maybe not, I don't know your story (whether you have a spectrum condition or not) you have probably also been let down. Maybe it was a similar situation to either of mine or maybe it was completely different, it doesn't really matter. However, what does matter is the fact that people don't understand how invisible stress can be. Three people who attended my High School committed suicide when I was there and they smiled. They smiled a lot, actually.
A comedian's job is to smile and make people laugh and yet they are known to often have things like depression and anxiety and stuff like that. So, why don't people understand that things can be really hard even when you're smiling? It's a difficult question, you could answer in many ways: smiling is an expression of happiness, people usually want to be distracted from their chronic stress so they may have a really funny exterior, sometimes people haven't even identified that they are chronically stressed. All of these answers are good ones but they don't even matter. Why? Because people should be open minded enough to understand that everyone gets chronically stressed at some point in their lives. EVERYONE. I remember one time in High School, I was always late because I'd wake up to episodes of sleep paralysis and for three years I was getting in trouble, asking for help and not getting it. So in grade ten I'd cracked the shits this one day because not only did I wake up to another episode but I got in trouble for being late because my Mother had to drop me in town for some reason so I did whatever it was that I had to and then walked to school in the cold rain (female students had skirts and dresses not pants). I usually like rain but since I it was freezing I was very uncomfortable and then getting to school to be lectured just made me go, "Screw it!" And I began to scream in fury at my grade coordinator talking about how I wake up every morning seeing spiders, dead things and people and shadow demons in my room, crawling over my paralyzed body and then getting to school and getting shit for being five to ten minutes late. I said if they have a problem with me coming in a few minutes late I wont come in at all and they can send me my work because I would not deal with getting shit when I'm already going through.. Well.. Shit.. That was the first time I had ever exploded in rage at my teacher. Don't get me wrong I have gotten angry but not like this. I had it pent up for ages and ages and when my grade coordinator saw this he couldn't not listen because he was so shocked that I'd gotten that angry. And FINALLY someone got the message.
I still had to attend the school, sign in with a note and all that but I also had work sent to me and started doing math in the learning center, which was an area of the school where kids with learning difficulties and disabilities went to be taught by people who had been trained to teach and communicate to them in the way that they learned. Due to the bullying at my Primary school I was sent to counseling instead of math, as apposed to both; so, when I learned a few times tables I was so proud of myself.
However, I shouldn't have had to lose my shit and neither should anyone else. I mean, I felt better after I lost my shit but it could've turned out differently. I could've been put in detention for swearing so much but hey, I'm Australian, swearing is our second language. But still, I should've gotten help before that because one year of asking for help is to long, let alone three. What I encourage you to do if you ever go through the stresses of asking for help and not getting it is to not give up and express yourself. This is hard but don't focus on other people and what they think just blurt out whatever you can to get the point across that you need help. And if people aren't listening get so loud that they have to listen. A teacher's job is to teach and help their students develop as students and as people and if they're not doing their job by helping you learn they are not doing their job as a teacher. Also, get as many people to help you out as possible. My mother would call a lot and be called a lot and she and my sister often help me communicate; so, if you can do the same, do it; because your feelings, your stress and anger are valid. Whether they see it or not.
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