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Autism: Dream, 8.12.15

August 12, 2015

Setting: I’m in college (I think at Purdue, so I’m 29 while my fellow ‘first year’ students are largely 18 & 19. This actually isn’t my first year of college, but it is my first year as a biology major).

I’m in a (chemistry?) lab after hours with one other student, and the instructor, who is Dr. Janet Stemwedel (someone I follow on Twitter).

Both of us students failed the last lab report/exam, so we’re here doing a remedial session. Dr. Stemwedel is very patient and encouraging, and that makes me feel hopeful that I can, eventually, make sense of this bewildering process, and learn to understand it.

She’s talking to both of us, and the male student seems to be catching on quickly; they’re laughing and joking. Meanwhile, I’m still looking all around the lab, deciphering every last detail — and there are a lot! The lab sure looks different not bustling with noisy students!

I’m just starting to get my bearings, and feel like it might be safe to relax into the flow, when Dr. S goes up to the blackboard and erases some stuff. As she does, she says, “Well, you’ll have already copied these first 3 sketches of the first 3 steps in the lab, so I’ll leave you two to figure out what step 4 is. The rest of the lab will be easy! Once you’re done, turn in your papers — I’m sure you’re both going to pass this time!” She smiles, and walks out.

I… hadn’t even looked at the blackboard yet, so all I saw of “the first 3 sketches” was a confused impression of a beaker filled with liquid, as she erased it. I didn’t know what was included, and what wasn’t. Didn’t know the order. Didn’t know the structure. Nothing.

Now it’s gone. My brain, in slow motion, is rumbling into panic mode.

The other student is finished with step 4, and the other steps, and is getting ready to turn his paper in. Triumphantly. He leaves, while I’m still goggling, in shock.

At some point I notice that Spouse is in the room, in the back. He’s here to take me home.

I don’t know what to do.

If I turn something in, and it’s remotely correct, I’ll get the first good grade I’ve gotten all semester. But I legitimately didn’t see the stuff Dr. S wrote on the board for us to copy down. I have no idea how to proceed, but all the choices I can think of, right now, seem dire.

Only then do I notice that I’m exhausted, I’m shivering, I’m hungry. I can barely stay awake. I have zero Good Brain Energy; I’m ‘running on fumes’.

I turn to Spouse. He’s not paying attention, hasn’t noticed my distress.

I look around the lab. On an adjacent table, there’s a pile of papers. The top one seems to be show diagrams that could be the first 3 steps I need. But… if I copy them from this paper, 1. They might be something totally different, which means my lab will make no sense, 2. That’s ‘cheating’, isn’t it?

But I have to do something.

I’m bursting with things to say to Spouse, to justify how I’m in this pickle, yet again. “My Working Memory is extremely limited! The room was so distracting! I needed to take in, then understand, all the details before I could focus! MY AUTISM makes things harder for me!!!”

But Spouse isn’t my lab instructor; he can’t give me accommodations for this class, or this assignment. Spouse hates hearing this stuff — if I say it, he’ll likely walk out of the lab while I’m talking.

If I could bring the lab report home… I could eat, before starting on it. I could take a nap. I could take a break. Home is the place where things make sense.

What if I take the top paper home with me, and copy it down when I have Good Brain Energy again? When I bring it back tomorrow, I could explain why I didn’t turn it in the night before. I could swear I didn’t (look the answers up on the Internet and) cheat.

But wait: if I swear that I didn’t cheat, doesn’t that sound suspicious? Who mentions cheating if they’re not doing it? But I’m definitely not going to cheat — I just need to get Home so I can reboot my brain and start over. I just need a good break.

I just want something to be easy to figure out what to do!

{I wake up.}



I was going to check on Twitter what type of scientist Dr. Janet Stemwedel is; then I remembered that she’s an ethicist — perfect!

= = =

Eating breakfast while puzzling over what this dream could be about, I came up with a raft of possibilities:

The annual reunion of my family of origin (last week)


The AROHO Retreat (this week)


MK’s birthday party in 5th grade. Her mother let her invite the entire 5th grade class. After I’d heard about the party from 5 different people, but kept telling everyone there must’ve been some mistake because I hadn’t gotten an invitation, MK herself sat me down to explain. Yes, she’d invited everyone, girls and boys, but it was true that I, MF, was not invited. (No reason given.) I could see she enjoyed telling me that. Then she waxed rhapsodic about how great the party was going to be. I only stayed listening because 1. I didn’t believe it was really happening (“why can’t I wake up from this nightmare?”) and 2. Where could I go that the Social Event of the Year wasn’t going to be discussed? Basically, I’d be back to my usual routine at recess: kicking rocks in the parking lot, by myself. Yay.


My one (and only) year as a biology major at Purdue, 1995–96


Mr. Szorc, my HS physics teacher, who is probably the biggest reason I didn’t become a scientist


Mr. Geary, my middle school science teacher, who emotionally scarred me for life

= = =

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is having their annual meeting right now, and it’s in Baltimore. I follow a ton of scientists on Twitter, many of whom are attending it; some have been live-tweeting the sessions.

When I was an undergrad (after I’d moved to IUPUI and become a geography major), I was a member of ESA for a while.

I wanted so badly to ‘fit in’, but of course, I didn’t.

I was a member of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) for even more years. I wanted so badly to ‘fit in’ there, too, but of course I didn’t.

It’s always something. There’s always some reason why I’m an interloper that no one was looking forward to seeing.

Or maybe there was a mixup on someone’s part (like for that pesticide conference I was invited to attend in 2013), and to deal with their own feelings of frustration the person in charge will announce to everyone at the registration table that This Person Doesn’t Belong Here!! (Which actually happened.) Before grudgingly allowing that maybe, possibly, I could stay after all.

{Meltdown narrowly averted, only because I bolted for the bathroom to cry in private. Spent the whole conference afraid to talk to anyone in case they accused me of being a fraud.}


So there’s this person that I used to think was my friend who, after I wrote about feeling ‘left out’ when I wasn’t selected for AROHO this year, scolded me. Made me feel that, in her eyes at least, my feelings were disallowed, dumb, and an embarrassment.

Kind of like me, really.

= = =

I was trying to recall last week when was the last family reunion that I actually got invited to. Spouse and I attended the one in 2004, but I hadn’t been invited. I wanted to surprise everyone so we showed up at my parents’ house on the day (having driven in from Indianapolis) and … no one was there. A series of quick phone calls established it was being held 30 miles away at my aunt and uncle’s house. So we drove out to their house.

Sitting in the grass, well away from the party, but very near our car, was my cousin the rapist and his girlfriend.

It was SO HARD to get out of the car and walk past him, omg.

I had thought our appearance was going to be a cool surprise for other people; instead, I walked in, triggered and scared, and immediately had to put up with extroverts being grabby and touchy when my skin was crawling.

I didn’t have a good time.

In fact, shit like that is why I stopped going.

= = =

If my cousin the rapist hadn’t been at that reunion, I still wouldn’t have had a good time. No one in my family of origin actually likes me. (As far as I can tell.)

I guess I should just save my energies to attend social events where people do like me.

There aren’t any like that.

I know because I’ve looked … everywhere… for them.

= = =

To be continued…

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