Outposts In Our Heads


“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” – Sally Kempton

I’m looking at a webpage with links to reports about human rights abuses in psychiatry. I could read these reports, but they’d just make me angry. Not the kind of productive anger that makes it easier to write stuff and change things, but the kind of futile undirected rage that would tear me up inside, make me kick doors and yell at my friends. I already know about these things, and don’t need to be reminded, but what we’re reminded of in the first place is selective. There are tremendous human rights abuses going on in certain institutions, yes, and they need to be fixed as soon as possible. But the nature of these reports worries me. They make it look like if you just cleaned up the walls, gave the inmates food and medical care, and stopped beating people, that these places would be acceptable. While these are basic human needs, meeting these needs does not mean freedom. It doesn’t even mean freedom from abuse.

Institution survivors are all too willing, sometimes, to share what seem like the worst of our horror stories. I don’t know about everyone else, but I do it because those abuses are the most tangible. It is easier to write about the mark of drugs and electroshock on the brain or restraints and beatings on the rest of the body than it is to write about the mark of the institutional environment and psychotherapeutic control on the mind. The former are solid and quantifiable; the latter are elusive, insubstantial, and sometimes more terrifying and longer-lasting.

I have a recurring nightmare. I am in a beautiful building with a hushed, playful atmosphere. I have been there as long as I can remember. Everything I could possibly need is there. There are no locks on the doors. People follow me everywhere, but just out of sight, to give me the illusion of freedom. They want only the best for me. I can go outside and play in the woods, and I climb trees. And they treat me like a child. Everything is controlled perfectly. Nothing seems to be wrong, but nothing seems to be really right, either. Everyone is very sweet and very kind and very nice and very forgiving, but there is no freedom. Anywhere. This makes the apparent happiness of the place empty, shallow, and false. That, to me, is the essence of the intangible horrors I fear. Only when I wake up from this nightmare do I realize it’s a nightmare, and that in turn makes it all the more frightening.

I was forcefully reminded of the less tangible aspects of institutionalization last week. During a period of flashbacks, the wrong person heard I was having trouble. I spent the night and part of the next day in a psych ward before I could, along with my support staff, convince them that I was better off out here. If I weren’t in the developmental services system, I might have stayed there, but psych wards don’t like dealing with people with developmental disabilities. All the real but unquantifiable horrors came rushing back at me even during that short stay, and they need to be documented just as surely as the tangible ones do.

I wish I could be the one to document them extensively. I’ve tried, but whenever I do, the words slip away from my mind and I’m filled with an uneasy dread and the smell of that place. I’ll try as much as I can — both things from that place, and elsewhere — in list form:

  • Control.
  • Infantilization.
  • Constant monitoring.
  • Fear of staff because of what they could do, and inmates because of the staff.
  • Smells.
  • Screams.
  • Begging for basic items, and for “privileges” that those outside see as rights.
  • Looking forward to tiny things to relieve monotony that’s impossible to relieve.
  • Everything you do, say, and think being put in psychiatric terms (“No, no, no, I’m not anxious for my meds, I just know that being late on that one gives me migraines, and I don’t know anyone in the world who likes migraines.”)
  • Separation from everything and everyone familiar.
  • Not being allowed my own staff, advocate and cognitive interpreter (whom I have a right to under the Americans with Disabilities Act as surely as a sign language interpreter), watching her have to fight to get in outside of visiting hours.
  • Having people control when, where, whether, and how I can speak to familiar people and advocates.
  • Discouragement of bonding among inmates or between inmates and staff.
  • Catch-22 on displays of emotion — every emotional display has a corresponding psychiatric label, but a lack of emotional display is considered a sign of depression.
  • Being told what you’re “really” thinking and feeling, as opposed to what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Having your motivations constantly questioned and scrutinized.
  • Backwards language: ‘Getting with the program’ is a ‘good step toward independence’, but making your own decisions is ‘non-compliant’, ‘manipulative’, or ‘attention-seeking’.
  • In this case, some of staff’s inability to grasp that I was genuinely abused in previous settings and I didn’t just think I was (I told the near-death horror stories when asked; I knew they wouldn’t understand the subtleties), and that it was mainly staff, not inmates, who perpetrated it.
  • Assumptions on the part of staff that if abuse was perpetuated against me in the psych system, then it was my fault, and asking questions about what I had done to cause it.
  • Condescending chatter from staff who think they’re being nice but who’ll become suddenly grouchy if you show any sign of not liking it.
  • Trying hard never to be noticed, ever.
  • Knowledge that whether I stay or go free is contingent upon other people’s desires and other arbitrary factors, and that false reports can easily be written and justified.
  • Knowledge that my housekeys and wallet are in a locker in the nurse’s station.
  • Fear of thinking one’s own thoughts or feeling one’s own feelings, and constant questioning of whether they’re real or delusional.
  • Fear of speaking out, feeling — and sometimes being scolded — like an ungrateful child if you do.
  • Being patronizingly told of the seriousness of your actions or thoughts, as if you’re unaware of this fact.
  • Knowledge — from previous experience — that if I stay too long, I will have to either kill all desire for freedom; or go berserk, violent, and self-destructive and risk dying or being kept even longer.
  • Knowledge that most of the world still condones this, either overtly by calling it ‘treatment’ and ‘necessary’, or by never having to think about it.
  • Control.
  • Control.
  • Control.

The defining element here is control. If you strip away the abuse and neglect that is considered more obvious, there are other aspects of institutions that can be much more insidious. The idea of staff control over so many aspects of inmates’ lives — no matter how benevolently constructed — leads to a situation in which the inmates will feel controlled. And rightly so. The problem is that in many of these environments, the control is so covert, ever-shifting, and confusing, that the inmate may doubt that there is control going on at all. If you are beaten, you know you are being beaten. Mental and emotional abuse — intentional or unintentional — can be strong and subtle at once.

You start to doubt yourself. You believe these people are doing you a kindness, and some of them sincerely believe that they are. All your schooling in the value of good intentions comes into play, and you find yourself wrestling with whether or not it’s okay to object. People are always there. They are too there, too eager to be of help. You wonder harder, “Are they hurting me? Or are they just being nice?” The concept that they may be hurting you while trying to be nice to you is hard to grasp, and once you do grasp it, you don’t know what to do with the information.

That is only one of the best-case scenarios. Many people aren’t even trying to be nice.

These things don’t describe it adequately, but they’re better than nothing. This doesn’t get into many of the details, and many of the long-term effects. There’s no easy way to describe the way these things encroach on your mind, to anyone who hasn’t been there. I’ve lived through the traditional horror stories, the ones that are, paradoxically, easy to talk about. I can get used to saying that they almost killed me, and if I harden my mind in the right places I can describe how.

But how can I get used to saying that they trained me into ways of thinking, degrees of self-hatred and self-denial, that, without diligence on my part and support on the part of others, could come close to killing me every day of my life for the next seven years or more? This is where the outposts in our heads come into play. We are trained in these destructive ways of thinking, by both well-meaning and cruel people alike. One of the most dangerous thoughts among them is the belief that these thought patterns are just about anything — ‘delusions’, ‘organic psychiatric disorders’, ‘signs of pathology’, ‘manipulation’ — as long as they are not the responsibility of the people who teach ‘patients’ these ways of thinking. But one of the most important things to learn is that it is their responsibility. These mental outposts that destroy so much of people’s lives are not the fault of the people whose lives are destroyed. They are the responsibility of the people who perpetuate them and the systems that support them.

These things are, of course, difficult to say. I have to fight my training all the way, and for someone with a lot of Special Individualized One-On-One Training ™, that isn’t easy. I can, as I type this, almost hear the words of my psychotherapists in my head: “You were delusional. We were desperate. We thought we were going to lose you. If you get paranoid about things like this, check them out with me.” That last sentence is the catch. I have checked out my observations with other people, and they have been confirmed several times over. I was taught not to trust my own thoughts, but now my thoughts are confirmed. This is not a delusion. This is hard, scary reality. And it’s a reality that I can think for myself. I don’t need a psychologist hanging over me telling me that my belief that he is abusive is a delusion and an exaggeration. But I have to fight the “Don’t think for yourself” training I got all the way. I was told that my psychologist would get in my head and never get out — that he would build these outposts in my head — so that I would be sane. It seems to me that the sanest thing I ever did was start kicking him out of my head at the earliest opportunity. But he holds on tight, and sometimes it’s hard to defy him even though I haven’t spoken to him in years.1

The things he told me are confirmed by the majority of the culture around me. People believe that some people — sometimes me, sometimes not, but it doesn’t matter — need to be treated as I was treated. There are entire books written on miracle cures like me, books that make my blood run cold because they look like the therapist manipulated the patient until they acted a certain way. Just like me. These books sell a lot because people like that this happens. The brilliant therapist saves the incurable schizophrenic (or multiple personality, or autistic, or whatever) from a life of certain institutionalization. People like my abusers are considered heroic. People like me are considered weird bags of flesh without real value until someone comes along to give it to us. Then we are supposed to feel grateful for the abuse that has been heaped on us. People tell us where we would have been without it — sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s not, but it doesn’t matter — and think that anything less than fawning gratitude is a sign that we’ve still got problems.

Difficult as it is, someone needs to talk about these things. Maybe not everyone, certainly not anyone for whom it’s simply too painful or dangerous to think about at the moment. But it has to be someone. Otherwise, we will succumb to the belief that cleaning up institutions makes them humane, that changing their outer trappings makes them no longer institutions, and that mental and emotional invasion and abuse only happens in a few isolated cases. An institution can be the size of a single room, and can take place even under the guise of utmost kindness. To paraphrase a friend, the restraints they put on our minds can last for long after our bodies are untied and sent home. We must not forget this, or those who come after us will live in the clean, beautiful, sanitized hell that haunts my nightmares.

Copyright © A M Baggs, 2003

I began to write this in July 2003, shortly after a stay in a psychiatric ward brought on by the wrong people hearing the wrong things and my own trained submissiveness that made me go along with something I should have fought. I finished it in October 2003.

1 This particular institution he worked at was one of the remaining holdovers in the mid-90s of the era when autism was a part of the nebulous and fairly useless label schizophrenia.

For a detailed description of the intangible horrors of one institution, read Congratulations! It’s Asperger’s Syndrome by Jen Birch. It’s in part her work that made me able to write this, because she wrote so purely about the mental control techniques and so little about physical brutality. I have also tried my own description of one of the effects of this mental abuse, called Why It’s So Hard To Write Directly About My Life.

Comments from when this was a page not a post:

  1. Allie says:

    February 8, 2007 at 4:50 am

    Thank you for writing this. This has made me think a lot about the two months I spent in a psych program — gods, has it been almost three years? For all that I don’t always like to think about it, and in fact often have nightmares about being back there when I put too much thought into it, there are things about my experience that I just realised, and some that I just was able to conceptualise or put into words, now, as I read this. This tells me that more thought is required, and that maybe the reason the nightmares come back is that I’m not done processing what happened and haven’t figured it all out (ha).

    I’ve been reading your blog backwards, having just found it today, and it’s astounding to me. So many things you write make the aha! light go on in my head. And (this one may sound like a really small thing) when I joined the ALF Second Life group, the fact that is was the first autistic group to mention my diagnosis in the description moved me greatly.

    I guess I’m saying, in a rather overemotional way, that I really appreciate what you’ve written, and want to thank you. I will be reading.

  2. September 16, 2007 at 1:46 am

    I know you posted this ages ago, but I thought I might comment anyway…

    I think I know a little about what it’s like to be in an institution. I spent my childhood being pinned to the floor by various abusive stepfathers… then I went to a “college” that was really a cult (think complete control–never alone, anywhere; cameras everywhere; everyone reporting on everyone else; You Must Think This Way…). Aspies are unfortunately quite gullible when it comes to cults… And then there’s the time I spent in the mental ward, a total of two weeks but enough to wake up all the memories of abuse and control and have them rushing back again.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly: It really is the control–the way they get in your head–that hurts you so much more than anything physical. The body heals in a straightforward way; sometimes it leaves scars, but eventually it’s healed and that’s it. But the mind… Once you let them control your mind, that’s it. You start to lose who you are, lose your identity. Once you start to believe what they say, you lose the only scraps of freedom you have in such situations. It’s imperative to keep your mind your own–just a little part of your mind, if you can’t manage all of it; just a token, symbolic resistance to tell yourself, Yes, I’m still me; I’m not their puppet yet.

    Such an environment would be hurtful to a psychologically healthy person. But by the time you are in a mental ward, or an institution, you are usually suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, et cetera… not to mention physical problems and the results of overmedication… It’s surprising that anybody gets out of those places with any bit of sanity left.

    By the way: PTSD sucks. But with time, it begins to fade… One day, you look at the world and realize you’ve finally made peace with those experiences, made them a part of your past; and that you’ll never quite be the same, but you can live with that, too.

  3. k1maplewd says:

    September 20, 2007 at 12:35 am

    OMG. I am high functioning autistic with some psych issues as well. Everything you say about the institutions and psych wards is so true. I was in McLean at one point getting ECT (shock therapy) because they didn’t know what else to do with me, but insurance wanted me out and if I didn’t agree I was most likely going to a state ward. So I agreed. That was 3 YEARS ago I’m still dealing with reprocussions from that. Thank god I have a therapist now who will go to the ends of the earth to keep me OUT of psych wards. Because he knows how much worse they make me.

  4. Philip says:

    October 29, 2007 at 10:08 am

    Expressed emotion (EE) is a term used to describe the emotional attitude of relatives or psychiatric care staff to mentally ill patients. High expressed emotion is shown by a high rate of critical comments, hostility, emotional over-involvement (as reflected by extreme emotional reponses by the relative or staff and over protective behaviour towards the patient). Low expressed emotion relatives and staff might be described as being laid back.

    Recovering patients living with high EE relatives or psychiatric staff are exposed to constant stress which results in emotional distress. They are especially likely to relapse.

    A study in Britain published in 1992 of two hostels for recovering patients, in one of which the staff were high EE, found that the patients were more likely to leave the high EE hostel. A study in Los Angeles, published in 1994, found that patients living in a residential care home with high EE staff had a poorer quality of life and worse symptoms than patients living in a low EE environment.

  5. Larry says:

    November 25, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Amanda, have you ever read the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish”? It is right up your alley, but he unmasks the disciplinary nature of the whole of modern society itself.. Here’s a readable link to a review of the book. http://www.geocities.com/athens/agora/9095/carceral.html

  6. bargedweller says:

    January 20, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Have you heard of the Rosenhan experiment? Eight people pretended to hear voices but without any other symptoms tried to get admitted to various psychiatric hospitals. All eight succeeded. None were detected as fake during admission, but other psychiatric patients identified them as fakes.

    When admitted, they all acted normally, but their actions were interpreted by staff as pathological, e.g. taking notes was labelled “writing behaviour”.

    The second half of the experiment was carried out when another hospital heard of the results but said they would not make that mistake. Rosenhan said that he would send some fake patients to them to test this, but actually he didn’t. This time the hospital said that 41 of 193 real patients were impostors and a further 42 were considered suspect.


  7. January 21, 2008 at 2:40 am

    Larry: Heard of it, but I find Foucault hard to follow.

    bargedweller: Yes, I’ve heard of it, and I think I read it at some point.

    I’ve also read stuff by one former psych patient (not part of an experiment) who was a writer, and who got pathologized in a similar way.

  8. January 21, 2008 at 3:00 am

    Re, Rosenhan experiment: The second half of the experiment (where real patients were falsely identified as “imposters”) reminds me of a story that Amanda posted somewhere in this blog site from a woman who had repeated trouble getting help from the system, despite very obvious difficulties in taking care of herself, because doctors etc. kept saying she was simply seeking attention etc. I couldn’t remember enough detail to find it again or else I’d reference it — I think it’s one of the older posts here.

  9. Ettina says:

    January 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Jen Birch had that experience, because during her stay in the psychiatric ward they diagnosed her with ‘factitious disorder’ and later when she needed help she was refused it based on her diagnosis (which means ‘faking signs of mental illness for material gain’).

  10. January 21, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    Yeah, although that’s not what factitious disorder means, you’re thinking of malingering. Factitious disorder means faking it without doing it for material gain (because you just like the idea of being sick or something). She was badly mistreated in that psych ward, and she’s one of the people who wrote about emotional and mental abuse in those places instead of just the physical violence.

    No, it’s “Autobiography of Anonymous” the person is referring to, which is somewhere on autistics.org. The person was having serious trouble functioning, but they were blacklisted for healthcare everywhere because someone diagnosed them as a sociopath, which is a growing problem in the UK apparently (to diagnose people with personality disorders so nobody has to help them). And one of the readers of this blog was a psychologist who had lived in the area this person was from, and they confirmed that all her crappy experiences sounded exactly like what someone from that area would encounter.

  11. January 22, 2008 at 12:10 am

    Thank you, Amanda. I found the link now (with the info you gave): http://autistics.org/library/anon-bio.html

  12. Angela B. says:

    March 10, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Sadly, what you describe as your own experience, is not unknown to a lot of “normal” women in their pregnancy and childbirth experience. I think it’s just the way the medical community has to treat people. They cause excrutiating pain and tell you “I know that’s uncomfortable”. They do genital surgery on babies and say “He won’t remember it” and never stop to think that *he* has to live with their actions for the rest of his life…they don’t. They tell you whether you can eat (usually not), whether you can have a chip of ice, stick IVs in you, put you on the clock…if you don’t perform in time, they wheel you into surgery *even if everything is fine*…”just in case”. In most places now, if you’ve ever had a c/s birth, even if you’ve had subsequent VBAC births, you are forbidden to VBAC…”just in case”. Yes. It’s horrible. It’s not limited to your population or any population. And of course….it’s all for our own good. :P

  13. Philip says:

    March 31, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    This interview with Clare Allan, the author of the novel ‘Poppy Shakespeare’ set in a north London psychiatric hospital, is well worth reading:


    She said that she could not have written the novel if she had not spent almost a third of her life as a patient in the psychiatric system.

    She describes her experiences in a north London psychiatric day hospital: “every few months you had a ‘Case Review’ which you weren’t allowed to attend, except for a few minutes in the middle when they called you in to answer questions in front of an audience of staff and students. This was where I heard my thoughts described for the first time as ‘voices’; where my actions ceased to be my actions and became instead symptoms of something bigger, something diagnosable.”

    In the hospital common room “there was a hierarchy, a code of behaviour, alliances and long-running feuds, the origins of which were often forgotten.”

    The common room also had its own culture, which “like cultures everywhere put pressure on its members to conform”, and conforming meant acting mad.

  14. Um-um-um says:

    April 8, 2008 at 8:51 am

    This piece offers wonderful insights to the less obvious problems with our society, methods of medicine, schools and treatment of not just the “special needs” population but everyone. Thank you for standing up and speaking out.

    My son is PDD/NOS non-verbal… brilliant, an excellent communicator and has always shown great judgment. His mother has secured for him the best in therapy (at a cost ranging into the millions). Yet he would agree with your observations. The saddest part is that although the armies of specialists and “therapists” are well trained and well meaning (yielding benefit of any doubt), the consistently fail to recognize who he is! Yes they know his behaviors and create mountains of regurgitated psycho-babble (that often look more like a cut and paste of another student’s report), but they do not know him or at least do not respect him.

    Years ago I tried to work with the school on these kinds of issues. They got defended and then behaved bizarrely. After hours of discussion of negative behaviors (some very disturbing and injurious) they refused to tolerate a question (after the meeting was officially over) about the word happy on the first page of his IEP. Given a dozen pictures of bites, bruises and such, only enraged them. I walked out and now consider that organization (perhaps one of the most respected on is it’s field)… I now consider the school very poorly.

    Many years ago, at a conference, I asked a guest speaker (autistic, shy and not an experienced public speaker) a question. If you could send a message back in time to your parents and teacher, what would you say? She struggled with the complexities of the question, but in time announced fervently, “WE KNOW MORE THAN YOU THINK WE KNOW”!

    This statement is the corner stone of all of my thinking on the subject. I try to look to see who someone is and not what they may not be. It seems common sense, but then that seems to be a lost art as well….

    There was once a ray of “therapeutic” light, a PT that seemed to work miracles. I watched many sessions and did not get why he did so well. At school he would struggle to show any progress, yet there he learned quickly, was immediately compliant, always did well, gladly took risks and was in a word happy. In conversation with the therapist she admitted that he did not have any physical disabilities (evident), but the sessions were paid for and he had a rigorous schedule (40 hours of ABA or it’s ilk every week), so she took the time to let him relax and play.

    The idea that play is essential to growth is common sense and advocated for by many experts, notably in T.B.Brazelton

  15. Um-um-um says:

    April 8, 2008 at 8:56 am

    [Hmmm – a word limit – continuation from previous post]

    The idea that play is essential to growth is common sense and advocated for by many experts, notably in T.B.Brazelton’s “floor time”. I always felt that playing was a core port of life and have since set it as another cornerstone of all considerations, regardless of the topic. Play needs to be always part of our lives.

    What message would you send to your “therapists’, teachers, doctors and parents?

    What can be done to address the atrocities you outline?

    What do you propose to correct the problems?

    How would you change things?

  16. June 24, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    […] inherent awfulness before, over at Ballastexistenz. Looking again, I must have skimmed over her Outposts In Our Heads post before, because it was just too uncomfortable. (I felt like I was going to have a heart attack […]

  17. Philip says:

    July 21, 2008 at 10:31 am
    “Defending Illusions: The Institution’s Struggle for Survival” is an account of how in the early to mid 1970s, in response to outside pressure, institutions for the mentally retarded in the United States, formerly called state schools or state hospitals, changed their legitimating myths and renamed themselves as developmental centers, regional centers or education and training centers. Legitmating myths are an organisations goals and structure which they present to the outside world to gain support from public groups.

    The change in name is epitomized by the renaming of the notorious Willowbrook State School in New York, to Staten Island Developmental Center.

    The three legitimating myths of institutions for the mentally retarded were tradionally as follows:

    First, they were “designated as education and training centers for people who are mildly or moderately retarded. Education and training have been defined less in terms of academic instruction than moral discipline and hard work, including caring for the severely disabled residents of the institution. Second, institutions have found legitimacy in providing custodial care for individuals labelled as severely and profoundly retarded and/or mentally handicapped. […] Finally, institutions for people with mental retardation have been justified as agencies of social control.”

    In response to public pressure these instutions changed their goals, structure and vocabulary.

    Examples of changes in vocabulary:

    “Facility name: State school or state hospital to developmental center, reginal center, education and training center.

    Living quarters: Ward to unit, halfway house. house. Custodial ward to living and learning unit. Punishment ward to special treatment unit, behavior shaping unit.

    Inmate titles: Patients to residents or clients. High grade, low grade to mildly, moderately, severely profoundly retarded. Moron, idiot, imbecile to developmentally disabled.

    Practices: straightjackets, camisoles to restraining devices. Tripping to toileting. Isolation to time out. Activities referred to by descriptive names, e.g, going for walks, coloring to motivation training, recreation therapy.”

    However these institutions are still total institutions. “For residents, daily life is routinized and regimented.

    Visitors to these institutions seldom visit the back wards.

    The offials of the instutions now use the rhetoric of individual rights and personal growth and development. However “the rhetoric of rights may be used to account for a failure to provide residents with programming or encourage them to act in socially appropriate ways.”

  18. Sarah says:

    August 29, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Hmm, I cannot (fortunately) imagine what it must be like to be in any institution, let alone what you have described. What came to mind was also the Rosenhan experiment, I remember reading it in a text on the theory of perception of mental illness.

    What really stuck in my mind was how even the most ‘normal’ behaviour can be perceived as devious to social norms in settings such as a mental institution.

    I find it worrying to be perfectly honest.

  19. November 17, 2008 at 1:31 am

    […] kept melting down and getting thrown in psych units*. (If you haven’t already, take a look at this post over at Ballastexistenz. It gave me flashbacks.) E. didn’t understand so well when I started […]

  20. October 26, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    […] assumptions about how your mind must work, and what must be motivating you–this can really screw you up. All kinds of harmful interpretations can be placed on why you don’t know, or refuse to […]

  21. November 3, 2009 at 2:24 am
    […] I do NOT know what it’s like to be instituationalised against my will. […]

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

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  4. At the age of 7 I was sent to a child psychologist to find out why I was getting into an unusual number of fights at school.

    (“unusual” means an average of 2-3 per week, for years as it turns out, fortunately I hadn’t grown into my neuromuscular system or someone else might have gotten hurt)

    The shrink took a month to come up with the conclusion that I was “too intelligent” and “had no filters”. If being an Aspie were a diagnosis then, in his awareness, then I would have gotten saddled with a label and self image that would have done untold damage to me.

    I haven’t gone for a diagnosis, but rather a lot of people think that I am “on the spectrum”, while many other people think that I am “just Darryl”, and roll their eyes.

    The latter group, even if not my fans are generally preferable to the former (excepting people who are actually somewhere in what I call “Spectrum Country” but haven’t let the diagnosis become their entire identity).

    This neuroendocrinal system that I seem to ride around in/on/around doesn’t seem to me to be all that messed up.

    My hearing and touch have their inner “gain” controls turned up a bit higher than most people’s seem to be, but as long as that doesn’t become blindingly painful there is a level just short of being feedback that lets me “see” or model sound and fluid dynamics in a way that I used to think everyone could.

    The fights eventually stopped having me (because I started to win, and very rationally figured out that the only way to not have people coming back for “rematches” was something that made taking some abuse as a pacifist who previously was a jerk, acceptable).

    When I found out that there was actually an entire channel of non-verbal cues that most people were basing their realities on, it set the stage for me to eventually realize that many of the fights happened because I couldn’t tell when others were angry, or threatening, etc, and that I couldn’t (and still can’t) tell playfighting from a mortal attack.

    It makes no sense to me to have to suppress reflexes that are there to let me survive bad luck or bad people,

    As near as I can tell there is an annoyingly one sided view from the land of neurotypicals (I prefer to call them “Main Sequencers” because neurotypical or N.T. often seems like a pejorative) over into Spectrum Country.

    We have “problems with empathy”?

    That is a view on a trait which is neutral, it could equally be:

    “We are immune or have a great resistance to lateral emotional contagion”

    If you see an Autistic or Aspergian smashing stuff in a riot, it is because we choose to do so, either because we want to or are trying to “fit in”. That sort of thing is triggered laterally, I think mostly as an evolved response to big jungle cats: “Don’t try to talk to it, it is trying to eat your nephew, kill it dead!”, or something like that.

    We see a lot of stuff that others don’t, and give a perspective that occasionally the more median folks value.

    The fact that we have that vantage because we typically are somewhere back from the figurative social “fire” is a mixed blessing. It is good to not have to deal with the insanity that most people exhibit as couples, while now that I have learned to observe human behavior and accept it as it is, the thought of a few women over the years who were giving off what other people told me were “clear signals” on a strange level of theatrical socialization that I can’t see…

    Well, it sometimes makes my chest hurt, being clueless doesn’t make me any less human. If anything the fact that without a diagnosis I decided in my teens to try to better understand other people because I was scared of being a sociopath, and made a full time habit of working on what I called “cognitive empathy” * meant that I innocently set myself up with one hell of a learning curve that most people don’t even think about.

    It is very possible to not “belong in” the crowd, but to choose to “belong to” them, I call it Universal Identification because it can be done fully only with everyone or not at all, and it is both fun and horrifying at the same time.

    Normal people are insane, flat out.

    And the scariest part is that I might not actually be a Spectrum type, I might simply have a slightly higher than average measurable IQ, and be naturally a bit naive.

    And synaesthetic.

    And sometimes prone to obsessing on something for months or years.

    I guess where I’m going with this is where I began:

    Thank creation I didn’t get diagnosed as “Spectrum” as a child.

    I know some folks have a harder time of it, others don’t think about it, and the kids that I think of as “Deep Spectrum” I sorta feel I have an idea what it’s like to be where they are, from the few times that I’ve overloaded and gone catatonic.

    Because I am pretty content, even though my life isn’t up to the standards that some people care about (and that I don’t). My thoughts are my own, so are the bulk of my emotions. I generally try to be nice to people, and have learned a lot about how not to try being nice when doing so isn’t actually very nice.

    I’ve been told that I’ve done a few things that have made things better for some situations.

    I’m also pretty sure that I have a grasp on “WHY?” for the question of the purpose of all of the sub-variants of people, and how we are all supposed to be able to fit in if people would just relax a bit.

    That said, psychopathologists can go %&*&^ a goat and lick the *(% off of *(&^8ing (*&*(&s.

    My niece from one half sister is diagnosed Aspie, my nephew from another apparently tests off the top of the charts for his province and age, but took a long time to figure out shoelaces, and whatever it is about us runs true and comes from my dad’s side.

    His mom received electroshock therapy when they were trying to “cure” her of the things that I like most about myself,

    Seriously, &^^%them up the &*^&* and throw them out of a moving van in winter.

    * note (Data from Star Trek The Next Generation and Mork from Ork are the twinned patron saints of Aspies)

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