Challenges as a Teen

The next chapter of my life began when I was about to turn 12.

I finished my 7th grade in India and then flew to the US to stay with my oldest brother, a brother who was practically a stranger as I met him only once, briefly, when I was 7, as a married man. His wife spoke a different language from my mother tongue, so our common means of communication was English.

Coming to the US was exciting and scary at the same time. For a person who felt like an alien on earth, being in a foreign land was even worse. Since my stay was long, to take care of my health issues, I went to school in the public school system.

Academically, my 8th grade was pretty easy, nothing difficult compared to what I had studied in India. However the social scene was completely different. I was one of the quietest kids in school, not to mention the only Indian, brown girl in the whole of middle school. Middle school is hard enough for even a neurotypical girl. Being of a different country and speaking with an accent, bullying was a regular thing. Home life was a different kind of torture. I was expected to do a lot of chores, like vacuuming, dusting, raking leaves, shoveling snow, and even digging a patio at one time which was overwhelming and exhausting, physically and mentally. My brother was strict and even rude at times, that I felt trapped like a bird in a cage. On top of that I was expected to babysit my toddler nephew every evening for a couple of hours when my sister-in-law cooked meals. That was a very traumatic experience since toddlers are unpredictable and I was not equipped to handle such a job. Besides I had to entertain him within his closed room which felt like being in a prison. I suffered in silence, with no way out. There was no one to complain to even if I thought of that.

My anxiety was always high and just to have some time without human interaction I would make myself so sick at school so that I can leave early. This allowed me about 30 minutes at home to watch a cartoon before I had to cut veggies or whatever chores I was assigned for the day, before my brother and sister-in-law came home. Finally at the end of my 8th grade during summer, I moved into my youngest brother’s house. He rescued me after the emotional trauma I had suffered but it left a lasting impression in me, sort of like PTSD. So much so that even until recently, when my brother made a harsh comment, my body would freeze up and I would become mute. I have read that PTSD is not uncommon for Aspies since we feel things very deeply and the feeling of anxiety governs our daily life. It’s not thoughts that cause the anxiety but a very subconscious reaction due to inability to express what we feel that builds up silently.

Stay with my youngest brother lasted about 3 months as I attended 9th grade, but was asked to leave since a teenager was not permitted to live in his apartment. That brought me to my second brother’s house, the brother who was the reason I even came to the US, for treatment. Dealing with my niece and nephew who were only a few years younger than me caused a lot of friction. Although I was 12, mentally I was much younger, closer to my niece’s age, so there were conflicts and being the older child I was often reprimanded for my behavior by everyone, including my mother who was visiting. So I had no where to turn or words to explain how I felt, a common problem for Aspies. When the emotions get so high, the only way out is through meltdowns, since expressing how we feel is the hardest thing to do. A month after my surgery, when I was 13 years old, we returned back to India. In a way I was happy since I could go back to a school with people who were similar to me, at least culturally.

Having completed 8th grade in the US, I re-joined school in India from 9th grade. Now the problem was my American accent that I had picked up. I was regularly teased for being different and called names as I passed by. My grades were great, so there was a lot of jealousy to contend with. Again in 11th grade I switched schools because one of my close friends since childhood, who lived in my neighborhood nudged me to do so. Later she ended up being my best friend for the next two years until we went our separate ways for college. However, those 2 were my toughest years with all the emotions and hormones. My mother and myself argued on a daily basis and home life was uncomfortable, that I spent most of my time outside school with my one friend. She taught me everything I know as far as social skills go. What I mean is, I copied her every mannerism, way of conversation to the point that I still sound like her when I am in the company of new people. Mimicking people is how I got by in my teenage years. For the first time I was in a co-ed school, and reading boys and their intentions was not something understood. My friend was my pillar of support and my sounding board and my everything to survive high school. Because of her I got into sports, playing throwball (a uniquely Indian girls sport, like volleyball but throwing the ball instead) but could not throw the ball over the net, apparently co-ordination is a challenge for Aspies. I was in the team but pretty much benched for inter-school matches.

So for those teenagers who feel left out or parents who feel that their children are not able to be part of any group, it is not uncommon and its okay. Those things seem like important things at that age, but feeling comfortable in your own skin is much more so than that. We lived in a very vibrant neighborhood where the teens were all friendly and doing fun stuff including plays and dance performances. My mother would often coax me or even push me to participate, but my fear of new faces and shyness kept me within our four walls.

College was a different world. At 17, I started college, again with no one I knew in my major. Somehow things started to open up for me in college. I was one of the smartest or studious kids in my class and did well academically. Maybe studies was clicking finally. That boosted my confidence a little. I became part of a group of friends and now I had more people to mimmick and learn from. After the first year of college, my father thought it was a good idea for me to get married. His motivation was to get his responsibility as a father over with, as it was customary in those days in Indian families.

So at 18 I was engaged to a 23 year old, a physician in training. When I barely learned to stand, I had to learn to run. I got married at age 20 after a period of engagement when we “dated” sort of. Marriage is not easy for an Aspie and I will explain why in my next blog.

My advice to parents who think things will get better if their teen is married, please think again. Not so at all. I know Aspies in my own family who got married and ended up with divorce quite soon after. Meltdowns increase and with lack of understanding and support from spouse or in-laws, Self-esteem hits rock bottom. Do you have a teen with similar issues?

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