Marriage as I had highlighted in my previous blog was riddled with challenges and living in a very conservative society, going from an orthodox Brahmin family into another, not so orthodox but very worldly inclined family, was a huge shift. Growing up with no siblings at home, no uncles, aunts or cousins of any kind to learn from, it was difficult to decipher relationship norms. Talk about an alien in a foreign land.
I have been married for almost 35 years. We have been through a lot of turmoil over the years. My idea of marriage was to have a loving husband who always thought the world of me and approved of who I was. That’s a fantasy, I realize now. When we are that young, neither one of us is evolved enough to know what marriage is. My knowledge of marriage came either from watching movies or my parents’ interaction. The former was a dramatic portrayal of life and the latter, in my case was not a pleasant one with constant disagreements and fights. Although I was 20, my mental age was maybe 12 or 13 give or take a couple of years. The best way to portray this part of my life is with a movie like scenario, to understand the feelings of a young girl in a new environment. Many in India of my generation probably could relate to something like this although the degree varies greatly. Here it is, my movie, my struggles as an Aspie girl...
Enter me as a young girl in this scene with expectations of a romantic husband, giving his attention to me and treating me like a queen and making me his priority as seen in movies. In my movie I was a beautiful heroine who meant the world to him. I forgot there are villains in the movie too. I got caught up in the fantasy of happily ever after in marriage that I failed to pay attention to what others wanted, or what others were used to. I guess that goes along with the mind-blindness described in ASD. They viewed me as an enemy, there to take away their precious commodity of 25 years, that they owned, nurtured, nourished for their well being and suddenly there was a competition. I did not understand any of this since I never saw differences between people, as mine and yours. In their minds, as immature as it was, I was an enemy to be brought down and controlled (not literally of course but more emotionally) so they never lose their son, who they believed was their sole source of happiness. But when they saw that my husband was enamored by this new entity, jealousy reared its ugly head and manipulation to preserve what was theirs began. The new entity was an innocent lamb and no match for the lion and lioness, and being in the lion’s den, without a way to get out, it sank lower and lower in pain. The husband lamb who wanted to be with this innocent lamb could not fight against the lion, for fear of being rejected or abandoned, a behavior which had left a lasting impression in its heart. It was easier to turn the other way as the innocent lamb suffered, and to pretend it was all fine as long as the innocent lamb agreed to just listen and go along. But when the lamb did not feel good about that, it expressed its needs and recounted the torture it had to endure. It froze at every instant not knowing how to respond to taunts, a reaction often associated with PTSD. Fight, flight or freeze, 3 responses are possible when faced with any stressful situation. Being unable to respond appropriately, freezing became the standard response.
That hasn’t changed in all these years and even at mid 50s my struggle remains the same when I meet my in-law or any other stressful situation.
How is this different from others in similar situations? Well as an Aspie, when I look back there are many things that could have happened. First of all, the child-like personality that I had was very trusting, and believed that people never change, as they were wonderful to me before marriage. So I was so much in love with my in-laws as a child to a parent. However I never imagined that me wanting to do things for my husband, even simple things like making him coffee (like in the movies I may add), were considered wrong. That meant I was trying to erase their role in his life for the last 25 years. When I heard rude comments or snide remarks directed at me, I was shocked, scared and surprised that people can actually be so mean, something I had trouble with even as a child. I could never handle anyone yelling at someone no matter what they did. I would often get upset with my grandfather for speaking harshly to his man servant in the village. So being the target of such emotional abuse and harshness, day in and day out made me feel smaller and smaller that I began to lose myself. I transformed from this bubbly, joyful personality to a sad, tired and fearful being that I did not recognize. Even my parents and my servant at their house noticed the change in my persona but I had no words to describe my plight to anyone. It took me 2 months to process everything and finally lay it all out to my parents and had a huge meltdown that lasted over 8 hours. All I kept asking them was, “why did you do this to me?” My parents saw the agony I was in but they felt helpless and I was left to fend for myself. In those days you don’t have any other recourse unless your parents step in to help.
I would often run to my husband, like a child to its trusted support for help and recount my hurt feelings. However, it made no difference because his loyalty was with them and not me. That’s not unusual in an arranged marriage and given that he was young himself and dependent on them financially, there was nothing he could do. Again a neurotypical may have been more understanding of these kinds of nuances.
This movie was exhausting and 6 months later, I was ready to go to the US with my husband to get away from this emotional pain. However, it did not stop there. After we were settled a year later, every year his parents would visit and stay for 2-3 months and made sure they were always a priority. I would have several meltdowns (crying spells or anger meltdowns) with every trip and it would take at least 6 months before I can come out of the trauma. As I found some healing with the distance, they would be back again and the cycle would continue.
Over the years, I have had 7 pregnancies, but 3 children, raised them using parental books and ideas from experts to be the best mom I could. Like everything in my life, I would spend hours studying about what to do in my different roles, to learn from others since I had no instinct for those things. I had unconditional overflowing love for my kids, but always cautious about spoiling them and not giving them the proper values.
I did not have a nurturing or available mom growing up so I made sure that being a mom was my priority. (Not faulting my mother but she had her own mental issues to contend with which did not lend itself to my needs.) I never missed a program at school, or baseball/soccer game or tennis or whatever activity they were involved in. I always made time for volunteering at their school or at holiday parties and my presence was felt with them at every occasion. My husband had a busy job so I pretty much raised my kids on my own, although I made sure he would at least make an attempt to be there for special occasions in their life. I enjoyed being with my children growing up, being a child at heart myself, it was easy to just play with them and have fun.
During those years I decided not to work, but did manage to get my MBA after my second one was born, learned to invest in the stock market, played Vice President role in an Investment club, volunteered in our temple and Indian community activities, started a soup kitchen with the help of a few friends and trained in Yoga as a teacher. Keeping busy while raising kids helped me observe, learn and grow into an adult that I needed to be. This tells you that you can thrive given the right environment.
That 20 year old self is still deep within, trying to get out and disappear. Every day is a struggle, some more than others. They say Aspies suffer from PTSD and this is not uncommon how the mind loops constantly through incidents from the past. My saving grace has been getting into Yoga and meditation. I have been through deep depression after the birth of my son, not sure if it is post partum depression or clinical. Premenstural syndrome and mood swings played havoc over those years. This topic needs more coverage and will try to elaborate in my next blog. Clearly marriage is a difficult road for an Aspie and unless the husband is understanding from the beginning and compassionate enough to go through this ride, it should not be an option for life before one is ready mentally. #Aspergers #Autism #Aspiegirl #Aspiewoman #Aspie