Feminist Aspie

The S Word, Tip Of The Iceberg

on January 21, 2014

Yesterday afternoon, someone complimented me on my necklace. “Sorry!” I blurted out. After a few moments on the receiving end of her confused look, I amended my response to “Um, thanks!” I spent the rest of the day wondering why the heck I’d done that.

– – – – –

I walk mainly on my toes. I’m pretty sure I spent the first, say, ten years of my life blissfully unaware of this fact. At some point during the Asperger’s diagnosis, it was pointed out to me, or at least I read it somewhere, and then I probably went back to whichever Pokemon game was out at the time. It wasn’t until secondary school that it became a big deal. Somebody must have noticed, and somebody must have decided that it was worth obsessing over and making fun of. Having realised this, well-meaning family and friends thought the best way to resolve the problem was to magically make my tiptoes go away; however, without any actual magic powers, this could only be done through shouting “Feet!” at me every so often, and even then only for a few seconds. It didn’t occur to anyone that my problems weren’t caused by toes that hadn’t ever bothered me before, but by the people giving me hell for it. Or by other things, the loneliness, the meltdowns that then still occurred frequently, the sensory issues I didn’t know were even a thing because autism is still largely defined only from the perspective of a neurotypical outsider. All that, and everyone was interested in my foot position.

– – – – – 

Twice yesterday, I ran into the same person at the same part of the hallway where I live. On both occasions, the dialogue was the same. I saw her, jumped a little, said “Sorry!”, held the door open, and she said “Thank you”.

– – – – – 

I still walk mainly on my toes. Nothing’s changed, except now, the people I meet couldn’t care less. Apparently nobody even notices until I mention it myself. Its only impact on my life, other than never having to wear heels, was to teach me that people tend to only care about the tip of the iceberg. The bits they can see. They’d like to not see it because it’s weird and makes them uncomfortable. The rest, they already can’t see, and that’s fine by them.

– – – – – 

In between lectures this morning, I passed someone I know. He said “Hi [name redacted]!” or something along those lines. I replied with “Oh, um, sorry! Hi! Sorry!” I thought back to yesterday, in the hallway, and realised that the word I was looking for was “Hello”.

– – – – –

I’m sure I didn’t apologise too much before uni. At least, I’d never noticed it, until other people started pointing it out. Even then, I was just apologising for things that weren’t my fault, sliding “sorry to be a pain” into requests, things like that. Usually, people were laughing with me rather than at me. On its own, this didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the growth of the S word, or at least the growth of the pointing out of the S word, coincided with a growing fear. I couldn’t put my finger on it then and I still can’t now, but I’m hurtling towards adulthood with absolutely no idea what I’m doing with my life and most of my friends graduating before me and executive function all over the place and generally not being able to take another second by the end of term, and it was scary to think about. At some point, I conflated the two things.

– – – – –

I was waiting for the microwave to finish this evening when someone else came into the kitchen, got some salt from the shelf, then left. The one thing I said to her was “sorry”. I wasn’t in the way. She’d just arrived.

– – – – –

Things have… developed since first year. The summer wasn’t great, for various external reasons I don’t need to go into. Last term obviously had its highlights, but generally was all kinds of horrible, and again, I can’t quite articulate why. On the plus side, this term’s going much better so far, although it’s far too early to tell if this will last. Meanwhile, resurfacing to the tip of the iceberg, the S word is now my general response to anything that happens. I’m not actually sorry at all, it’s just the noise I make. Like the tiptoe thing, it’s inspired many well-meaning people to “help” by shouting “STOP APOLOGISING!” and wrongly believing that actually makes a difference. Unlike the tiptoe thing, I think it would be inaccurate to call this a stim; it’s more of a practically involuntary back-up sound effect for when there’s too much going on to make actual words with meaning happen “properly” which, apparently, is most of the time these days. Also unlike the tiptoe thing, I’d also like to make it go away.

NOT because it’s weird and wrong and embarrassing and everyone’s going to laugh at you if you keep doing that, but because it’s getting in the way of my ability to string a sentence together. There’s a huge difference. Oh, and that it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

– – – – –

Tonight I was at a discussion-based meeting. Fitting enough chairs in a circle around the room was, well, interesting. I curled up a little. “Sorry.” “It’s… fine…” “…Yeah, sorry.”

– – – – –

I think it’s probably, for want of a better word, a symptom of whatever-the-heck-my-head-is-doing, the best explanation for which so far seems to be “demand > current coping mechanisms” which apparently isn’t uncommon amongst people on the spectrum. So it’s not a case of “have you tried speech therapy?” or “there’s no point feeling bad about it” or, my personal favourite, “STOP IT!”. It’s about sorting out the underlying stuff, and I don’t even know where to start with all that. Anything else is just a tiny inadequate sticking plaster.

– – – – –

Fitting the chairs *back* into a circle was basically impossible. Thirty seconds of freaking out later, it was sorted, I sat down, I rocked a little, I started waving my feet in front of me, like swimming, I guess. Not sure what it with me and stimming and feet, but there you go. “I like your shoes!”, someone said. Inevitably, “Sorry!!!” followed. But not before I instinctively hid away my legs back under the chair, back upright, apologising for that weird embarrassing not-normal thing.

Immediately I wondered why. I mean, he’s not exactly going to be horrible about my stimming; he’s autistic too.

I’d already chosen to blog about this tonight, but that was when everything clicked into place.

I’ve gotten too used to hiding as much as possible for as long as possible, to the point that I do so even when people don’t require it from me. Because the tip of the iceberg is weird and silly and pointless enough as it is.

And now, even if someone were to ask about what’s beneath the surface, I couldn’t talk about it. Even when I blog about it, I can’t find the right words and I settle for “close enough”. People want to see me as a person, so I shouldn’t talk about these things.

Only what they can see.

So now all I’ve got to describe it is “Well, I keep apologising for no reason.” And that doesn’t cover it at all.

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18 responses to “The S Word, Tip Of The Iceberg

  1. 744ie says:

    There are a couple posts on my blog about that “S” word, and you are certainly not the only one who has picked up that habit. I hear it hundreds of times a day, and I think to myself wondering how all these people could get on with their lives when they feel the need to compulsively apologize for every small inconvenience they cause someone else (or even things that are clearly the other person’s problem). It turns out, college students in general have an extremely high level of anxiety, especially at high-ranking competitive universities.

  2. emeramchugh says:

    ‘Like the tiptoe thing, it’s inspired many well-meaning people to “help” by shouting “STOP APOLOGISING!” and wrongly believing that actually makes a difference. Unlike the tiptoe thing, I think it would be inaccurate to call this a stim; it’s more of a practically involuntary back-up sound effect for when there’s too much going on to make actual words with meaning happen “properly” which, apparently, is most of the time these days. Also unlike the tiptoe thing, I’d also like to make it go away.’

    So. Much. This.

    I am also a constant apologist. I apologise for bothering people in my emails; in fact, I automatically assume I’m being a pain and wasting their time. I apologise when people get angry, even when I know they’re not being angry at me. It goes on like this. I apologise for everything. If I could have a euro for every time I say ‘sorry’, I would be very rich indeed. That ‘STOP APOLOGISING!’ is so very familiar, only I tend to greet it with ‘I’m sorry’. It’s almost as if there’s no other word that fits, it’s an automatic response from me.

    This might be a bit different to your experience, but I know the feeling of apologising for your own existence, and it is awful.

    I hope you are OK, and I am sending you many, many, many hugs and fellow autistic love.

  3. chels744 says:

    And if anyone dares to give you trouble for stimming or tiptoing again, don’t hesitate to give them the bird. It feels so good to let those people know that you will not be taking their ableist BS.

    • I can imagine 😀 I have to admit I’ve started to get better at standing my ground re: stimming since starting to hear from actually autistic people through the blog and on Tumblr. That, and the people at uni really don’t make a big deal out of it, I don’t think most of them even notice. 🙂

  4. I remember being constantly reminded as a young adolescent to “stop hunching” and “sit up straight” when I was slumping in my seat. I had terrible posture growing up and remember being frustrated with the people’s constant reminders. Same thing happened with me speaking too quickly to be understood. I still have to deliberately speak slowly when my anxiety is heightened.

    People’s reminders just made me more self-conscious; they did very little to change the behaviors themselves. Only time and continual self-reminders that I deserved to take up space helped with that.

    • “People’s reminders just made me more self-conscious; they did very little to change the behaviors themselves. Only time and continual self-reminders that I deserved to take up space helped with that.”

      ^^^ THAT.

  5. Alana says:

    This is really well written and I can’t really find all the words to say exactly why I like it but it explains things and it is a thing and it is important so thank you.

  6. ischemgeek says:

    Yeah. I do that, too. “Sorry” is kind of my default backup sound.

  7. autisticook says:

    God, I hate that “stop saying sorry!” thing. It’s like whatever I do, I’m still doing it wrong.

    Actually stumbled on a nice rephrasing the other day. “It’s OK, you don’t need to be sorry” is so much friendlier than “Stop apologising, it’s not your fault!”. Although I don’t think I’ve ever told someone to stop apologising, because I recognise it too well.

    • Yeah, most people at uni tend to opt for “It’s fine, it’s fine”, more than anything. The “stop apologising dammit!” brigade generally means well, but it doesn’t help at all.

  8. waggermama says:

    Gosh, I did this when I first moved in with my partner. For the first decade in fact. Then he started doing it too and I noticed it and made valiant efforts to stop.

    I think it was caused by sharing space with someone I didn’t know as well as my family (with whom I lived for my first 27 years). I have also realised that I find traveling across occupied space challenging.

  9. laurelfuller says:

    I have heard that demand to “STOP APOLOGIZING” so many times, and I had no idea it was this widespread. Thanks for sharing; I’m in the early-ish stages of attempting to self-diagnose and finding way more similarities and indicators in my behaviors and thinking patterns both now and from when I was much younger. It’s nice to know it’s not just me.

  10. […] I’d literally be David Tennant. I definitely apologise more than the average woman – I’ve written about this (and why) before – but as with every other woman, patriarchy’s made a big contribution to this. So, I have […]

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