Though part I was illegally deleted (sadness…) you guys can enjoy part II of my series Autism RX now! And never fear, part I will return to youtube later today!
Posted by John Scott Holman on May 6, 2012
It is officially open to the public. Check out my article in the first issue of Human Spectrum Magazine!
Check out page 39!
Posted by John Scott Holman on April 25, 2012
I’m listed as associate producer on this video. I’m not sure what it means but it sounds fancy. I got to interview Phil McKinney, Peter Bell, Andy Shih, and lots of other cool and important people.
Posted by John Scott Holman on April 23, 2012
Posted by John Scott Holman on April 22, 2012
The medication of autism spectrum disorders is a complex and controversial subject. So let’s jump right in and discuss it!
Posted by John Scott Holman on April 21, 2012
By John Scott Holman
I don’t know if I am standing, sitting, or lying down – it is dark and I cannot find my body in the dark. Are my eyes open? There is a bit of light coming from somewhere. Light is good. A little light chases away a little fear. The light may get bigger. When the light gets bigger I won’t be alone.
If I scream the light may get bigger.
If I scream she will come.
Nothing… She isn’t coming. It could be dark forever. Will it be dark forever?
I wait in my crib for the light to get bigger. Sometimes I scream.
I am afraid, and I am alone.
“I always tell the truth, even when I’m lying…” I scribble these words across the wall of my room. My pens will be confiscated as soon the staff realizes I’m misusing them. I don’t care. I don’t care about anything.
How many days now?
A naked man wanders into my room and begins rummaging through my drawers. I stare at him. He turns to me. His eyes are empty, as if they aren’t used for seeing at all. He scratches his chest and leaves. A nurse catches him in the hallway, takes him by the arm, and guides him back to his room.
I reach beneath my mattress and pull free a crumbling Valium, carefully enfolded in a bit of paper. I need to quiet my restless mind.
How many days? Does it matter? I am not normal. I am clearly insane and always have been. They won’t be letting me out of here any time soon…
I am afraid, and I am alone.
Though seldom aware of my emotions, I do realize when I am afraid and when I am not afraid. I know when I like the way I’m feeling and I know when I do not. I’ve also learned what I’m supposed to be feeling, and how to act accordingly. I’ve become quite skilled at faking emotions. Because of this, much of my life has been a well-meaning lie. I don’t know where the truth ends and a lie begins. I do not like the way this makes me feel.
The world is a frightening and confusing place, particularly for someone with autism. As a society, we claim to value honesty. However, people seldom appreciate the truth. You are expected to say what others want to hear, and think and feel only what is deemed appropriate. From birth on, society grooms us to be players in a complex and empty game, to know the truth, yet spin an intricate web of half-truths and little white lies. The autistic mind frequently resists participation in this charade. I’ve always felt like the only kid at the puppet show who can see the strings. If I insist on pointing them out, I am shunned and ridiculed. I’ve never played well with others, and I don’t have much common sense. Albert Einstein, who many speculate to have been autistic, once said, “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
When someone speaks to me of their emotions, I pretend to understand, and respond as I’ve been trained to. I think of all I’ve learned about the human brain, and try to discern that person’s neurological state. I can’t quite grasp the meaning of “happy” or “sad,” though I do understand the chemical elevations and deficiencies necessary to produce these states. The DSM-IV describes this symptom of Aspergers, rather vaguely, as a “preoccupation with parts of a whole.” I process information from the inside out, seeing the trees long before the forest. This is why I’ve never appreciated a sunset, yet can spend hours staring at Picasso’s lovely cubist maidens; I see the world in fragments.
Few people think as I do. I try to communicate as best as I can, yet despite my verbosity, I often feel that I’m speaking a language only I can understand. This is not only awkward, but dangerous, as many people are deeply offended by the slightest misstep in the social dance. Out of touch with my emotions as I am, I’m certainly glad I’m not as oversensitive as some.
There are countless constantly shifting social rules involving posture, facial expression, appropriate and inappropriate topics, when to alternate topics, etc… For most people, adherence to these rules requires only subconscious effort. Social interaction is infinitely complex, and I believe many are offended by my behavior without even knowing why. Likewise, most people have no idea how they’ve managed to upset me. We aren’t playing by the same rulebook.
I’m standing in a long, empty hallway. The teacher sent me to wait out here. She is mad at me. Why?
The hall echoes with the far away laughter of children. They are all so far away… I feel like I’m underwater.
I stare at my shoelace. It used to be very white, like teeth on television. Now it is gray like dishwater, and frayed at the end. I like to look at my shoelace. I like to see things close up. It helps me to forget about the underwater feeling.
I hear a basketball bounce somewhere outside. It is a little deflated… I can tell. How can so much quiet be so full of sounds?
Teacher is mad at me. I want to know why. “You know why,” is what she told me. She is lying, because I don’t know why. Why would the teacher lie?
I’m standing in a long, empty hallway.
I am afraid, and I am alone.
At a young age, I began to study characters in film, hoping both to escape the pressure of my own world, and better understand social interaction within it. It was during this time that I realized something remarkable; movies granted me immediate access to a wide spectrum of human emotions. I felt the joy, and pain of romance while watching “West Side Story,” was heartbroken, enraged, and uplifted by “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and learned of human friendship, and emotional vulnerability by watching, ironically, “ET: The Extra Terrestrial.” The emotional situations onscreen were distant enough to be nonthreatening, underwhelming enough that I could actually experience them in the moment.
Movies made me feel less alone… almost human. But movies weren’t real. I still couldn’t respond emotionally to my own environment, not at the appropriate times. Instead, my feelings would build up, until finally, overwhelmed by the pressure, and triggered by some small interruption in my routine, I’d suddenly lash out, breaking things, cursing, and injuring myself. This emotional displacement and instability, along with my eccentricities, and obsessions, made social interaction seemingly impossible. I tried to reach out, but my attempts only forced me further into my mental prison. I just wasn’t normal.
As an adolescent, I embraced my differences in the only way I knew how; I flaunted them. At 16 years-old I was a sullen, defiant, later-day James Dean with a chip on my shoulder and a quiet, blue flame burning in my brain. Initially drawn by my good looks and boyish charm, my peers would soon be confused and repelled by my urgent need to shatter their illusions. I was dangerous, a freak and a heretic, everything Sunday school, and Nancy Reagan warned you about.
Misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I was forced to take countless dangerous and unnecessary medications, which resulted in horrific side-effects, and only increased my sense of confusion and isolation. I trusted no one. My world was claustrophobic, nightmarish, threatening… I began using street drugs and attempted suicide numerous times. I was frequently confined to mental hospitals. All the while, doctors insisted that I was Bipolar, though I’d never had a manic episode in my life. Not once was Asperger Syndrome suggested.
I brush my teeth in the dark to avoid seeing my empty eyes in the mirror. I’m smoking a cigarette. I’m smoking a cigarette, and brushing my teeth at the same time. I miss my mother. I laugh, and the sound is like breaking glass. Why am I laughing? What am I feeling? I’m blank. I’m a ghost.
Why can’t I just be normal? They all want me to be normal. I don’t want to be normal. I don’t want to be anything. I don’t want to be…
I slide down the wall and sit on the cool floor. My cigarette goes out. I’m left in the dark.
Nobody remembers moments like these; moments afraid, and alone in the dark. They don’t matter.
Moments like these are all I know.
I am afraid, and I am alone.
At 24 years-old, I was prescribed a stimulant for my ADHD (stimulants had typically been withheld, based on the belief that they would exacerbate my “mania”). With this medication I improved dramatically. When I say that I improved, I mean that I was no longer getting into legal trouble or being hospitalized. I was still obsessive, awkward, and socially inept. I figured my symptoms were merely those of severe ADHD and continued taking my stimulants. I still felt distant, disconnected, as if no amount of words could ever build a bridge between myself and others.
For the most part, however, I was happy. It had been a long time since I’d been happy. I didn’t feel that I deserved happiness, and tried not to consider why.
The medication gave me a modicum of confidence; I stopped pretending I was like everyone else. I stopped trying to fit in, and grew closer to the happiness that was so alien to me. I was learning to accept myself, but I had yet to understand myself.
I’m doing better. I like my new pills. I realize that I have a remarkable mind. It may or may not be a dysfunctional mind, but regardless, I know that it is one so extraordinary, so labyrinthine that I become lost within it, wandering alone through an interior landscape that defies description. I know that people are trying to reach me from the outside, but they are just so far away…
I don’t understand people and have no regard for their concerns. I try to be empathetic, but how can I understand someone else’s emotions when I can’t even recognize my own? I do my best to be polite, and pay attention to others, but I always feel that I’m putting on a show… that I am lying.
I am afraid, and I am alone.
It has been suggested that I might have Asperger Syndrome. I’m not sure how this makes me feel. I laugh, but I don’t think anything is funny.
I read over the diagnostic criteria. My stomach drops. I think I will be sick.
I continue reading but my hands are shaking. I realize that I am crying. I’m crying, but…
…but I’m not a monster. I’m not evil.
I am different… and that is OK.
I don’t have to pretend anymore. I don’t have to lie. Not like before. In this instant I experience every conceivable human emotion.
I am happy… and I deserve to be.
I am angry… and I am justified.
I am disappointed… and I will get over it.
I am excited… and life is full of promise.
I am afraid… but I am not alone.
Posted by John Scott Holman on April 18, 2012
By John Scott Holman
“All is caprice. They love without measure those whom they will soon hate without reason.” – Thomas Sydenham, seventeenth-century physician, describing patients he referred to as “hystericks.”
”I’m sorry momma. I never meant to hurt you. I never meant to make you cry but tonight I’m cleaning out my closet.” – Eminem
My mother was truly beautiful. I don’t say that as a proud son eager to lavish her with published praise. She was beautiful – that is a fact. Breathtaking as she may have been, she was also irreparably damaged, the product of an age-old pattern; the lovely and pure are victimized by bitter parasites who suck away every obtainable drop of innocence, thirsty, perhaps, for their own long lost purity.
Such a predator forever devastated my mother, and consequently, myself. In quiet rooms he skillfully unthreaded her psyche as if it were a rag doll in his callous, elderly hands. She fell into pieces each time the final thread was mercilessly pulled loose. Yet her grandfather’s thirst was unquenchable. Her grief and shame were not enough to satiate his compulsion to dominate and desecrate.
The abuse continued in secret for nearly ten years. Her childhood innocence was stolen from her at a mere two years of age, the instant she first shuddered at his unwelcome touch. Her mind, however, split apart a little at a time, until her identity was finally and forever shattered. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
My mother’s sexual abuse left her, somehow, less than human… not a real woman, whole and centered, but a complex puzzle with too many pieces to ever be assembled. Though internally deranged, she cultivated a flawless public image of self-empowered, yet domestically inclined womanhood. So flashy… so charming… so empty…
She was only a caricature drawn in lipstick on the bathroom mirror, smudging and fading a bit more every day. I needed someone to protect and reassure me… unfortunately, so did she.
My dearly deranged mother has Borderline Personality Disorder, a mysterious condition characterized by instability in interpersonal relationships, fragmented self-image, intense fear of rejection, ceaseless manipulation, seemingly arbitrary and often violent outbursts, etc…
According to the nationally best selling book, “I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me.” by Jerold J. Kreisman, MD, and Hal Straus, “The borderline shifts her personality like a rotating kaleidoscope, rearranging the fragmented glass of her being into different formations – each collage different, yet each, her. Like a chameleon, the borderline transforms herself into any shape that she imagines will please the viewer.”
The fragments of my mother’s identity took center stage one at a time, each utterly unique characters in a baffling one-woman show. Her fractured performances typically dazzled and charmed the members of her gullible audience. They were also deeply painful and disorienting for those in closer proximity to the stage. I had the only backstage pass. My childhood was marked by unwilling, captive voyeurism. I was the sole witness of my mother’s private madness and all-consuming sexual shame.
Publicly, she was a champagne-sweet butterfly of grace and social finesse. She fooled them
all so well, night after night, show after show… Each time the curtain fell and the audience applauded their approval, I forced myself to swallow the tell-tale vomit threatening to spew from my mouth. My mother has never been onstage a day in her life… but Laurence Olivier himself could not have outperformed her when she interacted with the public world, donning one carefully crafted persona after another.
Like any child, oblivious to the vast diversity of life outside their immediate domestic environment, I believed all mothers were like mine. I was an adolescent before I began to comprehend the severity of my childhood abuse. By that time my mother had lost all memory of her frequent, unpredictable episodes of violent, degrading, and perversely inventive abuse.
She now tells me that I, “greatly exaggerate the mere handful of times she even punished me.” When she says this, I know that she is not lying… not intentionally. She has repressed and forgotten those shameful memories. This shouldn’t be surprising. She also lost all memory of her sexual abuse for a ten year period, beginning when the years of molestation finally ended (puberty and the development of a womanly figure saved her from the old man’s perverse interest). Shortly after my birth, her long dormant memories erupted to the surface. My childhood was marked by her freshly unearthed sexual shame and the blinding delirium of her hysterical identity crisis.
One study, “Biparental failure in the childhood experiences of borderline patients” (Zanarini MC, Frankenburg FR, Reich DB, et al) proposes that, “Patients with BPD have been found to be significantly more likely to report having been verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually abused by caregivers of either gender. There has also been a high incidence of incest and loss of caregivers in early childhood for people with borderline personality disorder.”
It would be decades before I was finally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autistic children are not especially adept at walking on eggshells, and my mother had a way of laying them thoroughly over every available walking space. One wrong word, or gesture, a compliment paid to the wrong person, a sudden bout of food poisoning and my ensuing neediness… would send her into a blind rage.
Prestigious psychologist, Marsha Linehan, a foremost expert on the subject has stated, “Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.”
Before anyone uses my story as supportive evidence for the long debunked “refrigerator mother” theory of autism causation, I must explicitly state that my childhood mistreatment is in no way related to my diagnosis. My mother’s abuse may have exacerbated my developmental delays, but could not possibly be responsible for my infantile verbosity, perseveration, mild savantism, hyperlexia, dyscalculia, synesthesia, or any other of my longstanding symptoms commonly associated with autism spectrum disorders. Ironically enough, I believe I acquired otherwise unattainable social skills as a direct result of my mother’s personality disorder.
People often ask me how I learned to intuitively understand and respond to the shifting emotions of others despite my autism. I’ve always avoided this question because the answer is both uncomfortable and alarming – I had to learn to read my mother’s labile moods or I would be beaten senseless. Understanding the emotions of others was not merely an elusive social advantage, but an essential survival skill.
One of my family’s favorite home videos is footage of me at four years-old, struggling to break free of my mother’s embrace as I watch my father drive away for another nine month absence from my life. My face is red and streaked with tears as I scream, “Daddy, don’t go!” My father has always believed this to be a home video testament of my love for him. I’ve never had the heart to tell him that it is merely evidence of the overwhelming terror I felt each time he left me alone with my mother.
Worse than the physical abuse, was the constant blaming, shaming and emotional invalidation I experienced. After hurling me down the stairs or forcing me to lick up my own vomit, my mother would draw me close to her and coo in my ear, “Oh, Scotty boy, quit whining. You don’t have it so bad. When I was your age my grandpa would take my favorite stuffed koala bear. I’d go looking for it, but would find him instead. Then do you know what he’d do to me?”
I do know. I knew at five years-old and I know now. Those detailed stories clawed their way deeply inside my memory, forever altering my development. “I never told you about that stuff,” my mother will insist. She may believe she is speaking the truth, but I know better. I have merely to mention her koala bear and she will be instantly frozen in sudden, dissociated shock, returning moments later in a slight daze, a rapid change of subject ready on her tongue.
I have no doubts that my mother’s illness is directly related to her traumatic upbringing. Perry et. al’s “Neurobiological Analysis of Early Trauma,” reinforces this speculation yet again, “…despite being distanced from threat and the original trauma, the stress-response apparatus of the child’s brain is activated again and again.”
This would suggest that BPD is more closely related to chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than the classic personality disorders. But why the continued pattern of abuse from generation to generation?
Matthew Huston’s book, “Borderline: Walking the Line,” offers an eloquent explanation, “BPD doesn’t just affect the one who receives the diagnosis; it often leaves a wake of turmoil through entire families as the emotional and relational disturbances ripple outward.
When a role model treats you as an extension of herself—there to meet her needs—the trauma can be long lasting. It takes a very strong person to overcome the effects, let alone maintain a constructive relationship with the parent.”
Why, you may wonder, do I feel the need to share such intimate and distressing details with the world? Because nothing in my life, long riddled with extraordinary tragedy, has induced more profound psychic disturbance than my mother’s mental instability. I’m purging myself… my words here are vomit, the expulsion of a poison long sickening my stomach.
If I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I feel no shame for doing so. There is a sickness in secrecy. My mother experienced ten years of sexual abuse for the sake of keeping up appearances and maintaining the family’s integrity. I don’t claim to be polite – fuck polite. I will be shamelessly transparent. Enough has been swept under the rug while my family disintegrated.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, “Family members often feel mystified and exhausted by their relative’s illness. The intense mood swings and anger outbursts can be frightening and disruptive… It is not unusual for relatives and spouses of BPD individuals to feel depressed themselves, and to struggle with feelings of guilt, shame and helplessness.”
When my mother was at her best, she was the most delightful, doting, spontaneous, and fun-loving woman, with the inflated optimism of a child and the attentive nature of the maternal ideal. What’s more, she was cool! She taught me how to dress, interact with my peers, and climb the adolescent social ladder. Grateful as I am for this specialized instruction, I know now that her motives had little to do with my own happiness. Her bottomless insecurity demanded a picture perfect family. She forcefully assembled her husband and children as one would each article of clothing in the perfect outfit. If a blouse, skirt or child failed to please her, they were quickly discarded.
Will my family ever heal? Can BPD be cured? Interventions and therapy are difficult to come by as this condition is highly stigmatized and avoided by many medical professionals. Treatment is made nearly impossible by the profound self-deception at the core of the patient’s disorder.
Bitter as I often am, I still understand my mother’s utter inability to control or recognize her behavior. I cast no blame on her – she couldn’t help the way she treated me. She was a product of her conditioning. Aren’t we all?
It has taken me 25 years to realize that I am nobody’s king, possess neither horses nor men, and will never be able to put my mother back together again. I’d love to see her restored to the complete and stable woman I’ve never known and likely never will. But her mental and emotional renewal is outside my control. I can only hope that by courageously relating these darkest experiences of my troubled life, I may raise awareness of a stigmatized illness. Perhaps by scattering the seeds of my words, I will miraculously plant a germinating bit of inspiration in the mind of someone, somewhere, destined to outperform royalty, equestrian and human effort… someone who may one day manage to put a truly beautiful – and perhaps not so irreparably damaged – woman back together again.
Posted by John Scott Holman on April 18, 2012
Share this video with friends, relatives, your bank teller… Whoever! Please do your part to prevent police brutality resulting from ignorance of autism spectrum disorders. The simple click of a button could prevent the abuse of yet another autistic individual!
WARNING: This video contains brief footage of a meltdown which includes explicit language. Don’t hate -I can’t help it! But please keep the kiddos out of earshot…
Posted by John Scott Holman on March 26, 2012
John has been busy with all sorts of projects and publications! Check out his latest adventures!
“Go Home Sailor” published on Autismafter16.com
“Executive Dysfunction” published on Autismafter16.com
“Post Traumatic Poetry” published on Autismafter16.com
Look forward to his newest venture, a viral reality TV show called “Fugitive Autistic Filmmaking.” It will be featured on Autismbrainstorm.org.
John has this to say about his newest adventure: “Last night I watched a rough cut of the premier episode of my viral reality TV show “Fugitive Autistic Filmmaking.” I’m so excited I think I just peed a little! “FAF” is a viral video series chronicling the unlikely adventures of an autistic writer, on the loose in the big world, struggling to attain independence. This is NOT merely another educational video about autism. This is pop autism! “FAF” is fun, hip, quirky and fast paced – spectrum education for the MTV generation.”
Check out the trailer here!
Posted by John Scott Holman on March 23, 2012