The waiting game

My memory’s been pretty horrible lately, so I really can’t remember how much I’ve talked about what’s been going on with my novel (Project E). In case I forgot to explain anything at all:

I submitted Project E directly to an indie publisher in January, and I expect to hear back from them in May (maybe this month if I’m super lucky). Hopefully before I graduate and leave campus. I’ll be honest; the waiting game has been pretty brutal. Especially since I basically failed my initial goal of getting Project E at least under contract for publishing during my last year of law school, so that I’d have something to keep me excited during the final slog to graduation (though, in hindsight, it was probably unrealistic, given that I had no connections and was going into the publishing process cold).

Sometimes I waffle about whether it was the “right” decision to submit Project E to an indie publisher instead of query more agents. After all, I want to eventually have a career as an author, and traditional publishing is still the best way to do that (I don’t write quickly enough to make a living from self-publishing/indie publishing). But I also think it’s not a bad thing to publish Project E specifically in the LGBTQ fiction niche—I’d get to bring racial diversity and an asexual romance where sex isn’t required to that genre, which are both things that genre is currently sorely lacking.

…Though, on the flip side, one of the problems with submitting Project E to the niche queer fiction (specifically M/M romance) audience that I worry about is that there is an expectation among that audience that there will be sex scenes, to put it kindly. I’m not kidding; I see over and over again in Goodreads reviews “[low rating] because there wasn’t sex/the sex was off-screen” or, conversely, “there was just enough steam to keep me happy” (implying that the book would’ve been rated lower or considered unsatisfactory if there was no sex).

Basically, I want Project E to be published, but I also hope it’ll be well-received, or at least not criticized for shallow reasons such as “didn’t have any sex, 1/5 stars.”

And while I’m still waiting, it’s way too easy to get sucked into the negative downward spirals of wondering “What if I’m not good enough?” Especially since I wasn’t able to find an agent. “What if people hate my premise?” “What if the no sex really is a deal-breaker?” “What if it’s too dark for people?”

Sigh. Fingers crossed…


Debriefing from talking to a counselor, 2

In a previous entry, I mentioned that I had begun talking to a counselor, primarily about my anxiety issues. I’ve been seeing her intermittently once every few weeks, and this was the third time. I had mentioned my possibly being autistic to her the first time, though we didn’t talk about it the second time, and it came up again today, slightly more in-depth.

One observation I have is that, because I essentially don’t talk to anyone at the law school, I feel like my social sensitivity has been heightened to irrational levels. There are a few things she said that intuitively stung, and I have to tell myself that she didn’t mean it that way and that I’m over-sensitive to: (a) implications that I might not be autistic, and (b) anything that could possibly be construed as me avoiding schoolwork/Things I Should Be Doing.

I also feel extremely inarticulate/bad at responding to certain questions, and now I’m berating myself for not responding more positively to something positive she said. (Will try to work on that in the future, I guess.)

One thing I’ve been really thinking about is describing the experience of being autistic. Because I’m still only self-diagnosed at this point, even though I have a firm belief that autism is the only thing that explains my social difficulties, fixation on special interests, etc., I’m still easily swayed into paranoid “But what if I’m not *actually* autistic???” thoughts.

And so, for example, when the counselor asked if I experienced sensory sensitivities, and I was trying to describe my sensitivity to touch, sound, and taste, she commented to the effect of, “That doesn’t exactly sound out of the average, though.” And yeah, it triggered my paranoid reaction, because I don’t have sensory sensitivity to the point of experiencing physical pain—but then I kind of feel like, is that really the threshold for autism, though? Like sensory sensitivities don’t count unless they make me actually keel over?

(I also wonder how much of it is sensory sensitivities that I’m not consciously aware of. For example, I get exhausted if I’m forced to be out shopping for too long, but I’ve never really thought about why; it just seemed not surprising in light of me being introverted and having issues with my feet so I can’t stand/walk for extended periods without experiencing pain. But maybe it’s actually a result of having my senses overwhelmed.)

I feel like I would’ve had similar difficulty trying to describe my special interests, because once you get beyond the stereotype of trains/numbers, special interests sound a lot just like passions/hobbies. It’s difficult to convey how all-consuming special interests are, and how invested I get in them.

Fortunately, I think she was more convinced when I talked about my social difficulties, so…I guess that should be an overall win. But yeah, I guess my paranoia up to this point about not being taken seriously as autistic (particularly as an Asian American, female-presenting person, and person who doesn’t visibly stim, can maintain eye contact with people for some time, and sounds articulate enough in response to questions that my verbal communication troubles appear nonobvious) isn’t completely unwarranted.


Ableism in school

I’ve been wanting to write some kind of post about ableism towards invisible disabilities for some time now, and I guess brooding over some of my past experiences motivated me to try.

You never know when someone is struggling with an invisible disability. They’re not going to walk around with a sign that says “I have anxiety,” “I’ve been struggling with depression,” “I am autistic,” etc.

You never know when anxiety is preventing someone from checking their email for a few days.

Or when autism means someone is going to say something to you that sounds slightly odd.

It literally costs $0 to be nice, and less than $0 to be professional to other people, instead of attributing terrible motives for why some people are slipping below the usual standard.

But do you know what it costs to be cold and unsympathetic?

You end up making someone who already feels terrible feel even more terrible.

Worst case scenario? When you are being hostile to someone who’s already in a fragile mental state (or someone who’s autistic, who by default experiences things more intensely than allistic people), you traumatize them. For years.


I’ve been reflecting on some of my experiences over 16 years of school, and realizing that certain negative experiences I’ve had with teachers…did traumatize me, in a way.

And it’s puzzling because when I was a TA in college (for multiple classes/semesters), I was never harsh towards the students I was TA-ing for. If they screwed up an assignment, I would just offer to explain whatever they were having trouble with. If they were delinquent on turning in assignments, I just asked them nicely to turn the assignment in, and shrugged my shoulders if they never responded. I didn’t see any point in getting mad or harassing them.

The only time I’ve ever been harsh was once, when I was editor-in-chief of a campus magazine and I was told that our writers didn’t show up for a weekly meeting. Because I thought that requiring the writers to come in on a weekly basis for a check-in was entirely reasonable, and I emphasized many times that we didn’t even need people to stay for long, just to drop by and let us know how their articles were going.

Other than that, I mean…why are some teachers so unsympathetic? Why would you be that way if you’re a teacher, unless your default view of students is to assume they’re lazy and trying to slack off all the time (which is a terrible assumption to make)?

I have been, by and large, a diligent student, and yet the few times I screwed up, I was unlucky enough to have teachers/TAs who made me feel awful and ashamed of myself for that screw-up. In 10th grade, I had to switch an oral essay topic at the last minute because I realized my original one wasn’t working, and my teacher asked if I’d just been slacking off until that point. In my junior year of college, I had to switch my classes around and therefore couldn’t TA for a class I was scheduled to TA for, which I emailed the professor of that class about, and the professor blew up at me for failing to respond to her emails quickly enough. (As if college students never have their schedules change during Add-Drop period? /sarcasm) And I’ve already talked about the incident when I forgot the page minimum for my 1L brief and was chewed out by the TA.

I thought I’d gotten over these respective incidents, but now, I realize they still haunt me. They haunt me far more than every time a teacher has said something nice to me. They manifest as heart-pounding, whole-body-shaking anxiety when I have to email a professor now. They are possibly the reason why I’ve never dared to ask for any sort of accommodations, for fear of not being believed and ridiculed and assumed I’m just trying to “slack off.”

And I hate it. I hate it because I can realize that my “screw-ups” were objectively not terrible, or at least within the normal range of student mistakes. And yet they’ve instilled such a fear in me of talking to professors, or any other kind of “authority” figure. I’m wired to believe that the slightest misstep will end up with getting criticized, and that kind of pressure is killing me.

I mean, I guess it’s only a few months until I’m done with school forever. But I’d hope that this kind of anxiety doesn’t resurface in another context.

And…I wish I could figure out how to deal with these negative experiences that I guess still affect me years after they happen? I want to be able to move on. But I just don’t know how.


Anxiety, continued

So, after dithering around for weeks, I finally decided to see a university counselor about my anxiety issues. I’ll freely admit that despite my advocacy for mental health, I am terrible when it comes to getting help with my own mental health issues. Partly it’s because I tend to be hesitant to talk about personal things with strangers, due to a general mistrust of (allistic) people, and partly it’s because I’m way too “good” at convincing myself that my mental health problems can’t be real, thanks to internalized ableism.

To my pleasant surprise, she ended up being very helpful. (Although I also raised the possibility of my being autistic with her, and I don’t think she quite believed me. Then again, she wasn’t an autism specialist.) However, my conversations with the counselor have made me reflect on the fact that my way of thinking has become really warped over the past few years (and probably because of anxiety)—I realize that me being completely shocked the fact that she responded positively and supportively to everything I said isn’t really a normal mental state.

I’m in a weird state right now in which I’m not happy and neither mentally or physically that healthy, but because I’m not depressed, nothing feels “serious” enough to warrant sympathy. Also, because I know—or at least feel like—there’s no “cure” to what I’ve been going through until I graduate. Sleep and eating problems have been my “normal” for months now, so it was surprising to hear the counselor treat them like a big deal.

I’ve been thinking back to the events I described in my previous post and also another older post. I described one of those events (the TA thing) to the counselor I was talking to, and her response was along the lines of, “It sounds like you’ve had something like a traumatic reaction to that experience that was never resolved.” I’m starting to wonder if those three (possibly four) events—all social failures that affected me deeply—happening within a few months of each other, while I was dealing with severe depression for separate reasons, cumulatively formed some kind of “trauma” that I am still dealing with years later, manifesting as this anxiety and persistent negative thoughts about myself.

It’s also hard to deal with things because I am painfully alone right now. I have no friends at the law school. I have two friends who I keep in contact with through email, and both of them sometimes go weeks (or even months) without responding to me. My family is usually my rock, except right now, my parents are chilling in Dubai (lucky them…) for a week or so, and my sister, despite her recent assurances that getting married wouldn’t change anything, has been often difficult to get a hold of. And talking to myself doesn’t really help.

So yeah, things haven’t been great lately, and I don’t feel like they’ll get better until after May. I was hoping, and I guess I still am hoping that if I can get my book published, it’ll be the boost to my self-confidence that I need to get out of this anxiety/low-self-esteem slump. But until then, and until I can leave law school behind forever, I still have to hang on.


On positive experiences, or lack thereof

I’ve always had a certain baseline of social anxiety, tied to my autism, but recently it’s become much more severe than it ever has been before. Recently, it’s gotten to the point at which the idea of talking to/emailing people at the law school makes me unable to sleep, gives me heart palpitations and an accelerated heart rate, causes intestinal discomfort, and/or makes me shake uncontrollably.

I’ve read eloquent posts by other people on the importance of positive initial experiences for autistics—because a negative experience often creates the expectation and fear that a particular experience will always be stressful/painful/etc.—and I wanted to talk about my own recent experience in that regard.

In my first year of law school, I had a very negative experience with a fellow law student—a TA for my class. I was struggling with an assignment, and my interactions with her made me feel like I was stupid, unable to grasp easy things, and therefore came off as lazy. Which was absolutely mortifying to me, since a large part of my self-identity at the time was staked on the idea that I was a good, rules-following, hardworking student. Most memorably, I had forgotten the page minimum for our assignment (writing a brief) because literally no one ever brought it up in class, and my draft of my brief came out short because I honestly couldn’t think of many arguments to make for the issue I was assigned. When she sent a cold email telling me to redo my draft to meet the limit, as though I’d purposely made it short due to laziness, I felt incredibly ashamed and embarrassed and spent the entire day crying.

(Ironically, the feedback I later received for the assignment from the final judges was that I put too many random arguments in—but I’d had to do that in order to meet the page minimum. :P)

I think it’s been since then that I withdrew and shut down socially in regards to interacting with other people at the law school (I also developed severe depression after this incident, though I’m not sure whether it was related). Because every time I have to send an email to a law student/faculty now, I flash back to what happened during my 1L year and I’m terrified that I’ll get an email implying that I’m stupid, I’m lazy, I screwed up horribly, why the hell do I not have my crap together. I know it’s not rational, that most allistics are probably nice, but I can’t help this overwhelming fear.

And it sucks, but my autistic brain is the way it is, and I’m angry at the world for being so harsh and unforgiving in this way.


Life’s a mess, what else is new?

Everyone tells me, “You’re almost there, you just need to survive one more semester.” But I can’t make myself believe it. This last semester feels like it’s lasting forever.

My burnout is so bad, I now have meltdowns after talking to strangers for 5 minutes. My social anxiety has become utterly debilitating. I keep ping-ponging between anxiety and depression, meaning I’m in this extremely weird state in which I’m painfully anxious about things, and yet…can’t bring myself to care at the same time. Time management? Out the window. I’ve been spending my weekends doing nothing except playing Guild Wars 2. Even when I think I’ve accomplished all my goals, I go and seek more things to do (it started with speed-leveling my Revenant + farming Hero Points for Herald + farming the things for the Glint’s Bastion collection; then I rushed to finish the Auric weapons collection; and then I turned to achievement and Mastery point farming. Ugh, I don’t know anymore).

There are Things I Need To Get Done In Order To Graduate, and yet I’m at a state at which I can’t talk to people to sort things out. And even though my parents are supportive enough that they’ve offered to help…internalized ableism/fear of ableism makes me terrified to let them help me (even though the alternative is that I barely get anything done on my own). Because no one knows I’m autistic, and I’m not sure anyone would really understand even if they did know. I can’t shake the feeling that in graduate school, people would think you’re crazy if you need your parents to speak for you, even though I honest to goodness do because I can’t handle talking to administrators anymore.

So yeah, everything’s horrible, basically. I used to be able to compartmentalize my stress well and keep myself sane by focusing on when things will be over, but my coping methods have basically fallen apart since I’m not used to dealing with this level of anxiety. Sigh…


Social media & “information wars”

Given what’s going on in US politics right now—the intense backlash against feminism, LGBTQIA rights, and other social justice movements that can be seen daily on social media platforms—I’m becoming increasingly worried about a trend that I call “information wars” (or “fact wars”).

One thing I notice from anti-feminists and anti-“social justice warriors” (anti-SJWs for short) who are purportedly highly educated is a backlash fueled by arguing against facts and claiming that commonly cited facts that show oppression are really conspiracy theories propagated by “the Left”/”feminists”/[insert marginalized group here].

I experienced some of this when I mistakenly engaged in a Tumblr argument with a douchebag about whether a particular video game was sexist or not. (Well, my position was more nuanced than that, but he mistakenly believed that was what I was saying.) When I cited my own anecdotal evidence, he claimed anecdotal evidence was worthless because I “could’ve been lying” (yet I was supposed to accept his anecdotal evidence on faith). He made claims that were so obviously false, like “no literature explores male/male friendship [excluding books about soldiers],” that I didn’t even know what to say to him because…dude…please go to a bookstore or library.

You have people who are anti-Anita Sarkeesian/Zoe Quinn/etc. because they believe that all of their claims of harassment and cyberbullying are made up (or that they “deserved it” because they’re “actually” “Bad People,” but that’s another issue). And in its most blatant form, you get something like the acephobic movement on Tumblr, which refuses to believe any facts at all that contradict their view and strangely isn’t bothered by an inability to cite facts that support their own position. They just keep shouting objective falsehoods over and over again until they believe it’s truth. Or the anti-vaxxers, who refuse to believe that that one study “showing” that vaccines caused autism has been debunked over and over again by the scientific community.

This is dangerous to me, because we have supposedly educated, intelligent people who assure themselves that they are on the “right” side based on false or warped facts, but using “intellectualism” and “factual objectivity” as shields, they are completely self-assured in believing themselves to be Right and anyone who argues with them is Wrong.

And I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this kind of backlash to social justice movements has coincided with the current sorry state of US politics, and the deep political schisms that seem unsolvable.

It’s not wrong to be skeptical of information. Even science is susceptible to institutionalized biases (I took a whole course on that in college). However, when skepticism of information combines with confirmation bias—people refusing to believe certain things because they don’t like that conclusion, and then they go out to find “facts” that support what they wanted to believe in the first place—we don’t end up with a more enlightened society. We just end up with one irreconcilably divided to the point of intense vitriol.

Also, people who spout these kinds of things—i.e. the case of cis men who claim to support women’s rights but hate feminism—aren’t actually concerned with being good allies. At all. I don’t feel supported by these kinds of people; I feel actively threatened by them.

Look, there’s plenty to criticize about mainstream feminism, in the vein of it not being intersectional enough. (Personally, I have a huge beef with how mainstream feminism often throws disabled women and men under the bus.) And while I support Anita Sarkeesian’s general goal, I don’t always agree with what she says (I think she’s completely off the mark in her analysis of Sucker Punch).

But if a self-claimed “supporter of women’s rights” also claims to hate feminists because “they’re all whiny b*tches” (that’s an actual quote by the way, not something I made up), what do I conclude, besides the fact that that person values feeling validated and Right over the actual feelings of women who are trying to advocate for their rights? In other words, that such a person doesn’t really believe in women’s rights at all, except in an abstract “sexism = bad and because I am a Good Person, I cannot be sexist” way?

I don’t know what the solution for any of this is. Confirmation bias can be resolved by making people aware of the bias—though, of course, that would require people to admit there is a possibility that they and/or their “facts” are wrong, and many people would fight against that idea. But as a historian and scientist by training, as a person who does revere objectivity and “truth,” I’m very disheartened by the current “information wars” and the hydra of misinformation that social justice advocates have to fight against, over and over again.