Tuesday, November 1, 2011


(Trigger warning for mentions of bullying and some mental health issues)
 From Charli Devnet comes this essay. 

Three weeks ago I attended a series of lectures in Albany, New Yok by Dr. Tony Attwood on high functioning autism and Aspergers Syndrome. Among the many insight I gained, one observation really struck a chord. Dr. Attwood commented that aspies are like prey animals. I had been pondering that very issue myself .

Last summer I was riding Silverado out on the trails when the thought first ocurred to me.I adopted Silverado two years ago after my parents died when the loneliness became unbearable. He is an undocumented immigrant, a former worker on a Mexican cattle ranch. At 14.1 hands, the vet calls him a large pony. Everyone else refers to him as the small grey horse.Despite the stories you hear, there was no instant bonding between us. I had ridden most of my life, yet I had no idea of the responsibility and the cost involved in actually owning a horse. There are board fees and vet fees and farrier fees and, of course, all that tack that must be purchased. We've also had trouble finding a barn where we fit in. In little more than two years we've been at three barns and now I'm looking for a fourth. There have been many times when I wondered what I was thinking, acquiring a horse. Yet as time has gone by, we have bonded and Silverado has taught me many things that are as true of myself as they are of him. You see, a horse really is a prey animal. He spooks at the least little thing--a thunderstorm, a backfire, an animal as innocuous as a deer. A deer will run across his path and he'll spook and, if I were not thre to pullon the reins, he would turn and run away.
       At first I ould reprimand him. "Silly horse, to be frightened by a deer!" Then I began to see things from his point of view. Silverado catastrophizes. Sure, he thinks, it looks like a deer, but what if she's a mountain lion in disguise, trying to lure me into a false sense of security and all the while planning to lap on my back and devour me? Better flee now and ask questions later."
       Haven't I become just the same way? There was a time when I did not act like a prey animal. As a child I was strong and spunky and high-functioning. I had troubles enough, to be sure--schoolyard bullies who chased me down the street, classmates who mocked and taunted me, teachers who treated me with undue harshness in the belief that so bright a child --so bright a girl--should know better than to misbehave as consistently as I did.But I did no think of myself as a victim. Whatever problems I had, I was tough enough to confront them.
Of course, as a child I had what experts now refer to as a support system. Although I did not fit in with many of the other kids, I had my circle of playmates,, and, indeed, a best friend just next door. if my parents were not the best of nurturers, i did not matter. In my hometown, i had a plethora of aunts and uncles and grandparents who took up the slack. Further, like most children in the sixties, I was accorded a measure of freedom that few kids enjou today. if I left home in the morning and came back for dinner, it was not thought amiss. I spent my free time carousing with my playmates,in the library pursuing my favorite subjects, just exploring on my bike or perusing the latest comic books in the What-Not Shop. (My favorite was Superboy. Like me, he came from the planet  Kryton).
      The summer I turned thirteen I lost all that.My parents sold our house and moved to a crumbling estate in the country. Suddenly I had no one to play with, no one to talk to and nothing to do. i still had my bike, but thre was nowhere to go. From that time on, lonliness began to track me and would never let me out of its icy clutches. Loneliness made me vulnerable. It disabled me. If I were a male, I would say it emasculated me. It was then that I began to think of myself as a victim and, internalizing that notion, acted as a victim.
          How else to explain why,despite several advanced degrees, I have  been unemployed much of my adult life or settled for a series of part-time jobs, for all of which I was overqualified and underpaid? How else to explain a life of unwanted solitude or uneasy celibacy? The only skill a prey animal has to master is how to sniff out danger and ran away. Of all the skills I had had as a child, the one I honed was that. Other people though I lacked suitable work or relationships because I was lazy, too picky or simply did not try hard enough. in reality, it was the highly tuned instinct of a prey animal frightened of living in captivity.
         However, although I excelled at being a prey animal, I was not ahappy one,  and I suspect that most aspies are unhappy in the  victim role to the world has relegated  them. True prey animals in the wild have the solace of the herd, and that is the one comfort that autistics most sorely lack. We are usually  loners and not always by choice.  The true loners of the animal kingom --the cat, the owl, the wolf --are hunters, not prey. I wonder if that is the reason behind the rapport that most aspies have with felines. We like cats because they embody qualities we wish we could incorporate into ourself-- that overwhelming self-confidence, that devil-may care insouciance, the cat's  security in its ability to take care of itself , its  wit to design a plan and  the patience to pursue it.
       When I was younger, I alleviated some of my sense of  victimization  by engaging in some cat-like behavior. I became what other people might call a "stalker." Now, I never meant to harm anyone; I had no bad intentions. I was excited by the thrill of the chase. Lying in wait of following stealthily empowered me. It provided the temporary  illusion that I was the one in control, the decision-maker; in other words, the person I had been before I realized that I was  a prey animal.On the contrary, when a man approached me, I reverted to form and ran away. In the end, I turned St. Paul's adminition on its head. I decided it was better to burn than to marry. At least burning made me feel alive and free.
        My mother, who might well have been as aspie herself, had a similar concept.She rarely are and, as a consequence, was amazingly slender. I asked her how she kept so thin. She replied that she liked "that hungry feeling." It took me a long time to understand the theory, but now I do. I guess it made her feel alive in a world of strangers,  one aspect of life that she alone could control.Of course, in order to retain "that hungry feeling" and refrain from doing what comes naturally, something must be sacrificed. My mother sacrificed her physical health. She smoked to suppress her appetite. When she developed lung cancer at the age of 74, she had no strength to fight and  succumbed very quickly. As for me, I gave up all that I might have had in life had I not surrendered myself to the flight instinct of a prey, had I had the courage or the pride in myself  to  stand up to trouble instead of spooking and running away.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Charli: Thank you for sharing this. I can definitely relate to the feeling of being prey. I have struggled with it for over 20 years -- after my parents split up, my mother and I moved to a small town when I was 11. Everyone knew everyone else, there were the various cliques, and I never was welcome or fit in -- for a good percentage of my life I was either the weird loner or the nerd who was always teased.

    I thought that all the years going by would have changed things, but it didn't -- when I went to my high school reunion a couple of years ago, I felt ignored all over again. Perhaps the only thing that has changed since graduation day is that as an adult, it is generally thought that it's not okay to tease or put someone else down...but even some folks haven't learned that lesson, as evidenced by the workplace bullying we sometimes face.

    I think we have to be honest about our pain. I have tried walking around, either "hungry" or "burning", but I cannot. My nerves cannot tolerate it. I am trying my best to learn how to trust again and not become so easily spooked or fearful. And you're right -- it is a sacrifice, and not one that anyone should have to make.

    Best wishes to you on your journey.



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