“Asperger’s on the Inside is an acutely honest and often highly entertaining memoir by Michelle Vines about life with Asperger’s Syndrome. The book follows Michelle in exploring her past and takes the reader with her on her journey to receiving and accepting her diagnosis.
Instead of rehashing widely available Asperger’s information, Michelle focuses on discussing the thoughts, feelings and ideas that go along with being an Aspie, giving us a rare peek into what it really feels like to be a person on the spectrum.” – courtesy of Amazon.com
Welcome Michelle from Spectrum Women Magazine and myself Barb Cook. Thank you for taking the time to join us in an interview about your latest book, Asperger’s on the Inside…..
Barb: Michelle, what inspired you to write such a heartfelt book about your life?
Michelle: Hi Barb, and thank you for inviting me for the interview.
Um, it’s difficult to say when the book went from being a collection of writing to me deciding I really was going to turn it into a proper book. I started writing more seriously—and I will admit something here—after some of the incidents with the character I call “Angel” in the book. I was just feeling so frustrated at how my actions were misinterpreted and how I couldn’t seem to broach the subject with the other moms and ladies around in order to explain myself. So the book started from a point of me really wanting to be understood. But as I kept telling stories about my life, it grew from just me wanting to be understood to me wanting all Aspies to be understood. And at some point, I decided to turn the book into a novel that slowly explains the Aspie mindset to any audience whilst still keeping it interesting by telling my life stories and the really personal and private things that were going on for me. My hope was that most audiences would find that very relatable even if they were not on the spectrum.
Barb: After reading your book (which I must admit I couldn’t put down), I personally felt a strong connection and similarity to your life in the terms of being naïve and not recognising situations until sometime later, even to the point of years later. Reflecting back to my early school years, I often remember being very naïve but also extremely driven to please, as was yourself. I now ponder if this trait is stronger in girls than it is in boys. What strengths as women could we embrace from our driving passion to better serve us in the workplace and home life as adults?
Michelle: Gee, that’s a tough one. I think women are more naturally programmed to want to please others and fit in socially (in general, anyway), so it doesn’t surprise me that Aspie women work to blend in more and are harder to spot. It also doesn’t surprise me that some of us are naïve and unaware of the bigger social picture when young, as we can focus so hard on working out the details—the right things to say and do, and analysing reactions—that we never really stop to see that from other people’s perspective that this is intuitive and they are doing it differently to us. We can’t look inside someone else’s brain to see how they think and feel, so it takes a while to realize, “Hey, this is harder for me.”
You know, I don’t really know the answer to how to best use our passion, but I wish I did! I guess all I can say is whatever passion or obsession an Aspie does have, it’s good to go with that. Because when we hyperfocus, we can have some pretty nifty strengths. But of course, matching a passion to the real-life work place and home life is a challenge and certainly not something I ever found easy. I suppose it’s all about each Aspie finding their own niche, i.e. a place where both the people and the type of work are perfect for them.
Barb: In your book you frequently touch on the difficulties in the workplace and the “sense” of feeling unwell at times, to the point of no longer being able to stay in that particular job. Can you elaborate on what was bringing up these feelings and the consequences they brought.
Michelle: Oh, those feelings were strong but so hard to describe. I guess in hindsight, I would say that the awful feelings I experienced were most likely brought on by a combination of overstimulation and frustration in the work environment. Overstimulation would come into play with the amount of noise and light that was just present in cubicle life, plus the anxiety evoked by having to be constantly alert and aware. As an Aspie, my brain is not wired for multitasking, so it was really hard to get any work done with other things going on around me. And then when people did talk to me, I would have to switch track, which takes time for someone with my Aspie (i.e. low connective tissue) brain. I found that for me, trying to be socially alert was a full-time job, requiring all my concentration. But so was actually doing work. So you can see the problem there!
And then, because I like to do things differently, in line with my way of thinking, anyone else’s attempts to manage and micromanage me could make me feel very frustrated. Their methods are just not the ones I would use to complete a task. So communication difficulties and having to do things—what, in my mind, was the wrong way—bred a lot of stress.
But anyway, as an Aspie sitting in an office like that, it was never really clear to me what was wrong or why I couldn’t stand it there. I just knew that in every job, I would start to feel really sick in my stomach frequently. In one job, I lost a lot of weight and was down at 52 kg 5’8” at my lowest, and my cycles stopped for a while, and even the doctor gave me a lecture on “work-life balance” and stress. But you see, I was never working more than the usual amount, and these feelings came on in every job, even the simple part-time ones like childcare or shifts on a checkout. It just left me more confused.
In my career, I would start dreading the jobs I was in and just want to get out of there – every day. I would sit in the bathroom when I felt most sick to just try and hold it together and even have crazy fantasies on the ride to work about things happening to prevent me going in.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The strength of these feelings was extreme, but the social pressure to work was also strong. There is a culture both here and in Australia of dislike for lazy people, and in America especially, a hatred of welfare. I knew the problem was me, so there was no point quitting again and again. I was just really trapped in that situation for some time.
Barb: The style you have written your book in completely captured my way of thinking, as I think this style would for many of us Aspies. What made you decide to write in this manner and were there any challenges with your editor in how you wanted the book presented?
Michelle: Lol. Well, doing the book in a section-by-section manner was very natural for me. It is just how I logically break down topics and think about them, and it was a wonderful tool to stop me from wandering off track, which I may have done constantly otherwise!
I did have a lot of fun with my editor during this book, and our interactions back and forth on how to make the book “neurotypical friendly.” It turns out in the first draft, there were a few sentences that non-Aspie people might find offensive, and I really had no idea at all they could be taken that way. They were mostly things about me stating an observation bluntly, but then I was informed people don’t talk about that—that truth is ugly, and you should not point it out! I could give examples, but I might get myself in trouble! 😛
So we went back and forth just smoothing a few of those things here and there. Hilary (my directional editor) would suggest and alternative, and then I would groan and say, “Noooo! That sounds fake, which is exactly the opposite of my style.” And then eventually, I would come up with a third option that was both inoffensive and true to myself. But a few things we were unsure how to fix, so we just left them in with a bit of the commentary in the footnotes. It was actually quite a lot of fun working that way, and Hilary and I got along really well, despite the bits where I say “shhh – don’t tell my editor I left this in!” J
Barb: Since publishing your book, have you found that friends and family now have a better understanding of yourself and Aspergers?
Michelle: Actually, I can’t say it has really made a lot of difference. I haven’t heard from many of the people I talked about in the book—I think reading is not everybody’s thing. And a lot of my family had already seen the presentation I did on “Life As An Adult with Asperger’s Syndrome” in 2014 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_TIztg7GuI), so that was the point where I had a few people contact me and even apologize for misunderstandings, which was nice.
But the book does seem to have had an impact on a lot of people out in the public whom I have not met. I’ve actually felt really touched that so many people have written to me to say thank you, both for the video when that came out and then again the book. There are so many lovely people out there, and I have been sent so many heartfelt stories, and it makes me so happy to hear how lives have been improved by just putting out this sort of information <3. I have made connections with some really amazing people.
Barb: What support networks do you recommend have worked the best for you and what advice can you give to other women who suspect they may have Aspergers Syndrome or who are newly diagnosed?
Michelle: Ah, I often get asked on how to get a diagnosis, and I wish I had a better answer to how that is done. It seems it is a very different process depending on which state and which country you live in. Here in Texas, I got mine done by a specialist at UTH, but that is a really expensive process. I know that MHMRA (a public organization) does assessments for free, but you have to documentation to show you need the assessment, such as special ed paperwork. And because so many of us got through school unnoticed, that can be a real problem to get.
Whatever the case, I recommend people don’t be discouraged by doctors who say, “You can’t have it for XYZ reasons,” because there are so many out there who don’t know Autism very well. Look for a specialist who knows about Autism in Adults and knows how to see through the coping mechanisms, especially for women.
For those who are just curious about if they are on the spectrum, I always recommend the RDOS quiz. (http://www.rdos.net/eng/Aspie-quiz.php) It’s not definitive, but it’s a good start for giving you an idea of whether you should look further into it.
And the other thing to consider if you are an adult is if you want or need a diagnosis. They don’t really help you a lot if you are functioning fine on your own. Unfortunately, they are not a magic button that link you to other Aspies or give you any emotional support. Unfortunately again, support groups are either in your area or not, and that just requires searching for them. Most support groups will happily accept those who are undiagnosed as well as those with a dx.
However, if you are struggling financially, there are some disability help options there, so then diagnosis could definitely be worth it. I got mine simply because I really wanted to know for sure. Whether that was a good or bad decision, I don’t know, but I don’t regret it.
Barb: Finally, Michelle, how does the future look for you and what would you like to see evolve from the publication of your book?
Michelle: The future for me is looking pretty bright right now. Amusingly, in my book, I wrote about how my obsession was organizing things and I wish I could get a job to just organize other people on paper without the calling around part. And my publishing company responded to say they needed someone for that role in the company, so I am now working part time as production manager for Grey Gecko Press. It is a work-from-home job, and the people are lovely, so it suits me very, very well. And I have been happy in it for several months now, and it is the first job in which I have ever felt really useful.
I am not sure what is going to evolve from my book publication, but I will continue to try and get the word out and spread it around, because I guess my end goal is that I want to see as many typical people as possible read it and be that bit better educated on Asperger’s in women. And I also want to continue to help all the Aspies out there who have found my book at a critical time and benefitted from it, both in their own understanding of Asperger’s and just for self-validation.
A few people have asked if I plan to write another book, and I don’t think so, but I am open to whatever other ways I can get involved in spreading Autism awareness, and who knows what may come up in the future.
About Michelle Vines
Michelle Vines was born in Liverpool, Australia and grew up in a hilly forest region of Melbourne known as the Dandenong Ranges. After showing talent in mathematics and science, Michelle was accepted into the University of Melbourne where she completed a bachelor’s degrees with honors in chemical engineering and science. Michelle then went on to work as a process engineer in the oil and gas industry and a technical leader in plastics manufacturing, before retiring to start a family in 2009.
In 2010, Michelle moved to the United States with her one-year-old son, where she had another son the following year. She gradually grew to love the town of Houston, Texas, and has chosen to remain ever since.
At thirty years old, on the advice of friends, Michelle approached a psychologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center for assessment and was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Michelle found the diagnosis to be a huge relief, and she has since dedicated a lot of her time to advocating for people on the Autism spectrum with the goal of helping the general public better understand the Autistic person’s perspective. In 2013, she gave a public presentation on “Life as an Adult with Asperger’s Syndrome,” which has been viewed by tens of thousands of people on YouTube and has been instrumental in giving many others hope and the courage to seek out their own Asperger’s diagnosis.
Website – coming very soon – www.michellevines.com
My Facebook Author page – www.facebook.com/MichelleVines1980
Youtube – www.youtube.com/user/mvic80
Twitter – https://twitter.com/AspieOTInside