How to know if your symptoms are real or just in your head

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hannahjrob
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21 Nov 2017, 2:39 am

Well, I wouldn't say ALL in my head, but maybe just, what if I'm overthinking things and my social skills aren't really as bad as I think, or my quirks aren't really all that strange? I've wondered if I might have Asperger's for a few years now (I'm a 26 year old female) and I finally made an appointment to see a psychologist who specializes in ASD in a couple weeks. I'm still a little unsure of whether I'm doing the right thing. I know that I need some kind of help. I know that I have anxiety and that it's started to affect me a lot more than it ever used to as I'm becoming older, I have more responsibilities, and am also about to finish my teaching degree (but at this point I really don't think I'd ever survive being a teacher and I really haven't been happy). I'm just not sure if AS is the underlying cause or not. I feel like I can relate to a lot of the female traits I've read about, and I relate to a lot about what people on here describe. I've had several diagnosed females (on here and other forums) tell me that I sound a lot like them based on my description of myself.

I am definitely a maladaptive daydreamer and have always been. I know having MD doesn't necessarily mean you're on the spectrum, but from what I've read, the two often occur together, particularly in females. Since I was a child, I've spent most of my time in my imaginary daydream worlds that I create in my head. There are even usually characters I create that seem very real to me, and sometimes it's like I feel even more connected and attached to them than I do to people in real life. My daydreaming wasn't really a problem when I was a child (I was able to hide it so well that no one knew, and I still did pretty well in school) but I feel like it's becoming a bit more problematic now. I still am able to hide it, but it just makes it harder for me to focus and get things done that need to be done. And I find that if I have to go most of the day without being able to slip into my daydream life, I get very stressed out and overwhelmed.

I've definitely always been introverted and shy. But again, sometimes I'm just not sure if my social skills are as bad as I think, or if I just overthink it and am too hard on myself. I've always managed to have friends, but usually just maybe 2 or 3, never a lot. And I'm pretty much okay with just having a few close friends, because I don't even like large social gatherings anyway. But I'm really starting to worry that I'm going to have a hard time getting a job and being successful because I don't feel like I have good social/communication skills. I feel like I have a lot of awkward moments in social situations where I don't know what to do or how to respond. There are times where I think back to how I responded in a social situation and I agonize over it and feel like I did/said something wrong or didn't express myself the way that I wanted to. I've never really known how to approach people and ask for help. I've always been terrible with verbal instructions and making eye contact. I have always (well, at least since around late elementary or middle school) just felt like I'm socially/emotionally immature compared to my peers. I do know that literally nobody who first meets me ever believes I'm 26, and part of that is just because I'm short and have a baby face, but I feel like it also has something to do with the way I act and carry myself. I still feel like a child a lot of the time and feel like I'm just a 12 year old trapped in an adult's body. I just feel like if I were a teacher or had any other "professional" job, people wouldn't take me seriously (and when I've been in classrooms, I've never really related well to the teacher I was with and almost felt more like one of the children). But again, how do I really know if I'm really that bad in social situations and if people really perceive me as awkward and immature, or if I'm just imagining things and being too hard on myself? My parents and my close friends don't think I really have any social issues and would say I do fine talking to people. But of course, I know them well so I'm more comfortable around them. I just feel like other people who don't know me as well do sense that something is a little "off" with me and might just think I'm a little weird and childish. But it's not like I go up and ask people how they perceive me, so I don't know for sure...it's just a vibe I get. I did have one of my bosses at my job say I was "quirky" once, but that's the only real indication I've ever gotten from someone. I've also had people my own age and even a little younger describe me as "cute", "innocent", and "sweet," which definitely does make me think I come off as much younger than I am.

As for special interests and obsessions...I feel like I have them, but I'm just not sure if my behavior was/is obsessive enough to qualify as AS. I did go through phases as a child (and still do) where I'd get fixated on certain topics and memorize things about them. The first one I remember is dinosaurs when I was about 4-6. I collected all kinds of toy dinosaurs and memorized the names of all the different types of dinosaurs. Later I got really into the American Girl dolls and books, which plenty of girls do so that one didn't seem too strange. But to this day, I definitely still remember every single detail about all of the characters and their books because I read them so obsessively and am even still somewhat interested in it now. I got really fixated on the Nutcracker after I saw my friend perform in it and I remember I'd talk about it constantly to the point that my friends did get tired of it. I loved to watch different professional ballet companies' Nutcrackers on video and compare the different versions. The only others I can think of that could be seen as weird or obsessive was US states/capitals/geography when I was in 5th grade. I memorized the capitals as well as most of the largest cities in every state and I'd often sit at the computer for long periods of time just looking up the weather forecasts for random cities throughout the country. For a period of time in middle school, I developed an interest in music from the 1960s, and every day when I got home from school, I would just get on the internet and listen to samples of the same songs (this was a little before YouTube debuted so it was harder to find full length songs without illegally downloading). I've always done that...just listen to the same songs again and again or or watch the same movies/videos over and over again until I become fixated in another one. I have always loved houses and their designs. When I was little, I actually started trying to design my own. I love to just go inside houses and study their floor plans, but since I don't usually have the opportunity to do so (other than when a house is for sale and it's open to the public), I sometimes like to just get on realtor websites and look at pictures of the houses for sale. I also have a fascination with dates, so I remember the exact date (or sometimes just the month and year if not the exact date) that many songs and movies came out. And I've memorized the birth dates of nearly everyone I've met who has told me, plus lots of random celebrities and historical figures.

But again... I just don't know if things like my daydreaming and interests actually indicate AS, or it they're more common in NTs than I think. And I don't know for sure if my social skills are as bad as I think. I'm nervous about seeing the psychologist, because I don't want to seem like someone who just wants an excuse for my flaws (like being immature and having issues focusing) or who's just trying to get attention (but if I were actually diagnosed, I definitely wouldn't tell many people...I really just want to know for myself and so that maybe I can figure out what might be a suitable career for me). And there are other things that make me wonder if I really have AS, the main one being how "normal" my childhood was and how no one really thought anything was wrong. People just thought I was a really shy kid. The only complaints some teachers had about me was that I didn't ask for help when I needed it, sometimes didn't "follow directions", and sometimes I took a long time to finish assignments and/or didn't seem focused. I hid my special interests from most people other than my parents (who didn't seem to find it all that strange) so kids didn't make fun of me or really think I was weird. I definitely didn't have a speech delay (which again, is why I'd definitely have Asperger's if I am actually on the spectrum, even though I know it's not technically a diagnosis anymore) or any major developmental delays. The only problems I remember having were with motor skills...I've always been physically awkward and clumsy and I was pretty late to learn how to do things like tie shoes, use scissors, ride a bike, etc. To this day I still have difficulty with physical tasks that seem like they should be simple, like getting doors unlocked, folding things a certain way, setting up/using appliances and machines.

I also never really go into "sensory overload" like a lot of people describe. And I've never been prone to meltdowns. I do feel like I'm overly sensitive to light and sounds, but not as much as a lot of AS people say they are. I am picky about how clothes feel (particularly pants and underwear...they have to sit at a certain spot on my stomach to be comfortable enough to wear). I definitely dress for comfort, so I'm not fashionable at all and this could be another reason people think I'm younger than I am. I don't like to wear jewelry because it doesn't feel good, and I really don't care about grooming (well, I stay clean and practice good hygiene, but I definitely don't ever feel like styling my hair, putting on makeup, or getting all dressed up).

And as I said, one of the main reasons I'm concerned is because I'm getting a teaching degree (and set to do student teaching next semester) and I really don't feel like I can do it. These are the main issues I've encountered.

a. It's difficult to manage a classroom full of kids because I'm bad at multi tasking and don't seem to be good at reading social cues

b. I'd still feel like an awkward kid around the other teachers, principals, and parents and would have no idea how to deal with them. Don't get me started on having to do back to school night with parents.

c. Writing lesson plans is a nightmare because I'm honestly not good at coming up with lessons and activities and seeing that far into the future (i.e if the students aren't getting it, what are you going to do differently?)

d. Again, I have no sense of fashion or what a "professional" looking outfit is, so even just trying to put together clothes to wear to the schools stresses me out.

e. I have always been completely exhausted and drained after being in schools. It's not that I don't like the kids, it's just that it's all too much. I feel like I have to put on a a performance ALL DAY for the kids and the other teachers and try to be someone I'm not. I always have to do that to some degree when dealing with people, but again, as a teacher, I'd have to do it all day and it's exhausting. Teaching is also obviously not a job where you can half be there and half be in your own world. So it also overwhelms me because there's no time to daydream and slip into my dream worlds. Any time I have done field experiences in schools, I've had a migraine and gastrointestinal issues by the end of the day.



akn90
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21 Nov 2017, 9:57 am

I don't have an answer to this because I don't know if the symptoms are real or in my head. Ever since I entertained the idea that I might have ASD of some kind, I ignore it for a few weeks and then check up on this forum, and retake the Autism Quotient test, where I always fall 34-36.

From my point of view, I check most of the boxes, with the exception that I think I didn't have any delays in speech. Or if I did, it is attributed to having chronic ear infections as a young child. Honestly, I don't really know, and I don't want to ask. I am worried about bringing anything related to autism because if that fear of it all being in my head. Because if it is all in my head, that means I'm crazy, which is worse than being autistic. For instance, I'm writing this post using Tor, and I think before I post anything because I am afraid of including personally identifiable information. I recognize that I'm using ableist terminology and judgement towards disabilities, but that's the internal monologue that goes on in my mind.

On the other hand, I've begun seeing a psychiatrist and I'm getting meds for depression and anxiety which is helping me with some of the symptoms that I associate with possibly being related to ASD, so since that seems to be working for me, I'm not as concerned with a label or diagnosis as I was a few months ago when I was really struggling.



hannahjrob
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21 Nov 2017, 11:52 am

akn90 wrote:
I don't have an answer to this because I don't know if the symptoms are real or in my head. Ever since I entertained the idea that I might have ASD of some kind, I ignore it for a few weeks and then check up on this forum, and retake the Autism Quotient test, where I always fall 34-36.

From my point of view, I check most of the boxes, with the exception that I think I didn't have any delays in speech. Or if I did, it is attributed to having chronic ear infections as a young child.


I scored a 36 on the test as well. I also had tons of ear infections as a child, so I'm not sure if my poor auditory processing skills are because of ASD or because my ears/hearing got damaged overtime.



doofy
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21 Nov 2017, 12:07 pm

There's no such thing as "just in your head".



fruitloop42
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21 Nov 2017, 1:49 pm

Hi!

I could identify with a lot in your post. I am also trying to work out whether I might fall on the spectrum and can identify with worrying whether traits might be in my head. I'm a 35 year old female, I guess you can see that from my details on the left. The things you said about daydreaming, social interactions, special interests and feeling a lot younger than you are certainly apply to me too, although again I don't know what my diagnosis would be.

What I'm trying to do at the moment is work out how the traits I think I have are causing me problems or stress in life, which it sounds like you are too. I think it's a really good idea to go and talk about this with a psychologist, he understands these traits and he should be able to help you talk through your concerns. It is after all his job. He's being paid for it, he likes doing it presumably and talking through these things is exactly what he's there for. So seems like you're doing the right thing to me. Also, I know I have been obsessing quite a lot about whether I'm on the spectrum, whether I'm thinking the wrong thing, whether I'm exaggerating....etc etc etc. It takes up a lot of time. So maybe if you're that way too, talking to a professional about it will help you stop questioning yourself.



lostonearth35
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21 Nov 2017, 2:05 pm

Well of course my "symptoms" are just in my head. Where else would they be, in my spleen? :roll:



Goth Fairy
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21 Nov 2017, 2:27 pm

I think I'm going to ignore the title of this and focus on what I think your main concern is, which is whether you be able to manage being a teacher if you have ASD. And the answer is yes, it is possible.

There was obviously a reason that you decided to do that particular degree in the first place. Think about what that was, and if it still applies. If you still want to be a teacher you can find ways to work around the problems that you face. The big one you say is that it is exhausting trying to be what you think others expect you to be. And the simple answer to that is to just be yourself. Teaching is a profession where you can be "quirky" and get away with it. Being yourself is also important because kids can tell if you are faking it and then they won't trust you. But I have used things like my knowledge and enthusiasm for My Little Pony to bond with the kids I work with (I'm actually a teaching assistant working with special needs.) I like working in a school because it's strong on routine and ritual and rules.

Generally I find that the kids are not the problem, it's other members of staff that I find difficult. I get worried if I have to approach people with questions, so I do a lot of "scripting" and planning what I'm going to say. And I just don't know what to do at all in the social side of things. But the things about teachers is they tend to talk about work a lot. So you can get by talking about the children in your class or strategies or whatever.

I've not done lesson planning on a whole class scale, but depending on the school, the department, the curriculum, the resources available, the age of the kids and so on it narrows the paramenters and makes the decisions easier. Also, once you have a lesson plan, you can keep it and use it the next year, improving it through experience.

As for clothes, most of the female teachers I know go for a flowery dress with a pair of leggings. I tend to wear pinstripe trousers and and a warm jumper.

I'm also recently (ish) diagnosed, at age 40, and I know how intense and obsessive the whole "am I autistic" question can get, and how easy it is to let that series of thoughts undermine your confidence. But whether you get a diagnosis or not, don't let that be the deciding factor on whether you can do it or not. Look back at all the stuff you have achieved so far- your grades, the people that you're close to and what they say, and let that guide you.

And remember if all else fails, you can always hide in the cupboard and have a good flap. ;)


_________________
Your neurodiverse (Aspie) score: 149 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 73 of 200
You are very likely neurodiverse (Aspie)


elbowgrease
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21 Nov 2017, 2:36 pm

When I'm second guessing myself, I think back on things that I consider to be undisputable or undeniable truths from my experience. They're real. That part of it can't be questioned. None of them by themselves mean anything, necessarily, but added together, they start to make sense as pieces of a specific whole.
At this point I've got a diagnosis, so my second guessing has moved from whether it's real to how much has it affected me. That one is currently really difficult for me to pin down. I don't really have a frame of reference for it.
And from here I think I'll end up on a tangent, so I'm going to stop.



the_phoenix
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21 Nov 2017, 2:38 pm

With me, two bosses took me into a private room
and went down a list of my behaviors which they told me
were allegedly annoying "everyone."
I went home and Googled the behaviors,
and a whole bunch of autism websites came up.
It came as quite a shock to me,
and definitely was not all in my head.
I never would have suspected autism.

And as for you,
yeah, if you want to be a teacher,
go for it,
and I wish you the best of success! :)