Not so long ago I left my bed for reasons other than eating and excrement for the first time in weeks. A bit later, I was able to convince myself leave the house.
But in between the first event and the second there were hours upon hours spent on the couch in the living room, where my mom faithfully tuned into HLN every day for the Jodi Arias trial.
The trial is more telenovela soap opera than Agatha Christie murder mystery and this makes it irresistible to Nancy Grace and a number of other talking heads who scream at each other day in and day out. They rarely say anything new and express an almost pathological amount of emotion over the entire production. My mom is very into all things Investigation Discovery and Expressing Opinions That Demonstrate Superior Morality.
So it is no surprise to me or my family that she watches and argues with us with the same ferocity of the aforementioned screaming heads on the television. These fleeting courtroom obsessions have happened before, from OJ Simpson to Casey Anthony, and I never became passionately argumentative or opinionated about any of them.
But this time I did.
For those who have jobs, sanity, or better things to do than watch trashy court drama let me break down the basics quick: Jodi Arias is on trial for stabbing and then shooting her ex-boyfriend.
She initially denied involvement but later confessed to the killing.
Her lawyers have painted a picture of an abused woman suffering from PTSD as the motive for the killing and her plea is not guilty because she acted in self-defense. Today the verdict finally came in: guilty of first-degree murder.
Why was I in bed for weeks, suicidal and feeling completely hopeless and worthless -- and relating so much to Jodi Arias?
In the last year I had lost my job, savings, apartment, and long-distance on/off boyfriend yet again despite discussions about marriage and fantasies of a more stable life -- a life that made sense. My self-esteem was shattered.
What the fuck was wrong with me? My friends and family could not understand why I, an attractive 25 year old girl, would not just move forward with my life after all these tries at making it work and pinned complete blame on the ex.
“You should start dating other people,” “You would have no problem getting a job,” and “How could someone as young with so much possibility in front of you be that sad? Just be happy!” were common responses.
But they did not understand the deep attachment I had to this person, a mathematician I met while traveling alone who was the only person I felt had understood me in my whole life. He told me I had him at “abstract narrative” and called me his third standard deviation girl. Where was I going to find that again?
Deep down I knew that my compulsive behaviors, unbreakable mind loops, and complete inability to function without a specific plan and schedule (which was lost after losing my job and apartment but before deciding where we would sign a year lease) contributed to him pulling away despite adoring the unique parts of my mind and my habits had initially been the attractive force that drew us together.
When the month sublet ran out I could not handle the unpredictability any longer and retreated back to my parents’ house, depressed and determined to get my life back together independently, yet again. But the extreme emotional turmoil and confusion resulted in escaping through constant research for academic projects. I justified blowing through thousands of dollars in savings to avoid getting a job or leaving the house at all, spare the bare minimum of attending classes three nights a week. I spent 5 months holed up in my childhood bedroom wearing the same tattered shirt and boxers obsessively working on the connections between universal logic and geometry and creating proofs, diagrams, and papers linking modal choice and will to metaphysics and time.
Trying to craft a theory of life that made sense.
My life hadn't made sense in a long time. My earliest memory is a friend panicking at the sight of my bloody thumb as I walked back from her house to mine with my mom. When she realized that I was the source of the injury she warned me that if I didn’t stop I would have to stick my hand into a pot of boiling water. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I still can’t stop.
Around this time occasionally a kid would quizzically ask why I didn’t look at people when I spoke to them, but I would just shrug and laugh because it had never even occurred to me before. Neighbors speculated on my looming gifted program status. I rescued snails, learned hexadecimal from my beaming engineer dad, and memorized every fact about the dinosaurs and deep-sea fish in the encyclopedia. Despite these early indications of anxiety and my reputation as shy and eccentric my elementary school years went very well. I loved school and the praise that came with getting perfect grades and near-perfect standardized test results back.
I haughtily thought all but a handful of the other children in the school were brainless ADD savages of a different species all together, and thus I did not care if they mocked my refusal to wear anything but stretch cotton, pretending to be a horse alone on the playground, and blatant brownnosing. I was happy because I was quantifiably the best which meant I was following all the rules right and to be following all the rules right meant I was safe. And I was safe if I was following all the rules right. And if I was following all the rules right I was safe. And if… This is where the story goes haywire.
Because the rules changed in middle school. My parents, thinking they were helping my academic aspirations, placed me in a small Catholic school where I knew no one. Because I had to take a math placement test after summer break I was unprepared and placed into the “regular” class. This seemingly insignificant event obliterated my identity and conception of reality as I knew it.
Throughout this tweenage dark night of the soul my new classmates bullied and ostracized me. To cope I had tried to first cling onto the old rules but when this failed implemented a new strategy to change myself to whatever I calculated I had to be just to be not so much popular as accepted, invisible, not bullied, just get through my day. It epically failed.
Every moment was overwhelming. I developed an eating disorder and was so anxious I was shaking in class and hiding in the bathroom during all the breaks with my feet planted on the toilet seat to go undetected. I got my first B. I wanted to die. It wasn’t because I was doing anything, I was just weird and quiet and childlike and would do things like completely zone out on a wall and some girl in the line of vision would think I was staring at her and come get in my face. That stressed me out more.
I didn’t know how to deal with it. One time I remember my school uniform sweater got mixed up with another girl’s, a popular girl’s. My parents demanded that I get my sweater back. It took me days of constant nagging from my parents to finally go up to the girl and simply ask for something back that was mine. That is how scared I was all the time, about everything.
My story from there is long and complicated but mostly follows the same formula: I enter a new life phase excited to have a new chance to apply all the things I have learned from my previous social and life blunders. I get by well enough but still cannot break my own routines or feel understood and accepted despite trying my best. I find refuge in rhythm which takes the form of different activities at different points: riding horses and playing piano as a child, lap swimming and measured nail biting in high school, hula hooping and electronic music in college.
I move onto a bigger challenge (culminating in taking on two world class social anxiety nightmare quests: solo world travel and stripping) thinking that each will finally be the one that trains me to be able to interact with the rest of the world in a state of ease.
I complete the challenges but the anxiety, reinforcement that I am “odd,” and compulsion to retreat into my own world never leave. I make a new plan based on the input of well-intentioned friends, thinking this will be the one that finally clicks. My stress-related health problems get worse. I can’t join the real world. Which takes us back to the couch.
Time was up. The university logic binge had ended, real life was waiting, and I felt too tired and afraid to pick myself up and put myself out in the real world yet again. The dichotomy of my trainwreck life and the ardent effort I had put into trying to fix it and the cognitive dissonance between knowing I was not stupid but not being able to deal with some of life’s most basic problems threw my brain into an infinite loop.
Does not compute. Cannot solve. So I played dead. I felt dead.
In looking for help for my problems I had been told by a couple of therapists that my meltdowns and depression were indicative of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.
At first I felt confused. Though my life was turbulent and sometimes affected the people I loved it didn’t feel like any of it was directed toward the goal of controlling others. Yet I kind of secretly liked the idea of having this thing because it gave me hope in the idea that I could succeed in my previous experiments with self-socialization projects and learn to have agency in the world. Like who wants to be Napolean Dynamite when someone’s telling you you’re actually Sharon Stone, right?
One of the things that bothered and intrigued me most about Jodi is that despite her obsession with self-analysis and self-development she still could not seem to understand herself. I related to this, and in trying to understand her I looked for more answers about my symptoms and life patterns. During this time I found a website by a woman with Asperger’s who was diagnosed in her late 30s who had several articles about the differences in women with ASD and the tendency for women to be looked over because of the gender bias in diagnostic criteria. I had always suspected that I might have ASD but because I did not fit the Sheldon Cooper stereotype I was afraid to take my traits seriously and ask for a diagnosis.
Slowly I realized that my need to explain Jodi Arias’ mind to my mom had little to do with Jodi Arias and everything to do with my own struggles and the need to understand and communicate how my mind worked. “She thinks she has everyone fooled with her little-miss-innocent act,” my mom would say in a melodic tone of dismissal. As my mom would mock her and give detailed theories on Jodi’s psychopathic serial killer-like thoughts and character I would step in and give an alternative view on what I believed to be going through her mind and how her life reached a point where she was triggered to do something so vicious.
Once when I was teased as a child, I accidentally slapped a kid when I perceived that I was under threat while being unexpectedly mocked by a large group of my peers. It utterly shocked me and in the moments leading up to the incident I truly felt I had no control over or idea what I was going. Before the moment the idea that this could have happened was completely inconceivable. I am not lying when I say that had someone offered me thousands of dollars I still could not have done it. In my adult life I have had several moments of similar dissociation and seemingly involuntary action when under extreme stress. One time after a fight with my boyfriend during a tumultuous time in my life I took off my $700 heels, threw them into street, and ran full speed all the way from the middle of downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park. I am not a runner. My boyfriend is, and he couldn’t catch me. I don’t remember most of it and I did not feel in control of what I was doing at the time.
I see Jodi’s “chameleon” nature and fixation on her appearance as a defense mechanism, a decoy. The “soulless” eyes devoid of emotion described by those who knew Jodi are very much like my little sister who was diagnosed with High-functioning Autism and my own often blank expression that has been called spaced out, intimidating, mad all the time, and disengaged. My presence is often confusing for others because I oscillate rapidly between “the death stare” and an almost maniacally huge smile. But what the others do not see is that I am constantly trying my hardest to put them at ease yet somehow still failing.
While Asperger's was previously believed to be a predominantly male disorder researchers are now discovering that the 10:1 male-to-female ratio may actually be much lower. Girls with ASD are more prone to be introverted and isolated instead of acting out or causing trouble, which leads to fewer referrals for diagnosis. Emotional problems that occur as a result of social problems are often taken out on the self or fuel the obsession to fit in even more. I am not saying that Jodi has ASD and time will tell if the professional I am working with gives me an official diagnosis upon conducting some tests and interviewing family members about my childhood. However I feel disappointed yet not surprised that many of the descriptions and labels given to Jodi by those who knew and evaluated her and some of her "strange" behaviors match criteria for ASD and yet nobody has considered the possibility that she could have a neurological disorder instead of or comorbid-ly underlying a mental or personality disorder. ASD diagnosis for females is undergoing a renaissance at the moment, but for now those of us who fit the criteria often have to fight to even have a chance at being heard let alone diagnosed. I hope that if the trend of women getting late diagnosis continues more psychiatrists become aware of the intricacies of female ASD and keep it in mind as a possibility when observing and diagnosing patients. Not everyone who displays traits will in fact have ASD, but it is only fair that we have a chance of being fairly evaluated at all.