Posted in family

I Hid in a Closet 😱 Part I

Need some music before you start reading?

Lately, I’ve been in love with binaural beats.

😱 I Hid in a Closet 😱

I’ve had a week to think, explore within myself with more than 10,000 words of writing, (and not an inkling of grading, oops,) (it is spring break,) (excuses,) and I cannot put my finger on what happened that cloudy morning, when my mom exploded and taxied away from my home. I just know it ended with me in a closet.

So I told myself, after today, tomorrow, and Tuesday—after putting this three-part reflection to my keyboard—I’d leave the story here, so I could move on, instead of thinking in spirals, trying to find the pattern, the answer to this koan called family.

The Stage

  • About a week ago, March 25th, when my mom—who I love to the moon and back, if I had enough money to travel to the moon—flew in from Idaho to visit,
  • then she woke up at 5 a.m. to answer a phone call from her sister, and
  • like many of us who are stirred in the middle of the night, she got out of bed to pee.

The Crossroad

Since the bathroom is at the heart of the house, connected to the master bedroom, I heard her telling her sister, “There’s no toilet paper,” so I stumbled out of bed. We have no boundaries in our family, which means walking into the bathroom while she’s peeing is fine, especially if it’s to help her find where we hide the toilet paper from DeeJay.

2018-02-23_10-56-34_953
The Complication: DeeJay, toilet paper slash beetle slayer

The Conflict…?

Given my anxiety, depression, and sleeping disorders, I’m a cocktail of cranky disasters right out of bed, so even though I meant well—grabbing the toilet paper from the tall cabinet, offering it to her, then getting out of the way to wait until she’s done, so I could pee, too—even though I walked on egg shells, as best as I could—

She shined her cellphone in my face.

I screamed, “Fuck!” and later, when she bum-rushed through our bedroom, instead of taking the route through the kitchen to the living room, again I screamed, “Fuck!” 

Got to love living in a circular floor plan. (No, seriously. I love it.) (Mom doesn’t.)

While she was exploding, I may have also mentioned she should hang up on her sister for calling in the middle of the night. I could have been nicer about that. I’m sure I can always be nicer about anything, when there is a godlike light shining in my eyes. This actually highlights an issue of my own I need to work on: controlling my reactions in the face of overstimulation.

But there is always so much guilt surrounding every awareness of my social-emotional skills… I don’t really know where to proceed or begin, other than reading another self-help book.

Both times, I screamed because the cellphone light burned like what I imagine a neurotypical sees looking at the sun. Then my amygdala reacted, GET AWAY, since that’s what the amygdala often does when something hurts, and the ancient, lizard brain sent the synapse SHOUT AN ALERT, like a chest-throttling church bell that never stops its gong.

Whatever I looked like while I was eff-bombing, evacuating to the safety of my weighted blanket—closing my eyes to run away to sleep, push the arghughwhaaa! of feelings into a bottle—my mother and aunt would describe the scene as melodramatic; I most definitely do not look like someone who’s reacting to pain to them, like I’m retreating to the sound of my inner fire bell. I look like someone they should instead control, suppress, hide.

I am a neurotypical madwoman in their eyes, (hint: don’t think such a thing exists; but that’s a different post,) not an autistic person with a lifetime of stimuli issues; so I should be able to get my act together, right?

Honestly, I agree my reactions are a little loud. It’s not like my memory stops working, or my consciousness turns off its observations, when I’m having an autistic shutdown or meltdown—which is where overstimulation usually leads—and as much as I lack the same social skill development as a neurotypical brain, I am sharply intelligent, and rather diligent in using that quality to intellectualize etiquette; so I understand it’s not “acceptable behavior.”

Cue social anxiety!

I can see it, feel it, hear my outbursts. Imagine what it’s like being someone who suffers from overstimulation, and you’re trapped inside a body 🚨ALERT ALERT ALERTING🚨. But that’s precisely why I default to the shove-it-in-a-bottle method; I want the unpleasant behavior to subside.

All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul, and they will never notice how broken you really are.

—Robin Williams

😶 Overstimulation 🤯

Overstimulation is a daily problem in my life, manifesting from something as simple as backseats in a concert, flash photography at a family gathering, or a terrible fart.

Okay, lied about the last one. I can handle terrible farts.

By running outside for air.

But a fluorescent light, like those ones low-funded schools and small businesses are reluctant to replace until neurotypicals can see it flickering—often, weeks after the flickering has been whittling me into a crankasaur in class—that is serious shutdown-inducing business. And if I manage to hold in the internal alarm, I’m often rewarded with a migraine as a complimentary prize.

Overstimulation can mean temporarily blindness, deafness, and the deafening of senses we don’t typically think about:

  • Too much heat?—🔥”Where is the bathtub, I need the bathtub—”🔥
  • Too much cold?—❄”Why do people LIVE HERE?”❄
  • Too much balancing?—Don’t even get me started on the hot air balloon story.
  • Too many emotions?—Take a number; my brain DMVs those badboys. It’s not uncommon for me to react on delay, because I’m still chewing on the last feeling.

Neurotypicals often react to this information by saying, “Oh, I have these issues too,” but this is similar to any other form of privilege: being able to relate to the experience is not the same as not being able to ever, never, ever find reprieve from the experience, to live a life in a constant whirlpool.

And my amygdala’s reaction is absolutely a whirlpool, a mad alchemist admixture of pain and conditioning: because this pain not only hurts, it often leads to social situations that hurt even more. It leads to me leaving poetry readings after only a couple hours, because trying to listen to someone through a din of others talking, differentiating their voice from the wah-wah-wah reverberation of other voices, is similar to listening to someone talking underwater.

The Autistic Amygdala

If you’re not sure about the amygdala, here’s a good introduction:

My amygdala is different from the neurotypical amygdala, at a developmental (i.e., physical) level. My amygdala leads to me running away from social events where too many people touch my shoulder, want a hug, want to talk for too long, until I am confused by all the facial expressions, mixed social messages, noise.

My amygdala leads to me missing what’s going on in the movie, because someone is flashing the same godlike light my mother invoked, cellphone-in-the-dark, their phonelight like a dragon staring at me from the front aisle of Star Wars, so now I have to figure out where all the exit doors are located, like the announcement at the beginning of the movie told me to do.

Part of the reason I designed our blackout bedroom was because of Paul Bogard’s The End of Night, and the only reason I read that book was to understand light more, so I could develop better game plans for when situations like the aforementioned story of my mother happened.

And back to that story. So I’m trying to communicate, Your cellphone will turn me to ash like sun on a vampire, and that pissed off my mom.

It’s been like this my whole life. My whole life, I’ve acted this way, and my mother has reacted with shock whenever I scream at an overstimulation. It’s just the toxic cycle of our relationship.

One would think, if you had an autistic daughter, you’d develop an understanding, or at least a tolerance, for this “rude” behavior, but it never clicked with her. Instead, she demands I apologize and own behaviors I don’t perceive myself doing. But then, my aunt also tells my mom I don’t have autism, that I do this for attention.

Who knows who my mom believes. I’ll try to explore the depths of this complex mother-aunt-daughter relationship more tomorrow though, because family’s not only a good starting point, it’s a great jumping-off point into co-morbid anxiety, the topic I’ll be starting on April 4th, my mother’s birthday.


If you’re interested in reading about my journey to change my outlook on the world—because, someday, I want to be be powerful enough to change the whole world, and I can’t do that until I have a Superwoman outlook—please visit Kourtnie.net, my dashboard for living a creative and healthy life.

Also, in case you hadn’t figured it out, in addition to the handsome fella in the featured image, I love Robin Williams. It’s good to keep our living heroes, as well as our dead heroes, near us, within us, completing us.

This is Williams’ wisdom I keep closest to my heart:

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.


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Author:

Kourtnie McKenzie holds an MFA (Fiction) from Fresno State and a BA in English (Literature Studies) from Cal State Fullerton. When she isn't writing novellas, she's moonlighting as a professor at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. To read more of her writing, visit Kourtnie.net.

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