Co-morbid Disorders

Originally titled,

“I Hid in a Closet: Part Two”

For decades, my mom’s asked me, “What are you going to write about me?” and while I used to answer, “Nothing,” this doesn’t seem like the right response. These stories are my stories, and my point of view was hardly heard as a child, for starters, because I couldn’t figure out how to have a conversation where I was not stomped flat.

So as an adult, I turn to my Inner Child, pick up her up on my knee, then say, “It’s time, kid. Tell ’em what you have to tell.” And I think that’s the best way to go about this.

Let’s Learn About Autism

What is a Co-morbid Disorder?

A disorder is considered co-morbid if it occurs due to a complex dynamic with a previous disorder. For instance, my depression and anxiety are mental disorders that occurred co-morbidly with my developmental disorder, autism.

To put it another way, I believe my depression and anxiety are byproducts of living with autism in a triggering environment. I believe co-morbid disorders truly challenge us to have conversations about nature vs. nurture, because while autism is genetic—and may just be baked into a child—depression and anxiety doesn’t have to follow suit.

Nothing heals us like letting people know our scariest parts: When people listen to you cry and lament, and look at you with love, it’s like they are holding the baby of you.

—Anne Lamott

Story Time

😱 I Hid in a Closet, Part II 😱

(Read the first part here.)

For the last month, one-to-three times a week, my mother would call to complain about her upcoming trip to Fresno;

Specifically, she was upset I’d invited her sister;

So I explained to her: I only meant to give my aunt a motherly experience, because my aunt never had any children; I thought, when else is she going to help with a wedding; and ’round and ’round we went, so that I was being dosed ritualistically with anxiety;

Then my aunt invited my grandmother and my other aunt, and my mother called to announce, “Great, she just invited my mom and your other aunt,” and I felt trapped in my childhood all over again.

Because it’s not just my mom.

It’s a much more complicated machine that led to my social anxiety.

At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal, remember that in all cases, it’s a miracle that any of us were conceived and born. Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself. Then you might as well start at the dinner table. That way you can do this work in comfortable pants.

—Anne Lamott, @10:00 of “12 truths I learned from life and writing”

So I do not want to write about this-person-did-this, that-person-did-that anymore. I’ve got the basic groundwork laid down: “Once upon a time, family life was messy.” Now I’d like to just write from my Inner Child’s perspective, focusing on my perspective, my story, to capture this in the lens of autism, for better or worse.

I don’t understand why we play telephone. Why we ask our friends, tell this dude’s friends that I like him, so maybe he’ll ask me out to the dance. Why do we want this person to inform that person of this-and-that, when we can call someone and tell them directly? And why do we talk sarcastically, instead of straight? Why white lie? Why black lie? Why cheat, why steal, why threaten, why set conditions on love?

Oh don’t tell me you believe in unconditional love.

It isn’t there.

Not even the unconditional love of a parent is truly there.

Why can’t we just say what’s on our mind? Why can’t we hold a direct line of communication? Why can’t we respect the social boundaries placed before us, instead of playing dodge ball? Why must we expect, rather than give? Why does receiving involve the eventual backlash of being branded ungrateful? Why give only to have power to take away?

I don’t like all these complicated social dynamics.

It was much better when it was just me and one neighborhood kid, lining toys up together, then going home when we were tired.

I don’t believe I’ve felt happy since back then.

No one seems spared from social interplay. Social drama. We talk about people behind their backs, rather than to their faces. We guilt others so we don’t feel bad anymore. We pass on, hide, parry. I think it’s too complicated, really. And no matter what, I am on the receiving end of the guilt; I am on the silent end of the argument; I am the one who is desperately clawing, just to feel loved.

I do not think I need to feel loved anymore.

I think it will be better off if I learn to live without it.

Like a Cat in a Crawl Space

Before my mother-in-law arrived at our house though, I had convinced myself that if I climbed in the closet—where the walls were all very close to my shoulders, my back, my feet—I wouldn’t have to worry about my amygdala being stimulated by any sudden movement in the environment anymore.

I truly believed, becoming a cat in the crawl space was the only way out of my anxiety.

So even if I was too scared to close my eyes—and look at Guilt, and its Squad of Misfits, boiling up from the childhood memories, stored deeply in the neurons in my stomach—I could keep my eyes open, yet still experience stillness, because it’s just closet walls everywhere. Everything is forcibly calm.

I needed to let my mind pause, until the universe cleared, and my brain no longer screamed 🚨 WAH-WAH-WAH 🚨 so I could assess my other emotions more objectively.

I hid in the closet to avoid further meltdown.


Anne Lamott is my literary hero. If you haven’t read her book Bird by Bird, I highly recommend it (affiliated link)—especially if you like to write stories, poetry, essays, and other wordsmithing.

If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it; if people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.

You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday, and you never wrote the stuff that’s tugging on the sleeves of your heart—your stories, memories, visions, and songs, your truth—your version of things, in your own voice;

That’s really all you have to offer us.

That’s also why you were born.

—Anne Lamott, @8:00 of “12 truths I learned from life and writing”

PS—Got an article published on The Mighty today.



Kourtnie View All →

Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at or

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