Raised #Autistic – Lessons Learned

books hanging from bookstrapAll the talk about how Autism diagnoses have skyrocketed in the last 30 years, overlooks one key factor:

Once upon a time, the Autism Spectrum wasn’t pathologized. It was developed.

It was very much a part of life, and there were institutions and mitigators in place to help weave that neurotype into the overall fabric of life.

I was raised in an area that’s chock-full of Autistic folks. Is this abnormal? Not on your life. In fact, it’s the norm. And every aspect of growing up is/was geared towards training individuals how to be responsible members of the community. It helps that it’s a rural area, where everybody has to pitch in, no matter what, so nobody gets a pass to completely drop out of society because of any difficulties they may have. Society needs them, it’s made clear. And whatever they can do — in whatever measure — is not only needed, but required.

Take my aunt, for example. She just passed away last year, and she was probably one of the most “obviously” Autistic persons I’ve ever met. All the classic behaviors, all the classic traits… that was Aunt M. She definitely did not have an easy life, but she lived by a code that placed others first at all times. She had a quote on her dresser that effectively said, “Whatever sufferings I may have, others have it even worse. And in the end, the question is not how much I’ve gotten out of life, but what I’ve given to those who are struggling more than I.

That’s the ethos I was raised with overall, and I can tell you that Aunt M personified that, each and every day. She had her challenges, of course. My mom had to constantly watch out for her, from the time they were both young girls, till the day she died. She was bullied, she was threatened, she was abandoned. And she had intense issues with anxiety and social interactions.

But she lived her life. She lived by principles. And in the end, he had such an important place in life, her funeral was attended by close to 100 people, many of whom relied on her for many things throughout the course of her life.

I was raised in the same way — principles. Be a responsible member of society. Put others first. Realize that others have troubles, too, and rather than thinking about what I need to get out of the social equation, I need to put myself out there and be as helpful to others as I can. It’s not about me. Yes, I have intense suffering and challenges at times. Yes, my life is a non-stop parade of pains and joys — often so intermingled, it’s hard to tell which is which. But in the end, what I contribute to the world is far more important than what accommodations I get to secure my own happiness.

Now, you might dismiss this as being some lofty approach by someone who’s not impacted all that heavily by Autism. But you’d be wrong about that. Everything I have, everything I can do, it’s all been hard-won and paid-for at a steep price. And I’ve been around long enough to realize what a toll it’s taken on me, over the years.

Does that toll matter? Nope. The bottom line, for me, is what I add to the overall human equation. I’m responsible for my corner of the universe. I have to keep it clean and orderly and do my best to not be a liability towards others. I have to keep my own suffering out of view, because what I have to give is far more important than anything I feel I need to take.

All those years, when I was in excruciating chronic pain and some days couldn’t get out of the bed… the short time I was homeless… the times when I’ve had to quit jobs and move on, because the environment was so painful I couldn’t tolerate it anymore… Through all the meltdowns, the shutdowns, the touch-is-pain moments… The one thing that kept me going was that it wasn’t only about me. I had to get up and go to work to support my household. And if I couldn’t manage a full-time job, then I had to find a regular source of income that let me work part-time and still make enough to pay my rent.

The thing that carried me through all those years of intensity and hardship, was my upbringing by parents, grandparents, and a wider community who were all Autistic. Who knew what it meant to struggle, and who still pressed on and pushed me to deal. They didn’t let me off the hook. They kept at me, and kept reminding me of what was Right, what was Wrong, and urged me to do the Right thing. Even when it was impossible, they still demanded that I do my best. No excuses. Just get on with it. Yes, life is painful and awkward, but that’s what teaching and training were all about. I had to learn. I had to be taught. I had to be raised.

There was never the assumption that kids already inherently knew the right thing to do. There was the assumption that adult life is challenging and requires skill, and like any skilled endeavor, that takes training and practice and continuous discipline. The skills I have now, which have allowed me to live a really full life and experience so much that many people only dream about, they didn’t magically emerge from my pristine primal state. They were abilities that were identified, prioritized, and emphasized as the sort of thing that all adults do.

And there was no argument.

Yes, it was tough. Yes, it was challenging. Yes, I still have leftover “stuff” from all those years of training. I was enculturated into an Autistic society, and there were Rules and Regulations for everything. It was rough, at the time, but all the hard lessons have made it possible for me to live my life… regardless.

The skills I developed at just getting on with things, for putting others first, for making the effort to be a contributing member of society — even when I was disabled — made all the difference in the world. Society has a way of looking out for those who support it and contribute, and that’s always been my “safety net”, if I even have one. I make myself useful to others. I contribute. I’m not perfect, I’m pretty weird at times, I’m Autistic, I can be pretty off-putting at times. But in the end, my goal is to make myself an asset to the world around me, not only devote myself to getting my needs accommodated.

That’s all because I was raised by Autistic folks. Those were the Rules.

’nuff said.

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My #Autistic Social Advantage

Picture of ground half covered with snowThe snow is finally melting, in my corner of the world. It’s warm today, 50°F and 10°C, and it’s raining a little bit. Mist is rising up from the snowbanks as they melt and evaporate. The process always fascinates me, because it seems like it should take more energy or more heat to turn water into steam. And yet, here we are, surrounded by fog.

I’m so glad it’s Friday. It has been a really long week, and everybody I talk to at work feels the same way. We are all very happy the work week is nearly over, and since this is Easter weekend, a lot of people have even more time off. So, that’s good. Things should be pretty quiet today, especially this afternoon, so that means I can concentrate on my work without distraction. I might even get into my zone, if all goes well.

I’ve been thinking about how being autistic has helped me over the years. With Autism Awareness Week, the theme seems to be, how many people have been left behind and are not being helped as they struggle through life. I’ve had plenty of struggles, myself, and being denied a diagnosis for years really complicated things in my mind. However, objectively speaking, Autism has also been a huge advantage for me. And not necessarily in ways you would expect.

One of the biggest and most helpful ways, is how it makes me pretty much oblivious to what other people think of me. Now, in some cases, that is a real drawback. It doesn’t help me when I am in touchy social situations where I need to read people properly to get by. It also didn’t help when I was growing up and all the other kids were sending out magical signals about what they did and did not like, what they would and would not tolerate. I was persona non Grata a bunch of times throughout my childhood, and that really hurt.

On the other hand, now that I look back, I see that being on the outside didn’t actually stunt me the way you might think. It didn’t ruin my ability to bounce back, didn’t keep me from becoming resilient. In fact, being on the outside taught me many important lessons, and it really became an advantage for me. Because those experiences taught me how it feels to be on the outside, which I would never want to make another person feel. It made me a lot more sensitive to differences in the want more excepting of limitations, all of which have helped me connect better with the world around me.

Plus, I was really, truly happy being by myself, and I took so much obvious pleasure in the things I was interested in, and I devised a way of life that worked for me, so other people were intrigued, and they actually responded favorably to me after a while.

In fact, over the years, my outsider status has often worked in my favor. I have been outside the “in group” More than I have been on the inside, but because I’m actually fine with it and I seem happy and content and fulfilled in it, it piques the interest of others who want to enjoy life the way I do. They see me enjoying myself, being happy, being content, and they want to know what all the excitement about. I will happily share what fascinates me, any old time, and one thing I seem to have learned from my autistic grandfather, is how to translate my passion into excitement for other people. So, my geeky nerdy obsessions with obscure stuff really truly helps bridge gaps between me and others. Anybody who’s looking for a little tidbit of trivia they can use to impress people a cocktail parties is welcome to ask me for my input. Invariably, I can find something they can use later to improve their social status.

Everybody wants to be happy, everybody wants to be accepted, everybody wants to feel like they belong. It never really mattered to me that I didn’t belong to certain groups, or that I was not the most popular kid in the class or at work or in town. What did matter to me, was that other people felt welcome, appreciated, even loved, when they were around me. I learned how to transfer my sensitivity about being left out along with my deep interest in life, other people, and how things work to the social scene around me. And because I was Autistic and could not read negative reactions from people, I found myself able to be open to others in ways that most people can’t.

I can’t emphasize enough how helpful this has been. Alexithymia, or the inability to sense emotions, has actually worked in my favor, in that I have defaulted to openness and acceptance, if I needed to fill in any blanks about what people thought about me. In fact, there have been many, many times when other people have approached me with anger, judgment, aggression, or other negative emotions, and because I could not sense them, I just assumed they were friendly, and I treated them as such.

The amazing thing is, those other people backed off their negativity and took my positive lead. They realized that I was not intimidated by them, I was not put off by their behavior, I was not going to fight with them or stir up more trouble, and I really just wanted to interact with them like decent human beings. Because I had a better and frankly more enjoyable solution to the dynamic, they followed my lead.

I sincerely doubt any of that would have been possible if I were neurotypical. If I were able to read the aggression the other people feel, if I were able to respond to their emotional state with a response like what they were putting out towards me, I’m sure my life would’ve become very different and taken many darker turns. But the fact of the matter is, people look for leaders, and they look for better solutions in life. And if you lead them in a way that steers them away from their bad behaviar, on an individual basis, In personal encounters, change can actually happen.

Of course, I can’t speak to systemic inequities, as well as racism, classism, bigotry, and all the other isms that drive modern human behavior. Those are larger, more complex issues that deserve a deeper discussion. But in my own personal life, I have found that Autism actually gives me an advantage when it comes to dealing with people. Provided that I take the lead and I set the tone, really positive changes can happen whenever I encounter people who could potentially be a problem.

It’s not for everybody, and not everybody has interest, or wants to develop the skill, but I can tell you that it works. I can also tell you, I didn’t learn how to do this overnight. I didn’t magically receive divine dispensation of this glorious secret. The set of skills was hard-won over many decades of trial and error. But right now, in my current life, it works for me.

And that’s plenty good for me and my life.

Refresh connection with Facebook? Hmmm…. maybe…

Message from WordPress to refresh connection with Facebook
This message comes up, every now and then, when I’m on WordPress.

Before you hit Publish, please refresh the following connection(s) to make sure we can Publicize your post:

And again, I need to consider whether I actually want to reconnect with Facebook.

I’ll admit, I’m reluctant. For all they’ve done (and not done) in the area of privacy and protecting their users, part of me just wants to drop them permanently and walk away.

Then again, I don’t really spend much time on FB, and it lets me get some of my writing out to a broader audience. So, it serves a purpose. It certainly does that. And I have so little actual personal information on there — nothing that I don’t already put on WordPress and Twitter — that whatever they may want to do with my info… good luck to them.

I think I may be Facebook-inoculated, because I’ve been in the high tech / online scene for so long. I worked in financial services for years, building websites to let people manage their money online, and I still, to this day, don’t think it’s a bright idea to do any of that stuff online. The fact that more people aren’t robbed… well, that surprises me daily. I’ve worked in online marketing, have built websites intended to be super-secure, and I know how the stuff is put together behind the scenes.

It’s never been nearly as secure as they say it is, and it’s always been a bit of a fools’ paradise (note the s-apostrophe, meaning all of us fools), so I’m not overly rocked by all this. Plus, it’s not like anyone didn’t already know Facebook’s “default mode is sharing”.

D’oh.

As in D’ohn’t come crying to me, when you finally realize that we weren’t just whistling in the wind about your life being up for grabs on social media.

Oh, is that mean-spirited? Non-compassionate? Maybe so. But seriously, it’s time to put the big-kids pants on and take responsibility for all this. Not just wail and gnash our teeth over crap we’ve been warned about, but chose to ignore.

Sigh.

Well, anyway, I’m having a lovely Sunday inside, looking out at the crows trying to unhook the suet cage from my bird feeder. They figured out how to get it off before, so I used a carabiner to hold that sucker in place. And since then, they haven’t been able to do more than perch on the top and peck at the suet. Frustrating for them, I know, but the woodpeckers thank me.

Yes, a lovely Sunday… I’ve got my fuzzy blanket thrown over my shoulders, and I’ve got my music on. Cozy, warm, and relaxing with some really wonderful reading I’ve been doing. An old, long-lasting interest of mine has cropped up again — iconoclastic Zen practitioners of the 16th and 17th centuries in Japan — and I’m digging into old Samurai stories with a gusto I haven’t felt in quite some time.

How pleasant. How incredibly pleasant.

And then, because I did so much yesterday and got a lot of errands out of the way, I can lie down and take a long nap this afternoon without needing to set an alarm. My favorite kind of nap — also good, because if I don’t set my alarm, then my mobile won’t be beside my bed, so I won’t spend an hour scrolling through Twitter, when I’m supposed to be resting.

I’m spending less and less time on social media, these days, including Twitter. It’s all turned into a cultural battleground, which is tiring. Seriously, they need better filters. I support the changes taking place, and I support the people standing up for their lives, but sometimes I just need a break, and social media has provided me with that in the past. Breaks are coming fewer and farther between, though, which is unfortunate.

Or is it? I need to unplug more, these days, anyway. I’ll just treat it as a great opportunity to chill and give all the fight-flight a rest.

Oh, you know what?

That got me to thinking… Maybe my decreasing ardor for Activist Twitter is due to my decreasing hormonal inclination to give a damn about stuff that used to drive me. Menopause seems to be cutting me a break.

That could explain a lot, actually.

But now it’s time to retire again to my cave-y little corner of the world, ensconce myself in a heady enclave of histories, myths, legends, and conjecture about what was going through people’s minds, on the other side of the world, 400 years ago.

Fun!

Catch you later.

Maybe on Facebook 😉

OK, fine. I’ll go in to the office to work.

glass building with city reflected in the windowsI’ve been working from home, the last few days. It’s been quiet. It’s been nice. I haven’t gotten as much done as I do at the office, but I’m much more relaxed on this Friday, than I usually am.

Usually, by Friday, I’m wiped out. Destroyed. Barely crawling through the day. Useless, really, in a worker-bee sense. I’m not being hard on myself. It’s actually true.

But after the past few days of working at home — and having a nice relaxing Wednesday afternoon, when I took a nap and then checked my email from my bed — I’m actually feeling eager to go to the office today. I really do need the social interaction. Plus, it will be quiet. Very few people actually work in the office on Fridays. They’re all working from home.

Which is the best reason to go in to the office.

I’ve got a bunch of stuff I didn’t get done, over the past days, and it must be done by end of day today. So, I’d better get going. Life awaits.

And a quiet office.

Why this #Autistic person bothers with eye contact

microscope front view looking into the eyepiecesI’m not a huge fan of eye contact. It’s painful for me, if I don’t know the person I’m interacting with. It’s a veritable minefield, chock-full of potential disasters, if I “do it wrong” — look at someone too long, don’t look at them long enough, “send the wrong signals”, etc.

You know the drill.

To say I hate making eye contact, would be an understatement. I loathe it. I don’t see why everybody has to do it, to begin with. I know the rest of the world is there, even if I’m not Looking It In The Eye. I can hear without staring at someone’s eyeballs, thank you very much. And it’s just so painful at times…

But still, I “do eye contact”. And it’s for totally self-centered reasons.

See, I’ve found the thing with non-autistic people is that they tend to be driven by unresolved trauma — particularly childhood trauma at the hands of irrational / explosive parents. There are so many non-autistic folks whose every action and reaction is driven by ingrained childhood trauma responses, that they literally think it’s “normal” for them to behave the way they do. After all, if everybody’s getting freaked out by certain ideas and behaviors… if everybody’s reacting in the same way to ideas and aspects of life that might be threats… if everybody’s jumping on the proverbial band wagon to overreact to their triggers, then that must be normal, right?

I’m not going judging anybody, I’m just making an observation. And considering my own “trauma load”, I can totally relate to others whose lives are so heavily dictated by stuff that happened and/or was done to them.

Okay, back to eye contact.

I’ve lived the last 26 years of my life with someone who has to make eye contact, or she feels immediately threatened. That sense of threat triggers a whole cascade of critical-thought-inhibiting stress hormones that prompt her to react and think about situations in ways that feel correct, but objectively speaking are counter-productive and (dare I say it?) damaging. The threat response kicks off before she can even think about it. It’s instinctive. And while her instincts may have saved her, when she was a little girl, they’ve not really helped her a whole lot in the course of her adult life.

Then again, maybe they have… Because everybody she deals with seems to behave the same way, and because her behavior is familiar to others, she’s wildly successful in a social sense — far moreso than I am.

Anyway, her need for eye contact seems to trace back to her early childhood, when her parents were really dangerous to be around. The main signal that they were about to get scary, was when they went silent and wouldn’t make eye contact. That signaled that they were about to become A Problem. They were about to become hazardous to her health.

If they were making eye contact and being verbal, that signaled that they were Safe.

If they weren’t making eye contact, and they weren’t talking, that signaled that they were Not Safe.

And if they weren’t Not Safe, some pretty terrible things could happen — the kinds of things that scar you for life and get ingrained into your wiring. I’ve been co-habitating with the effects of that sort of wiring for over a quarter of a century, and the more I understand it, the more inclined I am to accommodate my partner and make the eye contact she needs to feel safe.

Even if it isn’t always (or ever) comfortable for me.

I also keep this in mind in the world beyond the walls of my house. There are so, so many people who’ve been traumatized by silent parents who stop making eye contact right before they explode. We have no idea who those people are, and how many of them there are. And when we don’t make eye contact, that’s the rough experiential equivalent of demanding that Autistic people Do make eye contact. It’s painful. It’s frightening. And it stresses people out.

So, what’s the solution? I can’t speak for anyone else, but this works for me:

  1. Compassion for others I’m interacting with. Understanding that if they need eye contact, then they might have gone through some pretty rough stuff at the hands of people who stopped looking at them just before they started to beat the crap out of them.
  2. Accommodating them accordingly. Standing in a way that faces them, holding my posture in a way that communicates I’m friendly and I’m not going to attack them. Using prosody — exaggerating the “lilt” of my spoken language to calm them down, which it actually does.
  3. Accommodating myself. Looking intermittently at their eyes, but not enough to stress myself out… mostly focusing my gaze on parts of their face that are near their eyes, so they think I’m making eye contact, but I’m really not. Stimming in ways that are hidden, yet effective.
  4. Remembering — always remembering — that whatever triggers they’re dealing with, they may not recognize because they’re so commonplace and so “normal”. And as a result, they have practically no awareness of those triggers and the effects they have on people like me.
  5. Just hanging in there, till it’s over.  No, it’s not pleasant. Yes, it can be pretty damn’ uncomfortable. But very little in my life is simple and straightforward and 100% pleasant, so this is no different from just going about my daily life. The effort is worth it, because it makes it possible for me to work and play and interact with the rest of the world and have the kind of life I want.

It’s not for everybody. But this works for me.

And again, it’s worth it.

Stoic on the Spectrum: Consider how quickly all things are dissolved and resolved

arrows in all directionsToday’s brief note comes from from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

IX. Consider how quickly all things are dissolved and resolved

… the bodies and substances themselves, into the matter and substance of the world: and their memories into the general age and time of the world. Consider the nature of all worldly sensible things; of those especially, which either ensnare by pleasure, or for their irksomeness are dreadful, or for their outward lustre and show are in great esteem and request, how vile and contemptible, how base and corruptible, how destitute of all true life and being they are.

So, things come and go. Pain comes and goes. Energy and vigor come and go.

One day, I’m fine. The next, I’m pretty much disabled. That, too, comes and goes. And there’s really no way to predict how things will be. I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried. Doesn’t work. Best thing is to just stay loose and roll with it, so to speak.

“Consider the nature of all worldly sensible things…” All of them are ultimately resolved. They, too, shall pass. And if I wait for that to happen before I go on with my life, I’ll never get anything done. I won’t have a life worth living.

So, today, as my bones ache and I have less feeling and coordination in my arms than usual, I’m easing into my day… Doing my exercises that ease the pain and increase movement, so I can at least do the bare minimum… drinking plenty of water… getting some good food in me… doing less of a workout, this morning, but a workout nonetheless. And reading.

Reading things I love, that lift me up and brighten my day.

That’s certainly something.

Giving up, every now and then

pug looking sidewaysMy body gives out on me, on a semi-regular basis. I’m “chugging right along” just going about my regular business in my hyper-focused way… my mind frolicking through veritable fields of fascination and whimsy… spending hours up on hours on maintaining a Single Point Of Focus to whatever needs my attention at the time.

And it’s all going great. I’m in a groove. I’m really making progress.

Then my body gives out. I’ve overdone it. Again. I’m in such pain, I can barely move. I can’t do the things I normally do, because the usual movements turn my joints and muscles and connective tissues to glowing embers of white-hot coals. I can’t sleep well. I can’t think clearly. The routines I rely on to maintain homeostasis in my life and keep an even emotional keel… they all fly out the window. And I’m cast adrift in the proverbial sea, without sails, without rudder, without anchor.

All I can do, is recover. Watch what I eat. Drink more water. Cut out the sugar and other things I’d been eating which are Just Not Good. Be gentle to my body. Rest and release and do what I can to strengthen the parts of me that got weak during my spate of hyperfocused singular attention and activity. Stop doing the things that cause me pain (much of the most important things I normally do), and wait it out, while making minor adjustments to my physical experience.

New exercises. New movements. Or just no exercise or movement at all.

This started about 30 years ago, when I was out of college, was working full-time, sitting at desks all day, and not in a very happy life situation. I had a few car accidents in the course of a year’s time. They were “just” fender-benders, but they really messed me up. And the pain started. Crippling pain. Agonizing. Unavoidable. Inexplicable. And everything the doctors told me to do (especially avoid exercise), just made things worse.

I managed to extract myself from that prison of pain over the course of about 5 years. It took a little longer before I was essentially pain-free. But every now and then, it comes back. I injure myself and I don’t heal properly. Or the repetitive motion (combined with very little movement) takes a toll. And I end up back where I was 30 years ago: incapacitated, and unable to explain or excuse myself to anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like to go through these pain-recovery cycles.

I’m smack dab in the middle of one of these recovery cycles, right now. I’ve had varying degrees of back and shoulder pain, over the past several years. It comes and goes, depending on how (and how much) I’m moving. Sometimes I have a flare-up that’s obviously related to excess — a whole lot of new physical activity, a lot of pushing and pulling heavy weights, different kinds of movement that are very different from my usual movements. Other times, I’ll be wracked with pain for no apparent reason, and nothing seems to alleviate it, other than rest… which cuts into my exercise routines and weakens me even more, on down the line.

I know what did it, this time. Snow. Lots of it. Multiple storms. Lots of snowblower activity. Pushing and pulling and lifting and throwing. Plus, scoliosis. That makes everything worse.

Of course, it doesn’t help that my preferred state is one of absolute stillness of body, while my mind ranges freely through conceptual territory it loves to explore. I can sit for hours… motionless, rapt, totally absorbed in what’s right in front of me… blissed out with all the mental exercise I’m getting. The lack of movement really brings the pain, when I start to move again. And it can last for days.

Of course, typically, it doesn’t set in until I’m days or weeks into a “reverie”. And then it takes 2 – 3 times as long to reverse the painful effects of all that motionless mental activity. If I can reverse them at all.

The thing that gets me most from this, is how my body then keeps me from doing the things my mind wants to do. I can’t sit at a desk and write. I can’t type on my laptop without pain. I can’t do much of anything without discomfort, which is incredibly distracting and keeps me from thinking clearly. At times, I can’t do anything at all, other than just drag my “husk” through my days, discharging my work duties on autopilot and hoping nobody notices how marginal I am. I can only manage the absolute basics.

And that’s just so crushing. Because my mind relies on being able to do much more than the basics. It needs to range in its own territory and get free of the constraints of the mundane / neurotypical world. I can’t be myself. I can’t be Autistic.

Oh, pain indeed.

So, today, I’m taking it easy on myself. I have a light schedule, today, and I have the chance to get a little nap. I’ve got some new exercises / movements I can do that are already helping. But it’s going to be an extended road back. This much I know, from experience.

That being said, it’s time to step away from the keyboard and take care of myself. I have no idea how active I’ll be, here, in the coming days and weeks, but I certainly hope I can muster the strength, energy, and enthusiasm, to keep exploring the things I love to explore.

I’ll need to give a bit of it up… ultimately, my hope is that it’ll come back to me.

How much has #television contributed to the #Autism panic?

television

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how … abruptly Autism has seemed to have emerged on the public scene. So many people getting diagnosed, supposedly in “epidemic” proportions. “Autism wasn’t a problem when I was growing up,” people say… “It must be something new — vaccinations, environmental toxins, gut health, gluten, and more.”

I’m not going down those particular ratholes, because I think there’s another factor that’s really contributing, not only to the number of people who are getting diagnosed, but in the distress that we’re experiencing because we’re Autistic.

I think it has a little bit to do with the surge in pathologization (if that’s a word) of behaviors that have been around since the beginning of time. There have always been folks like is in the general population. But society’s acceptance of our traits has dramatically decreased, over the past 40 years. And that, I believe, contributes far more to the issues and challenges we experience, than any of the commonly blamed “causes”.

Society has never been super-accepting of outliers. My ancestors fled their homes many times over many generations, as a result of local people not wanting them there. For over 1000 years, they routinely had to move along to some other locale, because people didn’t like their language, their culture, their religion, their ways. Back and forth across Europe they went, chased from one country to another, because they just didn’t fit.

So, the human race has never been strong on the whole acceptance bit.

But now… I’ve noticed a massive shift in people’s acceptance levels of traits that I grew up with, which were never seen as liabilities in the place/family of my origin, which were simply seen as differences that gave you certain strengths, where others were weak — and vice versa. It’s not just Autism traits, either — flapping, talking fast and long about fascinating subjects, being sensitive to foods, needing to stim — it’s everywhere.

When I got into high tech, 25 years ago, I was an outlier. There weren’t many women on the technical side of the house, but people made room for me. I earned my place, weirdo that I was (and yes, I am a weirdo, and proud of it!). And there wasn’t the raging sexism that I see in high tech, now.

And I think television has had a hugely influential role in all of this. Because we’ve been inundated with all the messages, for countless hours, on countless channels, about how men and women are supposed to look and behave… for how “normal” people are supposed to look and behave. Television has provided a bland, one-dimensional template for everyone to abide by, creating emotional bonds between audiences and invented characters which are the product of a media industry that’s almost mind-bogglingly homogenous. Writers of color, Autistic writers, disabled creators, people who don’t fit in the mainstream, don’t have great representation there.

And it shows.

Personally, I have to wonder how much television people who freak out over the “Autism epidemic” actually watch. The folks who “light it up blue” and support A$… how many hours have they spent in front of the glowing box (or eyes glued to a device), internalizing all the subtle, one-dimensional messages about what it means to be a human being, and how we should behave? People who cringe at the different ways people present and identify, gender-wise… who squirm at speech patterns and behaviors that don’t match what they think are right… how many of them have had their social expectations set by all the t.v. characters they connect with each day and each night?

I have to wonder.

And I have to admit, I really despair, when I see what kinds of characters are on t.v., as well as in movies. For the sake of drama and an unfolding story, embarrassingly immature people are trotted out for our “entertainment”, their foolishness normalized, their vacuity standardized, their shallowness presented regularly as “how people really are”. It’s depressing. And when you toss in the music and laugh tracks and subtle ways creators and producers use to entice viewers and hold their attention… Ugh… even more depressing.

Over the past years, I’ve been watching less and less television. I watch a few shows regularly, but mostly I watch movies (which are slightly better, but also have their shortcomings). And the more time I spend away from it, the more tolerant I find I am. That includes tolerance for myself. I’m not as intensely sensitized to the ways I differ from others (of course, menopause helps, because I’m no longer hormonally inclined to give a damn what others think). I’m more tolerant of others, as well. Differences don’t bother me, the way they used to — and the way they bother others.

Because my templates for acceptable human behavior haven’t been defined by a handful of white, middle-class collaborators who live in their own little bubble and work behind closed doors.

And I have to wonder, if more people just didn’t watch t.v. and let it tell them what it means to be human, how much more human could we actually become — and allow others to be?

If I’d only known about #Autism, Things could have been *very* different for me during #Menopause

roller coasterI’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself again. I’ve been reflecting on my life a lot, lately, thinking about how my life has gone… thinking about how it could have gone differently… thinking about what could have been done, if I’d just known about being Autistic.

Or rather, if I’d just gotten professional confirmation of what I’d suspected since 1998. What I’d confirmed by reading and thinking and reflecting and reading some more, along with taking various tests and quizzes and putting myself through my paces, time and time again.

I think the time in my life that was the most critical, was when I was going through menopause, 15 years ago. It was incredibly rough, and it really took its toll. And if I had understood more about how Autism affected me, not to mention how menopause affected me, and how the two intersected, I really believe my life would have gone differently.

Sure, there would have been upheaval. Yes, there would have been uncertainty. But I could have factored in the elements of my Autistic self, and figured out how my changing chemistry was interacting with it. I needn’t have been so concerned that I was losing my mind. Because some basic calculations and some simple tools could have helped me keep myself on track.

But no. The awareness wasn’t there. I didn’t “get” that all the hormonal changes would plunge me into chaos far greater than anything I experienced in childhood — because I wasn’t “supposed” to have that level of chaos, being an adult and all. I didn’t fully appreciate that my situation could be tracked and managed, both from an Autistic side and a menopausal side, and I could have gotten to know my full self better, as a result. Nor did I have the realization that fully understanding both Autism and menopause could actually ensure (not guarantee, but give me a fighting chance) that I’d be able to navigate the ever-changing world with objectivity and self-assurance, instead of a constantly increasing sense of dread and panic.

Yeah, things could have been very different for me. I’m sure of it. But there was too much I didn’t know. And I didn’t realize how important it was for me to go looking around for answers.

‘Cause I was in constant sensory distress. Overwhelm. Confusion. And I didn’t have a lot of bandwidth left for research.

Well, I came through it. And I know now how to address my situation both from an Autistic and a basic everyday physiology point of view. I’m doing it today, as I’m dealing with some nagging pain and fatigue, while keeping to a somewhat regular work schedule. I’m looking up answers to my situation, at the same time that I’m taking it easy on myself and cutting myself a break in important ways.

I can’t get those years back, that I suffered more than I could have. But I can certainly do something for myself now.

All this “activity” makes me tired

It’s funny — I stepped away from national news and much social media, last week, needing to just take a break from it all. And when I came back, it turns out, not much has changed.

At all.

The same dramas are unfolding… and slowly, at that. The same concerns exist. The same people are fighting. The same problems are being “framed in narratives”, rather than being directly worked on by people unallied with any political agenda.

Life goes on.

I’m not sure how to feel about it.

One way I do know I feel, is tired. Very tired. And it’s a total distraction. I needed the distraction yesterday, my first day back at work in the office after a frenzied week last week, with all kinds of extra activities going on. And that was fine. I got a little bit of work done. Just enough to stay busy and sorta-kinda on track. But I also spent a fair amount of time frittering away my day chatting back and forth over stuff I don’t even remember all that well.

Maybe it helped. Maybe it didn’t. Dunno. All I do know is that life is much bigger than social media, and it’s much bigger than the news. There’s so much going on, right now, I can’t keep up, anyway. And of course I need to take care of myself.

And this is how I do it — take care of myself — by doing pretty much as I please, at the pace I choose. I basically do the bare minimum for me, which is “above and beyond” for everyone else. And then I take what extra time I need to recover and do what I wish.

I do feel guilty, sometimes, for slacking off. But nobody else is looking out for me, and my employer isn’t going to accommodate me, so I make my own provisions. And that’s fine

The rest of the world doesn’t bend itself to suit my needs. It doesn’t accommodate me or make special exceptions for me. I’m stuck in same churning mill that everyone else is, and since it takes a bigger toll on me, I need to make my own exceptions, carve out my own sanctuary, design my own life around my own needs.

I do the bare minimum for me… and that’s “above and beyond” for everyone else.

Hooray for low expectations! They rock. They’re my rock in a hard place. And believe you me, this world we inhabit together IS a hard place for me and others like me.

I guess the trick really is finding what works, and working with that. And not feeling guilty about taking care of myself, in the process. It’s been a few years, since I started really guarding my own interests… doing the bare minimum… not wiping myself out “for the cause”… and it’s taken a lot of getting used to. Because there’s a part of me that wants to wear myself out for the cause. There’s a part of me that believes that unless I’ve completely depleted myself, I haven’t done enough. And there’s a part of me that believes that I’m entitled to automatic equitable compensation in exchange for my sacrifice… that the universe provides for those who render good service.

Turns out, I’m pretty much wrong on most of those counts. All of my expectations really hinge on the presumption of Justice (capital “J”) but as it turns out, the vast majority of people are much too overwhelmed, themselves, and much too distracted to promote that thing called Justice, or even pay it much mind.

I’m on my own, if  I want equity and proper remuneration. I’ve got to pull the necessary strings, apply the necessary pressure, take the required steps, in order to get what I need.

And sometimes I have to take it.

Like I took a break last week from the news and social media. I’m probably going to cut out the news again, this week, because coming back to it is like taking up an old bad habit and remembering why you quit, in the first place. The world will continue apace without me. And by and large, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. Except worry.

But that’s just tiring.

So, enough.