About that Walk…

girl walking in the woods

I was supposed to walk, this past weekend. Every single day of my three-day weekend. It was supposed to be glorious. Delightful. Indulgent. Quelle luxe! And inevitable.

That’s what I do on long weekends, when everybody’s off work on a Monday, and things are quiet around town. Families head north to the lakes and mountains for the federal holiday. Those who stay behind either head out to Lowes and Home Depot to pick up supplies for their gardening and home improvement projects, or they throw the kayaks on the roof racks of their SUVs and head to the nearest rivers. They run. Cycle. Hop on their Harleys and roar down the open roads. People scatter on those weekends, and that keeps me close to home.

I have my walking routine down, based on years of experience. Preparation is simple, straightforward. Practical. I change into my favorite walking clothes: a pair of baggy, ripped-up cargo shorts with enough pockets to comfortably hold keys and phone and tissues and earbuds and bug netting and a few pieces of candy… with a soft blue-green t-shirt worn over an even softer white undershirt… all of this over a comfortable sports bra and underwear that won’t chafe or bind. I hang a medical alert tag around my neck to make sure folks know whom to call if they find me collapsed by the side of the road, and there’s my trusty baseball cap pulled snugly on my head. And — at last — my sandals. It’s now warm enough to trade socks and lace-up walking shoes for those sturdy vibram soles strapped to my bare feet with velcro, leather, and some sort of finely netted fabric. I always know that summer is here when I can pull on my sandals. And I rejoice. I grab an apple from the fruit bowl, wash and wipe it dry, grab my small set of keys and maybe a piece of candy or gum for later, and head for the back roads.

I had my routes all mapped out, for the three days. Nothing fancy. Just the usual. With extra time to do the full circuit. I’d head down the road for a mile, past the “McMansions” built on the high hill facing a breathtaking view to the west… careful round the bend at the convergence of three roads where people always take the turn too quickly… walk another two miles under thickening forest… turn left again and walk a quarter mile past the mix of old and new houses, farms and single-family dwellings with their neatly trimmed lawns… up a slight incline, across the secondary road that’s full of motorcycles and bicyclists when the weather is nice… trudge past the town line sign… and disappear down the horse-farm-lined road, where people are too busy working on their gardens or cars or property to notice me passing by. At the stop sign where the road “T”ed into another, I’d about-face and head home. Or I’d get adventurous, take a right and keep going, till so much time had passed that I had to turn around to get home before dark.

At last, after weeks of overwork hunched over a laptop for 10 hours at a stretch, I had enough time of my own to extend my route into an extended adventure — to find out what’s around the corner that’s normally my turnaround point. Enough time to keep going. Keep walking. Sunglasses would block the sun. A baseball cap would shade my eyes and keep the bugs off. And if the bugs got to be too much, I’d have my netting to pull on over my cap and at least keep them off my face and out of my nose and ears. I had three days off work. Time to rest. Time to relax. Time to walk.

Disappearing that way on weekends is one of the things that makes my weeks tolerable. It dissolves the work-week like nothing else. Walking. Just walking. Doing nothing “productive”. Not talking to anyone on my phone, not listening to music, not planning or executing or planning to execute. Not even dictating ideas that came to me along the way for use later on. Barely interacting with people as I passed. Socially isolated from passers-by in my apparent mission to Get Somewhere Soon.

My own little 21st Century heresy. Delicious.

I had it all planned.

And I almost made it.

Except, I didn’t.

Saturday morning found me gardening. The weather was perfect: cool and clear, with a breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Originally, I thought I’d just stop by my community garden for a solitary, contemplative hour. I’d make sure the peas and beans were up, weed a little around the peppers and tomatoes, water the celery, then head home for a shower and a walk. I could do my errands later, after I got back from the road.

As it turned out, other gardeners were tending their plots at the shared space. So, of course we had to talk. Or rather, they had to talk, and I decided to oblige them. That was fine. They all seemed nice enough, and they needed to get to know me. It always surprises me when other people want that. Isn’t it obvious, I’m a wonderful, conscientious person who’s comfortable letting other people be who they are? Is it so hard to tell that I’m generous of spirit and non-judgmental, and people can relax around me, even if they’re not on their best behavior?

Apparently not. And it exhausts me, all these prerequisites for social interaction, as though any of us has the right to condemn another person for a quirk we don’t understand. To my Autistic mind, we should all simply let each other be, give each other space to be who and what we are, provided that we’re not harming anyone else. I don’t need other people’s approval, but others clearly need mine, and it’s so tiring, to convince them that either they already have it, or they really don’t need it from me, to begin with.

What is up with that? It makes no sense.

Figuring people out is an experience in extremes for me. Either I fail fantastically or get it right without even trying. The times when I fail, I am completely clueless about facial expressions, voice inflection, hints and mentions. I don’t pick up on conversational prompts, where I’m supposed to follow a statement with a question. If someone makes a statement, say, “It’s a beautiful day!”, then they make a statement. If it’s true, then no further discussion is needed. We’ve established it’s a beautiful day. And we can move on. To things like practical tips for keeping moths and slugs off my new plantings.

For that matter, I often don’t understand why people even bother stating the obvious. It’s confusing for me. Of course it’s a beautiful day! Water is wet. Wind blows. The earth spins. Big deal. Why in heaven’s name are they so excited about announcing the obvious? Then I have to remind myself that they’re probably socially insecure and they’re searching desperately for a topic of conversation that’s neutral, safe, non-controversial. So they can talk. So their voice vibrates their vocal chords, which stimulates their vagus nerve and soothes their fight-flight response. Some people have to talk, or they quiver with fear. I understand what it’s like to be constantly shaken, so I accommodate their need. And I convince myself to respond “Oh, yes! Just lovely! We’re so fortunate!” so we can have a few minutes of neutral sharing of something positive… and get on with our gardening.

Then again, I can sometimes pick up on other people’s natures right off, with that Autistic “sixth sense” that some of us have. I notice so much, at times, I don’t need to talk myself through the rationale of responding to inane observations. I don’t need to be psychic. Body language, pacing of words, shifting of weight, loudness of voice, personal space, facial expressions, eye contact, topics of conversation… it tells me more about them, than they probably want me to know. It comes in handy — and it sure would have helped, 40-some years ago when I was still learning.

They say Autistic people can’t “read” others. We have communication issues which are the most defining feature of Autism, they claim. Plain and simple.

I say, social interaction is never plain and simple. It’s an overwhelming embarrassment of riches for people like me — there’s so much personal / impersonal data to parse, and there are so many disconnects between what I observe and what people say it means about them, who can make sense of it all? If people simply acted and didn’t provide a running commentary about how they want to be perceived, it would be so much simpler.

So much simpler.

But nah – that wasn’t happening last Saturday morning. And four hours after I arrived, I was exhausted. I’d gotten to know seven of my co-gardeners, heard all about a dispute with the head gardener that one gentleman still resented, and I’d gotten a thorough introduction to the insecure overcompensation of the wife of the family who had the plot beside mine. All while, I did my best neurotypical impression — pro-active, friendly, outgoing, secure, experienced, invested in the community. Gung ho. I know how to do that. I was raised with community and gardening. I do an excellent impression of a seasoned, connected, all-organic caretaker of the earth.

And no one can hear me scream.

Sigh.

So much for my morning.

I walked out of the garden in a kind of stagger. It caught me as soon as I was past the garden gate and was able to drop the making act. The sun was hot. The mosquitoes were swarming. My head was swimming with all the interaction, along with a nagging sense that I’d said a few things wrong to people. Their intermittent sidelong looks told me I was veering off course, but damned if I could tell what I’d said or done that warranted the stink-eye. My mouth just kept going. Whatever you do, I tell myself often. Just stay in character. Carry on as though it’s all completely normal, and they’ll follow your lead. Just keep on keeping on. And I did. Like I usually do. Until I can’t.

Fortunately, I cleared the garden gate before I imploded. Lucky. Practiced. Shaking.

I drove home slowly, my head spinning, hands shaking, taking the long way back to avoid having to turn across dangerous lanes of oncoming traffic. No way could I go for my long road trek in this condition. Not on the back roads that are full of cyclists and power-walkers and drivers taking their classic convertibles for a spin while the weather is perfect. I’d have to have my wits about me, to get far enough down the road to disappear. And that wasn’t happening.

Not yet.

Run the errands. Eat lunch. Nap. I’ll walk later. That’s what I promised myself. And that’s what I did. Mostly. Mailed the package at the post office. Took the trash to the dump. Picked up some food at the farm stand down the road. Put stuff away around the house. Ate my lunch. Took my shower, then my nap.

But when I woke up, I was still shaky, and I just didn’t feel like going out on the roads. Not so late in the afternoon, when all the bugs were starting to come out en force. Bicyclists. Walkers. Joggers — sorry, runners. Drivers. And bugs.

No thank you. Tomorrow. I’d do it tomorrow, I promised myself.

And that’s what I’ve promised myself for weeks and months, now. I’ll take my walk after I get everything else done that needs doing. I’ll get out on the roads for a leisurely roam, once things are put in order at home. I want to. I really, really want to. With all my heart.

But it never seems to happen. At least, not the way I want, or even plan. The rest of my life demands my attention. Things have to get done, and if I don’t do them, no one else will. I don’t have the energy to explain to people how to do them properly — shopping and cooking and cleaning and gardening and making repairs around the house — and cleaning up after them is more tiring than doing those things myself. I’m tired, so tired, from the week’s work that’s so social, so “engaging”. I’m tired from keeping up, from working at not lagging, from all the role-playing and forced positivity that others reward so well. It’s the price I pay for inclusion. I pay the price directly, while it costs others indirectly, with my reduced ability to pretty much deal with anything. Anything at all.

Walking far enough to disappear… well, that’s become a luxury that my stingy, obligatory life doesn’t want to make room for, these days. Every now and then, I manage it… just a quick 20-minute walk in the morning, or a 10-minute stroll around the parking lot at work. But those long, meandering saunters… who knows when I’ll be able to do them next?

Something else will have to give, and that something shouldn’t necessarily be me. I’ll figure something out, of course. I always do.

If I can pass as neurotypical, I can do just about anything.

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Six reasons I frequently end up in bad relationships

people arguing with a splattering of dark around the borderI just read a great post about Gut Instincts and Autistics getting bullied or taken advantage of by people. This post is an expansion on what I commented there.

I’ve been in bad relationships (either intimate ones or friendships or working relationships) that really took a toll on my standing in life. At times, they were emotionally abusive and set me back that way, but more often, they reflected poorly on me in the eyes of others, and that undermined my reputation with other people. They took me for a fool and dismissed me in untold ways.

That can be an even bigger problem than self-esteem or self-perception issues. You can always fake your way through crappy self-esteem. But if you’re not esteemed by others, then the problems are even worse.

Anyway, I’ve thought a lot about this over the course of the past years of coming to terms with being Autistic. And I’ve realized there are some really compelling reasons I find myself in (or actively seek out) bad / abusive / challenging relationships. Some other reasons I’ve done that over the years are:

  1. Alexithymia – I can’t tell how I feel about a situation. I literally can’t tell how I feel about a person and how they’re treating me. If I don’t know they’re being mean to me, how can I address it? How can I learn to recognize their behavior as abusive or negative? How can I ever hope to defend myself? Fortunately, being clueless about the harm actually protects me from it. For example, if someone insults me in a language I don’t know, I’m not going to be hurt. At all. I don’t know they were being nasty, so … meh.
  2. Slow processing speed – I’m often too busy parsing the environmental cues to realize someone’s yelling at me all the time. This is a real thing with me. People, I literally don’t have the bandwidth to manage all the sensory input — the lights overhead, the feel of a breeze on my arm, the scratchy seams in my shirt, the background noise of people talking or moving stuff around or making the floor vibrate when they walk by — to “get” that people are making fun of me or getting short with me. I’m usually just barely keeping up, so by the time it sinks in that someone’s being mean to me, the conversation / situation has moved on. La la.

  3. Auditory processing issues – I often can’t tell right away that someone is being mean to me, because I can’t actually hear everything they’re saying to me. Again, it’s like someone swearing at me and calling me terrible names in another language, when every other word drops out of their sentence. I sorta-kinda get that they’re upset, but I can’t tell what they’re going on about. So, I generally ignore that sort of thing. It’s like when a friend of mine (who’s deaf in one ear) decides she’s had enough of people and she lies down on the side of her “good ear” (as she calls it). She effectively blocks out the rest of the world, and she can rest.

  4. Memory issues – This is a huge factor. I don’t have great short-term working memory (I’ve been tested, and it sucks), so a lot of stuff just gets forgotten… sometimes before it can even register. My slow processing speed makes things register later, while my auditory processing issues only allows some stuff to get through. And then, either the situation evolves to something completely different, or I forget the details of what was said or done, and life goes on as it has been. On good days, I’m blissfully unaware that people are acting terribly towards me. On bad days, I’m like, “What just happened?” When my memory is particularly bad (when I’m tired or agitated or overwhelmed by everything else), I’m lucky if I can remember that something actually did happen. It’s not nearly as awful as it sounds. Believe me, much of what happens in my relating with other people isn’t worth remembering.

  5. Being yelled at and treated badly wakes me up – I often feel sluggish and brain-foggy, and that makes me feel terrible about myself. But when someone is being mean to me, it makes me more alert. Even if the circumstances are hurtful, at least I feel like I’m awake and I feel like “myself”. So, it doesn’t seem so awful. It actually feels engaging. Of course, the standard-issue position on being yelled at is, It’s Terrible And Should Never Happen – If It’s Happening, Make It Stop. But in my case, being yelled at doesn’t always actually hurt me. Sometimes it wakes me up in important ways.

  6. Logic, logic, logic – I tend to click into logical mode, in challenging situations, so I don’t really feel emotionally impacted, every single time. Sometimes I am, but not always. Sometimes it’s just an objective thing that happens, and I don’t get emotional about it. Of course, other times I do. It’s variable. But when I am really hurt by something that’s said to me, logic comes to the rescue again. Objectively speaking, I’m a wonderful person with so much to offer. I’ve been told that often enough by people I trust, that I’m inclined to believe it. My sample size is big enough to be statistically viable. So there. If someone is being mean to me, I can be objectively certain that it’s about them, not about me. And I can move on without taking it personally.

On the whole, I think the mental health / relationship standards that apply to the general population don’t necessarily apply to me. Stuff that impacts others, doesn’t impact me the same way. Sure, it would be great to not be abused by the people I consider friends, but people are people, and frankly, I often can’t tell if people are actually being mean to me, or not. If I can’t detect it, it doesn’t affect me, so it’s far less of a tragedy for me than it is for others who are deeply impacted.

Maybe I’m sounding all denial-y, but that’s how I see it. That’s my experience. I’m still here, I have a really positive self-image, I’m able to care for and protect myself, and I’m living a far better life (for myself) than I ever dreamed possible. I’ve somewhat figured out — from experience — how to spot “problem people” and avoid them. But mostly, I avoid people when I can, because it’s so exhausting to have to figure everyone out, always on the lookout for danger signs, and constantly weighing all the variables and considerations. Sheesh, who has the time and energy for that? Certainly, not I.

So, I spend a lot of time alone.  And that is wonderful and delightful. The most interaction I have on a regular basis is social media. At least I can walk away from that (literally) anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed, and it’s not going to jeopardize my life, like walking out of my job or home would.

In the end, we all have to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t, and take steps to make the most of what works, while trying our best to keep what doesn’t work from ruining our lives. It’s an art. It’s a science. Life goes on.

#Autism and #suicide – what keeps me alive

bookshelf packed with books

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve lived my life, thus far. My birthday is coming up in less than a month, so my thoughts turn to retrospectives on the past year, as well as my life. I’ve only been around for ~53 years (compared to the 100+ years my elder relatives usually live to), so relatively speaking, I feel like I’m just getting started.

I know, I know, Autistic people are supposed to die something like 16 years before their neurotypical peers, and I’m sure many do. But all the Autistic folks I’ve been related to and have known, have all lived extraordinarily long lives, and they’ve been active and engaged in the world until the last few years.

So, I’m planning on being around for at least another 53 years — probably longer, since I’m in better shape than most of my peers, and I live my life intentionally, with future strength and stability in mind.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices I’ve made in life, and how I haven’t really achieved everything I hoped to, over the course of the years. I’ve had so many dreams, so many plans, so many good intentions, and they all came to nothing. Because I couldn’t sustain the level of effort required to make it happen. I ran out of metaphorical steam. I got worn out. I worked to excess, then I crashed, and I never fully recovered. Basically, my life reads like one failed experiment after another.

And yet… I’m still here. And thinking about suicide and death and mental health, these days, I realize just how much of my life has been structured around keeping myself alive and mentally healthy, as everything around me has seemingly conspired to do the opposite.

I live in a profoundly hostile environment, full of social land mines and ample opportunities for faux pas that carry a heavy social toll. I’m active in my world, but I’m not at all comfortable in it. And while I do contribute, and there are a lot of people who really love and care for me, if I could leave it tomorrow for a destination that suits me and who/how I am more comfortably and healthily, I would — without a second thought.

But I can’t leave. The supports I’ve got, which I’ve worked so hard to put into place, are just now starting to “bear fruit”, as it were. After years of really scary precarious living, I’m finally in a place of stability that I can build on. And I have a household to support, including a disabled partner, so I’m not going to ditch my job anytime soon, unless something equal or better comes along.

That being said, I realize it’s been this way for my entire adult life. I’ve made my choices, and I’ve situated myself in life in the most economically advantaged position I can get, at a great cost to my mental and physical health. So, I need to go to extra lengths to keep myself viable.

That means… books! That means… taking the whole weekend off and decompressing… writing, reading, researching. That means, surrounding myself with stuff that brings me pleasure, whether it’s artwork I’ve made or pictures I’ve taken or art and photos I’ve bought from other independent artists. My home is full of many, many relatively inexpensive things that I love, which I (and my partner) just happened upon in our travels. A little figurine that cost $2. A Chinese hand fan that was given to us by friends whose wedding we DJ’ed. A giclee of a painting of a scene not far from my childhood home, by an Autistic woman I know. Pottery I threw many years ago, which I still love.

And my research… My special interests have varied and been in flux, over the past 10 years, but I still have the books. And when I dig into them again, I realize just how much they have helped me, over the years. All that reading, all that journaling, all those notes… they may never come to anything in the big, wide world, but they’ve kept me sane. They’ve kept me healthy. They’ve given me the outlet and the self-expression I needed, away from the pressures of professional performance.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

So, as my birthday approaches, and I start to slip into regret over all the things I never managed to accomplish, I have to remember — I’ve been very, very active in the field(s) of my choice over the years, and I’ve made some pretty amazing contributions to those fields within the sphere of my own personal life. It’s kept me alive, and it’s created something beautiful in my life — as well as indirectly in the lives of others who I’ve helped because my intense “special interests” made it possible for me to function.

That should count for something, to me. And it does. Just because nobody else knows about it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

If a tree falls in the forest, and I’m the only one who hears it, yes… it does make a sound.

A very loud sound, indeed.

#Autism and #suicide / suicidal ideation… for starters

Trigger Warning

For the record, I’m not sure where this blog post is going to go, so if you get triggered by talk about Autism and suicide, it’s probably best not to read this. There are so many other really great things written on the blogosphere. I encourage you to seek them out instead of losing time here.

Camouflaging may be an autism specific marker for suicidality.
Camouflaging may be an autism specific marker for suicidality. Pretending to be neurotypical may literally be killing us. Wow. #INSAR2018  From Sara Luterman  ‏@slooterman

So, Autism and suicide. Apparently it got a lot of attention at the latest INSAR conference in Rotterdam, last week. And a lot of people on Twitter have been talking about it, since.

I have mixed feelings about suicide. I’ve dealt with suicidal ideation since I was a teenager. I can’t recall having that issue when I was younger — I think I was way too overloaded all the time to spare much thought about anything being different for me (i.e., not having to endure a miserable life). Then again, as challenging as my childhood was, there were ample opportunities for me to decompress and experience the ecstasy of special interests — and, well, just be and autistic little kid.

My mother actually loves to talk about what a little scientist I was, when I was younger. She thinks it’s hilarious and fascinating (not pathological) that I dismantled “girl toys” that were given to me, to see how they worked and use them for different uses, rather than playing with them as they were originally designed. All the stuff that would have qualified me for a DSM-V autism diagnosis and pathologized me within an inch of my life… well, those were all just quirks I had. They were the things that made me… me. And both my parents really loved and enjoyed that.

Of course, home was one thing. School was another. I was bullied intensely all during 5th and 7th grades, and I really struggled in many ways. But I ever thought about ending it all. When I got into high school, that changed. And I have to say, looking back on my four years there, I did engage in self-injury… but in the form of cross-country running. I ran myself ragged. Wore myself down to a rail, with my intense workouts. But I was fit, and I was winning, so it didn’t stand out at all.

I also started drinking in high school, and that took the edge off my intense discomfort. But it took me down some very dark roads, and when I re-emerged from my drunken haze(s), things were even worse than when I’d picked up a drink the night (or afternoon or morning) before. Drinking, ironically, may have saved my life at the start, because it helped me take the edge off the intense discomfort and mis-match between what I wanted for myself and what the world was imposing. Even if it was temporary, even if it did screw me up, it was still a pressure valve I could use at will. But it became a case of diminishing returns, and drinking in fact pushed me towards killing myself a number of times, until I quit for good, 29 years ago.

Thoughts of ending it all (let’s call it “SI” for “Suicidal Ideation”, a term I hate, but which serves its purpose) started in earnest when I was drinking, now that I think about it. I was so, so miserable. So queer. So autistic. So confused. So set-upon by everything. People expected a tremendous amount from me — and they weren’t wrong to do so. But they never provided me the kind of conditions I needed to truly excel. They just expected me, like some automaton, to produce excellence on a regular basis. They expected religion to meet my spiritual needs. They expected conformity to provide all I could ask for. They expected me to crank out superior “results”, time after time after time, with no break, no respite. And I expected that of myself, as well.

Because that’s what was done. That’s how things worked. And if I couldn’t do that, then I was clearly broken.

I spent a lot of time believing I was broken. Even before high school and college… back to the early days of not “getting it right”. Broken. I was broken.

And as adulthood encroached, with its requirements and expectations, and practically nothing on the horizon that appealed to queer little, autistic little, decided non-feminine little me… what was the point of going on? Seriously. What was the fucking point?

The closest I ever came to killing myself was at the end of my drinking, when I was scoping out the best place to end it all. I was working at a business 5 minutes from my home (for a sexual predator who literally salivated over “sexy” Black women who walked past his office windows)… and I would drive home for lunch most days. Because I could. There was a bend in the road that everybody went around too fast, and I was pretty sure that if I drifted into the oncoming lane during certain times of the day, I’d be killed on impact. Those were the days before airbags in cars, or regular seatbelt use. Oddly, I never thought about the other person I’d be hitting head-on. I didn’t care. I just wanted to end it all. To be done with everything. To stop the pain I was causing myself and others.

Because I believed it was all my fault. I was broken. There was no way out. So, I was going to do the world a favor and get myself out of the picture.

Fortunately, I quit drinking before I could see that through, and I got a lot of support from a 12-step group that focused my attention on my sobriety and getting my life together.

I wish I could say that I never thought about suicide again, but for 20+ years, it continued to be an issue with me. Until I hit menopause, SI was a regular occurrence, and it usually happened when I was in hormonal distress — just before starting my monthly cycle, when my body was completely out of whack and felt entirely at war with itself. As it turns out, one my ovaries was probably malformed and malfunctioning, which could have been why every other month, my life descended into a living hell for no discernable reason.

My SI also tended to coincide with the holidays, when I was in overload, anyway, what with the seasonal changes, the disruption to my regular routines, all the bright, flashing lights, the increased social demands, and extended visits to family — replete with opportunities to open up all those old seeping emotional wounds. Combine a holiday family visit with PMS (that sounds so inoculous, doesn’t it?), and you’d better believe I wanted to kill myself. Just end it. Put a cork back in the bottle and keep the evil genie from ever coming back out again.

I can’t even count the hours I spent howling in despair and anguish I experienced simply living life. I scared the shit out of my partner, that’s for sure. And it happened a number of times a year — usually around the holidays.

Looking back now, I have perspective. And I have understanding about why SI was such an issue for me. I understand the despair that drove me to want it all to End Right Now as a failure of pattern detection. I couldn’t see beyond my immediate excruciating pain, and I certainly couldn’t detect any possible alternatives to what I was experiencing on a regular basis:

  • Pressure to Perform
  • Recurrent failure to perform
  • Isolation
  • Feeling broken, rejected, useless
  • Not being able to do what I truly loved often enough to make life worth living
  • Impossible expectations to conform and live up to society’s expectation of how and what and who I “should” be
  • Exhaustion — bone-crushing exhaustion that never quit
  • Chronic pain that would subside but never went away 100%
  • Brain fog, confusion, etc. from my impacted and constantly beset state

There just didn’t seem to be any alternative. There was no way out. Nobody was giving me a break. Nobody was just letting me be. It was just one incessant series of demands after another, and I wasn’t keeping up. I wasn’t keeping pace. I was drowning in all the things I was doing wrong, and there was little to no relief in sight.

When I hear people talking about how extraordinary it is, that so many Autistic people take an early route out of life, I have to wonder why. Do they not get how hostile the world is to us? Do they not see how futile it all looks to so many of us? Do they not know how impossible it all is for some of us to sustain and maintain the semblances of “normalcy” that are required, these days? What’s so wonderful about this world, so filled with anger and hatred and hostility and — worst of all — lack of logic and reason, that’s so determined to crush us under its boot heel, that we’d go to great lengths to stick around?

Seriously, who thinks the standard-issue world is such a great place? Yes, there are some really wonderful things about this planet, but the way things are set up, all of it is slated for complete and total destruction, while the vast majority of people just sit around and wait for it to happen — or buy popcorn and find a seat to watch the show. It’s an embarrassment, that so many people think this human-created world is the pinnacle of human achievement, and most days I know for sure that I really don’t belong here.

So, what keeps me around? The fact that I can make my own life exactly the way I want it to be. I’ve worked overtime for years, to get to a position where I can have a life that makes room for me. I’ve had to funnel a vast amount of energy into it, and it takes time and great spirit to defend it and keep it going. But doing that gives me a focus for all the anguish and sadness that’s a constant undercurrent in my life. It fuels me and motivates me to do more, to be more, to create more — and to do that in the ways I see fit, regardless of what anybody else thinks.

But most of all, the thing that keeps me from ending it all is curiosity. I’m too inquisitive and imaginative, to believe that Things As They Are is how Things Will Always Be. That’s highly unlikely. And I’m curious to find out what will happen, and what I can take from it.

Also, I know how fickle I am.

Seriously, if I were to throw myself off a bridge, there’s a 98.7452% chance I’d change my mind on the way down and kill myself against my actual will. I came close to doing that, about 5 years ago — I had the spot picked out and I was getting ready to get in the car and drive out to a bridge in western Massachusetts and jump. But then I thought about what would probably happen. I’d make the hour-long drive, and I’d get up on the cement span, and as I fell, I’d remember something that made my life worth living, but by then it would be too late to do anything about it, and I’d miss out on the rest of the experiences I could have had.

So, I didn’t get in the car and drive out to the bridge. I stayed at home and wished I were dead, instead.

I’m still here, as you can tell.

And I have more to say about this. But right now, I need to go to work and find out what’s going to happen now in that swirling mess of neurotypical mediocrity.

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.

Here #IFixedIt – Ian McClure’s truly bizarre riff about #Autism

bored emoticon mehIt’s been a strange day. Apparently, an eminent psychologist went on about Autism in some pretty bizarre ways — all the more bizarre, because apparently he helps determine direction for agencies(?)

He repeatedly talks about “autism” like this — see the transcript here. And I couldn’t just sit back and not say anything. Seriously, conflating “autism” with environmental or sensory distress experienced by Autistic people is very mid-20th century. And it’s got to stop.

I’m on a “tear” about how we need to stop referring to environmental/sensory distress experienced by Autistic people as “Autism”. It’s not Autism. It’s the result of external circumstances hobbling us as Autistics.

Take a look at what he says below, and note just how nonsensical his ideas sound, when we consider them in the true light of the Autistic experience. Italic emphasis  is mine. For effect.

 

Ian McClure (IM): The question I am trying to ask here is does it help us when we are trying to work with autistic people in environmental or sensory distress to actually say maybe this person is emotionally stuck at the level of a two year old, just hold that (inaudible) in your head for a bit

IM: and ok so we are coming back in hopefully, we are coming back to this thing about egocentricity, now what I, I have been wondering about is, if we did think about autistic people in environmental or sensory distress as egocentric in the sense of a toddler and if we do remember this whole phenomenon of regression, emotional regression. That suggests that maybe there would be a process for a n autistic person in environmental or sensory distress, right at the beginning of their life, which was very stressful. Ok so I want you to just sort of entertain that idea in your head. We’ve got somebody that right at the beginning of their life, that something really stressful happened to them that means that they cannot move forwards from that emotional regression stage, from that egocentric phase, and so the question is what could that be? What I am wondering about is, is it possible, that autistic people who end up in environmental or sensory distress, in that first year of life, they are not much different to everybody else? Is that possible? And that what we have got is a situation where something happens in that first year of life which does then change the way that that infant is developing. Maybe environmental or sensory distress in a way is a social coordination disorder there’s something about the way that we coordinate ourselves socially, the cerebellum is doing that. We know that autistic people in environmental or sensory distress often have difficulties with these systems but we don’t really know why. Maybe it goes back again to something to do with maybe two different human species came together and what you’ve got is a genetic mess that isn’t quite right, that something is not quite right.

IM: So I am wondering about whether we should think about the idea of what I call a kind of internal exponential trauma caused by the sensory and the neurological challenges in the brain of the autistic person in environmental or sensory distress one of the reason I am so keen on this idea is, this idea which I think a lot of us have who work with autistic people in environmental or sensory distress, is that somewhere inside that person is a, dare I say it, normal person and this is the experience of parents, the desperation (inaudible) is I know there’s somebody in there if I could only just get at them and reach them. Now I know that that has been dissed a lot and people say oh you’ve got to move on from that, that’s just emotional, you know, it’s just the emotional (inaudible)

….

IM: Maybe we need to go right back to what people like Freud and Bleuler and Kraepelin and have a look again at what they were thinking because what happened in the 1950s was that whole thing got chucked out and DSM and so on and all these other things are just not interested in it. And the way it is going forward now is that the research that is being done by psychiatrists by academic psychiatirsts in places like London and America and stuff like that is very focused on looking for drugs. They are looking for drugs to answer these behavioural differences, and that is what they are doing they’ve got this magic bullet idea, if we can get a drug for that just think how much money we can make. And that’s a big motivator. And I know I am sounding very cynical but I’m afraid, you know, that’s going on.

IM: Ok so I am just going to summarise, In environmental or sensory distress my experiences as a clinician has been that the thing that is really challenging is this own agenda behaviour, that’s not in anyway minimising all the other stuff, but what it boils down to is time after time you know in the clinic this person is causing havoc because they won’t give up on their agenda. So then I started to think, could that be about egocentricity? And then I started to think, hmm, what about, what about something has gone wrong that has meant that that person has got stuck in the egocentric phase. Does that help us, think about it? what could that be? What could that be? If that was true, what could it be? We’ve got clues, we know that autistic people in environmental or sensory distress are in some way experiencing the world differently and that can be incredibly distressing for them. We don’t know a lot about it but we’ve got some clues and could that be enough as an internal stressor and are we having possibly a traumatic encounter there which is exponential because of the massive development that is taking place in the first year of life.

Anon (Name to be added if they give permission): My name is (deleted), I am a clinical psychologist and Ive spent most of my working life asking autistic people in environmental or sensory distress what they think and feel, I’m also neurodevelopmentally challenged myself and I really found thinking of myself as a different species and a genetic mess, I’m also a mother of a son who is a genetic mess, if we don’t have autistic people in environmental or sensory distress and people with dyspraxia and dyslexia and adhd in our society then it would be much less rich. The reason that those things were thrown out many many years ago is that they were wring. And to start to move back to things like refrigerator mother and prevention of environmental or sensory distress, I think is not appropriate.

(Lots of applause)

IM: Shall I respond?

IM: I never said anything about refrigerator mothers and I acknowledge that that was a dangerous area that went, you know, clearly wrong but I think it is great that I have had this response actually, because I think it is important to get a reaction like that and I’m pleased that you have reacted like that. All I am doing here is asking questions, I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I am trying to do is I am trying to make sure that we don’t get stuck in a silo mentality, I want us to keep our eyes open about environmental or sensory distress and I do not mean to cause any offence by saying the things I have said but it’s a free country, last time I checked it’s a free country and we are allowed to say what we think and I am basing this on my experience with my patients over twenty years so you know that is just my experience. I am worried that these people are being traumatised by something that is going on in side their minds, that’s all I’m trying to say to you, so thanks a lot (applause)

So, yeah… If you look at Autism just as something that occurs in the brain, you get these kinds of ideas.

But if you understand Autism as something that shapes your every experience in a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual way (with an emphasis on the physical which can lead to a ton of distress), that changes it, doesn’t it?

It changes everything.

Which is where I’m hoping the Autism research community goes. Away from the “egocentricity” idea. Away from the “own agenda” concept. Away from the belief that meltdowns are “tantrums” which we choose to leverage to get our own way. “Creating havoc” and all that.

The good part is that people are speaking up about this.

The bad part, is that we have to.

 

Sickness and lameness and hindrance, oh my…

grid of four people rolling stones up hills
Just keep going. Just keep working.

My stoic meditation of the day comes from The Enchiridion By Epictetus

9. Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.

10. With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.

Indeed. I tend to lose sight of the fact that all my sensitivities don’t prevent me from choosing what to do with my life, and finding ways to deal with them. The simple fact of my life, which is my guiding principle, is that if I can identify that something is a problem for me, and I know what alternative I want in its place, then it’s incumbent upon me to do something about it.

I’m pretty resourceful, when it comes down to it, so I can’t very well make excuses for my life going the way it has, when I’m actually capable of A) seeing when I’m going off the rails, and B) coming up with alternatives.

Now, certainly, it’s no fun to have to constantly navigate a world that’s designed for people completely unlike me. But one of the reasons I left my parents’ house and took off on my own, was precisely because I knew that out there in the world, I could fashion my own environment that suited me. I know what bothers me, I know what makes my life difficult. And with that knowledge, I can design a life that works for me.

Of course, not everything is going to be suited to my liking all the time. But so what? The times when things are extremely challenging, are the times when I build up strength. Provided I give myself time and space to recover and assimilate all the lessons, the challenges just make me stronger. More resourceful. More determined. Maybe it’s just my character. Or maybe it’s because of how I was raised. Whatever the reason, when I look back at the worst times I went through, those were the most valuable lessons.

In some cases, you get what you pay for. And I’ve paid dearly, I can tell you that.

It’s all been worth it. Some of my experiences have felt like they tore me to shreds, but you know what? I’m still here.

So there.

And I’m going to stick around. There is no way I’m going to succumb to the dire predictions that I’ll die 20 years earlier than my non-autistic peers. That’s just ridiculous. We get to choose what we do with ourselves, what choices we make, what direction we take. And if I choose to do things that I know are not good for me — like avoiding certain foods because of the textures, but not supplementing my diet in other ways, or like avoiding exercise because I don’t have the energy — I have only myself to thank for vitamin deficiencies or poor physical condition.

Some magical being in the ethers isn’t going to descend to earth and save me from myself. If there are things I have to do, because the laws of physics and human anatomy require them, then one way or another, I’ll do them. It’s my choice. And I have the capacity for reason, discernment, to find alternatives, if one way doesn’t work for me.

So, with that said, it’s time to get on with my day. I find out what the deal is with my job — new paths are being charted for us at work, and the direction we’re taking actually makes a whole lot of sense for me.

Maybe I don’t have to leave my job, after all… Even so, I have a video interview for another position on Monday. It’s all a dynamic process.

Of course it is.

It’s life.

Something must be up in the world… but I wouldn’t know.

man in a boat on a lake with mountains in the backgroundWow – people are on a tear tonight.

All kinds of feisty, racing around, slamming into each other… the cops are out en force, and I’ve seen plenty of people pulled over, sometimes with lots of extra emergency vehicles around them.

Traffic on the way home was crazy tonight, with people flying all up in each others’ tail-lights, beeping, roaring… you name it. And this is even more than usual.

Something must be up in the world.

But you know what? It’s been 2 days since I looked at the news, and I have no idea what bees might be in their bonnets. Nor do I care. I mean, I care, but not so much that I’m willing to sacrifice my own well-being for others.

And I realize, that’s what I’ve been doing, lo, these many years that I’ve been paying attention to what other people do in the public arena. What a poor use of time. It’s useful to keep in touch with who votes in my favor, and it’s a good idea to participate in positive change. But all this other… crap that’s all over the news… yeah, it just doesn’t make sense to follow any of it.

Especially when nothing really seems to change much, even after all the upheaval and drama. There are so many other more constructive uses for my time and energy, than “following” the antics of people who are all into the drama for drama’s sake.

Me? I want to actually accomplish something.

So, I do. I’ve been reading a lot, lately. Spending far less time online. Chillin’. And it’s good.

Have a lovely evening — or day, if you’re reading this in the morning.

It’s easier if people aren’t nice to me

Man Thinking, Looking Out Over Foggy Harbor - Photo by Phoebe Dill on Unsplash
Photo by Phoebe Dill on Unsplash

This is going to sound strange, but it’s actually easier for me, when people aren’t nice to me.

When they don’t say and do nice things for me, befriending me, and so forth.

I find it confusing. And the reciprocity thing makes my head feel like it’s spinning.

And I’m going to get it wrong.

Either I’ll get too close, too fast, or I’ll keep my distance when I’m not supposed to.

They’ll expect me to hug them. And that’s no good. I’m a terrible hugger, objectively speaking. I don’t know how to get the right pressure, and I always seem to dig my chin into the other person’s shoulder, which is a weirdly intimate thing to do, when I think about it.

They will say things and expect me to respond in kind. But my brain doesn’t work at their same speed, so I’ll end up saying something stupid or coarse or reflexive that’s unconsciously meant to push them away.

It’s better, if people aren’t nice to me.

That’s not to say I don’t like people. I do! I really enjoy their company, and I like to spend time chatting about things that interest us. Even the dreaded small-talk is fun for me, at times. Banter. Witty banter. Laughs. Ha-ha-ha. 😀

But other than superficial fun times, I prefer that people are objective and a little cold towards me. Matter-of-fact. Because facts really matter a lot to me, and it’s more important for me to handle things in the correct manner, than it is for me to “exchange energies” with potentially needy others.

I don’t mind the chill. I prefer it, in fact.

Just don’t be rude.

Rudeness I cannot countenance. Standoffishness, yes. But rudeness, no.

And that’s what I have to say about that tonight.

Whoah – now *this* is a welcome change!

autism journal cover before after showing old puzzle piece and new circles motif

So, this is refreshing!

It’s not everyday we #ActuallyAutistic folx get some good news, especially from within the realm of research. But it’s a new year, and it appears that — somewhere, somehow — people have been listening. And what’s more, they’re willing to act.

But lo and behold, this is exactly what’s happened. Just got the news yesterday from the journal Autism:

A new era for autism research, and for our journal

… autism research is a shared endeavour. Precisely because it is a common endeavour, autism research requires the participation of that broad community on fair terms. It is not right that one group holds all of the influence and power. If any group, or collection of groups is unattended or their opinions discounted, then they are being treated unfairly and in a way that does damage to autism research itself. The core ethos of this journal must include ensuring that everyone who participates in autism research has their views taken into account.

This takes us, of course, to the symbol that used to occupy the cover of this journal – the puzzle piece. Others have written at length about the history of that symbol, how it was initially deployed by the UK’s National Autistic Society (NAS) in 1963, and how it has become increasingly controversial as the years have progressed (Grinker and Mandell, 2015; see also Gernsbacher et al., 2017). But what has become much clearer recently is that autistic selfadvocates and many who support them have not only felt that the puzzle piece does not capture their view of autism itself, but that the failure of organisations such as this journal to act in response constitutes a core disrespect, as if their voices and opinions did not matter equally to other people’s (Brook, 2016).

Oh, my… I’m feeling a little choked up, actually. The fact that people in positions of influence have actually been listening… and have taken substantive, public action… that’s huge.

What’s more, the new design makes total sense. They say they developed the design with input from Autistic people, which in itself is amazing. And the red circles — overlapping, yet separate, similar yet slightly different… that pretty much says it all to me.

Plus, no blue. #Redinstead. Always a nice change.

So, I’m feeling like I can breathe a little easier. Not until I saw the new design, did I realize just how I hold my breath and brace for a conceptual … infringement… whenever I encounter official outlets for Autism research and thinking. Even with publishers and organizations who are very much “on our side”, I brace myself, every time I read their tweets or publications. I’m always on the defensive with the official outlets, no matter how well-intentioned they are. Because they so often just don’t get it… and I have to go to considerable lengths to rectify everything in my mind and convince myself — yet again — that they are not the enemy, they just don’t get it 100%… yet… and they’re trying.

Of course, the bulk of the conceptual work is on my shoulders, because I’m in the minority and on the receiving end. I don’t have the time and leisure and money and stature to do much of anything about it. Me taking the giants of the Autism industry to task about their unwitting slights and oversights, is like piloting a jet-ski through an iceberg field, trying to avoid the chunks of floating ice out of the way so I don’t wreck on them… as well as trying to nudge them out of the way, so others less speedy and attentive than I don’t run into them and wreck themselves.

The peril of poor word choices and dismissive language, I feel, is so much more severe for Autistic individuals, because we can experience language so viscerally, so physically, so deeply. Handing over Autism vocabulary to non-autistics, is a little like handing a gangly teenager a razor-sharp katana. They just don’t have the coordination and maturity to handle it well. And somebody’s gonna get hurt. Of course, the person wielding the weapon(s) isn’t going to suffer. They won’t feel a thing, when they draw blood from others.

And that’s precisely the problem. Because, well… double-empathy. Yet again.

For a less gruesome comparison, how ’bout this — asking non-autistics to research and address Autism on their own, is like asking a color-blind person to pick out a coordinated outfit out of your wardrobe of colorful prints for your big job interview. Nothing against the color-blind person. They’re still valuable and valid as a human being. But you’re better off having someone who can detect a lot more colors in the spectrum, if you’re going to present your best for The Big Job.

Fortunately, it looks like things are shifting. Changing. With any luck, improving. Big thanks goes to the researchers who have been raising the alert about how … er, screwed up, er, incredibly deficient , er, lacking the old route has proven. And hey — how ’bout all these profoundly insightful Autistic adults who know firsthand what it’s like to actually BE Autistic… mightn’t they have something to contribute.

We might, indeed.

So, I’m supposed to be resting today. Reading. Taking a break. But hell, this is big news, and I’m not about to sit this one out, when there’s so much to be lauded about it.

I could go on for hours about how the circle motif makes SO . MUCH . MORE . SENSE. But I’ll leave that to another blog post, after I’ve regained my strength. I’m still struggling after last week. And on top of that, I had a big get-together with 16 very chatty friends (old and new) packed into a 10×10 foot space.

Can you say sensory overload? Uh… yup. I will definitely blog more about my experience of hearing seven simultaneous conversations at top volume for four hours… and my ensuing glee that I didn’t completely melt down in the  mist of it.

Oh, but I digress. Let the record simply show that I approve of this new direction that the journal Autism is taking. And I suspect a lot of other Autistic people like me do, as well.

Oh, except for those who hate it. We’ll always have some of those 😉