When it all comes together… eventually

person climbing up hill through snow carrying a snowboard

Well, that only took 15 years…

I’ve been working on a set of ideas — all related, each with great potential — for over 15 years.

And finally it’s all coming together.

That’s one of the reasons I haven’t been blogging on here a whole lot. Finally… finally… things have gelled with me enough to actually take shape in a form that actually works.

I know I’m being cryptic (and I have to be, because I’m in “stealth mode” with this project), but basically, I’ve written and conceptualized a whole lot of stuff over the past 15 years that I can now actually put into action.

The ideas all work together. And they’re useful to a whole lot of people. And I have access to the technology and skill (and customers) to make this fly.

And that’s how it goes with us Autistic folks, sometimes. We’ll have all these great ideas… very detailed, thorough, grounded, practical, transcendental… and it can take us years and years to finally fit them all together into a way of being, working, thinking, living, that’s superlative. Super fantastic. Transcendental.

But it takes time with us. And we have to have the right conditions to work under. If we don’t have the time and proper conditions, it can kill off our ideas, our drive, our ability to think. Sometimes it kills us, period. However, if we’re given the right support and the right environment… well, the sky’s the limit.

Yeah… I’m not sure “support” is the word I’m looking for. It makes us sound dependent. Needy. Like we can’t do it on our own.

Look, we Autistic folks can do a vast amount of things on our own. If the world isn’t constantly trying to kill us. If it’s not dead-set on destroying us, because we’re different.

I was fortunate to grow up in an Autistic household, surrounded by Autistic friends and neighbors. It wasn’t “weird”. It was how we were. And neurotypical people were the “weird” ones. I’m lucky that way. I grew up knowing how to love my differences and let my freak flag wave wild and high. I also didn’t give a good goddamn what anybody else thought about me, my ideas, or what I did with my life. So I had that going for me, as well.

But I know an awful lot of Autistic folks get stuck growing up in the mainstream, surrounded by people who are bound and determined to make them pay dearly for being different. That’s pretty sucktastic. And as soon as I got away from my family and the area where I grew up, I ended up in that world, too. It can be awful. So, when I talk about things being sucktastic, I know whereof I speak.

Anyway, I have to get back to working on my Grand Plan (I love planning!), so I’ll cut this short.

Bottom line is, with Autistic folks, it can take us a long time to develop… ourselves, our skills, our knowledge, our expertise, our understanding of the world. But when we do… Look out. We are a force to be reckoned with.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Now, go out there and do some good in the world for yourself and others.

Advertisements

Getting back to what restores me

code on a computer screen with garden image behind itI’ve had the most wonderful weekend! It was an amazing balance of activity and rest, of hope and self-determination, and laying the groundwork for new beginnings, all around.

I was supposed to spend Saturday driving family and friends to a memorial service for one my partner’s friends who passed away. But it was so hot, my partner didn’t think it was safe to be out in the heat. She doesn’t handle heat well, and she didn’t want to end up sick — which is what happens if she gets overheated. Plus, I couldn’t stay for the event. I’m no good in crowds of strangers who love to hug each other and look searchingly into each others’ eyes. That’s what that group love to do — no thank you. I just couldn’t do it, and she understood.

On top of it all, I would have been dropping her off at the event, then coming to pick her up later, so that didn’t help her anxiety. At all. Nope. No way. Not gonna happen. She cancelled her promise to appear, and that was that.

As a result, I had an actual weekend. If I’d made that trip, I would have been exhausted on Sunday, and that’s no good. I wouldn’t have had a weekend at all. And I wouldn’t have gotten all the things done that I want to get done.

I have a lot of them.

  • Gardening(!)
  • Reading and watching videos about a new kind of astrology I discovered, which answers a lot of questions I’ve had over the years. It fits me so much better.
  • Drafting some writing pieces I’m working on.
  • Coding up a new app I’ve had going for a few months, now.
  • Taking care of assorted chores I let go over the past several weeks.
  • Resting and thinking about where I really want my life to go.

I spent a whole lot of time in my garden, turning over a new plot I was given. Three hours on Saturday morning, and another three hours on Sunday morning. It was too hot to do anything after 9:30 a.m., so I got out there early, both days — about 6 a.m. And I had the garden to myself for a while. Peace and quiet. No conversations. Just me and my shovel and the weeds sunk persistently in the earth.

Spreading the last of the dried alpaca manure on the newly turned-over section. Removing grasses and various invaders from around the peas, tomatoes, bell peppers, beans, carrots, and celery. Checking on the beets and Brussels sprouts, waiting for carrots to appear. Putting in mounds for my cucumbers and seeding and watering them. Weeds on the weed pile, which then got carted to the compost bins. Return trip with the wheelbarrow full of wood chips to put down on the paths between my plots. Lots of work. Lots of weeding. Hauling water, too, so my “babies” get their drink. There are two pumps, so I have to pump and carry it myself, which is fine. Each plot needs its own watering can full. That makes eight trips. It’s fine. It gets easier, each time I go there.

I also harvested lettuce and the first sugar snap peas and little yellow tom-tom tomato of the year(!) All delicious, all alive, all life-giving. Such an awesome experience to have that actual food to eat. Without having to go to the store. Without the burden of knowing that store-bought food comes to me thanks to someone not getting paid a living wage, and countless trucks on the road burning diesel. I won’t call it “guilt-free”, just with a far lower carbon imprint and free of much of the moral residue the rest of my food comes with.

This is the first year I’ve ever been able to do this gardening. I’ve always had a job that required a commute, as well as daily appearance at the workplace. Being in the office every single day, as well as the drive to and from… it’s been an enormous drain on my energy and resources, and I’m surprised I’ve ever been able to do much of anything other than recover in my off-hours, to be honest. But I used to do a lot in my off-hours. Just not gardening. It was all reactive stuff that I did before — activities prompted by my partner, or things I had to do. Or things that eased my distress, like writing.

Nothing pro-active and self-determining, like gardening.

Now, though, I can work from home pretty much anytime I need to, and that’s great. It’s the one reason I stay with my job. Because I’m home, I can finish out the week without being completely destroyed.

And I have time and energy for other things, as well.

Like coding.

I started web development in 1995, when I wanted to publish my own work online without being blocked by editors. I’ve never been comfortable dealing with editors — egos are daunting for me, and I have a hard time communicating with people in general. It just doesn’t work. So, I needed a way to get my work out there, and the web seemed the perfect avenue. Fast-forward to 2010, when I decided to switch my career path to project management, so I could code my own projects on my own time and actually enjoy myself in the process. Corporate web development just depressed the living sh*t out of me, and I wanted to be free to code up what I wanted, the way I wanted.

Of course, things didn’t turn out exactly the way I expected — or wanted. I had a rough time transitioning to the people-focused role of project management… especially since the developers I was working with weren’t as skilled as I was, and they also didn’t have the work ethic I have. That seriously eroded any energy or enthusiasm I had for coding, and the daily commute just sucked the life out of me.

So, my dream of doing my own coding faded into the background. I’ve worked on a few projects, here and there, and some of them have been substantial — like my Autism/Aspergers Spot-Check Tool and the Auptima Press The Holiday Survival Autistic Stress Gauge, a free online tool to help you measure how you’re doing – and where you need help – during holiday seasons.

I haven’t been completely idle, coding-wise, but I haven’t fully committed to my coding the way I intended, those eight years ago.

Until now.

I’ve got another project “cooking”, which has me pretty excited, I have to say. It’s helping me get clear on where I want to put my attention, coding-wise. There are lot of choices of technologies and techniques, and that’s been the main thing that’s blocked me, along the way. Just not being sure what direction to go — what to learn next, what to focus on, where to invest my severely limited off-hours time and energy. This project is helping me get very, very clear about what I do — and don’t — want to do.

Plus, when I’m done with it, it’ll be a tasty little addition to my portfolio, which I need to update, now that I think of it.

So, that was my weekend. Gardening… working myself to a quivering heap… resting, getting my second wind… then sitting down to study and code for hours and hours of blissful focus and attention.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I need to get back to coding. I may not be able to do it full-time (and I may not want to, since my wrists need frequent rest), but I crave that focus, that intensity of concentration. I just can’t get that with project and program management. Well, we’ll see how things shake out. I have time to study and learn and apply my skills and see where things take me. I’m not in a situation where I feel like I have to get out of here right now, or I’m going to die! I’m fairly secure, job-wise. And I know I need to change. So, I’m using the time to work towards that.

One thing at a time.

One step at a time.

One day… week… month at a time.

I’ll get there. Piecing my life together, bit by bit, I’ll get there.

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.

A script for my #Autistic Monday morning

three abstract people figures talking to each otherI am not looking forward to going to work today. I worked from home all week, last week, and it was wonderful. I didn’t move as much as I should have, and I ate more than was healthy, but I got to rest when I needed to, and I wasn’t subjected to inane interactions, like I’m about to be, in a little over an hour.

I detest vacuous social interactions that serve no purpose other than to make other people feel less lonely. It’s a distraction. But I’ll do it.

The good part is, I’ve figured out how to do it without investing a whole lot of energy. If I just follow this script, I’m all set.

This is how it goes:

First, I see someone approaching me. It’s always best if I acknowledge them first, because other people are very reactive. They like having someone else set the tone of the interaction so they can just follow along.

Me (smiling and looking in their general direction): Hi! How are you today?

Them: I’m good, thanks! And you?

Me: I’m great! How was your weekend? Did you have a good one?

Them:  Something – something – something – something – something – something

Me (depending on their response): Oh, wow – that sounds great / frustrating / exciting (sarcasm used, if they had a terrible weekend)

Them: Yeah. Something – something – something – something – something – something

Me (whatever they happen to say): Oh, I know… Right?

Them: Laugh / meaningful look / some comment

Me: Tell me about it…

Them: Okay, well, have a great day!

Me: You too! Happy Monday!

 

And we’re done. That’s roughly how it goes.

Generally, I can get away with a few exaggerated expressions of “Oh, I know!” or “Right?!” that indicate I’m listening (maybe I am, maybe I’m not), and that I care. I do care. I actually do. But it’s a lot of energy, which I often don’t have, to get all invested in other people’s lives.

Especially when I fundamentally disagree with what they do with their free time and money.

I try not to belabor my interactions with judgment. Non-autistic people don’t understand, and it’s not a good use of time.

So, anyway, Monday awaits. I have to go in to the office today — Big Day for a project I’m working on, plus there’s some staff meeting I have to attend. Whatever happens, it won’t be boring. That’s for sure.

Although sometimes, boring would be fantastic.

Okay, off I go…

I dunno – I just don’t think there’s enough positive stuff out there about #Autism

human silhouette on beach with sunsestNot to mention success stories.

Okay, okay, I get it. We need to build support for folks who really need it. But I think at times that our Autistically rigid thinking keeps us aligned with some pretty rigid support possibilities, many of which simply aren’t available to all of us.

The needs of an Autistic kid in a city may be very different from the needs of a middle-aged Autistic woman living in the suburbs, and they may be very different from the needs of a 30-something Autistic man living in a rural area. And then we have our aging population… men and women… who have been through so much, and now face the double-whammy of becoming elderly (a challenge in society, in general) and having those sensory/social challenges which may become even more pronounced in old age.

I’m worried. Anxious. For myself and all my Autistic tribe. And I’m not alone.

The thing is, I suspect that anxiety takes the edge off my creativity. It locks me into rigid thinking. And it erodes my ability to come up with some really inventive solutions.

Personally, I think we Autistic folks are some of the most inventive people on the planet. For sure. I mean, look around — so much of what we have is the product (I believe) of an Autistic person with an intense interest in One Single Subject. That focus has produced some truly amazing things. And that same focus can help us fix our future.

So, the future… yeah. What does that hinge on?

Well, the past, for one. And also… patterns! Patterns, yes. We plot our course forward by referencing patterns — this leads to that, this causes that, if you do this, you can logically expect that. And we gain a sense of where we are in the world by watching other people and seeing how their lives have shaken out over time.

We are constantly learning from other people, “ingesting” their experiences, learning from their mistakes, and taking cues from their stories. Humans are story-loving creatures, and each of us has thousands of stories of our own that we collect over the course of our lives. They can be based on our own experiences, or they can be from our observations of others. Or we can make them up as we go along. But we have them. We use them. We rely on them to no end.

Yes… stories.

Earlier this week, I was chatting with an older Autistic man who spent time with younger Autistic people. He said he was really alarmed at how traumatized those young people were, how harrassed they were, how on-guard and roughed-up by life they were. These were young people who all had the advantage of knowing they’re Autistic, but it was such a burden for them.

😦

Major 😦

I personally don’t think we do a good enough job as a community, sharing our strengths and accomplishments… our joys and ecstasy. Autism for me is every bit as much about bliss, as it is about struggle — equal parts, I’d say. But the discussion so often centers around the struggle, perhaps because I think I’m going to get commiseration and support from others who know how I feel. Unfortunately, that’s seldom the case. If anything, it works against me. And I end up getting sucked down into the Pit of Despair, as I perseverate on the idea that somehow, somewhere, sometime, I might get some help.

I won’t… 93.72% of the time. Now and then, I will, but I spend far too much time working towards that 6.28% that’s occasional and intermittent at best.

So, where does that leave me? Sorta kinda where a lot of queer folks were left, back in the 1990s, when so many of us were coming out, but most of the media about being queer (especially movies) were so full of angst and pain and suffering. Suicide, too. Ugh. How many gay and lesbian movies (long before the concept of being queer took hold) showed us being miserable and downtrodden and better off ending our lives? To be honest, it wasn’t altogether unlike what Autism$peak$ has done. And while I’m not 100% on board with comparing Autistic folks to queer folks, all across the board, there are some pretty pronounced similarities.

  • Being different embarrasses our families.
  • They try to make us different — more like them.
  • If we’re lucky, they fail. If they succeed, we’re twisted into a version of ourselves we don’t understand.
  • Ostracism, misunderstanding, violence. Etc.

Anyway, this is a really long-winded way of saying I think the Autistic community could learn a thing or two from the LGBTQ+ community (and yes, we do overlap), especially insofar as the Pride movement is concerned. Celebrating our differences, developing our own culture and community, taking our place in the world just as we are, and having a lot of fun while doing it… There’s real power in that, I believe. And it’s where I hope we go with our Autistic community building.

I’m not gonna tell anybody what to do or how to do it, but I can do something in my little corner of the world. I can talk about my life in positive terms. I can share my triumphs and joys. I can really celebrate the successes of other Autistic folks. I can focus on the good, the strength, the fortitude, the brilliance. None of this takes away from the challenges we have — it’s merely ballast for my proverbial vessel as I sail the high seas of life.

There are so many wonderful, positive things about Autism that get lost in the crisis, anxiety, difficulty, drama, and shame of growing up Autistic. They get lost to parents, they get lost to us. They get lost to society, in general, obscured behind the ignorance and judgment. We go into hiding. Because it’s safe there.

And then, when we grow up, we can be so alienated, so accustomed to hiding, that our actual development isn’t recognized. Or people are so used to looking at us as they remember us, once upon a time, that they don’t give us the chance to shine.

I think that needs to change.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I plan to change it on my side… do my best to unleash a torrent of writing about how absolutely excellent it can be to be Autistic. It might piss a lot of people off, because it may undermine their message about how we need help and support. But I’m not going to lose the good parts of my life, while I wait around for the government or some organization to meet my needs.

Certainly, it would help… but I think we can do more than that.

Well, I can, anyway.

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 😉

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.

Social Incompatibility: Yet another thing that’s not true about this #Autistic individual

crowd of cheering people at an outdoor concertSupposedly, because I’m Autistic, I’m incapable of interacting with non-autistic people the way they want me to.

Untrue. I wish it were true, some days. ‘Cause all the interacting with neurotypical people just gets so exhausting. I’m bone tired, starting around 10:30 a.m., every single day I have to go out into the NT world. And I just get more tired, throughout the course of each day. The nonsensical decision making and priorities are just so wearing

But what’s an Autie to do? I’ve gotta make a living, and that means I have to get out in the thick of things, figure out how to navigate it all, and just get on with my life.

I also need to interact with other people on a regular basis. I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I don’t get out and interact with the world every few days or so, my thought process starts to get pretty “out there”. I get a little suspicious and paranoid, actually. And my mind starts telling me all sorts of things that aren’t entirely true. I need people around (in person, not just online) to provide details I’m overlooking in my very rigid thinking. I need them to keep me grounded.

It helps me.

But it’s not easy. Oh, no. It’s not easy at all. I mean, I’ve figured out some tips and tricks and whole lotta hacks that will get me through social interactions without offending everyone in sight and pissing off people who misunderstand me. But it doesn’t come naturally to me.

And therein lies the “rub”, as they say.

Because my hacks work. My clandestine stimming, concentrating on a place on someone’s face that isn’t their eyes, nodding periodically, using a finely tuned prosody and cadence to my speech… it’s all very effective. It’s attractive, even. Which means people want to interact with me. They love to interact with me. They seek me out. They come looking for me at work. They look me up online. They ping me on social media. They hang out with me at the 2 parties I go to, each year. They say they want to see more of me. They invite me to their homes. They invite me to events. They want me around, and they love my company, because I can offer them something they can’t get anywhere else — compassion, empathy, focus on them as the center of my world when I’m with them, interesting trivia (yep, got lots of that), laughter, relaxation, acceptance.

People love me. They can’t get enough of me.

In the words of the Talking Heads, “My god. What have I done?

It seemed like a good idea, to develop all these coping mechanisms over the years. And they have all helped me to get good jobs and keep them and provide for my household at a level that most Autism researchers would probably declare impossible for someone “with my impairments”. But it comes at a cost. It all comes at a cost.

And that cost is exhaustion.

Well, fortunately, I’ve figured out some ways to get through, even if I am worn down to the bone. I keep going. I focus on the task at hand. I amuse myself periodically throughout the course of each day. And I have my early mornings to myself, as well as part of my evenings. I manage to wedge in things I really love, here and there, punctuating the interminable slog that is my life in the non-autistic world with moments of sheer bliss.

So, that’s something.

And it makes the rest of my life possible. Which is good. Because nothing truly worthwhile comes easy, I believe. And I can’t expect the rest of the world to accommodate me. Other people have their own problems, and my challenges are not even on their radar. If I want to keep a job, stay out of jail, keep a roof over my head, keep the cars in the garage, save money for emergencies… basically, have an adult life, I have to make choices and sacrifices. That’s how the whole adulting things goes, and our current climate of hyper-customization and convenience and being catered to and accommodated at every turn is not helping people cope with the inevitable challenges of just living a responsible and rewarding life.

Life as I experience it is a series of challenges which involve to varying degrees a regular influx of frustration, pain, anguish, sadness, disappointment, disillusionment, betrayal… you name it. But that’s how it goes. And if I want to have the life I need to have, I’ve got to figure out how to manage it all.

Which I do. Including the social stuff.

That being said, I have to get myself ready for work. I’m going in to the office today, after being home yesterday (I had nonstop meetings on the phone from 8:30 – 4:30, which is its own particular brand of misery for me). I’m going to be around people who are unrealistic, insecure, demanding, politically devious, clueless, and socially needy. That’s the deal. And I voluntarily engage with these people, learning tons about myself in the process, and making a living at it, too.

I’m not a fan of it all. But they love me.

So, that’s something.

In search of my flow state

stream flowing through forest with the flowing water in focusI’m in the process of resetting for the new year. Resetting my activities. Resetting my priorities. Resetting my activity levels. I typically do this earlier in the year, when I’m swept up in the New Year’s Resolution blitz.

But this year, I haven’t been feeling it. At all.

It’s not going nearly as well as I’d like. Work is weird. My life is weird. It’s all kind of… weird. I don’t feel like I’m fully inhabiting my own life, and I’ve been so busy with everything, lately, I haven’t had time to stim or reach a flow state for weeks… perhaps since the beginning of the year.

It’s maddening. Probably the worst thing about the way things have gone, for the past months, is the ever-increasing level of interruption in the course of each day. It’s absolutely maddening. As in, it makes me really, really mad. I have to be able to settle into extended periods of thought, in order to be effective, and my current job is preventing that on every level.

Distraction kills, and it’s doing a hack job on my performance at work, not to mention my job, overall.

Well, that’s the job, right? That’s “just how things are” in my current professional corner of the world, and anyone who can’t keep up is left in the dust. Personally, I’d be fine with being left behind. Just cut me a check and let me go. Let’s call it a day and say it was an interesting learning experience, shall we? And let’s all move on to other, better things.

But I don’t have a substantial back-up plan. I’ve been putting out feelers for work, but the kinds of work I’ve been applying for… well, it just hasn’t been a good fit. I got a job offer, a month ago, but I had to turn it down because the conditions were, well, crappy. A longer commute. Into the thick of the worst rush hour traffic in the area. Frenetic pace. Frenzied, from what I was told. In a building where they have chemicals that smell and bright lights that blind. An open work space plan. And not more money than I’m making now.

So… no. Not that.

I put in for some other jobs, and I heard back from what looked like a really good opportunity, but after I responded to them, they didn’t get back to me. I need to ping them again. There’s a good chance they took a look at my resume and realized — Hey, she doesn’t have a degree! — and, like many others, decided I “wasn’t a good fit”.

It’s a little depressing, actually.

But it’s got me thinking… About what is actually the best work for me to do. After being a web developer for 15 years, I gradually shifted into project and program management for the past 8 years or so, because it felt like the software engineering world was closing in on me and I was getting crowded out. I felt like I just couldn’t compete with all the lower cost talent with more updated skills… the people who “fit better” with organizations… or who had degrees. The project/program management space seems to be less amenable to people who literally teach themselves how to do things, than the development space. And while that didn’t hurt my prospects in the past handful of jobs I’ve had, it’s starting to feel like it’s closing in on me even more than development did.

bomb emoji with lit fuse looking down
This is about how my “career” is feeling, about now.

And indeed, the lack of flow is a huge issue. Somehow, I seem to have acquired work that I absolutely hate. Tracking other people’s activities. Communicating to everyone who needs to know about program and project status. Navigating political minefields. Battling for my territory. Making nice with people across the organization. Being interrupted every 20 minutes (or as soon as I get into a flow state). Conference calls. Lots of conference calls. With people who have thick accents and/or are on a poor phone connection. And more interruptions. Travel. Regular business travel, which doubles my workload and completely trashes my routine.

It just feels like a setup. I can do it for so long, then I am completely wiped out. Because nobody sees how much I struggle, and I can’t let on, because that would trash my career prospects like nothing else. And I can’t chance that.

The fact that I’m really good at it, is no consolation. At all.

I mean, seriously, I’m really good at it. I’m a fantastic meeting facilitator, I can communicate extremely well to people who need to know. I know how to work effectively with offshore folks (been doing it since 2002). And I can turn on a dime if the situation calls for it.

But man, oh, man, do I pay for it. In a very big way. Of course, nobody else sees how steep the price is, because they rely on me to keep doing what I’m doing, just the way they are accustomed to seeing me do it.

And seriously, this is no way to live.

I need my flow back. I need to settle into a chunk of code and just work my way through it. I need to cozy up with a tasty algorithm and just do my thang. Seriously, I do.

{pause to take a breath}

Okay, so where does that leave me? Or rather, where does that point me?

Realistically, away from where I am now. And back into the development world. In my former life (before I trained my replacements in 2002 and was then told to go find another job in 2005), I was one of the best of the best at my chosen line of work. Web development. Front-end web development. UI coding. Cross-browser. Cross-platform. Proficient in ‘nix flavors and the command line. Not afraid of anything code-related.

And it suited me. In a very big way. Because I could create things and make stuff work, like nobody else. I could convince browsers to do things they weren’t built to do. I was good. I was one of the best. And I was relieved of my duties by the bean-counters who had no idea what the work entailed. All they knew was that I was “too expensive” and they were convinced I could be replaced.

Hm.

Yeah, as it turns out (having managed a lot of projects involving developers who weren’t even close to as good as I was), I can’t be replaced. My skills are still needed. And my interview and subsequent job offer this past December (for a developer job) tells me that I still have a future in that realm. I tend to get pretty rigid about things and get convinced that since I’ve almost exclusively done project/program management for the past 3.5 years, so I’ve been telling myself that I have to stay in that space. But I don’t. I can shift back to development. I’m the only one who’s blocking myself, at this point.

Plus, I can do my own “thang” in the process. Build tools. For mobile. Just build things that show people what I do — like Temple Grandin recommends. I’ve actually got a pretty impressive portfolio, and it’s not even complete. I need to get focused on completing it, and lift myself up out of this increasingly wretched state I’ve been in, for the past year and a half, when it first started to dawn on me that this was probably not the best job choice for me.

There’s a lot I can do about my situation, right now. I can build my own apps. I can build my own websites. I can do a lot that shows how I work. And I can put the finishing touches on some projects I started over the past years but lost the energy to do them – because I was too wiped out from my day job to keep up with it all.

So, there is hope.

But for now, it’s time to go move some snow. We got a bunch of it overnight, and I need to shovel it before the temperatures start to rise. Heavy snow is no fun.