Otherwise (autistically) engaged

broken window looking out at sky
Beyond the break, there is wide open freedom.

It’s Thursday. I’m tired. No, more than that. I’m exhausted. Dragging. Dulled down in a very uncomfortable way for me. I hate this. But there’s no escaping it, so I might as well make the best of it.

It’s going to take a while for me to recover from my business trip last week, And I’m not happy about it. Being this tired makes it hard for me to stick with my routine, but of course I need to do that. So I modify it somewhat. I shorten my work out. I spend less time on things like preparing and eating my breakfast. I set lower expectations for myself at work.

Work has been extremely demanding for me, lately, and I’m not happy about that. I keep falling behind in things, and that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. But then I realize that everyone is falling behind in their work, so that’s some small comfort. Even if I have a really hard time with it, I’m surrounded by people who still support me, who struggle with the same sorts of issues, and who aren’t about to chase me out the door because of it.

All in all, I really do like my job a lot. It’s just exhausting. I’m wiped out by Wednesday afternoon, and then I’m pretty much of a zombie for the last two days of the week. That’s where I am today. Fortunately, I can work from home tomorrow, and I can take a nap in the afternoon, which will be a help.

I don’t mind the challenge of my job. I welcome it. I could just do without the exhaustion. I think I’d enjoy it so much more if I could just stay rested.

The one thing that would change everything for the better, is being able to take a nap mid-day. If I could only lie down for an hour, each afternoon, I would be so much more productive. And I need to do that every single day, so I don’t fall behind.

I have talked to people about my trouble sleeping, and they have all encouraged me – even urged me in the strongest of terms – to not disrupt my sleep-wake cycles with naps, because supposedly that will throw off my circadian rhythm. But these people clearly have no idea how exhausted I am by the end of the day, and they don’t know what it’s like to have that cumulative effect of one exhausting day after another.

I’ve been thinking a fair amount, lately, about how I engage with the world. There of been a lot of conversations on Twitter, lately, about eye contact – and I shared a paper, recently, that pretty much says what we already know, albeit in scientific terms and with data to back it up. Also, people are talking about memory, and why we as autistic people remember things differently. My head is spinning with all these great ideas, and stuff is “gelling” in my head… just in chunky form. I’m sure there’s a common theme there… somewhere…

My understanding of memory is that it is a complex thing which is made up of a number of different components. In order to have a memory, first you have to create it. Certain parts of your brain have to be engaged to really make it salient – to make it stick. And then, you need to be able to retrieve it.

That might be why so much of my prior life is a blank. I’m otherwise engaged in the world around me, and I’m noticing things on a much more detailed level, than those big “meta” concepts and experiences.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but when I am in the thick of a situation that is innately challenging / hostile to my autistic character, I spend more brain and body cycles on navigating all of the sensory details and trying to sort through what it all means, rather than making specific memories about specific things. If somebody is talking to me about something I’m not particularly interested in, or I’m stuck doing something I don’t like, that also has an effect. I won’t necessarily invest the brainpower and really experiencing that fully enough to make any sort of enduring memory. Maybe it’s sticks, maybe it doesn’t, but there’s really no guarantee of anything.

And if someone is interacting with me or I’m experiencing life in a way that is completely overwhelming to me – someone is wearing too much perfume, the lights are too bright, the temperature is not hospitable, there’s a lot of background noise, someone feels the need to keep reaching out to touch me… or any number of other sensory inputs or intruding on my attention – there’s a slim chance that I will retain that in my memory banks. Detailed memory is probably not going to happen.

So, where does that leave me? I have huge gaps in my recollections about what went on in my life in the past days, months, and years. My family typically start conversations with me with a question “Do you remember…” and as often as not, my answer is, “No.”

I’m not sure anybody outside my head – except for the autistic folks who read this and my friends on Twitter – fully understands this phenomenon. I’m so busy parsing everything around me, that I can’t really engage fully with what’s in front of me.

Then again, I am engaged. I am involved. It might not be with the same things that everybody around me is engaged in, and I might not be making the same sorts of memories as the people around me, but I am engaged. Chances are, I am wrapped up in my own thoughts, parsing through data which I find a heck of a lot more compelling than what’s happening right in front of me, or I’m thinking about things in a completely different way than most people around me.

That’s really my strength – and when it works out – especially when I’m not exhausted. It’s a thing of beauty. I can live and interact in a world filled with people completely unlike me, and still bring my own unique perspective to the situations we are in. I can find profound joy and relief in my own particular interests, even while the rest of the world is operating in some parallel universe. They have their space, I have mine.

Somehow, I’ve figured out how to make peace with that — and make my differences work for me. I’ve adopted a persona, which I have refined over the course of decades, which works in social situations. I’ve developed a role – a performative mantle if you will – which secures a place for me in social situations. Neurotypical people seem to be comfortable with roles and performance of specific behaviors. So I’ve figured out how to do that in a way that is positive, constructive, and true to myself. Am I masking? Of course! Am I camouflaging? Of course! Everybody is, in the neurotypical world, and I think that’s something that autistic people tend to lose sight of – if we have sight of it at all, to begin with.

It’s a careful balance, of course. Balancing performance with actual essence, meeting the social requirements that will keep me out of trouble… along with being true to myself. Engaging with the world on my terms – albeit while making concessions to the larger whole. It’s not easy. And sometimes it’s not fun. And it’s exhausting. But there are enough rewards that it’s worth it for me.

I may be otherwise occupied while the rest of the world spins around me, but I am still engaged.

Mission accomplished – now I get to go home again

sunrise over a mountain with a barn and field in the foregroundI wrote this yesterday morning, then my day got busy, and I had to get myself home. I’m home now – and very glad of it.

22 June, 2017

So, the trip has actually turned out okay in the end. This actually isn’t a surprise, because that’s always how it happens. The thing is, it’s so damned costly, in terms of energy, attention, peace of mind, etc.

I’d do this more often, but that’s like saying, “Oh, I’ll eat cheesecake for every meal!” or “I think I’ll spend every penny in my bank account on a regular basis — drain my coffers as soon as they start to fill up — and see how that works out.”

Short-term, it’s fun and exciting. Long-term, it’s absolutely brutal. And for the record, it makes no difference whether the expenditure is on something fun and uplifting, or something miserable and obligatory. It’s all expenditure. And now I’m looking at another couple of weeks of recovery… I just need to take it easy for the next while.

I’m glad I came, though. I made some good connections with actual peers. I work in pretty much of a bubble at work. Due to staffing cuts, I’m the only one in my “group” who does my kind of work. There are others who sorta kinda handle the same stuff I do, but I’m “an army of one” in my particular domain. It has its advantages, but it can also be isolating.

I’m running out of energy to keep writing, so I’ll leave it at that.

It was good to connect with others — and in my own very autistic way, actually. I had a few “bumpy” experiences at the start, and I began to feel down on myself about it. But I decided to ignore my sense of social failure — it could be wrong, after all, given my sometimes acute alexithymia which gets very confused about what’s really going on and how I’m really feeling.

In the end, it was a good idea to ignore my sense of social ineptitude, and just keep going. I ended up making some good connections, and I got some good information. And for that, I’m grateful.

Now I’m home again. And very grateful for that. Now, to get back to my regular routine, and my regular life.

It’s a beautiful day today.

This afternoon and tomorrow I get to be myself

girl walking down forest pathI can feel the relief just about to break. This is the last day of my conference, and after 2 days of super-saturation — no, make that 3 — I’m more than ready to turn tail and run home. It’s Wednesday. The last day of this professional networking extravaganza. The last day of alternating between making the best of things and making a run for it.

Seriously, how do people do this? Oh, I know — they’re neurotypical. And they drink. That’s how they do it. I don’t qualify as either of those, so…

I’m too tired to elaborate.

Anyway, the whole thing is over by 2:00 today. Then I get to be myself. Sigh. I get to hang out with people who live here, wander around some of my old “haunts” (I used to live in this area, over 20 years ago), and see how things have changed. I’ll go for a long walk down at the waterfront. Have some dinner… Just enjoy myself. Then, tomorrow, I get to hang out with a friend whom I haven’t seen in something like 20 years. We used to be close. We used to work together a lot. It was a great time, but she’s here, and my partner and I are on the other side of the country, so…

Anyway, it’s just about time for breakfast. I nearly missed it yesterday, because I didn’t read the program schedule properly. I’ve been to plenty of these conferences, but for some reason I missed that whole breakfast thing. Not today. I’m hungry. I need fortification. And according to my internal clock, it’s nearly time for my lunch. So, better get a move on. Get my shower, get myself dressed, and head on over to the excitement.

I’m just so looking forward to this all being done. So, I can go back to my regular life and not have to worry about all this … stuff. Just to be able to relax, to not be “on” all the time, and chill out. Stim a bit. Talk to myself a bit. Wear the clothes that I want to wear, and be done with it. Just be done.

And then… go home.

Sweet relief.

They get some, I get some, the situation gets some

telephone- ole with lots of connectionsI have a little under half an hour, till I need to get on a conference call with my work. I’m traveling this week, with a user conference on the other side of the country – literally. My sleeping schedule is pretty much thrown off — for here, that is. My body is still keeping with the time zone it’s used to, so I’m waking up at 4:30 a.m. instead of 7:30. And I’m ready for bed by 8.

I haven’t been doing a very good job of getting to bed by 8, but at least I haven’t gone much past 10:00. That’s some victory. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact of being “dog tired” all this week, and I’m living accordingly. Not expecting much of myself in loud and busy situations, not expecting myself to be able to sustain attention for more than an hour at a time.

Yesterday I was in an all-day training which wasn’t very well designed. So, it was hard to pay attention, especially during 2-hour blocks of time. I kept losing my place, then catching up… spikes and troughs, peaks and valleys. Just like me. Plus, my boss was messaging me during some of the presentation, so my attention was divided several times. By the end of the day, I was wiped out.

But (of course) they had a reception at the end of the day. Two hours of milling around with people who were drinking and becoming progressively louder. Incredibly awkward. For me, anyway. I can’t stand those kinds of things, but to me, it’s obligatory, because that’s where people are “relaxed” (after getting a few drinks in them), so they feel more comfortable opening up.

Not a good use of time for me. Pure obligation. I was so… challenged, last night. I was tired. So, so tired. Overwhelmed. Super-saturated. Couldn’t hear properly. Couldn’t talk smoothly. Couldn’t interact the way I wanted to. I worked overtime to compensate with my deliberate (feigned) curiosity about other people’s lives, got stuck in a fewe extended monologues on things that mattered to me (of course they were fascinating! 😉 ), and mumbling and bumbling when put on the spot. I seriously cannot put words together when I’m tired, can’t hear, and a group of people (who were seamlessly talking about themselves and their lives just a minute before) turn to me and say, “What about you?”

Ugh. It’s just not my skill. Sometimes I can do it, other times not. Last night, I couldn’t. Oh, well.

I was supposed to go to dinner with a “select group” of attendees who were hand-picked to talk about some special aspect of this special technology. And I was totally going to go. I had agreed to go, so my system told me, Go. When you commit to something — especially when you’ve accepted a gift that’s kind of an honor — you follow through. So, I was going to do the right thing and stick with my Plan.

But when I got back to my room to wash up and change, I thought, “What the hell am I thinking? I can’t deal with those people now! Especially after they’ve had a few drinks in them.” People tend to get louder, when they’re drinking, and my hearing was not up to par. I felt like I was swimming under water, and everything around me was muffled, dampened, without clear, distinguishable sounds. Plus, when I can’t hear, I have to get close to people to distinguish their words, and that either makes them uncomfortable, or it gives them “the wrong idea” and they seem to think I’m interested in them. When I’m listening intently, I can be very interactive, and I’ve noticed that with me, it elicits an uncomfortable “vibe”, and with women, they seem to draw away from me.

I don’t mean anything by it. I’m just trying to hear what they’re saying and understand what they mean. I’m not looking for a date. But apparently, that’s what people do on business trips? I’ve heard about something like that… Not me, though. Nope. No thanks. Infidelity is not for me.

So, instead of going to dinner with the crowd, I went to dinner by myself. It was very nice. I got to a restaurant that a friend recommended. And I’m going to leave my options open tonight, in terms of what I do. There’s a customer appreciation event after the conference today, so I’ll go for a little while. But I can’t stay late. I’ll set some alarms for myself, so I look like I’m getting a message or a text.  Then I can excuse myself. And retreat.

I don’t expect to be as wiped out tonight as I was yesterday, though. Today and tomorrow, the conference will be at a pace I’m more comfortable with — a keynote opening with speakers selling an hour-long burst of information download, followed by a short break to catch my breath, then another info download, a break, more info… lunch… more info… break… more info… then the event.

After tonight, I’m “off the hook” for all that socializing. The conference ends tomorrow afternoon, then I’m staying in town till Thursday, so I can catch up with friends I haven’t seen in 20-some years. Fun! And it’s my pace.

So, in the grand scheme of things, everybody gets their “piece” of my energy and attention. The event itself, the people I’m with, the dynamics we have, and me. Last but certainly not least — me.

 

 

Five-day business trip coming up – pros and cons and #autistic preparation

view of city street with people milling around

So, I’m flying across the country for a business trip. It’s a user conference for a new technology I’m helping to implement at work. The application is on the leading edge of its field, so this is a good opportunity to “peek under the hood” and see what all is there.

It might also be a good opportunity to connect with other people in my field… to see about jobs… I’m treating this like an extended job interview of sorts.

I’m both dreading this trip and looking forward to it. My partner can’t come with me 😦  and I hate traveling without her. She hates it, too, but it just wasn’t going to work, this time.

On the upside, I’m the only one from my work group traveling. Usually, for my business trips, I usually get stuck traveling with my co-workers. It seems to calm them down to move as one group, but I find it a source of irritation. I’d much rather move at my own pace, on my own time, and not be subjected to their non-stop inanity. Seriously, how much blather can a person stand? Apparently, they can stand a lot. And it’s not blather to them, for some strange reason.

Well, that’s not going to be my problem, this trip.

I’ve been preparing in fits and starts. I made my list today — and a very long list it was. Had to turn it into two columns for it to fit on the 4×6″ lined stickie note. I’ve done the vast majority of the things, with a handful of more involved stuff still pending. I’ve got a handful of things I need to do in the morning, too, before I leave at 6:30 a.m. It’ll get done. I just need to make sure I’m up early enough to do everything and not make myself more frantic than necessary.

Well, I’ve gotten plenty of practice at this, so far, this year. This is my 4th flight in 6 months. I flew out to Texas in January and March, then flew to Atlanta in May, and now it’s off to California in June. I’m hoping I’ll find another job before I have to make another trip, but I may need to fly out to Texas again before the summer is over. I’ve learned a lot about how to breeze through all those lines… checking in online, packing super-light (so I don’t have to check a bag)… wearing the proper clothes to quickly and easily slip in and out of shoes and jackets in the security line… figuring out how to get around airports, figuring out public transit, taxis, etc.

Business travel is always so grueling for me, but I do it.  I could probably become an expert at it (actually, in the past, I was approaching expertise, when I had to fly to France all the time). But it still wipes me out and destroys my peace of mind, equilibrium (literally – I get very dizzy and vertigo-y), and it burns up all kinds of resources I need for other things. Especially when I’m traveling for business. I need to be at my best. I’m in unfamiliar settings, dealing with other people who are unfamiliar to me, as well. I can’t stop the steady stream of intrusive thoughts and concerns. Will I mess up? Will I blurt something out? Will I make a fool of myself, or appear untrustworthy or unprofessional?

These are not unwarranted concerns. I’ve done it before, and I may do it again. Just handling those thoughts and managing my anxiety adds a whole other layer of difficulty to it.

I would love to say, “Well, I’m all grown up now, so I’ll just suck it up and do my job.” But there’s more to it than that. And frankly, being autistic and not having a lot of models or examples from others to follow doesn’t help. If anything, it just makes it all worse. Because I should be pleased with having an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco. Because I should be excited to see the sights and hob-nob with other industry leaders. I should be looking forward to the change of pace.

But I’m not. Not at all. I do feel some of those things, but more than that… just a steady sense of dread. Dread. More dread.

Well, I can’t keep dwelling on that. I need to get ready for the trip. Take care of business. Make some calls. Get a few logistical issues settled. And get to bed early. I’ll have 8+ hours to myself tomorrow, which will be lovely. It will give me time to review the proof copy of my sensory overload memoir that I’ve written and plan to release later this summer. It’s not every day I have that much time to myself, but tomorrow I will. So, that’s good.

Bottom line, I’ll do what I need to, and I’ll try to keep balanced — and focus on the good that may come out of this. It’s just a lot to process, but it’s not all bad.

I’ve done this before. I survived. I’ll do it again.

And when all is said and done, it’ll be more experience for the record.

What does it mean for me to be truly #autistic?

person jumping off a train in a foggy night
Leaving the “regular” world behind can be such a relief. Here I go… into the woods 🙂

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how my dreams and ambitions have really suffered and been stunted, because I’ve felt compelled to pursue them along neurotypical lines. I’ve somehow believed that if I followed “the rules” — of engagement, of customary behavior, of social interactions, of the right job or locale — that things would come together for me, and I would be able to follow my dreams as naturally as everyone else outside the autism spectrum follows theirs.

I thought I could go to college, and everything would be fine. I thought I could get a regular job and things would sort themselves out. I believed that if I moved into a certain neighborhood in a certain town, that would confer certain advantages upon me. I was convinced that if I just did a great impression of others, I could connect with them and find a sense of belonging. My family (bless their Aspie hearts) raised me with a strict set of guidelines that were supposedly guaranteed to provide me with a sense of community and connectedness. If you live in their world and do precisely as you’re told, it works. I’ve seen it work for countless people I grew up with, including my family.

Except… I don’t live there, anymore. I never wanted to live there, in the first place. Their Aspie-ness is diametrically opposed to my own rendition. What is life for them, is death for me. We may all be on the spectrum, but I don’t inhabit their quadrant. And the things that bring me to life, really dampen theirs. So, I’ve had to move on.

But I’ve still carried this Aspie-fied devotion to figuring out HowThingsWork and then following that set of specifications to a “T”, in hopes of achieving the expected results in the neurotypical world I now frequent. It hasn’t worked nearly as well for me, as it has for others. In short, I’ve often lost sight of my autistic nature, and that’s limited me. It hasn’t provided me the kind of options and opportunities that non-autistic others have found. What works in one situation with a select group of people, doesn’t necessarily work for me.

Yes, I’ve overlooked myself. I’ve ignored my own individual ways and needs. I’ve discounted my own individual inclinations. And I haven’t made the most of my own individual proclivities. And yes, I’ve neglected developing my own individual skills and talents, which are nowhere near the radar of the NT world.

There’s a whole lot of me that isn’t acknowledged by the neurotypical world, including:

  • Extreme Empathy — which is so intense that it causes me to co-experience the full range of emotions of everyone around me, including (especially) the negative ones. That impassive presentation everyone sees… it’s a direct response to the emotional upheaval of my milieu. Somebody has to keep calm in the chaos and the storm. I can’t rely on anyone else to do it, so that role falls to me.
  • Profound Productivity — which lets me accomplish more in a weekend than most “regular” people do in a month. Or a year. I can’t even tell most people all the things I do with myself on a regular basis, because they become alarmed at how much I’m “taking on”. It’s not “taking” anything on. It’s simply letting myself be what and how and who I am. I flow. My work flows. The words flow. That’s how I roll.
  • Experience like they wouldn’t believe. Seriously, nobody outside the autism spectrum is gonna have a clue just how much experience I’ve accumulated over the years… what kind of experience I’ve had… what I’ve survived… what I’ve created… what I’ve incorporated into my world view. I’m not alone in that. Countless other autistics have done as much as me — and more. And what we assimilate isn’t this 2-dimensional mind-driven experience of the neurotypical world. It’s a full-spectrum, body-mind-heart-spirit inundation in the world of What It Means To Be Human. We have capacity for it. We take it in. Some of us can handle it, others can’t. But for autistic people like me, it’s inescapable.
  • Resilience, resilience, resilience. To the point where I can sufficiently “self-heal” from a devastating, debilitating meltdown to be reasonably functional in a matter of days. Yeah, I still feel the effects of it, and I’m still shaky for weeks after, but it doesn’t stop me from living my life. No how, no way. I’ve been roughed up and trampled and put through the proverbial wringer for 52 years, now, and it’s taught me a thing or two about how to take care of myself. If I hadn’t figured that out, I wouldn’t still be here. You’re reading this, so I’m still here (by god). And I will continue to be here for the long term.
  • Pain tolerance / indifference of many kinds. “Life is pain! Get used to it!” said Geena Davis’s character in the movie “Long Kiss Goodnight”. And it’s true. My life is chock-full of pain… not that it’s going to stop me. Pain schmain. Life isn’t waiting for me to feel better. It’s not going to pause for me to climb on its metaphorical merry-go-round. Physical pain. Emotional pain. Spiritual pain. Mental pain. Just living in the NT-centric world is an exercise in extreme discomfort. It can be debilitating. It’s definitely disabling. And at the same time that I’ve learned how to handle the pain, I’ve learned how to negotiate my way out of it…. to create a separate space for myself, where I can simply be. See the next point:
  • Independence of mind, spirit, body. I’m on my own — and as an autistic adult, that’s precisely how I like it. Autism is Self-ism. I know there are people out there who would like to help me. They offer. One of them offered just yesterday. But honestly, it’s pretty stressful trying to communicate with them… to express my needs in ways that they can actually understand and act on. Ultimately, it becomes more frustrating than anything else. Managing others is just one more thing I have to do. And I don’t enjoy it. I’d much rather handle things on my own, thank you very much.

To the non-autistics in my current world, those skills / traits / qualities / talents don’t even exist. According to them, they can’t. Because they don’t conform to their way of experiencing things. By allistic standards, they’re often considered pathological.  And that attitude gets a little tiring. Because nothing could be farther from the truth. Seriously. Nothing.

 

Thank God I’m autistic. Praise be.

Because all the things that the neurotypical world considers liabilities are extreme strengths with me. And my sh*tty experiences with non-autistic folks have taught me loads about how to just be true to myself. It’s been a master class in just walking away from a losing proposition and creating a separate reality for myself. I’ve always done that. I always will. So long as there are people who A) don’t understand me and B) feel the need to punish me for not being transparent / energetically available to them, I’ll keep my own interior space well-organized, clean, tidy, and extremely well-appointed. Like so:

  • I bought myself a new bookcase last month. This month I’m rearranging my study, so I have a proper retreat that suits me ideally.
  • I’m not driving in to the office today. I need the extra hour I’ll save by not doing that, to take care of myself and tend to my own interests. I also need a break from their needy dramas.
  • I’m getting some extra rest today, along with getting a massage this evening.
  • I’m cooking my favorite meal, tonight, letting it stew in its savory goodness that feeds my soul as much as my body.
  • I’m spending more time working on my book about an extremely autistic hyper-sensory day.
  • I’m dropping some of my near-future plans, because they would demand more time, energy, and money than I’m prepared to spend… and the payoff wouldn’t necessarily justify the expenses.
  • I’m widening my inner world, and relishing the pace and the flow that is mine, and mine alone.

All these things are mine. Truly mine. There’s much more, but I’m bumping up against my personal blog post limit, and I need to move on to other things. To be truly autistic, in my mind, is to be truly myself, to relish the strengths I have, the abilities I possess, and to make the most of every . danged . thing . that makes me the person I am. The autist I am. The supreme exemplar of me-ness that I can (and should) be.

In the face of a world that attacks what it doesn’t understand and punishes those who step outside their norms, I have a choice. I don’t have to conform. No way, no how. I can step away. I can create my own space. I can follow my own dreams, cultivate my own skills and abilities in ways that no neurotypical institution can recognize, let alone serve.

I can be true to myself, no matter what the rest of the world thinks or does.

That’s my right. Frankly, it’s my obligation. To do less would be such a waste.

Turning the corner into the blissful void :)

triangular skyscraper with blue sky and clouds behind it

Ha! I thought it was Saturday. (It’s actually Friday)

This short week has been so strange.

I had “off work” on Monday, but I had a massive meltdown, following four extremely arduous days with my in-laws (which included a mini-meltdown on Sunday).

I’ve been feeling pretty dismal all week, really “hungover” from the emotional flame-outs of Sunday and Monday, not entirely here, but still able to function really well at work. I guess that speaks volumes about how well I do when I’ve got hard-and-fast routine, and expectations are clearly stated for me. I’ve actually been doing much better at work, than at home.

Which is why I’m going into the office today.

Normally, I work from home on Fridays, but not today. I haven’t been able to swim at all this week, because of deadlines, sudden requirements popping up, things falling apart, and just not feeling up to making the short drive to the building where the pool is located. I’m feeling it, too. I really notice when I haven’t been swimming. I miss it, my body misses it, and the days become interminable and painful.

So, today — as I got all my wretched deadlines handled and “put to bed” last night — I have an easy day. An open day. A day full of … nothing specific. And that’s wonderful. Because I need room to breathe. Room to stretch. Room to just settle into my work, without constant interruption and aggravation, and get something done.

For the time being, anyway.

My job is very non-secure at this point in time. Supposedly, there are layoffs coming in another month or so, and it’s going to be “BIG”. Huh. Whatever. I have scrimped and saved and shaved down my costs of living, so I can save aggressively. And in the past 2 years, I’ve cobbled together six months’ worth of living expenses, which is regal, compared to where I’ve been for years. I mean, seriously, it’s been a loonnnnggg time since I’ve had this amount of money in the bank. Medical issues, job issues, terrible commutes that drained my coffers via my car’s fuel tank (and drained my physical energy as well), and just a long string of bad choices and unmanaged expenses from the pre-Aspie-awareness days… they really sucked the life out of me.

But in the past couple of years, I’ve been able to save (and save and save), and now I have enough money to float freely for six months — six months! And that’s being conservative. But it’s best to be conservative. Not doing that, is what got me in trouble in the past.

Anyway, the way things are at work, either I’m going to get promoted, or I’m going to get a severance package. A package or a promotion — how Aspie of my professional life. I literally have No Idea how I stand with other people, so I just make it up as I go along. And I’ve now reached a kind of  “Office Space” frame of mind, like the main character who sees how things are going with layoffs and decides, “Oh, fck it! I’m just going to play along and not give a sht about the consequences!”

It’s actually quite freeing, I have to say. I mean, I’ve always been so conscientious about my job performance. And for what? Please. I’ve been dragged by proverbial corporate horses for years and years, my foot stuck in the figurative stirrup as the Overlords have done as they pleased. That’s how it works. Anybody who thinks differently is in for a rude awakening. I look around me and see my coworkers all so invested in their jobs, their identity, their roles. Huh. How ’bout that. I can’t see the point. I can see the point of a paycheck, that’s for sure. And having a pool to swim in. That, too. But getting my identity all “interlaced” with this nonsense… yah, that just doesn’t make any sense anymore. At all.

So, whatever happens, happens. I’m going to let it play out. If I get laid off, I have six months’ worth of living expenses in the bank, sitting in a secured account. If I get promoted, that’s fine, too. Whatever. It’s all pretty much of a farce, anyway, which just gives me the freedom to write when and how and whatever I like, without needing to worry about editors and publishers blocking my path. I can schedule my life as I please, do the things I love to do, and hang out during the day with smart people who are also in the Paycheck Continuation Program, and would jump at the chance to go on vacation or spend more time with their kids.

Oh, yes… this is freeing indeed. It totally relieves me of the burden of illusions about what the corporate world is about, these days. It relieves me of the burden of feeling responsible for the Way Things Are, feeling responsible for things that are really out of my control, and feeling like I should be doing something to make everything better for myself and my household.

Nah. That glorious over-optimism is an artifact of my youth, my bright, shining, hopeful youth, when I had no idea how things were structured or organized. That youth has persisted over the years, and it has stayed with me until relatively recently… as has the rigid thinking that stuff is supposed to be A Certain Way, and it’s My Responsibility to make it That Way. Time to split the difference, cut my losses, just let the shtty things be shtty, and not worry about it. Just focus on what I can control and influence, and leave the rest.

One of the great things about my newly liquid financial situation, is that I have living proof that I can live comfortably at my current salary. I’d been thinking that I needed to trade up and make a better salary. Granted, more money would be nice. But the range I’m in right now has a lot more job possibilities in the market, than the higher rate, so I could keep going at this rate and still be relatively solid, money-wise. And I might actually be able to pay for some of the house repairs that are sorely needed.

Oh, all this thinking is getting too involved for me, now. I really need to just chill out and quit fretting about the future. How I’ll get by has been a constant, daily, nagging worry for me, for the past 10 years, which has worn me down.  I’m tired of that. I’ll be celebrating another birthday in another couple of weeks, and it’s true — when you get past 50, you start to get happier. At least that’s true for me.

After so many years of being miserable, driving myself and pushing myself towards MY GOALS, it’s time to just let myself live. All that striving… and for what? For what? Nothing much came of it, really. And I ended up worn out, used up, depressed, melted down, and so forth.

I can do better than that.

It’s perfectly fine if I just let myself melt into the void — in the most proactive way possible. It’s not about ending it all or disappearing, but simply drifting into the Flow that carries us all along… letting good things happen, along with the bad, not trying to control the outcomes the way I have been… finding out what happens when this-or-that happens. I really just want to do science with my life at a very high level — on every level, actually. Drop the judgment and fretting. Observe. Learn. Take the hard lessons, learn from them, and reap the rewards that come with the learning.

Just go with it, see what happens, and let things develop along the way. Let myself be gloriously autistic, let myself be glorious, period.

This dumpster fire of a world has gotten me down long enough. I have a choice. I can suffer terribly, or I can just live my life and glean what goodness I can get from it. And there’s a lot more goodness there, than I generally realize or accept.

Time to change that around. My perceived misfortunes aren’t doing anyone any good, most of all me.

I’m free to come and go as I please. I’m free to do what I need to do with my life. It’s taken me decades to get to this point, but now that I’m here… why not just go with it?

Why not indeed…

Simplifying my life

person jumping into focus

My 52nd birthday is coming in a couple of weeks. I never used to pay it any mind – in fact, I hated to pay any attention to it, at all. It was just another day to me. Just another reason for people to torture me with surprises and constantly bombard me with “well wishes” for a day that I never asked to be born on.

It sounds a little grim, but that’s my outlook usually is, around this time of year. I didn’t ask to be born into a world that cares nothing about me, that doesn’t know me, that doesn’t care about the same things I care about, that is so unbelievably cruel and stupid and has no problem being that way, day in and day out. Even the people who are supposed to be “helpers” are unbelievably cruel in their ignorant stupidity, their hubris and arrogance leading us all straight to hell.

Fck them. Fck the world that would just as soon see me dead. Fck the employers of the world who suck the life out of everyone they fool into working for them. Fck the people who fck everything up and don’t give a sht about it. And f*ck the people who want to cut those people a break, because they’re “just human”. Those dangerous jokers have made a mess of things, and they need to be held accountable, not given a pass because somebody either A) wants to humanize them to ease the existential burn, or B) hopes to join their ranks, someday.

Collusion. I’m so tired of collusion. Excuses.

Yep. This time of year is pretty dismal for me. Grim. Because yet another year has passed, and it’s all the same sh*t as last year, same old pains, same old suffering, same old dramas that suck the joy out of every breath. The pain never goes away completely. It just moves around. It’s boring in its predictable unpredictability.

And here I am… a little farther down the road, not feeling as though I’ve actually accomplished anything of objective value. Still working job that pays the bills and has some interesting aspects to it, but is pretty much a dead end and doesn’t lead anywhere I want to go.

On the other hand, I’ve had a pretty productive blogging year. I’m not sure why I have such a hard time assigning objective value to the things I create. In the past year, I’ve written a whole truckload of blog posts, and some of them have been pretty good according to others as well as my own estimation. Other posts, not so much, but output variability is the price you pay for greatness, I s’ppose 😉

Maybe the valuation part is because I’m not earning any money at this writing, for all the work I put into it. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe that money is the only measure of value for things I write. But for all the effort I put into it, an “emotional paycheck” is not the only thing I want to get out of it. It’s at a point, where I need to do better than that. I need to do more. And the writing really needs to start supporting itself.

It’s like I’m a single parent and my writing is a 20-something just out of university who’s been hanging around the house, eating all the food, taking up space, adding to the laundry loads, and not making an effort to go out and get a job. It’s unsustainable. It really is.

So, what do I do about it? What indeed?

Well, I have a handful of options.

  • There’s my Patreon, of course. I started it, nearly a year ago, with the best of intentions. But I just haven’t kept up with it. I haven’t been able to square the need for free #ActuallyAutistic writing with “the money thing”. I really, truly believe that we need to make writing by autistic folks accessible to the wider world. Our voices, our stories, need to be out there. And not everyone has the money to regularly support writers — especially folks who are over-extended by their efforts to deal with autistic difficulties. We can be “underemployed”, underpaid, and generally short on cash, and we need to lower the barriers to sharing our stories.

At the same time, I also believe it’s critically important that we as an Autistic community place a larger value on our work. We shouldn’t just give it all away for free. Countless scholarly journals charge $35/paper, or hundreds of dollars for a years’s subscription, lots of them earning a whole lotta cash off studies of our existence. It’s the most blatant example of rank social and economic injustice. And funding is constantly going to research institutions that are locked onto the target of eradicating people like me from the planet.

We have to change how we move our money around. We have to change who gets money, and why. I’m willing (and eager) to devote my life — yes, my life — to the documentation and analysis of the Autistic experience, explaining a whole lot that baffles the world, especially with regard to women and girls on the spectrum. But I can’t do that, if I can’t pay my mortgage. I can’t do that, if I go hungry and can’t provide for myself and my partner and take care of the other people in my life who need taking care of.

That all beings said, I’m changing how I handle my posts on this blog. My new policy is to post here for free — for a week. And then move the posts over to Patreon, behind a modest paywall. A minimum of $1/month will get you access to all my posts. You can pay more, if it’s worth it to you. That’s always welcome! I’ll figure out some other pay level schemes to offer (including thematically grouped and lightly edited collections of posts, personal chat sessions with me — especially for researchers who would like to discuss aspects of autistic life with me, and other offerings I have yet to think of).

  • Another option is to publish selections of my work (in eBook and print book) format, and make it more widely available for a small charge on Amazon.com and other online outlets. That’s actually a pretty easy thing for me to do. I’ve been publishing, myself, for years. And I can offer the pieces at different prices and in different formats. This could work. I love to format documents and publish them out, and it’s my hope that others will get even more out of it, than they would on this site.
  • And then there’s simplifying my blogging. I have a bad habit of starting new things on a whim, thinking I can commit to them, and then realizing after a week that it’s never going to work. I’ve started more blogs over the years than I care to think of, and only two of them have stood the test of time. I’ve done it with Tip of My Aspergers (no, I’m not linking to it), and like so many other blogs I’ve started, it petered out, because the theme I was so passionate about, several months ago, has melded into the overall landscape of my life, no longer a distinct blog with its own presence. The posts I’ll move over here. And leave it at that. So I have fewer things to think about and process, when I sit down to WordPress each morning.

Focus is good. I need more of it. Too much on my head, too much that’s confusing, too much that demands my processing… well, that just drags me down, and then I end up staying in a persistent state of borderline meltdown for days on end. Sometimes weeks.

So, yeah, this is it. Time to channel that “F*ck You” attitude into something constructive, and see where that takes me. It’s no good, letting it “back up” on me and make me miserable. My birthday is coming. I can’t just let it arrive, without having done something substantive to move myself in the direction I need to go.

It’s gonna take me a while to move all my posts over to Patreon, as well as publish out the pieces I deem Amazon-worthy. But it’s a great direction for my energy.

Time to move. Time to make a move.

Oh. My. Lord. What a quick, strange trip it was.

telephone pole with lots of connections
I think all my connections have been maxed out, at least for now

So, I’m back home again.

Back from my marathon trip to a major metropolitan area to see my niece graduate.

Back from the constant onslaught of noise-noise-noise, busy hustle-bustle, and sensory overwhelm.

Back from the social overload… combined with an utter dearth of abstract, complex thought.

Back from an exclusively neurotypical world, populated by self-congratulatory buffoons who think their scent-filled, climate-controlled, germ-ridden, sexist world is the pinnacle of Western syphilisation. Woo fucking hoo. Like that massive, upscale outdoor mall crawling with cologne-soaked mainstream “fashion” afficionados is the crown jewel of their glorious empire. Good GOD, spare me.

Back from the brink of feeling like I was going to lose my mind, nearly every waking moment of the time.

I have a whole day off work to recover. I’ll need it. In fact, methinks I’ll need the whole month of June. That’s fine. I’ll just lay low, keep my activities to a bare minimum, and focus on getting enough sleep.

Hahahahaha! Who am I kidding? The whole point of being back home, is getting to “uncork” yet again, letting my mind and physical vehicle roam wild and free, without the mindless devotion to acquiring stuff and showing it off to everyone around me, like a rooster among mynah birds. Writing wildly, with more than a few minutes of uninterrupted thought at my disposal. Getting back to my daily routine of waking early, exercising, having my breakfast, writing for a few hours, going to work, just barely tolerating everything there, then coming home, having a nice dinner, watching a short t.v. show, and going to bed at a decent hour, so I can get up and do it all over again.

I didn’t get hardly any of that, since last Thursday, and it took its toll. Left me in a weeping zombie meltdown in Terminal D of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport… walking behind my partner with tears rolling down my face, as those oh-so-familiar internal voices kept prodding me to “Buck up“, “Get it together“, “Hold your shit!” All to no avail, because once the meltdown starts, the only way to get to the other side, is let it all just melt — withdraw to a protected corner (a bathroom stall), fall to pieces (weep uncontrollably), then wash off my face and get myself back into the swing of things by listening to some music and reading something moderately challenging.

Seriously, the most draining part of the whole four days was that there was so little intellectual challenge. So little flow. So little opportunity to get off the domesticated leash. And there was precious little outlet for my energy. Getting out and really moving wasn’t part of the scheduled activities. Sitting in one loud, chaotic restaurant after another… that was on the docket.

It was like sitting through a72-hour demonstration of a trendy, high-priced, extremely LOUD blender, while being forced to do “quiet hands” and keep absolutely still. Anguish. Pure anguish. And it doesn’t help that my partner just doesn’t get why I need to actually get up and move (at a pace that’s very quick for her, but just moderately steady for me) on a regular basis. She says I make her “swirly”.

Huh.

If I don’t move — fast and vigorously — for at least an hour a day, everything falls apart. My bad, that I didn’t work that into my schedule, as there was a fitness center at the hotel where I could have worked out… as well as a pool where I could have swum. My bad. Then again, by the time we left, I was so overwhelmed with stupid work shit, it was all I could do, to meet the bare minimum of required activities.

Well, anyway, I’m done with that little descent into hell. I made the round trip, and my worst fears were realized, then absorbed, and now they’re turning into something useful. As in — a whole raft of lessons about being an autistic woman in a world which cares absolutely nothing about me, and wishes I would just go away.

Not gonna happen, that going away stuff.

Then again, maybe it is. Maybe I will just go away… From its interests, its agendas, its ways of doing things. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll remove myself from that parallel track I’ve been trying to negotiate with my life, lo these many years, quit even worrying about accommodating anyone, extending myself to anyone, making an effort for anyone who’s not going to return the favor.

I swear to God, I have wasted so much time and energy in trying to meet other people half-way, and what has it gotten me? Not a whole lot. Not a whole fucking hell of a lot. Except over-extension. Except one-sided interactions that leave others thinking that they have so much in common with me, when the truth is that I’ve suppressed my own ways and interests sufficiently to convince then that they don’t even exist. That I don’t even exist.

So, screw it.

I need to just keep busy living my life and doing a fantastic job of everything I decide to do. Never mind what the rest of the world is doing. Why should I be unhappy, just because others have no imagination, no insight, no empathy, no insight, no compassion, and no apparent interest in developing any of the above? Why should I be any less autistic, just because everyone else has chosen to be NT-centric, exclusive of any- and everything different from them?

I’m busy doing my own thing, in my own way. Now, more than ever. If others want to join me, then great. But if not, they’re seriously not worth my time. It’s not like I’m going to live forever. It’s not like I have a lot of time to waste.

So, never mind all those narrow, unimaginative people. Never mind their ridiculousness. The past four days have illustrated, loud and clear, what happens when I’m trapped in an exclusively neurotypical world that’s congratulating itself for destroying everything in sight and building a replacement that’s pathetically poorly made and, frankly, a piece of crap.

Never mind any of it. We all make our choices. I’ve got better things to do, and very different choices to make.

And so, I shall.

🙂

My very ordered “disordered” life

cable span bridge sliced in three sectionsIt always puzzles me, when people call Autism a “disorder”. Seems to me, a lot of autistic folks have a hell of a lot more order in their lives than the rest of the world.

I have my routines. I have my regular stuff done at regular times of the day. I have my regular activities pursued at regular intervals. I have a really great cadence which, unless it’s interrupted, allows me to get a whole lot done in a very small window of time. In the course of an average day, I can have a to-do list that runs off the page of the 4×6″ stickie note I keep in my daily minder. And I will get everything done — and then some — in a seamless flow of “Okay, that’s done – what’s next?”

I tell people what I do each day, and they shake their heads and tell me that I do “too much”. But for me, that’s just how things flow. In fact, everything works better for me, if I have a whole lot of stuff lined up in a seemingly impossible jumble of imperatives.

Something about “juggling” (it’s not that at all, come to think of it) stimulates my visual-spatial thinking, prompting me to see the world in a very different way than the verbal, sequential folks who surround me. My way may look like “controlled chaos” to some, but it’s nothing of the kind.

It’s all very orderly, I have to say.

It might not make a lot of sense to others. Of course it doesn’t. Not if those others are neurotypical. Not if those others are not visually-spatially inclined. Not if those others’ priorities are with skating along in a standard-issue life, doing what they’re told, living up to others’ expectations, and fulfilling the requirements laid out for them by society at large. In some cases, you need only meet the basic requirements of mainstream society, to get by. Assemble the right kind of family. Get the right kind of job. Wear the right clothes. Drive the right car. Buy the right stuff — and make sure everybody knows about it. And you’re set.

That doesn’t work with me. I have priorities other than social acceptance and accruing stuff. Even if I do try to pay attention to those things (and I do try, every now and then), I rapidly lose interest, because they really serve no greater purpose in life, other than to make me feel a little better about my lot. I want to change my lot in life, not make a grudging peace with it and make myself comfortable till the grim end comes.

And so, the rationale and the reasons behind creating certain kinds of “order” in my life evaporate. Because they just don’t work for me.

Now, if you turn things around and turn a lens on the rest of the world from my perspective, all the “disordered parts of my life start to look very ordered, indeed. There’s an excellent reason for everything I do, and chances are, I’ve given it a whole lot of thought before starting to do it. Even the things that I haven’t deliberately put in place, if they’re in my life, they serve a vital purpose. Or they wouldn’t be part of it.

The ritual I follow each morning serves to get me up and going in the morning in an efficient and energizing way, without needing to spend too much time on reinventing the wheel of my morning activities.

The specific sequence I follow to get myself groomed, exercised and fed each morning, I’ve developed over years of practice and trial-and-error. It would take too long to explain each step, to go into it now. Just know that the specific sequence I’ve developed has been for a very good reason.

How I get to work, how I set up for my daily activities, the times I eat, the things I do to perk myself up or calm myself down… it’s all for a reason. For a number of reasons, actually.

If people (friends, family, loved-ones, clinicians, researchers) would look more closely, they’d see the reasons. And if they could spend a day in my shoes, living in my own experience, they’d totally see the logic of it. And they’d congratulate me for coming up with such an elegant system.

Ultimately, I think the origin of at least some of the “disorder” talk is the lack of understanding among researchers. And parents. And loved-ones. And, well, anyone who isn’t privy to the logic of my / our systems. Those who don’t understand Autistic ways and thought patterns. It’s easy to be put off by something foreign and unfamiliar, and (often-times) that would be us.

It would be wonderful if we didn’t have to verbalize everything for folks who see us as disordered… if they could actually experience our lives as we do. Maybe virtual reality will make that possible, someday. I think it already is, actually. But it’s going to take more than a VR session to get people educated and informed.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, that’s for sure.

In the meantime, I’ll go about my business and tend to my systems, my own individual order.

Regardless of what others have to say about it.