#Autistic preparation for the weeks to come

road leading through colorful woods

It’s that time again. Holidays are upon me, and the inevitable questions arise. Are we coming to Thanksgiving dinner? Are we making the trip down to states located 8 and 16 hours away from us? Will we make the drive? Are we coming to Thanksgiving dinner?

It’s so … complicated. I’m just coming off a month’s worth of travel, if you include all the preparation (which I do). Going on trips for work is a lot of effort and requires a monumental amount of energy. But then you follow that up with an 11-day trip out of the country to parts unknown, surrounded by thousands of strangers (many of whom want to interact and won’t let you get away from them without exchanging at least some words – gods help me)… and that’s just waaaay too much.

But wait – there’s more! Thanksgiving is just around the corner, metaphorically speaking. And that means even more excitement. Family. Friends. Traveling to places that aren’t friendly to queers. (That’d be my partner and me — big ole queers – and proud of it!) Houses that aren’t accessible for my partner, who’s got significant mobility issues and needs a scooter to travel distances more than 20 feet. Scents and sounds and all sorts of sensory overwhelm. And lots of people wearing perfumes because they think it smells great.

… Let me pause for a moment to get myself something to eat, because just thinking about it is driving my blood pressure up, and I’m feeling just a tad hypoglycemic …

Okay, that’s better. I got my cereal and another cup of water, and I’m good.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah… the holidays. When everything gets so frantic and amped-up that I feel like I’m under constant attack. By everything. There’s way too much color at holiday times. What is it with all the red? And sparkly things. Sheesh. You’d think we were all a bunch of magpies. Then again, some people are, so…

Probably the worst thing about it all is how demanding everyone gets. Needy. Hypersocial. With lots of unspoken rules about how you behave (or don’t), that don’t necessarily apply the rest of the year – so I can’t practice. Do I wish people Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas or Blessed Yule or Happy Kwanzaa, or what? I tend to stick with “Happy Holidays”, since it covers everybody generically. The last thing I want to be is non-inclusive and obnoxious, but people don’t make it easy. Especially folks who seem to belong to the secret club that teaches them the secret handshake from a very young age.

Sigh. I get tired, just thinking about it — and look, it’s nearly time for my afternoon nap! That’ll be welcome change. I’m still really tired from my October-November travel. So, I’m probably in no shape to be saying/blogging anything, right now, but you’re kind of stuck with me for the next few paragraphs, ha-ha!

So, back to my complaining… 😉

Actually, let me rephrase – back to my discourse. I’ve been through 52 holiday seasons, thus far. This will be my 53rd. By now, I have figured out a few things.

  1. Stay focused. Keep my eyes on the prize – January. Like the picture above, keep the focus on where I’m going, and let the rest of the details just fade to the periphery.
  2. Take care of myself. I’m not a turkey, so I’m under no obligation to end up “dinner” for someone else. I have a choice about what I do with my holidays, and if that means disappointing or alienating people in my family, then so be it. If they can’t be bothered to extend themselves to my partner and me, then why should we extend ourselves to them? I have to make sure to eat right, exercise regularly, keep conscious and conscientious about my habits, and just be easy with myself, as the weeks unfold.
  3. Do what I can, and leave the rest. I have to take care of myself, as I’ve said, and I can’t be indulging every single convention, for the sake of fitting in. Yes, yes, I know what’s done, this time of year. Parties. Shopping. Gifts to out-gift all other gift-givers. Social extravaganzas. And I’m not a fan. Surely, there must be a far better way. If one doesn’t come ready-made, I’ll come up with one, myself.
  4. Leave it. Seriously. Leave the rest of the world to its machinations and gyrations, and just settle into my own Autistic ways. I have a lot of vacation time left from this year (especially if we don’t go away for Thanksgiving), which means I’ll have time to really immerse myself in the stuff I love the most. And get some things done. That would be the most delightful and wonderful thing of all. To actually be able to complete some of the projects I’ve started. Oh, glory and joy. How fantastic would that be! A grrl can dream.
  5. Go back to bed. I haven’t been sleeping enough. I haven’t been resting enough. It’s taking a toll.

Speaking of which… I’m gonna sign off now and wander back to bed. I just have to wait for the wash to do its final spin, then I can toss it in the dryer and head off to my dark, dark room.

And that’s about the most I can manage for the next few hours.

Which is fine.

Perfectly fine.

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Am I going to be able to handle this? Do I have a choice?

Minoan bull leaping - three humans jumping over a charging bull

I’m in a modified “bull-leaping” state today. I’m getting ready for an extended trip with my partner, and she’s not doing well – physically, emotionally, or cognitively. She’s intensely anxious about the trip, where she’ll be speaking at an international conference. It’s a great opportunity, but with over 5,000 people there… yeah… it’s overwhelming.

So, there’s that dread/excitement.

And then there’s her physical health, which is not good. She doesn’t exercise. She sleeps a lot. And she spends most of her waking hours in bed looking at Facebook. She’s got mobility issues from arthritis and sheer inactivity. Muscle atrophy and all that. And she’s intensely allergic to, well, just about everything.

And then there’s the emotional piece. She’s all over the map. Cognitively, she’s been declining over the past few years, and with that comes amped-up emotions. Lots of fear. Sadness. Frustration. The whole nine yards.

So, it’s become increasingly challenging to live with her, deal with her ups and downs, and also handle all of the extra work of literally taking care of her. As the years pass, she’s less and less able to take care of herself, which I haven’t exactly helped because of my own rigidity. If she does things “wrong”, I have a tendency to flip out, and that keeps her from doing what she needs to do (even if I think it’s wrong – and, for the record, it is).

Autism has not helped us, in this respect. And as time goes by, and she’s increasingly dependent on me for so much, I feel the sting of my own Autism even more. It’s impairing, at times, this way I am. And just trying to keep up with everything – including increased business trips – really strains my patience and my endurance.

I’m a workhorse, though. I put my head down and soldier through. I make it happen. Because I can’t see any other way. And I might as well get used to this, because I’ve promised her I will never, ever put her in a home. And I won’t. People tell me I’ll reconsider that, on down the line, especially since she’s considerably older than me, and just when things are starting to fall apart for her, they’re starting to come together for me, according to mainstream standards.

But I can work around this. I can work with it. I don’t have to be flying all across the country to seek my fortune, like others expect me to. I don’t even want to do it, to be honest. I’d rather just stay home and work on my own stuff and spend time with my sweet partner.

It still gets to me, though, how limited support systems are for people like me. Those of us who have a unique constellation of qualities that make living in the world-as-it-is extremely taxing, and who have specific needs that aren’t typically addressed by the usual offerings… well, we’re kind of out of luck, in many respects. If we’re “too functional”, we get accused of just wanting attention. If we’re really impaired, we get our agency taken away and we’re treated like wards of society. If we’re on-again-off-again, we can’t really ask for help, because while we may need help one day, we may not need that the next.

It’s so frustrating. It’s maddening. Sometimes I just need help, but people’s own issues get in the way of them being able to be genuinely helpful.

Either they feel all sorts of pity for me, because I’m “impaired”.

Or they feel disdain, because I can’t do for myself.

Or they take it all in, watch closely, and then go talk to other people about me. That’s not helpful at all.

Gossip. Anxiety. Fear of perceived weakness. Total inability to treat others with dignity and respect, unless they’re just like them.

It’s worst with my family. Both sides are a problem. My family is a problem, because they love to gossip and judge and they don’t get the variable abilities thing (even though they’re so Autistic, it’s scary). My partner’s side of the family is so judgmental and they don’t treat her well. They make fun of her. They act like it’s the end of the world, if she just can’t keep up with everyone. They’re so busy going a million miles an hour – to where, I don’t know, because ultimately, they just end up back on the couch watching endlessly mind-numbing television – and if you don’t keep up!!!, well, there must be something wrong with you.

It makes us not want to be around any of them. Which is why we probably won’t make the godawful marathon trip to see them over Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.

People. Hrmph.

But I digress. The first task at hand is to finish all the errands in preparation for the trip, get my partner up early enough that she has time to take care of herself, pack, and make sure we have everything we need in the van. I’ve got the battery for her power scooter charged, and that’s good to go. I really do need to develop better systems for taking care of both of us. I’ve been resisting doing that, because it feels like capitulation. But screw it. I’ve gotta come up with some reliable supports for myself and make sure I’m up to the years ahead — however many those will be.

Caretakers often have their lives cut shorter because of the stress of caretaking. But I can’t let that happen to me. Somehow, someway, there’s got to be a way to engineer this properly.

And so I’ll do that. Through logic. Reason. Perseverance. And all the faculties I have at my disposal, which are many and various.

Main thing is to get enough sleep. If that doesn’t happen, everything falls down.

But enough of that. It’s time to kick this machine into gear and motor into the fray.

Occupying that space between…

child standing on a hill looking towards sunset with arms outstretchedThis past week, I was on a business trip, and man, oh, man… straight people can be pretty extreme about their gender compliance. And they can be pretty demanding, when it comes to others’ compliance, as well.

I spent four days in a row with my workmates, who are all profoundly straight and gender-norm-conforming. And what a pain in that ass that was. Talk about masking. I mean, seriously… I kept things pretty much under wraps. It wasn’t worth tangling with their fragile sensibilities. Their gender rigidity was intense. And they were definitely not open to any sort of divergence.

The new woman who’s joined our group is friendly and motherly and a long-time engineer. She’s also extremely traditional in terms of male and female roles, and she was quite keen on “the girls” sticking together when we traveled. There were three women in our group of nine, and she was always keen on keeping the women and the men separate. She’s new. We wanted to make her feel welcome. So, we went along with it.

But it was strange not to hang out with the guys. It was definitely a different dynamic, this time. On other trips, I’ve been the only “woman” in the crowd, which has been kind of strange, because the guys always treated me like a woman… although I’ve rarely felt even remotely “female”. Erg. Please. This is definitely not the group to go all-out Queer with. They spook easily, and frankly, I need to work with them.

So, on goes the mask. And I “tone it all down” in the way I do.

People might think I’m capitulating, that I’m not being true to my whole self. Yeah. No kidding. Thing is, I have to make a living. And this job has been the best deal going for me, for pretty much the past 15 years. Maybe longer. So, I make my concessions. At least they’re not assholes, which is more than I can say for most of the other gender norm-compliant people I’ve had the great misfortune to work with in the past.

Well, whatever. It’s all a grand adventure. It just makes me more keenly aware of how queer I really am… and how much I value what freedom I can find to just be myself, as myself, in the privacy of my own home… even if I can’t get it anywhere else.

I don’t consider myself transgender. I’m not sure I consider myself non-binary, per se. I’m just gender non-compliant. Fluid. Just being me, independent of any gender norms.

Whatever specific label and territory people have marked out… I don’t belong anywhere within their boundaries, no matter how queer they may make those boundaries.

Maybe I’m just boundless. Yeah… I’m boundless.

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.

The beginning of suffering is the giving of f*cks

mushroom

What a horrible summer it’s been. I don’t know what’s worse: the heat, the long daylight hours, the humidity, the constant rain, my lack of exercise, my lack of interest in doing much of anything other than my own thing, the hyper-political pointlessness at work, or my general despair about anything ever getting better.

Good gawd. I’ve been in a terrible place, on and off, for months, now. I’m surprised I’ve gotten anything done.

And yet… I have. And for good reason. I can turn my laser focus to the positives and block out all the negatives, and I can continue apace, “killing it” in a manner of speaking, although everything around me is going to shit, and nobody seems capable of stopping the downward slide.

I was just thinking about this yesterday… how just about every job I’ve ever had has sucked in a very big way. I mean, just sucked. People undermining me. Bosses working against me. Power struggles. Office politics biting me in the ass (there’s an image for you – you’re welcome).  Terrible working conditions (too much ambient noise / light / distraction). Being passed over for promotions. Being shut out of important conversations. Being shut out, period, by politically connected people who have used me as a bridge to overcome their own differences (I work it out between them, and then they buddy-up and push me out of the way).

It’s all happening again. So, fine. Screw it.

The chief problem in all of this, is that I give a damn. I give a f*ck. I really do. I care about other people and how I relate to them. I try my best. But they can’t be bothered to reciprocate. Or they take advantage, because they’re weak and manipulative. And so I end up getting the proverbial short end of the stick.

I care. I get involved. I give a f*ck.

Note to self – stop doing that.

Truth to tell, most of what goes on in the day-to-day has absolutely nothing to do with me or the things that matter most to me. And I’m tired of playing along.  I’m tired of the games. The bullying. The posturing. The going behind my back to maneuver around me. Yah, I’m done with that.

Everybody else who wants to squander their life force on that… be my guest. But I won’t be joining you.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say from the comfort and safety of my own home. When I’m in the thick of it, with my hyper-empathic self, it’s a whole lot more difficult to block it all out. And honestly, I worry about it all hurting my ability to do my job and keep the money coming in. I need a paycheck. I have a household to support. Yeah, The Man has me over a barrel, that’s for sure.

But I probably make it worse for myself than need be. I’m way too hard on myself. Much, much harder on myself than anybody else is. Heck, everybody else seems to think I’m close to perfect (ha ha ha, how hilarious). At least, that’s what they tell me. How little they know… Oh, how little they know…

Well, anyway, it’s Sunday. I have stuff I want to do, including driving out to the country to look at the fall colors. My partner and I are headed west with her new scooter, so she can join me on walks and sightseeing. We actually went shopping together for the first time in a long time on Friday night. She on her scooter, I walking at an actually comfortable pace. Pretty magical.

Eh, there’s to much to say to fit in one blog post. I need a walk. Need to air myself out. Time to don some outside clothes and head for the back roads.

Later, all…

Hello again

computer keyboard with display of code for Hello World displayWell, it’s been an interesting three months. The project from hell (…Hell, I tell you) just about killed me. My partner’s health has been declining. And for some reason, this summer just took a lot out of me. I wasn’t expecting that. I had a vegetable garden that I was tending, early in the summer. It got off to a great start. Then it started to rain. And it got hot. And work was awful. All-consumingly awful. Non-stop. No sooner did one thing get sorted out, than something else awful happened.

As though people had nothing better to do than make everyone around them miserable.

Huh.

Well, anyway, we finally launched that pitiful excuse of a project… to the intense wailing and gnashing of teeth of just about all our users. Apparently, nobody came up with a comprehensive communication plan. One day, people were able to use the website. The next, they weren’t. It would be funny if people’s lives didn’t actually depend on it, but the do.

And it wasn’t funny.

Of course, much of this could have been avoided if people had just paid heed to what a whole bunch of subject matter experts were saying. But no. The brand new owners of their new toy (our website, which got aquired a year ago)… well, they wanted to do things their way.

So, I did what any self-preserving, sanity-defending person would do.

I went on vacation for a week. Checked out. Didn’t look at answer any email (I couldn’t help looking, just a few times).

I walked around on the beach. I got a tan. I ate good meals. I made fires on the beach.

So there.

Now I’m back. I’m doing a lot of programming, these days. Working on some projects. Regaining my interests in areas that fell by the wayside, over the past 10-15 years, when my life seriously went to sh*t. Getting myself back.

We’ll see how this goes…

Trading one type of conformity for another? Notes on not belonging anywhere.

road leading into a flooded lake
Whatever road I choose seems to lead me nowhere.

Try as I might, I just can’t seem to fit into any type of community. I fit into all of them, to some extent. Enough to make others feel like I belong.

I mask and blend extremely well, after all. It’s one of the advantages of being Autistic — learning how to survive, even thrive, in all sorts of conditions. Being able to play my part, support others, be a productive participant whose contributions are valued.

I’m a member of the community gardens in my town. I’m also on one of the town boards. I’m a valued contributor at work, and people seek out my input. I’m loved by my family. I’m also a member of an Autism support group for folks over 50 years of age, and they miss me when I can’t attend.

All this is great. For them.

But I never seem to fit well enough to be truly comfortable myself.

This is especially true of the whole new gender / sexuality scene. There are so many “new” words for different ways to be, I can’t even keep up. And while I can relate to a lot of them, I don’t find myself neatly fitting into any one catgory. Ace. Aro. Demi. Pan. Enby. Queer. Gender Fluid. I probably fit into any or all of them, at some point during my life — or day — but nothing ever “sticks” for me very long.

And I’m sure there are plenty of other definitions and categories that I’d fit into, here and there, as well.

But nothing really fits me 100%. Even if it seems to, it rapidly changes. And then I don’t fit anywhere.

Again.

That’s one of the reasons (I think) that I haven’t been blogging that much here, lately. The whole Autism landscape feels like such a minefield, and anything anyone says can be weaponized against them — or someone else. Even honest mistakes or lack of information get lobbed back at people like they’re deliberate attempts to harm others. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Or (given what I know about human nature) they’re a combination of both. There’s never an easy answer.

But that seems to be what so many people are looking for, these days.

Easy answers. Clear delineations. Black-and-white categories to define who’s in, who’s out, who belongs, who doesn’t, and so forth.

A lot of that seems to be coming from the younger generation(s), it seems. Maybe I’m wrong (it’s been known to happen), but the pattern I see is folks who are young enough to be my children doing their best to make sense of the world with new categories, definitions, re-definitions, and unique identities. And I don’t fit into any of them. I understand the desire to do that. I did it, myself, when I was in my 20s. But I just don’t have the spare energy for that, these days… especially considering what how impermanent my “final say” assertions about the world turned out to be.

Plus, I have a lot on my proverbial plate. I’ve been working insane hours. Not getting enough sleep. Keeping my garden going. Driving my partner to and from her events. And trying to keep my own projects going. There’s so much happening in my life, I just don’t have the resources to keep up with all the new ways of thinking about people.

Or of thinking about myself.

Back about 20 years ago, I lived as a man for some 4.5 years. I put my female body into male clothes, a male role, a masculine way of moving through the world. I was pretty serious about transitioning, at that time. And then I ran into the buzz-saw of Community Requirements, and the types of behavior and acceptable conduct felt even more restrictive to me than outside the circle I was hoping to join. Nasty comments on online forums. Getting sized up and dismissed.

I didn’t feel free. I felt even more restricted than I had before. And I realized that I didn’t belong there, either.

Everybody’s got their “stuff”, of course. And who knows why people interacted with me the way they did. 20 years ago, the trans community was going through a lot of changes, growing pains, just getting started. And not everybody was sweetness and light.

Rather than getting into it and stirring things up, I dropped the whole transition thing. There was really no support for me, personally, and the costs outweighed the benefits. Everybody’s different, and everybody has their reasons. There are plenty of people who see more benefit to shifting their place in life, and I’m glad they have a place to go to.

But for me, there doesn’t seem to be any one place where I’m 100% comfortable. Except with a very few friends, and also in my own company.

I guess that points to me being Autistic. Of course it does. And of course, it’s not a deficit in and of itself. If anything, it’s a strength. Because the rest of the world is pretty much  a big old mess. And even the parts that aren’t a mess can be so distressing to interact with, that it’s only logical that I (and others like me) would pull away and not want to have anything to do with it.

That goes for Autistic corners of the world, as well. Those of us who are hyposensitive can be painful for those of us who are hypersensitive. I should know. I was raised by a hyposensitive mother, whose interactions with me were the equivalent of her beating me on a daily basis. She didn’t realize it. It wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t sense where her body was in space, or she had to over-contact every single thing and person in her life to experience them. It’s not her fault, and I quit blaming her, years ago.

But that doesn’t change the fact of the effect of her behavior on me. I’m still stuck with the enduring trauma. I’m still convinced, deep down inside, that I’m a bad person who deserves to be punished, because I felt “punished” every single day of my life in her house, and I’d been taught that you only get punished if you’ve done something wrong, or if you’re a bad person. No matter how unaware she was, I’m still tasked with recovering from it, every living day of my life.

Then again, those of us who are hypersensitive can be pretty intolerable for those of us who are hyposensitive. We’re picky, we’re persnickety. We’re so demanding. We need a lot, to function, to feel at home (if we do at all), to feel safe… if even for a moment. I pitch fits. I freak out. I snap. I meltdown. I collapse. And that’s not helpful for anyone, especially me. But that’s where I’ve landed. That’s how I am. And it’s my job to figure out how to live with it in ways that don’t harm everyone around me. I harmed a lot of people around me, for many, many years. And I’m tired of it. I’ve devoted much of the past decade to learning how to not do that, anymore.

But no matter how I try, I’m not sure I’ll ever really get to a place where I really feel comfortable. Anywhere. It probably has a lot to do with me being as sensitive as I am, which makes it hard for me to fit in over the long term. I’m most comfortable by myself, and that’s okay. And at this point in my life, I’m getting used to the idea of piecing together community where I can get it — and not relying on any one group or any one category to provide a safe haven or a sense of identity for me.

In some ways, it feels dangerous. On the other hand, it feels safer. More realistic. None of the labels fit me completely. None of the identities feel like they’re a good match for all of me. I almost envy people who feel like they do fit into a category, like they do belong in a certain group.

Almost.

But not quite.

Well, it’s Monday morning. I have to get to work. I’m officially out of time, for today, for thinking about this stuff. Maybe later, when I’ve caught up on some sleep.

When being #Autistic was a very, very good thing

child standing in front of a body of water, looking out at sunset with rays of light showering down
I wasn’t alone in my wonder at the wonder of it all

It’s been an incredibly busy past 4 weeks… or has it been 6? Business travel, deadlines at work, projects not turning out the way they should, people making excuses, left and right, and the very people who are making a mess of things taking control of all the projects.

Ah, me… I’m at a loss, as are many of my co-workers. It’s incredibly dispiriting. But at least I’m not alone in my despair. I have plenty of company (fortunately or unfortunately).

One of the benefits of being too busy to think about much, is that I find out what matters most to me. Because that’s the stuff that bubbles to the top of my thought process. That’s the stuff that works it way out, like rocks emerging from the soil in the New England spring. All the rest of the stuff I’ve been thinking about is apparently compost… it will go through its decomposition and melt back into the background of my life. But some things have “sticking power” and won’t go away.

It’s those things that I’ve been thinking about.

So, of course I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood and how it set me apart. When I was younger, I was tempted to believe that my lot was terrible, painful, horrible. That it was too punishing for words, and oh, how I suffered. It’s true. I did suffer. But that’s just what happens, sometimes, and I’m through with thinking that suffering is a sign of aberration, of something being amiss. Nope, sometimes that’s just how things go. And the magical part of it is, I get through it. All of it. Just because it’s uncomfortable, even painful, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing. Because, after more than half a century on the earth, I now realize that pain is very much a part of life — but suffering is something I make worse, myself. By judging and resisting that pain.

It’s much more productive to take a Meh attitude — a Meh-titude, if you will — and get on with it. Get my mind off the anguish (much of which I’m causing myself) and just get on with living.

My childhood, in retrospect, really worked in my favor. It prepared me for the world as an adult. It made me into the person I was. And it was full of wonder… precisely because I grew up in an autistic household which absolutely, positively accepted my Autistic traits for what they were and revelled in them, rather than pathologizing them.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all delight and bliss. My childhood was, in fact, extremely difficult, both inside and outside the home. My family got a lot of things really wrong. But the parts that my family got right, they got really right. And I’m a better person for it. So many of the “disordered” behaviors — repetitive motions, echolalia, alternative play styles, talking a “blue streak” about passions, having passionately focused interests at all, even my frantic energy — they were all recognized and welcomed as the things that made me what I was.

My Mom, in fact, loves to talk with exuberance about so many of my behaviors that qualify me as Autistic. Singing a song to myself over and over and over for days at a time. Dismantling a toy vacuum cleaner that was given to me, so I could play with it my own way. Immersing myself in Native American studies, learning about trees, animal tracks, animal scat. Talking, talking, talking some more about the things I cared so deeply about. And running wild, all over the place, making my Mom nervous, but never actually getting hurt.

My parents remember those things as wonderful. Because they were me. They could also relate. And for all the things I did wrong and was punished for, at least — at the core — they recognized and loved me for who I was. Because that was me. And they’d both been punished enough as kids for their own Autistic traits, that they never wanted to do that to their own kids.

That’s one thing they certainly got right.

And I’m glad I can see it now. Because for years, I got so hung up on the things they got wrong, for their shortcomings, their failings, their neglect and abuse, that I missed the ways they were so good for me, so healthy, so helpful and supportive. And although I’m still at odds with the community of my upbringing (they still seem a bit cultish to me, to be honest), I can still see there was a lot of good in it for me, that helped make me who and how I am.

It helped make me healthily Autistic, in so many ways. So much so, that I have to just look at people (or shake my head when I’m online) when they talk about Autism only being a problem. Or only a disorder. It can be problematic. It can be disordering, even disabling. But in and of itself, Autism is not the enemy. And it’s not only one thing.

It’s not only one thing at all.

It’s many things. And we can choose for ourselves what we’ll do with the full spectrum of experiences. That much is very clear to me.

With that being said, it’s a gorgeous day. I have an all-day conference call I need to attend — and no, I’m not looking forward to it. It’s part of the job. It doesn’t happen every day. I’ll survive. Plus, I get to work from home while I’m doing it, and I can sit out on my deck and enjoy the breeze and sunshine, which is wonderful and delicious today. There are worse ways to make a living, that’s for sure.

So, off I go…

Something to show for it all

person walking across an empty parking lotI’ve been thinking a lot about my situation, lately, and the thoughts haven’t all been very encouraging. Basically, I feel as though I’ve spent 25 years building up my skills, gathering experience, learning some really tough lessons along the way… only to be pushed out of the way for political reasons, or by people who want what I have, but haven’t actually earned it.

I know, I’m being incredibly unrealistic in this respect, wanting to see some sort of payoff for all the years of investment and dedication. That’s not how the world works, I hear you say? Yeah, well, in some parts of the world it is.

And I’m not currently situated in that part of the world.

I suppose this is just what happens, when you’ve been around for a while. Eventually, people who understand what you do and get it, “age out” and move on. I’m really noticing that, these days, because the people who really understand me and realize what it is that I do are 10-15 years older than me. And they’re ramping up their exits from the world I inhabit. Retiring. Or dying. Disappearing, in one way or another. So, my allies and advocates are getting fewer and farther between. Which leaves me standing alone in the midst of the crowd, wondering if everybody realizes just how mediocre everything has become…

I can’t shake this horrible feeling of having wasted so many of my years. After all the work, after all the dedication, after all the determination, what do I have to show for it? I can’t go back to school, because while I have the money, I don’t have the time or the bandwidth. I’ve tried it. I can’t manage an academic course load of any size while I’m working full-time. My partner’s health is declining, and it just feels like I’m biding my time till she worsens and passes away — which is a terrible way to feel, when it’s the love of your life. I don’t know what’s happening with work, or what I even want to happen. I would sorely love to get out of technology, but they money’s too good, and I’ve sunk too many years into that activity to move into another space. I have some ideas about how to move forward, but nothing is very clear, right now.

Well, anyway, the world is full of opportunities, and if I don’t see them, that’s on me. I just get a little tired of doing so much work and not having much to show for it. Or maybe I’m just looking for the wrong payoffs. Maybe I’m casting too wide a net and expecting too much from my efforts. I tend to do that. I have plenty of ideas in my mind about how things should be and what should come of them, but I’m not always tapped in to the reality of how things truly work.

And maybe I’ve been seeing payoffs all along, I just haven’t realized it, because I’m so focused on doing and doing and doing… always moving, always making, always creating… the point is the journey, not the destination, with me. But every now and then, I stop and look around and wonder what in heaven’s name I’m actually working towards.

I’m in a transition phase, that’s for sure. I work with people who actively try to thwart what I’m doing, who hide their agendas from me, and who take credit for my work. They don’t know what they’re doing, actually, and they don’t listen to my guidance. They’re too busy finding out for themselves. I’m superfluous. Especially since they believe that nothing now is the same as it was 25 years ago. I’m not going to change them, so I need to amend my own point of view and/or my own situation.

That being said, I need to go out for a walk. I made a point of bringing walking clothes with me, so I can stretch my legs. It’s 3 hours ahead of my usual time, and I have a few hours before I have to start my official day. I’ve got lots of room to roam, which is good. And I can think about how I’ll spend my afternoon on Friday, since I’ll have a lot of time to spend after the conference is over. It’ll be Friday afternoon, back East. Nobody will be working or emailing me. I’ll be able to explore and take in some museums, I think. There are lots of museums nearby.

Anyway, enough typing. Enough stewing. I’m in limbo, not sure where I belong, not sure where I’m going. Just floating, trying to keep myself upright in the roiling sea. Unmoored. I’m unmoored. But I can’t think about that now. I need a walk.

66 hours till my descent into the lower rings of hell

mountaineer rapelling down mountain Not that I’m counting, or anything.

Except… I am.

In a little less than three days, I’ll be lugging my “carry-on” to my car, putting it on the back seat in a position that will make it easy to grab, when I finally find a parking space at the airport garage and get ready to jog to my departing terminal. My partner will be standing at the window overlooking the driveway, and she’ll turn away as I pull out onto the road. It’s bad luck to watch someone drive away, she says. She’s always said that. And I picked up on the habit, too, years ago.

I’ll make my way to the airport, driving the 45 minutes in a constant state of low-level anxiety, since I’ve cut it so close — either got stuck in a freak snowstorm, or went to the wrong terminal — and nearly missed my flight at least once. For all the times I’ve flown for business, I’ve been later than I liked a bunch of times, but I’ve only cut it razor-thin close once. But once was enough. Yes, they held the plane for me, and for that I’m grateful, but the mortification… all the irritated eyes on me, some of them my own colleauges, because a bunch of us were flying to the same convention for work… that’s something I’ll probably never live down.

At least, not in my own mind.

This trip is a rough one. The stakes are higher than most trips I take, although it seems like every single business trip has increasing levels of criticality. I don’t travel for pleasure — at least not like this, with planes, trains, and automobiles. My idea of travel for pleasure is a three-hour drive to the beach and a week of stationary, stable routine, with plenty of healthy food, long beach hikes, and spontaneous naps sandwiched between sunrises and sunsets over the ocean.

This trip will not be like that. I’m crossing the country — the whole continent — and my routine will be the main casualty. Try as I might, each time, I can never seem to get enough exercise or eat the right food. And every morning and every in-between break during the conference, there will be nothing but different configurations of sugar and carbs and chocolate and caffeine stacked high on wide silver platters, all of which are poison to me. I’ll be stuck talking to people. I’ll have to mix and mingle. I’ll have to go to the cocktail reception, possibly get stuck at a group dinner. Help. Help.

h e l p

I’m also staying in an upscale hotel in a city whose development represents just about every aspect of 21st Century “modernization” to which I object. 25 years ago, when I lived there, the city was smaller. Funkier. More human. A place where people on the margins of life could go about their business and be left alone by other people on the fringe who simply nodded and passed by. Now, it’s built up, tricked out, pimped within an inch of its life… chock full of respectable mainstream people flush with the glory of high tech ventures, rolling in cash and flaunting it, oblivious to anything other than their own milestones and timelines and key performance indicators.

Into the midst of this I shall go — to the heart of it all — becoming yet another corpuscle in the lifeblood of that city, that industry, those trends. And I shall play my role as a “willing” participant who embraces the future arm-in-arm with the Overlords who decide who gets a place at the table. I shall have a place at the table, because I do a damned good impression of someone who belongs there.

I do such a good impression that my crunchy granola cousins who live out there don’t really want to see me, when I say I’m coming to visit. They’re polite about it, of course. “Oh, really… that’s great…” they say on Facebook when I message them. But the last few times I was there, it was clear they consider me a part of the problem, one of the high tech interlopers who’s taking over the Tenderloin and driving up rents for everyone else. Crowding out People of Color from the neighborhoods they filled, before the gentrifying real estate prospectors got hold of them. Gold rush. It’s always a gold rush out there, and they think I’m part of it.

What they don’t realize is that I’m horrified by what I see, the trends that have emerged over the past 15 years, the ways that the industry I work in has trashed lives and wrecked communities. In all honesty, it’s trashed my life more than once. And community? I hear about it, I talk about it, I imagine it, but it’s been a long, long time since I experienced anything like that under the watchful eye of The Owners who need to make sure we’re getting our work done on time.

What my cousins don’t realize is that if I could avoid doing this trip, I would. I hate what’s happened to the city. I detest what’s become of the people, all wandering around the streets with their eyes glued to their mobile phone screens as they meander across wide crosswalks and do their zombie stagger down the sidewalk. I hate the hype, the shine, the glitz, the glass and steel.

I wouldn’t go anywhere near it, if I didn’t have to.

And I would never see my cousins again. That would be a relief for everyone, because I know I embarrass myself around them by talking too much… by my clumsy, domineering pacing… my conversational roughness… my lack of spontaneity when they talk about things they care about (but I know nothing about). I’m just another white high tech dominator showing up to kill their buzz.

But I have to go.

The reasons are complex, of course. What is there in my life that isn’t? I have to go, because I’ve been told I should. Because my boss said I should. And I know I should. I run a program that’s based on the technology company that’s hosting this conference. It’s a user conference. I’m a user. I’m supposed to have a high profile. I’m supposed to be a “Player”. I’m supposed to make my presence felt. It’s what someone in my position does — makes their presence felt. Show up and participate. Engage. Contribute.

Please, God, make it stop. My pleas would sound more convincing, if I actually believed in God, but there we are… How ironic. Me praying to a perhaps-non-existent God for release from a situation I got myself into.

Anyway, in the end, I’m sure it won’t be the unexpurgated horror show I anticipate. None of these situations are. And the one mitigating thing in all of it is the fact that I’ll be presenting at this conference. In front of a room full of my professional peers… even a few superiors. Putting on a show. Putting in a good word for a product I detest, singing the praises of a vendor whose people are the bane of my existence and who have cost me a lot of sleep, over the past year and a half. It’s fair — and accurate — to say that I hate them — ALL of them — with a cold blue flame, and if they were hanging off a cliff and I were the only one who could save them, I’d actually have to give it a lot of thought to decide what to do.

It’s that bad, my attitude towards them. I, a hopeless benefactor who has stopped traffic to move a tiny baby snapping turtle off the road, am questioning whether I’d spare a human life. How low I’ve sunk…

But yet, I’m doing this. I’ve got a pretty compelling presentation pulled together, along with a colleague (whom I also detest with a cold blue flame — ha ha — because she’s so hellish to work with), and we’re gonna rock the room, I’m tellin’ you. How could we not? Once I get up there, in front of the room, I’ll turn on the charm, crank up the compelling use cases, and do my seasoned best to put us all in the most glowing light possible.

I’ve done this a lot, actually. I’ve presented professionally and for fun a lot of times. More times than I realize. I’ve done “roadshows” at work, making the rounds to different offices to present mission-critical information to top-performing teams. I’ve spoken at funerals (I seem to be really good at that, actually). I’ve spoken at special interest groups. I was in Toastmasters for a while. And I’ve gone on the radio to talk about current events in the USA with people far from this country who couldn’t figure out what the hell we were up to, over here.

I love to present, actually. It’s scripted. It’s focused. And I’m usually well-practiced. I get to talk about the things I love and know a lot about, and people get swept up in my excitement. I’m allowed to be geeky and nerdy and a subject matter expert. After all, that’s why I’m there. And this presentation is the one thing grounding me, for this trip.

It might sound strange, coming from someone who dreads being around people, but think about it — my whole trip will be organized around that presentation. And I’ll be identifiable as a presenter, which will give me an identity that people respect. After the talk, I’ll be recognized as a subject matter expert, and people will reach out to talk about my presentation with me — an area of conversation I’m ready and willing to discuss. And best of all, my co-presenter is a legitimately awful presenter. She’s going to make me look really, really good. It will be the sweetest balancing of the scales of justice, considering how miserable she’s made my life over the past 18 months with her incompetence, lack of transparency, and outright sabotage.

So, I’m hanging all my hopes on that talk. It’s only an hour, but it’s got my full attention. It will focus me. It will center me. It will make me a star. And the company I detest, whose product I’ll be praising, will owe me big-time for it. They’ll know it. I’ll know it. Again, the scales of justice will get just a little more ballast.

If I weren’t Autistic, I couldn’t pull any of this off. Because I wouldn’t have the practice I’ve gotten at functioning through the pain, the frustration, the anger, the rage. I very likely wouldn’t have the tolerance for all of that, as well as the deliberately honed ability to not only “fake it till I make it”, but actually outperform anyone who truly likes and believes in what they’re doing. I feel the way I feel. I think what I think. But I still do the job that’s required of me. I still perform, regardless of the anguish. I outperform, perhaps because of it. And in the end, no one is the wiser for it.

There’s a reason I keep this blog anonymous.

No one can know.

No one can ever know.