About that Walk…

girl walking in the woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

My own little 21st Century heresy. Delicious.

I had it all planned.

And I almost made it.

Except, I didn’t.

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

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

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

What is up with that? It makes no sense.

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

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

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

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

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

So much simpler.

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

And no one can hear me scream.

Sigh.

So much for my morning.

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

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

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

Not yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days off, days on

sunspot animationI just got my telescope figured out for the eclipse tomorrow. I’m in a location where we’ll have about 70% eclipse, so it’s not going to be as dramatic as in other places, but still…

Friends are coming over for the event. Actually, they’re coming home tonight after an event my partner is attending today, and they’ll be here tomorrow. I’m not happy about my routine being disrupted — it’s stressful in an already stressful point in my life — but  at least I like these two young people. They’re fun and invigorating and very open to life. I also don’t need to mask around them. I can just be me.

I’m hoping we can get a look at some sunspots. I got a telescope with a sun filter, so we can look close-up at the sun during the eclipse. I also got us some eclipse glasses from a reputable manufacturer (not all of them are), so we can take a look. I practiced setting up the telescope and pointing it at places. It’s a reflecting telescope, so things look upside-down, and to make it look right-side-up, I need to have another attachment. I should have set the whole thing up sooner, but this week has been stupidly busy, and I’ve been absolutely swamped / assailed at work.

It’s pretty bad, actually. And a lot of the beliefs and assumptions I had about the larger team and how well we were working together pretty much went out the window in the space of 24 hours.

That seems to be how everything is going, lately.  A lot of the ideas I’ve depended on have gone away… And it’s disorienting. Stressful.

I don’t like it.

Anyway, it’s a paycheck, right? And in some ways, I’m actually adjusting to how Things Are Supposed To Be Done better than before. I’m so tired. It’s hard to know what I should do, or why I should do it.

So, I sit tight, take it day by day, and eventually… eventually… things may sort themselves out.

I’m just not a fan of the dynamic, right now. Nor am I fan of working remotely with people. I have a hard time interacting with people over the phone and IM primarily. I can’t “get a read on them” and I constantly misinterpret what people are saying. I think they also misinterpret what I’m saying. It’s such a pain in the ass. And I realize that I really need to work with people on-site. Not remote. Best case for me, is to work somewhere close to home, where I am part of a live, in-person team that actually communicates with each other.

That’s really the bottom line for me. And yeah – I need to not keep bending myself out of shape to adjust to this job. Why should I? They should adjust to me, not the other way around. So, I’ve updated my resume, and I’m going to start putting out feelers for other positions. If it happens sooner than later, I’m fine with that. I’ve been looking forward to my extra vacation time coming up, but is it really worth it, if all my time off is spent recovering from the daily dramas, and I still feel like crap, the whole time I’m “off work”?

That makes no sense. I’ve been uncomfortable in this job, practically since the start, and I’m tired of bending myself into pretzel-like configurations to make it work.

Why should I have to make it work?

Why can’t I work at a place that already works for me?

Anyway, that’s where I stand, right about now. (Though technically, I’m sitting down.) I’ve had it. And I’m tired of thinking that it’s my fault that things aren’t as lovely and delightful as they’ve been for me in the past. I’m tired of blaming myself for not being all enthused about how things have gone. And I’m tired of feeling responsible for fixing things that other people break.

So, I’m pretty much done.

I had a quick burst of excitement about my job, lately, but it’s rapidly soured.

What’s next?

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.


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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.

Keeping on keeping on keeping on…

board game with pieces
I’m the yellow one… or the red one… depending how I feel, from time to time

I’ve got a busy day ahead of me. I’m going on a business trip from Monday to Thursday, and I have to get all my “ducks in a row” before I leave for the airport at (gulp) 3:45 a.m.

I’ve gone through the gamut of thoughts and feelings about this. Seriously, there should be a Kubler-Ross type of cycle for my business trips, which I’ve had to make once or twice a year (sometimes four or five times a year), for the past five years or so.

  1. Horror – OMG, they are not making me travel again! Don’t they know I suffer terribly when I’m off my schedule and I don’t get to sleep in my own bed?!
  2. Denial – Maybe it won’t happen, after all. Maybe I can talk my way out of it. They don’t really need little ole me there, do they?
  3. Dismay – The talking didn’t work. I have to go. Oh good Lord, what will become of me? The last ___ trips I went on turned out okay, and I even had a good time, but I’m positive this will be an exception to that rule.
  4. Disgruntled Acceptance – OK, fine. I’ll go. But nobody can make me enjoy myself. I’ll just stick to the basics, discharge my duty, expend as little energy as possible, and hope to just get through it all.
  5. Grudging Anticipation – Google Maps tells me there’s some interesting stuff nearby. And I’ll have some time to get out and explore on my own. Maybe this won’t be so bad, after all. I compile my list of things to be done, and I get on with preparing for the excursion with shades of increasing acceptance.
  6. The Trip, Itself – It starts, it goes, it ends… and along the way, I learn some more things, I meet some new people, and I come away having expanded my social repertoire, since I can be a total idiot around total strangers, and they won’t even notice, because they’re so worried about looking like idiots, themselves.

Right now, I’m in between stages 5 and 6. I have a ton of stuff I need to do today, so I can wake up at 3:00 a.m. (the thought of it is far more traumatic than the actual doing of it, I’m sure)… and I can just get my breakfast, hop in my car, and scoot to the airport. At that time of morning, I don’t expect much traffic. But who knows if they’ll be doing road repairs.

Fingers crossed.

I’m sure it will be fine. Maybe even better than fine. Maybe it will be fun.