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.

Advertisements

Feelings, feelings, more #ActuallyAutistic feelings – and what I can do about / with them

Odd Girl Out page screenshot

A few months back, I went on a “jag” about Alexithymia (click here to read posts I’ve tagged for the topic) — the inability to recognize your emotions. I’d taken an online test about it, out of curiosity, and when the results came back, it got me thinking.

And thinking

And thinking some more.

And then, while recently reading Odd Girl Out by Laura James, it didn’t take long for the topic to come up, altho’ obliquely. There’s a lot in the book that she touches on briefly and then moves on — which works for the flow of the book, especially if you understand what you’re looking at and can relate to it. For others, though, I think some gems can easily get missed. So, my plan is to (intermittently) follow along “after her” and put a little more explanation / context to the book. If you read it carefully and stop to consider what’s on each page, you’ll get a pretty damn’ good primer for what the interior world of an adult, late-diagnosed autistic woman is like.

But of course, people aren’t necessarily going to understand the significance and meaning of what they’re looking at. So, that leaves it to autistic folks to help put some context around it. I actually hope more late-diagnosed women (and men) do the same and post some interpretive commentary on their blogs, because this is a great opportunity to enlighten the mainstream about our issues. It’s an open door, so let’s not hesitate to step through.

Anyway… where was I? Oh yes… Alexithymia. Emotions. Not doing well with them. At all. Getting overwhelmed by them — good or bad — and not being able to name them. Needing words to sound like they mean. And wanting (more than anything) a neutral life that simply flows.

No sudden movements. Just the steady unfolding of days, predictably and quietly.

Sounds like nirvana to me.

Seriously, it does. As much as I want to believe I can push myself at the pace of the rest of the world, as much as I want to keep current with everything that’s happening, to not stand out as a “problem”.

Good feelings really can be as overwhelming as the bad. They still demand surges of energy to process and experience. Even if the surge of emotion is “good”, it still makes my adrenaline spike. And when that happens, my biochemistry makes it well nigh impossible to process information with higher thought. Everybody’s body does the same thing. That’s how we’re built, pretty much — stress hormones shunt energy and capabilities away from higher thought and focus them on raw survival.

That’s not usually a problem for (neurotypical) others, but it’s a big issue for me. Because I rely on higher thought processes to get through my day. It’s how I interact with life. It’s how I make sense of things. It’s how I stay safe. So, when emotions run high and my thought process gets dragged down into realms of oversimplified brute survival, it’s like chopping off a finger while I’m trying to type up a sensitive legal document that can land me in a whole lot of trouble if I mess up. Other people apparently feel invigorated by drama and stress, but I get so “turned around” and confused and disoriented, it makes everything worse.

I am not at my best, when there’s unwarranted drama — especially the kind that is illogical and purely for entertainment purposes. A whole lot of people frequently create drama to make themselves feel better, God help me. When that happens, I get dragged down into a pit of despair and disorientation that heaps even more stress on me and makes it even harder to think and process my surroundings.

In fact, the processing isn’t just about thoughts and emotions. It’s about sensory details. We autistic folks can be so “tuned in” to every sort of input around us, that we need every shred of higher reasoning we can spare, just to navigate the basics. So, when we’re inundated by stress hormones that shut down those faculties, we can literally be endangered — unsafe — threatened. Because in our diminished state, we can misinterpret clues from the world around us. Walk in front of a bus. Get mugged. Be lured into dangerous situations. Get taken advantage of, preyed upon, laughed at, even beaten up.

It’s no joking matter. Having our faculties impaired in any way literally puts us at risk. And when you’ve been through enough of those kinds of experiences (as so many autistic adults have), you develop a zealous love of sameness, neutrality, equanimity. The peace of mind and calmness of body that some people think is optional (or that you just do at a zen retreat) is not optional for us. We must have it. Or the real-world consequences can be severe.

So no, stress is not good for us. Emotional upheaval can be a problem.

And that goes for good kinds of upheaval, as well as the bad. Basically, anything that pumps up your system with drama hormones is a liability. It’s something I strive to avoid — and how ironic that I live with a bit of a drama queen. Laura James’ descriptions of the discrepancies between her temperament and her husband’s… well, that sounded familiar.

So, yeah — emotions. Wild fluctuations (which seem to be the norm, these days) are not my friends.

Plus, half the time, I can’t figure out what the heck I’m even feeling. Seriously, I have this pretty intense disconnect between what’s going on with me emotionally and my awareness of it. I’ve never really given it much thought, despite my partner’s repeated complaints that I’m “emotionally shut down”, and multiple therapists’ insistence that I must be deeply wounded, to be so “out of touch” with my emotions. I developed a bit of a complex about it, actually, taking everything they were saying to heart, and believing them. After all, they were the experts, right? And with one therapist after another telling me the same thing — almost like they’d been consulting with each other on the side — I figured they knew something I didn’t.

Actually, they didn’t know half of it. They knew far less than half. Maybe 1/67th, tops. And there was really no reason for me to develop a complex about it. Because how I process information from the world around me is just different from how they do it. I’m not damaged. I’m wounded, yeah, but in ways completely unlike what they think. I’m not “shut off” from my emotions. I just process data from the world around me in very different ways. And it takes a whole lot out of me, when I have to work overtime at processing under stressful conditions. Fatigue makes everything worse, and one thing leads to another… and before you know it, I’m in a state. They didn’t relieve my existential distress by poking and prodding at how I process emotion. They actually made it worse — which was great for them, because it locked me into a cycle of repeated problems that they were so convinced they could fix.

They weren’t fixing anything. They were creating problems. And I still resent them for it.

Well, I can’t get all tweaked over what others do. I’m Autistic. My Aspergers is in full-swing, in all its neurodivergent glory. Rather than relying on others to figure stuff out for me, I need to take matters into my own hands, figure things out, sort them out, and keep my life operating in ways that suit me. And I generally do.

I’m bumping it up a notch, too, developing some tools I can use to better manage my life, as well as sort out the emotional stuff I’ve got going on. I’m developing a system of Dynamic Strengths Mapping (DSM for short – mwahahaha) where I have a list of my strengths and a list of my relative weaknesses, and I “map” my specific strengths and abilities to my challenges.

I’m still mulling over the exact approach. I’d thought about creating a drag-and-drop web app. But that’s not visual enough for me — too much would be hidden. Then I thought about using index cards, so I can match many discrete strengths to my complex challenges. But that seems like it could get out of hand — too big, too hard to manage — and it would be really easy to duplicate information and confuse myself. So, I’m back to the spreadsheets idea, with some color coding thrown in for good measure.

I know I’ve got challenges on a regular basis. And I need a more efficient way of handling them. This DSM approach makes a whole lot more sense to me than just marinating in my misery, making myself feel awful — just awful — because I can’t figure stuff out. That’s ridiculous. Figure stuff out is what I do best. So, it’s time to work through this, come up with a workable approach, and then share it out to others who may find it useful.

Who knows? Maybe others are already doing this. I Googled “Strengths Mapping” + autism and found a lot of different approaches, but so far nothing that’s really dynamic, like this, applying specific strengths to varying circumstances. Well, whatever. I need this tool, and others might, too.

So, I’ll build it.

And the answers will come.

If you haven’t read Odd Girl Out, you really should. And take note of the details. There’s a lot in there that can slip by, if you’re not paying attention.

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.

Everything has its place, I suppose

line drawing of a laptop and papers hanging neatly on the wall behind it
I like my stuff properly arranged. Of course, not everything is going to line up exactly. A little asymmetry can be creatively inspiring.

Last evening, I saw a handful of folks I haven’t seen in a while.

It was good to reconnect. They’re all a bunch of Aspies, and it was cool to just hang out and talk about what’s going on in our lives. It’s pretty wild, how many similarities there are, with detailed variations, of course. We got to trade tips and tricks on stuff that stumps us. There were some ah-ha! moments that we all enjoyed. And some laughter. And we all got to reassure each other that we’re not completely alone in a world that can’t seem to be bothered to understand us.

It’s Friday! I’m so looking forward to this weekend. Getting back on a schedule, after a week of surprise meetings and stuff not going according to plan. I have to get my routine fix while I can. I’ll be traveling in less than a week to spend time with family in the Atlanta, GA area. It’s crowded there. And hot. And busy. And there’s a lot of family drama going on, which drives me to distraction. People whipping themselves into a frenzy over a perceived slight. Where’s the logic in that? We’ve got three days of that to look forward to (so to speak).

I don’t want to go. I dread it. I really want to just ditch the whole thing, and I’ve shed anguished tears at the prospect of what’s ahead. But there’s no avoiding it. It’s important to go. So, I’ll steel my proverbial nerves and just hang in there. Focus on one small thing at a time. See what I can learn about myself and the world. Treat it as an anthropological expedition — and always-always-always keep in mind that it’s only for a few days. All I have to do is keep steady, keep an even keel, keep a level head, eat right, get enough sleep, and persevere.

I’m good at persevering. It’s what I do. It’s a much-practiced skill.

So, this upcoming trip is just another test. Another chance to learn a thing or two. I still have to do some basic things — like reserve a car at the airport. Figure out what to pack. I’m less concerned about the car situation, since, well, it is the airport. I need several hours of free time to sort through my options and pick the best one. And after I figure out my part, the overall logistics have to be figured out and solidified with my partner and her family, so we know where to go, what to do, and in what order.

The dysfunction of family dynamics is so tiring. I’m trying to not pay much attention to the lying, cheating, sneaking-around people who are trying to manipulate the whole event. That’s fruitless. I’ve learned that over the past 26 years. I’ll just go with the flow and enjoy myself as best I can. If nothing else, this will be character-building.

Just think how much character I’ll have at the end of it all! 😀

Oh, and then I have another trip to San Francisco less than a month later. That’s for work. A conference. Learning and working and — most importantly — no family involved. It’ll be a challenge, because it is travel, it involves business, and I’m headed into unfamiliar territory.  I used to live in northern California, years ago, so I may see some of my old “stomping ground”, but probably not much. I’ll be traveling alone, pretty much, which is fine. But that means I’m probably not going to range far and wide and see the sights like I used to, when my partner was with me.

Or, I may see some sights with my co-workers. Who knows? I’ll need to figure that one out, I suppose.

Anyway, so it goes. I’ve got a nice empty schedule today. And my 8:30 meeting just got moved to Monday, so that gives me even more flexibility today, to catch up with everything I haven’t been able to get done this week.

And have a little routine. Get to the office around 9:45, settle in, eat some cereal at 10:15, respond to pending emails and prep for my noontime meeting, have some lunch, do some more work, go for an afternoon swim, then finish up the day with getting outstanding stuff sorted out. Sounds like a plan.

Oh, and plan. Plan. Plan some more. Things rarely turn out exactly the way I anticipate, but having a plan helps me organize my thoughts and at least have the general impression that I’m prepared for whatever comes along.

It’s all good. It’s Friday. I get to move at my own pace. Quietly. Swiftly. With everything in its place. As it should be.

Oh, sweet peace.

When the little #autistic components of life click into place

picture of two people facing each other, person on the left has a gray brain, person on the right has a rainbow colored brainI had a very nice chat with someone today about how autism affects my life. And in the process, I realized some things that hadn’t occurred to me before.

Namely (and I may think of something else, eventually), I don’t really lose a lot of sleep or get terribly agitated anymore about social “gaffe-ish” situations. I’ve got my stock set of responses to social / interactive situations that confuse and puzzle me — especially those which seem pretty useless, e.g., when they center around mindless jabbering while eating cake.

I’ve got a standard way I react to people, a standard way I hold myself and I echo / mirror other people’s behaviors. I have a stock set of responses (“Seriously!” or “Really?!” or “Oh, I know!”) which I generally rattle off without even knowing what I’m reacting too. It takes time for me to parse the information that’s coming it, translate it to pictures, make sense of it, generate new pictures, and then translate it back to words that may or may not mean anything to others. I usually don’t have that kind of time to respond genuinely, so I just spout out this mindless blather. I miss a lot. Including the point of being there. But oh, well. So it goes.

And you know what? I don’t care. Because the vast majority of what’s going on is vacuous and inane. It’s generally not anything I care about. But I still need to be around people. If I don’t interact with others on a semi-regular basis (God help me), I become suspicious and mistrusting, caught up in my own internal dramas that may or may not have any basis in reality. I need feedback from other living, breathing people to help me steer myself in the proper direction – not off a conceptual cliff.

So, I get what I need — some interaction. But I don’t pay much mind to most of the content. Especially when people are hanging around in a crowded, noisy space (why do people like places like that, anyway?). Then, it’s purely a matter of socially getting by. Doing the bare minimum. Satisfactorily completing the social interaction in ways that don’t harm me — and may actually add to my own social cred.

I do what I have to, reap the rewards, and move on.

I just don’t expect much from it. And so, I am seldom disappointed.

A place for everything in this busy life

interwoven mesh of different colors and shapes
Everything fits with everything else.

I have a lot going on, these days.

And it’s all good.

There are people in my life who encourage me to “slow down”… “take it easy”… not push myself too much.

The thing is, when I’ve got my proverbial “plate” full of all kinds of things I’m doing, I’m actually much better off, than if I’m pacing myself and not pushing my limits.

See, the difference between how I do things and how others do things, is dimentionality. That is, I don’t do things in a linear fashion. I can’t. I load them in on top of each other, and they fit together as different dimensions of the same types of activities.

It’s easier for me to write three books at one time, than do one, finish it, then start another. I have a bunch of books (more than three, actually) in the works, and I’ve been stalled for the past few months — mainly because I was under the impression that I had to take them one at a time… and not start the next, till I was done with the last. Huh. Yeah, that hasn’t been working. At all.

Likewise, at work, I’ve got a handful of different initiatives happening, and they’re all quite “exciting”… and not in a good way. Stuff keeps getting messed up, the different teams keep veering off course, and I’m not happy about it. The problem is, I’ve been trying to handle them, one thing at a time. And that’s not working. At all. I can’t stop things from happening at the same time, nor do I do well when I try to manage one project at a time. I need to “load up” and move everything forward in parallel.

I’ve really been doing myself a disservice, by trying to manage my projects and my overall workload in a sequential manner. That’s not how I work, it’s not how I function best. It’s a drain, in fact. And it frustrates me to no end, when well-meaning people urge me to “back off” and not push myself so hard.

News flash — I’m NOT pushing myself. I’m going with the unending flow of creative process. That’s where I need to allow myself to “be”. That’s how I need to allow myself to work.

If other people don’t have the capacity for this, it’s none of my business. But they also shouldn’t hold me back, thinking that I work exactly the same way that they do.

Not today

I’m out of patience today. I’ve been having some problems with my neck and back, and after doing a fair amount of online study of anatomy and real-life observation of the pain location and pattern(s) of agony, it seems that I pinched all three major nerves that run down my left arm.

There is the radial nerve, the ulnar nerve, and the median nerve, the last of which I have had problems with before. I’m pretty sure I know how I did it. And if I remember correctly, I’ve done it in the past. Several times. You’d think I’d learn, but sometimes necessity pushes me to do stupid things that I think will help — but don’t.

It happens when I hold the phone between my left ear and my shoulder – or whatever part of my neck and shoulder area is close to my ear. Back in the day (and I’m telling my age), when phones used to have those large, clunky receivers, you could pretty comfortably hold the phone between your ear and shoulder. And I used to do it all the time. But now, with smart phones, that’s just not possible. It’s next to impossible for me to hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder. And yet, somehow, I managed to do it. Not once, but twice in the same day. Oh, what a short memory I can have, at times..

So, a day or so after I last held my smart phone between my ear and shoulder – which I have to admit is kind of a gymnastic feat – the pain started to set in. On top of that, I’ve been doing a fair amount of different kinds of strenuous physical activity with lots of lifting and bending and relying on my back and shoulders (I put my back into my work, as they say, and my neck got left behind). The weather’s been beautiful, so I spent a bunch of time working in my yard, lifting and carrying things, and being more physically active with my arms and shoulders than I have been in a long time.

Long story short, I completely messed up my neck and my shoulder. Oh, pain! Burning, aching pain that comes and goes on its own. I also have a bunch of interconnected muscles which are inflamed — and also shortening as a result of healing from the activity. That pulls everything out of alignment even more. I haven’t actually been able to move my head or my arm in certain directions without sickening pain. Even when I don’t move – especially when I don’t move – the throbbing, sick pain sets in and I feel like I’m going to throw up.

But what else is new? I’ve had this kind of pain in various parts of my body for various reasons for most of my life, so it’s nothing new. But it’s something I need to deal with.

So, for the past 24 hours, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Stretching. Lots of stretching. Anytime I get a chance, in every possible direction, to get these muscles to loosen up. I can’t function like this, sick to my stomach and aching and burning. I have a lot going on, these days. I need to stay hyper-functional, so I’m doing what needs to be done. I’m sitting differently in my car, sitting differently at my desk. Holding my head and neck differently. Stretching, and more stretching.

Happily, I seem to have turned a corner last night, while I was driving home. I had over an hour in the car to stretch my shoulders arms and neck, and although seeing where I was going while turning my head from side to side wasn’t the easiest thing, it was also late at night, so there was very little traffic on the roads. I felt the release at the point where things started to loosen up, and it was so delicious. Excruciating pain, followed by …. nothing. Sweet, sweet nothing. I still have a long way to go with getting over this – in the past it has taken me up to a week to recover fully – but at least I can tell a marked difference between now… and how it was before.

Being in pain shortens my patience. It sharply reduces my tolerance for bullshit, and it makes me a lot less accommodating of foolishness — whether mine or someone else’s. My disaffection extends through a variety of areas. Including political. I haven’t been looking at much political news at all, especially with all the wailing and gnashing of teeth going on over designated chunks of 100 days. I know there’s a significant election on the horizon in the UK, and that the outcome is going to have a global effect, but right now I just don’t have the energy for it.

The same thing goes with a lot of stuff. I have a full and busy life, and lately I’ve had A Lot going on with people in my non-virtual world hosting events and get-together’s and all sorts of other activities which are fun and engaging and give me a greater sense of purpose and belonging, but which still demand a fair amount of energy and attention. My family is going through changes with serious illness and death and all of the adjustments to go along with it, so that is also adding to my overall load.

Opting out of all of these things isn’t really an option for me. People depend on me. And I can’t let them down. Some Aspies can’t lie. Others can’t let details slide. I can’t let other people down. I have to carry through, even if I don’t agree with the merits and value of what they’re doing. It matters to them, and they depend on me, so I have to hang in there through the ups and downs to the bitter (for me, not for them) end. Lucky thing, I mask my pain. Lucky for everyone, I can block it out. Most of the time.

It’s been difficult, lately, though. I also have my own projects which I am pursuing with gusto, which also demand a lot of me. The other projects run by other people are ones I would love to just drop by the wayside and focus on my own stuff. But again — people depend on me, so it’s important that I hang in there. As for my own projects – I have absolutely no intention of opting out of any of them. If anything, I feel like I should be doing more.

But something has to give. What will that be?

Let me see… ah… Drama. Emotional roller coasters. Frivolous pastimes that do nothing to get me in the direction I’m going.

The recent pain has cut down on my willingness (and ability) to tolerate a lot of the emotional dramas that accompany pretty much any kind of human social activity. So, I’ve been ignoring that aspect of these projects. Because I do want to do them. I just don’t have time for the full gamut of human experience — especially the negative, slimy, grimy emotional aspects.

Another thing I’m giving up (which I should probably give up in any case), is the whole expectation and attachment thing: Attachment to outcomes, expectations of specific things happening as a result of what I’m doing, and investment in certain results to the exclusion of all else. I know from plenty of personal experience that expecting certain results from certain actions of mine is often a fruitless, poor use of time. There’s no way I can reasonably expect to anticipate every single factor that needs to be considered. I’m better off not having expectation and not getting invested in specific outcomes, even though I do intend to make certain things happen.

If I let that extra stuff go – which rarely works out anyway – I can actually focus my attention on just doing what I’m doing. At work, there’s a constant emphasis on results, making sure things turn out the way you want them to. And it is draining. Exhausting. Ironically, the outcomes of my work actually match what I intend, as often as not — especially if I don’t have a huge investment and things turning out a certain way. Oh, the irony.

And at the same time, letting go of my vice-grip devotion to things going My Way lets me just get on with the business of doing what needs to be done.

So, while the pain has been, well, a really pain… it’s also forced me to make the kinds of choices I need to be making, anyway.

It’s not pleasant, by any stretch.

But it’s not all bad.

And for that, I’m grateful.

What I notice now

mirror stone temple doorI nearly disclosed my fairly recently officially confirmed autism to my family, last week, while I was with them. We were discussing my nephew and the ongoing challenges real struggles he’s faced, making the transition from high school and living at home to landing in a vast academic jungle of an Ivy League university in the crowded northeastern US. I stressed that he really is a “textbook case” of Aspergers, and if he can just get a clear understanding of his issues, he stands a much better chance of managing them. And getting his life back.

While I was making the case, I didn’t say “when he understands”, I said “when we understand”. Or something like that. Something not only about him, but about US. Because I swear to God, he is One Of Us.

How could he not be? Impossible, I say. Impossible.

But the conversation was cut short. I had to start towards home, on my 9-hour drive across several states, from one major region to the next. Across mountains and valleys and rivers and streams, long stretches of highway flanked by ravines with beaver dams and lodges in the swampy bottoms. I had to go. I had to conserve my energy. And anyway, my family didn’t want to discuss it. They barely acknowledged it. Said, “Oh, I’m pretty sure I’m dyslexic.” Or “I’ve got ADHD.” Or ” — ” silence. Crickets would have been louder.

So, I let it go. I got in my car. Jumped out again and gave them all one more round of hugs to make up for the quick embraces I pulled away from so self-consciously just minutes before. Then headed up the road. Till I got home.

I’ve been home for nearly a week, now, and I’m still not “all here”. I haven’t been able to type very well. The words get turned around, the letters get jumbled. And all the while, I feel like I’m coming out of my skin. Being back in this cubicle, having these work conversations about work subjects with work colleagues… it all feels so strange to me, so distant, so peculiar.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve been on meds for poison ivy that really knocked me out. Benadryl does that. And now I’m using a topical steroid creme that’s absorbed into my system, even if I’m not eating it. I can’t take steroids of any kind. Prednisone turns me into someone I don’t recognize, and it’s rarely a positive development. Dr. Jekyl / Mr. Hyde. I’m sensitive. What can I say?

Anyway, since returning from my aunt’s funeral, I’ve been noticing an awful lot of things. I’m tired. I’m taxed. My system is overloaded on many fronts. And that makes me even more sensitive than usual. It’s a recursive, self-referencing sort of noticing, too — I don’t just notice more things. I notice that I notice more things. And more things. And more things about more things.

I notice how much I’m bothered by all the noise and light in the cafeteria at work when I’m standing in line for my food.

I notice how clumsy I am – so clumsy that my soup spills all over my desk, and I need to go back — yet again — to stand in line to get something that (this time) won’t spill, if I drop it.

I notice how I start to twitch and shake, as I stand before the counter, all the fluorescent lights over and around me blinding me — hold still, hold still, stop twitching and jerking… just look at your phone — and the deafening roar of overhead exhaust fans causing me to withdraw, slow down, abandon words — tell the deli woman your order in a loud, clear voice, and hold onto the counter so you don’t tip over… 

… the way I wobble as I make my way across the teeming room to the line of cash registers — steady, steady, keep your gaze locked on the sign hung on the wall — the way my ears betray me, so I can’t understand what anyone is saying to me — just pull out the slip that has the order written on it, so the cashier can wring up the order —

… the way my fingers fumble and falter as I pull out my ATM card to pay for my sandwich — did she notice? No, I don’t think so. I think I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m really fine. Now go — Head for the door and get upstairs to your cubicle where you can sit down and eat something. 

Steady… steady as I go.

I notice this. I notice it all. Usually, I’m so rote-inized (think routinized without thought involved) and my movements are mechanical, automatic, so I can shut off my senses and just motor through without too much disruption.

Not today, though. I’ve been away…. out of this routine… out of this element. Suddenly (after such a short period of time) everything seems strange and unfamiliar and faintly threatening. Unsettling. Like I’ve stumbled and fallen through the veils that usually hang between me and the world in which I live and move and make my daily wages… reaching out to clutch at them as I fall… I pull a few of them down. Rent. Spent. And they can’t be hung up again.

Not right now. Not till the drugs get out of my system… which could take days, if not weeks. Yep, this is gonna take a while.

At the same time, this unsettlement is nothing new. It happens sometimes. It’s happened lots of times before, and it will probably happen again.

And again.

There’s no sense in getting worked up over it, losing my cool over it. I just need to keep up on my sleep and remember this is what happens, sometimes. Just hang in there and keep steady, as the input keeps washing over me, setting me off-balance, sending me careening in all directions, spilling soup, making a mess, turning my head around and making me woozy and wobbly. I just need to be extra careful about things I do, and how I do them…

Take care. And don’t get thrown off by everything I notice.

It’s a lot more than usual.

It’s a lot.

Back from the brink – and glad for the experience

four people arguing, two facing each other, two walking away

Well, that was a thorough experience, for sure.

I drove 9 hours to my family this past Monday, spent Tuesday and Wednesday with them, then drove another 9 hours to get home yesterday. I’m pretty wiped out, for a whole bunch of reasons, not least of which is the Benadryl I’m taking to take the edge off the poison ivy I picked up last Saturday, when I was cleaning up my front yard and garden.

Benadryl affects me pretty intensely. It slows all my reflexes and thought process, and puts me into an altered state, so I can’t use it unless I am not going to be driving and/or I’m not going about an intense amount of business. It affects my typing, my ability to connect with the world around me, and how I parse all the information. I’m working from home today – not driving – so I can take it several times today. I’ll be going out later today to run to the post office and grocery shop, but that’s it. No driving to the office in traffic. No pushing myself… at all. And that’s good.

So, I have three days to recover, which is helpful.

And I need the time to decompress, debrief, reflect on what I learned from that experience. A lot of stuff broke down for me — but it only happened on Wednesday, when I was tired, off my schedule, and surrounded by other Aspies who were every bit as compromised as I was. Considering that we all cued into each others’ distress, it’s no surprise that we all got on each others’ nerves, bickered a little bit, had all kinds of old emotional “stuff” come up, and ended the day on a sour note.

Three days is really not enough time for me to figure this out. It’s going to take a while, and I worry that I won’t process quickly enough, before I forget what happened and lose the chance to really think it through. I’m making notes in my journal about what took place, so I can process it later. Journaling is key for me, especially after the non-stop flurry of new data, new inputs, new insights that peppered my past four days

But it’s almost too much for words — no, it IS too much for works. I could type for hours and days and weeks, and still barely scratch the surface.

One thing I did discover, which has breathed new life into me, is that Simone Weil, one of the great philosophers of the past century, was absolutely positively autistic. I listened to an audiobook of a biography by Francine Du Plessix Gray, while I was driving home yesterday, and I drove more slowly, so I could listen to as much as I could. One great example after another jumped out at me — her avoidance of human touch, her monotonous speech tone, her associational lectures that frustrated sequentially-oriented logical thinkers of her times, the anorexia / eating disorder, her all-consuming passions for justice, and of course her rigidity and black-and-white thinking. I found myself laughing aloud, as I listened to the narrator calling out different aspects of her personality that sound odd to the untrained eye, but which are so clearly autistic, when you know what you’re looking for.

I ordered a used print copy of the book, so I can mark it up when it gets to me. I’ll most certainly be posting my observations about it. It seems like an excellent activity for the end of autism awareness month. Having someone so celebrated, and so autistic, right there in front of me to study and write about… it’s like Christmas came a little early.

One more piece to help me better understand my own situation… and generalize that out to the rest of the world… it’s very helpful. I’m looking forward to driving around, now, because I listen to the audiobook while I drive. It’s not so easy for me to listen while I’m working. I have to concentrate, after all.

Anyway, I’m starting to feel less coherent… thanks to the Benadryl. So, I’ll back off now and get some other work done. It’s all fascinating, for sure. And I am glad to be home, so I can actually focus in on what matters most to me, and make some headway in my writing.

Not so easy to do at my parents’ house. Too much going on there. All the time.

Perfect timing

OMG, I could watch this clip over and over, right at 4:43 in the video. I think it’s hilarious. This woman is just telling us about how she’s been diagnosed with Aspergers, and how all these people are telling her she shouldn’t be labeled, and they don’t want to believe it. And then the phone rings. Skip ahead to 4:43. Or just watch it the whole way through. Good fun.