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…

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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.

Thank heavens. In 48 minutes, it begins again – my regular #autistic routine

shovel standing in a turned-over garden
This is part of my new garden. It’s 8′ x 10′, and it took me 90 minutes to turn over with a shovel. Yeah, I’m a bad-ass 😉

I had such great plans for this past long weekend. But, of course, things turned out very differently than my designs. No surprises there. And yet, I am perpetually surprised when things don’t live up to my engineered ideals.

You’d think I’d learn.

But nah.

I had been hoping / planning / intending to spend my time intentionally. I was in serious need of some relaxing and recuperating after the prior week. I wanted to catch up on my reading, do some gardening, relax, nap, eat interesting food which I’d prepare at a leisurely pace, and have a generally restorative time. Maybe make hamburgers on Memorial Day. Watch a movie on Sunday afternoon. Call my parents.

Instead, I had a busy Saturday morning, got all “socialled-out” by interactions at the community garden, including some faux pas along with some connections. I met some of my co-gardeners in the space we share. We all have at least one 8-foot x 10-foot plot. Some of us have two plots. We’re a diverse group – an elderly Chinese man who only speaks Mandarin, an elderly white hippie-ish couple, a Black woman whose mother helps her out, an Asian-Caucasian bi-racial couple with two girls, and the older white guy who runs the place.

The elderly Chinese man communicates with us by dictating to Google Translate and showing us the text translations. At first, he was showing me Chinese-Russian translations, and I couldn’t explain that I couldn’t read them. Then I got my phone in the action, and after I explained to him that he wasn’t translating to English, he changed his settings, and all was right with the world. I also showed it to the other gardeners, who thought they needed an app to do it. But no – Google will translate text, and you can dictate the text for it to translate, so we were all fully enabled and empowered within a few hours’ time..

The day was bright. I had a lot to do. I was tired from the week. Everybody wanted to talk. Ugh. I mean, yeah – they’re lovely people, and there are worse groups to be around – but after a few hours, I started to wear thin. Especially as people continued to engage with me and discuss their plans. I found myself getting snarky and bitchier than I normally am. Fatigue. Bright sunlight. F*cking mosquitos. Anxiety over my beans, which are being chewed on by something, not to mention the constant threat of rabbits. Fencing. I need additional fencing around my plot, because the overall fence isn’t holding up. Hm. It keeps the deer out, but not the rabbits.

We’ll have to do something about that.

I’d really rather not have to deal with people, when I’m gardening, but I asked for it. I joined a community garden, so that’s what I get. Community. Good lord, what was I thinking, spending 4 hours on a viciously bright Saturday morning, when I was still hungover from all the adrenaline rushes from the week before?

I know what I was doing: trying to Live My Best Life, that’s what.

Well, I gave it my best shot, and I’m sure not everyone will remember me as the snarky, bitchy new kid who gets prickly over the garden politics of who gets what plot (just give the old Chinese man the plot next to him – nobody’s using it, anyway! – why can’t everyone just handle things logically, instead of jockeying for position?)

After my time there, chatting about this and that, I ended up feeling pretty deflated. Everybody wanted to discuss their domestic situation… as if it matters to the seedlings in your garden, whether you have kids or living parents or nieces and nephews, or you love your job. I hate those kinds of discussions. They feel intrusive. And no, I don’t want to announce to the gardening community that I’m a big ole dyke with a disabled spouse who works too-long hours in the employ of the Masters of the Universe. What difference does it make to the health of my peppers and tomatoes? Will that information make my carrot seeds actually sprout? Nope. So, why dwell on it.

I like my conversations topical. I hate schmoozing and connecting over personal details.

Hate it, I tell you.

After I extracted myself from that awkwardness (which I’m sure seemed perfectly lovely to everyone else), I rallied and got my Saturday errands done in pretty decent order. Ran to the post office and mailed out the package my partner left on the counter. Took the trash to the dump. Went food shopping. Did some cleanup around the house. Had some lunch. Took a shower. Got a nap.

The nap helped a little, but more than anything, it reminded me how exhausted I was. What was I thinking, doing all that activity first thing on a long weekend? It wasn’t like I had an overabundance of energy, to begin with. But my Saturdays are often like that. I’m coming off an exhausting week (typically), and I have just a day to get all my most unpleasant errands done… which I do. And then I crash on Saturday afternoon (if I’m lucky). I can usually rally, but last week was pretty grueling.

Well, anyway, my plans for a lot of reading and relaxing didn’t exactly materialize. Sunday and Monday were rainy, which was fine. That’s normally a relief for me. But I was thrown off by the long weekend, for some reason. My pacing was off. And I was really tired and irritable with my partner, resulting in too much friction, too much arguing, a little yelling, a bunch of tears. I really hate when that happens, especially when it’s pretty much centered around my meltdowns. It’s like my meltdowns are whirlpools in the rapids of my life, and as I sail downstream, paddling wildly, I keep getting sucked into them… pulled down into the roiling darkness, as I’m flailing madly, trying to keep upright, trying to keep from tipping over or getting pulled into the Darkness.

The worst thing is, it often feels like my partner is sitting in the back of the boat, commanding me to keep the craft righted (not bothering to pick up a paddle, mind you). But that’s another blog post for another day – still working my way through understanding how to better handle that type of situation.

Anyway, my weekend ended up much more active than it should have been. I lost sleep, didn’t catch up on it. And the things I’d been planning on doing… well, most of them fell by the wayside. I did read a lot, though. I’m working my way through Katherine May’s The Electricity of Every Living Thing, and it’s a real pleasure – I’m nearing the end, and that saddens me. 😦

I got some writing done. I got some sleeping done. I got my exercise. But rest and recuperation? Nope. I’ll have to see if I can work that into my upcoming week — my typically structured week with the usual routine, which is so important for my regular maintenance and mental health. Three days off was a plus. But I’m glad it doesn’t happen all that often.

P.S. On a bright note, we did manage to get one of our rooms partly cleaned out and tidied up. We’ve been getting increasingly boxed in (literally) by all this stuff that we haven’t managed to either throw away or put away. Executive dysfunction, combined with exhaustion and bare-minimum interest, isn’t the most domestically beneficial state to live in. But yesterday, we actually did something about that. Bonus.

at last – my cup of really good, really strong coffee

overhead view of cup of coffee beside laptop keyboard on a wooden tableI spent the past four days on a visit with my parents. I didn’t spend the entire time with them, because my partner and I didn’t meet up with them till late afternoon on Friday, and then we had the weekend with them, and they drove home early yesterday morning.

So, all in all, I had about 67 hours with them, with additional time tacked on, before and after to prepare… and then decompress.

It’s a lot to take in. My parents are very much on the Autism Spectrum, and that means they’re alternately delightful and exasperating when it comes to interacting with them from my corner of the Spectrum. They have their ways of doing things, which are (of course, to them) the Only Right Way To Do Things. And everyone who doesn’t do things that way — especially if it’s us kids — is Wrong and Must Be Corrected.

So, I spend a lot of time around my parents on the defensive, never sure what I can or cannot say, because they’re so enthusiastic about promoting and defending their Proper Way Of Doing Things — and punishing everyone who doesn’t comply.

Ugh, it’s exhausting. I love my parents, and we’re getting along better than we ever have in my 52-year relationship with them, but it takes so much out of me.

Plus, when I’m around them, I can’t do my regular routine. They’re so locked into their way of doing things, they have to constantly hijack me to get me on their schedule. And their pace is grueling and break-neck — always going at top speed, always with the brain dumps about their special interests, always talking, talking, talking… which is utterly exhausting when I’m tired and non-verbal. The more tired I am, the more non-verbal I become, so you get the idea…

Now that’s over. My parents went home yesterday morning, and my partner and I had the day to decompress yesterday. The weather was amazing. I actually got to walk the beach and explore at my own pace. And there was no pressure to stick with my parents’ schedule, because their anxiety won’t let them do anything different.

We got to decompress. I got to relax. I had to do a conference call for work, yesterday afternoon, but that was fine, because it was familiar and got me out of my head.

And today, I woke up in my own bed, I got to have my exercise — first thing — I’ve had my breakfast… and now I get to drink my half mug of extremely strong coffee.

Everything’s getting back on track, and that’s a very good thing, indeed.

 

#Autistic Ninja-Level Disaffection

#AutisticNinja - You'll only see me If I let you
#AutisticNinja – You’ll only see me If I let you

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how I do — and do not — fit into the world around me.

With every news cycle, every new revelation about what’s going on in the world, every new development at work (heaven help us), and every twist and turn that the world takes around me, I can’t help but think,

This has nothing to do with the things that matter most to me in my life.

And I have to say, it’s a weird feeling. To be so disenfranchised. All . The . Time. Almost as if I’m not even here. I know there are a lot of Autistic people who feel that way, too, so I’m not the only one. All the meanness, the pettiness, the fighting, the drama, the emotion-for-emotion’s sake… it’s all very tiring.

And I’ve really resented this for the longest time.

But you know what? I’m over it. I tasted the proverbial Kool-Aid, and I didn’t like the taste of it. Spat it out, in fact. I’ve been slogging along, over the years, trying to get myself to want to participate, to feel invested, to connect, to dig in and be one of the gang. But after all these years… seriously, what’s the point, anymore? I’ll do my job, I’ll pretend I’m totally into it(!), and I’ll make the best of a bad situation. But don’t expect me to buy in. Don’t expect me to believe. Expect me to perform. But sink my heart and soul into it?

Nah. Not anymore. They had their chance to win me over, and they failed. So, so badly.

This used to legitimately frighten me. I thought that if I didn’t “get onboard” (what? the Titanic?) and sign up with my soul, I wouldn’t survive. They’d cut me loose, force me out, and that would cost me my livelihood, my home… my life.

Now, though, I see how much I really do add to every venture I participate in. I’m a really valued team member, and I bring something useful to pretty much every interaction I have. I’m an asset. Because I make a point of being an asset. Even if it causes me discomfort, even a bit of pain, I make it my job to do my part. And it shows.

And I figure, if people want me around, they’ll have to put up with me just as I am — disaffected, disillusioned, doing the best I can (of course), but not particularly invested in everything going on. I mean, seriously, there’s so much stupidity running everything.

OMG! Have you done your TPS Reports lately?!

I just can’t work up any enthusiasm for that foolishness. At all. I’m just here for the paycheck.

And I’ll do what I damn’ well please, how I damn’ well please. Because my way is waaaaaay better than anything the rest of these mediocre TPS-Report-filler-out-ers will come up with. And even the stuff I don’t know hands-down, I can — and do — learn in a matter of minutes. And they know it, too. They’re kind of in awe of me. And that’s fine. Let them be. It blinds them to my flaws, which is handy…

Anyway, it’s Sunday evening, and I had to work over the weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. Ugh. It wasn’t bad… just irritating. And I would rather have been doing things like work in my garden or go for along walk down the road. But no, had to be inside with my laptop for hours at a time. Cue the mournful violins 😉  I’m feeling sorry for myself, to be sure, and in the morning, I have to deal with my incredibly anxious boss who’s so busy “managing up” that he has no idea what any of us underlings are up to. Until he tells us to switch gears and work on something different.

Ah, me… Monday will come, and we will all suffer. Don’t care. It’s not a good use of my time to fritter away my valuable hours and life force fretting over the stupidities of others. I’ll take what good I can get from every situation:

  • A steady paycheck
  • Structured social interactions to meet my social needs in a predictable, formal way
  • A chance to get out of the house and see what else is out there
  • Maybe even a swim in the pool at the fitness center(?)

And I’ll disregard the rest, with my AutisticNinja style.

And other people take their cues from me. The funny thing is, even my non-autistic coworkers respect and admire my detachment. They have no idea how excruciatingly painful the whole deal is for me, and they’ll never know. I’m so under the radar with all this, and I’m so non-disclosing (I have enough to deal with, between chronic pain, a disabled spouse, a household to support, a nationally syndicated broadcast to get on the satellite each week, and an ever-increasing workload), the last thing I need is non-autistic people telling me, “Gosh! You don’t look autistic!” like it’s a complement. No thanks. I have no patience or energy for that. I’ll stay under the radar.

Just.

And I’ll set a fine example for all my coworkers who know in their heart-of-hearts that this is really all a bunch of crap, and we’ll take solace in each other’s company, sharing tidbits from our lives and commiserating about the sad turn of affairs that landed us in such a woe-begotten state.

Meh. Whatever. It’s a paycheck. It’s a job with a lot of glitz and glamour to it, as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

Right here, right now, I’m more focused on dinner.

It’s a lot more fun to think about than what tomorrow’s going to bring.

How much has #television contributed to the #Autism panic?

television

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how … abruptly Autism has seemed to have emerged on the public scene. So many people getting diagnosed, supposedly in “epidemic” proportions. “Autism wasn’t a problem when I was growing up,” people say… “It must be something new — vaccinations, environmental toxins, gut health, gluten, and more.”

I’m not going down those particular ratholes, because I think there’s another factor that’s really contributing, not only to the number of people who are getting diagnosed, but in the distress that we’re experiencing because we’re Autistic.

I think it has a little bit to do with the surge in pathologization (if that’s a word) of behaviors that have been around since the beginning of time. There have always been folks like is in the general population. But society’s acceptance of our traits has dramatically decreased, over the past 40 years. And that, I believe, contributes far more to the issues and challenges we experience, than any of the commonly blamed “causes”.

Society has never been super-accepting of outliers. My ancestors fled their homes many times over many generations, as a result of local people not wanting them there. For over 1000 years, they routinely had to move along to some other locale, because people didn’t like their language, their culture, their religion, their ways. Back and forth across Europe they went, chased from one country to another, because they just didn’t fit.

So, the human race has never been strong on the whole acceptance bit.

But now… I’ve noticed a massive shift in people’s acceptance levels of traits that I grew up with, which were never seen as liabilities in the place/family of my origin, which were simply seen as differences that gave you certain strengths, where others were weak — and vice versa. It’s not just Autism traits, either — flapping, talking fast and long about fascinating subjects, being sensitive to foods, needing to stim — it’s everywhere.

When I got into high tech, 25 years ago, I was an outlier. There weren’t many women on the technical side of the house, but people made room for me. I earned my place, weirdo that I was (and yes, I am a weirdo, and proud of it!). And there wasn’t the raging sexism that I see in high tech, now.

And I think television has had a hugely influential role in all of this. Because we’ve been inundated with all the messages, for countless hours, on countless channels, about how men and women are supposed to look and behave… for how “normal” people are supposed to look and behave. Television has provided a bland, one-dimensional template for everyone to abide by, creating emotional bonds between audiences and invented characters which are the product of a media industry that’s almost mind-bogglingly homogenous. Writers of color, Autistic writers, disabled creators, people who don’t fit in the mainstream, don’t have great representation there.

And it shows.

Personally, I have to wonder how much television people who freak out over the “Autism epidemic” actually watch. The folks who “light it up blue” and support A$… how many hours have they spent in front of the glowing box (or eyes glued to a device), internalizing all the subtle, one-dimensional messages about what it means to be a human being, and how we should behave? People who cringe at the different ways people present and identify, gender-wise… who squirm at speech patterns and behaviors that don’t match what they think are right… how many of them have had their social expectations set by all the t.v. characters they connect with each day and each night?

I have to wonder.

And I have to admit, I really despair, when I see what kinds of characters are on t.v., as well as in movies. For the sake of drama and an unfolding story, embarrassingly immature people are trotted out for our “entertainment”, their foolishness normalized, their vacuity standardized, their shallowness presented regularly as “how people really are”. It’s depressing. And when you toss in the music and laugh tracks and subtle ways creators and producers use to entice viewers and hold their attention… Ugh… even more depressing.

Over the past years, I’ve been watching less and less television. I watch a few shows regularly, but mostly I watch movies (which are slightly better, but also have their shortcomings). And the more time I spend away from it, the more tolerant I find I am. That includes tolerance for myself. I’m not as intensely sensitized to the ways I differ from others (of course, menopause helps, because I’m no longer hormonally inclined to give a damn what others think). I’m more tolerant of others, as well. Differences don’t bother me, the way they used to — and the way they bother others.

Because my templates for acceptable human behavior haven’t been defined by a handful of white, middle-class collaborators who live in their own little bubble and work behind closed doors.

And I have to wonder, if more people just didn’t watch t.v. and let it tell them what it means to be human, how much more human could we actually become — and allow others to be?

Just a few more days, till I can get back to my routine

pocket watch on map with sandOh, Lord, the inside of my head sounds ungrateful, right about now. A still, small voice has gradually been getting louder and louder… bitching and complaining about the lack of routine in my days, this past week and a half. And that voice is eager to get back to the familiar routine of the everyday.

I can’t remember the last time I had nearly two weeks off for the end-of-year holidays. I don’t think I ever have. So, in some respects, it’s been blissful. No structure to strangulate my creativity, no outside demands (other than Christmas shopping and the odd errand) to cramp my style. I’ve been able to get up when I wanted, go to sleep when I wanted, pretty much nap whenever I please, and so forth.

Yeah, in many respects, it’s been delightful.

To just let time drift, without having any deadlines, without having any requirements, without coming down to the wire on something… it’s been glorious. My everyday life is structured pretty much around deadlines, due-dates, timelines, and so fort. It all feels so contrived to me. I have a different relationship with time than a lot of people, but that actually makes me more productive. I get more done in a few hours than a lot of people do in a week. But still, I absolutely hate deadlines and standard-issue definitions of time.

Not having that holding me back has been wonderful.

But in other ways, it’s been pretty hard.

The combination of lack of routine, plus unusual activities produced a couple of meltdowns — one in a bookstore bathroom, the other at home. And a handful of commitments I said I’d do, haven’t “materialized”. I’m using that word to get myself off the proverbial hook, because the failing hasn’t been due to some amorphous outside influence — it’s been all me.

And my need to just withdraw and shut down for a week.

Oh, the holidays are funny things. Not ha-ha funny, but weird and absurd in ways that make me laugh, for some reason. I’d been so looking forward to having nearly 2 weeks to get some things done that I’d been putting off… but once I got into holiday mode, it was like I skipped over to a parallel universe, where precious few of my interests or activities intersected with my original plans.

pug looking sidewaysParallels by definition don’t intersect, so there I was, on my separate track, looking askance at my best-laid plans… feeling faintly guilty… but not too much.

More than anything, I just wanted to be what and where I was — a normally highly efficient individual… free at last.

Which is all very interesting to me, because few things give me more satisfaction than getting things done, creating, building, producing.

And yet, there’s that intense need to NOT do any of those things, every now and then.

It’s like there’s this dynamic back-and-forth between the DOING and not-doing, that balances out my life. And considering how much I’ve been doing for months, now, I really needed that time of not-doing, to reset.

Which makes me really look forward to getting back to my regular routine.

Yeah, as much as I enjoy floating in some amorphous cloud of whatever-ness (and I do!), there’s still a big part of me that just loves-loves-loves my productivity. My predictability. My ability to Get Things Done. I love surrounding myself with the results of my work, and I love the process of getting to those results. I love having my set sequence of steps I follow to a “t”, with so much expertise, I don’t even really need to think about the steps. I just do them. Because I do them every single day, and they’re very much a part of me. Some days, it feels like they are me.

So, in a way, getting back to my routine will be getting back to myself.

And that will be good — every bit as good as taking time away.

It’s all a balance, in the end, a continuously alternating back-and-forth between two extremes. I’m autistic. I know all about extremes. And I also know how to make the most of them.

And for today, and the next day, and the next day, I shall.


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Last-minute Christmas shopping went well, all things considered

Big box store interior with people walking through aislesMerry Christmas, everyone. I’m omitting the exclamation point, because there have been far too many of them, lately, and I’m in the mood for something more … subdued.

My list-making and task-charting worked, and I didn’t have to really think about what to do next, since it was all written down. That left me more energy and resources to focus on the tasks at hand and really give it all I had. I found some additional presents that I was so happy with — some of them I only discovered after a couple of passes through a certain section of the store. I had to keep doubling back, because I kept getting distracted by everything around me. But after I got used to the surroundings and got my bearings, I found some great stuff.

I went back to one of the stores I’d visited with my partner, a few days ago, to see if there was anything additional I could find. Sure enough, there was. I was more successful this time than last, because I was working alone, I didn’t have to keep her situation in mind, and I was more familiar with the store.

So many people were out yesterday… for a Sunday, it’s unusual. It was pretty disorienting. But then, it was Christmas Eve, so…

All in all, I had a pretty positive experience. I still got worn out after only a few hours, though. And it took me longer to do some things that I would have liked. I also would have liked to not see some of the holiday decorations at one of the stores I visited.  They were pretty scary, actually. For some reason, a buyer thought it would be a good idea to cover the torso of a headless female mannequin with red or green glitter, and attach it to the top of a small Christmas tree. It was a little nightmarish.

Mannequin Christmas tree
For the record, people, this is not stylish. It’s a little scary.

The scary human-Christmas-tree-cyborg aside, yesterday was a good day for learning… about how even if I’m left to my own devices, even if I’ve got the day mapped out, even if I’m crystal-clear on what needs to happen, I still have my limits at this time of year. And no matter what I do to mitigate the effects of uncertainty and More Things To Do, I’m still going to be really taxed by the environment.

No matter what I do, no matter how much sleep I get, how well I eat, how well I take care of myself in general, I’m still going to struggle with external circumstances and the super-duper, pumped-up atmosphere of the holiday season.

And yet… I really do love this time of year. Driving around on the back roads, the skies were clear and the world was suffused in ice. We had a lot of freezing rain on Saturday, which glazed everything in 1/4 inch of ice. And on Sunday, as the weather cleared and the sun shone, and all the muted colors of the slumbering trees and dead grasses and frost and ice and snow stood out in sharp contrast against the blue sky with its passing whispy clouds, I couldn’t help but just love every minute of it.

I really do enjoy this time of year. I love the long nights, the quiet that comes after the storms, the weight of winter clothes, and the slower pace to everything. I thrive during the winter, when I feel like I can finally catch up with myself. And I literally feel at my physical best when I’m outside shoveling snow in sub-freezing temperatures. My body feels the most comfortable when it’s below 20 Fahrenheit  (-30 Celsius). My inner heater seems to kick in only at that temperature. And when it’s below zero (Fahrenheit), I really feel great. I don’t even feel the cold that intensely, when it’s that cold. I feel it more, when it’s around freezing. Then, it feels like it’s getting in my bones and shutting me down.

So, this coming week should be wonderful — it’s going to be in single digits for several days, and below zero at night.

Yeah, I love this time of year. But the whole Christmas season messes things up. Too many lights. Too much music. Too much shopping. Too many people. And interactions with strangers. Noise. Lots of noise, interspersed with sounds that I’m supposed to pay attention to. Movement. Unpredictable people not paying attention when they’re driving. Everybody with emotional issues. Money issues. Let loose in the world and insisting on talking to me. Ugh. I’m so glad it’s nearly over. I really just want to enjoy myself. Have nice meals. Get grounded. Chill out.

All this means I’ve got to make some changes. My partner and I agree that next year’s going to be structured very differently than this one (and years past). We’re going to do more advance preparation, buying presents ahead of time, getting better prepared, mailing things out weeks before we need to. Just being more mindful, early on, so we can really enjoy ourselves when the season “hits”.

Doing a lot of advance prep always seemed … wrong … to me in the past.  I didn’t want to think about Christmas, till it was right “on top of us”. I couldn’t get into the spirit ahead of time. But the older I get, and the more I appreciate the season, the more sense it makes. I can get the obligations out of the way up front. Put in the time and energy up front, so I can relax at a later point.

Doing it all at once may be in the spirit of the season, but that’s just not working for me anymore.

So, it’s time for a little change — a big change, in fact. And because both my partner and I are of like mind about this and can support each other, this is one change for the better that’s likely to “stick”.

It’s all for the sake of getting to really enjoy this time of year. That’s important.

And with that, I shall get into my day and enjoy this Christmas for what it is — another stage in the turning of the wheel that takes us ever on.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  I hope you have a good one.


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Last-minute Christmas shopping – I gotta do what I gotta do

big box store interior
Sometimes, it’s just unavoidable.

Ouch. We had a bunch of freezing rain, yesterday, which kept me inside… then drew me outside to break up the veritable ice-skating rink on my deck, stairs, and driveway… then knocked out the power for a few hours, last night.

Now the Christmas turkey I’d been thawing is “iffy”, and I don’t dare cook it up. The inside of the refrigerator probably stayed pretty cool, the whole time we were without power, but I don’t want to take any chances. I just don’t want to spend Christmas day sick — and neither does my partner, who’s even more sensitive to food stuff than I am.

So, it’s time to shift and adjust… make the most of my situation and count my blessings. Because I really do have a lot to be grateful for. That thought has to carry me through, because I have a full day ahead of me, this Christmas Eve.

I need to food shop. I need to visit some local stores to find some nice things for my partner. My go-to store was closed the other day, when spent the afternoon shopping. I made the best of it, but I still have to get some more presents for my partner. I’m not looking forward to wading into the stores, but it’s gotta get done. Nobody else is going to do it for me.

This year it’s so weird — I thought for sure that I had gotten her a bunch of things, but it turns out, I didn’t. She (in typical style) has gotten me a bunch of things. I ask her not to, every single year, because A) I really don’t need them, as I’m trying to simplify my life and actually have less stuff, and B) it’s a setup for a reciprocity nightmare. She expects the same level of “gifting” from me, as she provides to me, and it’s a set-up for failure. I’ve ended up melting down more Christmas mornings than I care to think about, because of the pressure — and my inevitable failure. I try and try, and I think I get it right… but then I don’t. And it’s crushing. For her, for me, for the whole experience.

Ah, well. That’s just one of those things.

At least I have today to redeem myself.

And so I shall. I’ll map out my route, find stores along the way that are bound to have what I’m looking for, and I’ll be thoughtful about it. Part of the problem with shopping before, was that I had to take care of both myself and my partner. She’s got mobility issues, as well as some cognitive issues, and when she’s left to her own devices, unfortunate things happen — like her losing the lenses from her glasses and not even realizing it till much later… like losing a glove… misplacing her wallet… slipping on ice… forgetting something… getting hurt. I have to be on high alert — especially when we’re out in public where everyone is shopping and milling around. It’s already demanding for me, and I’m stretched to my max. But I have to stay on point for her, as well. Because that’s how I roll. I need to take care of her, as well as myself.

Today, though, it’s just me. I can move at my own pace (which is much faster than hers), and I can get some stuff done. I’ll chart my course, figure out where to go and when to go there, I’ll choreograph it down to the quarter-hour, and I’ll just git ‘er done. Then I can come home, put up the food, and relax. Chill. Take care of myself. Take a nap. Wrap presents. Just get into the Christmas spirit in my own absolutely autistic way.

See, that’s the thing — when I’m allowed to do things in my own way, and I can leverage my strengths, things can go great. But when I have to accommodate others and go at another person’s pace in the non-autistic world, it’s really challenging for me. It’s good practice to accommodate and help others who need it, and it’s good practice for me to interact with the non-autistic world — sort of like a martial art — so it’s been very beneficial to my character. But there are times when I just need to go off by my autistic self and get stuff done in my own special autistic way.

Got my list, and I’m checking it twice. The year’s been full of naughty and nice behaviors, but all is forgiven for the next week or so. Then the wheel of the year stops turning, Yule sets in, and I can settle in, as well.

I’m sure next year will have lots to keep me occupied. But right now, today is what matters most.


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Settling into December

path across field and through village to Alps

This is how I’m feeling, right now. I’m actually in a very good space, after having  been incredibly busy for the past few days. I’ve got things some important things sorted out — and that’s taken a lot of pressure off me. Sweet.

I’ve got my back yard all raked and mostly free of leaves. My front yard just needs to be raked, but I’ll be able to do that in another hour or so, when the sun is up and I can see what I’m doing. I got my car inspected yesterday. And I’ve made up my mind about a conundrum that’s been dogging me for several weeks, now.

The biggest “win” was changing my annual physical from next Monday afternoon to this Friday morning. I need to get certain measurements taken, so I can get a discount on my health insurance. U.S. insurers are all into “helping” us manage our healthcare, which really means they’re funneling us down a path that they’ll pay for, and that they approve of (saints preserve us). I can save $700 a year, if I record my blood pressure, blood glucose, waist measurement, and a handful of other biometrics… do a health review and identify some steps I can take to improve with the company’s on-site health and fitness consultant. It’s tiresome and feels intrusive, and I object to it on principle. But … $700. You know?

Fortunately, I’ve managed to keep my most serious ills out of the official system. Nobody believed me, anyway, when I told them how much pain I was in, for so many years. Nobody believed me about a range of other health issues I’ve had. It made it much harder for me to manage my situation, but it also forced me to improvise and come up with genuine, lasting changes that have solved many of the issues at the root.

No doctor could have — or would have — gone down the routes I’ve taken. And even the ones who helped me, here and there, often doubted my approach. Until they saw it actually worked — and better than what they’d suggested. Ha.

Anyway, switching my appointment from Monday afternoon to Friday is a Really Big Deal for me. I have the day off work on Friday, and my appointment is at 10:30 a.m., so doing the fasting thing for my blood test won’t be a problem. And I won’t have to take time off work and deal with rush hour traffic, so that relieves another couple of huge stressors. Yeah, this is pretty big for me, even though other people wouldn’t think it was such a huge deal. But It Is!!! And I’m so happy and relieved that it worked out.

This month, I have every Friday off work, as well as the Thursday before Christmas. Then I have the week off between Christmas and New Years. This is the first year I’ve ever had this, and it is really wonderful. It takes the pressure off in a big way, and that’s good, because I have a bunch of stuff I need to take care of — get some bodywork done on one of the cars, and then get it inspected. Christmas shopping. Coming up with gifts I actually want for myself, so I can tell my partner. Cleaning my study, which has become a storage area for all the reading materials I’ve been meaning to read. Catching up with my reading. Catching up on my exercise. Catching up on my sleep. Catching up with my writing. Catching up, period.

It’s amazing what a little time off will do. This full-time working stuff is not for me, to be quite honest. But here I am… until further notice.

Anyway, this is a month for me to settle in and prepare for the New Year. I have Stuff I Want To Accomplish, and it looks like it’s actually going to get done. That makes me very happy. Very happy, indeed.

Now, off I go on another “leg” of my trek to the far metaphorical mountains, where my destiny awaits.