Let’s have some fun! #Autism and #Menopause :)

women walking along a lake in front of a sand dune balancing pots on their heads
Women walking along a lake in front of a sand dune balancing pots on their heads

Okay, I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking: Autism and Menopause! Where’s the fun in that?!

But bear with me… If you’re a geeky-nerdy type like me, learning all about the inner workings of one of the most misunderstood situations on the planet and figuring out how to work effectively with it to make your life that much better is an appealing prospect.

The thing is, you’re not alone.

Every seven seconds, one of America’s 76 million baby boomers turns 50.

Every day, about 5,000 American women enter menopause.

Until 2020, approximately 2 million women will reach menopause each year. Half of all post-menopausal women will be in Asia.

That’s a lot of us — and since I’m a woman, and I’ve gone through menopause myself (10 years “ahead of schedule”, thank heavens!) — I’ve got a few things to say about this.

Especially since it really affected — and was affected by — my autistic temperament.

It really, truly did. And if I’d know certain things ahead of time, I might have handled things very differently. And my experience might not have been so awful.

The thing that always amazes me about the social conversations we do / don’t have about menopause, is that it’s incredibly common and perfectly natural. And yet, it’s treated like some dread condition that needs to be either ignored completely or eradicated with some combination of meds. Hm. Sounds a bit like autism, to me, actually. So, we autistic women get a “two-for-one deal” on our situation. We get double the excitement, but nowhere near twice the support.

We’re lucky if we get any support at all.

I know I didn’t. At least, not much. My partner went through menopause before me, so I had an up-close-and-personal chance to see how it affects others. Panic attacks. Wild mood swings. Intense anxiety. Explosions! Not much to look forward to, right? But I also have to consider that her situation was unique — she was going through major changes around her parents passing away, family dramas, work problems, and so forth. I didn’t have those, when I was going through the Change. I had my own set of issues — Autism being front-and-center.

So, for me, the experience was different. But equally intense.

Oh, if I’d known then what I know now… I can honestly and truly say that I would have handled things very differently.

What’s done is done, and I can’t change my own situation. But I can certainly speak up about my experience, in hopes of other Autistic women benefiting from my experience. Like Autism, every woman’s experience of menopause is different. That goes without saying. But the qualities of our experiences (outside the specific details) can be very similar, and that’s where I want to focus.

Because heaven knows we need support. It’s challenging enough dealing with the world when you’re Autistic or menopausal. But when you’re both… woo hoo!

Oddly (or perhaps predictably) the mainstream hasn’t devoted a whole lot of resources to exploring this intersection of issues. Older women — especially Autistic women — don’t seem to be high on anybody’s list of priorities. Much more interesting to study Autistic children, teenage boys, or grown men. There’s more money in that, quite frankly. But where the mainstream fails, we can step up and help ourselves. There’s this thing called the internet, and it’s chock full of all kinds of goodies that we can mix-n-match and augment ourselves, to serve our own needs.

‘Cause who knows our needs better than we? Not a soul.

candle burning in the darkness

So, here goes… I’ll be posting more in the coming days and weeks. I’ll also be publishing additional tools and information over at Auptima Press, especially in conjunction with menopause support resources we’re developing over there.

I can either curse the darkness surrounding women + Autism + menopause… or I can light a candle. I’d much rather do something about it.

 


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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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Autistic family, autistic irritation (plus, why I’m a terrible 21st Century author)

picture of a pencil with a sharpener and shavings lying on a blank notebook

I can understand why some thinkers are recluses. Heck, I’ve been a recluse, myself. Blogging is one of the few concessions I’ll make to being “social” about my work. Social media, to some extent, as well. But I’m not a big fan of running around, telling everyone about my work, what I’ve been doing, etc. Something about social interactions really sucks the life out of my thought process, especially when I’m working on an idea. And when the idea becomes fully formed — or formed enough to show up on the printed page after a bunch of rounds of edits — I’ve often moved on to the next Big Idea… and I’m thinking about that.

But of course, everybody wants to talk about that old idea that’s in my proverbial rear-view mirror. Stuff that’s new to them is “old hat” to me, and I can’t be bothered thinking about it, anymore.

I could never be in a band for that exact reason. Having to play the same songs, over and over — especially the songs that everybody else loves, because they’re familiar and they make them feel a certain special way. Ugh. How horrible. I could never do it. Same thing with ideas and books and whatnot. I don’t want to hang around chewing on the food for thought I masticated and swallowed days, weeks, months, and years ago. I’ve moved on.

So, I really do make a terrible 21st Century author. Writing and publishing have turned into such a promotion-intensive activity, over the past 40 years, which is a shame for writers like me. I’m just not all that keen on self-promotion. Plus, I really hate talking to other people about my work. It’s an internal process. Talking screws it up for me and messes up my thought process. And part of me thinks, if other people have to talk endlessly about an idea, they must not really get it, so why am I bothering talking endlessly about it with them?

How I long for the days when people could read something, reason through it themselves without needing constant conversation and reinforcement, and then draw their own conclusions without tapping the purported “wisdom of the herd”.

Ugh. How I hate that expression — “wisdom of the herd” (it hisses through my imagination as if the character Bubble from ‘AbFab’ were saying it). That combination of words defies logic, to my mind.

Well, anyway, I’m just venting. What was it I wanted to say? Oh, yeah — how glad I am, I’m not traveling to see my uber-autistic parents.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love my folks, and I enjoy much of the times I share with them. But I can do without their cluelessness about what it’s like to live in the non-autistic world as an autistic person, how exhausting it is, how dangerous it is, how confounding and thwarting it can be. Their surroundings are as autistic as autistic can be — and they make sure it stays that way. Everyone in their immediate circle is either neurodivergent or knows they’re outnumbered by neurodivergent folks, so they defer to them.

Autistic is the Normal of their world. Neurotypical is pathological. Ha! So there. They’ve got their black-and-white thinking, their strict routines (for everything), their rigidity and dogma, their sensory issues, their hyperverbalism, their very, very autistic mannerisms that stand out sharply in the world outside their enclave but are the most natural thing in the world within their protected sphere of influence. They have all the supports they need to live successful lives in that context, and they can’t imagine anyone wanting or needing to live any other way.

My two biological siblings — both autists extraordinaire (tho’ they don’t know it) — have recreated our parents’ lives to an uncanny degree. It’s a little creepy. But by my family’s standards, they’re wildly successful, fulfilling all the requirements of A Good Life. Meanwhile, my adopted sister and I are outside that paradigm, and we’re struggling. She’s on disability and hasn’t been able to work or do much of anything other than manage her pain for a number of years. My activities are quite constrained by, well, being constantly exhausted by the demands of my everyday life. Exhaustion and an intense life with a lot of personal demands, isn’t a great recipe for exploring all of life’s glorious variety — including packing in all the activities my autistic family does, church involvement, volunteering, intense social activity, etc. In my parents’ view, that means my sister and I are failing — not that we’re dealing with a more challenging set of circumstances and are actually more functional in significant ways than our siblings who didn’t “fall far from the tree”.

The ironic thing is, I wouldn’t mind being able to stick closer to the ways of my upbringing. But autism-centric society doesn’t always work in my favor. And the rigidity and routines that make life sweet for the auties and Aspies of my parents’ type make life absolutely miserable for me. Their arrangements are great for people in one “quadrant” of the autism spectrum, but they make life a living hell for folks who occupy a different space. And they’re so damn’ intransigent about it. Come to think of it, it reminds me a lot of how brittle and abrasive Autistic Twitter can get, sometimes.

Shades of my upbringing… and the reasons I moved away.

So, where was I… Oh, yeah. Bitching about my parents. My whole family, actually.  Vent, vent, vent.

But really, venting is only part of what I want to do, here. I’m off work for the next week and a half, which is bliss. I will actually have time to do all the things that have had to wait, thanks to my exhaustion and general overwhelm. Glorious. How delightful. I’ll be able to clean out my study. I think I’ll do that right now. I’ll have time to connect my new computer (I got a second-hand $3,000 machine for $304, which delights me). I’ll have time to lie down and nap whenever I danged well like.

And no travel to family. Not a bit. None of the stress and strain of highways with holiday-addled drivers. No sleeping in strange beds and dealing with strange routines. No social overwhelm. No hugs and sudden contact from hyposensitive, sensory-seeking family members. No foods that make me ill. No noise, no scents, no sensory assaults. No causes for meltdown/shutdown. And no interpersonal drama, other than the occasional heated discussion with my partner about something we both care deeply about.

Bliss.

So, why wreck it with ruminating on my disconnects with my family? They’re autistic. I’m autistic. We love each other and hate certain things about each other. And of course, we’re all 100% correct in our assessments 😉  Ha! Such is life in an autistic family.

Spring is coming, eventually. I’ll see them then.

For now, it’s all about making sure I’m well cared-for in my own well-cared-for space.

For once.

We’re all autistic, we’re all family… what’s the problem?!

three figures with one close up

Ugh. My familial disillusionment strikes again. I had hoped so much to be able to connect with my parents, this holiday season. I won’t be traveling to them, so I’ve been hoping we could interact with each other in a mutually satisfying way. I’ve been cherishing the idea that the distance will relieve me of some of the existential angst that used to push me to suicidal ideation this time of year… every . single . year . until I was nearly 50.

Yeah, I know I’m being unrealistic. Everybody’s bothered by family stuff, almost without exception. I know very few people who don’t have issues with their parents, who don’t carry some sort of painful “baggage” about their relationship, who aren’t haunted by unaccountable ghosts that seem to embed themselves in our sinews and make themselves known like so much arthritis when the weather turns cold. And when you’re autistic, family stuff gets even more… interesting. I’m no exception.

So, I’m all spun up about sh*t. And what, pray tell, is it about?

This morning, my father finally responded about a piece of writing I’d sent to him a few weeks ago, to see what he thought of it. He’s seen my writing before, and he hasn’t always had favorable reactions. He’s misunderstood a lot of what I’ve written and said over the years, and he’s lectured me on all sorts of non-issues that he got all worked up about.

I chalk it up to his own Aspergers… that clinical tone he takes, the critical eye he turns to things… he seems to think he’s doing me a favor by telling me where I’ve gone wrong. He doesn’t actually discuss my overall ideas. He looks at specifics, homes in on the things that he thinks are flawed, and then he tells me in detail what those things are… usually from his own dogmatic point of view.

Yeah… thank you, Aspergers. That whole big-picture thing isn’t a strength of his. My mom isn’t much help, either. She also homes in on a narrow slice of something I’ve written, she takes it out of context, and then she gets upset. She’s much more emotional than he is, and she’s been so beaten down by the rampant sexism in her world, that she has a hard time articulating exactly what’s bothering her.

And then I have two of them all twisted up about my work, when all I really wanted to do was share it with them so we could discuss some of the ideas I’ve been thinking really hard about. It’s generally a really tough situation for everyone, and I hate it every time it happens.

Part of their issue is that I don’t have a college degree. Both of my parents have Masters degrees, and my father used to teach at the college level. I’ve got a number of PhD-level academics/researchers in my family — some of them considerably younger than I — and the whole formal education thing is very big in my family. I still get little insinuating lectures from my parents about how inexplicable it is, that I never got my degree. I attended university for four years. I accumulated the debt. I did my time. But no degree. That just rankles them to no end… probably in no small part because of their Aspergers.

What they can’t seem to get their heads around is that my “issues” were severe and cumulative in college… to the point where I had a serious drinking problem, I was in trouble with the law, I’d “acquired” a stalker, and I literally couldn’t complete my coursework in a timely manner, so completing the whole gauntlet just wasn’t possible. They’ve always felt it was my fault. I just didn’t do a good job of… anything. I’ve embarrassed them. And what right do I have to write anything that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, when I’m clearly such a loser?

So, when I’m presumptuous enough as to write something for others’ consumption (they don’t know about this blog), they get all up in arms. Because they think the things I write about require years and years of study at accredited universities, to qualify to speak about them. If I haven’t done the coursework, I can’t use my voice. I’m not qualified. I’m not vetted. I’m just some upstart making noise. And I’m making noise in ways that might embarrass them, if other people find out. I’m making noise that embarrasses them simply by right of me making that noise. It has no order for them. It has no sense. Because I haven’t ticked all the boxes that tell the world I’m allowed to say the things I say.

And for this very reason, I am incredibly grateful that I’m not traveling to see them for Christmas. We were going to try to travel down, but… nah. It’s winter. Officially. There’s snow on the ground and too much traffic on the roads. Better to stick close to home, and just settle in with my books.

My comfort.

 

On my terms.

In my own way.

That’s not “wrong” at all.

Not by a long shot.

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.

Systems are gonna save my a$$ today

interlocking cubes
Oh, my heavens, do I feel terrible today!

I had a really busy weekend, starting with an autism conference where Temple Grandin was the keynote speaker, and there were three workshops (and lunch and coffee and water and snacks). It was great hearing Dr. Grandin speak in person, and I really appreciated a lot that she had to say — especially about the importance of getting autistic kids working when they’re young, say at 11 years of age.

I know I was always “worked” as a kid — in my family, you pitched in and did your part with the gardening, weeding, yard work, and so forth. And that translated to doing yardwork for neighbors and doing a paper route when I was 12. I have worked since I was 12, really, holding down a long series of part-time jobs when I was in school, and then seamlessly transferring to full-time work after I left (er, dropped out after 4 interminable, traumatic years of) college.

It was just done that way, when I was growing up. You just worked. Everybody worked. It was non-negotiable. So, hearing parents now talk about how their kids aren’t able to get jobs… I just don’t know how that happens.

Anyway, after that, I went to a workshop talking about research done on the “invisible generation” of autistic folks — late-diagnosed individuals over the age of 50, who have spent their/our lives pretty confused and confounded and often disadvantaged because of dealing with that whole autistic business in a world that frankly just doesn’t give a sh*t about understanding us, let alone accommodating our “variations”. I almost broke down in tears a couple of times when the researchers were presenting their findings. I was in a room full of people, of course, so I didn’t. But I came close. Especially when they were reading the commentary.

The overarching thought that came out of that session was:

Nobody understands just how brutal life has been to some of us.

Nor do they really get just how strong we truly are.

Or how fortunate they are, that so many of us have learned to overcome what they’ve thrown at us.

It’s their loss that they don’t know… but we’re the ones who pay the price.

Sheesh. People really suck, sometimes.

Well, anyway, after that, it was time for lunch, and surprisingly, we were all herded into a large room with two long tables full of sandwiches for us to choose from. I prefer gluten-free, and I’d marked that on my registration form, but apparently, they didn’t accommodate that. The way the form was presented, it looked like I’d have a choice of specific lunches. But everybody was all just thrown together — three mini-sandwich options, a bag of chips, and a cookie.

😦

For someone who’s trying to avoid gluten and processed sugar and processed foods, in general, it wasn’t a peak experience.

After that, my experience got a little worse. I attended a workshop on employment, and the speaker was a “transition specialist” for autistic folks in high school (and college?). She was all about the Disability of Autism, deficits in Theory of Mind (if you read this blog much, you probably know what I think of that), and pointing out “inexplicable” responses by young autistic adults to her directions.

I found it a little insulting, to be honest. Fortunately/unfortunately, my processing speed was slower after that lunch (plus, I was really tired from working full-time for the four days prior), so my outrage wasn’t very well-defined or articulate. I considered approaching her afterwards and introducing myself as an autistic woman who’s been fully employed since 1988, but there was a line. And she had a really bad cold. I wasn’t taking any chances getting sick from her, especially since she seemed pretty set in her ideas and there probably wasn’t any chance I’d make a difference in that moment.

Maybe I’ll send her an email.

Or not.

The last session I attended was “Understanding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation as it Overlaps with Autism: A Strengths Based Approach”, but it turned out to be about being trans and autistic and what kinds of issues autistic trans folks face everyday. In terms of being awareness-raising and informative, I give it an A+. The problem is, it wasn’t what the program said it was about, and by the end of the day, I literally couldn’t switch gears and adjust to the disconnect between my expectations and the reality of the situation. So, I felt like there was a void left that I really regretted.

It surprised me a little that the autistic folks who were presenting would change up the structure and nature of their talk. They’re clearly on a different part of the spectrum than I, when it comes to that stuff. If I were doing the talk, I’d hew to the line so literally… But that’s me.

Saturday was full. Yeah. Then I had to do some chores at home and go out and pick up supper. I got in bed early and slept like a rock for nearly 10 hours, which was a rare treat.

Sunday was a jam-packed sprint, as I tried to catch up on everything I’d not been able to do the day before. Getting my job-search stuff together. Coordinating other projects I’m working on. A whole lot of yard work. Plus, taking down old Christmas lights and putting up new ones. Getting the ornaments out… heck, just finding where the ornaments were, to begin with… Getting the outside tree situated…

We’ve had our Christmas tree outside every year, since a few years ago, because of sensory sensitivities. Ironically, it’s my partner, not me, who’s sensitive to the smell of the tree. She can’t handle it. And I get it. So, I set up the tree on the deck, where we can see it from the kitchen while we’re cooking and washing up. It’s nice there. I string lights on it, and it makes a nice colorful glow in the dark.

After that last rush, I made us some late brunch, and then we watched football all evening. Our interests in t.v. have really diverged over the past years, and football or other sports are about the only things we can watch together without annoying one of us. It works.

So, anyway… systems.

That’s what I was going to write about.

As a result of all that excitement over the weekend, I’m pretty much shot, today. Fried. Shaky and hypersensitive. All my sensory stuff is whacked out, and while my eyesight and hearing is ever so keen, and my tactile defensiveness is really up there, I still feel like I’m floating in an electric bubble, with all my movements feeling like they’re 2 seconds behind my impulses. My body is numb and tingling, as it gets sometimes when I’ve been whacked out on adrenaline too long.  And I’m having a hell of a time typing. It feels surreal. (did I say that before?) like I’m enveloped in a thick blanket of goo that’s slowing me down, but amplifying my every sensation at the same time.

Not that I can accommodate my own limitations today. I have to get my car inspected. Its sticker is 4 days overdue, and I can’t afford the ticket. I have to get my work done, which involves a lot of data analysis and thinking really hard. I have to change my doctor’s appointment to early in the morning so I can get my blood glucose tested while fasting, so I can get a discount on my health insurance. And I have to prepare for a presentation I’m doing tonight. It’s gonna be a long day, and not being able to type is a real problem.

But I have my systems to keep me going, keep me on track, and make sure I’m getting everything done. I have my email, my calendar, my reminders, and my checklists. I have my to-do priorities, and I have my pace pretty well figured out. All I have to do now, is follow my own plan. If I can do that, I’ll be fine.

Put myself on autopilot, keep myself hydrated, keep going, and hope for the best.

Thank heavens for my systems.

#WomenInSTEM – #POC in High Tech – July, 2018 is the time to find a new job in Massachusetts

red glass and metal skyscraperIf you’re like me (not a white, heterosexual male, but still working in high tech in Massachusetts), you’ve probably been on the receiving end of a subtle form of discrimination that’s systemically ensured that a lot of us can’t get paid the same as white men with the same amount of experience and qualifications.

That discrimination is the standard-issue question, “So, what are you earning in your current position?”

It might not seem so horrible, but if you consider that a lot of minority folks start out at lower rates of earning, then over all the years of moving on, if we’ve been compensated at roughly the same rate we were before, we’ll inevitably end up making less than our majority counterparts — some of us significantly less. I know that Salary.com shows I’m making 15-20% less than my market value, and that burns. But up till now, I haven’t been able to do anything about it, because employers have always copped out by using my prior earnings as a reference point.

But that’s about to change — well, in another 7 months.

AN ACT TO ESTABLISH PAY EQUITY goes into effect in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on July 1, 2018.

This law is supposed to even the playing field, in terms of compensation. The part(s) of it I like the most are:

   (c)  It shall be an unlawful practice for an employer to:
     (1)  require, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about either the employee’s own wages, or about any other employee’s wages.  Nothing in this subsection shall obligate an employer to disclose an employee’s wages to another employee or a third party;
     (2)   seek the wage or salary history of a prospective employee from the prospective employee or a current or former employer or to require that a prospective employee’s prior wage or salary history meet certain criteria; provided, however, that:  (i) if a prospective employee has voluntarily disclosed such information, a prospective employer may confirm prior wages or salary or permit a prospective employee to confirm prior wages or salary; and (ii) a prospective employer may seek or confirm a prospective employee’s wage or salary history after an offer of employment with compensation has been negotiated and made to the prospective employee;

That means, I can ask what potential employers are paying others who do my same job. And they aren’t allowed to ask me what I was making before.

So, that means I’ll be free to change jobs next year, without worrying that I’ll be blocked in by my past. It’s been a rigged game against me and others like me for far too long, and now that’s changing.

Who knows how much it will fix, but in any case, at least that’s one less thing I need to contend with. Being a 50-something high tech veteran is challenging enough in this youth-loving world. I can use all the help I can get. Plus, it will be nice to get paid the market rate.

For once.

More work… looking forward to winter

leaves in trees
Just hanging there. Taunting me…

It’s November. Nearly halfway over. And the leaves are still hanging on my trees. I need them to fall, so I can rake them up and get on with my life. I don’t mind raking. All my neighbors either use leaf blowers or they drive their riding mowers around their yards, sucking up the leaves into the compartment behind the mower.

I have a leaf blower. But I hate it. It’s loud. I need to get some ear protectors for when I use it, but better yet – never use it at all.

Fall is work time for me. Cleaning up the yard, raking, cleaning out the garage. And of course, finishing up the year at work. I have to be on a conference call in another 30 minutes — 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday is not my favorite time to be working, but we have work that needs to get pushed out to the world, and this is just part of the whole scene.

I also get a break for Thanksgiving week, as well as Christmas week. I get full weeks off, each time, which is pretty amazing. In past years, I had maybe one extra day off before Thanksgiving, and another day off after that. And for Christmas, it was always a challenge trying to juggle work and holiday celebrations. Combined with lots of driving to see relatives, various holiday gatherings with friends and workmates, etc. etc.

Not this year, though. This year, I get a break, which will be most welcome.

And I’m going to make the most of it.

I’m really looking forward to this winter, I have to say. The darkness, the cold… When it gets below freezing, I feel the best. I actually feel much better, the colder it is. If it’s just above freezing, it feels cold to me. I think my internal heating only “kicks on” when it’s bitter cold outside.

Later, after my call is done, I can go outside, maybe do a little more raking (even though all the leaves aren’t down, yet), and run some other errands. I’ve got a list. Of course I have a list.

I also have a handful of other things I need to do. Like shop for food and visit my friendly neighborhood health food store to pick up non-mainstream health supplies. It will be good to get out. I’ve been practically merged with my work laptop for most of my waking hours, for the past 5 days, and this morning will be more of the same.

I could really use a full day off. Heck, I could use two days off, where I don’t have to do anything for anybody else, and I can move at my own pace. But that’s not going to happen for another week, at least. No, wait – it’s going to be longer than that, because Thanksgiving week, I’ll be traveling to visit family several states away. So, it’s more like three weeks, till I catch a break.

Even then, I’m not sure it’s going to be very relaxing. Because these deadlines I’m on right now are leading up to new features and functionality on my employer’s website, and that will keep me on my toes, tracking how it’s going and reporting in to people On High about what’s good, what’s bad, and what needs to change.

What a pain in the a** it all is.

Well, anyway, this is what I get paid the big bucks for. And I’ll just need to find a way to manage this whole thing and spin it properly so the People In Charge continue to have full faith in me. I just need to come up with good systems for reporting, so I don’t have to constantly scramble to keep the People In Charge appraised of what’s what — just let the systems run themselves and report out from there.

Oh, that reminds me… there’s something else I need to do for Monday. I promised someone I’d get them numbers. Guess I should do that.

I’ve digressed.

I have a lot going on. It’s overwhelming, if I think about it. But if I just keep my lists and I take good care of myself (extra rest, not worrying about getting everything perfect all the time), it’s totally do-able.

I just need to do what needs to be done. And that’s something I do really well.

So, that’s something.

Now, if only those leaves would fall … before the snow comes along.

Using all this energy *in* my favor – not against me

traffic jam taxi cabs in new york city
This is pretty much how I’m feeling, these days. Jammed up.

Blocked.

Stopped in traffic, when I should be moving forward, consistently, cleanly, systematically.

If I were left to my own devices, I could totally do that.

But … people.

People and logistics. And politics. It’s all blocking my path. And it’s exhausting. So, I don’t have as much energy to get all creative ‘n’ that and come up with innovative new ideas. The best I can do is slog through. And for this Autistic, that’s about the worst thing anybody can ask me to do.

I’m a sprinter. As well as a marathoner. And I need to sprint periodically, to really stretch myself and get things accomplished. Right now, I’m stuck in the herd with a bunch of non-Autistic folks who have ulterior motives and political agendas.

And it’s next to impossible to get anything done.

How frustrating.

Well, it’s not all bad. Once I get done with my whining and complaining, I can see just how much of an opportunity this is for me. I’ve been wanting to make a significant change in my life for some time, but I’ve held off because I could always tolerate how things were. I’m not talking about being satisfied and fulfilled and doing my best work. I’m talking about just not being too depressed by my situation to move, and being able to maintain at the most basic level to “pass” as someone who’s happy and productive and content where they are in life.

All that acting gets tiring.

So, being in this stupidly impossible situation is giving me motivation to do something about it. And I am. I’ve gone through my projects list and picked a few that I’m going to complete over the next year — and a few that I’m going to focus on through the end of the year. I do well with deadlines, especially when I set them. And I have to say, my methodology and my approaches are really, really good. I generally can’t pull out all the stops and really GO with it, around the people I work with, because they just don’t operate at the same level as I.

That’s not me being arrogant or egotistical. It’s me being honest. I’ve worked in too many high-stakes positions before, with companies that were at the top of their industries, and I’ve been doing this a long time. So, I’m just trained that way. Many, if not most, of the folks I work with are 10-15 years younger than me. They haven’t been through the “meat-grinders” that I have. They haven’t been worn down to nothing, burnished and polished, quite the same way I have. And it shows.

And there’s very little I can say or do that makes any sense to them, because they don’t have that history and that perspective.

So, I just do my own thing in my own way. I inject every bit of professionalism and experience into my own projects, that I miss on a daily basis. Because I’m a coder and a user experience designer and a tester and a sys admin, I can set things up for myself that meet my standards and make sense to me. Every bit of laxness, every bit of excuse-making and risk-aversion I experience at the office, I counteract with my own work on the side. And that’s the one thing that saves me, really. It does my spirit good.

Some people have kids they live for. They’ll go through anything because they love them. I suspect that’s one of the reasons that people I work with are so willing to tolerate all the B.S. that takes place each day — they’re doing it for their kids. Well, I don’t have any kids. All I have is my work, and the fruits thereof. Sacrificing my sanity for the sake of … anything … well, that doesn’t make much sense to me.

So, rather than letting it bother me, I just channel my frustration into other things.

And get on with creating the kind of work and life I want to have.

If the rest of the world can’t accommodate me (and they can’t/won’t), I’ll carve out a space for myself. Everybody else can do what they like.

I need to do what I like, as well.

And that’s that.