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

Minoan bull leaping - three humans jumping over a charging bull

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

So, there’s that dread/excitement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People. Hrmph.

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

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

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

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

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

If I’d only known about #Autism, Things could have been *very* different for me during #Menopause

roller coasterI’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself again. I’ve been reflecting on my life a lot, lately, thinking about how my life has gone… thinking about how it could have gone differently… thinking about what could have been done, if I’d just known about being Autistic.

Or rather, if I’d just gotten professional confirmation of what I’d suspected since 1998. What I’d confirmed by reading and thinking and reflecting and reading some more, along with taking various tests and quizzes and putting myself through my paces, time and time again.

I think the time in my life that was the most critical, was when I was going through menopause, 15 years ago. It was incredibly rough, and it really took its toll. And if I had understood more about how Autism affected me, not to mention how menopause affected me, and how the two intersected, I really believe my life would have gone differently.

Sure, there would have been upheaval. Yes, there would have been uncertainty. But I could have factored in the elements of my Autistic self, and figured out how my changing chemistry was interacting with it. I needn’t have been so concerned that I was losing my mind. Because some basic calculations and some simple tools could have helped me keep myself on track.

But no. The awareness wasn’t there. I didn’t “get” that all the hormonal changes would plunge me into chaos far greater than anything I experienced in childhood — because I wasn’t “supposed” to have that level of chaos, being an adult and all. I didn’t fully appreciate that my situation could be tracked and managed, both from an Autistic side and a menopausal side, and I could have gotten to know my full self better, as a result. Nor did I have the realization that fully understanding both Autism and menopause could actually ensure (not guarantee, but give me a fighting chance) that I’d be able to navigate the ever-changing world with objectivity and self-assurance, instead of a constantly increasing sense of dread and panic.

Yeah, things could have been very different for me. I’m sure of it. But there was too much I didn’t know. And I didn’t realize how important it was for me to go looking around for answers.

‘Cause I was in constant sensory distress. Overwhelm. Confusion. And I didn’t have a lot of bandwidth left for research.

Well, I came through it. And I know now how to address my situation both from an Autistic and a basic everyday physiology point of view. I’m doing it today, as I’m dealing with some nagging pain and fatigue, while keeping to a somewhat regular work schedule. I’m looking up answers to my situation, at the same time that I’m taking it easy on myself and cutting myself a break in important ways.

I can’t get those years back, that I suffered more than I could have. But I can certainly do something for myself now.

So, What’s #Menopause and What’s #Autism?

spectrum spiralThat was the operative question for me about 10 years ago. Or rather, it should have been the operative question, but I was so overwhelmed with my life and my body’s changes, that I couldn’t think clearly about being Autistic.

I actually couldn’t think clearly about being Autistic for years prior to that, because, well, being Autistic and not having a definitive diagnosis (self-DXed or otherwise), and not having any sort of support or community to turn to, there was little to no opportunity/chance for me to cogently suss it all out in my head.

Things were just a big ol’ mess, and that was that.

My job situation was tenuous, and I was moving from position to position, from company to company, without anyone really realizing what was going on. In hindsight, I can tell you:

I was moving from job to job, because I couldn’t track what was going on around me. I was overwhelmed from the changes in my monthly cycle, which were also accompanied by dramatic changes in my hormonal levels and behavior and thinking process(es), and I was in constant dread of being found out — that someone would figure out that I was a screw-up who didn’t know what was going on, and they’d just get rid of me. I had to keep some semblance of “control” in my professional life, so that meant moving around a fair amount.

I mean, it was rough. And the thing that made it the roughest, was not having adequate cluefulness about Autism and how it affected me. I am 100% convinced that I could have managed my situation, if I’d had adequate knowledge about Autism, as well as menopause.  I am proactive. I’m a planner. I come up with structures and systems that assist me. I build tools, I leverage assistive technologies (even ones that aren’t build with that intention), and I am highly scientific about how I live my life.

So, if I’d had reliable info about A) Autism and B) Menopause, I am 100% certain I could have handled it all extremely well.

And I’m just as convinced that other women can, too.

Of course, all this is … fraught.

One of the hazards of talking frankly about (peri)menopausal Autistic women, is that to the untrained eye, it can make us look extremely debilitated. That’s no good for our careers, for our social lives, for our prospects in the mainstream — where, like it or not, a lot of us need to function. Plus, when people hear about our difficulties and how much menopause really f*cks with us, they can automatically jump to the “oh you poor dear” victim mentality, where we’re supposed to be coddled and care for and given special consideration.

Screw that. Given half a chance, I can really do an exemplary job of living well — and I do. On a regular basis. A lot of us do. So, treating me/us like poor hothouse flowers who need to be sheltered and given special dispensation just works against us.

I’m not saying we don’t need consideration. We do. But don’t turn us into helpless victims, simply because we’re going through what millions upon millions of other women (Autistic and otherwise) have successfully gone through for millennia before us.

We need to talk frankly about it. We need to discuss. I might just be that we can’t do it freely in public. Some well-meaning person may pick up on what we’re talking about and — god forbid — institute some policy around it.

Well, enough of that rant. It’s Monday, and I’m ramping up… I don’t want to get distracted. Okay, where was I?

Ah, yes — figuring out whether the drama in your life is Autism or Menopause…

As I discussed earlier (#Autism and #Menopause… Like we don’t have enough problems already!) , we’ve got a bunch of overlaps between the two situations — one of them permanent, one of them temporary:

hypersensitivity (including achy joints and sensitivity to noise, temperature and pain), muscle aches, foggy thinking, forgetfulness and other executive function challenges, trouble sleeping, difficulty with temperature regulation, seizures, migraines, irritability, depression, anxiety

Additionally, we can have additional health issues, like EDS and fibromyalgia and epilepsy, mental health issues, and injuries that can make our lives that much more… interesting and eventful. And then there’s life. Menopause comes along at a time in our lives when we’ve got increased responsibilities: our professional lives can be packed full of responsibility, our personal lives can be in upheaval, we can have a bunch of dependents to provide for (growing kids and aging parents at the same time), and much of what we handle, we have to handle alone, because other people say we’re so good at it, so that qualifies us to be the subject matter experts and take full control/responsibility for those things.

It seems pretty much like a setup to me.

And when you add Autism to the mix, oh yeah — that’s even better. Because we’re already hypersensitive as Autistic women (or men who are have menopausal women in their lives). We’re already achey and sleep-deprived and anxious and everything else listed above (and more). But then life comes along and tosses the menopausal firecracker into our well-ordered lives, and kaflooey! Instant drama.

I’m not one to dwell on constant problems. If I were, I would have ended my life long ago (it’s true). I’m all for solutions — and the one solution I found is really the most basic one of all: education and proactive management of my situation. Using tools. Writing things down. Keeping close tabs on the ways that my life is screwy (and yes, it is in many ways) and doing something to unscrew it. Focusing on the places where things fall apart for me, and coming up with ways to keep them together, in spite of forces beyond my control.

I’ve gotten lectures from other people about how I shouldn’t use a “disability model” when I think about being Autistic. I should focus on differences and reframe my limitations as just variations in the human theme. Philosophically, I totally agree. But logistically, that just doesn’t work for me. I really do have problems associated with Autism, and to tell the truth, the very thing that saves my a** in all of it, is “getting ahead of it” and coming up with ways to address or augment my issues — because I durned well know I’m gonna have those issues… or I already have them, and they’re making my life extremely difficult.

I’ve got to get read for work, now, but I’m going to share some of my most helpful tips, tricks, and techniques on this blog. Seriously, people, menopause happens to so all of us — both directly and indirectly. And it’s especially impactful for Autistic folks. Forewarned is forearmed, so we need to gird ourselves and get properly equipped to deal with it.

That means… information. Facts. Scientific research. Just knowing what’s going on with us, and what we can expect. Without that knowledge, we’re sunk.

And we also need tools.

So, I’ll leave you for now and come back around later when I’ve got more to share. I’m ambivalent about this Monday. No, scratch that, I really don’t want to “do” this Monday. At all. I have a long list of pain in the ass people I have to deal with… But I’m delaying the inevitable. Off I go… wading into the fray.

More to come later. Much more.

#Autism and #Menopause… Like we don’t have enough problems already!

railroad track leading into the distanceOver at Auptima Press, we’re talking about Autistic women and menopause

While research about aging and autism is lacking, what we do know is that during perimenopause women on the spectrum can see an increase in:

  • hypersensitivity (including achy joints and sensitivity to noise, temperature and pain)
  • muscle aches
  • foggy thinking, forgetfulness and other executive function challenges
  • trouble sleeping
  • difficulty with temperature regulation
  • seizures
  • migraines
  • decreased libido and vaginal dryness
  • weight gain
  • food cravings or pica (craving inedible items such as chalk, paper or dirt)
  • nausea during menstruation
  • cramping
  • irregular periods
  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • thinning hair in some areas, and thicker hair growth in others

Great! (Sarcasm) Just what we need. We already have a bunch of these issues with Autism, to start with — hypersensitivity (including achy joints and sensitivity to noise, temperature and pain), muscle aches, foggy thinking, forgetfulness and other executive function challenges, trouble sleeping, difficulty with temperature regulation, seizures, migraines, irritability, depression, anxiety — and then “Mother Nature” throws us another curve ball that can make everything spike even more.

Actually, the fact that there’s some overlap might work in our favor. If, that is, we’ve developed coping strategies to deal with these things. When you’ve already been dealing with hypersensitivity, muscle aches, foggy thinking, forgetfulness, irritability, depression, and anxiety, you have some tools you can use when menopause amps up the experience.

On the other hand, it can be incredibly disorienting, because — if you’re like me — you have  your supports in place, you have your tips and tricks in place, and you come to rely on them to be, well, reliable.

But then, suddenly, they aren’t. And everything can get plunged into chaos — or at least, it feels that way.  All the old expected results that you’ve come to rely on, as a result of doing things a certain way, are no longer predictable. And that’s about the worst thing you can do to an Autistic person — take away the predictability that they’ve invested countless hours in developing.

Same thing holds true for husbands/partners of Autistic women going through menopause — after so many years of acclimating and finding a balance, suddenly — wham! — everything gets up-ended, and the woman you knew and loved has morphed into something/someone … unexpected.

For anyone, it’s a challenging turn of events, but for Autistic folks and/or their partners, it’s a whole other flavor of woo-hoo.

woo . effing . hoo .

So, I’m gonna take my woo-hoo self off to bed. I had to work today (Saturday) when I should have been resting / reading / sleeping / hiking in the woods. I resent that. But at least I’m through menopause.

On my worst days, I give thanks for that.

Stay safe, everyone. It’s a jungle out there (and in here).

It’s a Process…

woman with painted faceThe Meh-nopausal action continues… And while it might not seem all that exciting, just you wait… 😉

Over at Auptima Press, we’re talking about the whole process, especially starting with perimenopause (peri- means before… menopause means the ending of menses, the monthly hormonal and tissue recycling that so many of us know and — cough, cough — {don’t} love).

Perimenopause is the natural transition that your body goes through before reaching “official” menopause (which is defined as 12 consecutive months without having a menstrual period). During this process, your hormones begin to fluctuate, and these changes can play a major role in how you function and feel.

So, take note, all you women and men who are affected by women’s cycling… oh, wait, that would be all of us. Perimenopause is a natural transition, meaning it’s what happens as part of the natural course of women’s lives. Certainly, there are many women who have different experiences — some have hysterectomies, some may have been born with a different configuration of organs, some may have medical conditions which cause the change(s) to happen in a variety of ways that stray from the path laid out by OB-Gyn textbooks. But by and large, perimenopause is the rule, rather than the exception for women who live long enough for it to happen.

When I was growing up, precious little was openly discussed about menopause. It was “the change”… something to be whispered about in women-only circles. And the whole perimenopause thing wasn’t talked about at all. In fact, the word “menopause” (and all permutations thereof) was cringeworthy… shrouded in confusion and misinformation and the conviction that it was the last stage before mental and physical decline. Once menopause showed up, your life as a woman was over — according to how I was raised. Once you couldn’t have any more children, your usefulness as a woman was severely diminished, and you stopped being interesting to the rest of the world.

That should tell you a lot about the world I was raised in. And thank heavens things have changed, since then. I mean, just getting the word “perimenopause” out there is a step in the right direction, IMHO. It increases the occurence of “menopause” in popular vocabulary, and it also widens our understanding of the process — because that’s what it is. A process.

And gentlemen, that includes you, too. When I was a kid, men just rolled their eyes and made themselves scarce till “the Change” was over. But you can’t do that anymore. Women are much more integrated into society and the workplace than before, and there’s a lot more distribution of labor on both sides of the gender divide. So, when women cycle around to a state of hormonal WooHoo!-ness, the guys get drawn into it, as well.

Rest assured, as it’s a process, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sadly — especially for Autistic folks — it’s incredibly difficult to predict with 100% accuracy. One day you’re fine… the next, you’re not. One moment, everything’s cool… the next, you’re mulling over whether to flirt with a 25-to-life felony against your fellow humans. (Note: I know it’s tricky to mention Autism and violent crime in the same paragraph, but talk confidentially to any post-menopausal woman on or off the Spectrum, and you’ll find that our ideation can indeed go to some scary places — which is why it’s so lucky that this happens when we’re old enough to keep ourselves in check and realize that Thoughts Are Not Things.)

But I’ve digressed. This whole female “Change of Life” business is a process. Our hormones fluctuate. There’s no avoiding it. Our moods, behaviors, thinking, bodies… they get churned up on a sort of spin cycle, and it can be quite the roller coaster ride, for as long as it lasts.

So, if you’re headed in that direction, brace yourself. And get educated. Because the combination of (peri)menopause and Autism can be a potent combination that spells distress and anguish for many of us. I know it did for me. But understanding what’s happening (which I didn’t, because nobody explained it to me clearly) can help immensely — if only by dispelling the distress that comes from getting blindsided by your body’s natural changes. And for you guys out there, it can also be comforting to know that the abrupt and jarring changes to women’s demeanor are part of a larger pattern that’s been happening for aeons.

And yet, we’ve survived.

Yep, we’ve survived. Millions of women have gone through this before us. We’re not the first, and we certainly won’t be the last.

So, take heart. If you’re (peri)menopausal, you’re in good company.

#AutisticWomen and #Menopause – it’s about more than “reproductive health”

grain seed closeupIf there’s one thing that frays my last nerve, it’s talking about women’s health solely in terms of reproduction. Not all of us choose to have kids, and even the ones who do, are more than the sum of their offspring. Classifying our hormonal and female-specific well-being under “reproduction”, to my mind, reduces us to vessels for the emergence of the future human race.

Which is overly simplistic in ways that short-change both women and the healthcare providers who view us through that lens.


I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’m not kinderfeindlich, with an aversion to kids. But talking and thinking about women as only child-bearers and child-rearers is a huge problem — from the very moment we enter into the world in our female bodies. As babies we’re treated differently, as little girls, we’re handled a certain way, as prepubescents, we’re seen as not-yet-human creatures which have just a few years to go before our bodies start serving a “useful” purpose. Throw Autism into the “mix”, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for… a very interesting life.

And then into puberty, young adulthood, “childbearing (aaauuuuggghhhhh!) years”, and on to perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause (which I am fondly referring to as “Meh-nopause”, since the hormones which cause me to give a shit about everyone and everything outside of me have bottomed out and left me with a more than welcome sense of not really giving a f*ck about all the stuff that got me torqued up, all those years ago. Again, add Autism, and there’s your cocktail for major disruption, inside and out.

Logistically, it can be one hot mess. And conceptually, even moreso. While reproductive classification might be fine for non-autistic folks (who seem to have a general predelection for coupling — sorry for overgeneralizing, but you probably know what I mean), I think casting us as mainly reproductive agents really has serious drawbacks for Autistic women and girls. Why? Because we tend to have a whole lot more going on with us, than non-autistic females. We’ve got all these sensory issues, not to mention a whole slew of passionate areas of driven specialized focus (the fascinations formerly known as “special interests”), and a whole lot of us don’t even relate to the whole “boy thing”, the “mating games”, and so forth, as we grow up. We may be fascinated by dolls and boys, but we may not. And even if we are, that fascination can be drowned out at any moment by a sensory onslaught.

Plus, there’s the social disconnect thing. When you’re not that adept at social interaction, you can find yourself pretty much out of the whole standard-issue selection-pairing-mating reproductive loop. You don’t necessarily get socialized the way non-autistic girls and young women do, learning the rules for interacting with the opposite sex. On top of that, since the mainstream healthcare system is so geared towards “treating” us and our health along stereotypical lines, which assume a certain developmental trajectory, there’s a massive conceptual disconnect between “reproductive health” and Autistic women’s health. We may be way ahead of the curve, or we may be behind. But rarely are we treated just as who we are, how we are, because… we are.

At least, that’s my perception of it.

The other issue I have with the whole “reproductive health” focus on women, is that our monthly cycles serve a variety of purposes, not just conception, but they’re typically treated as just another way to get pregnant. Our monthly cycles affect how we heal, how we think, how we function, how extreme our sensory issues are, how we experience every aspect of our lives. But does the mainstream healthcare establishment get that? Nope. They’re so locked on the target of making sure women are able to have healthy children (which is certainly a good and needed goal), that the rest of our complex makeup gets lost in the process.

This frustrates me to no end. Not only because it treats the most significant aspects of me like side-issues (I’ve chosen to not have children, because those other parts of my life are so all-consuming, it wouldn’t be fair to anyone, to bring kids into the equation)… but also because it misleads and dismisses countless other Autistic women and girls who may have a wide variety of issues and a whole bunch of concerns which are directly related to their female physiology, but are just lumped into the conceptual holding bin of “reproductive health”.

Make no mistake — our monthly cycles are good for a lot of things. The hormonal changes we go through both give us access to different ways of knowing and seeing and sensing, and also heighten and lessen our experiences of live. And for Autistic women, this is highly, highly impactful.

For example: Back when I was still having a monthly cycle, I would have the most intense sensory experiences pretty much every month, many times leading to meltdowns. For about a week before my cycle started (and my cycles were like clockwork – 32 days apart, every single month), my  hormone levels would drop, get suppressed, and really drag me down into a pit of despair. When I think about all the times I wanted to just die… when I wished I’d never been born… when I just wanted the pain to stop… If I hadn’t been keenly aware of how fickle I am — and how I was likely to change my mind within a few days — I definitely would have committed suicide. But I knew from watching myself, that those feelings passed. And in a few days, I wouldn’t feel anything like that. I’d be pretty darned glad I didn’t end my life.

Those crashes were brutal. They took a lot out of me, and the meltdowns set me back in so many ways. They eroded my relationship with my partner, they kicked the crap out of me emotionally and physically. Meltdowns on top of hormone blockage… not much fun.

But there was another side to it all that you probably won’t read about in a gynecological textbook — the incredible flashes of insight that only came after all the suppressed hormones rushed back in. Some of those “crashes” also led to some of the most brilliant connections of ideas I’d been working on in the weeks and months prior. Some of the insights were truly transformational and laid the groundwork for a philosophy and approach to life that has literally super-powered my life in important ways.

Those ups and downs correlated closely with the hormonal fluctuations of my monthly cycle, and now that I look back, had I actually realized this — and realized just how much it would affect me — I would have handled myself and managed my life very differently.

It wasn’t until I was well into the perimenopausal process that I got a clue about managing my life to match my hormonal ups and downs, but by that time, things were so irregular and even more extreme, that it cancelled out a lot of the benefit I could have gotten from being more proactive about managing my life.

And I’m sure I’m not alone.

I mean, it just burns me up, when I think about how many Autistic women and girls are struggling with not only gender issues, but also the healthcare system that sees them only as delivery agents for the next generation. Again, no judgment towards mothers. Absolutely, positively not. We need you. Where would we be without you? Nowhere. But when it comes to our hormonal health, reproduction is just one of many considerations. And the repercussions of our fluctuations and our cycles affects far more than our ability to conceive and bear children.

All this being said, I’d love it if we could deepen the discussion of Autistic women (and girls) and our health as women and girls. I want to stop using the word “reproductive” as the main point in the discussion and find other ways to talk about the cycles that make us. My hope is also that researchers and healthcare providers will “get hip” to this discussion and widen their thinking about how Autistic women and girls experience lives from with the cycling bodies we have.

Oh, and also, over at Auptima Press, we’ve got more info and resources on women experiencing the (peri)menopausal process. Check out our article Perimenopause? The Transition Stage Before Menopause, to see where we’re going with this. It’s really the start of a whole conversation we need to have within our own Autistic community — and frankly, it could be helpful for Autistic men who are wondering what menopause did with their wives/partners, and when will they return them to their once-stable state (and yes, I can joke about this, because I’ve been through it myself, as well as stuck with my partner while she was going through menopause 10 years before me – believe me, I wondered what had become of her, and if she was ever going to return).

This whole topic has been near and dear to my heart for many years, especially over the past 10 years of going through the menopausal and coming out on the other side in much better shape than when I went in. I’ve learned a whole lot about the process, what’s happening, what to expect. And now with my more intent focus on Autism, I’m putting all the pieces together to understand — and share — how women’s cycles impact (and are impacted by) Autism.

Because, I swear to gawd, the two factors are so central to our being and experience, that you cannot consider one without the other. Literally… doing so, shortchanges the whole inquiry and renders null and void any one-dimensional pronouncements about what makes us the way we are, and what makes us experience the things we do.

It’s important.

And for the sake of our health, safety, and sanity, we need to start connecting these dots. Too many of us have suffered for no good reason.

And that needs to change. So, I’m going to change it. 🙂

So good to be home again

House outline with a door, two windows, pitched roof, chimney
Well, that’s done. I got my business trip handled, and I got home about 1 a.m. this morning. Wouldn’t you know, I had an early conference call I had to participate in, and it wasn’t one of those “Uh-huh, yeah, uh-huh” kind of participations where I could be half-asleep. I had to do a demo of a contentious piece of software I “own” and am rolling out across the whole company). Fun! People either love it or hate it, and they have all kinds of questions and complaints I have to work pretty hard to not take personally.

I’ve been working on that… And I’m much better at it now, than I was when I started this job 2.5 years ago.

So, that’s positive. And as long as I can keep myself grounded and using my common sense, I’m fine.

I’m just incredibly tired, right now. Gawd, am I tired.

Overall, I think it was a good trip. That’s my version of the story, anyway — from a business standpoint. When people ask me how it was, I don’t dare say, “Oh, it was a grueling gauntlet of inane conversations, vacuous activities, and tiresome office politics. I never want to do it again. Ever.” That would be the truth, but that will never “fly” in the business environment.

Oh, my God… the more I think about it, the more I realize the most annoying thing about where I work now, is how positivity is compulsory. It’s not optional. Nobody — but NOBODY — is allowed to be critical or “negative” out loud. You’re not allowed to have any misgivings, you’re not allowed to have any reservations. You’re not allowed to be cautiously optimistic. Everybody’s GOT to “be on board” and working pro-actively towards a positive future.

You can get honest behind closed doors, but out in public, you have to be all gung-ho and go-team-go. That’s about as UNlike me, as you can get.

And that’s probably the most tiring thing of all. Just keeping up that level of forced enthusiasm, having a firm handshake and making confident eye contact. OMG, I just feel like a caricature of some frat-house “good buddy” when I do that.

But everyone around me loves it.

So, yeah, it’s good to be home. Where I can drop the whole go-team-go act and just be my version of normal. Not “negative”, not “positive”, just me. Neutral as neutral can be. Which is how I like my emotional states.

Okay, one more meeting, then I get to lie down and take a nap.

I’m due…

Because this #postmenopausal #ActuallyAutistic #woman knows better

sun shining through tree branches
If there’s one thing this trip is teaching me, it’s that I know better than I’ve been giving myself credit for. I know more. I am more capable. I am better equipped. I am better prepared. I haven’t been expecting much of myself, but I realize now that I can expect much, much more than I’ve been allowing for.

And it occurs to me that, once again, alexithymia is getting the better of me. It’s just too bizarre, how it happens… and how convinced I am that I am beyond hope, beyond hopeless… absolutely positive that I can’t deal with sh*t… when all that’s really going on, is that I have no internal sense of confidence, no internal sense of capability, no internal sense of mastery. It’s just not there. Like all the times I have no internal sense of being happy, sad, upset, mourning, elated, frustrated… pick an emotion of your choice. So, so many times, I just can’t feel it.

At all.

And that throws me off. Very much so.

But what does this have to do with menopause? Ha! Everything.

Because the lower hormonal levels in my system seem to heighten my lack of feeling for… stuff. It’s harder for me to detect what I’m feeling, these days, than when I was 10 years younger and I was feeling every damn’ thing so intensely. Going through menopause both dialed up my experience of physical and emotional sensations — way up — to where they kind of spiked… only to be followed by a veritable trough of emotion in the years after…. an extended experience of meh-ness that dulled and confused my emotional detection even more.

And ironically, even when I’m in a really good place — a place of mastery, a place of expertise — I can’t sense it, so it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel genuine. And that messes with my head. ‘Cause obvious things like knowing what you’re talking about is supposed to give you a palpable feeling of rightness… right?

Alas and alack, it doesn’t work that way with me. And that messes with my head.

So, I have to fall back on logic. And remind myself factually of the details of my expertise — that I’ve been doing what I do for decades. That I’ve paid my dues. That I’m a trusted subject matter expert. That I have good “street cred” with the right people at work. And so on.

I have to rely on logic. Because my meh-nopausal system can’t be bothered to work up the energy to sense all those things and sort through them.

Fortunately, I have logic. It’s logically impossible that I would do as much as I’ve done in my life, and still have no clue about anything. Even though it feels that way — or at least, very much like a void — even though I can’t detect any sensation of expertise… I know objectively it must be there. And I also have friends and colleagues who can (and do) offer feedback that I cue in on and then process. They’re much nicer to me, than I am to myself, so I take their word for it, when they tell me I’m smart, or they tell me how much they value my opinion.

So, I override my sense of doom and unremitting failure, and just get on with my life. I really wish it weren’t this way, but is… so there we are.

An actual spoon – how awesome is that!

cup of tea with a spoon
It’s been a long day. I got to sleep about 1:45 a.m., then I had to get up at 6:00 to iron my clothes and get ready to meet my boss and other colleague down in the hotel lobby at 7:00. We grabbed some quick breakfast, then headed out around 7:20. Got to the office by 7:40, found where we needed to be, and then spent the next 9 hours in meetings.

Ugh. Well, at least I go my second wind around 2 p.m., which was about 6 hours too late. But at least I hit my proverbial stride. And now I’m having a nice cup of hot water with honey while I blog my way back to sanity.

The hotel I’m staying in is one of those residence type places, where the rooms have a kitchenette and a sitting area, desk, and full bath. It’s pretty nice. The hotel is relatively new — less than a year old — so it hasn’t had time to get all broken down (yet). And they have actual silverware — or rather, silver-colored metal tableware — and real dishes, glasses, mugs, and a real sink and a 2-burner cooktop for a more civilized experience. Plus, there are a bunch of nice restaurants across the way within walking distance, so I don’t have to drive.

I think they know I’m a bit fried from the past 24 hours. So, why drive, right?

Well, anyway, it’s good to get settled here. I’d still rather be at home, but this’ll do for the time being. At least it’s in the 60s, versus the 30s, which is nice. And people are being decent, too (for the time being), which is good.

Lord, I’m tired. But I’ve got to go off to dinner in a little bit, where I’ll hob-nob with my colleagues and find out the background “dirt” on what’s going on. Those guys are such little gossips, but it really comes in handy, at times.

As for sensory overload, I’ve been in a state of it all day. And I’m a little numb from it all. It’s bound to be that way tonight, too, because my boss loves going out to eat in loud, busy restaurants. He’s one of those hypo-sensitive Aspies, for sure. He’s so autistic at times, it’s hilarious in that way where I recognize a member of my tribe and it just make me laugh with quirky familiarity. Of course, we never discuss the whole “Autism thing”, because… why?

Long story short, I’m starting to have fun. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but for today, it was a good day.

My partner is making peace with me traveling out here a handful of times each year, and she’s just glad that I’m not job-hopping like I used to constantly do. I’m staying put, and that makes her happy.

But What does this have to do with menopause?  Ha! Everything. Because unlike years gone by when I would freak out and stay freaked out, my hormonal profile no longer compels me to lose my shit over everything and shatter. Once I get past the initial drama of anxiety, I settle in, rely on my past experience, and do what I need to do. It gets done. And because I’ve been practicing so long, it gets done right.

So, here I am, watching the sun sink in the west, as another day draws to a close. I’ll go have some dinner, then walk home, take a long, hot shower, and go early to bed.

Sounds like a plan.

Story of my life… today, anyway

Mexican rice and beans boiling in a pot on the stove

I started this pot of “Mexican style” rice and beans from a packet. When the contents poured into the pan, it was all white powder and rice grains. Not a sign of color anywhere (which worried me a little). But when it cooked up, the colors all came out.

That’s kind of how my life is, these days. Things start out looking one way, then when they get “cooking”, they turn out looking – feeling – very different from when i started.

I’m going on another business trip till Thursday. I fly out in less than 8 hours, and I’m trying to get my act together before I go. That includes cooking food for my partner for the next four days. She’s got really limited mobility, and she can’t stand for long in the kitchen, and we don’t have a microwave (hate those things) which means she needs nutritious food she can put together quickly while I’m away.

I do just about all the cooking in our household, so it’s always like this, when I go away. And that happens more often than I’d like — every 2-3 months, or so. And I’ve got even more travel coming up this spring/summer, with probable trips to Las Vegas and San Francisco in May and June. Long story short, the days leading up to my travels are pretty busy — especially the morning of, when I have to pull everything together.

It gets a little easier, each time I do it. But it has yet to feel like second nature.

Oh shit – I forgot the laundry in the dryer! Better check on that now.

{folding clothes}

OK, I’m back.

So, what does this have to do with menopause?

What doesn’t have to do with menopause with me, these days? Or for the past 10 years? I’ve been writing here as an Autistic woman, up till this point, and now it’s time to widen the perspective. Because menopause colors everything about me and my place in the world, how I relate to it, how I interpret it, not to mention how others relate to and interpret me. It affects every part of me, on so many levels, I don’t even know where to start.

And these business trips are great examples of that. They screw up the routines that I’ve developed for myself over years and years of trial-and-error, messing with my sleep schedule, my daily pace, my mealtimes and food choices, and doing it all in the context of high-stakes business trips, where the slightest slip-up can mean my reputation is damaged and my chances for advancement are reduced. It’s not just chances for advancement, actually — it’s also my relationships with my colleagues. We operate in a real pressure-cooker environment, where we all need to know we can depend on each other 100% (I won’t say 110%, because there is no such thing), and if someone comes up short, it can undermine the confidence of everyone else and potentially jeopardize the prospects of any number of present and future projects.

That goes for my colleagues at HQ, where I’m visiting, as well as my immediate group members, several of whom are traveling with me, this time. My boss and one of my peers will be flying and driving with me (I’m driving this time, heaven help me). And another peer will be joining us at HQ. I’m the only woman in the group of them, which is fine with me. They’re good guys. They have their personality quirks, but sexual predation isn’t among them, which is fortunate. I’ve traveled with a #MeToo poster-boy of a boss, in the past, and trust me, it’s no fun at all.

The problem with being the only woman in the crowd — and a post-menopausal woman, at that — is that I’m not only un-matched in terms of interests and energy focus, but it’s also incumbent on me — as a trusted colleague and team player — to keep up with activities I really don’t care about and generally try to avoid.

To whit:

  • Staying up late. My boss treats these business trips like mini-vacations away from his controlling wife, and he loves to stay up late, hanging out and doing nothing productive. At all. Not my idea of a great time. I need my sleep. I don’t get as much rest as I should when I travel, to begin with, and staying up late makes everything worse.
  • Drinking. Yeah, no thanks. I haven’t touched the stuff in over 20 years, and my life is better for it. It’s expensive, and it leads to unfortunate choices, which I’d never want to make on business trip. I think my boss has a drinking problem, anyway, and he loves to pressure everyone around him into having a drink. On the bright side, since I’m driving, I don’t have to ride with a tipsy driver — like I have in the past, when he was driving and got behind the wheel after a few drinks. No animals were harmed in that experience, but the lesson is that I’d rather be behind the wheel, myself, than rely on him.
  • Shopping. Again, with the role reversal. The guys I travel with love to shop. Me, not so much. I have a terrible time figuring out what to get people, and half the time, I get it wrong, anyway.
  • Eating out. I hate eating in strange restaurants. I hate eating in most restaurants, period, since the ambient noise throws off my hearing, and I don’t pick up half of what’s said. Also, the variations in light are a problem, and having to be social with other people after a long day is even more exhausting. Since I’ll be driving, this trip, I’m not looking forward to extending my days even longer with meals out with “the crew”, but that’s probably going to happen at least once.

And those are just the tips of three icebergs in the whole field of floating obstacles.

Which isn’t made any easier by my post-menopausal state, which is a whole lot more stable and even-keeled than the drama queens I’m traveling with. They’re younger than I. They haven’t lived in as many different aspects of the world as I have. They think all this is exciting and invigorating, but all I can think is, “Meh”.

Hah! I’m going to start calling it “Meh-nopause”. Because that’s the general effect it’s had on me.

See, when hormones like estrogen and estradiol and progesterone fade away (I have the hormonal profile of a 72-year-old woman – haha), it really shuffles your perspective on things. There’s less biological drive to connect, to get whipped up into a frenzy, to get so personally involved in sh*t that never really mattered, to begin with.

Getting free of those hormonal cycles of all the extreme ups and downs also has made me super fond of equanimity, of sparing my energy for long-term activities, and keeping a level head through it all. So, the proverbial roller coasters of emotion that used to color my life — and in many ways propelled me through the world — don’t appeal to me anymore. Not in the least.

I’m past that. I’m not being all egotistical and look-at-how-evolved-I-am. It’s just how I feel. The kinds of controversial dramas that power endless spats on social media… not to mention the mainstream press… yeah, no thanks. Once upon a time, they were fuel for my engine.

No more.

Meh-nopause… yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

So, that being said, I’ve got to get going and finish up my preparation for this trip. I have another 3 hours before I need to leave. I need to give myself plenty of advance time, so I’m not rushed at the airport — no matter how often I go there, it still confuses me, and the activity and motion and loud noises are an incredible challenge (which I somehow manage to navigate satisfactorily). And I still need to pack my bags. I’m torn between taking a big-ass biographical tome by one of my favorite scientists, or sticking with the audiobooks on my phone. I always put a lot of thought into my choices, ahead of each trip, and oddly, things never seem to align with my intentions.

Well, anyway, I can’t worry about that. Gotta run…

Later, folks.