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

television

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it shows.

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

I have to wonder.

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

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

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

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

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Settling into December

path across field and through village to Alps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Another week goes by…

It’s Tuesday. It feels like Friday. I’m churning towards a Big Deadline at the end of this week, and then another one next week. And then the holidays hit and it’s time to drive down to see two sets of families in two different states, each of them a day’s drive apart.

Oh, joy.

Actually, I’m mostly okay with all of this. I’m just maxed out. Frustrated and over-extended and super-sensory.

Which means I need to be careful… very careful… Because the last thing I want, is for all these deadlines and this frantic work situation to wreck my holiday season. I only get to see my family once, in the next 2 months. We used to drive down for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that stopped years ago. We both got too old to run all over creation. And – surprise – it turned out to be pretty awesome to have one of the holidays to ourselves.

Silence. Peace. Our own schedule on our own terms. Glorious.

And this year promises to be even more glorious, because work has an enforced shut-down over the holidays. Between Christmas and New Years, nobody is allowed to work (oh, except for the people who keep the IT systems running and keep the money coming in – they never really get time off). So, not only will I have that time at home on my own schedule, left to my own devices, but I also won’t have to juggle work and “alternate” schedules with all the people who are taking two days off here, three days off there, and puttering around in between.

I’m really looking forward to that. For sure.

It will give me time to catch up on my reading. And my writing. Especially my blogging, since that’s really suffered in the face of all this work. I haven’t been around much at all, between being overworked, and then having to catch up with myself, getting pulled in a million different directions, and also helping my partner with a bunch of stuff she’s got going on. I honestly don’t know where the time goes. But the volume of work, as well as the intensity levels of Every . Single . Day . has all just been ridiculous.

Deadlines. Harumph. Please.

I’m not even sure why I care so deeply about all of it.  I mean, it’s not like The People In Charge really give a damn about me and my health. It’s not like anybody gives a damn, period, about the challenges I face. Over the weekend, I realized — for real — that the only presence in my life that is actually 100% on the same wavelength as me, is my body. I love my friends and family, but they have their own challenges, and my body is the only presence my life that is 100% attuned to me, that can literally read my  mind, and that can — and will — respond to me in ways that are all about me, every single time.

The thing with people — and I do love and care for the folks in my life — is that their lives are circumscribed by their own constellations of dynamics… which have very little to do with me. It’s like we are all steering our proverbial ships by very different stars in the sky. Sometimes we cross paths. Sometimes we head in the same direction. But really, we’re oriented in our own ways that could easily have nothing to do with each other.

I think about this a lot, as I age. We live in a time when everybody’s supposed to be so connected and social, but we’re less connected than ever. Sigh.

Oh, well. It’s time for my second breakfast. My schedule is a little thrown off by the time change, but I’m adjusting. At least I have an “extra” hour in the morning. And I absolutely love the long nights and cold weather. It’s so much better for me than summer, with all its light and heat.

So, that’s something to be grateful for.

Now, back to work. I’ve got a deadline looming.

I know it’s going to be difficult – what can I do about it?

holiday stress full page
So, I’m a little stressed, thinking about the holidays…

I’m a terrible complainer. That is, I tend to do it, but then I realize how terrible I sound (to myself), and I have to stop. Some people have no problem announcing their woes to the world, but for me, “if I name it, I own it”. If I can see I’ve got a problem, then it’s incumbent on me to do something about it.

Not everybody feels the same way, and that’s fine. everybody’s different. I just have a really hard time living with myself, when I’m moaning about every little thing.

And every now and then, I do.

So, this year, I’m keenly aware of the approaching holidays and how they have affected me in the past. I don’t want to have to go through it all again — and again — and again. Past years have been so traumatic, and mainly because I wasn’t aware of my issues, and I didn’t manage them properly.

This year is different. I mean, I knew that I was “different” and that certain things bothered me more than other people.

  • Crowds
  • Loud noises
  • Bright lights
  • Changes in diet
  • Changes in routine
  • Interacting with hyposensitive, sensory-seeking family members
  • Lots of people talking all at once
  • Stressful events like shopping in big-box stores
  • Having to choose just the right thing from a large array of stuff

So, basically, the holidays.

They bother me. And they bother a whole lot of other people on the Autism Spectrum.

So, I know this. It’s not news to me. And being even more keenly aware of it, since my formal assessment, this past July/August, it comes even more front-and-center.

And with it comes my responsibility.

I’m big into responsibility. I’m not sure why it’s so important to me. I seem to be surrounded by people who don’t give it a second thought and can’t be bothered with it (maybe because I’m more than willing to be responsible? probably…) But it’s really been the secret to my success throughout life. I have to own my own experience, and if I am aware of something I can manage, then it’s my job to mange it. Especially if not managing it will make me and everyone around me miserable.

I don’t get a “pass” because I’m Autistic. I don’t get special dispensation and license to be an obnoxious asshole because I have difficulties figuring out social interactions and other people’s needs and responses. Since I know I have those challenges, it’s my responsibility to manage my situation so that I’m not an obnoxious asshole.

If I do otherwise, that makes me a sociopath. I’m not a sociopath. I’m not more important than everyone around me, and my personal expression isn’t a higher priority than the well-being of the whole. I’m a part of something larger than myself, and it’s on me to hold up my end of the bargain.

Because I can. Because I’m Autistic. I’m whip-smart in some ways and clueless in others, and that means I have to apply my whip-smarts where required, to keep from being a total effing liability to everyone around me.

Life is hard for everybody. We all have our challenges. Prioritizing my happiness over others’ well-being doesn’t help. At all.

So, that’s the deal with me. I have awareness about my situation, and I have tools to deal with it all. At the very, very least, I have the ability to write down WTF is up with me and sort through it. I have a pretty good sense of where I want to go in life and what outcomes I want from different situations, and if it’s not working out, then I’ll use my super Spidey-sense to ascertain what can be done… and how to do it. And I can certainly follow up afterwards to see what worked, what didn’t, and so forth.

So, enough advance drama. Anxiety doesn’t help me one bit. If anything, it makes it harder for me to function. All across the board. I need to keep focused on what is real, what is in front of me, what is genuinely problematic.

Life is challenging enough, dealing with real situations… why make it even worse by coming up with something new and novel to hassle over… when it might not even happen?

Okay, enough thinking. Time to get on with my day and make the most of my day off. And get prepping for what’s to come.

It’s that time of the year again(!)

Run away! Run away!
Run away! Run away!

Ah, the holidays… I’ve been blissfully ignoring their impending appearance. But guess what? It’s nearly November. And that means, I have about a month to prepare for Thanksgiving. And then Christmas. And then the New Year.

But suddenly, I am keenly aware of the challenges before me.

Run away! Run away!!!!

Last year, my partner and I planned to go see our families at Thanksgiving.

Then the election happened. And all hell broke loose in the family. Of course, it was a very demure, well-behaved hell, but it was hell, nonetheless. The winners gloated and cried “Huzzah! The world is ours for the taking!” The losers went into existential panic. My partner got really sick with a respiratory infection. And we stayed home. Didn’t see anyone. Of course, we had some illnesses and a death and some happier rites of passage later on in the year, so we did get to see everyone, after all. Just not last Thanksgiving.

We’re going to give it another shot this year.

Yes, indeedy-do.

Run away! Run away!!!!

I love my family. I really do. But christalmighty, they are a lot of work. And just thinking about doing the whole trip down to two different states, each of them a day’s drive from the the other, and dealing with all the sides of the family… it’s just a lot.

And that’s not even all of what’s to come, this holiday season.

There’s the shopping. The holiday foods that wreak havoc on my system. The parties. The peopling. The lights — oh, the lights — and all that music. Ugh. All the promotions and sales and BUY-BUY-BUY!!! pressure that’s non-stop, starting, oh, about next week when Halloween is over.

And I think about the Auptima Press Holiday Survival Stress Gauge – the tool I built last year to help folks like me deal with holiday stress. You can fill out the different areas and see where things are dicey for you. And then you can plan your strategies for dealing with it all.

I’m going to use that tool this year, for help and support. I’m sorta kinda on my own, here, and I need whatever help I can get. My partner hasn’t been doing very well, and I’m becoming more and more of a caretaker for her. It’s no fun, watching the love of your life, wither in front of you. It’s no fun at all. So, having an extra tool on hand that gets me out of my head (so to speak) and lets me get some emotional distance from the situation is helpful.

Unfortunately, I can’t run away from the holidays, this year. Much as I’d like to, I just can’t. I’ve got to face it all head-on, and just get on with it. Knowing what I know about myself, it’s actually feeling a bit more manageable this year, than in other years, and pro-actively managing my Autism is a big part of that.

Speaking of being pro-active, I think I’ll get some sleep.

I’ll need it.

Five-day business trip coming up – pros and cons and #autistic preparation

view of city street with people milling around

So, I’m flying across the country for a business trip. It’s a user conference for a new technology I’m helping to implement at work. The application is on the leading edge of its field, so this is a good opportunity to “peek under the hood” and see what all is there.

It might also be a good opportunity to connect with other people in my field… to see about jobs… I’m treating this like an extended job interview of sorts.

I’m both dreading this trip and looking forward to it. My partner can’t come with me 😦  and I hate traveling without her. She hates it, too, but it just wasn’t going to work, this time.

On the upside, I’m the only one from my work group traveling. Usually, for my business trips, I usually get stuck traveling with my co-workers. It seems to calm them down to move as one group, but I find it a source of irritation. I’d much rather move at my own pace, on my own time, and not be subjected to their non-stop inanity. Seriously, how much blather can a person stand? Apparently, they can stand a lot. And it’s not blather to them, for some strange reason.

Well, that’s not going to be my problem, this trip.

I’ve been preparing in fits and starts. I made my list today — and a very long list it was. Had to turn it into two columns for it to fit on the 4×6″ lined stickie note. I’ve done the vast majority of the things, with a handful of more involved stuff still pending. I’ve got a handful of things I need to do in the morning, too, before I leave at 6:30 a.m. It’ll get done. I just need to make sure I’m up early enough to do everything and not make myself more frantic than necessary.

Well, I’ve gotten plenty of practice at this, so far, this year. This is my 4th flight in 6 months. I flew out to Texas in January and March, then flew to Atlanta in May, and now it’s off to California in June. I’m hoping I’ll find another job before I have to make another trip, but I may need to fly out to Texas again before the summer is over. I’ve learned a lot about how to breeze through all those lines… checking in online, packing super-light (so I don’t have to check a bag)… wearing the proper clothes to quickly and easily slip in and out of shoes and jackets in the security line… figuring out how to get around airports, figuring out public transit, taxis, etc.

Business travel is always so grueling for me, but I do it.  I could probably become an expert at it (actually, in the past, I was approaching expertise, when I had to fly to France all the time). But it still wipes me out and destroys my peace of mind, equilibrium (literally – I get very dizzy and vertigo-y), and it burns up all kinds of resources I need for other things. Especially when I’m traveling for business. I need to be at my best. I’m in unfamiliar settings, dealing with other people who are unfamiliar to me, as well. I can’t stop the steady stream of intrusive thoughts and concerns. Will I mess up? Will I blurt something out? Will I make a fool of myself, or appear untrustworthy or unprofessional?

These are not unwarranted concerns. I’ve done it before, and I may do it again. Just handling those thoughts and managing my anxiety adds a whole other layer of difficulty to it.

I would love to say, “Well, I’m all grown up now, so I’ll just suck it up and do my job.” But there’s more to it than that. And frankly, being autistic and not having a lot of models or examples from others to follow doesn’t help. If anything, it just makes it all worse. Because I should be pleased with having an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco. Because I should be excited to see the sights and hob-nob with other industry leaders. I should be looking forward to the change of pace.

But I’m not. Not at all. I do feel some of those things, but more than that… just a steady sense of dread. Dread. More dread.

Well, I can’t keep dwelling on that. I need to get ready for the trip. Take care of business. Make some calls. Get a few logistical issues settled. And get to bed early. I’ll have 8+ hours to myself tomorrow, which will be lovely. It will give me time to review the proof copy of my sensory overload memoir that I’ve written and plan to release later this summer. It’s not every day I have that much time to myself, but tomorrow I will. So, that’s good.

Bottom line, I’ll do what I need to, and I’ll try to keep balanced — and focus on the good that may come out of this. It’s just a lot to process, but it’s not all bad.

I’ve done this before. I survived. I’ll do it again.

And when all is said and done, it’ll be more experience for the record.

My very ordered “disordered” life

cable span bridge sliced in three sectionsIt always puzzles me, when people call Autism a “disorder”. Seems to me, a lot of autistic folks have a hell of a lot more order in their lives than the rest of the world.

I have my routines. I have my regular stuff done at regular times of the day. I have my regular activities pursued at regular intervals. I have a really great cadence which, unless it’s interrupted, allows me to get a whole lot done in a very small window of time. In the course of an average day, I can have a to-do list that runs off the page of the 4×6″ stickie note I keep in my daily minder. And I will get everything done — and then some — in a seamless flow of “Okay, that’s done – what’s next?”

I tell people what I do each day, and they shake their heads and tell me that I do “too much”. But for me, that’s just how things flow. In fact, everything works better for me, if I have a whole lot of stuff lined up in a seemingly impossible jumble of imperatives.

Something about “juggling” (it’s not that at all, come to think of it) stimulates my visual-spatial thinking, prompting me to see the world in a very different way than the verbal, sequential folks who surround me. My way may look like “controlled chaos” to some, but it’s nothing of the kind.

It’s all very orderly, I have to say.

It might not make a lot of sense to others. Of course it doesn’t. Not if those others are neurotypical. Not if those others are not visually-spatially inclined. Not if those others’ priorities are with skating along in a standard-issue life, doing what they’re told, living up to others’ expectations, and fulfilling the requirements laid out for them by society at large. In some cases, you need only meet the basic requirements of mainstream society, to get by. Assemble the right kind of family. Get the right kind of job. Wear the right clothes. Drive the right car. Buy the right stuff — and make sure everybody knows about it. And you’re set.

That doesn’t work with me. I have priorities other than social acceptance and accruing stuff. Even if I do try to pay attention to those things (and I do try, every now and then), I rapidly lose interest, because they really serve no greater purpose in life, other than to make me feel a little better about my lot. I want to change my lot in life, not make a grudging peace with it and make myself comfortable till the grim end comes.

And so, the rationale and the reasons behind creating certain kinds of “order” in my life evaporate. Because they just don’t work for me.

Now, if you turn things around and turn a lens on the rest of the world from my perspective, all the “disordered parts of my life start to look very ordered, indeed. There’s an excellent reason for everything I do, and chances are, I’ve given it a whole lot of thought before starting to do it. Even the things that I haven’t deliberately put in place, if they’re in my life, they serve a vital purpose. Or they wouldn’t be part of it.

The ritual I follow each morning serves to get me up and going in the morning in an efficient and energizing way, without needing to spend too much time on reinventing the wheel of my morning activities.

The specific sequence I follow to get myself groomed, exercised and fed each morning, I’ve developed over years of practice and trial-and-error. It would take too long to explain each step, to go into it now. Just know that the specific sequence I’ve developed has been for a very good reason.

How I get to work, how I set up for my daily activities, the times I eat, the things I do to perk myself up or calm myself down… it’s all for a reason. For a number of reasons, actually.

If people (friends, family, loved-ones, clinicians, researchers) would look more closely, they’d see the reasons. And if they could spend a day in my shoes, living in my own experience, they’d totally see the logic of it. And they’d congratulate me for coming up with such an elegant system.

Ultimately, I think the origin of at least some of the “disorder” talk is the lack of understanding among researchers. And parents. And loved-ones. And, well, anyone who isn’t privy to the logic of my / our systems. Those who don’t understand Autistic ways and thought patterns. It’s easy to be put off by something foreign and unfamiliar, and (often-times) that would be us.

It would be wonderful if we didn’t have to verbalize everything for folks who see us as disordered… if they could actually experience our lives as we do. Maybe virtual reality will make that possible, someday. I think it already is, actually. But it’s going to take more than a VR session to get people educated and informed.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, that’s for sure.

In the meantime, I’ll go about my business and tend to my systems, my own individual order.

Regardless of what others have to say about it.