Tuesday, April 28, 2015

LENS and emotions: an update (2/27/15)

It's been a few months since I examined the effect of LENS.  I'm still going every week.  The results aren't usually dramatic.  This is because the neurological problems we're working on aren't recent problems.  I've lived with autism my whole life, and with anxiety and depression for almost two decades.  It's harder to affect something that entrenched.  It is, however, possible.  The present program my doctor is doing appears to be affecting my ability to feel emotions.  I'm of two minds about emotions.  They're inconvenient, and annoy me.  They sometimes make me tear up at odd moments, or times I'd rather not be tearing up.  They strike suddenly and often without even the slightest warning.  Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain they're also an important part of being human.

Even before therapy, I was capable of feeling emotions.  But I'd put up a wall against them, because I'd had them used against me time and time again, in ways I was powerless to defend against.  Long story short: elementary school kids can be incredibly horrible given the right circumstances.  Most people get their emotional scars in middle school.  I was way ahead of the curve on that.  At 10, I vowed that no one would ever torture me like that again, and shut myself off from emotions as much as possible.  Good ones as well as bad.  I wasn't wholly successful, because anger is an emotion, and that I had in great plenty.  Other emotions, if they were strong enough, could also overwhelm my guards.  That became rarer and rarer as time went by.  My state of mind was almost static, without the color and differences emotions can afford.  Everything was grey, for lack of a better descriptor.  Predictably grey.  That was comforting, for a time.

I got into high school and made some friends, and those friends dragged me to a club.  There I watched at TV show that showed me a glimpse of what I was missing.  The protagonist was all emotions, caring, hardworking with a bit of awkward bumbling.  I watched her bumble through life, make friends who appreciated her for who she was, see those friendships tested and stay true.  And I envied her.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I saw that I could have been her, had things in my life gone differently.  And I wondered, was it really too late?

I wasn't sure.  At that point I'd spent half a decade of some of my most important developmental years pretending emotions didn't exist.  I wasn't sure where to start.  And admittedly, I wasn't wholly thrilled about the concept.  Emotions, as I've mentioned, are inconvenient, annoying, and frustrating.  So perhaps it's not over-surprising that I didn't make a lot of progress in reacquainting myself with them.  Since trying to feel some emotion, I've mostly just felt angry.  I mentioned before that I had anger in great plenty, and that still holds true.  There's also sadness and anxiety.  None of these are particularly pleasant, but they're the strongest of my emotions, so they're what I got.  

Enter LENS.  We're poking my brainwaves to make them different.  Hopefully, to make them better in the end.  The results, as always, have been mixed.  But presently we're on a third program.  This one seems to be slowly reconnecting whatever bits of my brain deal with feeling emotions.  Last week I had bits of other emotions.  Feeling loved by my boyfriend, rather than just knowing it because he says it and his actions back it up.  Feeling slightly pleased by an accomplishment, rather than going "okay, next thing."  This week, unfortunately, seems to have poked the angry bits.  I spent the first two days after the treatment feeling crappy and one step away from raging.  Anything that went wrong or any human stupidity, and I was super furious.  I'm somewhat used to dealing with that, though, so I was able to reduce its effect with extra self-monitoring and extra effort.  I wasn't any less angry, but I wasn't hurting other people.  After the first two days I've just been on a hair trigger for temper.  Looking forward to getting that adjusted.  On really bad days I'll feel like this, but it's not really been a really bad day, or week, objectively.  LENS takes a lot of patience, faith, and observation, it seems.  

Friday, April 24, 2015

Action hero reflexes (2/17/15)

I've decided I have action hero reflexes.  It's cold and snowy and I was going to my new doctor's office for the first time.  My driving directions had unwisely routed me down highway 131, which is horrendously clogged and busy at all hours of the day.  As such, it's a great place to spot accidents, or better yet, be in one yourself.  Needless to say, I avoid the place as much as possible.  But, I thought, maybe today it wouldn't be so bad.  It was just a short ride down 131.  Surely nothing would go wrong.  

So of course some guy comes sliding across three lanes of traffic and the exit lane, right in front of me.  Diagonally.  Like, his car's nose was pointed off the road into the snowbanks.  I was about to hit this guy and I didn't even know where he came from.  But I didn't panic, I just swerved.  This unfortunately set off a chain of 5 fishtails, each smaller than the last, until I got my car under control and got off the highway.  I missed the sliding car, didn't hit anyone around me, and didn't go off the road.  

The reason nothing awful happened is partially luck and partially the fact that when things like this happen, I don't respond normally.  Science tells us that most people panic, curse, and flail.  When adrenaline or panic hits, familiar places like our houses and schools become alien and unfamiliar.  We could walk across our homes blind in normal circumstances, but in a panic situation, we might not even be able to find the way out of the house.  That's not a weakness or failure, it's just how humans are wired.  

We tend to think we'll act differently in an emergency because of all the action heroes we watch.  They're calm and collected in an emergency.  They crack jokes here and there as a building burns down around them and everyone else panics and flees.  We're made to look up to those action heroes, aspire to be them.  It's funny, though, because if you ask a psychologist about people who act like action heroes, they'll start talking about antisocial personality disorder or other disorders.  

I don't have antisocial personality disorder, but something is different about how my brain is wired.  I would guess I don't process emergencies properly.  I knew that if I hit the car swerving across my lane, it was going to be bad times.  But I wasn't thinking about that at the time, I was so focused on trying not to hit the car that there wasn't room for the possible consequences of failure.  

This isn't the first time something like this has happened, but it's the first time I've thought to write about it.  Relatedly, I think I'm going to irrationally insist highway 131 is trying to kill me and avoid it entirely from now on.  My directions app can just recalculate my route forever.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Late to work: a morning (2/15/15)

So I had a truly fabulous (this is sarcasm) morning recently.  It began with waking up six minutes after I needed to be at work.  See, my alarm clock has been giving me problems recently, which is to say it's decided to stop working, but only some of the time.  I'm not precisely rolling in cash, so I've been trying to solve the problem rather than run out and buy a new alarm.  

This is also partially because most alarms slam a truckload of adrenaline into my system when they go off, and panic is a bad way to start the morning.  As this morning proved.  I woke to the sound of my neighbors loud footsteps, rolled over, and saw the clock.  7:36.  

Obviously, I was not making it to work on time.  I flailed around for half a minute, then decided late was better than never.  People still needed me to do my work in the morning.  Diapers were going to pile up, nobody was going to take them out, and my coworkers were going to get frustrated.  So I got out of bed, trying to prioritize what I needed to do.  I was already late, so I skipped using the bathroom and doing hygiene things.  I could do those at work.  

I did stop to pack myself breakfast, because I was already going to have a bad day, I didn't need to add to it by starving myself.  I get super extra crabby if I'm hungry, and that means snapping at people who don't deserve it.  I was probably in enough trouble as it was.  Though my boss is pretty understanding, so maybe I would be fine.  As soon as my breakfast was packed, I was out the door and driving to work as fast as I could.  

I ended up being about a half hour late to work, arriving before my boss but definitely, obviously, painfully late.  I nearly ran between taking out the trash, starting the coffee, restocking supplies, getting paperwork ready, and refilling the office copier.  By the time all that was done, our appointment was already there, and the phone was ringing off the hook.  In short, the morning was entirely playing catch up.  

My boss didn't add to my misery, though, and just told me to make up the time as soon as possible.  Hopefully I can soon figure out why my alarm clock isn't working, or find an app that works better.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Adults are disappointing: a word from my inner child (1/27/15)

I recently attended a meeting wherein an adult man essentially lambasted an organization I belong to, indirectly so I couldn't really respond, and so quickly and forcefully that I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  Trying to follow the conversation was like trying to capture lightning with my bare hands.  This was a man who normally seems relatively competent, intelligent, and worthwhile, so it was rather shocking, frustrating, and painful to sit through the hour and a half of it.  The kicker, of course, was that if he'd just done his job in the first place, he wouldn't have been so upset.  I think he forgot about that part.  

In any case, it got me thinking.  Kids in general are told to "grow up" and taught respect and how to handle emotions maturely.  The assumption was that as you got older, you got better and better at doing that until finally, when you were 18 or 21 or whatever, you were all grown up and mature and could be counted on to be an adult.  That was my assumption growing up, that if I just worked hard enough and had enough patience, I could expect the people around me to act like adults.  

I'm 26 now.  Definitely an adult age.  I'm not perfect, but I'm reasonably adult about things.  I don't throw fits in public.  I don't scream at people I'm upset with.  I don't ignore work I don't like until it goes away.  Yet around me?  I see "adults" doing these things all the time.  Is there some magical moment at 30 or so when it becomes okay to relapse to being 3?  

The fact that a grown man of at least 30 years of age thought it was okay to stonewall a conversation with his personal ranting and frustrations (which were entirely unrelated to what we were trying to do) is just sickening.  But we needn't even get that personal.  You really need to only look at how people behave in rush hour traffic.  We're taught to share in elementary school.  We're taught to leave a large amount of space between ourselves and the next car, so if something happens we'll have time to avoid an accident.  We're taught that red means stop, green means go, and yellow means to slow down.  But what do we actually do in rush hour?  We tailgate the next person, speed right through yellow lights, and overall scream, "Me first!  Me me me!"  

I only need to sit in a fast food restaurant for a short time during peak hours to find some adult, or worse, some parent, throwing what equates to a tantrum because they didn't get what they wanted as fast as they wanted it.  A tantrum.  Only with words, because adding verbal abuse to an already destructive behavior totally makes it better.  

When did this become okay?  Why do we just let people do this?  Why isn't there a remedial school for adults who apparently didn't get proper societal training the first time?  I mean, you all enforce these arbitrary rules of society I have to follow in order to be considered "sufficiently normal to be worthwhile," so is it too much to ask that you make everyone follow them?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Brain burned

I'm presently experiencing what I call "brain burn."  It's a sensation like my brain is overheating.  I'm not sure if that's an actual sensation or just an overactive imagination paired with knowledge of the fact that a computer's CPU is sort of like its brain.  Either way, it's a state I used to find myself in a lot prior to beginning my regular job.  

It's like trying to navigate through deep fog at night, only it's in my brain.  And I'm dead on my figurative feet.  It's hard to get stuff done.  It's hard to think coherently.  I've been spinning my wheels a lot in the last few hours, on relatively few calories.  Building a blog and making it successful are two very different things, and I have the metric ton of articles about tips and tricks to prove it.  Normally I don't mind learning new things like these, but at the moment my brain is reeling from everything else I have to do (and work tomorrow, so no sleeping in).  

I'm presently downloading a meditation app in hopes that the quiet time plus some dinner will help. It's interesting to note this exact sensation hasn't bothered me for several months, despite having lots of different kinds of stresses in my life.  Perhaps it's the fact that I haven't moved much while working on these problems, or the lack of achievement in solving any of them.  Or perhaps it's the lack of balanced nutrition today, or the lack of sunlight (it's been overcast all day today).

Whatever the cause, I didn't miss it, and I hope it doesn't come back.  I'm going to go feed myself, meditate, then put on some quiet piano music and hope it goes away.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

#winning, or How to Combat Negative Thinking (1/25/15)

I have the tendency to think in negatives.  I must not do this, people don't like that, I really want to but shouldn't think this, rather than: this is a good idea, I like this, people do this, etc.  This is, unfortunately, a decades-long habit.  When your primary focus is "not upsetting people" rather than "succeeding at life," I guess focusing on failures to avoid comes with the territory.  

That kind of focus is not very helpful to living a fulfilling life, however.  You end up living in dread of your next failure.  In my case, the failure is not so much a possibility as an inevitability, which lends an extra dimension of unpleasant to life.  So as an adult with a shred of hope for a better future, I'm attempting to change my habits one at a time.  My more recent attempt at making positive strides is pointedly noting when I have succeeded at something.

For example, I recently amused a coworker while on my normally joyless daily trash pickup.  I empty all the trash cans and diaper cans first thing in the morning, which is smelly and eventually heavy work.  At the end of it, I have to haul the huge bag on my back to the dumpster.  The only way I can manage it is by throwing it over my back, Santa Claus style, and trudging through the snow.  It took exactly one iteration of this for me to start thinking of myself as the worst Santa Claus ever, but as I'm not precisely social, the joke is new to most of my coworkers.  So on the way out a few days ago, I commented to the passing coworker, "Time to be the world's worst Santa Claus," as I picked up the full trash bag and slung it over my back.  To my surprise, the reasonably weak jest made him laugh.  So I followed up with, "Bad children get stinky diapers,"  and received another favorable response.  

I'm not much of a joker, so this was reasonably pleasant. Normally I'd just be pleased for three seconds, then continue on my way.  That day, I tromped out into the snow and pointedly made a note to myself that I was winning.  Not only was that social encounter a success, I might have temporarily improved a coworker's day.  So that's a win.  

I might start saying it "hashtag winning" just to spend more time savoring my success.  That may also have the side effect of making me sound like I think I'm ten years younger (ugh, no thanks), but I'll take it.  

I'm hopeful that this idea, if I can make it stick, will be another tool in the fight against depression.  I've been having a reoccurrence of my brain doing the "hey, remember when you failed miserably at <thing that happened 15 years ago>?  Why don't you stew on that for a bit!"  It's like watching the top 5,000 stupid failures of your life, but on shuffle and the TV turns on at random (but you can't look away and you still have to get up to turn the TV off).  I'm sure psychology has a word for that concept, but if I was taught it, I forgot it.  Basically, it's my brain's way of putting a little buzzkill into every day (or hour, depending on how bad it is).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Getting a rhythm? (1/22/15)

So I almost seem to have the major things in my personal life together, as well as the things for my first job.  Now I'm working on my second job, the state of my apartment, and my therapy.  With hopefully some left over for life's little unexpected joys insanities.   

Things contributing to my present stability: 
  • Dedicated alone/quiet time for several hours, 3 days a week
  • Therapy 1 day a week
  • Actually being reasonably competent at my first job now
Of these, the alone time is probably the most important.  Prior to Chris moving into the area, I had most of my free time to myself.  When Chris moved here, I suddenly had almost none.  The next few months were a learning experience in a lot of ways.  It turns out I can, in fact, struggle through life with essentially no alone time to collect my thoughts in.  It is not, however, beneficial to my health, welfare, or sanity.  

As such I've now established fixed alone time in my schedule, which can (but hopefully won't often) be interrupted by special events.  Since doing so, my subjective stress levels seem to be down some.  Not a lot, as things are still in flux and the world is still its unpredictable self, but some.  

Which leads me to therapy.  Objectively, things are changing.  Subjectively, I don't notice huge differences.  The LENS (brainpoking) is slowly changing my brainwaves for the better, as evidenced by the occasional "what was that?" moment during the therapy and my new ability to forget things more often.  That sounds like backward progress, but it's actually good.  It means my overall anxiety level is down.  I normally channeled my anxiety into making sure I didn't miss appointments or other events, and into remembering to do the roughly 5 billion things I have to do.  The fact that I now seem to have less anxiety to do so means I forget things or miss things.  Fortunately, I have an app on my iPad to take up the slack.

And speaking of taking up the slack: that is now my first job.  I take up all the slack for people who are too busy to take up their own.  My boss is hilariously overworked, in part because he's a very personable guy and a problem-solver, and so people bring him their problems.  While it's excellent to have a resource like that available, it does mean he gets less of his own work done.  Which is where I come in.  In addition to answering phones (still horrible), cleaning (not horrible-usually), and keeping the bathrooms and kitchens stocked, I take on side projects.  These include filling out roughly a small tree's worth of paperwork, creating spreadsheets, and faxing things and scanning them into our system.  It's sometimes hard to tell, but I think it helps.  

Strictly speaking, those things aren't all I do for my job.  Under my other (semi) boss, I schedule appointments, add people to our system, call translators for our Spanish-speaking families, and relay various messages.  I'll also pick up odd jobs that need doing, like plunging the toilet, hunting down the owner of a lost smartphone, shoveling snow in the morning, or making the second (or third, if it's a bad day) pot of coffee.  The lattermost set is always of my own initiative.  These things need doing, but nobody particularly tells me to do them.  They just need doing and I'm usually the most available.  

My second job is finally (bleh) kicking into high gear.  Apparently it was already supposed to be in high gear and I was supposed to be doing things, but as somebody dropped the ball on showing me how and then proceeded to castigate me over it, I haven't been.  Fortunately, one of the other people I'm working with is a lot more sympathetic and is going to get me started with the software I need to do the work.  I should probably write about that particular experience, but as I spent 5 minutes during that meeting in tears and another 5 afterwards doing the same, I'm not particularly eager to do so.  

My apartment is another animal entirely.  I swear, every time I go out of town, a tornado coops itself up in my cabinets and whooshes out while I unpack, thus reducing my apartment to "barely livable."  I'm one of those people who isn't a huge neat freak, but does get stressed out by not having any place to walk, or when the sink has small pieces of hair and dust all over it, or whatever.  It doesn't help that the sink is bright white, and thus shows every speck of dust.  So I've been slowly trying to restore order to the apartment: cleaning the fridge, organizing my shelves and cupboards, putting away travel luggage and things I'm not using on at least a weekly basis.  It's slow going, because I don't like cleaning and rarely find it freeing.  

Therapy falls in both the "I'm getting better at this!" and "This needs work" categories because I'm having trouble telling, subjectively, that things are improving.  The program I'm on is slowly changing things, which we can tell from the results on the computer, but I think I'm fairly dense at immediate things.  Hindsight, on the other hand, is 20-20, and I'm fairly introspective.  So maybe half a year from now, I'll be able to look back and say "wow, I got a lot less anxious around that time!"  We'll see.  Or maybe I'll need to change programs again.  It would probably help if I took a few minutes each day, or at least several times a week, to evaluate my mental state.  I'm very used to avoiding thinking about my mental state on a day-to-day basis (sans drastic events) because the results are usually the same.  That is, I usually come back with, "I'm tired.  I'm really stressed out.  I want to go home and curl into a ball and do nothing useful."  Which, as you can guess, is completely useless for holding down a job and making a paycheck.  So I usually ignore my internal whining entirely and suck it up until I can go home.  I'm sure this isn't even slightly optimal, but I'd rather that than get bogged down in self-pity and misery because the world is so hard for me.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Started a Blog. Woo. (1/19/15)

So my blog went live a week or so ago.  I'm still processing how to handle that.  

On one hand, I'm a step closer to getting toward my goal: speaking and writing about the autism spectrum and what it's like to be here.  On the other, I can now kiss my anonymity goodbye.  I won't be recognized any time soon, like some actor or famous author, but putting my name up, and possibly a picture, will mean that I can no longer have fair expectations of being a private citizen.  Not if I want to succeed, anyway.

The point, after all, is to give people a viewpoint, build trust, and encourage them to ask questions.  I can't do that hiding in the shadows of the Internet and the real world.  I have to go out there and proclaim myself.  It's a big step.  

Maintenance-wise, I think I need to start categorizing posts by "time specific" and "non time specific."  The reason is that right now, posts are going up from around July.  (Yes, it took me six months from writing posts to actually posting them.  In my defense, naming a blog is really hard.)

To avoid confusing my readers, I think I'm going to have to fast-track the time-specific entries to post first, and then use the general musings as buffer.  Presently my buffer is unsorted, and extends all the way to the end of March.  But at 2 posts a week and it being nearly the end of January already, that's going to go fast.  

I hope my blog doesn't get confusing to people.  I did date them according to the day I wrote them.  Hopefully that helps.  

Naming things is really hard, though.  Originally I had no idea what to name my blog, just that Kelsey Timmerman all but informed me that I was making a blog now, immediately.  Since he's generally a very quiet, polite, unassuming man, and he felt so strongly about this, I took the advice and started writing there instead of in my book draft.  Normally I'd ignore such advice, but he's a published author and a very competent businessman.  By now he has the link and is probably reading each entry.  Hopefully it's been worth the wait.

Chris (my boyfriend) ended up figuring out the name.  Originally, a friend of mine had thought up "Aspierations" which works marvelously with my first entry.  Unfortunately, an enterprising mom beat me to it.  More power to her and her kids.  After sitting glumly for months on the name "Aspierations" and variations on it, I spiraled into a sulk.  Chris noticed, and started trawling Wikipedia's article on autism for ideas.  He came up with "the honest autist" first, but I found the final word somewhat archaic and alienating.  I don't think most people on the spectrum think of themselves as "autists."  I sure don't.  Fortunately he also came up with "the realistic autistic," which fits on two different levels.

First, my general mentality is caught somewhere between optimism and pessimism.  Growing up on the spectrum without a diagnosis or therapy was difficult, and ruined the childish optimism I started with.  I dipped into cynicism for awhile, then slid into pessimism.   Pessimism is depressing, and I don't need the help being depressed, so now I try to balance both sides by searching hard for the truth of things.  Sometimes that's depressing. But at least it's real.  So I call myself realistic because I try not to look away from the truth of things, and most days I don't lean heavily towards optimism or pessimism.

Second, there's a general sentiment that autistic people are sort of a lesser class of people.  Perhaps this is because we're different.  Perhaps this is because we need help sometimes.  People on the spectrum who talk and can act like neurotypical people are sometimes accused of not really being autistic, or being phonies.  I fully expect to receive similar treatment now that I'm publicly revealing myself as autistic.  

As such, the title "Realistic Autistic" is sort of a jibe.  I'm almost a normal person to most passersby, but I'm not.  The diagnosis might as well be carved into my forehead.   The title also echoes my insecurities as a verbal person on the spectrum.  In speaking for myself, I end up speaking for nonverbal people on the spectrum as well.  That's the problem with being a minority.  Whatever you say is taken by the majority to be the opinion of the minority.  I'm going to have to reread John Elder Robison's essay on the matter, and maybe come up with an answer of my own.  It's a hard place to be.  

At present I'm having trouble getting Google to recognize that this blog exists, and that it should please list me in the search results when somebody types "realistic autistic blog" or even "realistic autistic blogspot."  The latter, at least, you'd think would turn up my blog, but it hasn't yet. 

In addition, there's roughly a million webmaster tools (ie: make your site work better), and I can't figure out how to use any of them.  Maybe if I sacrifice an unused USB stick to Google, it'll work?  (I'm kidding, obviously)

Prior to posting entries on Blogspot, I was writing them on Evernote and another website.  I've found that while you can copy and paste the entries over, the Blogspot text editor occasionally interprets the entries in wonky ways.  I've had to dust off my decade-old knowledge of HTML to try and fix the problems.  Shockingly, I've succeeded so far.  I can't remember what version of HTML I learned, but it definitely wasn't today's.