Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 2/28/17

Well, the glasses are still broken, but I have two new toys this week!  I've been playing Pokemon GO for a while now, and there's an accessory that goes with it that can help save your battery while playing.  It's basically this little pokeball shaped thing on a clip or a bracelet, so when you go walking, you wear it, and it'll buzz at you if there's something of interest near you.
I've been playing Pokemon GO for long enough that it's probably not just going to be a passing interest, particularly because if I use this thing, I'll be able to play much more effectively.  (It tracks your walking even when you're driving, which means much faster egg hatching.)  At some point I'm going to drag Chris into walking downtown and just keep my tablet tucked safely away.  All I'll need to do is press the white button to interact with the stuff around me. 

The only downside right now is that I have to wait to use this thing; when Chris and I were down in CT for his grandma's memorial service, we accidentally watched an entire movie using my data connection.  Unfortunately, that came to about a whole gigabite of data, which is about half my monthly ration and also about how much I use in a month.  Between navigating there and back, and downloading podcasts and my other regular usage, I am now at my data cap.  I could technically just continue using data and go right into 3 gigs, but it'd cost me an extra $10 and I'd really rather not. 

Anyway, I'll only have to wait 'til tomorrow or the day after, at this point.  That's not as bad as when it arrived, which was the middle of last week. 

The other new toy is a Fitbit.  Chris and I went to a holiday party for his workplace (two months belated by company policy, because Christmas is a super busy time of year for them).  They always give away prizes, including, every year, a fancy TV.  I have no idea why. 

Anyway, Chris won a prize this year, and while the TV had already been claimed, he did lay hands on a low-end Fitbit.  I have, in the past, considered getting either a Fitbit or one of the more high quality knockoffs, but have been turned away over and over by the price tag.  Even the cheapest ones will run you $50, which is an awful lot of meals for a device you may or may not use after the first month or so. And I wanted features like sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, etc, which put my potential price up to something like $300. I'm not the type to drop $300 on something I'm not sure I'll be using in a year, so in the end, I didn't buy one. 

It is, however, hard to beat the price of "free," so I'm borrowing his prize for a test drive.  This particular model is the Flex 2, which is a reference to how many ways you can wear it, I guess.  The actual tracker is a little rectangular bit, which can be put into the provided wrist strap, or into an amulet setup, and probably like three more ways because marketing.  It does do sleep tracking but does not show me the time or give me my heartrate on demand. 

Something it does do, though, which is a reason I'm using it, is it can be programmed to buzz at you to get up and walk around every hour.  If that sounds irritating, well, it is.  The thing is, I lead a generally sedentary lifestyle, which science is now telling us is basically the worst thing ever.  So I can help offset that by getting up when the thing buzzes at me, walking around my apartment for a bit, and maybe doing jumping jacks during my fun time.  The idea is to build in little bouts of exercise, rather than having to muster the energy to drive to the gym, or spend an hour outside in the unfriendly elements.  Ideally this will be paired with actual 3/week exercise appointments as well, but at present I'm only holding to once a week, with a friend. 

So I'm excited about my new toys.  Hopefully they'll prod me toward better health and exercise habits. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: Caged in Chaos

Caged in Chaos: A Dyspraxic Guide to Breaking Free, by Victoria Biggs

Yes, I know, why am I reviewing a book that doesn't have autism in the name or apparent subject?  Well, the author is autistic as well as dyspraxic, she's from the UK (and somewhat, from Saudi Arabia) and this particular book comes with a recommendation from a friend I'm rather fond of.  Plus, this particular, conversational writing style is a nice change of pace from my usual fare.

So what is dyspraxia, and how is it related to autism?  It's a disorder of the motor systems of the body, which can include speech.  You know how some kids (and sometimes adults) on the autism spectrum in the US can be extra clumsy, seem to have trouble keeping their limbs organized, or have absolutely horrid handwriting (despite their and others' best efforts)?  That's dyspraxia.

Basically, it's one of many words and concepts that comes with what we, in the US, call the autism spectrum.  Not every autistic person has severe issues with balance and coordination, but many of us do, at least to a small extent.  The author of this book has it to a much larger extent, which I presume is why the book focuses on the dyspraxia rather than the autism or any other labels she acquired in her lifetime.

As I read this book, I recognized several coping strategies for innate clumsiness that I used growing up.  The author talks about holding a pen or pencil with more fingers than she was taught to, because it gave her greater control and stability whilst writing.  To this day, I quite literally hold my pens and pencils with four fingers, which results in crabbed, heavy handwriting that is, I'm sorry to say, execrable.  It's a kindness to eyes everywhere that computers came into fashion and became so prevalent, so I can type and text what I need to say rather than subjecting people to more of my atrocious handwriting.

I also made a point of watching where I walked very carefully, lest I trip over my own feet or on otherwise apparently flat surfaces.  This meant my view, walking home from the bus stop after school, was almost invariably my own feet, and the sidewalk.  Ms. Biggs speaks of similar precautions (often sadly insufficent) to guard against her clumsiness.

Actually, she has an absolutely dizzying range of suggestions for changing one's house, kitchen, commute, and life to be more dyspraxic-friendly.  I do wince a bit at the scope and bluntness of her suggestions; in a group living situation, 2-4 other people might not be too keen on changing how everything is laid out and things are done, just for one member's comfort and safety.  On the other hand, if the change would save them broken dishes, glasses, and other valuables.... perhaps they'd find it all worthwhile.

I wouldn't know, as I was fortunate enough to have enough sense of my limbs to only occasionally break things.  I was also fortunate in that my parents paid for roller skating lessons in my teens, which made me learn balance... over time, anyway.  Bruises were acquired in vast quantities before that happened, of course, and I have no doubts whatsoever that I was one of the more unpleasant, uncheerful students that teacher had ever had.  But I did try (begrudgingly), and I did learn (slowly), and to this day I can do some very basic "fancy" skate tricks.  Between that and the karate lessons, I was able to learn better gross (whole body, large muscle groups) motor control.

Fine motor control was another animal entirely...  It's fine motor control that factors into speaking, and fine motor control that lets you write smoothly and clearly.  I... eventually learned better fine motor skills via origami, and a semblance of readable writing via a calligraphy class... but to this day, I'm not sure I would call myself good at it.

By the sound of it, Ms. Biggs had many of the same difficulties, but moreso.  She actually dedicates an entire chapter near the back to suggesting activities to help boost muscular control, focus, etc.  Rather than roller skating and karate, for instance, she did Arabic dance.  And she compiles suggestions from lots of other dyspraxic people.

The book, by the way, is stuffed full of other peoples' quotes and stories, in addition to Ms. Biggs' own.  If I had to guess, this book was written shortly after the author received her diagnosis, after she'd reached out to organizations and people and found, to her joy, that she was not alone and was, in fact, now connected to dozens of people that could laugh with her about her trials in living, and often helpful suggestions from their own lives.

The tone of this book is almost unceasingly positive, even when relating the immense difficulties the author faced growing up without a diagnosis to light the way.  It's actually a little too strongly positive to me, which makes me wonder if the author was purposely banishing any depressing, negative thoughts she has on the subject.  That would be fair, I suppose, given how much she was told, growing up, that everything was her fault, and made to feel awful.  It's not like she'd want, even accidentally, to risk depressing people with similar scarring.

A last note: the author's viewpoint here has moments of what I understand is the standard mistake of the extremist end of the neurodiversity movement.  That is, insisting that our differences are never, ever disabilities, and always gifts.  While dyspraxia, and indeed autism itself, come with some potentially amazing gifts and possibilities... they also come with a set of challenges and difficulties that... I don't think is accurate to call "gifts."  If you literally can't focus in a classroom because there's a specific type of lightbulb that only you can see flicker, or the fan is on, or people are whispering... that's not a gift, it's a hindrance.  You may be able to use that awareness for the betterment of yourself and others, but that doesn't make the fact that it's a hindrance go away.  You do get extra awesomeness points for managing to channel the hindrance into something positive, though.

I may be reading the author wrong, but this is an easy mistake to fall into, when the entire world is telling you you're a failure, an awful mess of a person that isn't even human, and that everything is your fault forever.  Because when you get the news that no, it's not your fault, that other people are like this too, and that they celebrate their differences and use them to enrich the lives of others, you really want to believe it.  And you should, because that's true and fine.  The problem is when that mentality is taken to the extreme, and the original impetus for the diagnosis, the problems in functioning that got you the diagnosis in the first place, is lost.  You can get so busy embracing your new identity as someone different and special and blameless, that you start demanding the world revolve around you and your specialness rather than trying to accommodate them, and asking in return that they accommodate you.

We cannot make a better world unless we work together. 

Read This Book If

You, or someone you know/love suffers from motor difficulties, or you want a more international look at a life with autism and dyspraxia.  It's an entertaining read, and stuffed with suggestions to make your life less painful and disorienting.  Parents could especially do with reading this book, if their kids have similar symptoms.  The sooner issues like this are addressed, the less potential permanent damage there is-- both to your belongings, and to your kid. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 2/21/17

So this happened.  I am, unfortunately, still wearing those until I can get a new pair in early March.  This pair of glasses has served me for at least 7 years, I believe.  I'm unlikely to find another pair of rimless, or even half-rimless glasses, sadly.  That's actually why this pair has been in service for so long.  Unfortunately, they can only take so much (ab)use, so they've finally broken in a way I can't fix.  The whole world looks askew now.  (The lack of weight on the one side makes the glasses tilt.)

I spent a half hour or so trying to live without my glasses when they first broke.  It was pretty frustrating, actually.  Every light source turns into glowy circular blurs, like the lens flares in photography.  And every piece of text that isn't less than a foot from my face is irrelevant.  That includes my computer screen.  I am literally so myopic that I can't use my computer without glasses.  I can see general shapes out to a reasonable enough distance, so in theory I could avoid walking into walls, and navigate around my apartment.  But anything fine detail is out.  Which actually means no driving, since I need to see the street signs, and, say, pedestrians on the side of the road. 

Hopefully the other arm/leg/whatever thing will hold out for another week or so. 

I think I've overloaded myself in the events/responsibilities department.  I'd kind of hoped that the having fun bit might help alleviate some of the stress of that.  But I don't think I'm good enough at fun for that, or maybe the entire theory was wrong.  I prefer hope to despair, so I'm going to choose to believe that I'm just not good at enough at fun yet. 

A brief update on Project Fun.  I've found one thing that's generally enjoyable, but it unfortunately consumes a lot of my attention and so I can't multitask it with something productive.  This means, unfortunately, that I have to limit it pretty thoroughly.  It's a podcast called My Brother, My Brother, and Me.  Each episode is between 35 and 55 minutes long, and it's an advice show, often sarcastic advice, by three brothers.  Fortunately for me, it's been going since 2011, so my otherwise limited supply of entertainment still has hundreds of hours of backlog.  (Note: if you start listening to this podcast based on this recommendation, please do start your listening at episode 50 or even the most recent episode.  Like Star Trek TNG, it takes a bit to get into the swing of itself and become really good.)

Finding this one thing that is generally entertaining has revealed to me how much of my regular life really isn't.  I'm partly fine with that, because I don't think life is about having fun all the time.  But it's also kind of a sad realization, because this shows me that I don't really enjoy a lot of what I do with my time. 

I think part of the problem is that if I'm going to notice I'm having fun, or perhaps even have fun at all, I seem to have to be comfortable.   And I have an anxiety disorder, so... not exactly an easy feat.  The podcast has a relatively fair chance, because I can listen to that wherever I am, and that is often at home, where I only have to contend with myself.  And while the inside of my skull can be an awful place, it's one factor to contend with, rather than the dozens I deal with while out and among other people. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety

Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: A Guide to Successful Stress Management by Nick Dubin

I am told to never judge a book by its cover, and I've been taught that the author is almost never involved in the appearance of a book's cover.  That said... I'm really not sure how a side shot of a sad woman's face (with flyaway hair) is supposed to sell this book.

Fortunately, the book itself more than makes up for the cover.  If I had to summarize this book quickly, I would call it "a philosophical and psychologically-educated discourse on anxiety in better-blended autistics, by someone on the spectrum."

I choose the word "discourse" quite purposefully.  This book is unapologetically dense.  The author, a man on the spectrum, speaks and writes regarding autism.  His background includes a thorough education in psychology, and it shows.  Many of the concepts he conveys in this book reached back almost a decade now for me, into Intro To Psychology classes.  Don't get me wrong, the concepts he's trying to pass along are excellent ones, they're just not even slightly on the public's radar.

I was amused to note that Mr. Dubin, unlike many authors on the spectrum (and off the spectrum, really) does not make the assumption that other autistic people are like him.  Which leads me to wonder if learning psychology taught him not to make that mistake, as it did for me, or if some other reason lead to that recognition.  It is basic human nature to assume that others act and react like oneself, and that is why almost everyone makes that mistake.  Psychology tells us we're literally wired to do so.  It takes a lot of repetition and work to undermine that assumption, and even with that, we still fall back into making that assumption regularly.

What he does do, though, is try to convince you of his unusual worldview.  Mr. Dubin has adopted pieces of Buddhism, Christianity, and some of Carl Jung's philosophy into a strikingly unusual, but coherent whole.  It's a very positive, self-affirming and pro-social mindset, which I can appreciate even if I don't even slightly believe it.

Other than that (mainly the last chapter), the remainder of the book can potentially be useful to a philosophically-minded and patient reader.  He has specific thoughts and ideas to pass along regarding CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which is a school of thought in psychology that has scientifically demonstrated effectiveness.  He peppers his concepts with examples, but sadly doesn't offer any major concrete advice for applying them to your own life.  Presumably he knows how complicated / hit or miss that endeavor would be.

He also has... a slightly more positive take on meltdowns than I've seen anywhere, ever.  While Mr. Dubin will not argue that having a meltdown in public isn't a good thing, he does argue that they serve a purpose.  Most traditional understandings of meltdowns (ie: throwing a tantrum, having an emotional overload, etc) insist that they are a sign that something is terribly wrong and they should be avoided at all costs, public or private. This author thinks that meltdowns are a way of letting off excess energy, anxiety, steam, etc, and are fine so long as they're in a private, controlled environment and property damage doesn't ensue.  He talks about having them sometimes, even now that he's fully grown and has learned many anxiety- and stress-reducing techniques.

I'm undecided on my opinion of all that.  I've never particularly viewed my meltdowns as a good thing, and I've made many efforts to keep those meltdowns quiet, private, and lacking in property damage.  But I don't particularly feel like they help me much, either.  Whether that's because I'm busily being upset that I had a meltdown, or because they actually don't help, is an open question.

Read This Book If

You have anxiety problems, want to understand another autistic perspective on life, or are just in the mood for an interesting read.  While I don't agree with the author on various things, his viewpoints are still quite valid and definitely interesting.  I would suggest it be more advanced reading on anxiety, rather than beginner, though, due to the denseness and theoretical nature of the ideas.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 2/14/17

Happy Valentine's Day, I guess.  I think this is about the tiredest I've ever been on this particular holiday, due to the fact that we drove back from CT yesterday.  It was actually nicer than on the trip out, because Chris' brother put us up at his house for the night.  That house is roughly an hour closer to our home than where we were staying before, so while the trip was still very very long, it was slightly less awful for that bit of kindness.

This last week was... challenging.  I'm trying to keep up with my chores whilst adding in extra social appointments and juggling the existing obligations to my various jobs.  I don't think I qualify for social butterfly status, but it's certainly a lot more people than I'm used to seeing.  It is, I think, somewhat necessary, not so much for my soundness of mind, but in order to keep up with those people and relationships.  Also, if people aren't exhausting me as much as they used to, I should probably take advantage of that. 

Then, of course, came the trip down to CT.  We left on Friday, as Chris had a day of bereavement leave, and drove down through Ohio and Pennsylvania.  I personally think that route is the most boring of all your options, but it's also the least tolled, so it's generally the way we go.  I blame Pennsylvania, honestly.  US Interstate 80 cuts through the various hills, going east and west the length of the state.  But since it's so direct and does that, it's a favorite truck route.  And because the state isn't thickly-settled around most of I-80, there isn't much by way of towns, buildings, or cell phone towers.  So you have a two lanes, and a mass of variable-speed semis clogging up the way.  To be fair to the semis, truck drivers tend to be the most conscientious drivers on the road at any given time.  That's a fact I'm grateful for, since if they get into an accident, pretty much anything around them is going to suffer. 

We managed to miss most of the rush hour traffic on the way down, which was nice, but the trip on the whole still took 14.5 hours, which is still long even when you're switching drivers every 2-3 hours.  It can be done in 12.5 hours, if you basically only stop for gas, but it tends to leave you completely miserable afterwards to strain yourself like that.  We opted for packed lunches, but lots of breaks to stretch our annoyed legs and backs. 

The funeral (memorial service, specifically) was well put together and pleasant enough. Well, pleasant enough save my very annoying bouts of tears at the "Family Rememberances" section.  For clarity, Chris' grandmother passed away about a month ago, at the age of 97.  I knew her for only a few years, and only saw her about once a year for Christmas or other holidays.  She got me the nicest present I've ever gotten from someone who knew nothing about me (a pair of slipper-socks, blue and very cozy), and was in general warm and welcoming to me when she really didn't need to be.  But that, her deteriorating health, and her love of tea was pretty much all I knew about her.  So I really had no personal reason to be crying sheets of tears when her children cried at the microphone remembering her. 

...unfortunately, autism is sometimes like having no skin, and their pain literally hurt me so much that the tears started and wouldn't stop.  So I ended up being a tearstained snotty mess, to my great and abiding annoyance. 

The rest of the funeral, and the refreshments and dinner afterwards, were generally fine.  Chris' mother had made a point to make sure I'd have options, and the dinner actually had specially prepared bison steaks just for me.  Which was very thoughtful, because the rest of the dinner was a buffet.  While I'm used to picking through buffets for cruelty-free options, and probably wouldn't have thought much of it, the lack of having to bother was very pleasant.  And of course, the restaurant did an excellent job on the steaks. 

It was odd to see Chris' family again so soon.  We last saw most of them in November, for the wedding, but several of them couldn't make it for one reason or another, so I got hugs from people I didn't recognize in the slightest.  Which... at this point, I just kind of roll with.  It's going to be awhile before I get names and faces all paired together neatly.  And with only yearly reminders, it's... just going to be effortful for awhile.  It's not like hugs from random people can kill me or significantly affect my sanity, though, so I'll just be practicing my "oh, it's great to see you again (who are you again?)" smiles and conversation.

We may get to see them all again in May, also, for the burial of the ashes, so I'll get more chances to learn names and faces soon.  In the meantime, it's back to life with a pretty darned busy week coming up, to my discomfort.  Wish me luck? 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Book Review: Twirling Naked in the Streets- and No One Noticed

Twirling Naked in the Streets- and No One Noticed: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Autism by Jeannie David-Rivera

Be warned: this is not a happy book, humorous title or no.  This is, if the title didn't make it obvious, the story of a 1st generation autistic person who entirely missed being diagnosed and understood.  The results, predictably, were painful for everyone involved.

Autism, like most mental differences/disabilities, is invisible.  Meaning, if you passed me in the grocery store and got a good look at me, you wouldn't be able to tell I'm autistic.  That simple fact makes people a great deal less sympathetic to my difficulties, because, as the phrase goes, "Seeing is believing."  To that phrase I would add its counterpoint: "Not seeing is almost always disbelieving."

There are some few wonderful tales of people rising above their misunderstandings, of simply accepting the odd or unusual person for themselves, and that person then making their way in life, not too scarred or battered.  This is not one of those stories.

The very first page of chapter one screamed familiarity at me.  It's a series of her traits, and how people labeled her, since they had no understanding of autism to correctly understand what was going on.  Descriptive words like "ballerina" are in that list, but much more commonly are negative words: inconsiderate, obnoxious, hard-headed, picky. And as she points out, everything was consistently, in the eyes of others, her fault.  Always her fault.  This is very common.  And wrong.

I can say with certainty that the blame is always placed (thrown, really) at our (autistic) feet.  It was my fault if I wasn't perfectly in tune with the neurotypicals around me, my fault if I reacted to the bullying in elementary school, my fault when I had anger issues, always always always my fault.

Well, screw that.  None of us asked to be born with autism.  Many of us might not change it, if we had the chance, but that's generally because we feel it makes us who we are.  We wouldn't be us without it.  You still can't say our autism is our fault, and the consequences that follow it, especially undiagnosed autism, cannot fairly be laid at our feet.  Frankly, the fact that neurotypicals don't do well with people being different... that's on you.  I imagine most of my readers are good, conscientious folk that do their best to get along with everyone, regardless of diagnosis... but I'm afraid my experience is that people like that are a very small minority. 

But you know, even knowing that it's not our fault, those of us with sufficient awareness almost always carry, deep inside of us, the unshakable knowledge that it is our fault.  All of it, always.  Wonder no more why the depression rate is so high in people with autism.  This, and many other reasons, is why.

The other major thought I have on the contents of this book is this: the author calls out her single biggest problem in life as her sensory processing problems.  The sounds of the world were full of static, the sunlight itself hurt, textures and tastes of food revolted her, etc.  That is definitely a huge problem in trying to function in society, and the cause of a great deal of suffering, frustration, and misunderstandings.  However... I think she's missing a near-equal difficulty.

Autism can make us rigid of thought and action.  The author of this book, at least as portrayed here, strikes me as intensely rigid in those things.  Everything had to be just so, there was one right way to do things, etc.  Which is very unfortunate, because life itself requires flexibility, or bad consequences tend to ensue.  If the author had been able to shake her black and white thinking, she might have been saved a lot of frustration.  Some people just prefer to do things in ways that don't make sense, or only make sense if you really understand their lives and experiences.

A point of interest: the book is peppered with quotes, either from family members (often negative, sadly) or from influential people of various stripes.  I do wonder how they got those familial quotes, given that the author's parents sort of fade out of the story after college.  Perhaps they didn't need to reference the actual people, and it's as simple as all that negativity was burned into the author's brain.

My final comment on the book is that it's deeply saddening.  Everything is negative.  The hardships and struggles are all listed there, the failures, the depression, the miscommunications, everything.  But there is no bright point to this story, beyond, "and then I got my diagnosis and everything made sense."  You have no real sense for the author's strengths, or what people liked about her.  There was only her failures, her lack of true theory of mind, her sensory problems, her mistakes.  The book only comments on her autistic focus as something that made her able to do things.  Even her resilience isn't really celebrated, save for one point at the start of the book.

Yet that can't be the whole story.  A man married her, and stayed married to her despite the trials of putting up with her.  They have children, who I can only hope still love their mother, strange though she might be.  Surely this isn't the beginning and end of it.  But nothing is said of her good points, only her bad ones.

That is, at least to me, reflective of the general public's viewpoint of autistic people, and people with mental difficulties and differences.  There is no celebration of our strengths, of our great gifts, of our unique perspectives.  There is only the deficits: "you don't do this," and "you can't see this," and failure after failure after failure.

Read This Book If

You wonder why diagnosis is so important, or want to see through a very different pair of eyes.  But be warned, this is a very sad story, with an only middlingly positive ending.  This story also, at least to me, underlines how incredibly important it is to balance all the negative feedback with celebration of the autistic person's positives and strengths.  Otherwise, you get... this story. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 2/7/16

Extra tired this morning.  I've been adding a spoonful of cashew butter as a before bedtime snack, given my doctor's advice regarding glucose-management during sleep.  Apparently protein and healthy fats are the way to go if you can't sleep for being hungry.  But my current level tiredness is probably due to the fact that I'm not getting to bed early enough, so, y'know, only so much to be done.  There is, as of 2017 so far, no replacement for sleep.  Energy drinks, coffee, and such all make impressive noises about their wakefulness potential, but all they're really doing is wiring you so you can't fall asleep.  They don't replace sleep. 

I'm hindered in my efforts to sleep (at night) and relax (during the day) by the sudden rise in noises outside.  This apartment complex had, at least for the previous year, been relatively quiet.  Presumably the apartment manager had something to do with it; she was a control freak in several ways, which extended unhealthily into her home life.  I mainly saw this influence where it came to maintenance orders, when they were never forgotten and got completed in a timely fashion, and so I didn't think much of it, figuring she'd managed to channel that obsessive desire into something non-disruptive for everyone.  But perhaps one of the less non-disruptive facets of that was the noise level, which, since she left, has steadily increased.  Now people seem to think it's okay to shout across the parking lot at whatever hour of the night they're awake. 

I suppose I should be grateful it's generally benign noise, like a thoughtless mother shouting her love for her school-going children, rather than more of the incident a couple weeks back...  That involved 15+ very upset, shouting teenagers-adults, and also a stabbing which was kept very quiet and I only found out about secondhand.  All at about midnight, when we were trying to sleep.  I've never called the police before, but this was an appropriate enough time, so I did.  Turns out I was a lot more patient than someone else in the complex. 

Did I mention Chris and I are hoping to move this year?  The roach problem is apparently gone (YAY), but between the noise, the limited parking, and our space requirements, it's... definitely time to move on.  This is even still winter, which means the kidlets aren't outside that much.  Spring and summer will change that, and if their parents can't even be assed to be quiet, the kids certainly won't try.

Chris has talked about building a soundproof room, or renovating one, when we get a place that is actually "ours."  I do rather hope it will help.  The only soundproofed room I've ever seen in a home was someone's office, and it's because he has work as an audiobook voice.  Which is cool, and made extra cool by the fact that he has a British accent. 

My soundproofed room would just be for sanity-regaining purposes.  I can't imagine the place we get being particularly near tons of children, but it may happen.  And children are squeaky little things.  I think maybe my sound sensitivity is extra bad recently or something, because I don't recall things always being this frustrating /bad. 

The To-Do app is still working out pretty well.  It's missing features I could really use, like the ability to set something for every other week, rather than every week, but I'm making do thus far pretty well.  I'm still not getting everything done that I should be, but that's hardly the app's fault.  It continues to show me what I'm forgetting, after all. 

All in all, I seem to be surviving, but I wouldn't say things aren't challenging.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Project "Fun"

I should probably call this project something weird, like "Project Cognition" or "Project Ludicrous," but apparently deliberate abtruseness runs counter to my personality.  I just ended up with a simple name, for a simple idea. 

I do not, by and large, know how to have fun.  This won't surprise my closer friends, since they've heard me patiently, half-jokingly comment, "What's fun?" more than once. 

Somber by Nature

I was a very somber child, growing up.  I paid most everything a sober interest, and while I certainly had things I preferred (reading, mainly), I don't particularly recall finding specific things "fun."  Preferable, yes, but at least by age 7 or so, not fun.  I say age 7 because I suspect I need to make allowances for the ignorance and glee of the earliest years, before I was fully aware of the world and how poorly I fit into it.  I don't know what age I would have started qualifying to have my diagnosis of dysthymia (low grade, unending depression), but I would guess it was relatively young.  The generalized anxiety disorder probably didn't start until mid-elementary school, but I'd need a time machine to be sure.

That was how I grew up: somber and focused.  Fun wasn't really on my radar.  It wasn't essential to passing my classes or spending my free time alone.  It didn't even factor into personal relationships.  I may have used the word "fun" in those years, but what I was describing was less actual enjoyment and more "this is tolerable."  I didn't have moments where I thought, "whee!" or "yay, I like this."  There were simply things that were less exhausting and less stressful than other things, and so I preferred them.  My brother mocked my seriousness, probably to try and knock me out of it, or show me what I looked like.  Much good it did.  I knew I was being mimicked, at least after a few times, but not why or what the point was.  It was irritating, which didn't cheer me up any.  He never explained, and thankfully eventually stopped doing it. 

It turns out that you do not, in fact, need any form of happiness or enjoyment to live for 20+ years.  I do think it's probably very helpful to have those things, but clearly I didn't die from the lack of them.  There does come a point, though, where I recognized I didn't have those things and stopped being able to say, "oh yeah, that's fun / I like that."  I do not, as a matter of course, like to lie.  If someone asks me the standard trap question, "Does this dress make me look fat?"  I'll know to answer "no," thus saving their feelings, but I'll still have to think about it first.  That is the case with most of the white lies civilization runs on.  Another is "how are you?" when asked to a passerby.  The expected answer is not, "Eh... I feel exhausted and worried.  Yourself?"  It's, "Oh, fine, and you?"

Required exceptions aside, I try not to lie to myself or others, so I stopped being able to respond "normally" to people hoping I'll have a good time, or have fun.  I started responding instead with a tolerant smile and a half-joking question, "What's fun?"  Mostly, people don't answer, they get caught up in that I'm asking at all.  It's not my fault I'm somber by nature, and my life was emotionally exhausting and difficult.

Why So Serious?

I think maybe part of the somberness was that I knew, unconsciously, that I didn't fit in and had to work harder to do things than other people.  I learned how to interact with people by doing a lot of personal study, and by asking a lot of questions, and by reading books.  I had to work very hard, and be thoroughly attentive, analytical, curious, and studious.  But studiousness is not, I think, generally a joyous or happy mental state.  It's one of perpetual interest, and that I had in abundance.  But not smiles.

I couldn't smile for a camera to save my life for at least a decade.  I'm positive the fact that the camera flash hurt me didn't help, but it wasn't the whole of the problem.  I simply couldn't smile in any way that didn't look as fake as it was.  I look back now on my pictures and wince at the expressions.  My eyes don't match my mouth.  I have a deer-in-the-headlights expression in some of them.  The only exceptions are when something was genuinely amusing quite recently, and someone managed to get a picture within 5 seconds or so.

One of the clearest examples I can remember of how utterly solemn my mindset was, is from high school.  I remember going to a comedy show with my boyfriend at the time, and if the comedy wasn't the best I've ever seen, it was still pretty good.  And I smiled at things.  I didn't laugh a lot, but I did smile, and my boyfriend looked at me like he'd never seen me before.  He asked why I was smiling so much, and confused and somewhat worried, I pointed at the comedian and said, "He's funny."  I have no idea what my boyfriend took away from the experience, but after that, I vaguely recognized the situation was unusual.

That could, I suppose, have been a moment when I figured things out, realized how odd I was, and took steps to figure out what I enjoyed... but it wasn't.  I shrugged off the experience.  It did not, in fact, even occur to me that stand up comedy might be something I should look into, since I had been smiling so much.  It simply wasn't on my mind.  I had homework to finish and I'd done something to upset my boyfriend, and I was still trying to figure out who I was supposed to be (because teenagers do that, generally). 

In college I continued to pursue things that interested me, and were less draining.  I was comfortable with anime and with Dungeons and Dragons, so those were the avenues I used to find friends and schedule social events.  But still, I didn't really smile all that much.  People didn't befriend me because I was fun, they befriended me because I was interesting, or thoughtful, or because I listened and genuinely cared.  I have not been, and probably never will be, the life of a party.  (Except my wedding, and even then, I still really wouldn't call myself the life of the party.  Just, y'know, a central point of celebration.  A lot of the pictures of the reception are me frowning in focus.)

Sarcasm is Technically Humor

One would think, if I was truly that serious by nature, that I made no jokes and had no sense of humor.  Incorrect.  It wasn't that I didn't have a sense of humor.  It's that it wasn't an easy sense to tickle, and so after a few jokes fell flat, people mostly stopped trying.  I didn't get most of my peers' humor growing up, so I could hardly adopt it for my own.

There was one exception to the lack of practice rule for humor: sarcasm.  I became fluent in sarcasm.  Its premise took me awhile to understand, straightforward as I am, but eventually the concept of saying exactly the opposite of what you mean, and using context and tone of voice to convey it, became easy for me.  I became proficient under the tutelage of my first friend.

I think sarcasm was probably a halfway point between actual funny humor and the dead seriousness in my nature.  Sarcasm, usually, does not provoke actual laughter, and you ruin the effect if you don't look serious while you say things sarcastically.  I was good at keeping a straight face, so that was easy enough.

To this day, my humor tends to be termed "dry."  I don't do stand up comedy or jokes.  I don't pun (on purpose).  But I think maybe I practiced sarcasm so much it became infused into my ways of speaking.  I do, at times these days, accidentally make people laugh because of things I say.  I don't try to be funny, it just sort of happens with some people.  It's sometimes confusing and startling, but it's just laughter, it doesn't hurt anything.  As long as they're entertained and the laughter isn't mean, it doesn't bother me that much to not entirely understand why they're laughing. 

The closest I do to jokes is absurdity.  There's a lot of absurdity in life.  Starting with the fact that I'm expected to hop to a rhythm and system that doesn't even pretend to understand or care about me.  Though, this line of entertainment often strays into tragic and stops being funny to me quickly.  There are two schools of thought to dealing with life's tragedies: laugh or cry.  I usually gravitate to the latter.

Steps In The Right Direction?

Part of my life in the last few years has been trying to discover and patch up my deficits, and thus improve my life.  Perhaps my first step in that regard was getting my diagnosis.  But of course, a diagnosis doesn't fix things, it merely identifies the problem.  It did give me the option to seek specialized help, now that the source of my difficulties was out in the open.

I was slow about seeking help.  I'm very independent-minded, and it frustrated me that I would never be normal no matter how hard I tried.  So I sulked privately and carried on with college publicly.  I did tentatively attend a couple social groups, one of which I'm still involved with somewhat.  But the organizer of that group remembers well the perpetual frown on my face the first time I attended.  

Networking was one step thing, but it didn't change my perpetual gloom and lack of levity.  I graduated and spent a few years throwing myself at hourly and full time jobs.  They didn't help me lighten up in the slightest.  Finally, I sought professional help for the depression and anxiety.  LENS, or Low Energy Neurofeedback System, slowly but surely changes your brainwaves.  Under the LENS, and using supplements to counter the nutritional deficits I couldn't handle with diet alone, I began to improve in stability and mood.  

I still wasn't funny, though, and still didn't recognize fun when I saw it.  I still didn't seek amusing things, or even really consider them.  My focus was still on interesting and low-stress things.  Which brings us to the last few months.

I've been taking recommendations from my friends, including the previously-shunned video recommendations, and looking into them.  At present, this includes a video series, a podcast, and several comedians.  The lattermost are hard; I don't think a lot of standard jokes in comedic routines are funny.  To me, body humor is cheap and puerile, and so I don't enjoy it.  Jokes that involve making fun of groups of people upset me rather than amuse me.  I'm fond of John Pinette's work, since he mainly joked about food, exercise, himself, and his travels, and tended to portray others positively.  Unfortunately, he passed away recently and so there won't be any new works for me to enjoy.  

The idea behind consuming all this media is, hopefully, to rewire my brain into quicker, more powerful enjoyment of fun and funny things.  And also, to expand my knowledge of those things.  So far I've earmarked a few things as worth remembering, so if nothing else, this has been successful in that way. I still don't stop in the middle of a thing and go, "yay, this is fun!"  But maybe that will happen eventually.  

I think part of the problem with having fun in a broader context, out among people, or even at home, is that I seem to need to be comfortable to manage any form of enjoyment or fun.  And as I mentioned, I have an anxiety disorder, which pointedly makes me uncomfortable basically all the time.  So it's a bit of a conundrum.  Possibly if I condition my brain to lots of different funny things, it'll be able to generalize the enjoyment to situations in which I'm uncomfortable.  If I could manage that, I would also be less uncomfortable due to the enjoyment, thus starting an upward spiral.  

Even if the whole thing falls through and I remain relatively somber by nature, I'll still have a list of worthwhile fun/funny things.  Now if only I had hundreds of hours to devote to this project...