I have often used this photo for the lock screen on my phone. It is an ongoing reminder that I have a way of seeing things most differently from other people. I was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Level I), so now I know why.
Washington State lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on June 30. So for the last two weekends, my Seattle neighborhood has largely reopened for business. And I have been most happy to resume my Saturday visit to a taproom. It has actually been open for several months under capacity and social distancing restrictions, but that meant limited seating at tables for four. And as I am usually a party of one, I don’t feel comfortable taking up a table by myself. But now, the stools are back at the bar and along the perimeter shelves — and I have been able to take up my favorite perch from where I can see the whole bar area, the TV, and the street outside.
Social distancing was actually hard on us parties of one because so much casual seating was done away with in order to provide adequately spaced tables for groups.
The last time I was in this pub, before the COVID-19 shutdown of March 2020, I was waiting on the results of my autism diagnosis. So last weekend was my first back in my old routine since the diagnosis.
Nothing has changed. I still feel like I don’t quite fit in — that I will never be one of the regulars. But I am no longer going to let that spoil the experience. Every once in a while, I do manage to have an enjoyable conversation with a stranger. I don’t think that will happen today. But I have my phone — so can pass the time blogging.
Executive function has been failing me too often of late. But the last few days have reassured me that there are situations I navigate as well as anyone else, if not better.
Seattle has just been through a record-setting heatwave, with the temperature topping out at around 42C (108F) on Monday, the third day in a row that temperatures broke 100F. Like most Seattlites, I live without air conditioning AND my top floor apartment soaks up the heat all day long and is very slow to cool down overnight. I have been through several big heatwaves in the nineteen years I have lived in this apartment, but nothing like this one.
On Thursday, while temperatures were still unremarkable, I stocked up at the grocery store so that I would not have to go out for several days. (Going to the grocery store involves a long walk up a steep hill with little shade.) I pulled out the two long, baggy shirts that I wear around my apartment during hot weather. And I loaded up my iPod Touch with podcasts.
My living room has a large window which faces south-southeast, so it warms up very early in the day. But my front door is in an alcove that opens on the opposite site of the building which is in shade until late afternoon — so it can be quite pleasant to sit out there until around 3pm. So I set up my folding table and chair and did several hours of writing on my iPad on Saturday and Sunday morning. I made great progress on a novel I started a couple of months ago. But eventually I had to come back inside.
The only thing to do was lie down in the bedroom and listen to podcasts. The window faces east-northeast, and so that room is rather cave-like in the afternoon with the blinds closed. I wish that could make it cooler, but by the afternoon it is the most comfortable part of my apartment. Temperatures were high enough that running a fan just makes you hotter – unless you are soaked with cold water. I always keep plastic bottles of frozen water in my freezer. They are a good emergency supply of water. And in hot weather, I like to have a couple out near the fan to cool the air as it blows over them. Moisture in the air readily condenses on them, so every few minutes I can wipe my hand over them and get a nice amount of ice cold water to splash over me. When the ice in the bottles was almost melted (something that happened alarmingly quickly) I put them back in the freezer and brought out two frozen ones. And each time I went to the kitchen I made another cup of ginger-lemon tea to pour over ice in a twenty-ounce beaker.
Heatwaves at this time of the year are the worst because sunset is at 9:11pm so it is not dark until almost 10pm. But once the sun goes down, my building usually starts to feel a breeze from the water, and I relocated to my chair outside the front door to listen to podcasts there. Unfortunately, if cool air does find its way into my apartment it does not stay cool very long because of all the stored heat being radiated from the wall, but eventually the cool air does win. So I prepared to sleep on the floor of my living room right by the front door — with the door propped slightly ajar and a fan pulling air in. And I soaked a t-shirt in cold water to drape across me. Each night I woke up around 2am feeling sufficiently comfortable to discard the damp t-shirt and cover myself properly with a sheet.
On Monday, the hottest day, I started work (at home) around 6:30am and stopped around noon. But I checked email every hour or so, and unfortunately there was something that needed my attention at 3:30pm. Once I was done with that, I signed off and closed up the laptop.
Yesterday morning (Tuesday), I woke up at 2am and was actually cold. A marine push from the Pacific Ocean had finally shoved that heat dome to the east and north. I was able to turn off the fan and close the door. And I knew the worst was over.
I had been worried about my cat, because she is seventeen. But she did fine, sleeping in a spot that obviously worked for her and getting up occasionally to eat, drink and use the litter box. I basically emulated her behavior. I was lucky not to have the power go out on me at all. There were several isolated power outages in Seattle. My modem did get rather hot, so I kept a fan blowing on it. My iPod Touch ran hot also, so I propped it up against the fan that was blowing air on me.
While I was lying down in my sweltering apartment, I did think of less fortunate people: those who were working; those who had someplace they needed to travel; those who live far from the evening breezes by the water; those who lost electric power for hours; those who could not feel safe going to sleep with windows and the front door open. (And hundreds of people ended up dying.) All I really needed to do to take care of myself was lie down and keep still, splash cold water on myself, and keep the iced tea coming. But it was tough, all the same.
I hope I never have to go through this ever again. But I must admit that I rather enjoyed the enforced downtime. Some of the podcasts I listened to really helped me regroup after the anxiety of the last few weeks. And I am very happy with the writing I did. A difficult chapter suddenly found a direction I had not even though of a week ago. I feel motivated to finish this novel so that the inspiration does not go to waste.
I think I did OK.
A simple job with minimal responsibility that does not demand endless professional development and study. A little room that I can afford in a reasonably safe neighborhood within walking distance of work. Sharing a bathroom is OK as long as my room is my own and can be locked. It makes me sad that such an arrangement is pretty much impossible today.
Once a week my employer gives me a check and I stand in line at the bank to deposit it and get some cash. In between, I just use my card at an ATM. Once a month, the bank sends me a statement and I make sure it looks correct. No logins/passwords to worry about.
In my room there is a radio which picks up interesting stations that air more than just music, sports, news and traffic. That is also pretty hard to find. Every week, I go to the library to exchange books. Thankfully, that is something that is still available!
At the end of the street, there is a pub that I go to quite often. Because I am autistic, I am never able to make much headway into the inner circle of regulars. But everyone knows my face and what I drink and where I like to sit — and a few people even know my name and talk to me every now and then. It is enough. I take a book to read or a notebook to write for when I end up sitting by myself.
I wish this could happen.
Executive function has failed me terribly these last two weeks and I am pretty much a nervous wreck from it all. For a few days I even had trouble eating — and that is very unusual for me. I really don’t think I have to contend with any challenges that other people do not face. In fact, I know many people who have way much more on their plate than I do. But I think autism has a way of amplifying the stress — and it just builds day upon day with no relief in sight. Each night when I go to bed, I hope to wake up feeling even just a little improved — but I do not.
The other problem is that I do not really have a support system. I am not close to my family and do not have any close friends. So I go through everything alone. There are times when I could really use someone sitting next to me as I embark on a task that stresses me out. No matter how many times I read and re-read instructions, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will miss a step or do things in the wrong order. I really need someone to read out the directions to me, one step at a time, and make sure I do it all correctly.
I haven’t had much time to indulge in the things that comfort and reassure me: working on my jigsaw puzzle while listening to podcasts; trying to learn Spanish on Duolingo; and writing, either this blog or a funny novel I started last month. I hope to get back into all of those things this weekend.
Meanwhile, I think the can of wine I put on the fridge should be cold enough to enjoy now.
A month ago I returned to Twitter after an absence of around a year. My life had rather moved on in the meantime, so I unfollowed a lot of accounts and found some more fun things to follow instead. And it has been fun!
But I still have a hard time inserting myself into a dynamic that is already well established — so I mainly just read and like what other people post. Occasionally, I will comment. On the rare occasional that I do post, I might get one or two Likes. But usually I get ignored.
However, two days ago I posted something. And it has already racked up twenty-six Likes. Believe it or not, that is actually a personal best for me! I have had several Twitter accounts since 2011 and have been blogging since 2005. And I do not recall EVER racking up a double-digit Likes count.
I know it is sad. But I am considering it a victory 💫
My vision has seriously deteriorated in the last year without my really noticing.
In my youth, I had excellent vision, unlike my poor sister who when asked to read the letters on the chart said, “What chart?” But around the time I turned thirty, my husband noticed me making faces when I attempted to read certain things and suggested I needed reading glasses. I bought some mild reading glasses from the drugstore to wear while using my laptop. It definitely made my eyes work less hard — but when I looked away from the screen to consult paperwork on my desk, everything else was a blur. And I never got the hang of tilting my head and looking over the top of the glasses (the frames were very large), so I abandoned them.
Fast forward to age forty-two, and I am working a retail job. And I am seriously challenged by the Alaska drivers license, which back then, was printed in a very small and faint typeface that contrasted badly with the color of the background. I needed to read the license, because Alaska residents are exempt from paying sales tax in Washington, and this requires entering information from the license when ringing up the sale. One day, the customer kindly offered me the use of his glasses! Over the next few days, I noticed some other limitations of my vision. Retail work is challenging on the eyes, because you have close work with the POS system — but then you need to quickly switch to looking across the store, perhaps to direct a customer to something while you are chained to the counter. And my eyes were taking a long time to make that focal adjustment. So I realized it was time to wear glasses.
I had insurance at the time so I decided to get progressive lenses. My distance vision was still excellent, but the optometrist applied a very mild prescription to the top of the lens. Given the nature of my job, he suggested it would be helpful. I got lucky with these lenses and adjusted to them easily. For the first day, I felt like I was ten feet tall. And for about a week, printed lines were curved instead of straight and vertical surfaces appeared to lean over me. But my brain made the adjustments without causing nausea or headaches. The glasses flattered me very well and life was suddenly much easier.
Those progressive lenses served me very well for four years, but then they were not strong enough at the bottom for close work. I no longer had insurance, so replacing them with prescription lenses was something I could not afford. But I was inspired by the current Doctor Who (David Tennant) who carried a pair of readers in his pocket and put them on when needed. And I have followed that model for the last twelve years, keeping multiple pairs (2.50 strength) in different places. I have not noticed any deterioration of my close vision. However, I have been aware that distance of the “far-sightedness” has been increasing. There was a time that I could read anything if I held it arm’s length. My arms became too short many years ago! And while I could once easily read materials posted on walls, they now appear blurred. And on a recent bus ride into downtown Seattle, I was disturbed to find that the overhead signs on the highway now appear blurred. I have been happy to rely on the drugstore reading glasses on the assumption that my distance vision is fine. But I am beginning to realize that assumption may not longer be valid.
I still do not have insurance that covers vision, but my employer contributes to a Health Saving Account which I can tap to pay for an exam and progressive lenses. But I have known so many people who have had trouble with progressive lenses, having to go back for multiple tweaks and adjustments before getting an acceptable result — and experiencing headaches and/or nausea along the way. I am genuinely worried that I just got incredibly lucky with mine! Making and keeping appointments is something I dread in the best of times. And the thought of going through that under Covid-19 restrictions is really off-putting.
Bifocals are an alternative, of course. I actually have a pair of bifocal sunglasses that I bought at a gift shop. (I wish regular bifocal reading glasses were available in shops where you can test them first.) I never feel self-conscious wearing bifocal sunglasses. Because they are sunglasses and rather stylish, they look really cool. But I suspect I would feel different wearing prescription bifocals. Nothing screams OLD like bifocal glasses. There are line-free bifocals, but the transition area can present the same problems as progressive lenses. My inner rebel (there is one buried deep down) wants to just go with bifocals and wear them with pride. Now that I know I am autistic, perhaps I can give myself permission to do that.
As long as I am working from home and not going out much, my trusty reading glasses are continuing to serve me well. So it is hard getting motivated to take that first step of making an appointment for an eye exam.
But I cannot keep doing the David-Tennant-Doctor-reading-glasses thing for much longer!
Obsessive-compulsive is not amongst my soup of diagnoses. But I do have a way of allowing myself to obsess over things that really are not necessary.
A couple of months ago, I went back to DuoLingo to resume my attempt at learning Spanish. This is supplemented by turning on Spanish subtitles when I watch M*A*S*H at bedtime. DuoLingo likes to motivate you with all kinds of metrics. Last time around, I got all wound up over the Leagues. I actually did manage to win a League once. And I made it to the Diamond League, which is the top one. This time around, I decided to pay no attention. I just checked and was surprised to see I have made it back up to the Diamond League again — but I am in the demotion zone and likely to drop back down. And I am not going to care about it. I am enjoying the experience a whole lot more and making more progress now that I am not fixated on leader boards.
But I am still feeling pressured by the Streak. I have a 59-day Streak that is in jeopardy because I ran out of hearts today before I could complete a lesson. And I am trying not to care about that either — even though every time I pick up my iPad there is a notification shaming me to do something. I could turn off the notifications — but I think I need a lesson in just learning to ignore them.
My Apple Watch is another source of unnecessary pressure. It was a surprise birthday present last summer. Not something I would have bought myself — but something I have enjoyed wearing and actually do find rather useful. It is nice being able to read and respond to texts without have it to reach for my phone. Although I get up from my desk frequently during the day, sometimes the activity does not get captured by the fitness monitor. Then at ten minutes before the hour I get reminded to stand up for a minute. And I respond, because I have a daily target of 12 hours in which I did so. Again, I could turn this off. But I think I need to learn to ignore prompts like this.
I am not someone who is in danger of sitting for prolonged periods. First, I drink coffee all morning and tea all afternoon and am frequently getting up to put the kettle on for another brew. Second, I make fairly frequent trips to the bathroom on account of all the coffee and tea I drink. Third, when I am writing code, I seem to need to get up and walk around briefly in between ideas. This activities often do not get capture by my watch, either because I am not on my feet for a full minute, or because I am not swinging my arms enough!
In the year since my autism diagnosis I have become more aware of the all the ways I put pressure on myself for no good reason. And now I think I owe it to myself to miss these arbitrary goals and targets and save my attention for things that actually do matter!
After several weeks of abstaining from wine, I have discovered some kombucha drinks that are an acceptable substitute. The best is fermented from lemongrass, ginger and cane sugar. It has none of the usual vinegary sharpness, despite having much less added sugar; and it has a nice delicate carbonation, more like a sparkling wine than soda pop. And I have found a few others that I like.
This is nice, because I was not looking to stop drinking altogether — at least not yet. But I did want to break the habit of drinking wine three to four nights a week. A can of wine on Friday is something nice to look forward to at the end of the work week — but I really do not need to be having it on other days.
I do not know why I can be so stubborn with alcohol. I have no chemical dependency, so experience no withdrawal. I have no social life to navigate without alcohol. I am not a sports fan and so never face the pressure of watching a big game at a party where the beer is flowing. And even though pubs have reopened where I live, visiting one is hardly a relaxed matter. Social distancing and capacity limits have resulted in seating being concentrated on tables for four people. The perches that once accommodated loners (stools along ledges, window nooks, to say nothing of the bar itself) have not yet returned. Even before the pandemic closures, I often had disappointing experiences at pubs and wondered why I insisted on going.
But I do think that alcohol has been a convenient way to get a break from myself for a few hours — whether that be a break from my autistic self, my depressed self, my anxious self, or any other part of myself I am not too fond of at the moment. And it worked very well when I was younger and my life was simpler.
I do love the taste and texture of wine. And I do miss it when I give it up. As a treat, nothing else compares!! But drinking it several nights a week makes it much less of a treat — which is why I wanted to break this habit.
Crash and burn cycles have been a big part of my life.
For many years, I can just potter along, marking time. And then something will grab me and get my interest. And I will run with it. Run really hard with it. And give it my all. And I will make progress and accomplish things. But sooner or later I run out of steam. And I feel my latest cycle running out steam.
A couple of years ago I was given a substantial raise I did not ask for. I was appreciative — but worried at the same time. Unsolicited raises have a way of being a harbinger of bad things to come. Perhaps I feel the need to up my game and perform better to live up to the higher salary (not every considering that I was probably already doing so else they would not have given me the raise in the first place.) But it might be just timing — the raise coming along just as I am peaking in a cycle and about to start running out of steam.
I am still doing well in my job. But I feel I have reached the maximum of what I am capable of — and further effort on my part is now yielding ever diminishing returns. And there is nothing wrong with that. But in a career-fixated culture we are expected to keep growing and progressing and accomplishing every more things.
Now that I know I am autistic, I can see autistic burnout in my crash and burn cycles. And once I crash at something, I can never salvage anything. I always have to start over with something else — and then wait for the next thing to throw myself into.
Perhaps I can avoid crashing this time. Perhaps I can keep control of the plane and find a safe place to land — touching down just right at the very end of the runway. And then get out of the plane and walk away in search of my next adventure.
It has been around a year since I have been on Twitter. I had mainly been using it to keep abreast of weather and transit delays/cancellations, something that was very useful when commuting daily into downtown Seattle. Once I found myself working from home, I had no need for transit information. But I still scrolled through Twitter many times a day — out of habit. When I got a new phone, I decided not to install Twitter. And I have not really missed it.
But my TV-watching tastes are a bit obscure — probably because my only subscription is for Apple TV+. I got a free year with the new phone and I fully intend to renew. The programming is definitely the kind of stuff I enjoy. However, because it is ONLY available on Apple TV+, the viewership is somewhat smaller — and that means the programs have less visibility. The end result is that I do not have anyone I can enjoy sharing this with. On this platform, a search for Ted Lasso turns up almost nothing.
The second season finale of For All Mankind was probably the most emotional hour of TV drama I have ever watched. And I wish it could have been a shared experience for me. By that, I mean that I would love to have heard about how it affected other people. And I realized that if I had been on Twitter, it probably could have been.
The second season of Ted Lasso drops in July. So I decided to be ready. I have installed Twitter and signed in. But I have “unfollowed” almost everything I was following before and curated a new feed that I hope will make time spent on Twitter more rewarding. I rarely post anything myself, and even when I do, I never have more than a handful of followers. It is more about a virtual version of the pleasure I get being alone in a public space and overhearing conversations I find interesting — and sometimes managing to be part of it.
I searched on autism — but I concluded that Twitter is probably not the best space for it. This blogging platform is better because most people put a lot of time and effort into what they write. Besides, I do not always have time to read everything I find here (much as I would like to) — so I think I will leave Twitter for Ted Lasso and other esoteric pleasures.