Incomparable treat

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.

Running out of steam

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.

Back to Twitter

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.

The thing about medication

A while ago I wrote about my reluctance to take anti-depressant medication. I do not doubt that the right medication, properly managed, can make a positive difference in one’s life. But these medications do not always work; or they work for a while and then you need to switch to something else; or, in what I hope are uncommon cases, they actually make the problem worse (thoughts of suicide are sometimes mentioned as a rare side effect). Even if it does work out, then you are locked into a long-term relationship with the healthcare system, which can get very expensive in the United States.

I will admit that I have medicated with myself with alcohol at times. It is certainly more convenient in that you do not need a prescription. It all works pretty much the same way: a pint of beer or glass of wine or shot of whisky. The effect is immediate: you do not have to take it daily for several weeks to feel different. You do not need to take it daily at all. In fact, it works better if you do not take it daily. And if you lose your job and can no longer afford it, it is possible to be fully functional without it unless you are dependent on it (which is a completely different story).

My aunt died yesterday from a stroke. The cause of the stroke was an overdose of anti-depressant medication. It is not clear if this was a suicide attempt — but she does have a history of overdoses and one definite suicide attempt by other means. I have not seen her in more than thirty years and we were never close, so this is not a major source of grief, although I always remember her as my favorite person when I was a little girl. She was quite a bit younger than my mother, still in high school and living at home with my grandparents. When I went to visit, I slept in her room and she did not seem to mind at all having her little niece around. I enjoyed watching her get ready for school in the morning — she spent a lot of time on her hair and makeup and I found it fascinating.

Anyway, I was struck by something I had not considered before. When you are on medication of any kind, your prescription generally fills a thirty-day supply. And if you get your prescriptions by mail order, as many people do in the United States, you can save money by getting a ninety-day supply.

I do not think I have ever had a thirty-day supply of alcohol in my house. Even if I did have a thirty-day supply of alcohol in my house, I very much doubt I could drink it all at one go.

There is such a thing as alcohol poisoning, when you consume enough alcohol in a short enough period of time to raise your blood alcohol content to a lethal level. This happens all too often amongst college students — but it takes a concerted effort, almost always with the assistance of other people (e.g. someone to hold the funnel while someone else props you up) to physically get that much alcohol into you before you pass out. If I were alone at home with a case of wine, I would pass out somewhere in the middle of the second bottle — and it would have taken me many hours to get there. In theory, I could choke on vomit in my sleep, but in all likelihood I would wake up feeling like crap rather than ending up dead.

I do not know what medication my aunt was on or how much she took. It might not have been strong enough to kill even with a freshly refilled thirty-day supply to pop all at one go. But it is something I would worry about for myself. Perhaps if I WERE on a medication that worked for me, I might not wake up each morning wishing I had not. But what if I were still waking up feeling that way? And had a bottle of pills in the house? Who knows where that might take me…

The thing about not drinking

I try to do one dry month a year. Last year I did not get around to it. And I can not face it in January. But April/May is a good time because the lengthening days and first warm weather motivate me to take longer walks in the evening.

A lot of people do Dry January so at the beginning of the year I read numerous articles about all the wonderful things that happen to you when you stop drinking for a month: the money you save; the weight you lose; the way your skin clears up; the better sleep you get; the more energy you have; blah blah blah.

None of those things happen to me. Well, not since the first time I did this.

I went through a few crazy years where I drank a bottle of wine daily (sometimes more than that.) Then during the Great Recession, my hours were cut at work and I just could not afford that habit and cut back to Friday/Saturday/Sunday only. It was not has hard as I expected. I guess I am lucky that I never got physically addicted. Then after a few months, I decided to try to go a whole month without alcohol. And that WAS an interesting month. By the end of the month, I was feeling a whole lot better in many ways. And even though I resumed drinking when the month was over, it was at a reduced level of consumption, because I wanted to continue to feel good.

I probably should quit altogether, because it is very likely that the heavy drinking I did in the past has taken a toll on my health. But I have not been so motivated so far. For the last few years, I have been enjoying the equivalent of two bottles a wine a week: a huge improvement over what I used to do, but as my doctor keeps reminding me, more than a safe level of consumption.

But this is the problem: a half-bottle of wine a few nights a week does not directly impact my life the way a bottle of wine (or two) every night did. So when I give it up, I do not see a noticeable difference in my life — other than I miss having my wine! The money I spend on a can of wine ($5-6) gets spent on a non-alcoholic drink which also offsets the caloric content of the wine. Quite literally, the only upside of not drinking is that I can congratulate myself that I am not inflicting more harm on my body.

I am not in denial. I know that damage from drinking is progressive and can continue even if you do quit. But I am just not quite motivated — not yet.

When I was a teenager, I was rather ambivalent about drinking. In fact, I was often annoyed that my boyfriend insisted on spending so much time at the pub. But when I went away to college, I saw an opportunity to reinvent myself — and drinking was part of that. And even though it really did not help me fit it, it made me feel like I did.

Now that I know I am autistic, I realize what was driving me to drink was the need to fit in: most of the time it worked — or at least I felt that it did. And I realize I have been doing it all my life, into my fifties. Even when I just enjoy a can of wine while watching TV at home, I feel part of the world in a way I never do when not drinking.

Anyway, this is the first dry month I have embarked on since my autism diagnosis. So I am trying to look at it in a different way. Perhaps I need to stop expecting to feel like a new person just because I am not drinking. And perhaps I also need to give myself permission to not feel part of the world.

At war with jeans

There was a brief time of my life, as a teenager, when I could wear tight jeans. In fact, I had an obsessive need for a tight fit. We did not have a clothes dryer at home, but in the winter my mom would sometimes empty the washer and drive the clothes to a laundromat so that we could have dry clothes that day instead of having to wait days for them to line dry. My jeans would come back nicely shrunk from being in the dryer and I would not put them on until the night of the youth disco — and then I would not sit down in them for fear of stretching them out.

The snugness was comforting — and in hindsight I recognize that as the comforting feeling I get from my weight blanket. But my happy relationship with tight jeans was temporary and by my twenties, I was fighting an ongoing battle with jeans. Buying jeans meant trying on dozens of pairs before I found a good fit I thought I could live with. But no matter how comfortable they felt in the changing room, after a couple of hours of real wear I could not wait to get out of them. I ended up with a closet full of jeans I could not wear. And in my thirties I resolved to give up on jeans.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder about all the people who manage to be comfortable in jeans. I once went home with a coworker before we went on to an event so that she could change out of her “horribly uncomfortable work clothes.” She was wearing business casual and was definitely not overdressed for where we were going. She had on a skirt made from a soft fabric (I could tell by the way it hung) and a polo-neck sweater worn over it. Under the skirt she wore lycra leggings. She came back in a very tight pair of jeans that probably required her to lie down to zip them up — and somehow she had managed to tuck the polo-neck sweater into them! I just couldn’t image how these jeans could be more comfortable than the lycra leggings and skirt.

What is it I can not bear about jeans? Well, a lot of denim does not feel good against my skin. And jeans are built to be rugged, so the seams are tough and often chunky — especially in the crotch where four pieces of fabric come together. There are just too many seams in general — each one a potential cause for annoyance. These complaints apply to pants (trousers) in general — but denim fabric just makes it worse.

All the pants I currently wear have come from second-hand shops. Softer fabrics (like lightweight stretch corduroy and chinos) and a relaxed fit make them bearable. I hate the idea of someday having to replace them and it really motivates me to keep my weight stable so that they continue to fit comfortably.

For a few years, I ditched pants altogether and wore skirts. But then I had issues with static cling and skirts riding up the front of my legs. Underskirts were an annoyance and I could never find a skirt-legging combo that didn’t create friction when I walk. And in winter, I would either have to endure drafts going out without leggings or be uncomfortably hot on the bus or at the office when I wore leggings.

I have sensory issues with clothing in general, including underwear. I wear only athletic bras and probably have not worn a regular bra in more than twenty years. But to me, jeans are the epitome of claustrophobic discomfort!

Self-checkout impairment

For five years I worked in retail stores and I spent a lot of time at the checkout. So you would think that when a grocery store offers self-checkout, I would avail myself of that convenience — but I do not. I patiently wait in line to have a real person do it for me. This is somewhat embarrassing because I also work in IT and am hardly a technophobe.

Now that I know I am autistic, I am sure this is the major part of it. Self-checkout user interfaces are very wordy and interactive because they are trying to make the process user-friendly by guiding the customer step by step. But my processing is very slow — and I take forever to ring up just a few items. My impaired executive function also makes it a challenge to synchronize all the tasks involved: scanning the items; looking up items; bagging items; reading info on the screen and pressing buttons; bagging items; selecting payment method; finding the place to insert card/cash or tap phone; finding the place where the receipt spits out; and — having to wait for a real person to come and check my ID if one of the items happens to be a can of wine. And all the while, I am aware that in the time it takes me to ring up my basket, five people have already gone through the station next to me.

So, how did I manage to check out customers for five years?

Well, a POS system designed for paid employees is a bit different. There is less guided assistance in the user interface because there is the expectation that paid employees will be trained how to use it. And after a week on the job, you have figured out a sequence of steps you follow whenever a customer walks up and it just becomes automatic. Also, although you do not have much control over your space, there are little adjustments you can make when you start your shift; for example, if you are left-handed you might want to put the stack of paper sacks in a different spot. But I think it is mainly about being familiar with the system and knowing what to expect.

Perhaps if I went through a self-checkout every time I went to the store, I would get familiar with the process and it would become second nature. But only one grocery store on my itinerary has self-checkout. It is a Whole Foods store and the self-checkouts are often busy with staff fulfilling online orders!

I will just wait for a real person, thanks!

Going forward by going sideways

A couple of months ago, I resumed studying for a credential that might be a little out of my reach. I started it last fall but had to set it aside for a while to work on other things.

I think that if I put in enough time and energy, I might be able to pull it off. But last week I began to question if it is really worth it. It is not something I need for my job. It would not make me any more useful to my employer because it tests skills at a level that I rarely encounter at my job. And it would not necessarily make me more employable elsewhere: between ageism and autism and lack of experience and confidence, I do not see myself ever getting through an interview for a job as a Salesforce developer.

Meanwhile, I could be learning something much more mundane that would be of immediate use at my job and would relieve some of the work load from my overworked boss. I am talking about MS SQL Server. I am into my third course on LinkedIn Learning and I am confident that learning how to query our back-end database and build reports is within my scope. And this is what my boss could really use help with.

I hate the idea of giving up. I have always felt I owe it myself to be endlessly pushing myself. But I think I genuinely have maxed myself out in the developer direction — at least for now. That is enough “myself” for one paragraph 🙂

My life has seen several crash and burn cycles — and I really want to avoid another one. Each time I burn out, I go through a long spell of being unemployed and I do not want to go through that again. So I think it is important to set my sights on a more realistic goal.

On Friday, I finally gave myself permission to give up on the certification — at least for the time being. Yesterday morning, I happily spent a couple of hours getting started with the Reporting Server course. Sometimes the way forward involves going sideways.

Fun Forest

One of my favorite places to watch life is long gone. At the foot of the Space Needle, where the Dale Chihuly glass museum now lives, there once was a little amusement park called the Fun Forest. Like the Space Needle, and many of the structures at Seattle Center, it was built for the 1962 Worlds Fair. By 2010 it looked decidedly retro and the rides looked decidedly lame by modern standards.

But little kids LOVED the Fun Forest rides and waited excitedly in line for their turn. And the looks on their faces as they rode around showed they were not disappointed. And they waved to parents and friends (and even total strangers like me) as they went by. And parents and friends took photographs.

I would get a big Starbucks latte and occupy a seat near one of the rides to enjoy the scene. (Even back in 2010, it did strike me that this was an activity perhaps only a middle-aged white woman could indulge without arousing suspicion.) I am not known as a kid person — but I could happily sit here for hours watching families enjoy this little fun fair. The Fun Forest was dismantled in 2011.

Yesterday, I sat with coffee and enjoyed watching an Easter egg hunt. And one Halloween, I sat in the window of a pub drinking a beer while watching trick-or-treaters walking from one shop to the next.

Family life has always baffled me. And I have never truly felt part of it. But I do enjoy watching it from a safe distance.

Time well spent

There was a time I headed out each day with only what would fit in the pockets of my coat (in winter) or a small bag (in summer). That amounted to not much more than wallet, keys, cellphone, lip balm and a piece of facial tissue. If I went to a coffee shop, I had no book to read or notebook to write in. This was when laptops weighed as much as eight pounds and before coffee shops had WiFi — and before cellphones were smart. So I would sit and drink coffee and do nothing for the most part. If someone had discarded a newspaper I might pick it up and read.

If I was at a seat in the window, I watched the world outside. If I was near the counter, I watched the staff work and enjoyed the sounds of grinding beans and steaming milk. I eavesdropped on conversations and occasionally took part in one myself. And I did the same thing in pubs when I went for a pint if there was not the distraction of sports on TV. And not once did I ever feel I was wasting time.

Sometime in the last fifteen years I got the idea that time in coffee shops and pubs should be put to some productive use: read a novel; write a short story; write a blog; do some artwork; learn a new skill; write some code; build an application; or at least scroll through Twitter or explore some place with Google Earth. So I started carrying more items with me: books, notebooks, art supplies, e-reader, laptop, iPad — and I had a smartphone to fall back on. So, I always had something to do in a coffee shop or pub — something to make it appear less obvious that I was really just there for a social experience, even it amounted to nothing more than people-watching and eavesdropping. And I also needed to carry a larger bag.

But the Covid-19 restrictions ended my coffee shop/pub habit. I still go out for coffee, but seating is limited inside and weather is not always cooperative for doing anything outside other than simply drinking the coffee. Only recently have my favorite pubs resumed serving customers on premises and most of the seating is on wobbly folding chairs and tables outside.

When the first lockdown started a year ago, I quickly realized I could downsize to a smaller bag. Coffee shops were not filling reusable cups, so that was one less thing to carry with me. Supermarkets were not bagging groceries in reusable bags. Ditto. I was doing all my work at home so there was no need to carry a laptop. It was really nice to carry a smaller bag again.

Now that things are starting to open up, I have decided to revisit my old habit of doing nothing over coffee or a pint. This week I found one of my favorite pubs quiet as I was walking by — so I took the opportunity to enjoy a pint at a table in the window that was fully wide open. I had my phone with me, so I could have amused myself with it, but I let it stay in my bag. I was obviously alone and at a loose end. But I decided not to care about being judged in any way. I was enjoying a rather delicious cider while watching the world outside and inside. I did not produce anything. I did not learn anything. I did not improve myself in any way. I just enjoyed some time out out in the world amongst people.

Sometimes you just need to give yourself permission.