Tired of starting over

Day Eleven of my Dry January. I started a few days late. But I still plan to go through to February 3. As usual, I am not experiencing anything remarkable to encourage me to think beyond then. Earlier this week, I did fancy I felt a bit happier and less anxious — and wondered if a week without wine had helped. But yesterday and today, I woke up back in the dark place, wishing I had not (woken up, that is.)

The weather is rather pleasant lately. Dry and mild with periods of sunshine and light winds — a nice change from the winter storms that have been slamming Seattle for weeks. So I have revised my midday walking route to take in a stairway for some climbing exercise. And I have started doing an early evening exercise routine after finishing work for the day. Some light aerobics. I have been enjoying it and want to get some light hand weights to make it a little more work. I am much more likely to stick with exercise than not drinking — that I am pretty sure of.

Work has been a little dispiriting. My job involves a lot of brain work. Usually I enjoy it, because it is interesting. But lately I have had too many days with little to show for my efforts at the end of the day, because one idea after another has not yielded results. My boss understands and he certainly has plenty of days (and even weeks or months) that go that way for him. But it gets me down. My brain could use a short-term change of scenery. I would love to spend a couple of weeks doing something relatively easy so that I could plow through a pile of work and feel good at the end of the day. I had a Teams meeting with my boss today — and I do not feel good about it. I tried to explain to him how traumatized I have been by cybersecurity fears over the last few months and how that has been consuming so much of my energy — but I did not do a good job with that. And I feel bad because he has been carrying most of the security load since our cyberattack last summer. He has his own nightmares. But there is really no one else I can talk to about it.

Once I get into a bad groove, I find it very hard to get out of — no matter how good my intentions or how hard I try. In the past, I have only been able to resolve situations by getting out them altogether. Quitting jobs. Moving. But I do not want to have to do that yet another time. I am tired of starting over.

Now that I know I am autistic, I need to find another way.

Talking with myself

One thing I mean to pay attention to as I go through Dry January is my overall level of anxiety. I am told that alcohol makes it worse — although I have never noticed it to make any difference. But perhaps I have not been paying enough attention.

When asked what I am anxious about, I would say, “What have you got? You name it!” I have angst about anything and everything. Some of my anxiety could be described as existential, concerning hypothetical future scenarios that may or may not come to pass. But much of it is about real stuff happening in the world right now— even when it does not directly affect me — and especially when it does directly affect me.

Last summer, my workplace was hit by a ransomware attack. We were able to restore everything from backup and did not pay the ransom, but the fallout has been very traumatic. I was already paranoid about cybersecurity, but since the attack I have been in a permanent state of fear. And it dominates my fears to a degree that it unfortunately relegates Covid-19, global warming, refugee crises and threats to democracy far down the list of things I worry about (although I do find time for them every now and then.)

Truth be told, I am always anxious about something — and find it hard to stop. Exercise does not help. I can go for a long, energetic walk involving hills and stairs and come home feeling worse — because while I was out I was able to ruminate on my fears. The only way to interrupt the fearful thoughts is to count to ten over and over again — but that is really hard to keep up. Mindfulness presents the same problem — it ends up amplifying the fearful thoughts. The practice is not aggressive enough to shut them off.

Something that DOES help is talking out loud. There is something about the physical process of using my voice that seems comforting. But I have no one to talk to. So, I walk around my living room talking with myself. (I really hope the neighbors never hear me.) It really helps if I keep the conversation on worry-free topics — but sometimes I am able to talk myself through something I fear and reassure myself I can handle it. Perhaps it is the very action of talking that calms me down — and after a while I am able to start telling myself more helpful things — and then my inner dialog is healthier.

Writing can be helpful — but that might be because I get up in between paragraphs and pace around as I decide what to write next, sometimes thinking out loud, i.e., talking.

This morning I had to talk myself down from my latest crisis. And I think I am OK now. There is a break in the weather today (Seattle has really been slammed lately) so I am going to enjoy walking out to do grocery shopping.

Perhaps I can get through this weekend without finding something else to be obsessively anxious about.

Less FOMO

My favorite pub has suspended in-bar service and will be only doing to-go sales until further notice. This does not surprise me. Several weeks ago I overhead a bartender telling a customer that they had been having difficulty getting/keeping staff. I suspect Omicron quarantines have made another dent. Oh well. This makes my Dry January attempt somewhat easier because I know I am not missing out on anything. Usually I really enjoy visiting this pub in January because it is less crowded: some people are doing Dry January and others are paying off Christmas bills and do not have the money to spare.

This week was unproductive if hours worked are the measure. But it was productive in terms of reaching milestones. I have a sandbox demo of a new database ready to turn over to a team at work next week. Testing it was very tedious, and there is a lot of automation to test. Some of the users access the database from smartphones so I had to do two sets of tests. And I had to write some documentation — SOMETHING I DETEST DOING! So I took a lot longer over all of this than I really needed to. And my boss ignored me all week, so I decided to ignore him in return.

Anyway, I am a bit irritated tonight. And it is the first Friday night without wine since May. But it feels like the right kind of irritation — the kind that motivates you instead of dragging you down. And when I am irritated and cranky I have less time to be anxious.

I think I am actually looking forward to this weekend! 🙂

Late to the party

Dry January is not usually a thing with me. I try to do an alcohol-free month at least once a year — but it usually does not align with an actual calendar month. Once I get the idea, I like to get on with it before I change my mind.

I had some wine and cider over the New Years weekend. Nothing excessive. But by the time I finished the cider on Monday I felt a bit jaded from the taste of it. I had bought something a bit too sweet for my taste. Dry January kept being mentioned on the radio (I have BBC Radio 4 on all day) — and suddenly it seemed like a good idea, even though it was already three days in. But I will just have to stick with it a few days into February.

My drinking habit is more than my doctor would recommend. I have a can of wine (equivalent to half bottle) 3-4 nights a week. Occasionally I can polish off a whole bottle and I’ve been doing that a bit more often in the last six months, which is another reason I decided to jump on Dry January while I feel motivated.

Truth be told, I do not know why I am so hesitant to just give it up permanently. I am not addicted and do not undergo any trauma when I am not drinking. I have no regular social life and rarely get invited anywhere. And going out to a pub is still not a normal experience. But I really enjoy my evenings with a can of wine and streaming one of my favorite TV shows. I can enjoy the experience without the wine — but the wine is the icing on the cake that I really miss when I have to enjoy the cake undecorated.

Part of the trouble is that after a month of not drinking, I am not experiencing any obvious improvements that motivate me to keep going. I do not lose weight, because the calories I save from wine (which are hardly excessive anyway) are usually offset by consuming calories in other things. I do not save money, because instead of spending $5 on a can of wine I spend $5 on soft drinks (although in winter I am happy with hot tea, which does help.) I do not notice that I sleep better or have more energy. I do not look or feel healthier. And my anxiety is still every bit as bad!

The other problem is that, except for the occasional pint at a pub, my drinking takes place in the safety of my own home, and rarely enough to involve a hangover. The morning after a can of wine, I feel exactly the same as I do the morning after drinking herbal tea. So it is not noticeably disrupting my life.

For much of my forties, I drank around 2 bottles of wine a day — which DOES disrupt your life. When I cut back to only drinking Friday-Sunday I quickly saw a huge improvement in quality of life. After a few months I was encouraged to stop for a month, after which the daily 2-bottle habit was pretty much dead. Then my habit became around 2 bottles a week — something made much easier with the advent of wine in a can!

Given my history of excessive drinking (going back to my early twenties), I probably should not be drinking at all. But I am very torn. Most mornings I wake up wishing I had not. I am not suicidal — but I am rather ambivalent about living a long lifespan. The future terrifies me and I really find nothing to hope for or look forward to. So I often question the wisdom of forgoing something I enjoy in order save myself from early death.

But I am annoyed and miserable and despondent enough right now to give this a go. Going without alcohol might just take my mind off things!

Things I find difficult

This is something I wrote three years ago — before being diagnosed with autism.

My parents must have feared I would need training wheels on a bicycle into adulthood. I did not have a bike as a child but all my friends did and I was often allowed to take a turn on theirs. But I usually had to borrow a friend’s little brother’s bike — with training wheels. Try as I might, I could not get anywhere on a regular bike. My mother had no sympathy. Said she had learned to ride a bike on one morning. It only took a couple of tries for her to get the hang of it.

At school, children were not allowed to ride a bike to class without first passing something called the Cycling Proficiency Test. In the spring, instructors would come to the school for a series of classes teaching safe bicycling, at the end of which, students were given a field test. My friends brought their bikes to school for the class — and from the confines of the classroom where I did extra schoolwork, I watched with envy as the cycled effortlessly around a training circuit. Why did I find this so hard?

Thankfully, by age twelve I had finally got it which was good because I now needed a bicycle for after-school transportation. I never too the Cycling Proficiency Test and I am sure I would have failed, but my mother persuaded the school to grant me an exemption from the rule, so that I would not have to come home from school to get my bike before riding on to my after-school activity.

I adulthood, I got reasonably comfortable riding a bike for transportation but I would never describe it as fun. My balance is terrible and I am unable to look back over my shoulder without becoming unbalanced. So I usually dismount and wheel the bike across intersections and through situations that need a lot of attention.  I would rather walk any day!

I had much difficulty without swimming also. At age sixteen, I was finally able to dog-paddle, but try as I might, I never progressed further. I do not see what is so laughable about dog-paddling. It is the way most four-legged creatures swim — keeping face safely above water. Needless to say, I do not enjoy swimming either. And when I take a ferry, I make sure to know where the life vests are stowed.

Music instruments also confounded me. I did OK on the recorder (everyone does), but violin, guitar and piano were a disaster. I just do not know how one’s fingers can possibly be made to be in the right place at the right time. My friends who rode bikes effortless also made good progress with the music — enough to play in the school orchestra. I was the one who chime in every now and then with the triangle!

I struggled with computer programming. I was in high school at a time when not all schools had computer labs and I found myself at a big disadvantage in my first college programming class. The other students found it boring and complained that the class was too easy and just a joke — while I struggled with the most basic of assignments. Luckily, I had a series of jobs where I was able to learn coding on the job, starting with simple revisions to existing code until, having seen enough examples, I was able to write my own programs from scratch. But they were never elegant or efficient. Later on, the internet helped me make progress, especially when the only academies showed up. And object-oriented programming seemed more intuitive to me. So this has been a happier experience — but I still struggle to get to the next level.

I am also a slow typist. Not a two-finger find’n’poke typist — I have tested at 40wpm and 9600 kph. But in a quiet office I have very intimidated by the rattling keyboards around me. How the heck do people manage to type so darned fast? I have been typing all my life, but I have gained no speed from all the practice.

What else? Drawing. Learning foreign languages. Multi-tasking of any kind. Oh – driving a car!! (I am so glad to not need to do that where I live now.) Knitting, crocheting and crafts in general. I can do simple things — but can never progress to the next level. Any sports that involve balls — throwing, hitting, catching, bouncing, dribbling. Actually, any sport other than just plain running!

Is there anything I have been able to learn easily? Not really. Although I do not feel I had a hard time with mathematics — but not because I fancy I have a talent for it — but more because the vast majority of people struggle with it more than I do.

I am also fairly decent with mechanics, when I have access to the proper tools. I drove an old British sports-car for a few years and was proud to be able to do almost all my own repairs — even big jobs like replacing the rear springs!

Putting jigsaw puzzles together is something I am good at — although I would not break any speed records. But I am patient and tenacious enough to stick with it until it is done. I have always wished this was were a skill I could apply in the workplace — but the world moves too fast for me to keep up.

Perhaps this is why I did eventually manage to build some competence in auto mechanics and computer programming — even if only at a basic level. Both involve figuring out how pieces of a puzzle fit together — and both can require a lot of patience and tenacity to get the job done.

But with other things, bike-riding, swimming, foreign languages, crocheting, etc., it either clicks with practice — or it does not. And for me, I just does not.

Finally — and this is the thing that has the biggest problem — I do not understand the glue that binds most people together. I do not understand the obligation to go home for Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. I do not understand birthday celebrations once you have come of age, with the exception of landmark birthdays, e.g. fortieth, fiftieth, or until you are past the age of eighty, by when every year is something of an accomplishment.

I do not understand painful coming-of-age rituals; or family naming conventions for children, such as all boy names beginning with M and all girl names beginning with K; or naming a baby for one of your religion’s gods or prophets; or eldest sons sharing the same first and second names in a succession Jr., III, IV, etc. I also do not understand the fascination with family trees and genealogy — although I do enjoy the TV show Finding Your Roots.

Some people insist it is because I am English and not the product of an immigrant experience. But I do not understand the glue that binds English people together either!

In my late thirties I had a few life-altering experiences that go me interested in reincarnation. And I encountered people who volunteered to give me readings, from which two major ideas emerged:

  • Although most people have had many millions of lives, my past lives number just a few dozen
  • Most people incarnate in groups, varying in size from a few dozen to several million — but I am a lone soul

Whether either of those ideas is true, one can never know. But my difficulties do make sense in light of them. Each time you learn to ride a bike or play the piano, it comes to you a little more easily. After several thousand lives, it is more a matter of remembering than learning. And when you have been incarnating with the same group of souls for a long sequence of lives, you come to accept their norms as normal without having to think much about them.

I just haven’t had much practice at life!

(I continue to wonder if my flavor of autism is simply an outcome of being a young soul in a complicated modern world.)

Out of the comfort zone

Today was a rare day off work for me. I needed to go to the post office and do some Christmas shopping. My Christmas list is very, very short — all of two people — but those people are very hard to buy for because they have everything. Last weekend, the shops in my neighborhood were crowded so I decided I needed a weekday to take care of everything.

I got to the post office shortly after it opened and there was already a line for counter services. But I only needed stamps so I was able to use the self-service kiosk in the lobby. Then I went in search of breakfast.

In the twenty years I have lived here, I have never had breakfast at the local cafe so well-known for it, although I do sometimes get a latte to go. On weekends, the wait to get a table for breakfast can be very long. And this morning, the cafe was very busy. But there was an empty stool at the counter, so I decided to give it a try. And I enjoyed very good scrambled eggs with hash browns and several refills of coffee.

While I was there, I thought about my hesitation to patronize these funky, independent cafes — and how I so often end up at Starbucks. In Seattle, a lot of people would not be caught dead in a Starbucks and I sometimes have to defend my choice. My defense has been easier with the pandemic. The Starbucks mobile app is great. The estimated pickup time is very accurate and my order has been correct every single time. When I place an order in person at any coffee shop, I am often mis-heard. I have a very soft voice that does not carry well and my order often comes up wrong. (I cannot tell you how many times I have been given an iced latte when I never even mentioned ice!) Anyway, this has turned out to be an acceptable explanation of my choice to patronize Starbucks.

But even before the pandemic, and even when ordering in person at the counter, the Starbucks routine is rather orderly and predictable — and I consider it to be more autism-friendly than coffee shops where things are chaotic. A lot of people enjoy chaos, but it makes me very nervous and uncomfortable. I like to see some evidence of a process. Even at Starbucks though, when it is very busy, the level of chaos behind the counter can be too much for me. So then I just order a drip coffee — because it is poured and brought to you right away and you do not have to spend minutes waiting around wondering if your cup got knocked on the floor and lost forever.

After paying for my breakfast, I left a cash tip on the counter. But I am nervous about leaving cash unattended. Even though I was at the counter, the woman tending it had her back to where I was sitting much of the time. Over recent years, I have taken to tracking down the staff person who served me to give them the cash in person — to make sure they get it. If the tip gets stolen, then they are cheated of their tip — and they will probably assume I am a mean person who did not leave a tip. But after I did that today, I worried that the woman might think I was trying to draw attention to the large tip I had left. I cannot win either way. If I had just left the cash on the counter, I would have spent the rest of the morning worrying that it got stolen and I was marked as a non-tipper.

The Christmas shopping went OK. I ended up buying some very nice coffee mugs from the cafe with their logo on and found a really nice book at a shop that will be too crowded tomorrow to even think about going in. And I managed to get home before the bad weather moved in. It was a good day off!

The power of nothing

Electric power outages are rather common in Seattle at this time of the year. The city has a lot of trees to bring down power lines in windstorms and a lot of steep terrain vulnerable to landslides after heavy rain. But most of the time the outage is confined to a small geographic area — so it is possible to go many years without experiencing a power outage at your house. But last night it was my turn. There was not a storm though. The cause was an equipment failure and it was identified and fixed in a timely manner. I was without electricity for a mere ninety minutes.

My iPad was fully charged, and even though the internet was obviously down, I could have busied myself with some writing and played some downloaded podcasts for company. And my phone was also almost fully charged. But I decided to just experience the outage the way I would have twenty years ago.

I had recently bought a brand new flashlight which came with a battery installed, but I did not have a spare battery and did not want to run it down in case this ended up being an extended outage. (The longest I have experienced here was almost three days.) So I found my hand-cracked flashlight and just kept winding that every ten minutes. And I got out my battery-operated transistor radio and found a station that did not annoy me too much. It was a FM news station — but one that just recycles the same news every twenty minutes or so. I do not think residents of the UK fully appreciate how amazing BBC Radio is. I wish there was something like Radio 4 that I could tune into with a regular old-fashioned radio. But there is nothing remotely like it around here. (And the BBC World Service no longer goes out on Short Wave in North America 😕)

My apartment quickly got cold and I remembered what is the biggest inconvenience to me of a power outage: not being able to boil the kettle for tea. Dinner was a marmalade sandwich. But I thought of the thousands of people in Scotland and the north of England who have been without power for a week — many of them stranded in remote areas. Had I been really desperate for a hot meal, I could have walked or taken a bus to another neighborhood where the power was still on. And that is what many people do here. The prospect of sitting in the dark for a while is just too much to handle!

I spent most of the time just pacing in the gloom of my apartment and thinking — and enjoying the relative silence. I remembered the multi-day outage of 2006 during a spell of really cold weather. And then I thought again of the folks in northern Britain; and people in other places that have endured months without electricity following hurricanes and other natural disasters. I largely ignored the radio. I just wanted some of the outside world coming into my apartment for company — and it was good enough. When I lived in London, a million years ago, I played the LBC station all the time when I was at home. But I hardly ever listened to it. It was just for background company while I read my library book and drank wine. (I was too young for Radio 4 back then.)

When the power came back on, I was rather stunned. Usually, when the power comes back on, I am very relieved and quick to get back to my business. But this time I was rather sorrowful — and very surprised at my reaction. I must have been rather happy. My modem took a while going through its blinking-light routine as it came back online. So I left the radio on for a bit longer — not being in too much of a hurry to watch the videos I had planned for the evening.

For ninety minutes, I gave myself permission to do absolutely nothing. And I think it made me happy. I am going to try to remember the way I felt when the power came back on — and my surprise at realizing that I had been enjoying this change of pace.

However, if the power were still out tonight, I suspect the happiness would have worn out by now. And I really feel for people who are still waiting for their lights to come back on. But it gave me something to think about.

Puzzle pleasures

Last night I finished knitting a hat. Not with knitting needles — but on one of those circular looms with pegs that you wrap the yarn around. It suits me well because I do not have to think too hard about what I am doing so I can actually enjoy it. Most handcrafts get me very frustrated. I usually persevere and finish the project. And sometimes I do a good job. But I do not always enjoy it.

Lately I have needed something tactile to do with my hands while watching/listening to videos or podcasts. I made several hats a couple of months ago and just had one more to finish. I still need to secure ends and will try to get that done one night this week so that I can donate them somewhere. Then I can clear my hobby table for a jigsaw puzzle. I thought about buying a new one as I have seen a lot of puzzles in shop window lately — but I do not feel like braving holiday crowds. Perhaps I will just redo a puzzle I already have.

Puzzles are wonderfully comforting. When they are easy, there is the pleasure of seeing them grow quickly. When they are hard, there is the pleasure of knowing they will last for a while.; and then the amazing satisfaction of finding a feature that allows you to make an inroad! I love the feeling of running my fingers over the completed areas and feeling the edges of the pieces. I do not really have a preference for the picture — as long as it is not offensive. And some of the most boring of designs have grown on me by the time I finish the puzzle.

Wintertime is nice for puzzles — when it is dark and dreary outside. But I also enjoy doing a puzzle in summer — enjoying a fragrant breeze from the window on a pleasant evening.

I sure wish it was something I could get paid to do!

Time to write

The Thanksgiving Holiday weekend took me to a dark place. The four-day weekend was most welcome because I have not taken any extended time off since October 2019. There is nothing really stopping me from taking time off. But we have had a lot of crises at work — and if I take time off, those crises will still be waiting for me when I return — and that would really make it hard for me to enjoy a vacation. And within an hour of starting my first day back, I would be stressed and upset and wondering why I bothered. I sometimes wish I had one of those jobs that happens in real time. I used to be friends with a bus driver and when he took two weeks off, someone else drove his route. When he returned from his vacation, there was no work to get caught up with.

Thanksgiving Day itself was not too bad. I took a bus across town to have dinner with friends. The mood on the bus was fine. But then I had a fifteen minute walk along streets that were largely deserted. And there was a tense atmosphere at my friends’ house because one of them had accidentally sliced his hand that morning and spent some time in urgent care getting it treated and bandaged — leaving the other to do all the cooking. And I was not able to be helpful — because I have that autistic habit of just being in the way. I was driven home around 7:30pm and the streets we traveled were deserted. And I arrived home to my dark and chilly apartment. I drank some wine that I probably did not need and watched some music videos on YouTube that took me deeper into the dark place — where I have been since. I do not typically listen to music let alone watch videos. So when I do, it is a sign that something is not right with me.

Last night I went to bed listening to the Films To Be Buried With podcast presented by Brett Goldstein, who plays Roy Kent in Ted Lasso. And the podcasts kept playing. I woke up several times overnight and did not turn off the iPod. Brett’s own voice, rather different from the gruff voice he uses as Roy Kent, is very comforting. Most of the guests I have never heard of. And I am not a movie buff. But it does not matter. It is rather like listening in on an interesting conversation in a coffee shop or pub — something I have been greatly missing. And there are more than 170 episodes, so plenty more to enjoy.

I did a bit of writing yesterday and it lifted my mood a little. But last night I succumbed to wine and music videos again. That will not be happening tonight because I am out of wine. So I am going to try to spend more time writing — and see if I can write myself out of the dark and back into a happier place. I also have not done any arts or crafts for a while. I started a hat on my circular knitting loom last month and perhaps I should finish that while listening to more of Brett’s podcast.

I am not sure what keeps pulling me into dark places. But I think I have a hard time tuning out the angst of the world around me. I have known times in my life when I was facing serious challenges and difficulties and everything was going wrong for me — but the world around me was chugging along pretty well — and I was able to be encouraged and reassured by seeing other people enjoying their lives. That encouragement and reassurance is no longer there. And the prospect of a reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions just before Christmas does not look good.

My latest writing project concerns a group of guides (angels) and the conversations they have with mortal souls in between lives. It is intended to be a humorous examination of ways humans can manipulate their destiny across many lives. I think about reincarnation a lot. When I hear about a three-year-old child who can play a complete concerto note-perfect, I just assume it is a reincarnated concert pianist with a good memory. No mystery there!!

Rare compliments

“The world would be a better place with more people like you.”

Surprisingly, I have had this comment directed at me a few times. And I always find it surprising because I am much more accustomed to being sermoned about my shortcomings. But every now and then, someone connects with me without any effort required on my part — and they find something to like.

However, there are homilies such as: “it takes all kinds to make a world”; and, “it would be a dull world if we all were the same” — which is probably why that first statement is “more people like you” instead of “all people like you.” But it is an interesting exercise to contemplate what the world might look like if everyone were like me.

  • No personal cars on the road
  • More bus routes with buses running every few minutes
  • A coffee shop or pub (serving craft beers and ciders) on every corner
  • More libraries and used bookstores
  • Smaller grocery stores that only sell basic staples and fruit/veg in season

My guess is that most people would like more of the above in their world. However, if we extrapolate further, we could end up with a landscape that would be unrecognizable:

  • No sports fields, arenas or stadiums — because no one plays or watches sports
  • No restaurants or home-delivered food — because everyone makes their own dinner
  • No passenger air service — because no one travels for pleasure
  • Fewer hotels and accommodations — ditto
  • No theaters or performance auditoriums — because no one attends concerts or plays
  • No movie theaters — because no one goes to the movies
  • No recorded or live music — because everyone listens to podcasts or BBC Radio 4

It would be fun to have an economist determine what the resulting economy might look like!

But perhaps this rare compliment is not about how I live — but more about how I make the person feel. “It’s always a pleasure talking with you” is another thing I hear from such people.

Once again, these are rare compliments — but they mean a lot to me.