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.

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!

Eavesdropping and emotional noise

Lots of Teams and Zoom meetings this week. I do enjoy seeing other faces because I am rather isolated working at home. From my desk in the downtown office I was able to overhear activities and conversations and get a general feel for what is going on. And I never realized how valuable a source of information that is until I started working from home. My boss is pretty easy to work for and I have no major complaints — but he does not share much with me so I only know what is going on with our department from conversations overhead over the cubicle wall. Working from home, I am in the dark about a lot of things.

Outside of work, I also seem to rely on overhearing conversations. Whenever I chat with other people who live in my apartment building, I am stunned at how much they know about planned building maintenance and policy changes, long before I get an official announcement in the mail. Where do they get this stuff from? And they always seem to be on first-name terms with people who I have hardly ever met. Amazing! So when I notice two or more people having a lengthy discussion outside, I am often tempted to eavesdrop in case it is something I might need to know about.

When I read our local community blog, which actually serves as the local newspaper (it is operated by two professional journalists with decades of experience covering Seattle news in print, radio and TV media and is excellent as a news source), I do actually read the comment threads. I know some people consider that a waste of time. Just read the article and ignore the comments which are just full of idiotic remarks from people with nothing better to do. Well, I find it useful to get a barometer of the overall reaction to a piece of news. For example, whenever a new Covid-19 measure is implemented, I obviously need to know what is expected of me. But it is equally important for me to be able to assess the level of potential anger out there — so that I can perhaps avoid public places where confrontations might be expected.

Perhaps eavesdropping allows me to anticipate the level and nature of emotional noise that I will have to contend with. Emotional noise has been a big challenge during the pandemic. Even though things appear to have returned to normal operations in Seattle, albeit with an indoor-mask mandate, they do not feel normal. I was enjoying visiting coffee shops and bars for a few months — when people were able to sit outside and I had plenty of space inside. But now that the summer weather is gone, more people are sitting inside — and bars and restaurants are now required to check for proof of vaccination. So I am not going out to pubs anymore. Witnessing a confrontation between staff and customer would spoil the experience.

However, yesterday I found myself in a Starbucks where the emotional noise was surprisingly comfortable. I had ordered my latte and pastry via the mobile app and was prepared to take it somewhere else. But there were plenty of empty tables so I decided to stay. In one corner was a young woman working on a laptop (it looked like she was studying rather than casual browsing.) At the next table was another young woman with a little girl. The little girl was enjoying looking through a picture book. And closer to me was an elderly man who had brought a chunky hard-back book but spent about twenty minutes scrolling on his smartphone before putting it away and just looking out the window — which is what I was doing. There was a steady stream of customers coming in and going out. It reminded me of the energy I reliably encountered in coffee shops twenty years ago. It is nice to know that pockets of such energy can still emerge and survive for an hour or so — so I guess I will just enjoy it when I can find it!

Mindful distraction

I wear an Apple Watch that was a birthday present last year. I would not have bought it myself — but I do find it useful. Last week I updated watchOS on it and found a new feature that might be helpful.

The Mindfulness app allows you to do a breathing exercise or a mindfulness exercise. The latter gives you a prompt to focus on for one minute during which you can meditate on a soothing animation.

The prompts are not very helpful. “Think of a time when…” brings on paralysis as I try to decide what time to focus on. But I have found a way to repurpose the app.

Lately I have been finding myself in a dark place all too often. And I struggle to get back into the light. So I have decided to ignore the prompt and just watch the animation, focusing attention on the light colors. If the part of the image I am focusing on turns darker, I switch focus to a lighter place on the image.

I am also using this app when I would normally be reaching for my phone when I just feel the urge for distraction. It is handy because the watch is obviously handy on my wrist.

If I am going to distract myself it might as well be a mindful distraction.

Early grave

My workplace has seen several crises in the last few months, all of which directly affect me. One of them was particularly bad, but I am unable to discuss with anyone outside the organization until the lawyers are done drafting the official statement to go public with.

I went in to the office today, to better deal with one of the other less serious problems that I discovered yesterday. I vented with my boss a bit — and then felt bad, because his load is much worse than mine, and I am unable to help him much, because he does not share much with me. Although I know he appreciates me as an employee, I suspect he does not actually like me personally and tries to avoid dealing with me as much as possible. So our relationship is very tense right now.

My bus home from downtown Seattle was almost empty and I was able to enjoy a podcast. I got off near a waterfront pub for an impromptu pint of cider. The pub is nice and quiet inside but there is plenty to see outside. A nice overcast day over Puget Sound.

It has been one of those days when I really question the wisdom of living a healthy lifestyle. An early grave seems like a pretty good idea, if you ask me.

Hence the cider. Cheers!

Just falling asleep

Yesterday I had a dental appointment first thing in the morning. And it was time to take x-rays. When the lead apron was draped over me, I felt this sudden calm wash over me. I sleep with a weighted blanket, but it is quite a bit lighter. I wished I could have had the lead apron on for the entire appointment. Next time, I might actually ask!

My bedtime routine is undergoing some adjustment. For the last six years, I have been watching M*A*S*H. I have all eleven seasons on DVD, although many of the discs are very temperamental from wear and tear. Well, now my portable DVD player is acting up. I only bought it three years ago, but it was a rather cheap model (I was amazed it was still possible to buy a DVD player at all) — and it has seen a LOT of use. I could look into getting a USB-connected DVD player to plug into my Chromebook, but that would hardly be convenient in my bedroom. So I decided to bit the bullet and try bedtime without M*A*S*H.

I always take my iPod Touch to bed with me because it serves as my alarm clock. So now I am collecting podcasts to listen to. I used to be a huge podcast junkie. But now that I work from home, I do not need to load up on podcasts to for my bus commute (that can be ridiculously long for the distance when Seattle traffic is gridlocked.) So, I am not sure what I want to listen to these days (apart from the various Ted Lasso podcasts.)

I found a really interesting podcast called The Rise And Fall Of Mars Hill, about the megachurch that was once a phenomenon in Seattle. But I have kept falling asleep about twenty minutes in, even though I find it really interesting. I am finding myself nodding off very quickly to other podcasts as well.

Perhaps I have rediscovered this crazy idea of just going to bed and falling asleep 😴 How wild is that?

Turned up to 11

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.

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.

Little life

I am missing the little life. The little life I knew almost twenty years ago when I worked at a dead end job for a paycheck that covered my rent and bills and food and lattes and wine with something left over at the end of the month, but hardly enough to be making investment plans with.

I was intelligent and highly educated but somehow gave myself permission to work in a toy shop. After a couple of years of mental illness, I had learned to go easier on myself. I had no real friends but I enjoyed the community of people on the bus and in coffee shops as well as my coworkers. At the end of my shift, I would ride home on the bus with aching feet and a tired body and look forward to a few hours of TV and wine before going to bed. My days off were about bus riding and coffee drinking and shopping and coming home to watch more TV and drink wine. After a year, I got a kitten and enjoyed her company.

But as the years went on, the world got busier and customers got more demanding and bosses got more desperate to please and retail work became less fun. And rents went up and I needed a better job to continue to afford my apartment. And I started using my brain again and studying data science and coding and database development. And I ended up in a better job that pays a whole lot better and is much more aligned with my level of intelligence and education. And I am glad this happened because I have been able to work at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But I really miss that little life. I did not have goals. I did not make plans. I just lived as a little person from one day to the next. And I woke each morning wondering what the day would bring — instead of wishing I had not woken up.

I also miss that little person. She is very dear to me.