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.

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!

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!!

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.

And then the bandages came off…

Last week I was in a training session on Zoom — more precisely, a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion healing session. It was a small group, so as we went around and introduced ourselves, we were asked to share something that had brought us joy in the last week.

When my turn came, I had to be honest and say that nothing had brought me joy in the last week; that the dark tunnel kept getting longer and the light farther away. I was able to mention something that had given me a little lift —a blog I found here called Mickey’s Journey. Mickey’s parent posts pictures of his latest accomplishments and they are very touching. I see joy in those pictures that I have lost.

I have been struggling to come up with a metaphor for how I have been processing the autism diagnosis I received eighteen months ago (at age 57). The first few months were a honeymoon period of relief — but since then, a new reality has been sinking in.,

I just remembered a scene from M*A*S*H that seems to sum it up. Colonel Potter is telling one of his many WW1 stories. After being wounded in an explosion, he spends a month in a French hospital with bandages over his eyes. He is tended by a nurse called Colette and is very comforted by the sound of her voice and the touch of her hand. (For context, Potter, BJ, Hawkeye, Frank and Radar are stranded overnight in a broken-down bus and are passing the time sharing tales of “When love conquered all.”) Then the day comes for the bandages to be removed. And there she is. Colette. And obviously nowhere near as attractive as Potter had expected, because he jokes, “I pretended I was still blind!” He then goes on to say that love did indeed conquer all, but he “couldn’t have done it without the bandages.”

Nurse Colette represents my life — and all the things I have done. All the things I have cared about. All the things that have given me comfort. But now that the bandages are off, it does not look so good. There was a time — not so long ago — I had no regrets. Now I regret almost everything — all the way back to my first choice on my university application at age 17. I have made poor choices for friends, hobbies, education and jobs. I have allowed myself to be influenced by people who did not have my best interests at heart. I have allowed myself to be comforted by watching TV and drinking wine. I have filled dozens of notebooks with writing that no one will ever read.

Life is pretty decent right now. I have a good job that I can do from home. And I live in a nice neighborhood. But I have had a lot of disappointments and sadness along the way. And I have embarrassed myself so frequently without realizing it at the time. I can not think of a single event that does not make me cringe to think about. And on top of all that, despite having been using the internet since the early 1990s, I have become very fearful of being online, something that is almost impossible to avoid now. At least three times a week I am terrorized by fears that one of my accounts/devices has been hacked. Every surprise behavior of my iPhone prompts several hours of research to reassure myself it is either expected behavior or an annoying iOS bug. Unfortunately, my job is in IT, so my newsfeeds are always full of reports of the latest zero-day vulnerabilities and zero-click malware attacks on one platform or another. I am in a permanent state of fear.

I am not one for video games because my hand-eye coordination is lousy and my reactions are too slow. But sometimes I have had puzzle apps on my phone or iPad where I just try to top my best score. Most apps allow you to abandon a game without seeing it through to the end. Once I realize a game has gone off the rails and that I am not going to beat my best score, I tend to abandon the game rather than waste any more time with it. If my life were one of these games, I would probably abandon it and start over.

But I suppose I could put those bandages back on 🤕

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!

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.

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…

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.