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 🤕

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?

Bedtime routine

An episode of M*A*S*H has been my bedtime viewing for many years. Unfortunately, several of the discs in my complete eleven-season DVD collection are tuckered out one will no longer play at all. But that still leaves me plenty of episodes. I loop through Season 1 through Season 11 in order and then repeat. I know I am not the only person to do this because a while back, Alan Alda did a M*A*S*H reunion with some of the cast on his Clear And Vivid podcast and the twitter feed in the aftermath was full of tweets about watching an episode every night before going to bed. This is perhaps the only habit I have formed that at least some other people share!

So, what does this do for me?

First, it eliminates decision-making at bedtime. For a couple of years, I took a break from M*A*S*H and listened to podcasts instead. But I often did not know exactly what I needed on any given night. I would start a podcast only to turn it off five minutes later and search for something else. An hour later, I could still be browsing my library.

Second, when the episode is done, the DVD player stops. So if I fall asleep right away (as I often do) I do not later have to rewind or reset anything. And I do not unnecessarily waste electricity or data.

Third, I know every episode almost by heart. So I can turn over and close my eyes without missing anything. And there is nothing lost if I do fall asleep.

Fourth, it is low-stimulus viewing and listening. There is not a lot of fast action — unless there is a fight at Rosie’s Bar. Most scenes are just people talking in one of a few settings: mess tent, OR, post-op, Swamp, Officers Club, etc. There is not a lot of loud noise, except for the few episodes that involve mortar shells. And with the exception of Klinger’s outfits, the color scheme throughout is army drab. There is not much in the typical M*A*S*H episode to keep you up at night.

Fifth, the idea of working in an army hospital only a few miles from the front, where you can be in surgery for eighteen hours straight only to be woken again after a couple of hours’ sleep to an announcement of more incoming wounded and all shifts report to OR, really makes you feel grateful for the comfort of your bed and night of sleep that you are about to enjoy. There is one episode that really drives this home. It opens on a brutally cold winter night with Radar going to Hawkeye’s tent to wake him to go on duty at midnight. Hawkeye says, “I’ll give you ten dollars for ten more minutes.” I can just imagine how that would feel.

At some point I will need to move on from this. One by one, the DVDs are dropping dead. I could possibly replace them. But I think I need to discover a successor for M*A*S*H — something I can be happy to watch or listen to over and over again for years. Something that will provide the same comfort.

Or perhaps I need to relearn what I did so many years ago — go to bed, turn out the light, and lie quietly in the dark. But I just can not make myself do that right now.