Award For Best Drama

140612-F-LR342-004Sometimes life is hard. And I don’t just mean “I spilled my coffee and I can’t find my keys” hard. Sometimes it’s “I’m out of money and I have to fix my car because I’m an Uber driver, and the only way I can make money is to have a car that works, so somehow I have to come up with money so I can earn money so I can buy a new car because the one I have is on its last legs, and how am I going to pay the rent?” hard.

And you have a choice: get out of bed, or don’t get out of bed.

It’s easy to feel justified in throwing your hands in the air and saying, “I can’t do this anymore.” Especially if this kind of thing has been going on for years, and you keep getting out of bed, you take one leap of faith after another, you’ve been so far down you weren’t sure you’d survive the week and you kept going. At some point, giving up seems like the only sane option.

That’s your drama coach talking. You need to fire your drama coach, because this isn’t Hollywood, and there’s no award for best drama.

We live in a nation that thinks we should hold out for a Hollywood ending, and that what we see on the screen is reality. We think Jerry Springer was providing needed therapeutic relief. We think we can draw a line in the sand, and that will make things better. None of this is true.

And you have to get out of bed. If you don’t get out of bed, you can’t take the next step, and if you don’t take the next step, you’ll stay where you are. Are you happy where you are? No. So get out of bed and take the next step. That’s your only option.

My check engine light came on at ten o’ clock last night, so I had to skip my midnight Uber shift. I’d just earned enough to pay my car insurance, which I was two months behind on because I didn’t have the money to pay it. My Dad had just paid to have a thermostat replaced so the car would stop overheating in rush hour traffic, and he bought me new tires because my tires were bald. I couldn’t drive during the day, because when the $1200 timing belt replacement was done, the mechanic illegally disconnected my air conditioner, which ruined the compressor. That’s a $1400 repair to be able to drive my car during the day to make money, at the times I know I can make money, so now I’m driving nights, and since I’m driving nights there’s no open repair shop I can take my car to find out what’s wrong and figure out what it will cost to repair.

I can’t talk to my mom about this, like I used to, because my mom has spent the last two years dumping her anxieties on me when what I need is courage to do what seems impossible to me. She calls it advice, in spite of the fact that she has provided no functional options I can use to pursue a better course. And she doesn’t understand that if you say it once, it’s expressing your concerns, but if you say it repeatedly, month after month, it’s badgering, and it’s destructive. So, no call to Mom.

I tried to do the “key dance” that would return to me the codes causing the “check engine light” to come on, which would tell me what’s wrong, and what it will cost, but no luck. I went to bed knowing I have a car that keeps letting me down, and can’t even stay running long enough for me to earn the money I need to get a different car, now that I finally have time to just DRIVE because I just finished my Master’s Certificate in Workplace E-Learning, and I don’t have to spend any more time studying. I could just drive, and pay off all my bills, and finally get ahead a bit, except that the car isn’t working.

And this morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt like I’d earned a few moments to mope, to feel miserable, to protest the unfairness. For twelve years I’ve been trying to be worthy of an income, and stability. I’ve taken one job after another that made me miserable, and I’ve lived in a storage unit when I couldn’t pay the rent, because this nation is so broken we can’t even provide beds in a shelter for people who were fine before 2008, when the recession hit. When it became clear that the career path I chose, Pharmacy Technician, was a bad choice for someone with ADHD, which I didn’t know I had until, as a pharmacy technician, I looked at one request after another for stimulants, and I saw what qualified a person for ADHD meds. I saw that I had those symptoms, and suddenly I realized, it’s not the company, it’s not the position, it’s not my managers, supervisors, or coworkers; it’s me. I’m not good enough, and I will never be good enough. I have to find something I can do, which is worthy of income, that I either have or can get the credentials for. Again. And this time hope I chose a career that I won’t fail at. Again. This time, I hope I’m good enough.

Which is really hard, as someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, because there are a ton of things I will never be good enough at, and they’re all jobs that I could otherwise be doing right now. And the depression doesn’t help.

But no, I didn’t earn time to mope. No one earns that. No one has a right to mope. If you mope, maybe you can be forgiven for it. Maybe your moping is understandable, but that doesn’t make it okay. Any more than my mother’s concerns for my future meant it was okay to keep telling me I was headed for disaster, in every way she could think of, over and over, for months, right before she started badgering me to talk to my stepdad again, whom I refuse to listen to because he refused to stop drilling his fears into me in a fully abusive manner. He said he needed to tell me how he felt because he was concerned for me, so he took actions to make things worse for me, so that he could feel better. Sure, he wanted to feel better, that’s understandable. Understandable doesn’t mean acceptable.

There are many ways you can destroy your life, and choosing not to keep going when you’re in a bad place is one of them. Because, if you don’t move, you are still in that place you don’t want to be. The only way to get through it is to keep moving. So no, you don’t get to feel justified in moping, in lying in bed with no willpower to get up. You can do it, but you don’t get to feel justified, and that’s just one more thing that makes all of this suck.

And this is when the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer come back to me. “I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.”

I don’t even have children who are counting on me. I don’t live in a nation overrun with terrorists or drug cartels, I have never watched my children starve to death because there’s a famine, and when my nation was colonized, a policy of selling off all the extra grain was initiated, so now, with the drought, there’s no food stored to get us through. I didn’t have my genitalia sliced away and my vagina sewn up to assure that sex would be painful so I would have no incentive to be promiscuous, in spite of the fact that I live in a nation where men believe they have the right to rape any woman they find, walking out to fetch the wood I need to build a fire to cook my food. I don’t live with the fear that the police will shoot me when they pull me over for not realizing my speed was excessive, just because of the color of my skin.

I’m alive. I have a roof over my head. I have several cans of tuna and soup in the cupboard. I have friends and family who have told me they will catch me if I fall.

And that’s when common sense finally kicks in. I’m not worrying about what is, I’m worrying about what might be, and I’m letting it kick my ass.

It’s time to take my car to the auto parts store and tell them to pull the codes so I know what I have to do to fix it. Because it might just be spark plugs, for $28, and they might be able to show me how to replace them. Granted, that’s unlikely, because I own a car that is so hard to work on that the engine has to be detached and lowered for everything that is done to it. So maybe it’s $175 to get it done, by a mechanic I’ve trusted for a few years now, because I’m back in the city where I belong, after being away for nearly a year, where I had no support, and the mechanics kept telling me what was wrong with my car would cost thousands to repair. Where they did more damage fixing it than I’d just paid to have it repaired so I could drive it so I could earn money to pay for the repairs. And yes, that would mean I can’t afford to pay the auto insurance that I’m two months behind on, but there’s no point insuring a car that I can’t even drive, so the priority is to make sure it runs. I’m tired of having to prioritize my needs, I want to be having my needs met, and I want to be prioritizing my wants.

And this is life, and everyone goes through things like this. I know the crap I’m going through, but I will never know what even my best friend, or my mom, or the marine in Syria, or the democrat or republican that voted for the wrong guy, is actually going through. Because, if it weren’t for this blog, no one would know all of this about me, because I wouldn’t tell anyone. I’m saying it here, now, for you, because those of us on the spectrum think that we see what is, and when we don’t hear that those we love are going through hell, we assume we are the only ones dealing with crap. The truth is that everyone deals with crap. Everyone has bad days, weeks, months, years. And they don’t tell you about it, but you can’t assume it isn’t happening.

When you’re having a bad day, don’t assume you’re the only one having a bad day. Get up, move on. There are no awards for your drama, and you don’t get to assume everyone else should drop what they’re doing and pat you on the back. Someone, somewhere, just got news that their child is going to die in six months. Someone watched their platoon going flying into the air, in pieces. Someone just lost one child to gang warfare, and the same gang is going to kill their only remaining child unless he joins them. Someone watched her six year old be taken away, and has no idea where the child is, or when, or whether, they’ll be together again.

Even if there was an award for best drama, I wouldn’t be getting it. There isn’t even an award for overcoming adversity. But there’s life. There’s finding a way to get through this, there’s paying rent in three weeks, somehow. There’s still food in the cupboard. There’s the option of selling the car to pay the rent, and updating my resume to get a 9-5 job that leaves me with barely enough time to keep writing my novels, which won’t pay off for years, if ever, because I’m too broke to market them, and they’re too unusual for a commercial publisher to be interested in. But unusual enough that a readership hungry for something different will devour them, one after another.

And this, too, shall pass.

After I indulge myself in moping by writing a blog entry about it. Because I’m human, and I don’t get an award for it, and I can’t justify it, but I’m doing it anyway. You?

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brittany Liddon/Released

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Thoughts while messaging

Mom message 3-10-18 - 1

And I wish you would stop trying to insert your well-wishing into my mood as if I am merely suffering from a logical error that causes me to see myself as a failure when you are so sure that I’m not.

It feels disrespectful because it suggests I lack the self-discipline, will and intelligence to simply get over it by applying the principles of optimism and positive self-image. It suggests that the mere fact that I have had certain successes in certain areas in the past means I’m fully functional and should have no problem fitting into society, that all I have to do is try. That my failure is my fault, not the fault of a society that only values people who are reliably productive and fully functional. It suggests my issues are less complex than this table:

Value I know Others know Employers know
Spiritual Usually Some do, some don’t Irrelevant
Productive Yes Some do, some don’t Irrelevant
Productive enough No Some do, some don’t No

The truth is that the area of importance is the bottom right; if employers are unable to perceive that I am productive enough to be worthy of a job, then nothing else matters, because I will be unable to secure sufficient income to be satisfied with my life, and there are many situations that others seem to be satisfied with that I never will be. I’m not happy about the fact that I need windows in the place I work, but I do. I’m not happy that I can’t be satisfied with the interference of office politics, vicious co-workers, and co-workers who are OK with doing substandard work and providing substandard customer service. But these things DO bother me enough that I can’t be happy when I’m surrounded by them. Yet the level I can operate at, with the issues I carry, puts me among such people in every position I’ve held, aside from the one where there were no windows and I was very depressed all day, took long lunches and gained weight. Which is another way I’ve failed at being an accepted, functional member of society.

My issue is that there is no proof I will ever be able to hold a job that will satisfy me, long term, or in which I’ll be able to satisfy my superiors. Unfortunately, many of the parts of the job that I have difficulty with are not listed in the job description because it’s assumed all functional adults can do them. But I can’t, so I get chewed out at every review for having failed at something I’m incapable of. What I’m good at is analysis, but those jobs are higher level, and require promotion into them, and I can’t get promoted if I can’t do the current job at a satisfactory level, which it seems I can’t, for every job I’ve held.

You keep saying kind things about me, and forwarding beautiful images to me, as if I just need to lift my chin and see that the world IS a beautiful place, because I haven’t got the sense to do that myself unless someone leads me around by the nose and rubs my face in the beauty. This feels like an insult to the time and energy I put into my own Emotional and Spiritual Hygiene. I have to stop myself and think about my response, because we have argued about this so many times, starting with “innocent” reminders that I need to be diligent in maintaining employment, as if I’m not, and that my problem is not the perception my superiors have of me, but my own perception of myself. I have tried so hard at work that I have been so exhausted I am slowly burning out, and I still fail, and the looming blade of that guillotine hanging over my neck can give me PTSD, as the firing process does. Then comes unemployment, then hard work in the gig economy that provides me no workers compensation, social security accrual, or any other benefits. I barely make enough to pay my bills, not enough to get ahead or purchase property that would at least allow me the security of self-sufficiency.

The “kindness” of these attempts at providing wise advice, in the absence of truly understanding the situation I’m in, and suggesting that my problem is a character flaw rather than a combination of several disabilities, is so insulting that I can end up lashing out, then hate myself for it, because you’re not trying to be unkind, you’re actually trying to be kind, and the problem is you don’t understand. And the problem is you refuse to let it go. And every time you send me a cute image, or mention me to draw my attention to a beautiful post, feels like an attempt to reopen this conversation that utterly destroys me when you bring it up.

Because, in order to convey to you that my issues are not simply my own perception, I have to point out to you all the ways in which I fail to live up to the standards of the judgmental society we live in, where my inability to understand others, and be understood by others, turns me into a child looking through the window at the beautiful, warm conversations that I’m left out of. The fact that my inability to perceive what others are thinking or feeling, to the degree I’m expected to, means my motives are questioned, and I am continuously accused of laziness, selfishness, viciousness. It’s not true, and it hurts to be accused, by employers, coworkers and acquaintances, of things I haven’t done. I yearn for you to understand so you stop saying things that hurt me, like “you need to keep your job” and “you’re going to fail if you leave the job you’re in without having another lined up” in spite of the fact that I have tried, in job after job, and I have failed, in job after job, no matter how hard I’ve tried. I’m not leaving employment because I reject it, I’m leaving because it rejected me, and yet I’m doing everything I can to try again, in a different way, by taking college classes again, at this age, in the hopes of finding something I can do that doesn’t require skills at which I will never be good enough.

There have always been other excuses for why I left jobs, and I gave them, because I try to keep an optimistic view, and say things will work next time, because you taught me that it’s important to be optimistic and believe in myself. Until, well into my sixth decade of life, it dawns on me that the rosy lens of optimism might be what’s betraying me, and the truth that I’m not up to this task would better serve me, because at this stage I should have more answers than questions, but I don’t. And in order to explain that to you, I have to point out all my flaws, in extensive detail, rather than focus on what I CAN do that I do well, which would serve me better. That isn’t good Emotional or Spiritual Hygiene, and I’m going there not because I want to, but because you’ve put me in a position where it’s the only way to defend myself against the worse accusation, that I’m just indulging in negative drama.

Mom message 3-10-18 - 2

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The hazard of being a man when men are called out for bad behavior

Masculine Feminine Traits

A difficult thing for Aspies is finding the lines between acceptable and unacceptable, while people around us define the line in a number of ways, many of which seem irrational. I posted the following on my Facebook feed regarding the sexual harassment charges unleashed lately, and it occurred to me that anyone dealing with Aspergers might find the definitions and explanations helpful to put it all in place regarding what’s right, what’s wrong, why people are doing what they’re doing, and how to be a good person in the midst of all the turmoil.

I’d like to take a moment to also honor the men who have been patient with women traumatized by Men Behaving Badly. When a woman is harassed by such a man (as, I believe, most women have been), it can cause PTSD that then re-traumatizes her every time a man she loves acts like a man at all, and a good man learns to tiptoe, and hold in not only the inappropriate urges, but also many of the needed elements of his masculinity, out of love and compassion for the women in his life. His own expression of appropriate masculinity is suppressed as he becomes an additional victim of Men Behaving Badly. In time some men lash out against this subjugation, but because they’ve been quelled, they believe ANY expression of masculinity is not only acceptable but desirable. Such men have lost the clear boundaries of productive and destructive, because they aren’t allowed to even express positive masculinity, and in roaring like Sebastian Gorka, they further traumatize not only women who have had their lives ruined by men such as Harvey Weinstein, they also trample decent men who are trying to sort it all out and be the men they know they are without hurting the people they love, but it’s all gone to shit and the boundaries are no longer clear because we’re ALL victims of this trauma, men and women both, even if we weren’t the ones in the room when the assault happened.

This bastardizes our understanding of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, how each element has a positive function, and how to express ourselves, as men and women, without unleashing the WORST parts of ourselves on each other. It’s no more appropriate to respond to the urge to slap a woman’s ass in public than it is to buy several thousand pairs of shoes at the expense of the peasants. We need to learn to express ourselves, as men and women, in the ways that make our communities and families better, and stand strong as people who are bringing their own individual strengths to the table.

To help toward this end, I’ve attached a graphic that shows how masculine and feminine traits are different from each other. Think about how to use these traits productively, and how we can encourage each other to be our best selves. And let’s do our best get through this healing with as much grace as possible so we are no longer traumatized by all expressions of polar traits, while still holding Men Behaving Badly to account for the times they are out of line. And yes, woman have good sides and bad sides too, but the current zeitgeist is lancing the infection of male overreach, so that’s where I’m coming from in this post, and reminding everyone, while we’re in this ugliness, that being a MAN is not a bad thing. Being a man who believes he can do whatever he wants, at the expense of anyone around him, without consequences; THAT is a bad thing. And not just for women, but also for men who love them.

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ADHD: What it costs to suppress impulses

I finally got a full array of testing done on all my known issues, which not only told me more about the degree to which my diagnoses would interfere with employment, but also gave me some insight about how my ADHD brain works, and it was very enlightening. If you’re struggling with ADHD, this is something I think you should know.

One of the tests was the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS). A section of this test had lists of words that I had to read; each word named a color, and was printed in a color. On the first list I read, the word “orange” was printed in orange ink, the word “green” was printed in green ink, and so on. The next list I read had the word “orange” printed in green ink, and the word “green” printed in red ink, and so on. I had to read the words on the first two lists. On the third list Then the same thing, except I had to name the color, not read the word. This was the hardest of the three. This was called “Color-Word Interference”.

When the therapist went over the results with me, this last section was referred to as “Inhibition”, and my score was below what would be expected with my intelligence level. In other words, it took me longer to perform this task than someone with my IQ would normally take. Because my brain took a few milliseconds longer to inhibit the impulse to read the word and ignore the color, or vice versa.

This is one of the ways ADHD affects us. Throughout every day there are countless impulses, some we notice, some we don’t. And when we have an impulse, it takes more effort to suppress the impulse than it takes other people.

This means that when we’re functioning as well as the next person, it’s because we’re exhibiting MORE discipline than the next person has to in order to get the same results. It reminds me of an interview with Michael J. Fox about Parkinson’s. He said he could walk across a room just like anyone else can, but it takes him a lot more energy to do so. Because of Parkinson’s, everything he does is more exhausting for him than it is for others, so that he runs out of energy earlier and needs to rest. So he has to choose where he’s going to spend his energy, every moment of every day.

So do we. Every decision can be agonizing. I prefer to have others make the decisions as much as possible. This leaves me more energy to focus on studies, or work, or whatever else is going on in my life. This isn’t laziness, this is strategy. And, at the end of the day, when I get back home and the kitchen is a mess, figuring out where to start, where to put things, whether the lettuce needs to be thrown out or is still good, every one of these decisions saps my energy before I even start, and the impulse to just walk away can be hard to stifle. And every time I do it anyway takes more effort than most people, and I count it as a victory.

Which means, when I’m doing well, it’s because I have MORE discipline than the average person, who isn’t struggling with a brain that is resisting every single tiny decision, and a brain that makes every impulse a near-compulsion. It takes a lot of effort, and if, on some days, I just don’t feel up to it, that doesn’t mean I’m worthless. It’s important to push myself to make all the decisions, one after another, and to resist the impulse to walk away, but on days I just can’t get it done, forgiveness might be in order. And, to be honest, the only person who knows how hard I’m trying is me. I’m accountable to me, and I do my best for me because I want a life that works. I want a clean kitchen, I want to get my homework done, I want to be able to find my screwdriver because I remembered to put it where it belongs the last time I used it. And that wasn’t easy. I’m doing pretty well, which is what matters. And it brings me to my next Michael J. Fox quote; “Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. It means understanding that something is what it is and there’s got to be a way through it.”

M J Fox Acceptance Doesn't Mean Resignation

Image from Bobbi’s Blog (2014, February 20). Michael J Fox: Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation…. Retrieved from
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On the Edge

I don’t know why, but I’m back to needing 8-10 hours of sleep a night, like I have through so much, too much of my life. And insufficient sleep doesn’t just make me tired during the day, it’s not a misery I can just push through, it makes me narcoleptic again. I actually nodded off the other day while going through the testing I had wanted to do back in my 20s, which would probably have caught my ASD and my ADHD, and I could have been dealing with it for the past 30 years rather than continuing to believe if I just tried a bit harder I could actually meet the standards others held me up to, rather than seeing how I was different and finding more suitable ways to do the same things. Ways that actually work for someone like me. So the testing is important, in case there’s something else it can find that can give me some answers instead of more questions.

But that’s beside the point. I’m tired. And fortunately I now make a living driving for Uber, so this morning, when I was still exhausted at 5:00 am after getting to bed at a reasonable time, I went back to sleep and vowed to skip my 7-9 AM shift, which would otherwise have netted perhaps $30. Because I can, and because if I don’t, I might have to miss part of my evening shift, or my last orchestra rehearsal before our last concert of the year. I missed the rehearsal last week.

So I woke up late and sat at my little desk in my tiny apartment while the sun came out just outside my window. In Portland, Oregon, that’s a big deal. Especially this year. Especially to anyone who has Seasonal Depression, as I do. And I kept spinning my wheels, surfing the web, reading my Facebook News Feed, knowing I’ve got things I need to do, and I decided a change of scenery would help me get my mind on track, and it would get me out in the sun, which would be good, so I packed up my laptop and went to a nearby café. Where, as I tried to get on their internet, I remembered it doesn’t work for my notebook computer, just for my tablet computer and my cell phone. No problem. I’ll set up my cell-phone’s Wifi hotspot and use my cell data minutes for a little while. But that didn’t work either. OK, worst case scenario, I can research articles on my phone and use that information for the writing I came out here to do so that I can get it in by deadline, if I work really hard at it. And my phone refused to pull up any of the websites I need. So I popped open my cell phone plan management tool to find out why… nothing. I could certainly sleuth this on their full website using my notebook, if I could GET online with my notebook.

At this point, I wanted to throw something. But then the nice staff, who didn’t intend for their network to be insufficient, would have to pick up the broken shards of my lovely teal mug, and the customers would have their pleasant morning exploded into by my frustrated outburst. So I refrained, drained my coffee, packed up my notebook and phone, and went somewhere else. But first I went to the bathroom. Where there was no place to put my notebook while I was on the toilet. OK, I can prop it on the sink, as I sometimes do when there’s no table, shelf, chair or baby-changing station. But the sink didn’t have a flat edge, it had a sloped edge. I couldn’t even get it to rest without sliding when it was right under the faucet, which is a place I NEVER want a computer to be. Dammit, fine I’ll just put it on the floor, ANOTHER place I never want it to be! This is a bigger deal for someone with ADHD, people. We have extremely strict routines we use to make sure that we have a habit of never putting valuable things in places where we might forget them and step on them, spill on them, leave them behind, or any of the other myriad things that we are far too capable of doing. This isn’t just a routine, it’s strict behavioral hygiene that makes it possible to function on a day to day basis. Which is why having to put my notebook computer on the floor was just the last straw on this otherwise fairly tolerable day.

I swear I’ve about had it. I’m living in a 10’ x 10’ room, the entryway of my apartment, with a shared bathroom down the hall for which I have to take a key and a roll of toilet paper every time I need to use it. I can afford half the rental on a house in the area of town I want to live, and I have someone I get along with who will rent the other half, but my income is not conventional and neither is hers. She has someone to co-sign, but a lot of places don’t allow that. There’s this ray of hope that we can pull it off, but only if we find the right opportunity. Until then we’re in this sucky situation that is just one frustration too many and leaves me with very little reserve for all the other things that go wrong, which is why a single, seemingly insignificant setback can knock me right off my stable emotional ground.

This is nothing new to anyone who doesn’t fit what our culture deems “normal”, by which they mean “acceptable”. But look at a bell-shaped curve and remember; there may be a whole lot of people who are clustered in the center of the graph, but those of us who aren’t in that region, who are out on the fringes, we’re part of the graph, and we can make things work by doing it in a slightly different way, like me making the income I need by being a rideshare driver, but we hit wall after wall because society has come to accept alternative solutions less and less over time, the same way big box stores have made little nook-and cranny, unique alternatives a thing of the past. The fact that landlords can insist on a slew of requirements means they don’t HAVE to find a place for someone like me. I understand; if I owned a house, I’d rather rent it to someone who is less likely to damage it while they live there, and for that, I want assurances that people living on the fringe can’t give me because they don’t have the standard documents. Because they’re not standard.

Figure 1, Bell Curve (Abhijit Bhaduri, 2015) Creative Commons:

And social services have even more requirements, even more restrictions. If I go into an apartment, I can’t have a vegetable garden in my backyard to work on, and I know myself well enough to know that a community garden offsite is not going to work for me. ADHD; out of sight, out of mind. Gardens don’t handle that very well. And what about the rabbits I want to raise? The chickens? And how am I supposed to support myself if I can’t afford my health insurance because I’m spending my money on groceries because I have no way to raise my own food?

I’m ready to start guerrilla gardening, at least. Just plant some herbs and sweet potatoes out in the meadows on BLM or State Forest land and hope they make it to harvest time. There’s some land like that out in the area of town I want to live in. But first I need to find a place over there to live. There’s nowhere here on my end of town but yards and public parks.


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How Autism Made Me More Compassionate. Than others.

Hand HelpYou’re probably familiar with autism, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) , and Aspergers, a form of high-functioning ASD. People on the socially awkward end of this scale have long been accused of selfishness and inability to care about others, which is simply not true. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we don’t see the signals that would tell others that there’s something wrong. Even with PDD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which is closer to the center of the scale, you can’t fully grasp what people mean when they say things, especially if they seem to be joking. You can’t read a facial expression or body language if it’s subtle. Since most people can, and they don’t realize when it’s subtle, this can make you look and feel really stupid even if you have an IQ of 125 or more. But it also means you aren’t subject to peer pressure because you’re oblivious to it. It means you don’t feel compelled to go with the flow because you can’t feel the flow, or you feel it but you don’t see any point in going with it, as it will take you a direction that you aren’t interested in.

This can be a good thing, when the flow is a bad thing.

A person with an ASD will go into a social situation and make the mistake of behaving according to what we understand are the right social rules, only to find out that once again there’s some signal that we missed. We find out, after the fact, that this one was an exception to the rule, and we should have known that, because everyone else does. It’s like that scene in “Clan of the Cave Bear” where Iza is at her wits end with Ayla as Ayla once again breaks a taboo everyone else simply knew without having to be told. And to any Aspies reading this, just so you know, I’ll be using the word “normal” when what I mean is “neurotypical” throughout this post.  

It’s this apartness, these differences between us, that prompted this post. I’m distressed that lately we’ve heard a lot of ranting, us versus them, we’re right, they’re wrong, the world is going to hell and it’s all “their” fault, we have to take drastic measures or we’re all going to die, you are a bunch of devils. How can we make it stop? Well, as long as there’s an “us” and a “them”, that’s hard. As long as “we” are so positive that what “they” are doing is wrong, immoral, dangerous… we can’t. Which means we, ALL of us, have to stop seeing things this way. Period.

This is called compassion. Well, it’s more a desire to understand what the other side is experiencing, and considering the possibility that they have a valid reason for what they’re doing, and if you’ll take a moment to consider the possibility that while you might be right, it’s possible they’re ALSO right, and if you sit down and talk about it respectfully you can find a solution that works for everyone. Which is pretty damned close to the meaning of compassion, but it takes a lot longer to say.

It turns out that having an autism spectrum disorder might actually make it easier to get past this tribalism. I want to tell you a story from my own past that at least proves that a person with an ASD, like myself, is fully capable of going to extraordinary lengths to help another person, even when there’s no possible explanation except compassion.

It was a very warm Texas day when I’d gone to a park where a group of historical enthusiasts were meeting to practice their skills. There were artistic re-enactors sewing garments, weaving belts and talking about authentic period recipes. I’d come to join as a musician and seamstress, while watching fighting re-enactors layer up in padded gear and go out on the field to practice hand to hand combat. I met a really great guy who welcomed me to the group and made me feel at home. Then he went out and happily bashed his friends, who enthusiastically bashed him back, as only good friends can. An hour or two later, after I’d been happily talking with other artists and learned some new tricks for making decorative edging, he packed up his gear, hopped on his bike and left.

It was over 100 degrees out, and no shade on the roads.

The next time I went, I took my instrument out of my cargo van, said hi to him, played in the shade, and when it was time to go he asked if it would be OK if he put his bike in the back of my van and got a ride with me, as he lived about a half mile away, and it was 105, and he’d been bashing his friends in heavy layers of cloth, as is historically accurate. Oh my God of COURSE you can! Here, I’ll open up the back, pop it right in there, and give me directions, I’m TOTALLY taking you home! I can’t believe you rode that thing up the hill to get here then engaged in heavy exercise in all that gear and were THEN going to ride the bike back home in this heat! That’s INSANE! Understandable, of course, because how else are you going to find a group of friends who have so much fun bashing each other while wearing old-fashioned clothing. If you don’t have a car. These are the things we do because we’re not like other people who are perfectly happy just going to the movies on a lovely Saturday afternoon. We’re funny that way.

Well, I got to know him a little better on the trip, and I told him I’d be glad to pick him up and get him to the practice sessions as well as taking him back home afterwards, since I was going anyway and he lived so close. And I did exactly that.

A few weeks later I read, on his Facebook feed, that he was dreading having to go get groceries. Well, yeah; I’ve had to hike groceries from store to house without a car before, it’s hot, it’s a pain in the ass, and you’re limited on how much you can buy, and WHAT you can buy (note to self, do NOT try to stock up on canned food when hiking groceries home in Texas heat.) So I said, “Hey, how about I come over there after work and drive you to the store and back?” He lived 15 miles west of where I worked, and 20 miles west of where I lived, so it wasn’t on the way home, but he’s a good guy and I care about him. As I do about everyone. I’m funny that way.

It was a late night where I worked, we messaged back and forth, and in the end I arrived at 10:00 PM. He and another guy got in my van. He asked if it’s OK if we take his roommate with us. His roommate works at the store. Of course I’ll drop him off for his graveyard shift. Hop in!

On the way there, it occurred to me that this guy also had to get back home after his shift ended 8 hours later or so. And it was five miles from their home. And this is Texas; public transportation isn’t that good right in the city, and this was not right in the city, and worse yet, it wasn’t standard hours. Shall I pick you back up in the morning and get you back home before I go to work? I can do that and still make it on time. Yes, thank you, he said, that would really be great! So I did. Every night and every morning, until it occurred to me, here I am driving 20 miles to pick him up, take him a few miles down the road, then 15 miles back to my work, every morning, when in fact, since I’d done the reverse of that very same things the night before, and since he’s not in his bed every night…

And that’s how I ended up going over the their place every evening after work, handing him the keys to my van, then surfing the web on my laptop and watching TV before I slept in his bed. When the alarm clock rang in the morning I got up, took a shower, grabbed my keys off the counter and went to work. Every day. For quite some time, until they replaced the car they’d lost. We had a lovely Christmas dinner. He’s a cook, and he makes a damned fine brisket, which they were able to buy for half off because he snagged it as soon as it went on sale, and they were able to get it back home because they didn’t have to bike it for 45 minutes in the Texas heat, or hike and bus for  a godawful length of time after the buses start running in the morning.

Of course I realized that if I told people that I’d slept at a guy’s place after only meeting him a few times so his roommate could take my van and drive himself to work every night they’d probably think I was crazy. Well, no, but I’m certainly not normal. Neither am I self-centered and uncaring. The problem is not that we don’t, or can’t care, it’s that something has to be really obvious for us to be aware of it, and when it IS obvious to us, THAT’S when what we do or don’t do has meaning.

But it makes me wonder, did I do this in spite of my ASD or because of my ASD? After all, if you’re the normal type, I bet there was a point during this story when you saw a deviation from social norm, where it’s understood that you don’t just turn your life upside down for someone that you don’t know REALLY well, and you don’t hand the keys to your car to someone unless you know for SURE that they aren’t a thief or a daredevil, so it’s important to know someone better. Yeah, I get that, and I took it into consideration, but the fact that I don’t feel the same compulsion to adhere to social norms is part of why I was able to weigh the risks against the values, and how this act fit my values, and judge the equation solely on that basis. Common sense, at least as a compulsion, is anything but common for those with an ASD. But that’s the very reason it’s easier for us to accept people and situations that don’t fit the predefined societal markers that tell us this person is in our social group and it’s okay to associate with them, and to help them. That’s just not an instinct we have. So we can either be kind to everyone or be kind to no one, because there’s no instinctive hierarchy that we respond to. If we DO respond to a social hierarchy it’s because we learned it as a rule and have logically determined that it’s the correct, rational response. But not because it’s built into the way we think or feel.

For me, I’m not even Christian, exactly, or at least that’s what Christians tell me, but I refer to his teachings for guidance in my principles and practices. I believe that unconditional love is what we all want, and what we should all strive to give, so any social hierarchies I was taught I’ve rejected, because he would reject them, and I want to love like he loved. I don’t actually need you to believe this about me, because that’s not the important thing. I’ve gone years without telling anyone this story; I didn’t do it so I could tell people about it. I did it because I saw someone whose life was harder than it should have been, and I did it because it was what I could do. I didn’t have money I could give them, and I doubt they would have taken it. What I had was a van, and enough money to put enough gas in it, and the right work schedule to make this work. And the other thing I had was no social compunction about it either way. So maybe it doesn’t make me more compassionate than the next person, really, but in this instance, I think it made me more able to DO something about it, and if you’re going to measure compassion by what others DO, then rate my compassion based on this.

It turns out that I need to remind myself, when people tell me I’m some kind of unfeeling, uncaring creature, that they’re wrong about that, and this is one time when that was  really obvious. And I realized, if I need to hear it, so do you, because this ability to care in spite of, or maybe even because of, having an ASD is not unique to me; of course we can care, it just looks different with us. For the times it makes us seem less compassionate, there are also times when we might seem to go overboard. As I see it, we’re all human, we’re all in this together, and we have a choice; we can help each other or not. I’d rather be the type of person who helps people.  Maybe that makes me different. I’m okay with that.

Original image for “Hand Help” by Jaroslav Šmahel is licensed under Creative Commons C0.

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It’s not a character flaw, it’s a disorder

blindmanHave you ever felt like all your problems would go away if people just understood you better? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and coming to terms with the fact that you can’t control what other people understand. This has been my greatest challenge this past year or two, since it slowly dawned on me that my issues weren’t limited to chronic Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which I’ve known I suffer from since I was eleven years old, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which I’ve known about for ten years, but also include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It actually affects me in ways I didn’t even know were particular to it. There are six scales for the effects of ADHD, and most people are familiar with only two; hyperactivity and focus. There’s a good set of slides that explains this at

I don’t have hyperactivity, and my focus is a concern but not extreme. My worst issues are on the scales people don’t even know about, including memory (utilizing working memory and accessing recall) and “activation” (organizing, prioritizing, and activating to work). I can be paralyzed when it comes to picking up and organizing my home, and it’s not because I’m lazy; it’s because that part of my brain doesn’t function correctly, just like a blind man simply can’t see, and no amount of trying harder will change that fact. This organizing problem causes huge issues with what I can own, how I move around my space, and whether I can have people over. It can also be hazardous. I work hard to keep the mess down to a relative minimum, and move things fairly regularly so I can sweep and clean, but I have a hard time reaching my ultimate goal of just having a nice place to live. On good days, it’s like a bachelor pad; on bad days, which are far too often, it seems like a rat’s nest. I keep working on it, though, and keep making new promises to myself that this time I’m going to get it right, and everything is going to be okay.

Lately the worst part, though, is that I’m spending so much time explaining to other people that this is NOT a character flaw, my brain simply can’t DO these things, and that it’s actually REAL, I’m not just too hard on myself, nor can I just stop being this way. It’s not a temporary condition, it’s not something I can overcome, it’s who I am. And that keeps me mired in the problem, rather than working toward solutions. And it’s exhausting and depressing. Lately I’ve been lying in bed in the morning, wondering if I’m going to find the will to simply get up. Sometimes I wonder if the depression is a standalone issue or just a result of dealing with ASD and ADHD. Then Autumn arrives, and I remember, yes, it’s definitely a standalone issue, and it’s way worse in the winter.

I have to remind myself of the loving and selfless things I’ve done, to overcome a very depressing sense that maybe I AM just selfish. No, I can name things I’ve done that prove otherwise, over and over, and some are so extreme in the selflessness that other people seem to be amazed that ANYONE would do it. After Katrina survivors were bused to Dallas and housed in a facility miles from the nearest affordable department store, I drove my minivan down there every day and spent four hours a day taking vanloads of people from the facility, to the center where they could get their benefits, to the Walmart where they bought new clothes, toothbrushes, shampoo and everything else they needed, then made sure I got every one of them back to their shelter before going home. I did that for several weeks, and I didn’t think it was anything exceptional, but other people did. I have plenty of stories like this. I’ve been a volunteer during most of the times in my life when I didn’t have a paid job. When friends and family have been in difficult situations, I’ve invited them into my house or gone to help them where they are. It’s most certainly not selfishness, but when I’m told, time after time after time, that I’m being selfish, it’s hard not to slip up and think yeah, maybe I am just selfish, then I remember. I have to work hard to remember; it’s not a character flaw, it’s a disorder, and I’m doing the best I can. I would certainly do better if I COULD do better. The same is true when I’m criticized for how messy my home is. It’s not a character flaw, it’s a disorder. I’m doing the best I can. I would do better if I COULD do better. I know because I find myself in tears, trying to sort my belongings, trying to put them away, far too often. I spend days in my apartment trying to get things put away instead of going to see my friend’s band play at the local pub; no cover charge. Trust me, if I felt I could go, I’d go, but I can’t because my apartment isn’t clean yet. And at the end of the day, my apartment still isn’t clean, and I didn’t see my friend’s band, either. And by the way, I have a number of friends who are spectacular musicians; one of my beloved friends played Carnegie Hall, another sold a song to Disney for the movie “Pete’s Dragon”, and that’s just two examples. I intend to work that Disney song up for harp and voice so I can play it on the streetcorner where I live, because it’s awesome, but first I need to clean my apartment. Incidentally, my harp isn’t even in my apartment right now; it’s at a friend’s place, partly because my friend loves it, but also because there’s no room for it here. Which means I can’t play it. I miss it. It’s not about wanting it bad enough, and it’s not a character flaw, it’s a disorder.

So could we just get past this conversation about why I don’t have a clean apartment? Can we get past this belief that I’m self-centered and don’t care about other people? Can we just put all of that to rest so I can get on with what I need to get done? This apartment still won’t clean itself, and it’s clearly going to take me longer than it would take you. So I need to be at least trying to get it done, and the time I spend trying to explain myself, trying to help others understand what I’m going through, trying to figure out what I need to overcome and what I will NEVER overcome and need to accept and find another way to get it done, I need to get past that so I can just try to live my life, as best I can. Being mired in the past, being mired in what’s wrong, is not helping. There are things I CAN do well, this isn’t one of them, but it won’t go away just because I can’t do it. I have to figure out HOW to do it, and so far I’m not getting any help with that, I’m just getting a lot of people telling me to just get it done. Seriously, that’s what I’m trying to do. Either help me, or at least don’t hold me back, and please stop arguing with me about whether I’m trying hard enough. This is not a character flaw, and I intend to keep doing the best I can. I have hope that someday that will be good enough. The only way to get there is keep putting one foot in front of the other. If that isn’t evidence enough of my character, then nothing I can say will help you understand me better. At least I know who I am, whether anyone else does or not. It’s not a character flaw, it’s a disorder.

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