Quiet times

I found a post I forgot to hit publish on in my drafts, and I’ve noticed how much my life changed in a little over a year and a half, as I’ve gotten more settled into life. 

For the first time ever, my husband is out of town and I am not. Admittedly, as we have been married less than 4 months, it isn’t that surprising that it is only the first time. There are only so many business trips that he has to take in a year. Eventually, though, one was going to happen and there was going to be a break in the pace.

The routines were just getting built and settled. I like living with my husband. There are the prompts to make meals and eats. I get genuinely excited every time I see him. I like our Sunday nights where we sit on the couch and watch the Simpsons and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I fall asleep much better with someone else in the bed and it’s safer to wake up in the middle of the night and not be alone. I like the patterns of our lives. And I don’t like changes. Also, recently I’ve been watching a lot of nuclear apocalyptic television, so I’m (hopefully irrationally) worried that there will be some big disaster and we will be separated by thousands of miles and never see each other again.

Still, after the first night, it’s a good break. I come home and don’t say any words at all except for songs. I can play music out loud as loud as I want without thinking about who else is there. There’s no sport. No sports! It’s a nice quiet break.

I love my husband but I love the space. In the quiet space of all alone, I can expand and relax and fill up all the space I need to. When other people are around, I can’t. But when I have the house alone, just me and my non-judgemental dog, I can expand and relax and scatter around the house.

When there are other people around, I can’t fill up all the space I need. There’s always space taken up by the other person. Always some part of me that needs to focus on what the other person is doing and how they are doing it and what and where they are. Always adding up the math in my head. Even with people I know extremely well and feel completely safe around, it can be tiring.

I never realize how much time and thoughts it takes until I have a quiet break and realize how much less tired I am. It’s a nice quiet break.

It’s not sustainable, of course. The dishes are unwashed and the dog got taken out at 1:20am and I am not entirely certain if I remember all the steps to go to bed. Managing life on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis is so much harder. I was barely making it through and I was exhausted every day living on my own. And I love spending time with my husband and getting to come home to him and waking up next to him and getting to see him more than once a week.

I would worry more about trying to make space to be alone, but it’s accounting season soon, and the taxes will schedule in those hours for me.

Now we have been married almost 2 years. Plenty more business trips in the middle (we are just coming back from 3 weeks of seeing each other for a cumulative 48 hours). The best part though is that after almost 2 years of living together, somehow some switch has happened where almost all of the time, I can completely relax with him in the room. We’ve settled into even nicer routines and my brain has managed to accept (most of the time) that a night sitting on the couch reading separately is no more tiring than a night sitting on the couch reading alone (except when I’m not home alone I will guaranteed eat actual food for dinner, which my body appreciates. There’s some other differences too, but maybe I’ll write about them later.

Faces and being important

 

“Obviously it’s not important to you, else you’d have remembered it”…Uh yeah that’s not how it works.

http://andreashettle.tumblr.com/post/157544256183/obviously-its-not-important-to-you-else-youd
And I had thoughts that were longer than my normal length tumblr posts, so I thought I’d return to bloggy-land. I like tumblr for obtaining content, but not as much for creating it.

 

So, in undergrad, we did this weeklong service trip. We got to go do some manual labor, clean up some houses, play in the mountains. It was a group of maybe 20 people. We met a couple times, several weeks apart. Before every meeting, I would study their faces on facebook to try and match them. I’m almost positive I spent more time trying to learn their faces than anyone else in the group. I’ve learned, generally, that most people don’t study faces. I also did give my general face disclaimer–bad with faces, I don’t recognize my boyfriend when he shaves, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Like seriously, the mountains were beautiful. And there were lots of trains, so I was pretty happy. Since I’m a fan of trains.

At the end of the week, people went around and said best and worst things about the weekend. One of the girls said the worst thing was that I didn’t care enough about them to learn their names. Other people seconded that. I’m pretty sure I spent more time trying to learn names than anyone else on the trip. But my brain does not like to learn faces.

Sometimes I forget my mother’s face. Often I forget my husband’s face. I know this is a regular problem that I face.

My grad school friends don’t really mind. When I met them for the first time, I mentioned it. I started grad school with my brand new (secret) autism semi-diagnosis and general weird-brain-awareness (although I have always known that I can’t recognize faces) and I would mention when I met them that I was extremely bad at recognizing faces. My grad school friends–science nerds–after 4 years of knowing them I can’t begin to tell you how much of nerds they are–would just excitedly ask “oh is that the face recognizing thing?” and then talk excitedly about prosopognasia. One person even asked me if I had brain scans (and what they looked like). Because brains are cool and differences in them are useful (in learning how they work). I like scientists.

*Darn. I was hoping it would embed visually. But it doesn’t seem to be doing that.

 

In the details and routines

Not everyone* is built for the story of adventures or super-mega-career-intensity told to us** that we should be doing (or maybe I’m spending too much time on the internet and not enough time around traditional old ladies who seem to tell people in stories and movies to settle down and this is a fake problem I’m creating for myself inside my head). Sometimes all we*** want is somewhere safe and familiar to base ourselves in. What is wrong with wanting to settle down? With wanting to put down roots and settle into comfortable routines of life? (Nothing. The answer is nothing.)
I was born too practical a person for reckless adventure. If I won a million dollars, even as a small child, my plan was to pay for my college education and then for my sisters. Now, I would add probably a house for myself and pay off my loans and my husband’s loans.**** I would never go vaguely off and adventuring. I’m not comfortable in new places (alone) or around new people. I like the familiar. I like knowing where my meals are going to come from next week and having all the ingredients and recipes for them prepared ahead of time. All these plans and routines make me HAPPY.
I’ve always been looking for reasonable solutions. There’s love in the details and negotiations of a slow and steady moving relationship. I have the letters saved from when my husband and I were dating and discussing if we wanted to take the next step (of kissing). It was slow and methodical and reasoned out. I can go back and look at them and while it first lets me know how young we both were, I can see the care and concern in each carefully typed letter I have folded into envelopes in the shoebox in my nightstand. There’s care and concern and thought put into these letters that have been outlines.
As we settle into routines of being married, it is safer and happier. The first week back was not as great, with jobs and schedules. There was a person in my place, where it had just been me and my dog before. And the dog listens to me (mostly) and doesn’t talk ever. I would come home from work to happy silence. I don’t like change, even when it’s ultimately good change.
But now as we have morning routines (more) figured out and are falling into patterns of life, it’s getting better and easier. Now that each moment of the day isn’t something new, there is time to think about the details of what is going on. Husbands will accommodate quirks that you can’t ask of roommates—I don’t like not knowing when people will be at my house. There’s love in the “at the bus stop” texts so that I have time to prepare. There’s love in the details when we count backwards to plan the timeline of a weekend day. Or in the weekly planning of meals where we trade each others dislikes to find meals we both will enjoy. Or in going through the Simpson’s episodes slowly, every few nights getting to one.

We are falling into patterns now and it’s comfortable and safe and good. Once you have a pattern and a base, then you can work towards something, because you are safe and can concentrate energy on doing things besides just surviving.

*aka me
**once again, maybe just me
***Pronouns are hard and I don’t like using first-person pronouns even when it is clearly appropriate.
****Also, now I know that a million dollars isn’t nearly as large of a sum of money as I thought, but I think I’d still be able to get a fair chunk of things out of the way. Or maybe the amount of money will increase in this hypothetical situation I am creating for myself.

Individual development plans

Every year we write Individual Development Plans in grad school. It’s part of being on NIH grants or something. Classified into career goals and specific goals and annual goals and all different categories.

The thing I need to work on the most is fear
the thing I WANT to work on the most is fear
I am afraid
like legitimately afraid of so so many things
walking and talking to myself to write down on a sticky note a question to ask
preparation still took me probably an hour for a 5 minute task

this is why i can’t use my time efficiently
and that will improve my career the most
by allowing me to communicate
network
reach out to other scientists
talk to my PI

(Of course I did not write that on my IDP. I wrote things about professional goals and improving my writing ability and my ability to communicate my research as well as my ability to develop a project and other such reasonable goals.)

I wrote this first part months ago when I was actually filling out my IDP but it never turned into a full post.

Because I can plan experiments decently well, over short and mid-term ranges of time. I had a thesis proposal relatively well thought out, if not written yet. I had preliminary data. I can edit my scientific writing into something which is very consistent with how an early graduate student should be writing (there’s struggles with transitions, which all my writing and presentations have, but enough copies and those can be added). The hard part–where you pick a project–was already painfully done over a horrible few weeks of crying long long long ago.

But now that my thesis project–or at least what was to be my thesis project–has been apparently already done–I have to restart.

Which also wasn’t planned
not part of my plan
But that’s science
And at least I found out now only a year into it instead of in two or three years when it’s published and I’m halfway through a thesis that’s already been done
but…
still…

Restart the awful awful part of finding and choosing a project from the infinite possibilities of things that can be done in zebrafish development. I’m still in the same lab, but I have to switch my focus to something almost completely new, so that not even my months of reading will be all that helpful in writing up my thesis proposal.

All new
completely new

and absolutely terrifying

try not to panic
or to spend all day writing scripts to talk to my PI so that by the time I get to one where I am able to ask for help, he isn’t in his office anymore

Literally
can’t
ask for help

because I don’t know how to ask for help

instead I spent all day trying to write a script down to ask for it and by the time it finished I missed him and writing the word panic down in different shapes (as you can see at the top of the page)

And my apartment has unopened envelopes piling by table and dishes piling on the stove and counter and my dog gets walks and that is about it in things get managed. My fridge has milk and cheese in it and that’s it.

This is a norman rockwell puzzle. It took our lab about 2 weeks of lunches to finish.There are small pieces everywhere of my life. They all turned into bits and pieces.

We’ve been doing puzzles in lab in the break room. Little pieces slightly different shades of blue to sort through and put back together. That’s the sort of thing I know how to do. That’s the sort of thing I know how to sort through and rearrange and fix. You have all the time you need to sort and organize the pieces by color and shape and slowly put them back.

But real life has time limits. And you can’t lie out all the pieces on the ground in order until they match up. The pieces of real life don’t sit and wait there until I can sort out where they go. The longer real-life pieces wait, the farther they fall out of place and the harder they are to put back together.

I know this is jumbled and messy and doesn’t really make sense. But lots of everything is messy and jumbled and doesn’t make sense and full of fluff and stuff and mess so that’s the state of being anyway.

Shampoo Thief

Here follows an example of my problem solving abilities:

Freshman year of college, my mom and I flew out to my new school and supplied me with all the various things one needs when living in a dorm. I was all set-up and prepared with multiple toothbrushes in case I dropped one and soft blankets because those are the best and notebooks for everything and lots of snacks. However, at some point in the semester, I ran out of shampoo and conditioner, as someone with relatively long and thick hair tends to do on a somewhat frequent basis.

The previous way in my life that this issue was dealt with was going into my parents’ bathroom and getting a new bottle from under the sink. Of course, this was not an option 2,000 miles away. I knew that theoretically people got shampoo by going to the store (although I was not super clear on what type of store sold shampoo besides Costco). But it was a Midwest winter and I was from Southern California. Also, I didn’t know how to get there and the only transportation I would have had was my feet.

So, the only logical answer was to become a shampoo thief until Christmas break, when I could resupply myself with shampoo.

Luckily, in our dorm, people kept their shower things in shower caddies on shelves right outside the shower. I was not brazen enough to grab an entire shower caddy and take it in the shower with me. Someone may have noticed that if I accidentally grabbed theirs. Nothing was labelled (and I didn’t know most of the people on my floor anyway, because faces). I did not have a plan for being confronted with stealing someone’s shampoo or any idea of what would happen if someone (accurately) accused me of that, especially since they would most likely catch me when I was clothed in only a towel, as I usually was immediately prior to showering.

The plan I came up with was much more complicated. I would only shower in the dead of night, when most other people are asleep. Since I lived in a dorm with a lot of other college students who also stayed up late, the dead of night meant at least 3 am. Then, mid-shower, I would sneak out to the shower caddies and grab a handful of shampoo and then dart back into the shower. (Later, I would repeat with conditioner). I would spread out my borrowing, so I wasn’t stealing only one person’s shampoo. I wouldn’t take anything from an almost-empty bottle (or anything that looked overly expensive). Since there is a lot of options of shampoo in the floor of an all-girls dorm, I never really used more than one or two showers worth of shampoo from anyone in the whole semester.

This was not the most comfortable way to shower, running in and out in the cold, in the middle of the night, but it was the only solution I could come up with. It also had the result of making me feel incredibly guilty every time I showered. It also made me rather tired, from staying up late a few nights a week in order to wash my hair.

Asking someone for help or advice literally never occurred to me. I could have asked boyfriend or other friends or my RA, who probably could have also figured out a solution or told me that I could buy shampoo with fake money at the store on campus that was literally visible from my dorm-room window. My mom literally asked me if I was washing my hair every time she called me and who I always answered yes and told the most recent time I had washed my hair (hiding the guilt of my stolen shampoo). If I told her I was running low on shampoo or had run out, I would have gotten more somehow, or at least directions on how to solve the problem.

Instead, you got my deepest darkest secret of freshmen year (I was not full of deep, dark secrets yet at that time in my life): the months I was a thief every time I showered. (Also, now that I’ve actually thought about this story, I find it amusing although I’d likely be just as impractical today).

Loud Places

I have very good hearing in general. I hear the buzz of the cable boxes when they are turned on and the tv is not, even several rooms away. I could hear the click in my old alarm clock before it turned on to the ratio set to the lowest volume static I could set it to and still hear if I sat up in my bed. I grew up in a quiet place and it took me a long time to get used to the city. It was much better once I moved away from the hospital. My new apartment still has noises, but it’s the quiet steady noise of the cars on a busy almost-highway. It’s consistent and easier to get used to. When I come home now, I can feel the silence in my ears as they expand without the noise to push them back in. I was used to the silence.

I generally can’t tune out things selectively. I can tune out the world when I’m reading or focusing, but I can’t tune into just the conversation I am listening to while not hearing all the other ones going around me. Buses and restaurants make conversations more difficult, but it can still be enjoyable. It takes effort to sift through all the words and assign them to the different conversations, but it is always how I have talked that way. It can be a problem when the group of new moms two tables down from us at a crowded restaurant are talking in more detail than I would like to hear about the processes by which they obtained their babies. I can tune them out, but not if I would also like to continue the conversation I am having with boyfriend. Boyfriend, on the other hand, has no idea of this conversation until I bring it up after dinner. Otherwise, I like going to restaurants and delicious food is often worth the effort of sifting conversations.

What does loud noise sound like? Does it sound like everything, just louder? Like the difference in talking volumes when you are trying to talk to someone in a library compared to talking to someone across a room? I want to know if other people can feel loudness, can hear it as a different sound. In crowded places, I can feel the conversations as they move around the room. It made sense to me, that you could feel sound, because sound is waves in the air. Even people with not-sensitive hearing can feel the very-loud-music of speakers from your inconsiderate neighbors. You can see it move sand in science experiments.

In loud places, even not-rock-concert-loud places (because I don’t go to places that loud!) but twenty-or-so-people-having-a-few-separate-conversations-in-a-room-loud places, the buzzing starts. It layers over the words and conversations that people are having. My ears will buzz and pop and bubble a little. It doesn’t hurt, but as it gets louder or as I am there for more time, the words will fade into the buzzing and I won’t be able to understand really much or most of what is going on. Even if I’m otherwise fine, and not overloaded or headed towards meltdowns, at some point, the buzzing gets loud enough that the conversations can’t be filtered and sorted out. This happens in family gatherings (we have large families) where I’m perfectly happy to keep sitting the night away while people chat around me. I might get out a book, or find a quiet corner for a while until the buzzing goes away if I want to come back and talk.

Autistic Wedding Planning

Image is of an engagement ring with a blue stone. I have doodled around it and wrote the word plan underneath it.
Hi everyone! So there aren’t very many resources for planning a wedding if you are autistic. Like none. Google gives you pretty much nothing. And since I’m actively involved in this, it’s something I’m thinking about. And it was really becoming rather frustrating and leading to general panicky life issues. So I wrote a question/submission thing to a wedding planning website/other life things that I’m a big fan of just in general (like really, though, I like A Practical Wedding and actually was reading it for discussions of life stuff occasionally before I even started thinking about weddings… like years ago). And they also decided to print/answer it. (And also had helpful, specific answers to things I was individually concerned of.
So that’s pretty awesome. Anyway, if you want to read it…

Also, they were super cool in the editing process about changing things they wrote about “a person with autism” to “an autistic person” and also about changing the link for more general autism information from Autism Speaks to ASAN when I brought that up. So added points for that.

Rocket

There are things I know I need to do if I am going to be happy and productive and just generally function as myself and get the things done that I need to have done.

I need to go outside. Even if it is freezing cold, I have to go outside regularly. And not just walking-to-and-from the bus stop, but wandering outside by trees. Luckily, I live by a lake. Unluckily, I am bad at forcing myself to go outside, even if I know it will make me happy. Also, I am uncomfortable going outside by myself if I’m not going somewhere directly. I haven’t worked out that why, but I know it’s true.

I need to exercise. It doesn’t have to be extremely vigorous episode, but I’m definitely happier if I have the chance to dash around a bit from place to place. Little bursts of running about and around. Going on runs makes me feel better, but I’ve never been able to stick to a consistent running schedule for more than a week.

I need to eat regularly also, for maybe-probably-obvious-reasons AKA food is important to function. And I stop functioning quicker-than-average when I am hungry. But I’m also bad at remembering when I’m supposed to eat, even with Todoist reminders and alarms and lists. (And once I remember to eat, I have difficulty figuring out what to eat and the steps to eat, especially if I am already to a hungry-reduced-functioning-level.)

I’m happier when I have regular physical contact. Physical contact makes me feel grounded. But boyfriend lives relatively far away and works decently long and I can only see him on weekends. And most people are not in my comfortable-with-physical-contact-list… and also it would be weird I think since mostly I encounter fellow lab mates on a daily basis.

Luckily, there is a solution to all these problems.

This is Rocket.

Black retriever mix smiling at the camera

He reminds me to go outside several times a day. He makes it not scary and makes it fun. We go on walks with little bits of running to chase geese into the lake.

Big black dog looking at geese in the lakeblack doggie snuggling on a couch

He gets two meals a day and feeding him reminds me that I need to eat. And he is always willing to snuggle with me.

He also solves my used-to-taking-care-of-things habits that come from growing up with goats and dogs and sheep and horses and rabbits and chickens. Life always feels incomplete without something to take care of it. And as much as I like my plants and Dr. Seuss, taking care of them did not use all that much of my input or effort.

For clarification purposes, this is my super-pretty-but-not-very-
cuddly betta who is named Dr. Seuss.

Autistic People and Imagination

When they say autistic people don’t have imagination and don’t engage in imaginative play, what do they mean? I knew I had imagination, and that was one of the biggest things holding me back from thinking I could be autistic, because that was something always stated and listed and formalized. Autistic people don’t have imagination.

I never really was into playing school or house, like other kids were (why would you be a grown-up when you could be a HORSE?). But I would play all sorts of imaginative games with my cousins and my sister and myself.

I played Orphan Kittens. We played all sorts of games with our stuffed animals and model horses. Admittedly, we often wrote out the scripts before and they were usually similar patterns that happened… but that is a trait common to children. (You notice it when you babysit or have younger siblings or really just encounter things like that).

We played Lord of the Rings and went on quests where grapefruits or a pomegranate were palantir. There was a game where we were princesses that also involved horses and we would switch roles between them back and forth. We also played a lot of complicated games involving chickens and occasionally my cousin’s goat which we were all afraid of, but those were not always imaginative games–I don’t really remember the point of them, so they are a bit irrelevant.

In 4th grade, I made snail houses and fairy houses and for one brief moment, I was a trendsetter when everyone else in 4th grade also made “fairy friends”. (Although I was a bit upset that they treated it as a game, because I at least half–probably more–believed in it). I played games where the swings were the way to outer space and the only way back was to go down the slides. I was good at coming up with games and stories, so as long as everyone else was still young enough to play stories and pretend at lunch, I had company. They grew out of it earlier, so I switched to books.

And I lived in stories and books (and still do) despite the best efforts of literature analysis to beat that love out of me. And I still half-live in a world of stories, although I read much less than my high school minimum of a book a day. (I have a lot more reading to do of other materials than I did in high school.) (Also, I don’t like going new places myself which is why I haven’t been yet to the [non-campus] library even though I love libraries.)

Anyway, on any given day, I’m about 80% sure I’m autistic and I’ve had official professional people agree with me, so I just wanted to summarize this to say that autistic people can be creative too and that is a silly requirement to say they can’t.

Balloons

Growing up, we had a two-story-height roof in a mostly 1 story room, and balloons would escape and just float up to the roof, unreachable but still visible if you looked up. Even the adults couldn’t catch them, because even my parents didn’t have thirty-foot long arms. The balloons would just sit there for days, above our couch and our table and our living room. Eventually, they would float back down to the ground, but by then they would be sad-shriveled-not-floating balloons. The fun was in the floating and the bobbing and the magical-THIS-BALLOON-IS-FLYING.

That’s where all my thoughts and ideas are. I forgot to hold on to them or I miss the chance and they float away up to the ceiling. They are there, but by the time they come back to me, they are sad and are missing the parts that I was interested in. I miss posting things on here and figuring them out by writing about them. I figure so many more things out by writing them, but I keep missing the chance to grab them. There are tons of half-floating ideas that I think of when I am biking to school or walking to the bus or somewhere else. They are half-remembered ideas just out of reach and it’s frustrating.

  • I have ideas about sensory overload and spoons on crowded buses home, but then I am too tired to write them down, and they float back up to the ceiling.
  • I have a half-developed theory on my ideas and thoughts on Appropriate Social Behavior and eye contact and my semi-autistic family.
  • There’s something I remember on my bike half a mile into the trip about keeping Bad Thoughts Out.
  • There’s something about executive function and what bits and pieces I have and what bits and pieces are broken.
  • Some more bits about thinking in general.
  • There are other ideas there, too far away to work out what they were, but they are still there, hitting up against the top of the roof, bobbling around in my brain. 

I can tell they are there, but I can’t tell what they are. I want to be able to reach out and pull them down and figure them out. I want to classify  my thoughts and order them out so I can figure out how and what I’m thinking. And whenever I succeed in grabbing them, they are only half-there. It’s the sad old not-flying balloons. The essential part that made them good and interesting and desireable has diffused out.

I’m doing fine, generally, in life, but busy with TAing and actual lab work and grant writing and literature reviewing and wedding planning, and I just don’t have the tools available now to reach up and pull down those thoughts. I want to be able to figure out how to grab onto them right away so they can’t escape to the roof immediately, to take them and run to my normal-sized-roof room right away, where even 5 year old me can reach the string of the balloon if I stand on a chair. But I don’t have thirty-foot-long arms to reach the ones on the ceilings, and they always appear when I can’t grab onto them. It’s a minor annoyance. I don’t need balloons. I can get along fine without them. But they make life better and I want them.