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).

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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.

Safe at Home

Plants sitting on a small bookshelf. There is also a lamp on here, and some boxes, but they are on the shelves and the plants are on the top. It is one of those bookcases with square shelves and only half height. The plants on the far left are in glasses. There is a spiky tree with curly leaves in a pot. There is a cardboard box on top. There is also an orchid but it is not blooming so it doesn't look very exciting right now.
This is my collection of plants that I own. They are very pretty and
 happy. I have to have plants at home or else it just doesn’t feel
like home. They are chilling out here enjoying the south-facing
window that they get to live by.


I talk a little bit about disordered eating habits in this post, as a heads-up. And also about guilt.

I am living alone now, and have been for a few weeks. I realized what I needed out of roommates and living alone was a better option for me at this time. (And I could afford it, although I have money-spending-issues*.) And also I want a furry friend, so I had to move into a pet-allowable apartment. I’ve been living alone with just me and my plants the last few weeks and I’ve had time to go through the different activities and parts of life and figure out why this is working and why my last roommate living together didn’t work, even though I have lived with people successfully and happily before.

The roommates that I lived with successfully
(1) understood the need for quiet/alone time, although we also would have the opportunity for parallel activities in the main room, like reading a book or watching tv together. An ability to be in the same room quietly is important.
(2) helped manage the effort of living together

Regarding point 1, my more recent roommate never bothered me when I was in my room. She was very respectful of that. If my door was closed, she would only knock if it was something relatively important. Or she would g-chat me. (An excellent way of initiating contact with me.) But I was never able to sit in the living room without conversation. I stopped eating at regular hours when I was stressed because I was too afraid to go to the kitchen during normal hours in case she would talk to me while I was there. And that’s just not a good thing to have happen at home. She was a very sweet girl, and we still are friends, actually (we were friends before, also), but living together just didn’t work out best for us.

Regarding the roommates I successfully lived with: we shared chores, so someone was always able to handle the something that needed to be done. But mostly it was making dinner together regularly. We didn’t always cook together, but we almost always (unless it was just eating leftovers) made enough for two. Often we cooked together, sometimes I made food, sometimes she made food. It added enough so that on bad days you could always find something to eat because chances were the other person was up to making food that day.

My last roommate didn’t cook at all. She mostly ate soup from cans. So that didn’t work. If she had, it is far more likely that I would still be living with her. If I had been able to share meals with her, I think the conversation would have been less of a barrier. But as it was, I was getting all the bad things about living with another person (a.k.a. there is always someone at your house) without any of the benefits I needed.

***As you can tell, food is very important to me. Both on a “I need food to survive and also get grumpy really quickly if I haven’t eaten” level and on a “I really enjoy eating and making delicious food” level. But I still have food struggles, mainly that when I get stressed I forget how to make the food or decide the food or eat the food. Also, when stressed, my foods-that-I-will-eat decreases dramatically.***

So it is ok for me that I moved out. Because being safe is ok. I don’t need to feel guilty about moving somewhere I feel safe. (I do feel guilty about it, but I know I don’t need to.) Because I feel safe at home here.**

Because now I can sit in my living room and work on things at my desk/table. I can work on my couch if it is something low-key like reading papers (which I have been doing so much of in these last few weeks of prelim-ing). I can go out of my room at any time of the day and it is ok. If I am sad or frustrated or mad, I don’t have to hide myself away if I start crying. (Which also means I can get things I left in the other room if I am upset.) Because the whole place is safe.

I can make myself dinner when I am hungry or at mealtimes, even when I am stressed. I can eat, even when I am stressed and tired. I can try to make new things, which I never ever ever could do in my old place unless I was sure my roommate wasn’t coming home. I can make snacks and baked goods. I can eat at the table, instead of in my room. I can take my time looking through the cabinets (although there isn’t much in them yet). I can cook things that require time spent in the kitchen, or time spent watching the pot, because I can stay in the room where they are, and it is safe.

I should feel safe where I live and I will feel safe where I live and I do feel safe where I live. (Except on windy nights when the broken screen on my window taps all night long but a maintenance request will fix that. And also that’s a different kind of safe.)

And the next person I live with will be boyfriend (who is now fiancé, who I really should give a proper name to) who makes me feel safer than any other person, except maybe my California family (but they have the benefit of added years of safety and familiar places on their side, while boyfriend can make me feel safe living 8 stories about the ground in the Midwest–I’ve never lived so far from the ground before.) Because I should feel safe where I live. And I will.

~~~
*AKA I get stressed spending any quantity of money because of some reason that I still struggle to articulate. I have never not had enough to meet my needs, so I am not sure where exactly this fear comes from. I think partially there is just something in the idea of spending money that I don’t understand. Where even though I know it translates into numbers, any values over $20 are bigger than I can really comprehend fully. So every few months I panic and get my accountant fiancé to explain all the numbers to me and check my finances and reassure me that I am financially safe.
**Even with the bad parts like going in elevators with other people and going through rotating circle doors daily, and scary things like those, I STILL feel safer here.