Take a deep breath

I remember when I really learned how to handle my emotions. As in, the point when I was able to figure out how not to burst into tears over a stubbed toe. Before, I was prone to bursting into tears at these (relatively) small things.While I would burst into tears at minor injuries, I knew that I shouldn’t be upset. I knew it was a small injury and not a big thing. I knew that it would stop hurting soon. I just couldn’t stop myself from crumpling and crying. But then at some point, it just clicked. I was able to take a deep breath and walk it off. And after a few seconds, the stubbed toe or the skinned knee didn’t hurt any more and I was fine.

Part of the reason I remember this so well is because it definitely didn’t really develop until I was in college.

I still don’t really know why or how this change happened. I just know that all of a sudden, I was able to take that deep breath and pause for a second with a stubbed toe. And really, once you can do that, it makes it hurt so much less.

But before that, every time that someone told me to calm down, it didn’t work. When people told me to take a deep breath, to walk things off, it did not make any sense. I literally could not comprehend what people were saying or how it made any sense. I just didn’t have the tools in my brain to take a breath and make things stop hurting.

Some things just take time. Some things just happen late. Some things will probably never happen.

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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.

 

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).

Friends of friends of friends

I’ve been thinking about friends and making friends and being friends recently. So here is post 2 of ??? in this set about friends (which is why they are also sort of repeating the same stories and ideas, as I go through and process different closely-related ideas, there will be closely-related similar posts.)

Sometimes my friends have friends who I do not know.

At my friend L’s wedding, I had struggles with that. Because she had other friends there and other family, and was busy with the getting-married-part of her wedding. So I didn’t really get to talk to her much, which was strange, because usually when I hang out with her, it is usually just me and her.

We had a pattern throughout high school, where we would go over to her house and study AP Biology and try to predict the theories we would learn in AP Calculus without reading ahead in the book, based on what we talked about last class. And we would read books and hang out and bake cookies and just sort of chill at her house quietly.

Whenever I hung out with other people with her, I would follow her around closely. She was homeschooled until high school and so by the time we were friends (sophomore year) she was still not quite as used to all the social things that happen at school and I was oblivious autistic me, so it got along well. But she was generally better at people, so I would follow her lead in social situations.

But then at her wedding, I couldn’t do that. Since I was a bridesmaid, there were various things I went to that boyfriend wasn’t there to be my social interpreter. But she was busy with other friends and family and his family. So I couldn’t follow her around. But it was also a very loosely-defined-casual-bridesmaid role so there weren’t really specific things that I had to do, so that didn’t help.

Sometimes my friends have friends who I don’t have.

And I don’t like that.

But I should. Because I have multiple groups of friends and they don’t all know each other. (I actually don’t really like when my friend-groups-intermingle… it stresses me out).

Sometimes my friends hang out without me, and that is ok, too.

One of my college friends specifically explained it to me. (Multiple times. Because I have good friends.) That it is ok when I hang out with one friend sometimes and not the other, and likewise, it is ok sometimes when one pair of friends hangs out without me. Especially since they would go do things like go to bars, and bars are not really something I do.

Also some of my friends like to do things more than I like to do things. Or at least things around people. So they would be lonely if they had to only wait around for me.

My friends have friends who I don’t have.
And that is ok.

Running Away

A while ago, I ran away from home. True, I am an adult. An independently living adult. So you might not strictly call what I did running away. You could call it “taking a walk to clear my head.”

But it was really running away.

It was a panic, that resulted in a pretty much nonverbal me running out barefoot into the neighborhood. After about half an hour, I was able to talk myself into going back to my apartment for shoes, a coat, and my phone.

Shoes, coat, phone.
Shoes, coat, phone.
Shoes, coat, phone.

Then I was off again.

I know to walk if I am able to walk instead of run. I know the ways to walk so no one asks you questions or if you are lost or asks for directions. I know how to wander aimlessly while looking like I am walking purposely. Because walking purposely protects you from the people that would stop and ask you questions that I would be unable to answer. (Admittedly, now that I live in a city, I suppose I am less likely to run into random people I know, or just nice other people who ask if you are ok, but that was a threat in undergrad.)

I knew to walk east and north. Always walk east and north. (This is a purely safety reason, because the neighborhoods south or west are not as nice of neighborhoods.)

So I walked east and north, aimlessly but with purpose, to get away, to escape my mind.

Eventually, I had calmed down enough to sit down on some steps and send a help message.

“Ran away but went back for shoes and phone so ok walking campus now not safe (physically ok) but cant go back home again tried once help maybe”

And boyfriend called and talked me through, even when I wasn’t talking, and talked to me about little things about the week until I had words back and was able to walk back home past the motorcycle crash and the angry people and the police back to my apartment back to my room and be safe again. And he stayed and talked me through to safety.

And that is why I love him.

If he hadn’t called back, I’m sure I would have eventually calmed down enough to get my words back. I am not sure where I would have been able to go, or hide. I would have kept walking east and north, until I hit the lake. And kept walking. Not into the lake, but somewhere. Eventually the cold might have reminded me to go home, but I’ve walked for hours while it was snowing before because of similar panic. (I usually loop around a relatively small area, though. So I won’t walk one direction for hours, but I would walk the same paths around campus for hours in the snow.)

When things get to be completely overwhelming, I hide or run. Hiding usually comes first. If there is nowhere to hide, then I will run. I’ve been in a hallway before for a professor-networking-dinner-event, then the next thing I know I am literally halfway across campus, running. At a certain point, it becomes something out of my control. That is why it is good I spent my first adventures into living alone in undergrad on a campus without a lot of streets criss-crossing it.

I am afraid that one day I will panic and run out of lab in the middle of an experiment. Or run out of a meeting or run out of my (in the far indefinite future) thesis defense. Most of all, I am afraid I will run out into the street.

So I look for hiding places, for safe places, for places that I can go in a panic. Ways to hide instead of run. I’ve found several of them. There are quiet rooms full of rarely used equipment. There are the wells under the desk (although people could find me there, but it is a small space). There are always bathrooms.

I wish that I could say definitively that one day I will grow out of the running. That I will be able to just stop it. That I will be able to manage things so that they are in control and so that it never happens. I’m afraid one day I might be watching my (potential far-distant) children and get so overwhelmed I run away, leaving them who knows where. I don’t think I will. I tend to prefer to hide, if at all possible. I want to be able to manage myself better, to know when I am close to overwhelming, to know when I can push myself and when I need to stop. I think I’m generally getting better. But these full-out-panic-don’t-remember-runnings didn’t happen all that frequently to begin with. (Possibly because usually I can hide.)

Cuddles and snuggles and hugs OH MY!!!

I like physical contact with people.

Wait–let me revise that. I like some kinds of physical contact with a select group of people. And then lots of snuggles and cuddles with animals.
I don’t like sudden touches. I don’t like when people sneak up behind me and put a hand on my back. Or on my shoulder. I would prefer to initiate the contact, or know it is coming.

It is grounding for me. I like to interact with other things that are alive. My plants are lovely, but they just aren’t very cuddly. I do like holding hands. Especially holding hands and swinging arms. I do this when I walk with my cousins. I like wedging myself into a warm pile of cousins to watch tv or a movie or talk.

I need regular physical contact with warm, living things to stay grounded and to keep me from flying away.
Physical contact helps keep me present.

When I got back to my apartment after a long day of traveling and delays (not too bad, luckily I managed to pick the only flight that day that was delayed for one hour (all the other ones between the city my parents live in and where I go to school were at least 4 hours late, and the flights the day before were often cancelled. And today is just horrible weather.) I was tired and a bit stressed. But I muddled through things and went to the store because I had no groceries. Then boyfriend came over and because I know I am safe when he is here, I stopped having to try to hold things together again.

So we cuddled and talked and I felt like I was flying away in a bad way. When that happens I flap and shake my hands and legs to try and keep me here and to feel like I am still here. Boyfriend knows my unhappy/stressed/flying away flaps. And he knows how to calm me down and hold me super tight so I stay here and don’t fly away.

When I’m feeling disconnected, physical contact, the right kind of physical contact, warm and lots of pressure can help me stay. It is important. If I’m alone, I’ll go under my heavy blankets and try to get some of it, but its not the same as a person.

I also love holding hands. I hold hands with boyfriend when we walk places. I will hold hands with most other people, too, if they will let me. (Most people don’t.) But my cousins and I often hold hands when we walk places together or are just hanging out together. I like knowing where the other person is and the warmth of their hands and the weight of their hands and swinging our arms together.

What more people will do with me is link arms and walk. A lot of my college friends would do this as we walked. It was quite nice (although a traffic impediment). I’m not sure why people seem more willing to do that than hold hands, but I don’t really understand people all that much anyway.

But I am not all that fond of hugging strangers. And to me, with my prosopagnosia and strangely large extended family, there are a lot of people that are “strangers” to me that I still have to hug.* But I was thoroughly trained into this when I was younger. So I can usually handle hugging strangers even if I do not like it. Especially when they are actually little old ladies who are related to me.

On that note, I am also rather annoyed by the fact that shaking hands seems to be coming less and less popular and common. I was at a work party for boyfriend, and as we were leaving and saying goodbye, several people insisted on goodbye hugs. At a formal work event (for a formal accounting company, too) and to me, too, who they had literally met at the beginning of the party. Admittedly, alcohol was involved, but I just don’t understand why shaking hands isn’t a thing in those circumstances. I can tolerate hugging the strangers that are actually family, because you do weird things for family. But why on earth would you want to hug one of your coworkers girlfriend who you met two hours ago? Anyway, people are strange.

I am autistic and I love physical contact.

I am just specific on the people and kinds.

Also related:
What hugs mean to one autistic person and Hugs from E. at the Third Glance

~~~

*Also, in college at Mass, everyone would hug during the sign of peace. That was a mixed bag. Because I didn’t like hugging strangers, but usually also people would hug me who weren’t strangers but that I would never ask for a hug and during my lonely time** freshman year it was sometimes the only time I got physical  contact the whole week so that was also important. But this sort of distracts from the organization. So I’m putting it down here.
**Although I did start dating boyfriend extremely early in college, I was really really shy and also a bit confused about what to do with a boyfriend, so it took a while before I really got even to the holding hands stage with him. Like several months. Eventually I figured out that boyfriends are good for hugs.

On official friends

Something I have trouble with is telling if I have successfully made friends. And the process of making friends. And generally things involving other people.

I have a list on my computer of how to hang out with people and initiate social activities.
I have a tendency of telling my friends, “I like you/I like hanging out with you” because I can’t tell if other people want to be my friend, so I figure its nice for them to know. (Apparently this isn’t normal behavior either.)
When I went to college, I knew I was going to have to make new friends and that would be difficult. And I was going to a co-ed school, after years of being at an all girls-school and only really having female cousins and stuff, so I was going to have to learn to talk to boys. My goal was to make some male casual acquaintances freshman year, maybe talk about school with them. And then maybe sophomore year I could make an actual friend (quantified by being able to initiate communication with them).

So early freshman year, I had made a group of potential friends. I went to some social activities with one of the boys and even a hockey game.  I couldn’t tell the difference between him and one of the other boys in the group, but it seemed to be pretty ok, since I am used to that and he generally recognized me (since you know, normal people seem to have this facial recognition thing going on). And after we hung out and went to a movie on campus and did a couple of other things that weekend. So I was pretty sure that I was on my way to making a friend (maybe two, but it was probably just the one). One night he walked me back to my dorm after we had been hanging out. He talked a bit about how much fun we had been having hanging out that weekend. And then he asked if I wanted to make it official.

I was pretty excited. My first official friend!
And a boy, too! I was ahead of schedule with that.

Later, I was informed by a facebook relationship request (and a high school friend interpretting the meaning) that I actually had obtained a boyfriend. Several years later I was informed that people don’t make official friends after kindergarten much.

Anyway, that is how I met boyfriend and started dating him.

And 4 years and a bit later, it is still pretty awesome–actually a lot more awesome–and we have much better communication skills now.