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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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.

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.


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.

Gateway friends

In high school, I had one best friend, L. We had all our classes together, except I took French and she took Spanish. We sat in the hallways studying together before school, we read books together at breaks and at lunch. When we hung out on weekends, we would hang out at her house (or sometimes at mine, but usually at hers). I had other friends, too, but I never hung out with them without L. It just wasn’t and interaction thing that I did.

On days that L. did not come to school (which was very rare, but happened a few times), I was completely lost. The times I knew she wasn’t going to be there (like college visits) were fine; I could plan ahead and bring books to read or work on math or read for class during breaks. I could find places to sit by myself instead of wandering to find her. When she was unexpectedly not there, I struggled. I would wander around and around, trying to find her. Even if it was after a class that I had that she was usually in, so I knew she wasn’t at school today, I still would look for her. I wouldn’t be sure what to do.

Then we graduated high school, and L. went to the Naval Academy, and then went to (is in) med school and got married (last week!). She’s always been bad at non-in-person-communication, so we see each other a few times a year, and I send lots of emails, but that’s all. It’s great to see her, but she isn’t the friend that I center my life around anymore, because our lives are so different.

In college, I had another friend. We actually were acquaintances in high school, in the small group of girls that took all the same AP classes. C and I both majored in the same thing. Almost all of the friends I met in college (with boyfriend being a notable exception), I met through her. Including two other girls that I became almost as close of friends with. They answered my questions and were in many of my classes with me. They were lab partners and fellow TAs. I always had one of them to rely on in pretty much any social situation I was in. They were the friends I went on the Disneyworld trip which was my first big traveling-without-adults-trip and were safe when I melted down in Walmart. C. was my friend with whom I travelled through Europe for 6 weeks.

C. is much better at internetting than L, so we do talk really frequently. There is pretty much a constant thread of communication going. (I talk to the other girls frequently, too, but not quite as much.) But she isn’t physically here, she is no longer participating in basically all my interactions ever. I don’t have the same person (and set of persons) in all parts of my life.

I have always had one (or a small group of) close friend(s) who I did everything with. Social and school. I’m lost right now, without my gateway friend. I don’t have one to be safe. For me to follow around as I get used to the new social environment. To have in all my classes (I don’t really have anymore classes). To eat with and sit with and talk with. To be my buffer from the world.

Boyfriend does a lot of this, when he is able to. But he lives a 40 minute drive away right now. He has his own work and isn’t really integrated into this social group. They are friendly with him, just like C. and co were friendly to him. But he is usually not here.

I have to remember a few things. That I have only been here a year, and it took me a year to meet L. It took me a year before I was really close friends with C. That it isn’t fair to rely on one person to be a buffer between me and the world, to help me feel safe and facilitate social interactions. I find grad school weird because it is a combination of school and a job, it seems, where you sort of still have your main social circle being other students, though.

But I miss having one close friend who shared every part or almost every part of my day-to-day life. I miss having someone safe who is reliably around at school and at social activities.

Fear and anger

One of the things I am most afraid of is making other people upset or angry. This tends to be a problem. When other people are angry, even if I know it is not at me, I am afraid. Even if it is something completely unrelated to me. If my sister is mad at my parents for not letting her go out somewhere with her friends, I am afraid.

The more tired or stressed I become, the less capable I am of distinguishing between actual threats and perceived ones. So things that would just make me minorly uncomfortable, like someone complaining about how their boss made them work over the weekend, or even things that on a good day wouldn’t upset me at all, like complaining about failed experiments, will make me afraid. And then I want to run and hide.

But of course, I can’t hide under my desk at work.

For several reasons.

Partially, the floor is disgusting.
Also, I know that if people saw me hiding, then they would be concerned and ask if I was ok. And that would lead to more human interaction when I do not want it.

When I am especially afraid, all questions are a threat.

I used to tell my parents to “Stop yelling” when they were saying things, without even a raised voice, when I knew that there was something wrong, maybe I was in trouble or a sister was in trouble. There’s something I don’t quite have the word for still. It isn’t yelling, because it doesn’t require a raised voice. It’s a-something-is-wrong voice and it makes me afraid, even though I know I should be safe.

I don’t know why I have this fear. I am not afraid of my parents. They did not unfairly punish me. Usually, they were pretty explicit about what I had done wrong and why it was not ok and what was going to happen as a result. The reasons were pretty explicit reasons, usually safety related or you-aren’t-allowed-to-hit-your-sister related. And the results were usually pretty reasonable punishments like apologizing to my sisters or going to my room to calm down or extra chores to make up for creating an unreasonable mess. There is no clear reason why I should have this fear of conflict.

I think part of the reason I am afraid is because I am never sure WHAT is wrong. Is it anger or tiredness or frustration? Even with boyfriend, even with my family, I can’t pick up on tired versus angry. It makes behavior unpredictable.

And lack of predictability is frightening.

And if I can’t handle the possibility that someone I know and trust and love might be upset, then when it is someone I don’t know, it can be especially terrifying. This is one reason why I try to stay away from all the activism and issues and current events and internet things that are always going on. Because I can’t handle them and they make me want to hide.

And that is maybe ok, to only float around the edges and contribute my personal stories. To share bits of happiness and some struggles. I should be good at floating around the edges by now. I’ve done it my whole life.

Because it is maybe ok to prioritize being safe and feeling safe.