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.

Roommate Rantings

Things I have only had moderate success with: getting along with roommates.

I’ve always lived with sisters, so I’m not quite sure the difference. I think because maybe you are allowed to yell at sisters and sometimes hit them and getting mad at them is okay. Because I certainly had problems with my sisters sometimes. But those were usually minor incidences. But this roommate issue isn’t because I am used to having my own room. Because I shared one for large portions of my life.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out well at all. Right now, it is ok. Not the worst roommate arrangement I have had, but not at all ideal.

I’ve lived with my best friend for a summer, and that worked out wonderfully. We each had our own rooms, and a nice big kitchen and baked lots of delicious things and watched a lot of cooking shows and House Hunters and Say Yes to The Dress together. She was an awesome roommate (I maybe not so much, admittedly, but we were still super good friends after, too.)

For one summer program, I lived in a quad in a dorm room with 3 other girls. My roommate was quiet and nice and very religious and gone a lot. That worked out pretty well. We sometimes hung out and she taught me how to make bread and nothing bad particularly happened. One of the other girls in the other room was especially awesome so I hung out with her more. (And then my friend who I lived with earlier was also on campus, so I spent a lot of time with her and that group of people.)

My freshman year of college roommate was also ok. We didn’t really talk much, because she had a long distance boyfriend, but we coexisted peacefully in the same space.

Sophomore and junior year roommate was bad. Same girl. I knew it would be bad and not work out but I couldn’t figure out how to say no because there wasn’t anyone else who would have lived with her probably. And junior year I had a high enough rank on the room-pick-list, I could have gotten a single, but she couldn’t have, so that would have also been mean. Sophomore year was ok, with drifting into bad. Like when she broke up with her boyfriend of less than a week and then ate all my birthday ice cream. And then it got absolutely horrible junior year. Part of it probably wasn’t her fault, admittedly. I think both of our lives were falling apart in different ways and two people who have lost control of their lives don’t really make good living partners.

Anyway, and now there is now.

Currently, I need to find a way to tell my roommate that sometimes I just want to not talk to anyone and it isn’t that I don’t like her, it is just that I am home and home is my quiet, not-talking-to-people place.

But I haven’t told her I’m autistic yet.
Because I’ve only told a handful of people.
Because it is sort of still a processing-thinking-secret.

And it’s tricky too, because she is one of my friends from college, I guess, so I think she wants to hang out. And her program is so much less aggressively social than mine is. Or really, social at all. So I get my social fill up at school and at work because everyone is very friendly and talks and chats a lot (about fun stuff, too! Like science and food! So I enjoy it.) And then I want home to be a quiet place. But she comes home from school lonely because the people in her program don’t really talk much and wants to talk and hang out.

And I don’t want to be mean but I just need to hide.
And also sometimes she is really annoying a lot but I feel mean and petty when I say that, but really yes basically it is true.

But sometimes I am fine.

But I also don’t want to be mean and tell her I don’t actually like hanging out with her because that is mean and what if my friends told me that and are actually only pretending to like me because they are being nice, so I should be nice also. (And also because this lease is through August.) Or tell her that she is boring and talks to her family too much and too loudly. Badbadbadbad.

As soon as this lease is up, I am getting a new apartment. One where it is just me.

So that I can go in the kitchen when I come home tired and hungry. Where I don’t have to hide in my room when I need to eat. But now, I hide until I know it is safe to leave. And I can’t make food that takes a long time, even though I like cooking, because the kitchen isn’t safe. I have no snacks because I can’t make any. So I’ve been making meals at 1:00 after she is asleep and baking things then, because that is when I know it is safe.

Because right now my room is the only safe place. Because people might talk to me everywhere else (And by people, I mean my single solitary roommate.)

And it is a bad day-week-time-period, so I am NOT okay with that. But you aren’t ALLOWED to yell at people to GO AWAY DON’T TALK TO ME when it is also their kitchen.

And she has an unpredictable schedule so I never know when I am coming home if she is going to be there or not. So when I plan my evening on my walk home based on the usual pattern of her being at home or not being at home, and then I walk in the door and she is there when I thought I would be alone, it breaks. I just sink and escape to my room as soon as I can and stay hidden as long as I can.

I can’t know until I have checked out the apartment and the rooms if it is safe to finally be sad if I am sad or tired if I am tired. Because that is only safe if I am alone (or with a very few specific people that absolutely does not include roommate).

Going home is stressful because I have to escape through the apartment to get to safety. 
Everything is bad.
Sometimes it is ok, but right now everything is bad.
Life is overwhelming right now.

checking boxes and opening doors (appropriate public behavior)

I’ve spent a long time writing this. It will probably end up being months. It’s the first real post I started writing on here. It’s difficult to say. Not really emotionally or whatnot, but it is just hard to find the right words. It actually has been months and I think I am just going to publish it with the words maybe not just perfect, because I can always make a revised version if I come up with a clearer way to say this. And there is probably some sort of trigger on here, but I’m really not exactly sure what it is.

Also, this is a really long extended metaphor.

Sometimes I see people complain about fitting in
or about neurotypical rules
and the world.

(although they are people too so we really should respect them too)

and I just remember the rules about checking boxes

I’ve been very thoroughly trained on appropriate public behavior. Perhaps unintentionally more than my parents meant to (they didn’t realize how literal and rules-particular I was, I think.

And because I’m me, and bad at general social cues, I am not always certain what is actually non-acceptable, and what is just things I over extrapolated (see here or here). 
It is why I always wear real clothes in public when there are so so so many more comfortable clothes sometimes aka yoga pants the best thing ever created. Because real people wear real clothes in public and I am a real person.*

My mother always told us that most things in life are about checking boxes and opening doors.(She would often tell us this when we were complaining about silly rules that teachers made us do. In school, that’s what a syllabus is. They give you boxes that need to be checked. All you need to do is check them to get the good grade.

In life, there are things that you have to check the boxes, too, in order for things to happen.

And there are checking boxes to social activities too. To get people to do what you want them to do, you have to get them to like you. To do that you check boxes.

I took things more literally than my sisters (they call me Literal Girl), although not completely literally (I read enough that I have a pretty decent grasp on common metaphors if I am paying attention). So I made lists of things. Not always physical ones.
But I still sometimes think that if I do everything I am supposed to do, and check all the boxes I am supposed to, then things should happen. (And sometimes I think I probably do not know what all the boxes I need to check are. Because there isn’t really a syllabus or a rubric for life.)
And appropriate public behavior and public appearance is very important to that.

Because:

You need other people

Some things are opening doors.

For instance, college opens doors to getting a nice job. You still have to go through the door, maybe walk through a hallway (and who knows, it may be an Indiana-Jones hallway with booby traps and other dangerous, deathly things) and maybe go through some more doors. And it might not be the only door. There might be other ways in. Other doors, emergency exits, windows, fire escapes. Alternate routes.

The thing about doors is that there are other doors.

It’s the same with behavior and communication, I think.

Not ridiculous things like looking people in the eyes or staying still while you talk to them. (But actually probably things like that, too.) But talking and talking and talking. And face-to-face normal communication.

At this point, if I remember (and for important things like interviews, I remember), I can look people in the eyes. I can generally talk. (And most of my interviews were chats about my research or their research, so once that managed to happen, it was wonderful. It took a while to get to that point, and sometimes it just didn’t).

You have to check the boxes to open the doors, to be given a chance. And if you can’t check the right boxes, you’re going to have to go around a long way.

So I wonder if there is a way to change the boxes. Or to have different boxes for different people. Or maybe different doors. Because people shouldn’t have to climb through the windows. Because that is surely much more difficult than just checking the boxes and walking through a door. But sometimes, boxes can’t be checked.

And appropriate public behavior was important therefore because people judge you in public and you never know who is watching you.

Although come to think of this, this never applied in grocery stores and such

More like places where we had to be on our best behavior
Like events where we met our grandparents clients
Or teachers
Or coworkers

Because it didn’t matter what strangers thought.
(To a point. Safety matters.)

It mattered, though, what people you know and interact with think. What people who you need for things think. Because you need them to get your work done or finish school or do a project or get a job or keep a job. You need them to be there for networking.

(Gah, I hate networking. It’s the worst. Asking people to do things for you).

And in those cases, you do have to modulate your behavior. You need them to think of you what you want them to think of you.

(I think we were manipulative)

(my mother is the sneakiest person I know, in a good way. She can get almost anything she wants when she puts her mind to it, from almost anyone. She very rarely does, but when she does, it is amazing.)

You need them to check boxes for you and to open doors.

So then…. WHY and WHY I SHOULD FIT IN AND WHY STIMMING IN PUBLIC IS BAD AND STUFF

So even with this, I still think that stimming in public and all is not bad (although I have been trained out of it in some situations, probably, but I think that is more me being Literal Girl and my parents having several children so having to pay attention to the ones who are running away in the grocery store because they can is more important in that instant that realizing another child is trying too hard to behave appropriately.

Example: When I get excited, I jump up and down. I live in an apartment. If I get excited early in the morning or late at night, I try not to jump up and down for an extended period of time. Because there is someone living beneath me. And I would not like it if someone kept jumping up and down on my ceiling when I am trying to sleep. So I limit my stimming (or redirect it to a quieter one) (or go into the living room because then I’m not above their bedroom).

Another example: I can be loud in class, sometimes. Tapping my feet, clicking my pens. Hummng sometimes. When people point it out to me, I stop. Why? Because noise reduces my ability to concentrate. And other people have just as much right to have a need for quiet as I do. So I will switch to something quieter.

Admittedly, I can redirect these things usually. So it’s ok, for me. And I can usually redirect it to something that I enjoy almost as much or that works almost as much. And some people probably can’t redirect it, and that’s ok for them.

And I don’t see anything wrong (mostly) with sometimes flapping or fidgeting or bouncing or rocking in public. Or general stimming in life, pretty much whenever. Because if I am able to do something that lets me concentrate while also letting everyone around me concentrate, that is much better than doing something that lets me concentrate while

Because if we want people to be considerate of our needs and our requirements for learning, we shouldn’t be distracting to theirs.

Some things I’ve read by other people that have contributed to these ideas:
Mother tongues: orangutans and autistic education by Kitt at AutisticChick
Socially Inappropriate by Musings of an Aspie

~~~
*regarding this and other rules, these are rules for me. Not for other people. If you want to wear yoga pants in public, which I wouldn’t blame you for because they are the most comfortable things in the world, go for it.

Being useful. Today is not about me.

Today I went to a marathon.
Boyfriend ran it, not me.
And he was awesome.

Today I went and watched and waited.
And then was good and quiet.

Today is not about me.

Today is about boyfriend.

AND I NEED TO HIDE.

When the only help I can give is staying away.

Because other people upset makes me upset. Sometimes more upset. More tired.

And there should be days where it is about you.

And I want it to be oh so bad. And I want to be able to go and cheer for you. To go stand in crowds and yell and have signs. To meet you at the end and not end up curling up in a ball covering my ears in the meeting place while you were stretching.

I want there to be days about you, where I can help and stand in the background and support you. Where you don’t need to worry about me freaking out about the crowds. Where you just have to worry about getting your stuff done, and where I am there to take care of small tasks so you have even less to worry about.

I want to be able to help when you are upset.
I want to be able to help when you are tired.
I want to be able to help when you are sad.

I want you to, when you are hurt or sick or stressed, to only have to worry about you. To not debate about telling me or not because I might freak out and then that will be more work for you. I want to be able to help you the way you help me when I am hurt and sick and stressed.

I want to be able to help in a way besides staying away.

I want to be useful.

And I want to cry.
And I need to hide.
And I’m trying to hide my need to stim furiously, because you know my stressed stimming and my about-to-panic stimming and I don’t want you to know.

Because you are tired and you are awesome and today should just be about you.

And this is something I hate most about myself. The apparent inability I have to support others. The absolute panic and meltdown and freeze and mess I get into when it needs to be about them, not about me. I need to help when others are hurting or tired, not to just feel their pain and be overwhelmed and make everything worse.

But I mostly make it to my room ok and then I avoid telling you on the internet that I am so tired and melted. (Because YOU deserve the being tired after running 26.2 miles.) (It’s ok for me to be tired, too.) (But it’s your day, so it’s not ok for me to fuss.) But you read this blog, so you’ll know eventually.

But really, all I want is for you to know all the time, too, so that you can fix things and make them better and make it so I’m not crying in a ball on the floor.

But today should be about you, so I’m not telling you today.

Because you need to sleep, not stay up helping me. And I will be ok for tonight.

I want to be able to help besides just staying away. But I don’t think I can. So I’m just going to stay away for a while, and give you time to rest and catch up.

Crazy Dance Party

My new grad program likes to socialize.

This is good, because I am bad at creating new friends, so structured opportunities to interact are something I enjoy. And also it is good because so far, I really like all the people in my program.

There is a limit, though, to how much people I can be around before it just doesn’t work.

(Also, then I found the phrase Social Hangover (from Leah Kelly at 30 Days of Autism). And that describes it so well.)

And I’m afraid of telling people that I just met that my words stopped working.

(Also, really, usually at that point I can’t really use them to say that. Boyfriend usually just asks me because he knows that happens.)

We had a fun fancy dinner with appetizers that were handed out by people walking around with a tray and then delicious dinner with meat and yummy bread and things like that. And then fancy desserts which is something I absolutely, positively adore. One of them was caramel flavored and it was wonderful. And the people in my program talk about interesting, weird things, so I generally have no problem with conversation with them because it isn’t small talk, just taking and conversation and INTERESTING.

And we were in this lovely location with just us and a view of the nighttime skyline of the city. And it was quite enjoyable.

But then the music started getting louder. And people started getting drunker, and therefore louder. And because they were drunker, they didn’t really notice that I hadn’t said a word in about an hour. And then they started off to dance, one by one by one by one. And eventually I was just sitting at a table staring at nothing, sort of stuck (which actually happened before most of them left, but at that point, I was already sort of just stuck).

But then one of the girls noticed and pulled me in to dance, so I sort of danced, I guess. Dancing is not my favorite. There are very few occasions when I enjoy it. It is people-dependent and music-dependent and volume-dependent. But I tried to look like I was having fun because they were trying so hard to include me and sometimes I even was having fun. And they would do silly things to make me smile or be less worried about dancing awkwardly whenever they noticed I didn’t seem happy. And they tried so hard and were so nice and that made me happy. Even though it was SO LOUD. But I can do loud for a while sometimes.

And then the faculty members who were at the dinner joined us in dancing. (And seeing a senior, tenured faculty member dance to “Party in the USA” is really a quite enjoyable/amusing experience). And so that was quite amusing and fun for a while.

But then it just got TOO LOUD. And I had to escape.

Luckily, around that time, I discovered that there was a terrace. The terrace was quieter. It overlooked a pond and the skyline of the city all lit up. So for a while I talked to people out there. Then later, as I got more and more tired, I just sort of stood around and followed around groups without really saying anything. Because it was still loud out there, although less loud than inside.

And then eventually we went home, and I went to sleep and I slept the whole next day, too, basically until 4pm, only with a few breaks to get up and eat or take meds or send emails. Because seeing people at that time would not have worked. Full blown social hangover. Luckily there weren’t any orientation-things until 4pm (which was why I got up at 4).

I can’t write anymore ever and I was so excited about all of this blog stuff and about my friends and about figuring out WHO I AM and silly things like that and I thought maybe I would be able to explain myself and explain everything and then it would make life easier.

BUT NO IT DOESN’T BECAUSE LIFE IS STILL LIFE.

And I know objectively I have a really great one and I really shouldn’t complain probably all that much.

And today I had fun again.

We had a board game night at someone’s apartment with cookies and moderate amounts of alcohol. And the games were quite enjoyable and the cookies were really good. And no one was super drunk and it was just us so no strangers.

(And I did have a mini-meltdown on the way there because I couldn’t find the bus and my bag was heavy and then there was a very loud physics professor on the bus behind me once I finally got on the bus and so many noises, but even with that and being a little quiet in the beginning of the event, within half an hour I was having so much fun and was so glad I went, even with my mini-meltdown.

But I think I need to learn to take a break from activities. Or at least some activities.

(I do not go to bars at night. It isn’t the alcohol that is the problem. I like alcohol (well, very specific alcoholic drinks) (aka ridiculously sweet ones). It’s the NOISE and the PEOPLE.) (And going to bars is a very common grad student activity.)

But it’s tricky because the first couple weeks are when the habits and groups and friendships are formed. And in college I sat back because of all the new-ness stress and it took a year and a half to get good friends. And it was lonely.

But LOUD is LOUD is LOUD is LOUD.

And I want to tell all the people in the program that I like them so much and they are awesome and fun to be around but I’m autistic and just can’t physically hangout with them all the time because it just makes me so tied I can’t function. But it’s not that I don’t like them. But I have really only known them a week so I should probably be more secretive about it, especially since I am generally secretive about personal stuff. And I don’t want to use autism as an excuse. Or have them question if that is really the case. (Although I think if I said Asperger’s, they wouldn’t doubt that. But people tend to have a different picture of autism.)

And this is also silly because no one has seemed all that upset or concerned or less friendly because I haven’t gone to EVERY SINGLE SOCIAL EVENT THEY PLANNED.

So yup.

That’s what I’m up to right now.

But next week, I’ll start classes and rotating, and then I will have more structure, and also the frequency of social activities will probably diminish, since everyone else will also be busier, and that will hopefully help.