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.


Some Easter Solutions

So for Thanksgiving, I went to Thanksgiving-holiday-celebrations with boyfriend’s family. And while it was fun, it was also overwhelming and completely drained and melted me down for much much longer than it should have been.

But, like I said before, boyfriend is important to me and his family is important to me. And they are physically close which is convenient for holidays (especially ones like Easter where I have to work the next day now that I am not at a Catholic school for the first time in my life). And I like them.

So I was glad when I was invited to Easter. And I was going to be prepared. I would handle the sound and take breaks and manage my overload-meltdown-awareness and everything would work out. And guess what? It actually did! There were mistakes and wrong turns and noises and surprises and I survived and enjoyed it.

Preperation

I was going to bring some sort of dessert, because I like baking and I was thoroughly trained to bring something whenever you visit. After musing over ideas for a while, I decided on carrot cake. But carrot cake was a no-go, when discussed with boyfriend. Apparently a large portion of his family is opposed to it. After some more thought, I remembered this beautiful Christmas dessert I made.

this is a plate of cream puffs covered in chocolate arranged in a tower on a wooden tableIt was not very difficult to make and very impressive looking. And also I really like cream puffs and chocolate and pastry cream, so it seemed like an all around good idea.  Of course, I had forgotten the fact that the old oven in my apartment is not nearly as reliable as the oven at my parents house. Even with the hanging thermometer I put inside so that I can roughly tell when things are finished preheating.

So I ended up with some very burnt cream puffs, from the first batch. (Like extremely burnt. Like they looked like charcoal briquettes. And sort of tasted like them, when I tried one in the vague hope that they had merely decided to darken without altering the flavor, or at least not in a way strong enough that I couldn’t hide it with chocolate. Alas, it was not to be.) And the second batch, which I took out in time, were not very puffy. So I didn’t bother making the cream, because it was only going to be for a few cream puffs, and that would be no good at all. Not enough dessert. Also, these cream puff adventures set the fire alarm off, and the windows in my apartment are very difficult to open (my roommate and I have to open them at the same time, because they either are very difficult to open or we are both very weak. It is probably a combination of both.)

So I went to my room and panicked a bit and was sad for a while. Then I got back to talking to some people (sadly not boyfriend, who was at Easter Vigil) and eventually one of my best friends, who is a baking machine (who makes all these wonderful delicious crazy dessert combinations that make me want to move to Colorado and be her general taste-tester) was kind enough to go through some basic easy things that I know how to make. So I settled on blondies, which are quick and delicious and reliable. 
One problem solved by asking for help.

The actual Easter dinner/family part

There were food and people. The same relatives I had met before/ enjoyed the company of. I actually preferred most of the food to Thanksgiving food. THERE WERE TWO TYPES OF MEAT! Also, boyfriend told me after Thanksgiving that I don’t have to eat everything and if I don’t like something it is ok not to finish it, so I didn’t have to spend any time trying to force myself to eat things that I strongly dislike AKA green beans while forcing my face to be a polite face (I’ve always assumed that I am able to decently maintain one, anyway.)
There were times where the conversations before lunch/dinner got too heated for me. There was an especially passionate discussion about college football players unionizing. I took breaks during those. I would go upstairs from the basement or out into the backyard. I spent a lot of time over this Easter sitting in the backyard or walking in circle around the house barefoot in the lawn. Spinning and flapping my arms. Watching the birds or the neighbor’s cat. It helped that it was deliciously warm outside and empty.
After a while, I would go back in (or I was called in when it was time to eat). I had milk with my dinner instead of wine like the adults, because I would much rather have milk. There were fun conversations with people I know well. After dinner we played board games. I really enjoy board games because they are a structured activity where you can still go outside them for conversations if you want, but they give you a structured starting point.
At several points, though, I was getting tired. Mostly of sitting in folding chairs. We spent a long time sitting around a table in chairs. After the meal, my family usually spreads out fairly quickly across the couches and the floors. I wanted to lie down or sit on the floor and that wasn’t happening. Other than that, things went well. I was tired, but mostly eaten-large-delicious-meal-tired not social-hangover-tired.
Problem solved by sensory and social breaks.

The drive home

So, I had already arranged to have boyfriend pick me up and drive me, even though it is a little out of his way, compared to him just going with his parents. I had reasoned that there was no way I would have been able to drive home safely after Thanksgiving. And certainly not with my roommate also there in the car. And boyfriend had offered to drive, so that was what we did.
Of course, there happened to be traffic. And boyfriend gets stressed by traffic (at least, I think he does). And so then I will pick up on it, or at least the Something Is Wrong part, and then be negatively affected. Especially after a long day, that can sometimes be enough to trigger meltdown. But I had managed myself well during the day, so I was able to deal with it. But then the road that we were going to take when we got off the highway was closed down by the police (because of a shooting). So we had to navigate a new way home. Luckily boyfriend has a smartphone, so we did have renaviagateable directions, but the part we had to navigate through was the not-safe part of the city between where I live and the highway. So it was a bit stressful. 
At the best of times, I am not good at giving directions. I get right and left mixed up a lot. Under pressure it gets much worse. And this wasn’t a particularly safe neighborhood (especially late at night), so we did want to minimize our wrong turns and circling-the-block-to-go-the-other-way type of navigation my family usually employs (which is assisted by our lack of navigational technology, admittedly). So that was a disaster.
BUT EVEN WITH ALL THAT, I WAS OK.
I was upset when we got out of the car, sure. And boyfriend walked me up to my apartment with my alcoholic root beer he bought me earlier in the week and we found a new way for him to get home (and researched why the police had blocked off that area, which was not reassuring at all) since the normal way he gets home was off-limits. But I calmed down enough for him to feel ok leaving, and then after half an hour of messing around on various electronic devices, I had pretty much calmed down completely. 
Problem solved by managing my resources during the rest of the day so I had enough left to deal with some unexpected problems.

The take-home message

I’m excited, guys! I used coping mechanisms today. And they worked so well. They made things so much more incredibly navigate-able and survivable. This is why it helps to know I am autistic. To know I need sensory breaks AND THAT THEY ARE OK. Because it lets me manage things I enjoy doing but that can be difficult.
Easter turned out so much better than Thanksgiving. 
Coping mechanisms can work!