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.

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Choosing not to talk

One of the best classes I ever took in undergrad was an introductory sign language class. I’m not really sure why I decided to take it, except it seemed interesting and fit into my schedule well. I liked the idea of being able to talk to  But it has been so incredibly, unpredictably useful for me, in ways I didn’t expect it to be.

Today was a busy day, where I met a lot of important people in boyfriend’s life. We went and talked to a lot of people and talked and hung out.* And then boyfriend drove me home (I should really pick a name for him).

The moment I got in the car, I was exhausted.
Talking started to be very hard, when I was talking just fine before.
I was quiet.
Very, very tired.

Interesting point: I can hold off my tiredness and my not-talkiness for a certain amount of time. I do have some control over it, but then once I no longer have to, and get to a safe place, I can switch it off. Or at least the waiting and the talking and the being-around-people switches off.  

Then he came in with me to check that I was ok because I wasn’t really talking.
Helped me change into my safe comfy clothes and find my blankets.
Be safe and make sure I have all the steps I needed to calm down and go to sleep.

And through all of this, I was tired and stressed. I could talk, maybe not well, maybe not in full sentences, but I definitely was capable of talking. But it was so much easier to not. Sometimes I lose all my words, but not this time. And because there was another way to communicate, I did. Being able to communicate without having to use my mouth is wonderful. Even when I can talk, sometimes it is incredibly hard. It is so much easier to sign yes or no or food or sleep. (I know very little signs, and certainly don’t ever use enough for grammar to even come into question, but the little I know has been helpful.)**

I think it is ok to not talk sometimes even if you are still able to talk at that time. I think it is important if you know that you sometimes have trouble talking (verbally) to have alternative modes of communication. I think that it is ok to use other methods of communication whenever, not just as a last resort. It’s ok to put my energy towards different sources rather than speaking. I think that it can be ok to choose not to talk.

I think it is important that other people are also ok with using alternative modes of communication. I wouldn’t do this with anyone but boyfriend (partially also because he’s one of the few people I have this system worked out with), but I wish it was more ok to use alternative methods of communication. I know that being able to get across what I want without having to use my voice was part of why I didn’t meltdown today after a long, busy, people-filled day. I think it needs to be safe and needs to be acceptable to choose other ways of talking.

~~~~~
*[He is smart, though, and knows me, so one of them we met over food, so there was food as an excuse for quiet. The other one, we met at their (parent’s) house. However, they had a dog. An adorable, friendly mini Australian Shepherd who is my friend now. So boyfriend and his friend spent a lot of time catching up, and I spent a lot of time hanging with my new friends. We were there for almost 5 hours, which is a long time to spend in a living room talking with someone I had not met before. The only reason I was able to do it for so long was because of the dog. (One more reason why I should have a dog.)]
**Boyfriend knows a smattering of ASL that he taught himself while working at a summer camp in order to talk to a few of the kids there. Neither of us are particularly fluent, but it works enough for us to get our point across. And really, usually when I am that tired, I am on single words, anyway. 

NOT home for the holidays

Note: Talking about food and eating and not eating

This year for Thanksgiving I did not go home (I haven’t for several years, because Thanksgiving weekend is short and I live several thousand miles away from home.) But usually I would meet up with some family that had been scattered around the area or eat with friends or something.

This year, I did not. (People moved around again, and I suppose I did too, now that I am in graduate school and in a different city and other people live in different places and different countries and such.)

But don’t worry I will definitely be home for Christmas, and for a good long time, too.

This year, I went to boyfriend’s family’s Thanksgiving.

Different families have different traditions.
Family traditions are really confusing if you don’t understand them.
Even things less formalized than traditions. Just family habits.

Like shoes.

We wore our shoes the whole time. In the house. All day. I carefully watched people, so I could tell if it was ok for me to take my shoes off. Usually I do that first thing when coming inside. My whole family does. We have shoe piles by all our doors and have to wander around to the various doors when leaving to try and find where our shoes are.

Boyfriend’s family wears shoes inside. (Later I discussed this, and was informed it would be ok for me to take me shoes off. So now I know that for the future.)

And food.

I have come to the conclusion that my family is overly attached to food. We have very specific dishes. And large numbers of them. Each family makes a few of the different ones to spread out the work. When you have a 30 person Thanksgiving*, you can have more dishes than a 13 person one. And then there are the desserts, which is a whole new meal that you wait several hours for so that you have enough room for it. And the rules about who does which clean-up chores. It is very carefully regimented.

This is the dessert table from the Thanksgiving that my family had that I did not go to. It was much smaller than normal because a lot of people are still in college or are off in various other parts of not-home doing things, like me. Usually there are more cheesecakes. And ice cream. And normal cakes. And whipped cream. And just about everything. But also usually there are 30-50 people, which there wasn’t this year. Also, it was rather cruel to send me this picture. 

These rules do not apply in other families.

Also, they have different food and apparently they make the mashed potatoes taste like water and the sweet potatoes not taste like delicious orange things that are my favorite food ever. (And so then I had a lot of food on my plate that there was no way I was going to eat because it lied about what it was. But it is against the rules not to finish your food when you are a guest. But I couldn’t eat it. So I got stuck there a while until boyfriend noticed and ate the various potatoes for me and then saved me and then I could go eat more turkey and stuffing [which was also wrong, but at least it was yummy, so it was ok].)

And that (mostly the food) makes me sad because it is probably an event I will be going to for years and it is not a potluck thing, so I guess I will have to just deal with it by making my own later after the event** because I do not know if there would be a way for me to offer to make the food without offending people. I will confer with boyfriend on this. But he probably doesn’t know because the food just appears. And also everyone else seems to like it. So I will pretend to like it and remember which ones I don’t like and serve carefully of the things I like so that I have enough food and no one questions me and finds out I don’t actually like most of the food.

And then there are other secret codes and languages. Hidden jokes and words and ideas. “I’ll explain later”s. Songs and dances. What is the order for getting the food? Is there rules to who can sit where?

Boyfriend is good and reviewed things with me before. Where we were going. What would happen. Who would be there. How loud it would be and when and where. But there are things you don’t think of explaining because that’s how you have always done it, so why does it need to be explained. But different families do things differently.

And most families don’t have quiet rooms that you can go to and take a break in and have it be perfectly ok and normal and expected. (And I don’t know them well enough to start exploring the house.)

But boyfriend is important to me. And so is his family. And I want to learn their traditions and get involved in them and be part of their family, too, because that is part of the end goal and in the five-year plan that we have made. And also my family is too far away to go home to for Thanksgiving, so this seems like a good starting place.

But also his family is weird (although I like them very much) and also has issues which are not mine to discuss here and those can be upsetting and confusing to me. Because I mostly know how to deal/cope with/ignore my family issues (because we have our deep dark hidden secrets, too, but I know how we approach them), but I am confused with these issues when I know what they are but I do not have a lifetime of dealing with them to have developed coping mechanisms or to have learned the rules regarding them.

Luckily, there were small children and dogs present. Those are my strongest groups of social interactions. I made new friends, even with the shy ones. We put together puzzles. Both of those classes of living things have a tendency to like me because I don’t mind sitting on the ground and acting embarrassingly. I also discussed farming and coyotes with someone else, which is another one of my strong points.

And his family that I know was very very nice, and most of the people I didn’t know were also nice.

So it was good. And then I came home and lost all my words and boyfriend came over for a bit until the meltdown-shutdown-crying-panic-overload went away and I was happy again.

And then I slept for 13 hours.

(Which threw off my sleep schedule which is why I am still up past 2:00 now…)

~~~
* Or a 50 person Christmas
**Definitely made one-person sweet potato pie the day after to make up for the fail.

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.