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.

Autistic People and Imagination

When they say autistic people don’t have imagination and don’t engage in imaginative play, what do they mean? I knew I had imagination, and that was one of the biggest things holding me back from thinking I could be autistic, because that was something always stated and listed and formalized. Autistic people don’t have imagination.

I never really was into playing school or house, like other kids were (why would you be a grown-up when you could be a HORSE?). But I would play all sorts of imaginative games with my cousins and my sister and myself.

I played Orphan Kittens. We played all sorts of games with our stuffed animals and model horses. Admittedly, we often wrote out the scripts before and they were usually similar patterns that happened… but that is a trait common to children. (You notice it when you babysit or have younger siblings or really just encounter things like that).

We played Lord of the Rings and went on quests where grapefruits or a pomegranate were palantir. There was a game where we were princesses that also involved horses and we would switch roles between them back and forth. We also played a lot of complicated games involving chickens and occasionally my cousin’s goat which we were all afraid of, but those were not always imaginative games–I don’t really remember the point of them, so they are a bit irrelevant.

In 4th grade, I made snail houses and fairy houses and for one brief moment, I was a trendsetter when everyone else in 4th grade also made “fairy friends”. (Although I was a bit upset that they treated it as a game, because I at least half–probably more–believed in it). I played games where the swings were the way to outer space and the only way back was to go down the slides. I was good at coming up with games and stories, so as long as everyone else was still young enough to play stories and pretend at lunch, I had company. They grew out of it earlier, so I switched to books.

And I lived in stories and books (and still do) despite the best efforts of literature analysis to beat that love out of me. And I still half-live in a world of stories, although I read much less than my high school minimum of a book a day. (I have a lot more reading to do of other materials than I did in high school.) (Also, I don’t like going new places myself which is why I haven’t been yet to the [non-campus] library even though I love libraries.)

Anyway, on any given day, I’m about 80% sure I’m autistic and I’ve had official professional people agree with me, so I just wanted to summarize this to say that autistic people can be creative too and that is a silly requirement to say they can’t.

telling autistic

Some more choosing-a-lab/grad-school-struggles randomly and when that happens I am not very good at writing at paragraphs or capitalizing or even really going back and editing it but also because I am still sort of mush on this topic and ideas right now. So sorry about that because I know lack of capitalization and even also inconsistent capitalization and punctuation can be distressing to read to me at least so here’s a heads up that it is all sorta meltymushy.

one problem i’ve found that I have with autism
and why i don’t want to tell people
or can’t

because for the longest time i would read stories of kids with autism–because its almost always kids in the stories
and i thought it couldn’t be real
because they sounded just like me–a bit younger often, and with a tendency to be boys—and I was not a boy no way who knows what boys were up to or how I could related to them
so i thought most of it was a new made-up craze
that things were overconcerned and overpathologized when it was just people being people

of course
eventually i realized that actually in these stories these kids who couldn’t really have something Named, couldn’t really all be that different
because it was things I did
things my family did
things I didn’t think at all were unusual because they were woven into my everyday life

that these things were not actual Things That Everyone Does
but rather, unusually unique to me and occasionally family members
and this group of autistic

I would keep reading the stories before I realized
because I recognized something similar
but also reading them trying to figure out what exactly it was that made these kids different

sometimes jealous of the more-overtly-things that meant they didn’t have to talk to people
or somehow were allowed to do things in public I knew that were not allowed but they were ok for them
not knowing how amazingly lucky and accepting my life had been–which is probably one big WHY that no one noticed things about me

and now i’m struggling with some things in school
contemplating telling people to see if that would help
—by people i mean official school people—
(although i don’t know who i would tell since i am not even in a lab)
but I’m afraid they won’t believe me

because just like my family was slow to believe when i told (some of) them
because it was just things that everyone did
i live in a world of science and scientists
and a lot a lot a lot of the things I do are not all that uncommon–at least compared to the general population
there is at least one professor who I am almost positive (upwards of 90%) is autistic too
and there are others with hints
and so i feel like it would be less believed
because the straits stand out less–which is sometimes good
but makes asking for help harder

—well, that and the fact that I don’t have any actual official paperwork of any sort saying i was autistic. probably a flaw at that time that i should have predicted coming up in the future

maybe when i get in a lab officially
i will eventually tell that PI
and help figure out solutions

In general, i’m not very good at telling people
i’ve told one person who asked directly
i have told 2 close friends
i told boyfriend

i wish people would ask directly
that is why i didn’t even tell the therapist/pysch person
because it didn’t come up in any of the questions she asked me

but i think it is very rare that people will do that
it has only happened once

so i probably shouldn’t hope for that

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.

Sunglasses, I love you

I do not like the sun.

When I say this, after this ridiculously long Midwest winter, people look at me strangely.

“But you’re from California!”

That is very true. And I even like sunny weather. I like it being warm but not hot outside. I like it when it is not a ridiculous negative temperature. I lived a lovely life before I came here and learned all about wind chill and layers and that you can’t just look outside in the morning to figure out what the weather is going to be like that day and if you should bring a sweatshirt or not. I did enjoy living somewhere that it was never cold enough that closed-toed-shoes were necessary, where the warmest thing I owned was a sweatshirt. But that doesn’t mean I like sunlight.

You see, there is also shade in California. It is possible to enjoy the nice weather without being in the direct sun. For some reason, people seem to forget this fact.

For some reason, though, I did not discover how amazing sunglasses were earlier in life.

Despite what this picture may suggest, I did not wear sunglasses
particularly frequently. I was however, as you can tell, clearly a
very cool kid, as you can tell by both these sunglasses and
this lovely pose in front of the fireplace sometime in
 kindergarten-ish.

The reasons for this:
(1) My parents made us wear hats a lot if we were going to be outside for extended periods of times, like hiking.
(2) At the beach, most of the time I was underwater or in the process of going underwater. So the sunlight was a mere distraction. There were so many other things going on.
(3) The rest of the time, I would probably chill out in the shade.
(4) I wore glasses. I did not like contacts. It is sort of awkward to put sunglasses on over glasses.

(5) I did not own sunglasses anyway, and I was a relatively unobservant person. I also didn’t really hang out all that much with other people who wore sunglasses. Who does that, anyway? I guess if you are all outside? But most of my outside activities were either shade-capable-ones or too-active-for-sunglasses-ones.
(6) I thought sunglasses were something for adults.

I remember the sun bothering me earlier. I remember that I would close my eyes when we ran the mile in PE (which is really a bad move, especially when you are running around a block 4 times and not on a track, so there are impediments like palm trees and cracks in the sidewalks and people’s trashcans and sometimes people).

But then sometime late in college, I discovered I could wear sunglasses for things other than driving at sunrise and sunset. This happened because of free sunglasses. And because of lovely friends, who after hearing me complain about the sun being bright, suggested that I put on those free sunglasses. And it was pretty amazing. (Although I still have to carry my other glasses around, so sunglasses are still an awkward option). And that is how I started wearing sunglasses at the beach.

This year, I started experimenting with ways to avoid the sun when walking to work in the morning.

I have tested out sunglasses and a baseball hat. I think the winner will probably be BOTH, but I have not tested out that combination yet.

Baseball hats block the sun from the top and also keep my face from getting sunburnt, but they don’t block sun as well as sunglasses, but they block it differently. Also I can wear my normal glasses with them if I need to actually see for some reason (I don’t have very bad eyesight, but I like wearing my glasses.)

But sunglasses also have other advantages besides blocking the sun.
(1) They hide your eyes. They prevent people from using their magic eye-tracking powers to see exactly what you are looking at. I do not really understand how they can do this, but they do. So conversations with people outside are wonderful because you can look wherever you want to.
(2) They look super cool, right? All the cool kids are wearing sunglasses. (Sort of sarcasm…)
(3) They block things from blowing into your eyes (admittedly, my glasses do this too, especially since they are abnormally large, but my sunglasses are still slightly larger, so they do a slightly better job).

The only problem is that it requires taking stuff with me, which is something I would rather avoid. I like leaving all the stuff where it is safe and where it belongs in its spot. I do not like taking it out of its spot. But that is the point of stuff. To be used. So I will work on that, too.

Because sunglasses are pretty awesome. But they only work if they are on my face.

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.