Wanting to Be Normal

There is no neurotypical ‘me’, as I believe I’ve said before.  Would your clone be you, raised in a different time and situation? They might be remarkably similar, in the way that identical twins raised separately can be, but I wouldn’t agree that they are the same person?

Someone genetically identical to me, but without my various ‘quirks’ wouldn’t be me. No abuse, different family, no assault, no anxiety, no being on the spectrum-that wouldn’t be me.

Now, the question is-would I want to be that other person? Do I want to live their existence?

Yes and no. There are things about being me that are irritating, frustrating, and infuriating. I don’t think I would miss them. But I feel like parts of myself are wonderful-and I’m not sure being able to fit in more with other people would be worth giving up those things.


It’s also because I’m not entirely sure how different I am. I know that plenty of people love the beach-it’s a pretty common thing to like.

But do other people feel the beach the way I do?

Does it cleanse their mind and silence their worries and ease their weary souls? Do they hear the same almost-music in their minds in the sound of the waves and the light of the sun and the taste of salt in their mouths?

Can they feel the universe’s energy in the flowers budding on a tree branch?

Is that part of the human experience, or is it just me? Do they feel it differently?

Part of me thinks they must- for me the world is completely overwhelming at times, and it seems that they don’t hear anything at all.

I don’t think I want to see the world that way-even if my way sometimes makes me suffer and rubs me raw.

Because when it isn’t harsh and loud and dragging on my skin, the world is beautiful. I would worry about not seeing it that way anymore.

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The Caffeine Dilemma

Coffee! The smell. The first dates, good and bad. The pot in the office.

So many are so dependent on it. I enjoy it, but there’s a constant risk of a mild overdose. I also may already be dependent. I’m not sure. It’ll at least be a ‘normal’ dependency.


Story time: When I worked at Starbucks, eons ago, there was a young woman who came in four or five times a day. Not every day, but I learned that there were other locations that she visited, depending on her schedule.

But each time she arrived, she’d always get some variation on the following: Venti (for those of you playing along at home, that’s 20 ounces hot, 24 ounces iced), five or six shots of espresso, non fat milk.

So, on an average day, this woman had about twenty five shots of espresso.

caffeine-junkie

This, only blonde and in all black.

One co-worker was tempted to make her drinks decaf, until it was pointed out that this woman’s caffeine addiction was so severe that doing so was akin to forcing a heroin addict to go cold turkey with no warning. I was sure, had my coworker given her decaf, the woman would have passed out in the parking lot in a pool of her own withdrawal sweat and/or vomit.

I’m joking, but-

[GOOGLE AND CALCULATIONS BREAK]

The average America adult drinks 300 mg of caffeine a day. That woman was drinking about 320 mg in one drink. So about 5.34 times the national average a day-1600 mg a day! Ouch.

Compared to a serious drug habit, Starbucks is cheaper, but that’s five or six dollars, four or five times a day. So say 25 dollars, seven times a week…it’s about seven hundred dollars a month.

For coffee! That is a little insane.


Now. I like coffee. I used to be a Frappuccino junkie, but I’ve cut way back, because it’s just a sugar bomb, and when I do indulge I only drink Light Frappuccinos.

When I’m feeling like cold molasses, a stimulant is practically necessary to keep moving. And I love me some iced coffee. In cold weather it’s either hot tea or a latte; straight hot coffee hurts me.

But moderation is extremely important.

I have an anxiety disorder. Too much of a stimulant leads to the feeling of being strapped to the front bumper of a car in a drag race about ten minutes after snorting two lines of cocaine, and there’s no getting off.

Many people with anxiety avoid caffeine altogether because it gets risky.

My caffeine overdoses leave me queasy with any tiny movement making me twitch. A leaf falling out of a tree elicits OMG WTF BBQ FUCK FUCK FUCK DANGER.

It’s been less of an issue lately, I think because of medication adjustments, but coffee is so much part of office culture and casual socializing not drinking it either requires an explanation or decaf.

Unless you’re in Starbucks of course. Then there’s a pretty good shot at escaping having to drink anything is a kick.

But I sort of enjoy enjoying coffee-it allows me to pretend better. When one person sighs, ‘It’s too early to do this without coffee’, I can nod in agreement with truth behind it, and such moments where I feel less like an alien are nice.

So I’ll have coffee. Despite the pounding.

The Mind as a Person, and Their Place in Their Family

People often talk about their non-neurotypical children as if they were robbed of their ‘real’ child. And while I can understand the frustration and loss involved with raising a child who may never speak to you, or spends hours in a room screaming-

That is their real child, and there is no untangling how their brain works from the person. It doesn’t mean that they can’t connect with that child as a person.

And demanding their ‘real’ child is essentially the changeling myth, in reverse: the child they birthed in exchange for one that is near identical, but ‘normal’.

I do not exist as a neurotypical person. A person that was physically identical to me but lacking my illnesses, my idiosyncrasies, my way of looking at the world-that would not be me, and could never be.


This post was born from the fact that I feel as if said hypothetical identical stranger was swapped for me at birth, and my neurotypical double was raised by a pair of very confused lesbians who obsessively collect trains, line their walls with bookshelves and chose a sperm donor who they hoped would produce a child that was a little like them.

So my family has me, an atheist neuroatypical bookish nerd who seems to lack anything in common with them. And until recently, I accepted my black sheep status, because despite a lack of understanding, I thought I was loved.

But yesterday, the topic of my young transgender cousin came up. She’s going to be a senior in high school, and both of my aunts insist on calling her by her old name and with male pronouns. It clearly hurts her feelings, and my aunt’s only response was she doesn’t want ‘someone like that’ in our family.

My young cousin has good grades, a part time job, and the most trouble she’s ever gotten in involved marijuana. (Like many other teenagers in America, she smokes it with her friends.)

By comparison, my two older cousins have stolen cars and wrecked them, gotten involved with underage girls, leeched off their parents, started fights, thrown things and sworn at their mother-but there’s no mention of cutting them off.

I had to come to the realization that the ‘me’ that my family loves is in fact not me at all, but the me that is related to them and passes for normal. The me that I would recognize as myself-the bisexual neuroatypical woman who likes collecting notebooks and dark chocolate-doesn’t exist for them.


There was a time that I wished that what was so different about me would go away-that I wouldn’t startle so easily, that I wouldn’t count patterns on the ceiling, get overwhelmed so easily by crowds.

Then I realized that if I pull at enough of those differences I would unravel myself. So many of those things being gone would mean that I would disappear.

So I came to accept them-even if living with them is less than ideal.


 

So, for those who feel like they don’t fit in with their family-who feel like the person who is embraced is a shadow or puppet show-

See if you can find a new family.

People who know who you are. All of who you are. Spend time with them.

Take time getting to know yourself.

Minimize time with your relatives.

Constantly holding up a mask and smile is exhausting. Don’t do it.

Living Neuroatypical re: Job Hunting

No one likes job hunting.*

*Well, I’m sure there must be someone, as there are people who want to have sex with their cars, but as a general rule, even people who hate their current position aren’t overjoyed with the process of looking for another.

As a neuroatypical, I have to concur with the general rule on this one.

Job hunting isn’t fun.

Not necessarily for the same reasons.

Reason #1:

Job applications.

Type 1: The sort intended for jobs paid by the hour.

They are generally tedious, too long, dull, and numbing.

They are also not intended for people who aren’t neurotypical. A person with, say, ADHD, is going to have a much harder time with them, and some of them are timed.

The applications have questions intended to weed out those who lack the basic temperament or compliance for hanging up clothes, making milkshakes, and tolerating the general irritations of the position.

But the questions also have the side effect of weeding out people who may be perfectly competent, if not excellent potential employees, but don’t understand and/or misinterpret the questions.

Questions on applications for retail or food service jobs are often meant to be answered on a scale of 1-5, agree/disagree, which is already sort of a crap-shoot in terms of answering.

How much do you agree? Are you neutral?

When I filled out those applications, it seemed like I had to guess. And after twenty five questions, with another forty to go, I would be so overstimulated and irritated that I would have to go do something else for an hour or would be unable to process anything. And half the time, the application would have timed out, so I would have to start over again.

(I learned, much later, that (apparently) neutral or hesitant answers are negative, while answers that are at either end of the spectrum are seen more positively. If they’re the right answer, of course. )

When the question was ‘Everyone slacks off at work sometimes’, I said that I agreed, because that’s true. It isn’t as if we, as human beings, are not masters of dicking around. But this is a massively wrong answer, because since retail and food service workers aren’t meant to be human beings,  and therefore should indicate that they do not understand what ‘slacks off’ means, and that at work they are nothing but vessels for said work.

Being who I was, I answered the questions without understanding that mindset, and took everything too literally.

Type 2:  Resume and Cover Letter

This form of application is less tedious-but I wouldn’t call it better.

The resume is always the same, you arrange it in a way that is meant to appeal to the applied position, you send it.

But the cover letter?

If anyone is honest, a cover letter is half advertising and half blowing as much smoke up someone’s ass as you can get away with, each meant to be customized to each job you apply to.

As someone with anxiety and trying to find a spot on the spectrum: trying to constantly sell myself, while being all too conscious of the performative nature of the cover letter?

It’s like pulling teeth. It can get obsessive, writing and editing and trying not to sound boastful or boring and not being able to imagine how the recipient will interpret the letter, and any lack of response fueling the obsession, not knowing how to fix it, even with advice, a need to succeed and a lack of feedback causing the anxiety to rise, causing you to make mistakes?

It’s not a good place to be.

Oddly enough, I do better via phone and in-person interviews, when I get them.

Which leads to-!

Reason #2:

Interviews!

Perhaps there exists a human being so confident and socially calibrated that an interview is a pleasant experience from start to finish.

I envy them, if so.

There is a constant sense of performing a balancing act, in an interview. You must appear eager, but not desperate. Intelligent, but not a know-it-all. Friendly, but not pushy. And so on.

In a neuroatypical’s case? You have to constantly worry about looking normal, on a everyday basis.

A job interview is ‘I’m normal, why do you ask’, dialed up to eleven.

In my case, I have to prep entirely the night before, medicate, do numerous deep breathing exercises, and hope that absolutely nothing will go wrong because I can be sent into an anxiety spiral of panicked uselessness with something as trivial as losing an earring.

And the instant the interview is over? It will be gone from my memory, because I would be unable to store it, too busy appearing normal.

Let me set the scene:

Intimidating woman in a power suit, perfectly peach lips and sharp eyebrows: Hello.

Me, professionally dressed, with a smile that tastes like mouthwash and too many mints: Hello, nice to meet you.

Me inwardly: MY NOSE ITCHES is my skirt riding up should I fix it oh no now I’m fidgeting, that makes you look insecure? Or was it immature? Insincere? Shit, make eye contact! No, now you’re staring, look away, not over there, look in her direction, oh look a bird-

IWIAPSPPLASE: So, what interested you in the position?

MPDWASTTLMAG: (says rehearsed answer)

MI: What was that? You’re fidgeting again, stop it you look like a freak. Oh look it’s that bird again, hi pretty birdy. Oh, I hope it doesn’t crash into the glass. What if that window fell out and I died? Shit she said something, nod NOD DAMN YOU.

IWIAPSPPLASE: What is your greatest weakness?

MI: I can’t actually tell you that, because ‘I have generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and CPTSD’ translates to ‘useless DO NOT HIRE’ in interview-speak, so…now I have to make something up!

MPDWASTTLMAG: I’m really rigid.

MI: REALLY? THAT’S THE BEST YOU CAN COME UP WITH!? (falls into despair, hobbles through rest of the interview, crawls home, kicks off shoes, and is completely depressed for a week)

This will then set off my anxiety about literally (almost) everything, to the point that making any sort of decision, including what to have for breakfast, becomes crippling, as well as convincing me that trying to work is impossible, and that I would resign myself to subsisting on disability for the rest of my life, as well as building imposter syndrome. And so on, until the next one.

In Conclusion:

job-interview-stock-photo

This. This  about sums it up. Just with more fear sweat.

Why Insurance Is So Important

Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare, and yes, they’re the same thing) went a long way in helping people access medical care. Until the Affordable Care Act, insurances weren’t required to cover a lot of things, and preexisting conditions excluded a lot of people. Is it perfect? No, but it seems like there is no perfect (or improved) plans waiting in the wings, and you don’t rip off a leaking roof to replace it with one that would leak more. If it stayed up at all.

And, to be frank, unless you are wealthy to the point of obscenity, paying out of pocket for health care is impossible.

I’ll use myself as an example. If I had to pay for my mental health care out of pocket-well, it’s a moot point. I couldn’t.

My therapy appointments, at a sliding scale clinic, without coverage, would be $200 a month, with another $50 for any additional appointments to manage my medications. My medications, without coverage, would be about $900 a month.

So: let’s say $1150 a month,  that’s $13, 800 a year.I could rent an apartment with that amount of money.

Where in the hell am I going to get that? And that’s assuming I don’t need any other medical care. No injures, no hospitalizations, no illnesses that can’t be treated with something over the counter.

And other people-say, a diabetic or a cancer patient-would have bills that make my costs look entirely reasonable.

The short version is that we’ve reached a point that medical care is too expensive for the average American to pay for, forcing people to choose between their health and financial ruin, if paying for their care is even a possibility.

A lack of provided health care is just an indication that the American government has no investment or care for the disabled or the health of their citizens, in a depressing and striking contrast to the rest of the developed world.

It makes me feel devalued as a human being.

Resentment, and Mental Illness

Being mentally ill is often means being the butt of a joke, of a stereotype.

The broke creepy loser who lives with a parent who can’t handle the real world.

Granted, the typical image this invokes is a fat guy who never showers and yells up the basement stairs for his mother to feed him and never goes anywhere.

I don’t meet those particular criteria. I also don’t call customer service helplines to breathe heavy on the phone while listening to the unfortunate woman on the other end.

However, I tell myself how pathetic I am roughly thirty times a day, I often have difficulty reading social cues, and I twitch at sudden noises. When I am out in public, this has garnered me odd looks. I assume this is because, until I do something like jump at the sound of a slamming door like someone was just shot, I appear ‘normal’.

My therapist tells me I am too harsh on myself, and people with my illness may spend their entire lives dealing with it, and that the longer and more intense the trauma, the longer the recovery, if it can be called that.

To hold myself to standards that might apply to the average (neurotypical) person is absurd, and pointless.

I understand what she means. That does not mean I do not resent being who I am.

That, as stressful as it might be, I want to pay bills, buy my own groceries, go to and from work so I can support myself while working on my own projects, that I want to go out without any fear. And I can do those things. But not without help, and not yet, not entirely.

I resent my pills, the fact that my brain does not function properly and requires outside chemical intervention to mimic ‘normal’ behavior.

I resent my coping skills: my index cards, my deep breathing, my grounding exercises, my coloring books.

I resent wondering is something as simple as cold medicine will set off an anxiety attack.

I resent my need for my sun lamp, my meditative meandering hours.

I resent my comfort objects, my desire for a new spinner ring.

I resent my nightmares, my restless nights, my days on edge.

I resent being the butt of a joke that isn’t even funny.

Carrying this much resentment is not healthy. Of which I am aware.  Which can lead to resenting my resentment.

And so on it goes.

I realize a lot of people resent, fear, or dislike people who are neuroatypical.

I have little tolerance for it.

 

 

The Taming of Anxiety

I start from a higher set point than the average person. When I wake up in the morning, before the feet hit the floor, my anxiety has already started. Perhaps I wake up out of a nightmare and my first feeling, my first thought is ‘Am I safe? Where am I?’ Perhaps not, and I’m afraid of nothing-my heart is racing, I am awake and alert, too alert, but not afraid.

If I can, I get up, I take my pills, I have a light breakfast. I breathe, take the time to adjust myself to the new day, let go of fear and awareness. It is what I have to do, in order to function. If my anxiety is left unattended it will eventually catch up with me. It will drag me down to the ground, its full weight on back. So I am constantly pushing it away.

This makes dealing anxieties that come from outside a lot more difficult.

A majority of the time, I have to ignore any sort of input that would cause me anxiety.

(I don’t watch the news. It’s usually shallow information, and it invokes fear, frustration, rage. There is no point to it, really. If I need information I can look it up, in chunks, in a format that is meant to inform, not scandalize. There are only so many stories of small children being abandoned to die and pitiful accidents that one can handle.)

To show you what I mean, a theoretical:

Horror Girl (who, despite it being late fall, is running around the entire movie  in white jean booty shorts and strappy wedge sandals), has just spent the last five minutes being chased by Freddy/Jason/Leatherface/the guy from Scream/Bad Guy X, and has come to a stop. There is a sound behind her, she screams, and throws a rock/uses her weapon/runs again. The camera turns to show what has made the sound-and it’s a cat/some trash/Generic Love Interest.

None of these things are dangerous, but Horror Girl is already in such a state of terror that something completely innocuous or merely annoying becomes something life threatening.

Translate this to a past episode from everyday life: I’m running late, so my anxiety is already high. And I realize, too late to go home and get it, that I have no wallet. So I have no way to buy lunch, no emergency money, no cards, nothing. Now, normally this would be frustrating, irritating, really just a pain.

I had a full blown panic attack; I couldn’t breathe deeply, I was nauseous, and any contingency plan I might have formed dissolved in a puddle of anxiety acid.

It worked out fine. My boyfriend lent me some money. It was fine. But it took outside intervention to calm me, I could not pull myself out of that pit.

The problem, as you may have realized, is that so much of my life has to be controlled. I do best when things are scheduled, and as a result I am quite possibly the least spontaneous person on the planet. If someone called and said ‘I have tickets for Hamilton tomorrow, let’s go’ I would panic because it’s so last minute.

(If anyone wants to invite me to Hamilton I will overcome my issues and go!)

But needing to have such control of my life (or days that allow for hours to calm myself), often leads to resentment. Of myself.

Why can’t you just push through it?

Just pick yourself up and go!

Adapt! No one cares or has to cater to you!

How will you take care of yourself?

And so on.

My anxiety, on good days, is tamed. A tiger on a long lead, one that must be watched. That must fed and watered and monitored.

It is never domesticated.

So I often don’t sleep. And then it gains ground. Which makes it harder to sleep.

Anxiety, and My Love/Hate for Running

Prior to my ‘man, I am out of shape. To Couch to 5K, Zombies Run! edition I go’, I could sprint a little. Maybe a sixteenth of a mile. Maybe.

I’ve finished Couch to 5K. I am now trying to build up my stamina and hope to do another one, then a 10K.

Now, I have been told so many times that exercise will help with depression and anxiety-and I understand being unable to take that advice.

It feels like being told you will feel better if you learn to breathe underwater.

There are steps that have to be taken before running is a reasonable thing to attempt. Five years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible for me to keep up, much less attempt.

I was constantly terrified, so exhausted that I could sleep twelve hours a day or more, and self harming.

Telling that version of me to start running would have been a bad attempt at a joke.

But now, when I’m not shaking, when I can get out of bed, when a new day is a new start and not dragging out my agony, starting to run has  been a gift I gave myself. My body, my heart rate, how my muscles move; these things that have not been mine, are suddenly under my control.

I can slow down or speed up, test myself, see how far I can go. It gives me something to focus on. A physical outlet that isn’t harming myself. A personal achievement. Something that is mine, that it for me, and I am the only one who is accountable for it.

And there are moments that make it seem like everything in the world has slotted together and is glorious. I forget my aching calves and my doubts and escape anything dragging me down and I am powerful. It’s a rush. It makes me want to train to run faster, even when it seems like I have physical limits.

So, that’s the love. Try Couch to 5K if you want to try. (Zombies, Run version plug here, it’s so much fun.)

woman-jogging

Me on a good run. (Except it is nowhere near that sunny right now.)

The hate? If I am already past a certain personal anxiety point?

Running makes it worse. My brain picks up on my faster heart rate, translates it as danger approaching, and I have to stop running, because my vision blurs and I feel so terrified the only thing I can do is go home.

And I feel frustrated. Defeated. Kept from doing something good for myself because I’m afraid, because I feel weak and scared.

Because I’m not strong enough.

But then I realize. I may not be invulnerable-but I’ve run before. I’ve had terrible days. And then I got back up the next day, and then I went back out.

So there is some strength there. More than I would have realized that I had, at one point.

So I love my little jogs more than I hate them.

(Except for when I’m cozy in bed. Then I am not a jogger, I am a cozy sleeper, and I stare in wonder at the 5 AM runners.)

I may never run a marathon. And that’s fine.

But I have challenged myself. I have grown stronger. That is something that I can always say to myself.

Medicated and Irritated

Roughly ten minutes prior to midnight, January 16th, 2017.

I am full of my prescribed medications. And one non-prescribed medication.

No one get excited. It’s a sleep aid. It’s chewable and smells like lavender!

However, I am still restless, depressed, fatigued, and just want to curl up in bed and stay there for a year.

But I can’t. I have to go to sleep, get up tomorrow, walk a dog, go to therapy, exercise, job hunt, and then go to bed and do more tomorrow.

Pills, I agree to take you because you’re supposed to make me work right.

I am not working right.

So, pills, what do we do now? Change you? It took so long to find you.

Ten minutes past eleven AM, January 17, 2017

A quarter past noon, same day

I set an alarm, and promptly slept through it. Though I suspect that I in fact woke up and turned it off, without fully waking, and slid back into sleep, only to wake up when I was supposed to be arriving at my destination.

After wandering in a haze I managed to take the dog outside to do his business, and jerk in surprise at the sound of human voices, and ran back into the house in a panic, then resisting the urge to claw at my own face, drained my cold brew.

I have stayed in, taken my pills, and everything is fine. I am watching the rain.

I am hyper-vigilant, and don’t feel safe going outside. I managed a short phone call.

I have to

I may have to face the reality that a nine to five job is unrealistic for me.

I wonder how many of us neuroatypicals have to face that reality.

There are things that I could do. Maybe a small home business, writing. Something.

Twenty past seven, same day

Now, post therapy, I’ve been calmed, and told that I have to practice compassion towards myself.

I forget, sometimes, that compassion towards myself is something that must be practiced. Until it’s a habit.

That my cruelty towards myself would be unacceptable towards another person, so it is also unacceptable towards myself.

I should look for work that suits me, if I can find it, and appreciate that I need maintenance like anyone else.

Always remember to breathe.

Everyone breathe.