“Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers”

I recently attended a really wonderful writing workshop hosted by a dear friend over Zoom. They shared a powerpoint slide with a list of titles and talked about Erik Satie and his bizarre naming convention. We had thirty minutes to let one of Satie’s title’s to inspire us into unedited train-of-thought style writing. I thought of free-writing, journal style, and then of poetry, but I ended up writing a short story based on the piece L’Enfance de Ko-Quo, roughly translated to “Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers.” I thought I would share it with you:

DO NOT DRINK YOUR CHOCOLATE WITH YOUR FINGERS

Erik has always known he is different from the other kids.

“Do not drink your chocolate with your fingers,” his mother always says, “You must fit in! They cannot know you are different.”

But part of Erik wants them to know he is different. He is in the sixth grade and by this time he has seen the other children and how they interact with one another. They kick balls with their feet and wield jump ropes with their hands. They use their voices to sing songs and, strangest of all, they drink their chocolate with their mouths. Erik has no desire to fit in with such strange creatures but he wants to please his mother more than anything and so he plays their odd games and uses his mouth for drinking and his fingers for typing and his feet for running.

Erik knows his mother only wants to keep him safe. He doesn’t remember much about his father because was so small when they came for him, leaving his sobbing mother clutching baby Erik tightly to her breast. When she tells him this story, which she is wont to do every now and then, particularly when the weather is bad or when she is feeling especially lonely, she tells him how he didn’t cry. Erik thinks he didn’t cry because he was too young to understand what was happening, too small for there to be anything left of his father for him to miss. But when his mother tells him this story, she calls him her brave boy. She tells him how strong he is and elaborates on the tribulations through which her brave strong boy can survive. Erik doesn’t feel brave or strong. He is weak and scared all the time and he doesn’t know what tribulations are, but he certainly doesn’t want to face any and he also, even so young, desires more for his life than to simply survive. But whether it is bravery or compliance, Erik does what his mother says. He uses his eyes for reading and he sings with his mouth, and he never ever ever drinks his chocolate with his fingers.

Erik knows he is different from the other kids because his mother always tells him he has to fit in, but his mother never told him that he isn’t just different. He is special. Despite the frequency of her reminders that he keep the other children from finding out that he’s different, Erik’s mother is surprisingly vague about the nature of his difference. He understands that the other children might not have the ability to drink their chocolate with their fingers, but beyond that specific activity, he isn’t sure what else he should or should not be doing. Do other children use their eyes to lace up their sneakers? Do other children use a remote control to turn on the TV and change the channels? Do other children eat their breakfast with their toes or use their lips to kiss their mothers’ cheeks as they tuck them into bed each night? Since Erik is not privy to these and other private moments in the other lives of any other children, he really has no way of knowing what specifically makes him different, and so has no choice but to watch. He studies the other children intently at every opportunity he gets. He watches them in classes. He sneaks peaks at them in the cafeteria line as the load their lunch trays with square slices of cheese pizza or lasagna or American chop suey and the little brown and white cartons of chocolate milk that Erik does not drink with his fingers. Outdoors at recess, he sits on the grass with his back against the ancient willow trees and watches the children play hop scotch and kickball and climb the jungle gym and any other of a variety of alien behaviors. He studies them and he pictures himself one day doing the things they do, of being not invisible, of fitting in like his mother always tells him he must do.

Despite his best efforts to keep the other children from realizing he is different, the kids at school know Erik is different and they generally avoided him. They do not know precisely how he is different but they know from his awkward staring and inappropriate responses and militant avoidance of eye contact and his curious inability to decide what to do with his hands that he is definitively unlike them and he does not fit in. Thus, Erik has plenty of time to watch undisturbed in this wide berth they give him, of which none of them is consciously aware.

One spring day when the weather is beginning to warm, when wildflowers are springing up in the grass around the willow tree and its long flexible branches have started flowering little lavender fuzzies, the kids’ lunch period is extended into recess and the children are allowed to take their lunches outdoors. Erik stands in line with the rest of his class for a dry slice of pizza and a small brown and white carton of chocolate milk, which he carries on the red tray to the trunk of the willow tree.

Erik sits cross-legged and settles the red tray on his lap and notices a mousy pale third-grader with long braids that has caught his attention before. He can tell from her furtive movements that she is unaware she’s being observed and as he watches, she pries open her brown and white cardboard carton of chocolate milk, slyly dips her finger into the mouth of the container, and takes a slow satisfying sip.

Please consider this your trigger warning.

When I was between 12 and 14, I tried to kill myself by drinking floor cleaner in the bathroom of my church. While I don’t remember the specific incident that led to my decision to excuse myself from the church sanctuary where I, and the other children of the church, were rehearsing for an Easter performance, to go to the restroom, where I did go after a quick detour to the church’s kitchen to grab a toxic substance from under the sink.

What I remember is looking into my own eyes in the mirror over the bathroom sink and telling myself I was different and that I didn’t fit in. I remember studying my face and wondering how everyone else saw my face and wondering what about me and my face made me so invisible. I felt completely alone and hopeless and I blamed myself. I poured the floor cleaner into an eight ounce paper coffee cup and told myself, “I hate you.” over and over until the cup was empty.

I swallowed, and I felt the thick toxic liquid go down, all the while masking all of the pain and loneliness and unmet needs to be loved, seen, included, and taken care of in anger at and hatred of myself, my fourteen-year-old-self, too young and naïve to understand and process complex emotions, too dependent on the caretakers and religious leaders to direct my anger at them, too innocent to understand that the things I was blamed for were not my fault at all.

The self-hatred was quickly replaced with shame as the would-be poison forced its way out in a putrid vomit that spewed from my guts and into the sink. Now there was a mess I didn’t know how to clean up. I turned on the water and hoped everything would dilute enough to get down the drain and hide my sick regret. Then I slipped out of the bathroom and into the church sanctuary again like nothing happened.

Around the time I was 15 or 16, my church hired a new youth pastor and I immediately trusted him enough to share the deepest darkest part of myself I could recognize at the time. I exchanged emails with both him and his wife in which I talked through struggles with my religion, my self-hatred, my depression. I articulated as best I could the need to belong somewhere and also the frustration of never quite fitting in.

I remember what was intended to be a compliment at a cookout at the youth pastor’s house to celebrate the few of us who’d recently graduated from high school, when the youth pastor told me how far I had matured from the needy teenager who used to send such lengthy emails of petty complaints and tiresome whining.

I remember the sudden and destructive realization that someone I loved and trusted implicitly could tell me they were there for me and everything was going to be okay while secretly thinking of me all the things I was secretly fearing everyone was thinking.

This is the pattern that repeats for me. In my last relationship, I felt safe enough to ask for reassurance in my insecurities. I experienced some severe depression over the course of this relationship and I was constantly asking if I was annoying or exhausting or needy or too much and he told me he loved and I wasn’t and everything was okay. Then we broke up and he told me that loving me was too much work for him, implying I was too much, that I was needy, and exhausting, and annoying.

Logically, how can I ever believe that I am loved? How can I trust that I’m enough, that someone is taking care of me? How do I trust anyone?

I guess the takeaway is that I can trust myself when I’m feeling like I’m too much, even if that knowledge isn’t enough to change.

My executives are not functioning.

When I initially got laid off almost exactly two months ago, I thought of all the free time I’d have. Of course I was hopeful that I’d have another job within a few weeks, but I was also grateful for the amount of free time in front of me. Without any obligation to be anywhere, I thought this would be my opportunity to finally create something, to write, to sit down and let the words out, unfettered. I imagined myself finally putting figurative pen to paper and letting loose the boundless narratives that’ve been knocking around in here for most of my life. With so much to say, I thought surely this would be my chance. I don’t know why I thought things would be any different now. They are not.

Just like those moments where organizing words into a comprehensible sentence and then speaking that sentence aloud feels like an overwhelming amount of work, the fantasy of sitting at a keyboard and just letting the story unfold before me has been eroded by reality. Writing is hard work. Everything feels like hard work right now. In fact, I’ve had this page open in my browser for the last eight hours, distracting myself into doing other things and then coming back to stare impotently at the space where my words should go. I have so much to say but simultaneously can think of nothing to write.

My job search has been exactly as successful as this novel I’m writing. I have written exactly one chapter but I have done a lot of thinking about characters and plot points. I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what kind of work I want to do and what types of jobs I’m qualified for. I’ve applied for several jobs (23 at this point) with zero response. The further I get from my last date of employment, the less I see myself being qualified to do anything. I was making six figures and now I’m trying to figure out if I can pay all of my bills and still afford to eat. Spoiler alert: I cannot.

The most frustrating part is that I am watching myself lose value in my own eyes, as though I carry no worth outside of my role in capitalism. It’s all well and good to believe that capitalism is evil, to believe that things like food and education should be afforded to all people regardless of how much money they have, to believe that the individualism created by capitalism keeps us from joining together in community to create the world we want… but do I really believe those things if simply losing a job makes me feel worthless? Can I really say I believe all of those things when having that six-figure job made me feel like my life could finally be different? Capitalism needs oppression to survive. The “haves” aren’t special or distinguished if there are no “have nots.” And if I really hated capitalism as much as I say I do, why do I want so badly to be one of the “haves” for once? The lie is that I could be. I won’t. The mountain of debt is only getting bigger and now that I am not working…

What is wrong with me?

I had one really good week back in September. I felt on top of the world. My ADHD meds were working and I felt like my brain had undergone some intense spring cleaning. I had taken out a loan and paid off all my credit cards. I was showing up with my whole self to my relationships. I just felt good. Maybe that one week is all I get.

No words for today.

I woke up this morning and I couldn’t speak. Well, it’s not that I couldn’t. It just feels like too much work. I sleep with a fan on that’s controlled by Alexa but this morning I opened the app to turn it off so I wouldn’t have to talk to Alexa. This happens sometimes. It’s frustrating. I have so many words in my head, so many things to say! But getting the words out of my brain and into my mouth seems to be taking more effort than I am currently capable of. I know it’s me. I know my brain is broken. The words don’t have any objection to being expressed through my fingers. Let’s text. I’ll tweet you. I can write a whole blog. But speaking, today, just feels too hard.

I am less than the sum of my parts.

In 2014, Ingrid Michaelson released the album Lights Out and I listened to it nonstop for several months, as I am wont to do. Sometimes I hear a song or an album and it’s like my brain develops an itch that will only be soothed by those specific sounds. Sometimes the song I get stuck on is one I’ve heard many times before, even years old, and suddenly it will be the only thing I can think about. One time, I heard a song in a dream, and I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. I had recently ended a relationship when the Ingrid Michaelson album took over my listening and there’s a particular song I come back to at the end of any relationship and when I feel distance or rejection from someone with whom I used to feel close. The song, Stick, is about how we rub off on each other in relationships: “There’s a part of you that stayed with me someone else gets to know. Did any of me stick at all?”

Trying to decide how I want to articulate this, I’m overwhelmed by the complexity of emotions conjured by this simple chorus. Did any of me stick at all? I’ve always struggled to find intrinsic value in myself, outside of the space I’m afforded by others. I often struggle even to perceive myself separate from my relationships. (Cue another song lyric that’s indelibly etched in my brain courtesy of one Demi Lovato: “I can’t see what I am. I just see what I’m not.”) So, the idea of relationships being mutable, people moving in and out of my life, and me moving in and out of theirs, feels more like a constant sting of rejection. Do they ever think of me? Do they regret the separation? Are there things that remind them of me? Are they different at all for having known me? The problem with assigning my own value based on other people is that how I feel about myself is constantly in flux. I can see where I’ve lacked stability and consistent care in my life, particularly in those formative years, and it makes me err toward codependent. I get overenthusiastic in new relationships and scare people off. I need too much from other people and I fucking know that most of what I’m trying to get from them should actually be coming from me but I don’t even know where to begin even identifying my own needs, let alone meet them.

I am someone who gets flustered easily. My adult life has been spent working in corporate jobs where it’s often problematic (or at least counterproductive) to be flustered all the time, so I learned to adapt. I know now not to pay attention to the emotional reactions of my coworkers, and especially my superiors. I learned how valuable it can be to break a problem down into smaller pieces to look past the distractions to find the real problems and also how valuable it is to be the one in the room responding to chaos by identifying actionable solutions. I learned how to talk around my emotions so that they’re more palatable, and I also learned to mask my minor meltdowns with humor so that when I am freaking out, at least it’s entertaining and, if I’m making jokes or saying silly things, the people around me don’t know just how triggered I actually am. It’s occurring to me as I type this that perhaps these behaviors are what let to my current situation, (depressed, single, unemployed, financially struggling,) which I am starting to understand is a result of burnout. And yet, as I was maneuvering myself into six figures by exhausting myself and wearing away my defenses until there was nothing left but a raw nerve, my coworkers were commenting on how we always have so much fun at work.

I had a colleague tell me once, “My favorite thing is when you say ‘Oh, for the love!'” This is something that I tend to say in moments of frustration, like when the technology doesn’t work or I can’t find that thing that was just in my hand. It struck me that this would be someone’s favorite saying of mine because I often don’t realize I’m saying it and so I’m surprised that other people register it. I also say this when I’m getting triggered as a kind of pressure release valve. It’s a silly thing to blow off steam so I don’t get to the point where I just start screaming and bashing my face into things, like when someone cuts me off in traffic and I shake my fist at them instead of giving them the finger. Because how ridiculous would it be to look back and see someone shaking their fist at you like an old-timey shop owner cursing some mischievous kids? In any case, that someone would derive any kind of pleasure from witnessing this emotional state is either really hurtful or really validating that I have masked my sensitivities so well.

But, the real thing that bother me about this favorite saying of mine, is it’s not even mine. I used to work with this woman that I really liked and she had no patience. She was always frustrated with something and was not shy about verbalizing it. Working beside her was a constant stream of “Oh, for the love of Pete! Not that button, dummy!” and “Oh, for the love of Sam! That’s the wrong case!” and “Oh, for the love! Just let me do it.” Eventually I picked up on some of these phrases and how she was using them and adopted this little personality trait for myself.

There’s a meme I’ve seen going around that captions “Oh you like my personality? Thanks, it’s yours.” I have never related to anything more. In my struggle to figure out how to love myself—how to be emotionally self-sufficient, how to make room in my life for people I’m attracted to, not just anyone who’s attracted to me—I keep coming up against this concept of self, identity, me… and I kind of come up blank. My personality is an amalgamation of stolen traits and if I look closely enough, I can trace each one back to its owner. Am I crazy? Are all of our personalities just copies of each other? There has to be something in here that’s uniquely me. I feel like if I can just figure out what that is, I wouldn’t need to be so focused on trying to ascertain it from other people.

Sometimes I bang my head against the wall.

I remember wondering if I were possibly a sociopath because I could never seem to feel anything. Somehow I can never seem to have a healthy and productive relationship with my emotions. If they are not completely hidden from me, they are so intense that I feel like I’m going to burst.

At the end of October, my boyfriend broke up with me. When we got together three years ago, I was very slow to commit because I had all these concerns… concerns that he allayed back then so that we could be together, and now concerns that he repeated back to me as reasons we should break up. I guess I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. I feel so stupid. I feel like I wasted three years of my life in a relationship with someone who didn’t want me. I bent myself and re-envisioned what I wanted for my future so it would align with his future, and he rejected me anyway. The salt in the wound is that it seems like he is dating someone new, someone I indirectly introduced him to that he started seeing while we were still together.

Only a couple weeks after that, my boss came into my office and told me that we aren’t where we need to be so the company was going to change directions, which would entail laying me off. This is my fourth week of being unemployed and I don’t know what to do with myself. I have been applying for jobs but it seems no one wants me. I was supposed to go back to school next month but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to pay for it. Life just feels like a mess.

I have been drinking more. Too much, really. But I don’t know what else to do. I keep waiting for the emotions to hit me so I can have a big cathartic cry but instead I sit in my emotional impotence, feeling so overwhelmed with anger and sadness and grief and PAIN. It hurts so fucking much that I wish I didn’t exist because my existence is pain and I can’t see a future without it. I can’t see how I will ever feel better even though I know I’ve felt like this in the past and it has gotten better… but I’ve never been in this situation before. I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent. I don’t know how I’m going to get health insurance and continue taking the medications I need. My car needs to be fixed. My dog needs a haircut. I am still living with my ex while he’s dating this new guy right under my nose and there’s no way I can afford to move right now and he has said he can’t move either. I can’t even think under all this pressure.

I thought it would help to start some holiday decorating so I had some wine and pulled out all of the decorations from the closet where they were being stored. I had some more wine while I went around the house hanging things and placing other things. Then I had some rum and started putting up lights and garland. Then my ex was home. I was drunk and all of the feelings I was trying to escape from came flooding back. At one point, I fell off of a chair and onto the plastic bin that held all of the Christmas bulbs so I woke up the next day to a broken tote and little festive shards all over the floor, like that scene in Home Alone.

And at one point, the landlord texted us saying “the door slamming is getting out of control.” I mentioned I literally have no idea how to manage my emotions so there’s a door being slammed here and there but I am pretty sure that’s not what he was hearing when he texted us. Sometimes I get so worked up and I don’t know how to snap out of it. So, sometimes, I bang my head against the wall. I stand in the hallway and slam my forehead against the wall in front of me as hard as I can until the feelings don’t… feel… as much.

I don’t know what to fucking do.

Everyone is not avoiding me.

I mean… right?

Because it kind of feels like everyone is avoiding me. But it kind of always feels like that.

I’m on a weekly sports league for a sport I don’t especially enjoy. I’ve been doing it for years and it isn’t because I like the sport or am particularly good at it. I like my team and enjoy spending time with them. But it seems like every week there’s at least a few moments where I notice all four of them in chatting animatedly without me. They all travel in similar social circles and to similar destinations so I feel excluded when that’s a topic of conversation, and I even catch social media posts, on occasion, documenting chance meetings at such destinations.

At the risk of sounding like I’ve read too much and understood too little, I wonder if this is related to rejection sensitive dysphoria. I can see objectively how I am not the center. I can also find examples of these friends supporting me and enjoying my company. But in the moment I feel so bad that I wish I didn’t exist because in that moment it feels like that’s what everyone else wants anyway. But it’s not reasonable or rational for me to want everyone’s focus to be on me all of the time just to prove not that they care about me, but just that they don’t hate me.

A part of me wonders if this stems from childhood trauma, (although what doesn’t?) In high school, all of my friends were dating each other and I would catch wind of them all going to a movie or to the mall and would just feel terrible. If I ever confronted them about not inviting me, they’d say “what do you mean? We always include you!” And when I’d respond with specific examples, it was always convenient enough to call it a “couple’s thing” so that I was omitted by default.

I’ve always had the feeling that I’m on the periphery. I’m friends with friends but those friends are friends without me. If I’m included by chance, it’s fun, (or tolerable… maybe?) but no one thinks of me or goes out of their way to include me, and this interpretation of my position hurts more than if everyone outright hated me, because at least then I would be considered. Apathy is so much more painful.

Now that we just finished for the night—I’ve been writing this off-and-on over the course of a few hours—I feel like they aren’t as receptive to my chitchat and, while we all walked out together, I couldn’t help feeling they were all relieved to be done with me, that I’m standoffish when I’m in a more withdrawn mood and annoying when I’m feeling more loquacious.

I keep telling myself that the more I get to know and become comfortable with who I am—the more I’m able to show up in my relationships with my authentic self—the more relationships will fall into place. Wasn’t I just reflecting to myself earlier how even over the past few days as I’ve seen my relationship with myself improve, I’ve noticed an ease in my relationships with others that I didn’t feel before? But when? Maybe as I learn who I am I’ll know who my people are and I’ll be able to build community and feel belonging with people who understand me. Or maybe that’s just a fantasy.

It is 3am.

The number three may very well be haunting me since this is the third night I have not been able to sleep. Coincidentally, it’s also my third day on a 30mg dose of Adderall for a recent ADHD diagnosis…

I have never felt very connected to the sensations in me body. The drinks can’t be cold, they have to be freezing. The sex can’t be just passionate, it has to be hard. The edibles don’t hit until I’ve had over 50mg, and it’s been that way since the very first time I tried. I’m forever finding mysterious scrapes and bruises with no idea how they got there. In 2013, I quit smoking after 11 years of daily dedication with no trouble at all because it was snowing and I didn’t feel like walking to the store to get cigarettes. Hell, it’s also my third day of not being in bed after isolation for 10 days with COVID and I didn’t even realize I was having caffeine withdrawals. I mean, you get it… but all this to say I have no idea what could be causing this sudden bout of insomnia. My psychiatrist assured me I would notice the moment the meds kicked in and I am still waiting to experience what she’s talking about so I have no idea if they’d be keeping me awake. I also had a lot of coffee, sort of a celebration of my return to health. And my return to work. But I ALSO had a lot of cannabis this evening and last, which has historically had me pleasantly fighting for consciousness in front of the TV by 9:30 some nights, even after drinking nothing BUT coffee for the ENTIRE DAY. But not tonight. And not last night.

Part of me is pretty sure the adderall is the primary culprit, now, with some help. I am not a scientist and don’t know if this is a realistic expectation but I am hoping after a few days of this, my body will acclimate and I’ll find some new normal which hopefully will involve getting more than three hours of sleep a night. And there she is again, that magic number.

Whatever the reason, my brain won’t shut up so here I am, reflecting on… you guessed it: myself.

A close friend of mine once suggested I try a hormone panel when I was going through a major depressive episode. Thinking about hormones now, I am reminded that I’ve had several tests indicate I have low testosterone. Maybe my body is switching it out for more estrogen and it’s making me calmer and more rational—stay with me—or maybe, just maybe, after all of the hours I’ve poured into scrolling through video after video on TikTok, some of the vicarious insights gleaned from second-hand experience have finally started to sink into place…

In any case, the thing that has me wanting to get some release in the way of a little anonymous public pontification is that I’ve also been having these intrusive thoughts. But they’re not your typical intrusive thoughts. I actually kind of like them, (though I’d like them more if they would slow down and/or take a little break.) They are intrusive but they’re ideas and epiphanies and new realizations about myself and my relationships, dots being connected, puzzle pieces snapping into place.

I admitted a lot of feelings to my boyfriend earlier that I’d been scared to say out loud and now I feel like that teary babbling has somehow allowed me to trust him in a way I don’t think I was able to let myself before. And I found myself interested in him in a way I don’t think I have been yet, or at least in a very long time. Maybe it’s that the recent diagnosis and the meds and even this practice of thinking of myself as autistic (and documenting the thinking in a place where I can come back to it and where other people can see) have helped to effect closure to a very long period of intense self-centeredness. Now that less of my brain power is being spent on considering and analyzing and diagnosing and re-diagnosing MYSELF, perhaps I at last have space to be curious about the people who love me. Maybe the support my boyfriend has shown me in enduring all of my conceited rambling and rumination (and also my sister and other select friends and family) has actually… I don’t know… helped me internalize feeling supported and secure enough to not need as much from others and maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about that because life is give-and-take and now I don’t need to take as much so I can start contributing my share of giving.

I have been making lists, too. Not the chaotic kind I often make when my brain feels like a hurricane of thoughts and feelings and the only thing I can do is sort them all and transfer them from my head to a piece of paper I may never look at again. These lists feel like they are based on reality, like I am actually getting organized and not just play-acting organization to self-soothe.

Also, not only have I had a lot more inspiration to post videos to TikTok, I feel like what I’ve been posting has been the authentic me, like the scripting I do in my head has switched from rehearsal to practice, and when I’m sharing these thoughts back, I’m not just performing a well thought-out reenactment of an idea I had before and still believe… it’s more like I am speaking from my soul in real-time and referring back to my memories as guideposts if I lose my way.

It’s not just my notes app that is feeling more organized. It’s my brain. I still have the chatter static of the nonstop internal monologue and it happens at light speed. But it feels more… I don’t know. Rational? Mature? Coherent? And I did smoke some weed earlier so I was talking A LOT but where I would typically struggle with losing my train of thought and finding my way back, this particular batch of word vomit felt—to me, at least—to have a direction, and when I lost my way it was simple enough to retrace my steps and quickly see where I went off course to pick up the thread again. I mean, even with specific words. I really like words and their ability through connotation and stuff to communicate with intention and specificity. The problem is I always have a precise word I want to say and can only think of every single other word I know. But today I found I was able to relax a little and just let it come to me, which it did. When I let it.

It’s like my head used to be filled with all these crumpled up papers and some were important and some were garbage and some weren’t even mine and I woke up this morning (or yesterday morning, technically) to find that all the papers had been ironed out and neatly sorted and stacked into different piles, freeing up a wealth of space where there used to be only clutter. My head feels clear for the first time… ever?

I just wish I could sleep.

Now that all of this is “on the page,” if you will, I am pretty sure it is the adderall. I had also taken a few days off in between the old and new doses so maybe it’s a bit of a shock to my system? In any case, I have decaf for tomorrow morning and some bananas and granola bars to keep the coffee company in my poor belly for a change, which will hopefully give the meds a little cushion for a softer landing going forward. (I have also felt VERY nauseated at the start of the last three days.)

I know it’s trial and error and, while I’m exhausted, I’m also immensely grateful to feel like I’m finally getting some traction. And now that this is all out, maybe I’ll be able to sleep before work in a few hours.

I have to match.

Maybe it’s leftover trauma from my mother’s overzealous attempts at appearing above our socioeconomic class with her myriad and sometimes arbitrary rules about our dress and overall physical appearance (reinforced, of course, with shame) but I have a lot of rules about clothes. And I’m going to tell you some.

I do not ordinarily wear black. I’m not really sure why this is but I just do not feel comfortable in it. It has sometimes been awkward with my boyfriend because his wardrobe is primarily black and, since that’s what he likes, he has been known to buy me black t-shirts that, to his credit, I really do like… but I never actually end up wearing them. I don’t think I can blame the avoidance of black apparel on my mom, but if I do wear any black, I absolutely cannot pair it with blue because it’s her voice in my head that I hear telling me I look like a bruise, (which, if you think about it, doesn’t technically make sense because while we tend to refer to bruises as “black and blue,” I think bruises are usually a lot of different colors and not sometimes not even any black or blue… but I digress.)

I also do not mix black and brown. So if I am wearing any black, I have to wear black shoes and a black belt. Sometimes khaki pants, although that feels iffy, but mainly black or gray pants. Or sometimes jeans because, while they are often blue, denim has a discrete category in my mind that transcends color for some reason. The more I actually articulate all these rules that have been swimming around in my head for as long as I can remember, the more I’m struck by how inconsistent they are. It’s like it’s more about the feelings and less about the actual rules… but the rules set the general parameters for what feels “right” which means they often aren’t as rigid as my inflexible thinking would prefer them to be.

When I get dressed, I think about what I can wear, head to toe, because everything has to match, including socks, underwear, and glasses. Then there are certain combinations that just go together for whatever reason, like a specific pair of glasses that I have to wear if I wear a certain shirt. Or a particular pair of socks I always wear with the same pair of underwear. And I know this last example is not rational because these are the least visible articles of clothing one can wear. Chances are, if these are ever out of sync, no one but me will even notice. And one might even be of the opinion that I, myself, would be likely to get distracted, forget, and eventually cease to notice, but I am almost 40 years old. That number of years is way too long for me to have consistently stuck to anyone’s rules without breaking them from time to time. And when I do break them, I always know. It’s persistently uncomfortable, even in moments when I’m not consciously thinking about it. It’s rattling around in my head, an underlying thrum, a constant challenge to just try and have a good day and accomplish anything even remotely productive at all, under the immense weight of feeling like something is wrong. It’s guilt and shame and self-consciousness and insecurity. Conversely, it feels really good when it is right, like when everything matches and I feel like I’m “in my power” and I am functioning like a complex machine with all these interdependent parts that fit snugly together and operate with perfect synchronicity. All becomes the same shade of glasses is in my shirt and undies and socks and my pants fit well and look cute and my shoes match my belt and my hair looks good and my beard looks good and my body feels like a comfortable place for me to exist. If a small investment like taking some time to make sure a few select sets of garments are always laundered together can give me all that, why not give myself that gift?

And I guess I can’t blame this one on mom either, but I match cups and straws, too. Do you want to hear about my cup collection? I bet you don’t, but now I’ve started, I have the compulsion to confess all these oddly specific balances I’m constantly straining to achieve but never acknowledging or speaking aloud, not even to my therapist, with whom I’ve specifically been trying to practice saying The Things I Don’t Want To Say. You know those thoughts and feelings that make you feel alienated and deficient and ashamed? The omg-if-anyone-found-out-about-this-everyone-would-think-I-was-so-strange-they’d-immediately-and-permanently-excise-me-from-their-lives-entirely thoughts? I’m trying to tell him those ones. (But I guess not this, though technically I sent him the link, so I guess kinda this… and now that I’m thinking about it these “anonymous” blogs have ALWAYS found me in real life somehow. Every time. So I do this know I’m potentially exposing this to everyone but that’s probably for the best.)

Before I came to terms with the fact that I only like drinking ice cold beverages, I used to make (and waste) a lot of hot coffee, which prompted me to start a collection of mugs, ranging from adorable, to witty, to fun shapes that are difficult to logistically drink out of. I’m a little disappointed if I think too much about the mugs that are shut up in my cabinets, not being drunk from or even seen and admired. But this isn’t about them. The tumblers I actually drink from have a lot of—you guessed it—rules.

For my coffee, which I absolutely overconsume, I have two Yeti tumblers I switch between because they keep my drinks coldest longest and they are big enough to fill completely with ice and still have enough room for an adequate dose of caffeine. I used to buy all these Starbucks tumblers because they came in a lot of cute colors and fun designs but over time the rules have evolved to prohibit drinking from plastic tumblers (or even metal ones with too-thin sides) except as a last resort. But I can’t get rid of them because I bought and collected them (and I think I like looking at them?) so, like their warm-beverage counterparts, even though I do not drink from them anymore, they continue to be moved from apartment to apartment taking up valuable kitchen storage space.

I also drink seltzer and water. For seltzer, I have a giant cup with a handle and a lid, and when I use it, I pair it with a straw selected to match my mood. And—oh my god—the straws! With each cup purchased, I’ve acquired at least one reusable straw, plus too many multi-packs bought and re-bought and re-bought again over the years because each iteration was slightly improved over the last and I can’t just get rid of the old ones because they are still functional, even though they don’t often get the opportunity, and so the collection grows. But the ones I do use are selected carefully based on a number of factors including my emotional state, the weather, the flavor of seltzer, the time of year, etc. And then there is the water, which I drink reluctantly and sporadically. Because most of my hydration happens at the gym, the vessel from which I drink is typically some sport design, usually CamelBak (because I have irrational brand loyalty,) though now I have a big fun metal one I got from Target that’s an off brand but I got it because it looked fun and I thought a fun cup would help me drink more water and so far I’m pretty pleased with it.

Then, on the rare occasion I opt for a beverage outside of the main three, I have a third Yeti Rambler I’ll use, which I don’t ever use for coffee because it was a gift and I don’t like the color. Or I have these heavy 20oz glass mugs from Ikea I was once committed to when my beverages consisted of more alcohol, back before Yeti hit the scene so hard and changed everything. Well. Everything cold tumbler-related, anyway.

Honestly, I could go on and on about this at length… like… longer than the length I’ve already gone on and on about it at this point… but I’ll stop. I don’t know why I have some of these rigid rules or why some are more rigid than others. Sometimes I think it’s autism. Sometimes I think it’s trauma. Sometimes I think it’s human. And on the rare occasion I’m capable of cognitive flexibility, I wonder if it’s a combination of all those and/or other theories I have yet to formulate. In any case, it feels good to have it all typed out and ready to be (relatively) public, like it holds less power now—less shame.

I think the more I can see these things as neutral, not good or bad or weird or off-putting, the more I can just accept the “rules” that make me feel good and figure out how to work around the ones that show up more as obstacles. And, special shout out to TikTok, (namely KC Davis,) for giving me the goal of function over moral judgment to work toward.

Just another meltdown.

I get stressed out about parking.

I start thinking about parking at least a half mile from my destination, depending on where that might be. If it’s somewhere I’ve never been before, I might start stressing about where I’m going to park as soon as I make plans to go there. Even if I’m going home, I am stressed about where I’m going to put my car because there is a place where I like to park but I live in a city and sometimes other people park there.

I don’t know why this is so stressful. It seems like other people are not that concerned. They just decide to go places. They drive there. And then they park. I imagine they don’t think about it much beyond that. That’s my assumption, anyway, based on the fact that I don’t really see anyone else melting down the way I do.

I like going to places with parking lots. That’s easy. I do not like driving deeper into the city where there is mainly street parking. I don’t like having to drive while also scanning the sides of the street for empty spaces while also trying not to annoy the people driving behind me by driving too slowly while also trying to stay in the immediate vicinity of where I’m going. I don’t like pulling over with no warning when I finally see an available spot. I don’t like parallel parking in public with people around who probably aren’t but could potentially be watching and mocking. I don’t know why their opinions of my parking would even matter. Where others would continue to persevere or maybe widen their search area or maybe… honestly I’m not sure what they do, but it stresses me out so much that I will just turn around and go home if it becomes too difficult, and I have done that.

And then when I go home, there’s always the stress over someone possibly being in my space. It’s not technically “my” space but it’s right in front of my house and that’s where I usually go. I start checking as soon as I turn onto my street to see if someone is in my spot. It’s toward the end of the street so, if there’s a long line of cars, it’s sometimes difficult to tell. But as soon as I see for sure, I am either relieved or, if someone is there, immediately filled with rage. It feels like the entirety of the universe is conspiring to convince me I am powerless, I have no agency, I am worthless, I don’t matter. It’s a lot of feelings over a parking space and I hate that I am affected this way but when I see a car in my spot, no amount of soothing self-talk can take away the sting of rage tears I feel burning behind my eyes. Rationally, I know that whoever is parked in my spot does not know me or my car or my feelings, and still it feels like a targeted attack to me, like someone went out of their way to inconvenience me as a personal affront. One particular car has been in my space a lot recently and I even went so far as to ram their car with mine. It wasn’t hard enough to leave a mark but it felt good. And then it felt bad.

Part of the stress at home is the feeling that, if someone takes my space, I then have to take someone else’s space, and, for whatever reason, thinking about how upset I am and them imagining someone else being that upset with me causes me more anxiety than how upset I am for just myself. Sometimes I drive around the block a couple of times and hope that they leave but if I have to park somewhere else, it’s on my mind well after I put the car in Park and exit the vehicle. Sometimes it’s like a low hum of anxiety that runs underneath everything else until I get back in the car and am able to park elsewhere. I look at my car out the window to see if I notice anyone noticing where I’ve parked or gesturing……..

This is exhausting. I am exhausted. I am wondering if I am on the autism spectrum and feeling like I am but also feeling like I am not allowed to say that of myself because it diminishes the experiences of people who are actually autistic. Part of why I am writing this is the fantasy that some authority somewhere will read this as evidence and validate my suspicions. It feels awful to say that, like I’m admitting to something shameful and disgusting. I should not need validation from anyone. In fact, if I got validation at this point, I would probably argue against it because I fear that all I’ve been doing is reenacting harmful stereotypes based on a limited population. But part of why I’m writing this (and also keeping it a secret from almost everyone I know) is that I don’t fit the stereotype of what many neurotypical people think of as autism. Most of the meltdowns I describe happen internally. I feel like I am so full of emotion that I am going to burst sometimes, but I am scared of what will happen or how I’ll be perceived if I let myself lean into those experiences. Even in my most intimate relationships where I can be a little more vulnerable, I am so insecure about every single flare up. Every time I’m upset about something and shout, or groan, or swear, or stomp my feet, or throw something, or slam something, I think that my boyfriend is about to break up with me. I think that only children behave this way. I think I should have more control over my body and my emotions.

This is getting rambly but I think the main point I’m trying to make is that I am never fully comfortable. I am never fully myself. My reactions aren’t always right-sized, and I get stressed out about parking.