I don’t like playing Legos in front of my boyfriend.

He stood over the dining room table surveying my various solid-colored stacks of Lego blocks for a moment and then asked, “what are you doing?”

“I’m organizing them,” I said, hoping that would be enough of an explanation, even though I knew from his tone that he thought how I was going about organizing them was strange.

My birthday was a month and a half ago and he’d gotten me a set and a half of Legos that I had, until today, not touched. I almost said I haven’t given them a second thought but I know that’s not technically true. I’ve been thinking about them a lot. And I have been choosing not to introduce Legos into my life for the exact reason I didn’t want to talk to him any more about them. I knew what itch they were going to scratch.

“Okay…” he said, trailing off to imply he found my answer inadequate. I hate when people do this. It’s always because you answered the question they actually asked and not the question they assumed you’d know they also wanted the answer to. I don’t think it’s fair to just expect me know what you want from me, even if I have some educated guesses. So I didn’t say anything. “The question is…” he continued, “why…?”

I had been separating all of the blocks into little piles by color. Then I was going through each color and organizing them by type, stacking the ones that match onto each other so my piles became separate little towers of varying shapes and sizes. Then I started to organize them by shape and size again, taking just the towers of traditional blocks and plugging them into a base by color. His ‘why’ could have meant any number of things so I thought for a minute. He could have been asking about my ultimate plan, which is as-yet to be determine. He may have been asking about my immediate plan, which is detailed and spans the course of several days. I didn’t really want to go into all that. He might have been asking about the motivation to even come up with such a plan, which was also kind of a long explanation of how I’ve been feeling mentally exhausted from this new job and how I feel a need to do something with my body, with my hands, where the rules are inherent and I don’t have to really think too much. But the overlap between that specific need and this specific activity seemed also simple and straightforward so I just answered “because I like it.” I even thought for a minute about how, after all this thinking and analyzing, the short answer I came up with felt like the most honest I could be. What it all comes down to is this makes me happy. It does beg the question, this same question that’s always hanging around the periphery, of why this type of activity makes me happy, but honestly, all the thinking and analyzing and fucking explaining takes away from the actual doing so I just went back to organizing my Legos.

“Alright,” he continued, clearly still not satisfied. “So… Ok, what are you going to do after it’s all organized?”

He wanted my plan. He wanted to know that I’m going to organize each type of block by color and put them in rainbow order. He wanted to know that, tomorrow, I’m going to use a pdf of an inventory of all the types of Legos and a chart of all the colors to put together a database of all possible Lego parts and colors. He wanted to know that I’m going to go through all of the Legos after I’ve organized them and create an inventory of all my Legos. He wanted to know that I’m going to buy individual blocks until I have even numbers of all the colors in the different type of blocks. And probably that wouldn’t be enough because he’d then want to know why I was going to do all of that, some answer other than ‘I like it,’ and the answer is I don’t fucking know. It makes me happy. It flashes the lights in my brain. It checks the boxes. It scratches the itch I knew it was going to scratch when I’ve been thinking about whether or not I want to do this whole fucking thing for months and then he made the decision for me. They were in the house. I just had to dive in. But if he wanted to know why all that was…

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.” I looked at him for a minute and then said, “I feel like you’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not making fun of you!” he assured me. He thought for a minute and then said “I’m going to let you do your thing.”

I’m not sure if I actually felt like he was making fun of me but I knew if I said that, he’d stop asking. And I needed him to stop asking because he’s not going to understand, no matter what questions he asks or how he phrases them. This is not going to make sense to him. And it’s exhausting. I don’t stand over him while he plays his video games to find out why that’s how he’s deciding to spend his time. There’s no question he can ask that will help him understand why I’m not playing with the Legos the way he would play with the Legos. So maybe I should just play with them in private next time.

I think I’m the problem.

“You can sit with us. We know you’re a part of our group.”

Her tone was flat and she looked me dead in the eyes. I wanted to vomit. But she was right. Why did I think I was invisible? Why do I see myself as an outside observer, having my own experiences in solitude, while everyone else—the collective of which I am not a part—shares an experience that doesn’t include me and is completely different from mine? I looked away.

“Sorry,” I said with a fake laugh, knowing she knew the laugh was fake. “I didn’t see you all when I came in at first.” (Or did I say “you guys”? I am trying to stop saying that phrase because it’s not inclusive but sometimes it slips out.)

I guess it doesn’t matter if I was telling the truth or if she believed me, (and I know it’s “she” because the university had pronoun stickers to put on our name tags and university lanyards when we checked into the orientation this morning,) since I was finished eating anyway, but I stood up, threw my trash away, and joined the rest of my assigned orientation group of transfer students in the one empty seat at the cafeteria lunch table.

It was the first time today I felt like I could relax a little bit. I am trying to go back to school and finish my degree after a long time away. The whole process has been fraught. First, the religious college that has most of my credits didn’t want to release my transcript because of fines I owed for missing chapel. I know I said “first,” implying that there’d be at least a “second,” but I don’t really want to go into the whole process right now. I’ll just say that my day started in bed, feeling like it was going to be a dark day. I let myself stay there too long and then I was stressed out trying to arrive on time for the transfer student orientation, which I understood to be a requirement to register for classes.

I got there later than I wanted but still with plenty of time, only to waste some of it trying to figure out how to get out of the parking garage. Then I wasted more time trying to figure out where I was supposed to go and how to get there.

The morning consisted of a three hour sensory assault: student presenters banging on microphones with their open palms; people coming in late and other people directing those people where to go (even though the program didn’t officially start until 9:15am even though all of the communications previously said presentations would begin “promptly at 9am”); music being played too loudly from YouTube through the speakers while presenters spoke over it; poorly-designed PowerPoint slides with a 3×4 aspect ratio instead of 16×9 and text that was way too small to be legible from the back rows where I was assigned to sit with my group; lapel mics being held way too close to mouths resulting in feedback and chatter from the audience; the stress of potentially being called on to “interact” and having to shout to be heard from the front; presenters presenting from draft view; a cop speaking intimidatingly about potential crime to be wary of on campus and a self-defense class only available to “females”; seats that were too small for my frame with little desks that folded out and cut into my stomach; a bag we were given and had to keep track of all day, which did not actually include any tools with which to take notes of all the information we were told we needed to know; the cognitive load of a full day of information, unsure of which information was the most important to know and which might not be useful to me. This is a small list but suffice it to say, the day was a sensory nightmare.

At lunch we were instructed to go with our OLs, which I took to mean orientation leaders. Ours did not say a word to us or look in our direction so she got up and started walking so me and all the other people with the same number on their name tags got up and followed her through a door and down a hallway and up some stairs and around a corner and down another hallway and then she stopped and said something I couldn’t hear and everyone else got in a line. I didn’t know what they were lining up for so I didn’t go. She looked at me and said “do you need one?” and I said “I don’t know” and she said “did you get yours already?” and I said “I’m not sure” and she said “Get in that line” so I did. Then she left and I surmised that we were getting our student identification cards since they were taking our photos. Our group leader didn’t come back so the photographer told us to go to lunch. We said we didn’t know where that was and he pointed down a hallway and we started walking.

I’m not very good at estimating physical dimensions but I do know the part of the cafeteria with the food vendors was very small. We were shoulder to shoulder. There were five different food lines that all bled into each other and I couldn’t see what kind of food each had and so I just kept walking until I was through and I sat at an empty table by myself.

I decided I didn’t need lunch. Then I thought of my stomach growling and how I hadn’t stopped for breakfast or iced coffee because the communications said masks were mandatory. When I showed up, though, no one was wearing a mask and they had a full breakfast but only hot coffee and I was wearing a mask so I didn’t want to eat. I got up and paced around until I found the exit. I didn’t know if I was going to leave or find the person in charge and ask some questions or make some complaints or… well, I didn’t have a plan. I just needed to get away. The thoughts of the chaotic mass of people and decisions I would just have to make with no information warred against my growling stomach and the lunch ticket in my pocket. I walked all the way back to where we’d started the morning and then, finding that area vacated by anyone having to do with the orientation, I turned around and went back. There were far fewer people at that time and so I got in the shortest line and ordered two heavy slices of pizza and a soda and had to argue with the cashier because she wanted to offer me a whole host of other foods and snacks and drinks because of the balance remaining on my free lunch card even though I told her over and over again that I didn’t want anything else.

So I was stressed out and sat down by myself at a table near my group. Their table looked full and I ate a slice of my pizza while I stared out the window and tried to hear what they were talking about and wondered to myself if I should just get up and go home and texted my partner and looked over the schedule. The other members of the group all sounded like they knew each other as they talked and laughed while they ate their lunches. When they started to talk about how the group leader had ditched us again, I started to focus more on what they were saying. And I started to watch them I guess. And that’s when they noticed me watching and even though I am constantly vigilant about how much physical space I am taking up, I was shocked that they had noticed me at all. Why was I shocked? I am kind of a large person and I am someone who notices everyone and everything. But I was shocked anyway.

So I sat with them. I didn’t say much. I interjected a few times with my frustrations with lack of signage and the very unhelpful student volunteers when it seemed conversationally appropriate. At first I was surprised they had shared so many of my same frustrations with the morning. Everyone seemed to always know what to do and where to go and what questions to ask. But the more I listened, the more I saw how all of their situations were really different than mine and I started to feel left out. The person who had called me out in the first place asked me once if I’d been to campus before and I said I was a bit older and I had a few times but never to these buildings and they rolled their eyes at “older” as though dismissing false modesty or something.

I went with (but didn’t feel part of) the group to sit through a presentation where a man played a video of slides and a voiceover in his voice that he paused every so often to quiz the audience on basics about going to college. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just have the slides and say the things instead of just standing there and sometimes pointing to a slide to reinforce a point or pressing pause to hand out candy to who could remember first how many credits it takes to be full time.

I followed the group to the bowels of the university library where we seated ourselves in a decrepit computer lab. We were expected to register for courses. They were telling us that we had to each take four or five courses. They told us where to get our degree audit but the browser couldn’t display it. There wasn’t a straightforward list of requirements for my degree so I wasn’t sure which classes I needed to take. I also don’t even know if work will pay for the program I got accepted into because it’s not directly related, and I’m not sure how I’ll pay for the degree otherwise.

Someone was walking around handing out handwritten notes of suggested classes for each of us and she handed me mine and it had two classes I’ve already taken and another basic course I know I’ve also taken but wasn’t transferred in so I looked up that course and there weren’t any evening or online courses. I can’t just go to school in the middle of the day. I don’t even work close by. And if I’m this close to a meltdown just because of the orientation, how did I think I was going to manage taking four or five classes on top of working a new job?

Overwhelmed with the feeling that my dreams were so out of reach and that there was no more room in my ears to hear any more speaking or nonsense and no more room in my brain for information which may or may not be important and no more room on my skin for all of this proximity… overwhelmed and feeling like my insides were screaming, I got up and stormed out.

“Already done in there?” One of the student volunteer group leaders sat with one of the employees whose job it was to accept or deny transfer credits. I wasn’t sure which of them had asked but they both watched me as I walked down the hallway toward the exit so I just said “I’m not doing this.” Then I pushed the button for the elevator over and over until it came. When I got in I pushed the lobby button and nothing happened but then I noticed a little torn up post it on the 2 so I pushed that and stormed off the elevator toward what I thought was an exit. It wasn’t. Then I found a desk and a nice looking woman said something nice that I don’t remember or didn’t hear and I said “how do I get out of here?” And she asked something else and I said “how do I get out of here? I want to leave. Where is my car?” And she pointed somewhere and said some directions that I couldn’t understand or I don’t remember and I started walking that way. The lobby I found myself in was a little triggering for me, familiar because it had been the way we’d come but also familiar because it was the same design as courthouses I spent a lot of my childhood in. I looked over the railing from the third floor where it was open and I could see down to the lobby below. I wondered if falling from this height would be lethal and part of me considered jumping so I hurried out of the building and spent another twenty minutes looking for my car.

Is it me? I was keeping a list in my notes app of all the things that I hated about the day but now I’m thinking there might have been nothing wrong with the day and everything wrong with me. There were over 100 other people in the orientation and, to my knowledge, I’m the only one who had to leave. It always seems like everyone else knows what’s going on, they are able to just take things in stride and maybe be a little annoyed but not completely deregulated. I vented on social media and several people offered to help walk me through the process, which feels to me like an acknowledgement that there is something wrong with me that I would need help with this process that literal children navigate every year. I think the problem is me.

I think it ebbs and flows.

I was just sitting on the bench in my backyard watching my dog nap in the sun. He likes to lie on his side in the grass with his paws stretched out in front of him and sometimes he’s so still that insects will land on him and he doesn’t react, making me call out to him just to make sure he is still alive. But today it’s really hot and he is panting and it made me think maybe he is ready to be groomed. He also gets incredibly itchy during the summer and I thought to myself, I should call around to different groomers to see if they have an available appointment for a little haircut and some kind of skin treatment.

I should “call around,” I thought to myself.

I have no idea how people find quality service providers of any kind. I used to take him to a groomer right down the street that I met through an old roommate. They also did dog-walking and it was really convenient because they would walk him while I was at work and sometimes just take him back to the groomer, give him a bath and a haircut, and bring him home. Then they got a new location and stopped offering grooming services.

Let me back up for a second. This whole grooming process is often fraught for me because I go through phases where self-care is difficult for me… really care of any kind, including washing and brushing my dog. So he gets matted and it’s uncomfortable for him and I feel so guilty that he’s uncomfortable but I fall into this terror fantasy that if I take him to the groomer, they will be upset with me for letting him go this long and they won’t give him back to me because I don’t take care of him. So I don’t call but he gets worse and so I finally have to call because it’s so bad and my feeling of compassion for my poor pet and the need to get him relief outweighs the feelings of guilt and shame and fear so then I take him in and they are judging me and it reinforces the fear and guilt and shame and I start the whole cycle all over again about 10 weeks later.

A while back, I brought my dog to the same location I always brought him, which is still a dog groomer, but it was a different person and different company altogether since the person I knew had gotten a new location. But this groomer is not as nice. In fact, they’re brash and judgmental and I don’t like their manner at all so I few months ago when my dog was started to get a bit overgrown and slightly matted, I decided to break out of the cycle and find a groomer I actually like.

I guess it bears mentioning here that I was kind of going through a phase of dumping providers after finally realizing I deserve to receive medical care from individuals who saw me as a person and treated me with dignity and respect. So I cancelled the appointment I had with the dental hygienist I actually like because the dentist there always chides me for not wearing my night guard, chastises me for not flossing enough, as they’re wont to do in general anyway, but also he is in the habit of minimizing or doubting my pain. For example I once cracked a tooth and called right away to see if there was anything they could do to help because it was really painful and when I was in the dentist’s chair a couple hours later, he said, “you came in for this?” I said “it really hurts,” and he rolled his eyes and said “okay,” and then repaired it without giving me any novocaine.

I had a psychiatrist that I liked as a person except she would ask me a lot about my drug and alcohol use. I sought help for depression and anxiety, initially. Once I asked her about adhd and she asked, rather confrontationally, “why do you think you have that?” as though she didn’t believe me and it was a ridiculous thing to ask about. I also mentioned to her once how a therapist had told me in the past that he was pretty sure I had Asperger’s and she just said “I doubt that.” After the last appointment I had with her, I was looking online at my medical record for a medication list, I think, and I found my “problems list” and after each appointment, my psychiatrists notes indicated: alcohol use disorder, cannabis use disorder, cannabis use disorder, alcohol abuse, cannabis abuse, alcohol use disorder, etc. So I cancelled my next appointment with her.

Did I make a new dentist appointment? Absolutely not. Psychiatrist? Likewise. I didn’t know how to find either of these things. I know I can go on my insurance company’s website and browse their network but how do you pick a provider out of a list of names? Based on location? Is it based on their web presence? I have no idea. So I just went without.

And that is exactly what happened with the groomer. So in an attempt to avoid this cycle of him getting overgrown and matted by finding him a quality groomer that would work with me on setting up a schedule so I could just have him getting taken care of regularly without having to think about it each time, I ended up not being able to find another groomer and letting him get overgrown and uncomfortable and I ended up bringing him to the same place that I didn’t like just because it’s where I’ve gone in the past and I know them. And they were rude to me and they added an extra charge for his dematting, which they hadn’t done previously.

So now me thinking I should just call around is just asinine. I caught myself thinking this and imagined myself just cold-calling a groomer to ask some quick questions and perhaps make an appointment I just felt pride at finally taking care of my pup the way he deserves to be treated. I felt hopeful that maybe they might be able to find him some relief and he can get a little bit cooler and maybe less itchy. I didn’t feel anxious about calling or talking to someone. I didn’t feel scared about being judged or sounding stupid for asking questions. Sometimes I get in these phases where I feel like I am expected just to know the “rules” of places, like where you walk in, whether you need to make an appointment, how far in advance you need to make appointments, where you go to pay, where you order, how you order, etc., like all the things you need to know to get a service from somewhere. I feel the pressure to just know those things because everyone else just seems to always know those things but today I thought to myself the best way to learn those things is just to ask the people who know and it didn’t fill me with dread.

Then that made me think about all the times in the past when this line of thinking would absolutely fill me with dread and my immediate thought was, well, I must have been faking. I must have been faking. There’s no way that I could have felt those things authentically then if I am not feeling them now. Or if I wasn’t faking then maybe all those thoughts are just symptoms of my depression and I’m just trying to get attention and feel special by thinking they could be related to possible asd, adhd, or both.

I really need to catch myself when I am doing this binary thinking. Just because it’s not hard for me now doesn’t mean it wasn’t actually difficult then. I was in a different place. Depression can account for part of the difficulty without it being the only contributing factor. My mental health is such a delicate balance of so many factors. Maybe I have more fortitude to put into proactively caring for myself and my pet now because I don’t have the added pressure of an un-supportive work environment and because I spent the week driving into work at a new job that values and supports me, that trusts me to make decisions, where there’s a clear separation of work and home and I can leave the pressure of all the STUFF I need to get DONE at work and not think about it when I’m at home. Like it’s all connected and it doesn’t help me to beat up my past self for not being able to do certain things. In fact, I have immense gratitude for my past self because they got me to where I am at present.

Writing all of this out is really helping me to process 🙂

I’ve reached my vocal quota.

I haven’t been spending as much time on this as I’ve been wanting to. I have a lot on my mind that I’d like to read and work through here but I started a new job recently. I am really excited about it! It’s my first real leadership role where I will be single-handedly responsible for all of the strategic planning and execution for an entire function. It’s the work I’ve been doing for the last ten years of my career and I can’t describe the relief I feel at having found a position where my job is to essentially show up and be myself. How many times have I fantasized about how I would do things if I were the one making the decisions? And now I have my chance! But underneath the excitement is a not insignificant tension that’s already wearing on me.

Aside from my doubts at my ability to be organized and motivated enough to keep track of everything I need to get done, plan out how it’s going to get done, and then actually do it, I’m finding the interpersonal communication really exhausting. The culture here isn’t want I’m used to. The industry necessitates some work to be done in person so they’ve been slower to adopt some of the technology I’m used to across the board, specifically around working remotely. In short, everything is done in person. At first I was excited to be leaving my house again, after working from home for the last two and a half years. The lines between work and home became too blurred for my liking and as someone who was already prone to procrastination and executive dysfunction, I was really looking forward to the structure of having somewhere to be. Sometimes half the battle is having accountability outside of myself to actually bring my physical body to a different location. And so far that part has been really great, but I’m also exhausted.

I start my day already anxious because my work station is in a different part of the building than the rest of my department so I imagine I should be stopping in to see the team at some point but I’m not sure when. So I have been getting settled in and then stopping in to see them shortly after, which feels fine, although I do find myself standing around awkwardly not really sure what to do with myself.

Then the conversations are stressful. Two of my new coworkers aren’t very expressive so I can never tell how I’m coming across. I am trying to share enough about myself so they can get to know me but trying really hard not to overshare and not really sure even where that line is. When I was younger and a little more naive, I would say I’m an open book and not hesitate to share any number of personal details if they were relevant to the conversation. I’ve since learned that there’s almost a sequence information has to be shared for people to be comfortable. Some things are safe to share but just not too early in the relationship or before other “foundational knowledge” is shared. I’m also trying to be warm but not insincere and making sure the pitch of my voice is not too monotonous and laughing a lot and then wondering if I am laughing too much or if I’m laughing at things that aren’t actually funny. And then I’m trying to make sure I’m translating my thoughts into the corporate words they’re used to hearing but then I have to check in with them to make sure I actually understand what the words they’re saying mean because while I understand the concepts, I can get lost if the conversation is too indirect or abstract. And I’m also thinking about what my body is doing. My undershirt is too long and keeps bunching up around the waist band and my button-up keeps coming untucked. My feet start to get sore if I have to wear the same shoes for too long and sometimes my ankles and lower legs get kind of a headache feeling if I have to wear socks for too long. And I’m trying to be comfortable while seeming natural and leaning in and not doing anything strange or off-putting with my hands and I am just so tired.

So then I come home and all day I’ve been thinking “oh I can’t wait to tell my boyfriend about this” and when I see him I just feel annoyed because I can’t think of any of the things I wanted to tell him and even saying hello and asking about his day just seems like so much work and I feel awful that I am not giving him the attention and affirmation he deserves and I worry I’m too cold and I wonder if he wonders about me. And I can sit here for half an hour and type all these words out about my experience and my feelings but as soon as I start to speak I run out of steam.

Part of me, the part who’s spent hours watching autistic people on TikTok describe their experiences which sound so familiar, thinks that this is related to my self-diagnosed-but-questioning autism and maybe I need to seek out accommodations for other modes of communication, which would basically entail an entire culture shift at this organization, not to mention contrary to my new boss’s vision for my role. Then there’s a part of me that wonders if everything I think is neurodivergence is just trauma. I know there’s a co-morbidity but what if, for me, there isn’t? What if I just want to be autistic because it makes me special in some way and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted, right? To be special? What if all of this is made up and, just like a muscle, the more I socialize with these lovely people whom I really like and appreciate so far, maybe it will get easier over time.

Here’s my brain wanting to throw things into an either/or binary when things aren’t that cut and dry. Autism is a spectrum and logically it’s likely I’m somewhere on that spectrum. Having to communicate with these people will probably get easier and less stressful as time goes on and we get to know each other more and I can worry less on how I’m coming across and just be myself. And maybe I do have a quota for the amount of speaking I can do in a day, like the “spoons” described in the disabled and chronically ill community. I just don’t know. It could be any of that or none of it. All I know is I’m tired and I think my relationship is in trouble unless I can figure out how to keep showing up when it feels like so much work.

I don’t know what is typical.

I have no idea what’s typical. I had a really great job interview today and, while I’m feeling energized by having participated in some invigorating conversations and also hopeful at the prospect of finding myself in a new job that actually values me, I am already dreading the crash I know that’s going to hit tomorrow. Or the next day. Or, most likely, Sunday, when I’m supposed to be spending time with my family. Is foreseeing myself in a low place, resentful of the laughter and general noise around me, resenting my family, is picturing this more likely to make it happen?

I feel like I put on my corporate persona as a costume. There’s definitely some code-switching that happens: I inject the corporate jargon I know their looking for, being careful to repeat the same buzzwords that I heard them mention and also some industry synonyms so they know I understand what they’re talking about when they use the buzzwords and not just parroting the language back to them. But there’s more to it than that, even. I make sure to widen my eyes and make plenty of eye contact so they know I’m not only attentive and engaged but confident. I widen my mouth and make sure to smile a lot. I keep my pitch low while keeping my tone more upbeat and also making sure to avoid up-speak where I can, intentionally ending sentences definitely to convey more confidence and let them know definitely it’s their turn to speak. I lean forward as much as I can but not too much. Careful not to play with my hands but also not remain so still as to be unnatural. I avoid negative-sounding language but still remain honest because I am not conning anyone. These are all conscious choices but it’s not an act as much as it is camouflage. I know that I belong here but I need to do all these ritualistic things to curate my appearance so that you also know I belong here.

Does everyone do this? Is everyone thinking about themselves in this way at all times while still remaining attentive and engaged enough to answer questions intelligently and also remember to ask the questions I need to ask? Is this masking?

It’s not like these behaviors come naturally to me. I’ve been in the corporate world for 16 years now and in that time I’ve had countless conversations with managers about these specific behaviors. I realize now but didn’t know then that I was receiving feedback but I would hear that my tone was too flat. I used to confuse the words effect and affect until I heard so often that I had a “flat affect” that these two words fell into four discrete boxes with axes based on vowel and part of speech, with the vowel “a” intersecting with “noun” to describe my general demeanor of what I was told was disinterested, bored, disengaged, annoyed, serious, and even angry, among a whole host of descriptions that all came as a shock to me, thinking I’d been enthusiastic and cheerful. I was lucky enough to have the privilege of a corporate job and a caring manager who would brainstorm with me on ways I could adjust my presentation so as not to be misinterpreted.

I meant to only reflect for a little while but it feels like I’ve been typing for hours. All I wanted was to record this experience. In a way, I have been thinking about this as recording evidence of my autism so I can later show anyone who says “but you seem so outgoing” or “you seem so social” or “you’re too successful” or I don’t know what they say but I feel invalidated all the time and I sort of want to record these things so I can come back and say See? Is this enough for you? Can you finally see me for who I am? But then that feels disingenuous to me so I feel like I also have to adequately record my doubt. If it turned out that I did not have autism, how would I feel? I’ve only recently come to latch onto this diagnosis because it feels so much like home but it’s not the first time, is it? I was convinced I had Bipolar II at one point because my depression had been so cyclic. Looking back, I think my depression has been heavily influenced by my environment and as my mood has dipped I can simultaneously track where my environment has shifted to be less supportive. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like a fraud. And maybe I am a fraud. And maybe that would be ok but I need to figure it out.

What is abundantly clear is that I need to get out of my head and get out of my house and be around other people, neurodiverse or otherwise. But it would be nice to also be cultivating a sort of tribe or community or chosen family, too. That feels too big for me. I guess we’ll see.

I need things just so.

I am having a meltdown.

Can I be having a meltdown if I know I am having a meltdown? I read Catch 22 in high school and now I think self knowledge is inherently inaccurate. Maybe it is.

I am in a bathroom stall in the public restroom of a professional baseball stadium. I have been planning what I would wear for over a week and spent a lot of today anxiously ruminating on what it would be like to be here with this swarm of people and all the noise and activity. I said I wanted to come when a friend said he was putting a group together because I need more friends and I need more social interactions. In theory, it seemed like a great time. Who doesn’t love a ball game?

This day started out poorly to begin with. The sun was too much when I was walking the dog this morning and he kept stopping to obsessively sniff over the same thing when we were right under the sun with nowhere to get shade. Then there was food in the sink when I went to do the dishes. Any kind of situation where food and water are mixing gives me sensory horror and I found myself letting out a little scream of agony and frustration when I took care of it with as minimal contact as possible. Then I got an email from the private religious university that kicked me out for being gay almost twenty years ago letting me know the transcripts I’d requested so I can try (again) to finish my degree at another university were being withheld because I owe hundreds of dollars in fines for missing chapel my last semester.

The ballpark has been crowded and now people are drunk. It’s loud and I was a little stoned and even having a good time but now I think it’s wearing off and my friend accidentally dumped his entire soda on my feet. I’m wearing sandals. I knew I shouldn’t be wearing sandals but I’d made up my mind that they were the only shoe appropriate for this outfit so if I changed to a different shoe I would have to wear a different shirt and I really wanted to wear this shirt. I don’t know why this shirt only goes with these sandals but that’s also the reason I didn’t bring a sweatshirt. I don’t know why things have to be this way but now my feet are sticky and disgusting and I am locked in a bathroom stall, cold and wet, horribly uncomfortable, and nearly hyperventilating thinking about how I’m going to have to commute home on public transportation in these sticky soggy sandals.

But actually I’m feeling better. Taking a few minutes to write about this moment felt right because I felt like I wanted to record what was happening when it was happening but it helped me slow down enough to let my emotions settle. Maybe there are napkins and I can clean myself off. Maybe it’s not so bad.

Maybe I’m stupid.

Feeling a lot of guilt today. I have younger sister with an autism diagnosis and, in a large family, she grew up being bullied a lot, both at school and at home. I never picked on her, except for the few times where I just lost my patience and said something quick and rude that had everyone laughing at her expense. Though I was always quick to make sure that she was eventually laughing too, I remember these times because they stick with me and hurt me. I don’t think it hurts because I hurt her but because I don’t want to be someone who behaves that way.

One thing I never fully grasped was how the things that bother you about other people are actually the things that bother you about yourself. As a depressed person with what I am pretty sure is undiagnosed adhd, my fuse can be a little short in the car. It’s short everywhere but only behind the wheel with no ability to remove myself from the situation do I get so worked up that I resort to shouting and name-calling out of pure vitriolic rage. These other drivers make me so mad I call them idiots and tell them they’re stupid. I tell them they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house because they are so dumb. It wasn’t until my sister told me how she’d confronted her partner’s fatphobia while they were behind the wheel calling everyone a fat-head or a fat-ass or something that it clicked for me how, at the height of anger where emotions are highest and reasoning is the lowest, the insults we hurl say more about us and our values system than it does about the object of our wrath. Like, in my messed up view of the world from best to worst, I’ve internalized stupidity as the objective worst. But it’s not objective.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my autistic sister and why I couldn’t have been better to her. I’ve been thinking a lot about how her behaviors make complete sense to me and whether that means that we have some lines of thinking in common or if I have just been around her enough and am perceptive enough to have gotten to know her a bit. My own sister. But I don’t honestly know. In truth, the answer is never within these narrow binaries I’m mining but that doesn’t seem to stop me from going down that route.

I used the insults in traffic just as an analogy to illustrate how the qualities in others that bother us are usually qualities we don’t like about ourselves. I was thinking that I have had this aversion to my sister because there are similarities and, while this is true, and while there are also similarities between myself and all of my siblings, one of the reasons my sister was diagnosed and I wasn’t is because she is intellectually disabled. I guess it makes sense that, if I think the worst thing in the world is to be stupid and if I am terrified that I am stupid, I would certainly resent any similarity between myself and my sister, whom I perceive to be stupid. But these aren’t my values. These are the same values that told me I was gifted and I could take care of myself and I didn’t need anything that tell my sister she is insufficient, she’s different, she can’t participate, she can’t take care of herself. I used to hear the way she spoke to people, the things she would say, and just cringe because it always sounded like she was reenacting a bad sitcom, complete with the over-dramatization. But if I think about it, isn’t that also how I learned?

So many of the lessons I learned growing up are flawed. Everything I learned about racism, about capitalism, about religion… even things I learned about science, about language… I don’t know why I thought my understanding of intelligence itself would be left unscathed but I think it’s more malleable than I thought. And I think there are different kinds of intelligence. We all have inherent value. That’s the thing I wish I had been taught and internalized. We all have inherent value.

Finally, someone understands me.

I recently “read” Unmasking Autism by Devon Price, PhD. I feel a little guilty when I say “reading” because I tend to listen to audiobooks on double speed since that’s the only way I can seem to fully pay attention to the information I’m ingesting, but I digress. This book hit so close to home and in so many ways that I am going to give it another listen but go through the accompanying PDF at the same time. I tend to struggle in identifying which of my experiences are unique and which are universal. I’ll have a full-blown epiphany and share my findings with my boyfriend who will report back that it’s common knowledge and then I’ll go to a meeting and see everybody nodding along to what I thought was an objectively bad idea and wonder if I am living in an alternate reality. So, I thought working through this would offer a more objective view.

While I haven’t started yet, the first step is to “find your why” where you uncover your values by remembering five moments in your life when you felt like you were FULLY ALIVE (it appears in all caps like that) and describe moments from all different phases of your life in as much detail as possible, also thinking specifically about why the moment was significant. I will think more in depth about this when I get to it in the book but I have been feeling anxious about this ever since I printed off this PDF. I was really struggling to remember ever feeling fully alive. It feels so long since I’ve even been partially alive, let alone FULLY in ALL CAPS. And then I had a really good job interview this morning.

I was not expecting it to be a good interview. In fact, every stage of this process has been bizarre. A recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn a while back with a job description and asking for my resume. I emailed my resume that day because it looked like an interesting opportunity. He wrote back “great resume!” and said I would hear from someone the following day. A week went by and I didn’t hear anything when one morning, I received the same message he’d sent me on LinkedIn but via email. So I emailed him back and said I’d already forwarded the resume but if he had any feedback or something I could do to improve my chances of getting a call back next time, I would be open to receiving this information. Then I logged into LinkedIn and saw my email to him in the recently sent messages, which is when I realized that he had only messaged me once. LinkedIn sent me his message again via email and that’s what I was responding to. Like a fool. So I apologized, then he apologized and said he would put me in touch with someone from the company he represents. I’ve had a few interviews and, while the recruiter seems like he might be new, the actual conversations have left me feeling hopeful.

The recruiter called me Monday to say they wanted me to meet with this consultant who has been doing the job they now want to hire a full-time position to do so I said I was available on Tuesday or Thursday. We set a tentative plan for Thursday. He said they would send me a calendar invite but they did not. In fact, the time for the interview arrived and I’d received no way to join the interview (which I assumed would be a web call) nor even a confirmation that was happening. After a few annoying calls with the recruiter, I was finally able to connect directly with the consultant and we found some time to speak this morning. It was incredibly validating, whether or not I end up getting this job.

The part that stood out to me the most was where she talked about how, just from the way I had answered the questions she’d asked me, that I was thinking systemically and that to think this way is rare. RARE. This was news to me but it explains a lot, I guess. I honestly don’t know which of my experiences are universal but maybe I should just assume none are? But maybe this explains why I’ve been bashing my head against the wall for years wondering why no one else is asking the questions I am asking, why people are so willing to go along with work that is inefficient or doesn’t make sense, why no one ever seems to care about why we are doing the things we’re doing.

I read things like “work connects to larger organizational objectives” and “time and effort are valued” and “expectations are clearly communicated” on the employee engagement surveys my employer sends out to all of us to complete every year and wonder how everyone else is answering. And today I spoke with someone who not only asks these same questions but even understands that people do not ask these questions, that it is rare for these questions to be asked.

I continuously find life to be SO CONFUSING because there are so many instances where the qualities or behaviors or ideals that a company or an organization or a family or a church or a society or a nation SAYS IT HAS are, in fact, the opposite of the qualities and behaviors and ideals that are rewarded by said company or organization or family or church or society or nation. It felt refreshing to be able to speak openly about the things that I value to someone that seems to genuinely value those same things. I’ve spoken too often about these things to people who seem to enjoy and even gain energy from the words I am saying while simultaneously misunderstanding, misconstruing, invalidating, or even mocking what the words actually mean.

There was even a point where I, a scatterbrained disaster, lost my train of thought maybe halfway through my sentence and she not only picked up the thread but accurately predicted where I had planned on taking it. To feel so understood is… a gift, truly.

The mask is melting.

Trauma. I picture little baby me trying to get his needs met and retreating inside himself when those needs felt like too much. I picture little toddler me stumbling around the house in jewelry and high heels being told that these are girls things. I picture a cocoon made of wax that I slowly built up around me both to keep rejection out but to keep those parts of me that faced rejection in.

I was a quiet kid. I don’t think I wanted to be a quiet kid but I never felt like I could compete and so I’ve always felt more comfortable stepping back and letting others fight to be fed. But I watched.

I learned.

I learned how to not feel my feelings until I convinced myself I didn’t have any. I learned how to put myself in uncomfortable social situations until I convinced myself I was outgoing. I learned how to use language, and sarcasm, and satire, until I convinced myself I was charming and funny. I learned how to be mean.

Jesus, this is all over the place. The mask is melting. I am feeling like a raw nerve walking around in the world, feeling only pain from everything I touch. I was driving behind a big white SUV with a tinted back window and I couldn’t see the traffic in front of me. This has bothered me ever since I can remember but, today, it was intolerable. I was legitimately considering turning into oncoming traffic to get around the larger vehicle when we came to a yellow traffic signal and I could justify stopping to myself to give the vehicles in front of me some distance. We were driving home after looking for very specific sneakers for three hours. Because they have to be the exact brand and colors that I am picturing in my head, whether or not such a thing exists, and no other shoe will do. I don’t remember being like this before. Although, maybe part of it is the pandemic. I used to work downtown next to a bunch of stores and I remember spending entire weekends by myself strolling from store to store trying to find the perfect this or that, always asking myself if it was something I’d seen in an ad somewhere or just made up in my head and needed to have. Maybe it’s having a partner trailing behind me that increases the anxiety. Maybe it’s some hidden factor I can’t determine. Whatever the cause, I feel like I am becoming more and more sensitive by the day. The things that were always a little uncomfortable have become downright intolerable.

I know this sounds like depression. I have had a diagnosis of major depressive disorder since I can remember. When I was in middle school, I remember telling my parents while on the way to bed that I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. (My mom said that made her sad and kissed me goodnight.) I have two suicide attempts under my belt and have taken time from work on three different occasions to go through Intensive Outpatient. I actually just took twelve weeks of disability leave in the fall to go through ECT but that’s a story for another post. The point is, I am well acquainted with my depression and I know it sometimes shows up as irritability or with anxiety… but I keep coming back to a suggestion that was made to me once that depression might be a symptom of trying to function in a world that wasn’t built for me.

But I have functioned in the past. I think. I guess it depends on the definition of function. To a degree, I am functioning now. I have a full-time job, though I work remotely and there’s some interpersonal conflicts at work that have resulted in me having a pretty small workload. I’ve had a full-time job since I moved away from home. I should be grateful. I want to be grateful. Despite all of the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve been consistently employed since 2006 and I actually have a relatively high income and I hate myself because I am drowning in debt and I can’t seem to figure out how to convert income into paid bills and savings and assets. I was thinking I had this great success in my past that I was drifting away from and in trying to build out the contrast, I am seeing right now as I’m typing it how I am just a repeating pattern, a spiral staircase, not sure if I’m going up or down. I started working late in life but have been employed since. Yet my performance reviews all read similar to my report cards from when I was a kid.

Smart but lazy. Has so much potential if he could just buckle down and do the work.

I picture myself in this wax cocoon I’ve built up through years of coping with trauma and many more years watching traumatic things happen to those around me. I built this thick hard shell to keep myself safe and protected. But I’ve been passed around and jostled and there are gouges and scratches and the shell is wearing thin. There’s a fire somewhere and it feels like the heat is coming from all directions and it’s starting to melt and pull away.

I can’t be calm right now. I can’t be caring and understanding and sage right now. I can’t be productive and innovative right now. I can’t be smart and witty and charming right now. I can’t be friends right now. I can’t be lovers right now. I can’t be family right now. I can’t be professional and courteous right now. I can’t understand your double entendre right now. I can’t figure out why your face is moving like that or why your voice sounds like that right now. I can’t figure out what to eat right now. I don’t even know if I’m hungry right now. I can’t be political right now. I can’t fight for social justice right now. I can’t create right now. I can’t plan ahead right now. I can’t stick to a schedule or enforce a routine right now. The mask is melting.

It runs in the family.

I am the oldest son of an oldest son. I have six younger siblings. My dad had seven. I have been typing and erasing for an hour because it’s hard to understand this tenuous relationship between my dad and me without all of the context. He is the chaotic presence I blame for the lack of structure and security growing up. My life has been plagued by poverty and housing insecurity with waves of religious trauma and addiction. I want to write about how he went to jail when I was in kindergarten and how my twenty-something mom moved her four kids into a homeless shelter. I want to write about how in my memories, there was a chunk of time when my dad was not there, and then he was. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned he had actually come home at some point after getting out of jail and chose to leave us again. I want to write about the various bouts of homelessness or him getting fired from jobs for stupid mistakes and thinking he was above any kind of rules or regulations. But I guess the story of a son wanting to grow up into anything but his father is not so unique.

Yesterday we went to a party my uncle threw for his daughter who just graduated med school. The contrast of how my dad’s brother has built his life fills me with regret and envy. Moments after arriving and taking in the scene of the giant back yard with tables and chairs and tents and coolers, the fire pit, the gravel bocce court, the cornhole setup, the trees, the grass, the in-ground pool, the crowd of people laughing and drinking and smoking, one of my brothers arrived. It must have been bothering him, (or maybe he just thought I’d want to know,) because soon after our hellos, he was telling me how my dad almost got arrested this week. My mom’s car has been acting up, (the latest in a history of transportation-related insecurities to go along with the homelessness,) and my dad took his car to go get a part for hers. Except he was driving on a spare tire and apparently ended up getting stranded when another tire went flat. The details are foggy but this somehow turned into him getting drunk and getting himself home somehow, where he said he’d had enough of “this life” and left again. Evidently, the local police called my mother the next day to tell her he’d been found passed out in someone’s yard. He is 64 years old. I can’t help think of a serious talk I had with my boyfriend the last time I got drunk and lost control. “You’re almost 40 years old!” he said, like there is a certain age where drinking to black out might actually be appropriate. I felt intense shame in that moment and it’s a second-hand feeling of shame when I think of my father, a few months from 65, drinking himself unconscious in a stranger’s back yard.

Then it was maybe 20 minutes later that my mom and dad arrived at the party. I didn’t even want to look at him. But I watched him. I wish I could know what everyone was thinking. I see my dad, the oldest brother, laughing and playing around and I just feel embarrassed because I don’t see anyone laughing and playing around with him. I have this craving for belonging, for community, that swallows me up sometimes and makes me feel like I cannot exist without the validation of a group. I’ve grown up feeling like I ought to feel like I belong in this giant family, this crowd of people who all look like me, but always feeling excluded. When I was young and my family was homeless, did we get help from my grandparents or my aunts and uncle? I know when I was older and my dad’s sister was struggling with substance abuse, the rest of the siblings swooped in to take care of the children. My uncle and a few of my aunts just flew out to see my cousin graduate. From the outside, it feels like my father’s siblings think of him as the disabled sibling that they don’t want to deal with. “He’s special so we just let him do his thing.” He doesn’t get invited to things and he doesn’t have the means to contribute to things financially like they do. Where we’ve struggled so much over the last 30+ years and continue to struggle, I see other parts of my family caring for each other, building relationships and taking care of one another. They know each other. But no one knows me.

Maybe this is all in my head.