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together, I couldn’t help feeling they were all relieved to be done with me, that I’m standoffish when I’m in a more withdrawn mood and annoying when I’m feeling more loquacious.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.

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 wrote “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 know he wouldn’t intentionally mock me but I figured if I told him that it felt that way, 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. 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.