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together, I couldn’t help feeling they were all relieved to be done with me, that I’m standoffish when I’m in a more withdrawn mood and annoying when I’m feeling more loquacious.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

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.

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.

If I could just clean up.

Everything always feels so familiar. Sometimes I wonder about this feeling and question its authenticity. Though maybe I do have memories here… I live within half a mile of the location I was born, a few streets down from where I lived through kindergarten. Maybe a part of me remembers these streets and sights from back then. Or maybe I am stoned and just feel stoned and this familiar triggered feeling that I associate with shame and trauma is all in my head.

But it happens a lot.

I did ECT for 12 weeks almost a year ago. Sometimes I wonder if maybe that knocked some things loose. I don’t know anything about the brain. Maybe I should have looked more deeply into what I was getting myself into before I committed to it but I won’t judge my past self for being desperate to feel better.

But everything feels so familiar. It feels like trauma.

Sometimes I think it’s from the decade I spent getting blackout drunk with my friends all over the city. As I mentioned, I don’t quite know how the brain works but I wonder if the memories are all still up there but just inaccessible. I actually think that the alcohol blocks the ability to even record the memory so I don’t know how valid my theory is that my memories are in some file cabinet that’s hiding in the back somewhere, like if I could just take a day off—or maybe a week or so—to clean up and go through everything, I know I could move things around and find a filing cabinet hiding in the back somewhere. Or like a pile of papers I just didn’t notice before. Maybe it is like that.