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together, I couldn’t help feeling they were all relieved to be done with me, that I’m standoffish when I’m in a more withdrawn mood and annoying when I’m feeling more loquacious.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

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 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 capitalism is not for me.

I happened to notice this past Sunday that I was free from the “Sunday scaries.” I’ve always experienced: that common anxiety toward the end of the weekend that comes so often with the coming week. Even during periods of my life where work didn’t feel like trauma and pain, where I actually enjoyed showing up somewhere, where I liked seeing the people I saw every day, even then, Sunday evenings have always come with a certain tension, an inability to relax and enjoy myself because of all the tasks I had coming to me in the morning, either real or imagined. On one hand, it’s a little confusing because I don’t feel that same anxiety on any other four weeknights that precede the other workdays. But part of me wonders if it’s just a function of difficulty with transitions in general playing out in the transition of weekend to weekday.

This past Sunday, I looked at my partner and said, “I am actually excited to go to work tomorrow,” and it was the truth. I feel like I’ve finally found a job at a company that values me for who I am and what I’m capable of without me having to “flex” into something else or struggle to be something I am not, which has been my experience throughout my career. The past week and a half have come with a lot of promise and hope, starting a new job that feels like I’ve finally found “the one.” What’s more promising is the people I’m meeting are transparent about their challenges. Even during the interview process, it seemed like they were more nervous about luring me in under false pretenses and really wanted me to know the volume of work I was signing up for by taking this job. It’s a stark contrast from previous roles where the optics were of utmost importance. What the thing was did not matter as much as what the thing looked like and how it was communicated and how it was received, where it seems like here, we are mostly just concerned about the “thing”, what it is, how it functions. It’s ok if it’s a little ugly or unfinished or misunderstood because we can deal with all that later. It feels more tangible to me.

So tell me why I am miserable today for no discernible reason. I feel physically exhausted. I woke up this morning with a sore back, but I’ve woken up that way every morning for the past month or so. I got about as much sleep as I always get. I had too much junk food last night and my body just feels uncomfortable on multiple levels. And while I’m still excited about work and the culture here and the chance to make my own decisions and do the things I want to do and how I want to do them, there’s some creeping doubt telling me I can’t do this.

I can kind of picture how I want things to go. I can conjure an image in my head of what this job might look like a year or two down the road but I have no clear vision of how to get there. I don’t think I can do this. I have been too anxious to go down to where the rest of my team sits and visit with them today because I don’t have anything to say and I’m not sure I can stomach another awkward moment of just standing around staring out the window, not sure if I should be saying something else or walking away. And if I were to walk away, do I say something before I go or do I just leave? I also don’t know if they’re busy and I’m intruding or bothering them. I can’t stop thinking about all the times so far I’ve just stood there for way too long and then eventually walked away awkwardly. They must thing I’m really odd. And I don’t want them to think I’m odd so I won’t go there. But I’m not quite sure what to do with myself and this lack of a clear direction is making me feel useless. I was sitting at my desk almost in tears but I was distracted by IT installing some software on my computer before I could fully break down.

What is wrong with me?

I wanted this job. I want to do this job. I think I can do this job. Most days I want to do this job. Today I just want to sleep.

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 🙂

Oh right, I’m mentally ill.

There’s nothing like a meltdown to remind me I’m not as together and functional as I want to believe when my mood is a bit lighter. It’s a reminder that I need help processing my emotions. It’s a reminder that my perspective is narrow, that I am predisposed to see the world in strict binaries which often leads to my inability to take things in stride or have what I would deem a proportional response.

I am in the middle of getting a new job. There’s a lot of work trauma I don’t really want to unpack right now but suffice it to say I followed a toxic boss to a toxic company back when I was under the impression that both actually held the values they described and when I started to try to look behind the curtain, I was retaliated against, demoted, and replaced while still remaining employed. It’s been demoralizing and I’ve been actively trying to leave for six months now.

I’ve been on edge the last week or so. I had some really good interviews and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and I’ve been trying to visualize myself working there, trying to picture how it will be when I give my notice and quit my current job. But I just feel insecure and stressed out. When people ask me, I talk about being excited because I think that’s what they want to hear. And if I talk about how I’m actually feeling, people usually just tell me all the reasons I shouldn’t be feeling this way. The irony being that I know all of the reasons I shouldn’t feel this way. I don’t want to feel this way. But here we are.

So this morning I received a formal offer letter for this job and it included a stipulation that the offer was contingent on a physical exam and drug test. Instead of being excited about the offer, I immediately thought of my regular cannabis use. I thought about how I’ve literally been using it to self-medicate and how going on a break in order to produce a “clean sample” would also mean going without the support of this medication, regardless of the arbitrary moral value that ends up getting attributed to cannabis use. I also thought about a physical examination and how dystopian it feels for a potential employer to have medical information about my body or for the corporation to behave as though it’s entitled to that information.

It ended up being fine. After spinning out all of these hypothetical worst-case scenarios I ended up asking the recruiter for more information about the physical, he asked why I was concerned, brought my concerns to the company, and they said it was all OK. So, now I feel pretty foolish.

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.

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.

I think I might be autistic. It feels.

It feels surreal even to type those words, though I’ve said them to myself so many times. There were so many clues over the years that I didn’t know how to interpret, (or didn’t want to,) but thinking of myself in this way now somehow pulls everything together in a way that makes sense to me.

It feels a little silly to have come to this conclusion with the aid of social media. Primarily the aid of social media. I have talked a little bit about this in therapy and my therapist is always supportive, assuring me it’s a good thing to be seeing myself in the stories of others and immersing myself in things that feel affirming. But if I, an almost 40-year-old man, mention TikTok in conversation, I’m often met with patronization or rejection. I guess it’s not often but if any of my peers are familiar with this particular app, it’s more in the context of comedy and trendy dances and less about neurodiversity and autism. But they say the algorithm shows you what you want to see so maybe it’s telling that while all of my friends want to see something light hearted to escape the lives they live in the world, I am looking to dive a little deeper into something that makes sense of the the life I live in my head.

It feels rather foolish to be starting a blog in 2022. I thought about putting this out into the world publicly, with my name and face behind it, but it just felt too scary. I want to explore this part of my identity and make sense of it and maybe I’m not actually autistic but I want to know that, too, if that’s the case, and why does it feel so scary? At first I thought it was because I was afraid of how the neurotypical people I know would react. But I realize I’ve craved belonging for as long as I can remember so it’s not as though I am risking something with their possible rejection. But it’s all the reactions I’ve experienced so far at the very notion I might be some flavor of neurodivergent that makes me question whether this sense of belonging I feel to the autistic community is authentic and how it might feel to face rejection from this community. I’ve always heard “but you never had trouble in school,” “but you have so many friends,” “but you have a successful career,” but you don’t do this, but you don’t do that, and while discouraging, I can see where this is coming from a neurotypical perspective, always, and based on neurotypical expectations of how neurodivergence would ought to appear. It’s one thing to hear “no, you’re not one of them,” but “no, you’re not one of us,” hits more painfully.