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Autism: Winter

Contrary to what seems ‘normal’ in society, I don’t often like to talk about the weather. It seems unimportant and pointless for the most part. But it snowed the other day, and…

First it was really light. My friend, who had planned to come over for a visit that day, cancelled. There wasn’t much snow here at the time, but where she lives (maybe about 10 minutes away from my house, or a little more) is in a bit of a snow belt. They didn’t want to chance the drive.

I had woken up early that morning – as I had been doing since the time change in early November. And when I say ‘early’ I don’t mean an hour or so. For about a week I was waking up every morning between 3:30 and 5am, and was not able to get back to sleep – not good when it was after midnight before I finally fell asleep. I wouldn’t get out of bed until 7am, but still…

Anyway, since I was up early, and since I was expecting company, I started cleaning early. By the time the visit was cancelled, I had most everything done, and was feeling good about the state of my home.

The snow picked up after that, and pretty soon, the entire world outside my window was covered in white. The roads quickly got bad, and I could see the cars sliding around as they were trying to drive (very slowly) up the street. I couldn’t take ‘my girls’ for their walk because without sidewalks, and with the vehicles sliding around as they were, it was just too dangerous to be out on the road.

With all of these changes to my expectations of how the day would go due to the weather, I could have been… deregulated, is the word I want to use here. It could have ruined my entire day. It wasn’t even a choice or an effort not to struggle however.

I was sitting in my (quite clean) living room, with my girls contentedly lying in their bed beside me, and was looking out of my window at the world of white outside, and I felt thankful to be in that moment. No disappointment. No feelings of being overwhelmed, or hurt, or irritated, or… I was happy.

I am not happy all that often. I struggle a lot with anxiety and depression, irritation, sensory issues, pain over the world… but that afternoon I felt really good.

When I went on the internet, I was presented with a question: “Does anyone honestly even like winter?”

And in that moment, my answer was, “Yes!”

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Autism: Crates and Pens

Well, there we were; three days before my husband’s vacation started, and I was feeling particularly bad. Though I was thankful at first he understood why I thought I couldn’t go – I was also emotionally struggling with the fact that he didn’t seem to care, and didn’t seem to be trying to find a solution. Suddenly I really did want to go (mainly because I had found out his sister wouldn’t likely be able to come into town to visit; and we don’t see her often since she lives kind of far; and she has health issues; and…)

I had spent most of the morning picking cherries off our backyard cherry tree. It is north of our carport, in probably the worst possible location for it. It is loaded with cherries, but they tend to be quite wormy. After harvesting, I took them inside, and spent most of the afternoon cutting and pitting them, and removing worms. Gross.

And then the phone rang.

It was my husband. He works at the thrift store, and right before he phoned, a large metal dog crate had been dropped off. “It is 4′ x 2.5’” he told me. Did I want it?

Now, that isn’t huge, but my dogs are small. A crate with a roof meant that I could take my dogs camping, and still keep them safe from eagles, osprey, and owls that might like to eat them. It would also keep them from chasing all the people, bikes, cars, dogs, cows! And other animals they saw – so keeping them and others safe.

The phone call was brief, yet it changed all of my plans – and I was very happy!

Yet I still wasn’t sure my husband wanted me to go with him. “So we can come with you?” I asked when he brought it home. Yet his response (while admittedly it might have meant nothing of the sort) didn’t confirm to me that he was thrilled with the prospect.

Still I carried on packing.

That evening, neighbours came by. I had the crate set up (to ensure I could) and they offered the use of their hex pen as well. The hex pen was the same height as the crate (3′) and had 8 2′ sections with a door in one. Perfect!

I guess that my husband saw my excitement at that point in the idea of being able to go up to the lake – and whether it was something he wanted, or didn’t, he did accept it then.

Still I worried. I don’t want to be where I am not wanted, yet… I really do want my husband to want me there. I really do want my husband to love me. And as I packed, I was not convinced. I suppose I should be one way or another – but my husband and I were… thrown onto different wavelengths when our children were moved. I guess that is the best way to describe it. Sometimes I really believe he wants me around. The rest? I guess I am convinced he wishes we never met. I suppose it is the same for him.

We did end up going camping. We did end up having a good time. And for the most part? He seemed happy to have us there with him.

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Autism: Through the Storm 2

The storm, though bringing a lot of wind, didn’t seem any worse than others we had been through.  We don’t live in a very windy city, but a few times a year storms like this come.

Since in our area it is very rare to have the power go out for even two hours, I was surprised to wake up to find it still out. Large trees had fallen across the power lines on both sides of Lakeshore (the street above us that takes us to town) we were told. In fact, to get to work, my husband nearly gave up trying to find detours he could get through with all the trees down.

The power was out from about 10:15pm until 3:10pm the next day – nearly 17 hours! Thankfully (as far as I have heard) no people or animals were harmed by the storm. Fences, garages, vehicles, even some houses weren’t so lucky. There were trees down and debris everywhere! The lakefront trail that we walk along had three trees fallen across it in the short section that we can reach before the trail is flooded (as it does every summer.) Three – and all of them seemingly healthy trees, and that not mentioning the numerous ones that fell beside rather than on the trail.

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A few days later we found that at least two other trails were closed due to danger – we found the one when my mom and I tried to take my girls for a walk. It had red police tape saying, “Danger” all across the entrance. I guess some loose trees haven’t fallen yet.

During the time when we didn’t have any power, I was surprised by the difference in the concerns each of us had.

My dog, Molly, was scared of a pine cone that landed in our yard, which hadn’t been there before (they were scattered all over the yard of our neighbour across the hedge, though.) True to her, after running from it, she decided the best thing to do would be to try and eat it. Funny girl.

My husband worried about how much damage there was to clean up when he got to work. Tarps everywhere! And then was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to get to work at all since there were trees across the main road in both directions.

When she got up, my mom was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to have her morning cappuccino. We solved that issue with the use of a camping kettle, and the side burner on our barbecue (since my husband always deals with things made on the barbecue – and I have little interest in learning – I was glad to find out that she knew how to work it.)

My son was worried that his routine would be broken for the first time in nearly 17 months, as he has been doing his German, pixel art, and word building every morning since January of 2016.

And me? I was okay with not having a computer, or a hot drink, or being able to get to town, or even the debris all over my lawn. I felt that I would be fine if I never had those things again.

Yet my concern was that the power would not return in time to save the food in my fridge and freezer. Food… it is always food. I guess when someone has such an issue with something, it does tend to become their main concern. And as the hours ticked by, I became more and more determined to find ways to store my food which were not dependent on electricity.

For thousands of years people lived without the use of fridges and freezers – yet one storm… one power outage, and so much could have been lost.

 

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Autism: What Change May Come

It has been a cold, wet spring. I am not sure what to make of it as thoughts of ‘typical’ are replaced with an idea that things are changing and perhaps what once was will no longer be. I must prepare myself to accept what changes may come, for I know that flexibility is not natural for me – yet can be survived, perhaps even well, should I accept ahead of time that “all shall be well.”

All winter, for instance, we had our bird feeders hanging from the maple tree in the front yard, filled with seed – but the birds didn’t come. “Oh well,” I thought, “we can take the remaining seed up to the lake in the summer, and feed the squirrels and chipmunks.”

Then, a little over a week ago, the birds started coming. I have refilled the feeder twice since. True, it was meant to help them survive the winter, and there are many other things they could be eating now, but it sure is nice to watch them at a time when I am able to sit outside (even if I remain undercover, bundled in a sweater.)

It is a change, but I am okay.

There is another change that I am considering for this year. It is not so much the change itself that causes me to hesitate, but the ability (or rather inability) to express it well… the need, that is. The idea – and one vocalized as a suggestion from a friend, and confirmed as a… sensible choice from a relative – is that I not go up to “the lake” this year.

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The more I consider this, and the more I observe “my girls” growing calm and content in the safety of our yard, the more I come to believe this to be the most logical course for me to take. There are just too many things about that trip which cause me stress and anxiety:

  • food issues which have always lead to meltdown and humility there
  • eagles, osprey and other wildlife that actively seek to eat my girls
  • where I will sleep (tents are no longer suitable as I fear for safety for my girls)
  • how to stop my girls from barking and chasing neighbours, family, and their dogs
  • cows – yes, cows! Clara will chase them, which also becomes a danger, and they are free range up there
  • how to safely contain my girls when I go swimming, kayaking, or playing games with others up there
  • a more than 2 hour drive each way to get there in a vehicle without air conditioning (again, safety and food issues, and there is the motion sickness on top of that)

As I consider all of these things, and my anxiety grows, I return to the comment from my friend. “Wouldn’t it be better to stay home?”

Is it better to stay home? Pretty much always!

And the truth is, I live in a beautiful tourist town where my pastor frequently reminds us, “people save all year to come to a place like this.” And he is right!

My house is a short walk from the lake, and two beautiful nature trails. I live maybe a five minute drive from a really nice beach. I have a fully fenced yard, with many shade trees and bushes, a lawn swing and a freestanding hammock, lots of wildlife (though easier to keep my girls safe) right here in my own home.

My girls are happy here, and I am able to relax, so… why would I want to leave?

 

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Autism: This Is Normal

After a few days, it became normal. Normal for her to be here. Normal to be talking to her. Normal to see her.

Just a few days in, and though I know it isn’t true, in my mind she has always been here – just as much as for the years between visits, I never see her.

I like having my mom here.

We talk… or we don’t talk – and it is all okay. At least I think it is okay. Maybe it isn’t. Sometimes I get it wrong. Usually I get it wrong.

This morning I was playing ‘Candy Crush’ and talking to my mom. There was a bit of silence, and ‘my girls’ (Chihuahuas) came to ask me to go outside. The first time I just went out with them, but then I thought of my mom inside alone, and decided to mention what I was doing the next time.

I went outside and started working in the garden – mentioning to her that is what I planned to do. She said she would be out shortly.

As I worked on my garden (I only planned to plant some wildflower seeds in the dirt by our house, but then saw the mound of dirt in an area that still needed to be worked on, and went there instead.) My mom came out and sat on the lawn swing. I think she was reading or something. My girls ran back and forth around the yard, then found places to sit and rest.

For a long time, there we were – I in the garden, and the others doing their thing. Sometimes the girls came to see me, and I talked to them. I don’t remember talking to my mom very much. I even had my back to her, as this section I was working on faced the fence, and the road, and it was the only way I could work on it – plus, I don’t work well with people watching me… but she wasn’t watching, she was reading. That seemed to be okay.

As I write, my mom has been here for six days. We walk, we talk, we shop (for food – I am not a shopper) we watch movies or shows (with my son, or sometimes without as he can’t handle too much interaction, or too much change to his routine) and sometimes we just sit quietly doing our own thing.

Normal.

I like that this is ‘normal.’

I also know it won’t last, and that for the most part it will be hard for me to even remember a time when this was normal. But I am grateful for it now.

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Autism: There She Was

In the afternoon, I was singing and dancing around the house. My son told me that he was going to record it and show it to Nana when she got here.

It helped to calm me that WestJet had flight updates on their website, and I was able to see that her first plane had both left the original city, and arrived at the layover stop on time. Suddenly she was only a 5 hour car ride away – rather than a 5 day drive! Even though I couldn’t see her or talk to her at that time, she seemed much closer, and therefore I was much more confident that she would arrive safely.

The drive from our home to the airport is a little under an hour and a half. My mom’s second flight hadn’t even taken off when we needed to leave to pick her up. I did the normal bedtime routine for ‘my girls’ (my 2 Chihuahua’s for those who don’t know.) I then brought them to bed, and put up the gate that I leave just outside of my room at night to stop them from wandering the house (and making messes) during the night.

Clara brought me her bunny rattle (her favourite toy) which she does when it is time for bed. I am not allowed to take it from her, but it is a real honour to have the toys brought to me, and I am supposed to make a big deal out of it (which I do.) I felt really bad about saying goodbye to them at that point, but what could I do?

We arrived at the airport at 10:36pm; a little early, but not bad. The airport is having extensive renovations being done. There was a work crew behind plastic sheets, tearing up tile and such with bobcats and other such machines. It is usually a very nice airport, but this time it was mostly noisy, dusty, and a bit of a mess.

Since we had time, we wandered to the observation deck. With the glare, it was hard to see the planes outside, but we were able to watch a video there about what was being done to the airport. There were diagrams and details on the expansion (something like double the size, with half the CO2 emissions – it was quite dizzying.)

Though the next flight out wasn’t until 5:30am, there were already people there, planning to spend the night in anticipation of their flight. I found that unusual – but since they would have to be there by about 4am, it kind of made sense.

Nana’s second flight was delayed by 15 minutes. Another flight arrived just before hers. Though there were many of us waiting at the arrivals gate, I was a bit saddened to see the people from that flight walk past all of us. They seemed like really tired workers – the flight is only an hour – I guess it is so common for them to fly in that people don’t come to greet them, but really?

There were a lot of different people coming next: Tall, short, with or without glasses, short hair, long hair, curly hair, thin, not really thin… as I watched them, my heart began to race. What if Nana doesn’t look the same? What if she got taller, or thinner, or cut her hair, or changed the colour, or… What if that person was Nana and I didn’t recognize her? But no, she walked past and met someone else. What if she were that person, or that?

And suddenly, there she was! Looking just like she always did. Finally my mom was here. It felt surreal. It does still. All the way home, I was shouting in my head to my son, “My mom is here!!!”

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Autism: Recognizing Myself

Every year for several years at Easter, my church has taken family pictures. “It is the one time of the year everyone is likely to dress up,” my pastor says. It is sort of a tradition, I suppose.

One year – the last one my son came to church with us (his friend moved away, and he felt awkward, and wanted to be invisible, and… stopped coming) I wore a blue, sleeveless spring dress with a black lace like shirt under it. I thought it was nice – until the picture came back. I don’t know what I was thinking. I am not very good at fashion, I suppose. I have never understood it.

So the next year I tried to choose more neutral clothes. The pictures came back, and I was happy with the result.

Easter 2015

 

The following year I chose similar clothes, but the previous winter I had gained all that weight from the anti-depressants I had tried (30lbs in 12 weeks – I had never weighed so much in my life!) I stopped taking the medications, and tried to exercise and watch my diet, but I never was able to lose that weight.

Easter 2016

I hated that the picture reflected that weight gain, but it was still a nice picture.

Though it has been 1.5 years since I went off that medication, I haven’t been able to lose a pound. Not one! That in spite of a lot of focus on trying to lose that weight.

I haven’t lost any weight, but I haven’t gained any, either. So it really surprised me how much heavier I looked in this year’s picture. Like the one where my clothes were weird, this is a picture I would be ashamed to show.

Easter2017

Truly, I don’t have any real opinion on weight for other people. In fact, like clothes, I hardly notice at all. I either recognize a person because they look like they’ve always looked to me, or I struggle to recognize them (like when my son lost a huge amount of weight, and shaved his head after having long curly hair most of his life.) because they don’t.

At the same time, if people look at all different – such as famous actors playing different parts – it is extremely difficult for me to know them. Johnny Depp, for instance, always looks like either Captain Jack Sparrow, or Willie Wonka to me. Those are two very distinct characters, yet I can recognize both. Yet he plays a character that comes in at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and while I know it is Johnny Depp playing the part, I can’t see it. I can’t.

So I think, my frustration with this weight gain isn’t about the weight at all. My struggle is that when I look at myself, it doesn’t look like me. When I try the clothes it took me 30+ years to decide were right for me, they don’t fit the same (they don’t fit at all), and when I try to find similar clothes in a larger size, they don’t look like me, either.

I am frustrated about being tried on a medication that made me gain such an extreme amount of weight. I had never weighed so much before in my entire life. I am frustrated that the doctors, and the people who decide the medication is okay to distribute, decided that what I looked like was less important than my mental state – I feel they need to treat the whole person, not make one thing worse to (possibly) make another thing better.

Yet it isn’t so much the pounds I gained, but that in that, I lost myself. After nearly 40 years, I was finally able to look at my picture, or look at myself in the mirror, and think, “that is me.” Before that, whenever I looked, I would think, “Is that really me?” It is sad to be back to that place.

 

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