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Autism: Time Distorted

A sound interrupts my sleep: a cat meowing, a cupboard being opened, the flushing of a toilet. I turn over, and am instantly pounced by squiggling, wiggling balls of fur. Right up in my face… ‘are you up, Mom?’ Time to get up. Typically it takes an hour for me to properly wake up and get out of bed, no matter how long I have slept. These girls depend on me however. They need to be fed, and they need to go outside, and so up I get.

Rubbing my eyes I go to the washroom and brush my teeth. Despite the rush, my routine must be followed. The cats are waiting for me in the kitchen. I pull out four bowls: two get wet cat food, canned; two get homemade dog food, warmed in the microwave (they aren’t quite thawed from the night before.)

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My girls eat fast, and look longingly at the cat bowls. My feline friends eat slower, daintily. I take the girls outside, and hope the cats are done by the time we come in, for Clara and Molly will not be deterred. They dive for the bowls the moment we come in, before I have a chance to get my boots off.

Grabbing my breakfast, I head towards the living room, turn on my computer, and sit down. The moment I do, two little girls leap into my lap – I have learned to be prepared. They lie down, in their favourite place, and fall back to sleep. Sometimes Ditch joins us, sometimes he doesn’t. While on the Internet, I head to Swagbucks to attempt a survey. I have made about $100 since September (5 months ago.) I used to make that in a day at my old job, and wonder if there are better ways to earn money.

Turning to the news, I quickly check to see what is happening in the world before continuing on to my emails. Several are deleted without opening them, and I am left with maybe 5 or 6 each morning that I am interested in. After reading them, I head towards Facebook, and quickly skim through the feed of ‘nothing’ posts to check that everyone is well. Of course, not everyone shows up in my feed. Instead I get several stories from groups I never asked to follow, and multiple shared posts coming mostly from the same sources.

It takes too long to go through it all, and I start to get irritated by the time I reach the last of the posts I read yesterday. By this time I am feeling overwhelmed, so I play Facebook games (Candy Crush and Farm Heroes Saga) to try and calm down. More often than not the level I am on annoys me further. My son asks me why I keep playing, and I wonder the same myself, but I am compulsive – and I have gotten so far. If only I could just make it to the end, but they keep making more levels.

Often it is already close to 10am by this point, though my girls get me up around 7:30. I realize it is not a great use of time, but when I don’t follow through my routine, I feel it heavily, and it makes the rest of my day harder to get through. Time to go outside again. At this time of year, they don’t stay out long. I guess the routine will change once spring comes.

The next few hours either go to laundry and cleaning, or to my fixations (Pinterest, the Realtor website, online research…) I need to have my days of fixations, or I am unable to function at all on cleaning days, and not able to visit when it comes time to go out. I need many hours free for this on an almost daily basis, or I will fall apart… even with this, I frequently get overwhelmed.

In the middle of my ‘free’ time, I have to get lunch for myself and my girls, and take them out again. It is hard to pull myself away.

Mid-afternoon is time for my girls to get their walk. In the hot days of summer, this will have to change. I think of that constantly. For now, though, it is the best time for us to go. Part way through the walk, they get cold feet, or something scares them. They won’t walk any further, and I have to pick them up and carry them home. Clara frequently asks for ‘up’ by the time we reach the end of our (not particularly long) driveway.

At home again, I go into my exercise routine (twenty minutes on the elliptical machine while watching a documentary on Netflix – cast to my TV on Chromecast) followed by a time practising my keyboard. From there, I check my email again, which reminds me it is time to practise Spanish on Duolingo. I had a really hard time getting back to me after my last visit with my Psychiatrist, when she dismissed the things I do as part of my routine, and told me I should look into work, or volunteering, or going to school… everything I was doing to improve myself became harder after that.

Suddenly it is time to make supper, and feed my girls, followed by an evening watching Netflix videos and writing in my journal. The day has felt really busy. When I have more to do: Go to church or Bible Study, or even go out to a hockey game, or to watch a play – I have to brace myself. One ‘extra’ event (including appointments) can feel overwhelming.

I consider again my Psychiatrist’s advice to find work, or volunteer, or go to school – and it overwhelms me. I become anxious, and shut down, and my routine is broken. How could I possibly find the time? I remember when I was working, though it was only part time, I wasn’t able to accomplish most of the above. My house stayed messy, I didn’t exercise or try to learn anything… any attempt at routine was met with failure. I just couldn’t do it, and I felt anxious, overwhelmed, and irritated just about all the time.

My sense of time is distorted, I think. It seems to take me longer to do just about anything, and I need a lot more time than others seem to in between each activity in order to recuperate. For that reason, though it likely seems to others (who are able to work full time, keep their house, study, research, enjoy a hobby, or otherwise improve themselves – and still find time for church, other activities, and time with friends) that my life is very slow – I actually still feel very busy, and am overwhelmed by that busyness much of the time.

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Autism: Value In What I Can Do

Talking with my psychiatrist the a couple of weeks ago brought out some pretty severe anxiety, defensiveness, and an overall shouting in my head of “I can’t.” At the same time, I have been fixated on jobs… careers… ideas ever since.

Okay, so I can’t go out to work; can’t work with people; can’t bring myself to leave my dogs; can’t do anything that would increase my anxiety; can’t do something that would put risk to my husband’s retirement, or would mean I would have to make up the difference in income… there are so many things I can’t do – and these are the things that have been going through my head since my appointment, thereby significantly increasing both my anxiety around who I am, and what I should be doing, and my irritation at the pressure being put on me from other people.

I don’t handle pressure well.

But with all the things I can’t do, there must be something I can – if only I could figure out what that is. When I seek help in finding out what I might be able to do, however, the people I am talking to get frustrated with me. They want me to be able to accept some type of ‘typical’ work, and despite knowing about my disabilities, they still seem to expect me to overcome them in order to make their jobs easier.

Since they hear my protests at their suggestions, but don’t understand that I have enough experience to know my limits, they (like most people in my life) just believe I am being difficult. That opinion is not true. Life is difficult for me, and I have many limitations – but I am not being difficult towards them. They all give up on me. They always have.

Still, I don’t believe that just because what I need is very different from the type of help they are used to giving, it means there is no answer for me. There are some things I look at and think, “I could do that!”

The trouble is that such work is not easy to find, and when I am searching for it, I can’t even think of the right words. Words are not an easy thing for me to find at the best of times. It is also a challenge that people put such value on some things, and none at all on others. What gives others the right to determine how much value the things I can do have?

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I can understand the value in some jobs: Doctors have to have a lot of hard earned education to be able to keep us healthy and alive. Police (hopefully) work dangerous jobs to keep the rest of us safe. Teachers have to put in many hours of planning and preparation to prepare children for the world, and have to learn to keep calm even in stressful situations (behaviour issues.)

Yet so many other jobs… what makes an artists time of less worth than, say, a bankers? Not that I am an artist at all, but it is just an example. Why does one struggle to make ends meet, where the other does quite well? I suppose I am an idealist, but I think that everyone should be able to spend their time doing what they are best at; or feel best doing – and be valued just as well as everyone else for doing it.

If I did find work I could do, I think it would look something like this:

  • It would be solitary work (I can’t function well with other people around.)
  • It would be in my home, or at least have a private bathroom and kitchen for me alone to use.
  • I could bring my dogs with me, for I am anxious apart from them.
  • It would not have high pressure – like security, but somewhere safe, or a caretaker position, that doesn’t require much skill or energy… mostly I would be there to watch to ensure things are going well rather than having to always be doing something.
  • I would be able to pursue my own interests while I was working, without that being part of my job (like the jobs in the movies where people are building puzzles or playing games while working, and it is an acceptable use of time.)
  • I would mostly just have to be there, but my time would still for the most part be my own.
  • I wouldn’t have to travel much for the work – so again, I would live there at least most of the time.
  • Aside from my choices in activities, the environment would be quiet most of the time.

Maybe an apartment manager if I could have professionals do the repairs, and mostly just took the rent payments – perhaps with a co-op or something where the residents helped with the cleaning of the building, and grounds keeping. Maybe a laundromat attendant (if I could live in a suite above, or something). Maybe a lighthouse keeper, if most of what I had to do was turn on the light at sunset.

Maybe those aren’t great jobs for me, but my point is: there must be something I could do – if only I could figure out what it was, and find the job to match.

 

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Autism: Amazing Day!

What an amazingly wonderful morning I have had!

Okay, I don’t write posts like this very often, but every once in a while what I do matches up with who I am, and this is what it feels like!

It is September. I love September! I have mentioned that in the past, and I will say it again. This is my favourite time of the year… yet… is it dissatisfaction to say I always wish I were still a child starting school at this time of the year? I don’t mean kind of wish I was a child, or kind of wish I were starting school – but really, truly.

me at 7

Though I look it, and try hard to speak it, and try so hard to fit into the world that way, I don’t really feel like an adult. I don’t mean I wish to go back to my childhood – no way! That would be horrible. And I imagine that many children struggle, and childhood isn’t always what we idealize it as. Childhood can be hard! I can attest to that.

Children, however, are so full of potential. They haven’t failed yet. They could grow and learn and do and be anything. It is as we grow that the world folds in on us, and puts us in this little box – and if we spill over the sides, or we don’t quite fit right, or the box tears at the edges, we are told we have failed. And that potential that we are born with is reduced to lies and labels that others place on us, or that we place on ourselves.

  • Liar
  • loser
  • failure
  • broken
  • evil

And the chance to be, or to do, or even to try again is taken from us. And we are compared to others who are better than us. Why do we have to be compared? Why can’t we just learn on our own time, at our own pace? Not failures – just… not masters yet. Yet. Not forever. We can learn. We can grow. Let us out of the box. Give us a chance. I wish I were still a child.

It isn’t even exactly like I would like to be going to school – with its forced learning, on external schedules, and being tested and compared to others in the group. Again, why do we have to compare? Why does it have to be a competition? I am not them. They are not me. Why do we have to learn the same?

But provide the materials – the books, the games, the crafts… let me choose what I want to learn, and when I want to learn it. Their tests won’t tell what I know (only how much I could memorize for a short period of time.) They won’t show what I am interested in, or what makes me happy. They won’t show who I am. Don’t put me in a box – let me grow. Let me soar!

Today is Monday, September 5th, 2016. It is Labour Day in Canada. A holiday, and the day before school starts for the kids. But who says I can’t learn and grow on a holiday? It is September, and I was eager to learn. So I took out my books this morning, and began. Though I tried to plan, this morning I didn’t go with the plan. Instead, I took out one book, which led to another activity, and another.

As I write this, it is just after 12pm. I took my dog out, and fed her breakfast. I had a nutritional shake for breakfast, plus some tea and a homemade larabar later on. I went outside, and pruned our huge maple tree so that it wasn’t hanging low over the road.

In between all of that, I took out the materials I already had at home, and learned. And this is what I did:

  • Christian Devotional (“Lord, I Want to Know You” by Kay Arthur)
  • Calligraphy
  • Latin (Latina Christiana – or Latin for Christians)
  • Grammar (Harvey’s Elementary Grammar)
  • Reading music for my keyboard (Music in Me – Level 3)
  • Spanish (Duolingo)
  • Writing (this is my third blog post this morning.)
  • Dreaming (this should be a subject.)

Even with all of that, I had time to:

  • think (so many ideas went through my head this morning. I love that!)
  • laugh at my dog, and take her outside a few times
  • listen to classical music and nature sounds
  • check my email
  • read through Facebook

And after all of that, I still want to:

  • ride my exercise bike
  • go swimming
  • go for a walk
  • do a craft or other activity

Not that I will. The pool is closed today, and it is raining outside. Still I want to. That means that what I have done so far doesn’t feel overwhelming to me. In fact, I feel so good, I could do more. I could even, maybe, visit with someone! Amazing!

If I were a child, this would be enough. Since I am on disability, and only because I am on disability, I can do these things that are so healthy for my mental and emotional state. But why, I ask, is this way to spend my time not valued so much as if I were, say, out in a factory making buttons? Or going to school, and getting a degree? Or standing in a store selling…? Only because I am not paid for it. But who determines the value of what people do anyway?

So many things that people do for money are just pointless activities creating things just to make money. Where is the value in that? I can’t live like that. For me, learning… learning is life, and what I am doing here is of more value than anything that I could do out there. And that is why I wish I were a child. And this is who I am. And that is what made this morning so amazing!

 

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