44…

I turned forty-four this year. Forty. Four. Holy cats! Recently, as birthdays come and go, I notice that I’ve grown more introspective. I often find myself contemplating my age, my life, the path I’ve taken, and the journey preordained for me. I can state with absolute certainty that I don’t feel forty-four. I’m not sure if there are certain assigned feelings ascribed to any particular age, but I never fell into compliance.

Age is a weird concept to me, as are the societal pressures that accompany growing older. Comparison is a seductive trap to fall into. It is consciously and carefully avoided or it envelops me and I lose traction on the slippery slope of not quite measuring up. I cannot measure my life against the barometer of societal norms. It is akin to comparing apples to oranges and I perpetually find myself one step behind, one step outside the box. I’ve grown to accept this permanence. Celebrate it, even, but it wasn’t easy growing into that state of mind.

An unexpected blessing of aging is that I’ve grown truly comfortable in my own skin. Trying to conform to what I thought was expected of me, or how others viewed me is no longer relevant to me. I tried and failed miserably for years and even during the times that I desperately sought the acceptance that accompanied my pitiful attempts at copy-cat conformity; I perpetually found myself once again, just a step behind. Do I still yearn for a less complicated existence at times? Of course, but Asperger’s prevents that reality. And it’s OK. I would much rather live my life encouraged by the knowledge I possess explaining my idiosyncrasies; than live the depressing existence void of understanding that consumed me for so many years.

And so, I celebrate my forty four-feels-like-thirty two(?) years, and look forward to one more trip around the sun!

detaching…

detachedDeath and grief, one always shadowing the other. Up until a few years ago, I had calculatedly escaped their acquaintance; politely excusing myself from the rituals and festivities surrounding those in my life who passed. The simple truth was I had no idea how to express grief, or more specifically, my grief. It was too engulfing, too overwhelming and was much easier to avoid…so I did…for as long as I could.

My father’s death was a lesson in learning to express grief. Learning how to process it, to accept whatever came out of my pain, to let go. These revelations produced uncomfortable, but insightful contemplation. I’m recognizing and identifying my patterns with much more clarity now, but as always, I am still evolving.

This was all very painfully revealed to me again a few weeks ago with the loss of one of my pets. I become deeply attached to all my animals; and the impending dread that I would need to end her suffering as she became increasingly ill intensified the knot increasing exponentially in my stomach. Putting down a pet sucks. Plain and simple, and I miss her a lot, but the process I took to get into the head space of being OK with letting her go provided insight into my patterns of letting go on a grander scale.

I’m always trying to detach. I do this with every relationship in my life especially if I know an end is imminent, permanent or not. Detaching is a coping mechanism, a way of putting distance between me and any pain associated with a relationship that I fear is ending. If I’ve resumed my predictable routine, gone on with my life already, then it won’t affect me as much.

I tried to detach from my dad. It seemed easy at first because I didn’t see him or speak with him consistently. I could compartmentalize his deterioration because I wasn’t witnessing it firsthand, and I rationalized that we didn’t have a traditional relationship. That quickly vanished as my excuses were drowned out by the inevitability that my dad, this man who knew me since birth would not be present in my life much longer. Devastating. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t detach, and the reality of his passing came crashing in and swallowed me whole.

As the grief worked its way out over my internal protest, it broke me. I could not distance myself. The carefully structured routines and safe guards crumbled and were replaced with uncontrollable and exquisite pain.  Grief affixed itself to me, becoming an unwanted roommate for months and I was forced to confront the uncomfortable emotions it produced, un-detached and completely conjoined. As a result, I am able to receive death and grief differently, and I’m not so terrified to face it or the emotions of loss that accompany it. Detaching is still my trigger reaction, but I recognize it and see it for what it is…coping…striving to survive unbearable heartache.

wallowing…

tedalone

I am in a funk. I have been for a couple months now. It’s infinitely frustrating as I cannot adequately express the jumbled and fragmented thoughts piling up on top of each other inside my head trying desperately to escape. I sat at my computer numerous times and typed out the nonsense, the snippets of incomplete thoughts and observations absent of purpose or direction. I feel anxious. Nothing is placating or loosening the knot in my stomach and so please forgive the ramblings, but I desperately need to clear out the chaos.

Unfortunately, this isn’t unfamiliar territory. Every year, it seems, I subconsciously reserve this time to allow a penetrating sense of frustration, dread, and anxiety to seep into my psyche and play havoc with my mind. It’s been a repeat performance for as long as I can remember, and I’ve had no explanation. The record player needle gets stuck on a scratch in the record and plays the same chords over and over and over until it is gently jostled out of it. I become introspective and challenge my authenticity, my choices…my life…

This year the reflection is a bit different, but the frustration, anxiety and dread has still arrived, uninvited, at the doorstep of my mind. Asperger’s provided many answers and insights to the queries that went unanswered for countless years. So many of my irrational emotions and behaviors that were so confusing and frustrating to me are all neatly categorized and explained in detail under this diagnosis…but…they don’t magically disappear because I now know the origin. The amount of my life that is affected and touched by Autism Spectrum Disorder still dumbfounds me. It’s everywhere, in every nook and cranny. Everything that is inherently me is also Asperger’s. And quite frankly, sometimes it is a huge wad of suck. I can’t turn it off when I want to. I can’t make it stop. It’s always there, yes, to provide knowledge and enlightenment; but also frustration and unwanted anxiety and meltdowns and feeling like I am in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. The feeling of inadequacy, of not quite measuring up, is always lying in wait just below the surface whenever I feel like I just kind of suck at this whole “life” thing. It’s a daily challenge. Hourly. I know I am different. I know why I am different. It’s not always an easy pill to swallow. I struggle with authenticity. Being authentic and true to who I am is so important to me now after years of adapting to what I thought I was supposed to be; but I also need to interact in and with society and being true to who I am confuses people. I get labeled quirky or weird and get pushed into invisible corners. I hate getting pushed into corners. I hate the confusion that I encounter when I feel like I’m being crystal clear or the judgement thrown my way when my filter isn’t working properly. I must check the mask and recalibrate. I hate the mask, the façade I must wear to survive in my everyday life.

Deciding what parts of me I am comfortable sharing with the world outside my doorstep, and being true to who I really am is a balancing act that requires constant tweaking and keeps my mind in chaos. At any given moment I am trying to figure out what is expected of me, compensating for the areas I know I lack in cognitively and socially, and adapting appropriately to the situation without feeling threatened by everything and everyone around me. It is exhausting and I’ve thrown myself some pretty epic pity parties; but at the end of the day, it is me. It is who I am. Ultimately, this knowledge has resulted in less harsh and less demeaning inner dialogue. As I did with my father, I am learning to measure my behaviors and experiences not against societal norms or against those who truly do not understand and pass along ignorant and unsolicited observations; but against the barometer of what I now know. It is hard. I’ll be the first to admit that I do not always rise to the occasion and bestow the grace I should. Accepting that I have Asperger’s was easy for me. Living my life every day with this knowledge has proven to be the unexpected challenge.

routines…

routine

My predicable happy little life was turned upside down a couple weeks ago. It was nothing earth shattering, just some car trouble, but as with most disruptions in my routine, I was traumatized. This is one area in my life that I am so grateful for an explanation to shed light on my reactions to the seemingly simple wrinkles in my day to day. I never understood why the anxiety and panic seep into my conscious blocking out rational thought.  It often gets so distracting that I am forced to mentally remove myself from the situation all together and escape through sleep or TV or succumb to a massive panic attack. Very inconvenient…and annoying, but I couldn’t explain it. The WHY. In the deep recesses of my mind resides a tiny rational voice that tries to shout over the turmoil and mayhem that this will pass. It will be OK; and my world would (and does) eventually return to my predictable routine, but in that moment of perceived crisis, the white noise in my mind crescendos and escalates quickly to unhealthy levels. In truth, there are few things in life I loathe more than car problems, but my car not working is not really the issue. It is the disruption of my painstakingly and thoughtfully crafted routines. One of the countless reasons I adore my husband so is his ability to stay calm, countering my erratic outbursts and meltdowns, and gently talking me off the ledge when I start to spiral. My previous partners’ tendencies to get caught up in my frenzy would only exacerbate the matter, but this wonderful man brings me back down to earth and gently challenges my internal anarchy. He speaks to the chaos in my mind and quiets my demons. He is the first person in my life to do so, and the effect is a bit intoxicating, but I know when my anxiety inevitably rears its ugly head, I’m not fighting it alone.

Whenever my life gets disrupted, my response typically involves focusing all energies into creating a routine so I can cope with the change. The faster I create a routine, the better I can adapt. This has affected every area in my life, and I’ve noticed it especially with my employment choices throughout the years. The jobs that were the most taxing and difficult for me did not have set schedules or parameters and allowed for many disruptions into routine. I never lasted long. The stress of unpredictability would thrust me into “survival mode” and affect both my health and my ability to do my job effectively and efficiently. I can adapt to any number of challenging and stressful situations in the workplace devoid of the typical and usual reactions, but those situations need to be within certain expected parameters. If they are not, I cannot adapt quickly or easily.

Travelling and vacations also present a unique set of hurdles for me. Where most anticipate getting away with excitement and eagerness; I always experience a sense of dread and trepidation and stress mixed in with the anticipation. I did adapt, however. As long as I allow an appropriate amount of time for mental preparation before and decompression after, I am able to enjoy time away. It is a bit exhausting, but cannot be overlooked, and it doesn’t matter if the trip is a weekend getaway or leaving the country. Because I don’t travel with any sort of frequency, there is no routine I can adhere to. If the mental preparation/decompression isn’t there, I feel “off” and am easily triggered, which doesn’t make me pleasant company. I have traveled throughout my life, and I have experienced wonderfully fantastic life altering vacations; but as much as the thought of travelling to new places is exciting and exhilarating, my reality is vastly different. Vacations just drain me and sap my mental energy differently than the average person. I am a tad envious of those who can pack up and go anywhere on a moment’s notice, even just for the weekend, but I understand now why I can’t easily do this and the potential consequences if I do.

I am my father’s daughter. He vehemently disliked disruptions of his own carefully crafted routines, and while my previous reaction was always in judgement, I cannot hide now from the truth glaring back at me, and the explanation so obviously right in front of me. He too needed time to mentally prepare for my mother’s wonderfully spontaneous tendencies to pick up and go. As years passed I believe he became more comfortable with letting my mother go out on her own to satisfy her wanderlust. He was perfectly content to stay behind. I didn’t get it. It even angered me a bit. Didn’t he want to spend time with her? With us? Many memories flood back of family trips…and dad’s meltdowns. They seemed comical at the time as we sat in the car ready to go in stunned silence, while he ranted on about a lost pencil he needed for the trip, or his sunglasses, or his keys, or a favorite hat. I understand now. How overwhelming it must have been for him! I don’t know if he was afforded time for mental preparation, but it frequently seemed as if he was on the verge of a meltdown; and he was easily triggered by items we perceived as trivial. I suspect now, for him, they held great significance as they were the pieces of his routine he needed to provide him with stability and predictability. The irony is that I possess those same idiosyncrasies, those same types of meltdowns if I do not have the items that provide me with peace and routine when travelling. Truly, the apple does not fall far from the tree; and once again, glimmers of light and understanding are revealed about this man I loved.