I apologize for not writing for a while. I kind of feel like I’ve already told my story here. My intention in starting this blog was to make sense of my life within the context of my newfound realization that I likely have autism. I think I’ve done that now. Unless there are new developments in my life, I don’t feel like I have much to say anymore.
There has actually been a new development since I last wrote. I’m now, for the first time in my life, on anti-anxiety medication. I was taken to the hospital a few weeks ago with what turned out to be an anxiety attack. I’ve always been an anxious person but this was the first time my anxiety caused something that looked like a medical issue serious enough to be of concern to other people. (While I have always been prone to meltdowns when overwhelmed by sensory input and stress, they typically involve crying and therefore appear emotional in nature and not like I’m having a heart attack like this anxiety attack did.)
I’ve now been taking Cipralex for about three weeks. The doctor said to give it a month before deciding if I want to continue taking it. I was very wary at first, and reading online reviews scared me, as they mentioned things like “dulled emotions.” (I don’t mind a bit if my negative emotions are dulled, but I still want to feel the positive ones.) But I haven’t noticed any big differences, either good or bad, other than some headaches when I first started taking it that have since gone away, and I do seem to be sleeping a bit better. But I cried my eyes out over a video about a homeless cat who found a good home the other day, so my emotions are intact, which is good. Unfortunately though, I am still anxious when something stressful happens. I had a very, very stressful encounter with a relative last week and I was a wreck. But then, it hasn’t been a month so maybe the medication just isn’t fully kicking in yet.
In other news, I had mentioned in a previous blog post that I had started going to church again. I have since quit again. People were asking me too many personal questions and I was dreading going every week. I hate being asked personal questions because I don’t have good answers for most of them. I’m not normal, my life isn’t normal, I don’t have the kind of answers people expect, and I feel judged as a result. So I stopped going.
I am still getting together with my local friend about once every two weeks, and I enjoy visiting with her because we understand each other, but other than that I am avoiding being social at all, because it’s just not worth it.
The biggest source of stress right now is my family. Some of my relatives are judgmental and downright mean. I wish I could live somewhere else.
Right now, in our current circumstances, I need to muster up all the strength I have to get through it. But instead, my body reminds me how weak I am.
Fever, sore throat, cough, blocked sinuses, vomiting, weakness. Trouble breathing too… but then I had that before I contracted whatever this virus is. I had just gotten back on the inhalers and they were working perfectly until then, however. Now even they are not enough.
I had been feeling good about how diligent I was being with my exercise, even with how stressed out I was, but now I’ve missed two days, because I’ve been afraid that if I tried to drag myself onto the treadmill with a fever I would keel over and hurt myself.
I had also started making headway on the packing, but I haven’t done any of that in two days either.
Time seems to be going by so fast. It’s getting away from me. I can’t keep up with it.
Why am I like this? The stronger I need to be, the weaker I become. I am frustrated and even a little angry because I feel betrayed by my own body. Why can’t I just suck things up and courageously do what needs to be done like other people can? If I’m not breaking down emotionally, I’m breaking down physically. Sometimes both.
My asthma has gotten so out of control in the last couple weeks that I’ve actually been scared. I had been trying to get by without using inhalers because I don’t like being on them all the time. For one thing, they’re expensive (and we have no insurance or anything that covers prescription medication) and for some reason after using them for several months they start making me gag and vomit, so it’s not a good long-term solution for me. I was fine for several months but I think the stress of my husband’s unemployment and the seeming inevitability of moving in with my parents has been making my asthma flare up again to the point where it’s worse than it’s ever been. So I have had no choice but to go back on the inhalers.
I recall reading an article somewhere that mentioned a correlation between having asthma and allergies and, on a psychological level, seeing the world as a hostile place. That is no surprise. With all my sensitivities and all the bad things that have happened to me in my life, I don’t have a particularly favourable view of this world or my life in it. Everything is so, so hard.
Right now I feel like I simply cannot move forward. I cannot face what is coming. I gave our notice to our landlord on Wednesday but I haven’t started packing yet and don’t feel like I can handle a big move like what we have to do before the month is over. But there is no choice. I can’t do it and yet I have to do it.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times, I have often been called “emotionally immature” or “emotionally unstable,” usually by teachers or bosses, and always after they’ve witnessed one of my public crying meltdowns. Until recently I’ve just accepted that I am those things, and I’ve even referred to my meltdowns as “emotional meltdowns” myself. It seems obvious: crying = emotion. But I’ve just been struck by the realization that I don’t cry in public out of emotion. It’s not because someone hurt my delicate feelings. It is from sensory overload. My public crying meltdowns are always from sensory or stress overload. If someone has hurt my feelings, that’s just the cherry on top, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a public crying meltdown due to hurt feelings alone.
While I am an emotional person and I do experience hurt feelings sometimes, I think I deal with them in a reasonable way in most cases. Only my very closest friends ever know how I’m feeling and that’s because I choose to share it with them, not because I’m out of control. When I need a purely emotional cry, I can wait until I get home and have privacy. I also don’t lash out in anger at people, and I never hold a grudge. I try to treat others in a mature and fair way regardless of how I feel. And as for marriage, which is the most emotional relationship of all, mine is very happy and harmonious, because we both treat each other with respect and when we disagree, we “fight fair.” Unlike my parents, who used to have huge anger issues and petty jealousies, I am actually pretty good at being married. My husband especially appreciates that I don’t play manipulative games like some people do.
But sensory overload is another matter entirely. When I experience sensory overload I lose all control. Once I reach a tipping point, I can’t hold it in. I cry, I shake, I wheeze, right then and there. I’m usually not feeling any emotion except embarrassment, and that’s only because I know people are looking at me melting down and I’m making a public fool out of myself.
People can only go by what they see and by their own experience. And if someone’s never experienced a sensory meltdown, they can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like or what may have caused it. All they know is that for most people, crying is an emotional response, so they jump to the conclusion that I’m freaking out because of out-of-control emotions, when that’s not the case at all.
If other people are going to put labels on me, or if I’m going to put labels on myself, I think it’s helpful to at least pick the right ones.
Friday morning around 4:20, the building’s fire alarm started going off.
I immediately jumped out of bed. My husband snored a few more times, and then, while I was pulling on my pants, sleepily asked, “Is that the fire alarm?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’ll find the cat,” he said. This is always a problem when the fire alarm goes off. Our cat hides. I think it’s partly because she doesn’t like the noise, and partly because she’s learned what the noise means: That she’s about to be shoved into her carrier and taken outside into the cold. It’s not her idea of a good time.
My hands shaking violently, not from fear but from the sensory assault, I threw my laptop, e-reader, phone, medications, and hairbrush into a bag. In times like this you find out what your priorities are.
My husband was still looking for the cat. “I’ll go see if I can find out what’s going on,” I said. This had happened many times before, and it was usually a false alarm. Also, we take comfort in the fact that we’re on the second floor, and the first floor is partly underground, which means our balcony is very close to the ground and we could comfortably jump off it if necessary. In fact, my husband sometimes jumps off it when he’s taking the garbage out to the dumpster, rather than going out the front and walking all the way around.
I went out of our apartment into the hallway and looked down from the top of the stairs. At the front of the building, there’s an outer glass door that’s always unlocked, then a vestibule where there are mailboxes and an intercom system used to buzz apartments, then an inner glass door that’s always locked, for which you either need a key or you need someone to unlock it by buzzing you in via the intercom. From my vantage point I could see that the inner glass door was completely smashed and the intercom phone was ripped out of the wall.
Other residents were gathered outside and some were lingering in the vestibule, avoiding going out into the cold. One neighbour came out of his apartment and stood beside me at the top of the stairs. “Da f%#k?” he said incredulously.
I went back into the apartment and reported all this to my husband. “I don’t smell smoke, but something’s definitely going on.”
I tried to make sense of what I’d seen. I’d think from the smashed door that it was a break in, but then why would the phone be damaged as well? Maybe these were just acts of petty vandalism. What else could the motive be? And was there actually a fire, or was the fire alarm pulled by the vandal as a further act of mischief?
Or maybe it was the result of a domestic dispute. Maybe someone’s ex wanted to be let into the building but was denied and flipped out. That would explain the vandalized phone. It did look like there may have been a lot of anger involved. I don’t understand that kind of anger, but I have witnessed it, and it’s certainly possible that someone’s angry ex could have just gone into a rage and tried to destroy everything around him. But wait a second, he smashed the door, so he could have gotten into the building. Was he in the building right now? Maybe the person he was going after pulled the fire alarm to get help.
Or maybe it was a thief, like I originally thought, and he pulled the fire alarm because he was trying to get everyone out of the building so he could burgle our apartments. Or was it even more sinister? Was someone trying to get everyone gathered out front so he could mow us all down? Was it terrorism? Our building’s management had recently sent out a letter informing us that they would be taking refugees into the building (which I am in favour of, by the way). Maybe someone didn’t like that. But again, why the ripped out, smashed phone?
We chose this neighbourhood two years ago because it was one of the safest neighbourhoods in the city, but crime has been increasing in the last couple months for some reason that is unknown to me, which makes me very uneasy. Being safe is a huge priority for me and I arrange my life accordingly.
My husband still couldn’t find the cat. I prayed that God would help us find her and then we did. My husband had been looking in all her usual hiding spots but oddly enough she wasn’t hiding this time. She was just lying on a shelf amongst some folded clothes, probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
My husband put her in her carrier and we finally hurried outside. The fire trucks had already arrived and the police arrived soon afterward. We waited outside for half an hour. It was chilly, but fortunately nowhere near as cold as it usually is this time of year.
Finally the firemen said they couldn’t find any fire and we could go back inside. They said they would work on getting the alarm shut off, but it still took another 20 minutes or so for that to happen.
I threw up as soon as we were back in the apartment. Because that’s what I do. Whether sick, stressed, tired, scared or just simply overwhelmed, I throw up. It happens on average a couple times a week. My husband jokes that it’s my hobby, but I hate it.
My husband and I went back to bed at about 6:00am. Usually our cat sleeps at the end of the bed, but she crawled up between us and draped herself over one of my arms. The three of us cuddled up together until my husband had to get up again for work.
I was a wreck for the rest of the day. Just utterly useless, exhausted, and completely worn out.
I want a house, but it’s not feasible right now. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which it ever will be. My husband’s work is a temporary contract. We have debt from when he was unemployed. I suck at holding a job. A rented apartment is the best we can do.
I pray for stability and security. I pray for a permanent job for my husband and for a safe, secure home of our own. I have been praying for this for most of our marriage. It’s funny how so many of my prayers are answered, but not this one.
“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” ~ Isaiah 32:18
A work meltdown I had several years ago was the result of a culmination of a number of factors.
There was a bad smell in the building that had been making me gag. I mentioned it to my boss, who mentioned it to the janitor, who apparently tried to eliminate it, but I could still smell it. No one else could smell it, so I was treated like it was all in my head. I plugged in an air freshener near my desk (perhaps that was too presumptuous of me, but I was the only one who worked in that area; everyone else had their own office), and that helped, but in my absence it was removed. I casually mentioned to my boss that my air freshener had gone missing. He told me he had removed it because it bothered his sinuses, which of course I understood, but it still left me smelling the bad smell, and I had trouble concentrating on anything as long as I could smell it. He must have mentioned it to his wife, because she then gave me a big vanilla-scented candle as a gift, saying her husband had always been able to tolerate those. I kept it right next to me on my desk and it helped a lot, even unlit. But one day I came to work and it was gone. I mentioned to my boss that my candle had gone missing, and he said he and some other people had wanted to use candles downstairs, and he had taken it down there.
My boss told me about something he was planning, saying he wanted feedback from a critical thinker, so he could plan how he would respond to other critical thinkers who he knew would have a problem with it. He said, referring to how to get other people to accept it, “It’s all in how we package it.” The problem was that his plans were, in my opinion, unethical and dishonest. Since he was asking my opinion, I gave it to him as diplomatically as I could and without using those two words, but it still got awkward. Of course, he went ahead with his plans, and the worst part is, there was a man who was basically a victim of it all but had no idea why things were playing out the way they were. This man even came to me for advice and I did my best to advise him without actually telling him the truth, as I was required to keep my boss’ scheme confidential and to be complicit with it. This all completely went against my principles and left me feeling sickened with guilt and disgust.
A coworker I got along really well with quit, and told me it was because he felt he was being treated badly by our boss. This left me working alone with the boss every day, after things had already gotten awkward.
As well as my job duties, I was expected to take on a “volunteer” project in my “spare time.” I had done a similar project the previous year before I worked there, and I was expected to do it again. I had determined, based on coping strategies I had learned from my former counselor, who was the very same man who was now my boss, that the only way I could manage this without overload was to set very clear boundaries and deadlines. The project required contributions from a number of other people, and I had set a deadline for these contributions which I made clear to everyone involved. On the day of the deadline, someone e-mailed me and said her contribution wasn’t ready, and asked if she could get it to me the following week. I replied and said I was sorry, but if I were to complete the project in time I needed everything that day. My boss found out I had said that, and he confronted me. He said I was being too rigid and I “wasn’t showing enough grace to people.”
Then came the meltdown. Right in front of him, I started to shake and cry uncontrollably. I then ran out the door to the front porch of the building and vomited over the railing. I sat down on the steps and shook and wheezed for several minutes.
Once I was able to regain control, I went back inside and as calmly as I could asked him if I could go home and calm down. He agreed. I said I would come back that afternoon to finish my work. I gave him my word that I would be back.
When I got home, I was crying again. My husband was home, and I could barely speak to tell him what had happened. I just cried and cried. Finally he managed to get the gist of the situation. When I returned to work a couple hours later, he went with me, and helped me complete my tasks. My boss looked at us and said nothing. He knew my husband socially and probably found it awkward.
Before I left that day, with my husband’s encouragement, I handed in my letter of resignation.
Afterwards, I was exhausted for months. That happened in September, and it wasn’t until at least January before I felt like I came out of my fog. My house was a mess. My friendships had been neglected. I don’t even know how I spent my time during those months. It would be a huge exaggeration to say I was nearly catatonic, and yet somehow I can’t think of another word. It’s like I was inside myself and was too exhausted to come out.
I try to think of what I could have done differently to avoid the meltdown. For one thing, I should never have taken a job working for my former counselor. The whole thing was a bad idea and was probably in itself a breach of ethics on his part. At the time, I was just so flattered that someone who already knew everything that was wrong with me, including my sensory and emotional sensitivity, would offer me a job I hadn’t even applied for. I started thinking that maybe it was meant to be and that it might be a job where I could actually thrive. I have always been good at the tasks of those kinds of jobs; the work itself has never been the issue.
Unfortunately, the very coping strategies he’d taught me as my counselor, he did not allow me to implement in the workplace as my boss.
While I never should have taken the job, once I had, I suppose I could have asked before bringing in an air freshener. I had to do something, as due to my odor sensitivity I couldn’t function with the bad smell, but I suppose taking the initiative to solve my own problem without getting permission was seen as me not knowing my place, or something like that.
Another thing I could have done differently was not given my true opinion of my boss’ plans. That would have prevented some of the awkwardness that resulted. But it still wouldn’t have solved the problem, since once he went ahead with them I still would have felt guilty for my required complicity with them, and the guilt would have been even more intense if I hadn’t at least offered any words of protest.
I also should not have agreed to do the volunteer project. That was too much to take on, and I only did so because it was expected and I didn’t want to rock the boat, as I already felt awkward with my boss. Once I had taken it on, however, I still think I had the right to set a deadline. I actually suspect that my boss’ accusation about me not showing enough grace to people may have been more about what I had said to him about his plans than about me enforcing a deadline for submissions for the project. He was already seeing me that way, but it was only in that situation that he said it.
So I don’t know. I suppose I made wrong choices, but everything I did was to try to cope. It’s just that my efforts to cope caused problems between me and my boss and were then thwarted by him.
There is an interesting twist to this story. This former boss and I are not on bad terms. He gave me a glowing work reference and although my husband and I have moved away, he and his wife keep in touch with us and when they’re in our area they visit us. We all just kind of pretend none of this ever happened. Once when I did try to broach the subject he told me he has nothing but positive things to think and to say about me, and we left it at that.