Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Missing Piece of Connection

I need to eat...Thank God for the cooked salmon I bought yesterday. As my therapist said tonight I am having more insights than should be allowed by law or something like that. Everything is taking on symbolic as well as literal meaning. I walked back from my therapy appt tonight and intended to go to the gelato place. While I was walking there, I passed Longfellow Books. Nothing out of the ordinary, but this time it was full of people. They were having a reading of some sort. What was a fascinating experience was that you could see through the windows all of the people - probably 30 or 40 people sitting and listening to someone speaking. You could observe their emotions.... their emotional response to the speaker. And you could see the speaker. But you had no idea what was going on, what was being said that was being responded to. I had to find out what was going on inside, at whatever cost to myself. Which in itself is an analogy for the changes that have taken place in me and in my world since Christmas.

I thought for a moment about whether or not I wanted to go inside,  since Longfellow Books was not on my list of approved places to go (ie due to my chemical sensitivities I have trouble going into a lot of places but am slowly adding more and more in the last few months)...but I had to try. I had to figure out what door to go in... they locked the main one for the reading. I got in and found a seat.. it was almost over. I got to hear the last two poems. It was a poetry reading, it turned out. I was riveted. Absolutely riveted. The pure EMOTION that was in his words! He could have been talking about any subject under the sun and it wouldn't have mattered - I was hooked on the emotion in his voice. About 5 minutes after I walked in it, it ended. I was slightly relieved because I wasn't really up for sitting there longer than that. They asked if anyone had any questions or comments. Well, you know me. Or if you did know me in real life... or maybe you already do from reading all my posts. But I cannot for the life of me resist making deep profound comments at events where I have only been there 5 minutes to even understand what is going on, lol.

So I asked, basically about the process of distilling emotion into poetry or writing in a way that the audience can access and relate to. I don't really remember the response because it was one of those questions you can't really answer, you can only take in and observe and breathe around and enjoy. I wouldn't have been able to write that sentence a few days ago but I am now. Although later, someone told me they thought it was a bit like tapping a wall looking for a secret room - you tapped everywhere, listened for the thud, and when you found the hollow sound or whatever you knew you were in the right place. Following your heart is a bit like that - you have to thump everywhere, you have to thump a lot of places before you get the feeling that something is right for you. But when you get it, you have to follow it as if your life depended on it, because it does. Follow your instinct, Margie kept saying and I didn't know how. I didn't think I had an instinct other than fear. Fear was covering my natural sense of myself, my instinct, my sense of self. When I found my sense of self, the world opened up to me.

I got a couple comments about how profound my comment about poetry was, but not as many comments as usual. It ended and the room was full of people talking to other people. Since I had only been there for five minutes, I really didn't have any basis of which to approach any of them to start a conversation like I normally would have. I still had to adjust to the environment so I still had a bit of a wild animal look on my face, I suspect. But for once, it was okay. Because for so long, the only way I could stand to be in a group of people was to being having constant conversation with them, deep intense validating conversation with them, because otherwise it was as if I didn't exist. Otherwise the feeling of being shut out was too painful to tolerate. And I finally realized why. I finally realized tonight, not 5 minutes before I walked in that room from my therapy session, how to begin to validate myself. I finally learned, I finally experienced, for what was probably the first time in my life, what it was like to *truly be yourself while in an interaction with another.* My self kept slipping away before. It would either take on all the emotions and energy of the other person, or be so full of my own energy that I wasn't really hardly even aware of the other person in my space.... or so worried about the social norms I might be violating that I tried to manipulate myself and contort myself as best as I could into an image of what I thought "being social" was. But it always felt like acting and it made socializing, as much as I enjoyed it and wanted it, exhausting.

Tonight, for the first time, I had an experience of being myself in connection with someone else. Before, the two worlds were always seperate. There was *my world* where I was happy and comfortable and joyful but utterly seperate from the world around me. A world which I had actually lost until a few weeks ago for the most part, but found again. I still had existed in it but it had been greatly muted. I found it again, but then I had a dilemma. I had my world. I had *the world*. In *the world* I could put on a great act to connect to the world. People kept saying I had friends and social connections. So why did I feel so lonely? Because my world and the world were not connected. They were seperate. I didn't even realize it.

Is it possible parents didn't realize I wasn't part of the world? Is it possible they didn't realize the schism? I don't know.

Then tonight I had an experience where I was able to truly be myself in an interaction with someone else. The particulars are a bit obscure and a story for another time, and not the typical way you might experience this - but what is, for me? It is my path and it is okay. I didn't think much of it at the time, actually. That I had been interrupted when I was in "my world" was just an annoyance to process later. But to be interrupted in my world and STAY in my world while managing to interact with another - in however an unorthodox way I did it - was revolutionary.

So all this was going on in my head while I was at the poetry reading. I ended up meeting someone I knew from the museum. At first I wasn't sure if it was him. I just observed everyone for a while, something I am rarely able to do without my emotions pounding on me demanding to connect. But I was able to connect with myself somehow and stay open. After a while Martin, the guy I knew, came to talk to me. A wonderful conversation ensued and he kept introducing me to people. I didn't even know what to say. Then I found out he lives like one street over from where I'm moving (yeah by the way, I'm moving.) Synchronisity. So wonderful. Additionally, I found a wonderful book at the store that was a metaphor for my life. And I rediscovered how wonderful Longfellow Books is. It was the first time in seven years I had been there and was actually open enough to enjoy it. I had tried to go in a few times over the years but almost felt like the trauma was re-creating itself so steered far away from it. But I couldn't resist when I saw all the people in it. I couldn't resist trying.

So back to the initial experience of walking by and seeing all the people reacting emotionally but not being able to see the source. What I didn't realize until I started writing this was that that is the story of my life - emotional animals around me, but not being able to understand their motivations, feelings etc and feeling shut out. But unlike all of my life up until now, this time I was able to open the door and walk right in. Walk right into the emotional experience they were all sharing. Just walk right in. Not only physically but emotionally. What a great metaphor.

I am beginning to see that conversation is not just an intellectual exercise. I can begin to see the VERY beginnings of how to connect with others' experiences - and not just pretend to, for the sake of being in "the world." I always felt I was missing something and now I know what. There are so many concepts here that I can't fully articulate at the moment but they are so amazing and I spent three hours writing about them in my notebook today in the gelato place and two hours yesterday in the public market.

Conversation is not just an intellectual exercise. It is about being able to feel the flow of the universe and feel the flow of the people around you. Once you feel that flow it is about being able to observe it and then enter into it with your energy. If you are lucky, your energy will mesh with someone else's energy and create a connection. But if you go in forced or more intense than someone or not being your authentic self then the energy will MISS ITS TARGET. That's why I've spent years throwing words at people and just having it .... go off into a void and dissapear somewhere. Years not being able to figure out how to do conversation. Thinking that if I only came up with good enough stories or insights or whatever and shared them that that would be conversation, that that would make me feel connected to others. So I threw the words into the giant void that was my life. I threw so many words at other people. They all went into the void and I could never feel anything back. I could NEVER FEEL ANYTHING BACK. I remained just as emotionally isolated as I was before I had the conversation, even though for all extents and purposes I had participated in an engaged, connected discourse. How verbal you are, they said. How smart you are, they said. How good you are at conversation. But they couldn't see how alone I still was! They couldn't see how alone I still was. My act was too good. My act of being in the world was just too good. No one could see that I couldn't connect the experience of being myself with the experience of being in the world, and I sure as hell couldn't know that either.

Emotion is a human experiene that trascends language and all other boundaries.

I spent years thinking that if only I could find the right words, I could connect to others. I spent years trying to refine what those words were. I spent years SEARCHING for those words. Reading every memoir or piece of writing I could get my hands on about disability - any disability or difference - and about autism once I finally found the label for that. 50, 60 memoirs on autism and Asperger's over the years, and nearly ten years of reading blogs on autism, and I still didn't have the words. I did get damn good at talking about autism, though. People kept saying.... You have so many friends... You have so many social connections... You talk to so many people.. How can you be lonely? I didn't know but I felt so shut out. I felt so lonely, still. The connections helped and in really intense connections with others I felt good. But it never lasted. No object permanence (a developmental phase).

But then I realized... I realized this yesterday and I realized it anew today. It hit me like a ton of bricks, as they say. I was sitting on the stone thing in the middle of Monument Square. Ryan came by and I chatted with him for a bit. Then Nate happened by, which was quite a coincedence to run into them both at once randomly. Already emotionally full from my conversation with my therapist earlier and from Ryan just then, and feeling calm and happy and in my element, I looked at Nate. I saw him anew. I thought about his recent shoulder injury as I talked to him and as he talked to me about it. And I connected to his emotions about it. I paused when I saw him. I FELT his energy. And I connected to it. His energy, not mine . It was amazing.

Somehow, the thing that was missing was this. I have to be calm enough and feel safe enough and secure enough in my own self to be able to feel others' energy. If and when I can feel others' energy, others' presence, hell ANYTHING outside of my own self, a self I have been trapped in for thirty long freaking years..... then I can connect to it and I don't feel lonely. But if I can't feel others' energy, then I just throw myself into the equation and hope they will reflect it back to me. If they do reflect it back to me, I feel in connection. If they don't reflect it back to me, I am thrown into despair. It feels as if my whole self has just been rejected and trampled on because I had no stable sense of self before entering the discussion.

But if I can .... somehow validate myself and BE myself authentically when entering into conversations... then it doesn't matter what they say, or what they do. Because I am me - and I am okay - and they are them - and they are okay. We can BOTH be okay at the same time! That stunning insight I had today. There is no better, there is no right or wrong. There is one person being who they are, and me being who I am. We can both do that at the SAME TIME!

I spent.... all this time trying to figure out who the other person was so that I could mold myself after them and contort myself to fit who they were and have a "successful" conversation. I thought that is what you were supposed to do. But now I realize... a successful conversation is when two people can be themselves in connection with each other. And it doesn't even MATTER what you say when you are feeling that connection. Quite a stunning insight for a writer (insert laugh here).  

Everything in my life lately seems to be related to the way I experience the radio. That's an essay I 'll write another time. But for now I'll just use an analogy I take from the radio which just occurred to me. For years I have been addicted to country music. It is the only thing that can soothe my savage emotions. I connected to songs on the radio, to the emotions in country radio, long before I started connecting to or even became aware of other people's emotions .Because country songs are so raw.... so emotional... you can FEEL them. I love country - not the pick up trucks and redneck songs, but the emotional ones.

But for a long time I was amused by the fact that I could be in love with a song that had nothing to do with my experience. Songs about falling in love or pick up trucks, religion or drinking? I couldn't relate to those emotions, those experiences, so why did I relate and feel so strongly connected to the songs?

It's because sharing emotions has NOTHING to do with words!!!!!!!!

I just realized this. Words are a vehicle, a tool to use. But the words themselves mean nothing. The sound of the voice while EXPRESSING emotion, however, means a LOT. I connected to the feelings, no matter what the song was about .... because that is what we do as humans. Pick up on each other's feelings. (Usually, and if we feel safe enough to.) When you look at a successful conversation - the words that you use don't matter, but the ability to pick up on someone's energy and connect to it does. So just like I could strong relate to a song essentially about praising God when I'm atheist and Jewish (Jimmy Wayne's "I Love You This Much" comes to mind) or a song called "I Drive Your Truck" which sounds corny but is actually SO AMAZING... just like that, conversations, I am realizing, are not about the words I use.. and I use far, far too many words because that is my default setting - but I am finding that conversations are about me detecting the other person's energy and saying something to affirm or respond to that. That is mind blowing to me.            

Donna Williams actually wrote a lot about these concepts in her books, which were probably the first on autism I ever read, and end up now being the most relevant. I couldn't completely understand them then.... I just knew they seemed so familiar. She talks about her own concepts of "my world" and "the world" and how much trouble she had integrating them. She also talked about something she called exposure anxiety, which I must go back and look at . Exposure anxiety... maybe it's being in "the world" while being yourself. We choose so many tools to mediate this experience - to make it less intense for us - distracting ourselves- but it really just needs to happen. I need to read her books again. I realized I could actually tag her in this post - woah. It won't let me I'll try later.

It's like I am approaching from an opposite direction as everyone else when I have an interaction. For them, experience leads. They act, respond or discuss out of their lived experience - naturally. For me, it's the opposite. My lived experience at least with interacting with others as myself is... so limited. I have been stuck... trapped inside myself for thirty years. Which gave me a hell of a lot of time to try to study and dissect human communication to try to figure out how it worked and how to enter into it. So when I interact... I approach it from a point of view of thought, of theory, of social construction. Of analysis, of intellect. Then I have to figure out how to get from there to simple lived experience. For most people, they need to start with the lived experience and it is difficult for them to get more intense, thoughtful, analytical or what most people call "profound." For me, I have to start at profound and work my way down - to actual lived experience, to actual connecting.

And now that I think of it most of the important important people in my life growing up kind of seem like that too. I don't aim to put words in their mouths or paint them in a way that is not true but I also refuse to paint over what feels true to me. (Cue Trisha Yearwood's old song
"I Don't Paint Myself Into Corners Anymore")
Maybe they couldn't teach me about emotions because they couldn't feel them in connection with others either. They couldn't teach what they didn't already feel or know to be true.

I always said that when it came to conversation with others, that if there were ten steps to it, I was great with steps 5-10 (the really hard ones) but terrible with the first five (the supposedly easy ones). I think that makes sense in context with what I have just realized.

Cue George Strait's "I Saw God Today" (which actually has nothing to do with religion and constituted the entirety of my Passover celebration, but that's another story.)

 Last night I heard an amazing new song on the radio called "Give Them Hope," a collaboration with like 10 artists...that seems relevant here too.

I am going to  stop here.... and perhaps pick up the thread of this discussion another day.


Monday, April 14, 2014

On Valuing Character and Valuing Everyone

I gave a stranger two dollars for bus fare the other day. It was such a simple act, but it meant so much to me. And, I am sure, him. He was gushing with his appreciation of me. I told him, "I would want someone to do the same thing for me, so I am glad for the opportunity to help." I wanted nothing but the chance to help someone out. After I did that, though, it came back to me, as good deeds so often do. A girl who probably would never have talked to me before told me that the bus I had wanted to catch was actually a different bus, therefore enabling me to get where I wanted to go. Another woman actually offered me money for taxi fare when I thought it wasn't going to be the right bus. All I could do, when my brain wasn't busily engaged with thinking of how to get to my destination, was just stand back and mentally smile. The chain of people helping people was just too beautiful.

I have been thinking about the topic of moral strength lately. At the Jewish museum where I volunteer, there was a film about an island in Greece where the residents had sheltered Jewish residents during the Holocaust. While 85% of the Jews in Greece perished during the Holocaust, not a single one of them did in that island. Why? Because the citizens of that island simply wanted to do what was right. At no gain to them and at great cost, they sheltered the Jews. They had moral strength - the ability to do what is right even when it's not popular. They had character in spades.

I was thinking about all this when I stumbled upon Kari Wagner-Peck's wonderful article in the Huffington Post, "

I Am the Author of the Open Letter to Chuck Klosterman Regarding the R-word

A popular writer made comments using the word "retarded" as an insult. When called out on it, the writer did something most unusual - he actually took responsibility for them. Along with a very sincere apology and complete claim of blame, he donated $25,000 to an organization that works with people who have intellectual disabilities.

Having no gain and at the peril of his own embarassment this writer took responsibility for his words in a big way. And in doing so he demonstrated a moral strength and character that was beyond huge and is VERY uncommon. 

Wagner-Peck, in discussing this, talks about how nice it would be if we as a society put more value and emphasis on character than on what kind of car you drive or what you do for a living. 

As a society we are very far from this - but it doesn't mean we can't work towards it. 

If our society valued character over material traits, then everyone could play with an evening playing field - Down Syndrome, autism, people with less financial means, etc. That would truly be a wonderful world. 

This resonates deeply with me because I have spent my life comparing myself by sign posts and "milestones" that I intellectually know are/were meaningless but nevertheless having been so thoroughly enculturated/incoculated with this culture sometimes find it hard not to measure myself up by. The last few months I 've been challenging myself to find other ways to measure myself by. A job, a driver's license, a significant other, even silly things like drinking or whatever? No, I don't have any of those. But character? I've got character in spades. And if what she writes is true... If we can ever get to a place in our culture where we value character more than meaningless trifles and achievement based titles.... than not only would the world be far more an accessible place for everyone... but everyone would have the opportunity to be valued! And their value would come from something that would actually make the world a better place, not just more "stuff."  If I used that metric to value myself... Wow. What could I accomplish if I used that metric to value myself - if we ALL used it to value each other?

When I was in college, the financial aid office had a huge poster that listed several milestones of most people's lives in an attempt to advertise something. What it was advertising was not relevant to me. But what they USED to advertise it was very relevant. The poster was implying in the way it was set up that these things - first kiss, first date, driver's license, and I forget what else - were so normal that there could not possibly be any other way. Almost every facet of our society does the same. I would be in that office waiting in line for something, and I'd see that poster. Without being able to help it, I would time and time again measure myself up against it. Of course, I always came up short. I never once left that office without my heart being broken in a million pieces, and it had nothing to do with the financial aid I was or wasn't getting. 

It's so hard not to get wrapped up in a society that at every turn and in every action, in every advertisement and every TV show, values people that achieve things. Very specific things. But to value someone simply on how they treat others? That's huge. Maybe we could all start to like ourselves a lot more if we just valued ourselves based on how we treated others. That would take a lot of moral strength - but it's worth it. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Walking Through Your Fears, or What a Bizarre Day I Had Today

"The only way out is through."
"Leap, and the net will appear."

"Compassion is the act of appreciating another's challenges and appreciating how hard they have to work to overcome them."

Those two quotes played in my head constantly in this wild roller coaster of a day that I just had. They proved to be very apt. The third is something that has been going through my mind since someone said to me and has done a lot to change my self image from that of shame to something more and far different and better.

It is no secret that I do not like the house I am living in. It is moldy and affects very much my physical and emotional health. It is also not on a bus line and is difficult to get back to. I am working to try to find a place to live in Portland but that is challenging. I feel good in Portland and terrible here, so. Not good.

Meanwhile, though, I had a profoundly changing and self growth filled day today. I am still stunned.

When I left the house, I spent 2 hrs at True North in Falmouth trying to get myself calm enough to do, well, anything. For once the crisis hotline was actually useful and I used them as a way to try to center myself before going out and doing, well, something. In other words, I had no idea what, I just wanted to be at a stable place mentally!

I didn't quite notice how warm it was when I first got outside. I thought maybe it was 50 maybe even 60 but it'd be windy when I got into Portland so I might as well bring my coat.

I stepped off the bus in Portland into a different world. "Why am I so warm?" I thought to myself, even carrying my coat. I dropped my stuff off at the nearest bench and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the time and temperature sign. *71.* It was SEVENTY ONE DEGREES on April 11 when less than two weeks ago, it was still snowing. Yesterday and the past few days have been in the 40s.

Portland was *exploding* with people. Every single one of them in t-shirt and short sleeves, summery dresses, milling about, singing, dancing, vibrating, living. It was like someone had flipped the on switch for Portland.

After I spent about half an hour walking up Congress as far as the Eastland and back and wandering Monument Square with my mouth dropped open, in my t-shirt, still somehow WARM, *in my t-shirt*, I finally went inside.

S*** was working so I spent a few hours hanging out there, thinking and talking to her and having some very good conversations. When I left, on the spur of the moment I remembered that Tribes was going on at Portland Stage. I decided to go, and bought the $10 pass thing you can get if you're under 35. It was a few blocks up. In the lobby, I spotted a woman standing by the TV screen with messages about the play. I approached her and started with a casual "I've heard good things about the play" to see if she was interested in conversation. She was, and a conversation of increase depth and meaningfulness ensued. In the course of this 5 or 10 minute conversation struck up with a complete stranger at a play which was only the 2nd time I had ever done in 7 yrs I learned, among other things, that she was "fixing up a studio apartment" for her college aged son in her house because, as the TV screen showed, flashing relevant information about themes in the play, "millenials" often have trouble finding jobs. Or something. All I know is it was one of the themes in the play, and it resonated with her. The conversation ended with her giving me her name and phone number and saying I could call her about a possible room to rent and oh yeah "do you have mild autism? I used to work with people with developmental disabilities." I had mentioned Asperger's already in the conversation, of course, but still. What are the chances of going to a crowded busy play and happening to find or strike up a conversation with the one person in the room who's up for it, may have a room to rent and has autism experience? In the 15 min before the play starts? Do I have a good sense for people or what? I am starting to think I am really good at this. Screw not reading social cues. I seem to have a knack lately for finding the people who I can connect with in a crowd and actually doing it. Knock on wood.

 I didn't stay for more than 5 minutes of the play - not intentionally - because apparently, people use a LOT more perfume on a Friday night performance than a Sunday matinee, so I left after 5 minutes. But the ticket was cheap and I had already seen the play, so it didn't matter. I left feeling like I had done what the universe had wanted me to do, like I had fulfilled my purpose anyway, without having known what it would be.

I walked down to whole foods because I needed a resting and re-centering point. I didn't want to go back to Yarmouth because the house has been so awful for me and I needed a break. So I had called someone I had just met on Tuesday (well, I met her months before but only once for a few minutes), who I just met but love, and who immediately told me I could "crash on her couch."

Well, I am certainly not the type to "crash on someone's couch," but I so desperately wanted to just try. Just push myself a little and try. I hadn't been to her house and I still get scared going to people's houses because of fragrance and chemical issues, let alone staying there overnight. Plus, I had to take a bus there, I had a lot of stuff to carry, I was a 15 min walk away and the last bus of the night was at 930, half an hour away, and I hadn't eaten anything yet.

But, after making one limited attempt at assessing another option, I decided to do it. The only other option was to find a way back to Yarmouth and I didn't feel like doing that .I knew it would be uncomfortable staying there but I felt like the universe was calling me to try.

Let's just say that a) you can get from whole foods to the elm street bus station remarkably fast if you take the elm st route instead of pearl and b) there WAS NO #2 bus at 930. Or more accurately, the powers that be had decided that they would combine route 6 and route 3 at night and call it the 6-3 and for some reason put that on the #2 schedule for 930.

I got to the bus and she told me that the bus didn't go to Woodford's Corner. I'm like, what? She told me it did, even the other woman did, etc. She eventually figured out that if I got off at Woodford St I could get there, but she wasn't sure how long of a walk it was - she figured maybe a mile.

I decided to take the chance and got onto the very crowded and rather overwhelming bus. I wasn't able to figure out where I was going or how to get there, only that there seemed to be a decent chance of the bus eventually going somewhere near where I wanted to go.

It wasn't, as I would find out a #3 or a 6 or a 2. It was a combination of them all trying to conserve drivers for late night (yes, 930 is late night in Maine) bus routes.

Now, I pretty much suck at geography even if it's daylight in an area I know pretty well. But when it's dark and you're on some bus you've never taken before, going to some location you've never been, that gets a little interesting. Even with a very friendly and helpful driver.

For some reason she couldn't tell me WHERE Woodford St was. She couldn't tell me when we'd get there, or how many stops. She couldn't tell me how long it would take to get to my destination when we did finally get there. All she could do was point me in the right direction.

Sounds a lot like life in general, doesn't it?

I calmed myself down and stayed calm, thinking of the all too obvious metaphors for life as we went along. And went along. And went along some more. I didn't even know most of the places she called out. But I knew when we got to Northgate Plaza - which was nowhere near anything. We ended up going all the way to PRIDE'S CORNER and back - on the border of Westbrook, on a bus I had thought would take me directly to my destination, which was only 2 mi away down the street from the starting point.

Hmm. That reminds me of that graphic on Facebook that says something like "what we expect life to be like (straight line). What it actually is (squiggly line).

It was like feeling your way through something in the dark. Siting there trying to make sense of where I was and when we would g et there. I joked Dennis on the phone "well if I have to be lost , at least this time I'm lost in my own state..." lol. It felt like Oregon... in Maine.

Anyway, an hour and ten minutes after we started, we finally got to the point where she said it was well-lit and I could walk along a sidewalk to get there (but she didn't know how far). To woodford's corner that is. Isn't that just life - someone can point you in the right direction and try to make sure your way is well-lit, but they can't walk the road for you.

I bravely got off and started in that direction. And promptly saw a #4 bus sign ... lol if I had known the Westbrook bus went there that'd have been a hell of a lot easier. I just laughed.

It was only a 5 min walk to the Dunkin Donuts. I called my friend, E, and she came to get me. Laughed with me. Hugged me, even, in a gesture that felt familiar and wonderfully symbolic - not bad, for once. We got to her house, and I was relieved to find how comfortable I felt in it. Wood and tile floors, lots of nice character, quiet, smell free. She actually had dinner for me! Dinner  I could even EAT! We sat at the table and had a lovely dinner and conversation together, and I really liked her and felt so wonderful with her.

And her living room had a lava lamp, a record player, and a tie dye throw. I don't think they were hers but MAN! Someone awesome owns that house. Throwback to the 60s!

Alas, I soon found out the couch was not going to work to sleep on, both from a fragrance but especially comfort standpoint. At first I was going to tough it out but realized how stupid that would be if there was any other option. Destroying my back and not getting any sleep seemed a stupid thing to willfully choose. So I thought about it and decided to overcome my fear of taxis and call a taxi, which I swore I wouldn't do before because of fragrance issues in cabs. The guy who runs Green Cab, which, like my friend, I had found out about/met in whole foods, had said that he really liked the people who ran yellow cab.  I didn't have internet or phone or a number so I called Dennis in florida to google it for me. At 1am. =)

Taxi dispatchers are always hurried and impatient by nature, as I remembered from when I used to take cabs in 2007. Same this time. Phone didn't work, he couldn't hear me, so I had to text him. I only learned how to text on my phone like a week ago, too. I was so nervous about taking the cab!
And thankful I had remembered the address.

When it came, I was relieved to step in it and get a good, safe energy from the driver and realize that it was at least tolerable fragrance wise.

We small talked about the weather for several minutes, and I mentioned when he asked that I did some volunteer work at the Maine Jewish Museum.

At this he got very excited and told me he was Jewish too. I was pretty surprised - Portland doesn't have much of a Jewish population. Not only that but he was from Israel. So what are the odds of getting what had to be the only Israeli Jewish cab driver in the whole state  the first time i took a cab in 7 yrs? He also has a room to rent, and knows someone I know, so after checking with that person about him I will look into it.

That'd be an awfully funny story to tell about finding a place to live, lol.

What a day, I got home around 2am. It's now 330 .I am supposed to go to Boston tomorrow for autism thing but not sure.

What a day!!!! What a wonderful day of growth ,of learning and of being in the world. May it happen again soon and may I find a way to be in Portland so I don't have to find a way to get back to a house that makes me sick every night.

Peace to all.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

On the topic of "Play"

I was just writing an email to a friend about the discussion series tonight and had a startling insight.

What is the most common activity for kids to do when they're, well, kids?

They play.

But what happens when you're an undiagnosed Aspie who is in her own world with no way to connect to the world around you until you're far past the age where kids "play"?

You don't play. Like, ever.

I realize I have gone my entire life without ever to my recollection "playing" with anyone.

And here I am, desperately searching every corner of the universe for the answer of how to emotionally connect with another person. And I realize that that is only part of the answer.

When you play, you are most essentially and truly yourself, interacting with other people being their true self. When you play, there is a focus on the present and in developing or being in relationship with another person without words that I have NEVER EVER been able to grasp in my entire life. I keep using more and more words to try to grasp it, but you can't grasp an intangible feeling like "play" with words.

One of the topics tonight was about play, and that got me thinking about this. I wonder if there exists a form of play therapy for adults? Because I think a lot of people could use it.

I also wonder if the reason that people with autism so often seem to like puns (not all of them but a lot ) is because for many of them, it's the closest to "play" they can possibly get. I know it is for me. I love puns to pieces and I realize why now...It's so much fun to play. With words or anything else.

I had a dollhouse I played with. I had no shortage of games I played in my head. But solitary play is not anywhere similar to shared play.
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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

When Nietzche Wept

The following is a blog I found on my computer in response to a fictional book called When Nietzche Wept that I read years ago. The blog is years old as well.

I just finished reading a great and very thought provoking book called "When Nietzche Wept," by Irvin Yalom. It was a very profound story to me, and I'd like to share the story with you.

This book is a fictional tale of an imagined encounter between a prominent Vienna doctor, Dr. Bruer, and the now famous philosopher, Nietzche, back in the 1800s.

It takes place before the invention of psychotherapy. A woman persuades Dr. B to try to help her friend Nietzche, who is suffering, she says, from despair. "Despair?" says Dr B. "What do I know about treating despair?" He decides to try anyway.

Because N is not willing to consent to treatment, Dr B makes a ploy where he claims despair himself and asks N, a philosopher with many ideas about the human condition, to treat him while Dr B looks over N's physical condition.

At first Dr B tries to pry information out of N but N refuses to share anything personal, believing it a form of weakness.

After several sessions, Dr B forgets about trying to manipulate N and genuinely becomes the patient. He is depressed and suffers with an obsession over a former patient.

The long and short of the book is this, which brought up several meaningful themes for me:

Dr. B is depressed because, although he has a good life as a prominent, respected doctor, a loving wife and family, money and so on, he feels restricted. He longs for freedom. He feels that he was forced into this life because of his culture and expectations of his family and the culture around him. He doesn't realize this for a long time, of course, but in the end this is what it amounts to.

N says that the most important thing in life is to "Choose your life." He says that Dr B has not chosen his life, and that is the reason for his despair, and also the reason for his obsession with his patient Bertha. Bertha represents living dangerously, passion, magic and escape to Dr B. Dr B resists this theory at first, but at the end of the book he comes to agree. He is hypnotized and imagines leaving his wife, kids and life to be free in Italy. He discovers he does not like it very much. When he becomes conscious again, he is invigorated because he realizes he actually does like the life he has, and he "chooses" it. "I choose to be married to you today," he tells his wife.

After N has his epiphany, N finally reveals his story. Due to N's loneliness and wandering lifestyle, Dr B offers to let N stay at his house, so that he will not be so isolated. N refuses, though, and Dr B is dissapointed, thinking after all this time, he has done nothing to help N.

N reassures Dr B that he has indeed given him something very powerful: the freedom of choice. Having been offered an alternative and refused it, he is now free to "choose his life,"
and be happy about it; before he felt bound by it.

"Isolation only exists in isolation," he says. "When it is shared, it evaporates."

"The moment I talked of not being able to touch another was the very moment I was able to be touched by you."

N commenting on his situation relevant to the therapy experience.

I have read lots of psychology related books, and a good number of books on psychotherapy, but this is the first one that really brought home what the process of psychotherapy was really about.

Another theme was discovering the origin and meaning of each symptom. To do this, Dr B "chimneyswept" (did free thinking/association) about whatever thoughts came to mind regarding the symptoms, which eventually lead to relevations about their meaning.


Personal application

There is a personal application to this that I was thinking about when I was reading. I started thinking about different ways that you can "choose your life." Choose your way of thinking and your reactions to things - that's something I work hard on and am getting better at. I try to reframe things that happen as best I can so I can not get so angry or scared of things.

Choose your decisions - I put a lot of thought into my decisions and I always make damn sure that I am making a decision that I can stand by and be proud of for years into the future. Even if things don't go as planned, and the decision turns out to be not the best one in retrospect, I know I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time.

Choosing your will - and standing up to people who would try to change your will and your decisions because they think they know what is best for you - has been another important one for me. I especially think of those crucial few days in Bend, when the decisions I made for myself, and the pressure I resisted in making them, changed the entire course of my life for the better. I am eternally grateful for having, dare I say it, the strength of character and courage to make those decisions, as well as, of course, being lucky enough to have certain other factors fall into place when they did so I that I was lucky enough to have decisions to make.

My roommate, wanting me out on short notice, was hell bent on me going back to my mom's in Missoula (Montana). I was hell bent on not going, provided I could somehow find a way to avoid it. She made the plane tickets. I told her there was a good chance I wouldn't use them. She said fine. And for the next four days or so, I spent almost every waking moment researching other options, some way to escape the fate that she was trying so desperately to force on me. No offense to my mom, but I knew it wasn't the right place for me. I knew I wouldn't flourish there. I had too much of life left to live, and damn it, I wanted to find a way to live it. I felt that it wouldn't happen there.

I was stuck in the middle of Oregon, on the other side of the country from my family, with no ability to drive myself anywhere and knowing almost no one in the area. That, and I had severe chemical sensitivities that prevented me from being able to live just about anywhere, which is why I was in the middle of nowhere Oregon in the first place. Some might have said it was impossible. Clearly, my roommate thought it was. But I didn't (think, at the time, about possible or impossible. I just knew I had to put every ounce of myself into the task of trying, in every avenue I could, or else I would regret it forever. I would not go easily.

I am forever indebted to both Julie and Joe. Julie was the one who found me the eco-friendly apartment to live in in a hippie commune in Eugene, and Joe is the one who agreed - at 5 p.m. the day before I was supposed to fly to Missoula, no less, talk about a last minute reprieve! - to drive me the 2 hours there.        
My friend Leslie was gracious enough to let me stay in her house the last night I was there.

I had never met Joe before. I had only talked to him once. I knew him through an online friend in Australia - she was his stepson. He had no obligation towards me, no reason to say yes, but he did. He said yes. Against all odds. He was my last hope, and he said yes. I tell you, that was the sweetest "yes" I have ever heard in my life.

It was a big risk - going to some hippie commune in a city I'd never been to, not even knowing how I'd get my groceries, with someone I'd never met (but trusted, as I wouldn't have gone with someone I felt was going to put me in danger). But to me, not doing it was a far, far bigger risk. I wanted to live my life. I wanted independence. I wanted chemical free living arrangements. And if this is the way I had to to do it, so be it.

I chose my life.

I chose my life.

What a statement. I didn't think that much about it at the time, but others have told me they feel I have courage, bravery, all kinds of adjectives I never would have applied to myself before. They reminded me of how many people languish in situations that are toxic for them - physically or emotionally - not making any effort to get themselves out. I did.

And here I am at what I hope is the end, or at least a good long stopping point, of my long and winding journey. Back home in Maine. Living with a woman who brings a smile to my face every day, in a town I love. In really the best possible situation I could imagine for myself, although of course nothing is perfect.

I'd say my long and winding road worked out all right.

Many nights, I get frustrated and hopeless and so fed up with the problems I still have. But then I get a glimpse of memory of how much worse it could be, would be, and I feel a flash of gratefulness that temporarily eclipses those feelings.


My roommate from Bend, who I hadn't spoken to in several months, emailed me a few nights ago out of the blue. In her well-intentioned email, she mentioned the equivalent of an "I told you so," saying something along the lines of "See, I told you you'd be better off living near family." The comment and a seperate one she made angered me so much that I had trouble containing my anger. I followed my own path, and I ended up okay. Had I followed the path she so direly wanted me to follow, I would have been living a very dependent and unhappy life that I would have had a lot of trouble getting out of. The fact that I ended up near family is wonderful but incidental. The fact that I had a lot more journey to follow before I *could* end up in a place that was right for me is the important part and the part that she apparently doesn't get. My life was meant to be lived in Maine, living independently, not in Montana.

And so when I read "When Nietzche Wept," and his ideas about choice, I was once again grateful for the choices I made. While those few days in Bend were not pleasant to endure, they were in some ways my proudest moment. I think people should live for themselves, and do what they think is right, instead of falling prey to other people's will. Whether the choices eventually turn out to be right or wrong, you will never own yourself, you will never be satisfied with your life or yourself, if you do not follow your own will.

I have a lot of living left to do and I hope I can continue to put these ideas into use. I am not saying that I do not value advice and support from others. I do very much, and I do not deny that the support and advice of my nearby family has been invaluable. But you have to have the final say. I would like to be able to change my thinking and my life circumstances even further, but if there is one thing I have learned, you can't rush things, or push yourself into situations you're just not ready for. They won't work. I hope time will eventually have in store for me a life that is more in lines with the one I'd like to live, but I suppose I have to be patient and wait.

In the meantime, I have to figure out how to apply the principle of "Choose your life" into not getting frustrated and angered at at the health challenges I am facing that so much restrict my life. It helps to have a routine, and to remember what I am capable of. I am always on guard with my mind, trying to train it
not to linger in areas that will be unproductive for me. Time will tell. Until then, veni vedi vici.

Newport, Oregon - old post about it I found

Found this on my computer... it was such a lovely description/essay I had to put it on here
From Summer 2009

Newport: Combining Two Worlds in One    

After spending a day in the seaside town of Newport, Oregon, one can start to guesswhy San Francisco was the center of the 1960s hippie movement - it's just something about the water. Something about the majestic waves, the grand size of everything out on the West coast. It makes a person feel a bit more free, a bit more unencumbered. The same spirit seems to have been carried up the coast from California to central Oregon.

Newport is a city of about 10,000 residents that serves as something of a hub for smaller, nearby towns in Lincoln County. The ocean is its most striking feature; the water is visible the moment you enter city limits. Unlike some coastal cities, much of the coast is accessible through various parts of the city; the area known as the "Bayfront" has cute, touristy shops lining the street, and huge ocean views at any point along it. Go a little further down that street and you'll come to a state park with stunning ocean and wave views that you won't believe. The Nye Beach area is one of the largest beaches you've ever seen, along with some shops. South Beach has a famous marine center. The Yaquina Bay Bridge can be seen in the distance from many areas of the city; it is quite picturesque with many boats underneath it.

Gift shops of all kinds abound; tie dye pokes out from every corner of the city in various shops. A Beatles Yellow Submarine logo adorns a wall by the marine center. An old green VW van can be seen cruising down the streets. A "Baitful Dead" parody of a Greatful Dead t-shirt hangs in the wall of one gift shop, a play on the fact that this is a fishing town at heart. Signs annoucing clams and other fish compete for space with Ripley's Believe it or Not and other eclectic businesses. Walk down to one of many piers leading to the ocean and you might see people fishing for crabs. On another dock you may see sea lions lounging in the sun.

Newport is surrounded by many relatively rural areas; some of these can be quite a treat in themselves, with an abundance of trees, hiking areas, and wildlife. It is not unusual to see cows, sheep, even llamas on the side of the road. The sound of roosters mixes with the baahing of a sheep; the shrill call of a peacock mixes with the gentle ribetting of a frog. It is almost like being in another world.        

People are unusually friendly and helpful when asking for directions. Newport, Oregon is a city with heart; the ocean air seems to imbibe its inhabitants with a certain free-spiritness that makes the town a joy to be in. Located on the coast, it has its share of rainy, cloudy days, but it just makes the sunny days all the more special. Make plans to visit Newport today.    

Monday, March 31, 2014

Labeling Emotions

Found on my computer from many years ago. I don't even know if I wrote this or I was copying it from someone else who did, but it sounds like me and I would have likely  attributed it in my notes if I hadn't written it. All I  can say is wow.

On labeling emotions to help Aspies relate better to  others

I had a wife message me about her concerns with her husband, who is on the spectrum, misinterpreting her emotions. Her concern was:

“I have a husband, who is on the spectrum (somewhere). Everyday, he misreads or misjudges how I am feeling in response to a particular event or situation. For example, he will think I am *ill* (mad, not sick), when in truth and reality I fell nothing of the sort. He makes assumptions that are incorrect ALL THE TIME.
So, here are my questions:
Does this particular symptom of autism indicate only Asperger's or is this common with all forms of autism? And two, does anyone have an effective way of dealing with these misperceptions or dealing with his inability to accurately read my feelings? (I have tried to talk to him, but there is an obvious lack of language and social skills interfering with this. He walks out of the room while I am trying to talk to him; he won't look at me in the eyes; and he won't answer when I pose a simple question like: What made you think I was mad? And if he does answer, after my persistence for him to do so, he says "I don't know.

Thanks for your help,

My response:

Yes, people on the spectrum have great difficulty interpreting nonverbal communication and emotional cues. Probably the reason why he walks away and doesn't want to talk about it, is because he doesn't know what to say, and doesn't know why (especially if he is unaware of the deficit), and feels incompetent when you bring it up. When you ask "what makes you think that", it puts him on the spot and he probably does not know exactly what there was about you that lead him to think that way, or he is embarrassed to tell you. Direct statements about "why" often intimidate people on the spectrum.

In recognizing the spouse, on the spectrum, has difficulty reading emotional cues, you have to be very literal in communicating your emotions. I would recommend doing the following:

1. Your husband needs you to label your feelings frequently throughout the day, so he can associate what he sees (your facial expressions) with what you are feeling (emotion). So, as often as possible, try and label your emotions and connect them to the event that is causing them, "Wow, that really makes me happy (sad, angry, etc.). Do a lot of "feeling out loud." This way he doesn't have to guess, he can see what you look like when feeling that way, and he gets an understanding of your emotional reactions to things/events around you. People on the spectrum have to be literally taught, what comes intuitively to us.

2. Next, find ways to discuss how you perceive others around you are feeling (I bet that made that person feel ___ ), and when watching tv (Oh...he looks upset about that!"). This also shows him how you perceive emotions in others, and how you connect the emotion to the event that causes it.

3. Try and label how you see him feeling. Sometimes people on the spectrum have trouble labeling their own feelings. Especially if you think something makes him anxious, scared, or embarrassed; "wow...I bet that made you does me!" Also, they think that everyone feels and thinks the same as them. They have difficulty realizing that the other person may be perceiving the situation differently.

4. When he misjudges your emotional reactions, try not confront the issue directly, "What makes you think that?" I would try simply telling him how you do feel, by first validating his interpretation first "Honey, I could understand how you might think that I am mad, but actually I am feeling confused." This way you are not asking him anything where you are putting him on the spot; simply reflecting how you do feel.

The above works on making "feeling" more vivid and concrete in your interactions. We tend to take intuitive understanding of feelings for granted. For your relationship with your husband you need to be very literal in "talking your emotions", so he can understand what others would intuitively interpret. People on the spectrum need to cognitively figure out what we interpret intuitively.

For a marriage where only one of the spouses is on the spectrum, the barrier in "emotion sharing" is one of the hardest difficulties. The neurotypical spouse needs to be more explicit in expressing their emotions, frequently labeling them, and connecting them to what makes you feel that way. Verbally discribing what you feel, is a good technique to get good at doing.

The same goes for the spouse who is on the spectrum. Often their outward expression of emotion, or lack of emotion, does not match what they are actually feelings. The NT spouse can actually perceive the person as “indifferent”, “angry”, “uncaring”, etc. when they actually are not feeling that way at all. So, it is important in a marriage like these that both parties clarify and verify literally for each other, and not “assume” the other is reading it right.

Random Powerful Connections - November 2012

An old post on my computer I found about a random powerful connection from November 2012.
I haven't changed much have I ? =)

Okay so yeah I don't really know where to begin but ..... I did a lot of things today. Like left at noon got back at 10pm lots of things. Only one of them was planned. Well, two if you want to get technical. Appt at 1 pm on St John St. Took 1215 bus because I couldnt get up early enuf to make 1135 one which I took cus I didnt think 1215 would connect. BUT, the Congress St (#1) bus stops at the TOP all really along Congress, which is obvious, but none of the other buses I actually take do so I forgot that I could get off the SP bus what amounts to 5-8 minutes early and be right at the #1 stop. That was VERY convenient. So I did make the connection despite the SP bus being 8 minutes late. And I even figured out what side of the street to go on with the help of some friendly street denizens. (Is that a word?)

Apparently no one knows what to call it but "the old train station building." Although the bus driver says it's called Union Station. The sign says it  was called the Maine Railroad Building or some such thing. Never seen any one place have so many names!

Either way, it was BEAUTIFUL.  All old wooden floors , long narrow but pretty WOODEN hallways. Love, love, love. Reminded me of a similar building in Montana. Had appt. Was like neutral. More on that another time.

After appt. Three hour conversation with an older woman who happened to be reading the bullentin board above where I was sitting. Three hours! I can't even begin to go into this woman's heartbreaks because my heart and head are still processing. But man it made me want to HELP PEOPLE because it is SO REWARDING.

She needed someone to listen, so badly. She had so many people telling her she was crazy, not listening, not believing her. She lives in one of the worst apartment complexes in Portland (or so I believe). She has no or very little family, friends, support.
She has severe ADD, went to some stupid clinic with a stupid beyond belief psychiatrist that I won't even get into. Spent her life feeling like she didnt fit in anywhere till she was diagnosed with ADD at age 51! 61 now. Psychiatrist she has now sounds just plain abusive. She's so sensitive to the world, even more so than me it seems, cant stand noise of traffic, or smells either, complained about chemicals before I even mentioned it. Complaining of dizziness, fogginess , memory loss lately, did I mention she just had new carpet put in her apt, it was put in when she moved in that is. Poor woman! She goes down to the laundry room or sits in the stairs just to get away from it. She was wandering around the train station building because it was quiet and made her feel calm. I felt for her. Can we say, my life story? Complimented me up and down about being smart and a good listener and all sorts, I was flattered, but wanted to help.

Called the community counseling center on her behalf, offered suggestions where I could, and made an appt with her doctor at Martins point for her (thank goodness she has one, at a reputable place too) because it was something she had just had too much anxiety about to be able to do herself. Sounds familiar.

Person I saw came out to close the office down saw me sitting there  still gave me a quizzical look lol.

Left at 5, got the bus back to Mon Sq with no problem - it's the first bus in ages I can remember being on time. Went straight to gelato place, I needed energy. Friendly as they could be there. The girl I talked to last time was there. We had conversations about lox and the Broadway show CATS. I wasn't planning to stay for long but couldn't resist a good conversation with her. Probably stayed there 2 hrs. Went to WF cus I needed crackers and meat. The sweet air of independence , freedom , self sufficiency was with me. The walk to whole foods felt great. Wandered around there for an hour. Walked back up, air still felt great and I was as warm as could be , surprised to find out it was only 38. When it's not windy and you're bundled up and the temp's 30 or above winter can actually be quite nice.
I got the 24A bus back - the one that stops near my house that I almost never get - and it was only like 2 min late. So thankful not to have to wait. I couldn't believe it, Id been out for 10 hours, 10 hours! , wandering around Portland, on my own, finding things to do. So tired I could barely stand up when i got home. obviously.

I need to find a way to help people, to hear their stories, to offer emotional support . it makes me feel complete. and tired. but mostly complete.

tomorrow, going out again, busy day, will be happy on thurs to do nothing.

Aspie Communication and Connection - 2009 blog

I found this on my computer today from when I lived with a woman in coastal Oregon in 2009.
It is an emotional tour de force.
While trying to describe how much I liked my roommate there I feel like I did an excellent job of describing why exactly I have so much trouble with the other 99% of the population.
I have worked very hard to find ways to connect anyway since I wrote this and am succeeding in some ways but still struggle mightily in others.

Wed May 6, 2009 Siletz, Oregon

I have so many different emotions flooding me, that they are hard to deal with. I think the most prominent emotion is something like when I was chosen for the National Honor Society in high school, weeks before graduation. I was happy for about thirty seconds and then flooded with self doubt and discomfort. My image of a NHS scholar was not what I held for myself; it's hard to describe, but they were the "other," they were "perfect," in so many ways, and I was not. It felt like a kind of cognitive dissonance to be a member of a class and a clique at which I had always had some amout of disdain for and jealousy about. Wanting to be them and have all of the related benefits I imagined such an honor held, but somewhat jealous and therefore a process of "other-ing" them. Standing apart from them. Defining yourself as what you're not in an effort to be okay with who you are. Drawing lines in the sand, if you will. And then being lumped in the same class you had always coveted - to be honest, it was a bit of a small identity crisis. I resolved it somewhat quickly, realizing that it was somewhat silly to get so worked up over what basically amounted to a meaningless honor - especially because I was given it three weeks before high school graduation. Decided to accept it with grace and not think too deeply about it.

I remember this experience and this analogy as I try to process what is happening to me now. The best explanation I can give is that something wonderful is happening to me, but I am asking myself, is it real? Can it be trusted? Do I even deserve it? And then of course there are the worries if it will last, and then there are the worries about how the hell I will ever go back into normal life after knowing this is possible and having experienced it.

Humans do not want pain; that is an obvious statement. We try to avoid it when we can. But when you can't avoid it, you get used to it. And after carrying around a burden on your back for so many years, indeed almost all of your life, to finally arrive at a place where you can put it down - where you can see what life is like without it - it's almost too confusing for words. Do you dare hope that this can be true? Do you dare trust it? It can feel so foreign and so weird while being so absolutely wonderful at the same time.

At the same time, while you are experiencing it, alarm bells of the good kind are going off in your head and you're thinking "Did I just hear that? Wow" and then you're thinking, my heart is healing, my soul has been touched, this is like someone finally took some very special (hopefully non smelly) Scotch tape and bandaged my heart in all the right places. And you just can't believe it's happening and you don't know what to think.

It's all the times in my life where I thought "Why can't people be more like X," and "Why can't they understand when I X," and "Why can't they care?" and all the extreme jealousy I had when seeing how other people were treated, and reading blogs about autism parents who doted on and clearly understood every aspect of their kids and getting so depressed sometimes from them out of envy, and then coming here and feeling - wow - all my needs are being taken care of. I don't feel jealous. I don't feel wanting. I don't feel envious when she talks to other people because she talks to me in exactly the same way. I feel a whole person in her eyes. I feel valued. I feel like I'm worth something. It is oh my God the most amazing feeling. But such a foreign one.

I am amazed by how much I like her, by how similar we seem to be, by how well we seem to get along. She is the embodiment of a million different things I had always dreamed of in a person, and I am amazed by getting to live with her.

She is so emotionally intelligent, and intellectually intelligent, and that's not a combination I have often seen.

She has the best sense of humor I have ever seen in a person. She is logical, She is compassionate, she is understanding, she is intelligent; she is passionate. Her words positively sparkle. She has a way of talking that puts you at ease so much. She RADIATES joy, peace, calm. She radiates understanding. She works through problems in a logical way. She does NOT make me feel like a bother or a problem or in the way in any way. She makes feel understood, appreciated, helpful even. She talks to me like an equal. Everything about her has a way of telling you that you are important, you matter, but it's not only that, talking to her basically silences all the unquiet parts of me, it just makes me feel all right. It's like a spell has been put on me. The spell of human connectedness?

She has the ability to laugh at ANYTHING. Now, most people say they try to make light of things and keep a sense of humor, but she actually does. I am stunned and awed by that. She doesn't make anything into a big deal. She is very accepting of just any problem you could imagine and thinks and talks about it very logically and compassionately.

And it's little things. I tried keeping notes the last couple days. Random things like:

1. When she was going to have a client at the house for a massage, she made sure to prepare me ahead of time and tell me very explicitly what she expected of me, ie, no noise, make sure the bathroom is clean, etc. But she even went so far and was emotionally honest enough and comfortable enough with both herself and me to tell me in a perfectly normal tone of voice - not embarassed, nervous, ashamed, or making me feel that way - to be sure not to (redacted). I might not have thought of that had she not said it, or I might have, but that's not the point. The point is she was comfortable enough to point out directly something that could have been a problem, instead of waiting for it to happen, having it be a problem, stewing over it, stressing over it, telling everyone she knew how big of a problem it was, growing resentment over me by the day, blowing it out of porportion and finally telling me to leave.... that's how most people would have done it. Almost everyone I've known. People will NOT talk to you directly. But she does. And she did. And she made it so simple. So simple. Just like it should be. Not a problem. Just a casual mention and problem solved. I am in awe. Life as it should be. Most people would be too damn embarassed to bring up such a thing, and in such a kind way.

2. Her tone of voice in general. She does NOT and has not  for a minute made me feel embarassed, ashamed, or scared of anything or about anything. She does NOT seem to resent me in the slightest. She has never had an ounce of resentment, bitterness or tension in her voice, and I don't think I've ever met a person like that. Even when she's asking me not to do something or to do something - she says it so simply and there is that ever present quality of joy in her voice - she never sounds bitter or resentful of anything, and therefore I don't have to be scared of her, like I am of almost everyone. I can say things in the utmost honesty and not have to worry obsessively about how she is going to percieve it and how it is going to affect relationship and what repercussions there will be from saying X thing,and most of all think of a million different ways to phrase the same thing to cause the least offense  while tensing in anticipation for the usual negative response - it's simply not there. What a new experience. I don't want to ever have to be scared of someone again. I fear what will happen when/if I have to leave, but I am trying to  just enjoy it now as much as possible.

Most people, even if they're not consciously doing anything, you can see it in their face. As bad as I am reading faces, I can see the disgust, the tension, the impatience, the perplexment, in regards to just about everything I say, in one way or another. In some ways you get used to it but in other ways it never stops hurting. But it's a kind of hurt in the back of your mind you try not to think of much.

But with her, everything I say seems to click and register and she comes back with the perfect response. She validates and appreciates everything I say. Every single thing. Again. I am in awe. How is this possible?

She doesn't resent it when I ask too many questions. She doesn't ascribe hidden motives to what I'm saying. She is never impatient. She never makes me feel - anything bad. She never gives any sign that what I am saying is unimportant to her in any way.

She told me I didn't have to use the dish soap if I didn't want to and could wash the pan with very hot water. She realized when I asked about if you needed soap to wash the pan that I was worried about the possible smell of the soap without me even having to say so, and she did not mock me for it, she did not get impatient, she gave no signs of thinking it crazy, she did not assign any negative value to it. Instead, she understood, she ACCEPTED, she VALIDATED, she came up with an alternative solution, she didn't JUDGE. How is this possible?

I feel like Alice stepping down the rabbit hole.

It's a parallel universe, it's got to be. Ha.

This is what I've always wanted, but it feels so unbelievably strange that I can't even tell you.

3. Etc.

She asks how I am every day! Sincerely. My gosh, that feels good. It's been years since anyone did that. It's again a dream.

She isn't put off by my anxiety, or doesn't seem like it. We have long and interesting conversations. And she isn't put off by  the fact that I can't seem to sit still and fidget and can't stop moving. She isn't put off by my intensity, she isn't affected by my sometimes anxious tone of voice. She is intense and passionate herself. It is amazing.

She takes me seriously. Every symptom, everything I say. There is no poopahhing or exasperation. She takes everything I say seriously. It is weird and amazing.

I can talk about sensitive issues without a HINT of self consciousness. I've never been able to do that with anyone before. gosh - conversation without drama is so amazing.

She is the most emotionally honest person I have ever known. She is the most passionate and vivid and open person I have ever known. Her emotions are visible and understandable. I don't feel emotionally shut out like 99.9999999999% of people. I see myself in her. I am so touched by the emotions radiating from her. It is so gratifying to look at her and realize - I understand the emotion she is feeling! I experience it too! To have that feeling of connection and realization instead of a constant feeling of otherness - I have no words for it. Her face and emotions are readable while most people's are completely inscrutable, the latter of which of course causes me a large amount of anxiety.  
For most of my life people have been telling me I try to manipulate people simply by making my needs known and asking people to be explicit about what they want from me. I was beginning to think it simply wasn't possible for people to do this for me, and for me to find a living situation and a person that I could get along with, that would meet my needs without
making the other person crazy. To find someone who could tell me what they needed me to do so they could be okay with me since God knows I can't guess, and who wouldn't resent the extra work of being explicit in this way. And it appears I have found such a person. It's .... wow.

It's like something's being opened in me that's been shut for a very long time. That's never really been opened in the first place. I don't feel it as much as I would like - cognitively, emotionally, I've felt, well, more than a little on the brain dead/brain fogged side since I got here, and there are a lot of things I am realizing and appreciating cognitvely that my emotions haven't really caught up to yet. But perhaps then I have too many defenses up and can't let myself feel them - who knows - either way I appreciate it - because even if I can only feel it at a level of 10 or 20% - it's sure a heck of a lot better than zero.

She talks to me in the exact same way as she'd talk to anyone else. I have not ever known someone in my life that treated me the same way they treated their friends. People never seem to know what to do with me. They are always put off by me. They always make allowances somehow for me, thinking they have to either talk down to me or talk in some other unnatural kind of way. They're never relaxed around me. It drives me CRAZY CRAZY and it has all my life. Another thing I've had to learn how to ignore but frankly I've had very little success ignoring it other than just trying to stay away from people completely as much as I can. To be treated and talked to the same way as other people, is more gratifying than you could imagine. To have her be open with me emotionally in all ways - After being shut out for as long as I can remember from anyone's emotional life - this is like an emotional feast, an emotional tour de force, in a good way.  

So many things have been changed about my life, so many things have been thrown into upheaval, but talking to her has kept me level headed and largely unconcerned - it's like all my emotional needs for once are being taken care of so I don't have to go into panic mode like I usually do.

All I know is I need to appreciate this while I have it.    


I just realized something rather interesting.

I was thinking more about my roommate and the way she communicates with me. And I realized something.

It clicked when she said something like "Just so you know, you probably shouldn't leave the chicken out for too long," telling me I should put the chicken we just bought away.

Once again, I noted the way in which she said it. She takes such care to say *everything* in such a non-offensive, friendly way. Adding the "Just so you know" or "I thought I should tell you that" or whatever it is before telling me something she wants me to do makes it again sound less like a demand or something one should be resentful for and more like just.... what it is. No drama, just... I don't know....respect?

Similarly, I realized fully for the first time how her style of communication satisfies every emotional need I have ever had in every way I ever dreamed of someone communicating - and how that completely changes the way *I* communicate with her, and my personality in doing so - for the better.

I have a tendency it seems to get angry, annoyed, irritated, whatever at people awfully fast. Faster than I would like. People just often drive me crazy. The communication gap has always seemed too wide - I just could never quite get what they were saying, and I always seemed to reply to what they said in a way that angered them, for reasons I could never quite understand. To make it simple: other people angered me and I couldn't understand what they were trying to say; I angered them and they couldn't figure out what I meant to say. An impasse.

There are two chief reasons that just about every person in the world drives me insane.
They both stem from the Aspie lack of ability to understand and interpret nuance, especially nonverbal nuance or language in communications; to interpret intent; to read other people's desires or feelings without verbal language.

One is emotions. People are never emotional enough for me. That is, they do not show their emotions and feelings in verbal ways, or they do not show them in ways I can interpret nonverbally. I am a very emotional person who has a strong need to have my emotions validated and acknowledged by others. If I am communicating with someone and I tell a story, it's the emotional part of it that matters to me, not the practical part. I get very, very frustrated by people who do not respond to or acknowledge the emotions that I express. If I am sad, hurt, or otherwise seeking comfort, I have had a VERY VERY hard time with not being able to understand that other people might feel bad for me and have empathy or sympathy, but they refuse to show it. In other words, I can't tell someone else is acknowledging my emotions. nonverbally, or in an implicit (previously understood) way.
And so I keep on feeling isolated, miserable, and so on, only 10 times worse because I think the person doesn't care, is snubbing me ,a nd so on.

The second is understanding.
Many times I have said to people I am close to, when having a discussion about any of a variety of topics, if you would just say " I understand, BUT..." and then say what you're saying, I would be fine and the discussion would proceed normally. But if I say something and the other person doesn't acknowledge it and just follows with a statement that completely disagrees with what I just said, I will often go crazy. I will start yelling or crying - it feels like I have just been completely misunderstood and what I said disregarded. I don't understand that them understanding what I said is supposed to be implicit. I can't know if they understood me unless they say so. And I cannot tolerate being misunderstood. Emotionally it plunges me into despair.
It is just one of those triggers. I had a childhood with a speech impediment and a social development disorder - therefore I grew up used to people not physically understanding what I was saying, and definitely used to people not emotionally understanding what I was saying. Add this to my theory of mind problems with Asperger's - I don't know what other people understand or know, I only know what is in my own mind - and I have NEVER taken someone understanding what I am saying for granted. Therefore, I really need people to interject those extra few words to acknowledge what I said - about any issue , really - before responding to it. If they don't, the vast majority of the time, I get very angry, upset or frustrated, as much as I try not to. This has led to trying to avoid a lot of communications due to this problem.

When I think back on it I think nearly all of my communication difficulties or tension with people, at least people I know well rather than just casual acquaintances, was due to this simple tenet: I tend to get very defensive very quickly, and I tend to be somewhat quick to anger if I think someone is not understanding what I am saying, or misinterpreting what I'm saying, or making incorrect statements about me. Part of that anger stems from the enormous amount of resentment I am carrying around from spending almost an entire lifetime being misunderstood, of being lonely, of not having anyone who I felt understood who I was. And of not being able to understand what they feel either. It is a feeling of being cut off from other people and the world that is quite unpleasant. And so when the inevitable miscommunication occurs, it reminds me of this, this bitterness, this resentment, and that makes me angry. Therefore my response to the person who made the gaffe might be or quite often will be out of porportion to what they actually sad or did. This is not something I like or am proud of but I am starting to realize why things happen the way they do.

It is possible that my tone of voice or attitude could be construed as a lot more negative, irritable and offensive than I ever realized it was, just because I'm in this constant state of frustration, anger and fear because I feel like no one ever is understanding the things I feel it is essential for them to understand - or the more likely scenario of they understand it fine but are not able to communicate that understanding in a way that I can pick up on. So they get hurt or offended that I didn't pick up on their positive, caring vibes and got offended instead; i get hurt and offended by interpreting the message wrong and thinkign they don't care or understand. It's a negative cycle to be sure.

This doesn't happen with EVERY single interaction, and rarely with strangers, but does a lot with people I know.

The reason I bring this up:

I realized that NONE of this , that is none of the negative reactions, have been happening with my roommate. I have been keeping mental note of all the amazing ways in which she communicates in exactly the way I need it. And I still can't quite believe it.

1. The emotional part - she acknowledges EVERY emotion, thought, feeling. Naturally. All of her statements and the very fiber of the way she communicates is designed to acknowledge and emotionally validate the person she is talking with. It is just the way she is, naturally - but I have never met anyone like that in my life. It is so ....calming and de-escalating to hear someone affirming me, understanding me, and to be able to *understand* her understanding. Her tone of voice is filled with empathy, joy, affirmation - I usualy can't understand anything but the most obvious tones of voice, but I can understand this, and it lifts my soul. Her face, too, displays nothing but empathy, concern, joy - acknowledgement - and again - the emotions are such in a way that I can read them. That has happened all too rarely in my life. It has kept me much more emotionally level - every time my emotions start to escalate, and I talk to her, it just makes me feel calm, centered, able to move on. Not that I don't have any anxiety because I do - but it makes it entirely manageable for the most part. And I appreciate the lighter burden to carry.
It's not even so much what she says, it's not what she does - it's that she's able to communicate that she cares, and that just means the world to me.

2. Understanding. Again, with everything she does, she shows that she understands everything I say. Every single word. You have no idea how refreshing and wonderful that is. When emotions have a hold of me they are like a savage beast that rips me apart and threatens to devour me. The loneliness and isolation feed the beast. The anxiety coming from containing the emotion or feeling within me is terrible. It needs to come out. When someone shows me they understand the emotion, they understand where it is coming from, they can even label it perhaps - it strips the beast of all its power. It takes the fear and overwhelmingness away. It makes me feel connected and wonderful and warms my heart. And again, she does this , it seems, so naturally it stuns me. I mean, I have felt pretty bad because of health stuff lately and am often rather brain fogged, but even through my fog, I'll hear the emotion, the understanding, the empathy in her voice and be amazed and appreciative. I spent years and years, in college, before college, after college, crying because I wanted this so bad but there was nowhere to get it. I wasn't getting it from my family, and attempts to do so resulted in being told I was "manipulating" them, which hurt me even more; I tried to get it from various teachers and professors in high school and college, and got very small amounts which I cherished, but I largely was left alone. Dreaming of, and trying to imagine, what it would feel like to communicate with someone who actually "got" me, who it didn't seem like pulling teeth to communicate with.

And now I have found it. It is of course tempered by all of the other problems I am having health-wise, and I am often mad that I feel I am not ableto appreciate it as much as I should. I feel like had this happened a few weeks ago I'd be just in love with the situation, relaxed, and joyful all the time. Instead, in some ways, my anxiety issues are at an all time high, and I really don't like that. My brain fog makes it so sometimes things seem too far away to process or appreciate. But through it all I remain determined to acknowledge and make sure to appreciate the good things that have befallen me.

It seems in part that I have found a partial answer to why I seem to have trouble relating to so many people. I need people who are much more emotional, much more expressive, and verbally express their understanding. And after meeting my roommate I know it is possible.

The question i,s, can I use this knowledge to help me not be pissed off by other people?

I a,m thinkingthat will be difficult. The response is too ingrained. Perhaps with therapy but that isnt an option due to MCS. for most paer. Can I try to seek out people who I can educate, who I can use this knowledge to show them how to best communicate with me in a way that will make me less likely to bite off their head? I hope so.

To be honest, I really do try to restrain myself. I do not consider myself a rude person, I do not attack people verbally, I'm not really that bad.... I think it's mostly my tone of voice that I am not aware of until after the fact that can take on an overly irritated tone that can be offensive to others. I do very closely watch my words so as not to be offensive but to monitor both that and be aware of my tone of voice and prevent hair trigger reactions to triggers is something I find very difficult.

From Summer 2009


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Connecting with the Flow of the World

Random stream of consciousness writing so that I can save this somewhere.

I meant only to go to into Portland for a therapy appt this afternoon, but hoped I would find other interesting things to fill in the time. It was too windy (like extremely windy, hurricane force almost) so I didn't want to walk anywhere, even to the gelato shop. But I ended up finding some very interesting connections right at the public market, and later at the Jewish Film Festival that was at Salt.

I met a woman on the bus whose workplace gives her a significant bonus for walking as part of a health plan, and it was the first time I have ever seen that bus driver (who seems very friendly but can't really be engaged in longer than a 2 sentence conversation) engage in a prolonged discussion with anyone before. I went to the public market and while I was hanging out there waiting for my therapy appt and not wanting to go anywhere else because of the wind, I met this woman who Sarah at the coffee shop greeted very fondly, so it perked my interest. When she sat down next to me, I engaged with a comment about the weather than turned into an hour long discussion. She was very vibrant and full of positive energy. Although I must say her political and social beliefs most decidedly did not mesh with mine, although thankfully it took until the end of the hour to find that out. I will never understand people who protest at abortion clinics, let's just leave it at that. Had I more time, I still would have probably tried to engage with her in a discussion about it though, because she was respectful and interesting despite being blatantly anti-everything I believe in. Once, anyway. She apparently remembered meeting me before, which I did not.

Then I went to said therapy appt, and on my way back to the public market I saw Salt, the documentary institute, and a flyer about the Maine Jewish Film Festival. I did not think there were any that appealed to me that were not at the Nickolodeon, but this flyer stated that there was a film that night at Salt. So, feeling brave after my three days of rest, and wanting a challenge, I suppose, I walked in there to explore. I was given a flyer about the movie, and deemed that the viewing area looked likely to be tolerable, although not definite. The movie was about an artist with ALS and disability issues so I thought that might be interesting. It was 430, and the movie was at 6. I wanted something to do, so I thought, why not? Why not try it.

When I got back to the public market, though, I was drawn into a different conversation at the coffee shop for a while. There was a college aged guy talking very passionately and emotionally about his college teachers at USM, who were apparently fired and it's a big crisis that is in the news and etc. I was drawn more to the quality of his speech and his emotional expressiveness than I was to the topic, so went over to ask him more about it. Surprisingly, he greeted me warmly and in a familiar fashion and said "Hey! I really liked your poem." Apparently, he had seen me speak at one of the open mic nights. Who would have known. We ended up talking about philosophy and connection and things of that nature for 20 minutes or so until he had to go, but I really liked him. It is not very often I find people my age I really like. We exchanged phone numbers and emails and perhaps will get together again.

So at that point it was almost 530, and I realized if I was going to go to the film, I had to get ready.  (But first I ducked into the library because the newspaper said there was going to be some disability related thing there, and I wanted to see if it was any better. It was not happening, though.) So I went to the film, and met Alanna there, and it was a very good film. The chairs were very uncomfortable though, so I spent the hour moving between standing for as long as I could stand it (ha, pun) and sitting for as long as I could stand it, very thankful that it was only an hour and that the film was interesting, and quite compelling.

I commented in the Q&A session about the use of humor in the film being a distinctively Jewish trait, due to the fact that Jewish humor evolved over the years as a way to cope with difficult situations and to further one's survival. The director liked that very much because he said he had struggled to define what made it a Jewish film, and had settled upon something like that (I think, I didn't hear all his words). I later made a comment about how the film very eloquently portrayed the struggle to find meaning in one's life that seemed to be well received (although the quote from Martha Beck's "Expecting Adam" could have been a little over the top, it is hard to know.)

After this, I was drawn into a couple short conversations, nothing too substantial, where I was praised for having made "insightful comments," but the speakers did not stay for long. My face blindness came out when I didn't recognize the director when he came to greet me, but oh well. I didn't think that I was going to get a ride home (but knew I could call Rob if I had to), as everyone seemed to be from Portland, as it it's a pretty localized event. But then at the last minute, after all the conversations were over, after I had asked everyone else who it seemed appropriate to ask, I stood with a small group of women and one guy who was a reporter for the paper by the door. I asked them if anyone was going to Falmouth (thinking that more likely than Yarmouth)  and not surprisingly, they were all from Portland. But then one woman said, "Wait, why don't you ask him," referring to the reporter who I hadn't felt comfortable enough with to ask. It turned out he was from Cumberland. Very close to where I grew up. And he immediately offered me  a ride to Yarmouth. So, yeah, I'm getting good at this. The last three rides I've gotten haven't even been fragranced at all, knock on wood, and I've met some very nice people.

It was quite an enjoyable conversation we had on the way back (and I REALLY like that we live half a mile from an highway exit because it is *so easy* to tell people where I live. I still have no idea how to get here, but all I have to do is tell someone it's right off of Exit 15 and they know where it is.) I told him about my presentation, but naturally and organically and not forced, and he seemed interested. He knows Ani at the Jewish museum so said he'd ask her for more information. Daniel someone I think. We are both writers and had many similarities in our thought processes.

So, then I got back at about 830. Tired and annoyed at my aching jaw but happy to be doing something that brings meaning into my life... just as the painter in the movie continued to paint even after he had very little function left in his body, so will I attempt to connect with the world despite my challenges.

One line in the movie I liked was something like, "But I didn't want to paint a house on the ocean like everyone does. I wanted to paint something different." (And he did.) Maybe being different isn't so bad - if Van Gogh or Andy Warhol etc had tried to conform to what others did - if all of the greats of our time had conformed - where as a society would we be? Society would have lost many great and inventions and contributions. So food for thought.

Time to get ready to go to bed so I can go out tomorrow and try to make some more connections. I hope.