Autistic Invisibility

Autism might be “all in my head”, but that doesn’t mean I’m making it up.

Human beings have a hard time taking things seriously if those things can’t be seen with the naked eye. At least that’s been my experience. Mental health issues? You’ll be fine, until such time as you strip naked and walk down the middle of the interstate, or gun down some unsuspecting strangers. COVID? Invisible, so no need for masks. Global warming? Nah. It still snows.

Since my recent Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, the thing I’ve been struggling with the most is the sheer invisibility of this condition. If you saw me walking down the street, you’d assume I’m neurotypical 99 percent of the time. You might think I was a little odd because I don’t always make eye contact, and I often have a blank expression.

You’d probably find me to be nitpicky about things that you couldn’t care less about if you take the time to get to know me. You might think I overreact sometimes. You might accuse me of being anti-social and rather rigid in my beliefs. But I doubt you’d look at me and think, “There’s someone with a neurological difference who needs some support or the occasional special accommodation.”

Because of this, my needs are shunted to the side, and on the rare occasion that I do “act all autistic” it shocks or irritates or scares or annoys those around me. Autism might be “all in my head”, but that doesn’t mean I’m making it up. I certainly can’t turn it on or off when it suits me.

Even the people closest to me seem to be struggling with this concept. They can read book after book or article after article, or watch video after video, and it will seem like they understand, but then I’ll have an autistic meltdown, and they’ll instantly revert right back to assuming I’m being manipulative and childish, and that I’m throwing a tantrum. That reaction then increases my frustration and makes the situation 1000 times worse. But in fairness, it’s a lot to ask of anyone that they instantly shift their perspectives about me. There’s bound to be an adjustment period.

Insisting that you’re not being manipulative or childish is a fruitless as saying “I am not a crook.” Once someone has that image of you, it’s all but impossible to get them to see you differently. It’s really hard for me to imagine that someone can hold such a low opinion of me and yet love me at the same time.

I struggle to love people that I don’t respect, so I can’t comprehend how someone else can do it. Do I really want the love of someone who thinks so little of me? Not really. Maybe that’s an autism thing, too. But don’t most people want to be loved just the way they are?

Would I have an easier time of it if I were in a wheelchair? Definitely not. But at least some people might cut me a little freakin’ slack every once in a while. At least I hope so, or I’d lose all faith in humanity.

Why is it so hard for people to believe that I’m not willfully misbehaving? Why do they find it so difficult to trust me when I say that I’m not being intentionally rude? I can guarantee you that I’m trying a whole hell of a lot harder than you think I am.

Another thing that those around me can’t really see is that my energy reserves are all but depleted. That means I no longer have the strength to try to convince people that my autism is real. After a lifetime of not being taken seriously, I lack the momentum to get up every day knowing I’ll be called upon to prove myself or explain myself. I am no longer up for this fight. Sadly, there’s no alternative.

I know I’ll never fit into the narrow view of what is normal in this culture, and it shouldn’t be a requirement. But to function in this society, I have to navigate around all the things that nobody else sees. I don’t get to take a vacation from autism. I live inside every awkward interaction. I am forced to accommodate the impatience and irritation that others seem to feel because I am not fitting inside their prescribed boxes.

When someone accepts me and allows me to be myself, it’s such a rare occasion that I feel the need to thank them for it. Do neurotypicals get to take that sort of treatment for granted? I have no idea.

All I know is that I just want to be either accepted for the person that I am or left alone entirely. Take your pick. At the very least, don’t invalidate my disability simply because you can’t see it. When you do that, it feels like you’re invalidating me. Of course I’m tired. I have to resurrect myself from invalidation multiple times a day.

Believe me, I’d snap out of it if I could. I’ve been trying to do so for a lifetime. And I’m really, really tired of being reminded that I’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful despite those efforts.

Sources:

https://fo.am/blog/2018/10/22/visible-and-invisible-autism/

https://themighty.com/topic/autism-spectrum-disorder/autism-invisible/

https://autismchallenges.com/2014/09/14/invisible-autism/

https://www.verywellhealth.com/why-high-functioning-autism-is-so-challenging-259951

https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/the-invisible-oppression-of-the-autistic-female/

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Contraceptive Implants and Reproductive Rights

I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening up.

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s nice to know we deserve a day, but there are so many women’s issues that are still yet to be resolved that it boggles the mind. When casting about to find a topic for this blog post, I was quickly overwhelmed. I could have easily written about gender bias, sexism, domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, female genital mutilation, and that’s just scratching the surface. (Heck, I could give you chapter and verse on mansplaining. A coworker once tried to explain to me how to flush a toilet. The email was 3 pages long.) But at a time when reproductive rights are being attacked at every angle, I felt that this particular topic was appropriate. I hope you agree.

From 1992 to 1998, I worked at a county public health department in an inner city in Florida. To be clear, I did not work in the clinic. I have no medical training. I was in administration, so I was more focused on policies and procedures. I interacted with all the departments, and based on my observations, the medical staff had the best interests of the patients at heart. Unfortunately, they were forced to make some questionable choices due to budget restrictions and the political environment in which they were forced to operate.

They gave out condoms for free, and that was admirable, but they went for the least expensive condoms they could find, and they had the highest failure rate. I suspect that many of the people who helped themselves to these condoms might not have had as much confidence in them had they known. It could be argued that a substandard condom is better than no condom at all, but I believe that giving people the opportunity to make informed choices is even more important than that.

Birth control was one of the primary functions of that clinic, as it should be. Every woman should have access to all the information and services she needs to maintain her health in general, and her reproductive health specifically. She should be able to decide how many children she wishes to have, if any, and how she’d like those children to be spaced in age based on her own individual circumstances.

I know that during the 90’s, many women walked out the door of that clinic having chosen Norplant as their primary source of birth control. Implantable contraceptives such as this are 99 percent effective, and they can last up to 5 years. The only birth control method that comes close to that level of effectiveness is the IUD.

During my long commute to work the other day, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard a word about Norplant in a long, long time. Granted, I’m no longer connected to the health industry in any way, but surely I’d still have heard something about Norplant, if only in passing. So out of curiosity, I decided to do some research on the subject.

I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening up for myself. (Why, oh why do I always say to myself, “This should be an easy topic to blog about,” only to discover that there’s so much more to it that it requires days of research? Once I figure that out, though, I’m already hooked on telling you everything I’ve learned. Anyway…)

First of all, I should explain that Norplant is a Levonorgestrel-releasing implant that came in tiny little rods that were inserted under the skin of your upper arm. They were extremely low maintenance, highly effective, and easily reversible. They were also easily concealed, so the choice to use this method rested squarely with the woman. (As it should, in my opinion, because she is the one whose body and life are most impacted by pregnancy.)

Needless to say, there are certain elements of society that would rather not see women having that much power and control over their own lives. So much so, that even though contraceptive implants are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control,  the Mayo Clinic, Planned Parenthood, the World Health Organization, and weirdly enough, the American Civil Liberties Union, you can no longer get Norplant and its new and improved version, Jadelle, in the United States. Fortunately, you can still get an etonogestrel implant called Nexplanon which is equally effective. That is, as long as we Americans are still allowed to have access to it. And with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we are all reminded that nothing is guaranteed.

The first website I encountered during my research was rather hair raising in its bias. It was from a crackpot organization called the Population Research Institute. After looking into this organization, I came to the same conclusion that Wikipedia does, and since they put it so succinctly, I’ll quote them directly:

“The Population Research Institute (PRI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Front Royal, Virginia, US. The organization opposes abortion. They believe that overpopulation is a myth, and oppose hormonal birth control in females and vasectomies in males. In addition, the organization issues opinion pieces questioning the veracity of human driven climate change and the natural origin of COVID-19.”

Even without the Wikipedia assist, PRI’s ridiculously extreme and hysterical article on Norplant made it obvious to me that it shouldn’t be taken it seriously. It claimed that this creepy organization had “driven a stake through the heart of Norplant,” and that “population controllers have long dreamed of chemically sterilizing women for extended periods of time”. They go on to say that this contraceptive was so harmful that it could cause you to go blind or be bedridden for months on end, and that when women asked to have these implants removed, the “population control officials” flatly refused to allow it.

C’mon. Seriously?

Yes, some women suffered side effects, as some people do when taking any medication. (Check out another factually warped article by Human Life International, with its laser focus on the remote chances of side effects. It’s like reading the script of a badly written horror film.)

But I think it was PRI’s media campaign that encouraged women to engage in class action lawsuits, and even though Wyeth, the company which produced Norplant, never lost a single one of these lawsuits, after a time they chafed at the expense of these legal proceedings and started settling out of court with 32,000 women.

That blew the side effects thing way out of proportion, causing a media frenzy which scared a lot of people, and the upshot is Norplant/Jadelle are still approved by the FDA, but they’re no longer sold in the United States. They’re still available in more than 60 countries and they are used by 7 million women worldwide.

The Population Research Institute would have you believe that those 7 million women were merely “easy targets” that “lacked the means to fight back legally.” And just in case you aren’t buying that argument, they also say that it causes women to conceive children which are then aborted after the egg “fails to implant in the uterus.” In essence, they believe that life begins at the zygote stage.

A zygote is a cell. The skin you are shedding even as you read this are cells, too. Does that mean that any time we scratch an itch, we are committing murder? Should we hold funerals for every skin-derived dust bunny under the bed? If so, I’ll be busy for years. There’s no nervous system or brain in a zygote. It’s not sentient or viable. It’s about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

Anyway, it was awfully nice of PRI to close off yet another avenue of family planning for American women. Talk about population control! This organization, if given the opportunity, would force you to have children whether you like it or not.

Fortunately, it appears that most American women aren’t buying what these crackpots are selling. Check out this report by the Guttmacher Institute if you are curious about the statistics regarding contraceptive use in the US. Given its efficacy, though, I wish the percentage of women who chose implants when seeking birth control were higher.

Sadly, not only do you have extremists who would like to eliminate all forms of birth control on one end of the reproductive rights continuum, but on the opposite end, you’ve got the equally scary people who would like to exert control over women by forcing them to have implants as a punitive gesture. Women’s rights, under these circumstances, might be considered moderate middle ground.

According to the ACLU, Norplant is one of the many types of “contraception that enhances the reproductive freedom of women and men,” but they go on to say that it can also be “a vehicle for infringing on the reproductive autonomy of women.” Not good.

It seems that many judges and legislators attempted to mandate Norplant’s use by some women or groups. Some states wanted to give women convicted of child abuse or drug use during pregnancy a choice between Norplant and jail. (Let me state the obvious: Women on Norplant can still abuse children and use drugs.) Other states wanted to give incentives to women on welfare if they agreed to use Norplant. Still others wanted to require women who received public assistance to either use Norplant or lose their benefits. For a time it was quite popular to offer inmates reduced sentences if they got an implant.

I don’t want the government to decide anything about my childbearing capacity or decisions. It smacks of eugenics. I want all the available information on all the available birth control methods so that I can decide what to do with my own body. Men are never forced to medically acquiesce to politicians. Male child abusers are not forced to have vasectomies. Men’s public assistance is not contingent upon his birth control or lack thereof.

This article by the Guttmacher Institute reminds us that every woman’s birth control choice should be fully informed and completely voluntary. That is a fundamental right that should.be accorded to every human being. Even though our rights are constantly being infringed upon, it’s still shocking to me to contemplate that so many people would deprive us of these rights.

The article goes on to describe the horrific history of sterilization abuse in this country, which is against the law now, but has still taken place as recently as 2013. Then it goes into further detail about the many controversial Norplant proposals. Then it reviews the many ways that countries the world over have attempted to control a woman’s reproductive choices by either prohibiting pregnancy because of overpopulation, or prohibiting birth control out of a desire for more workers, soldiers or patriots, or to comply with certain religious beliefs.

The bottom line is that we women are caught in the middle between groups who want us to reproduce whether we like it or not and groups who want to deprive us of the right to reproduce even if we want to. It’s all about control. It’s all about power.

A worldwide commitment to reproductive rights is the only way women can control their lives and futures. Toward that end, please support the Center for Reproductive Rights. The statistics below, which can be found on their website, make it perfectly clear that for many of us, these issues are a matter of quality of life, and, unfortunately, the potential for death. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to make those types of choices on my own.

  • 74 million women living in low and middle-income countries have unintended pregnancies annually.
  • Every year, 215,000 pregnancy related deaths are prevented by modern contraceptives.
  • The rate of maternal mortality in the US is 24 women per every 100,000. That’s more than three times the rate of most other high-income countries.

Make the choice to read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Lost Art of Personal and Civic Responsibility

Just when you think society has reached an all-time low, society seems to say, “Hold my beer.”

Just when you think society has reached an all-time low, society seems to say, “Hold my beer.” Or, in the case of the stellar individual I’m about to describe, perhaps it should be, “It’s all your fault for not holding my beer.”

I just read an article entitled, Woman Who Got so Drunk at Concert That She Blew up a Home, Causing $15 Million in Damages, Is Now Suing the Concert Venue. After reading that, I had to struggle to keep from banging my head on the nearest wall. Honestly. The chutzpah of this child. (Well, she’s 26 actually, but she’s certainly acting like a child.)

To summarize, it seems that Daniella Leis, from Ontario, is in a bit of a pickle. She decided to go to a Marilyn Manson concert at the ironically named Budweiser Gardens arena and then she got wasted. Well, she’s a grown-a$$ woman and can do whatever she wants, right? But your right to be an idiot ends the second your choices put other people at risk. (That goes for anti-vaxxers, too.)

On her drive home, she went the wrong way down a residential, one-way street, and crashed into a house, breaking a gas line. Smelling the gas, first responders had to evacuate the entire neighborhood and shut off the gas and water service for same. 15 minutes later, the house exploded, and the resulting fire engulfed and destroyed three other houses as well.

Are you freakin’ kidding me????

The explosion threw burning debris 600 feet. That’s scary. I don’t know about you, but I’ve usually lived within 600 feet of a whole lot of other houses. I have no idea which ones use gas, though, and it would be impossible to know how many stupid, irresponsible drunken idiots are passing by those houses at any given moment. This is why personal and civic responsibility are so necessary.

Due to her own poor choices, Ms. Leis could have been killed, or she could have run over others during her drunken commute, or the people in the neighborhood that found itself unexpectedly ablaze could have been killed. It’s a pure miracle that the incident “only” resulted in seven people being injured.

On the scene, Ms. Leis admitted her guilt, and eventually she wound up being sentenced to three years in prison and three years of having her license to drive suspended. But now, having had ample time to sleep it off, she seems to be having second thoughts about her plea. The whole catastrophe wasn’t her fault after all, she says. At least, not entirely.

She’s is now suing the company that served her alcohol at the concert venue. She says they continued to serve her alcohol even though they knew she was drunk. Eventually, they kicked her out without determining how she would get home. She claims that the vendor should have taken steps to ensure that she didn’t go past the legal limit, and that she wasn’t driving herself home.

For a start, none of the innocent victims, and no one at the concert venue, forced the alcohol down this adult’s throat. She chose to take that first drink. And while she did get increasingly impaired, she continued to make that choice, and as a 26-year-old woman who knows her own proclivities better than anyone else does, her choices were informed ones.

Is it anyone else’s fault that she didn’t know when to stop? Do we honestly believe that this was the first time that she drank to excess? C’mon.

Knowing what path she was about to stumble down, she could have brought a designated driver with her like a mature adult would have done. She could have asked someone to call a taxi. She could have taken the bus, although I can hear all the bus drivers on earth as they collectively groan at the prospect.

At what point did it become socially acceptable to forfeit all personal and civic responsibility for our actions? Ms. Leis is making it sound as if she handed herself off to someone else the moment she took the first sip. Her guardian was supposed to be whomever happened to be in her vicinity. It’s as if she’s the human equivalent of a library book that just got returned to the library. “Here, total stranger, I’m placing myself into your hands. I bequeath thee all liability for any actions I take henceforth.”

If that’s an actual thing, then kindly wear a sign so I know to avoid you. I refuse to take responsibility for the strangers around me, especially if they’re adults. The world is not your babysitter. Grow up.

The lawsuit might hold water if she had been 15 at the time, because I’m sure Canada also has laws that prohibit selling alcohol to minors. But this woman was an adult who chose to make a fool out of herself at a concert, with catastrophic results. She needs to suck it up and suffer the consequences of what she has done.

I’ll give her this much: she most likely did not intend to cause 15 million dollars in damage when she went to the concert that night, but that’s where she finds herself now, mired in a mountain of civil suits that she brought upon herself. I hope the judge laughs this counter-suit right out of court. Ms. Leis should be ashamed of herself for even making the attempt. It only reinforces the fact that she has pathetic judgment.

In case you haven’t guessed, I hate alcohol. Here’s why.

Vanquishing the Little Dragon from Medina

I’m about to describe the entire disease cycle. Brace yourself.

I’m not trying to scare you off, dear reader, because the information I am about to impart is rather fascinating in my opinion. But if you are easily grossed out, or if your tolerance for disgust is anything less than moderate and you’re about to sit down to breakfast, you may not want to read beyond this point. You have been warned.

I learned something new today. There has been a pitched battle going on since 1980, and most Americans and Europeans have had the luxury of not even knowing about it. And yet winning this battle, as we may do soon, would potentially prevent 3,500,000 people per year from experiencing a painful, debilitating, and disgusting disease.

Dracunculiasis is poised to be the second human disease to be completely eradicated in all of human history. (Smallpox was the first. Three cheers for vaccinations!) And oddly enough, we have Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter to thank for this upcoming victory.

Dracunculiasis has been around for about 3000 years, but it disproportionately impacts the more poverty-stricken amongst us. It’s typically contracted by drinking contaminated water, and it is usually only found in subtropical and tropical regions of the planet, because the strange and twisted process that results in this disease requires temperatures between 77 and 86°F, so, historically speaking, we’re talking about Africa and South Asia.

A few things must happen before a human has the misfortune of coming down with this nauseating malady, and yet more revolting things must occur before that human can help pass the disease along to others. I’m about to describe the entire disease cycle. Brace yourself.

We shall enter the cycle by meeting an interesting little creature called a copepod. (We could enter at any point in the cycle, really, as cycles are, by their very definition, circular, but these guys are kind of cute, so they make as good a starting point as any. Give me a bit of credit. I’m trying to ease you into this as gently as possible. given the circumstances.)

Copepods are tiny little crustaceans, typically 1 – 2mm long, that live in both fresh and salt water. There are at about 13,000 species of copepods that we know of. Each has its own unique and quirky anatomy. They are really important to have around, because they feed fish, and taken all together, they are most likely the largest biomass on earth. Only krill can really compete with copepods in the biomass contest.

Copepods are vital to the planet, in that they get rid of a sizable chunk of the human carbon emissions that we so selfishly produce. Also, no saltwater aquarium could thrive without copepods. They’ve been around for at least 500 million years, since the early Paleozoic Era.

If you have eaten any type of seafood whatsoever, especially if it’s under-cooked, or eaten any creature that eats seafood, or if you have swallowed any unfiltered water, accidentally or on purpose, or drank water directly from the water supply systems in New York City, Boston, or San Francisco, you have consumed copepods. Quite likely you do so on a daily basis. This is often nothing to worry about, but as I said, there are many different types of copepods.

Some copepods have been linked to cholera. It’s a rare American who comes down with cholera these days. (But think twice before time traveling to the 1800’s.)

And then there’s the copepod that dracunculiasis cannot exist without. This little guy is called, interestingly enough, the Cyclops.

Yes, they have a single, large eye. Hence the name. They are also called water fleas, and they can jump out of water much like a dolphin can. I don’t find these guys to be as cute as some of their cousins, but I might be biased now that I know their role in this story, which is about to get much more gross.

It’s only fair to mention that it’s really not the cyclop’s fault. It is just swimming around, minding its own business, not plotting to become a disease vector for a scourge that most white folks have never heard of. No. The little cyclops is a victim, too.

The real villain of this story is dracunculus medinensis, a parasite whose name translates as “The Little Dragon from Medina” because it was particularly common in the city of Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia.

It is more commonly known as the Guinea worm, because it was also very common along the Guinea coast of West Africa. Fortunately for the locals in both areas, Guinea Worms are no longer endemic in either place.

So the Cyclops is swimming along, looking for sustenance, and he comes upon the larvae of our evil little dragon. He chows down, not realizing that the larvae will remain alive inside him, and will in fact hang out there long enough to transform themselves into much larger larvae. If the parasite gets very lucky, the copepod in which it resides will then be swallowed by some clueless, thirsty human.

Once swallowed, the copepods die in our digestive tracts, and that releases the larvae, which then make their escape by penetrating the person’s stomach or intestine. They then take refuge in the abdominal area for the next two or three months. During that time, they develop into adult worms. If they’re male, they’re only about an inch and a half long, but the females… oh, the females! They get up to 39 inches long. (Are you feeling queasy yet? Because it gets worse.)

Once they’re adults, they mate, and the male dies. (He probably wouldn’t want to stick around to see this next bit, anyway.) The female, all 39 inches of her, migrates to the human connective tissue or nestles itself along bones, and it continues to develop the larvae within her. About a year after the human has first taken that fateful drink of unfiltered water, the female worm decides that it’s time to go.

It doesn’t leave quietly. It migrates to the skin, usually on a lower body part such as a foot or leg, and an ulcer forms. Once the ulcer bursts, the worm, all 39 inches of her, emerges, still alive. It can take 3 to 10 weeks to do so. I’ll spare you the images, but if you are truly curious, you can find hundreds on line.

Whenever the emerging worm comes in contact with fresh water during this seemingly endless process of traumatizing its host, the worm releases hundreds of thousands of larvae into that water in a milky cloud. That larvae is then eaten by a Cyclops, which is then consumed by a human (or, unfortunately, a dog or a cat), and so on and so forth.

So what, besides trauma and humiliation, is going on in the human during this time? Well, as the worm emerges, it is wrapped around a stick to maintain equal tension. Believe me, you don’t want to rip the worm in half, leaving much of it in your body to calcify, causing severe pain and swelling. A calcified worm can also cause arthritis or paraplegia, especially if it has wound its way into the central nervous tissue. Also, if the worm ruptures inside you, it will cause intense inflammation.

It’s bad enough that the worm is taking its sweet time, but it’s also releasing a toxin as it exits, and that toxin can result in nausea, rash, diarrhea, dizziness, swelling, blisters and itching. Aspirin or Ibuprofen can help a little. But you can expect to be in pain for a further 12 to 18 months after the worm hath turned, so to speak.

But meanwhile, inch by inch, day by day, the worm gets wrapped around the stick. Patience is a virtue. The site of the ulcer must be kept clean during the entire process.

After the worm is gone, it’s prudent to use antibiotic on the wound. One percent of all victims die from secondary infections. In centuries past, entire villages would come down with dracunculiasis all at once. Some scholars believe that the “fiery serpent” mentioned in the bible was actually an epic infestation of Guinea worms.

In addition, since the year 1674, it has been proposed that the Rod of Asclepius, which has since morphed into the symbol for the medical profession, actually represents a Guinea worm being wrapped around a stick. Blech. I’ll never be able to look at that symbol in the same way again.

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a cookie. I will give it to you in the form of reassurance that we are making quite a bit of progress in eradicating the Guinea worm for good. That’s fortunate, because there is no vaccine, and once it’s in you, there’s no cure except to let it run its course.

Remember Roslyn and Jimmy Carter? They established the Carter Center to promote and expand human rights. Jimmy got a Nobel Peace Prize for co-founding it.

When Guinea worm disease came to the Carter Center’s attention in 1980, there were an estimated 3,500,000 cases reported each year, across 21 countries. Through the Carter Center’s efforts of educating people about the importance of filtering their water, providing those filters, and isolating and supporting infected people, the disease has nearly been eradicated.

This article about the Carter Center’s eradication efforts is what sent me down this wormy path. I’ve always been drawn to the macabre. It would take someone like Jimmy Carter to take on such an unsexy albeit necessary project.

In 2022, there were only 13 reported cases of the disease worldwide, and those occurred in Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, and South Sudan. Each of these countries are in the midst of civil unrest, causing health educators and medical supplies to be put at risk, and making it all but impossible to reach the people. This last stretch of the eradication marathon is perhaps the hardest. If we don’t stop the Guinea worm cycle in humans, cats and dogs, the parasite could get a foothold once again.

Still, we’ve made astounding progress toward worldwide eradication. Now is not the time to give up. For this, Jimmy Carter deserves our gratitude. (But if you plan to thank him, you may want to hurry. At the time of this writing, he is 98 years old.)

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t wish Guinea worm disease on my worst enemy. I’m probably going to have nightmares about it, even as I sleep in my nice home with its excellent sanitation and clean, treated water. The Guinea worm seems to have paused in its journey long enough to remind me that I have done absolutely nothing to earn such good fortune, and I should never take it for granted.

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A Desperate Plea to Future Mental Health Professionals from an Adult-Diagnosed Autistic

There is a tsunami of adult autistic trauma out there. We need your help.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me, as I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

Recently discovering that I have been walking around for nearly 6 decades with autism has given me a completely different perspective on my past, present and future. At first, my ASD diagnosis had me feeling euphoric. Finally! Answers! Vindication!

But the more I learn about my condition, the more reality is setting in for me. I don’t think I realized how profoundly everything in my life would be impacted by this new understanding. I wish I had more support, but services for adult autistics are very thin on the ground.

That really surprises me, because there are an estimated 5.4 million autistic adults in America alone. Despite searching online for hours, I couldn’t find a breakdown as to how many of those were diagnosed as children, how many were diagnosed as an adult, how many suspect but aren’t pursuing a diagnosis, and how many of us are wandering around feeling broken and confused and clueless about autism, like I was a month ago.

Naturally, I feel for that last group the most. Not understanding the why of things can be really isolating and upsetting. Having answers is such a relief, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. The majority of us who have managed to fly under the radar this long are most likely highly intelligent and relatively functional, so it would be easy for mental health professionals to assume we don’t need help. But I’m here to tell you that I really, really need help. Here are some of the issues that I’m dealing with.

I’m finding the acceptance process to be similar to that of mourning. I have good days and bad days. There is anger and depression for sure. I haven’t exactly experienced denial or bargaining, but I have no idea how I’m going to feel from one moment to the next.

Sometimes I feel joy because I’m finally finding my tribe, and the more I read about autism, the more I understand about myself. Other times I feel the harsh reality of the prejudices people have about autism, and how those prejudices affect me on a daily basis. One loved one no longer speaks to me, and I’m guessing that’s because she is not willing to discard the drama queen lens through which she has always viewed me. It’s a shame, because she’s the only person left who might be able to give me answers about things that I’m wondering about from my childhood. So in that way, it really does feel like I’m mourning someone I love.

It also feels like I’m meeting myself for the first time. I’m not sure who my authentic self is anymore. After a lifetime of masking my symptoms in an unconscious attempt to fit in, I’m no longer sure what is real. All of that is a lot to unpack, and I am mostly having to do it all alone.

Dear Husband has been extremely supportive and willing to listen, though. In that I’m extremely lucky. He has read quite a bit on the subject, too. But this is essentially one of those you-had-to-be-there scenarios, and I’m happy to say that he’s never had to be there before. I’m having to deal with a lot of guilt because of the extra burden this places on him, too, although he’s never said so. He’s willing to go there with me, but I’m sure it wasn’t in his original 5 year plan.

Looking back at my childhood through the lens of autism is clearing up a lot of confusion for me. The extreme effort my mother put into trying to get me to make friends felt like torture to me at the time, and ultimately it didn’t work, but I can understand why a mother would want her daughter to be more “normal”. To be clear, she never made me feel like I was weird. Society needed no assistance on that score. I just wish she had been able to talk to me honestly about how atypical I was, because then the “what’s wrong with me” battle that raged within me wouldn’t have felt quite as lonely, and maybe I wouldn’t have felt like such a failure at life. But little was known about autism back then, and I’m sure she did the best she could.

Services for autistic adults are, as I said, practically non-existent. I was on a waiting list for 6 months before I was finally evaluated, and now I’m on yet another waiting list to get help from the University of Washington’s Adult Autism Clinic. They told me it would probably take a year. Meanwhile, I’m barely sleeping because wave upon wave of new perspectives about my past keep crashing over me, and I feel like I’m having to tread water.

The need for these services are not going to go away. As autistic children “age out” of the services they now receive, what then? Do they get to fall into this crack with the rest of us? And the more adults get diagnosed, the more they’ll talk to others, many of whom will attempt to seek a diagnosis as well. You might say that adult autism is a growth industry.

From a capitalist perspective, it stuns me that there is such a potentially lucrative unmet need out there, and no one appears to be making an effort to fill it. Hence my desperate plea to future mental health professionals. We need you so badly.

I’ve seen so many therapists who did not spot my autism and sent me on wild goose chases that did not result in any healing or answers. I am trying to find a counselor who takes my insurance and has experience with autism. But so far they’re either not accepting new patients, or they don’t take insurance and want to charge anywhere from $150 to $250 per session, which makes them well out of reach to the majority of us. I’ve also looked for support groups, and they are, indeed, out there. For an equally high fee.

I know I’ll get hooked into the system, however flimsy it may be, eventually. But I’m struggling right now, and crashing into brick walls at every turn. Advocating for myself is stressful and exhausting. I cannot imagine how someone who is even less functional would be able to handle it. I’m sure many give up in despair.

There is a tsunami of adult autistic trauma out there. If you don’t believe me, check out this YouTube video by Orion Kelly about Autism and Self Hatred. It’s heartbreaking to hear this man suffering so profoundly. He does videos about autism on a regular basis, and they’re raw and vulnerable and honest and enlightening. But this one, in particular, is gut-wrenching.

Even if you don’t have time to watch his video, I urge you to scroll down on its page and read some of the 1,442 comments that it has garnered at the time of this writing. Being autistic can come with a lot of baggage. Spending so much time trying to be something you’re not while trying so hard not to be a burden is stressful and exhausting. That in turn causes health issues.

So much pain and loneliness, frustration and anger, confusion and depression is out there. We as a society shouldn’t be wait-listing all this trauma. If we want our communities to be mentally healthy, we need to meet these needs.

Speaking only for myself, I wouldn’t want to be cured even if I could be (and by the way, I can’t). What I want is coping skills and support. I want to feel less alone and more capable. I believe I can achieve that and still be me. But I need help.

I have this fantasy that someday there will be a clinic without a waiting list. This clinic will provide counseling, even to those who are self-diagnosed, and especially to those who cannot afford it. This clinic would provide prompt evaluations and teach life skills to those who need them. It would provide and/or host support groups, and, since we’re dreaming, here, it would even have a quiet, warmly lit café/library to hang out in when you’re feeling misunderstood and overwhelmed. Perhaps it should be called an adult autism community center, which leaves room for all sorts of services and opportunities.

Those of us who find ourselves in the lost generation of adult autistics have been neglected our entire lives. On the whole, this neglect was unintentional. Nevertheless, it happened. Imagine how devastating it is to discover that, even after a diagnosis, that neglect will continue.

We need you. Please don’t forget us yet again. We still have a lot of living to do. Most people, whether they’re on the spectrum or not, just want to live their best lives.

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The Unexpected Insights of a Newly Diagnosed Autistic Adult

To say that the dust has yet to settle is putting it mildly.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll probably be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me. I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

I’m barely one month into my Autism diagnosis, and to say that the dust has yet to settle is putting it mildly. As a friend of mine said, this is a major sea change in my life. I naively expected the waters to be more calm, but I’m learning that sometimes they can be very stormy indeed.

So many of my friends and loved ones have been accepting and supportive. I’m really grateful for that. And I have a newfound appreciation for them, because I can be a lot sometimes. I always knew that, but I don’t think I fully comprehended the extent of my “differentness” until now. Being around me probably requires more patience than I care to admit.

I’ve been observing myself closely this past month. I’ll do something, and then I’ll ask myself, “Do other people do that? Have you ever seen anyone else do that?” And more often than not, the answer to both those questions is no. “That” could be anything from farting with impunity in public to running my hands through my hair when I’m nervous. It could be laughing when others don’t, and not laughing when they do. It’s definitely being bothered or delighted by things that other people don’t even seem to notice.

I guess I thought that the diagnosis would be The Answer. The answer to everything. And yes, it has provided me with a lot of pieces to the puzzle that I wish I had gotten decades ago, but it’s not as if anything has been “solved”, as in, “Okay, we’re done with that thing. Now we can move on.” Diagnosis does not equate to closure.

I can understand why so many adults don’t bother getting an official diagnosis. Much of the autistic community seems to accept people who self-diagnose, so why bother? There are plenty of books to read and groups to join, so many of us can still figure a lot of this out without professional intervention of any sort. And, I mean, we adults have managed to muddle through for this long, so it’s not like a diagnosis is mission-critical.

But for me, this diagnosis has helped me figure things out. For example, I’m starting to accomplish more, because I’m breaking tasks down into smaller pieces. I still plan out the entire task, but then I focus on the first step, then the second, and so on. I’m not as likely to be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis that way. That’s a good tool to have in my toolbox.

I wanted an official diagnosis because, silly me, I thought having something in writing would make the more hesitant people in my life believe in its authenticity. “See? Here’s proof. I haven’t been having tantrums all this time! I haven’t been acting confused to somehow manipulate you.”

But no. Not so much. I now realize that the hesitant people are heavily invested in the lens through which they’ve always viewed me, and just as with Trump supporters, no amount of facts are going to make them see the light. It makes me sad, but I don’t  know why it has come as such a shock.

Another thing that I didn’t expect was how uncomfortable it makes people to talk about my diagnosis. If I bring up the subject, then clearly I’m comfortable talking about it, and I am hoping people will ask questions. But most people seem to squirm, especially if I’m talking to them face to face. That, too, shouldn’t have surprised me, because I now realize that I would have reacted the exact same way prior to my diagnosis.

The unknown makes people very nervous. And it’s astounding how few people know anything about autism. It’s a hard disorder to define, because there are so many potential aspects to it, and so many degrees of intensity for each of those aspects. No two autistic people are alike. Since that’s the case, autism doesn’t fit into a neat little box. It can’t be described in an elevator speech.

And I’m having to confront the fact that I’ve carried around my own prejudices about autism. I thought that most autistic people were incapable of empathy or emotion. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s more like I feel so much more than most people that it often overwhelms me. I’m not some automaton. It’s as if my nerves are jangling so rapidly that their motion can’t be seen with the naked eye, but believe me, I feel them. I’m here. And there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. I’m only just now realizing that not everybody feels this way.

I’m thinking of making a t-shirt that says, “Autism. It’s complicated.” Hmmm. Maybe I could sell them.

I’m only now starting to realize how few services are available for autistic people who have only just discovered this about themselves late in life. Naturally, the focus should be on autistic children who still have their whole lives ahead of them. I get that. But I’m not done with my life either, and I sure could use some support. I’m still working on that, but I can’t imagine how someone on the spectrum who is less verbal would be able to get past all these hurdles. It’s not easy.

I was utterly unprepared for how much of my life would get stirred up by all of this. I’m an autistic person. I don’t need to be fixed. But now that I know so much more about the how and the why of me, I’m setting firmer boundaries with people, and I’m getting mixed results.

I’ve been struggling my whole life to seem “normal.” Now, I’m saying things like, “All this noise and activity is overwhelming for me, so I need to go off and have some alone time for a while.” And, “I know you want to go to this party, but I’d rather not. Please have fun without me.” And, “I really enjoy hanging out with you one on one. Let’s do more of that.”

An exciting aspect of all this insight is that I’ve got a stronger sense of what makes me comfortable in any given environment, and what really, really bugs me. It will be interesting to see if I begin to feather my nest in a different way due to this knowledge.

Now that so many people know this fun fact about me that I’ve only just learned about myself, I can sense them watching me. I don’t think they’re worried that they’re going to “catch” autism as much as they fear that I will stop being me. Am I supposed to bulk up and turn green like the Incredible Hulk? I don’t know.

I’m still me. Yes, I’m an autistic person, but I have always been that. It’s just that I didn’t know it until now. I feel increasingly authentic. I can stop trying so darned hard. I can maybe cut myself a little slack.

Breathing room is a very precious commodity. It’s nice to have that. A door has been opened wide, and the fresh air is coming in. I’m sure I’ll have good days and bad days. But at least I finally understand that the ability to breathe is out there and within my reach. I may not breathe the way you do, I may not yet breathe the way I’d like to or the way I should, but, yo, I’m breathin’ here! That counts for a lot.

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Me and My Meltdowns: One Autistic Adult’s Experience

It’s humiliating and exhausting.

I was just diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in December of 2022, a few weeks before my 58th birthday. I wrote about what caused me to seek this diagnosis here. I’m rather new at this stuff, and I’ll probably be blogging quite a bit about various aspects of it as I go along, reading and learning and wondering what this means for me. I suspect that quite a few other people are experiencing a similar thing.

Check out my autism category for a list of relevant blog posts, and never forget that 1) I’m just one person, writing about my personal experiences with a thing I only just learned I had. 2) No two people on the spectrum are alike. 3) I am not a medical or mental health professional. 4) I’m not attempting to write a one size fits all autism advice column.

My whole life, I’ve had these meltdowns, where I cry hysterically, act irrationally, and feel completely out of control. The worst of these incidents can last for hours. They are exhausting and humiliating. I’m sure that those who witness them feel scared, helpless, and annoyed by them. They have caused me to lose a few friends, become estranged from loved ones, and I’m usually just on the brink of getting fired.

It’s only natural that people mistake these meltdowns for tantrums. They look similar at first glance. Because of that mistake, people often think that I’m being manipulative, because tantrums are all about getting your way, aren’t they? I even had one misguided therapist tell me that I was “stuck in my trauma” and that I “hadn’t matured beyond the age of 13.” I’ve also been called an “entitled little brat” and a “drama queen who is begging for attention.”

These misconceptions only add to my stress and frustration, and that, in turn, increases the intensity of my meltdowns. I try so hard to keep it together. It seems so easy for everyone else. I can probably count the number of meltdowns that I’ve seen in others on one hand.  And yet here I am with nearly 6 decades of meltdowns under my belt and no discernable end in sight. That doesn’t exactly improve my self-esteem.

The truth is that I’m devoid of any sort of manipulative agenda. During a meltdown, I actually want nothing more than to crawl under a rock and hide from the employer/coworker/horrified relative/random stranger that has borne witness to my acting completely and utterly unhinged. I have just as many meltdowns when no one else is around, by the way. No one throws tantrums in an empty room.

Afterward I feel drained and usually lose a day to recovering. It’s mortifying, and until quite recently, it has been utterly unexplainable. I constantly asked myself what the hell is wrong with me.

I’ve been told by many people that I should grow up, toughen up, and not be so sensitive. On numerous occasions I’ve been informed that I should snap out of it and stop taking things so personally. I’ve been called whiny, needy, weak, irrational, and a victim.

The worst one? When someone I love says, “For God’s sake, Barb, what is your problem? You’re overreacting. You’re acting like a child.”

I always knew that immaturity or manipulation had absolutely nothing to do with it. But I could never explain it to myself, so I couldn’t convince anyone else. Being so badly misperceived, of course, added to my frustration.

Because I have been incapable of turning myself into a more “normal” person, despite my best efforts, I’ve always felt like these meltdowns, along with all my other odd qualities, were my fault. I’ve felt like I was broken and needed to be fixed. And yet, as smart as I am, I couldn’t make any headway at all in those repairs, even after decades of therapy. I’ll never be accused of being level-headed. And that level state is all I’ve ever really wanted.

So what are these meltdowns like for me? The early warning signals are that I’m usually tired and quite often under a great deal of stress. I start to become more and more convinced that my mask of normalcy is slipping off, and I’m losing the strength to keep it in place.

I hope that I’ll become more adept at spotting these early warning signs, because at this stage there’s still a chance to avert the crisis. I can take myself to a place that’s less stimulating. Fewer people, dimmer lights, and less noise are all a big help. I can surround myself with soft, comforting things. A nap can be crucial.

But if there’s no opportunity to take myself away from the overwhelming overstimulation, or if I’m under a great deal of social pressure or stress, or if there’s a sudden change that makes me feel like I’m out of control, I can’t always compensate. If I feel as if I’m being extremely misunderstood and that explaining myself is really important, I reach a tipping point.

If I can’t take myself out of these situations, I sometimes think I can abort the meltdown by shutting down entirely. I stop speaking or moving. I try to get people to stop talking to me. This is not me being hurtful or rude or manipulative. It’s me trying to survive. At this point I’m hoping that shutting down will give me the opportunity to recalibrate so that I can cope. But this rarely works.

On a regular basis, I have to function under a lot of tension and exertion in order to keep up this façade of normalcy, but before a meltdown I can feel all of it starting to churn inside me like magma beneath the earth’s crust. There’s usually an exact moment that becomes just too much. I am unable to hold all this stuff inside anymore, and I erupt.

That “last straw” can be the pure frustration of trying unsuccessfully to explain myself, sensory overload, or big feelings that I can’t seem to adequately express. It can be someone verifying that they don’t think I’m behaving normally, or that they want me to change, or I get the message that I’m just not good enough as is. It might be that I’m feeling attacked, or that someone who has a certain level of control over me is not being rational.

I’m really grateful that my meltdowns have never resulted in violence or self-harm as they do for some people. But at this stage, the logical part of my brain isn’t working at all. I’m in pure survival mode. I feel like it’s the end of the world. It is impossible to reason with me at this point, and I’ve been known to say really hurtful things to anyone who tries. And that makes the meltdown even worse, because I then become terrified that my loved one will leave me or stop loving me, or that I’ll be considered crazy and wind up in an institution.

It may not look like it from the outside, but by now the inner me is curled up in the fetal position, in order to protect the emotional equivalent of my head and stomach. Usually my ears are ringing, and I can no longer hear what anyone is saying. I’m crying really hard, but the inner me is screaming in terror and wanting to call for help, but doesn’t know how to form the words.

Now the emotional storm is raging, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. Trying to reason with me at this point makes me feel even more out of control. The only solution is time.

Eventually the exhaustion becomes too much and I start winding down. It usually takes a day for me to recover. I miss work. I cancel plans. I sleep.

Often, people don’t understand my need for recovery after a meltdown, and they expect me to carry on with plans or errands or work or what have you. They figure it’s all over once I’ve stopped crying.

It’s bad enough that I’m humiliated and exhausted and I’m worried about how to mend hurt feelings, which is something I’ve never been very good at. But now you want to bully me to go straight into high-tension normal-acting mode on top of that, while my nose is still red and my face is all swollen and my head is throbbing?

If I’m forced to do those things too soon, I often start crying again. And then I’m even more humiliated. Why can’t I act like everyone else does?

Oddly enough, though, after I’ve wound down, I feel cleansed. It as though I’ve discharged a massive amount of negative energy and compressed stress and pressure. I kind of feel like a wet dishrag, but a clean one. My emotional regulation system has been reset.

Now that I have official proof that I’m autistic, I’m hoping to get connected with services that will teach me some coping skills. I’m already doing a lot of reading on the subject. And I’m fortunate that Dear Husband is open to talking about it.

Even though I still believe that these meltdowns can’t be stopped once they’re beyond the tipping point, I do think there are things that could be done to make them less horrific, if there’s someone with me whom I really trust when they occur.

This is definitely not the time to judge me or tell me I’m crazy. It’s not the time to call me names. It’s not the time to pressure me to grow up or snap out of it. Those things simply add fuel to the fire.

Every autistic person is different, but for me, what would help is someone hugging me really tight. (Preferably from behind so I can still feel like there’s an escape route if I need one. Making me the little spoon would be ideal.) And it would be nice if that person could calmly tell me that everything is going to be okay, and that they still love me and that I’m safe.

I’m thinking of keeping a sort of meltdown diary. I could look for patterns. What triggers me? What was the tipping point? Was I tired? Overstimulated? Confused? Frustrated? Was I feeling like I couldn’t express myself, or that I was not being heard? How could I have handled the situation better? What did help? What made things worse? What was I thinking during the episode? Did having something soft to hold onto make a difference?

Oddly, even without having learned any meltdown-related coping skills yet, I have noticed a marked decrease in my meltdowns of late, and when I do have one, it’s a lot less intense. My working theory is that a lot of my distress was caused not only by my utter frustration at being misunderstood and my total exhaustion from trying and failing to be something that I’m not. I think a good portion of it was my deep anxiety about not knowing why this happens to me when it doesn’t seem to happen to anyone else. I makes me feel so out of control. It’s like I’m handcuffed to a roller coaster, and I can’t get off.

But now I know I’m autistic. I’m still me, and I’m still riding that roller coaster, but the handcuffs are off. In addition, I have a greater understanding of how this roller coaster functions. Knowledge makes me feel a bit less powerless.

I’m not sure that all my loved ones get how epic this change is for me. I’m not saying I’m cured. In fact, I’m comfortable with my newly discovered neurodiversity. A cure is not necessary (or even possible). Coping skills are.

I’m definitely not saying I’ll never have a meltdown again. Far from it. I’m just saying that, from my perspective, even though my coping skills are not where I’d like them to be quite yet, on some level I know that everything is going to be okay.

That’s a new feeling for me. I’ll take it.

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How I Got a Grip on My Gaslighter

You have a right to your emotions!

For the first four decades of my life, give or take, someone who was a big part of my world worked quite hard to make me doubt myself. She succeeded. I am still dealing with the aftereffects of that gaslighting to this day.

In my 40’s, I accidentally stumbled upon a way to make the abuse stop, and rather abruptly, too. And I didn’t even have to resort to violence. I’m not a mental health professional, nor can I make you a promise that this particular gambit will work if you have a gaslighter in your life, but hey, it’s worth a try.

Based on the sources I’ll list below, I will discuss gaslighting in detail, but I’ll also draw upon my own personal experience to show you how I coped. (Again, your results may vary.)

Step One: Identify it.

First of all, just because you get into arguments with someone does not mean that that person is gaslighting you. Not all disagreements are gaslighting. Sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you learn something very beneficial from the disagreement and how you handle it.

Second, not all gaslighters are doing it consciously. They may have been taught by someone else that these toxic tactics are how one should behave. If that’s the case, feel sorry for them. They have led a miserable life. But do not use “intention” as your only yardstick to measure this form of emotional abuse. “He didn’t mean anything by it” is not a valid excuse. Especially since the very best gaslighters will convince you that that is the case. Gaslighting is never okay.

So, what makes a gaslighter? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Is this person invalidating your feelings? Do they say things like, “You are too sensitive.” “You are too insensitive.” “You are overreacting.” “You’re just saying that to get your way.” “You shouldn’t take it personally.” If this person is chipping away at your self-worth, identity, or perceptions, then she/he is very likely a gaslighter.

(Don’t even get me started on the “shouldn’t take it personally” thing. If it’s a criticism of you, it’s personal. If it’s a way to get you to do or think something you don’t want to do or think, it’s personal. If someone is trying to convince you that you don’t have a right to feel the way you feel, it’s personal. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO YOUR EMOTIONS!!!!)

Does this person act as if she or he knows you better than you do yourself? (For starters, ask yourself how that could even be possible. Then, remind yourself that this person cannot read your mind.)

Does this person try to define “normal” for you? Do they try to tell you how you should feel, react, think, or behave? Do they say things like, “You’re being overly dramatic” in an attempt to make you change your behavior?

Does this person deny the truth? If you are sure that something happened, or that something was said, trust your gut. Gaslighters will try to make you think your memory is unreliable by saying that the thing never happened, or that they never said what you are positive you heard. Occasionally that might be true. We all forget things from time to time, or have different memories of events. But when it seems to come up in every single argument, that’s a pattern with a goal: to cause you to second guess yourself and therefore be more apt to adopt their opinions.

Are you being made to believe that every single problem in your relationship is your fault? What are the odds of that? Do you find yourself apologizing even when you feel you’ve done nothing wrong?

Have you noticed that your self-esteem has lowered and/or your depression has increased since this person entered your life?

If any of the above resonates with you, there’s a good chance that you have got yourself a gaslighter. But just to be sure, perhaps read all the articles listed below.

I could go on for weeks or months, describing what my gaslighter did to me, but really, there’s no point. I’ll just pick one example. Any time I opened my mouth, her favorite response was, “You have really strong opinions.” She also had the condescending tone down pat.

Step Two: Question it.

Once you suspect someone is gaslighting you, the next step is to question what they’re trying to convince you of. Ask a trusted outside source for their perspective. Tell it to them straight. Don’t leave anything out. You’re not trying to “win”. You’re trying to gain insight. This person should be a friend or loved one who won’t just take your side because of your relationship, or perhaps a therapist, or an authority on the subject in question.

An objective person should be able to tell you if they would react or think or behave the way you did, or if they feel that your reaction is plausible. If the thing in question can be verified as a fact, research the subject on line, using well-established, reliable sources. (If you’re not sure if a site is reliable, run it through Scam-detector.com.)

Basically, you should determine if you are, in fact, wrong. All of us are wrong sometimes. It’s a rare person, though, who is wrong all the time (and most of them get into politics).

In my case, it took me decades to even realize I had the right to question what my gaslighter was saying. At some point it occurred to me that it was strange that she took so much joy in saying something that caused me so much confusion and self-doubt. Finally, I realized what was going on. She wanted me to question my opinions. She wanted me to wonder if I was wrong. She wanted me to shut up and let her make all the decisions. She even talked other people in my life into using that phrase with me. After a while, I had three people telling me that I had strong opinions. If three people say it, it must be right, surely? Hmph.

Step Three: Own Your Conclusions.

Once you’ve reached a point where you know the kind of person you’re dealing with, and believe that you have a right to think/act/feel the way you do about something, make sure you feel it right down to the very marrow of your bones, because the next step can be hard, especially if it’s not something you’re well practiced in.

Step Four: Set Firm Boundaries

First of all, don’t waste your time arguing with a gaslighter. They are way too good at it. And there is no point in trying to change their beliefs, because odds are they never believed them in the first place. The only thing that you need to convince them of is that you are standing firm in your convictions.

In my situation, I had been thinking about what I believed for some time, and she just happened to hit me with the “You have very strong opinions” on a day when I had the presence of mind to be unusually quick on the uptake. So I said, “You know what? I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve decided that everyone has strong opinions. That’s the very definition of an opinion, isn’t it? You believe it or you don’t. It isn’t as if I expect everyone to share my opinions, but yes, I have them. You don’t have to like my opinions, but I have no intention of checking my brain at the door just because you feel my opinions are too intense for you.”

And just like that, that particular tool was removed from her abusive toolbox. She never said “You have very strong opinions” to me again, ever. I was actually quite startled by how successful that impromptu speech was.

Don’t get me wrong. She didn’t apologize. She didn’t see the errors of her ways and change. She simply realized that that sentence had no control over me anymore, so there was no point in uttering it. I consider this a success because she wasn’t going to change, but I could, and did. I took back control.

You know how bullies seem to deflate when you confront them? My gaslighter ran out of gas when I turned off the supply. It felt as though, in that one particular case, I had thrown water on the Wicked Witch and she melted before my very eyes.

Oh, she went on to abuse me emotionally in many other gassy ways until she passed away, but she found it a lot harder to do. I had my work cut out for me with that one. But learning the coping skills I describe above gave me what felt like superpowers.

The only way a gaslighter holds sway over you is if you buy what they’re selling. So learn to shop elsewhere. You can do it.

Good luck!

Update: I wrote this post just before getting the autism diagnosis that I blogged about on January 2nd. This adds a little more nuance to my situation, because strong opinions is yet another potential symptom of autism. So perhaps my gaslighter was right about that. What she was wrong about was trying to bully me to change, because if these opinions are part of my autism, then that’s most likely not going to change. But I still stand by the (strong) opinion that I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions. If that’s the case, what’s the harm? But, yeah, I have a lot of thinking to do.

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/social-instincts/202210/3-strategies-stop-gaslighter-in-their-tracks

https://www.marriage.com/advice/mental-health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting/

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting

https://positivepsychology.com/gaslighting-emotional-abuse/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-and-sensibility/202110/how-protect-yourself-gaslighters

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-don-t-take-it-so-personally-is-the-ultimate-gaslighting-insult-according-to-psychology-experts?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting

https://positivepsychology.com/gaslighting-emotional-abuse/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-and-sensibility/202110/how-protect-yourself-gaslighters

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-don-t-take-it-so-personally-is-the-ultimate-gaslighting-insult-according-to-psychology-experts?utm_source=pocket-newtab

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Autism Spectrum Disorder: My Late in Life Diagnosis

I’ve been a zebra amongst horses, but I never saw my stripes.

On June 11, 2022, I was sitting in the balcony of Seattle’s Moore Theater with Dear Husband. On stage was Hannah Gadsby, one of my favorite comedians. (If you get Netflix, I highly recommend her specials called Nanette and Douglas.) I had no doubt that I’d enjoy the evening. What I didn’t realize was that she was also about to radically change my life.

One of the many things Gadsby talks about in her routines is the fact that she was diagnosed with autism in her late 30’s. Before that, she had absolutely no idea. She just thought she was “a little out of whack”.

The first time I heard her say that, it shocked me. How is it possible to be so different and not realize something is up? Did her family not see it? Her doctor? (And if you click on no other link in this post, click on this one: It’s Hannah’s description of her autism and how she’s come to terms with it.)

But I’ve come to realize that if your mind works in unique ways, you assume that everyone’s mind works that way, too. It doesn’t occur to you to say, “Hey, when this happens in the world, this is how I react to it on the inside.”

I actually had this thought not long ago: “You mean, not everyone perceives sharp corners as lunging straight at their eyes like I do?” Fascinating. But in my own defense, how would I have known this wasn’t normal?

In this live performance, autism came up quite a bit. It has caused a lot of really humorous misunderstandings with the people that Gadsby interacts with. She tends to take things literally. The subtle nuances, the role that body language plays in communication, and the whole “reading between the lines” thing eludes her.

When she said that, I thought, “My God, that’s me.”

She also talked about what I have always called “sensory weirdnesses”. She can’t handle being in noisy, chaotic environments. She prefers quiet places with very little stimulation. Her favorite sound is that of a tea cup finding its place in the saucer. She doesn’t like to hold bits of paper in her hands, and she usually throws those things away from her, rather forcefully, even if they happen to be the phone numbers of celebrities.  

Again, “My God, that’s me.”

(Well, I don’t drink tea, but I do adore my solitude. One of my favorite sounds is a page turning in a dusty old library book. And I don’t throw things away forcefully, but I confess I can’t wait to put things where I decide they belong, and quite often that happens to be the nearest trash can. No, I’m not OCD. My life is full of clutter. But everything has a plan. Unfortunately, that plan quite often makes no sense to anyone but me.)

Hannah also talked about the importance of routines in her life. She likened herself to one of those granite stones they use in the sport of curling. She said she does just fine if she has a set destination, and is allowed to quietly and slowly glide there. But if anything throws her off course, she’s completely rattled. She actually married her show’s manager, and likens her to the person who scurries ahead of the gliding stone, sweeping the dust off the ice so that nothing blocks its way.

That sounds like the perfect relationship to me. At this point, I had to resist the urge to jump up and shout, “That’s me!!!!!”

As soon as I got home, I started doing research on autism, and in particular, diagnoses late in life. (And for what it’s worth, researching things extensively if they interest you is a trait that many people on the spectrum have. You can see that I have this tendency just by reading my blog.)

I went to websites, blog posts, YouTube videos, and I ordered several books on Amazon. In addition, I took several free online tests, and the results were always something along the lines of, “You have several traits that mean you might be autistic. We recommend that you see a professional for a formal evaluation.”

I spoke to my doctor, and she referred me to a local clinic that, thank goodness, takes my insurance and does autism diagnoses. I then contacted them, and they sent me a ton of paperwork to fill out. Then they put me on the waiting list for an evaluation. They told me to expect it to take at least 6 months.

That’s the frustrating thing about adult autism. We are low on the list of priorities compared to the children. That makes perfect sense, though. Kids have their whole lives ahead of them, and I’m sure that early intervention allows many of them to gain the coping skills that I wish I had. Whereas we adults have somehow managed to soldier on for this long, so making us wait for an additional 6 months isn’t exactly unexpected.

These waiting lists are extremely long because we older adults are the perfect age to be considered part of the “lost generation”. According to Wikipedia, even though autism was described as early as 1747, it didn’t even get its name until 1910, when severe cases were lumped in with schizophrenia. Despite all the time we’ve known about it, autism is still a complicated, amorphous disorder that is widely misunderstood.

ASD (autism spectrum disorder) was first studied closely in the 1930’s. At that time, they focused on the part of the spectrum that until quite recently was called Asperger syndrome. Now scientists include these patients in the spectrum without making distinctions. (Welcome aboard! We’re happy to scooch over and make room.)

But it’s really hard to get a handle on autism because there are so many traits that you can have, all at varying degrees of intensity. No two people will be exactly alike. It’s not like having something visible and consistent, like a missing limb. There’s a lot of fog surrounding ASD.

It has taken quite some time to determine what traits are common in autism. The first two common traits identified in the early 20th century were “autistic aloneness” and “insistence on sameness”. (I have the former trait to a strong degree, and as for the latter, while I enjoy going to new places and doing new things, what I can’t cope with is when there’s a set plan for any given day and it changes. That rattles my cage and throws the entire day off for me. Sometimes it even renders me unable to form a coherent thought, let alone articulate one.)

As proof of the foggy thinking related to ASD, in the 1950’s it was trendy to assume that it was caused by what they called “refrigerator mothers”, or emotionally frigid mothers who did not show warmth, love, or affection to their children. (When in doubt, blame the mother.) This theory was not backed up by any scientific evidence whatsoever. Still, I’m quite sure that it caused more than a few mothers to hesitate to bring their children in for evaluations. The guilt and the self-doubt must have been awful. And the stigma persists.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s, when I was born, that autism spectrum disorder was finally determined to be a separate disorder from schizophrenia. It took a while to educate the medical professionals, though. It would be another 20 years before that distinction was made official (more on that below).

As more and more professionals got up to speed with the concept, it led to a marked increase in diagnosed children in the 70’s and 80’s. People began to think that it was an epidemic of sorts. (And since cable TV also became more prevalent in those decades, and since kids do love to watch TV, there was also a silly theory floating around that autism was caused by watching excessive amounts of television.)

But many doctors, to this very day, hold outmoded beliefs about autism, and/or fail to spot potential autism in their patients. When I think of all the medical professionals who failed to spot the autism in me, it makes me weep for the person I could have been had I known. And don’t even get me started on psychologists. So many of those fine folks sent me down blind alleys that it became rather ingrained in me that I was so messed up that I could never be fixed.

It took until 1980 for the DSM-III to officially distinguish between autism and schizophrenia. By then I was in high school, and had unknowingly learned how to mask my symptoms enough to “pass” as almost normal. Kind of. I hid in the school library a lot.

Sure, I was considered an introvert, a drama queen, a manipulative brat who cried to get her way, a depressed and hormonal kid, a loner, a fidgeter, a weirdo, a brainiac, a teacher’s pet, and someone with very strong opinions and absolutely no filter whatsoever, but hey, that was just who I was, right? No big deal.

No big deal for anyone but me, that is. I was constantly crying out for help and being told I was making too much of my situation. (No, I’m not blaming loved ones. They were operating on the information available at the time. But I’m here to tell you it sucked to be me, particularly in my formative years and in my adolescence.)

I’ve learned that girls, in particular, are quite good at masking, and that the older we are, the better at it we become. We watch what other girls do, and then fake it as best we can. But it’s exhausting, believe me. (That’s a subject for an entire blog post of its own, as are so many other aspects of autism. Stay tuned.) So, in terms of anyone focusing on the autism in me and teaching me how to cope with it, that ship had pretty much sailed for me and much of my generation by the time we became adults. There are tons of us hiding in plain sight who don’t even consciously realize that we’re hiding.

The more we learn about autism, the more we are able to determine when someone is a member of this elite group. Because of this, there is this idea that autism is on the increase, and that helps prop up the many myths that claim that autism is an epidemic that is caused, intentionally or unintentionally, by Man.

One of the most pervasive myths is that autism is caused by vaccines. That destructive story was first created by Andrew Wakefield, and even he has since debunked it, but the conspiracy theorists of this world haven’t woken up to the incontrovertible fact that there’s absolutely no relationship between vaccines and autism. Nor is there a link between autism and the fluoride in water, or any of the other stupid conspiracy theories that are out there.

I suppose these theories abound because people want someone or something to blame. They also would like to entertain the possibility of a cure. And since neither of these things are being offered up on a silver platter, they’re perfectly happy to make something up. It isn’t helpful.

What all this history and misinformation has created is a massive logjam of adults who weren’t evaluated as children, and who have never felt like they fit in in a wide variety of ways. A proper diagnosis would provide them with the puzzle pieces they need to complete the picture of their lives and figure out what they want to do with this information moving forward.

Autistic people’s brains are “wired” differently from neurotypical people (which, my whole life, I’ve thought of as “normals”, and understood that I would never be counted in their number). A few of our differences, for some of us, might require certain accommodation and increased understanding, but the majority of autistic individuals aren’t longing for some kind of a cure. In fact, an increasing number of us think that autism actually has advantages. (Again, more in another post.)

But the crux of all of the above is that I was trapped in evaluation limbo for 6 months. I woke up every morning and checked my e-mail to see if I had an appointment yet. But meanwhile I continued to learn about autism.

When you talk about autism, the first thing that usually springs to mind for people is the movie Rain Man. That’s unfortunate, because no two autistic people are exactly alike. It’s called a spectrum for a reason.

(And before I get too far into the weeds here, I should point out that I’m very new to this community, so I don’t know all the vernacular yet, and I’m definitely not endowed with any expertise on this subject. If I were, I certainly wouldn’t have gone almost 6 decades without the answers I’ve so desperately needed. So I hope my fellow diagnosees will cut me a tiny bit of slack as I get up to speed.)

People seem to think that a spectrum is the same thing as a continuum. In other words, they imagine a straight line, and at one end would be “hardly autistic at all” and at the other end would be “so freakin’ autistic that you can barely function.” That’s not the case.

I can’t explain the spectrum nearly as succinctly as Rebecca Burgess, a comic artist who also happens to be autistic. You can see her entire strip on autism here, but this panel is particularly helpful:

So, if someone tells you that they’re autistic, please don’t go to that Rain Man place in your head, and only take that person seriously if she, he, or they fit the Rain Man mould. This diagnosis is fresh out of the box for me, and already a few people have said, “You don’t act/look autistic.”

Um. . . there’s a look?

But by far the most disappointing response has been, “Everyone is misunderstood. Why is it so bothersome that other people think differently than you? Isn’t that a bit of overkill?”

In other words, get over it. Snap out of it. Don’t make such a big deal out of it. I don’t take this seriously and don’t support you in any way in the face of this paradigm shift. I’m not willing to see you in a new light. Shut up and play the role you’ve always played, so no effort will be required on my part.

Why is this diagnosis so important to me? Because the more I read about the various possible symptoms of autism, the more I realize that I have so many of them that it cannot be a coincidence. Here are some of the traits that I possess that are not uncommon in people on the spectrum:

  • Avoidance of eye contact.
  • Difficulties in social interactions.
  • Repetitive behaviors (I shake my leg when I feel stress.)
  • Very narrow and intense interests.
  • Resistance to changes in routine.
  • Problems at work.
  • Caring deeply about things that others don’t seem to care about at all.
  • Difficulties obtaining or sustaining friendships.
  • Reduced interest in others.
  • A flat affect (in other words, my face is often blank, and people can find this to be disconcerting).
  • Increased sensitivity (in my case, to noise, chaos, sharp objects, clothing labels, scratchy materials, and a whole host of other intolerances that most people find strange.)
  • Picking at myself when anxious (a mild form of self-harming).
  • Strong abilities in some areas and extremely weak abilities in others. For example, I can research anything under the sun and write you one hell of a story or report, but please don’t give me directions and expect me to arrive at your door without further assistance. (I lift up mine eyes to Google maps, from whence cometh my help. Otherwise I can barely navigate my own neighborhood.)
  • I overshare, and I don’t realize when I’m boring someone to death. (Are you still with me?)
  • I can have extreme and uncontrollable emotional meltdowns, often in inappropriate places, to the point where people think I’m unhinged.
  • I can’t watch TV unless I’m doing other things at the same time.
  • I tend to take everything literally and that’s how I communicate. (Say what you mean and mean what you say. That’s my policy, so I tend to assume that’s how everyone operates. This can make for a lot of misunderstandings.)
  • I’m often accused of motivations that I’m incapable of having. Trust me, I’m not that nuanced. I’m devoid of subtlety.
  • I’m usually the last person in the room to pick up on ironic humor.
  • I’m easily distracted, but sometimes I’m so focused on something that I tune the rest of the world out.
  • Often, I choose comfortable clothes over appropriate ones.
  • I find it much easier to focus on the details rather than on the big picture.

So, I have at least twenty-two traits in common with people on the spectrum? If I’m not autistic, that’s a freakish amount of synchronicity. I should buy a lottery ticket.

After waiting anxiously for nearly 6 months to receive a professional evaluation, I was finally officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder on 12/12/22, just a few weeks prior to my 58th birthday. I thought it would be a relief, and it is.

Finally, things make sense. I’ve been pressured to be more “normal” my whole life, and I’ve wasted a lot of energy trying, and failing, to do that. That has had a devastating impact on my self-esteem. Now I’m starting to realize that I wasn’t a massive failure, after all. I was being asked to do things that weren’t in my wheelhouse. It would be like asking a little person to reach up and grab something off a high shelf without providing the tools needed, or asking a whale to do the waltz.

But the things that I am capable of are pretty darned extraordinary. And now, with this diagnosis, I’m hoping to get the help that will allow me to expand my skill set. And maybe I’ll finally learn how to be comfortable within my own skin. That would be a freakin’ relief.

What I didn’t expect was that this diagnosis would also scare the hell out of me. It’s like I’m meeting myself for the first time. I’m seeing everything through a completely different lens. I’m still me, but… I’ve been autistic my whole life and didn’t know it. I’ve been a zebra amongst horses, but I never saw my stripes.

The herd has always pressured me to be more horse-like, and I’ve tried really hard, but in the end, I’m a zebra. There’s a reason why you don’t see zebras with saddles on their backs. They won’t tolerate it. It’s not in their nature. People who work in zoos don’t like dealing with zebras, because they’ll often bite you hard, and refuse to let go. That doesn’t make them bad horses. That makes them zebras who have entirely different purposes in life. They can’t conform to society’s requirements simply because that’s what we desire. But it’s nice to finally realize that there’s no shame in my zebradom.

People are already starting to treat me differently. There definitely is a stigma involved. It’s perfectly natural to be made uncomfortable by things that take extra effort to understand. I can be a lot. But I’m worth the effort.

I’m definitely more aware and appreciative of those people in my life who are true friends. They have been patient with me without even knowing why it was necessary. These friends are even more precious to me now.

I’m also realizing that there are at least a dozen people that I know and love who are most likely undiagnosed autistics, too. It’s not my place to push them towards evaluations. Some of them probably wouldn’t appreciate the massive life change that goes along with it. Some would be too afraid of the stigma to do anything about it. (And another thing I’m learning on this journey is that it’s not my job to solve every problem that I encounter, especially since not everyone agrees on what constitutes a problem.)

So for now, I’m focusing on me. I have a lot of work to do, dear reader. First of all, I have a lot of people to “come out” to. I intend to embrace my diagnosis and be proud of it, and this post will be a big help. That, and I’m terrible at keeping secrets, so I’ll find it a lot less stressful to just put it out there and let the chips fall where they may. (I bet that’s trait 23, but I’ll need to read up on it to be sure.)

Knowledge ought to be power. But it will be interesting to see if I get an increase or a decrease in blog followers after this disclosure. You’ll notice that I’ve changed my blog’s tag line to, “The random musings of an autistic bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.”

I am very excited for this coming year and the possibilities for personal growth that it will afford me. There are a lot of services and support that I need to link in to. There are a lot of coping skills that I hope to learn. I have so much to say about the many things I’m learning about myself and about autism in general that I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it quite a bit, mixed in with my usual random musings. I hope you’ll stick around for the adventure.

I’m also hoping that if anything I said above resonates with you, you will have a tiny bit more information to help you decide your next step on this journey of self-discovery that we call life. Some people choose to avoid discoveries because they link them to chaos. Others choose to embrace them. Personally, I believe that self-discovery is one of the many things that makes life worthwhile, so I intend to lean into this.

So off I go on a new adventure. Feel free to tag along, if the spirit moves you. Everyone is welcome. Even you “normals”.

Additional Sources:

https://www.autism.org/autism-symptoms-and-diagnosis-in-adults/

https://www.uwmedicine.org/locations/adult-autism

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A Chronicle of the Commute from Hell

Life is such a precious gift, dear reader. Appreciate every second of it, even the terrifying seconds.

The weather outside was frightful, in the way that only seems possible in the Pacific Northwest. I’ll never get used to the weather out here. I actually had to learn a whole new vocabulary when I moved here from Florida. Microclimates. Atmospheric Rivers. The Pineapple Express. Rain Shadow. Graupel. And now, Freezing Rain.

There had been about an inch of snow on the ground when the freezing rain started around midnight. This was bad news, because I had to be back at work no later than 7 am the next morning. I usually leave early, because if there’s even the slightest delay in my 38 minute commute, it can throw a serious kink into my timeline, and the bridgetender whom I’m relieving might get testy.

It’s a good thing I got up an hour early. It was 18 degrees out and the freezing rain was still coming down. When I looked at Google Maps and saw what I had to look forward to on my commute, I knew I had to bolt out the door. The traffic was already horrendous.

I am not a morning person. I’d much rather sit in a stupor for a half hour and kind of ease myself into the day. Instead, I had to spring into action before the CPAP marks had even faded from my face.

Crossing the yard to my car was a challenge. Thank goodness I had the foresight to put winter trax on my shoes (another phrase that I’ve picked up out here) or I would have hit that inch thick, perfectly clear slab of ice that stretched from my front door to the horizon and probably would have slid 20 yards past Dear Husband as if I had been shot out of a cannon. He had actually gotten out there ahead of me so as to warm up the car. (How lucky am I?) In order to do this, he had to chip away at the ice on the door handle.

Instead of skating past him in an unchoreographed, flailing, screeching dance of utter helplessness, I minced across the yard as if I were a baby deer who was learning to walk for the first time. I was thinking about how I had won the lottery when I chose this husband, and also patting myself on the back for having put a frost blocker on my car the night before. At least I wouldn’t have to scrape anything off the windshield before I left.

But then I actually looked at my car for the first time. I discovered that it was encased in ice. Had there been time and motivation, we could have lifted it up in one piece and come away with a car-shaped ice shell.

Instead, we had to chip away at the frost blocker, which had adhered so solidly to the glass that I despaired of ever being able to drive the car again. Once we managed to rip it free, the sheet of ice that came with it broke in thick, gummy pieces like windshield glass does. That was an interesting coincidence.

I’ll say it again: the  freezing rain was still falling, and it was 18 degrees outside. I was not living my best life. And I still had a 25-mile drive ahead of me, after approximately 4 hours of sleep.

In retrospect, the fact that I made it down our sloping driveway without incident was pretty darned impressive. The street in front of our house is very well-traveled, so much of the ice had been worn away. Still, I didn’t risk going more than 20 mph.

The night before, Dear Husband had suggested that we put chains on my tires, but when he told me I wouldn’t be able to exceed 50 mph with them on, I decided to risk the trip without them. Since I normally drive to work going, let’s say, substantially faster than that, that snail’s pace would have made the journey seem endless.

My car is all wheel drive, and in fairness, none of the cars I was to see that day had chains on, either. But had I known that I’d barely go above 35 mph, even on the interstate, I may have changed my tune about the tire chains. I won’t be making that mistake again. Tire chains are our friends.

The end of my street slopes sharply down into the valley, so it wasn’t long before I saw “Road Closed” barriers blocking my path. If I were younger and less brittle, I’d have called in sick and taken a sled to that hill. It would have been epic. Instead, I was forced to follow the detour signs, which routed me southward, despite the fact that I wanted, ultimately, to go northward.

After multiple twists and turns on residential streets in unfamiliar neighborhoods, I discovered, to my horror, that I was crossing my street yet again, now heading northward at least, but only about halfway down the hill. This was to be a long day.

I creeped further along this narrow road, which I probably couldn’t find again if my life depended on it. (Did I mention that sunrise was still 2 hours away?) And then the detour signs directed me to turn left. Apparently I was the first person to reach this part of the detour, because what I was looking at was an incline that, under the current conditions, was as slick as goose grease.

I made the turn and gunned the engine. In this case, that meant that I was trying for 25 mph. I was hoping that the momentum would carry me up the hill. And it did. Almost.

But then just as my front tires reached the top, I began to slide backward. And then at an angle. And when I pressed on the breaks, I discovered that they were frozen solid.

I won’t share my expletives with you. Suffice it to say that I was standing on the brake pedal, listening to the ice crack off the brakes, and thanking God that there were no other cars in sight. I finally had the presence of mind to pull the emergency brake, and I drifted to a halt on the shoulder of the road. Another foot, and I’d have been back in the intersection.

I had to gather myself. If I wanted to deal with this brake situation, I needed a level street. That could only be found at the top of that stupid little hill. Even though my backward skid had broken up some of the ice, it took me three attempts to achieve that goal. I let out a triumphant whoop.

Another strange thing about the Pacific Northwest is that there are sometimes stretches of road that make you think you’re in farm country, even though you know you’re still in the city. The transition is so abrupt that it’s startling. I was on one of those stretches. There were no houses in sight. Great.

So I creeped along at 5mph, pressing the breaks intermittently and hearing chunks of ice fall from them. Believe me, if I could have gone slower, I’d have greatly preferred that. But one makes do.

Finally, the brakes felt functional again. Because of that, this Florida girl got cocky. I was on level ground, so I let myself speed back up to 20mph. I felt like I was in a racecar.

When I saw the curve up ahead, I gently pressed the brakes and made it around the bend without incident. Yay, me! But after the curve, the road took me by surprise by sloping downward. Before I knew it, I was skidding again. At least this time I was facing forward.

I was too busy thinking about whether or not to turn into a skid to even consider expletives this time. I wasn’t sure if that rule applied to all wheel drive vehicles or not, and besides, every instinct within me was telling me to fight the skid. Meanwhile, I was heading right toward the hill that rose steeply up off that side of the road. Did I really want to turn toward that?

Brakes. Emergency brakes. Again, I drifted to a halt. I sat there for a moment, with my eyes closed and my hand gripping the emergency brake handle like the life preserver it had been.

I knew that if I called Dear Husband he’d have come and gotten me (assuming I could adequately explain where I was). But I didn’t want him out in this mess either. So I looked around, and saw that there wasn’t much hill left, and after that there was what looked like a well-traveled road with some traction to it.

I gently eased off the emergency brake and instantly started skidding again. This time, toward the other side of the road. This was really, really bad, because I had only just noticed that on the other side of the road, the hill sloped downward so sharply that if I plunged over the side, people would probably drive right past me without seeing the car.

I remember thinking that I wasn’t ready to die. And at that moment the idea of no longer being with Dear Husband was so acute that it manifested itself as a sharp pain in my gut. I was saying “No, no, no, no, no, no!”

I don’t know how or why, but the car righted itself and started sliding right down the street… and into the intersection of that busy road. Fortunately, no one was there at that moment to crash into. Suddenly I had traction again. Three cheers for traction! I got out of there.

The only reason I didn’t give up and go home at this point was that now there was nothing but well-traveled roads between me and work, whereas I’d have to get back on these crazy residential streets again to return home. And I knew that the ice was supposed to be melted off before the end of my shift, so getting home after work would be a breeze. Especially since most people had been sane enough to take the day off, so traffic was light.

Onward.

The snow had obscured the pavement markings on the interstate, so most of us were going 30mph and giving the lanes our best guess based on the tire tracks ahead of us. It was slow going, but uneventful. I reached my bridge only to find out that the sidewalks and bike lanes were covered with that same shiny, inch-thick sheet of ice that coated my front yard. Thank heavens for my winter trax.

I made it to work at 6:59, and my coworker was very relieved, because the other two bridgetenders who were scheduled to man the two drawbridges to the west of me had called in saying they couldn’t get here, and our supervisor was scrambling to find replacements.

The bridge was covered in brine and pellets, and this sheet of ice seemed to be laughing at all our efforts. Nothing short of a flamethrower or a jackhammer was going to get rid of that thick blanket of ice. By now it was 26 degrees, so there was to be no thaw in the immediate future.

Seattle was quiet. It felt like I had the entire city to myself. So in the afternoon, with no one in sight, I decided to open the bridge for an invisible sailboat to see what would happen to the ice. I was hoping to see the entire sheet come crashing down. But no. It didn’t budge. What did happen, though, was still kind of cool. Water started pouring off the bridge from the underside of the sheet of ice. The ice was still there, but now, instead of looking like a sheet of glass, it took on a cloudy, milky tone.

Finally the end of my shift approached, and my coworker, bless him, showed up early to allow for the road conditions. That’s when the phone rang and a frantic supervisor asked if I’d be willing to work a double shift because he was still having staffing issues.

Four hours of sleep, a death defying drive to work, and then 16 hours before I got to go home after having moved to a second bridge? Ugh. So I suggested some alternatives. While he checked on those, I started driving. Some of the ice had thawed by now, but not all of it. I made it up one hill without incident, and was about to get on the freeway when the phone rang again.

I looked for a place to pull over, because the supervisor was now asking if I could at least work 4 more hours, and I could hear the desperation in his voice. I said I’d do it, but needed assurances that this 12 hour shift wouldn’t turn into a 16.

He said something, but I didn’t hear what it was because I had to throw the phone down. In my attempt to pull to the side of the road, I had hit a patch of ice which sent my car sliding sideways down a narrow side street with cars parked on either side.

What a helpless feeling. I was screaming and cursing and all of this was being heard over the phone, to my utter mortification. I slid for two blocks. But at least, when I finally settled gently next to a telephone pole, having caused no damage to my car or anyone else’s, the supervisor understood completely why my plans had changed and no, I couldn’t go to another bridge on that day for any amount of hours.

I sat there for quite some time because my heart was pounding, and I was feeling slightly nauseous from the adrenaline. I always thought I’ve been acutely aware of the fragility of life ever since someone I loved very much died unexpectedly, but this little caper made me realize I had slipped partway back into taking it all for granted. Now the hyper-awareness is back with a vengeance. Life is such a precious gift, dear reader. Appreciate every second of it, even the terrifying seconds.

I think I was in a little bit of shock, because I have no idea how I got my car out of its soft little nest beside the telephone pole without scraping the side or ripping off the side view mirror. The next thing I knew, I was headed toward the interstate. From there it ought to be smooth sailing. And it was. For a while.

Something told me to call Dear Husband to ask him to remove any lingering ice from our driveway. I didn’t relish the idea of going up even one more icy slope. I had had enough.

Unfortunately, I forgot to mention that I was actually running early because there were very few cars on the road. (Because they’re smart.) So when I got to the driveway, there he was, at its top, just starting the ice removal.

I was having several thoughts at once. Abort the mission! But there was a car right behind me. Gun my engine up the driveway. But what if I skidded into Dear Husband? So, stupidly, I turned into the drive without gunning it… and of course I slid back down into the street. Then, since DH had gotten out of the way, I decided to take one more run at it, gunning it the whole time. But I slid back down again, this time with the tail end of the car sticking into the street.

After the six slip day I had, I just sat there, feeling hopeless, and praying no one hit my car, while DH removed all the ice. Finally, I was able to summit our driveway, park, and head straight for our living room recliner, where I stayed for the rest of the evening.

That night, I dreamed that I woke up and every single thing in the world that didn’t belong to me personally had disappeared. I was crying and screaming for help, and wondering if everyone I loved was just a figment of my imagination. Thankfully, I woke up.

The next day I drove in to work. As one does. A few hours later, Dear Husband sent me this photograph. That particular ditch is very close to our house. This could have been me. I’m so glad it wasn’t.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5