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:

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Loving Someone through Depression

There is help out there.

When I’m clinically depressed, I pretty much can’t work up the energy to care about anything. It feels as though the air is as thick as chocolate pudding, and because of that it takes a lot more effort to do even the most basic of things. All I want to do is get fetal in bed with the lights off and the sheets drawn up over my head while I weep and beat myself up mentally.

This is my tried and true pattern, and it has been something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Yes, I’ve seen therapists, and they really do help, but they’re hard to find thanks to this pandemic. But I hope you’ll still find the strength to try. There is help out there for you, in the form of psychologists, psychiatrists, support groups, and suicide prevention, and it is said that 90% of the people who seek this help find that it does make them feel better.

No two people have the exact same type of depression, so I hope you won’t use this as some sort of yardstick. It’s a moot point, though, because today my focus is not on me, but on the people I suck into my depressive undertow. This is not something I could effectively contemplate in the throes of depression, because I can barely focus on self care, so stretching the old compassion muscles is a bridge too far. (And trust me, I beat myself up about that, too.)

Frankly, I’ve never really had to think about how my depression impacts others, because most of the people in my life are also prone to depression, so they get it. They get me. I do derive a small bit of comfort from that. It is such a relief to be understood even if you feel like you can’t be helped. There are no atheists in foxholes. Or something. Whatever.

It’s been my experience that those who have never suffered from depression seem to have a whole host of incorrect assumptions about it, such as:

  • You should be able to snap out of it.
  • You’re doing this to get attention.
  • You’re doing this to manipulate someone else.
  • You’re lazy.
  • You aren’t even trying.
  • You just need to toughen up.
  • You are just selfish and don’t want to carry your own weight.
  • You’re being a baby/brat/b!tch.
  • You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
  • You’re using it as an excuse to do nothing.
  • You’re whiny.
  • You’re Needy.
  • You’re acting like a victim.
  • You’re weak.
  • You’re irrational.
  • You are trying to make me miserable.
  • You just want an excuse to take pills.
  • You just don’t want to go to work.

Let me start off by saying that none of these statements, not a single one of them, improves the situation when they come out of the mouth of someone you love. In fact, they make you feel a million times worse, because you know they don’t understand. And there’s nothing quite so draining as trying to justify yourself to someone who doesn’t get it.

Loved ones who say these things don’t get that you’d love, love, love to snap out of it. You’d give anything to not bear the insurmountable weight of being the you that you are when you are sucked into a depressive spiral. You know that they view you as broken and f**ked up, and deep down you can’t really argue with them, because you feel broken and f**ked up. But it still hurts like hell to see the pity and disappointment and irritation in their eyes.

It never occurred to me that someone could find it impossible to comprehend depression until I met a “normal.” (And it’s rather interesting that it took me 50 years to meet one.) They can no more understand depression than they can relate to the persistent ache of a badly healed broken bone if they’ve never broken a bone themselves. They must think that if you slap a figurative splint on your depression, you’ll be as good as new in no time. Easy peasy. Cheer up. Get over yourself. And then you get to spend what little energy you have trying to convince this normal that you aren’t a freak, and instead you convince yourself that that’s an impossible task, right along with all the other impossible tasks that define your life-in-downward-spiral. But there I go, focusing on me again.

It’s got to be pretty awful, living with the human equivalent of a black hole. It’s got to be exhausting. It’s got to be irritating. “Oh, here she goes again. Great. I guess I’ll cancel all our reservations for the next two weeks.”

If it’s any comfort at all, deep down, depressives know the crap they’re making you put up with, and they feel horrible about it, and genuinely want to make you happy and be happy themselves. But these tools just aren’t in their toolbox at the moment. Most of us can’t even express how we’re feeling while it’s happening. But inside we scream, “Please don’t leave me. Please just listen. Please be comforting, not critical. Please. Stop telling me how messed up I am and just hold me while I cry. Please make it stop.”

It’s like we’re begging for a lifeline, but the message doesn’t quite make it to its destination. Our nerves are on the surface of our skin, so any judgment, any implication that we must not be doing something right if we “insist” on feeling this way, any impatience or frustration, no matter how justified, just piles pain on top of pain on top of pain until we are crushed flat from the sheer weight of it all. Sometimes we get angry and cruel, in an attempt to protect ourselves. We are the epitome of a wounded, cornered animal.

Many of us are not always this way. Depression, for me, tends to come in waves. I’m old enough now to truly understand that, and know that it’s just a matter of time. I can do this. I’ve come out the other side a million times before. I can be pretty darned fun and optimistic when the wave isn’t washing over me. All I can do is hope and pray that the person who means so much to me is willing to weather the stormy seas and remember the person I am when the sailing is smooth. I hope he or she can learn not to see “broken” as my primary trait, because there really are some good qualities mixed in there amongst the detritus.

But I know that’s asking a heck of a lot. I really do know that. And yet here I am, asking. And in response you might ask, “How do I help without getting sucked under myself?”

I wish I knew what to tell you. Bleh. I’m not explaining this very well. But if you are reading this far along, it’s probably because you genuinely love the depressive in your life, and you want to learn how to cope and help without losing yourself. That’s a legitimate, perfectly normal desire, and nothing to feel the least bit guilty about. So I urge you to check out the following resources.

First, I suggest you see the movie Nell, starring Jodie Foster. Not only is it a great movie, but you get to see how the Sheriff in the story deals with his chronically depressed wife, whom he loves very much. He leads with compassion and validation and support without judgment, and for that, he’s my hero.

Then, check out one of my favorite songs to listen to when I’m overwhelmed. It’s called “Tomorrow.” Maybe if you listen to it, your depressed loved one will overhear it and take it in on some level.

After that, I urge you to hop on over to an online game called Depression Quest, which is, frankly, no fun at all. But it might give you some insight into depression that you have been lacking heretofore. Knowing what you’re dealing with is the best way to deal with it, in my opinion.

And there are a whole host of helpful articles online. Just a lazy Google search yielded some interesting articles that explain things much better than I ever could. So check out “21 Things to Ask When Your Partner Is Depressed,” “Is Your Partner Depressed? How To Tell and What To Do About It,” and “How to Help a Partner Living With Depression.” I’m sure there are many more good resources out there, but when I read these three, I wanted to shout, “Yes! What they said!!!”

I can’t speak for depressives the world over, obviously, but if I were in my right mind while depressed, the things I’d most like to say are, “Please be patient with me. Please know that I’m scared and that this sucks, but I will get past it. I always do. Please believe I’m trying. Please let me cry without shame. Please hug me unless I want to be left alone. Please don’t think I’m irredeemably weird and not worth the effort.”

And most of all, “I’m sorry.”

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline through this hotlink, or by calling the new short dial, 988, that will be available all across the USA, effective July 16, 2022.

What Will the New Normal Look Like?

We have all been changed by this past year.

I’ve heard much chatter of late as to what the world will be like once we’ve finally developed herd immunity from COVID-19. Some people seem to think everything will revert back to the way it was when we were all more naïve about viruses, their transmission, and their impact. I don’t see that as a possibility. First of all, sorry to say, but COVID-19 will never be completely eradicated. And other pandemics are sure to follow sooner or later.

So this gives me the opportunity to make some predictions about our new normal. I’m sure I’ll look back on this blog post someday and either laugh at my foolishness or think, “Dang, you’re good!” (That’s one of the drawbacks of blogging. There’s nowhere to hide from your past idiocy. But sometimes you also get to say “I told you so!”)

The reason I’m fairly certain that we will not return to days of yore is that when my boss suggested that we’ll all probably be vaccinated by the end of the month and should therefore be able to revert back to our old shift-change-in-a-teeny-tiny-little-room habit, I had a visceral reaction. Panic, if I’m honest.

First of all, due to HIPAA, we’ll never know for sure if everyone has been vaccinated. Second, as of this writing, the scientists are not yet certain that vaccinated people cannot still be carriers of COVID, and even they say that these vaccines are not 100% effective. The news changes daily, but until I have more reassurance than that, I don’t feel like marinating in my coworkers aerosol, thankyouverymuch.

The smallest lesson from this is that a lot of us are going to find it hard to unmask. I’m struggling with the concept, and I HATE wearing a mask. I’m tired of my glasses fogging, and I feel claustrophobic. But I do it because I know that it has been the safest, most responsible thing to do. It will be difficult for me to gauge when that safety and responsibility is no longer needed.

We’ve all been changed in various negative and positive ways by this past year. We’ve slowed down. We’ve isolated ourselves a lot more. Many of us have worked from home. We’ve all learned that it is possible to do these things. Some of us have liked it, and some of us have not. I suspect that a certain percentage of those who don’t like it will find that they like it a lot more when it becomes voluntary, and they’ll adopt a sort of hybrid lifestyle.

I suspect a lot of people who have been telecommuting will resist going back to the office 5 days a week. That, and businesses will have learned that there’s a lot less overhead to pay when you don’t have to maintain as much office space. And, surprise! The work still seems to be getting done.

On the real estate front, many people who have been allowed to telecommute have sold their houses in the big cities and have moved… well, anywhere they’ve wanted to move. A lot of people have gone rural. It’s going to be really hard to persuade them to come back. (It’s sort of the opposite of, “How will you keep them down on the farm, now that they’ve seen ‘Paree’?”)

And now that I’m more aware of virus vectors, I don’t see myself ever being as comfortable going to large concert venues again. Don’t get me wrong. I miss live performances. I just don’t miss sharing my airspace with a thousand strangers.

I’ll never get used to being crammed into a crowded elevator or subway again. When people cough, I’ll feel a flashing red alert inside my head. I doubt I’ll ever enjoy long air flights again. (But then, they’ve been going down hill since the 80’s, anyway.)

Now, when I forget my mask, I don’t get very far. I feel naked and exposed and vulnerable. I’m horrified. I turn right back around and I get it. I think it will take more than a minute for me to get past that feeling.

I suspect that this virus has changed us in ways that we have yet to see. Personally, I’ve enjoyed not having a single solitary cold all year long. I wouldn’t mind continuing to wear a mask in more crowded places if I could stay on that path.

I suspect, at a bare minimum, a certain percentage of us will continue to wear masks, at least some of the time. I also suspect that those of us who do are going to get bullied for it by various factions. But we are living in a different world now, and that’s just a hard fact.

These are my predictions. What do you think? In any event, time will tell.

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Just the Right Amount of Strange

Have you ever met someone and clicked with them instantly because they’re the same kind of weird that you are? Isn’t it great? It’s such a relief to feel understood and accepted.

Recently someone pointed out to me that there’s really no such thing as normal. Good point. I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t felt at least a little bit “out there”.

Personally, I’d find it rather creepy if we were all alike. The implication would be that we had no free will or independent thought. I can think of no better definition of hell.

That’s why I’m instantly repulsed by people who tell me that the only way to get to heaven is by subscribing to a specific creed. That sure doesn’t sound like heaven to me. I don’t want to agree with everyone all the time. I don’t want to check my brains and my personality at the door. I would die of boredom. You keep your Stepford Wife Heaven to yourself. I’ll have no part of it.

I like to let my freak flag fly, and enjoy having it fly with plenty of crazy company!


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Collecting Strays

When I was in high school, I felt like a misfit, so I gathered misfits around me. We weren’t cool. We weren’t popular. Actually, most of us were rather troubled. But we were loyal friends. There really is strength in numbers.

Being drawn to the oddballs of the world has also made me intolerant of the intolerant. (Yeah, yeah. I know. So sue me.) If you are rigid, closed-minded, or judgmental, I tend to lose patience with you. I’m more at home reveling in the differences. That’s just how I roll.

This habit of collecting strays (which one friend calls my tendency to attract three-legged dogs), has served me well. I’ve met some amazing people that way. I’ve never related to the overly pretty (and, for that matter, overly petty) people of this world, the ones who are extremely concerned about what others think. Social standing doesn’t interest me. Image bores me.

Sometimes this bites me in the butt, though. I’ve never had a boyfriend who could be considered a huge success at life. The struggles of my lovers have too often become my own. But hey, we were in it together, and that counts for a lot.

Sometimes I long for normal, but I’d be hard-pressed to figure out what to do with it. So, if you’re feeling like a wallflower, come stand by me. I’ll make room.


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“Be safe going home.”

Have you ever had a conversation that caused you to look at things in a whole new way? I had one of those recently. I was having a delightful chat with a guy about fun things to do in Seattle. I’d never met him before, but he gave me lots of good ideas.

Then, at the end of the conversation, he said, “Be safe going home.”

Since we had briefly touched on politics, I said, “It’s hard to feel safe these days.”

And his response was, “Welcome to my world.”

You see, he’s African American, and yeah, he probably never feels quite safe going home or going anywhere else, for that matter. Never. And just like that, I lifted my head up out of the cloud of delusion I’ve had the privilege of residing in my whole life long.

This awful, unsettled feeling I’ve had for the past couple weeks is his status quo. This feeling of being misunderstood by just about everybody, of being actively disliked? He has lived that every day. The certainty that most people really don’t have your best interests at heart and are in fact actively working against those interests is a new and horrible feeling for me, but that’s his normal.

And I have to say, this sucks. That, and I’m ashamed of how spoiled I’ve always been. If nothing else good comes from the Trump presidency, at least I can say that my eyes have been opened. And my life will never be quite the same.

Everyone has the right to be safe going home. Everyone has the right, but many of us don’t have the luxury.


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What’s Normal?

It happened again today. I woke up and it was light out, so I assumed it must be time to get up. Then I looked at the clock and it was 4:30 am. That’s just not right. My whole life, the sun has never risen at such an ungodly hour. That’s because I’ve never lived this far from the equator before. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to live in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. As I’ve done every morning this summer, I covered my eyes with a pillow and tried to get back to sleep.

If there’s not a word for this sensation, there ought to be. That feeling that the basic, fundamental rules of nature are being violated. That sense of “Not Normal.” I bet there’s a Germanic term for it. Or a French one.

I’ll probably feel it again when I experience my first real earthquake. The ground is not supposed to shift beneath one’s feet. When that starts happening, what can you count on?

I felt it when I woke up one morning this past winter to find everything covered in snow. I hadn’t seen snow in 30 years. The world was suddenly otherworldly.

It happens when you bite into something you expect to be savory and it turns out to be sweet, or vice versa. It happens when someone reacts completely the opposite of what you anticipated. It happens when someone does a violent act that you can’t imagine doing in your worst nightmare.

We all live by certain assumptions  and expectations that really don’t hold up on close examination. These deeply held beliefs are what give us a sense of security. Most of us prefer to be able to predict our world. It’s weird to think that all of that is an illusion.

[Image credit:]
[Image credit:]

Family Norms

One spring break in college I went home with a friend. Half Catholic Italian, half Jewish, hers was a noisy, welcoming household. Neighbors would come and go without knocking on their door, and help themselves to whatever happened to be cooking on the stove. The house was full of light and crackled with energy.

And forget about sleeping in. If you tried to, her father would kick open the bedroom door, shout, “Time to get up!!!” while throwing himself headlong into our bed. Then he’d bounce for a second until he was sure we were awake, kiss us both on the forehead and say, “Breakfast is ready.” Alrighty then. I guess I’m getting up.

For the first time in my life, I realized that not everybody grew up the way I did. Mine was a very quiet, reserved Congregationalist Waspy New England household. No one came to our door without giving about a week’s notice. For the most part, no one came to our door at all. Silence ruled. Calm and routine was what you strived for. The loudest noise was probably the hum of the refrigerator.

And for the most part, that’s exactly how my home is now. I have no idea why I bother renting a place with a living room. It’s not like I ever have guests or eat at the table. For me the living room is simply what you have to walk through to get from the bedroom to the kitchen.

I’m not saying that one lifestyle is superior to the other. It all depends on what you’re used to. I think living in my friend’s home would have made me a nervous wreck, but it was fun to visit. When it was time to go, though, I was a little relieved. I looked forward to getting back to what, for me, was normal.

Our families can probably trace their styles back for generations. That fascinates me. In essence, the way I live my life is strongly influenced by ancestors from hundreds of years ago. The way I do things and what seems comfortable to me was laid out long before I was born. I walk down the heavily trodden path that total strangers, who just happen to be related by blood, have followed for centuries.

And I’m actually kind of okay with that.


Chaos: The New Normal?

A coworker of mine was describing a situation in which he and his brother were watching TV and they got into an argument which then escalated into a fist fight, and the police had to be called. Just a regular Tuesday night at Chez Coworker, apparently. I remember thinking, “Huh. My whole life, the police have never been called to my house. Am I normal, or is he?”

Someone else I know regularly shouts and makes intimidating gestures, causing tension, fear and anxiety in his household. He says that he’s of Mediterranean descent, so he can’t help it. That made me wonder about all the Italians and Greeks and Turks that I’ve passed on the street who have managed to behave themselves and act with courtesy and respect. Who’s the stereotype?

And then there’s the girl whose husband tried to choke her. But she’s still with him, because she loves him. I tried to imagine sleeping under the same roof with someone, even for one night, who had tried to kill me. I’m not getting any pictures.

Another story: this guy left his car keys on the counter and went to sleep. One of his relatives took the car without permission and got into an accident. The guy wakes up, sees the damage to the car, asks who was responsible, and no one admits to it. And they all (every one of them is an adult) still live with him. Oh no. Not me. Not even for a second. I’d have gathered them all in one room and said, “Either someone confesses and makes arrangements to pay for damages, or every single one of you is out on the street.”

Another woman racked up thousands of dollars in phone bills by calling her boyfriend who was in the military overseas. She was the only one in the house who even knew someone overseas, so there was no doubt who was responsible. Not only did she not pay the bills, but since the phone was in her parent’s name, their service got cut off, and they haven’t been able to have a house phone for years because of it. Not to mention the fact that their credit is ruined. It’s the great unspoken thing in the family, but apparently she has no remorse whatsoever. That same girl’s sister stole her own 10 year old child’s birthday money.

All of these things have me wondering, who is living a life outside the norm? Me, for being shocked by all of the above, or them? Are most of the people on the planet just animals with no moral compass whatsoever? Should the Jerry Springer Show be considered a documentary? And to think there are people out there who still refuse to believe we’re related to primates. Sheesh.