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On The Upswing

Life is busy. There is the puppy to train, work to go to, volunteering to do. There is also the self care and the ‘days off’ to recharge.

I saw my psychologist yesterday. She says I am doing well. She pointed out that I am starting to plan for a future again. I am feeling happy again. I now need to work on mindfulness. When I notice that I am feeling happy I need to pay attention to how it feels, how my how body feels and how this is different to when I am stressed, or tired or otherwise.

I spent this morning doing a job application. I am a bit tired. I have work this evening.

But I wanted to write something because it has been a while and I want to keep this updated, otherwise I will just show up one day as a totally different person and there will be no record of the transition.

So, I am tired, I am transitioning into a better version of me, and I am hungry. Self care me says I should now prioritise lunch, followed by a nap, then the better me has a better chance.

Puppy Training

I’m still not sure who is getting trained, us or the puppy.

She can sit, will stay for a little bit and will come if she is interested. She still puddles on the floor but she seems to be asking to go out but we aren’t recognising the signs until after the fact and then it ‘oh, that was what she wanted’.

She is learning our habits better than we know them, and gets thrown when we change them. I had a sleep in this morning, she refused to do anything until I said good morning to her. My husband tried to take her for a bike ride and a walk but had barely left the house before she fussed and wanted to come home.

Yesterday I was having issues with my words, at one stage when I could speak coherently I said to my husband that perhaps I should train her in non verbal cues as well. He stated that when I am non verbal, my body language is gibberish and my motor control is shot as well so that plan may have to be scrapped.

She has three outside toys. A ball, a woven rope whose form is pretty much a ball on a loop, and a plastic dumbbell with a rope through it which was bigger than her when we bought it but the smallest size it comes in. Ball play is pretty obvious. We throw, she chases and if she brings it back to where I am, I throw it again and the process repeats. The dumbbell is the rough play toy, rough tug of war, growling (mostly by me, she is very quiet). The woven rope is gentle tug of war or throw / fetch. When we go out to play I lay all three toys on the ground in front of me and she choses the toy to play with. We play until she gets distracted or I have something else that needs to be done.

She is getting over the biting me stage, she never bit my husband and I have to admit the bites on me were more of a gentle chew but even little puppy teeth are spiky. I can lay on the couch now without getting my hair chewed. Oh yes, she is a spoilt puppy and has the run of the house (sometimes limited to certain rooms at a time). She is too small yet to jump on the couch by herself so we have some makeshift stairs for her. If she is misbehaving or playing rough on the couch she loses stair privileges (we move them so they are the stairway to nowhere) and that really makes her modify her behaviour. Being isolated from her pack (even if she can still access our feet) is a terrible, terrible thing.

She is learning to sit with me quietly while I read. The amount of thinking and processing she requires means I need more down time to rest my thought processes. A little puppy needs constant supervision on some level, lest you want a floor full of puddles and other surprises and things chewed. She is happy with one handed absent-thoughted scratches as I hold my book with the other hand and lose my thoughts in the words on the pages.

She is incredibly social. I took her for a walk around the block yesterday. There was a lady walking by and she didn’t stop and admire and say hello and poor little Maiz was just about devastated. ‘Wait, there’s a people, peoples wuvs me’ (sorry family saying from my daughter when she was little and in trouble for something). And people do stop and talk to her and ask if they can cuddle her, and admire her and she does become the centre of attention wherever she goes. If I didn’t trust my husband implicitly she would be the ultimate pick up puppy, whatever your persuasion.

My husband asked me yesterday if I loved Maiz. I said, ‘yes I do’ and he asked me how I knew. I said I would miss her if she was gone, and even if she is frustrating me and driving me to distraction I want her to be with us. He said he loves her too. I asked how he knew. He said Maiz makes him feel the same way our daughter does. I’m sure there is something there of strong, independent, intelligent women, and I’m sure our daughter understands because she has puppies too. Maiz isn’t her puppies’ aunty though, because she is younger and it would confuse the puppies to have an aunty younger than them, even if they are all adopted, we have to call them all cousins.

We Got a Puppy

We had been thinking about getting a puppy for a while now. Our daughter has two and we love them when they come and visit. The pandemic has driven puppy prices up as people wanted a companion in lockdown.

The latest round of border closures meant some people could not collect their puppies that were ready to rehome from the breeders. Breeders place ad online, we (with trepidations due to the number of puppy scams currently being reported), replied to the ad. The breeder does not ship her puppies. She likes to meet the new owners. She is a three hour drive away but we didn’t have to cross any borders or go into any cootie zones. So, Christmas eve, after working a morning shift, we came home with a furry bundle of joy and frustration.

There is an awful lot of mental processing that goes with a new puppy. They are learning the house rules, you are learning the puppy signs and signals for different things. its not like they just walk up to you and say, ‘I’m a bit peckish, is there anything for me to eat, I would really prefer a nice bit of chicken’ or ‘Excuse me, could you please direct me to the bathroom?’ Nope, its puddles on the floor (thankfully we already hate carpet so its floorboards) and biting of finger (or toes) and sniffing the offerings and wandering off.

Anyway, our gorgeous little piece of fluffy devils spawn, is fitting in quite well. She eats what we eat (the puppy friendly version), not that keen on actual dog food, but who can blame her on that. We are getting there with the toilet training. We have stopped saying ‘good girl’ when she does the right thing because she seemed to be confusing that for the last thing she was told ‘good girl’ for. ‘Go wees, good girl. Come inside, good girl’. I’m sure you get the picture, potty training does seem to be getting back on track again now.

The amount of mental processing she is taking does seem to be a good thing for me. My brain does not have as much time to get into negative spirals because it is paying attention to her. And her fluffiness is incredibly great for patting as a stim. She makes us get out of bed in the morning and go outside and play. She makes us eat at regular times and as we have to organise something healthy for her, its easier to just all eat the same thing (another reason for not going the dog food route) and we don’t eat as much junk.

She loves going in the car, she has her own blanket and a harness. She is such a little thing that the smallest harness we could get (Xsmall) was too big so we had to cable tie the straps to a smaller size. I don’t think it failing in an accident would be an issue because she weighs less than a kilo and wouldn’t put that much strain on anything. She will grow and the harness will fit without modification in next to no time.

She loves going on the push bike, she rides in the basket on the front (harnessed in for safety). We also have a trailer she can ride behind (a second hand kiddie trailer with seatbelts we can attach her harness too). So she gets out and about quite a bit for someone who isn’t socialising fully until her vaccinations are completed. She never touches unknown soil, when she isn’t harnessed in, she is carried in public. The only ground she gets to run around on is our fenced back yard.

Can she run. Its just zoom, zoom, all over the place until her batteries run flat, then its nap until recharged and go again. And she bounces. Standing start, about six inches off the ground. She changes direction mid air when she is running. If you have seen the meme ‘run like someone left the gate open’ that is her. Her happiness at just being is amazing. She loves to play. Loves to cuddle. Unfortunately she is going through the bit where she loves to bite. Not bad or vicious, I just feel like she thinks I am her chew toy. She hasn’t broken skin but puppy teeth are still sharp.

So, now you know what we are up to, I need to schedule in a little nap before I go to work this afternoon. Puppy is currently napping after deciding we needed to get up and play at six this morning. Time to make the most of the quiet.

By the way, we call her Maiz. Its short for Mazikein.

Homework from my Psychologist

Last week I saw my psychologist. it was a good, productive session. She gave me two bits of homework to work on before my next session (next February).

The first is to to try to talk myself down from a meltdown. The context is me telling her that I had a meltdown when I couldn’t start the lawnmower because I felt a failure because I couldn’t do something which I regarded as being simple. I have to try to interrupt the negative thought pattern and reinforce the concept that the lawnmower not starting is not a big deal and I can do something else instead. Have to wait for that chain of events to start to see if I can change the course. Something that may or may not happen before my next session.

The second piece of homework is to take a day off work for no reason. They may not have been her exact words and I realise that I need to clarify what her exact words were because I have realised that it is causing me a great deal of stress and it was only this morning that I realised why.

Some context, I have a new job I started a couple of months ago. It is an evening shift casual position and I have been getting 5 hour shifts, 5 days a week for the last several weeks (probably 5) and it looks to continue that way until Christmas and beyond (apart from the week between Christmas and New Year when the office closes). I have a very strong work ethic (to my detriment) which has previously caused me to burn out. The thought behind taking the day off for no reason is that I need to not prioritise the needs of the business over those of myself or my family or other needs. Sounds simple right.

I could take a day off at the end of January when my daughter comes to visit, it would be nice to spend some time off with her. Damnit, that’s not for no reason. I can still take it off but that is not what my homework is about.

A little more context here. My brain likes to justify things, find reasons for things, cross reference things and allocate them. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

Take a Friday off and have a long weekend. Nope, that’s a reason, does not qualify for the homework.

Take a random day off midweek. Might be nice to go out for dinner with my husband. Damnit, reason.

I’m feeling a bit tired, random day off to catch up to myself. Damnit, reason.

Have a couple of things on this week during the day, may be overdoing it and scheduling too much. Damnit, reason.

Pick a random day, throw a dart at the calendar, don’t think about it, just email the boss and say I wont be available one day, random date. Don’t think about it before I do it. If it happens to be a Friday, or I have other stuff on, or I’m a bit tired, or I go out for dinner it doesn’t matter, I will have met the requirements of my homework and taken a day off for no reason. Damnit, reason.

My brain figured that one out before I did and was stressing because it knew there was no solution, no way for me to do this.

Will email my psychologist and get the exact wording of my homework.

Travelling at The Speed of Life

So many mornings I have woken with the best of intentions and ‘write something on my blog’ on my to do list. So many days I haven’t written (obviously).

Life has gotten busy. I have a job, part time casual, the hours vary and I am learning to live with that. The facebook group for local people has had a couple of informal catch ups (which I organised because I want to meet people). I am an active member of a local autism Community of Practice which does online presentations which I have helped with (in the background).

I am learning to balance my needs and wants with realistic expectations. I am learning a lot about myself from a new perspective. Some things I would have previously persevered with I now let go, realising they are not meant to be or just not for me. It has not all been a bed of roses. There have been meltdowns (2 in the last week – too many hours at work – learning to say no thank you). The first I managed to bounce back quickly from (I thought) the second (the following day) turned out to be an all day drama. Once again, I thank my husband for his support and love, and trying to understand things I either can’t articulate or don’t understand myself.

My achievements

Saying no to a job. My job provider found me a ‘wonderful job that meets my experience and skills’. Because I have an official disability they get a nice little kick back if they get me into work. I had already gotten the job I am now working but was waiting a month until they were organised for the next training intake. Anyway, this wonderful job was in the industry I have spent the last 10 years trying to get out of, it has a partial customer focus, and because the business had a couple of people leave they were changing the position duties, start date and other things even before I started. So many (can’t think of the word I want – kind of omens, warning signs, knowledge from previous experience) red flags sending my stress levels sky high. Said no thank you to the job, in combination with ……

Resigning from JobSeeker. Nope, not because I got an amazing high paying job or won the lottery. Because I realised the mutual obligations were causing me serious stress. Combined stress caused by:
– feeling I couldn’t say no to the above job because if you say no to a job they can cut you off anyway
– minimum hours of work. Someone decided I can work at least 23 hours a week. I say maybe depending on the job. I am realising in the job I have (which I am loving) that over 25 hours is too much. I don’t have work life balance and I do have meltdowns.
– having to apply for jobs even though I have one (the magic 23 hours a week, if I don’t hit that I have to apply for a set number of jobs a fortnight. Even if I meet the magic hours they don’t have to waive the job hunting requirement if they don’t want to)
– the above jobs do not have to meet my needs. I have to apply for jobs that my qualifications say I can do (the same sort of jobs that burnt me out and left me with no hope of work life balance)
– meeting the selection criteria for the unsuitable jobs that I don’t want. Apparently anyone autistic will understand that one even if it is a suitable job that they really really want (once again in the category ‘things I wish I had known before I got an autism diagnosis’)
Really wanted that to be bullets points but can’t find anywhere to format as such.

Saying no to overtime shifts. Seriously, this is a big one for me. The feelings of letting other people down are intense. I will prioritise other people over myself to my own detriment. Saying no to the extra hours (and the extra money) is huge for me. And I have done it twice.(Gold star, happy smiley face)

So, life is changing, I am learning. Things are mostly positive. I am prioritising my needs. I am learning what those needs are. As I get better at this whole life thing and get the balance working I hope I will write more regularly again.

The Benefits of Validation

What difference does a diagnosis make? There is no magic cure. Autism does not go away.

For me, a diagnosis has made the world of difference. I am finding my tribe. A group of people that experience the world in a very similar way to me. Who have very similar struggles. The fact that other people are struggling too does not diminish our individual struggles but it can make them seem more manageable. We are not individual failures because we can not make things work. We are wired in a different way to the vocal majority.

I am learning to manage my own expectations of myself. Just because other people seem to be able to do things doesn’t mean I have to, or even that I should want to. I am learning who I am again. I am learning what brings me joy, what brings me peace, what brings me happiness.

I am learning to ignore the shoulds and expectations of society. Society does not give a damn about me or my happiness. Society wants me to conform so that they can feel better about themselves and where they are at with their lives.

Paradoxically, the more I learn about the things that are a natural struggle for autistic people, the easier I am finding things. I pick my battles. I set my limitations. I make my goals realistic for me. I achieve these realistic goals. I get more things done because all my energy is no longer focused on trying to do the one thing that I can’t.

Psychologists may argue whether the achieving of the things that autistic people struggle with is so low on their (the autistic’s) list of priorities is nature or learnt behaviour, when NTs think it is so important for everyone to achieve these things. If these things really were so important in the grand scheme of things, we would be able to do them. We shouldn’t have to care that we can’t do them if they aren’t important to us just because the vocal majority care and think we should care about them too.

Mostly there is peace and acceptance in knowing I am not alone. I do not have to meet every autistic person to feel that I belong. I would like to meet some. I would like to have friends that I feel understand me and don’t suck the life out of me. But there is so much relief in knowing that they are out there, that I can find them if I want to. Knowing that if I need them they will be there, even if only virtually, to help me, because they too want someone to be there for them, to understand them, to acknowledge that their struggles are real, even if they don’t make sense and even when (especially when) their struggles seem to contradict their achievements.

Drunk Days

I’m not a drinker, I could count one one hand the number of times I have been truly drunk. I am a cheap drunk, probably because I drink so infrequently.

I don’t need to drink to feel like I am drunk, not quite staggering but definitely walking into things, speech slightly slurred, can’t think of simple words and so easily distracted. Sometimes I wonder if it is little strokes but it clears up with no lasting effects so I came to the conclusion it is just the way I am.

Today is one of those days. It is quite hard to type, I forget how words are supposed to be spelt, my mind wanders off onto other things. Sometimes spell check is good but sometimes it confuses me. It wants to change spelt to slept, and I had to reread the sentence several times to work out what made sense, then had doubts if spelt was really a word.

I can’t remember what things are called, I am pointing and playing charades and making noises. The paper shredder (had to ask again what it was called) was me pointing and going ‘brrrzt’ (the noise it makes).

My fingers are merrily hitting keys as my brain tells them the individual keys that I want, its not always the keys that are needed, not sure if my brain or my fingers are at fault.

Today is a day that I would not choose to drive if there is any choice at all on the matter. I totally lack focus. I am forcing myself to finish this as my brain keeps asking what is going on elsewhere and want to go check it out. But if I do, it can’t remember it has done it and wants to do it again.

And now I can’t remember if I had a point I wanted to make, or if I have made it. And the washing machine has gone beep and all my brain can think is that the washing needs hanging to dry.

A quiet day I think, probably get lost in a book or two.

Waiting for the Other Shoe To Drop

This says so much about me and some of my baggage.

As I said in my last post, my mentor and I have started a facebook group for local autistic adults. We are going well. We have over 30 members, the group has agreed on what we need for rules and I have posted those. It is all set up and going well. The paranoid bit of me with way too much baggage is waiting for the first signs of ‘thanks for doing that but we really don’t think you fit with this group’.

And that says so much about my life. Why I find myself with so few friends and such a limited support network. I didn’t realise how many times I must have been hurt before for this to be such an issue now.

I have no reason to suspect that these wonderful people would do that to me except for the fact that so many people must have done it in the past. The only thing that is stopping me from packing up and running from this group as fast as I can is me keeping reminding myself that I have never interacted with a group of all autistic people before. These people, individually or as a group (or kind) have never taken advantage of me.

My self preservation (with baggage) is in a struggle for control with my self preservation (I need a community). I want my community to win.

In the meantime I will just keep swimming and hope there is a time I realise that the shoe is never going to drop.

Escaping the Doldrums

It’s interesting when you pick a name for a post based on what you think it means and then when you google it to check the spelling you discover it is so much more. I picked the doldrums because I knew it was an area around the equator where sailors would often become becalmed due to lack of winds, and could be stuck there for days or even weeks. It has something to do with the way the winds move in the northern and southern hemispheres. The area of the doldrums moves, or maybe sea currents move the boats and they eventually pick up wind again and can be on their way.

Google search also tells me ‘They’re the most treacherous seas on the planet. At those that lie beneath the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), known by sailors as the ‘doldrums‘ or ‘unwise tantrums’ for their¬†dangerous¬†tendency to lurch between extremes, almost absolute calm can unexpectedly degrade into raging thunderstorms and hurricanes.’ but doesn’t actually give me the details so that I can reference that properly. The term ‘unwise tantrums’ caught my attention, as did the lurching between extreme of absolute calm to raging thunderstorms.

Now I feel that not only have I been in the doldrums (the calm with no ability to move) but that my life can be the doldrums when I lurch from that calm that immobolises you to the rage that is so destructive.

But I digress.

This post was supposed to be about the fact that I have been stuck without purpose and I have now gained something that gives me direction and the ability to move forward again. But now I am looking over my shoulder for that raging thunderstorm.

I met with my autism mentor on Friday (at the prompting of my husband – he organised it and told me we were going) and she mentioned that she had been meaning to start a facebook support group for autistic adults for a while. It is also something I have been wanting to do, but with few autistic friends and none locally it didn’t seem like it would go anywhere much or achieve anything. She was lacking the impetus to start the group and I was lacking the connections. She has connections, I have impetus. The group is started. We have 25 members. We have success. Next step is to get the group working, providing support and social connections for each other. Tips and advice and anything else the members of the group need it to be.

I am not naming or promoting the group here (at this time anyway) as this blog isn’t about publicity, It is just me documenting my thoughts, feeling and events and if people want to read it and it helps them then that is good. Our group also aims being a bit local for personal social support. Saying that, we already have members from all over Australia, but hopefully the group will enable them to connect with people in their area, and in the meantime online is good.

So, I have a special interest at his time. There is part of me that just wants to run with it and organise everything and just do things. But I know I have to take it slow, let the group decide what it wants to be and let other people have a turn too. I must temper the child who wants to run around manically because it is so excited or I will experience the other side of the doldrums when something doesn’t quite go right.

Learning to be Me Again

Even though I have only been officially autistic a very short time I am more then happy with the label. I consider myself out and proud. Happy to be it, tell people I am it, wave the flag and celebrate.

But there are days when I still don’t know who I am. There are things that fit, and make so much sense it is a homecoming. But other days I feel like someone has taken the box, shaken out all of the bits and left me with the instructions for something else entirely.

I don’t have to pretend to be NT anymore, but I do have to play by enough of their rules to be considered polite enough and to get by. But I also get to prioritise me. It is hard working out who I am and what I want after so many years of pretending to be a sheep.

I am trying lots of things on for size to see if they fit, and also if they feel good and I like the look of them. But even things that look and feel good aren’t necessarily what you want or need. And some things you want or need aren’t necessarily the things that look or feel the best.

Today I found out that autistic people NEED their special interests. It isn’t just something we do, it is one of the things our brains needs to do to function. It helps us function to a higher capacity, but if you don’t indulge (for want of a better word) in a special interest the brain actually starts shutting down and wont function on a basic level. So, find me here, working out what a special interest for this moment in time can be. Feel my brain starting up again. My mentor (who told me about this special interest requirement) and I are starting a local facebook group for autistic adults. I was hoping to join one but apparently a local one does not exist. Well, it does now. Creating the group was my special interest for the day. I have a little bit of happiness in a job well done.

So, learning to be the autistic version of me is going to mean creating some of the tools I wish were already out there. Someone has to go first, I am happy to do it, but I kind of thought a lot of it would already have happened by now.