routines…

routine

My predicable happy little life was turned upside down a couple weeks ago. It was nothing earth shattering, just some car trouble, but as with most disruptions in my routine, I was traumatized. This is one area in my life that I am so grateful for an explanation to shed light on my reactions to the seemingly simple wrinkles in my day to day. I never understood why the anxiety and panic seep into my conscious blocking out rational thought.  It often gets so distracting that I am forced to mentally remove myself from the situation all together and escape through sleep or TV or succumb to a massive panic attack. Very inconvenient…and annoying, but I couldn’t explain it. The WHY. In the deep recesses of my mind resides a tiny rational voice that tries to shout over the turmoil and mayhem that this will pass. It will be OK; and my world would (and does) eventually return to my predictable routine, but in that moment of perceived crisis, the white noise in my mind crescendos and escalates quickly to unhealthy levels. In truth, there are few things in life I loathe more than car problems, but my car not working is not really the issue. It is the disruption of my painstakingly and thoughtfully crafted routines. One of the countless reasons I adore my husband so is his ability to stay calm, countering my erratic outbursts and meltdowns, and gently talking me off the ledge when I start to spiral. My previous partners’ tendencies to get caught up in my frenzy would only exacerbate the matter, but this wonderful man brings me back down to earth and gently challenges my internal anarchy. He speaks to the chaos in my mind and quiets my demons. He is the first person in my life to do so, and the effect is a bit intoxicating, but I know when my anxiety inevitably rears its ugly head, I’m not fighting it alone.

Whenever my life gets disrupted, my response typically involves focusing all energies into creating a routine so I can cope with the change. The faster I create a routine, the better I can adapt. This has affected every area in my life, and I’ve noticed it especially with my employment choices throughout the years. The jobs that were the most taxing and difficult for me did not have set schedules or parameters and allowed for many disruptions into routine. I never lasted long. The stress of unpredictability would thrust me into “survival mode” and affect both my health and my ability to do my job effectively and efficiently. I can adapt to any number of challenging and stressful situations in the workplace devoid of the typical and usual reactions, but those situations need to be within certain expected parameters. If they are not, I cannot adapt quickly or easily.

Travelling and vacations also present a unique set of hurdles for me. Where most anticipate getting away with excitement and eagerness; I always experience a sense of dread and trepidation and stress mixed in with the anticipation. I did adapt, however. As long as I allow an appropriate amount of time for mental preparation before and decompression after, I am able to enjoy time away. It is a bit exhausting, but cannot be overlooked, and it doesn’t matter if the trip is a weekend getaway or leaving the country. Because I don’t travel with any sort of frequency, there is no routine I can adhere to. If the mental preparation/decompression isn’t there, I feel “off” and am easily triggered, which doesn’t make me pleasant company. I have traveled throughout my life, and I have experienced wonderfully fantastic life altering vacations; but as much as the thought of travelling to new places is exciting and exhilarating, my reality is vastly different. Vacations just drain me and sap my mental energy differently than the average person. I am a tad envious of those who can pack up and go anywhere on a moment’s notice, even just for the weekend, but I understand now why I can’t easily do this and the potential consequences if I do.

I am my father’s daughter. He vehemently disliked disruptions of his own carefully crafted routines, and while my previous reaction was always in judgement, I cannot hide now from the truth glaring back at me, and the explanation so obviously right in front of me. He too needed time to mentally prepare for my mother’s wonderfully spontaneous tendencies to pick up and go. As years passed I believe he became more comfortable with letting my mother go out on her own to satisfy her wanderlust. He was perfectly content to stay behind. I didn’t get it. It even angered me a bit. Didn’t he want to spend time with her? With us? Many memories flood back of family trips…and dad’s meltdowns. They seemed comical at the time as we sat in the car ready to go in stunned silence, while he ranted on about a lost pencil he needed for the trip, or his sunglasses, or his keys, or a favorite hat. I understand now. How overwhelming it must have been for him! I don’t know if he was afforded time for mental preparation, but it frequently seemed as if he was on the verge of a meltdown; and he was easily triggered by items we perceived as trivial. I suspect now, for him, they held great significance as they were the pieces of his routine he needed to provide him with stability and predictability. The irony is that I possess those same idiosyncrasies, those same types of meltdowns if I do not have the items that provide me with peace and routine when travelling. Truly, the apple does not fall far from the tree; and once again, glimmers of light and understanding are revealed about this man I loved.

messes…

175

I am a messy person. My mind is messy. My life is messy. It is my normal, and it manifests itself outwardly in messy non-pristine spaces in my life. I have tried over and over (and failed miserably) to be neat and orderly, but my mind is noncompliant. It is typically not even on my radar that the empty glass sitting on the end table should, at the very least, be put in the kitchen sink. As a result, if the people in my life were more tidy-conscious, they ended up spending a lot of time picking up after me. It caused major meltdowns of frustration on both theirs and my end. On the one hand, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t SEE the mess. I would flog myself internally and on a regular basis to try to force my mind to change, upset that I hurt someone I cared about. In the same vein, they didn’t understand why I couldn’t SEE THE MESS, and many times took it as a personal affront and attack on them because this was important to them and if they were important to me, I should, naturally, at least try to make an effort. I couldn’t argue with them. It made sense. Why couldn’t my mind comply?

A resulting effect of my messiness was a feeling of being parented, especially by my previous partners; and because I had no understanding or inkling of WHY, this also contributed to the demise of those relationships. I was branded lazy and callous to their feelings. It was a recipe for disaster and set me up to fail…every time. The realization that the common denominator of this equation was me did not go unnoticed, and I harassed myself repeatedly, raking my delicate ego over the coals, trying to figure out why. Why was it so hard for me? Why did my mind constantly fail me? I ended up believing the snarky comments that I was lazy and unmotivated. I was too afraid to voice my mind and in hindsight, was truly completely clueless how to explain the correlation that the chaos in my mind was spilling over into my every day life and exhibiting itself as a pile of magazines left untouched on the floor next to my chair for weeks at a time. The more stress and anxiety I felt, the worse it would get. I tried to pour all my effort and energy into being better. Doing better; but it was exhausting, and the eventual outcome was always the same. Failure…My mind could not maintain that singular focus over an extended period of time, and the exhaustion would give way to tears and weeping and depression and more internal flogging. This was the perpetual cycle I lived for most of my life.

Because my mind is in constant chaos; neat, orderly spaces make me extremely nervous and uncomfortable. To me, it is a sterile arduous existence; everything having its own place and spot to neatly fit in at the end of the day. The never ending cleaning and picking up and perfecting. Perhaps, it is a metaphor for my messy life; knowing I lack perfection, I am inherently drawn to the imperfect. It was and is hard to observe my friends and family falling neatly into the lives of their choosing, seemingly without effort. Natural and unforced. I do understand that this perfection is truly my perception, and nothing is perfect, but still…the life I thought I wanted eluded me, and I had absolutely no idea what formula was needed to get there. Everyone had their own spot, their own niche that they comfortably carved out for themselves, and I was still searching, still longing to belong…somewhere. Anywhere.

I did try on the role of the doting housewife…twice. My attempts were comical. I can share that now with bemusement as I understand the WHY. It was infinitely more painful and confusing living it and drowning in the seemingly overwhelming expectations I faced daily. After the demise of my second attempt at marital bliss, I began to seriously question and challenge the perceived “normal” I felt forced into all my life. A concentrated profound journey of self-discovery ensued. This wasn’t me. This wasn’t who I was, or for that matter who I wanted to be. It wasn’t even close. I was determined to stop the internal abuse I had heaped upon myself and the expectations that continually forced me into spaces that were not me; and accept the mess that I was. Perhaps even learn to love myself and my messy mind.

I started to embrace the reality that my life, my mind was a little messy, and that messiness was comfortable to me. It made me feel safe and secure; and although I was not sure why yet, I grew increasingly more comfortable in my own skin and began to like who I really was. At my core. Like my dad always did. We were so alike my dad and me. I wonder if he saw himself in my life and the decisions I made, the struggles I faced, the seemingly continual failures of trying to fit into a space I did not belong in. I noticed as the years passed, he seemed to also accept and come to terms with his messy life. He accepted who he was and even though, at the time, I did not understand why he was the way he was he did seem to find his peace. I so wish we could have spoken about these things, and shared our stories with each other. I am left to speculate with the knowledge I now possess, and while I do understand him so much better now, my heart aches that I cannot tell him this, that I cannot thank him for being who he was because ultimately, it helped me understand myself in ways I never thought possible.

Asperger’s brought me one huge step closer to loving the mess that is me. I am comfortable coloring my life outside the lines and living on my own terms, to the beat of my own bongo. This is my happy space. And because I know this, I can live my own defined version of imperfect perfection without apology or compromise. I can enjoy and celebrate my life with a partner who loves and accepts my messy quirky mind and the weirdness that seeps out of it. I can develop routines and checks to live with someone who is naturally tidier than me, and recognize and identify my triggers so I can act accordingly to avoid frustration meltdowns. It is the final gift my dad gave to me, and it is by far, the most precious.

dad pic for bulletin

discoveries…

I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I have been focused on and reflecting on this man I lost. Discovering my dad. Delving deep into the relationship we developed, studying the nuances, reliving the conversations…I never dreamed the life altering discovery would be my own. It happened without warning, without any sort of build up or suspense. It just…happened. Mom and I were reminiscing about dad and she casually asserted her suspicions about his placement on the spectrum. The Autism Spectrum. It wasn’t the first time we broached this subject, but it was the first time since his death that I gave it serious consideration. After all, if it could assist me in any way with greater understanding and insight into my father, it was worth a second glance right?

Mom had suspected for several years that dad had Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As she relayed some of the symptoms and traits and triggers associated with ASD that she witnessed manifested in dad, all the bulbs on my brain board started to light up and blink uncontrollably, as they do when I’ve happened upon a major new discovery about myself. My stomach instantly knotted and I realized that mom was not only describing dad’s disorder in perfect detail and relation to him, but she was also describing me. I needed to know more.

Thank God for Google. I devoured article after article describing Asperger’s and autism, my mind coaxing and encouraging me onward as if it knew this was something BIG, and it was. Every article, every journal I read and re-read described myself to me in painstaking detail. This was my answer to over 30 years of silent suffering. The social awkwardness, the proficiency with which I express myself in text, the endless fascination with details, the inability to organize and focus and prioritize effectively, the feeling that my brain is always in chaos and cannot be shut off …I could go on and on. Everything in the words I’ve digested so far is me. All my pain and confusion and self-persecution over the decisions I have made in my life have an answer. An explanation! Of course, it does not absolve me from my choices, but I am not crazy. I am not crazy! My wacky weird little brain just processes information differently than everyone else. I needed proof. I needed someone to validate this self-discovery, and I was terrified that I was prematurely and erroneously hopeful. Everything just fit so well in the patterns and formulas I mentally checked off in my mind. I received an official diagnosis this weekend and the relief that flooded and washed over me was overwhelming. I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not ashamed of it. I am enormously grateful that I have answers to the seemingly endless questions that went unanswered for so many years.

Dad had it too. I am certain. There are too many correlations to ignore. Mom tried to discuss it with him, but as was typical with my father, he dismissed it. I am now reassessing everything about our relationship against this new found knowledge. I have to because my brain will not allow the pieces of the puzzle to remain displaced, and for the first time since his passing I am longing and yearning for him to be alive in this moment so I could thank him. He may not have believed anything was different about him, but he saved me a little. My puzzle pieces are slowly fitting together now. My life is making a little more sense and my dad played a role…Thank you dad.

milestones…

Milestones

It’s been a little over four months since my dad died. The day to day minutia of life has returned, and even though he still floats across my conscious every day, the pain is different and the tumultuous emotions that had previously accompanied the pain have dissipated. Time has appropriately medicated my heart and I wonder if I’ve reached a milestone in grieving. I’ve painfully acknowledged and accepted (again) his role and place in my life; but unlike my previous attempts to wade these waters without resolution, this time I am consciously…rigorously trying to redirect my focus on the good…because there was good. I can torment myself forever and rake my frail emotions over the coals of uncertainties and doubts and I will get nowhere. He is gone. I am now faced with the choice of how I want to memorialize him. And as easy and comfortable and familiar as it is to recall the anger and hurt and victimize myself over and over, it is not healthy. It is not healing. I am pragmatic, a realist at my core. I cannot live in a constant state of victimization and anger. It is not who I am…not who I choose to be. I have no rose-colored glasses to use when reminiscing and I will not romanticize our relationship. It was what it was. Nothing more. Nothing less. I loved him and I miss him.

And I am allowing myself to miss him now without the “but” attached to the end of sentence. It is a clearer purer emotion, not clouded by the other anxieties and complications that I felt I needed to focus on. I accept him for everything he was and was not to me. I realize that my anger and resentment was concealing the pain lying underneath waiting. It was easier. It was familiar. This is not. Once I started to let go of the anger and resentment, the emotions that remain run deep and penetrating. It is not the jagged aimless and unfocused tormenting pain of four months ago. This pain is so different. I am healing. I am letting go and it hurts. It hurts like hell. I am finally acknowledging the parts of him that I loved and the pain that accompanies that acknowledgement is exquisite, because he is gone. I can still hear his voice and I can still feel his bear hugs, and I would give anything to have one more inane conversation with him. I loved his laugh…and how you could literally watch the progression of his animation escalate when he was discussing one of his many passions. He would have loved his funeral service. Every minute of it. All the people he cared about and who were important to him in one room. His excitement barely contained! He would have talked to everyone. Every.One. No one would have escaped his infectious energy. His casket was loaded into the hearse and driven away after the service and right before his favorite part. My dad loved activity swirling around him and reveling in the thick of it. He would have been the last one to leave, not wanting the day to end, and in the days and months that followed he would have revisited that day over and over sharing stories and conversations with us. I miss that.

But he is still with me. I see him in my son. I catch glimpses of him in myself. These bits and pieces of him live on in me, and I don’t want to waste them. There is a sense of responsibility to give him a legacy, to seize the best parts of him that exist in me and to make the most of them…to finish what he started and was perhaps, too afraid to complete. I got this dad. Love you.