anxiety…

anxiety
C SPhotography

For as long as I can recall, I’ve suffered from anxiety. Like Asperger’s Syndrome, anxiety disorders weren’t widely recognized or prevalent in society 35-40 years ago. My parents had no idea the mental torment I faced most days just walking out our front door; and I can still recall memories of my dad carrying me into my kindergarten class unaware that leaving me with those small inquisitive humans was the most terrifying abandonment my small chaotic mind could comprehend. How could they have known? I had no means or comprehension of how to verbalize my inner chaos, and they had no inkling, no tools, had no idea the questions to ask.

 I survived kindergarten…barely. It did not bode well for the remainder of my school experience. I was labeled lazy and a loner by teachers; weird and quirky by my fellow classmates. Teachers didn’t understand my OCD tendencies or that any change, any influx of new information would cause my anxiety to spill over and affect everything in my day. How I would start writing a paper over and over and over because I didn’t like how my name looked on the sheet or I needed to cross out a word. Or if I couldn’t get assignments exactly right, my mind shut down and I’d turn in half –assed work because I didn’t care anymore; then spend sleepless nights filled with anxiety fearing the grade I would receive. My classmates didn’t understand my aversion to the hustle and bustle of school life and activities; or my need for solitary recovery. Every. Day. I simultaneously struggled and wrestled with loneliness. I longed to connect with my peers, but truly had no idea how to. I felt completely out of place and awkward trying to participate in social activities; and this social awkwardness typically resulted in a premature departure from the premises, or declining the invitation altogether. I much preferred the safety and solace of my bedroom and my books.

I did have a small group of acquaintances that accepted me and allowed me to connect and detach as I chose. Through that interaction, I was able to experiment with appropriate social interface and pushed the boundaries of my anxiety to a more acceptable level. I gained insight into which behavior was and was not accepted, and which situations caused the most stress for me. I’ve become somewhat of a chameleon, learning to adapt quickly to different social situations, but most of the time I still watch for and take my social queues from those around me and pattern myself accordingly.

I was sick a lot during my tenure in school. In hindsight, I believe most all of it was attributed to anxiety or an offshoot of anxiety. I unfortunately discovered after my schooling was completed that one of the best remedies to my anxiety and the chaos in my mind was writing it down. Every. Thing. I own notebooks upon notebooks of lists and information and journaling. I go through them periodically and destroy those that are no longer relevant, but I understand now that any pertinent information needs to be recorded outside of my crowded mind if I am going retain it. You will never find me without some sort of notebook accompanying me. It is my surrogate brain and a means to placate, to keep at bay the anxiety that is always edging forward threatening to suffocate me. It is ever present, but I keep trying to stretch my boundaries anyway. It is how I’ve learned to adapt, to survive with Asperger’s and anxiety.

crossroads…

crossroads

I don’t think that any one particularly likes change. I laughably tried to convince myself for years that I was a go with the flow kind of gal….but I’m not. I’m galaxies away from it actually, and I haven’t blogged in a long time as a result.

As with any upheaval to my predictable ordinary life; the dust, stirred and agitated in my mind needed to settle in with the new normal I created. I’ve often instigated change in my life, consciously pushing myself out of my comfortable spaces as a way to adapt and blend in with the ever changing fast paced world around me. It is tangible concrete evidence I can use to proclaim “See? I adapted! I’m normal!” I conveniently forget the toll it takes.

In truth, my bravado and sometimes blasé choices result in months of uncontrollable paralyzing anxiety and seemingly endless days of squelching the incoming tide of a panic attack. The disquiet that alteration to my life generates is a constant companion lying in wait, just under the surface waiting to strike when my resolve to push onward and upward lapses for even a moment. It is a constant conflict; forcing acceptance to change knowing the anxiety and chaos that will inevitably rear its ugly head for me to battle. My inner voice whispering calm soothing platitudes over and over to control the paranoia and inner paralysis anxiety ushers in.

Time has proven to me that I will survive, regardless. A little bruised and worse for wear but nonetheless, I will survive. So I keep pushing through the white noise in my mind until some semblance of normalcy and routine returns because I know in due course, it will. And it has. I finally feel settled, expressive, unforced; which allows for space and time to write again.

As I mulled and sorted through the random thoughts that flitted through my mind, I came to the conclusion that I’ve reached a crossroads of sorts. I began this blog as an outlet to process my grief. I did not anticipate my own self-discovery; or the depth of insight and understanding that I would gain into my father’s life.

Even though he is gone, I feel closer to him now. The knowledge I’ve reaped about him, about me, is invaluable to me; and I feel as though I am only scratching the surface. His Asperger’s enlightened me to my own presence on the spectrum. My quirks and idiosyncrasies mimic his in so many ways. Different, yet the same. I am encouraged to push on, to delve deeper, and to learn more. This syndrome is ever presenting in my life, but it is no longer the elephant in the room to be avoided; and as I gain increased understanding about myself, I discover more about him and that keeps his legacy alive with me. And so this blog re-calibrates to a slightly altered course, adjusting to follow a new path of discovery.

365 days…

One year. One year since my world permanently altered with the news of my father’s death. Grieving took on many faces for me over the last 365 days. I was not prepared for the finality of it all…the permanence of his absence. Looking back, the shock of my new reality was surreal. I floated through those first few weeks in a haze of jumbled mixed emotions; anger and bitterness masking the exquisite pain lying in wait just below the surface. When I finally surrendered my anger to the pain, it washed over me, drowning me in sadness. There was no bargaining or denial or depression, just wave upon wave of deep aching penetrating loss. To integrate back into normal life seemed silly. Everything was trivial in the wake of what I just experienced. I didn’t want the world to keep spinning. Everything and everyone desperately needed to stop so I could process this pain, this agony. But the world kept going, oblivious to my mind’s internal protests, and after a few months, as expected, the sympathy and acknowledgment of his death waned and faltered. I couldn’t let it go, let him go; and so I dug. I wanted to know who my father was, deep down…beyond the masks he so carefully crafted. I needed understanding. I needed a small piece of him I could keep with me, keep alive; for him and for me.

As I started to gain insight into my dad and my mind received the clarity I yearned for, his absence became more marked and more painful. Only then did the regret sink in. I could finally clearly and truly see him for who he was, and he wasn’t there to share in this epiphany. I couldn’t apologize for my lack of understanding, my lack of information. I couldn’t tell him how I understood how hard it must have been for him. I couldn’t tell him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him, and it broke me a little…but it also ushered in new enlightenment not only regarding him, but also me. I could not have predicted the knowledge or insight I’ve gained over these 365 days. I am still incredulous with how my life has changed as a result of seeking dad out. It was our first and last journey together. I know him and understand him now in ways I did not think possible. It is my piece of him I can keep with me, and I am so grateful.

And although it still hurts, and the void is still there, permanently…demanding acknowledgement; and the acute pangs of grief still smack me suddenly, unexpectedly at weird moments, it is…better? It’s been a year of immense pain and heartache, yes…but also of tremendous growth and insight. I have closure and peace and I know he is with me whispering he loves me, and he is proud of the person I have become.

 

 

 

 

 

wallowing…

tedalone

I am in a funk. I have been for a couple months now. It’s infinitely frustrating as I cannot adequately express the jumbled and fragmented thoughts piling up on top of each other inside my head trying desperately to escape. I sat at my computer numerous times and typed out the nonsense, the snippets of incomplete thoughts and observations absent of purpose or direction. I feel anxious. Nothing is placating or loosening the knot in my stomach and so please forgive the ramblings, but I desperately need to clear out the chaos.

Unfortunately, this isn’t unfamiliar territory. Every year, it seems, I subconsciously reserve this time to allow a penetrating sense of frustration, dread, and anxiety to seep into my psyche and play havoc with my mind. It’s been a repeat performance for as long as I can remember, and I’ve had no explanation. The record player needle gets stuck on a scratch in the record and plays the same chords over and over and over until it is gently jostled out of it. I become introspective and challenge my authenticity, my choices…my life…

This year the reflection is a bit different, but the frustration, anxiety and dread has still arrived, uninvited, at the doorstep of my mind. Asperger’s provided many answers and insights to the queries that went unanswered for countless years. So many of my irrational emotions and behaviors that were so confusing and frustrating to me are all neatly categorized and explained in detail under this diagnosis…but…they don’t magically disappear because I now know the origin. The amount of my life that is affected and touched by Autism Spectrum Disorder still dumbfounds me. It’s everywhere, in every nook and cranny. Everything that is inherently me is also Asperger’s. And quite frankly, sometimes it is a huge wad of suck. I can’t turn it off when I want to. I can’t make it stop. It’s always there, yes, to provide knowledge and enlightenment; but also frustration and unwanted anxiety and meltdowns and feeling like I am in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. The feeling of inadequacy, of not quite measuring up, is always lying in wait just below the surface whenever I feel like I just kind of suck at this whole “life” thing. It’s a daily challenge. Hourly. I know I am different. I know why I am different. It’s not always an easy pill to swallow. I struggle with authenticity. Being authentic and true to who I am is so important to me now after years of adapting to what I thought I was supposed to be; but I also need to interact in and with society and being true to who I am confuses people. I get labeled quirky or weird and get pushed into invisible corners. I hate getting pushed into corners. I hate the confusion that I encounter when I feel like I’m being crystal clear or the judgement thrown my way when my filter isn’t working properly. I must check the mask and recalibrate. I hate the mask, the façade I must wear to survive in my everyday life.

Deciding what parts of me I am comfortable sharing with the world outside my doorstep, and being true to who I really am is a balancing act that requires constant tweaking and keeps my mind in chaos. At any given moment I am trying to figure out what is expected of me, compensating for the areas I know I lack in cognitively and socially, and adapting appropriately to the situation without feeling threatened by everything and everyone around me. It is exhausting and I’ve thrown myself some pretty epic pity parties; but at the end of the day, it is me. It is who I am. Ultimately, this knowledge has resulted in less harsh and less demeaning inner dialogue. As I did with my father, I am learning to measure my behaviors and experiences not against societal norms or against those who truly do not understand and pass along ignorant and unsolicited observations; but against the barometer of what I now know. It is hard. I’ll be the first to admit that I do not always rise to the occasion and bestow the grace I should. Accepting that I have Asperger’s was easy for me. Living my life every day with this knowledge has proven to be the unexpected challenge.

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