Most of the time I see my autistic traits as simply part of me that I am quite happy to accept and function with and around. My special interest and perseveration is driving my career (how cool is that?! I get PAID to perseverate!), and I’m able to structure my day so that I am safe, comfortable, and happy throughout, wearing clothes and eating foods that don’t set off my sensory system and make me go into insanity mode. Most of the time, I can control my environment so that I can just “be”. And this is a wonderful feeling. Truly the pinnacle of “autism acceptance”. No one cares if I stim in my office. I get my work done, and its good quality, so that’s what matters. In general, I’ve found and made the best possible environment for myself so that being autistic isn’t disabling on a constant basis. Sure, the accommodations that I create for myself could by some (many) people be considered “a significant disruption to daily living”, but for me, they’re just a part of my life, and that’s just fine with me. That’s one of the reasons I resisted the idea of an Autism diagnosis in the first place – I get along just fine from where I’m looking, thank you very much! “Significant disruption”? Not a chance.
But there are some times that my perfectly constructed world breaks down. Some times when things go wrong, and that I’m reminded that all my quirks and difficulties and sensory and social sensitivities and other “Autistic” things truly have the capability of becoming disabling, in an extreme way. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so over-stressed due to orals. Maybe its because I had to use up all of my spoons and then some on Friday morning because a professor screwed up and dragged me out on the beach in high tide and my pants got soaking wet and it was all I could do to make it through the lesson, that I had to tap into my reserves to even make it through the hour and a half class, and then I had to make it HOME (45 minute bus ride, IN WET PANTS ). Maybe it’s that I’ve been having trouble convincing myself that I want to eat lately (eating is a sensory assault, and I’m stressed out about other things and just haven’t been feeling up to it) and as a consequence that I haven’t been eating well. I don’t know what it was, but last night, everything piled up and came to a screeching halt.
I’m ashamed of last night. I know I shouldn’t be, and I’m not even sure why I’m blogging about it, except to think it through. A friend of mine (from my lab)’s significant other (whom I am also somewhat friends with) just finished his PhD. There was a party at his advisor’s house that both he and his partner invited me to. They promised good food (and they’re Indian and cook amazingly, and as I said above, food would have been good) and good company. I told them I would go. I had every intention of going. I was a lot stressed out about it, because I don’t really know his advisor, and his advisor doesn’t really know me. I didn’t want to show up and have her open the door and say “who are you and what are you doing here?” and I didn’t want to have to try to answer that. So I spent the 2 hours before the party convincing myself that it would be OK. Both of the people being honored wanted me there, and this was for them. I could do it. I practiced scripts, rehearsed, made cookies to bring, and even got directions to the advisor’s house. The party was supposed to start at 6, but where I am, that usually means 6:30 or 7. I’m obsessively on time to everything, but I really didn’t want to show up at 6 and be the only one there. So I left my apartment at 6:15. And got down there at 6:40. And panicked. “what if I’m late? What if there’s no one there yet? What if I’m at the wrong place? What if I don’t know anybody?” I drove around the block twice. Parked. Sat in my car and tried to convince myself to get out of the car and go up to the door. But I couldn’t do it. I had exceeded my threshold of functionality for the weekend. I think I could’ve done it if I hadn’t been alone – I really prefer to go to social things with a guide – someone who I can follow and do what they do. But my friends had been there well before, and I couldn’t go with them. And the other students who I knew who were invited were out of town and not going. And I couldn’t convince myself to get up and go in. After about 20 minutes of this, I gave up and drove home. I haven’t ever given up on something like this in a long time. I knew it would be a stretch of my abilities, but I thought I could do it. I practiced. I prepared. And I got so close that I should have made it. But I was wrong. I broke a promise to some friends, and didn’t go.
When I got home, around 7:30, I curled up on the couch, shaking. I haven’t had a full on meltdown in a while, so I guess it was due. And then I slept for 11 hours. I know I screwed up. I know I probably could’ve done it. If I’d just gotten through the door, it would’ve been OK. But that door was more of a barrier than I had the resources to breech. And in trying to muster the resources, I depleted myself past empty. Just another reminder that while I’m usually able to “pass” as quirky and quite a bit odd (which is par for the course in academia after all), that being Autistic really can cause a “significant disruption to daily living”, even from my point of view.
And this is probably going to be the last blog entry until after orals, though who knows… my exam is Thursday morning, and I’ll be in full on study mode until then. The answer to the Stenophagous animal question will be posted after my exam is over. The answer hasn’t been said quite right yet, but you are very close (for those of you who care…) Good research guys!