Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Busy Weeks and Events too Sad

It has been a busy couple of weeks, with my classes finishing their final exams and my wife and I rushing to fix up our "old" house so the sale can close and we can focus on the "new" (really, actually new) house.

Just as I was ready to gather some thoughts and blog, we had the events of Newtown, CT. The mention of Autism Spectrum Disorders and violence (you can search on Google, I won't bother with the links) have raised some difficult issues — and I didn't want to comment on some of the articles about mental health and violence because, while less upsetting than the horrific events, were still upsetting.

We'll have more stories about the "severely" autistic with aggressive personality disorders. Maybe someone will dredge up the various "autism defense" stories, citing the several criminal cases in which autism was a defense for horrible acts.

Now, I'm only in a slightly better place to comment than I was a few days ago. It isn't a perfect place, emotionally, because there is a lot happening in my life. But, my wife commented on something tonight that I thought reflected well on us both.

We've had a bad few days. Some very bad, no good, lousy days. But, they are what they are. And my wife said, while I was reading on my tiny iPhone screen, something to the effect that many people would have thrown something, put a fist through the wall, or screamed by the end of today's operatic melodrama. And yet, I was sitting there still trying to understand the situation. My consternation about people led me to a Mensa forum post, which led to two blogs, which led me to two great Wikipedia entries (yes, there are such things are "great" Wiki entries), and then a search of quotations.

Yes, I still get angry and I've screamed many times in life. I've slammed things down and I've pounded my fist. Yet, as my wife and I have observed, some people really lose their tempers. Not a little bit. Not merely being loud or tense, or running away. (My favored response to stress — flee! It doesn't work all the time, but at least I leave the situation for a time.) No, some people are violently angry. They hurt people, animals, and I've even watched someone harm a plant in anger.

Our Mutt, an elderly cat, annoys me at night. He climbs onto me, or onto my pillows, and then falls. He falls off the bed. He falls down the kitty stairs that reach our bed. He falls between the bed and the headboard. Mutt seems to be in constant danger of hurting himself. He's simply getting old.

So, because I worry about him falling, I push him off me or the pillows. The problem is, he rolls over and then kicks his legs in the air. It looks like I am shoving him with far more force than I am. And so, I feel guilty and hug him and tell him I'm sorry. Last night, he climbed onto me and I didn't push him back onto the bed. He fell — and fell hard to the floor. He simply rolled right over me and slammed into the bedroom floor. I don't know how far it is, but the kitty staircase has four steps. I'm not sure Mutt didn't land on his head, too.

Now, I could never, ever hurt Mutt. I feel horrible pushing him, but not pushing him was a mistake. He went "Baaam!" into the floor. Not good.

I don't want to hurt Mutt. I worry about him constantly. I still feel guilty for picking up Misty Kitty by the scruff of her neck one time and I swear I will never do that again because it scared her so much.

I'm sensitive. I'm not some cold, calculating, angry person. I worry constantly about hurting my "kids" or my wife. I feel lousy when I believe I've offended or insulted someone. My wife tells me that one of my biggest problems is always apologizing for everything, including things that are beyond my control or that were not my fault.

So, on this day when I might be excused for expressing anger, it says something about my personality that my impulse is to understand the situation in which I find myself and analyze it. I wonder what I could have done better. I wonder how I could have avoided some matters. I feel a sense of guilt — even though I know I wouldn't do anything differently. I value honestly, loyalty, and compassion.

People have said I "scare them" with my intensity or my vocal tone. Other autistics have written about being "scary" or "weird" because they didn't smile or laugh when expected. Vocal intonations are "off" and so are our movements and facial expressions. We make people uncomfortable because our timing is off in social situations. But that doesn't mean we are angry or violent or anything else. It simply means we're different.

I can seem very intense, and I know that. I can seem far more passionate or angry than I am because my voice is loud and carries. My wife tells me I don't seem to have any sense of my own volume.

What I am is the man worried about Mutt and Misty Kitty. I speak oddly, move awkwardly, and don't smile enough. That doesn't make me some sort of threat to anyone. Yet, that is often the perception. I've heard that from teachers, coworkers, and students. I've been told I seem "distant" from other people. When someone writes about ASDs and violence, it hurts. It hurts because people have said they fear me and many, many other autistic people simply because we are not masters of communication.

I read that the suspect in Connecticut didn't like to make eye contact. He was quiet. He liked to spend time alone. He liked technology. He had some sort of "autism thing" one radio host said. "Autism thing?" What the heck is that?

And I still don't know how to write about this topic. I know people have been uncomfortable around me. There's not much I can do to change that. I'm over 40 years old, and I've never mastered being charming one-on-one. I wish people could accept me for who and what I am.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shaken, Not Stirred…

Sometimes, for no good reason, my legs and arms tremor. Okay, there is a good reason (a palsy in one arm, possible damage to a leg) but that doesn't mean I can't be annoyed by the tremors.

Last night, my right arm was trembling, starting while we were finishing dinner and continuing after I went to bed. My leg was soon shaking, too. Add in some back cramps and knee pain — not much sleep for me or my wife. I slept on the floor for a few hours, leading me to anticipate next week's arrival of our new living room furniture.

My body doesn't respond to my thoughts. Sometimes, I can sit and concentrate until the shaking stops. It is like meditation, focusing on the need to be still. I'm not someone to sit still normally, but still is much better than vibrating when you want to sleep.

I have tried various tips to reduce the palsy episodes. For a time, I was on medications for seizures and similar conditions. I can't recall if those medications helped with the tremors or not. My memory of the medicated years is fuzzy, at best. Because I get migraines, I don't drink caffeine and I avoid alcohol most of the time. I exercise, and I try to get sufficient sleep.

My wife says the right response is to simply accept the tremors. If they bother someone else, that's not my problem. But at night, they bother me!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Identity Questions

Earlier this week, I was asked by a young man how knowing I am "autistic" changed my life. His big question was if I would have not made some choices if I had known the diagnosis years ago. Is "The Autistic Me" a different me, making different choices? That's a good question, but I don't have a good answer. I'm just me. I know the label means something, but I choose the name of this blog as part of a class assignment — there wasn't a lengthy rhetorical analysis of the label or what it might mean to me.

I've written the following about "autism" as a label:
There are many other related posts, too. I am ambivalent about the "autistic" label, neither rejecting it entirely nor embracing it without question. As a writer with a degree in rhetoric, I'm expected to understand the positives and negatives of labels, but I find that you can get lost trying to evaluate if a word or phrase is a net plus or minus in life.

I'm not a fan of self-diagnoses, since any disability should be supported by experts. Yes, you can tell when something isn't quite "right" with you, but self-diagnosis doesn't lead to the supports many people need. A formal diagnosis helps some people significantly — and if an expert determines "autism" isn't the best label, at least you get the supports best for your situation.

I'm also not a fan of "diagnosing" others.
This week, over at the blog Countering you can read "Continued Reflection on Labels and Defining One's Identity" [] — one example of an ongoing discussion within the autism community. It is a topic I've addressed many times, trying to balance the benefits of autistic identity against the potential limitations such labels suggest.

I just cannot embrace "autism" without questioning it. Autism is a list of traits, at least in the DSM. When are those traits a "disability" and when are they merely a "difference" to be accepted? I know my palsy and paralysis limit me a little, but not so much that I'd complain about my quality of life. My sensory sensitivity can be debilitating, but not on a daily basis. Sometimes, being sensitive to smells or sounds can be useful.

The only person who can tell you how to best relate to any label is yourself. I can't tell you what it should mean to be "autistic" or what the implications of the label are. You have to discover who you are and how to be the best "you" you can be, no matter what your limitations are.