Susan Miller, over at Astrology Zone (by far the best and most accurate astrologer I’ve ever known), had said early on in 2016 that Virgos could expect to be able to draw a line in the sand between everything that occurred before 2016 and everything that occurred afterward. Although she didn’t (couldn’t) provide specifics (everyone’s different, after all, and this also applies to Virgos), she said that after 2016, something would be irrevocably different.
As I sit here now, under gray skies and clean, fresh air from last night’s thunderstorm, I look back on the accumulation of oddities and cosmic mischief that have defined my life thus far. And as I do this, I realize that she’s right: all of my experiences, as diverse and colorful as they have been, can really be shunted into two categories: Before … and After.
I actually made this realization somewhere around late March or early April. So early on in the year! How, in only the third or fourth month of the year, could I make such a statement…and be so sure about it?
Because the discovery that struck me like a lightning bolt was: “I’m autistic/an Aspie.”
When you’re 38 years old, realizing for the first time that you are on the autism spectrum is [shocking + interesting] x 1000. I can’t even explain it.
It just happened one day. One day, that lightning bolt descended and, as lightning bolts tend to do, it flash-banged me, freezing and stopping everything (for me), even time itself, while hardly touching anything else. One day, the fickle finger of the cosmos said, “you. (And only you.) I’m going to rock your world today.” And just like that, it zapped my head.
It’s the kind of informational tidbit that changes everything. Nothing has ever been the same again. And it probably never will be. And for that, I’m grateful.
So, this Year In Review, while a tradition I’ve kept since 2008 turned into 2009, is anything but traditional this time around. Because Asperger’s. And Asperger’s lenses. And all that.
The realization hit on either March 23 or March 24, I can’t quite remember which. My good friend (my “tía loca”) was there; she had come to stay with us, just as she has every year so far since 2013. She was the first to find out, primarily because my partner was studying for a class. But he was the close second.
Not surprisingly, I spent the last week of March and the entire month of April researching nonstop. I was able to double-down on the Googling because, well, sleep and I still aren’t exactly on regular speaking terms (although it has gotten better overall). So I amassed a metric tonne of information quite quickly.
And just as quickly and feverishly, ideas came flooding toward me, too. The first ideas were responses, rebuttals, and alternate takes on various topics and situations written about by autistic blog-writers and also the “rest of the world” at large.
It turns out that I had a lot to say! So much, in fact, that my Asperger’s/autism spectrum-themed blog was born on April 28. Since its birth, it has averaged about a post per day and much to my astonishment, it ended up with just shy of 40,000 hits from birth to New Year’s Eve.
Before I get too ahead of myself (an easy thing to do, and apparently I’m not alone, as I have found out), I have to say that I also spent late March and all of April doing several mental exercises:
Reframing My life – a common phenomenon among adult-diagnosed Aspie/autistic people, in which, after realizing you’re on the spectrum or getting diagnosed as such, you begin to look back on your life almost involuntarily, and everything you’ve struggled to laugh away, shake off, make sense of, or work around, rapid-fires at you, almost as if you were dying and your entire life flashes before your eyes. Only you’re not dying; in fact, you’re truly alive, probably for the first time, or at least more alive than you ever have been. And your chaotic, disjointed life falls together into perfect order, seamlessly and effortlessly, in a seemingly-endless series of “a-ha!” moments.
This can be tough, though…
Dredging up old memories – there are so many painful events and situations which, up until that point, I had successfully denied, buried, and forgotten. One of the curses described by many people on the spectrum is that of an incredibly long memory. I shit you not–my earliest verified memory so far dates back to when I was only five months old.
Yes, you read that right. Months. (Yes, even I was skeptical at first. But apparently, it’s true.)
Many of those memories are benign; many are not. Many were buried and forgotten as a sheer survival strategy. Reframing my life involved dredging these up, facing them, looking at them again, staring them down, examining them, analyzing them, processing them, attempting to put them into some kind of order, attempting to find some kind of logical or cosmic/karmic reason or justification.
This isn’t easy. In fact, it can suck. But the suckage is only temporary. It does pass. Shedding tears (lots of tears) helps the healing process along. You really can and often do feel lighter afterward.
Reconnecting – while reframing my life and dredging up old memories, I also reconnected with myself. I know that sounds a little strange to some, but I (and I’m sure many other people on the spectrum can attest to this) had buried my true self. I had tried so hard to hide her from view, locking her up in the proverbial attic, that I had pretty much forgotten she was there. I had learned to live without her. I had adopted a successful, believable shell/persona that was much more commonly “acceptable” than my true self, which, until I put her away, had been endlessly ridiculed, questioned, and derided.
But she had never quite gone away. A tiny flame, still lit, refusing to burn out or disappear, refusing to give up, remained inside. When I unlocked the proverbial cabinet that held said flame, I rekindled it. I went up to release the true self, who was still only about five or six years old at heart. And I hugged her. I told her everything would be all right. And I promised that I would never abandon or deny her existence again. I made peace with that Inner Child. She’s working on forgiving me.
Connecting – in addition to reconnecting with my old/true self, I also connected with (a whole bunch of) new people! People on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, people just like me, many of whom, surprisingly, were experiencing the same realization and self-discovery processes that I was!
These people are utterly amazing. They’re intelligent, genuine, innocently and brilliantly childlike, and refreshing to spend time with, even if that time is spent via the screens of electronic devices from across the world.
To anyone who says that online friendships aren’t “real” or somehow aren’t “as good as in-person ones” or that social media “isn’t a substitute for real life” I say phooey, and pound sand. After joining the autistic communities on Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress, I can say that I absolutely care for (and even love) many of them just as strongly, deeply, and powerfully as I would had I met them in the flesh, standing in front of each other. Social media is real-life for us, and for many of us, our electronic devices are our link between and our lifelines to each other. I have learned more from them in the past 9 months (Facebook), 8 months (WordPress), and 6 months (Twitter) than I have from almost any counselor/therapist I’ve ever had or textbook I’ve ever read or professor I’ve ever listened to or conference I’ve ever attended.
They’ve helped me heal. They’ve supported me through tough times. They’ve cheered for me and celebrated with me during my good/strong times. They’ve forgiven me for my mistakes. They take me seriously when I say something. They interact with me. They don’t just contact me when they want something or I can be of benefit to them somehow. They check in on me, email me, message me, Skype with me…the whole nine yards. They ask my opinion. They include me in projects. They nominate me for awards. They accept and embrace me just as I am. How freaking awesome is that??
Learning Curve – speaking of learning, I’ve learned a whole, whole, whole lot (original vocabulary, I know). Not only have I learned a lot about myself (thanks to the blog-writers out there, as well as several cutting-edge forward-thinking books and pioneers), but I’ve also learned a lot about psychology, sociology (and all of the topics, struggles, challenges, victories, relationships, and other concepts under its umbrella), disability, different cultures, and more.
I’ve learned words like “executive function”, “echolalia”, “non-binary”, and “ableism”. I’ve become aware of concepts such as “differently abled” and “different not less” and “nothing about us without us”.
I’ve launched my own campaigns (merely adding my voice to those who were already there) against Autism Speaks (known among the community as “Autism $peaks because it sucks, it hardly helps any autistic people, everything it says and stands for flies in the face of what autistic people are trying to say, and they still treat us like we’re diseased), the perpetrators of various slurs, and more.
I’ve learned a lot more about “task-switching”, “social anxiety”, “gender identity’, and the fun-fact that the word “people” can be used as a verb (example: “I’m so relieved that I’m done peopling for the day!” Meaning that all of one’s obligations of social contact for the day have been met, and the person can finally relax in their own train of thought). I’ve learned a lot about my own nervous system and how it works, the difference between garden-variety temper tantrums and true-blue honest-to-God(dess) meltdowns, and I’ve even learned how to spot one coming if I can recognize it fast enough.
I’ve learned a lot about other people, too – the struggles they face, the criticism they endure, the trauma they’ve suffered, the ignorance they deal with, the activism they participate in, the other chronic health issues they live with, the challenges they meet, the victories they achieve, the self-acceptance they’ve cultivated, the self-care they practice, the campaigns they spearhead, the myths they correct, and the accepted “facts” they refute. I’ve witnessed how much hardship one can be heaped with and yet, at the end of the day they’re some of the nicest, best-meaning, genuine people you’ll ever meet, who don’t play headgames, twist your words, screw with your mind, or betray your heart.
I learned that I’m non-binary myself. This pertains to the idea that one does not necessarily adhere to all of mainstream society’s stereotypical “ideals” about how one should act or look (or anything else) based on their gender. Non-binary means that I’m not particularly concerned with conforming, nor do I see myself as entirely female; I might lean ever-so-slightly more toward female (as opposed to male), but for as long as I can remember, I’ve considered myself a mixture of both, and also neither. I have finally found a vocabulary home. I finally feel like I belong somewhere.
This feeling of belonging was only solidified and cemented by the banging of the gavel in my favor by somebody with diagnostic power – I was knighted with official Asperger’s/autism spectrum dual diagnosis, complete with signature and full write-up, on Friday, November 4, 2016. There aren’t too many diagnoses that warrant celebration; for many people on the spectrum, Asperger’s/autism is one. And it was indeed a celebration, and I had a whole cyber-room of friends to “party” online with who shared in my final victory.
OK, that was a blog post in itself, but wait!–there’s more! And this doesn’t have much to do with autism or Asperger’s, I promise. (Not that the spectrum is a bad thing and let’s face it–it’s colored most of my entire year and probably will for years to come, but this particular blog isn’t dedicated to that subject; I have a whole different blog for that.) 🙂
Practice – the office has certainly changed. Maybe not cosmetically, but in terms of…well, a lot of other aspects.
Almost immediately before last year’s pre-Christmas (cryptic, random) “screw you” rejection letter from the acupuncture school my partner had applied to, he had immediately gone to work trying to whip up a Plan B. This lit the fire under him to investigate the other school in that area, a school that actually had a better reputation and curriculum. In nothing short of wizard-grade magic, poof!–He had managed to scramble together all of his pertinent records and jump through all the hoops–over winter break, no less–and he got accepted!
He started school during the first week of January and has thus completed his first year. His ability to do this, of course, required my presence at the steering wheel of our truck. So, once or twice a week for almost a year now, we’ve been zipping up and down the interstate, trekking the 70-some miles (110-some km) between the two cities that harbored our home and his school respectively. My own stress levels shot up into alarming territory, but his enthusiasm launched just as high, so it was worth it.
The office “game” is similar, but not only has the schedule changed, but so have the “players”. Ending 2015 on a semi-sour note because our front desk assistant was harboring some delusion of grandeur that I was involved in a conspiracy with my parents to “get rid of” her, she gave me the icy shoulder ever since.
I certainly sensed the negative vibes, but at first, I was clueless about what I could possibly have done wrong (since I make an extra effort to treat everybody like, you know, they’re actually human beings and not just work machines!), until my half-skeptical partner cornered me and asked me point-blank: “are you involved in a conspiracy to get rid of [name]?” Which ignited a conversation as I vehemently (and truthfully) denied such an accusation. The question had come completely out of the blue, but suddenly, the puzzle over why I’d gotten the super-silent treatment had finally been solved.
This assistant kicked off the New Year by announcing, to her credit, a five-month notice that she would be leaving to stay at home with the new changes to the family structure (word to the wise and all that). I thought to myself, “she ain’t gonna last that long.”
Sure as shit, come March, probably days before I discovered my strong resemblance to the Asperger’s prototype, she was shortening her notice, giving two weeks instead. I thought to myself, “good, because otherwise my partner and I were gonna terminate you.” She clearly had a case of Short-Timer’s Disease (translation: I-Don’t-Give-a-Shit Mode), and it never ends well; nobody wins. The past three months or so had been nothing but a swirl of cold, prickly resentment, blatant disrespect, my feeling singled out and defensive (and thus, weakened), and total fatigue, along with complete ungratefulness (on her part).
So, good riddance.
Since she was a family member of a good friend, we thought for sure this would permanently alter our friendship dynamic, but (quite) fortunately, it didn’t. Everybody held true to the words they’d given, that business and pleasure could indeed be kept completely separate of each other, and no bad blood in the office arena would sour our friendship. Whew!
Out with the old, in with the new. Our new assistant, hired on April Fool’s Day (which made me laugh and groan at the same time back then) has been a gem. Not exactly quite the rah-rah office cheerleader material we had envisioned, but they sell us well, both on the phone and in person, in their own effective way. I had first dibs at training and by then, I had found out a matter of days ago about my Aspergian nature and that became a focal point of my segment of training with that person, which actually turned out very well. It was a good thing.
We also launched a project we’re dubbing “Practice 3.0”. Version 1.0 was, well, the birth of the original practice, straight/fresh out of school. Practice 2.0 was the move from our former “starter” office into our current (bigger) one in February 2012, along with the contracting with a new (and more professional) massage therapist and revamping our website into something much more professional.
Practice 3.0 is now well underway; it doesn’t include an office move (thank god(dess)), but it does include practically everything else. A name change, new logo, and brand-new website with new domain name have all been completed already. But this version 3.0 has many other prongs – additional training, tons of blog-writing, new business cards/flyers/informational pamphlets/etc that don our new logo, and perhaps pens and thumb drives (eventually) that also sport said new logo.
In addition, there’ll be an entire DIY marketing campaign that includes a significant presence on social media (again, with new logo and colors), YouTube channel (which means that yep, we have to make videos), podcasts (yep, we’ll have to record stuff), new intake form packets, some additional training, and a whole bunch of other odds and ends. Needless to say, this’ll be a several-year process. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter.
Accomplishments – looking back over previous “Resolutions/Goals”, those ghosts of New Years past, I am pleased to say that I accomplished a ton! I did indeed finish my training modules for the IFM certification I’m gunning for. And, before the year drew to a close, I had also completed (and done what my partner and I believe to be a bang-up job on) the first of the two-part exam process! Submitted and done.
I also just so happened to get a whole whack of dental work done (!!) Yep, I finally did it. Sick and tired of popping gobs of over-the-counter pain relievers, being woken up in the middle of the night with a sudden onset of pain, and dreading every meal for fear of pain creeping up afterward, I finally said screw it and made the phone call already.
Of course, it helps to bite down very wrong on a peanut with an already-fractured tooth. Yeah, that’s no bueno. (Word to the wise – don’t ever do that.) The most-funnest part was, I was 1100-1200 miles away from home at the time, attending my 20-year high school reunion, and it was my first night in town, which meant that I wouldn’t be back home for 3-4 more days. I had taken 20 over-the-counter pain relievers and done just about everything else I could think of, and it wasn’t even making a dent in the pain.
I made an emergency call down to my partner (who had stayed behind to hold down the office and cat forts) and pleaded with him to please call my endodontist to grasp for any kind of referral in the town I was in. I knew it was a pipe-dream and that I was grasping at straws, but hey–it was a starting point. My endodontist is a good guy (I knew that even though I personally hadn’t seen him yet – rave reviews are reassuring things!) and I knew he’d been in the field a while and probably had friends in plenty of places. I was hoping that the town I was in was one of them.
It was! My endodontist gave me the name of a young, capable whipper-snapper who had actually trained under him, and apparently, my endodontist had also called his colleague’s office and elbowed my way into a spot on his schedule for that day. Having gotten so desperate for at least temporary relief that I actually took my dear friend up on her offer to donate some of her leftover Tramadol to my pain cause, I reluctantly but gratefully accepted, starting with only one of the two the container had said to take.
A half hour later and still in pain (pain can be a stubborn bitch), I had gone ahead and taken the second one (allowed by the bottle) and thus, I had to get my dear friend to drive me to the local endodontist’s clinic. With elegant skill and coordinated hands, I sank into the dentist’s chair and practically almost fell asleep during my root canal. Wow. Now that’s a first!
Back home and newly empowered with proof that going to the dentist isn’t going to kill me after all (I had been so scared before that I kept my head stuck in the sand for around 4 years), I went ahead and kept the momentum going, eventually getting 4 root canals, one deep-drill, five or six crowns (one shattered on an adjacent tooth during one of the procedures and I had to get it replaced), and one highly-unpleasant-but-effective deep cleaning, I was fatigued but practically an old hat at going to the dentist. And it’s not over yet – that was just Phase 1 and part of Phase 2 of my self-written four-phase dental plan.
On the personal/relationship front, our partnership has probably been the strongest it has ever been. Finding out that I’m on the spectrum has certainly turned things around, for the better. As I feverishly researched everything I could (I maxed out the number of internet browser tabs I could have open simultaneously on my iPhone), I would email my partner links to the most appropriate and applicable information, copying the text that compelled me to email the link into the body of the email. This way, I wouldn’t be talking nonstop about it, and we could each send and receive the information at our convenience, when we had the time and mental energy to absorb and comprehend it.
This worked out very well. Armed with new understanding and at last a single code-key that unlocked the mysteries of my entire life and my vast array of quirks, he was finally able to approach me in a manner that was more supportive, patient, understanding, forgiving, and accommodating. He actually likes the fact that I’m an “Aspie”, and it helped us in a long list of ways.
We also endured what I hope will be our final instance of financial infidelity, and began to make lasting positive changes to How We Do Things, reviewing bills and statements together every Tuesday (should one of us be out of town, then it simply waits until the following Tuesday, but it happens, without fail).
Speaking of the personal realm, I also discovered that I almost assuredly have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Once thought of as a term reserved only for “bendy” people who “break things all the time”, it has come to light that it’s actually much more common in its “milder” (read: less outwardly obvious) forms. You know something’s wrong when: you fracture a tooth on a soft jellybean, you wake up from sleeping with a herniated disc in your neck that had not been herniated when you fell asleep, you have ripped hamstring muscle tendons off of their attachment to the butt-bone at age 17, you’re born with a club-foot, and you’re chronically cursed in terms of technology mishaps.
Yep, all of that applies to me, and it’s estimated that about 20% of all of my fellow autism spectrumites have EDS as well. If Asperger’s/autism is the code-key that solves my cognitive, emotional, and neurological puzzles, well, then EDS is the code-key that solves the lion’s share of my physical/biomechamical puzzle.
For once, I have more answers than questions about my health!
And yet, there are still so many unanswered ones. Depressingly, I am now well above my ideal weight, which signifies something else going on underneath, of which I’m not exactly sure. In addition, this year’s lab test battery revealed hemachromatosis (iron overload), as well as toxic levels of three other heavy metals (Aluminum, Cadmium, and Arsenic), several detoxification function impairments, and a butt-ton of nutrient deficiencies. My magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium are on the floor, as are most of my B-vitamins and Vitamin D.
I also highly suspect that the thyroid issues I saw coming about five years ago may have actually taken hold and begun to rear their ugly heads. Ouch. Lots of work to do. But, since I haven’t been supplementing, that’s actually good news – there’s nowhere to go but up.
It could always be worse, though. This year was a bit tough in that my aunt, my best friend’s mom, and another friend’s mom, are all dying of terminal cancer. So, even though I had been planning to stay home over Christmas this year, I’m pretty sure that there is at least one, maybe two people I know for whom this last Christmas will probably be their last, so I felt that it was important to go. We had a surprisingly great time; everyone was in unexpectedly bright and strong spirits, so I was really grateful for that, for them.
Travel – I did travel a lot – not just to Minneapolis twice (once for the high school reunion and once for Christmas), but I also went to Maryland and Atlanta, both for conferences. My dear friend and I did zero traveling/road-trips this last year, so hopefully we’ll get to when she arrives starting next week.
Sooo….peering into a half-broken, half-working crystal ball, what do I see ahead for 2017? What are my goals? Let’s start with goals first.
- Continue with dental work – deeper cavities are next!
- Take the second part of the exam for IFM certification
- Make healthier food choices
- Move more (physical activity)
- Begin Asperger’s/autism counseling/coaching with the diagnostic specialist who did my evaluation (who is a very nice guy, up on things, reasonably priced, personable, and quite competent)
- Clean and organize my offices at home and work, and the rest of the mess in my apartment
- Begin my Masters degree, finances (or student loans?) permitting
- Keep plugging away at Practice 3.0!
- Make new friends on the spectrum
- Build a bridge between people on and off the spectrum, encourage and participate in open dialogue and conversations that foster understanding and acceptance
- Get back into spiritual studies (usually involving world religions/philosophies)
- Get more efficient at work, with more systems in place that help me work smarter, not harder
- Continue to demystify the remaining health issues, especially the set of those that have cropped up over the past 3 years
What else might I see ahead for 2017?
- The above, plus…
- Murphy (our now-very-old cat) getting even older, hopefully remaining happy, healthy, and with us
- Family members passing away
- Less travel this year (although I hope to go to Los Angeles for the annual conference, but that’s the only trip I’ve got my eye on right now)
- Taking more supplements/herbs
- Collecting research
- Collecting digital art
- Reading more blogs
- Studying more psychology/sociology
Well, at least I’m not as late this year in posting my Year In Review as I was last year! It might be mid-January, but at least it’s not the end of April! 🙂