All amped up and nowhere to go

I made it through finals week. I got a B in my chemistry course, which was a full letter grade better than what I expected. It means that not only do I not have to take it again, but it will also look better on my application to nursing programs later this year. I am so relieved I could just scream.

My CNA course is over now as well. I take the test to officially become a CNA later this month. July was the longest month in recent memory.

My anxiety has not switched off, unfortunately. It is as though the stress of last month triggered an extended bout of anxiety that has not yet found its end. My latest stressor is an old one: I have a “weird thing” about people coming into my house when I did not invite them. I prefer to fix things in my home on my own; I don’t like having maintenance come in and do it for me. I don’t know the exact origin of this fear, but it’s rooted in shame. I have a very difficult time maintaining a clean and orderly space, and I am constantly afraid that I’ll lose housing as a result. There is a lot of clutter in my space and my executive dysfunction makes it extremely difficult for me to even know where to start if I want to tidy up. The last few days, there has been some plumbing issue in my building. I have not been affected, but I’ve worked myself into such a state that I am waiting for them to knock on my door and ask to come in and take a look at my plumbing. It gives me such stress that I’ve had full-on panic attacks about it, complete with a new symptom: dry-heaving. I’ve never vomited from anxiety before, but I’ve come awfully close lately.

Sometimes writing about my anxiety helps. But lately, it has been so severe that it feels as though I’m not taking any medication to manage it at all. I have a therapy appointment soon, and I plan to talk to the therapist about this, naturally. I am just in an absolute tizzy lately and it’s starting to manifest as headaches, decreased appetite, and situational paralysis.

Finals week

is appropriately named. I’m on my final nerve, the final ounce of my patience, the final part of my rope. This month has been a whirlwind in a terrible way.

I decided (sort of impulsively and last-minute) to take some courses at a local college this summer. One was a nursing assistant course which I enjoyed but found incredibly time-consuming. The other was a chemistry course—one I did not enjoy but did find time-consuming. It was an awful combination and, in retrospect (not that I could have known this when I chose these two), a really poor decision on my part. I like science, but I am not naturally good at it so I have to put in work—which I was prepared to do. What I wasn’t prepared for was an absentee course instructor who did little more than answer emails and provide grades (which were almost all automatically generated, anyway, as the class was online and therefore so was the coursework).

On top of this, I obviously work full time. Two classes became a second full-time job, which was ludicrous. As I write this, I am anxiously awaiting my final chemistry grade as the instructor no doubt continues to take her sweet time calculating. According to my own calculations, I should pass with a C—the highest grade I hoped to finish with from the beginning—but literally nothing about this course went the way I figured it would, so who knows? Either way, I added the same course (at a different college, since I don’t plan to ever be anywhere near that instructor again for as long as I live) for the fall semester, in the event that I get lower than a C.

I can’t even describe the stress I’ve felt over the last month. It felt like the longest month of my life, truly. A classmate in my CNA course that I became friendly with expressed the same sentiment as we left our final class today and I felt relieved that it hadn’t just been a “me” thing. I haven’t had a conscious moment this month where I wasn’t worried about one work or school thing or another. It’s been a long time since I sustained such a high stress level for so long, and it was incredibly draining. Now that it’s over, I feel like I could sleep for days. I’m taking a mental health day from work tomorrow to give myself a little bit of breathing room. I feel so overstimulated that I can’t organize a thought; I feel reflexively anxious and I’m having to consciously remind myself a) to breathe, and b) that it’s over, whether I pass chemistry this round or not.

I am just so excited to go back to doing nothing in the evenings for a while.

Post virus

About a month ago I got COVID for the first time. An idiot relative-by-marriage of one of my siblings gave it to everyone in my family. I’m triple vaxxed so technically the case I had was “mild,” but it certainly didn’t feel that way going through it.

I have had symptoms of dysautonomia for quite a while, but covid has made it much worse and I am only just starting to realize how unusual it is for someone of my age and health to be suddenly this prone to heat stroke, this sweaty at inappropriate times, this dizzy every time I stand up, having this much back pain constantly, and needing this much rest after basic, non-strenuous activities.

I spent today in bed, willing my pain and exhaustion to ebb. I finally got up feeling a little better around 5:30 in the evening, only to find myself desperately depressed. Stress makes dysautonomia worse, and between my job ending in a few months and a very stressful (if not heavy) course load at the moment means that Saturdays are my only free days, and I spent today down in the dumps. Feels like a waste.

I don’t have any energy anymore. I thought that I was overly tired before covid, but it’s gotten so much worse. I need extensive rest after the mildest activity. I no longer wake up to my morning alarms; I can’t even open my eyes until 9 a.m. I was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea, but cannot afford the necessary equipment to remedy the disorder, so whatever exhaustion I feel is aggravated by a pretty serious sleep disorder.

I suffered heat exhaustion last weekend despite liberal water drinking and use of shade, walking through a small family-friendly event at the pace of a two year old. Last night I was eating dinner in a climate-controlled restaurant and started sweating through my clothes.

Add to this the stress of an accelerated class I’m taking with virtually no instructor that is incredibly difficult to begin with but made worse with no guidance and an absolutely massive amount of homework and memorization expected, the fact that certain courses taken in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree will not transfer to nursing school (despite my previous confidence that they would), and the fact that I have no idea what I will do for a job come December, and I’m about ready to fall apart.

I wish a had a pithy way of ending this post, but I really don’t. I have an appointment with a therapist next month (having made the appointment in May…the state of this country’s mental health system is fucking desperate) and I’m doing my best to hold on until then. I’m sure my family doesn’t like to hear about my chronic pain and fatigue—it’s such old news at this point—so I’m trying to make it through as best as I can without much support.

Servitude, indentured to misery

I am experimenting with some style choices in this post and I welcome feedback.

I don’t know what it is about my 30s that has freed me so much. Perhaps it’s just age and the passage of time. But I am learning things about myself and the world every day that I was never ready to receive, much less believe, at any other time in my life.

I grew up in a family that comedian Cameron Esposito would describe as “ethnically Catholic.” As a very young person I went to the church down the block from home with my parents every Sunday. By the time my second sibling was born, we were Christmas-only Catholics. Culturally, however, the faith endured—through the cliche themes of guilt, martyrdom, and nobility in suffering. It’s the way my parents grew up and it’s the way they raised me, intentionally or not, for better or for worse.

My mom used to refer my dad as “an unhappy person.” As in, that was his personality—he was incapable of being satisfied or feeling happy for very long; it was not his natural disposition. I am sure the emotional neglect he faced in childhood contributes greatly to my dad’s bleak view of the world (and himself). There was this pervasive view in my childhood home that happiness and good things were fleeting and always came with a catch. My father in particular always had to picture and relish in the worst-case scenario, the moment happiness would end, everything that could go wrong. My mom, on the other hand, dealt with her problems by running away—sometimes literally, such as when she abandoned the family when I was 10.

The way my dad was as a person transferred to the way he treated me. My dad had absolutely no confidence in my abilities or intelligence, from childhood to adulthood. When I got in to the honors program at my dream college right out of high school, my dad waited until the month before classes started to tell me that he did not believe I would graduate from college and would therefore not allow me to take out any student loans (at my age at the time, student loans could only be taken out with a cosigner, usually a parent). The blow to my self-confidence was crushing. What kind of parent has these views of their own child, much less expresses them in such a hurtful and future-limiting way? Unfortunately, because of my autism, I had the steadfast belief that my parents would never steer me wrong—that if they said or did something, it was in my best interest, because they could not possibly be as smart as they were and yet make decisions based on delusional emotions and habits. If Dad doesn’t believe I can finish college, I thought, it’s probably because I can’t.

Naturally, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Crushed by the lack of support from the most important adult in my life, I failed out of the local state college my second semester. (Ultimately, I did finish school, at the age of 29. I was old enough by then to take out student loans on my own, and that’s what I did. My graduation is the first time I remember my father saying he was proud of me. Afterwards, he offered to pay a portion of my student loans back, now that I had been successful. As grateful as I was to receive his help, it still stung.)

In the last couple of years, I have done a lot of difficult inner work. Part of that work was admitting to myself that I am autistic and that my parents knew early on, but instead of getting me the support I needed, they decided to ignore the problem. This put me at a significant social disadvantage the whole time I was growing up, and it led to my believing every negative thing ever said about me, because I believed everyone’s motivations were as “pure” as my own. That if someone believed something bad about me, it must be true.

Frankly, I am tired. I am tired of constantly doubting myself, of following up every daydream with something about how the things I want couldn’t work out because of my incompetence, my inability to stick with things, my lack of self-discipline. I am competent. I have the ability and desire to commit. I do demonstrate self-discipline. I’m tired of being lied to by “the voice in my head,” which I’ve apparently only recently come to accept is my father’s. My dad worked a job he hated his whole life. He never believed himself competent or worthy enough to pursue something else or go back to school, even after his second marriage when our household had two working adults. It’s as though he viewed his career as punishment for being who he fundamentally was, because who he was was somehow inherently “bad.”

I have worked in the field in which I received my Bachelor’s degree for four years now. I have come to loathe it. Sitting all day is hard on my back, and I am unspeakably bored with the subject matter. Coming from a career in social services, I am used to being active during the day. The health of my physical body deteriorated rapidly once I started working the desk job I so doggedly pursued for so long, believing I would enjoy the tedium of a corporate setting so much more than caring for other people.

I have noodled the idea of a career in Nursing around in my head for the better part of the last decade, after my mother died in a hospice home under the care of some of the most compassionate professionals I’ve ever met. I recently spoke with a longtime friend who has worked as a hospice nurse for most of the last ten years; she knows me well. I mentioned that I had noodled Nursing around as a potential career “if I could turn back time,” and my friend expressed her belief that I would make an excellent hospice nurse. She also said something so simple: “It’s never too late to start nursing school, you know.” I don’t know what it was about this off-the-cuff remark, but I suddenly felt like I had some kind of divine permission to start exploring a career change. I am starting prerequisites this summer, and should be eligible to start nursing school in the fall of next year. Self-doubt be damned.

Co”morbidities” is right!

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea this week, via an at-home sleep study. At times, my O2 sats dropped below 77%. That is, as we say in the biz, not good.

Oh but Moony, you’ll just get the APAP (like a CPAP, but “Auto”) and things will be grand, right? Well…apparently there is currently a worldwide shortage of CPAP and APAP machines due to a recent recall. Sewww, I got diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening breathing disorder and in the same breath (pun fully intended) was told that for the moment, there is no treatment available for it. I was happier not knowing I had apnea, to be perfectly honest. At least then if I died in my sleep, there was no way to anticipate it.

I jest (constantly, as a coping mechanism). I don’t love this recent development but with regard to my health, I am trying to practice acceptance first, and then worry about management. As a medium-fat person, I feel strongly that weight is not always a determinant of health. But I also know that people who lose weight have better outcomes with both apnea and my other major co-occurring condition, hEDS. I am trying my best to reconcile my anti-diet sentiment (restrictive diets just do not make sense at all) with the notion that I need to make some changes in order to improve the quality of my life (and sleep). The nicer weather of the last month has significantly improved my mood, which has in turn improved my executive functioning, and that has increased my desire for more nutrient-dense food because I always notice a difference in my energy level when I make those choices. (I refuse to use the terms “healthy,” “unhealthy,” or “good,” “bad” to describe food—as someone with a fraught relationship to food and my body, there is only “nutrient-dense” and “calorie-dense” in my vocabulary. The ideal foods are both, but each has their place.)

All that said, I look forward to someday getting an APAP machine and seeing how it changes the quality of my sleep. I love sleep, but I’ve known for years that I do it too much. It started as a coping mechanism after my mother died a decade ago: in the midst of intense, complex grief, if I could be unconscious, I wasn’t in pain or missing her. As time has gone on, a daily nap has become a need. For the longest time, I was told by mental health professionals that it was related to my depression. It wasn’t until I finally tried to re-establish a relationship with a primary provider (my ability to afford health insurance fluctuates like the sea) that she suggested that it could be sleep apnea that’s causing my excessive daytime sleepiness. Anyroad, we’ll see.

Grief and guilt.

My beloved cat and companion had to be put down on Monday of this week. I feel unmoored by grief.

He was 18 and out of the blue started having issues walking properly and being able to empty his bowels. He was also vomiting quite a lot. This happened a little over a month ago, but at that time I rushed him to the emergency vet and had him on antibiotics. This time was more severe, and I couldn’t afford the emergency vet. I am full of regret that I had to take him in to a place that scared him, when my plan had been to arrange for in-home euthanasia at the end of this month—not a split-second decision based on the fact that he was hurting and upset. Someone made the comment that the last few days or hours of his life did not sum up the totality of what his life was like, and that has brought me some comfort. The decision I made was made out of pure love, and he was so incredibly precious to me.

It has been difficult to regulate my emotional disposition this week, and I’ve engaged in some negative stims I didn’t realize I had the capacity for (nothing extremely damaging, just things like hitting myself on the head when frustrated or slapping my legs). Frankie was a medically designated emotional support animal, but at the time I sought this designation, it was to satisfy my landlord at the time. I did not realize just how much I relied on my sweet kitty to keep me on an even keel until I didn’t have him anymore. I have a soft stuffed animal that I have been carrying around while at home this week for the weight and the warmth; I set it in my lap when I watch TV just for the familiar sensation as it’s the spot that Frankie occupied. He seldom left my side. No matter what I was doing, Frank would find a way to be touching me. In the last few months of his life, he would lay at the head of my bed with his forehead pressed against mine and his little paw on my arm until I fell asleep.

Evenings are the most difficult, as it’s when I would spend the most time with him. I’ve been distraught at bedtime, not hearing his little feet hit the floor as he jumps off the couch and comes into the bedroom. It was so automatic that when I got home from the vet on Wednesday I could have sworn I heard it, even though he was already gone. I’ve resorted to sleeping in this sensory pod-blanket (not an affiliate link, showing is just easier than telling) that I got for my last birthday just to be able to get some rest; if I’m not “held still” by something I toss and turn and anxiety overwhelms me.

One of my siblings was generous enough to help me pay for private cremation for my sweet boy; I am incredibly grateful for that gift. It’s funny, I always thought it seemed a little over-the-top to have a pet’s ashes returned after cremation (as opposed to just allowing the vet to dispose of the remains), but I felt an unexpected sense of peace when I realized I could retrieve the cremains. I know it’s just a body, but somehow it feels just a little bit like having him home. I pick up the cremains in about two weeks.

It’s too soon to decide such things, but I just don’t know about having another cat. Frankie was irreplaceable. As I said to a friend who suggested adopting a new cat to assuage my grief: it isn’t a cat-shaped void in my heart, it’s Frankie-shaped. Another cat simply won’t fit, not right now. I need time to grieve the loss of my friend.

Rest in peace, my beautiful boy.

ID: a grey cat curled up on a pink blanket, sleeping facedown. The blanket is resting on a green comforter and grey sheet. Photo is taken at a 45-degree angle from right above the cat.

My familiar, my friend

As I write this, my 18 year old cat is curled up against the outside of my leg, occasionally waving a paw in my direction so I will pet him (I do). For five and a half years, he has been my constant companion. My friend in a way only he could be.

Frankie came into my life at the perfect time, as pets are wont to do. It was a time of transition in my personal life—I’d just moved, was in a relationship that by then had lasted a year, and I had just started what would be (finally) the completion of my bachelor’s degree. At the shelter where I adopted him, he got into the visiting room where I was sitting and immediately ran over and waited for me to put him on my lap. I did. The rest is history. The adoption staff said he had never been so openly affectionate toward anyone that they’d witnessed.

He was twelve and a half when we adopted each other. After a long life of rejection by various adoptive families—the last one, knowing that he was declawed in the front (a practice I detest), turned him out of the house one day and refused to let him back in, or to come and get him once a woman found him paralyzed in his back legs and rushed him back to the adoption center. He was mine now. He was already a senior cat. And I decided that for better or for worse, no matter how much time he had left, he would spend it somewhere where he would be safe and warm and loved.

I feel privileged and happy that I got to make that place for him. He can be clingy, and he’s one of the messiest cats I’ve ever met, but he’s my mess and my…magnet. He was with me through some difficult times and growing pains at the end of my 20s and into my 30s.

Frankie is eighteen now. In cat years, that’s about eighty-eight. He is my wee old man. And he is slowing down. At such a rate now that the vet has noticed, and urged me to keep a close eye on him over the next couple of weeks for signs of stress or pain.

He recovered from the temporary paralysis caused by being abandoned without a way to feed himself. His hips remained weak, though, and are arthritic now. He is in early stage kidney failure and eats a special diet. He wants to be held and pet all of the time. When I go to bed at night, he has to have his forehead pressed against mine. He does not cry out from pain or distress and he doesn’t hide from me, but I know that cats can be stoic creatures.

So, at the advice of the vet, I am keeping a simple chart of his “good” days: energetic, sociable, affectionate—versus “bad” days: lethargic, standoffish, hiding. When it seems that the bad days outweigh the good—something that the vet cautioned me will likely happen in the next month—then I know it is time.

They say euthanizing a pet when their time comes is a gift, and despite the tremendous grief, I have come to view it that way over the years. Since his adoption, I have always told the vet that first and foremost, his quality of life is my number one concern. I do not want to prolong his life in the name of avoiding my own emotional pain. That’s a cruel thing to do to an animal, and I love him too much and he’s been too loyal and dear a friend to do that. I’ve done my fair share of crying over this in the last few months, doing my best to come to terms with something that hasn’t happened yet but is imminent at this point. Intellectually, I know that it is a kindness when his time comes. But emotionally, I haven’t cleared the hurdle of wanting him to always be around. The finality of death is what has always messed with me the most—in the same way that one bright June morning ten years ago I suddenly couldn’t just call my mom to hear her voice anymore, so too will I take Frankie with me one morning and come home without him. I’m not the praying kind, but I hope for strength. I know I’ll make it through, but right now my heart aches.

Dopamine. Deactivating. Dead of winter.

At the start of this week, I deactivated my two main social media accounts (Twitter and Instagram) because I realized, in a rare moment of mental stillness, that I was scrolling through them for the dopamine and satisfaction of sensory-seeking — but that I no longer felt fulfilled by it. It felt like an obligation bordering on a compulsion. And social media, especially in the last ten years, has become a remarkably negative place. It’s a terrible place to gamble with your need for dopamine.

It has been an interesting experience. I deleted my Facebook account long ago and I stay mostly anonymous on my other accounts, but even the anonymous interactions were apparently huge contributors to the satisfaction of my sensory-seeking tendencies.

I have found alternatives rather quickly. I taught myself to knit in about a day. I have no desire to produce anything spectacular, but having something to keep my hands busy while I watch TV has helped my overall focus a great deal. I started smoking weed with a degree of regularity, and that has allowed me to switch my locomotive brain off for a while. It has also allowed me to access the more creative parts of my brain that I have not “seen” since before my mother died almost ten years ago.

Another reason I decided to deactivate my social media is because there are so many games related to how people interact on the platforms that I simply do not understand, and I can become overwhelmed rather quickly by them. An online-only friend (who is a good person, I do not fear for my safety) would like to meet up when they’re in my city next month. This seemed like a reasonable idea to me. However, they went about asking me to meet up via DM in such a confusing way — asking me to reject the invitation in the same sentence it was extended. I think that I figured out that it is their way of avoiding the pain of rejection in case i say “no,” but after asking for an explanation and not getting one, I decided to end the conversation. To me it feels very childish for a grown adult to “beat around the bush” when there is something that they want. Why not just come out and ask for what you want? It makes no sense to me. This friend knows I’m autistic and I reminded them that subtext is difficult for me, but they didn’t try to help me understand any better.

Not having social media is difficult right now — it is winter, and I recently reached the arbitrary date I hit each year where my brain requires “manual dopamine release.” I don’t experience pleasure doing anything that I usually enjoy. I can only mimic a state of joy or euphoria by altering my brain chemistry by dubiously legal means. I am scared (yes, really) for January, because it is always the worst month of my year: freezing cold, dark, no holidays to look forward to, and seemingly endless. It is the Monday of months. Made worse by the fact that we’re in an ongoing global pandemic, so socializing outside of home can actually be physically dangerous.

As much as it raises my blood pressure, I will almost certainly “need” to reactivate at least one of my socials after the holidays to maintain some sense memory of what sanity and socializing feels like.

Infrequent posts

I don’t think I have any super dedicated followers of this blog (not a knock, I am comfortable with anonymity), but if you’ve followed me for a little bit you may have noticed that I have not been posting on any type of schedule for quite some time. I am in a depressive episode that I just cannot seem to lift myself out of.

Part of learning about and coming to fully accept my status as a neurodivergent person—an autistic one especially—is the realization that I have spent so much of my life denying my own humanity and I’ve lately been reflecting on what that has meant for me emotionally. In the last year of this pandemic-related isolation, I have become more comfortable unmasking around other people but without being able to stop fearing their judgment.

But I have needs that require support that I am unable to get. For autistic people with support needs perceived to be lower, there are almost no options. I hate “functioning” labels in autism because they’re based entirely in capitalism’s definitions of self-sufficiency. I can communicate verbally, behave “appropriately” in public, hold down a job, have lived on my own and paid rent for fourteen years, do my own shopping etc. and so I would not qualify for support with executive function and emotional regulation because I “don’t need it,” in the eyes of the institutions and [always neurotypical] peoplethat decide these things. I “don’t need” disability status to get health insurance because I can technically (though barely) afford health insurance at the market rate of $300 per month, even though I don’t know how to navigate the medical system or arrange appointments or advocate for myself at a doctor’s office. Even though I need surgery on my shoulder but will never be able to afford it. Even though my IBD becomes more severe by the month and I don’t have the mental tools to manage that even if I learn strategies from a doctor.

I “function” at the bare minimum level of acceptability for total independence and total ineligibility for support. It doesn’t matter to the powers that be that it sometimes takes me until 5 p.m. to eat for the first time in a day, or that I have to emotionally prepare myself for days to tidy up my car. It doesn’t matter that my apartment is a mess, since I am the only one who sees it. It doesn’t matter that I stim in my sleep sometimes because my anxiety and need for regulation is so high. It doesn’t matter that the smallest change in routine sends me into a tailspin. Since I’m so practiced at forcing down my needs at the expense of others, that is what I am expected to do for the rest of my life. I “must be used to it by now,” right?

There’s always last place!

I have been suffering from severe burnout lately and last week had a (private) meltdown so severe that I was nonverbal for the rest of the day. Becoming nonverbal is a safe place it has taken me decades to recognize. As I’ve written before, I dealt with selective mutism in early childhood. When I reach a certain level of stress, I shut down verbally. I’ve only come to fully recognize that in the last couple of years, as I learn more about what my autism looks like.

It was hammered into me from a young age that I should never call attention to myself, so my “meltdowns” have almost always consisted of my privately crying and “freaking out,” then just being unable to interact in a meaningful way for quite some time afterward. Someone at work has been pushing my buttons lately in a way that feels targeted—they don’t know that I am autistic, but they appear to have a personal problem with me that I have as yet been unable to figure out, and they have just been constantly digging at everything I do and how I do it. That’s what lead to last week’s meltdown.

Something I am recognizing but still having trouble accepting–which lead to another meltdown today–is the fact that my dad has shown me, time and time again throughout my life, that he does not respect me or my time the way he does my siblings’. And that not only will that never change, he believes there’s nothing wrong with it, that I am always overreacting, and that he absolutely never owes me an apology for any disrespect he displays toward me. The logical side of my brain thinks: you’re in your 30s, why are you still hoping for validation from someone who has shown he cannot or will not give it? And why do you maintain this foolish, naive hope that it will suddenly get better? And to my logical side, I say: oh shut up. If you go your entire childhood never once being validated by the person most important in the world to you, it’s not possible to just shut off that desire once you reach adulthood. And my optimism that he will someday be different is childish, sure, but it is rooted in the memories I have from early childhood of my dad being Good. Of displaying emotions other than rage. Of this unshakable belief that somehow, that guy was my real dad, what he’s really like, deep down.

It’s a codependent belief system, of course. At least I come by the naivete honestly, I guess. And I can be lighthearted and jokey about it as I am being here, but it still wounds me. I’m no longer surprised by my dad’s attitude towards me, but it still hurts my feelings every time.