Exiting “Quarantine”

I have been incredibly fortunate throughout this pandemic. I have had a job that was more than willing to let me work from home, the transition to working from home was pretty simple – I had already been working remotely two days a week prior to Covid. And, on top of that, I have been incredibly fortunate that my company continued to have business success during the pandemic, this wasn’t true for all workers who were able to shift to remote.

But, now, a year and a half later, with vaccines rolling out and the reduced spread, it is becoming quite apparent that we are now going to be expected to “return to normal”. Whatever that is.

Outside of traffic hours, I live 25 minutes from my office. During traffic hours.. I live between an hour to an hour and a half away (and have had times where that commute took 2 hours thanks to accidents). I find it odd that people would even remotely be willing to put up with these kinds of commutes again as we return to “normalcy”.

Personally, I have thrived with working from home. Even when I am struggling to exist because I’m getting burnouts (commonish for me, unfortunately, I’m someone that is kind of a workaholic and really good at not listening to my own self telling me that I’ve pushed myself too far) I can still do some work at home. In the office I’d also have to deal with those social shenanigans and I would typically just call in sick for my own sanity.

I’m dealing with a pretty pervasively awful burnout at the moment, it comes from doing honestly insane amounts of work with no time off since October (other than company holidays, and again, my own choices there). I know that if I take time off I’m just offloading my work onto my small team and/or I’ll have a ton of work when I come back, so it usually seems far less stressful to just overwork myself than to try and take time off.

And now, I’m trying to imagine a world in which I go back into an office.

There are benefits, for sure. It’s nice to be able to overhear conversations and learn thing that I wouldn’t otherwise learn just by hearing people talk about interesting problems or predicaments. It’s nice to occasionally get invited out for a drink after work, you know, the typical things that happen.

But generally I’m just thinking about how I don’t get to wear my comfy clothes, I put up with horrific traffic, have to deal with the constant buzz of conversation and keyboards as people get their work done, fluorescent lights, random noises, people bringing in their “emotional support” animals, and just so many conflicting sensory activities and I already don’t want to deal with it.

I enjoy being able to shut my door to my home office and just focus on the work I need to get done until it’s done. Not getting people making dumb jokes about how I was lost to the world because I didn’t hear them call my name because I was in my work. Not having people make fun of one of my most common self-stimming behaviors (running my hair across my lips) because let me tell you about how funny the joke/question/statement of “are you eating your hair?!” is after the 300th time.

After a year and a half of not dealing with a surplus of stimuli, it seems overwhelming to even think about going back. This whole rush to return to “the before times” seems like some people are caught up in a nostalgia trip instead of realizing what we gained from the pandemic. And, a quick rush to go back to ableism and exclusionary behaviors.

Big Name is on the Spectrum

So, this week, we had some “shocking” news about how Elon Musk has Asperger’s. I mean, basically the entire internet assumed as much already, but the context in and of itself was pretty tragic.

“Sorry that I’ve been a right ass, y’all, but it’s because I’m autistic”. Which, honestly, just seems like a fake apology.

I won’t really get into the love him or hate him (I suppose its obvious from the above how I feel about him, but that’s really beside the point). I keep reading about how we should be thrilled because some generally well-regarded famous billionaire is autistic and it might change people’s perspectives on autism.

Alright. So, Anthony Hopkins wasn’t good enough? Hannah Gadsby? There are plenty of famous autistic folks out there. And this particular form of autism is neither shocking nor really that great a vision of autism.

I think most autistic people can handle someone else knowing more about them about things well outside of their areas of expertise without calling them a pedophile repeatedly, afterall.

But, really, yet another socially inept, white, tech-driven, arrogant, asshole. Is that really a “positive” association with autism? Yeah, socially inept is definitely a trait of autism, and it shouldn’t be frowned upon as hard as it is, but you can be socially inept without your ineptitude mostly coming from a place of arrogance.

Perhaps I’m just being a total negative nancy, and what people will really see is that autism can lead to a strong desire to expand our space-faring abilities and work in some fashion to improve the global conditions (making electric cars cool and some bad-ass solar panels). Maybe they’ll focus on how, in spite of his practically nonexistent social skills his ability to focus on his special interests led to him becoming top of the line in his field?

But, I think I fear that people will mostly focus on his twitter snapbacks and general attitude and take it as the end-all and be-all of autism, and that those of us on the spectrum who display it in a very different way will now receive even more disbelief.

“But you don’t act like Elon Musk!”

All I really know is that I’m hoping we can get some much more varied figureheads for the autistic community. Hopefully not one that wants to create an implantable chip to cure us as if we are malignant to the world.

The Characters that ‘Get Me’ Pt 1 – Temperance Brennan

Temperance Brennan is an interesting character, because, of course, like most characters of her era, she is never actually diagnosed with anything. Fans say she is autistic, the creator says that they chose not to diagnose her because they didn’t want any bad mojo to impact the show because of people’s prejudices, and that she based the character off of someone she knew with Aspergers (supposedly, I’m not real hip on following Hollywood or TV news, honestly, but this was sorta what I gathered during some of my research, feel free to correct me if you know better!).

To back up a wee bit, Bones first aired in 2005, and I first watched Bones in probably 2009 or 2010. I was definitely immediately drawn into the entire show because of Temperance Brennan. Never in any show have I ever related to a character half as well as I relate to this lovely character.

Can she be overwhelmingly annoying at times? Hells to the yes. She definitely puts entirely too much emphasis on IQ being almost an actual measurement of a person’s value, which is just incredibly obtuse. But, I’m known to be a little bit of a know it all and don’t always know when to stop talking and when it is really better to just let the mild differences between what someone said and what I think or know to be true just slide on by without saying something, so who am I to talk?

In the early episodes, Temperance is brusque but damned good at her job (the best in the world, as she’d love to remind you). Her inelegancies are more than made up for by the fact that she is literally unmatched by any other forensic anthropologist in the world. And of course she is a beautiful and somewhat naïve woman, albeit very liberal in her views on romantic dalliances.

Throughout the many seasons of Bones, Temperance makes very few good first impressions on anybody (unless, of course, it is men who want to sleep with her, because you know, it looks good on TV). She puts people in their place, corrects them, often bluntly and somewhat rudely. She has no patience for fools or inaccuracies or well, pretty much anything that is irrelevant and takes her time away from doing things that actually matter (like, you know, her job).

Learning about her is a little bit of a love story in and of itself, its a slow burn. You don’t get to know her just by watching one season. You learn that as a teenager she had a special interest in anatomy and would perform dissections in the basement of her high school with road kill and that all of the other kids would bully her for it. She had heaps of family drama and spent some time in foster care (because her dad was on the run.. it’s TV drama y’know).

Over time you get past the prickly exterior and the brusque outer shell and you learn to see the inner workings of a character with an inner wealth of empathy. A woman who has untold depths of empathy for kids who are in foster care and the challenges they face and have to endure. A woman who has to be cold and look at the facts because if she stopped and saw the bones on her table as a person she would never be able to find their killer. A woman who almost never understands her best friend but always stands by and supports her anyway. A woman who comes back multiple times from once in a lifetime anthropological finds to help someone else’s career and who helps save a former intern and friend held hostage in Iraq.

Watching her deal with romance was even more enlightening for me, as it was like holding a mirror to myself. Some things came easily for her, others not so much. Letting down her guard and actually allowing herself to fall in love? That was definitely in the “not-so-easy” camp.

Somewhere in the middle of the seemingly never-ending amount of seasons, Temperance and Booth nearly have their moment for a serious relationship. Booth tells her that he is the gambler and he knows that she is the one and he wants to make this work. Temperance tries to brush it off with a casual, “No, the FBI won’t let us work together” because she doesn’t even know how to process this moment. But Booth won’t let her do that and pushes back and she breaks down and tells him that all of this time he thought she was the one that needed protecting, but the truth is that he is the one that needs protecting — from her.

Special Agent Seeley Booth : Protection from what?
Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan : From me. I don’t have your kind of open heart.

Bones – “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole” (Season 5 Episode 16)

She’s crying, and I’m crying because I can’t even tell you how much I relate to that line. I remember every single heart I have broken in my time. Each one takes its toll on me, because many of them I didn’t want to break and I don’t know how I did it or any way to prevent it. Breaking them was like breaking a piece of my own heart and each time I would get sick afterward. I started trying to come up with ways to protect people I cared about from myself, because there must be something wrong with me. I had convinced myself for a long time that I must not be worthy of love because it seemed like all I ever wrought was pain.

Over time and throughout the seasons, she slowly opens herself up to the family she created with her friends, the love she wanted but was afraid of, and even to the family she yearned for but felt she didn’t want her (her father and brother). We watch her grow and develop skills that were missing in the early seasons while still keeping her sometimes oafish blunt edge about her.

I’ve basically already written an entire book about Temperance at this point, but there are two more major quotes that I really think that pretty much any autistic person can likely relate to, but I especially do.

After the years of slowly opening herself up to the hurt that other people can (and will) cause her, Temperance realizes that she has grown beyond what she was and how she perceived herself.

For so much of my life my intelligence was all I had. I may not have had a family, but I understood things that nobody else could. My brain, the way I think, is who I am. Who I was.

Temperance Brennan – Bones – “The Final Chapter: The End in the End” (Season 12 Episode 12)

This entire quotation hits me in a way that is hard to explain. For so much of my life if you had asked me what the best thing about myself was or what my strengths were, you would pretty much only get one answer – “I’m smart”. Being smart was pretty much my identity, even though I tried very hard not to rub it in people’s faces (which is hard when you’re a know-it-all-type). And it’s true. I am smart. I have had so many people comment on it, call me smarter than they are, all of that lovely jazz. But it’s not all that I am.

I am extraordinarily compassionate, I am slow to trust and loyal to a fault, I will fight your battles for you when you aren’t sure you are strong enough to fight them anymore. I have a knack for pattern recognition and a fantastic memory, sure, but they aren’t what make me a good mother for my child, they aren’t what make me a good spouse or a good friend.

And, when her father dies, Temperance’s friends are doing kind friend things where they keep trying to check up on her. Lovely people and all.

Angela: How are you?
Brennan: Everyone keeps asking me that, I don’t know how to answer that question.

Bones – “The Final Chapter: The Grief and the Girl” (Season 12 Episode 8)

Hearing this quotation, even in the context of the episode honestly made made me laugh because I have pretty much literally answered that exact same thing verbatim in similar types of situations. It’s such a complicated thing to answer in such hard situations but people expect you to be ready with something on the go.

I definitely need time to process everything and I would be much happier if people would just let me do my thing and come back around when I am ready and have processed what I feel (and maybe figured out what I feel) instead of trying to hound me about it.


So there you have it, honestly, probably a bit too in-depth, but it is what it is. I definitely love Temperance Brennan and have spent way too much time thinking about her in the universe she lives in and how I relate to her.

There are definitely more of these to come, as I have a couple of these “probably autistic” characters that have always been super close to my heart.

Perception and Intent

With (very late) respect to Autism Awareness month, and also with a lens cast on my own personal history, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a sentence that I read on reddit quite recently.

“I learned to take people at their intent rather than their words”

The context was heartbreaking in and of itself, but the sentence itself hit me like a freight train. I have learned to live my life by an entirely different motto.

Perception matters more than intent

I spent nearly every waking moment of my life thinking about all of the ways that my words or actions might be perceived differently than I intended them to, and that it matters much more than my intent did. I have basically gaslit myself into believing that the neurotypical world is right and I have to adjust.

So hearing someone say something that basically just shows that people actually can sit there and show the leniency to understand each other?

The context, by the way? Her daughter died. So she had to deal with people saying ignorant things like “I know how you feel, I lost my dog” and the like. So instead of being angry she chose to understand that they likely knew that they couldn’t truly relate to her immense grief, but the closest they could come to it was losing a pet. So they were trying to relate to her. They were showing a kindness in a pretty ignorant and rude way, but still a kindness.

I still, in a lot of ways, agree with my life motto. If I hurt your feelings, it really doesn’t matter what my intentions were, your feelings are hurt and no amount of me doubling down on my intentions is going to make this situation better. The best solution is a heartfelt apology, deep communication, and finding ourselves a new common ground.

But I didn’t learn to live by this phrase because of having difficult arguments with loved ones, or needing to remind myself to put myself in others shoes (I’m overly empathetic and compassionate — but don’t worry, I still show the very stereotypical autistic lack of skills at showing the empathy and compassion the way the “normal” humans expect). I taught myself to live by this motto because of the number of times I had people react to my statements of fact as though I were being bitchy and rude.

Because of the number of times I’ve had people tell me that I’m “sassy” and “feisty” and “don’t care what other people think about you”. Which was just not even close to the truth. I said what I thought or felt as I thought it or felt it. It usually ran through my filters, I tried to imagine a way to make it neutral. And I still came out like a bitch to so very many people.

Even recently, my husband revealed mine (and my child’s) diagnosis to his sister – a teacher. She had a lightbulb go off and said “Oh, that makes sense. She is super smart but not very friendly”. We’ll sidestep the stereotypes there just for the sentiment of the statement.

I am now a fairly well-oiled machine. I have been living this motto for nearly a decade. I have practice and years of phone and chat customer support under my belt to give me the practice of at least sounding friendly and approachable in short bursts as needed. I can quickly run through options of phrases and think about all the potential ways that my statement could be misinterpreted.

But… Imagine if I hadn’t had to spend so much time and energy learning how to fit into a world that wasn’t meant for me? If there were social ramps for those of us sitting in a social wheel chair who really can’t take the stairs.

“Real Autism”

The title of this blog is a phrase I have now heard a few times from friends of mine who have been involved in education. At least one of them has been involved in educating autistic youth. The others mostly teaching mainstream or specials classes, so loosely involved in autistic education.

This always gets brought up as a talking point along with “autism is the new candy diagnosis, everyone has it”. “Everyone has autistic traits now! If you don’t like loud noises and prefer to be by yourself, then you must be autistic!”. It’s the new catch all diagnosis like ADD was in the 90s!

Rolls eyes.

Yes, “rates” of autism are “increasing”. That happens when your understanding of a disorder increase and more studies are conducted and you realize that you have actually missed people from being included in the diagnosis. The inclusion of Aspergers into ASD increased the rates for one. Further studies into women with ASD is doing this as well. Further studies into the now bad-form “high-functioning” label are also increasing the rates. This is a good thing in so many ways. It means that people will feel accepted and they won’t feel alone.

Personally, the label was like a giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I cried from the relief. There are people out there who actually know what it feels like to be like me. People who actually understand me? Increased understanding and knowledge is what led to this moment of relief and people deserve to have this moment for themselves or to grow up understanding why they aren’t quite fitting in or being understood.

“Real autism is isolating”

As if we need to gatekeep Real Autism™ to only those with nonverbal autism who need higher amounts of assistance in school/work who may stim in most “normal” environments.

It is absolutely infuriating to hear someone trusted and loved diminish my own existence and feelings with “real autism” because I look normal from the outside. Because she respects me and sees things in me that make her envious. Because I fit the mold that people are supposed to achieve in life. I have a job that I worked hard for, I hit the success mark, a husband, house, kid, pets, the whole nine yards. I’m doing alright, everything is fine, right? Autism is just some weird label that they give to people who are extreme introverts now, after all.

Autism is isolating. Extremely isolating. I cannot speak for everyone on the spectrum, because the spectrum is vast and we do not all share all of the same traits and experiences but I can speak for my experiences. I come from a family that made it clear I was not to ask for help, that it would not be given and I should learn to stand on my own two feet. No support network. I had two best friends in grade school. Both of them stopped talking to me before we graduated. I stopped talking to literally everyone else pretty much as soon as I graduated. The door was shut so let’s move on, so to speak.

I have no one I could call to go for a beer after work because of a stressful day. Might be able to convince some co-workers to go to a local nearby bar after work, but that’s not the same thing as a trusted friend to blow off steam. I wouldn’t even begin to know who to call if I had to unexpectedly get someone to watch my dogs for a weekend emergency (I’d pay extra for a kennel or take them with me).

I worry because if some freak accident happened that killed or incapacitated both myself and my husband while my daughter was in school who would even pick her up while her godparents were traveling to be able to take care of her?

This isn’t to say that I’m totally friendless. I do make friends, but making friends comes at a cost that it seems neurotypicals don’t quite have to pay? I moved to a new city in early 2017 and I have focused on career advancement. I have done amazing things with my career — gotten certifications, degrees, promotions, and landed my dream job! But it came with switching companies and teams and being exorbitantly busy and socializing fell drastically to the wayside. How do normal people manage to do the career push while still gaining and maintaining friendships?

There was a time in my life when I felt like I had the most “normal” experience. I fit in, had a nice group of friends. I found my people. I still talk to people from that group regularly almost ten years later even though I don’t even live in the same state any more. I can’t even tell you what spell I cast to have this happen, it just seemed to fall into my lap. I also wasn’t chasing a career, I was complacent at my call center job.

“Real autism is debilitating.”

Again, with the gatekeeping. I don’t think I really need to point out that it’s not really for people who aren’t experts in the whole spectrum disorder to really be trying to gatekeep what autism is. It’s definitely not for someone who isn’t on the spectrum to be telling someone who IS on the spectrum that their experiences aren’t valid enough to be classified as Real Autism™.

I am soon to be 32 years old, and still slowly untangling the webs of mess of years of masking and trauma that came from not even knowing what and why I was different. Realizing that I have had so many years of training to just be the perfect paper doll of whatever anyone wanted me to be so that our interactions were easy and simple and could go away.

I was pretty much always taught as a kid that I had to avoid and resolve conflict and it was expected that I would give people the answer that they wanted, so I basically learned to do this with everyone, in all situations (guess how fucked up this gets in a lot of questionable situations…) I’ll just put on a new mask for any situation and be a perfect little chameleon as a survival instinct to get through pretty much anything.

I also realized that there are people who know and intentionally seek out autistic individuals because we are more naïve and trusting and take them based on what they say more than their actions. They are manipulative little jerks who will use you for their own gain and do not care about the harm they do in the process. It only takes one of these people to do some untold damage to a psyche.

Autism is real, no matter the support level needed. No matter how real it looks to you on the outside, from your curated exhibit view of their life. Just because you can’t see someone freaking the fuck out in the shower because they landed their dream job and that is terrifying. Or because they are driving in the rain and their husband is snoring in the passenger seat and the sound of the snoring and the rain on the car roof is causing a sensory overload that is making them want to scream and run away and pull their hair out. Or because you don’t realize that the normally verbal person is incapable of getting the words out right now and there is an entire paragraph screaming and beating against their brain burning to get out that they literally can’t let out and its tearing their brain and entire body apart. Just because your curated view looks intact and fine, doesn’t mean that it’s not Real Autism™.

Alexithymia Club

There’d be a description, except it turns out that no one could figure out how to describe the club.

Humor aside, alexithymia is a fun little condition wherein an individual has difficulty identifying their own emotional state. There’s no diagnostic criteria within the DSM V as there are honestly quite limited studies done on it. It was coined in the 70s by a psychiatrist to try and explain why some patients basically have no story to tell for why they do things like self harm or who have severe struggles putting their feelings into words.

Despite there being no diagnostic criteria within the DSM-V, there are, some screeners that you can do to see if you might potentially have alexithymia. Feel free to hit it up here.

Autistic individuals may find this particularly interesting as while alexithymia may only be present in up to 8% of males and 2% of females, it looks like the percentages go way up with ASD. Various studies have found different numbers, but it looks like it about half of us have alexithymia.

It does kind of make some sense, no? Difficulty recognizing our own emotions at any given point in time might just make it more difficult to recognize emotions in others which can definitely impact social skills and so on, just kind of piling on to the lovely pile of things that comes with the whole package.

For me, on pretty much any given day, at any particular moment. If you ask me how I’m feeling, even if I’m really, really thinking about it and trying. I’m just going to be feeling “meh”. It’s just flat. There’s nothing really going on.

I get heart palpitations that I presume are anxiety related because they only come on during times that are logically high stress, but when the palpitations occur, I am not even aware that I feel any different than any other time.

I usually won’t even realize I’m stressed until I’m way passed the point of no return, so to speak. Easily irritated and wanting to rip my hair out and hide and cry? Yep, obviously I’m stressed. If only I had realized this earlier and could have taken a break.

As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at identifying some emotions. Mostly negative emotions. Have you ever noticed that there are only really focal classes and seminars and such on negative emotions? How to identify negative emotions and manage negative emotions? It’s recently been bugging me that there aren’t really similar things for telling the difference between joy and happiness and elation. What is the difference between these things?

Just like frustration and anger and rage are not all the same negative emotion, even though they are all on the “anger” spectrum, but I honestly have no idea what the difference between the scale of “happy” spectrum is.

There are a few ways to help improve the recognition of your own emotions, even for those of us who struggle: regular journaling, reading, therapy, etc.

Journaling out your thoughts and emotions each day is a great way, albeit it will feel really silly and actually be challenging when you start. Once you start trying to name out what you feel, it’ll help you learn to start identifying them more and more frequently.

Reading, well, of course. I’ve always been an avid reader. Doesn’t even need to be novels or anything, just other people’s stories, manga, or whatever else you can find. You will find that in pretty much all versions of a story out there, emotions are well documented and explained. The more versions you read and explanations behind them, the easier it will get to identify it within yourself.

Therapy is pretty much always a good one, a trained specialist working with you is an unbiased source who has all of the expertise and experience to make sure you don’t get led astray while working on it. They can also help you work through other problems at the same time. I’m super pro-therapy, provided that you can find a therapist that you mesh well with.

For me, personally, it’s been a mixture of a lot of self-reflection and reading to get a better idea of what makes me tick. Reading other people’s experiences. Reading fiction. Reading non-fiction. Reading a ton of stuff on reddit. Reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on pretty much anywhere. Thinking about how I reacted in various situations. Near-constant self-reflection (which is what journaling also touches on).

I’m still not fantastic at it, by any means. But, I will say that I am getting better.

Should I Get Diagnosed?

This is a super personal question, there is honestly no right or wrong answer to it. If you’re here, then you probably have been through a lot of reading and basically come to the conclusion that you feel like Autism is probably the right answer for you.

You’ve likely seen the statistics on how girls who aren’t don’t need more support go under diagnosed by the system. The research was done primarily with boys, and all of the data was biased toward boys and how they present. It’s not exactly hard to make it to teens or adulthood as a lady without a diagnosis.

For many, the self diagnosis is really enough, it answers the questions they always had about themselves. They read the stories, they feel like they finally found their soul sisters and they suddenly had this massive weight they didn’t even know they were carrying pulled off of their shoulders. The relief is enough because they finally know that they aren’t alone and that other people feel the way they feel and see the world the way that they see the world.

There’s also likely some anxiety that they will be dismissed, experts will see them make some eye contact and just go “well, eye contact happened, not autistic, have a nice day” (and honestly, that might happen). It doesn’t mean that your journey is over. Get a second opinion, or a third. Research for better specialists, ask your general practitioner for better specialists.

For others, the official paper that says “yes, I do have this thing” is important. For me, it is important. It was important for me to get it for my daughter. I wanted to have the “yes, it’s true, I really can’t handle this unless I have X to help me out” or “no, my daughter can’t do this situation the same way as the rest of her class, but if you let her take breaks in a quiet room she’ll be able to handle it”. For my daughter, I really wanted her to know throughout her life that she isn’t broken, she is just different.

When I approached my daughter’s pediatrician about getting my daughter assessed for autism, we had the general conversation about why I believed she is autistic and then I told him that I know that girls have a very hard time getting an accurate diagnosis and I wanted him to recommend to me not just any specialist but I wanted him to recommend to me specialists that he knows have previously worked with girls who were on the “higher end” of the spectrum. Specialists who had worked with girls who present similarly to my daughter. I specifically told him that I was not interested in approaching this through the school district because I wanted to reduce the likelihood of getting the older school of thought of autism only presents this way because of research in boys.

Her pediatrician printed out the normal list and he went through each of the referrals that the office can make and he circled three or four, but when he got to a specific name on that list, he said “this one, she recently did a fantastic write up for another one of my patients who is very similar in behavior to your daughter”. And she was fantastic. Utilize your resources as much as you can and be clear that you know there is a struggle in diagnosis for girls and women and that you want to try and limit the search for specialists that understand that there is a struggle for girls and women. Leverage your doctors and psychologists if they are on your side to help you in this search as much as you can.

In my opinion, there is no harm that can come from a diagnosis, only benefits that can come. But there is no need to disclose your diagnosis to anyone unless you want to after you get it.

Of course, all of this is assuming that you have ready access to decent healthcare and professionals who are caught up with the times and won’t need to hop through multiple professionals and/or travel extremely far in order to find an adult autism specialist.