college, routine

Square Two?

I don’t want to wind up blogging, like, four separate times about the upcoming start of my junior year of college, but forgive me for being a bit repetitive on this topic. Today isn’t the first post about it (see this one from a little while ago), and I don’t think it’ll be the last one, either. This day next week will be the last day of my summer, which… whoa. That went very, very quickly. But we won’t talk about that now. Today, I want to talk about a unique circumstance surrounding my upcoming moving day and the way it’s affected my preparedness for said day to arrive.

The last time we spoke about my college’s re-opening plan, I had no idea when I was going to be moving in or what the plan was for re-opening; I hadn’t read any detailed announcement of how campus life would look; the only thing I knew for certain was that I was going back to campus. Since then, a lot of that has changed and developed. I know much more now about what school is going to be like once I go back there— but there’s only so much you can learn from reading things online.

Here’s what I know. There will be regulations. ¾ of my classes will be online. You may not visit your friends in their dorm if they don’t live in your building. You have to make appointments to go to the dining hall, which seems like a small thing, but I am very food-schedule-oriented. Most social gatherings will be encouraged to happen outdoors, which will be okay for now, but what happens when it gets cold?

I know you’re probably reading this like, yeah, sounds like a pretty normal college reopening plan. Which it is. I think my school has done a really good job. The problem is just this: I was used to college. I was comfortable with college. I’m very much not looking forward to having to adjust to college all over again.

I wouldn’t call this going back to square one with regard to preparedness for college. I know full well, by now, what college is supposed to be like, what this fall semester would look like in a normal situation. I’ve done it twice over, and I am very comfortable in my school environment. But for very obvious reasons, my school environment is not going to look the same when I get there next weekend as it did when I left it.

I have dubbed it ‘corona college.’

Now, I get it— we’re all in the same boat. I know I sound like one of those commercials that you get tired of, but we are. And you could argue that oh, well, every college student is going through an unexpected change, and you’ll all be adjusting together! Which is true, to a certain extent. I’m just not sure, and won’t be sure until I get there, of how much this whole corona college thing is going to affect me personally.

I’m someone who takes a really long time to adjust to changed circumstances. I especially have difficulty adjusting when I think I know the way something works and then it turns out it’s going to be different after I’ve adjusted to it being a certain way. For example, while I was in high school, they changed around the class schedule (in other words, the structure of the school day) no less than four times between the time I started and the time I graduated. This was a relatively minor change in the grand scheme of things, but it still meant that I had to re-adjust to a new system in an environment that was previously familiar to me… multiple times. And it was difficult.

This is going to be much more difficult, and I think it’s at least good that I’m aware of it. Wearing a mask in public isn’t by any means some huge, earth-shaking thing that’s going to damage my college experience, because… it’s just a mask. I get it. I’ve already been wearing masks at work and whenever I go in public for the past, what, five months now? It’s not really new. But what is going to be new is being at college and not being able to do a lot of things that are characteristic of college.

I wish I could tell my freshman year self, look at me now! Because the thought of being upset on account of extracurricular and social activities being different would have been so wild to me two years ago. But extracurricular and social things mean something to me now, now that I’ve grown so adjusted to the way my life looks (looked) at school. The fact of the matter is that I’m not going to be able to have as much fun on campus this semester with all the regulations and restrictions as I was starting to have right when we got sent home in the spring.

And no, I don’t mean, like, partying. College parties have never been my scene. But spending time with friends sure is, and so is the freedom of getting to just go where I want to when I want to, or going to in-person classes. All of those things are going to be limited, when I arrive on campus for junior year. And that’s going to be an adjustment which could affect my experience.

Make no mistake: I understand that these are first world problems. I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of school reopening politics (I can’t believe this virus has become political, but that’s a United States partisan politics rant that does not belong on this blog), but the fact that my college is letting us come back to campus is a very good thing, because doing college from home was just not working for me. I just very much hope that the re-adjustment isn’t going to put me back into a tough place in terms of being comfortable at college.

Because I was having a really good time, to be honest. And that felt nice.

But you know what they say! I actually don’t know what they say. I thought I’d have a clever saying to put here. The point is: there are always challenges. I’ll be fine; I just might have an interesting time. We’ll call it going back not to square one, but square two.

Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: Things-in-review posts return, to round up summer 2020.

sensory

Vacation Dream, Sensory Nightmare

Alright, so good news: I’m not time-traveling to deliver this post to you. I’m actually writing it on Wednesday the 29th. I’m home from vacation, and I’ve changed my posting topic for the day, because while on vacation, I realized that I’d actually want to do a vacation recap special on the blog when I got home. So here we are, and today we’re going to venture into the world of talking about sensory issues for the first time in at least a little while.

To start, I know I’ve talked about summer sensory issues before. I did a whole blog about them last summer, and I laid out some of my biggest difficulties in the summer in terms of sensory issues. I want to talk again about some of the exact same things mostly because they haven’t changed and are still a problem in my life, and last week’s vacation brought that to light.

So let me talk about Maine: the New England beach vacation of my dreams, and the sensory experience of my nightmares.

My family has been visiting Maine with non-nuclear family members since I was around middle school age, I think. It started as my brothers and I going up with my aunt to hang out with our cousins, and it’s evolved steadily into my family and my aunt’s family renting small cottages that are right next to each other and across the street from the beach. We’re there for a week each July, and it’s a blast. The area is full of good places to eat, streets with cute shops, and, most importantly, beaches, where you can get a lot of sun, read a book, and just literally do nothing all day.

Sounds quaint and fun, right? It is. Here’s the small problem. Although it doesn’t ruin my vacation experience, I have so much sensory trouble in Maine in particular.

I talked in that sensory post last summer about hating sand, and I’ll bring that up again, because I think sand is the toughest part of Maine for me by a longshot. I have sand issues no matter where the sand is— at my grandparents’ lake house, there’s sand, but it’s a lot easier to wash the lake sand off than it is to get rid of salty beach sand that clings to you. I even get antsy about sand if there’s an unpaved parking lot or other sandy area and I’m wearing open-toed shoes. Since the cottage is across the street from the beach, I do not exaggerate when I say that there is sand legitimately everywhere.

Ocean sand, like I said, sticks. So when you’re staying by the ocean… oh, boy. Watch out. There’s sand in your carpet in the cottage, even if you wipe your shoes. There’s sand on your person after you take a shower. There’s sand in your bag. There’s sand on the counter. It is all over the place. People track sand so much that there’s even sand on the paved road that separates the beachfront from the other side of the street.

Some evidence of this: my parents love running on the beach, but, for sand-related reasons you may be able to envision, I am not a fan of that institution. Therefore, when I’m in Maine, I run on the road that’s parallel to the beach. When I got back to the cottage after running each day last week, I would take off my sneakers and socks to find… sand on my feet. Mind you, I didn’t venture into any beach situation while running. I just ran on the road. And my shoes got sandy. Because there is sand everywhere at the beach.

In fact, this morning, when I was getting ready to go to work, I went to put on those same sneakers, since they’re the sneakers I use when I go to work, and…………… there was sand in them.

I am not making this up. I did my whole work shift with sand in my shoes today. You can imagine that this was slightly uncomfortable for me, but that’s just the mark the beach leaves on you.

I’m bringing this up again because I was noticing, during my week spent in Maine, just how much about being at the beach affects me. There were multiple moments where I was just sitting in a beach chair, and someone near me was rubbing their feet in the wet sand, and the scraping sound was so much to handle. Or I’d get out of the ocean feeling all salty and then get all sandy again, and even a shower wouldn’t get rid of the weird crawling skin sensation.

Maine is also notorious for being damp, when it’s not sunny outside, and I thought I was going to escape what has, in the past, been quite the situation for me, but didn’t wind up escaping it this year. It got cloudy and foggy on one of the days of our vacation, and I made a grave mistake: I left my bedroom window open in the cottage. When I went to get into bed that night, I panicked. My bed was wet.

I don’t mean my bed was noticeably wet, like that your clothes would get wet from sitting down on it. I just mean that there was a residual dampness, way deep in the furniture, brought on by the fact that the air outside was wet and foggy. Words cannot describe how much I avoid that residual dampness. I brought a sleeping bag last year and slept on it on top of my bed just to avoid that issue.

The morning after the damp bed incident, my mom came into my room, and I had told her that my bed was wet. She pressed down on the mattress, waited for a few seconds, and then said, hey, by the way, this bed isn’t damp at all. It’s all in your head.

She didn’t say it to be mean. She said it because she was right, and it really was all in my head. I’m so averse to things being damp that I was creating an entire situation in my head just because it wasn’t sunny outside.

All of this is to say: I had a really great vacation, but my God, I have a lot of sensory problems.

I think in general, summer is the hardest sensory season for me. And I’ve come to realize that the reason summer is so hard for me is because when the weather is warmer, less of your skin is covered up by clothing. That means more of it is exposed to the elements, and there’s just… more potential for things to touch you that you don’t want touching you.

Obviously, here, I’m referring to tactile sensory issues. I have sensory issues that don’t have to do with touch; I’m sensitive to a lot of noise, and flashing lights are not my friend. But those things, although they can’t be avoided, don’t necessarily happen to you on a day-to-day or seasonal basis. In terms of tactile sensory problems, summer is the worst, because these kinds of problems arise on an almost regular schedule.

And yes, I am sort of only talking about summer vacation in this post. I’m glad I do get to go on vacation. And again, I don’t ever let sensory issues ruin vacations for me. They just definitely affect my experience in a way that I know normal people don’t really have to think about.

But anyway. That’s how life is. And now that I’ve finally gotten this post done, I’ll see you later. Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: The regression of college adjustment.

routine, the real world

Summer 2020: The Burned Out One

If you’re reading this, it’s Wednesday the 22nd and I’m in Maine, but I’m coming to you spiritually via a blog post written a whole week ahead of time. In my last post, I mentioned that I was about to sit down and write next week’s blog post as soon as I finished that one, so I could schedule it to post during my vacation, and, well… it’s next week, and here we are.

Now, the thing about me time-traveling to speak to you from the past is that I have no idea how I’m going to be feeling next Wednesday, which is relevant when you take into consideration that the topic of this post is the way I’m currently feeling. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to write about when I finished up the last post, but given that I’ve been having a little bit of a weird week, I figure what better time to talk about feeling weird than right now.

Look… I feel like I’ve driven the point home as much as I can at this point that the whole global pandemic thing has really thrown me off. Now, that is a prime and glaring example of me having first world problems. The world as I know it, in terms of school and general life, being interrupted for the sake of a global health crisis is really not a big deal in comparison to the actual people who are losing their lives, and I in no way intend to make light of it. But the fact that this is a first world problem doesn’t mean that this summer hasn’t been weird because of it.

The odd thing, though, and part of the reason I’m choosing to focus an entire blog post about this, is that my summer, since online classes ended, hasn’t exactly looked all that different from the way a typical summer would look for me? I mean, a regular summer would maybe contain more random errands and going places (like out to eat or something), but… I’m working the exact same summer job that I worked last summer, and I’m at home, and I’ve still gotten to (yes, safely) do quite a handful of fun things with all the restrictions and closures considered. As you read this, I am literally on summer vacation, a thing I definitely would not have been able to do at the peak of shutdown back in the spring.

So we’ve established that my summer is sort of close to normal. But here’s the difference. This summer started out with a very abnormal end to the school year. I haven’t exactly focused an entire blog post on this one thing, but you should know that when my routine gets thrown off, all the rest of my general well-being and good-time having in jeopardy.

So… you read that post when I got sent home from school. You understand that the interruption to my (best) semester (yet) wound up throwing me off quite a bit. It might be slightly easier to see, given that information, why I haven’t quite been able to shake the weirdness this summer.

But let me explain, because I haven’t even really described said weirdness. I know what it’s like to feel depressed, because seasonal affective is not my friend, and I also had some really difficult months back in high school. I fully recognize and understand that what I’m feeling right now isn’t depression. It isn’t anxiety, either, something I’m just as familiar with. I think the best way I can describe this is burnout, which is another thing I’ve written about on my blog. I’m just… extremely drained, a lot of the time.

I’ve been observing this in myself for several weeks now. My summer is almost half over, or— wow, actually, definitely more than half over, now that I’m looking at the calendar. So the majority of my summer has been spent in this weird headspace. I wish I had more words for exactly how it feels, but I just feel… off.

Here’s the thing. I’m not having a bad summer at all. Last summer was sort of a bad summer— not an entire failure but just less ideal than I would have wanted, looking back— and this definitely isn’t one. While I feel it’s going by really quickly, there’s nothing inherently bad about this summer. I just am having trouble getting myself into the groove of a super positive mindset, and just generally having a lot of energy for things.

For example: I’ve barely read any books this summer. Summer is usually the number one time of year when I’m reading books. Because I’m writing this before my vacation, I’ll share that I really hope I can get to the library (I think they have curbside pickup) and bring something to read with me when I go. I guess the version of myself who exists on Wednesday the 22nd will know whether or not I was successful on that front, but the fact remains that as of when I’m writing this post, I’ve barely read at all this summer.

Lucky for me, I actually have been writing a lot this summer. But on the not so lucky side, nothing I’ve written is anything that really contributes to my general productivity as an aspiring author. I’m writing a lot of short stories about my own characters, which are fun, but I can’t do anything with them because they’re just development exercises and they don’t lead anywhere.

This isn’t a writing blog, so we won’t get too far into that right now. But I’m saying that so you can understand that this could be a lot weirder of a situation if I were unable to write right now. I would actually chalk this up to a lot more directly negative of a summer if I hadn’t been writing so much. I’m grateful to at least be doing something.

But the thing is… it’s the middle of July, and I feel like I’ve barely been on summer break for two seconds, and it’s almost over now, and I am tired.

If I talk about “last night”, you have to understand that I mean Tuesday the 14th. Because, again, I’m time-traveling from the past to bring you this blog post. But anyway. Last night, the weirdness of my general mental state came to the forefront, because I realized I was behind on a project I’m doing for an internship. The prospect of finishing the work I was behind on, in the moment last night, felt unbelievably, impossibly difficult. It was not that much work, and would be easily finished if I just sat down and got to it. But I opened my laptop several times, and I tried to work, and I just… couldn’t.

So that was my big realization moment. I was like, yeah, I am totally burned out right now. And thankfully, I was able to get myself into gear enough to actually finish that work last night, mostly after a lot of self-deprecation and wallowing. But I’m writing this today, and I’m thinking about all the things I have to do after my blog duties are done, and I’m just… I’m still tired. I think I’m going to continue to be tired for most of the rest of the summer.

And make no mistake: I’m totally fine, mentally. I just can’t stop feeling weird. And I maintain that the cause of all this weirdness was the routine interruption back in the spring, and my inability to process it. Sure, I did fine with the online classes, but it wasn’t my ideal learning environment, and I just started slipping into a useless state of being, which I remain in now.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. But I’m hoping that vacation might help me snap out of this. I wouldn’t call it a funk, but I certainly could be doing a little better than I am. I’ve been forcing myself through some things, which is good, and I’ve been in touch with friends as well; I was concerned about quarantine and my social skills, but I’m doing alright.

All in all: the summer of 2020 is shaping out to be one of the weirder summers I’ve had, but I definitely don’t think that means it’s a bad summer. I think we’ll have to stay tuned to see if I feel any less burnt out come moving day than I do right now.

Here’s hoping! And this is where else you can find me.

Next Time: Sensory issues and vacation.

routine

Spaced Out

Okay… hello. I’ve been trying to think of some kind of intro for the past five minutes, and just staring at a blank document waiting for it to come, but chances are if I don’t have it by now, it’s not coming. Sometimes I know just how to slide into the start of a blog post, other times I’m at a loss. This is the latter sort of situation.

Anyway. I’m here. And because this is kind of what we do on this website, I am going to now give you a blog post. This well may be the closest we get this season to a summer special. I have some kind of weird affinity for seasonal specials, if my post history is any indication, and I really have no idea why except for the fact that I will literally use anything as an excuse for a blog topic. Some days, the inspiration is really there, and I don’t need to look out into the real world for a hint about what I should write about. Other days, I’m fishing.

I’m proud to say, though, that I had the idea for this post at least a week in advance. And here we are, doing it now. So let’s get to it.

‘Tis the season to go to the beach. Or sit outside in the sun. Actually, at this time next week, I’m going to be on vacation at the beach, so I’m going to have to write a blog post for next Wednesday in advance as soon as I’m done writing this one. The jury’s out as to what that post is going to be about, but I guess I’m deciding by the end of this one, because I have to do the “Next Time” thing. Anyway, that is not the point. What I was getting at is this: I was recently sitting on a beach.

It was a beach by a lake, but you get the picture. Now, mind you, I had the entire day to myself with nothing to do but sit by the water. Here’s where the topic for the day actually gets semi-relevant. When I am given the opportunity to sit on the beach all day, I tend to bring a bag of things to do. I’ll bring a book, and also a notebook too, and I’ll make all these plans. I’ll say, ah, yes, I’ll write [random thing I’ve been wanting to work on] while I’m on the beach today! After all, I don’t have anything to do.

And then, without fail… it never happens.

Let me try to explain what I mean. I have no idea if this has to do with executive dysfunction or if it’s just some other phenomenon, but I space out so easily. And by ‘space out’, I mean, like, getting distracted and going off into my own little world in my head, but also just… space out as in sit there and do nothing.

So the reason this has to do with the beach is because I will, undoubtedly, next week, anticipate that I’m going to sit on the beach and read or write or do something with myself, and then it’s very likely that I’ll end up just sitting there doing nothing the entire time.

I have no idea what autistic trait activates this, but I am super efficient at just sitting there and doing nothing.

This makes me sound like a super lazy person. I don’t really consider myself a lazy person. But I am well aware of my ability to plan that I’m going to do something with a free afternoon and then just… not do it. I’m most susceptible to this behavior when the weather is nice outside, because for some reason, there’s something about sitting by a pool, lake, or ocean that makes me just… forget how to do anything productive.

Take last week for an example. My grandparents live next door and have a pool, and I had nothing to do with my afternoon, so I decided to walk over there with a notebook, sit in the sun, and hopefully get some writing done on a random short story. Guess what I did not do? Literally any work in that notebook at all. Instead, I sat at a table and just… sat there.

“Hey, Madison, this sounds pretty boring?” Yeah, you’d think it would be! And yet it’s not. Because I’m off in the world of my head, thinking about who knows what, just… passing the time without realizing. When the chunk of unoccupied time ends, I’m usually like, wow, I wasted that entire time doing nothing! And I’m not saying that we should always want to “be productive” during relaxation time, or that doing nothing is a bad thing and should be avoided all of the time, but… what is up with me and completely losing summer afternoons?

Being at home and having a to-do list pretty much erases this problem. I’ve talked about the benefit of to-do lists before, and I’m operating on one right now, actually, because I have so much to do in the next couple of days before I go on vacation. Rest assured that as soon as I get on vacation, I’m going to have all these plans for books I’m going to read and things I’m going to write while I sit on the beach, and then I’m going to do about thirty percent of what I set out to do. And that’s a generous estimate.

I don’t know why this is. I think part of it can be chalked up to the fact that a.) I get distracted very easily, and b.) as sort of an extension of that, I’m unable to focus when there’s a lot going on around me. Actually, I think I just said the same thing two times. But that’s definitely part of the problem.

Interestingly, this happens to me in other places, too— particularly on long car rides. I don’t really plan out things to do on long car rides, but I usually want to listen to music. Sometimes I’m so preoccupied with looking out the window that I just forget to listen to music. I think the real kicker was that on that plane flight home from Spain— eight hours on a plane, mind you— I didn’t do a single thing. Okay, I did one thing, which was writing in my journal for thirty minutes. But otherwise, I sat there, in my seat. I did not watch a movie. I did not listen to a single song. I sat in my seat for eight hours on an airplane doing jack squat.

When I look back on that, I’m like, how?!? Yeah… I don’t get it, either. But I have no doubt that that happened for the same reason that I can sit on a beach all day and not do anything at all. I’ve only become aware of this semi-recently, but it’s been a very interesting phenomenon to observe in myself, as the summer goes on.

We’ll see what actually happens on my vacation. Maybe the more aware of this I am, the more I’ll be able to try to fix it. But I don’t know if spacing out easily is the worst thing in the world. It’s not the best. But it’s also not the worst.

Anyway. I will see you later! And here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: It’s been a weird summer, and I’m feeling weird.

college

College Re-Opening Stress

I know it’s later in the day than I usually post my blog, and my excuse is… well, actually, my excuse is that I spent the afternoon making muffins, because they had overripe bananas at my summer job, and— you know what, nevermind. It’s still Wednesday, and I’m coming to you now with this post, so I don’t want to hear any whiners.

Anyway. Hello. I’m going to write a blog post about going back to college, smack-dab in the middle of the summer. Last Summer Me and Two Summers Ago Me would have been scandalized and shocked. Why would I possibly be thinking about going back to school, AKA The Scary Place, in the middle of a beautiful July?

Well, first of all, we’ve established over the course of time on this blog that college is no longer The Scary Place for me. It’s a place that can be difficult to navigate, absolutely, and it’s not home, in the sense of being equivalent to my actual home. But I also love my school, and I was straight-up having a good time when I got sent home.

So for that reason, writing about going back to school in the middle of the summer is no longer forbidden blog content. But I’m coming to you today with a post about going back to college that’s not exactly all excitement for my junior year to begin. Because while it’s true that I miss being in a classroom, and seeing friends and people from school, and the environment on campus… I’m realizing now that the fall is going to look a lot different than my previous two years of college have looked.

Back in March, when we got sent home, I was naive. I was like, oh, well… maybe they’ll send us back later in the spring! And then when I found out in-person classes were officially off for the rest of the year, and that we wouldn’t return until fall 2020, I was bummed, but still naive. I was like, oh, well, this is good. The summer will give us time to get over the virus, and then things will for sure be back to normal by the fall.

Look… I’m not an infectious disease expert. And I think everyone was holding onto a little hope at the start of COVID that things would get back to normal sooner rather than later. Obviously, as we’re now in July with many interruptions to “normal” life persisting, we know that’s not the case now. I’m not going to launch into some soliloquy about the “new normal” and how we’re all in this together, because a.) I’m not a TV commercial, and b.) we all understand that there’s a global pandemic going on; I don’t need to re-hash it on this blog. The point is this. I thought that going back to school this fall was going to mean I could go back to my normal college life.

Spoiler alert: that is not what’s going to happen.

We’ve received a number of emails, some more vague than others, about my college’s re-opening plan. I’m not here to bash my school, because I love it there, and I know that most small colleges are in the same boat in terms of making plans to reopen but acknowledging there are some things that might be unknown or unpredictable in the process. But even though I’m not here to talk trash about the re-opening plan, I will say this: not fully knowing or being able to predict how this fall will go for me is majorly stressing me out.

I wouldn’t say it’s ruining my summer, because it’s not. But it’s causing me a lot of random, lingering stress on a day-to-day basis. The biggest thing is this: I don’t know my moving day. They’ve told us that we could move in as early as a certain date, and that our moving dates will be assigned and phased out so it doesn’t all happen at once. This is the most vague and uncertain thing you could possibly tell me, and it’s causing me so, so much anxiety.

Moving is just one thing, but there are a lot of other things that are going to look different. I don’t just necessarily mean wearing masks and social distancing, because, hahaha, those things feel borderline normal now, but smaller things, like— will we be allowed off-campus? And if not, does that mean I can’t go home for a weekend at all, and have to stay at school for the entire fall semester without seeing my family? Am I going to be allowed in other people’s dorms? Do I have to plan when I eat because of dining restrictions?

And you might say, oh, well, Madison, don’t worry; all college students are feeling uneasy about going back to school without a solid plan. I raise you this: having a plan is vitally important in my everyday life, and not knowing what to expect is probably the number one source of stress in my experience of the world.

I can’t even explain to you how stressful it is for me that I have no idea exactly when I’m going back to college. And there are a number of other things at play, too— I don’t know if my on-campus job will hire me back due to restrictions, and I have no idea if I’m going to be able to go to church in the abbey, and while a few of my extracurriculars have, thankfully, confirmed that they’ll still exist this fall, I have no idea what that looks like. I also don’t know at all how socializing is going to work— imagine that, High School Madison, you being concerned about socializing— and that’s something I feel I need to maintain in order to keep a healthy balance in my life at college.

The point is this… I have no idea what my fall 2020 semester is going to be like, and while I understand that it’ll make more sense once I get there, I have six weeks, give or take, of my summer left, and I want to be able to enjoy them without constantly stressing out about going back to school. It figures that just when I finally resolved to be okay with going to and from school, and was no longer stressing out every time I had to return there, there’s another factor thrown into the mix.

I get it. This is affecting everybody. But I thought I’d share some of my perspective with you, so you might more thoroughly understand why I’m losing my marbles.

‘Tis the season!!

Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: I space out a lot.

social

Just Say Hi!

This isn’t relevant to any subject matter on my blog, but I want you to know that I write these posts as documents titled by date, and typing out the fact that today is the first day of July just seriously did me in. I feel like summer has simultaneously been going on for six months (because of online school) and also two weeks. The rest of it is going to go fast, but we all know that, and I’m not here to talk to you like a random mom soliloquizing on how crazy it is that time flies.

So anyway. Today, I have once again changed my mind about my blog topic for the week. May I remind you that that is, actually, a good thing, as I said in last week’s post, because it means I’m getting ideas again. As we went over a few weeks ago, the whole coronavirus thing has sort of depleted a lot of my blogging inspiration. Or at least it did. I think I might be getting it back, little by little.

And also, you’re absolutely stuck with me, so however uninspired I might be, don’t think for a second that I won’t be posting on here every week.

Anyway. For the week’s blog, let me tell you a story. This happened to me recently— this weekend, in fact— and I consider it a good thing that I’m finally getting to blog about real things happening to me in my daily life again rather than random, broad concepts.

So my church has an interesting situation going on right now. They had to cut down on their times for Mass (like service, if you’re not Catholic) during the weekends, so instead of having, like, four different Masses, they have one huge nine o’clock Mass for the whole community. This has resulted in everybody who attends my church regularly all being there at the same time, which means you’ll see people you may not have seen in awhile.

This happened to me this past Sunday. During the actual Mass, I noticed that a friend of mine was there with her family. I hadn’t seen her in awhile, because she recently moved out of state, but her family still lives in town, and I was excited to see her home for a visit. My friend also happens to be a really popular and influential person among the congregation at our church, so a number of people were feeling similarly excited.

Why is that relevant? Because after Mass, I of course wanted to say hi to my friend. But so did, like, fifteen other people, who happened to get to her before me.

Here’s where the autistic part comes in.

I’m not sure why, aside from the obvious, but I have a very difficult time working up the ‘courage’ to say hello to people in public, especially when they’re already talking to somebody else. It’s not that I’m afraid of having a conversation, because as soon as the ice is broken, I’m completely okay, but it always happens that as soon as I catch sight of somebody I know in public, I’ll overthink myself into a small panic. It’s just the initial interaction, the greeting, that really gets me.

It’s this cycle of weird social anxiety— and I don’t mean social anxiety in the sense of the clinical mental illness, but just anxiety about being social— where my brain starts going haywire, like, oh, hold on, that’s somebody I know; are they going to say hi? Should I say hi? What if they don’t see me? What if they do see me and they’re waiting for me to say hi? What if the interaction is awkward? What if I say something stupid that I’ll inevitably end up going over later when my brain decides to go over all my recent awkward interactions in those moments when I’m trying to sleep at bedtime? What if—

And so on.

It’s not that I don’t want to say hi when I see somebody I know in public, because I very much do. It just takes so much for me to be able to figure out how to say hi.

This became abundantly clear this past Sunday, with the church friend incident. Because as she was talking to the other people who had noticed and decided to say hi to her, I was lingering at the edge of the group, waiting for my ‘turn’, so to speak.

Meanwhile, my parents were with me. And my parents aren’t socially deficient like I am, so they were adding a voice of reason to the situation. They kept saying, why don’t you just quickly say hi and then let her get back to her conversation? Because the thing was, she was very much in the middle of a conversation. And I should have just leaned in to say hi. But the thought of interrupting a conversation felt very rude to me, and I couldn’t force myself to do it.

So after a few minutes of standing there waiting for a pause in conversation that wasn’t going to happen, with my parents encouraging me to just say hi, I chickened out and walked away. I didn’t get a chance to say hi to my friend— or at least I wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t seen her a little while later when we went out to breakfast. But that’s not the point. The point is that I felt like a colossal idiot, for not being able to do one simple thing like greeting my friend in public.

As we were walking away, my parents were like, was it that hard to say hi? And trust me, they weren’t trying to make me feel bad. They were just genuinely confused about what had just happened.

That incident was a sign of a larger social problem I have, which I’ve pretty much always been aware of. I have no idea how to interact with people I know when I unexpectedly see them in public. I talked recently about how I’m good at customer service, but I live in a small town, and you can bet that if someone I know comes into the place I work, I’m at the register completely overthinking what I’m going to say to them from the moment they get out of their car to the moment they come up to me to pay.

Another place this happens all the time is at school. If I catch sight of a friend, or a familiar monk, or, scariest of all, a professor, coming down the sidewalk whose path is going to intercept mine, I’m inside my head flipping out. Again, not at all because I don’t want to say hi! But because I’m worried that I’m not going to know how to say hi.

I know what you’re thinking. Just say hi, Madison! It’s not that big of a deal. And trust me… just like my parents, I know you mean well. I just wish I could figure out how to walk past somebody I know without overthinking the five-second interaction we have for the next three days.

“But Madison, I’ve walked past you before, and you seemed totally fine!” All my chaos is internal.

Anyway, if I’ve ever weaseled my way out of saying hi to you in public, I promise it wasn’t because I wanted to ignore you or anything like that. It’s just that I have this weird social deficiency I can’t shake.

We’re working on it.

Here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: Planning for the return to college.

discussion, social, the real world

Being An Ally

Okay, I changed my mind about my blog topic for this week; we’ll plan to push back what I originally planned to do today. Changing my mind about the blog topic for the week is actually a good sign, believe it or not, because it means I’m getting multiple ideas. Blogging in the age of COVID has been hard, and somewhat less inspired than blogging during the school year at college is. I can’t believe I’m using phrases like “in the age of COVID”. I feel like one of those really uncomfortable pandemic commercials. But that is, after all, the actual age we are going through.

Anyway. The point is, I had an actual idea for my blog topic this week, as opposed to having to hunt around for one. Today, I want to talk about allyship to the neurodiverse community, and why I think it’s a lot easier said than done.

To start, I want to sort of look broadly at the definition of allyship when it comes to the autistic and neurodiverse population. Being an ally, to any community, basically means that you actively support that community even if you’re not a part of it. When you hear ‘ally’, the first group that probably comes to mind is the LGBT+ community, because straight allies are something that we hear about when talking about those issues. But you can be an ally to any kind of underrepresented community, and I want to talk sort of specifically about autistic allyship.

I want to note that there’s a difference between being an ally and being an activist. I’m not even sure if I consider myself a neurodiversity activist, because my social media presence is no longer that big, and the only times I get to talk about autism in my actual life are when it comes up randomly, or maybe during Autism Awareness Month. But the fact remains that this blog exists, so I’m at least talking about neurodiversity in some capacity on a regular basis. I feel like activism implies some kind of active push for change, hence the name of the term, and although I do advocate for a change in the way we stereotype and talk about autism, I don’t really do all that much in terms of concrete action.

Should that change? Yeah, I think maybe it should. I would love to be more active and outspoken about neurodiversity-related topics; I’m just not doing that at this point in time.

Anyway. Let’s get back to the point of the post, which is allyship. Being an ally is supporting a group. I don’t want to get into the nuances of defining actually what allyship looks like, because allyship looks different depending on the circumstance of who you’re supporting. Also, you can be an ally and an activist at the same time. But you didn’t come to my blog today for a bunch of paragraphs on my interpretation of social justice terms.

What I want to get at today is this: it’s easy to say you support autistic people, but it’s a lot harder to actually do it.

I think the only way I can explain this the way I’m thinking of it in my head is to give an example. On the whole, I think if you ask random people on the street whether they support people with developmental disabilities, they’re going to say yes. It’s easy to say you support us, when it’s a direct question. Because what are you going to say? No, I don’t support those people? I feel like if you don’t support people with disabilities, you’re… a little bit of a jerk.

And no, trust me, I’m not saying that you’re a jerk if you don’t, like, do pro-disability activism! Of course that’s not what I mean. I just mean that if someone asks you if you support the disabled and your response is “no”, I’m questioning your, like, general life values.

But anyway. Again. I keep getting sidetracked in this post. I think the proportion of the number of people who say they support the developmentally disabled versus the number of people who are actually tolerant of us is significantly skewed.

Here’s what I mean. I’ve heard so many people, who would no doubt say they support autistic people if asked the question directly, actively dislike other people for doing autistic things.

Like this. When you see a kid in the grocery store throwing a tantrum, what’s your first thought? I bet it’s something along the lines of oh, that child is misbehaving or that parent needs to get control of the situation or what a brat. But think about how much you actually know about that situation. That child could be suffering from sensory overload, or could be in the middle of a crowd-induced meltdown, or could just be emotionally distressed. Yes, there are kids who throw a fit because their parents won’t buy them junk food, but think about it… you don’t know the story behind that kid, so why jump to judgement about the situation?

“But it’s annoying and I don’t want to listen to a screaming child in public!” No one wants to listen to a screaming child in public. But the child will stop screaming sooner if treated like a kid in distress rather than a bratty nuisance.

Or how many times have you judged someone for having ‘weird’ interests, like a kid who won’t shut up about one really specific topic, or a grown adult who enjoys ‘juvenile’ media like cartoons, or someone like me, who adored an online game designed for 8-12 year olds right up until the end of my freshman year of high school? The fact that we, as a society, judge people for what makes them happy is absolutely astounding to me, and it’s really sad from an autistic perspective to see people be made fun of for what they enjoy, because it’s so often the case that that’s a special interest.

Or what about that annoying person, at school or at work, whose mannerisms just drive you up the wall? How many times have you debated telling that person to shut up, or telling them off for their poor social skills? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe that person can’t help it? That maybe, that person has spent their entire life trying to conform to social norms, and their progress is a little delayed? That they’ve been chewed out and bullied all their lives for just trying to keep up?

I’m not trying to guilt-trip you, reader, because everybody makes judgements about other people, and not everyone is always walking around with neurodiversity awareness at the forefront of their mind. All I’m saying is that you might have biases built into the way you process other people, and that those biases are things that can be unlearned.

Disabled people are everywhere, whether their disabilities are visible or not, and I think it’s really important never to jump to any kind of conclusion about a person just because of their quirks or social deficiencies. Getting labeled as ‘annoying’ or ‘weird’ is how kids like me grow up feeling outcast and ashamed. I’ve been lucky, and although I’ve felt like a cringey person at times in my life (and, honestly, continue to feel that way), I’ve never been outwardly bullied. I am among the very significant minority in the grand scheme of autistic young people. Most of us will be bullied and picked on, and some are even abused.

When you see us, and you want to jump to a quick conclusion about how we’re bratty or annoying or weird, remember: we’re trying. And we mask to make ourselves fit in, not because we want to. Please be patient with us, and understand that there are certain things we just can’t always control. That’s what being an ally to the neurodiverse community is really about.

Here’s where else to find me.

Next Time: A social deficiency.

the real world

Fine Motor Skills (or lack thereof)

Hello! Greetings and welcome. Despite the fact that I feel like the month of June is moving by at the speed of light, I’m still here, and we’re back for another summer Wednesday blog. This post might be better categorized as the one where I just straight-up roast myself for being a klutz. Let’s get to it!

I haven’t always known that I’m clumsy. Or maybe I have, but I haven’t always admitted it to myself, if that makes any sense at all. In trying to decide how I would address this topic on my blog, I debated telling a number of embarrassing stories, and though I’ll allude to some of them in the subsequent paragraphs, focusing an entire blog post on the time I fell down the stairs in front of a bunch of people isn’t the most productive use of my or your time.

So the point is: I am really clumsy. I have an arsenal of stories to prove it. And I think acknowledging my lack of good fine motor skills now can explain a lot of small difficulties I had growing up, particularly in the area of extracurriculars I was involved in before college.

For example. Right now, the middle of June, is the season for something that used to symbolize the start of summer for me growing up— the recital at my old dance studio. I gave a very brief nod to the fact that I used to do dance in this post, but that wasn’t the main focus of the post. Today, I want to talk about it a little more.

I was never a good dancer. Family members have told me that I was, but family members always tell you that you did a good job. I know that I wasn’t good, not by technical standards. And I’m completely fine with that, by the way; I had fun, and that’s what matters— at least that’s what matters to me. I danced not only at an actual dance studio, but also in a few musicals at my high school. Watching videos of dance recitals or musicals that I was involved in makes me physically cringe.

Now, I get it. We, as human beings, tend not to like watching videos of ourselves doing something, sort of like the way we can’t stand listening to audio of our own voice. But hear me out when I say that I can’t stand to watch myself dance because I stick out so much among the people I’m dancing with.

And now, having been away from dance for 2+ years, I understand that the reason I was never able to ‘blend in’ in a group of dancers, per se, was because my motor skills are really bad. I don’t know how exactly I can conceptualize it except to say that I always stuck out, and not in a good way. This wasn’t just in dancing, but extended to other things, like acting (without dancing necessarily involved), singing in groups, public speaking, and basically doing anything that involved performing or standing in front of people.

Then and now, I’m a frequent recipient of the “you just look like you’re having so much fun up there!” line when I finish a performance, which, don’t get me wrong, is really nice to hear, but also makes me wonder if it means my body language is a little crazy and unchecked. Is the reason I look like I’m having fun because I can’t stand still while I sing, or because I’m flailing around while I dance, or moving uncontrollably while playing my instrument? I think some of this might have to do with my relationship with music, because a lot of it happens in performance contexts, but my motor skills are weird on and off a stage.

I know this might not be making the most sense, but I hope you might be able to see what I mean. There’s always been something different about the way I present myself in a performance or public-speaking setting as opposed to my peers, and it’s something that feels very connected to the way I’m an absolute klutz in my regular life. I don’t know exactly what it is about my body language that’s different; my motions just seem… uncontrolled.

And the reason I think this has to do with my fine motor skills is because in my day-to-day life, I’m constantly falling over.

Sorry, that sounds so Three Stooges-esque. But I really am. I am a huge klutz, and here are my stories.

I have a scar on my knee from this one time, four years ago now, when I was on vacation and out on a run, and tripped over nothing. I landed on the sidewalk, and (blood warning!) I was bleeding like crazy on my knee, and I kind of looked like something out of a horror movie. I wore a bandage for the rest of the vacation.

This one time in high school— and my dad is a big fan of telling this story to people who haven’t heard it, because he thrives off of good-naturedly making fun of people— I tripped on the stairs down into the library, somersaulted over my backpack, and landed facing the ceiling next to a book display in the middle of the crowded library floor. The librarian asked if I was okay. I just got up and went to class. I wasn’t injured in the slightest, but I definitely should have been.

I can’t catch things, throw things, or do anything remotely athletic to save my life. My extracurricular woes don’t end at dancing; I did figure skating for a good little chunk of time, and I could never get certain tricks quite right. It wasn’t until I’d been out of skating for a few years that I realized I was probably having some kind of motor-skill related issue. Dear 12-Year-Old Madison, you aren’t an idiot. The reason you can’t do a proper spin is because your motor skills are terrible, not because you don’t understand the physical steps required to get there.

The amount of times I have injured myself by tripping and falling over nothing is out of this world. I literally fell off a swing in my yard the other day, and landed flat on my rear end in the dirt. It hurt like nobody’s business!!!

Okay, Madison, you’ve been going on for quite some time now and you haven’t really said at all what any of this has to do with being autistic. Well, good news! Autism often comes with motor skill difficulties attached. Which can explain so much of my childhood, and also just the sheer amount of times I have been prone (and continue to be prone) to tripping over nothing, breaking objects, falling on my face, et cetera. I’m a danger to myself.

But anyway. I think I might be done for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this digression into self-roasting territory. Here’s where else you can find me!

Next Time: On being an ally to neurodivergent people.

social

Saying No

Okay, so I have to be totally honest.

I made a small post yesterday to update my blogging day of the week for the summer, changing it from Tuesday to Wednesday, the same way I did (and had forgotten that I did) last summer. I maintain that I’ll blog on Wednesdays, because they just work better for me during this season, and that’s why I’m coming to you with a post today, but I also want to note that I do know my posts have generally been shorter and less informative over the past few months since I got sent home from college.

And this doesn’t really have to do with my blog topic for the day, but I want to talk about it briefly anyway, because it’s relevant to the chronology of the blog and of my college life in general. There’s an overarching reason my posts have been shorter (and sometimes delayed), and I feel like it’s not so difficult to figure out what it is. My mental health has been getting better with the weather and the return of a general structure to my life, but the fact remains that getting sent home from school threw me off quite a bit.

I know that the pandemic threw everybody off, and that life as we knew it was very different for awhile (and continues to be, even as things open back up)— but I want to emphasize briefly the significance of the way change affects me, as an autistic person, in relation to the disruption in my schooling and my life. I get so thrown off by change that it can take me a long time to recover from it (see my actual adjustment to college life in the first place), and it can have effects on other parts of my life, like executive functioning and mental health. For that reason, a change this big (definitely the biggest adjustment to the way life works that I’ve seen thus far in my lifetime) really threw me off.

I’m not saying the pandemic is over, but I am back to work, and my college just announced its official reopening plan (yay!!!!!!!). So I’m starting to see life return to something like normal. The thing is that this is a blog about being autistic in college, and I’ve done fine over breaks in the past, but the significant lack of college in my life has contributed to my lack of motivation to make weekly blog posts.

Now it’s summer, and it would be even if I finished the semester normally, but the only times I’m leaving the house are still times I’m going to work. All of this means that I’m not seeing a super huge amount of blog content being generated by my daily routine, so I’m having to dive deep into the general experience of autism in order to find things to write about.

Does this mean I’m going to stop blogging? Definitely not. You’re stuck with me until the day I graduate. Sorry. But it does mean you may have to be slightly patient with me until I start getting really inspired about blog posts again. Until then, I’ll do what I’ve been doing, and hopefully we’ll get by just fine.

So anyway… let’s move onto the actual topic I said I was going to write about today: my difficulty with saying no.

The first thing you should know about this topic is that it might not seem that it’s as difficult for me to say no as you’d think. After all, I say no to social events on the regular (which kind of relates to the issue of getting there, but that’s not what I’m focusing on today). But I have a really significant difficulty saying no when somebody asks a favor of me, or in terms of communication boundaries, or any number of other things.

As a general rule, I like to be helpful. So not being able to say no when people ask me to do things for them is really not the worst trait to have. It also doesn’t come up that often in my day-to-day life. But social boundaries are a little more difficult, and I’ve gotten myself into some situations in the past that result out of my ability to say no.

Like, I’ll agree to do something I know I won’t logistically be able to do, because it’s way out on the calendar and I feel bad telling a person flat-out I can’t make it, and then I’ll cancel later on and feel really awful about it. Or I’ll run on other people’s communication schedules, which is, like, okay if you’re trying to communicate with someone in the world of coronavirus, but can at times mean you don’t get as much sleep as you probably should be getting. Or I’ll put myself in generally socially uncomfortable situations because I feel really bad putting my foot down about anything.

Disclaimer: this is not a huge problem in my life. But it’s happened to me enough times that I’ve noticed it. And the reason I think it’s related to being autistic is this: I associate saying no to someone with doing something that will upset them, and my social brain doesn’t like that. I want people to like me, and I’m constantly over-analyzing myself to ensure I’m performing correctly in social situations. If I say no, or put my own needs first, I am constantly worrying that people are going to be mad at me.

So a lot of the time, it becomes: say yes, and stay in my good social graces, or upset somebody, and run into a sticky social situation that might lose me a friend. And yes, I do completely understand that in reality, saying no doesn’t mean somebody is going to be mad at you about something. I just also lose sight of that in the moment a lot of the time.

This is a lot of abstract language, but I hope it communicates what I’m trying to say. A lot of the time, being autistic means putting yourself outside your comfort zone in order to keep the social functioning of your brain at bay.

Again, this doesn’t happen so often that my life is worse off because of it. But it happens enough. And it’s really something I need to work on!

But anyway. I’m a work in progress. And I got a coherent blog post out today, which I consider a victory. So until next Wednesday, here’s where else you can find me.

Next Time: On fine motor skills.

Uncategorized

Summer posting day update!

My friends, this will be a very short blog post, as it’s just a prelude to the actual blog I’m going to write tomorrow. You see… I was scheduled for shifts at both of my summer jobs today, and it occurred to me that I’ve been having the problem for multiple Tuesdays in a row of not seeming to be able to find the time to write my post when I normally would. I was subsequently debating how bad it would be if I wrote yet another late blog and just posted it tomorrow.

And then it dawned on me! Last summer, I adjusted my weekly blog day to Wednesday, because Wednesdays tended to be less busy for me. Apparently, this is a summer pattern that continues even now, because I’m running into the same kind of thing. So this is just a very long-winded way of me telling you that we’re going back to Wednesday blogs for the summer! It works best for me; I can get blogs to you on time without having to work them in on a really busy day.

And with that, I will see you tomorrow.