Mall Shopping with #Aspergers

The mall

Yesterday I shopped for my son’s spring clothing. The 90 minute ordeal left me with three bags of awesome, comfortable clothes, and a mild case of exhaustion.

Since the birth of my son five years ago, even little trips to the mall cause a weariness that lingers into the next day.  I once wondered why shopping depleted me. Now, I understand the issues that drain me and what to do about them.

My list of observations:

I could shop forever.  When I was younger, I shopped till I dropped.  The colors, patterns and textures captivated me. I was in special interest heaven!  I had no other responsibilities and afterward indulged myself in an extended rest (or a glass of wine!). Now, I need to be on my toes for my son.  My internal resources don’t have time to regenerate for after school duty if I shop for too long.

Solution: Shop for  1 ½  hours and give myself another 1 ½ hours before the end of the school day.  I’ve followed this formula for the past 7 months, it works wonderfully.

Too many choices.  I like all the shirts. I can’t decide! Anxiety builds. I am stuck in a choice loop. The best option seems to be to buy everything. Not a good idea!  I had a moment like this at the grocery with my husband.  The variety of cake mixes overwhelmed me. Impatient, he paced. This stressed me out more. Finally, I confessed my problem. “Choose chocolate,” he said. Always a fine suggestion!

Solution: Shop with a buddy. Shopping alone,   I use logic to restore order. I select a limiter, like a color palate, to reduce choices. This spring my son wears grey.

Music everywhere. Why would a children’s clothing store blast pop music? I understand the cacophony at Hot Topic, but super-loud music at Gap Kids? Sheesh. I notice mothers with their placid toddlers and realize that, yes, it is just me.

Solution: Sonic defender earplugs or big goofy earphones. Both filter out the background noise well. I am 80% less anxious in seconds. Also, sales associates will not pester you if you wear the earphones—highly recommended in any electronic store!

Perfume everywhere.  I can taste the flowery-citrusy- scent of almost every woman who drifts by at the mall. The cologne drenched men at the technology kiosks seem to be the worst offenders.  I know odor is pleasant for some, but it is inescapable for the sensitive.  Strong perfume is an invasive as an unwanted touch. A person sharing the elevator with me would not seize me by the shoulders and shake me, so why wear so much scent?

Solution: I can only think of one thing—a gasmask. The first time I wore my mega-earphones, I felt self-conscious. No longer.  Maybe   I can learn to be as glib with a gasmask as I am with my Blissum Thunder ear muff!

Emotional Regulation and Asperger’s

Unstable

Before my diagnosis, I worried about having rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Daily, I experienced spells of heightened excitability and mental energy followed by profound boredom and lethargy. The pattern of my cycles troubled me—they lacked regularity.

After my son’s diagnosis, I observed his behavioral patterns and eventually connected them to my own.  Twice exceptional people often have difficulty regulating their emotions.

I wrote this lament the night before I came down ill with the flu a few weeks ago.  This post captures my experience of emotional disregulation.

I feel so unstable, unusable, broken.  I cannot find balance in a life full of ups and downs. Daily glee skyrockets over little things– a cup of coffee or a tender glimpse of a loved one. I am unbound, untethered and out of my mind with bliss.

A moment later, ensnared by stress and the unexpected, I am smashed and hopeless.

I lack self-regulation.  I struggle fiercely. I struggle incessantly. So does my son. We are both untied and colliding, collapsing, crushing each other until we are flat and empty.

I am a cheery person, I insist. This is my identity. I think wonderful thoughts and ask why, why, why, in an exuberant, perky voice.

Yet, when I am not enraptured with questions or drawn into a favorite task, my idle mind grinds in ever tighter circles. It winds in on itself, tighter and tighter until the center coils into a deep dark dot. My life becomes blackness.

I fight.  I bounce, pace, and whirl. It helps.  I float toward the surface again. My buoyancy is tenuous.  Soon I will be lost, spinning away to the tiniest black speck.

Each day unfolds in song and dips in and out of despair and exhaustion. It feels pointless until it feels sacred again. I live the same day, forever.

I read the books and hear the words of what to do, but deep, deep grooves are etched in my brain. Like canyons, like caverns, neurological folds block the light or reveal a brilliance so blinding that I become senseless with joy.

Boredom, A School Memoir

boredom

I used to consider boredom the remote affliction of others. Bored  people lacked imagination and an appreciation for beauty.  In my childhood, I spent hours  tilting and gazing at kaleidoscopes. Plaster patterns on the wall continuously evolved and reshaped into faces, beasts, and foreign geographies.  How could anyone be bored when all they had to do was look?

My assumptions about boredom were misguided. I struggled mightily with boredom, especially in the forced confines of school. I fidgeted and interrupted upon occasion. Usually, though, I traveled in my brain.

I remember Rafaela and her ponytail holders.  Decorated with translucent red balls, the holders fastened tight and close to her scalp.  I mentally traced the smooth channels of her dark braided hair up to the holders and back down again.  Sometimes the light would hit the holders just right and they would glow. Eventually the teacher picked up on my fascination and seated me elsewhere.

High school algebra classes numbed my brain. I digested material instantaneously, making lectures redundant and banal. One day I brought a Phillip’s screwdriver to school and disassembled my desk top.  The mischief makers behind me regarded me with new respect.  I spent the rest of class balancing the desk with my knees while I charted the progress of a rolling pencil.

Not soon afterward, I spoke to my math teacher, Mr. Tigers. “I know all of this, “ I told him, “From chapter one to seven. Test me.”  He didn’t bother and let me go to the library instead, provided I take scheduled exams. I wound up using my free period to tutor the special ed class he taught.

I relished making learning fun for other people.  Math class bored me  because it was too easy. The kids I tutored found math boring for the opposite reason–it was too hard. This irony escaped me at the time.

In my senior year, I took calculus with Mr. Guam, the wrestling coach. The course took place in a big booming room that felt more like an oversized bathroom stall than a classroom.  The ceiling was twenty feet up and small windows seemed to float in the distance.

Uneasy, for  subtle, incomprehensible reasons,  I drifted away during lectures.   I deemed his instruction style bewildering and disorganized.  Furthermore, his homework and assignments did not correspond to the book, impeding my understanding further. He held homework sessions after wrestling practice, too late for my anxious self to attend.   Coincidentally, his exam questions derived from these very  sessions (the wrestlers did quite well).  I hated his strategy and handed in a nasty note in place of my second exam.  He gave me a D-.

A year later, I re-took calculus at a university. My instructor was an unintelligible foreign professor, yet I aced all my exams. He followed the textbook. The next year I became a popular calculus math tutor.

So what happened to me? Why fail in one class and not another?  I’ve asked myself these questions hundreds of times, because my academic career was so mixed.

I succeeded when I worked alone and followed the book. I failed in a distracting and social environment. It is the story of my life.

So how does one with such a brain raise a chatty, precocious boy with autism?

I doodle (above), bounce on a yoga ball, and get excited about teaching my son math.

Queen of Industry

industry 2

I am the queen of industry.

I cannot be still either in body or in mind.

Impelled to move, I organize crayons or wipe the silverware drawer. I dash off to fold clothes or arrange socks in their drawers. I draw, doodle or paint. I scan, alter, upload or download.

It is not so much that I’m compulsive (I can be). My brain smolders with worry. Physical or mental inactivity allows the worries burst into a conflagration.

Today’s fixation is our missing kitty, but I could agonize over anything. Family health issues, driving during the lunch rush, what to cook for dinner, they all seem to take up the same anxious space in my brain.

Poor Kitty, absent for two hours. I visualize kitty’s horrible fate with disconcerting clarity. Cold and shivering, she curls up in an inauspicious place. We find her mummified body in the spring, wretchedly close to rescue. My body clenches with future emotion.

I push worry out of my mind by choosing a tube of acrylic paint and some newspaper.

Twenty minutes later Kitty shows up, bored of her foray into the woods.

I know my imaginings are unrealistic, even in the moment. Nevertheless, I am still swept away. I drown. As long as I clutch a task, I stay afloat. Maniacal thrashing takes over when I let go of that branch. My unoccupied mind needs focus or it fills with ornate details of horrible doom or failure.

Is this autism? A consequence of a high IQ? Mild OCD? Probably some of each.

The ultimate result is an abundance of industry. Wonderful industry. Floating paint across paper is delicious compared to visualizing kitty doom scenarios.

Tennisfiend’s Mom

Well, the day has finally arrived. E’s mom, Tanya will be arriving from Russia in less than twelve hours! This will be her third visit to the states, and her first visit in five years. We hope that she will stay with us for a couple of months, at least. Yay! She will cook for us! Not that my mom hasn’t been breaking her back to cook, but with the two of them on duty, we won’t have to stomach another Stouffer Classic Lasgna meal for a long time. Actually, Stouffer isn’t half bad, Hormel meals are the worst. Bleagh!

All food fantasies aside, Fontessa is a caring, sensitive and generous woman. She was so kind to me when I first came to Moscow eleven years ago. A strange American woman marries her son after dating for seven months and she welcomes me with champagne and kisses. Treating me like the daughter she never had, she never once made me feel unwelcome. Fresh flowers greeted me every time I visited her dacha (country home) and she always fixed my favorite dishes. (More cooking references, hmmmm…) At family parties, with no one but my husband speaking English, she made sure I was included and even the center of attention. I was treated like a genuine queen.

A flower from Fontessa’s garden.

In the time that we have been apart, Fontessa (and the rest of our family) never forgets an anniversary, birthday, or special holiday. She constantly sends photographs of her lovely garden and plenty of nifty care packages. When Fontessa visits us, she is just as delightful. None of this bossy mother-in-law stuff–total respect for my way of doing things, but her spirit and attitudes always shine through. Do I love this woman? You bet! Her visits are a dream!

Okay. I’m calm now. Gooey relative rave is over.   J