8/26/22

When I was a child, my mother suggested I keep a diary. I told her that boys don’t keep diaries, they keep journals.

Or maybe I constructed that memory. Maybe I mentioned to some friends that I was keeping a diary, and they laughed at it until I started calling it a journal.

Memory is like that: We hold them in our heads as if they’re objective truths, while our emotions sculpt them however they please. Want to make yourself sad? Build a memory for that. What to help yourself feel confident? Build a memory for that.

There is some truth in memories; they’re at least based on true events, but the parts we remember, and how the details mesh together, and the specific words and tones that were used, are shaped by our emotions.

Perhaps both things happened: My mother suggested I keep a diary, and so I started. Then I mentioned it to my friends, and they laughed at me. So the next time my mother mentioned it, I reported the terminology change.

Regardless, I didn’t keep a diary very consistently. Throughout most of my life, I haven’t. Around my house are many false-start diaries, some that I kept for days, others for weeks. In some cases, I found an old diary, sometimes years-old, and started adding to it again.

I mention my mother in this because I don’t think it was her desire to make me feel miserable. I think she genuinely wanted to help, she just didn’t know how.

Do scorpions mean to hurt people? Or is it just their nature, because they don’t know how to do anything else?

It’s easy to condemn someone with no remorse, whose destructive actions come from a place of callous indifference to the feelings of others. It’s quite another to condemn someone who truly wants to do the right things, to do the compassionate things, but who is so broken by their own upbringing that they just don’t know how to change, and can’t implement the guidance of others.

My mother was that broken. I use the past tense even though she’s still alive. The Current Her is not very relevant to my life.

I used to be angry, and while there is some rage left, mostly, it’s sadness. Sad that she could never navigate her way out of that darkness, even as she tried. It was on her to do so; she did reach out, spending most of my life in therapy, including several trips to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. The therapy never seemed to take.

I remember she so badly wanted her mental struggles to have a biological cause: She had a hysterectomy and a thyroidectomy. She complained of hypoglycemia. It was her claim of fibromyalgia that was my breaking point, where I told her I couldn’t interact with her anymore.

And I’m sure that there was a biological element to them, but I’m also sure that it wasn’t as large as she wanted it to be.

On one level, she hated being broken, in the same way that I wish I wasn’t broken.

On another though, there’s a power in misery. There is social capital in being broken. Psychologists remind us that negative attention is still attention; if you’ve grown up with a paucity of positive attention, you may well think that negative attention is the only effective way to get noticed.

I was thinking about the SNL character Debbie Downer recently. It’s a facile way for people to show a lack of compassion for people like my mother, and like I can be when I’m falling into toxic patterns.

I often feel like I can’t reach out to people when I’m feeling happy. When I’m happy, I struggle with knowing what to say to others. “Hi, I’m doing well, I hope you are too.” Then what?

Small talk, sure, but small talk is difficult for me to navigate. “Have you seen the latest episode of She-Hulk?” “Sure, it was awesome.” “Really? What kind of classless fool would like that show? I tried to watch it, but oh my God.”

Every word can feel like a landmine. The other day, I spent some time with a dear friend, and there were half a dozen spots where I cringed at my own statements. How would they take that? Did I just offend them?

I used to fight those moments, but now I just let them be. They are fruit flies in my mind, and if I swat at them they fly around and get in my vision. If I just ignore them, they settle in one place and just … persist in peace.

I have lots of experience, way too much experience, Talking While Depressed. So if I’m feeling lonely and want to interact, taking the role of “depressed friend in need of cheering up” is an easy one to play.

Not a good one to play, and to keep things honest, my brain convinces me I’m depressed. Which makes it even worse. How often have I gotten depressed solely as a way to reach out to people?

I do not want this to continue.

I am actively choosing to not let this continue.

Hey, me, remember how much better it feels to honestly connect with someone, on both emotionally meaningful and just for fun levels? Practice that, forget all that stuff about “People will show love if I’m broken”. You’ve mastered that, now work on a new script.

It’s okay to cry when you’re truly sad. Just… stop making yourself sad for the sole purpose of garnering attention. That’s the point.

Anyway, enough reflection for today, time to go do stuff.

A Trip to the Ocularist

I have a prosthetic eye. The last one I got was about twenty years ago, so I decided it was time for a new one. This is a write-up about my experience while it’s still fresh, and also to answer many of the questions I get. (Weak narrative structure here, this is somewhat stream-of-consciousness.)

Popular question: How much does it cost? My insurance covers 100%, so luckily it cost me $0. However, the receptionist told me that insurance normally approves in the neighborhood of$1200, and that for most people insurance covers 50% or 80% for medically needed prosthetics.

The process consists of three sessions, the last two of which can be done on the same day in the morning and afternoon. For scheduling reasons, I’m getting three separate sessions.

The first session is short, at least for a replacement: The ocularist makes a form with a crosshair for the iris, shaping it for comfort and look. I was complaining about how my lower lid droops with the current one, so he shaped the new one to put less weight on the center of my lid. I don’t have the new one yet, but I can tell already that there’s going to be an improvement there. This took about half an hour.

The second session, which was yesterday, is the long one: The ocularist tries the form again, makes any final adjustments, then makes the base of the actual prosthetic. Then there’s the painting process. Oof. I sit with him and he painstakingly paints the form to look as close to my functional eye as possible. There are some painting techniques so that the iris looks larger in low light than in high light. The veins are made with wisps of yarn. The idea is to make an eye that has reflectional symmetry with the functional one, and that’s quite a skill. This took about two hours.

Popular question: Can you take it out? Can I look at it or the socket? If you’re a close friend (which is a short list), I wouldn’t mind if you really want to see. Everyone else, that’s what the internet is for. My child has specifically asked me not to take it out around him, and that’s fine.

One of the first things I noticed was the smell. It’s been twenty years since my last one, and as soon as I entered the painting room, my sense memory yelled at me. The ocularist said that’s pretty common.

There’s a substance that looks like a clear acrylic epoxy that’s used to coat the paint and the veins, and I think that’s the smell: A sickly-sweet chemical smell, like someone mixed Crazy Glue with sugar and just a pinch of urine. Yummo.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to work with that. Just a few hours every twenty years is enough to engrain the smell on my brain. (And yes, I’m smelling it in my mind right now.)

At first, I was reading my book because I didn’t want to distract him, but then we started chatting, mostly at his lead.

My first prosthetic was made when I was fifteen months old. I knew it was somewhere in there, but he’d looked it up in my chart. June 1969; I got an eye for my brother’s fourth birthday. I don’t know how many I’ve had since then. I only remember getting one in my teens, and a second one back around the turn of the century.

I remember the one during my teens, made by a kindly old man with a German accent. He retired before the most recent one.

Popular question: How can you drive with one eye? You don’t have any depth perception! I have fine depth perception. The brain has quite a few things it uses to determine relative distances, such as overlaps between objects, knowledge about typical sizes, and relative object speed. I’ve been told that people who lose an eye struggle with depth perception for a few months, but usually adjust. I wouldn’t know, since I’ve had one eye since well before my memories started.

We talked about implants. There’s a titanium ball that can be grafted to the muscles, and then the prosthetic is placed on a peg. He said the surgery is long and painful, and the socket is then more prone to irritation. A significant majority of people who get it have it removed after a year or two. He also said it doesn’t really help the tracking considerably; the better strategy (which is what he’s trying) is to try to seat the prosthetic so the muscles are more effective.

I remember when I was younger, I was told to take it out regularly. I asked him about that, and he said the opinions have changed now. What I do (take it out about once a day for a quick clean) is fine, but leaving it out leaves the socket prone to irritation, as does touching the prosthetic.

These aren’t dentures. My father had to take his dentures out nightly for soaking. Prosthetic eyes are made to generally be cleaned the same way regular eyes are, through blinking and natural fluids. Because they can place pressure on the tear ducts, daily cleaning isn’t unusual, but take it out, rinse it off gently, and put it back in.

We talked about movies. He made a prosthetic prop for a movie that’s coming out soon (I won’t give the title).

I complained about the movies Captain Ron and Sing, where spherical prosthetics are a comedy device. Prosthetic eyes have never been balls; the shape they have now has been their shape pretty much for as long as they’ve been made, more or less. I did see a recent TV show that featured a properly shaped eye, plus there’s the film he made a prop for, so I’m glad that the entertainment industry is making an effort to fix this.

We also talked about famous people with prosthetics, particularly Peter Falk and Sammy Davis, Jr. I had some classist grumbling about how Falk’s eye improved dramatically, and how he probably had access to better services, but the ocularist said that really isn’t the case for this sort of prosthetic: The art is the art. He probably just got a higher quality eye made.

Popular question: How did you lose your eye? In late 1968 or early 1969, my retina detached. I was preverbal. The doctors were concerned that I had cancer in my eyes, which can be fatal in a matter of months, so they removed the eye. I did not have cancer, but given the state of medicine at that time, I’m not sure reattachment surgery would have worked (or even been available to a baby). I was officially diagnosed with Coats’ disease; my skepticism about that is a separate topic.

The third session is next week. It’s the final fitting, with any adjustments. This usually takes less than half an hour.

When I get my new prosthetic and I’m happy with it, I’ll post before/after photos of my new look. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask! I’ll answer anything, even if my answer is, “I’m not going to go into that.”

I was not fully trained until I was a tween. I have a lot of shameful memories involving my encopresis. It was only recently that I learned that it could well have been associated with my autism, specifically with a weaker interoceptive system.

A lot of fancy words to say: I pooped my pants a lot because I couldn’t feel the urge to go until it was too late.

One of those memories was when I was maybe 11 years old. I had just successfully defecated, and my mother was in the next room with a friend of hers. So I took her by the hand to show her my product.

She was embarrassed and annoyed with me. She apologized to her friend. There was eyerolling involved.

I couldn’t understand: When I was younger, she had rained accolades upon me, acting as if my turds were solid gold gifts from the heavens. But here I was, proud that I had gone through the entire process on my own with no mess and no crisis, and she was annoyed.

As an adult, I understand her reaction. Even at the time, part of me was aware that my window for defecatory celebration had passed. Like the Easter Bunny, it was something reserved for children far younger than me.

(Side note: I was surprised when I typed “defecatory” and it didn’t come up as an error. Yes, it’s a pre-existing word!)

The moment was a bundle of feelings for me: A reminder that I was too old to be proud of for such a meager task. A reminder that I didn’t quite get the scripts, and that scripts expire. A reminder that I was a nuisance, and an opportunity to flog myself for being so stupid as to not get any of this.

How would things be different if I’d been diagnosed autistic at that point?

My mother’s reaction would probably have been different but still reinforced that I was annoying. Instead of “I have no idea why my child acts this way”, it would have been “I know why my autistic child acts this way”, with an exhausted lilt that would have gotten sad looks of sympathy from her friend.

My point in reflecting on it this morning is that it was a moment where my attempt to communicate in a positive, albeit admittedly strange, way, turned into another opportunity for my mother to make something toxic.

Plus, in retrospect, it was a fairly autistic moment.

8/24/22

Last week I had a long conversation with my brothers about our childhood, and immediately my brain slipped back into the toxic cycles that it had already been headed towards.

I am now coming out of that iteration with fresh perspectives.

First, addiction: I come from a context of addiction, and though I have generally avoided substance abuse myself, my addictions are of a more subtle nature. For a long time, I was addicted to shopping, and ran my credit cards up well into the high five digits. That was only fixed by a large inheritance and a major lifestyle change.

Social media gave me a new outlet for addiction. I have had access to it in some form since the late 1980s, when I was in college and a friend created a local chat system for the school’s computers. During the worst of my addiction, in the late 90s and early 00s, I spent significant chunks of every day online, to the point of endangering my work and killing my offline social life.

I generally have it under control now, but it’s far too easy for me to slip again. I’ve had periods over the last few months, for instance, where I’ll lose track of hours while I flip between Facebook, Twitter, and Discord. There are a lot of things I could be doing, things that generally bring me more happiness, but instead it’s flip-refresh-flip-refresh. “Just another twenty minutes, I swear.”

“Time and again I tell myself / I’ll stay clean tonight / But the little green wheels are following me / Oh no, not again” — David Bowie

There has been a lot written on the obsessive nature of social media. I know I’m not alone in it, and I’m not going to rehash that literature. My own frustration is how it relates to another issue: Toxic relationship styles.

I grew up in a very codependent household. My father had a Savior Complex; my mother had a particularly self-sabotaging Personality Disorder. It was an emotional toxic soup in which it was difficult for healthy attention and communication to thrive.

Add to that my own autism and my visible disability. Add to that my father’s job, as a minister, which led to us moving every three to five years.

Oof. None of these elements alone are worthy of a V. C. Andrews novel, but together, they make for a nasty stew. Without supports, my healthy autistic communications went ignored. My mother trained me that negative attention was easy to get, and my father trained me that negative attention was rewarded with maladaptively codependent “healing”, which meant bandages that held the wounds together for a short period.

The crucial foundation for the Savior part of codependency, after all, is the Sisyphusean need to push the “healed” person back into fracture so they can be healed again.

During that period in the 90s and 00s, I managed to insinuate myself into a culture of codependent cyclic trauma healers, where a person’s value was determined by how fractured they were. The more fractured you were, the more satisfied other people were in healing you.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Some of these people I knew in person, but many more I knew online.

And we were in crisis mode. A lot. Often, someone was on the suicidal brink (not really, it was part of the show, the drama). It was exhausting, it was exhilarating.

“Life keeps slipping away / Fighting in a war with damnation / Poised, keep cutting away / I’m looking in through to salvation / Just one fix” — Ministry

(Gimme that Thorazine.)

I associated feeling valuable with my ability to walk someone back from their crisis. And I took my turns being the one on the brink.

“Have a nice day” had an ulterior motive. “Hello” was an overture for “heal me”. Except healing didn’t happen.

My autism played a part, of course: I was practicing scripts. I was learning how to function to get attention that I didn’t understand.

So now me, 2022: Staring at my friends’ names online, thinking about messaging them to just say hi, but then the half century of bile and baggage weighs down on me.

Two steps forward, one step back.

The other day, someone I thought was my friend told me I’m not getting any better. That’s not true, I am. I am far better than I was a decade ago, but healing is a process, and I’m not going to heal from a half century of bile and baggage without a few relapses.

Moreso, though, being told that was a wakeup that I had slipped back into some toxic relationship perspectives. Houses stand on the foundations we build for them, and if the foundation is based on crisis-and-healing codependency loops, that will be the nature of the relationship.

I have to take a more mindful, positive approach to building healthy foundations. Maybe it means I won’t have “friends” in a way that I recognize, but then again, most of the “friends” I’ve had over my lifetime have been based on these toxic foundations.

I have people in my life with healthy foundations in the relationships. I have people I trust to hold my hand through true healing, not the trauma cycles. I will grow myself, and in so doing, I will grow those relationships.

What is a fraction?

The other day, I saw a tweet joking that while calculus teachers insist that $$\frac{dy}{dx}$$ is not a fraction, the LaTeX is \frac{dy}{dx}.

That reminded me of my longtime complaint that “fraction” as a mathematical term is vaguely defined, so I asked my Twitter followers a simple question: “Which is a fraction?” I provided these options: 0.7, π/e, both, neither.

The motivations for those options (Twitter limits polls to four) were based on the two elements of the most common definition of “fraction”, which I’ll take from MathWorld: “A rational number expressed in the form a/b.”

So I provided a rational number and a number expressed in the form a/b. If the allegedly standard definition, requiring both form and value, was the prevailing one, the most common answer to my poll should be “neither”.

Here are the results:

These results surprised me. I was expecting some level of spread, and I was also expecting (and got) comments about, “Well, the technical definition is….” I also added an addendum to assume that π/e is irrational after someone pointed out that it hasn’t been strictly proven to be, but I think most people did make that assumption.

What I wasn’t expecting was a lack of a majority opinion, and an even split over whether “fraction” is about value or about form.

What does “both”, the plurality winner, mean here? Does it mean that all rational numbers and all numbers of the form a/b are fractions? How, then, is the word “fraction” a meaningful term?

Worse, does it mean that any number that can be written in fractional form is a fraction? Or, even farther, that any expression that can be so written is a fraction? Are all real numbers fractions? Are all expressions fractions?

Hic sunt dracones.

And yet, despite the dangers, that was the most common answer.

Beyond that, those people taking a clear stand were evenly split on value and form. None other than Ben Orlin (I’m not worthy!) pointed out that, if “fraction” is simply a synonym for “rational number”, then what’s the point in having two terms? Just call it a rational number. (A rebuttal that was not offered: There are other places where we have a friendly term and a technical term, such as “counting number” and “positive integer”. Still, a valid point.)

Personally, I was expecting the people favoring form to dominate the people favoring value, and that didn’t happen. At all. Not even slightly. (272 to 271, so I suppose “very slightly”.)

And what of the “technically correct” answer that requires both form and value, i.e., that a fraction is a rational number expressed in a fractional form?

Last place.

In a quote tweet, someone asked me to define “fraction”. Because I try not to provide my own opinion during these sort of polls, I answered honestly: “Words mean whatever communities agree they mean.”

What’s interesting here is that there is a distinct lack of agreement within the community here about what ought to be a fairly fundamental concept.

Which on the one hand is fine. It’s absolutely the nature of the beast. But many people who are reading this are mathematics teachers, and many mathematics teachers act as if terms are set in stone, with clear definitions that everyone agrees on.

So therein lies my caution: If we don’t agree on this, what else do we not agree on? And how many of us, prior to a poll such as this, would have absolutely sworn that there was agreement on this? As mathematics teachers, how often do we communicate to our students that things are concrete truths when they are more flexible than that?

Things for each of us to think about.

Sheldon Cooper and Me

While I believe it has never been explicitly stated on either “The Big Bang Theory” (BBT) or “Young Sheldon” (YS), it seems pretty clear that the character of Sheldon Cooper is intended to be autistic. He represents one of the common stereotype sets of an autist: Annoyingly obsessive about some topics, lacking in overt empathy (in a way that neurotypicals recognize), arrogant about his above-average intelligence, emotionally detached (even about his own needs), impatient with social scripts, prone to meltdowns, and inadvertently callous.

There are layers to this representation, especially if we take in the full context of both shows. Until recently, despite being a regular viewer of both shows (“Young Sheldon”, still in production, is on my DVR watch list), I have had resentment towards the depiction of Sheldon, but I couldn’t quite explain the complexities of my emotions.

Today, I will try.

I am autistic, but have only accepted that identity in the last few years. When I first started watching BBT, I had different sorts of mixed feelings about it. Many of my friends, everywhere from neurotypical to various spots on the neurospectral plane (oooooo, sounds spooooooky!), but uniformly “geeks and nerds”, disliked it because they felt it was holding us (geeks and nerds) up to public ridicule.

This gets at one of the main questions about comedy in general and BBT specifically: Are we to laugh AT the characters, or WITH them? And I think in the case of BBT, it was some of each.

When BBT depicts Sheldon’s sincere attempts to navigate a neurotypical world in a humorous way, it’s good. When BBT depicts Sheldon’s callous arrogance, steeped in anti-intellectualism or even “let’s laugh at the autistic person”, it’s bad. And on those occasions where Sheldon’s implied autism acts as a cover for his cruelty, it’s very bad.

I did not accept myself as autistic until after BBT had left production, and so now I’m involved in the process of reassessing based on that new perspective. I didn’t see the point of YS at the time, but I started watching it because my child (then eight) was also a fan of BBT and was interested in a show about a child roughly his age. To its credit, while the show maintained some of the details of Sheldon’s stereotypical autism, the comparative powerlessness of a child renders him less dangerous; the downside of that, though, is that it becomes easier to laugh AT the character.

But now I’d like to set the complexities of comedy and the neurotypical gaze aside. Let’s pretend it’s a drama, and nobody is laughing either at or with anyone. And I’m going to take YS/BBT as a single story about an autistic child growing up around the cusp of the 1990s.

For historical context: “Rain Man” premiered in theaters in 1988. The first season of “Young Sheldon” takes place in 1989. Outside of psychological circles, the public perception of “autism” was Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt: A minimally communicative obsessive savant. Far from Sheldon Cooper.

Far from me.

See, growing up, I was Sheldon Cooper. I didn’t get along with my peers because I saw myself as too intelligent to deal with them. I had frequent, often violent, emotional meltdowns. I had topics I was obsessed over; at one point, it was my goal to read every Agatha Christie novel, and I could tell you many details about her characters. At another, I was going to be a ventriloquist, so I borrowed a book from the library of ventriloquism jokes and was hand-copying it (this was a world before easily accessed copiers) before my brother pointed out how inane that was (at which point I melted down and hid in a closet).

And, like Sheldon Cooper, the word “autism” was never uttered in my presence directed at me. In 1988, the Year of Rain Man, I was a junior in college; when I was a child, the “Rain Man” stereotype was a thing spoken of in hushed tones, in the same way we spoke of children with Down Syndrome. Had it been suggested to my parents that I was autistic, it would not have gone well.

At some point, when I was late into my teen years, my mother suggested I read “Dibs: In Search of Self” and “Lisa, Bright and Dark”. The first of these is about a child that would definitely be diagnosed with autism today. When it was published (1964), the author (a therapist writing about a fictionalized version of one of her own clients) avoided the term, and Dibs is closer to Raymond Babbitt than to Sheldon Cooper.

The fact that she offered these two books to me together, one about an autistic child and one about a suicidal teen, suggests that a therapist had offered them to her as a way of understanding me. That’s conjecture, but a reasonable one.

So: When I was a child, “autism” was a label reserved for non-communicative or minimally communicative boys who were highly intelligent but emotionally very unstable. Sheldon and I were far too communicative to earn it.

(Spoiler alert: I wasn’t a boy, but nobody knew that at the time.)

Sheldon the Child did not receive any real supports for his autism. Indeed, since he was raised in a fairly conservative part of Texas, with fairly conservative parents, the idea that he should have received therapy would have been anathema. Why would he need therapy? His unhappiness stems from his having to interact with people less intelligent than himself. That’s a reasonable thing to be unhappy about.

Sheldon the Adult has the problems common (not universal) to autistic adults who have not been given any supports as children and hence have had to navigate into adulthood on their own.

Unlike Sheldon the Child, I did receive quite a bit of therapy as a child, but it was aimed at helping a neurotypical boy deal with his tantrums. I was not neurotypical, not a boy, and was usually having meltdowns, not tantrums. There were ways in which the therapy helped, but also ways in which the therapy created dysfunctional and inaccurate beliefs about myself which, at 54, I’m struggling to dismantle.

Another way in which my lack of diagnosis (partially because of a lack of understanding) hurt me is in my toilet training issues. I did not routinely use the toilet to defecate until my tween years; I regularly soiled myself, even at school. This was attributed to my mother’s failure to toilet train me correctly, and while I will readily criticize her for things that were her own doing, I have come to believe that particular issue wasn’t her fault.

I only recently learned about the connection between interoception and autism. I have long known that I have Sensory Processing Disorder–there are foods I cannot eat because of their texture, I cannot stand the smell of coffee, I struggle with misophonia, I avoid most wool–but it didn’t occur to me that SPD could be related to my childhood encopresis.

But it makes sense: I have interoception issues, and they were stronger when I was a child. I often ate (and eat) not out of hunger but out of habit, because I don’t feel hungry until I’m extremely hungry. The opposite was also true: I didn’t feel the urge to void my bowels until it was an emergency.

My lack of diagnosis as autistic (or as “Asperger’s”, which is what I much more likely would have been called in the 1970s and 1980s) as a child had two damaging effects on my upbringing: I was not given appropriate supports and management strategies, and I was given disapprobative messages that created shame cycles in my brain.

To be clear: Autistic people are not any more entitled to meltdowns than neurotypical people are. We are not any more entitled to arrogance or callousness. We are just as obligated to be civil, polite, and kind, and many of us succeed at that.

But Windows software won’t run on Apple computers. It is not the fault of either the computer or the software, but it’s just not going to happen. (Computer pedants: Please just accept the analogy. I know some of you are wanting to “Well, actually…” this part.)

Autistic meltdowns need to be managed with strategies appropriate to autistic processes; using neurotypical strategies and then shaming the autist for not getting better results in shame, not in effective management.

Sheldon the Child became the callous, arrogant, emotionally detached Sheldon the Adult largely because of that lack of supports, just as I became who I am because of that lack. In my case, and extrapolating for Sheldon as well, it wasn’t just a lack of supports that was harmful, it was also the presence of the wrong supports, which inevitably failed to address the problem and led to feelings of “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so broken?”

I’m not broken, I’m autistic.

Postscript: Removing the comedy and looking at YS/BBT as a serious narrative, it works as a cautionary tale about the importance of proper supports (which, in BBT, Penny and Amy do provide; Amy appears to be autistic as well, although Penny is neurotypical). Taken on that level, it can be helpful for children who are now showing similarities to Sheldon the Child, as well as for adults struggling with the same “What’s wrong with me?” feelings I have.

At the same time, though, it can’t be forgotten that they are sitcoms, and there are dangerous messages in the idea of neurotypical laughing, either at or with, this behavior. This gets into a separate, also important, conversation about diminishing the responsibility autistic people have to be accountable for our harmful acts. That is for another time.

Also for another time: The BBT theme that men normally act with a combination of enabling and fear around other men, while women are expected to pick up the slack of actually helping.

The Raccoon in the Trashcan

Sunday: My two brothers and I had a long, deliberate talk about childhood traumas. This is the first such conversation I remember having, at least in person, with both of them together. My older brother lives in northern Saskatchewan and visits every few years. My younger brother lives about an hour south of me.

Saturday, the day before: We went to Greenfield Village to watch historic baseball. At one point late in our visit, my younger brother J. and his youngest son had a snack, and the group of us (being, at that point, my brothers, my spouse V., our son, and my nephew B.) sat around a table outside. There was a garbage can nearby, but J. walked to a farther one to throw out his napkin.

A few minutes later, as we decided to leave, B. went to the nearer trashcan and threw away his garbage.

“Hey, there was a trashcan right here, J.,” I said. “Why didn’t you use that one?”

“Oh, that one’s closed,” he said, as if it was normal to close trashcans.

Sure enough, though, there was a cover over it, completely blocking the opening. The cover said, “Closed, Caution”. B. had lifted the cover to use it, then let the cover drop closed.

Someone (my older brother, I think) lifted the cover and said bemusedly, “Oh, there’s a raccoon in there.”

One by one, most of us looked: Sure enough, there was a raccoon sitting contentedly in the trashcan, looking up at us as if he had just had a pleasant meal and was waiting for his favorite program to come on.

We put the cover back down. I was going to take a photo, but I was worried that the raccoon might already be getting agitated about having been locked in the trashcan. As pleasant and relaxed as he looked, he could have turned violent quickly.

There are some things best left acknowledged and then left locked in the trashcan.

Saturday, it seemed like a randomly amusing story.

After Sunday, as the three of us siblings opened up our own communally closed trashcan and looked inside: It was well worth the consideration, well worth the examination, but after it all, there are things best left acknowledged and then left locked in the trashcan.

8/3/22

I have an appointment on Monday to get a replacement prosthetic eye. I’ve had this one for about 20 years, and while it seems to still be in decent enough shape, it’s time for a new one.

It got me thinking about when I was a teenager and it was time for a new prosthetic. My parents were divorced. I think I was living with my mother at the time, but it’s also possible I’d already moved in with Valerie and her mother at that point.

What I do remember is that my father put up a major stink about having to pay for the part of my prosthetic not covered by insurance. Enough that the lawyers had to get involved.

At that point, it was maybe two hundred dollars. I get that that was a lot of money in the mid-80s, but it’s a prosthetic. It’s a medical necessity, at least from the standpoint of not grossing out half the people I interact with.

It’s a reminder of how my parents treated me like a nuisance. I was the only one of my siblings whose conception was pre-planned, and I feel like I was seen as the biggest mistake.

When my parents divorced, I chose to go with my mother, who was staying in Berkley. My older brother chose to go with my father, who was moving away to live with his new wife and her two children. My mother initially got custody of my younger brother, but that was reversed later.

When my mother decided to also move away from Berkley, I panicked. I had a new girlfriend and a stable home (hers) for the first time in my life, and I didn’t want to leave.

I had a conversation with my father about this, asking if maybe he could maintain a double residence (he was a minister, the house was paid for by the church; my step-mother was also a minister, in a house likewise paid for by the church).

He refused, and told me he had a new family now and was going to focus on that.

I see myself as a nuisance because I’ve long been treated like a nuisance. Best to just start out with that perspective.

I have a memory from a small window of time: It was in Berkley, but we were all still living in the parsonage, before the divorce. I was at home alone; I don’t remember where everyone else was, but they had gone somewhere together.

I was trying to teach myself to speed-read because I have long been embarrassed by how long it takes me to read. I didn’t know until recently that my slow reading wasn’t a problem with my intelligence (as I was treated) but because of processing differences related to my neurodiversity.

Things that, had I known them, would have made my life different.

I was almost done reading an Agatha Christie book. I was really into Agatha Christie at that point in my life, with the goal of reading her entire opus (I think I got about a third of the way before losing interest).

Autistic rephrase: Agatha Christie was my special interest at that point in my life.

Anyway, I was maybe fifteen minutes from the end of the book, being on the verge of having my fastest reading time ever, when my family came home and my younger brother, a toddler or barely just not at that point, squealed in excitement and hopped on my lap.

I had a violent meltdown. I screamed at him. I screamed at my parents. I threw the book. I stormed off, probably to my room. I slammed doors.

It was completely unacceptable. I treated him like the nuisance I had long felt like I was. I’m deeply sorry for it, to this day.

The message I got from my parents was the same: I was the problem.

I was always the problem.

I was always the nuisance.

So it didn’t matter when I really was the problem. There was no attempt to find out why I’d exploded: All that mattered is that I had. Don’t address the underlying flames, just stomp them out when they burn other people.

Today, it doesn’t matter how many times other people say I’m not a nuisance, I don’t believe them. I know I’m a bother.

I don’t even know how to end this in a productive way, so I’ll just stop writing now.

The first of August, 2022 (2)

I have long had this discomfort having conversations, especially about emotional topics. It feels like I’m playing out a script: I speak, you speak, I speak, and I can see the galleys of dialogue that we’ve been working our way through. As if the point of conversation is not to connect with another, but rather to work through this scripted dialogue successfully and without deviation.

Sometimes my mind drifts in the middle of a conversation. It’s accomplished what it wants to, and it wants to switch its emotional state to meet its new needs.

The song I’m listening to right now is “Ghost in the Machine” by Dawes, which is a different song than the one with the same title from The Police.

(I got distracted when I realized that that’s the name of an album by The Police, not a song; the corresponding song is “Spirits in the Material World”.)

My brain is not naturally linear. I have to force my brain to think that way if I want to communicate with most people, because otherwise people have trouble following my threads.

So I have to pull out the script and do my best to follow it. I’m told this means I’m organized, but I feel like it means that human communication is inherently flawed. We take this yawning, roiling mass of thoughts and force it into an extruded string of linearity so that others can understand it.

I feel like this right now:

I used to think I was broken, that this was yet another way that my brain didn’t work. So I’ve limped through scripted conversations, feeling like people’s attempts to connect with me have just left me feeling more alone.

So many conversations I’ve wanted to interrupt with, “Okay, I’m good now” and boom, it’s over.

When I was a child, one my father’s parishioners died. He had been an old man. I was crying at school, and a parapro tried to counsel me through it. I mentioned, just for context, that he’d been a principal at the school years ago, and the parapro latched on to that detail and just started going on about how it’s painful to lose a role model like that.

That’s my first memory of feeling like I was locked into a script that I didn’t know how to navigate.

I used to think I was broken, but now I realize: So many times in my life that I thought I was broken was because my thoughts were being assessed by neurotypical rules.

My thoughts are birds and butterflies, and others have demanded that they walk in a straight line along the cold concrete, when they’re meant to fly chaotically.

My mind is not broken, it is a work of complex beauty. And I’m so tired of trying to coerce it into scripts it was not meant to follow.

The first of August, 2022 (1)

It would be nice if the people who live in my head would pay rent from time to time.

The first people who moved into my psyche were my parents. They have separate rooms in the cellar, well entrenched there in apartments that most of the other residents aren’t even aware are there. There’s no button for the cellar in the main elevator, only in the freight elevator in the back that people only use when they move in or move out.

And hardly anyone ever moves out.

They built those apartments in the cellar with walls of shame, covering those walls with reminders of the ways in which I disappointed them. There are games on the table that I was never able to win because they are inherently unwinnable, structured in contradictions. I am too emotional; I am not emotional enough. I am too masculine; I am not masculine enough. I am too smart; how can I be so stupid?

There’s a third apartment down there in the cellar. Its residents are the voices I created for myself, my baser urges. I’m not supposed to let you know they live there. They’ve long told me to pretend they don’t exist, because if you knew they existed, you’d shun me.

Except you have them too. Not necessarily the same ones, but you have dark thoughts that speak to you. And if yours are like mine, they’ve told you not to let anyone else know they live there.

These are cockroach thoughts: Their health depends on being hidden in the shadows, not exposed to light. So they tell us not to tell others, because if I tell you about some of the thoughts I have, you might tell me that you have them too, and somehow we make it through the day without acting on them, and those thoughts will lose some of their teeth.

They live in the cellar with my parents so that they can all get together and have conversations about me. Plan their next strategy. Contemplate.

I’ve long thought the strategy was getting them to move out, but they’re too entrenched. If they left, the entire building would collapse. The current strategy is to render them powerless. To expose them to the light. To show myself that the only power they have over me is the power that I give them.

Let them die down there; tape over the button in the freight elevator so that nobody can ever reach the cellar.