Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Barking dogs

Which of my senses is most easily overwhelmed? My brain and eyes get exhausted by motion and color in my visual field. I hate to be touched, except by cats. I eat bland food and struggle with the "big flavors" in feeding therapy. I gag at smells that other people hardly notice. But the winner, the one that takes the cake, is my auditory sensitivity.

I hate loud noises, but I also hate constant noise. Both at the same time is torture for my brain. And what happens at work? Dogs. They bark. They're both loud and constant. For 6 hours, I can hear barking dogs. Sometimes they're right next to me as I clean their cages, and other times they're far off in the distance, but they're forever barking.

Barking dogs make for a very, very overwhelmed Lydia. They startle me when they start so suddenly, and they make me freeze. I stop dead. It's kind of like when I step out into freezing cold weather and I can't breathe in for a second or two.

I'm so edgy and trying so hard to hold it all in (no melt downs at 1am, please; my parents are sleeping) that it's almost impossible to write. I've been squeaking this post out a phrase at a time. Can you feel the effort behind every word?

All because of the barking dogs.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's that time again!

The 2010 Walk Now for Autism Speaks (doing it in Pittsburgh this year) is June 26th. Last year, I squeaked by to make my fundraising goal of $500. This year, with more time, I want to raise $1000. I need your help!

(Go to my donation page).

As an aside, Autism Speaks recently made me much happier with it by appointing John Elder Robinson, a popular and fantastic author with Asperger Syndrome, to its review board. Now, the insiders are on the inside. This is exactly what we needed!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bedtime, take 2

It's pushing midnight, and I'm tired. Last night I was up until 3am. I don't want a repeat of last night, so my hope is that if I get some things on paper (er, screen?) and off my mind, maybe I'll be able to sleep.

So far, work has been going great with the actual work. Though it's tiring and not easy physically, I'm already getting stronger. My legs used to hurt by 8:30. Now, I can make it until almost 10:30. It's getting later every night before I'm ready to keel over. In time, I think I'll make it through the shift without getting physically worn out, and I look forward to it. But that's just physically.

The problem is the people. Now, I warn you in advance, I kind of expect that people won't like me. Leigh says that because I expect it, I find reasons to support my belief that they don't. That makes sense, and I'm sure that to some extent it's true. But that's not the whole story.

On Monday, one of the volunteers went to my boss and screamed about how I had overfed the cats. My boss quickly discovered that while I had overfed them, it was because I had been taught to feed them too much. She gave us a tablespoon to level off and use so that we fed them the right amount. On Thursday, the woman I was working with, D, was using the tablespoon but was vastly overfilling it and giving the cats several times the right amount. Not wanting to correct D to her face, being so new and all, I went to the shift leader, J, and calmly and politely expressed my concern, explaining that she probably just hadn't gotten the message from the boss, and could J please discretely fill her in? Not a problem, said J, and thanks for letting her know.

Later, the boss came back and in her abrupt but kind manner told D that she was overfeeding the cats and to please use the tablespoon. D said, "But I did use it." The boss said okay and that was that. I thought that was the end of it. I was wrong.

As I was cleaning cat cages, D was cleaning them in the other room. I saw J and D talking in there. When J left the room, I heard her say, "And she said you were feeding them like 4 times too much and she went to the boss and..." And that was all I needed to hear. J went behind my back and talked to D about what I had said. And now D is all bitter with me. It's not like anyone got into any trouble, so I don't see the problem.

I'm just so frustrated with myself at work. I can't seem to fit in socially at all. Everyone talks and laughs, and then I say something, and no one says anything. Silence. I try to be nice and polite and sometimes funny, but they just think I'm weird. What I hate most is that my family doesn't believe that this happens. My mom says, "Lydia, you're not that different. No one can tell." But I know-- I KNOW-- that they can. Sometimes, it's pretty obvious. I can tell when I've said something wrong because people don't know how to react to me. They're uncomfortable, so they just choose not to react. Because work is such a taxing environment socially, I get worn out, and I get weirder as the night goes on. I just can't control myself after a certain point, and whatever comes out, comes out. I think my family is just so used to me that they don't notice anymore. But it makes me so very frustrated not to be believed.

I wish I could just stay quiet at work, but do you know how hard that is when I'm excited because I'm surrounded by cats? Maybe I'll have to work on controlling my excitement and staying quieter so people don't look at me funny. I absolutely hate the looks I get.

Oh, and I told my boss that I have autism. Her reaction? Nothing. Nada. Zip. She didn't even respond. The context was that she asked if I was able to work 3-11 shifts. I explained that, because I have autism, it's very hard for me to be out in the community, and 6 hours seems to be amount my maximum. She said, "Oh, well, so-and-so will be starting back at 3 again next week. I forgot about that. Nevermind." So now I have no idea what she thinks. Great. Just great. Talk about awkward and uncertain.

Well, that's all I got tonight. I'm going to try this sleep thing again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Add another one to the list

At 13, Elsie is still up for learning new things. Our most recent escapade is learning to walk on a leash. Right now, I'm putting it on her once or twice a day and letting her walk around with it behind her. She's getting used to how it feels.

So, you know by now that Elsie and I are very close. She likes to sit either beside me on my desk (if I'm in the family room) or behind me on the couch (if I'm in the living room) while I type. But what you might not know is that I've trained her to help me out in very specific ways. First, she comes at the drop of a hat to a clicker. Well, unless she's eating. The clicker means "food" to her, and if she's already eating, she doesn't care about treats. And yes, she's a pig and eats a lot, but far from most of the time, so she usually comes when I ask her to. The other thing she does is comes when I cry and makes physical contact. Sometimes she walks under my hand so that I'm forced to pet her. It's like, "Come on, pet me. You'll feel better." She also talks a lot, which although I didn't train her to do it, it helps me to find my words again when I lose them. It's a big help.

Does this sound like it's going somewhere to you? By definition, Elsie is a service cat. She has been trained to do specific tasks that help to mitigate my disability. Up until now, this hasn't really mattered. But it's about to matter a lot.

The group home I want to move to doesn't allow cats. But the question is, would they allow a service animal? Don't they have to? My case manager is finding out.

In the meantime, he wants me to do two things. First, get Elsie certified. I'm going to use the Service Animal Registry of America to get her her own little card that has her information on it. A service animal doesn't technically have to be registered, but it helps to make her more official and people recognize that. Second, he wants me to get my doctor to write a letter that says that I need my cat to function and for health. She quickly agreed to do that for me. Glad that went well.

So, you can add Elsie to the list of very special, hardworking service animals. She's proud to be on it.

I might be 1 in 91, but this cat of mine is truly one in a million!

Monday, March 22, 2010

All about work

Having just completed the third day of my new job at the animal shelter, I feel like I know enough and have done enough to at least start to make some generalizations about it for you.

Not to start off with the bad, but the first one feels obvious. It's really, really hard to write right now. Work takes so much out of me that I don't have much left. I certainly don't have enough left to be funny or creative. I'm hoping that, given some time, work won't take quite so much thought and will be a little more automatic. At the moment, I'm constantly thinking and rethinking everything I do, and it wears my brain out. I'm so afraid of messing up. But, I think that after a few moments, I'll be comfortable and won't have to think so darn hard.

Also bad, I'm having some trouble with all the socialization. It makes me want to hide out by myself for all the hours I'm not at work. Luckily, I work 5-11pm, so I spend my days at home while my parents are off at their jobs. I even had trouble hanging out with my mom this weekend. Because I'm in training at work, I spend every minute with another person. Usually that person is A, a guy who goes to the local university for physics. He doesn't talk too much, and he's generally pleasant to be around. Still, being with him for an entire 6 hours wears on me. I don't like to be with anyone, except maybe Leigh and my mom, for that long. I honestly can't tell if anyone at work likes me or not, and of course I feel like no one does. I have myself convinced that the boss doesn't like me. I try not to worry about the people and focus on the animals, but I don't want to be hated, either. It's confusing.

There are other, little bad things. I don't see my mom for two days on end. Even though I spend the entire time at work with cats and dogs, I really miss Elsie (though she greets me in the basement when I get home). I could bring home the cat version of HIV or ringworm or something else nasty home to my own cat (I reduce the chances by changing my clothes in the basement the second I come in the door and washing my hands like crazy). Work makes my legs quite sore by about 9:30pm, and I'm ready to have a seat (I assume this will get better over time). The dogs bark really loudly and hurt my ears and my brain, but I can't wear ear plugs yet because I have to be able to hear what A is saying. I miss Alton Brown (he's on while I drive home)... but Mom records him for me.

Now for the good things. I love the animals! There are 250 cats, dogs, and rabbits under my responsibility. I clean cages (yes, I deal with a lot of poop, and I'm perfectly okay with that) and feed them, and say hello along the way. My favorite is when I come into the cat condos to feed the cats dinner and they all start meowing. I know every cat in the shelter by name. I know who's nice and who's mean and who hisses but is just all talk. Tonight, I met and got to pet a few rabbits while I cleaned their cages. I really like the rabbits. The dogs... well, they're very cute, but they're also very loud, and that turns me off to them. When one barks, they all have to bark. And when you come in the room, whoever can see you has to start barking, so they all have to start barking... and with 30 dogs, in the room, that's a lot of noise.

After going since November without a paycheck, I'm earning some money. I only make $7.25 an hour (not sure if that's truly minimum wage or just really close to it). Unfortunately, the government thinks that 24 hours a week at minimum wage is enough to live on, and I'm going to lose my Cash Assistance as soon as I get my first paycheck. Boo. This means that I'll be living on something like $7200 a year for the foreseeable future. That's just ridiculous. Half of my income will go to housing, too. I'm a little worried about how this is supposed to work. I had better win my SSI hearing, or I might be in trouble. Big trouble. Still, for right now I'm living at home and doing okay, and it's good that I'm making money again, however little.

Alright, folks. My brain is done thinking tonight, apparently. Although it seems that there is a lot more bad than good about work, that's false for two reasons. One, my brain just wore out while I was doing the good, so I didn't even get to tell you about the little good things, like kittens and puppies and getting to walk dogs and Alberta (the once super-matted orange cat who got shaved and must feel incredible!). Two, the two that I listed are really good. Hopefully, they're good enough that they outweigh the all the bad things.

Thanks for joining me on this less-than-really-entertaining post. Over and out!

Friday, March 19, 2010


I was riding in the car with the windows down and the sun shining in, eating a partially-melted Cadbury Creme Egg followed by a Diet Mountain Dew.

Can you say BLISS? My mouth sure could!

What's your bliss?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Keeping up and fitting in

I went to a bible study at my church that my church mentor, M, recommended to me. It's specifically for women in their 20s. She put me in contact with the woman who runs it, and the woman hooked me up with the book they're using. The book is called Everybody's Norma Till You Get to Know Them." Because I tend to see practically everyone else as "more normal" than I am, I thought the book would be a good one for me to read.

So I dove into the book, being 6 chapters behind the rest of the group. I mostly agreed with the author's ideas, except for the chapter about reading people. It was one of the two chapters we were going to discuss at the meeting. The author suggested that those who are bad at reading people come across as rude, offensive, and uncaring. He said that no one wants to be around someone who is bad at reading people. I took offense to that. While I'm hopeless at reading people and their body language, I don't think I'm almost ever rude or uncaring. I absolutely hate rudeness and I try really hard never, ever to be that way, to anyone. So I was frustrated at the prospect of being called rude. Maybe this guy had forgotten that some people truly can't read people. It's not always a choice.

I went to the meeting on Tuesday night and found myself there 15 minutes early. I like to be early everywhere, so that I can adjust to my surroundings before everyone else gets there. It gave me a chance to talk with the woman who leads the group. Slowly, the other members of the group came in and started to talk. I could feel the confusion build, with multiple conversations happening at once. We sat in a circle, and everyone laughed and talked. I absolutely hated the feeling of being in the middle of conversation without being able to follow it or participate.

I thought that once things settled down and focused on the book, it would be better. We went around and introduced ourselves. I said that I'm Lydia, and I love animals, especially cats. Everyone else did the same. I found out that the other girls all lived on their own and had "real" jobs (a nurse, a physician's assistant, an accountant, and a teacher). I didn't feel like I was somehow less than them, I just felt out of place, like we didn't have much in common. As we got into the book, everyone stopped talking. I was hoping for a close-knit group that would want to discuss the deep topics in the book, but that's not what I found. Instead, the more difficult the topics got, the quieter everyone became. No one wanted to open up.

I was frustrated. I would have been able to talk more about the stuff in the book, because I had already planned my answers. But no one wanted to talk about that. I couldn't participate in the social conversation, but that's the only conversation there was. I spent the whole time sitting in silence.

The whole experience just reinforced how different I really am from my peers. I can't keep up with them when it comes to work, social lives, boyfriends, husbands, conversation... I feel like I'm stuck in childhood or adolescence while they've all moved on to adulthood. I think I'll go back to the group, but I definitely haven't found my niche in the church yet. There's a "ministry to the disabled" that meets twice a month that I'm looking into. I'm not sure if it's meant to be for severely disabled adults or for people, well, like me. I'm working on finding out more about it. Maybe I'll fit in better there.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I start Thursday

So, I think I mentioned at some point that I had a job coming up this spring in a daycare. I would be checking kids in and out and serving/cleaning up after snacks. It would be 22 1/2 hours a week, mornings, which was perfect. The only problem was that it didn't start until sometime in the middle of spring, and no one could tell me exactly when that would be. I'll admit, I was a little impatient, but I knew it would come so I tried to wait as well as I could.

And I would have waited, if the one better job in the world hadn't fallen into my lap. I was browsing the webpage of the animal shelter where I volunteer, and I saw that they were looking to hire an animal caretaker. Now, I go to the shelter to clean cages, feed cats, and play with cats. I could get paid for doing the same work with cats, plus dogs and rabbits. I'm sure you understand why I had to apply. And apply I did.

I got a call back just a few days later from Eula, the kennel coordinator. She asked when I could come in for an interview. I told her that I could come today, and I did that at 3pm. She talked me through the job, called back another employee to walk me through the job, and went through my availability.

I start Thursday, 5pm-11pm. My best hours!

And did I mention that my kitty got a shot, came home, and ate her breakfast?

And I'm trying out a new women's bible study tonight?

What a day!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Prayers and good thoughts, please?

Well, I must have spoken too soon. Elsie isn't out of the woods just yet. She's eating tiny bits (and only if I stand down in the basement with her the whole time and praise her profusely) and I haven't seen her drink since we've been home from the ER. Although, she's using her litter box a bit, so she must be drinking at least a little.

After Leigh left (she was here this weekend; more on that another time), I asked my mom if I could call the vet in the morning to take her down to get her steroid shot. You see, Elsie has some sort of muscle wasting disease that causes her to throw up a lot. It affects her GI system. She takes enzymes in her food every time she eats, probiotics once a week, and she gets a steroid shot every 6-8 weeks. She does really well for those two months after the shot, then she starts to throw up, and we know it's time for another shot. Although she's only thrown up once since this whole ordeal started, I'm wondering if her stomach doesn't feel good and she needs a shot. She's way overdue for one, so given that everything about her is healthy except for the eating and drinking, I think it's time for a shot.

This would be fine, except for that she is out of enzymes ($30), just went to the ER ($336), and you never know what the vet is going to charge when she goes because he just does whatever he needs to do and then expects you to pay. The shot is usually $20. Mom said she could get the enzymes, but having just spent so much in the ER, she just can't afford to get the shot. The enzymes are useless if Elsie can't eat the food to take them. I decided that I would contribute the $20 needed for the shot and take her to the vet myself. I'll just stay home this week instead of going to the animal shelter a few times. I'll drink less Diet Coke. I won't go out to eat for a few weeks. I'll entertain myself from home.

So, please, good thoughts and prayers that this shot does the trick? It's the last idea. Elsie hasn't eaten more than a few bites at a time since Wednesday, and this is Sunday night. If this shot doesn't work, there's no more money to do anything else. I don't think I need to tell you how much my cat means to me.

I'm so, so worried.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Elsie was being perfectly normal, doing her Elsie thing, and then we noticed that she never ate breakfast Thursday morning. Or dinner. Or anything all day Friday. My mom said that as long as she was drinking, she would be okay. I checked her litter box, and it was almost completely empty. She hadn't been drinking.

So I called the vet. They called back to say that they wouldn't be in till Monday morning, but that we needed to take her to the emergency room. She could have cancer, it could be an intestinal obstruction, it could be kidney failure... we needed to go.

We called the emergency vet and found out that he wouldn't be in until 7 P.M., so we had some waiting to do. My mom even tried to give Elsie chicken and chicken broth, and she wouldn't take it. Bob wanted us to wait, but my mom, and especially me, didn't want to wait until it was too late. So, we packed Elsie up in her cat carrier and put her in the car.

The vet weighed her (she's down to 6 1/2 pounds, from 10) and took her temperature, which was normal. Then we waited while the vet took care of other big emergencies (somebody ate carpet, and somebody wasn't breathing). Elsie was anxious but okay. She laid down in her carrier and flicked her tail back and forth. We got her back into the room after about an hour, and the vet said that he wanted to do blood and urine tests to check her liver and kindeys and for diabetes. He wasn't sure that they'd show anything, but in case it was something they'd show, it was good to do the tests. Mom agreed.

So, they took Elsie back and my mom and I went to Bob Evans to get some dinner. I worried like crazy the whole time. What was wrong with her? Was she okay? I knew how scared she must be back there getting poked and prodded without anyone recognizable. My mom said that she hates when animals get sick, because you can't explain anything to do them. It was really hard.

Mom and I got back to the hospital and waited just a few minutes. The doctor called us back to tell us that the (expensive) tests showed nothing. Everything in her blood and urine looks "really good," and considering she's 13! He said we could do an x-ray, but he doesn't thinks he needs it. We decided not to do the x-ray. He said that he thought the best thing to do was to give her fluids and Pepcid to calm her stomach, so we said to go ahead and do that.

They brought Elsie back 15 minutes later with a huge bulge on the back of her neck. That's where they put the fluids. Her front was all wet from when they cleaned it to get blood. She looked terrible. But, I had my kitty back, and I don't know that I've ever been happier to see her. Having been awake for several hours straight now, she looked tired.

We brought her home and I tried giving her a little food, and she ate it! Then, she ate breakfast again today. I'm so happy!

I don't know what I would do without Elsie. I guess I'll find out someday, but I'm glad that day wasn't yesterday. I like to think she has some years left in her. At 13, her eyes are bright and clear, her coat is beautiful, and her medical tests look perfect. I hope she lives to be 20.

Here's a picture of Elsie back in her spot. She sits to one side of my desk while I type, and I pet her every few sentences. Her other spot while I'm here is sitting on the floor, staring at me. Silly kitty.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What do you believe?

One of the potential co-authors for my book asked me to answer this question: What do you believe about autism? She wants to find out what I believe about it before she agrees to work with me. She's very involved with the Autism Self Advocacy Network and advocacy within the autism community, and she wants to work with someone who thinks like she does. Fair enough.

Having been out in the community for the last 10 hours, however, (is anyone else just dancing at the fact that I lasted that long? No? Okay, then.), I'm not really up for a nice, concise paragraph about my beliefs. Not even a nice, semi-concise blog post. So I wrote a list. It's totally off the top of my head. It's not a nice, rounded-off 10 things. It's an awkward 7, I think. But here it is.

So, in case you were wondering...

I do believe that autism is a spectrum of ability and disability.

I do believe that each individual on the spectrum has unique needs.

I don't believe that there is a simple answer to the cure issue. It's not inherently good or bad.
I do believe that treatment has to be tailored to the individual. No treatment is all good or all bad.

I don't believe in sitting back and letting others do what we can do for ourselves: advocate.

I don't believe that Autism Speaks is the devil.

I do believe that many individuals with autism are capable of much more than people give them credit for.

I don't believe in autism cure-alls, except maybe in very rare cases.

I'm disappointed

It took me a couple of days to find the right word, but I finally did figure it out. I'm not sad, I'm not mad, no... I'm disappointed.

I got an email from Jessica Kingsley Publishers a couple of weeks ago saying that, if I got more perspectives, more writers, involved in my book, then they were interested in publishing it. I emailed back saying that I could work with 3-5 other people and have each question have several answers and put it together that way. They emailed me back yesterday saying nevermind, they don't think the book would be useful to readers and would not be offering me a publishing contract.

That's it. No more to the story. No happy ending. I can't decide if I should continue to work with the people I've found or if I should just give up. I don't know how similar pubslishers are, if other publishers will think just like this one does. When it's just myself working on the book, it's one thing to do writing that won't get published. But when I'm working with 5 other people and asking them to write something that may never get published, I suddenly feel responsible for their disappointment too.

Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Being preventative

So, I have a new thing.

I've been going to see the cats (at the animal shelter) every other day. I'm planning on going this morning. I would go daily if it weren't a 20ish-minute drive from home. The way I see it, I can either sit around at home, or I can do something useful with myself. Helping the cats to become more adoptable is definitely, definitely useful.

There are two potential problems with my cat visiting, though. One is that I get really wound up after I go see them. I think the solution to that problem is to go see them earlier in the day rather than later. When I went Sunday night, I had a little trouble calming down to go to sleep. But if I go in the morning, it's that much less caffiene I'll need during the day, and that's good, right?

The second problem is that, at some point, I'll probably not be able to go when I was expecting to go. I'll probably have to cancel my plans. I'm terrible at canceling plans. As Leigh pointed out, it's one thing when the mail doesn't come and I melt down, but cats? That could get ugly. I could really melt. So how do I plan ahead for this? I can realize that I have the best can in the world at home, and that even if I don't get to go see the cats, I can play with Elsie. I can give her catnip and make her go crazy. I can brush her. I can pet her. I can get her to play in boxes. There's lots to do at home with Elsie, even if the cats get canceled. I think if the cats got canceled, I would need to be reminded that I can play with Elsie until next time, but once reminded, I think I would be okay.

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I didn't have to constantly prevent melt downs. Could I just go to the mall? Would I go places without having to plan it in advance? Could I enjoy getting the mail without losing it if it snows badly and it didn't come? Would I not get upset if someone were 5 minutes late picking me up? I get tired of melt down patrol. It's exhausting. Sometimes, it's hard to know what will cause a melt down, and I get caught off guard. Although I will say that since I've been home (rather than in college), my melt downs are literally a hundred times better. Instead of daily, I melt maybe once a month at worst. I'll take that.

And right now, it's time to go see some cats!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How I survived bridal shower weekend

I hate parties. Hate them. They're loud, there are a lot of people, and I'm expected to socialize, even with people I don't really know. If you ask me, that's plenty of reasons to hate parties.

But, it was my sister's bridal shower, and I had to go. It's my sister. She wanted me to be there, and I would never let her down, if I could help it.

It wouldn't have been so bad if I could have relaxed before and afterward, but we had quite a few people staying with us. My sister and her fiance were here, in addition to the fiance's parents. My mom mentioned months ago that the mother-in-law, Vera, is very intense.... loud, almost in your face sometimes, but very loving. I was nervous to the point that I was falling apart. I usually can't stand people like that. I understand that they're just trying to love me, but they overwhelm me. I need space, and I need to be able to come to them.

I never did figure out if my mom told Vera that I don't like loud noises or lots of people, or specifically that I have autism. I guess whether she described the symptoms or the condition itself doesn't really matter, but Vera had some forewarning that I might struggle. And I did. She came over to show me how she spoke firmly without yelling at her fifth-graders all the years that she taught, and she sort of forced me to make eye contact. I felt my stomach lurch. Eye contact is still really hard for me. She was close enough that I think it would have been obvious if I looked at her but not at her eyes. So, I looked and looked away, doing the best I could without throwing up then and there. She also touched me a lot, because that's the way she is. I guess she didn't hear me constantly going, "Don't touch me! Quit touching me!" to my mom. Oh well. I winced and survived.

I did okay for the time that it was just Vera and I. I can be a participating member of a one-on-one conversation (she even told me, "Good conversing, Lydia!" which I appreciated). It's when other people get involved that I withdraw. I can't follow, so I can't participate. When we have people over, I typically sit with them for about 20 minutes and hold the cat, then take the cat and go off into the other room to be by myself (with Elsie). If one person comes in and talks to me, I'm perfectly fine and don't mind it, I just can't handle all those people at once. So, all weekend, that's what I did.

Before the shower, I took a long nap with my door shut and with Elsie laying in the sunshine on the floor. We had to hurry to get ready, and we were late, both of which can kind of set me off, but I texted Leigh a little and felt okay. My sister didn't want to walk into the party by herself, so I went in with her, and I hated it when everyone clapped and cheered. It was loud and uncomfortable. But it's my sister, so I did it, even though I probably wasn't smiling.

So I sat next to my cousin and near my mom and my aunt and... sat. I didn't really talk at the party because it was so loud. I found out that my sister's college roommate loves cats too, though, so I did yell across the table to her for a few minutes. After the food (which, I must add, the place was really rude about my gluten free stuff. They "couldn't" make me anything, so we brought my own. My mom asked them to heat it up for me and they brough it back and shouted, "EXCUSE ME!" to the entire party. "Who has this other food? We can't heat it up because of health codes!" I was so embarrassed and annoyed! Just ask quietly, come on!), we did presents and then went to my sister's friends house to start off the bachelorette party. More sitting and eating and talking (I tried to make friends with her scaredy cat), and finally it was time to go home.

So, it was an okay weekend, considering it was a party and people staying with us. Everyone was really nice. Vera told me she's "very proud" of how much work I'm doing and how far I'm coming and how well I talked, which made me feel good. Even if she is a little overwhelming, I know she means what she says. And now my house is back to normal and I'm back in my regular bedroom. Thank goodness!

Elsie and I catch a moment in the chaos

My sister and I right after the party

Friday, March 5, 2010

The cat in the storm

After months of waiting and classes canceled due to weather, I finally got to take my first cat handling class at the animal shelter today. This is a no-kill shelter that houses 250 animals at any given time (cats, dogs, and rabbits). They work under the Open Paw program, a positive reward system that helps the animals to become more adoptable. After today's class, I can now work with "green level"cats-- the easiest, most well-behaved cats. I'm ecstatic.

As the training session ended, everyone headed out to their cars. I was so confused. I've been waiting months to be able to play with these cats, and I'd be darned if I didn't stay and do just that after my training session. I played with 5 or 6 and got my kitty fix.

These cats today gave me so much solace in the midst of chaos. It's getting harder and harder to live at home under the reign of my stepfather. I'm constantly stressed out. It's really wearing on me.

So what's the solution? To get out of the house. Considering my current income is the $205 a month from cash assistance, and considering that even after I start working I'll only be working with $700 a month, that doesn't leave me with many options. I'm on a waiting list to get into low-income housing near where my parents live, but I need a transition so I don't get there and fall apart. That's where the group home comes in.

The group home is actually 5 apartments within a larger apartment building. It's meant for 18-25 year olds. You live with a roommate of the same gender, have your own bedroom, and share the rest of the apartment. Staff is on site 24/7.

So what's the problem? The problem is that I need internet to do my medical transcription training, and the group home may or may not have internet. Jeff (my case manager) is working on finding out about that for me. The other problem is that, while I'd get $200 a month in food stamps, the group home woul retain 120 of my $200 Cash Assistance. That leaves me with $80 for personal items, hair cuts, clothes, and spending money. Basically, my parents would still have to help me out a lot. I'd be spending more in gas since I'd have farther to drive into work everyday. Like 25 minutes instead of 5. A big difference.

So, Jeff and I are going to do the application Tuesday, and see where it takes us. I'd definitely have to visit this place before I decide I could live there, and my mom would have to check it out and ask lots of questions too.

To be honest, it seems like either option kind of stinks. Either I live at home with all this stress, or I move out and move into extreme poverty. Great.

At least, either way, there will be cats. As long as there are cats, I can hang in there, no matter where I am.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A little bit of brag

Everyone has something to brag about, it seems. One of my (former, really) college friends just had a son. One is due in April. I have a friend in seminary, a friend in medical school, and my sister is getting married. I won't include Leigh in this, because she hates when I compare myself to her, but we all know what she's doing next year.

Somehow, "I ate a carrot" just doesn't stand up to all of that.

Although I'm not working for money right now, I still work hard. Every Monday, I go to the library to volunteer. I interact with people in an appropriate and semi-professional manner for 1-2 hours. On Tuesdays, I usually meet up with my case manager and talk about getting along with my stepdad and working on getting ready to move out. Wednesdays, I get up and go to feeding therapy. Today, I tried and successfully ate carrot, green pepper, lettuce, and blueberries. After that, I go to the autism research study, where I do a computer program to improve my attention. Thursdays, I usually go to therapy, where I try to work out what makes me anxious and how to stay calm. Fridays, it's back to the library. Saturdays, I go out with my mom, usually braving the crowds and chaos of the mall. It's a barrage of sensory experiences: the crowd moving and having to dodge people, the smells of food, the feeling of walking so close to other people, and the the noise of everyone talking in addition to the music playing. Sundays, I go to church, where I sit quietly and still for an entire hour. I love church, but it's tough to stay still and quiet for so long, while simultaneously paying attention.

I drive around to get where I'm going, too, which takes a lot out of me. I have to be hyperattentive to everything when I drive; there's no relaxing involved. If I didn't watch really, really closely, I would get into an accident. It wears me out to drive for a long time.

I want to be able to say, "Look what I did! I ate a blueberry for the first time ever! And I didn't even gag on it!" I want someone to realize how hard I worked and congratulate me, just like my friends who are getting married and having babies and holding down full-time jobs. It's frustrating to feel so second (er, seven hundred and forty-second...) best all the time. I want my accomplishments to mean something. I know I shouldn't compare, but it's really hard.

All through school, college included, I felt like I was on top because of my good grades. Now, suddenly, in the real world, what happened? I can't measure up. What I should do is realize that I'm doing a lot for me; in my world, this measures up big time. I go to therapy 3-4 times a week and work hard the whole time. If I want to build a successful life long-term, this is what I need to do now. And, blueberries and carrots and all, that has to be okay.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Now don't get TOO excited...

... but I heard back from a publisher about my book.

They said that they liked the premise, but that they would prefer it include the perspectives of other people on the spectrum too. I "hmm'd" and "hummm'd" and thought, you know, I like that idea. I figured I had two options: send my stuff as is to another publisher, or invite some friends to join the party and stick with Jessica Kingsley publishers. Since I kind of agreed with what they had to say, I decided that more work was in order.

It took me all of ten seconds to decide who I most wanted to contribute to the book. I won't say exactly who they are in case they don't want me to, but I know them both from Blog World. One person is a young woman with Asperger's syndrome, and the other is the mother of a girl with Asperger's. Leigh is also going to answer a handful of questions about being a friend to someone with autism. There are some questions that really lend themselves to Leigh answering, so I pointed those out to her and she can go to town.

In the meantime, I'm reworking my book proposal to resend it to the publisher. It's hard to be patient.

Anyway, that's all I got. I just wanted to update you. Keep your eyes peeled for Interview with Autism: Women on the Spectrum Speak Out in the future!