Second Winter

Last night while walking the dog around the neighbourhood, the smell of wood smoke permeated the atmosphere. February is typically the hottest month of summer in Australia with temperatures between 80 and 100F. Instead, as a light rain fell and the temperature was 50F, people were lighting their wood heaters.

Today is supposed to be decompression day after my shifts and, also, my mother’s visit. But I do not have much of a reprieve, as I have already agreed to overtime tomorrow night and have a four-hour work safety meeting on Wednesday, before starting my shifts again on Thursday night. Which means Tuesday will be my only official day off, as Monday has now become a zombie day.

A few nights ago, unable to sleep, I was hunting for an old blog post; something I wrote a long time ago that has been on my mind the last few days. I couldn’t find it then but I did find a post about the dog I’m looking after. I’ve been friends with the dog’s owner for over eleven years and in the post, I wrote: he told me the dog cries when I leave. I’m not sure why this stood out to me but it did. I had forgotten he told me this but I have always had a connection with the dog.

Tonight, I found the post I was looking for. I wanted to find it because it referenced two very specific scenarios, which, in my current state of exploring what autism looks like in women, seemed relevant.

An excerpt from my blog, first published in July 2011 (on the same day Goyte released Somebody I Used To Know with Kimbra):

I’ve been thinking about it for a while. The disconnection I have between experience and emotion. Is it odd, do you know, to be diagnosed with bipolar, and to have depressive and hypomanic episodes but not really feel all that different no matter on which end of the spectrum I seem to fall at a particular point?

I’ve spent a long time closing things out. People, mostly. Or at least, a connection with people. A friend reminded me recently of a conversation we’d had on my balcony. She said that she was pouring her heart out about an old friend of hers who’d moved to South America and whom she’d been planning to visit later in the year. And this day, or perhaps the day before, he’d asked her not to come.

She relayed that she’d laid all this bare on the table in front of us, over a glass of wine and a cigarette and had told me how upset she was. And then she said, you said “Isn’t the pattern of the lights on the apartment building across the street interesting?”

She was angry at me. She was angry that I’d feigned interest, pretended to care…but had, it seemed, been bored by her conversation. I was surprised by this. I’d not been aware of it at the time, that she was upset, not just about her friend’s request, but by my response.

I apologised. I wasn’t bored, I said. Nor pretending to care. I simply didn’t know how to respond. I explained that I didn’t connect with the feeling that she’d been having. I wasn’t able to relate to it. I don’t have feelings like that.

This episode with my friend has only served to confirm my suspicions that I do not feel things the same way normal people do. I do not see things or read things the way that others do. I do not. I don’t even know if this is a problem. It’s never been for me, but it seems it is for others.

I’ve been working with my new therapist now for almost 6 months. Every now and then, I’ve gotten teary during an appointment. Her first question is always “What’s going on for you right now? What emotions are behind that?” and my reply is always the same. I don’t know, I say. I just feel confused.

Last session, she reminded me of an appointment I’d had a few weeks earlier. My friend had moved overseas. I was…crying. But I couldn’t explain why. The feeling(s) that should have accompanied that reaction were missing. Absent. She said that something strange had happened during that session. She said that when she’d questioned me about it, I’d looked at her directly and held her gaze. Most people, she said, would have looked away, but I stared directly at her and “locked on” as she put it. She could not read me at all.

We discussed my perceived inability to feel. I asked her if she thought that it was possible to lose the ability to feel, that is, if you did not use it – this emotional thing…does it die? …in a similar way to the way that a muscle, when not used, atrophies. Because, I said, I don’t know that it’s even possible for me to feel.

Do you want to? she asked.

No, I said, not really.

Would it be helpful to talk about feelings from an intellectual perspective, she said, instead of from an emotional perspective?

Yes, I said. Probably.

And so we’ve started. At my last session, we discussed the emotional response. How there is a triggering event, the internal things that happen within your body, physiological responses, neurochemical responses…and the visible external cues that people see.

Except that I don’t see them in you, she said. When I think you are upset, that is when you’re hardest to read.

Sure, I said. That makes perfect sense. Why would I let you see that you’d upset me? Or that I was angry? That all just gets locked in…if it’s even there in the first place.

But I have a question, I said. What causes the shaking?

Shaking? she said. What do you mean?

Well, whenever I have to talk about something I find uncomfortable, I shiver. It feels uncontrollable. It feels like it’s visible to everyone. Sometimes it is. Sometimes I shiver and shake so hard that my teeth chatter. But I just look like I need another blanket.

She’s going to look into it.

My homework now is to keep a diary. To record the situations I’m in when I notice the shaking. What has happened. Who am I talking to. What are we talking about. To see if we can identify a pattern.

I like patterns.

Particularly of lights on buildings.

Earlier this afternoon I sent the dog’s owner a message and told him I’d been exploring the possibility I have autism and have referred myself for an assessment. He said: Well, as someone who knows you, and someone who spent two years working closely with people with autism, there could be something in this.