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.

Telephonic

I have always loathed speaking on the telephone; it causes me severe anxiety. And I have enough anxiety just speaking to people.

A few weeks ago, I was forced to make a phone call. The call was transactional in nature, a discussion with the bank (I suppose with a banker) about a loan application. We’d been provisionally approved but were ready to make an offer and needed to commence full approval.

After I hung up from the call, G said “why are you so rude on the phone? He’s trying to help us!”

I was shocked—I had been polite (I thought), monitored my tone and been light and breezy (I thought), I didn’t know what I’d done wrong.

About a week later as we finalised the documentation and received sign-off, I had another conversation with the same person from before. I was even friendlier this time, and I thought, I’m nailing this being nice on the phone thing this time.

And when I got off the call, G said, “why do you do that? Why are you so abrupt?”

I tried but I could not stop the tears. I had been so sure I’d improved, been pleasant, friendly, definitely not rude. And here I was, finding out I’d failed again.

When I was a teen, I had one person I spoke to on the phone. A friend I still have to this day. My parents often made me answer the phone or make calls due to my fear—i suppose they were trying to cure me.

But having heard many similar things about the way I speak, the way I address people and the tone of my voice for most of my life, I started to google.

Cousins, their kids, and others in my immediate family have been diagnosed with autism over the last 20 years.

So I searched for a specialist assessor who works exclusively with adult women and now I am on a wait list.

Last night, unable to sleep after my mother left, I came across a site that has a self-diagnostic test. Despite some problematic language, the test has a 97% accuracy rate when self-administered.

I answered all the questions, and while I waited for it to score, I wondered how I would feel if I scored close to 65, which is the minimum score that is suggestive or indicative of possible autistic traits. Especially if I scored between 60-65.

But. I needn’t have worried. My score was 159.

Addendum: I have taken an additional four quizzes today and tested above the threshold in every single one.

It makes so much sense. So. Much. Sense.

Co-Sleeping

Today I decluttered the spare room. Technically, it’s one of two spare rooms. But the other room isn’t really spare, it’s my room. With my bed. And I use it when I’m on shift; I sleep in it during the day and sometimes at night. As G is a light sleeper, he doesn’t like being woken at 5am when I have to get up for work, especially if he has to get up an hour and a half later to get ready for his work–if he wakes with me, he won’t go back to sleep. It’s a little better on weekends if he has no specific time to be awake. So at times, I sleep in my room.

I’ve just finished reading a book called Cat Lady. In it, the MC likes to sleep in a separate room to her husband, so she can sleep with her cat. Some friends overseas are buying a new house so that they can each have separate bedrooms plus a spare room. A former work colleague shared that he and his wife have separate bedrooms, too. I don’t have a separate bedroom because I like it, I have it out of necessity. I would much rather sleep in the same bed as my partner. But I have recently started to wonder about permanent co-sleeping; when it started, when it’s deemed ok and when it’s not. These thoughts were prompted by a friend who’s split from her narcissistic ex and whose child still co-sleeps. After her most recent weekend, the child informed my friend that she sleeps in the same bed as her dad and her dad’s new partner.

This made me think about children and co-sleeping because I took every opportunity to sleep in my parents’ bed when dad was working night shift. And I never once considered whether my mother wanted to share her bed (her only alone time!) with me when dad was at work. I would have been well into my teens before I stopped doing this. But parents co-sleeping with their children is still viewed as a bit fringe, and most people expect it to end before the child turns 10. I have always hated sleeping in a bed by myself. And that was what prompted these thoughts. Adults are often questioned if they do not want to sleep in the same bed as their partner. Their very relationship may be called into question if they prefer sleeping alone. And yet, children are expected to do it from a young age.

I like sleeping next to someone because it provides me with feelings of safety and security. That feeling is the same, whether I remember sleeping in my parents’ bed as a child, or whether I think about sleeping next to my partner now.

There are so many things children are expected to do that adults aren’t. Children are expected to know how to regulate their emotions even if they’ve never had a good example of that modelled, they’re supposed to know how to generate their own feelings of safety and security when banished to their own dark bedroom, they’re supposed to only speak when spoken to, play quietly and not be raucous, not interrupt when other people are speaking, always be polite and remember their manners. (Or perhaps that was just in my family?) And yet, these are often things that adults are not required to do.

I want to sleep in the same bed as my partner but I do wonder–why is it ok for adults (actually deemed “normal”) and not for children (deemed “abnormal” especially after a certain age)? And why do we struggle to understand or offer acceptance and compassion to those who want to do something different?

NNZDD

When I work, I tend to go “off-grid” for days—almost a week—at a time. My work pattern consists of 12-hour shifts from seven until seven. These times are for both the night shifts (7pm until 7am) and the day shifts (7am until 7pm) on a 10-day repeating cycle:

night, night, (24 hour break/zombie day), day, day, off, off, off, off, off – repeat

An example roster for February, the pink moon symbols denote night shift, the blue suns denote day shift and the green star is an additional day we need to do once every five weeks to make sure we work the right number of hours in a 10-week cycle.
An example roster for February

While I am off, I can be called for overtime, at any time, for any of the day or night shifts that I’m not already rostered. Our resourcing has been cut to a minimum over the years and with people getting covid or taking summer recreation leave, there is a lot of overtime. I am called for multiple shifts during my break. But I try to only accept one.

I’ve often described what I do as 95% routine and 5% panic but with the plant and equipment now ageing into its 50s, that ratio has changed. It’s more like 80% routine and 20% panic.

To be fair, panic isn’t a great way to describe it, either. In those moments when things are going wrong, or you need to respond to certain plant conditions quickly, or safely shut down a unit, the last thing you must be doing is panicking. But it does require extreme concentration and urgency in decision-making. It’s one of the things I like about the job. Situations that require analysis and reflexive responses under pressure are my catnip. Perhaps it is that I enjoy that low-level of anxious arousal, the flutter of my nervous system, and the adrenaline that’s generated when something happens.

All shift long, I make megawatts of electricity. When I finish, I go home, eat a simple meal, and sleep. Between night shifts, I sleep until approximately 4pm. Then I have about an hour and forty-five minutes before I need to leave for work. On zombie day, I sleep til noon-ish; wash work laundry in the afternoon and finish any other small jobs that need doing. After day shift, I do much of the same, only I try to sleep until 5am. If I’m not working overtime, the first day off after my round is decompression day and I don’t like to do anything. But tomorrow I have scheduled some appointments—a medical screening, a beauty salon appointment, and lunch with a friend. The rest of my time off will be spent decluttering the house, discovering what art supplies I have hidden away in storage boxes under beds, and preparing for my mother to visit. It’s been four years since I’ve seen her, and this will be her first trip to our home since I moved here in 2014. Somehow, despite my best efforts to have everything stored in its place, labelled, and easy to access, entropy always wins. It seems that nothing is where I left it.

I have been searching for days for a mantra I listened to relentlessly in 2020 and still cannot find it. YouTube seems to store history. But not all history. I don’t know why. Did I mention my mother is coming to visit?

The day G was anaesthetised and had his brain biopsy, it was almost 9pm. I put on my noise cancelling headphones, played some music at a supposedly calming frequency and went to visit him. I found him in a dark room that was not, in fact, a room, it was more like the centre of a galaxy. Though it was mostly dark. I grabbed his hand, told him he was safe, and asked him where he wanted to go. Everest, he said, and in milliseconds we were rugged up and standing on the top of the world. At which point, I turned to him and said “What are we doing here? You don’t even like the cold!”

It wasn’t the first time I’d had an out of body experience; the first was when I was 12. I was riding my cousin’s pony and jumping a gate, and on my fourth jump, the saddle slipped around as the pony leapt. I know this because I watched it. The girl slid with the saddle off to the left and I watched from behind. I bounced back into my body at the same time I hit the ground, winded, and gasping for breath.

I think of these things when I’m at work. I think about energy. Enthalpy. Entropy.

Did I mention my mother is coming to visit?

I do not understand any of it.

The generator is a magic box. I rotate a turbine using steam power and at the other end of it, electrons are forced down wires through substations into homes to power televisions. Or computers. Or phones.

Did I mention my mother is coming to visit?

I will not get a decompression day this week. So instead, I’m going to try to play some other music–Grae Moore makes music for ADHD brains. I’m not diagnosed. I don’t think I quite meet the criteria. Nor do I quite meet the criteria for autism. Though the main complaints people have made about me tend to sound like some complaints about autistic traits. There is a family history there. Perhaps my masking is just that good. Or perhaps it’s not, hence the complaints.

Did I mention my mother is coming to visit?

Zombie Day

The 24 hours between the end of our second night shift and the beginning of our first day shift are a blur. You must sleep enough in the morning so that you can function in the afternoon and evening but not sleep so much that you do not sleep that night and therefore cannot function the following day at work. This is why I refer to this 24 hour period as zombie day.

In the last few years, I have expended considerable effort to improve my night-time sleep as a means of managing and maintaining my mental health. I have had years where I’ve slept as little as three hours per night for months on end and the occasional five hours of sleep seemed a blessed miracle.

It is well-known that shift work is damaging to your health and this is largely due to the fact that shift workers tend to sleep two to three hours less per sleep than their dayworker counterparts. But I was born to be a shift worker! Sleep has always felt better for me during the day than at night; I feel safer sleeping during the day, therefore I wake less and spend more time in deep and REM sleep (so says my fitness watch). On zombie day, I try to go to sleep earlier than I do after my first night shift, around 7.30am, and only sleep for about four to five hours. Without an alarm, I would sleep all day—a full eight hours plus. And if I get more than six hours on zombie day, I’m ruined for the following day as I will not sleep at all that night.

Historically, I’ve had a difficult time sleeping when alone in a house. This dates back to before my teens. I have needed another person in the house to feel secure, and when alone, I’ve sleep with the lights on. But a couple of weeks ago, G went interstate (north, almost 20 hours to Queensland) to look at apartments and holiday homes. I had to stay and work. This would normally cause significant anxiety, further inhibiting my ability to sleep but I was surprised to find that this time, I enjoyed the time. This is not something I’ve ever experienced before and although I was looking forward to G’s return, the week and a half I had on my own was refreshing.

When I feel safe, I rarely wake to even the loudest of noise. The surrogate dog can bark and bark, the hoons can rev engines and do burnouts at the intersection by our house, the person learning to play the drums next door can bang as loud as they like and none of these things will wake me. But when G required full-time care, and I slept in the room next door so as not to contaminate or infect him, he barely had to whisper my name and I was awake, alert, and ready for action. It is remarkable what the body and brain will do when necessary. Now that he is well, I have reverted to more sound sleeping patterns. But I still wake often in the middle of the night. Research shows that sleeping in a solid single block for eight-ish hours is a relatively recent development and may not be as beneficial as the previous bi-modal sleep pattern.

G, on the other hand, is a very light sleeper. The slightest sound, minutest movement, or beam of light will wake him no matter what stage of sleep he is in. And yet, he still seems to sleep more than me.

Today, I did not go to sleep early. I messed around until about 9am after arriving home at 7.15am. And then slept until 1.30pm. Which isn’t a lot of time but it means I rose later than I normally would so now–at 11.15pm–I’m not tired. G has already gone to bed but I often sleep in my bedroom while I’m on shift so that I don’t wake him when I get up to get ready at 5am. Otherwise, if I do, he will not get back to sleep.

A few months ago, we read a book by Olivia Arezzolo about sleep types called Bear, Lion, or Wolf. I am a wolf, and the only positive thing the book said about wolves is that they are pre-disposed to being great shift workers due to their alertness overnight. G is a bear these days but used to be more of a lion. We are practically opposites.

When he was in hospital, and my stress levels were so high I went to the hospital myself to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack, I tried everything to sleep. I tried listening to special frequency music, I tried herbal sleep teas, I tried meditations, and I tried night noises. Eventually, I settled on a routine where I listened to a meditation mantra and then played 12 hours of “night noises” like crickets chirping by a crackling fire in the forest. Light rain falling, frogs ribbitting. Anything to calm me down.

There are things I want to say about sleep–about dreams–about the places we go in our subconscious. But it is almost midnight and I need to be up in five hours. So it will have to wait.

The Bridge

Yesterday, I had a video call with a friend in the USA; the same friend who, in 2020, would zoom me daily for a shake session while I was in Melbourne caring for G through his treatment. These days, we frequently end our calls with tarot or oracle readings.

In 2010, two weeks before leaving my then-husband, I had my cards read. Not a coincidence. I keep the scrap of paper that I wrote out from that reading, with the cards and their layout, in a small crate of keepsakes. Perhaps I will revisit that spread this year, now that my understanding of the cards has deepened.

In 2012, I went to a circus-themed costume party as a fortune-teller and conducted card readings for any party guests brave enough to sit opposite me at the table. I began all my readings in the same way; the cards cannot tell you anything you do not already know. Just as I had already known in 2010. Two weeks later, the couple who hosted the housewarming party broke up. And he moved out. Not because of my reading, however, as it turned out, the reading had exposed and brought to light some inconsistencies within the relationship and he was not prepared to continue.

Despite these outcomes, tarot is not a tool for predicting the future. And it did not do so in either of these cases. Instead, it is a means of finding deeper insight and self-awareness. The cards provide prompts to examine specific areas of our lives, patterns of behaviour, or parts of ourselves we keep in the shadows. Sometimes for good reason. The deck my friend used for my reading was The Wild Unknown Archetypes Deck and I drew two cards; The Bridge and The Mask. The Mask was about flipping the usual script; instead of a mask hiding our true nature, what if particular masks reveal more authentic parts of ourselves? But the main card was The Bridge. In summary, The Bridge relates to connection and it came with a short exercise to “go deeper”.

Lie on the floor, it said, and listen to Bridge Over Troubled Water. So we did. I rolled my teal velvet chair back from the desk and pushed it into the gap between the bookshelf and the filing cabinet. Then, I crouched down beside my desk, squeezed myself into the gap between my bookshelf and the desk, and stretched out on the floor. She hit play and the tinny sound of the song blaring through her iPhone was beamed from her lounge room in California to my office in Victoria through my laptop speakers.

I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel. Between the two of them, Dire Straits, and Beethoven, there was rarely anything else on my father’s record player. Or on the tape in the car. So it wasn’t so much that I grew up listening to them by choice as it was I had no say over what played on the radio. I was familiar with Bridge Over Troubled Water. But it has been years since I really listened to the lyrics.

The goals and intentions section under the category of social relationships in my planner is blank. I could speculate at length about what it means but I won’t. Whether it’s the pandemic or age, my tolerance for people, people around me, and especially people near me has diminished over the last few years. Previously the social co-ordinator among my friends, I now just want to stay at home. I want a slower pace of life. I want to move more slowly. I want to take my time. I want ease and flow and peace and stillness. I am going inwards. Growing inwards. Growing more aware of my own desires, my own wants, my own needs. And I am not willing to give them up. This is a deliberate choice I am making. It may be time to set out my goals and intentions for my relationships, my friendships, my everythings. I want to be as intentional about the social connections I build in my life as much as I am about my health, my career, my creativity and my finances.

My eldest stepdaughter turns 25 later this year. In my keepsake crate, I also have a journal from when I was 25. In it, I write that I am having a quarter-life crisis. My first question about that now is, when did I decide I was living until I was 100? My second question is what made me think I was running out of time?

The journal contains a list of things I wanted to achieve. Some of which I have. Many of which I haven’t. And while I’d love to believe that I still have plenty of time, the last few years have shown me that life can change in an instant. It seems, right now, that I may have plenty of time. But life does not offer us these guarantees. I may be–no, am–running out of time. And I have realised, despite this, there is no reason to rush.

Sail on Silver Girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

Simon & Garfunkel

Music Monday | Hands – Jewel

Today is decompression day; I’ve worked my normal round (4×12 hour shifts on a night night day day roster) plus an additional day of overtime this last week–for a total of 60 hours from 7pm Tuesday night to 7pm Sunday night. On my first day off after work, I can barely summon the energy to read, much less write. So today’s Music Monday is short and I’ll be back tomorrow.

Because in the end, only kindness matters.

The Specialist

For those following along at home, today H saw the feline internal medicine specialist. The vet, upon hearing his history regarding the progression of the symptoms as well as listening to several recordings of his breathing at rest, was also concerned that there could be some sort of laryngeal paralysis present (for which I felt validated and vindicated). The vet performed an upper respiratory endoscopy to determine if there were any blockages (growths, cancer, polyps) or paralysis that could be the source of his breathing issues.

Thankfully, his oesophagus, trachea, larynx, and pharynx were ok. No blockages and no paralysis. What wasn’t ok was the back of his nasal passages. He is creating a significant amount of mucus which has been sampled and sent to the lab for testing. Results will take approximately a week as they will culture the sample to see what, if any, viruses or bacteria show up.

He’s woozy tonight and keeps flopping over when he tries to walk but he has eaten, been to the toilet, and is now snuggling in a bed on the floor. He doesn’t know it, but these are the last tests I am going to subject him to for these particular issues. Since they have showed only inflammation, infection, and asthma for which he’s already being treated, there is nothing else to do except perhaps give him some additional medication depending on what the cultured sample shows.

The relief is real.

Music Monday | The Art of Escape – Hein Cooper

When the only thing that’s sure is this unsteady ground

Hein Cooper

Listening to certain types of music often gives me the same strange sensation of yearning I have when I look at the stars. As if I belong somewhere else. Or perhaps, rather, am from somewhere else. When I was a child growing up in the church, I believed this was because I belonged in heaven–out there, in the stars somewhere. Now, though, I know it’s because all the elements in my body were forged in the heavens; hydrogen and helium during the big bang, while heavier elements were made by fusion in a star’s core.

My affinity for out there is also a way to dissociate from right here. Right now.

I am trying to remember that, as Rumi says, “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.”