THIS WEEK BEGAN in stress. It began with difficulty. “Today,” I wrote on Twitter on Monday while linking something I’d posted here, “is hard.” This post is long. You won’t read it. That doesn’t matter; I needed to write it.
Most of my concentration as the week began focused on new conversations about where to move The Belmont Goats, in the wake of all four local television news stations covering our current property hunt.
Tuesday afternoon was hosting visiting hours at the herd.
Wednesday I took my usual weekly trip out for breakfast all the way across town, and managed to get someone to cover that afternoon’s visiting hours shift, allowing me to take my weekly self-care trip to the zoo. I couldn’t go the next day because it was time for my twice-a-year shift at county elections.
And that’s when things began to go awry.
The commute to work on Thursday morning was very bad. It didn’t help that a bus driver wouldn’t wait the two seconds it would take me to cross the street and board, but that wasn’t it. Body and mind were reacting to the commute as if I’d suddenly put them both on the road back to my previous job. The six-month Vocational Rehabilitation placement that had led to what my psychotherapist had deemed “depressive episodes” for the first time in my life.
My body and mind felt like I was re-traumatizing them. Being on a bus at 7:00am had to mean I was going back to where all the damage happened. I felt like my body and mind were trying to get away from me.
When I realized this was what was happening, the sensation subsided, but it took almost the entire commute to get there. It would rattle around in me all morning.
And then the start of the day’s shift went sideways.
As part of the morning’s training activities, the county had staff conduct a short presentation on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This included a module on intersectionality in which the basement full of ballot workers, seated roughly at four per table, were to study an example “identity circle”, fill out an empty circle with various aspects of their identity, and discuss their circles with the others at their table.
I’m working these three shifts at county elections not just because I generally do, but because while I’m only a month and a half out of the Vocational Rehabilitation placement, I wanted to see how a job I’ve been doing twice a year for six years felt. I don’t enjoy having a table of new people almost every time, but that’s navigable because any chatter happens while you’re opening envelopes, unfolding ballots, and filling boxes. With most of me preoccupied with the constant, repetitive busywork of the job itself, the random social chit-chat doesn’t bother me, and I can intermittently participate.
This was not that. Out of nowhere, with no advance warning, we were supposed to engage in self-examination, self-categorization, and self-expression.
Instead, I walked away and took to Twitter; I later emailed my supervisor a version of what I’d posted.
The irony of Multnomah County training on equity and diversity and inclusion having a component where you’re instructed to write down components of your identity and then discuss them with the three strangers at your table. I went for a walk.
It’s like shooting a bullseye on the target of my autism feature set. Maybe training needs to state up front that training includes activity instructions some people might not be comfortable with or capable of and that’s okay.
Not long after there was a second similar component, where again we were asked to engage in discussion. I left for the breakroom until it was over.
My commute began shortly after 7:00am. My shift began at 8:30am. The presentation began around 9:00am. By its end at 10:00am or so, that meant I’d already been subjected to PTSD-like symptoms on the bus and the anxiety of being caught by surprise by authority figures instructing me to engage in on-the-spot social communication.
The rest of the shift, fortunately, went for the most part like these election shifts usually do.
And then I got blindsided by family back east.
Several days prior, a family member had stumbled across a county resource for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I’d actually seen it before but since it was in the midst of my working with Vocational Rehabilitation as it was I put it off to the side. I also wasn’t entirely sure (and this is true, unfortunately, with the websites of a number of potential county resources) whether or not it was appropriate or relevant for me and my situation.
Nonetheless, I emailed them to give a rough sense of my situation, told them a family member was waving them at me but I was not clear on whether or not they were suitable for me, and asked for some guidance clarity on that point.
“I’m glad you did that,” my family member told me last weekend.
And then as I’m wrapping up my election shift on Thursday, a mere five days after that family acknowlegment that I was approaching the question of that particular resource reasonably and responsibly, I got an email from the contact at that resource saying this family member had submitted a referral form and would I like to schedule an intake interview.
I would like to once again thank my family back east for interjecting themselves into a process they had no business being in and which FIVE FUCKING DAYS AGO they expressed satisfaction with how I was dealing with it. Literally shaking in anger and anxiety.
Stop. Just stop. Please fucking stop. For the sake of my fucking sanity stop fucking making decisions that aren’t yours to make. Especially not five fucking days giving a thumbs up to the decisions I am making about this very thing.
This of course literally hits as I am leaving elections for the day after a shift that was not smooth in terms of its impact on me and what I need is a quiet commute to decompress. Fuck you fuck you fuck you.
Every single time you do this you cause me more fucking harm and we’ve been over and over and over that fact. Like the time you tried to cajole your way into dealing directly with my therapist. That was, what, TWO FUCKING MONTHS AGO.
I don’t understand what I am supposed to do. I tried so hard over the past year it damaged me. And this person won’t let me recover.
Spending six months trying to make that job placement work literally caused me trauma. And I’m supposed to just somehow snap back into action after 30 days?
I’m never going to be healed enough from that experience to start walking through the next set of decisions if this person insists upon just causing me more harm.
If there’s one thing this morning’s commute experience proved, it’s that I am still picking shrapnel out of myself from those six months. My family should not be firing buckshot in my direction.
It’s not even like I’ve spent the 40 days (40! it’s not like it’s been six months trying to recover) doing nothing. It was understood that there were 2-3 months here where I had to deal with moving our fucking nonprofit somehow not to mention that despite the trauma being caused by the stresses of that six-month workplace environment, less than two months later I said “yes” to my occasional elections job, to see how that felt.
So this week already was going to be potential minefield. As the morning’s commute bore out. But no that’s not enough. That effort isn’t enough. Family has to force something on me we had *just agreed five fucking days ago* I was handling well on my own.
I feel like I am going legitimately insane. I am working through those six months of damage. I’ve been doing that work. I’ve also been taking time to, you know, NOT FORCE MYSELF TO DO THAT WORK CONSTANTLY. Which is how therapy told me to approach it.
Mere hours after the emotional carnage of my commute and the county diversity presentation, just as I was thinking the day had settled down, there I was again: anxiety seizing control of my chest, and anger clenching in my stomach.
I had to send email back saying that I was nowhere near contacting them for services, that my family member had understood that, and that they were in no uncertain terms to ignore any and all future communication from that direction. This is the same family member, I should note, who months ago reached out to my psychotherapist here in Portland to try to retain them as their own psychotherapist, too.
Hence not just the anxiety, but the anger.
So now a good portion of the rest of my Thursday was in tatters as well, as I had to send messages back east asking what the fuck was going on. Not just screamingly angry at the interference but suddenly aware of now being unable to trust naything this family member told me. After crediting my approach to this county resource as reasonable, they’d gone behind my back and contacted them anyway.
This will seem tangential, but I’ve had to have numerous conversations with this family member before about not sending me things. Who tells anyone not to send them gifts, you might ask. Well, me, because of the total lack of control over what’s comign into my home and my life. I need to know what’s happening. I can’t deal with surprises, at least not the kind that are entirely avoidable if people just respect my wishes. So imagine how it felt not to be surprised by, say, a bathrobe you didn’t ask for but an intake invitation from a government services provider you hadn’t asked for services.
This is not how you treat someone whose particular autism feature set presents, among other things, with severe anxiety and cognitive rigidty.
Thursday had become an emotional wasteland, but it was, finally, over.
And then I got blindsided again, Friday morning, by the same person.
Friday was going to be busy. I wanted to go take a look at a property I’d become interested in as a potential new location for the goats. I needed to hit the grocery store. I needed to deposit donations. I needed to go get my new sunglasses adjusted.
Just as I was getting ready to leave the apartment, I started receiving a string of messages on our nonprofit’s Slack. Someone had shown up at the goats asking about me.
And some guy who says he was contacted by my mother and sister just randomly showed up at the goat field and freaked out a goatherd. Here I am, livid again and needing to do a bunch of stuff today but I am shaking.
I’m not kidding here. This guy showed up judging me at one of our volunteers, claiming to be some sort of autism advocate, and making vaguely threatening noises about conservatorship.
Totally creeped out one of our volunteers. And I am very very very angry right now.
The guy masked all this in words of concern for my wellbeing but was asking how well I took care of the goats.
I am now afraid to leave my apartment because I live in the same neighborhood as the goats. But I have things to do.
Our volunteer literally has expressed concern for my safety. Their words.
They had the impression the guy was a charlatan. In fact he is listed on the website of the bullshit Autism Speaks as a resource.
So yes, charlatan.
Also, I am having a near breakdown just leaving the apartment but yes I am out on my errands.
I am honestly more angry about his bothering a volunteer. I am very very angry about that. But the actually autistic supposedly have no empathy...
An illustrative bit: he was very insistent that I call him and very down on the idea that I prefer email. This seems consistent with the Autism Speaks angle that autism is to be fixed.
Demanding that I contact him, making weird conservatorship noises, but insisting that despite being an alleged autism advocate that I can’t use my preferred means of communicating?
At that point, I am in Day Two of physically shaking because of this family member back east. (It’s important to note here that, as established later in the day during the fury and flurry of emails back and forth, that my sister was not involved.) My first email read something like, “What is wrong with you people. Stay the fuck out of my life.”
In the end, the story was this: my mother had found someone here in Portland. A sort of self-defined and entirely unlicensed in any way autism advocate. Himself an autistic person, he indeed is listed a resource on the Autism Speaks website. If what I’m told is to be believed, he was only contacted just this past week, solely for advice. On his own, I’m told, he spent the next several days playing private detective.
It’s not difficult to find things about me. If you’ve got all the variants of my name that I’ve used informally over the years, my life in Portland especially is something of an open book. Literally true, in the case of the printed volumes of some of my local political reporting which I’d published via print-on-demand and apparently exist at the local library.
Still, apparently he was not asked to assemble a dossier on me. It’s apparently so thorough that the volunteer at the goats thought he must have been studying me for years, not the days I’m told it was.
My family’s explanation was that he doesn’t understand boundaries, because autistic people don’t understand boundaries.
All I can say to that is two things.
The only phrase that should follow “autistic people” is “are all different”.
I don’t know how it is for you but so far in my experience as an autistic person, it’s other people who don’t understand boundaries. Like, for instance, this family member.
In the end, I’d made it clear: they needed to contact this guy and tell him to stay away from me, stay away from my goats, and stay away from our volunteers. So far, as near as I can tell, he has.
And I got my errands done. And I did my Friday evening chores at the goats. And I did my Saturday morning chores and hosted visiting hours, all while a busy community event was taking place at the same time.
And then at home my body gave out. And then I had one of those “depressive episodes”.
Saturday was a big day. In addition to our usual visiting hours at the goats, it was the now-annual Lents Community Pet Parade.
We played grand marshal last year, but this year Rojo, a local therapy llama, would be headlining along with his alpaca colleague, Napoleon. Two of our goats had met Rojo and Napoleon before, but the rest of the herd… we weren’t sure they had ever seen any llama, let alone this one.
It was going to be busy. It was going to be noisy. It was going to be a bit chaotic. It was going to be good, but exhausting.
And it was. It was busy, noisy, and chaotic. And good. And hilarious, because unlike last year when the twelve goats who weren’t parading weren’t necessarily all that interested, this time they were very, very excited. It had to be about Rojo and Napoleon.
But it was exhausting. By the end, I could barely move. I didn’t have to walk home; I got a ride.
I blew $15 on Instacart delivering Outshine popsicles because I hadn’t gotten any yesterday at the store. I had several. I watched something on TV, I think. I don’t remember. I fell asleep on the couch, uncontrollably.
I somehow moved to the bedroom. I slept for three hours. I woke up. I didn’t want to be in bed but the day had been so overwhelmingly draining that I’d dreamt explaining to people that I’d just used in one day all the capacity I was going to have for the week.
I wanted to get up. I wanted to go make a sandwich. I wanted to go watch TV. I couldn’t even keep my eyelids open for more than a minute at a time.
I don’t know how to describe it. It was like a pressure but that sounds physical, like sinuses, and also that’s the wrong direction. It felt like it was coming from the outside. An immaterial, incorporeal pressure.
I had to go to the bathroom. That got me up.
So I went to make a sandwich.
I walked into the kitchen in the dark.
And started crying. My eyes were involuntarily clenching clsoed so hard, lights were flashing behind them.
I somehow ended up on the couch. I cried for five minutes. Then it was over.
Then I had a sandwich.
Then everything was heavy and numb.
Then I spent two hours writing this.
Tomorrow is Sunday. I take Sundays off. I don’t host visiting hours at the goats. I don’t have to do anything.
Please, everything, just leave me alone for a day.