(not my) inside voice

Yesterday my partner and I went to a discount housewares store at our local mall to pick up some odds and ends. As we were checking out, the overly perky cashier chirped “… and would you like to make a donation to A***** S***** today, ma’am?” 

“Absolutely NOT!” I blurted out, a good deal louder than I meant to. Whoops. 

The clerk looked a bit startled and confused, and I opened my mouth to elaborate, but then saw that I was getting the ‘just let it go’ look from my partner and closed it again. That was probably for the best, it would have been a waste of breath, though now that cashier probably thinks I am some bigot who hates autistic people. 

I don’t know what got into me; usually I’d keep what I was thinking inside my head, in a public place like that. I guess that after almost a month of ‘awareness’ I was feeling a bit testy. 

If I feel strongly enough about something to overcome my introvertedness and speak up, it generally doesn’t go well because there’s no volume control and I tend to not know when to get down off the soapbox once I’m up there. This time it was kind of funny, though. 🙂

The Weight of the Closet Door

I was organizing some files on my laptop and came across this, and thought I’d share it here. I wrote it about three and a half years ago when I was going through an exceptionally rough period coping with the world around me. Of course, now I think I finally have that other missing piece I was trying to describe when I referred to my ‘otherness’ here – and one more closet to manage. I really do need to try and do more journaling; sometimes it’s really helpful to be able to go back and read things months or years down the road, from a different perspective.

As an aside, it’s telling how far we still have to go with #AutismAcceptance that when I came out as gay to close friends and family, the reaction was mostly “well, duh, I knew that already” but when I have come out as Autistic, there’s been an equal mix of “that explains a lot” and “wow, really? You don’t look autistic.”

The Weight of the Closet Door

Nearly twenty years ago, I came to the realization that I was gay, and began the process of slowly incorporating that understanding into my life. To say that it was a life changing event would be an understatement. It was, in a sense, liberating (Oh! So that is what is ‘wrong’ with me!) but it also destroyed – or at least finished off – the life I had created for myself up until that point, and forced me to find the courage to build a new one. It meant the end of a failed marriage, and leaving the safety and security of the home I had, and splitting up my little family of furry children. I had to start over, and be truly independent for the first time in my life.

It wasn’t like I had a new life to go to; it was just that this epiphany – the result of a lot of soul-searching – meant that my old life was over. I could have made the choice that I know many have made, and just suppressed the knowledge and carried on, but that would have just caused more pain and misunderstanding, and there had already been enough of that.

Over the months that followed, I had to have many uncomfortable conversations… This was the proverbial ‘coming out of the closet’ and I have to say that most of my friends and family were very supportive. I also have to say that I almost resented that – how dare they welcome and embrace this new part of me that I didn’t ask for and was not at all comfortable with, myself? That must sound horribly whiny and selfish, but that’s how I felt at the time. I wasn’t so much coming out of the closet as opening the door a crack, and peeking through, and then some well meaning person would come along and yank the door wide open and stand there with open arms, leaving me cringing in the sudden light, exposed and vulnerable.

Anyway, that was all many years ago. I made my new life, and – unexpectedly – even found someone to share it with. I don’t for a minute regret taking those first tentative steps outside that closet door, but I don’t think I expected the closet to still be there, almost half a lifetime later. Because it is, and lately I have been thinking about this a lot, and I have realized that it always will be.

That is the part I didn’t get, back then, and I think perhaps quite a few people never do understand: coming out is a lifelong process. It isn’t some single epic life event, like reaching legal drinking age, or hitting puberty, or graduating high school. Every day you are in a new situation where you have to decide whether to do it all over again. And over time, that can really get to you.

I imagine there are gay men and women who come charging out of that closet, slam the door behind them, and never look back. I also think for many others, it’s more of a balancing act. At least, for me, it is. There are situations where it is not comfortable, or safe, to be ‘out’. I am a very private person, and maybe I will never quite be comfortable in my own skin, ever. It still takes courage every single time to have that conversation, and sometimes it’s just easier not to have it.

Every day, every new situation, I have to stop and think about what I say or do.

In my personal life, I’d probably be a lot more open, but there’s my partner to consider – if I am going to come marching out of my closet at a given time, do I have the right to drag her along with me? There have been awkward situations where a friend posted something a bit too revealing of my private life on my wall – seemingly innocuous things like using the prefix ‘our’ with ‘bedroom’ that I was not uncomfortable with, but my partner was, and I had to remove it and explain to the person why I did so.

As another example, my employers are wonderfully accepting people, and being gay is such a non-issue there that it’s perhaps the place where I have to do the least amount of self-editing, but I spend most of my time onsite at one of our biggest service contract clients and the situation is very different there. I have a pretty good inkling that I would make some of the staff very uncomfortable, and because my employer’s livelihood is at stake, I choose to keep that closet door pretty much slammed shut there.

One time, at different client site, I had to sit for a half hour while I was installing software, listening to two staff members loudly discussing a gay rights bill that had passed in another state. It was a surreal moment, seeing these women who had, moments before, been smiling and friendly and polite to me (they clearly had no idea that they were in the presence of one of the ‘sick deviant abominations’ they were spouting off about) and realizing that they hated my guts… or, at least, would if they knew I was gay, for no other reason than just that one fact. And ever since then, I wonder, when I interact with people at work and in my community, is that how this person feels?

At the client site I first mentioned, I work in a close knit atmosphere and there’s a lot of joking and storytelling between the three of us who share an office there, chatting about simple daily events of our lives, but when I tell mine I first have to reconstruct what I am saying. Having to do that constant self-editing is frustrating and wears me down. I absolutely refuse to lie – I draw the line there – so instead I have to remove details and omit references, and it still ends up feeling like lying. Sooner or later in situations like this I almost always eventually slip up, and say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, or sometimes someone will just flat out ask me a personal question, and as I already said, I will not lie. I am not ashamed of who I am and if someone asks me a question that can’t be sidestepped, they get an honest answer.

Those situations can go one of two ways, from my experience; either the person has gradually kind of figured things out on their own, and they are cool with it, or they are completely blindsided by the answer. In the first situation, it’s often an immense relief to just have it out in the open and move on… unless this is someone who then decides to make it the focal point of every future conversation to show how OK they are with it, and/or proceeds to blurt it out to others, in which case the situation can get pretty awkward all around. In the latter case, (when the person really did not see that answer coming when they asked the question) it can get fairly unpleasant whether they are homophobic or not; it may make them feel foolish and deceived and betrayed, and then they blame me for that, At best, it’s just plain uncomfortable.

So, every time I open my mouth, I have to stop and analyze what is about to come out of it, in relation to the setting I am in. Every time I am in public with my partner I have to think before any word or gesture, to guard against drawing attention. And every time I make that decision to ‘edit’, it’s with the understanding that whether I am lying or not, I am being insincere, as well as building a false construct that will probably come down around my ears at some point. Dealing with that anxiety, it starts to become easy just to default to the ‘safe’ path more and more – even in private situations, because I’ve gotten so used to it that it becomes habit. It drives wedges and builds walls.

Interacting with other human beings is like a dance, I suppose, and I have never been able to learn the steps. It’s so much more than just my being gay… I am not necessarily completely at ease around other gay people, either. I am uncomfortable around a lot of people, gay and straight, who are so at ease and open with their sexuality that it’s almost painful to have a conversation because I am at the far extreme opposite of that spectrum, and easily embarrassed. There has always been an ‘otherness’ to me, a sense that I don’t truly belong, that I don’t quite fit anywhere, in fact probably what suppressed my own recognition of my gayness was my unwillingness to add yet another thing to make me different, apart. That, and my strong tendency towards avoidance of conflict.

As open minded and accepting of others’ beliefs as I try to be, there is also something at the core of me that’s deeply antipathetic towards organized religion – and in particular, Christianity; of course with that being very prominent and dominant (in an extreme form) in the culture around me, that becomes another corner in my personal closet. I interact daily with people for whom their church is at the center of their lives, and have to reconcile my gut feeling that they are good and decent people trying to do right, with my detestation of the organization they belong to, that spreads hate and lies, and denies my right to even exist. In my journey towards finding peace in my life, I gravitated towards alternate spirituality (in particular, Paganism) and discovered some things that really resonated with me there, but this created yet another closet because my partner is even more anti-religion than I am, to the point where my interested in Druidry makes her uncomfortable. Beyond that, I am surrounded by people who’d be even more freaked out by paganism than they are by homosexuality.

I release the pressure by keeping the closet door open a crack. I don’t go around making bold statements on Facebook or elsewhere online, but I also do not censor my friend list to hide what groups I join or what pages I like. I wear a pair of little silver earrings with tiny gay pride rainbow beads on them – most people won’t even notice them, or understand what they mean, but they do have meaning. I also, for that matter, have a silver triple-spiral pendant I wear, and also a triskele tattoo, which symbolize my spirituality but to most anyone else just look like pretty swirly patterns. These little things are subtle reminders to me of who I am, I suppose there’s also a sense of being hidden in plain sight.

The thing about The Closet is that it is both a prison and a haven, and as I have grown and changed with the years, not only has it not gone away – it’s gotten bigger. It now has multiple rooms: there’s the gay room and the ‘nontraditional spiritual beliefs’ room and the ‘just plain weird’ room, for starters. Some days it is so stifling in there I can’t breathe, but others, it’s the only place where I feel truly safe and at peace… I just wonder if it’s truly peace I feel, or if the closet door has gotten so heavy over the years that it gets harder and harder to push it open – so I just pretend that I don’t need to?

Hmmm…I sort of think that the fact that I have just spent literally an entire morning pouring all of this out probably answers that question.

Written December 7, 2013

Reblog: An open letter to natural, holistic, alternative, or integrative / Functional Medicine doctors…

I’m resharing this post from the silent wave because it’s so well written, and also because eerily timely: I’ve been researching functional medicine providers over the past few weeks and running into exactly this issue.  I live in an area where there is a large alternative medicine community nearby, but when I research the web sites and see statements that they “treat” autism I immediately am repelled. I’m also reading a really interesting book my therapist provided on a nutrition program to help immune and neurological issues, but I almost put the book down immediately when the doctor lumped autism in with ‘mood disorders’ in the introduction.

I don’t need help with my autism. I need help fixing all the damage I inadvertently did to my body trying to cope with and mask my undiagnosed autism…

Dear These Types of Doctors… I am one of you. If I were sitting beside you at a conference, you probably wouldn’t notice me (which suits me just fine), nor would you be likely to remember me afterward, other than that I’m the one who usually fidgets a little too much and has to escape […]

via An open letter to natural, holistic, alternative, or integrative / Functional Medicine doctors… — the silent wave

Waves of legs

I’ve been too wiped out to write, the past few days, but the tachycardia is somewhat better. When I send back the heart monitor, I’ll have to include a note to ignore all of the times I accidentally clicked the button on the stupid thing while trying to scratch at the maddeningly itchy tape on my chest…  

Anyway, in place of an actual post with any substance, here’s a picture of the really neat millipede I found in my laundry room this morning. 

I wish I’d been in less of a hurry and could have just watched it amble along for a while, mesmerized by those dozens of legs, their coordinated motion like billowing curtains or undulating waves on each side of it’s body. But I was running late, so we quickly parted ways – one of us to freedom under a Japanese maple, the other to temporary captivity under fluorescent lights. 

Rugburn

This past weekend, some close friends of ours wanted us to go carpet shopping with them to a rug store in the larger city near us, and then to go out and eat. I was on the fence about whether I wanted to go, because going out with those friends sometimes turns into ‘all day and into the night’ and no way I was up for that. I didn’t want to be the ‘wet blanket’ that cut short everyone else’s fun, but I felt guilty declining, and I do enjoy spending time with those friends. 

I decided to just be blunt about my reservations, and they assured me they wouldn’t drag me out until all hours,  so off we went.. 

My partner dressed casual but nice, and because I am me, I wore jeans, purple sneakers, and a Mysterious Universe podcast T-shirt. It’s one of my favorites because it’s soft and fits me perfectly, and because it’s covered in quirky, bizarre things like crop circles and aliens. If I was going to be dragged all over town looking at carpets, I might as well be comfortable. 

The store was enormous; more of a warehouse, with giant rugs hanging from racks everywhere. Think ‘poster store’ on a much larger scale – instead of thumbing through the posters mounted in plastic racks on a carousel, you are taking both hands to shove 15′ x 20′ mounted rugs on carousels. 

I got quickly bored and spent my time dodging aggressively gregarious sales people and fleeing the loud beeping noise of a forklift that was working in one of the aisles. I actually fled outside to get away from the sound, but there was nowhere to sit down out there or even stand inconspicuously. I was still having heart rate issues, and really wanted to sit down at that point, so I was quite miserable. 

I wandered back in and the sound, mercifully, had stopped. That is also when I discovered that I could get between the hanging rugs… 

It was accidental at first; I was trying to get a better look at a heavy oriental rug and I had to wedge myself in between it and the one in front of it to budge them apart with my shoulder. Oh. My. Gods! The rugs were soft and heavy and cool – texturally wonderful – and it was soothingly dark and quiet between them. 

The rest of the time there, I struggled against the siren call of the carpet racks. The only thing that kept me reined in was fear of some store employee confronting me. Seriously, I could have burrowed in and stayed there for hours. I can’t explain what made it so appealing but suspect it’s related to whatever makes a weighted blanket so blissfully calming. 

I did maybe discretely slither into a few racks… And also discovered that cheap synthetic carpet doesn’t have the same appeal as the fancy stuff: in fact, it burns if you slide across it. 

After the carpet store (only the one, thankfully) we had a nice meal at a barbecue place. I have had some suspicion for a while that I’ve developed an alcohol sensitivity, and because of that I wasn’t going to drink, but there was a slushie machine with bourbon and cherry soda and common sense did not prevail. 

On the way home, our friend wanted to stop at a local brewery we were passing. I was worn out and not eager to do this, but trying to be a good sport since it was still pretty early and it was only one stop. I sipped a (non alcoholic) root beer they made in house, and hid my exhaustion and overload, or at least I thought I did, but was later informed by my partner that I looked grouchy. Oh well, I did warn them…

Later that evening at home, the tachycardia was the worst it had been since the day earlier in the week when my heart rate hit 170. It was possible worse, even, because I was actually short of breath and very uncomfortable. I don’t know if it was the rich food, the two drinks, (and all the sugar, which I normally avoid) or the sensory overload and exhaustion, or maybe a combination of all of those things, but it was pretty horrible. 

I took it easy the rest of the weekend and the tachycardia has actually gotten much better. Not sure if that’s a coincidence – or an indicator that I just simply can’t get away with doing things like that any more? 

Once again, I find myself struggling to balance taking care of myself against trying to meet social demands…  and sucking at it.  

It’s all fun and games until the Universe calls your bluff… 

Ok, a little backstory to set this one up; I was raised completely atheist – second generation, actually. As an adult, my general take on life was that if science couldn’t explain something, it wasn’t real, but then some paranormal-ish experiences kind of turned that all upside down about a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been very inquisitive about all sorts of things. Some I’ve still discounted as nonsense, but a lot more winds up in my ‘I can’t prove it one way or another’ box and there are things that I don’t understand, but feel are definitely real.

I also began studying a lot of different spiritual belief systems and philosophies at that time, including Buddhism, Taoism, and various Pagan spiritualities. Some things just didn’t resonate with me personally, others did to some extent, though mostly as more a philosophy or way of being than an actual religion, in fact anything that gets too close to religion makes me uncomfortable. I guess it’s because the only exposure to religion I had at all, growing up, was negative run-ins with a few of of the more notoriously intolerant flavors of Christianity.

I actually do belong to a Druid order, and would consider myself an animist and a pagan. I immerse myself in a lot of Pagan books, podcasts, and music, and interact some online, but it’s a mostly solitary thing. There’s actually a fairly sizable Pagan community locally, even in my little town, but I’ve never really gotten involved. I’ve tried, a time or two: the social anxiety involved in trying to go out to events with a bunch of strangers is pretty debilitating – and this is one situation where I can’t just hide behind my partner.

You see, while I am somewhat leery of anything overtly religious, she is downright hostile to any and all religion. Her upbringing was the opposite of mine – fully immersed deep in the bible belt, and it left a pretty bad taste in her mouth. She refers to my interests good-naturedly as kookery, but even my little eclectic practices make her uncomfortable, so if I want to go out to a Pagan’s night out meetup, or anything like that, I am strictly on my own.

Anyway, lots of build-up but it will make sense in a moment.

About a month or so ago, I was catching up on some podcasts and one of them was mentioning the musical lineup of one of the big regional Pagan festivals that was coming up. Four or five artists and bands I really like were all going to be there, and I briefly thought how much fun it would be to see them all in one place. This of course, was immediately followed by the acknowledgement that there’s no way I could ever handle the sensory experience of a music festival. I would completely shut down before I even made it through the first couple of hours.

“It’s too bad that none of these performers ever play anywhere near where I live,” I thought to myself, “If it was close by and a small enough venue, I would totally go.”

I kid you not, the very next day I saw an announcement that one of them was going to be doing a small acoustic performance at a town a half hour from me! It was going to be such a small show that there were only going to be 25 tickets sold. The coincidence was actually almost creepy.

I got excited, then dismissed the idea. I couldn’t go by myself, and I couldn’t ask my partner to go. Oh well. Later in the day, I brainstormed and reached out to the head of the local group that had shared the announcement; I didn’t know them well, but had actually been to one or two of their meet-ups and they were nice people. Were any of them going, I asked her? No, no one was able to make it, was the response, but she agreed that she couldn’t believe that something like this was happening near us, it was really an amazing opportunity. So I dismissed the idea again, regretfully.

The next day I was still thinking about it, and the irony was not lost on me that I’d made that proclamation about how I’d go to a small local show, and then when something really cool presented itself almost immediately, I backpedaled. So I decided that it couldn’t hurt to at least ask my partner. If she wasn’t interested, then I’d give up on it and move on, because no way would I be able to manage it by myself, but at least I would have made that much effort. And for the record, I pretty much expected not just ‘no’ but ‘hell no’ when I told her what it was.

I broached the subject tentatively (and by text, which is my go-to for uncomfortable conversations) and said I doubted she’d want to go and would totally understand, since she didn’t know the music and it was a Pagan artist, and I knew she wasn’t real comfortable with that stuff, but I figured I’d ask just in case…”Sure,” she said, “I’m always up for some live music.”

So for the second time in as many days, it felt like I’d been cornered into putting my money where my mouth was, in a manner of speaking. I bought the tickets, and added this to my background stress for the past month. A small venue was both good and bad, because I hate big crowds but it’s harder to make myself inconspicuous in a small group. Also, the artist is actually a witch, and I knew enough from interviews I’d heard that I was expecting there to be a bit of ritual to the performance. I didn’t do a very good job of communicating that to my partner, I suspected; how was she supposed to understand what I was talking about when I awkwardly mumbled something about there being some ‘elemental stuff’?

The day of the event, I confessed that I was really nervous about dragging her off to this event, and she reassured me that she was sure it would be fine, but joked that I might have to go to the cat circus that was coming to town to reciprocate – or maybe even the symphony. I said that she could determine what event to drag me to by the level of discomfort she experienced, and we both laughed.

I got more nervous the closer we got, and when the directions took us further and further into a residential neighborhood I really started to get anxious. When we pulled up, we realized this was actually someone’s house, and there were people standing around outside that all seemed to know each other, and if I’d been alone I surely would have turned tail and ran (wouldn’t be the first time) but because I’d made my partner come all that way, I marched onward to my doom. I joked that at least I was giving the new heart monitor a good workout.

We went inside and sat down; there were chairs set up all around a living room; even seated at the back I’d be watching the performance from about ten feet away, which was really cool but also really intimidating. When the artist (I am being vague, I know, but I try to write this blog anonymously so I’m being deliberately sparse with identifying details) was ready to start, she began by casting a circle with an athame, and my first thought was, “Oh shit, it looks like I am going to be attending the cat circus AND the symphony.”

It was both a wonderful and a painful experience. 

Wonderful, because I’ve been a fan of her music for years and it was such an incredible experience to see her perform, especially in such an intimate setting. She is a great songwriter with an amazing voice and also a really cool person. 

Painful, because the social anxiety was absolutely paralyzing, because at first the sound of that beautiful, resonant voice in that small space actually overwhelmed my senses, and because I knew that my partner was probably not having a great time.

The artist asked for requests a couple of times and there was a song I would have loved to have seen her perform, but there’s no way I could have forced myself to speak up. And at the end, I wanted to thank the host, and thank the artist for such a great show, but instead bolted for the door and crept away as soon as everyone started getting up and milling around.

It has probably cost me quite a few spoons for the next few days, but I am glad I went and my partner more or less survived unscathed. She was able to joke about how she felt bad that she probably damaged the circle that was cast, with her presence. She said it wasn’t really her cup of tea but that the artist really was a great performer, and as she’d said at the beginning, she loves to see live music.

There is totally a cat circus in my future, though. And possibly a symphony.

My new best friend for the next 14 days

The week isn’t even over yet but so far I’ve braved a concert, heard foxes squabbling on the hillside above my house, bought another piece of furniture to refinish, and – oh, yeah – for reasons unknown my heart has been trying to rev itself out of my chest, particularly when I stand up. 

Seriously, Tuesday afternoon my Fitbit congratulated me on my 101 minute cardio workout, which was problematic as I was working at my desk at the time.  Also, I’ve discovered that the Fitbit is terrible at measuring a fast heartbeat, and actually was underreporting it by 20-30 bpm. 

I think this has been going on a few weeks, and it’s what is causing the fatigue and light-headedness when I get up sometimes, but it took a heart rate of 172 bpm to get my attention. 

I spent half my morning today getting bloodwork, x-rays, and a dog clicker glued to my chest. At least that’s what the heart monitor looks like, and it actually does have a button I’m supposed to click if I feel anything weird. I have to wear it for 14 days and if it comes unglued I have to call an 800 number, so of course now I’ll be scared to move for the next two weeks for fear of dislodging it.  

It’s positioned right about where the insignia would be on a Starfleet uniform; too bad I don’t have one of those on hand to wear, so that if I have to hit the heart monitor button, it will just look like I’m signaling the Enterprise to beam me up. 😀