I guess dog-sitting for family members does not sound like an ideal vacation, but that’s how I spent mine during the summer of ’18. I enjoyed sweet solitude on a farm in the hills of Oklahoma with just me, two dogs, three donkeys, a herd of cows, and other assorted country critters. Being alone out in the country was the ideal vacation for me whose constant companion is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The vacation covered two separate trips. One was a preview of about a week before the two-full week trip a few weeks later. I had a BLAST on both trips after I got over the initial ANXIETY of being in different surroundings and a change in routine. It took about 24 hours after my arrival for the arrival of calm. A change in routine, no matter how much preparation beforehand, even if the destination is a vacation spot, raises my anxiety level. There’s not much I can do about that other than telling myself it will pass. It always does.
As for the dogs, Blu and Bailey, they were jumping up and down, wiggling their tales; that is when their adult parents came home … or, maybe more so when I drove off. Just kidding.
I was asked more than once by inquiring and concerned folks before I left, “Aren’t you going to get LONELY in the country all by YOURSELF?” If you ask me, that’s one of those common neurotypicals (NT) questions. You see, for me, someone with ASD, being by myself on a vacation is equivalent to someone else’s ideal vacation of being on a cruise ship surrounded by others engaging in social activities. No, I have never been on a cruise, but the thought of being on the ocean with a host of strangers gives me the chills in a frightening sort of way. Perish the thought!
I didn’t think of myself as alone the entire time. I did venture into town and had interaction with store clerks. That was sufficient social interaction.
I had the dogs but they weren’t much company. I don’t want to give the impression I don’t like dogs. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have signed up for dog-sitting duty. I have wonderful childhood memories of having a dog as I was growing up. The pet was my playmate and comforter. I would have a dog of my own but I live with my Mom who likes dogs but not enough to own one. I got along just fine with the dogs, but I knew they missed my brother and sister-in-law.
I had for comfort in my change of environment and routine my electronic gadgets. I consider them my “comfort” necessities: my computer, my smartphone, my voice-activated gadget (Amazon Echo), my two Segway electronic scooters, and my hoverboard.
Scooter riding was one ingredient that added excitement during my dogsitting tour of duty. I had plenty of acres to scoot over. I could scoot to my utter delight without worry about pedestrians or traffic. Scooter riding is part of my daily routine and unless it is pouring down rain, lightning striking, thunder rolling, snow falling, or temps in the teens, I will go for a scooter ride.
Back in my suburban home, I ride my scooters at the parks. Along with the enjoyment I get from riding them, I get UNwanted attention. Sometimes the stops and stares are too much for my nerves. Well, even though I was out in the country, I got more stares than I ever had before while I was riding my Segway scooter on the gravel road to the mailbox. There were so many pairs of eyes that I didn’t bother to count. Maybe my being a stranger in the area was one reason, but I reckon, too, they had never seen a Seggie before. It didn’t bother me though. I just paid the cows no mind.
All in all, it was one of my BEST vacations. The main ingredient was time to myself. It recharged my batteries. Even if I had been dog-sitting at a beach house, mountain cabin, or a house in suburbia, it would still have been the ideal vacation for me and my ASD.
Now it wasn’t totally perfect but then what vacations are? In my case, there were a few things I didn’t care for during my time in the country. Namely flies, grasshoppers, and spurs. They were far more attached to me than I was to them.
Someone asked this question on a website for asking/answering any number of questions on any number of topics. I responded by first saying, “In my case, a social life.”
To put it simply, I have a social disability. Unlike those around me, family and friends, I don’t like to be around people much. If I am with one person discussing a topic that’s right up my alley, I am talking that other person’s poor leg off. But add another person or more to the conversation and I go into silent mode.
It is well-documented those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (my nickname for it is “Billy”) are not likely to be the social bufferflies in their community. I could manage better than those I know of going days in solitary confinement without going mad. Torture for me would be in the midst of people, strangers or not, around the clock with no break of lone time.
I shutter at the word “group”. It can be followed by the words “meeting” or “social” or “gathering” and I will have the same reaction of a frown. It is similar to the reaction I have at the smell of turnips cooking, or the bass sound of a loud stereo, or the glare of the bright lights. I’d rather be far away on another galaxy than sitting inside at a group session pretending to listen while hoping someone will volunteer to be the first to announce their departure.
Now if I am at the podium doing the speaking, it’s a whole different story. Even better, if I am talking about one of my passions. Now why I hate being in the audience but thrilled to be the speaker, well, I haven’t figured that one out yet.
The British writer, Alis Rowe, frequently writes about autism. One of her quotes that hit close to my heart: “I can be talkative and expressive when with a single person, but the more people there are around me, the less interactive and more introverted I become. Inside a group of people, I can’t contribute/function, and tend to ‘shut down’ because I find it all too overwhelming.”
My ASD is a constant companion and there are times when it slaps me right in the face. At family gatherings or other group settings, I can’t be like the others. I can’t join in on their chatter and laughter and enjoy it as they do. For me, such gatherings are draining and that isn’t going to change. The mute button will always come on. I can ask why I have to struggle with this but everybody has something to deal with. It isn’t so much what it is but how we cope with it. The Lord is the One whom I turn to. He knows all about my Billy.
I take heart in the bright side of living on the Spectrum. My passion for writing helps me to communicate with people in my own special way. It isn’t all dark on the Spectrum. Not at all. No one has it all after all. I try to remember that and appreciate what I do have going for me with Billy around.
Linda Jones, an Autism advocate, once stated: “Whereas other people seem to be looking FORWARD to ‘the event’ – they don’t seem to realize that we’re looking PAST the event, trying to assure ourselves that it will be over soon and the routine-day after will be a relief.”
That sounds all too familiar. I remember several years ago driving to a holiday party at a friend’s house. If my steering wheel could have talked, it would have yelled: “Get a grip and loosen the grip on me!” It didn’t matter it was a friend I had known for years. It didn’t matter there were others at the party I knew. It didn’t matter that I had been to my friend’s house a number of times. This was contrary to my routine going to a party and I was eager for its ending instead of the beginning.
Any type of gathering type event is a jolt. A threesome having lunch, a holiday gathering, a meeting, etc. The gathering is a storm cloud on an otherwise sunny day. Once I can go back to my solitary corner, I’m back on the track of normalcy which is where I ache to live on.
I reckon I could survive solitary confinement longer than others I know who relish the thought of get-together type events. There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with friends but I just don’t have the desire to and it’s beyond my understanding watching people enjoying doing it. It’s like observing, from a distance, life on another planet.
In the Bible’s four Gospels that give us the story of Jesus’s walk on this Earth, He had to interact with large and small groups to go about His Father’s business. He attended events such as a marriage ceremony at Cana where he turned the water into wine. He taught multitudes of people such as the 5000 men, plus women and children, whom he fed with His miracle of the loaves and fishes. He had dinner with a group of people at the home of a Pharisee named Simon where Jesus allowed a woman who lived a sinful life to pour perfume on His feet. But it wasn’t unusual for Jesus to go off alone by Himself, such as to a mountainside or a garden. It is of comfort to me that even Jesus needed to take a break from people and gatherings and go off by Himself at times. Just maybe not every day like I do.
Jesus was unlike any other human being who ever has or will walk upon this Earth. Even those closest to him, such as His disciples, could not entirely know what Jesus was going through. It’s understandable that He needed time alone with the only one who could — the Father.
One of the times Jesus had lone time with His Father was His visit to the Garden of Gethsemane before He was betrayed by Judas. His disciples went with Him but they couldn’t keep their eyes open and fell asleep. Jesus was in agony with drops of sweat like blood. That time alone in the Garden having a talk with His Father about what no one else could have understood helped prepare Him to ultimately do his Father’s will.
There are things about my ASD that I can’t talk to anyone about. Too embarrassing or beyond my understanding. But I can talk to the Lord about those things and so I do. Sometimes I do it when I take a walk in the park. It’s not a garden but it will do.
Someone told me long ago that if you can laugh at it, it hasn’t defeated you. I have kept that thought in the back of my mind ever since and I added another: if I can write about it, it hasn’t defeated me either. So that’s one reason since learning I was on the Autism Spectrum at the end of 2016 that I write about it. So with that in mind, writing about it with a dash of humor, here’s some of the cast of characters I live within Autismland for better or worse.
She is definitely a daily character in Autismland. She is a quick change artist – a leg shaker, a rocker, floor pacer, jogger, and fidgeter. This character is a soother for my sensory overload. Good medicine for my anxiety. A character of repetitive motion that helps me focus. Ms. Stimfield is a friendly character I am thankful to have around.
Not so thankful for “The Meltdowner”! The monster of the cast. The ogre may arise over some small aggravation or arrive for no reason at all. At least, the Meltdowner doesn’t come around every day. Its appearance raises the tension in my body to where it feels like an erupting volcano. After its leaving, I am as drained as I would be after being caught in the midst of a noise-filled crowd with little elbow room.
The Escape Artist
Another daily character that is the most mysterious member of the cast. If you came upon someone talking to themselves, pacing the floor and/or performing gestures indicating they are off in another world, you might be leery of the person. I do this but I make every effort of doing it without witnesses. I know if I could see myself on the video camera, my escapism would look strange even to me. No matter, it is a necessity for me. The escape artist has been around since childhood. It helps me cope in a world I don’t understand.
Ms. Chatterbox is a delightful character. She shows up when I’m having a one-on-one conversation about one of my limited list of topics I am interested in. If someone asks me about one of my passions/obsessions, Ms. Chatterbox will deliver a monolog. Since I don’t have too many conversations on a daily basis where the topic is down my alley, Ms. Chatterbox isn’t always around in Autismland. However, I do enjoy her appearance. Unlike the Meltdowner who leaves me feeling drained, she leaves me with a bounce of energy after chatting with someone who shows genuine interest in whatever I’m going on and on about.
To put it simply, Autismland is living alone surrounded by people. I’m most comfortable doing things on my own. I picture myself in public more as an observer than a participant. A worse punishment would be to be amidst people around the clock than to be in solitary confinement. I truly need to have Ms. Solitaire in my daily life such as when I come home from my school classroom assistant job. I love working with the kids and staff but the challenges of social interaction are exhausting. I need Ms. Solitaire to help keep The Meltdowner at bay, if possible. It is Ms. Solitaire who recharges my batteries.
This character makes me think of one word: annoyance. She is persistent in reminding me I have to finish whatever I start. Not only finish, but it is perfect enough that I can walk away from it with nothing left undone. She is exhausting! On the other hand, I’ve gotten many kudos in various jobs I’ve held over my career thanks to being driven by Ms. Perfection.
This is the most useful one of the cast. It prompts me to organize things by color, alphabet, age, genre, etc. It isn’t a chore to organize; it’s a TREAT! I am in a delightful place when the Organizer is at work. The other day I secretly organized my Mom’s kitchen pantry. I did hers because all my stuff is organized and re-organized one too many times. Sometimes the Organizer goes overboard. Anyway, I bet she had cans of food that she didn’t know she had on hand. Since she is neurotypical, I don’t think the pantry will stay in the order I put it in.
Another annoying character but not to the degree as the Meltdowner. Ms. Sensitivity shows up when there are certain noises and smells that raise my anxiety. She is the reason I wear an eye mask at night to avoid the lights coming from my collection of electronic gadgets. She is the reason I have one of those gadgets, my “Alexa” home assistant, to play white noise music to drown out my heartbeat or the snoring coming from another room. Ms. Sensitivity doesn’t kick up a storm when the music playing is my music. But when it is someone else’s music, she will kick and I will feel like a cat whose tail got caught on a chair leg.
This character heavily endows me on a daily basis with doses of “frustration”! I can’t read a page without this character’s interference unless what I am reading is “spellbinding” to me. That seldom happens. Same with watching TV. The Distractor doesn’t want me to watch a TV program on my recliner with my hands folded in my lap. I need to have something to do while watching such as a crossword puzzle or fidgeting with my fidget spinner. Any TV program that can have my undivided attention without the Distractor … well, it seldom happens. Thanks to the Distractor I haven’t been to the movie theater for a couple of years because it doesn’t make sense to pay no small price to sit in the theater drifting off in the Distractor’s la-la land.
I’m sure I left some characters out, but this posting is long enough. There are characters wearing white hats and others wearing black. And, some are not entirely white or black just as Autism itself. It isn’t entirely black or white either.
I looked up the definition of “solitude” and came across this definition: the state or art of being alone or remote from others. I never thought of it as an art, but if so, I mastered it at an early age. I’m still quite good at it too!
I don’t lump solitude with loneliness. Loneliness usually pays me a visit when I’m in the midst of a handful of people or a full house. On the other hand, my visit with solitude is my being alone by choice. It is a golden opportunity to recharge my batteries. Without solitude, I fear I would be in meltdown country around the clock.
Yearning for lone time isn’t limited to those like myself who live on the autism spectrum. It is just that being on the spectrum, lone time is more a necessity than a choice. I need it for my mental well-being as I need to eat and breathe for my physical health. As honest as I know how to be, I am most content when I am doing my own thing by myself.
Solitude reminds me of Jesus Christ. It is told in the Gospels of times when Jesus would go off by Himself to a mountainside or a garden to have prayer time with His Father. Jesus spent much time in small groups with his disciples; while other times, he was followed by a multitude of people in the thousands. He did take time, though, to have alone time with the Father.
Time by myself is a break away from the challenges of social interaction. There are no verbal instructions to process. I can escape into my own world. I can hear and utter my thoughts to myself. When I go to the park for solitude, I go to worship too. I can pray to God or sound out my thoughts in the midst of God’s wonders of nature:- the tree limbs bending down to the wind, the beauty of the flowers, watching the ducks go about their business, and the rhythm of the waves on the lake. Many of my blog postings were born on that trail in the park of golden solitude.