autism and depression

Phenomenal post about how Aspies interface with depression in unique ways:

People with Aspergers syndrome may experience depression differently

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I have run out of energy. Again. Just like I did this time last year when they changed my schedule and switched my days off. Except – I don’t have that excuse this time. But I called out of work this past Friday, and three days of rest later I’m not much better.

Every so often, I have been laid low by a mono-like illness with no clinical signs other than extreme fatigue that does not respond to rest and takes about two months to run its course.  It matches the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, only it presents only episodically.  I’ve caught on to how my body presages it, though, so staying home from work this time is my attempt to keep from having to leave for months, instead of just a day or two. The technique worked last year, so I’m hoping it works again.

But reasons for my predicament are harder to come by this time. I ran myself pretty ragged back in December and January, but I’ve since been getting a good night’s sleep and decent nutrition. The thirty-day lag time preceding onset is suspicious. I mean, here I am, relatively healthy, decently-rested, my pain largely under control, and it still crept up on me, and dragged me under like a concrete weight lashed to my waist.

I keep trying to be normal. I keep trying to make the exceptions I need to make to function as a normal, healthy person, a neurotypical person, a physiotypical person. And, clearly, I am not, and it’s the most frustrating exercise, because I can manage it, if I’m firing on all cylinders, if it’s an ideal environment, often for months at a time. But ask just a little bit more of my body, my mind, and I break apart like a jenga tower after the last critical bone is pulled. Only unlike the tower, I can’t lose a whole bunch of them before I topple. It takes perhaps one or two and I hit a wall.

There’s no place in society for someone like me, straddling the line between abled and disabled. I’m not compromised enough to be truly incapacitated, but I’m not functional enough to hold up under the typical, 40-hour-per-week system. And I hate it. Hate, hate, hate. Where do I fit? What do I do? How do I eke out an independent existence in this lonely grey area so few inhabit that to most people, it doesn’t exist? I’m so done with having to be a third type, find a third way. Not well, not handicapped, but somewhere in between.

Is it awful to say that I miss the pain, sometimes? Because as horrific as it was, it provided a clarity that I long for. The pain was so extreme that it extinguished any possibility of a normal job, a normal life.

Now I’m faced with trying to find a job that not only isn’t physically taxing, but can involve working from home so I can manage my energy limitations, and that I will be able to perform despite being functionally autistic.

Even my autism isn’t complete. It’s so awful to say, isn’t it? Because I’m sure that no-one else goes around complaining that they’re not fully autistic. But I’ve had it for so long and hide it so well that I could go through the rest of my working life without telling someone and it likely wouldn’t matter at all. I’d just be labeled quirky or eccentric. Or better yet, blunt. And no-one has any idea the mental drain it places on me to put up that neurotypical front. And even if they do, they just don’t understand it.

No-one gets it, what it’s like to have to expend half again as much energy to process and perform things that come to them automatically. I wish nothing more than for someone to spend a day inside my head, with the constant turning over of different responses, actions, facial expressions, predictions, the angst, the anxiety, the worry over whether I look right or sound right, in order to seem as seamless as they. I can’t speak the way they do, can’t hear the way they do.

And I miss so, so much. You know what I miss the most? Awe. Neurotypicals have such easy access to awe. Their ability to relate, their facility with theory of mind, means all they have to do is see it in someone else to experience it themselves. I have no such conduit. Maybe it’s a good thing; maybe it would be too taxing for me, with my energy insufficiencies, to be able to slide into someone else’s emotional experience with such ease. But I feel the lack, the gaping hole where an experience, an emotion should be.

I’m so tired of people telling me how lucky I am, how fortunate to have the coping mechanisms I do, how blessed to be as talented as I am, and who knows whether the autism contributes to that, and I should be grateful. I am grateful. But I’m also sad. And worried. I desperately want to be independent. Is that too much to ask? I wish I knew. I wish I knew what I was supposed to do. I keep grasping blindly at opportunities, some accessible, some not, some likely, others less so, trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do and who I’m supposed to be. I have never been good at deciding what’s right for me. I’ve always relied on others to tell me. But now I’m an adult and I’m supposed to figure these things out for myself.

But what if I can’t?

Posted in Book Two, Setting 1 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

this is why

OK, I’ll admit, I was one of those liberals that didn’t get the Trump thing. While I might not have been as addicted to the daily outrage flung up the flagpole by the media as some, I entertained a lingering, if small, hope that he would do something so outrageous, or better yet, illegal, that he would be ousted and things would get back to “normal.”

But lately, as I’ve had to defer things because I can’t afford them, like a graduate certificate, or buying a home, I’ve started wondering. Why am I clinging to this supposed “normalcy?” What is so great about the way things are going in this country that I am hanging on to them with grim, thoughtless, white-knuckled tenacity?

I mean, yes, government does do a few things, perhaps more than a few, pretty well. My potholes get filled (sorry, Arkansas). My mail shows up on time, every day. My electricity runs without fail, notwithstanding minor interruptions from Mother Nature, a tax for living around lots of trees which I’m happy to pay for the privilege. My meat is safe, my medicines are what they say they are, and my car gets decent gas mileage and will deliver me unharmed from most altercations with other vehicles. Many take this stuff for granted, but I don’t.

But about everything else that interfaces with my daily life, not so much good. People like me like to try to pick things apart into smaller, manageable bits and come at them that way. The opioid crisis. The longevity crisis. The obesity crisis. Food deserts. Minimum wage. Corporate bonuses. Health care.  Like picking fruit off of a tree in hopes the tree will stop bearing fruit.

The problem isn’t the fruit, though. It’s the tree. The way our economy runs and our government’s interaction with it does not work any more. We are suffering from a much larger crisis, that of an entire middle class that has been stripped of the ability to make a decent living. The number of jobs that enable families to afford a house, two cars in the garage, and a stay-at-home mom has significantly atrophied. Even manufacturing jobs, the few that are left, do not pay enough to support a family all by themselves. And as for a higher education, not only is that no longer a guarantee of a better opportunity, but it saddles one with crushing debt. An enormous swath of this country has been priced out of the market of making a living.

And they know it. Maybe not in the way that I can see it, bright lines against a black background, but they feel it. Because there is no other way that people, good people, would hold their noses and pull a lever for Trump, unless they were in desperate straits. They knew what they were getting. None of these scandals surprise them. They just had to send a signal. Something has to change. Not a bunch of little somethings. One big something. And Trump was all they had and so they offered him up. Don’t you get it?  

The New Deal isn’t new any more, and it isn’t a good deal. It’s long past time that people stop saying “Americans need a leg up” – which most of them would eschew anyway – and admit that our whole system is failing and we need to think seriously about scrapping the entire mess and doing something else. If we can’t apply some downward pressure on the costs of living – all of them – fewer and fewer people will be able to afford them, and that is a recipe for dangerous discontent. If something big isn’t done, or if people don’t sense that their government is at least trying to do something – something real, something important, something they can see happening in their own lives – then Trump isn’t an aberration. He’s just the beginning. And there won’t be fewer people voting for him and those like him.  There will be more.  And I might be one of them.

Posted in Book Two, Setting 1 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

response and able

“Hey, by the way, Lewaltzia (not her real name) left the gas on in here, so you should stay out for a few minutes while the room vents.” I said, poking my head out of the recently vacated operating room (OR) into the hallway that connects all of them to one another, referred to as the sterile corridor.

The other scrub nurse, who is pregnant and therefore on a zero-exposure protocol for the isoflurane gas we use for anesthesia in the ORs, was not pleased. “Again? Okay, that’s three times. I’m going to report it.”

I tried to talk her out of it. Lewaltzia was already not having a great day, having gotten into it with one of the surgeons because one of her xrays was of the wrong limb. Which is her fault, yes, but also probably not something she needs to be lit up, down, and sideways for, because she’s an ape, and all apes make mistakes from time to time. Like, would it have been so hard to say, “Hey, that isn’t the correct leg, do you have any other views?” instead of stomping around and being pissy about it? Apparently it would.

But I digress.

“No, nonononono, don’t do that,” I returned. “Or don’t do it today, anyway. Just don’t do it today.” But the other nurse was adamant. And I have to say, three times in two weeks is probably something that should be reported. Technically, four times, because Lewaltzia did it once to me, too, the week before, but I’m not pregnant and have long since discovered that reporting every single minor error to management – of whom Lewaltzia is one; she is one of the two co-managers of our department – is a royal waste of my and their time and my energy is better spent getting over it and moving on with my day.

“Just send an email, then,” I allowed, still suspecting that this was not going to end well.

It turns out I was right about that, because later that day, I could hear Lewaltzia and my friend talking about it in the OR while I was in the sterile corridor scrubbing in, and it was clearly not to my friend’s advantage. She came out of the room extremely upset, because during the conversation, Lewaltzia had insinuated that it “wasn’t a big deal” because the oxygen pressure was at zero so there wasn’t an exposure risk, and that it was “everyone’s responsibility” to make sure the gas was turned off after a surgery.

There is so much b.s. in that argument that I don’t even know where to start. There are a few things that are “everyone’s responsibility,” but turning the anesthesia on and off is decidedly not one of them – only licensed technicians are supposed to handle the gas.  Speaking of responsibility, stocking the ORs is supposed to be everyone’s responsibility but I can’t remember the last time someone came down on anesthetist rather than an assistant if something was missing.  And, of note, every single other anesthetist I’ve worked with turns both the oxygen and the isoflurane off him or herself, every single time. Technically, unlicensed nurses aren’t even supposed to touch the damn machines other than to clean them. Finally, if there’s no chance of exposure, then why do we bother turning the gas off at all?

“You know that’s not right!” I hissed – I didn’t want Lewaltzia to overhear us – “That’s so much bullshit!” I wished I could hug my fellow nurse but I was already scrubbing in and couldn’t touch anyone. “You know if that happened while she was pregnant she would lose her shit!” Lewaltzia knows the protocol, better than any of us. I was awed by her audacity, but not really surprised. There’s no accountability in this institution. The only people who ever get in trouble for anything are us lowly assistants.

Anyway, what had happened was this:  my friend reported it to the other manager, Quideara (not her real name) who has a false equivalence problem. She assumes that whenever there is a disagreement, both points of view are equally valid. I’m sure this is true some of the time, but by and large it isn’t, and it’s her job to point that out and hold one, rather than both, parties accountable, which she refuses to do because that would require mental effort and could possibly lead to someone disliking her, both of which she avoids like the plague. It’s frustrating, but it’s how things are. So I was pretty sure, before my friend reported Lewaltzia, that it wouldn’t yield the proper outcome.  But I crossed my fingers that Quideara might surprise me and do the right thing.


I don’t understand why our supervisors are so allergic to admitting they might be doing something incorrectly, or otherwise taking responsibility for their own actions. I certainly have gotten exactly nowhere when trying to explain to them that normal instructions for higher-order tasks are not enough for a person with autism. I wonder if it’s because they’re worried that if they admit they were wrong about something or don’t know something that people will lose respect for them. But paradoxically, the opposite is true. Because they refuse to admit that they’re ever wrong and always push it back on their staff, their staff resents them and will undercut or ignore them at every opportunity.

If managers would hold themselves to the same standards of accountability that they hold us to, it would be different. We’d relate to them and respect them more. We’d be more likely to do what they ask and give them the benefit of the doubt if we didn’t understand them. We’d also be more respectful of each other, instead of continuing to gossip about them and one another behind one another’s backs. Which still happens, and seems to be getting worse, no matter how many emails we get about a respectful workplace. It’s fascinating to me that my managers have yet to realize that these and other such policy emails are absof***ing useless. I mean, I’m the one with autism, right? I’m the one who is supposed to not understand how social interactions work. And yet here I am again, in a position of seeing quite clearly what is going on while those around me appear to be willfully ignorant.

I don’t bother emailing my complaints for much of anything, and if I do, I agonize over it because I don’t want to be responsible for another assistant getting written up for something that probably only requires a gentle reminder. But for my supervisors, emails are a way of feeling like they’re doing something without their actually having to do anything. If you want us to be more respectful to one another, for instance, firing off another email isn’t going to get you there. You have to treat us with respect and make us feel valued, which again, requires more thought and effort than I’ve ever seen from any of my immediate supervisors, who claim to be too busy doing their “real” jobs to care. There’s no point in trying to get them to pay attention to the staff or put themselves in our shoes; it’s not going to happen.  They only notice us when something goes wrong.  Otherwise, we’re invisible grunts.

I’ve also learned that having a response doesn’t make you responsible. Responsibility takes strength and work. It’s not automatically conferred by your title. So I just fix stuff if I am able and ignore it if I’m not. Because I don’t care any more.

You don’t care about me, I don’t care about you. That’s how it works.

Posted in Book Two, Setting 1 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

don’t drink the water

About a month ago, I became very sick Friday night after work and remained so up until the following Monday. I discovered that a smattering of other people in my department also had severe bouts of nausea for a day or three here and there in the week following. I assumed it was food poisoning from the questionable – but cheap and accessible – deli from which everyone ordered food almost every day. I don’t normally order food from there, both for cost reasons and because I don’t consider their food to be anything worth the name, but that Friday was the last day before I went on vacation and I decided to treat myself.

A week later, I come back from vacation to find a sign on the downstairs water cooler. “Not working, XXXX water company has been called.”

Apparently, some employees had found unidentified matter floating in the water dispensed from the cooler.

Personally, my first thought would not have been, “call the company and ask them to fix it.” I would have demanded a replacement, that day, but apparently the person who handles this stuff did not consider it to be worth such a reaction.  From what I could discern, after a few days (yes, that reads days, not hours) someone from the company came, flushed out the cooler, and announced that it was once again safe to drink from.

I was not impressed, and said as much to anyone I could find. “Flushed with what? Water? Do any of the people at this company have any training in microbiology? Did they test it for bacteria? I’m not drinking out of that thing again until they flush it with bleach. And maybe not even then.” For a change, I was not alone in this sentiment. I think my insistence upon being treated like a human being is starting to rub off on people.

So, to no-one’s surprise, or at least, not mine, and following even more employees calling out sick, the sign was back up a week later, for the same reason. There was now a sign on the upstairs water cooler in the kitchen, as well. I was in the kitchen eating lunch when I heard the one member of the housekeeping staff who speaks English explaining to other members of her staff – in Spanish – about why the water coolers were out of commission. Now, mind you, my Spanish sucks, but I was able to pick out the words “beber” and “agua” (“to drink” and “water”) and infer the rest by sneaking a glance over to where she was gesturing and pointing to her own water bottle.

I don’t know what pisses me off more; the fact that this did not result in an immediate, same-day rectification by my employer, or the fact that it did not occur to anyone to put the signs up warning against using the coolers in Spanish as well as English.

In any language, after another week (???!!!), a new water cooler – from the same company – appeared downstairs. I don’t know what we have upstairs, but it doesn’t matter since I now bring my own water in plastic jugs.  My stomach still hasn’t fully recovered from the bacterial invasion from before July, and I’m not drinking any water from a water cooler at this hospital again until we change companies, for two reasons. One is that I now don’t trust any of the company’s products, water, cooler, or otherwise. The second is because just because it looks all shiny new, there’s no evidence that the new water cooler is actually new.

And why is that?  It’s because we don’t get anything truly new at this hospital, ever, unless it’s a loaner while they repair our old, busted equipment to send back to us. It would not surprise me at all to see the old water cooler, supposedly no longer teeming with god knows what, back in its customary place in another couple of weeks or so.  Another example:  we currently have new computers in both radiology suites while they fix the extremely buggy and annoyingly unreliable old ones. The new ones work beautifully. I don’t want the old ones back. The day I see those ancient things running Windows 97 or whatever it is back in the x-ray rooms I may have to actually quit in protest.

OK, that’s probably not true. But I’m not talking about peevish but generally operable equipment here. It’s water, for god’s sake. Does no-one else think it might be worth shelling out a few more bucks for a reputable company that provides some sort of product guarantee? We have hundreds of employees drinking out of these coolers. I can’t speak for other departments, but I know about a half a dozen people from our department have gotten sick from that water. Not just ew, this is gross, but so ill they had to miss work.

How is this OK? Why are we still allowing this company to provide water to us?

Does no-one care about the human toll? Because it’s not like we got extra sick days to make up for this; people had to use their own hours to cover for when they were out sick with whatever bacteria got a free pass to their g.i. tracts courtesy of some decidedly not-pure spring water. Moreover, there was no mention of people getting sick in any of the relevant emails about not using the coolers, nor whether someone would be taking the company to task for it. I’m certain if I were to suggest that we be compensated for days missed from drinking the bacterial swill these coolers were dispensing I would be laughed out of someone’s office. (And probably reprimanded for behaving inappropriately, although that’s getting to be so common that it barely merits a mention any more.)

Is it too much to ask that someone at the hospital demand recompense from a company that supplies supposedly safe drinking water to its entire staff? Just get rid of the damn things if you care so little. (And oh, by the way, our clients only get bottled water, and their pets get water from the tap, both of which are apparently just fine.  Hm.)  If you’re not going to make the investment in time and money to ensure the sterility of our water supply, why bother spending money on supplying water at all? I’d rather it was used for, oh, let me pull something out of a hat, better x-ray equipment.

Instead, the powers that be at my workplace have apparently turned a blind eye to the fact several of us were more or less poisoned due to the water company’s negligence.  And not only did our supervisors demonstrate a frustrating nonchalance thereof, they didn’t even bother ensuring that the non-English-speaking members of the staff were thus informed.  Words fail to fully express the disgust I feel at this entire situation.

I hate being in a position where I need this job too much to quit, or even make a fuss about what’s been happening. But to all the higher-ups who bristle at the suggestion that this place treats people horribly need look no further than this latest travesty for proof. It’s not the first. I’m willing to bet won’t be the last.

Posted in Book Two, Setting 1 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

do your work

This is the new cover for the binders with daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks in my department at work.  There’s one for each job description, four total, and this meme is on the front of all of them.  I was so awed by its offensiveness that I had to preserve it for posterity with my cell phone.  And I’m the autistic employee; implied content isn’t exactly my specialty.  But I would venture to say that this isn’t really implied offensiveness.  It’s more the overt, in-your-face kind.  I don’t know who thought this was cute or funny or whatever, but, um, fail.

At the moment, these binders are hidden behind the printer in our phone/break room. Actually, I’m the one who hid them there, in an attempt to put off the inevitable surge of ill will that will ensue once the rest of the crew gets a look at them.  (I’m considering changing them before this post goes public, since if I suggest changing them in an email, which has been impressed upon me as the “correct” way to register such complaints, it’s been my experience that nothing will get done. The only way to engender change at this place is to take action.  Emails don’t get you squat.)

This blows past the already barely tolerable standards of respectfulness currently maintained at my workplace, setting a new record for denigration and demoralization. As I’m sure must be obvious to those who’ve been reading my recent posts, my coworkers and I do not exactly futz around on our smartphones waiting for someone to tell us what to do.  We are busy as s**t.  Second order tasks get done when opportunities to do so present themselves, but, due to the nature of a surgical department serving other departments in addition to its own scheduled appointments and procedures, that isn’t often and, more important, isn’t predictable.

If our supervisors feel that not enough of these second-order tasks are getting done, then they’re the ones who need to take actions to fix it, and those actions decidedly do not include binders mocking our supposed indolence.  We’re already performing near full capacity; some of these tasks take more than the few minutes we can scrape out here and there to do them, and we can’t put more time in the day.  Perhaps if they were willing to shell out for a little dedicated overtime, or block out a spot in our schedules once a month (and spring for lunch while they’re at it) just for maintenance, we would be able, and motivated, to get all this stuff done. But instead, they put the onus on us, demonstrating a disheartening lack of understanding and appreciation for what does get done while insinuating that we’re a bunch of slackers.  Yeah.  Great.

And it’s yet another example of how clueless our supervisors are when it comes to motivation and morale, which is getting to be a regular thing here, right up there with the sticker thing.

What sticker thing?

Oh, did I not rant about the sticker thing yet? Please allow me to do so now.

Someone up the human resources chain decided it would be a good idea to set up a sticker reward system.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It probably doesn’t need to be said, but the last time I was excited about getting a sticker for anything was when I was a kid taking piano lessons.   Be that as it may, this is their latest brilliant plan to acknowledge employees who go above and beyond to help patients and clients; i.e., if you see someone doing something special, you put a cute little gold star paw print sticker on a cute little cartoon picture with their name on it on the wall. Every month, the person with the most stickers on their picture gets a gift card.

By the way, I am not making this up.

The unavoidable implication that people would not otherwise go out of their way for clients and fellow employees should have been enough to kill this idea long before someone started cutting out paper cartoons with people’s names on them.  Notwithstanding, it’s pretty clear that whomever came up with this idiotic craft project has no training in how to motivate adults in an employment setting whatsoever.  Although even that’s a pretty flimsy excuse, since I have no such training, am in fact psychologically disabled, and nonetheless perceived immediately that it would do nothing but foster competition and resentment.

First off, the employees are the ones giving the stickers to each other.  Speaking of things that should have shut this down at the pre-embryonic phase, I would say that right there more than qualifies, as the most conscientious employees are most likely to give them, not get them.  Second, there aren’t any enforceable guidelines as to what merits a sticker; each individual employee decides for him or herself when and why to give them. Some people pass them out just because they feel like it, or to anyone who asks, or just to their friends; others adhere to specific parameters known only to themselves; still others think the whole thing is a joke and refuse to give them for anything; and everyone else is somewhere amongst and between.  Third, amounts and types of interaction with other employees vary widely across jobs and departments, such that opportunities to receive stickers are largely dictated by one’s job description irrespective of one’s helpfulness to their co-workers and the clientele.

As a result, this ill-conceived undertaking has only served to shore up any undercurrents of unfairness that already existed.  Many helpful acts deserving of stickers under this framework are missed, underlining the fact that things people were already doing every day that go above and beyond their job descriptions weren’t, and aren’t, being perceived by the higher-ups or anyone else.  Any employee undoubtedly feels from time to time that appreciation for one’s work is unevenly distributed.  This captures those transient feelings, transforms them into visible and palpable realities, and immortalizes them on the wall for all to enjoy throughout their work day.  As a result, the whole operation has been breeding disgruntlement like pools of water breed mosquitos.

There have been reports of people “cheating” (putting stickers on their own pictures), complaints about certain people never giving stickers for anything, and resentments about the aforementioned fact that different jobs present more or fewer opportunities to receive these tokens of envy.  For instance, the person who handles our department’s interface with clients is stationed in a cube somewhere else in the hospital; she probably deserves a jillion of these stickers a day, but since she generally works out of sight of the rest of the department she rarely receives any at all.

When this inanity was first introduced, several months ago, I thought for sure it would quickly crumble under the weight of its own ludicrosity. But I was mistaken; it’s still going strong, even though a few departments seem be putting up pictures that rarely get gold stars paw prints from anyone.  Upon closer examination, I’ve determined that this lack of stickering is not a metric for how invested a department is in this charade, but rather of that department’s morale. Departments with fewer stickers per employee coincide with those with higher staff turnover. So I guess, in a sense, the endeavor has been useful in that has provided some data unlikely to be inferred directly. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the point and appears to have been overlooked by whomever concocted this lunacy to begin with.

The only possible explanation I can come up with for this and other such misguided enterprises is that they are cooked up by people who have no idea what they’re doing. Only someone or someones thoroughly disconnected from the experience of being a staff person at this establishment could be so blind as to the effect such ill-advised attempts at motivation would have on people already performing at an extremely high level and not feeling noticed or appreciated for it.

They seem to have forgotten that people do things for others because they want to, because it feels good to help people.  Asking them to reward others for doing so is the exact wrong way to support that inclination, because, as I alluded to before, those who are more inclined to do such things are also more likely to give stickers, while those less inclined to do so are also less likely to acknowledge their co-workers for doing so.  In addition to this baked-in imbalance, this system also favors people who only do favors when people are watching over those who do them as part of their normal behavior.  Not to mention that there will always be some intensely competitive people who go out of their way to acquire stickers at the expense of doing their jobs.  It’s a mess, and every month I keep hoping it will go away, to no avail.

It would be so much better if the supervisors from each department nominated someone to get a gift card every month, with a brief explanation as to their reasoning, so that an impartial third party could decide who’s been the most helpful. God forbid someone in human resources should invest some time into actually looking at what the humans are doing here on the floor rather than relying on school yard politics to make those determinations for them.  Oh, so you had my job ten years ago?  Well, I’m sure it hasn’t changed at all, even though we have different leadership now and have been bought out by three different corporations each imposing their own frameworks since that time.  I mean, why would that make any difference?

Since I don’t think it was someone’s intention to bring out everyone’s worse selves here, I can only hope that this project was fomented without knowledge, research, or thoughtful discussion as to how it might feel to be on the other end of it, because any of those three would have exposed it as a train wreck that could have, and should have, been avoided.  Not to mention the secondary effect of lending credence and weight to the natural feeling in any hierarchical system that those above have no idea what those below are actually doing.

So, here’s an idea from the bottom up: How about assuming the best and acknowledging us directly?  How about trying to find out what’s behind our actions instead of trying to force us to act in some predetermined fashion that would represent a different reality?  How about trying to understand why people feel underappreciated and addressing it head-on instead of wasting time with moronic schemes and memes that only serve to demoralize the staff and delegitimize the supervisors?

Like, maybe, do your job and not play games.  Yeah, that’d be great.

Posted in Book Two, Setting 1 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


I am an actress. Ever since I was a little girl, I have imitated other people. Like a mirror, I could reflect was what was seen and spoken to me. I mimicked words I heard and actions I witnessed. To those around me, I appeared normal, but after spending some time with me a disconnect would become apparent, revealing that my speaking, moving being was not imbued with the same type of inner self as those around me. I misunderstood, seemingly willfully, basic human communication. I was ignorant of the norms of social interaction. Inside this realistic shell, something essential was missing, or broken, or, at best, unrecognizable from what was inside everyone else.

I was verbal and literate from a very young age, and dramatic. I loved to read and act out fantasies, and to imagine them playing themselves out in my otherwise mundane and often frustrating existence. I wasn’t like other kids my age, and they made fun of me and didn’t want to be around me. I lived in books, relating to every misfit I read about, who would come to some realization by the end of the novel and suddenly not be such a misfit any more. I waited for that realization to happen to me. I didn’t want to be a misfit, that odd, weird person no-one wanted to be friends with.

The realization never came. By the time I was in high school, my peers actively disliked and avoided me. One girl once said to me: “You always know how to say the exact wrong thing!” and stormed off in tears. I felt horrible, and horribly confused. Why had it been wrong? What was the right thing? I must be doing something wrong; no-one ever stayed friends with me for any length of time. As things got worse, I grew stiff and shy. I always spoke up in class – teachers never seemed to find me in the wrong – but around other people my age, I said almost nothing.

I went to college in the early 90’s when goth was coming into the mainstream. I loved the music and the culture; they matched my increasingly negative inner monologue perfectly. I found a group of people who did not think I always said the wrong thing; they thought the world was a hopeless dystopia and acted like it, which was considered “being real.” (Which, I thought, was all I’d ever done, anyway. I never lied; I could barely manage to soften the truth, hence the lack of friends.) And yet still, I was missing something. Women tried to make friends with me but I couldn’t see it. I thought they just felt sorry for me. I didn’t know what they wanted, or what they meant.

I never seemed to know what anyone meant.

I discovered that alcohol solved a lot of those problems. It dismantled my reserve and suddenly, people thought I was funny. I found a social group – freaks, we called ourselves – that took pride in purposefully rebelling against social norms. I also found I could consume large quantities of alcohol and hold my own – yet another skill they valued. But I took it too far. I fell into addiction, relentlessly chasing that feeling of belonging, into more alcohol, and pot, and harder drugs; into illegal after-parties in dangerous parts of town; into relationships with controlling men who told me what to do, a relief, since I never seemed to know. My old group of friends fell away and I was surrounded by drunks, addicts, and drug dealers. I started self-destructing with vigor. I had never been very good at being a good person, anyway. Might as well take it all the way down.

I caught myself, close to the bottom. I was tired and it wasn’t fun anymore. I quit smoking, drinking, and all the drugs, and dumped the numbers in my phone, cutting off everyone from that life. I started looking for a new person to be and another group of people, and was drawn into a group of local singer-songwriters. I threw myself into the effort of reflecting them, the things they said to each other, the things they did for one another. I was much better at it, by this time. I had built up a volume of correct responses for various social situations. I was a good singer, wrote music, and was funny on a microphone between songs. People told me I should move to New York or Nashville, that I needed to network so I could build a career.

But I couldn’t. I didn’t understand networking; it seemed like transparent self-aggrandizement. I also still had difficulties with groups of people. Without alcohol, parties exhausted me, and live music was painfully loud and overwhelming. Few artists held my interest; I grew fidgety and tired watching the others. And the thought of moving to another state, all by myself, was terrifying. I still relied heavily on my parents to take care of me; I didn’t know what I would do, so far away from them. I couldn’t imagine it, and so I never left.

The music career fizzled out and I started working with animals as a veterinary assistant. While people were completely opaque to me, animals were an open book, so I thought work around them would help me feel more normal. It went well for a time; I was good with dogs and cats. They calmed me, and so I calmed them.

Unfortunately, working with animals still means working with people. At one point, my supervisor pulled me outside. She said no-one wanted to work with me any more. It was my attitude, she added, thinking she was being helpful. But I was at a loss. What attitude? I didn’t think I was behaving any differently. I started to cry. She told me to take off the rest of my shift, go home, pull myself together, and come back for my next shift in a couple of days.

I resolved to be better, and I was, for a few weeks, carefully curating everything I said to remain “positive.” But I couldn’t keep it up. I would get tired, the facade would slip, and my normal behavior was off-putting. I left for another animal clinic.

And eight months later, another after that. One, I almost made it a year. The next, I didn’t last the summer. Something wasn’t working. Something about me was still wrong.

I buckled down. I simply had to get better at this people thing. I thought I was just lazy – other people managed to be naturally sensitive to others, so why couldn’t I? I just needed to apply myself. I started studying human behavior closely and I delved into the acting like never before, some on stage in community theater, but even more so in real life, with still another new group of friends. I came to realize that people lied to each other, all the time. They pretended to be interested in other people, to be happy for them, to agree with them, even when they didn’t. They expressed sympathy for things they did not necessarily care about. They made a point of making other people around them feel good about themselves even if it necessitated a blatant disregard for reality.

I didn’t understand it, but I could imitate it. I did want other people to feel good about themselves; I didn’t want them to not want to be around me. I became much, much better. But at a cost; it was exhausting. I couldn’t keep it up for very long; not enough for a forty hour work week, or, going back for a second bachelor’s degree, a full load of courses. But I found a job while I was at school, caring for animals in the animal research wing, where I saw almost no people at all. It is the only job I ever kept for more than a year. Just me and a few thousand mice. It was perfect. I loved it.

My professors loved me; I was bright, articulate, and insightful. My classmates were friendly with me and seemed to enjoy my company despite the near twenty-year age difference. Things were working, finally, for the first time in my life. It took me five years, but I graduated with honors.

Then I started a graduate program. The social aspect was not a problem, mostly because graduate students are too busy to socialize. But I foundered under the deluge of course work and bench demands. The autonomy immobilized me. I couldn’t put an experiment together from start to finish, never mind a slate of them to test a theory. I tried to get my student mentor to tell me what to do, and he finally said, more gently than he probably wanted to, that this was graduate school and I needed to figure these things out for myself.

My classes were worse. I couldn’t understand what was being asked of me, couldn’t assimilate all of the information, couldn’t prioritize it, and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to learn. As an undergraduate, I had simply learned everything, more or less. This strategy fell apart in graduate school; there was far, far too much. My first exam came back and I had the lowest grade in the class.

I went to see the professor, who said, “I didn’t understand your exam at all. You didn’t answer the questions I asked.”

My other courses were no better, and on the bench, I had only produced one piece of usable lab data over the entire semester. Three weeks before finals, I underwent a battery of tests, desperate for some explanation as to what was wrong with me.

One week later, I had a diagnosis. Autism Spectrum Disorder Level I, a high functioning cohort of autism that includes those with Asperger’s syndrome. And me.

My life up to that point had been an impenetrable entanglement of failures, frustrations, and misunderstandings. It now settled into place like blocks in a preschool puzzle. It’s not my fault.  I kept thinking.  It’s not my fault. I did the best I could.

I was relieved. And so, so angry. How had it been missed? How many therapists, doctors, educators, had simply diagnosed me with depression, told my parents I was just exceptionally intelligent, bored in my classes, that some children had difficulty fitting in, that I was otherwise normal? Normal? I was anything but normal.

I had been trying, wildly unsuccessfully, to force my autistic brain to operate under a neurotypical framework that it was immensely ill-suited to and no-one noticed. I had floundered, apparently invisibly, for four decades. All my problems had been laid at my own feet; I had been called insensitive, accused of not paying attention, not concentrating, not trying hard enough. None of those things had been true, but a lifetime of accusations had shredded my sense of well-being. I was now not just autistic, but horribly anxious and depressed, all the time, unable to reconcile my inner self to the outward impression I made.

No-one could ever tell I had autism. Not even my graduate advisor, who figured I just couldn’t hack it and pushed me aside. I dropped out after one semester. To this day, he does not know.

My acting, ironically, was now flawless; at some point, my disguise had become complete. No-one withdrew from me any more. The woman who had administered my psychological exam wrote that I was “warm and easy to establish a rapport with.” My few friends adored me. No-one had – has – any idea whatsoever that I am a faker, a sham, a walking performance piece entitled “Socially Habituated Human.” Or that maintaining such a performance requires an immense expense of mental energy that was, and still is, extremely taxing.

Outside of work – I am back working with animals, again – I have little energy left over for socialization with friends. Going to dinner with a group is impossible; there are too many people to try to interact with at once and I can’t focus on the right ones at the right times. I can’t stay at a party for more than an hour, and I am zombie by the time I leave. But I can’t turn the performance off to save energy any more; it’s now a permanent part of my demeanor.

I’ve wondered if it might be a protective mechanism, to shield me from the ostracism I suffered so often growing up. I’ve wondered if I’ve somehow pushed my brain into making new connections that it wasn’t physiologically designed to make. Whatever the reason, as soon as I am around another person, I switch on as though triggered by motion sensor. The smile. The greeting. The interest in his day, asking after her son, their weekend plans. I can’t not do it. Unless I am alone.

And so I have to live alone. I can’t do this at home, too. My only roommates are pets, cats, and they are perfect; quiet, accepting creatures, content to curl up next to me and snooze or groom themselves while I write or watch TV. (But not while I play guitar. Everyone is a critic, it seems, even animals.)

I know my limits. I have become that odd person I had so fervently wished not to be as a child. I joke with my co-workers about my absent-mindedness, my OCD, my need for repetitive activities. Everyone knows about me and my sunflower seeds. Wait – are you eating the shell, too?

I hoard bubblewrap. I pick through the empty boxes after shipments come in and stuff it in my tote bag so I can pop it in my car when I’m stuck in traffic. My friends know that when we go out to dinner, I have to sit with my back to the TV so I can pay attention to the conversation. My niece knows, too.

“Your aunt has a lot of little things she needs,” I said to her once.

The thirteen-year-old rolled her eyes and sighed. “I know.”

I resent it sometimes. For all of my gifts, the intelligence, the writing, the acting, the music, it makes me sad that I am consigned to walk around in the perpetual pose of a very good guesser. I never did learn to read people. Close friends and my family I have been able to study, the way I studied philosophy or chemistry. I have learned what their tones of voice mean, and the indications that underlie subtle shifts in their facial expressions and postures. But I can’t gather that much information on everyone I meet. I just have to rely on what I know intellectually is most likely to be appropriate in a given situation, toss it out while appearing as sincere as possible, and hope for the best.

And what frustrates me more than anything is that no-one has any idea that this is what’s going on. If I do make a mistake here or there, people are too polite to mention it.  At work, though, I am always playing catch-up.  If I am too distracted, focused on some task or another, and my voice will turn taciturn, making me sound unfeeling or rude. I still struggle with understanding my mistakes, made worse by my inability to use the information provided therein to avoid them in the future.  Workplace politics are completely beyond me.  Even though I have been open with them about my autism, they don’t see it, and don’t perceive what they can’t see. I am held to the same standards as a neurotypical person, with the same consequences if I slip up.

No sees the constant mental calculations involved in everything I say and do, the herculean effort I must exert to stay in the here and now, to respond to those around me in a socially acceptable way at all times. I can’t allow my mind to wander, ever, unless I am alone. And it usually doesn’t. I’ve been doing this for a long time; it is pretty well baked in.

I was talking to a close friend, who asked about whether I do it around my family, turn this puppet on that I manipulate through various social situations. And I don’t think I do, or at least, not to the same degree. But I also feel a lot of love and sympathy for my parents, who had this alien creature on their hands for so long and are just now coming to understand what she wants and needs. Plus, Momma Ape still isn’t doing so great, physically. The least I can do is put a lid on it around her; she’s having a rough go already. Poppa Ape, probably more worried about her than he cares to admit, also doesn’t need to navigate excessive layers of my crazy right now.

I can be myself around TNC Ape (my sister), but I now have a thirteen-year-old niece whose only exposure to autism is probably the weird kid in her class who wears too many sweaters at once and doesn’t talk to anyone except to announce at various times that he is able to perform some task or another. She already knows her aunt TG Ape is weird; I do find myself acting around her.

So yes and no, and still, only comfortable alone. That’s pretty much it. Although, I can confidently say that I don’t perform for my pets. Or my patients.

It’s nice, being alone with the patients, just me and someone’s beloved dog or cat, in those brief moments when I’m waiting for another nurse to finish her task so we can take an x-ray or take out his sutures or some such. It’s the best part of my day. I sit next to him, hold him close, bury my face in his fur and tell him it’s going to be OK. And sometimes, I’ll feel him relax a little and lean against me while I rub his coat. For once, I am with another creature, just as myself, and we understand each other perfectly.

Then the other nurse comes in, the actress reappears, and we get on with the rest of the day.

Posted in Book Two, Setting 1 | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments


Art by Temari Ataje

As it turns out, what I thought was a real clunker from my HR meeting – the announcement that I was becoming too mentally exhausted by my job under its current parameters – did not fall on deaf ears after all. One of my supervisors told me that they were “working on” putting me back on the four days on/three days off schedule, as they had “almost convinced” one of the other employees to switch her days off. I would still be doing the same job on that different day, but only for a few hours in the evening, rather than all day; the rest of the day would be appointments, which is much less taxing for me. And I’d get that critical three-day weekend back to recuperate.

I’m ambivalent. I mean, I’m grateful, of course. But I feel bad for that other employee who is probably under some pretty intense pressure to make the change. It made me realize that all this effort to make my workplace into a kinder, gentler place is coming from the wrong end. If they want us to treat each other with respect, they need to set that example from above, not try to retrofit it from below. Because the events of the past few weeks have shown me – and to be fair, it’s not my immediate supervisors’ fault – that we are commodities, not people, to the corporate powers that be. They squeeze as much out of us as they can and dangle their three sick days and two weeks of vacation a year in front of us like we should be grateful.

Oh, by the way, that’s three 8 hour sick days, and for those who’ve been watching at home, we all work 10-hour days. So actually, we get 24 sick hours, which is not quite two and a half days. Per year. Which is OK with me, I probably wouldn’t use much more than that, under ideal circumstances (lulz). But for employees with kids, those two-and-a-half days are usually gone by March.

No wonder people have bad attitudes. No wonder they snipe and gossip and complain about things behind peoples’ backs. No wonder they treat all this “everyone has to be nice all the time” stuff like the pile of excrement I suspected it was all along. This place is only a few levels above sweatshop. We have to kill ourselves to get enough work for ten people done by only seven. And our department isn’t the only one pinched; it’s like that across the board, ICU, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Reception – and those are just the ones I can see because we’re on the same floor. Somehow, I doubt it is magically better on other floors.

And it doesn’t matter. Nothing’s ever going to change. We’re going to be treated like crap, squeezed coming and going until we burn out, and those who dare to quit are looked down upon as wusses who couldn’t take the heat. And now, to make matters worse, they want us to act like we like it? I’m not surprised my complaints about instruments fell on deaf ears earlier. Everyone has to do extra work, all the time, so me doing it is of no import to them whatsoever. It’s all part of being a “team player.”

What a subtle, insidious form of dominance that term is. If you complain about anything – anything at all – you are accused of not being a team player and it shuts down the conversation. And everyone is not only supposed to be one, but also supposed to want to be one. Don’t want to change the parameters of your job? Not a team player. Don’t want to change your days off? Not a team player. Don’t want to stay an extra hour because you had the audacity to make plans after work? Etc. Because the “team” is your co-workers and you don’t want to hurt them, right?

I have discovered little ways that people do get back, though – some of the nurses call in sick – a lot. I know because I almost never do and am usually on the business end of the result, which, in a word, sucks. So instead of complaining about being overworked, they just manage their own schedule, more or less. They also plunk their doctor’s appointments in the middle of a work day instead of on a day off, leave, and rarely come back. Now that I think about it, it’s not a bad idea. Because otherwise, where do you draw the line? When is it OK to say “I’m sorry, you’re asking too much, I can’t do this,” and get sympathy instead of a guilt trip? As far as I can tell, sometime around never.

And about that person they’re trying to convince to switch days? I bet they’re leaning on her pretty hard. I’m glad I’m not that person. I mean, I appreciate that they’re willing to do this for me as it’s actually the first glimmer of evidence that they appreciate the lengths I’ve gone to to support the department (the team [sic]). But a part of me feels bad for that other employee, getting crunched up in the wheels of an unfeeling system in order to keep those wheels turning. I’ve been under those wheels and it’s not a nice place to be.

But she has to say yes. Otherwise, she’s not a team player.


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“Do you think maybe the reason people don’t respond to you is how you talk to them?”

I’m doing a really good job of controlling myself right now. I’m sitting with one of my supervisors (my department has two of them because it’s too much work for one person) and our human resources administrator, and trying to explain in unemotional, but not accusatory, terms why I lost my temper on the treatment floor a week and a half ago.

That I was frustrated. That my extremely valid concerns about the fact that the way instruments were being packaged and sterilized in the instrument person’s absence was so subpar that it was interfering with my ability to perform my own job, and that despite the fact that I was one of the only people trained in it, I was not permitted to do it and had to spend hours fixing the mistakes of untrained people at the expense of doing my own job. That I had expressed these concerns continuously and been ignored.

“Listen, I can’t hear how I sound,” I answered. “I do my best to mimic someone who is honestly trying to be helpful rather than hector-y, but as to whether or not I’ve succeeded, I simply can’t tell. This is one of the features of my Asperger’s. It’s something I can’t control.”

The administrator stepped in, mindful as ever of the company’s adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act. “What can we do to help you?”

You can tell people to stop being so goddamned sensitive and suck it up.

“I would actually really appreciate a little more tolerance. Not everything is a personal attack, you know? I’ve had to be trained by people here who don’t care about their own tone of voice and I just let it go. I thought that’s how things were.”

My supervisor picked up the thread, “Well, that’s not how things are here. If someone says something to you and you feel like it’s insensitive, you need to tell us.”

I am completely incredulous. “Really? Every little thing?”

She replied in the affirmative.

“Um,” I took a moment to figure out how to express my skepticism without being insulting. It always takes a moment. I’ve learned that if I don’t take that moment, people don’t think autism, they think asshole.

“That’s not been my experience,” I decided. “I guess maybe this isn’t the norm? But the places I’ve worked have all had more of a ‘suck it up’ mentality.” As in, grow the f*** up, it’s not always about you, something that has been expressed to me many times, by many people, throughout my adult life.

My supervisor continued, “If someone is speaking to you in a manner that is insulting or hurtful, you need to say something about it to me or [the other supervisor].”

There was no disguising the disbelief in my voice; even I could hear it. “Seriously?”

My mind kept going back to being in surgeries with doctors losing their tempers and throwing instruments around. Or the fact that one of my co-workers has no bones about ripping someone down to size, has done it several times since I started working there, and has never been sentenced to any sort of probationary days off. Meanwhile, I threw a stethoscope – into a corner, away from my co-workers – in a meltdown once and got a disciplinary write-up that went in my permanent record.

So, to say I’m withholding judgment on this fact would be, um, kind of an understatement, in the classical neurotypical way of being vague and ambiguous that continues to catch me off guard.

I hadn’t meant to bring up my recent exhaustion, but it seemed like a good opportunity, so even though it was off-topic – a BIG no-no for neurotypicals, I felt I had to at least plant a flag that might be recognized later.

“So, “ I said reluctantly, “I wasn’t going to bring this up, but the new job and hours I’m doing have left me completely drained. I was going to give it 12 weeks – it’s been 10 – but I just haven’t adjusted. I don’t have any energy at all when I leave here. I haven’t been able to do anything other than work and sleep. So that mental exhaustion may have contributed to me not being able to control my temper as well as I might otherwise.”

Silence. Dumbfounded stares. Clearly, I had just wandered into another critical error.

But it was the truth. When I was hired, I worked Tuesday – Friday, 10 hour shifts, with a three-day weekend. I did appointments two days and was a surgical assistant two days. It was a nice balance, two days exposure to the animals in the exam rooms and two days in a receptive environment to my OCD in the operating rooms. It was perfect.

Then one surgeon retired and the others changed their schedules. All of a sudden, there was no need for me to do appointments on Wednesdays. Worse, if I were to work Mondays, it would have to be something that fell under the deceptive title of “patient care,” which was surgical admissions, hourly in-house patient treatments, radiographs and blood work for the appointments that needed them, invoicing, and discharges. It necessitated a level of multi-tasking and executive function that I, frankly, do not and will not ever possess. When first offered to me, I balked, terrified.

However, I was later informed that my bosses had been dismayed (let’s not say non-plussed, even though I’m pretty sure that would be more accurate) by my lack of interest in “helping the team.” So I went back a few weeks later and offered to train for it, try it out, see how I did.

And, as should have been expected, I am terrible at it. I just keep forgetting things. I’ve been doing it for over two months and my skill level has barely exceeded that of trainee. Plus, by about the 8-hour mark, I’m completely mentally tapped. I feel like my brain has gone through a wood chipper. I’m a zombie, barely able to complete even the simplest of tasks.

Worse, I’ve lost my three-day weekend. I’m on for two days, off for one in the middle of the week, and back on for another two. My sleep schedule is in tatters. Even though I’m getting 9 hours of sleep a night, I now have to wake up at different times on different days and I’m a mess. I am slipping into dangerous mental fatigue territory, and pretty soon, I may start having to take days off. Something has to change.

And I am wandering into the minefield of self-justified anger. This isn’t the job I applied for, isn’t the job I was hired for, and not only do I suck at it, but even my underwhelming level of competency leaves me with an overwhelming loss of mental energy. I used to look forward to going to work. Now I don’t want to get out of bed. My friends insist that I need to say something about it. I’m afraid of offering ultimatums.

I don’t know what to do. I desperately wish I weren’t autistic and could just slide into the new position with the same ease that anyone else of my apparent intelligence could. And my unfairness button, always on a bit of a hair trigger, got activated, too.  None of the other assistants had to change their positions, or schedules, or days. They all got to keep their three-day weekends.

Today is my day off. I don’t want to work tomorrow. I need the sleep.

Actually, what I need, more than anything, is for someone else there to understand what it’s like inside my head. All of the effort I have to expend to perform at even this mediocre level. How hard this is on me, how demoralizing, to feel like this, to try as hard as I can and still come up short, putting in all of the effort I can and still failing in all the ways that matter, failing to control my emotions, failing to get better at this job, failing to  see where the boundaries are to keep from crossing them, failing to bear up under the mental stress of feeling like a failure all the time.

Inside, I can feel the cracks starting to form. I don’t know where my breakpoint is, exactly (thank you, autism, for my substandard interoception), but I know I’m getting close. And my friends are right; I need to say something to someone before I have a classic, full-blown meltdown at work because I can’t find a sharpie or something.

But what do I say? And who do I say it to? And what happens then?

Posted in Book Two, Setting 1 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

where god is

I have suddenly realized that somehow, somewhere, over the last however so many months, I have lost my faith. I used to center it in the altruism of humankind, the ability of my fellow creatures to reach outside themselves and do something for which there is no reward, other than the inner satisfaction that comes from being useful, being helpful, being needed. But I am now left feeling unfulfilled by that alone, that which is, for all intents and purposes, a mere mental construction, a sidestep taken to avoid confronting the persistent doubt that anything greater actually exists.

I have tried to find that something greater, grasping at the gods of different religions, trying to take hold of them, and yet unable to assimilate the gildings of humanity that entrap their ephemery – this god, this belief, this way. It makes no sense to me, my autistic brain insisting on the purity of a definition: that if it is god, then it must need none of those things. Humans need those things; gods don’t.

And how to ascribe to some unknowable force that which science readily explains? What’s learned cannot be unlearned. When understanding is best reached through critical exploration, double-blinded study, tissue- and cellular-level examination of life, sub-atomic dissection of matter, how to imagine anything beyond those extraordinary boundaries, those laws, so painstakingly acquired? I do not see god in churches, chapels, temples, nor under microscopes or in equations or in heavenly [sic] bodies, all of which are entirely describable within the parameters outlined above. There is a scientific underpinning for virtually everything. There is too little of what there isn’t to justify the existence of some all-powerful force with its hands on the levers. God didn’t take my shoulder pain away. A surgeon did that. God didn’t cure my insomnia. Medications alleviated it. (And imperfectly, I might add, on both counts.) God didn’t almost take Momma Ape from us last summer. Medical, scientific, human mistakes did that.

I can explain almost everything around me with science. What little I cannot, I am able to attribute to a depth of scientific knowledge as yet unplumbed. Where is there room for a god in that?

And yet I ache, inside. I am terrified of being spiritually alone. It crushes me to think that once the body I inhabit disappears, I, all of my thoughts, all of my personality traits, the way I smile, the way I write, the way I move (all more or less within the scope of modern genetics, of course), will disappear with me, just vanish, as though they never were. For what are they, anyway? Are they truly nothing, little bits of information, meaningless when taken apart, their very coherence the product of a mind biologically predisposed to assume the presence of a higher power with absolutely zero hard evidence as to its existence?

Was there more god in ancient times? Or simply less science? If we cannot explain it, it must be god, yes? Originally, some cultures assumed god was female, since females were the producers of life, back when males were not thought to be an essential component. Because they just didn’t know. People thought gods changed the phases of the moon, brought sun and storms, health and disease, made crops flower, animals come and go, seasons cycle past, all because they had no other explanation. And at every step, the more we learned, the narrower the scope became within which a higher power could work.

Certain humans and cultures fought to keep their god as science marched forward, fought to preserve a small corner of existence for a great unknown, claimed knowledge of an unknowable afterlife, clamoring for a piece of the mystical outside the reach of human influence. Now, even though we have yet to definitively understand how life as we know it began, scientists are so close that a guiding hand, or even a bare nudge, may soon become gratuitous to the explanation. And what then? What space will remain for god to inhabit? Coincidence? To think of a god reduced to scheming via luck, seems no god at all, just natural randomness that we choose to see patterns in, pattern-seeking creatures that we are. Creator? Not exactly.

But in complaining of this to a close friend a few night s ago, he responded, “Well, how do you expect God to act? By sweeping down from above?”

Is it possible that I have missed something? Is it possible that god is in everything, and that our understanding of it and the world is parceled out to us as such because it is the only way our minds can envelop it? Not because there isn’t more out there, but because the limits of our mental capacity bar us from comprehending it? That we cling to science because we need a world with rules, because a world governed by spirituality alone doesn’t make sense? That whatever god-thing there is is careful not to reveal itself, to act only in ways we can explain away, to hide in plain sight, to be everywhere and nowhere at once, for our benefit? For what would happen if we did suddenly discover that all of these laws of physics and chemistry and biology could be overturned at the whim of some all-powerful consciousness? What anarchy might descend if the rules no longer held, if god suddenly was everywhere?

There are certain, inexplicable outcomes that scientists refer to as “jealous phenomena”. These are happenings, turns of events, strange abilities that wither under the light of scientific inquiry, and yet seem to exist nonetheless; a cat that can tell when people are about to die; a child who knows when a beloved uncle has passed hundreds of miles away because he visits her in her bedroom doorway, a woman who can hear animals’ thoughts. In the same way that observing certain subatomic particles freezes them, changes them, as soon as we try to get a hold of otherwise inexplicable happenings, they vanish. Is this itself god, hiding from us, knowing that we simply cannot absorb the unadulterated entropy of a frameless existence, outside the time-linear, three-dimensional, physical world we comfortably inhabit?

Perhaps science, luck, coincidence, is god’s way of protecting us from the full havoc of its being. Perhaps it works through our physical laws not because it needs to, but because we need it to.

And it has been there all this time and I just didn’t see it?

More important, can I see it now?

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