Notes for an Inquiry Re: Asperger’s/ Autism And Empathy in a Temporal Framework

By Lynn Whitlark & James Whitlark, Ph.D.

This is, as of 8/15/19, a work in progress, preparing an inquiry into the relationship and influence of time to the emotional experience of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and especially those viewed as “high functioning”, or with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Painting by Tyrus Wong, for Walt Disney’s film, Bambi.

[Square brackets indicate writer’s note for possible edits.]

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Autism and the Autism Spectrum describes a whole spectrum (though not the whole spectrum) of notneurotypical functions/ presentations/ conditions. Whether spectrum, sphere, continuum, or Venn diagram — it describes a wide and diverse group of behaviors, physical symptoms, characteristics, traits, and patterns.

On the autism spectrum, you find

  • people who are non-verbal as well as those who speak often (and occasionally);
  • those with oppressive social anxiety, as well as those who rattle off non-stop questions for anyone they encounter;
  • those who make eye contact with everyone they meet; as well as those who do not, and may appear rude, or socially isolated within their own personal space;
  • those who melt down when overwhelmed by the world around them, as well as those who retreat into near catatonic silent isolation, or maybe just curl up with a stuffed bear for the peacefulness of a nap;
  • those who are hyper-sensitive to loud or high pitched sounds, bright or flashing lights, touching others, strong flavors and smells, crowds, and/or talking to strangers.

I could go on, but you have heard and seen lists like these before.

It’s a big tent.

Asperger’s Syndrome is the common name for one small portion of the spectrum, unfortunately named for one of the Third Reich’s dystopian mad scientist doctors who compulsively experimented on human subjects, and so the designation went un-used for decades because of its repugnant associations. It gained use beginning in the 1990s because of the utility of separating what had been called “high functioning autism” from the stereotype of children screaming and rocking with their hands over their ears like Dustin Hoffman playing Rainman.

Additionally, Asperger’s is not another name for the group sloppily referred to as “autistic savants” — a savant is a very particular manifestation in humans, and can apply to anyone with a wildly exceptional ability in almost any arena (though usually reserved for exceptional abilities in math, music, art, or puzzles and logic — even particular fields of knowledge like history, geography, or languages.) While there are “autistic savants”, not all those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis are savants; and not all savants are autistic.

Asperger’s refers to a narrow section of the autism spectrum/continuum, and includes both some of the characteristics that show up in other autistics, combned with some or all of the following, as well as some specific neurological manifestations:

  • potentially high intellectual capacity,
  • the ability to both create and identify complex patterns,
  • hyper-focus on narrow subjects for extended periods of time, and
  • an unconventionally functioning memory, such as an eidetic memory (which can manifest as eidetic visual memory — sometimes called a “photographic memory”, auditory memory — sometimes called a “phonographic memory”, or the extremely rare time-space synesthesia memory (hyper-thymesia) which is so uncommon that it went unrecognized as a phenomenon of memory until the last 25 years. And there are probably other types that have not yet been identified….)
  • Asperger’s individuals usually have highly developed communication skills, but may also be completely or partially nonverbal; be unable to understand figurative language, some kinds of humor, sarcasm, or other non-literal communication; or be incapable of carrying on a conversation with more than one person at a time.
  • They may mix well into groups of people with similar interests, or experience social anxiety or panic in any group of more than few.

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I said all that, to say this:

I was listening to a woman talking about her grandchild who was diagnosed Aspie, and she was saying she’d bought a dog, because the physician involved told her that people with Asperger’s aren’t good at empathy (!) and she hoped the dog would be a good example, or teach the child to “how to love.”

No no no no no.

This idea that people “on the spectrum” do not feel emotions, or empathize with the emotions of others was the assumption for many decades.

But look at the first couple of paragraphs I wrote and the basic description of what autism in general can be:

–Hyper-sensitive to bright or flashing lights… the autistic’s response is to avoid places where those might come into play, like night driving, laser light shows, fireworks,displays, or certain movies.

Dark & quiet rooms are your friend.

–Hyper-sensitive to loud and hi-pitched sounds… so avoid rock concerts, opera, and marching bands. The problem isn’t the music — it’s volume and pitch.

–Hyper-sensitive to crowds and a crush of people wanting to hug, touch, get physically close, push you aside, slap you on the back, and shake hands. So avoid shopping malls, crowded sidewalks, huge sporting events, Jam-packed amusement parks, casinos, family reunions, church/temple, and again, rock concerts. Or school halls in the crush between classes. Grocery markets in the hours before dinner. Protest marches.

–Hyper-sensitive to strong smells and tastes. So, no walking through department store perfume gauntlets. Or standing next to trolling teenagers dipped in cheap cologne and pizza sauce.

And the words that are important here? Hypersensitive. To sights. Sounds. Smells. Tastes. External kinesthetics like touch, temperature, speed, physical pressure, texture etc.

So why is it that internal sensory kinesthics (feelings, emotions, memory, and thoughts/self-talk) have been separated from the external sensory information? Because most doctors and researchers didn’t even consider these might be the same process going on inside someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Input is input. And overload can happen on ANY sensory channel.

Because early research into autism started with the presupposition that autism is a mental illness, a brain disorder, or a neurological error, that was the default explanation of why an autistic /Asperger’s person was covering their ears/eyes and screaming while rocking. Their brains weren’t working right. Autism was seen as a mental illness — a particular kind of mental brokenness. Those with autism couldn’t feel like “normal” people.

The notion that Aspies are actually feeling more than their neurotypical cousins — and therefore shutting off all that overload of feeling as a means of self-protection (in the same way they turn off the strobe light and thumping bass rhythm) — never seems to have dawned on them.

Until lately, that is. There are very recent exceptions, including the work of researchers Henry & Camila Markram in Switzerland, whose paper on “The Intense World Theory” attempts to address some of the same questions I’ve been asking…. ( https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2010.00224/full )

But if more researchers haven’t considered the possibility that people on the spectrum are experiencing extreme empathy — it’s because they aren’t listening to adults with Asperger’s/autism:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/19/autism-diagnosis-late-in-life-asperger-syndrome-john-harris?CMP=share_btn_link

[Include at least 3-5 other article links with similar examples]

[Possibly also connects to publication re autism in the moral philosophy work of Dr. Indrajeet Patil (mailto:patilindrajeet.science@gmail.com ) at Harvard.]

As someone with Asperger’s, I avoid as many of these overload experiences as I can — but when staring down the barrel of a glad-handing car salesperson, or a smothering hugger, I just shut down all or as much input as possible. I choose to not visit popular cafes during peak mealtime. I shop at odd hours, or online, or not at all. I haven’t been in a mall in over a decade.

When overload situations come up unexpectedly, I retreat inside. I close myself off in a quiet, safe place and try to find a next action or next move that will provide escape or releaf.

For years, my office was 6’x10′. Tight. Quiet. A window where I could close the shades. A fan and a heater so I could tinker with the temperature. A way to listen to music through headphones to block out other sounds. And no space for other people. Both my office at work and my home office were set up as places where I could escape.

Now, I have a 5’x10′ bathroom — a tiny spa retreat with a small shaded window, a fan, heater, books, sketchbook & pencils, aromatherapy oils, candles, and music. It is a noticeable step up from the office-as-escape.

I keep these constructed safe spaces NOT because I don’t feel or empathize– but just the opposite. I am often overwhelmed by everyone else’s feelings of fear, helplessness, hopelessness, hopefulness, pushy helpfulness, anger, infatuation, despair, grief, guilt, hatred, impatience, hyper-critical self-talk, panic, superiority, greed, insecurity, nosey busybodyness, isolation, jealousy, pride and self-satisfaction, loneliness, joy, sadness, lust, hunger, giddiness….

In a crowd of people, all the emotions and internal kinesthetics of the crowd come rushing at me as though I had landed inside a giant stereo speaker, blasting unrelenting and unexplainable emotions through every cell in my body.

Years ago, before I knew anything about autism or Asperger’s, I was trying to explain how I believed my strange memory, sensitivities, and other odd parts of my mind function. I describe it via metaphor in this way:

When a movie is photographed on reels of film, the camera records images at a rate of 26 frames-per-second — and the film is shown by tracking the finished film through the projector at the same speed — 26fps. The phenomenon this creates is called Persistence of Vision. It is a trick of the eye/mind that makes a series of still photograph frames appear to move on the screen. — basically an optical illusion.

If you film a horse running for 10 seconds — shooting at 26fps and played back at 26fps — what you see on the projection screen is a 10-second movie of a horse running at the same speed he ran when the film was recorded.

If, however, you shoot for the same 10 seconds, but the camera shoots the film twice as fast, at 52fps, you end up using twice the amount of film because the shutter and spool are pushing twice as many frames through the camera as before. If you playback twice as much of the same 10 seconds of action, and play it back at 26fps — the horse will appear to run in slow motion. At half its actual speed.

Watching a horse run at full speed for 10 seconds won’t give you much of a chance to see how the horse runs. How many feet are off (or on) the ground at a given time? How different does a gallop looks from a trot? Is the horse dropping steps, or leaning into the inside of a turn? With twice the number of frames shot per second, you actually have twice the information, twice the viewing time, and twice the opportunity to experience that information, in the same way that looking at a single frame image for twice as long allows you to learn twice as much about what is going on in the image. You notice more — and therefore remember more. (And have twice as much opportunity to be overwhelmed by all that data.)

At its heart, this illustration hinges on and depends upon TIME. It’s a temporal metaphor. It depends on the math of frames-per-second of detail being recorded; and seconds-per-frame of data being viewed. Time is a critical component of memory — and, I believe, of Asperger’s.

The same amount of data is in the frame — but the Aspie is recording twice as many frames per second, and therefore has more temporal memory, more physical responses, more observations about the content and it’s meaning, and more overwhelm.

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But there’s more.

And here is where we slip into purely “what if” ….

What if autism — the whole autism spectrum — is all describing a temporal phenomenon? A temporal disease?

Dis-Ease. A lack of ease. Not comfortable. Not simple or easy. Not a dis-ability. Not a sickness. And perhaps most importantly, not always an obvious dis-advantage.

I am not the only Asperger’s/autistic adult who says very clearly they would never willingly give up their autism. There are tremendous advantages to experiencing the world as I do. There are evolutionary advantages. My memory, the hyper speed of my attention, my ability to find and deal with patterns and complexity, and the relationships between complex systems are all pieces of what gives me pleasure, and what I contribute to the planet. Those are the things I bring to the table. I don’ need a cure or a therapy — I just need to figure out this puzzle!

Let’s consider the blind autistic young man named Kodi Lee.. Not Asperger’s, but a legitimate autistic savant, who plays piano like Carol King, and sings like Boz Skaggs. [Performance on America’s Got Talent, August 2019; https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8c0yFBfqoE ] He has to be walked onto a stage. He can’t see his audience. He doesn’t wear shades to cover his wayward blind eyes. His posture, facial expressions, tics and hesitations are clearly not neuro-typical. But when he sits down at his piano and places his hands on the keys — when he finds his microphone — he takes a few soft breaths… he transforms. Physically. Vocally. And just as obviously, he transforms neurologically. When he begins to sing, his brain is processing differently. He is singing about feelings and ideas in a way that connects him to a theater full of people he would never have connection with in any other way. He feels what he is singing — and so does everyone listening to him.

Music, story, theater, and dance — like film, are the creative arts that depend on time for their existence. We have to listen, play and sing in beat and over time for music to exist at all. Music, like a play performance, can become an artifact if it is recorded or filmed, but even that artifact is static in the same way a sculpture is. Or a painting. An architectural artifact. A recorded artifact still has to be experienced in real time to be experienced at all. Otherwise, it might as well be a record collection or a statue, locked in a dark, dusty attic; or a great work of literature with its pages glued together.

Once those artifacts exist, they don’t have to be made again and again. But music without technology only exists in real time. As with theater. As story. As dance.

And they exist in their OWN time.

So when the autistic singer begins to sing, he surrenders to the time inherent within the music. He surrenders the not-neuro-typical 52fps temporal patterns of his autism to the music’s time signature and pace. In other words, he may be surrendering his disabling temporal dis-ease to the ease of allowing the music to function as a regulating metronome.

And it becomes easy for him (and his audience) to feel, and to make an essential emotional connection.

Until the last 40 years, music was a part of education. Everyone sang. Huge swaths of the population played instruments — because the TV and the computer weren’t on constantly to entertain us. We entertained ourselves from an early age with rhyming songs and familiar folk music. Everyone made music as families, friends, churches, communities, clubs…. Comedian Rowan Atkinson plays the piano. Einstein had his violin. Mozart composed mathematics. Stephen Hawking had a playlist (https://www.wqxr.org/story/stephen-hawkings-essential-8-remembering-physicist-through-his-favorite-music/ ) Bill Murray is a pianist. Think about how many Asperger’s-like fictional characters resort to a temporal art, e.g., Sherlock Holmes with his violin, House with his piano, or Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who played an electric guitar.

But now — in the quest to equip children for the demands of a STEM-emphasis education, (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) many of the arts programs that were ubiquitous to formal education have vanished and left us with a generation of autistic children who have less contact with the temporal arts, and therefore fewer contact points with the regulating metronome they carry. Without that aspect of life and culture, it becomes hit-and-miss whether an autistic child will find a regulator at all.

The current most common metronome available, and now encouraged by therapists and doctors is ironically called stimming (stim , as in stimulation) and includes most any small, repetitive, rhythmic movement — from rocking and tapping/drumming, to spinning an object or snapping a rubber band. The stimming activity is calming, both because it is hypnotic — thus producing an altered state; and, because the repetitive action produces an intentional rhythm — it becomes the missing metronome.

While “stimming” is a fairly new idea, those with autism have been doing these small, private movements all along. Turning playing cards one-by-one playing solitaire, was my way of measuring out time when I was a child — for hours at a time, and electronic solitaire fills that function for me even now. I turn cards in rhythm, shuffle in rhythm, and call the cards out loud in rhythm. (A manual typewriter also works for me….) I find that watering, feeding, and grooming small houseplants like African Violets accomplishes the same thing.

Why then, talk about music, dance, and story? Why bring up the temporal arts at all?

Because the music makes a connection with others. Dance allows for an emotional connection — and physical contact, as well. Story opens up the book of our lives and establishes real relationship. Stimming is an effective solitary activity, to slow and calm the mind; but the metronome created by music takes the hermit out of their cave and into the greater world.

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As to Einstein, he defined time as the non-static dimension of reality that keeps everything from happening at once. It is a Rube Goldberg overlay that sequences everything. It is the overlay that creates narrative structure so that every human who exists in time and experiences time can make the most human of all creations– the story. We all tell stories. We all place events in sequence so we can tell others what happened to us — perhaps the principle way we make human connections. Human emotional connections.

Mankind’s first and most important invention was not fire or the wheel — it was the idea and formation of TIME. And like its perplexing sister, gravity, time is a property of matter/energy.

What if… we didn’t understand what it was we made when we created Time? What if we got it wrong? Or got part of it wrong? Or left something important out of the basic construction? Or applied too many restrictions? A few incorrect rules? Or not enough variables? What if we didn’t realize that time could be understood or applied differently for different purposes?

What if…. as matter has more than one form (solid, liquid, gas, plasma…), what if energy has more than one form, and time is one one form of energy?

[That one is a tangle not unlike the tangle of belief and behaviors. If so, then we may be looking at chickens and eggs and asking for academic theory.]

We all know that time “feels” different in different circumstances. Time flies. Time slows to a crawl. We lose time. We re-live a time when _____ happened.

What if…. the ability to intentionally speed up or slow down the experience of, or perception of time can be learned, fine tuned, manipulated by the Asperger’s individual? Doesn’t that sound like an evolutionary advantage? What if Asperger’s, with all its co-morbities and stressers is part of an evolutionary shift, rather than a kind of broken-ness or illness?

Almost everything we think of as an evolutionary step forward has come with costs.  The development of language meant we could share ideas, events, feelings, experiences… but it also meant we could be misunderstood or manipulative.   Similarly, when we adapted to make tools for ourselves, the world became something we could make use of, and transform.  Tools transform into swords, and the phrase, “a blessing and a curse” comes into existence.

 

.

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Possible temporal diseases: (or dis-eases with a strong temporal dimension)

Autism, Asperger’s

ADHD, ADD

Manic/Depression

Depression

Catatonic state

Alzheimer’s

Stutter/Stammer

Tourette’s Syndrome

Parkinson’s [ parkinsonsnewstoday.com “certain neurons may explain why Parkinsons patients can’t properly perceive time” ]

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[Factionalized characters exhibiting autism/Asperger’s

Rainman

Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory

Professor Jasper Teerlinck, Professor T

Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock

Dr. Gregory House, House

Sesame Street nonverbal autistic character, Julia

Jerry Espenson, Boston Legal

Temperance Brennan, Bones]

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Current public figures who identify as ASD, or Asperger’s

Anthony Hopkins

Dan Acroyd

Darryl Hannah

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Questions

Vocabulary: Temporal Medicine, temporal arts, temporal regulator

Thinking Out Loud About a Dentist…. an Asperger’s Problem

I’m at a complete loss here about what to do.

yes, I am old. Older than I used to be. Probably older than most everybody I talk to. Nearly 65.

Yes, I’m a big girl. Lol. Okay. I’m fat. And not particularly pretty — but not scary. I clean up okay. I have controlled hypertension, and controlled Type 2 Diabetes — controlled so well with diet and lifestyle that I no longer test as diabetic at all.

I’m smart. Educated. Asthmatic. Autistic (Asperger’s) (Think: Sheldon Cooper.) Socially awkward/averse. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hyper mobile joints.) Chronic migraines. Dyslexia. All these things turn out to be co-morbid with the Asperger’s for a lot of people. Especially as we get older. Since they only started diagnosing Asperger’s in the last couple of decades, there isn’t much data on older people. We were always around, but we’re generally either warehouse-institutionalized for life, hidden in attics, or just passed over as quirky, crazy, genius, or hermit.

But here in the 21st Century, people like me may have “passed” as the extreme (or possibly, marginal) edge of functional neuro-typical for our whole lives.

My parents never talked to me about any of this. They never took me to a neurologist, psychologist, or a good general medical practice. Which probably explains how I escaped institutionalization. They also never took me to a dentist.

I eventually found a dentist on my own when I was about 35. But I missed out on the practice most people get visiting a dentist and learning to do the cleanings, x-rays, fillings and other assorted procedures — I just don’t have those experiences — and so going to the dentist is wildly frightening.

I live in a small town, now, and as far as I know, there are only 2 dentist practices here — and only 1 offers the nitrous-oxide gas that keeps the anxiety and gag reflex at bay. He’s a young, competent dentist (and surfer) who practices here because it’s a short drive to competition level waves. Good for him and good for the community.

But it also means he has a lot of elasticity built into his practice so he can hit the waves when they appear. And he does. But that means he has a backup dentist who fills in. He’s much older. Probably on his way to-or-from retirement. I don’t know him. He doesn’t know me. He probably never read my chart. He certainly never talked to me.

So I went in about 2 years back with a bad toothache. It was keeping me up nights. Hurt to eat. Hurt to talk. I’d lost weight. Wasn’t sleeping. My blood pressure was high. My blood sugar was high (it rises dramatically when I’m in a lot of pain….)

He walked into the exam room and barely glanced at me. He just said, “No.” shook his head, and walked out. He left me there, in pain and totally ignored, but there was nobody else there for me to see.

So I left.

My doctor eventually prescribed me some antibiotics, which took care of the infection, but I couldn’t go back to the dentist for over a year because it was so upsetting.

When I finally did make an appointment, I specified that I needed to see the surfer, because he knew me and all my Autism-strange. He’d always been very kind, and things went smoothly. But they had an emergency, and at the last minute, they rescheduled me to another afternoon.

When I got there, surfer-dentist was not in.

I was there alone, and didn’t know what to do. I needed my teeth cleaned. I thought maybe I could get it done just with the hygienist. But of course my blood pressure was going through the ceiling because of the change and the stress, so she said she needed to check with the dentist.

This time, he didn’t even bother to come in the exam room. He just sent word down the hall that I needed to get my blood pressure under control before I came back.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I told them… Jim told them… I needed to only work with the real dentist. The one who didn’t recoil or insult me, or ignore me, or dismiss me. But it evidently wasn’t a big deal for them.

It freaked me out.

I’m an autistic 64-year-old woman, and I freaked out. You know all those TV shows that show autistic kids melting down when they go into overload? Well, that was me. I grabbed my purse and my stuff and just left as fast as I could get out of the building so I could fall apart n the car. They were apologetic and all, but it was horrible. As bad as going to the dentist is for EVERYBODY, this was a whole new level of not-okay-ness.

I decided to try and find a different dentist, but while I was in the process of hunting for one, I had a real toothache again — thought I’d broken a tooth or something — so friends and husband helped me get to the point of just going in to surfer-dentist so I could figure out what was wrong with my tooth. Jim even went into the exam room with me.

The conclusion is that the toothache was connected to the same TMJ that also sometimes contributes to migraines. I clench my jar, grind my teeth, and occasionally my Ehler-Danlos hyper-mobile jaw just dislocates and everything in my head hurts until it goes back into place and the swelling goes down.

But the real conclusion is that I’m not welcome I n that dentist’s office any more. They barely talked to me. The nitrous oxide was turned up so high that I almost passed out. They talked over me. The dentist talked in code to the hygienist. Like a damn 6th grader.

I know. I have a lot of social anxiety. I have panicked moments where I can’t find my way back to level. But I was okay that day. I was prepared mentally and emotionally. Jim was there. I was fine.

But evidently it was too late. They’d already decided that I’m more trouble than I’m worth to their practice.

And so now I don’t have a dentist.

Or any idea what to do next.

I thought writing it down might give me an idea or an answer.

Maybe not.

Rocks and Hard Places: Post 6 on My New Diabetic Life

ROCK THE FIRST

How to explain this?  The problem is the point where the stone in my shoe — the “rock” of autism/Asperger’s Syndrome — meets the hard place — the unmalleable-ness and immoveable-ness of diabetes.

Having Asperger’s Syndrome is old news for me.  I was high functioning autistic long before anybody put a name to it for me.  I had compensated and over-compensated for it for decades before I could accurately explain what I was compensating for.  I managed a whole life — albeit awkwardly and with varying degrees of success — but well enough to raise a son alone, go to graduate school, work in some interesting, and in some cases, fascinating jobs….  I knew my limitations well enough to keep myself out of danger and prevent most catastrophic events that were up-and-coming at different times.

downtown-crowd

I don’t go to crowded places full of strangers unless there is absolutely no other choice.  I drive carefully in traffic.  I take time alone to keep myself on track.  I get most of the information I need from books and online — because that is always more successful for me than talking to people.  But — when that’s not an option, I can buck up and talk for as long as it takes.  I don’t much enjoy talking on the phone – but again– when necessary, I can.

grandcentral_gallery_image12However, when I do have to venture out into a crowd — to shop, to travel, to sight-see, to work, to go to places that only exist in crowds like holiday events or the theater — I do it in a kind of white-knuckle and near-cold-sweat kind of defensive mode.  I’m always on my guard.  Watching the crowd.  Looking out for unexpected changes.  Listening for people who may be nearby.  Feeling my way way through the press of people.

9706034676_33f34a16d3_bAbout the most panic-by-crowd I’ve ever felt was on my honeymoon when my husband and I went to Disneyworld.  Just walking through the park would have been almost more than I wanted — but rain showers almost every morning kept the park from filling to the brim.  We were there for the 4th of July, and at dusk, when they were to begin the fireworks show, Jim went to get me a soda.  Before he could get back and find me, the crowd almost tripled in size as people gathered near the castle to watch the show.  It was sardine tight — people up against me from every direction — and I was alone.2007111612

I’m getting a little panic-y just describing it.

At times like that, I’m almost a basket case — over-compensation or not.

But even under normal circumstances, like a mall or grocery store, I sometimes break out in a cold sweat or drift dangerously close to an asthma attack.  More times than I care to remember, I’ve had to leave a full basket of groceries and get out to my car where I could get myself together and calm down to drive home.

cloud98497326black-friday-shopping-crowd-line-meme-300x189article-2177757-142DA002000005DC-106_964x659crowd-at-standCrowds-1k-bigpicdmvbritomart_packed2concert_crowd-wallpaper-1920x1080-264512776183-standard1333051_origShoppers crowd the walkways on opening day of the Westfield Stratford City in east London111113_standoff_occupy_portlandcrowd_chaoscartoons movies crowd screenshots despicable me minions dreamworks 3d bluray 1920x1080 wallpaper_www.wallpaperhi.com_964744444

poster-crowd-roars-the-1932_01MPW-33289

lion+roar+a1

It is, as far as I can tell, part of the “fight or flight” response.images

And — as with any real experience of fight-or-flight — I go through all the physical changes.  Heightened awareness.  Adrenalin.  Respiratory changes.  My blood pressure and heart rate multiply and then multiply again.  I start to feel like an animal caught in a trap.  It turns into to survival-mode really fast, and all unnecessary systems shut down so that all my energy is funneled into surviving and

GETTING THE HELL OUT OF HERE.

March-30-2014-extra

And one of the systems that shuts down is — digestion.

busy-restaurantWhich means, if I start to shift into panic mode in a crowded restaurant full of people I don’t know — I can eat, but I can’t digest anything.

And anything I eat just sits in my stomach/digestive track until the danger has passed and some part of me sounds the “all clear.”  After that, all the internal systems start slowly switching back on — and it can take hours to hit “normal” again.

So — since part of the problem with diabetes is having too much sugar in your blood stream for the insulin present to account for and deal with — if my system shuts down mid-process and leaves all the sugar and starch (carbohydrates) ingested in a meal free-floating in my stomach and blood stream until the all-clear switch gets thrown then — then I’m in big trouble.

And this is, as my grandpa used to say, a fairly significant “hitch in my get-along.”

Parade-des-VolkesIt means that if I’m eating out in a café or restaurant and I’m overcome with fight-or-flight — I stop digesting, and run up my blood sugar.

If it were a real fight or a real flight situation — I would burn through all the adrenalin and eventually the sugar by running or fighting over a prolonged period of time.  If I were in the middle of a war zone, or running a marathon that wouldn’t be a bad thing.  But if I go to my car and sit to drive, or go to my house and turn on some white noise of TV or music to bring down my heightened state, then I’m stuck with all that in my system -just sitting there- until my body can process it.

A problem.

prepared-salads-takeout-containers-21748945And so far, my only response is to just not go to any restaurant situation that could turn on me.

Before blood sugar was such an issue, I could ride it out and be fine.

But I suspect that grace period has gone the way of the dodo.

SaladJim and I were visiting another coastal town yesterday, and rather than take the chance that the Friday crush of Boxed Lunchweekend tourists would trap me in such a situation, we called our favorite café and ordered our lunch “to go.”  We ate in the car — and it was delicious.  But it wasn’t exactly eating-out.  It was more like really excellent drive-thru.

And I guess I can live with that.  But it’s a strange hitch to have to deal with.

bento-box-and-salad

ROCK THE SECOND

It’s now been just over 4 weeks since I found out I was diabetic, and saw the nutritionist/counselor at the local hospital.  It’s been less than a week that I’ve had blood glucose testing supplies, thanks to the bureaucracy of the insurance/med-supply and health care systems.

Today was my first follow-up with my doctor and I went in with the news of my numbers  — in 4 weeks, I’ve gone from a fasting number of 310, to a morning fasting number today of 212.  But — as I’ve said — numbers in the 200s are still considered very serious and dangerous for the most common diabetes complications — liver, kidney and heart damage, irreversible vision loss, and a wide range of other complications.  So the first thing my doctor said was that she wanted to put me on some medications to bring my numbers down into the normal range as quickly as possible.

I told her that I’d like to take a little longer to see how much further I could lower the numbers with just diet and exercise — and she agreed it was useful to find out — and that I could do further blood tests in October to see.  But she also emphasized that it would be highly unlikely that I could lower my numbers enough to avoid medication.

Well.  I had thought 100 points in a month (30%  + overall reduction) was pretty good.

She also wants me to test fasting and 2 hrs after lunch each day and email my progress over the next 2 weeks.

GFI264-CalendarI can do that.

And I still want to see how much more of an effect I can have.2010-07-20_Black_windup_alarm_clock_face

2 hours after lunch today, my blood sugar was 196.   Just before dinner, after 2 x 25 minute walks today, I hit my best number yet — 184.

So I’m stuck between how long it will take to hit acceptable numbers by just eating on target and burning off the sugar on the treadmill — and how much danger my doctor thinks I’m in from the elevated blood glucose.

I should have known TIME was going to enter into this at some point.  :\

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Alcohol and Asperger’s

For the past 6 months, I’ve experimented with a variety of alcoholic beverages — wine, beer, liqueurs, spirits, bitters — even mead and cider.  I’ve always drunk just a little — when asked by a doctor, my standard answer has always (all my adult life) been, “yes, I do drink alcohol — but probably no more than 2 drinks in any given month.”  In the last 6 months, that has changed.  Now I drink an average of 2 drinks a week.  Which is still not a lot.

Why the change?  Because I like the taste of a lot of drinks that I’d never tried before.  Because I like the slight muscle relaxation that is a side effect of alcohol.  And, honestly, because I wanted to find out what the attraction is.  I wanted to know why it is that so many people drink — and why they drink so much that alcoholism is a problem.

My father was a “drinking man.”  I don’t know if he was alcoholic or not, but I know he often drank many ounces of spirits at a time.  I know he occasionally had holes in his memory due to drinking (I really don’t know how often because I didn’t know him as an adult.)  But he drank quite a bit, and I never liked him when he was drinking.  In fact, it was his drinking-self that I broke off relationship with, because his drinking-self was so unpleasant.  Sober, he was a pretty good guy.

That is, in large part, what made me curious.  The recent death of the great actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman has also made me question both alcohol and other mind/mood/brain-chemistry altering drugs.  What is it that these drugs do — and what makes the mix of good and bad physical/emotional effects worth the doing?

What I’ve learned in this experiment is this:

  1. I like to cook with beer because I like the flavor in things like sourdough bread, soup, chili, etc.; but so far, I haven’t found a beer I really enjoy by the glass.  The closest I get to a glass of beer that I like — is actually hard cider.  I also like mead by the glass — but I like my mead and cider over ice.
  2. I like the social side of drinking wine with friends;  I like cooking with wine (spaghetti sauce, many beef recipes etc.); but again, left on my own I’ll drink something else.
  3. There are several mixed drinks I really like.  My favorites tend to be savory or salty like the family of Bloody Mary type drinks, and the Salty Dog and Margarita and their kin.  I like the taste of several liqueurs.  I also like hot coffee and cocoa based drinks.  I don’t care for any spirits straight up — and almost everything else I drink, I want on ice so that it dilutes and can be stretched out over a couple of hours of slow sipping.

Most of what I’ve learned, however, has to do with side effects.

  1. As stated earlier — there is noticeable muscle relaxation associated with beer, wine, and spirits/cocktails.  The higher the proof/alcohol content — the more muscles relax.  If I drink after dinner, I get sleepy — which is good if I’m having trouble getting to sleep at night.
    –This is a really positive side effect if I’m under pressure or stress.  I can actually feel/see the muscles in my shoulders and back un-clinch as I drink.
  2. Regardless of what I drink, I find that my blood pressure goes up from an average of 120-125/70-75, to 140-145/85-90 when I have an alcoholic drink.  This rise in blood pressure lasts from 2-4 hours after I finish the drink.  Without exception.
  3. 1 average cocktail is enough to cause both slight dehydration (I drink between 1 and 3 extra 8oz glasses/cups of water, tea, coffee or juice because of thirst) AND a noticeable retention of fluids.  This sounds like a contradiction — but both effects happen.  My hands, feet, and eyes are visibly puffy/swollen the next morning.  And — I’m extra thirsty.
  4. Large variations in body-fluid levels (see #3 above) tend to make me more susceptible to migraine headaches for up to 24 hours after a drink containing alcohol.  This effect also happens if I just eat/drink too much salt or sugar (both associated with some of my favorite mixed drinks.)  This makes salty or sweet cocktails even more perilous.
  5. Drinking any alcohol causes “warmth.”  On a chilly evening — this is good.  In the middle of summer — not so much.  And combine this effect with hormonal hot flashes and — no, thanks.  The result is that I only have a cocktail when I have no indications of fluctuating hormones.

Taste and relaxation are the 2 strongest reasons for choosing a Bloody Mary over a glass of spicy tomato juice, or a Margarita over a glass of limeade.

But that doesn’t explain why anyone would drink more alcohol at one time — or more often.  It’s certainly not good enough for me to drink more than 1 drink in an afternoon/evening.

When talking about all this with my husband, I realize that one of the most important reasons why a lot of people drink hasn’t ever been a factor for me.  In fact — it never even occurred to me.

And it has to do with Asperger’s syndrome.

I’ve never been formally tested or diagnosed with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism.  When I was a child — autistic was a description of children curled into catatonic fetal-position vegetables, and warehoused in state hospitals.  Autism was treated with a battery of drugs, isolation, and institutionalization.  I escaped that fate, I suspect, because my parents were faced with precocious intelligence coupled with severe social and emotional dysfunction — and just didn’t know what to do with me — and were possibly too embarrassed to ask anyone else.

My experience has been that this is true of a very large number of people my age — who are just now figuring out the diagnosis that describes their experiences.

The presenting “symptom” — if you want to call it that — that matters to this discussion of alcohol (and, by extent, alcoholism) is the lack of societal “limits” that I have had for much of my life.  The character of Sheldon Cooper on the television comedy, “The Big Bang Theory,” has this quality.  He doesn’t understand what people mean when they aren’t being literal in their speech.  He doesn’t catch innuendo, sarcasm, or irony in conversation — or at least he doesn’t translate it.  He misses physical cues to meaning — especially when things like body language alter meaning.  On TV, this is played for comedy.  (Neither Jim Parson — the actor who plays Sheldon Cooper — nor the shows writers/creators officially label Sheldon with Asperger’s because of all the potential for backlash and other social problems; but it’s hard to deny the parallels.)  In real life, it isn’t as much fun.

In fact, it has been this disconnect from subtext and implication that has caused me the most trouble in my life — both because I don’t have any — and because I don’t recognize it in others.

Speaking and “thinking out loud” without any social limitations is my default setting.  Even now — I have to remind myself to just NOT TALK when in a group, because I tend to say more than most people want to or are willing to hear.  It’s not even that I “call ’em like I sees ’em.”  That would mean I was doing it on purpose.  But what really is true is that it’s the only way I know how to talk and think.  And therefore — it’s how I assume everybody else is talking and thinking.  And it takes tremendous conscious effort and focus to remember otherwise.   I always assume people are being honest with me.  And it takes a long time for me to recognize when someone has NOT been honest with me.

As an adult, I’ve put a lot of safeguards in place to keep bad things from happening to me because of this.  I’ve also found a lot of “work-arounds” for all the aspects and fallout of this glitch in my wiring.  While I’m neither as intelligent nor as funny as Sheldon Cooper (at least I hope I’m not as funny,) he is still a convenient way to explain myself compared to most other people.

And here’s how all this applies to the topic of alcohol:

Most people — perhaps all people without the Asperger’s syndrome glitch in wiring — have learned and self-imposed boundaries that they use to function in the workplace, in relationships, in school situations, and in social interactions of all kinds.  These self-drawn boundaries that keep them from saying what they are thinking all the time, and from trusting too freely can be seen as INHIBITIONS.  That is, all those things that inhibit Sheldon-Cooperish over-honesty, insulting honesty, thinking out-loud, un-monitored displays of physical or emotional nakedness, and other ungracious and socially unacceptable behavior.

Inhibitions are something most people can only shed under very specialized circumstances, or with alcohol.  Alcohol (evidently) is like a lubricant that loosens these tight constraints in the same way it loosens tight muscles.

But — since I don’t have inhibitors in the same way most people do — I don’t have this effect.

At least, I don’t have this effect with just one drink — which is all I’ve ever have in any given day.

Yet, I am guessing that this is exactly the reason so many people drink more and more often than would seem advantageous to me.  Keeping thoughts, feelings, desires inside — and never being able to just “let it all hang out,” must be a really uncomfortable way to live.  Almost as uncomfortable as having it always out on display.  It must be a very stressful way to live.

And alcohol removes the inhibitors.  The more alcohol — the more inhibitors disappear.2001-Reserve

And this, evidently, is why a lot of people drink.  In spite of the dehydration, the rise in blood  pressure and temperature, the potential for headaches and dehydration/bloating, and the medically observed potential for liver damage — being able to drink away inhibitors is evidently worth all the other side effects for a lot of people.  And while this is possibly the Asperger’s talking — this seems to fall into that category of things that probably isn’t really worth the price.

Luckily, it’s not a choice I have to make.

Adults with Asperger’s Syndrom / High Functioning Autism

When we first figured out that “Asperger’s Syndrom” (what used to be called High Functioning Autism) was the name for the set of behaviors, symptoms, and inconveniences that has been such a big part of my life — my reaction was a deep, long, sigh of relief that started under my feet, and shuddered through me like a reversal in direction of the flow of the Mississippi River.

All at once, I had an explanation for so many questions and strange-nesses in my life, that it seems as though my entire personal history was rewritten and adjusted and footnoted.  It took a couple of weeks for this adjusting to shake loose all the misconceptions and misunderstandings I’d had.  And another few months to really see the scope of how much is changed just by learning a single truth.

In the last 6 weeks, I’ve met 4 other people — all adults, and who all recently learned the same thing about themselves.

— And every one described the same feeling.   That absolute relief.   The sudden and overwhelming knowledge of all the mistaken ideas and advice and circumstances that has tripped us up.  All the people we wish we could go back to now and say — “Wait — there’s an explanation!  I know what’s happening!

It’s not stupidity.  Or lack of intelligence.  I’m not just socially clumsy or awkward — okay, I am those things, but the awkwarness is not a problem — it’s a symptom!  It isn’t that I’m unreasonable or that I don’t care.  It isn’t coldness or outrage that needs to be counseled or over-taught.  All those are things that need to be addressed and understood in context.  And in some cases, those are issues where people need to meet me — and those like me — halfway.

You don’t have to ignore my inabilities — you just have to understand what it is that we’re all working around.  I can pretend — for long periods of time — to be like everybody else.  Some attempts are more successful than others.  But sometimes the illusion doesn’t work.  And sometimes I just can’t keep it up.

There’s a whole list of things I didn’t understand during my life.  Couldn’t understand.  Things I’ve spent a lot of hours/years trying to understand.  Trying to make sense of.  And I still don’t understand it all.  But now I know there are things I just don’t get.  And I know why.  And I know I need to over-over-over-compensate for those things.  And sometimes, I just need to set them aside and accept that they are not part of my world.

But my world is very big.  Complex.  Brilliant.  Beautiful.  Fun.  Wonderful.

And it’s a relief to live in this world with the streets named and the maps drawn (or being drawn.)  It’s nice to know where I am.  And that there are so many like me.

And I met another person  — a father — a small business owner.  I had to call him to get a repair made on my house, and I would bet money on his being Asperger’s, too.  There was this moment of recognition in a brief conversation where we both said — not much — but just the important bits — and never made eye contact.  And I suddenly realized he was following the high notes of the sentences — just like I tend to do.  And he clipped back and forth between 4 different topics.  Just like I tend to do.  And he was impatient with the extra words — and had a hard time keeping on topic if it strayed too far from what I needed him to do, or wanted him to address.

I wonder how many of us there are?

They talk on news shows about there being a rise in autism and Asperger’s and all the related “syndroms” of the autism spectrum — and it may be true.  Maybe.  But I’m not so sure.  I think in many of these diagnoses, we just didn’t recognize until now what we were looking at.  Maybe, that a certain percentage of the population is just wired differently.

In another century or another country — I’d have been institutionalized when I was a child because I was so far from the “norm.”  Or I’d have been locked in an attic, or just killed outright.  I’d have been drugged or exposed to the elements.  Or if I was really precocious or odd (and I was,) I’d have been traded like livestock, and put to work either as a savant, or in some workhouse.

What does it sound like when this many people sigh with relief?

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Choosing a Place: The Difference Between Simple and Easy

I think it is probably a function of the Asperger’s Syndrome — I assume this because this is one of those things I know to be different in me from all the people I know and have been close to in my life — but moving to a new place, a new part of the world, a new ecosystem has been a very low-stress thing for me.   A simple thing.

Lubbock_County_Texas_wind_turbines_2011The decision to move was simple.  Not easy, but simple.  For the last 13 years, I have lived in a place I did not choose, for reasons that were beyond my control.  At least the reason I ended up there was beyond my control.  I was broke and bankrupt; I’d lost the only home I’d ever owned.  At a time when I had no health insurance, my son became ill and I used all our savings and all our credit to pay medical costs, and to stay with him while the doctors worked to fix what was wrong.   After that, depression left me unable to find a way out of my life.  So I ended up doing what so many of us do — I went to family for help.  Unfortunately, I went to the wrong family.  I went to the family that had already neglected quincy-park-street-developmentor abused me for much of my life — expecting — I don’t know what — but it happened again.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the only thing that happened.  I also found someone who found me.  We found each other.  It took more than half a lifetime, but Jim and I found each other.  And for 13 years, I continued to live and chose to live where he works and lives and fulfills his life’s lubbock14-1purpose — even though the place itself made me physically ill because of asthma.  At any and all levels, I was suffocating there in the dust and the pesticides and coton gins and stockyards, and the desert-dry blowing dirt.  I’d resigned myself to living there and dying there, because living a short life with Jim, is preferable to living forever without my best friend.  I started a small retail business.  I learned to paint.  I learned to mix and create my own paints — in an ugly landscape full of bad memories and ghosts of people who never knew what Asperger’s or autism was, much less how to deal with it.  For me, the flat, dry, over-baked landscape of the Texas Panhandle with its black and white world views and overwrought  fundamentalist religion is the nightmare landscape where I wandered for most of my youth, and then again as an adult.  It is a place where I was forever a stranger.  Always an outsider.  And — except for Jim and my son, always alone.  The Asperger’s thing makes being alone not so much an issue, but the rest never ceased to be a problem.

As Jim and I traveled from time to time, there were always moments where we would look around at where we were and evaluate the place.  The town.  The state.  The country.  The landscape.  The environment.  The weather.  “I could live here.”  “I’d be miserable here.”  “It’s a great place to go — but I wouldn’t want to stay.”  “It’s beautiful — but nobody looks happy.”  “Crowded.”  “Hot.”  “Ugly.”  “Bad roads.”  “Dangerous drivers.”  “Not enough art.”

heat_haze_route_66_west-2Then, this past summer, we went west.   In my dreams, all my life, I’d been going down a road.  It always started at my grandmother’s house — and I would head west out of town.  For a while the roads were familiar ones that I actually drove on as a teenager.  West across the Panhandle of 1348697641_9071_route66West Texas towards Plainview (an accurate name) and then on farther past Amarillo and onto roads that weren’t familiar at all.  But I had the dream so many times that they eventually became familiar.  Part of it was Route 66.  Part was backroads through farmland.  It was a road that, in my dream at least, came up over the last mountain, and was a steep decent toward an arch-covered peer surrounded by whitewashed buildings, and then — ocean.  And until last summer, I didn’t know the road really existed — but there it was.

So for over 2 weeks, we drove the Pacific Coast Highway.  We got as far as the border to Oregon, where we went inland to Ashland, and we spent 5 oregon-shakespeare-festivaldays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Our plans were to head back home by crossing up to Yellowstone; then down to Denver to visit our friend, Rebecca; then finally home again to the Panhandle.

But as the last day of theater approached, we decided that we’d seen so many beautiful parks — maybe we’d just not do Yellowstone — even though we’d probably never go this way again.  We chose instead to go north to Portland where one of our favorite virtual places existed in the real world — Powell’s City of Books: the largest used bookstore in the US.  Maybe in the world — but we’d been to Hay on Wye in the UK — so we needed to see this place we’d bought so many books from in the past.  We left our planned vacation behind, and went north on a lark.

One of the other theater-goers we met listened to our tale of driving up Highway 1 across California and had asked if we were going to see the Oregon coast.  And of course the answer had been no.  But when our plans changed, we looked at the map and decided that if we were going all the way to Portland, a day off the main highway to see this place — the Pacific Northwest’s seashore, spoken of with such smiles and glowing descriptions — was probably worth the time.

And from Ashland, north to Eugene — we evaluated every town and hillside — and over and over it was the same: we could live here.  What a beautiful place.  We could live anywhere here.  Any burg or farm or village or town.  It was all breathtakingly beautiful.  But not breath-taking.  The whole time we’d been in Oregon — I did not need my inhaler.  No Albuterol.  No Advair Discus.  No Accolate.  No Duo-neb.  Nothing.  No inhaled steroids.  No nasal steroids.   Not even so  much as a Benedryl or Sudafed for allergies and pollution.

We turned toward the Oregon Central Coast and every mile we drove was more beautiful than the last.  Orchards and vineyards and tree farms.  Mountains and valleys  and rivers full of salmon and streams full of fish.  Fresh fruit and vegetable markets and gardens.  Forests — everywhere.  Rain and then sunshine and then rain again.   Narrow, twisting roads through the coastal mountain ranges and ancient forests.

We turned north at Newport without even stopping to see the town.  Like much of northern California, the Coastal Highway is 2 lane and wanders between hugging the shore — to dramatic mountain switchbacks.  We passed a dozen state parks and beaches — then found the rocky basalt shore of Depoe Bay — “The Worlds Smallest Harbor” it boasts as you drive in.

I wanted to keep going.  It was a horrible and terrible place — waves  2-34crashing loud and people stopping on the main highway to take photographs.  I tried to talk Jim into going on and finding another town farther up the coast.  But he said it felt good to him.  The hotel was cheap and the view — I didn’t even notice really — because I didn’t want to stay.

But I did, anyway.  I was tired and my knees hurt from driving.  We got a room that faced the ocean from the top of a hill and I opened the window for some fresh air, sat on the sofa, and fell asleep for nearly 10 hours.

When I woke up, it was to thunder and lightning — and the sound of waves crashing against rock.  I’d slept all night, sitting up on a sofa with my legs propped up on pillows — with the window open.

And unless you have asthma or allergies — that probably doesn’t sound like an important thing.  Sleeping with an open window is something a lot of people do all the time.

cropped-imagejpeg_8-copy.jpgBelieve me when I say, I don’t remember ever sleeping with an open window, ever in my life until that night.  And the only times I was ever in a place where I’d spent part of the day with open windows — it was only ever for a few minutes.  But there in that little hotel — I woke up breathing freely.  Listening to the sound of the thunder and breathing in the smell of rain.

I remember looking out and seeing 5 boys walking down the highway.  They were talking and laughing and fooling around.  There was no traffic because it was early — so they had the road to themselves.  I wondered what it must be like to grow up in a place like that.  A tiny port village.  Tourists and fishing boats, and marine biologists studying whales and sea life.  Eating fish so fresh it didn’t have to be frozen and flown in, across 1500 miles of the country.  What did those boys grow up to be?  Where did they go to college?  Did they even care about college?  Were they in a hurry to get out of high school and leave this place and its small town-ness behind?

Depoe-Bay-Oregon

I stopped to take some pictures of the rocky shore.  We loaded the car.  We drove a few miles up the coast and I couldn’t find the breakfast cafe recommended by so many on YELP!, so we stopped at a Burger King and sat in the car to eat — parked in their parking lot, facing a plain, uninteresting building.   When we finished, we headed north to Portland — never even bothering to find the beach, or stop at another ocean-side state park.

Oregon_trees

And we didn’t talk much more about it.  It was in the rearview mirror.

The 1800+ mile drive back to Texas was a bit of an anti-climax.  We visited friends in Denver.  Drove through the horrible forest fire that swallowed the Colorado Rockies in 2012.  The smoke brought back my asthma, and the last 250 miles across the panhandle, I took pill after pill; used all the inhalers in my bag; and by the time we got home, I was drugged, exhausted, sore, and glad to be out of the car.

It took about 2 weeks for the conversation to turn back to Oregon.  A weeks later, the choice was made.  I could stay there in Texas, drugged for the rest of my life, looking at another winter of pneumonia and coughing and wheezing and gasping for air.  Or — we could use what money I’d inherited from my grandparent’s life’s work and what my own parents hadn’t managed to spend before they died, and buy a new life.

We spent 4 months looking at houses for sale up and down Oregon.  From Ashland to Portland on I-5; and from Gold Beach to Astoria, off Highway 101 — the Pacific Coast Highway.  We eliminated places where the cost of living was at or above the national average.  We eliminated cities (city — Portland) large enough to have air pollution problems, or traffic congestion.  We eliminated places known for acres of livestock or  farming pollution.  Then we took our price range and found every house in a 45 mile stretch of the coast that we could afford and that had approximately the right size.  We read about each town and it’s demographics and personality.  We read history and public records about earthquakes and floods.

At first we eliminated houses with a second floor because of my knees — but eventually decided that a few stairs were do-able.

We eliminated houses with wood-burning fireplaces or stoves because the smoke could create asthma problems.  But kept the houses with gas fireplaces.

We eliminated houses with more than a token lawn to mow, but kept houses with interesting gardens.

We looked for the ocean.  I mean, if you’re going to move 1800 miles to the West Coast — why wouldn’t you look for an ocean view?

We looked for something high enough above sea-level to be sane in a time of tsunamis and global climate change.  We even considered the Cascadia Subduction Zone — then opted for taking our chances with everybody else.  Tornado Alley and the Cascadia SD are “kissing cousins,” anyway.

And we chose.

We chose and we started packing.   And before the cotton gins could crank up to full tilt, I was on the road driving north again with the little dog.  And I left Jim there in Texas, to finish out his life as a college professor.  I left my son and his new bride there, to make their life.  I left my friends.  Everyone I’ve come to care about in my life.

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The new place — the place we chose — is beautiful.  High up on a hill about 1/4 mile from the ocean, looking NNW  up the coast, the beach, and Cascade Head, just a few miles from that little hotel we left quickly without looking back, numb from realizing this was a place we were only passing through, and — that we’d probably never be coming this way again.

In 4 days, Jim will be here for the Christmas break — a month together.  -33Then he’ll go teach again for 14 weeks.  For a few more years, until he retires, we will live by phone, by Skype, by email, and by airplane and Amtrak visits.  Sometime soon, the kids will come visit and we’ll go to the theaters in Ashland, to Whale Cove to watch the whales play in the ocean; or the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, or the breweries and vineyards, and the amazing markets and restaurants in Portland.  Or not.  We might just talk a walk to the beach.

I’ve been here over 4 weeks, now.  And more than the asthma has improved.  I have a drawer full of inhalers, -20nebulizer ampules, pills — and except for once when I panicked because the car wouldn’t start, they’ve gone idle.  But I’ve also been able to start decreasing the medication I took for migraines — which we long suspected were related to some of the asthma drugs.  I’m down to half the amount of medication from 4 weeks ago, and I’m about to reduce the dosage again.   Additionally, my blood pressure is normal  in the morning before I take the pills I’ve been taking for 20 years — and so once the other medications are all out of my system, hopefully I’ll be able to cut back on those as well.  All in all, the place seems to agree with me.

The place agrees with me.

People keep talking about the smell of the salt air — but I haven’t noticed anything spectacular.  Or maybe it’s that everything is spectacular.   When I sit on the back steps while the dog plays in his new little yard, I can smell flowers from the big, as yet unidentified, bushes.  I can smell the evergreens when I am near the mountains.  When I’m out on the porch, I can smell fireplaces nearby burning wood on chilly nights.  I can smell the harbor when I’m in Depoe Bay, and the fish market in Newport.  I can smell the moss and the lichen as I drive down the forested road toward images-5Salem with the car windows down.  I can smell the smoked salmon when I pull into the parking lot beside Barnacle Bill’s.  I can smell rain — the ozone peaked and ready — nearly every day.

I chose this place.  Jim and I chose this place.  And because he loves me, he encouraged me — he sent me — he chose for me and with me — to come here and leave that horrible place where I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t live.  It was a simple choice for both of us.  -3And moving is simple.  You just pay somebody and they load your stuff and move it.  Choosing the right house was simple, really.  We had parameters — and we looked until we found a place that met them.  Making the drive alone with the dog — even that was simple.   You just do it.

But it was not easy.

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