>Barking dogs

>Which of my senses is most easily overwhelmed? My brain and eyes get exhausted by motion and color in my visual field. I hate to be touched, except by cats. I eat bland food and struggle with the “big flavors” in feeding therapy. I gag at smells that other people hardly notice. But the winner, the one that takes the cake, is my auditory sensitivity.

I hate loud noises, but I also hate constant noise. Both at the same time is torture for my brain. And what happens at work? Dogs. They bark. They’re both loud and constant. For 6 hours, I can hear barking dogs. Sometimes they’re right next to me as I clean their cages, and other times they’re far off in the distance, but they’re forever barking.

Barking dogs make for a very, very overwhelmed Lydia. They startle me when they start so suddenly, and they make me freeze. I stop dead. It’s kind of like when I step out into freezing cold weather and I can’t breathe in for a second or two.

I’m so edgy and trying so hard to hold it all in (no melt downs at 1am, please; my parents are sleeping) that it’s almost impossible to write. I’ve been squeaking this post out a phrase at a time. Can you feel the effort behind every word?

All because of the barking dogs.

>It’s that time again!

>The 2010 Walk Now for Autism Speaks (doing it in Pittsburgh this year) is June 26th. Last year, I squeaked by to make my fundraising goal of $500. This year, with more time, I want to raise $1000. I need your help!

(Go to my donation page).

As an aside, Autism Speaks recently made me much happier with it by appointing John Elder Robinson, a popular and fantastic author with Asperger Syndrome, to its review board. Now, the insiders are on the inside. This is exactly what we needed!

>Bedtime, take 2

>It’s pushing midnight, and I’m tired. Last night I was up until 3am. I don’t want a repeat of last night, so my hope is that if I get some things on paper (er, screen?) and off my mind, maybe I’ll be able to sleep.

So far, work has been going great with the actual work. Though it’s tiring and not easy physically, I’m already getting stronger. My legs used to hurt by 8:30. Now, I can make it until almost 10:30. It’s getting later every night before I’m ready to keel over. In time, I think I’ll make it through the shift without getting physically worn out, and I look forward to it. But that’s just physically.

The problem is the people. Now, I warn you in advance, I kind of expect that people won’t like me. Leigh says that because I expect it, I find reasons to support my belief that they don’t. That makes sense, and I’m sure that to some extent it’s true. But that’s not the whole story.

On Monday, one of the volunteers went to my boss and screamed about how I had overfed the cats. My boss quickly discovered that while I had overfed them, it was because I had been taught to feed them too much. She gave us a tablespoon to level off and use so that we fed them the right amount. On Thursday, the woman I was working with, D, was using the tablespoon but was vastly overfilling it and giving the cats several times the right amount. Not wanting to correct D to her face, being so new and all, I went to the shift leader, J, and calmly and politely expressed my concern, explaining that she probably just hadn’t gotten the message from the boss, and could J please discretely fill her in? Not a problem, said J, and thanks for letting her know.

Later, the boss came back and in her abrupt but kind manner told D that she was overfeeding the cats and to please use the tablespoon. D said, “But I did use it.” The boss said okay and that was that. I thought that was the end of it. I was wrong.

As I was cleaning cat cages, D was cleaning them in the other room. I saw J and D talking in there. When J left the room, I heard her say, “And she said you were feeding them like 4 times too much and she went to the boss and…” And that was all I needed to hear. J went behind my back and talked to D about what I had said. And now D is all bitter with me. It’s not like anyone got into any trouble, so I don’t see the problem.

I’m just so frustrated with myself at work. I can’t seem to fit in socially at all. Everyone talks and laughs, and then I say something, and no one says anything. Silence. I try to be nice and polite and sometimes funny, but they just think I’m weird. What I hate most is that my family doesn’t believe that this happens. My mom says, “Lydia, you’re not that different. No one can tell.” But I know– I KNOW— that they can. Sometimes, it’s pretty obvious. I can tell when I’ve said something wrong because people don’t know how to react to me. They’re uncomfortable, so they just choose not to react. Because work is such a taxing environment socially, I get worn out, and I get weirder as the night goes on. I just can’t control myself after a certain point, and whatever comes out, comes out. I think my family is just so used to me that they don’t notice anymore. But it makes me so very frustrated not to be believed.

I wish I could just stay quiet at work, but do you know how hard that is when I’m excited because I’m surrounded by cats? Maybe I’ll have to work on controlling my excitement and staying quieter so people don’t look at me funny. I absolutely hate the looks I get.

Oh, and I told my boss that I have autism. Her reaction? Nothing. Nada. Zip. She didn’t even respond. The context was that she asked if I was able to work 3-11 shifts. I explained that, because I have autism, it’s very hard for me to be out in the community, and 6 hours seems to be amount my maximum. She said, “Oh, well, so-and-so will be starting back at 3 again next week. I forgot about that. Nevermind.” So now I have no idea what she thinks. Great. Just great. Talk about awkward and uncertain.

Well, that’s all I got tonight. I’m going to try this sleep thing again.

>Add another one to the list

>At 13, Elsie is still up for learning new things. Our most recent escapade is learning to walk on a leash. Right now, I’m putting it on her once or twice a day and letting her walk around with it behind her. She’s getting used to how it feels.

So, you know by now that Elsie and I are very close. She likes to sit either beside me on my desk (if I’m in the family room) or behind me on the couch (if I’m in the living room) while I type. But what you might not know is that I’ve trained her to help me out in very specific ways. First, she comes at the drop of a hat to a clicker. Well, unless she’s eating. The clicker means “food” to her, and if she’s already eating, she doesn’t care about treats. And yes, she’s a pig and eats a lot, but far from most of the time, so she usually comes when I ask her to. The other thing she does is comes when I cry and makes physical contact. Sometimes she walks under my hand so that I’m forced to pet her. It’s like, “Come on, pet me. You’ll feel better.” She also talks a lot, which although I didn’t train her to do it, it helps me to find my words again when I lose them. It’s a big help.

Does this sound like it’s going somewhere to you? By definition, Elsie is a service cat. She has been trained to do specific tasks that help to mitigate my disability. Up until now, this hasn’t really mattered. But it’s about to matter a lot.

The group home I want to move to doesn’t allow cats. But the question is, would they allow a service animal? Don’t they have to? My case manager is finding out.

In the meantime, he wants me to do two things. First, get Elsie certified. I’m going to use the Service Animal Registry of America to get her her own little card that has her information on it. A service animal doesn’t technically have to be registered, but it helps to make her more official and people recognize that. Second, he wants me to get my doctor to write a letter that says that I need my cat to function and for health. She quickly agreed to do that for me. Glad that went well.

So, you can add Elsie to the list of very special, hardworking service animals. She’s proud to be on it.

I might be 1 in 91, but this cat of mine is truly one in a million!

>All about work

>Having just completed the third day of my new job at the animal shelter, I feel like I know enough and have done enough to at least start to make some generalizations about it for you.

Not to start off with the bad, but the first one feels obvious. It’s really, really hard to write right now. Work takes so much out of me that I don’t have much left. I certainly don’t have enough left to be funny or creative. I’m hoping that, given some time, work won’t take quite so much thought and will be a little more automatic. At the moment, I’m constantly thinking and rethinking everything I do, and it wears my brain out. I’m so afraid of messing up. But, I think that after a few moments, I’ll be comfortable and won’t have to think so darn hard.

Also bad, I’m having some trouble with all the socialization. It makes me want to hide out by myself for all the hours I’m not at work. Luckily, I work 5-11pm, so I spend my days at home while my parents are off at their jobs. I even had trouble hanging out with my mom this weekend. Because I’m in training at work, I spend every minute with another person. Usually that person is A, a guy who goes to the local university for physics. He doesn’t talk too much, and he’s generally pleasant to be around. Still, being with him for an entire 6 hours wears on me. I don’t like to be with anyone, except maybe Leigh and my mom, for that long. I honestly can’t tell if anyone at work likes me or not, and of course I feel like no one does. I have myself convinced that the boss doesn’t like me. I try not to worry about the people and focus on the animals, but I don’t want to be hated, either. It’s confusing.

There are other, little bad things. I don’t see my mom for two days on end. Even though I spend the entire time at work with cats and dogs, I really miss Elsie (though she greets me in the basement when I get home). I could bring home the cat version of HIV or ringworm or something else nasty home to my own cat (I reduce the chances by changing my clothes in the basement the second I come in the door and washing my hands like crazy). Work makes my legs quite sore by about 9:30pm, and I’m ready to have a seat (I assume this will get better over time). The dogs bark really loudly and hurt my ears and my brain, but I can’t wear ear plugs yet because I have to be able to hear what A is saying. I miss Alton Brown (he’s on while I drive home)… but Mom records him for me.

Now for the good things. I love the animals! There are 250 cats, dogs, and rabbits under my responsibility. I clean cages (yes, I deal with a lot of poop, and I’m perfectly okay with that) and feed them, and say hello along the way. My favorite is when I come into the cat condos to feed the cats dinner and they all start meowing. I know every cat in the shelter by name. I know who’s nice and who’s mean and who hisses but is just all talk. Tonight, I met and got to pet a few rabbits while I cleaned their cages. I really like the rabbits. The dogs… well, they’re very cute, but they’re also very loud, and that turns me off to them. When one barks, they all have to bark. And when you come in the room, whoever can see you has to start barking, so they all have to start barking… and with 30 dogs, in the room, that’s a lot of noise.

After going since November without a paycheck, I’m earning some money. I only make $7.25 an hour (not sure if that’s truly minimum wage or just really close to it). Unfortunately, the government thinks that 24 hours a week at minimum wage is enough to live on, and I’m going to lose my Cash Assistance as soon as I get my first paycheck. Boo. This means that I’ll be living on something like $7200 a year for the foreseeable future. That’s just ridiculous. Half of my income will go to housing, too. I’m a little worried about how this is supposed to work. I had better win my SSI hearing, or I might be in trouble. Big trouble. Still, for right now I’m living at home and doing okay, and it’s good that I’m making money again, however little.

Alright, folks. My brain is done thinking tonight, apparently. Although it seems that there is a lot more bad than good about work, that’s false for two reasons. One, my brain just wore out while I was doing the good, so I didn’t even get to tell you about the little good things, like kittens and puppies and getting to walk dogs and Alberta (the once super-matted orange cat who got shaved and must feel incredible!). Two, the two that I listed are really good. Hopefully, they’re good enough that they outweigh the all the bad things.

Thanks for joining me on this less-than-really-entertaining post. Over and out!

>Delicious

>I was riding in the car with the windows down and the sun shining in, eating a partially-melted Cadbury Creme Egg followed by a Diet Mountain Dew.

Can you say BLISS? My mouth sure could!

What’s your bliss?

>Keeping up and fitting in

>I went to a bible study at my church that my church mentor, M, recommended to me. It’s specifically for women in their 20s. She put me in contact with the woman who runs it, and the woman hooked me up with the book they’re using. The book is called Everybody’s Norma Till You Get to Know Them.” Because I tend to see practically everyone else as “more normal” than I am, I thought the book would be a good one for me to read.

So I dove into the book, being 6 chapters behind the rest of the group. I mostly agreed with the author’s ideas, except for the chapter about reading people. It was one of the two chapters we were going to discuss at the meeting. The author suggested that those who are bad at reading people come across as rude, offensive, and uncaring. He said that no one wants to be around someone who is bad at reading people. I took offense to that. While I’m hopeless at reading people and their body language, I don’t think I’m almost ever rude or uncaring. I absolutely hate rudeness and I try really hard never, ever to be that way, to anyone. So I was frustrated at the prospect of being called rude. Maybe this guy had forgotten that some people truly can’t read people. It’s not always a choice.

I went to the meeting on Tuesday night and found myself there 15 minutes early. I like to be early everywhere, so that I can adjust to my surroundings before everyone else gets there. It gave me a chance to talk with the woman who leads the group. Slowly, the other members of the group came in and started to talk. I could feel the confusion build, with multiple conversations happening at once. We sat in a circle, and everyone laughed and talked. I absolutely hated the feeling of being in the middle of conversation without being able to follow it or participate.

I thought that once things settled down and focused on the book, it would be better. We went around and introduced ourselves. I said that I’m Lydia, and I love animals, especially cats. Everyone else did the same. I found out that the other girls all lived on their own and had “real” jobs (a nurse, a physician’s assistant, an accountant, and a teacher). I didn’t feel like I was somehow less than them, I just felt out of place, like we didn’t have much in common. As we got into the book, everyone stopped talking. I was hoping for a close-knit group that would want to discuss the deep topics in the book, but that’s not what I found. Instead, the more difficult the topics got, the quieter everyone became. No one wanted to open up.

I was frustrated. I would have been able to talk more about the stuff in the book, because I had already planned my answers. But no one wanted to talk about that. I couldn’t participate in the social conversation, but that’s the only conversation there was. I spent the whole time sitting in silence.

The whole experience just reinforced how different I really am from my peers. I can’t keep up with them when it comes to work, social lives, boyfriends, husbands, conversation… I feel like I’m stuck in childhood or adolescence while they’ve all moved on to adulthood. I think I’ll go back to the group, but I definitely haven’t found my niche in the church yet. There’s a “ministry to the disabled” that meets twice a month that I’m looking into. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be for severely disabled adults or for people, well, like me. I’m working on finding out more about it. Maybe I’ll fit in better there.