Tag: me

Update: From Effexor XR to Zoloft

Update: From Effexor XR to Zoloft

For those of you playing along at home, it’s been a little over two weeks since I began the switch from 225mg/daily Effexor XR to 50mg/daily Zoloft. While it’s too early to claim a victory, the early results since beginning Zoloft have been very promising.

I will reiterate here that this post is not here to discredit or discourage the use of Effexor XR. Nor is it here to promote Zoloft as ‘better’ or ‘more effective’. How you respond to medication will rely entirely on your body’s ability to produce and use chemicals that affect brain function.

I came to Zoloft after a year and a half on Lovan (which worked for around eighteen months, and stopped) and three years on Effexor XR (which had very little or no noticeable effect on my depression). My research told me that others who responded in the same way to Lovan and Effexor XR had good results with Zoloft–which is hardly good medical science but it’s a better start than picking the next one off a list and seeing how that works. Finding the right medication at the right dose is trial and error at best.

Stepping off Effexor XR (especially from that dose) was one of the most uncomfortable, unpleasant, and downright frustrating experiences I’ve had. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, I’d been avoiding making a switch for that exact reason. At the time where I had tapered down to zero, I could barely function without wanting to scream, cry, or  vomit. I watched a lot of Netflix and crawled from lounge to bathroom to avoid the dizziness of being vertical.

And I had meltdowns, but if we’re  being perfectly honest–the withdrawal meltdowns were no different to the meltdowns I was having on a full dose. This was just further proof to me that the Effexor XR had not been assisting me in the way it should have.

I went straight onto Zoloft at 50mg. I was expecting more negative mental side effects, I was expecting more mood swings and unpredictability–but that never happened. The pharmacist warned that it could cause dizziness (he was very right about that!) and along with some nasty headaches from my body screaming for Effexor XR, I was in a pretty rough physical state for a week. The dizziness still comes and goes, I’m still adjusting (it’s very early days yet) but I feel I am presently more stable than I have been in perhaps the last three years.

Take, for example, my day trip to the city on Saturday. I went down to sit a test, and because the train services from town are ridiculous on weekends, I would have to arrive at 9.30am and leave at 6.30pm. The test was at 12.30 and only went for an hour. It’s a lot of time to fill when you’ve got very little money to spend.

I went anyway, and I went at the last minute. I’d originally decided I wouldn’t, and would try to secure some work. I was unsuccessful with that. I was tempted still to cancel the appointment and mope at home, conserve money. Or I could go to the city on strict rules to not overspend and attend the test anyway. So I did that.

I told myself I could go to a couple of cheap shops for homewares that I needed (jugs for the fridge, so I can make myself iced tea) that I suspected I would be able to get at a better price than shops here. So I spent the morning at Daiso, and purchased two solid watertight jugs at $2.80 each. Considering the ones here at home were $9+, I was pretty happy with that. I was only allowed to purchase a food item if it was for immediate consumption, substantial, and less than $3. I ate a lot of good sushi rolls.

On the train, the most bizarre (for me) thing happened. When I boarded, I selected a seat across from a girl who had curled up over three seats and was trying to sleep. I planned on doing the exact same thing. A few moments after I sat down, she asked if I could wake her when other people wanted the seats.

This is normally where I would do a small nod, and hope to goodness for no more talking. Instead, I laughed and told her I intended to sleep as well but if I was awake I would have her back. She laughed and we both dozed off on the train. Halfway to the city, where the train fills up very fast, it was her who woke me up so an elderly couple could take the seats beside me. By the time we got to the city, she was asleep. Again, normally I would scoot out of there as fast as I can and avoid further interaction.

Instead, I tapped her on the knee and woke her up so she could exit the train before the conductors had to do it. She woke, and told me about how she was going to adopt a cat while in the city, and we chatted until the train was stopped.

I’ve been feeling extra social and relaxed like that. When I go into town, I don’t hope the people I know don’t see me, I actively walk up to them and start a conversation.

In fact, I’ve been relaxed about a lot of things. Simple things, like not waiting until every visible car is out of sight before I cross the road, and just walking to the shops when it’s starting to get dark rather than obsessing over whether I should or shouldn’t.

I’ve been more energetic, too. Outside of the physical exhaustion, I’m finding the drive to do things I would normally leave for another time. I’ve been cooking. I love cooking when I don’t have to do dishes, so I’m making the most of the dishwasher I have here. Cooking up some chicken tenders no longer feels like too many steps to get food. I just… do it.

I don’t need quite as much time to prepare for a task, either. That may not make sense most, but when I look at a rack of clothing that needs to be put away, I very rarely have the ability to just do it then. If I try, I feel extremely unsettled about it. The other day I went into the laundry and saw the towels on the rack were dry.

So I put what I was doing on hold (this is also crazy hard most of the time) and got the towels down, folded them and put them all away.

That is an unbelievable level of domestic function for me. This generally only occurs in those intense bursts where I DO ALL THE THINGS at once. Those are useful, but entirely unreliable. I’ve been operating at this level for about a whole week now. A whole week straight.

The best part is that I’ve noticed an increased ability to drop a train of thought if I don’t like it. Where a negative thought would once spawn two more negative thoughts, and I would spiral down to a horrible place–I have literally been able to tell myself ‘Yeah, how about we drop that?’ and move on to the next thought. Without having to forcibly distract myself.

That is unheard of for me. Today I got rejected for a job that I do desperately want–something that two weeks ago would have left me in an inconsolable ball of misery and low self-worth. It still stings and I still feel pretty shitty over it, but it is not the sole thought in my mind. It’s just one of many and I’m able to focus on the better ones. I’m hurt, but not imploding.

I’m beginning to feel a freedom from the detrimental obsessive thinking patterns, and it’s wonderful.

There have been less shiny side-effects, yes. My actions aren’t as heavily regulated as they were–which is good, but I’m more likely to do things without preparation so I don’t get as much of a chance to analyse whether it is a good idea or a bad idea.

Like deciding on Saturday afternoon that I might as well just head out to my football team’s fan day, because it was on. That whim was rewarded with free icecream, a drink bottle, pancakes, and the chance to hold the AFL Premiership Cup! Best day! But not something I would have previously decided to attend just because.

So far it’s all worked out good, but I’m aware that I need to be careful I don’t go to the extreme of blind impulsiveness.

I’m also eating a lot. Food tastes better, I think. I want more and more tastes. I want to cook because cooking is fun, and then I get to eat. I’m slowly switching over from soft drink to iced tea, because it’s cheaper and probably marginally healthier. I’m not picking at things obsessively, the benefits (so far) are worth the journey.

It won’t be this shiny and wonderful forever. I’m looking forward to that too, where basic functions aren’t something to marvel over. I’m looking forward to a new normal built around mundane stability.

I really feel that right now, I’m on the right track to get there. And that’s a pretty good feeling.

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External vs Internal: moving away from gendered profiles in autism.

External vs Internal: moving away from gendered profiles in autism.

There are problems inherent in the way that ‘female autism’ is being researched. Curiously, they appear to be the same problems that occurred in the initial research and diagnosis of aspergers. The same language and biased research issues that led to the missed diagnoses of so many autistic women looks set to repeat unless we become aware of the implications of gendering a condition.

Understanding that females can also be autistic is an understanding long overdue. The misconception that autism and aspergers were conditions that ‘belonged’ to males was caused by a focus on males as research participants, and lack of understanding in how autism presents in different individuals.

As researchers and diagnosticians continue to build a ‘female profile’ of autism, we should be cautious of the suggestion that this presentation only occurs in females. It doesn’t. Just as some autistic women have a textbook ‘male’ presentation, so too do autistic males display symptoms that are currently considered ‘female’.

Therein lies the danger. By qualifying a set of symptoms as either ‘male’ or ‘female’, we encourage diagnosticians to disregard a potential diagnoses because it does not fit the assigned sex of a person. Those who research their particular presentation before seeing a therapist may feel there is something extra ‘broken’ about their brain if the ‘gender’ of their symptoms does not match their own gender expression.

Instead, I propose an alternative way of classifying the two autistic profiles that escapes gendered language.

Through my research and personal experience, I believe in every person (autistic or otherwise) there is a particular factor that describes how that person will react to most situations. As autistic people frequently find themselves in situations that are at ‘odds’ with ‘normal’ culture, how that person views their place in relation to the world is highly important.

It comes down to this: external versus internal.

External autism is how I would describe the textbook ‘male’ presentation. When the individual discovers a difference between how they operate and how the world operates, that individual is likely to come to the conclusion that they are right, and everyone else is wrong. This leads to a more open and authentic presentation of their autistic symptoms. They display more obvious social disconnect, are more likely to act in appropriately, less likely to bow to social convention, and often have a level of self-assurance in all that they do.

Internal autism (or the basis of the ‘female profile’) is the opposite. An individual of this presentation, when faced with a disconnect, believes the world is right and they are wrong. They are more likely to ‘learn’ social rules as a means of becoming ‘right’, to be crippled with self-doubt, to mask behaviours in a way that complies with social conventions, and are often misdiagnosed or missed completely due to their ability to play the part.

Both sides of the autistic coin are weighted with their own pros and cons, and through this lens of internal and external we can see how typical autistic behaviours manifest differently.

An externally autistic person, upon being caught in a conversation they find utterly boring, may well just say “You’re boring me now” and end the conversation with little understanding (or desire) of how to politely exit a conversation. An internally autistic person caught in the same situation may instead ‘play along’, nodding as they feel appropriate.

The externally autistic person takes charge of the situation as they believe they are correct, while the internally autistic person lets majority rule.

I would love to hear your thoughts regarding this classification of autism. On the mark, or miles away? How else would you classify autistic types?

Definitions of success and self.

Definitions of success and self.

Everyone defines success differently. For me, I always felt that I had the best chance of finding success and fulfillment through a career. This worked with my drive to improve and dedicate myself wholly to the place at which I was employed. Even  as a supermarket supervisor, I felt the importance of my role in looking after the cashiers and ensuring customers had a wonderful in-store experience.

I never could just clock in, clock out, and collect the cash.

Other factors in life that I might have deemed as points of success, like having a family or obtaining a driver’s licence, always felt out of reach. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t like to have them, but my attempts to achieve those goals never went anywhere.

Driving is still the same intimidating rush of cars and lights and sounds, confusion in coordinating my body to push the right pedals at the right time, and intense worry that I will misjudge or react incorrectly at a crucial moment.

A family requires a stable foundation, usually the relationship between two people who have a strong enough connection to support dependent beings. My relationships to date have been short, almost laughable–and with minimal hurt after the break up. Sometimes because I’m already bored by the partner in question, and in all cases because I was never significantly romantically connected to them in the first place.

I struggle to connect with people in general. I can like them, admire them, have a strong desire to be around them, and even love them… but never have I connected with a person in such a way that I needed their partnership. Some partners I kept past the point of boredom purely to say that I had a partner. Others, I feared that I would lose as friends if the relationship broke down.

Maybe there’s some miracle person out there who is the exception to the rule, but to date I’ve not experienced anything that would give me confidence in having a family. Not to mention the questions that follow on, whether I would be a fit mother (I certainly couldn’t be a stay-at-home mother), and would I be able to connect with my children if I had them?

I fixed all this with the idea that I would fulfill myself with a career first, and if the rest happened–it would happen. I threw myself at the university wall repeatedly, always starting well and eventually crumbling as I became overwhelmed by the constant demand. I am still debating whether to go back this semester, or finally accept that the system is beyond my capabilities, especially as an online course.

The biggest step I took toward this career dream actually occurred last year, where I managed to find employment as a marketing coordinator. But the pressure of that job too wore me down over time, until I could no longer keep up with what was required and I was let go. Partly because the business couldn’t afford to invest in me anymore, and partly for my own good–my manager recognised the toll it was having on me.

Which leaves me now seeking work that will satisfy my financial needs. I’m leaning toward retail positions, this is what I know, but I also know that it won’t be long before I become dissatisfied and empty in the repetitive role. Retail has always been a means to an end, a stepping stone on the way to something else. A way to pay the bills until I found work that made me feel proud.

There’s nothing wrong with working retail. I’ve never believed there is, but I know it doesn’t make me happy in the long term. Success to me is finding that place in life where I can be happy. A job I can be proud of isn’t about the type of work, or the money paid, but knowing that I didn’t settle for roles that paid the bills. It’s knowing that I kept reaching until I found my place.

Since being let go, I’ve really questioned my capabilities. I’ve had to let go of the idea that I could work in overly tense and fast-paced environments. I’ve had to let go of the idea that I will ever be an in-demand marketing or PR executive. The pressure would likely break me. I wasn’t able to handle what was required in a small business; my shiny dreams come with dark realities.

So that leaves me here, at a loss. Wondering if I am truly only capable of carrying out these retail jobs, and what that means if it’s true. The possibility that everything I ever wanted to be is unrealistic and beyond me—hurts more than I can say.

My career was supposed to make up for my failings in other areas. I don’t know where to go from here.

What causes autism? Some theories.

What causes autism? Some theories.

Debate over what causes autism, and how to prevent it from occurring, remains inconclusive. Theories range from biological factors, to medical interference, and even to how a child was raised in early life.

The vaccine myth.

The theory that vaccines cause autism is unfortunately popular.The article published by Andrew Wakefield in 1998, which suggested the Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine (MMR) was responsible for behaviour regression and developmental disorder, was repeatedly refuted and eventually retracted in 2010.

The vaccine theory relied on two factors: one, that children often displayed autistic symptoms around the same time as receiving the MMR vaccine; and two, that autism had become ‘epidemic’ as vaccination became common practice in society. The more likely reason for the surge in autism diagnoses is a better understanding of the condition, changes to diagnostic practices and increased awareness–particularly among educators.

That autistic symptoms arise in the same developmental period as the second dose of the MMR vaccine (usually around the age of 4) is purely coincidental.

Even if the vaccine theory was correct, and I don’t believe it is, I fail to understand the logic of refusing to vaccinate children to decrease the risk of developmental disorder. Autism isn’t exactly a fun bag of kittens every day, but it is perfectly possible to live a long and happy life as an autistic person. Even those requiring extreme care are capable of being happy and healthy people.

Refusal to vaccinate increases the risk of contracting avoidable (and deadly) disease, both to the unvaccinated child and those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Vitamin D deficiency.

This one is interesting, because I have extremely low levels of Vitamin D. I know, I know–I should go outside from time to time.. but maybe that’s not the only factor? I take supplements daily, which I find gives me the energy boost I’m often lacking.

Women who are deficient in Vitamin D during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with autistic behaviours.

Inability to properly absorb and process Vitamin D may also be one of the many genetic factors that contributes to an autistic profile. Deficiency in Vitamin D may not be a cause, but a symptom–and perhaps lead us to a genetic marker as we build a greater understanding of how autism occurs.

Genetic factors.

This is the theory that makes the most sense, both in logic and in my own family experience. Autism is a condition of particular traits, that by their combination and intensity in a single person cause that person to diverge from what is known as ‘neurotypical’ (NT). You could think of this combination as a recipe, almost.

In most cases, and definitely in mine, you can spot autistic traits across the family of a diagnosed person. While the behaviours may be similar, they may not have the same intensity, obsessiveness, or rigidity of the autistic person–but they’re certainly there. Some in the family may have an autistic trait or two that is extremely intense—but not any others.

These traits are spread among parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and beyond. When enough intense traits are passed down to a single person,  that person becomes diagnosably autistic.

This also explains why many people feel everyone is ‘a little autistic’, which is in some views true–and others false. Milder examples of autistic behaviours are common among the general population.However, while an ‘allistic’ (non-autistic) person may understand elements of a behaviour, they are less able to understand how multiple intense traits affect an autistic mind.

So you may think of autism as caused by the right mix of ingredients passed to an individual.

Interestingly, my genetic profile is significantly different to those of my undiagnosed siblings. I am the only right-handed child, the only one with grey eyes (the others are brown), and of us four I have the shorter, thinner-boned build. These genetic differences between me and my three siblings hint at my getting a number of recessive genes, some of which may have been autistic markers.

Brain compensation theory.

This does fall in with genetics as well, but an interesting study on autistic children and their non-affected siblings discovered that unaffected siblings also have a similar neurological signature to their autistic sibling.

Decoded, that means that the structures of the brain used to process particular information have a similar decreased ability as compared to children without an autistic sibling. However, unlike both their autistic sibling and their typically developing peers, unaffected siblings showed activity in other areas of the brain.

That suggests that unaffected siblings have created ‘other’ pathways through the brain to achieve neurotypical behaviours. I love this, because it shows just how adaptable the brain is. It also firms up the nature of autism as genetic, and explains how siblings can exhibit similar traits to their autistic sibling but not at the same intensity. Some compensatory structures may not be as complete as others, meaning that the trait will be more present in that sibling.

I find this especially interesting, as my sister is highly sensitive to tags and seams in her clothing. Far more than I am! That sensory sensitivity may be a trait that her brain has not fully countered.

Nurture and autism.

I’ll talk a little about this, because I think it’s relevant. Autistic behaviours can be adjusted over time, especially among those in the Aspergers category. I believe that autistic people are capable of building their own compensatory structures in the brain. We need to find our own way to achieve stability. This doesn’t mean a cure–simply working with and around our weaker points for a solution that suits us.

Early intervention and parenting methods are critical here, which is where I feel extremely lucky. Though I didn’t know I was autistic until a few months ago, my parents were not the sort to give in to picky eating habits. You ate what was on the table, or made your own food. I believe the firmness of that rule is one of the primary reasons why there are so few foods I don’t eat–I was never able to avoid anything long enough that it tasted wrong/unpleasant.

As an adult, I allow myself to not eat the things that really do bother me: pork, any meat with bones still in it, any meat that still resembles the animal it used to be, celery, and zombie toes broad beans. The list of things I won’t eat is actually quite small. I will pick around bones, but I really don’t like it. I’ll also eat mashed potato, though the texture bothers me most times.

I believe my lack of serious food aversions is mostly due to being encouraged to try a wide variety of foods as a kid, and also my curiosity regarding taste. New foods and drinks intrigue me, so I have to try things at least once! Or perhaps, it was simply never a severe factor for me.

We were also raised in a very structured and supportive environment, and the only real upsets I can recall having usually involved things like moving house, moving school, and other unavoidable moments of change. For the most part, my family life synched well with the parts of my autism that liked things to be a certain way, and for things to happen in a way that was consistent and predictable.

We went to school through the week, to bed at a particular time (even when I was in my last years of high school, I had a bed time. I hated it, but looking back it was another part to the structure of my day that I could rely on), there was often sports on Saturday morning, and during the football season we would generally catch up with family friends to watch the game and eat together.

So I was lucky in a lot of ways, that my family created an environment that curtailed some of the more annoying aspects of autism, while providing the structure I needed to feel secure. Though at the time, it was simply how our family operated–not any concession for an autistic mind.

I give in to it more as an adult, especially with food and clothing. I buy my own, so if I find that I’ve purchased a shirt that is uncomfortable and distracting to wear–it’s my own loss if I never wear it. The same goes for food. Clothes get rotated to the back of my wardrobe and eventually donated to charity. Some are too itchy, some feel too restricting, and some just make me irritable and I can’t articulate why. I did get myself to wear skinny jeans, though I prefer not to–and I still won’t wear shorts. I don’t even know why I won’t wear shorts, I just hate them.

I can make these choices as an adult, because I have been through the process of attempting, tolerating, and know for myself if it’s worth persisting. I also know I can work around things, like eating all the peas first when someone mixes them with the marvel that is corn (why do people ruin corn like that?). I’m in a space where I can do things in my particular way, and so long as it doesn’t hamper my ability to get things done, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve rambled a lot and gone way off point–each autistic person’s ability to adapt and build compensatory structures and strategies will depend on the severity of the symptom, awareness of the individual in working toward the goal, and the age of the person. It can be done, though, it’s up to the individual to decide whether there is value in being able to eat a food, tolerate a situation, or wear an item of clothing. Sometimes the level of work to get to a point of tolerance isn’t justified for the outcome, or the time and number of exposures it would take to achieve the goal (remembering that each exposure will cause some level of distress) isn’t worth it. While it’s definitely ‘possible’, it may only be after thousands of exposures and unknown distress.

Are there any other theories you’ve heard regarding causes of autism? I’d love to research them!

 

Why mental illness is not an excuse to be an asshole.

Why mental illness is not an excuse to be an asshole.

This doesn’t apply to 99.99% of those diagosed with a mental illness.

However, the 0.01% that it does apply to are a major contributing factor to the ongoing stigma and misinformation regarding mental health.

It’s as simple as this.

Mental illness is not licence to be an asshole.

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Does that sound harsh? Yes, there are conditions where it can become incredibly difficult to maintain proper social conduct with others, but for any person who grasps the concept of good and bad behaviour, let me say it again:

Mental illness is not licence to be an asshole.

For a while, I had a friend by the name of Mia. Mia had some very genuine mental health issues. Those who falsely claim to impaired mental status as a scapegoat—that’s a whole other blog. She suffered from deep anxiety and chronic depression (we both did at the time), struggled to leave the house more often than not, and was a type two diabetic. She had also been diagnosed with aspergers.

At that time I wasn’t aware that my own mental situation was also an autistic one, so I took it for granted that what she told me regarding autism was truth.

She said that occasionally she needed to info-dump on people, ramble on until she’d finished the topic–and that I liked. I wasn’t always wholly interested in the subjects, but I do love listening to people talk about their passions. I do recognise this need to over-explain and tell stories as they happened from beginning to end, and if you do happen to get me started on a subject I love… you may be there a while. This blog (and the length of the blogs!) is testament to my need to just get words out at times. Some of the things she described were perfect examples of aspergers.

Some, I now recognise, were not.

I don’t remember what the disagreement was about. Like many aspies she had considerable difficulty accepting alternative points of view, and would argue her point viciously. More than once she became so aggravated by the intensity of the discussion, she turned the conversation to personal and unnecessary attacks.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Arguments get heated, things get said that aren’t nice. It was what would happen after the situation had cooled and olive branches were being extended that I was never completely okay with.

When one half was apologising for poor conduct, at a point where a return apology was expected, she would give this instead:

‘Well, I have aspergers so you just have to accept that I’m like that.’

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And for me, at the time, I didn’t know enough about what might be going through her mind to really comment. So I left it at that, and over time she demonstrated repeated disdain for the feelings and general existence of other people. In understanding that aspergers causes social issues that involve missed cues, we did suggest that rather than blaming her brain for being a twit, she accept her behaviour and apologise for it.

Because that is the difference between someone who is an asshole, and someone who is not. Both can screw up, but only assholes will seek to blame their behaviour on factors outside of their control.

Others, including the neurodivergent, will recognise behaviour that is unacceptable. It may have to be explained, the cues may need to be highlighted, but these people are willing to work on their behaviour.

You can probably guess what she said when we suggested that if her behaviour was out of her control, it might be something to talk to her therapist about working on.

You got it.

She saw aspergers as an explanation and excuse for any behaviour that upset or hurt those around her, and expected us to simply tolerate it. I highly suspect some of these incidents weren’t aspergers-related, but greed-related actions for which aspergers was a convenient excuse–and that is another story.

Yes, mental illness can lead us to be less than our better selves. It can explain why something occurred, but should never excuse it. You have the choice as to how you handle what happens next. Whether you take ownership of your actions and work towards bettering them, or expect those around you to absorb the impact of your less-than-okay is what makes you an asshole or not.

Not your mental health.

WTB: Telepathic communication device for making friends without alienating people.

WTB: Telepathic communication device for making friends without alienating people.

I don’t understand people. I really don’t. I don’t know how it is that so many people seem gifted with this ability to speak without words. Is it telepathy? Are you somehow beaming meaning at each other via mysterious brain-lasers?

Whatever you’re doing, I don’t seem to be able to do it. I say things the wrong way, or at the wrong time, I give the wrong response, or more often than not–I don’t speak at all, when there’s something I should have said or done.

Some of my early school memories are literally of standing behind trees, trying to divulge the secrets of making friends. Twenty years later and I’m still as clueless as that little girl with her cheek pressed against the bark.

School at least offered a place where you could become known–and eventually friends–with those you saw regularly. Adult life makes this so much harder, even those who know the secret to interpersonal communication struggle to break out of their ‘friendship silos’. I have very few friends of my own in this town, and I have no idea how to go about connecting to more.

This realisation occurs to me every so often, when I exhaust the one (sometimes two) options for a venture to the movies or new restaurant. This time it hit me while I sent out invitations to my 30th. Almost everyone on the list who lives in the local area was a family friend, or friend of a friend that I don’t actually know well enough to feel comfortable making plans with that don’t involve the mutual friend. The rest were family.

My own friends, and I do have some wonderful friends in my life, are scattered everywhere but here. I love each and every one of them without reserve. I feel guilty for wanting more than I have, but there are days where I wish that I could text someone in the morning, and meet with them for lunch. It feels a little pathetic that my social interactions rarely go beyond my family. My family is fantastic, but they have their lives and friends outside of me, and I have… an overly comfortable blue couch.

Work is where adults are supposed to make friends, or at least this is what the internet says. Yes–I have actually Googled ‘how to make friends as an adult’.

As far as I know, I’m not unpleasant to work with–nor am I hard to get along with in general, and in most cases I’m happy to do whatever pleases the people around me. I have conversations with those I work with, suggest things to do, laugh and joke–and I think I’m doing well.

Yet, when it comes to making the jump from ‘work friend’ to ‘actual friend’, something goes wrong. I don’t know what. While others connect and relax together, I hear of it in stories after the fact. I’m not arrogant enough to think I should have been invited–but I do wonder what I’ve done that excluded me from participation.

Have I done something? Is there some secret code I’m not using, something that makes it clear to others that I want to be involved?

Or worse, am I just forgettable? Blended so far back into the scenery that you’d no more invite me to something than you might a kitchen chair.

When I do, and very nervously, invite people to spend time with me (in the hope of establishing an on-going friendship), the invitations are inevitably declined. Other priorities trump whatever I suggest, or perhaps they are just not interested in being further involved in my life. I don’t know.

I do understand, at this age most people have their ‘friendship silos’ firmly in place. It’s hard breaking in to a group, but I watch the people come and go and interact and wonder why I can never seem to get ‘inside’.

I’ve been told it can be hard to get to know me. Am I giving signals of disinterest? I don’t mean to.

The other suggestion for connecting with new people is interest groups, and that is one where I’ve had previous success. I’m looking at you, Melbnano and Brisnano. Groups for everything exist in the city, so finding the most wonderful bunch of 20-something and up assorted nerds willing to talk about ninja zombie erotica was as easy as looking up the local NaNoWriMo group.

Where I am now, the local writing group is lovely, but more interested in literature and memoirs than secret agent school girls discovering their teachers are actually drug lords. Most of my interests, like writing, aren’t group activities either–which increases the level of difficulty.

What do I do, then? I would love to create a social life for myself, take some of that burden off my family and really find myself a place in this community. To feel properly involved, and not a tag-along afterthought.

How do I get to there? What am I doing wrong? How do I become someone people think of when organising things to do?

Alternatively, if you could sell me one of those brain-laser telepathy kits, I’d be much obliged.

How losing my job may be the best career move yet.

How losing my job may be the best career move yet.

On Friday, I was let go from my job.

For those who work to pay bills and live, this may sound like a bit of a nuisance–something frustrating rather than devastating. Challenging to lose the income, but provided you didn’t burn down any chance of a good reference, incomes can be replaced.

I live to work. I’m not happy just paying the bills–I want more than that. I want an opportunity to use my strengths, to have a real impact on a business in the way that only I can. I want to learn and to grow, to sharpen my skills and keep making magic.

This job, which I began last March, offered all of that and more. My official title was ‘Marketing Co-ordinator’, but as the business was small, the range of responsibilities was everything from administrative assistant to tech support. I was in charge of writing all content for the website, monthly newsletter, additional eblasts, social media, case studies, developing  printed collateral, arranging promotional items and gifts, co-ordinating the IT system and acting as a gateway between staff and our IT company, answering phones, taking data and wrangling it into charts, telemarketing, searching out contacts to call, managing the client database, answering phones and live chat queries, setting up new equipment (usually laptops and phones), and whatever else needed doing on a particular day.

That’s how it is in small business. Regardless of your title, you need to be prepared to drop everything and do something well out of your job description when required. Over time, it became obvious that I am the world’s worst telemarketer, so that–and a few other tasks–were removed from my role.

My primary skill set is writing, and my key weaknesses are time management and multitasking. Having not held a position like this before, the sudden expectation to juggle so many competing priorities (and co-ordinating these with up to four external companies) was a challenge.

But–I loved it. Even when I felt like I was drowning in a sea of tasks, I loved it. I got to see reactions and web traffic rise as my informative posts went up on our site. We saw our online enquiries triple. We’d done a lot of SEO work, so it wasn’t just my work that got results, but we got results. I was a part of that.

I was good at the work, but I wasn’t fast. I got tasks mixed up easily, I forgot things (even if I had them written down on my calendar) and I made stupid mistakes. After a few months in the position, I realised that I was far more fatigued than I should be, and that began the investigation into myself that resulted in my autism diagnosis.

Did that autism result in being let go? Possibly. Small businesses change priorities fast, tasks come up with little notice and need to be turned around fast. That’s not me. As an autistic person, that chaotic workflow is irritating and makes it hard to focus. I like the time to consider things carefully, to implement them in the exact best way that I can. My work is slow, but the results are high quality. I need space between tasks to mentally ‘adjust’, I find it hard to pivot straight to the next thing. Sometimes I put more time and effort into something than it deserves, I can get ‘lost’ in research and design.

Though those are largely autistic traits, and yes–they interfered with my work–this wasn’t discrimination. Those traits are also facts about me, parts of who I am that will challenge me my whole life. Those same traits made it difficult to meet the performance requirement for my job, it’s that simple.

I grew a lot in this position. Learned things about an industry I knew little of before. Learned how to better work social media. Learned about myself and realised that for every dream I’d ever had, a high-pressure fast-paced glamorous career was never going to be healthy for me. Working 8am-5pm in this position four days a week was leaving me mentally fatigued, struggling to want anything more than sleep when I had time off.

I’d come back to Victoria to spend more quality time with my family. The job I loved was sucking away any desire to see anyone outside work. My fiction writing suffered when my creative energy was put toward making commercial floor cleaning equipment sound exciting. For all that, I still loved my job.

Losing it is a devastating blow. I’m not without options, and financially I’m in a great position to job search. I’m confused by some of the actions taken before that meeting, I’m upset at how only hours before I’d spoken with my manager (who would have known what was to come later in the day) where she discussed my plans for next week. According to my boss, she also felt burdened by the amount of help I needed in structuring my time and in determining what priorities came first. That she never said anything to me, rather,  that she acted eager to mentor me (and I did see her as a mentor) is a betrayal I just don’t understand. Why wouldn’t she say that I was being too demanding?

I need to let that go. The last lesson this job has to teach me may be the most important one of all: not blaming myself for this outcome.

I put everything into this job. I learned and I improved and I developed content that the company will continue to benefit from. I’m proud of that. I didn’t give up, I continued to hang on and keep trying, keep pushing to meet the demands of the company. I can’t do it–yet. As a small business, they don’t have the resources to invest in getting me to that point.

The decision to let me go wasn’t personal. They loved my work, there just wasn’t enough of it. They felt I was under too much pressure to deliver and that it would only get worse in future. For my health and their profit, it was best that I found something else.

I spent the weekend with my family, and took some time to feel sorry for myself. Tomorrow I begin the job hunt. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but I do know a few things to avoid. I’m excited to see what’s out there, and what I can learn in my next work adventure.

This time, I think I will aim for more of a life-work balance. A job that I can love, but one I can ‘disconnect’ from after hours. Something that provides me with breaks for mental rest that I need to keep from burning out, and something that allows me to be myself.

I’m sad today, but looking forward to tomorrow. What jobs do you think I should try my hand at?