Ducks

I get migraines.

For years, I’ve had debilitating headaches that require a specific set of treatments; wrap my head in ice packs, lie down in a dark room, stay away from scents and odors, take caffeine and pain killers. If I do those things, the headache goes away in a couple of hours.

These are common treatments for migraines in people who don’t require prescriptions. I’ve been following these protocols for twenty years, and so far, I’ve avoided vomiting out the car window the way I did when the headaches first started two decades ago.

From what I have read, I don’t actually have migraines per se; I’ve never experienced some of the classic symptoms like tunnel or narrowed field of vision, the “aura”–which  includes irritability, lightheadedness, seeing flashes of light, speech problems–that presages the headache itself. I’ve seen friends go through these symptoms, and it’s unmistakable. But I’ve never had those symptoms.

It’s likely that what I have are cluster headaches; they come on suddenly, they are localized on one side of my head–usually behind or around one eye–and they happen almost always at the same time of day, in the morning for me.

Whatever they’re called, the ice pack/pain killer/low light treatment/no odors or sounds works. Every time. Because they can ruin my plans for a day, including work and other appointments, I have found it’s easier to tell people I have a migraine than I have a “cluster headache.” It doesn’t matter what I call it if the treatment is the same.

Since writing about Tim’s recent diagnosis, I’ve noticed some incredulity among people who have known us a while. What? Tim has Aspberger’s? How can that be? He seems so NORMAL.

A couple of things come into play here. First, high-functioning people with Aspberger’s develop coping skills over their lifetimes. These skills are known as “masking.” They see that there are rules of functioning in society, and strive to follow those rules, so when they’re out in the world, they seem just like all the other people in the world. Typical. Nothing stands out.

It’s when they’re at home that the mask comes off, and all the stress that’s built up from keeping that mask on all day gets released–that’s when the symptoms become evident. Social-function deficiencies aside, Aspbergians will become explosive over minor stimuli, an inability to empathize, difficulty understanding gestures or facial expressions, strict adherence to routine, inability to express or understand feelings.

And secondly, when you consider these symptoms, you’ll realize that these are the types of behaviors not readily observed in relationships with acquaintances. These are the kind of behaviors or gaps that are observable at home, and in the context of a close relationship, like your family of origin or a marriage.

Tim and I have discussed these symptoms in one form or another our whole marriage.  During the child-rearing years, the discussion focused on his difficulty getting close to the kids and providing emotional support during some difficult stretches. Going through his divorce/custody battle presented multiple occasions during which our youngest child required extra emotional support; our daughter’s medical challenges served up a host of other opportunities requiring emotional connection. Those were our first clues about Tim’s neurological differences. He didn’t even have an intellectual framework for the emotional demands of parenting.

I am the main reporter of Tim’s behaviors in the intimate setting of the home, so on some level, you have to trust my observations.  Marriage reveals behaviors not known to outsiders. Any marriage is the best mirror for examining an individual’s behavior; through the particular dyad of the two people, you discover your own deficiencies.

For instance, when I was first married to my first husband, our very first grocery shopping trips revealed some notable issues for me. When we got home, I waited until he was out of the room, then I proceeded to hide certain foods, squirreling away pretzels or cans of favorite soup. When he found the stash by accident and asked me about it, I realized that I was hiding food because I had learned as a child that if you don’t hide food from your three ravenous older brothers, it disappeared. My male siblings set upon grocery bags like locusts on a ripe crop of wheat.

My first husband was stunned that I had developed such habits. Although he was raised in a poor country in a family of eight siblings, he had never experienced such competition for food.

This particular behavior is not something anyone outside my marriage would have observed. No one besides my first husband–and then Tim, when I told him about it when we started grocery shopping together–would ever know that I did this. Occasionally, I will still hide things, only to happen upon them months later. Oh, right. Pretzels from July.

In the Aspberger’s diagnosis, we’ve discovered the best explanation for Tim’s particular set of behaviors. Other possible diagnoses–and their treatments–matched some symptoms but left others untouched. After 20 years of trying to force his very square peg into a tiny circular hole, we *finally* see things clearly.

But here’s the thing; nobody outside our household knows what we’re dealing with. That’s true for my marriage and for everyone else’s. Whether my husband seems “normal” or your husband seems like a real asshole, there’s no way either of us knows what we’re truly dealing with.  Sometimes, like when I was first married at 20, we don’t even know ourselves; it takes being in those naked spaces where we can’t hide anymore to find out what we’re made of, who we are, and how we behave toward the people we choose to live with.

For the faction of people skeptical about Aspberger’s diagnoses in general, and Tim’s in particular, besides the fact that your skepticism doesn’t change the facts, I can offer only this; if the treatment plan we follow helps the symptoms, does it MATTER what we call the diagnosis?

My cluster headache doesn’t give two shits what they’re called, as long as you lay some ice packs on them and put me in a dark room. Tim’s diagnosis and our function as a couple are helped by techniques developed for people with Aspberger’s.

It walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck. It’s a damned duck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skeptical

Have you met my husband? He’s the tall one with Max Headroom hair and the quiet public demeanor, always Canadian-polite, gentle with animals. If you have had any kind of discussion with him, you know he’s a skeptic. Almost a cynic. On most subjects.

I could cite examples, but I (cynically) expect some readers would easily dismiss them as applying universally, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one. I’ve known Tim since he was 13, we’ve been together 20 years, he’s a skeptic.

He sure as hell ain’t the guy who will “try anything”, or who does stuff just for fun, or who experiments with crystals and essential oils. He took a six-week meditation class, complaining the whole way that he “didn’t think this would do ANYTHING, but I guess I’ll try…” (it did help) He thinks yoga is a joke perpetrated by limber people to make the stiff-jointed look bad. And yes, he thinks it’s personal.

So when the doctor who diagnosed him with Aspberger’s recommended looking into dietary adjustments for helping manage some of the symptoms, he literally dismissed her out of hand. Sitting in her office, I watched his face go from curious (oh, there might be a treatment for this?) to “ppppppppppppffffffffffttttttttttttttttt” in a nanosecond. Diet? Why would he give up his favorite foods on the off chance something MIGHT change?

It is because of this response, dear reader, that I hardly recommend that Tim try things. When a MEDICAL DOCTOR recommends something and he scoffs, I know I don’t have a chance.

When Tim met Dr. Dan–who isn’t a doctor, but we call “Dr.” to differentiate this Dan from his brother Dan, who is also not a doctor. But this one’s closer to a doctor, so Dr. Dan it is–everything changed. After the first meeting, Tim was trying techniques recommended by Dr. Dan for handling his responsiveness. First meeting.

After the second meeting, Tim was–seriously, brace yourselves–considering a gluten-free diet. Some Asperger’s patients metabolize gluten in a different way. Once the body adjusts past the phase of stomach problems and minor physical health issues, gluten is metabolized into opioids. The constant stream of gluten acts as a constant stream of naturally generated drugs. 

After the third meeting, Tim decided he didn’t want to be thus under the influence, has now gone gluten AND DAIRY free.

Again, I will ask–have you met my husband?

He loves pizza.

He laughs at vegans.

When he lived in New York state, he subsisted on pasta and toast. Not even whole-wheat toast, just plain ol’ white bread toast. Occasionally, he’d score some kind of greens to go with his gluten, but mostly it was just gluten. And cheese. Dairy on top of gluten is one of his favorite things. See also: Chicago pizza.

 

Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago specialty. If this doesn’t appeal to you, I don’t know what to tell you.

 

As of today, Tim has gone more than a week without gluten or dairy. To his surprise, many of our favorite recipes are already gluten-free, and dairy-free, when we skip the queso on black beans and cilantro lime rice, or sour cream with mujaddara. His wife (that’s me!) has been moving this direction for years, not purposely anti-gluten, just wanting healthier choices. This adjustment hasn’t been too bad, all things considered.

After four days off the stuff, we had dinner at a friend’s house over the weekend and didn’t mention the gluten/dairy factor. Tim wanted to just ride it out, not be That Guy. Dr. Dan had mentioned that Tim might start feeling better in a couple of days post-gluten, but aside from a more peaceful demeanor at home, Tim didn’t notice anything specific.

Not until after our spaghetti dinner with garlic bread.

About 30 minutes after dinner, he started getting the shakes, like an adrenaline rush. His stomach started “flipping out”, and by the time we got home, he spent some quality time in the bathroom. And that night, he had trouble sleeping.

The next morning, he was a reactionary mess. Once again, little things–dropping the coffee scoop–blew into a massive explosion. He grumped around the house for hours, knowing full well where his symptoms originated, but unable to stop them from taking shape in the physical world.

He felt so unpleasant in his gut and in his feelings, he isn’t interested in having gluten again any time soon. He is skeptical no more about the effects of gluten on his system. And this is a man who previously gave up smoking completely without assistance, no patch, no hypnosis, just cold turkey. Same thing with alcohol many years ago. He just quits, no big deal. He really does have a concrete emotional and intellectual constitution.

I’m proud of the work he is putting in on himself. I feel more free to tend to my needs, to pursue what’s important to me, when he is the one in charge of himself. My
well-developed co-dependence has maintained our dynamic a certain way for years–to avoid Tim being upset, Meg is in charge of the long list of things that might make him explode–but that’s starting to change.

Gluten-and-dairy-free is easy in Portland. He has choices on every street corner, in every coffee shop and grocery store. He will not want for delicious food–he’s already discovered Bob’s Red Mill GF oatmeal cookies.

I’m joining him on the gluten diet. I mean, why not. It’s just easier for our grocery budget and for cooking. Sophia can–and does–make her own food. I get to be creative in the kitchen again, flexing a muscle I’d allowed to atrophy when the kids left the nest. I’m not giving up dairy, however. My non-fat Greek yogurt breakfasts and pears with Gouda are not going anywhere.

My skeptical man has made progress down the road of taking care of himself. I see light. This tunnel has windows and fresh air. Our dynamic is a’changin’.

Look out world.

 

Some hockey writing

You all know I love hockey. I’ve started writing for a Seattle(‘s Gonna Get an NHL Team) fan site. Here’s my latest for them.

https://jetcityice.com/2019/09/18/ron-francis-cipher/

Oh, yeah, Tim’s the editor/main instigator of the project, so I had an in. But I love having the chance to do some sports writing, which I’ve always wanted to do. Some of my main writing influences were sports writers–Rick Reilly, Bob Verdi, Irv Kupcinet, Dave Bidini–so I feel comfortable in these words.

Follow Jet City Ice for more hockey content than you could ever imagine wanting.

 

No, We’re not Getting a Divorce

Tim and I have been together 20 years. I’ve known him since we were 13. We’ve been through most of life’s major moments together. We have a good understanding of each other, and align on most parenting and basic life decisions.

IMG_20180428_130818062_HDR (1).jpg

my current favorite picture of Tim

By his own admission, I know him better than anyone else ever has. But I have struggled to make sense of parts of his personality that have caused us such grief; his cool, detached emotional distance, and his fiery, scorching rages. These extremes have framed our lives together, dictating our relationship in ways both simple and profound.

As I have said repeatedly, Tim’s best quality by far is his willingness to seek a solution when he recognizes there’s a problem. For the last six years, we’ve been examining this particular polarity, sussing out what underpins this stressful dynamic. Our working thesis for many years was a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, delivered to Tim when he was in his mid-20s. Carefully monitored medications have helped to a certain extent, preventing some symptoms, not touching others.

But no medication improved his temper. His practice of meditation helped, but changing circumstances got him off that habit. And while meditation helped his reactive outbursts, it didn’t affect his detachment.

Adding to our friction is my native tenderness, a sensitivity that led me to music and writing, my emotions bleeding through everything I do. I don’t much like the word “empath,” but the description is appropriate. According to Dr. Judy Orloff, who wrote several books on the subject, “Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme . . . Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. they’re . . . world-class nurturers.”

The number of times I was told I’m “too sensitive” makes me uncomfortable with this description. I have trouble seeing the good in being sensitive, because it’s been used as an insult so many times. But sensitive is what I am. I have worked diligently to separate myself from situations that are not my responsibility, to avoid letting emotional situations control my decisions socially or professionally. That is not an easy task for me, but I’ve learned some techniques.

With me being an exposed nerve, and Tim being a downed power line sparking all over our world, life has rarely been calm. I have the hardest time detaching to a safe distance with Tim, because I love him and want to be around him. But if you’ll recall, his emotional detachment is the other fragment of necessary information; I can only attach to him to a certain point, beyond which he is unreachable.

These are the characters, Portland’s “know thyself” ethos is the setting, now here’s the plot; After years of therapy separately and together, we finally have a concrete reason for this isolating schizm; Tim has been diagnosed with Asperger’s.

The roots of his detachment and his rage are the same; he has trouble processing sensory input, and so he avoids it by detaching; when he can’t avoid it and it overwhelms him, he lashes out in a rage.

Several therapists have gotten us to this point. Individual counselors for him and for me, a couples therapist for us together, and now, finally, an autism specialist, who placed Tim on the spectrum.

Because he holds a steady job and manages real-world functions, he has High Functioning Autism, or Aspberger’s. I’m not completely clear on what terminology to use yet.

I’m relieved to have an explanation for what we’ve been through. I spent many years blaming myself for not being _________ enough to make him happy; quiet/tidy/passive/polite/you name it, I felt guilty for not being it. But as with all issues relating to another person’s happiness, it has nothing to do with me. He has completely different stuff going on that he has to deal with.

So here we are, now 50 years old, living in a mostly empty nest, trying to incorporate a brand-new diagnosis of a developmental disorder. Some scholars suggest there is comorbidity with Aspberger’s (ASD) and bipolar disorder (BP). Tim’s had a clinical diagnosis of central auditory processing disorder, a neurological disorder, since college. We may find these are all part of the same issue.

This has always been our reality; now we understand the reasons why, the facts behind the behavior. Now we know what’s changeable and what isn’t.

Now we figure out how to make a life around this diagnosis. Because this isn’t something we can wish away or medicate away or pray away or ignore; this is fact.

Tim’s strength–seeking out a solution when he realizes there’s a problem–will serve him well in this phase of his life. He’s auditioning autism-spectrum-disorder (ASD) therapists over the next few weeks, and getting back to regular meditation. I’ll have to lean more heavily on my own self-care tactics to help myself through this transition. With everything else we’ve managed in 20 years together, we will manage this too, I am certain. I have no idea what that will look like, but maybe I’ll drop a line here if things get interesting.

I’m willing to bet that things will, indeed, get interesting.

 

 

 

 

Horror Eyes

If you have ever watched a recent horror film, you are familiar with a common special effect used to signify that a person has been possessed by or has become an evil spirit; the entire eye, including the white part, becomes pitch black.

Image result for horror eyes

This happened to me this morning, sans evil spirit.

I blame my age.

When my 25 year old daughter showed up one day with beautiful and simple eyeliner, I asked her to show me how to do it.

“It’s called tightline, or waterline,” she said. She then showed me how to pull my upper eyelid slightly more open, so I could draw on the edge of skin beneath the lashes, the part that touches the eyeball.

It’s subtle but effective, the way I believe makeup should be. The only drawback is that the pencil line becomes liquified by the moisture in my eyes, and within minutes of application, I have smudges beneath my eyes that make it look like I’ve been crying.

And no, I have not been crying. One of the best parts of menopause, for me, has been reduction of tears. By and large, the things that used to make me cry now simply annoy and irritate me.

So this morning, as I was getting ready for work, I’m at my makeup mirror. I also check my email, waiting for an important banking notification that should arrive any minute. I’ve got my contacts in, and I’ve decided to try tightlining with my waterproof liquid eyeliner. Worth a shot, right? I’ve got 10 extra minutes to play around.

My mirror is as close as I can get it without my eyes being forcibly crossed.

I pull my eyelid up and aim for the corner. But my hand is in the way, and I can’t see up close without my reading glasses—a new development—so my aim is approximate, not precise. You kind of have to be precise around the eye.

I tilt my head, looking for a new angle of approach. The computer pings with an email arrival. The important bank stuff! I can get this done before I go to work. Easy peasy.

I turn my attention back to makeup. I really need to take out my contacts—or put on my reading glasses. This is nuts. I am a vague beige and brown shape with a blue target in the middle. The tip of the liquid eyeliner applicator, which is a soft paintbrush shape, hits right between my eyelid and eyeball. My eye is flooded with black liquid.

I look like I’ve been possessed. I whisper into the mirror, “THAT’S how they do it!” and race to the bathroom to wash out my eye. My contact. My eye again.

It doesn’t hurt or sting, I just can’t see. I wait for the pain, but nothing comes. That’s a relief.

My ten extra minutes have evaporated. I rush back to my desk. Because I think I can multitask, I’ve also been trying to enter data into the banking app. With one eye and a ticking clock.

“Please enter your bank’s routing number.”

Well, crap. I haven’t used checks for years. Where the fuck am I going to find my routing number? With an assist from my husband (thank god for him), I find the damned routing number.

“Please enter either your email or your phone number for verification.”

Okayokayokayokayokayokay comeoncomeoncomeoncomeon. Yes. Verify. Yes. Okay.

Now I’m late. Is it because of the eyeliner? Or the bank? Multitasking?

The bank’s email doesn’t come. I’ve reverted to my regular eyeliner programming, the kind that makes me look like a droopy Charro, and figure it can’t be any worse than it’s been the last four years. I’ll figure out how to be like my 25 year old another day.

Where is that damned email?

My bags are packed and I can leave as soon as the email arrives with the confirmation number.

“Here is your confirmation number. Copy and paste–”

Yeah yeah, let’s go.

“Your email has been confirmed. Please also confirm your phone number”

SHIT. Where is my phone?

Where the hell is my phone?

I’ve been on it this morning, right after I got up. I sent my husband a funny headline. I think I did. Or was that last night? He left for work already. I email him.

Have you seen my phone?

“Confirm your phone number within 5 minutes, or your account information will be refused.”

I’m pretty consistent with my phone. When I’m headed out the door, it’s either on my purse or on the table near the door. It’s neither place. Not in the bathroom. Not in the freezer. In the dog food bucket? Nope. In the cushions of the couch next to my purse—no. On the floor? Did I leave it outside when I took the dog out? Did I take the dog out? SHIT. DOES THE DOG NEED TO SHIT? I am going to be so freaking late.

I am so screwed.

Not in the bathroom, or the freezer. Maybe it’s in the fridge. Nope. Is it IN my purse? No. My lunchbox? No. My robe pocket? NO. Washer? Dryer? Linen closet?

FUCK.

“Confirm your phone number within 1 minute…”

I start throwing bedding off my nicely made bed. Not under the throw, or the top blanket. My husband’s pillow, my pillow—shit. THERE it is!

How many times have I lost something because I cleaned? You’d think I’d learn.

I confirm the phone number for the bank. I plausibly remake the bed and dart for the door.

On my way across town, I reason that the only explanation for this whole sordid story is that, at 50, my eyesight has become so complex—contacts for distance vision, reading glasses for up close, and screw the in between—that things I used to take for granted, like putting on eye makeup, now require techniques and devices I haven’t yet embraced. A magnifying mirror. A professional makeup artist. Eyeliner tattoo. Something.

Now that I’m this age, I can’t see to put on makeup without reading glasses, which get in the way of putting on makeup. I’ve graduated from the ridiculously difficult-to-open PMS medication packaging—seriously, who put THAT much plastic between a woman with PMS and the medication that will ease her pain?—to eyesight that won’t let me put on eyeliner, the one thing that makes me feel slightly less middle-aged and homely.

All I know for sure is that I can’t do tightlining anymore until I find a smudge-proof, non-liquid eyeliner, that I cannot multitask like I used to, and that if I ever need to pretend I’m possessed, I have everything I need in my makeup bag.

You never know when information like that is going to come in handy.