Proof of progress

In a post from three months ago, I discussed the trauma of going to a restaurant with my wife. There were some specific triggers that made me very anxious, as well as the more expected ones, such as loud noises.

One sign of progress right now is how much I want to not finish this post and get to work on a major project I started a few days ago. By major, I mean it will likely take a year to complete. And, I will finish it. I’ve done projects like this many times before.

Last night, my wife and I went to the same restaurant we did three months ago. Some people from her work were going to participate in a trivia night. I like trivia! My wife didn’t ask me to go. Rather, I asked her if I could, and she said it would be fine. She had failed to tell me this in the past, though I think she assumed I wouldn’t like the atmosphere. I told her kindly to not assume my answers, even though I knew her reasoning.

Was it loud at the restaurant? Yes. But, I made a few adjustments for it and, as I typically try to do, found a seat away from “traffic.” Furthermore, there was trivia! I sat next to a man about my age. He’s disabled (rather obviously) and no longer has a regular job, but he makes knives as a hobby. That is cool, and he showed me pictures. I started drawing pictures of concepts of knives on napkins and asked if he could do them, hypothetically. We got into discussions on materials and the melting temperature of steel. I like creative things, and I genuinely find people interesting; everyone’s “story” is compelling. It’s part of how my brain works, the nature of my creative process and desire to fit everything together.

Every person, like every object in the universe, has a story and a place. This might be part of what makes me vulnerable to those with maladaptive behaviors. It’s not my desire to control people, but to understand them, that gets me in trouble occasionally. Perhaps, it’s my way of trying to fit in as well, to learn from others. This man’s passion for knives mirrors my how I feel about my new project, and I showed him some of what I’ve done in the past. He took much more interest than I thought he would!

Another man came in later, and he had on an old shirt with the Space Shuttle on it. That was good to see. Unfortunately, he didn’t know the names of the first commander and pilot of the shuttle, nor did he know they painted the tank white until they realized it added quite a bit of weight for no reason. I don’t know everything about the shuttle. But, I wasn’t wearing a shirt with the shuttle on it. There was an opportunity to discuss a discrepancy about an answer some time in the past regarding the Space Shuttle.

My wife also displayed one of her great strengths at the restaurant. When we arrived, there had been some confusion about seating. The others there decided my wife would be good at sorting it out. So, she did, very efficiently. She’s the most confident and self-assured person I know. It’s probably how she can live with me, though it also can be a weakness at times. It’s precisely this weakness I’m learning to accept, and I’m finding ways – better ways – to get help I need from others or, ideally, not need help at all. I can live in my own world if I need to, venturing out only as needed to do some specific activities that are good for and others.

I’m already looking for the next time we can go to the loud restaurant for trivia night. I’ll still have earplugs, in case I require them. Anxiety makes sensitivities worse, so I may not even need them.

In other words, I had a good time. I was not anxious at all.

What has caused this progress? Most significantly was my decision to test out a potential job for a few weeks. It has revived my faith in people and, most importantly, myself. While I’m still a little nervous about how nice people are being to me, I’m also paying very close attention to what people tell me, and I’m trying to sort out – in my mind – any potential misunderstandings I might have as soon as they happen. I don’t even need to know what might go wrong, but if I recognize a potential to create a mistake in the future, I will attempt to note that right away.

For example, at this job, there have already been some people make remarks about another that could be seen as disparaging; however, they are likely meant to be informative and helpful. The source of comments is also significant, and it could take time to decide if the source is reliable.

I’m not anxious at all about this; rather, I’m noting it calmly and not thinking about any one thing too much. If there are patterns, I’m sure my autistic brain will spot them, but I’ll work hard at not reading in too much to them.

I’ve gotten a chance to talk to some people at this new potential job, and I feel connected to some of them already. WARNING: friendly does not mean friends! OK. I still am at risk of making that mistake! Misjudging who is helping me has been a major problem in my life. I discussed this some in my last post, as I’ve decided not to respond to texts from both my father and someone from my previous job, though not for the same reasons. I’m trying to not get caught up so much with having to know why something has happened.

Not only that, but I think it’s compassionate to empathize with why someone might act a certain way, and it is wise to not focus only on the other person but also yourself and the best way for you to respond. It’s a summation of what people have been telling me for a long time. As I can track from the past, my tendency is to over-respond, so I need to learn to not assume people are asking for my help, as they are also probably not my friends. And, that’s OK. It leaves me more time to work on my things!

Breaking free from my father has been one of the most important steps. There are others who had me “in their grasp” as well, and I didn’t see it or want to accept it. Some of us settle for bad attention rather than no attention. I’ve decided to take back control of my life, and that has also meant breaking free from the idea I need my wife. Her work with her codependency tendencies has also helped, though probably not in the way she suspects. (I think I’ve been more codependent than she has.)

I’ve gone from telling my wife I don’t want a job unless she can help support me to telling her I don’t need her help at all with my job. In fact, I’ve been telling her I don’t need her help with anything! That might be slightly overstated, but I had to say it. I would rather not feel like a burden on anyone. As my therapists have been telling me, I should seek emotional support from people who have the ability to understand emotions better than my wife does. Letting go of the idea my wife has the capacity to change in some ways has been critical, even as I’m also trying to improve. I have to accept that not everything is my fault, not everything is on me to fix, and some people won’t care or have the ability to care about various problems. If they don’t, I can make my decisions based on whether I can handle it or not.

I’m grateful for the good things she does for me, but I’m not going to let them dictate my life or my feelings. I don’t need her as much as I thought I did. If she believes the purpose of relationships is “to have fun,” as she stated a couple of days ago, that’s what we will do. I will go to others if I require other things. If she can’t, I’ll figure out another way or do it myself.

I don’t need any one person. That includes my wife, my mother, my father, other family, or friends. Billions of people are in the world, most of them wanting to be left alone and live a decent life. I have to be more vigilant about spotting those who might abuse me, but I’ve now had a lifetime of lessons in that! I will be careful to not judge too quickly, but I require much stronger boundaries than I had before. (Did I have boundaries?)

I’m thinking of a line from The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “It is better to understand than to be understood.” Who cares if people understand me? Only I need to understand me, and I don’t have to do that completely.

There are more reasons today for hope than I’ve had in a while. There is evidence of progress, inside my brain and body. I feel it, just like I have felt when my brain and body are not well, are regressing, as the last couple of years (at least) have. I would rather not overstate, but I am doing things I’ve not in a long time, and I’m not interested in some “distress tolerance” techniques I’ve relied on many times, namely computer games. When I’m doing well, I have no interest in playing them. I’m also less interested in blogging, but I want to share how I’m doing.

I’ve never wanted to give up on people, and that has probably been a mistake. However, I haven’t given up on myself, and that is not a mistake. One piece of the puzzle at a time, even when more pieces come your way. That’s just how life goes, and it’s nice it’s going so well right now. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts and remember it the next time I’m not doing as well.

Most of all, I feel a sense of peace and freedom. And, that’s all most people want, I believe.

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