Thoughts of my father

Today would have been my father’s birthday. Were he still alive today he would be 86 years old. Most of the men in my family never make it that far. I’m hoping to be the first; my personal goal is 87. I don’t remember why I settled on that number, but whatever.

I have outlived him. Actually I passed that point back in July of last summer. He died at the age of 56. I’ll be turning 57 is just under a month. And for some reason I asked myself what he would think about the world of today.

My father probably wouldn’t like the world of today. I suspect he wouldn’t have made it through the G.W. Bush administration. The frustration and general stupidity of that era would have killed him. He had very little use for people who could see reality in front of their face and still miss it. He had even less use for people who could see reality and deliberately ignore it.

The Trump administration would have probably killed him within the first month. People who ignore obvious facts because some charismatic blowhard tells them to were, in his mind, the worst type of people the human race can produce. He had a rather humorous name for them: it took their genetic lineage and compared it to the excrement of a boar.

Dad, you’re probably fortunate that you haven’t seen what the world has become. Perhaps if things improve over the next year or two, your spirit may find some more peace.


System Overload

Sometimes you just gotta stop and… well, just stop.

Have you ever been in a mindset where you just can’t take any more input? A point where every sound, smell, sight, and any other sensation is enough to make you want to run and hide? Becoming overstimulated is something that almost everyone has experienced. And the most common remedy is simple “down time.”

Everybody needs “down time.” That’s when we process the information we’ve acquired in the recent time, usually since our last period of sleep. It’s when our brain files things under experience, updates our collected knowledge, and puts things in perspective. For most people, down time is straightforward, and doesn’t require much thought. Most folks have a quiet meal with their family, enjoy a beer at their favorite hang out, read, listen to music, or whatever. Everyone has their preferred method for unwinding.

But for neurodivergent people, this can be a little more difficult. For starters, a lot of them need more down time than most others, and more frequently. The most common explanation is that for many neurodivergent people, particularly the ones on the higher end of the autistic spectrum, their brains have no filters. The world around them is feeding them a dizzying array of information through all of their senses, at a relentless rate. The stereotype image of an overstimulated neurodivergent has them crouched low, with their arms around themselves, rocking back and forth, and softly muttering. It’s difficult to watch (unless you’re a cruel person enjoys putting them into this state), and even harder to experience.

Overestimation can have a variety of causes, because there are many varieties of people. On the whole, however, if my own experience is anything to go by, most of society doesn’t know how to react when a neurodivergent person becomes overstimulated. Or, as is often said colloquially, “starts having a meltdown.” However, it will be some time before society changes on this front. The process has started, but it’s likely to be slow. So for now, us neurodivergents need to self-manage as best we can.

Before I continue, I want to point out that I am not a therapist or psychiatrist. I’m only describing my own experiences and observations, and what I did to handle them.

One of the first things we can do is recognize what causes us to become overstimulated. These events and experiences are often called “triggers,” for obvious reasons. Loud noises, and sudden light changes are two of the most common categories. Other people can be triggered by more subtle things, like common sound patterns, seeing certain objects or activities, and even smells or colors. If you know certain things are likely to “set you off,” then the smart move is to prepare yourself to roll through it, or even try to avoid it (if possible). I know that’s a real no-brainer, but I thought it worth mentioning.

For example, I occasionally have problems with vertigo and agoraphobia. So, if I know I’m going to be in a situation with a lot of crowds, or being way up high (like on a plane), I try to fortify myself for the sensory assault that I know is coming. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s hard to know beforehand.

Lisa, Xander and I recently went to Louisiana to spend the holidays with Lisa’s extended family. On the whole the trip went very well, but not without some issues. At one point we drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which is a very long bridge over that large, shallow, inland sea of a lake. The causeway is generally low to the surface, so I wasn’t expecting a vertigo-related response. However, over the course of the thirty minutes it took to cross the thing, I gradually became rattled. I was driving 60 miles per hour, on a very narrow bridge, with absolute nothingness in all directions! The sensation was akin to falling. I watched those mile markers count down as the distant northern shore came more and more into focus, all the while wishing it would end. That experience left me a wreck for several hours afterward.

Recognizing triggers can be tricky, and sometimes we will have to update our list. I certainly did after that experience. I don’t know of any secret for dealing with triggers, only to know what they are and when they are likely to be flipped. Recognizing triggers may mitigate states of stimulation, but what about those times when it doesn’t?

Earlier, I mentioned how everyone has their own ways of unwinding during their down time. If you can get into one of those, great. After a little time in your comfort zone, you may level out. For a neurodivergent, though, this may take longer than for others.

Another popular trick is the mindfulness method of breathing at a regular pace, and try to take note of your surroundings. Try to identity five things you can see, five you can hear, five you can touch, and sometimes five you can smell or taste. It’s a good way to clear away the noise in your head, if only temporarily.

Another common approach, especially if you don’t have a lot of time, is the Four-Seven-Eight breathing exercise. Quite simply, you deeply inhale for a count to four (or use seconds if you have a time piece), hold your breath for a count to seven, then slowly exhale for a count to eight. This one is especially useful if you’re on the verge of exploding after a sensory onslaught. I’ve been trying to use this one more frequently of late.

Other things I’ve done are to look a window for a few seconds, to remind me of the larger picture. Some people like to take a quick walk to “touch grass.” Different methods work for different people, so if you have a unique decompression exercise that works for you, excellent! The real goal is to not go berserk in public and scare, or hurt, other people. I can understand the desire to sometimes want to, but it usually doesn’t end well. Try not to lash out at the neuro-typicals. They probably don’t understand what’s going on in your head. A lot of them want to understand, and a lot of them are trying. But this is a new social trend. Or more accurately, the decision to take it seriously is new. So it may take a while for them to catch up.

Just keep your cool, in whatever way works best for you, and the over-stimulation will soon ebb.

And now, I’m going to go lay down. I think I got overstimulated writing about over-stimulation.


New year, new blog focus

As a famous frog once said, “It looks like we’ve come to the end of another one…”

It’s a new year, and we’re still here. What the upcoming year will bring is anyone’s guess. Personally, I’m nervous about the elections late in the year. As a citizen of the United States I’m unhappy with some of the trends I see, and I’m downright terrified that so many people are very happy with these same trends. With luck I’ll go into that later.

Right now I want to talk about this blog site. Sometimes it drives me crazy. For the past few years I have tried to follow a pattern of one article a week, but can never maintain it. I have considered shutting this thing down, on several occasions. But I keep holding on to it, even though my apparent inability to regularly update it is causing me anxiety. So this year I’m not going to attempt a regular schedule. I will put up an article when I feel compelled to write about something. If that turns out to be once a week, great. But I’m skeptical. I tend to write when I have something to say, and that doesn’t always follow a timetable. That’s been the schedule I’ve effectively been following, so that won’t change. I now think that part of my problem is a lack of a consistent theme. Most content creators, even tiny ones like me, tend to focus on one topic, or a small group of closely related topics. Until now I haven’t been doing that.

One issue I have had, especially during 2023, was that I wanted to address topics that would have caused some real-world problems. Topics that, had they been breached through this online forum, would have been completely inappropriate. Sometimes they dealt with personal issues that simply shouldn’t be talked about online, other times they involved other people in my life that wanted to handle things their own way, and sometimes I was not in a state of mind that was conducive to writing. In the long run it probably doesn’t matter what my reasons were. However, some of those issues have since fallen away. One thing that has changed is that during the past year I have learned several things about myself and the world around me. My last major set of articles followed my stormy career path, and how it came to a pitiful end. That period of introspection turned over a lot of rocks.

I am considered neurodivergent. Which is to say, I see the world, and everything in it, through a lens that is very different from what most people see. For starters, I suffer from a variation of post-traumatic-stress-disorder, usually called just PTSD. It’s unlike most cases of PTSD, in that I didn’t go through a highly traumatic, dangerous, or threatening experience that through my entire world for a loop. (Though some of my experiences from my high school years might qualify.) Instead, I endured a long, sustained barrage of low-level stress issues, that over time created in me a response pattern that is in line with PTSD. Instead of facing a big and terrible experience, I faced a constant flow of small ones. Instead of my psyche being messed up by a few blows with a sledgehammer, it was worn down by a sandblaster. My time with the Library of Congress certainly provided that. I think there is a special name for this variant of PTSD, but I don’t remember it, and I don’t want to trust an internet search engine. I’ll ask my therapist when I see them later this week.

It is also very likely that I am on the autistic spectrum. I seem to be on what is considered the functional end of it (whatever that means…), but I have several of the key issues. The most apparent being that I can get over-stimulated and need to isolate myself. If I can’t, I become increasingly agitated and hard to deal with, and eventually I can’t really function at all. I suspect I’ve put Lisa through some pretty terrible phases over the past few years, especially near the end of Michael’s life. The true nature of my neurodivergency is still being determined. But whatever it is, I am a member of that demographic.

Which finally brings me to my point. At this point my late father would be absolutely seething, and thundering “Get to the point!!” Sorry, dad. But sometimes the point makes no sense unless you use beating around the bush to provide context. As a neurodivergent man in his mid-fifties, I may have some insights into this chaotic world that some people may find helpful, or at least comforting. The world can be crazy, and it doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who think differently, or view the world through a different lens. Perhaps I can help a few people with this. I’ll at least try.

That being said, this blog is likely to take on a different tone. I plan to examine some of the less comfortable aspects of neurodivergency, and how it can effect the everyday person. It can worm it’s way into life in ways that one could never imagine, and create a lot of discord. Other times it can provide a different way of looking at things that may not be obvious or apparent. I hope to look into some of these instances. Where possible I’ll use personal experience, and avoid indulging in self-pity. At any rate, it may get pretty dark in here.

So, it’s a new year, and I’m going try doing something different. Let’s turn over some of these rocks.

Update, January 3

Apparently the variation of PTSD that I appear to have is simply called C-PTSD, for “complex post-traumatic stress disorder.” I have two observations on this. First, George Carlin would have had an absolute field day with that collection of buzzwords. Second, I thought it had a fancier name, perhaps with a Latin word in it. I’m actually a tad disappointed. I guess I was overthinking things.

Blue Parachute III

A postmortem of my career as a librarian, Part 3.

Technical problems and intermittent writer’s block delayed this article. My goal for the year was to push out one article per week, and only two months in I’m already a month behind. This doesn’t bode well.
In addition to getting this collective bile out of my system, I’m also writing these experiences in the hope that I can help others who are in, or have been in, similar situations. My circumstances are certainly different from those of anyone reading this, but career problems have become commonplace. Perhaps reading about how another person handled their particular mess can be of help to the reader. If nothing else, the reader can take some solace in knowing that they aren’t alone.

Continued from earlier.

When I left the Library of Congress in March of 2017, I was well and truly adrift. I didn’t have any real confidence in myself, and even less in my professional skill set. But even so I buckled down and embarked on the dreaded job hunt.

I used a lot of the traditional routes, such as trade publications, newspapers, and online classified sites. But I also used some of the more recent tricks, like networking and searching for volunteer opportunities. I set up an account on LinkedIn to re-connect with my professional contacts, more to see what they could suggest for a current job seeker. I actually found that a bit uncomfortable, because several of my contacts went to bat for me in the past, and now here I was with my career pretty much dead. They must have wondered why I was in this mess. Again.

For the first several weeks I was getting good results. I had several interviews, both in person and via telephone, so I was confident that one of my prospects would pan out. That confidence didn’t last long. By early summer I realized that my career prospects were very bleak. For starters I was encountering ageism. Honestly that shouldn’t have surprised me. I was largely restricted to middle and low level librarian positions, which meant that I was directly competing with younger graduates who were new to the profession. These were the same kind of people I used to run with back in the mid-1990’s. My skill set had atrophied to the point where I couldn’t compete with this new crew.

My skill set was another problem. Specifically, it was no longer useful. I fell into a rather common trap of career management, in that I didn’t update or even maintain some of my key skills. Arguably I had a good reason, in that I was too busy just staying afloat to worry about keeping myself current. But the end result was the same: I was professionally obsolete.

In late August I set myself up with a temp agency, in the hope of getting a temporary position at one of the local companies. I was going to have to think long and hard about what I was going to do next, because it was clear that the library field was done with me. The temp agency set me up with a local textile company, which would provide some income while I figured out what to do next. My first decision was to stop searching for a professional library job, and to stop following up on the leads I did have.

I found I needed to start over, from the very beginning. I could have tried getting some new training by returning to school. The problem with that was that my mental health problems would make any such training very time consuming because I have so much trouble focusing. Another problem was cost. The money it would require for me to return to school, even short trade classes, would be better spent on my daughter’s education than on trying to rehabilitate a worn out old guy like me.

I looked into other options, but nothing seemed right for me. Somewhere in mid fall I was mulling through my options, such as they were, and discussing them with Lisa. I was, by this time, completely demoralized and frustrated. I had two possible new career paths that I could attempt, but couldn’t decide. Lisa asked me “which do you want to do?” Surprisingly, I responded with “I don’t want to do either one, but I need to choose.” I then stopped and took a deep breath, having realized my large Freudian-style slip.

I then turned to the latest edition of Richard Nelson Bolles‘s famous book “What Color is your Parachute?” and started working through the various exercises that are designed to help you think through some of the huge decisions that career planning tends to generate. The exercises are very good, by the way, even if your aren’t job hunting. They make for good thinking aids, and demonstrate many innovative ways to approach and solve problems. I highly recommend the book for anyone who is facing difficult decisions of a non-emotional nature.

Despite the book’s benefits, I didn’t feel I was getting any closer to finding a new path. One day, something strange happened. There is a section of the book that talks about how to negotiate salaries and benefits. One thing Bolles recommends is figuring out what kind of a budget you can comfortably live on, so that you have a base line to start with. When it comes to salaries, more isn’t always better. (My salary at the Library was pretty good, but the work situation was so toxic that the money almost didn’t matter.) He points out that you should take into account not only your day to day living expenses, but if possible, how you like to spend your free time. I guess it’s the idea of not only making a living, but being able to actually live. He then mentioned, almost in passing, that you may discover that your actual salary requirement is fairly low, if it meets your requirements and allows you to enjoy your free time as you please.

I stopped reading the book at that point. In a state of absolute bewilderment, I realized that my free time mattered more to me than my work time, and that I didn’t care what I was doing for a living. So long as I could spend time with my family and pursue my hobbies and interests, my job didn’t matter. I was, apparently, a complete burn out, and no longer wanted a career. The career I had was well and truly dead, with nothing left to salvage. And I didn’t have any interest in building a new one.

The one big variable I still had in play was my application for disability through the Federal Employee Retirement System. If I was approved for disability, those benefits combined with my job at the textile plant would be sufficient. It would be tight at times, but we could still manage. What was most important to me was that I could turn my back on the professional world, perhaps forever. So for a couple of months I simply waited. In February of 2018 I received word that I had been approved for disability, and that my new benefits would start the following month. As fate would have it, the textile plant informed me that once a hiring freeze was lifted, hopefully some time in April, they wanted to hire me on as a regular employee. In April they did precisely that, and that was the end. I guess my final career decision was to stop having one.

I’ve been collecting disability since that time, and will continue to do so until I turn 62. That’s when the rules change a bit, and so do the benefits. I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I still work for that textile company, Cintas. The job is very simple, and certainly doesn’t require a master’s degree, so it gets on my nerves from time to time. But unlike my job at the Library, it doesn’t follow me home. A decent meal, shower, and a good night’s sleep is usually all I need to shrug off the worst of days. Sometimes I look back and think about returning to the professional world, but then I remember how during my last months at the Library I often wished to be somewhere, anywhere else. Yeah, I really am a burned out… something.

But, I was supporting my family again, on are far more modest level. I have to say that collectively I’m now a more content, if much poorer man. And I can honestly say that I would rather keep working my blue-collar job at Cintas than return to a job like my white-collar one at the Library of Congress.

So to answer Bolles’s question, my parachute turned out to be blue.

That concludes the narrative portion of this excursion. Questions still remain, though, and I hope to address them in time.