Caregiving, Autism, and Depression

We’re less than a week into the new year and already it’s been terrible for me. I’m a caregiver for a guy with autism which has it’s ups and downs like any job. Lately it’s been down. The work hasn’t changed much; I plan and cook meals, remind him to shower and groom, pay the bills, and ensure the apartment is clean. The problems began on Monday afternoon. For Christmas, he got a present that makes his normal bike a stationary bike, so he can ride inside. It’s too cold and too wet to ride outside much during the winter. It’s a good idea in theory, but in practice it causes us a couple of problems. We store his bike in our dining room that we use as storage, but he wants to ride the bike in his room. That way he can watch TV or play video games while he’s pedaling. The problem is that the device doesn’t allow you to move the bike around when it’s set up. It’s best to set it up and leave it in one place, he doesn’t have space to leave the bike set up in his room. We end up setting it up every time he wants to ride it. If you were to take it outside you’d run into a similar problem even if you did leave in one place inside your house. The set up isn’t particularly difficult, but it’s not so easy that it only takes a minute or two. What all that means is that I usually only half way set it up when he rides. I don’t attach the magnetic resistance device and I don’t use the bolt covers that came with the device. Instead I trust the ones already on the bike, which it turns out may have been a mistake. While riding the bike in his room on Monday afternoon, just as I was just about to start dinner, I heard a crash in his room. I rushed in, he and the bike had fallen into the bookshelf he was riding next to. The fall may have been the result of improper set up or riding while trying to hold a video game controller. Either way it left him deeply upset with a room full of stuff on the floor. The fall knocked most of the stuff that off the bookshelf. Dealing with an upset autistic person isn’t the most fun you can have. The restraint most of us show when we’re angry or depressed isn’t there for an autistic person. In this sort of situation I expect some kind of tantrum. To ward that off, I do my best to remain calm and just start cleaning up the mess or solving the problem. I make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, but beyond that I let him shake his fists and express his distress. After a while he usually calms down and I can get him to help me pick stuff up or do whatever needs doing. I didn’t work out that way this time. He spent the next few days depressed and out of whack.

I feel partially to blame for the sadness lingering, but not entirely. It’s been cold, here in Oregon, since the beginning of the year. The refrain he repeats over and over is ‘snow is bad for your health.’ I don’t know what that means, but I do know he hates snow and he gets anxious at the possibility of snow. The weather, falling off his bike, and the post-holiday blues culminated in a furious depression. I blame myself, but I don’t mean setting the bike up like I did, though I have kicked myself for that plenty. Mid-tantrum, or freakout as I like to call them, I was helping him pick up stuff and I mentioned he had a lot of stuff. I didn’t mean it in a mean-spirited or accusatory way, but that’s how he took it. The next morning as I was going through my morning exercise routine he told me he thought he had too much stuff. That’s a reasonable thought to have because he collects actions figures and has a bunch of toy swords, guns, and Lego. Everything a twelve year old boy would love to have. I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t even completely connect it to my aside the day before. Then, as I was finishing exercising, he was getting out of the shower visibly, well aurally, upset and told me he wanted to get rid of his stuff. I connected it then to what I had said and felt terrible, but figured it would pass. The problem with depressed people is they aren’t clear about what’s causing their depression. I have no idea what causes mine. Autism compounds this because autistic people are often poor communicators generally. Especially so with stuff like moods and emotions. That leaves you guessing at what the problem is from tangential clues and what you can do to try and fix it. We ran a few errands Tuesday morning, so I assumed he would cheer him up while we were out. He often ends up feeling a little cooped up in the house without much to do. It didn’t help, but I did my best to talk him through it. We’ve, I’ve, designated Tuesdays as our game day, my hope was that by the end of the day he’d feel good. Playing a nice long board game and having social interaction would improve his mood I thought. I didn’t. I tried making him his favorite foods and tried to entertain him by helping him bake sweets.  I worked it out so he could hang out with his brother. Nothing helped. Not the pizza he chose for our game day meal, shrimp with bacon bits. The baking, the games, nothing improved his mood for more than a few minutes. Depression is a bitch.

In the middle of this personal chaos something a little bit weird happened. I went out on Wednesday morning at about six to smoke my first cigarette of the day as usual. It was freezing cold, but quiet and dark like most mornings. Mid-cigarette a girl approached me, crying and shivering from the cold. She asked me if I had an extra blanket, so I obliged and went inside to find one. Then I gave her a glass of water and she left. She wished me happy holidays, which was odd, but what can you say beyond thank you if you’re in her situation. It was dark so I never even saw what she looked like or said more than a couple sentences to her. That’s how the rest of the world has been to me while I’ve been trying to soothe this depression. It pops in and out for a few minutes, but I never see it in any detail. On some level that’s how decent people let terrible things happen. We’re so consumed by the minutiae and responsibilities of our own lives that we don’t have the time or energy to stop larger evils. But then how decent are we really if we’re not fighting evil?

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My Resolution: Deal with Bullshit

It’s snowing out, but it’s still warm enough and the ground’s still wet enough that it’s not really sticking. It’s become a cold winter. This is a time when everyone either reflects on the year that just past or the year that’s coming, but they’re both terrible things to reflect on so I’m doing my best to ignore them. I’m not really the type of person to make resolutions because it’s a new year, the changes I make to my life are more abrupt and not nearly well planned enough to begin on a specific date. I do usually make some generic plans for the year to come, but they usually consist of me continuing to do something I’ve already started. My resolution last year was to finish losing weight. I did do that, I’m about one hundred twenty pounds lighter this morning than I was at this time last year and I’ve lost about one hundred ninety pounds overall, so that’s good. One resolution this year is to maintain my weight, which as long as I continue monitoring my calories and exercising as I have been should be easy. I’m also planning to read and write more. I set those plans in motion, as much as they were plans, back in October though, so again it’s really just about continuing to do what I have been doing. I have two other resolutions, one is try making a new recipe for dinner once every month which should be fun. The other is to deal with bullshit. It’s probably the best resolution anyone can make, but also the easiest to keep. We can’t help but deal with bullshit, it’s part of everyday life. That’s the easy part, but it’s a great resolution because it serves as a reminder that we are going to have to deal with bullshit in the coming year. People are going to be petty, dumb, and mean — and we are too, which will bring along its own consequences. The political situation is going to entail a ton of bullshit we’ve all got to be ready to deal with. All around our lives there is bullshit and while we can’t avoid all of it there are times when we can, so by making a resolution to deal with bullshit instead of avoiding or ignoring it we’re committing to being active, to not avoiding shit just because it’s hard or dumb.

Trump, Corruption, and Ineptitude

Should we be happy if Trump turns out to be just an especially corrupt Republican? On one hand that isn’t the worst case scenario, the worst being that he’s an actual totalitarian who will usurp power, villainize a minority group or two as scapegoats for his failing policies, and then use state violence to suppress or eliminate them. The fears of him being an actual fascist who will usurp power are legitimate, you just have to look to North Carolina to see why, but ultimately it seems unlikely it will go that far. I don’t have much faith in our institutions, but I do believe that vanity primarily drives Trump. The president gets a free portrait, possibly what Trump ran for, and all other sorts of prestige, so my sense is Trump won’t feel the urge to usurp power. He’d probably thoroughly enjoy the facade of adoration given to dictators, but the effort involved in gaining that won’t be worth it to him. The policies Trump will ultimately pursue will stand on three legs; corruption, ineptitude, and extreme Republicanism. The result of these legs will be the proto-fascism we deeply and reasonably fear. A combination of corruption and ineptitude, both of which have been well documented and can be seen from his current roster of cabinet appointments and advisers, will lead to the government being less interested in and less capable of handling foreign and domestic threats of terrorism. The Bush administration failed to stop 9/11 though of combination of ineptitude and disinterest in terrorism. The Trump administration will fail to stop an attack because they’re too busy lining their pockets. On top of the coming probable attack, the Republican policies Paul Ryan is going to push through Congress, that Trump will sign due to an unspoken agreement that Ryan ignores his corruption, are going to leave millions of people poorer, less healthy, and angrier. An angry populace hit by an attack that probably could’ve been stopped will need a scapegoat to deflect blame from Trump, just as he always lashes out and blames someone else for his problems. This is when Trump will turn to the proto-fascist seeds he planted during the campaign. He and people like Bannon will orchestrate a campaign to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants. We should fear Trump’s corruption because it isn’t separate from the other terrible things he may do. The implication of corruption is an administration that is inept in terms of protecting and assisting the citizenry, so every possible measure must be taken to curb the corruption or the de facto ineptitude may lead to things that are much worse than the corruption itself.

Halfway Gone

I’ve been struggling to find things to write about. I’ve managed to put together a few semi-coherent sentences over the last couple days, but for the most part they’ve been entirely aimless. I realized this morning while searching for an idea that the problem is that I’ve been halfway gone for the past few days. Being halfway gone means you’re still working and going through your routines, you react essentially normally to the world around you, but ultimately you don’t absorb new information and time seems to pass both in a blur and at a trudging but incomprehensible pace. If you’ve ever spent days, weeks, or months constantly stoned then quit you probably know the feeling. You realize once you’re sober and your mind has cleared up a bit that you’ve actually missed a hell of a lot. That’s what I’m feeling this morning, that I’ve just been forced back into facing reality — and reality isn’t all that pretty right now. I think unconsciously dropping out like I have is a coping mechanism. The stress of the holidays, the political climate, and my generally high baseline of stress and anxiety eventually override my brain’s ability to operate properly and it just gives up trying. I assume I’ll recover and feel like my normal anxious self soon enough.

In thinking about what to write about I realized there hasn’t been a lot news lately. Obviously that’s completely untrue, but it seems like the media is halfway gone during the holidays too. I don’t know whether that’s a result of me and others taking advantage of a socially acceptable excuse to avoid the news or it’s a result of the media celebrating holidays themselves, but it definitely feels like the level of attention the world, America specifically as that’s what I know, drops significantly during the last week or two of the year. There are tons of retrospectives written in every possible variation, there are pieces published about what to expect or want from the new year, and there are pieces about how to cope with the holidays or stick to resolutions or lose weight you gained during the holidays, but it feels like the last two weeks of the year are good for news dumps. In terms of political news there seem to be three major veins of interest that intertwine in different places. The first is the UN resolution on Israeli settlements, the second what Obama’s choosing to do as he leaves office, and finally Donald Trump’s ignorance and eventual powerful ignorance. In terms of the first two I don’t have a ton to say, Israel is seemingly foolishly tying itself closer to the American far right which. Obama’s doing some good stuff but as always not going quite as much as could and should. Donald Trump has, of course, tweeted some insane things over the last three or four days. He’s swinging at Obama because Obama said he could’ve beat him, he’s apparently taking credit for Christmas spending, and he’s attacking the UN over the resolution. This conversation came up during the campaign, but it’s different now that he’s actually going to be the rapist, racist president. Should the media cover Trump’s tweets as news? During the campaign the answer, I think, was basically universally no as he never actually said anything substantive in them. Now what he says can be substantive and inane at the same time. The reality is that whether or not they should, cable news will eat up every Trump tweet. They’re catnip for cable news, perfect little bites for tables full of pundits to argue over. When Trump tweets something dumb about Obama not being able to beat him, that’s pettiness not news. When he tweets threats to the Chinese, that’s possibly news. The reality is that we don’t know yet how the world is going to interpret Trump’s tweets. It’s possible, but seemingly unlikely, the world will come to interpret Trump’s tweets as entirely for a domestic audience and unrelated to the policies he’ll pursue. If that’s the case the media should entirely ignore what he tweets. If the world instead sees Trump’s tweets as honest reflections of what his policies will be then there are obviously cases where you’d have to report on his tweet. Tweets that are simply inflammatory or insulting to domestic ‘enemies’ should probably be ignored unless some specific action is taken against that person or group; including inciting, encouraging, or supporting others to take action. The basic distinction is will the tweet amount to merely being words or will it result in action of some sort.

I Wanted to Get High

It’s half past six, two days until Christmas and I’m drinking alone. That sounds more depressing than it is. I’m grateful to have some time to myself. The guy I care for is off with his parents to pick up his brother from the airport, so I have the apartment to myself tonight. It’s a different kind of peace when you know there’s no one home to ask for help with anything. I’m using the time wisely, I took a nap and now I’m sitting here typing. I felt like shit this morning. You can judge my mornings based on how much coffee I drink before exercising. I usually stick to one cup to avoid spending the final half hour on the exercise bike desperately needing to pee, but this morning I drank all three cups before riding. Then I did something I rarely do when I’m exercising, I listened to music instead of podcasts. I rarely listen to music anymore. I spent about six months in a deep anhedonic state after quitting drugs and one consequence of that was I no longer felt the music. It all seemed flat when I couldn’t emotionally connect to it. I haven’t really listened to music much since then other than when I’m drinking. Not listening to music for years leaves your music collection in a weird state. Pretty much all of my music is some sort of depressing and most of it is ten to fifteen years old. From when I did actually listen to new music. One of the final songs I heard this morning sent me spinning. Drop by Blue October is essentially a song about not taking psych meds as far as I can tell, but to me it’s a reminder of what it’s like to spend days high out of your mind without sleeping. The psychosis that comes from not sleeping isn’t fun and in a lot of ways that song perfectly encapsulates that. Despite the grim vision of being high I feel when I hear that song it made me really want to get high. I’ve been mostly sober, outside of drinking, for four years and completely sober, again outside of drinking, for three and a half. I don’t feel the urge to get high all that often anymore. It comes from time to time, but for the most part I’ve put the urge to escape with the help of drugs out of my life. I still try my best to escape, but I don’t use drugs to do it. That’s why I don’t consider myself to be in recovery. I haven’t fundamentally changed, I’ve just found a reason that’s good enough to keep me from getting high. My reason is rather simple. When I spent days or weeks binging meth I ended up going basically insane. I started to hear voices and see things, I thought people were out to get me, and I became even more suicidal than I usually am. I don’t value much in life, but I do value my mind. I like to think I’m at least sort of smart and something that drives me insane is just not acceptable. It took me more than one months long binge to learn that I couldn’t spend all day high and stay sane, but I learned my lesson eventually and I quit. It’s really that simple. Back to this morning, I really wanted to get fucking high. I don’t have any easy way to get high these days. I’ve moved and I don’t speak to the people I used to do drugs with, so getting drugs would be quite an ordeal. It wouldn’t be impossible, I’m an addict and I’m aware of the people around me that use drugs, but it would be harder than a phone call. Thankfully that’s been enough and it was this morning, but I did spend a solid hour daydreaming about being high today. It’s that sort of day.

Besides daydreaming about getting high, I thought about Trump while I exercised this morning — because God forbid my anxious mind gets any rest. Besides playing fast and loose with out nuclear policy on Twitter, Trump appears to have reprimanded Newt Gingrich for saying he’s abandoned the phrase drain the swamp. Gingrich’s apology was amusing as hell, but it reminded me of a lesson it seems a lot of people have forgotten or never learned. Pointing out hypocrisy doesn’t change people’s mind. It’s too easy to rationalize the hypocritical act as justified because you like the person doing it. That’s human nature, think the best about people you like and the worst about people you don’t. Similarly, pointing out corruption isn’t going to convince Trump’s voters to abandon him. Voters expect corruption. That’s awful to say, but it’s true. I voted for Hillary Clinton despite expecting her to continue policies that benefit Wall Street and defense contractors. I don’t think she would’ve been as blatantly corrupt as Trump will be, but corruption is so endemic in our system that corruption is only a useful political tool if someone is being charged or you’re running an investigation and dripping juicy bites to the media on a regular basis to poison the well for a candidate. Convincing Trump voters to vote for Democrats or anyone other than him means showing them that his policies are hurting them personally or people like them. Paul Ryan’s cuts to Social Security and Medicare will do that, so that shouldn’t be difficult. Showing that he hasn’t changed Washington will also be necessary in breaking Trump’s spell. The disenchantment people feel toward Obama will come to Trump. He’s not going to fix Washington either, so feeding that disenchantment will be important to stop Trump in four years. That’s not say there’s no value in pointing out hypocrisy. It’s entertaining as hell, but it’s not convincing and doesn’t change votes.

Winter Solstice Blues

There’s a line in the Youth Group song See-Saw that has been looping in mind lately, leaves haven’t fallen yet, but winter’s been too long. The leaves have fallen, as much as they do in evergreen dense Oregon, but listening to the radio yesterday as I drove around they mentioned it was the winter solstice, officially the beginning of winter. Winter hasn’t even begun and it’s already gone on too long. This has been a weird December, even outside of the political chaos of it all. Growing up poor with parents who were debt averse has given me years to build up the skills necessary to steel myself from holiday disappointment. You mostly do this by setting low expectations, so in December I usually feel alright, my usual depressed self but nothing extraordinary. For me late October through November are usually worse. The return of the cold and rain reminds me how awful winter is. Usually sometime in early December I cut down on the drugs and alcohol I’ve been using the escape the misery of winter and come to accept it. The acceptance holds until late January when the ads for Valentine’s day start to remind me how alone I really am. Then it seems like winter will never end through all of February. This year the acceptance hasn’t come, I feel awful and I’m hating every minute of this winter.

I have no wisdom to impart. No lessons learned. I don’t know what’s making this winter worse than the past ten I’ve spent nearly equally depressed. I didn’t do anything different or makes any changes only to realize I’ve magically improved my mood. Instead I’ve been chain-smoking and drinking more. It’s not a cure, but it occupies your hands and makes sleeping easier which is more than you say for most advice you find on the internet. There seems to be three variations of depressed, lonely drinking. The best case is when you’re feeling down, but not at the bottom and drinking makes you feel good enough to enjoy a show or movie or something. Then there are nights when you drink to escape, but the alcohol gives you the energy to do something creative; you write, you draw, whatever. The final variation involves sitting silently in the dark contemplating how things got so bad with nothing but the alcohol and your thoughts to occupy you until you’re drunk enough to pass out. If you’ve spent a lot of time depressed you know it goes up and down even if you lose a sense of that knowledge when things are awful. They never go completely right, but the worst days and weeks pass, things improve just enough. That, I suppose, is the only cure, drinking enough to have the resilience to stand it for however long it lasts.

Death of a Snowman

Yesterday was busy. I dropped into a bunch of different stores to check for Star Wars actions figures because they’re the hobby of the guy I care for, the bank, and turned in some paperwork. The snow in Oregon turned to rain the night before last. The ice and snow are nearly gone by now. As I was driving around yesterday I saw a snowman slipping into the mud below. All that remained were the stick arms seemingly desperately reaching for the sky and few more hours of life. The head that had become more of a cone than sphere. The death of a snowman, my love of punny names gets the better of me. For a moment I was entirely in the moment thinking about the dying snowman, but then the dissonance returned. In the morning the Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot, there was an attack in Berlin, and about forty-five minutes after seeing the snowman I got an email alert saying the electoral college officially voted for Trump. The melting hope of Democrats now rests on some even more absurd and unlikely maneuver I didn’t even bother reading the article about. The entire day perfectly encapsulated my reason for writing this blog. On one hand I had specific responsibilities to complete for work, on the other the wider world seemed to be especially chaotic.

I haven’t posted anything for nearly a week, the problem is that I had a really good idea and then subsequently got stuck and gave up. The finer point of the piece is that Trump’s vision for what makes America great is entirely superficial. Increasing the size of the military isn’t about a specific threat or desire to project force for a specific diplomatic outcome, it’s about Trump feeling better about America. Similarly, Trump is obsessed with America being killed in trade. He’s not nearly as worried about jobs as he is the trade deficit. For Trump American greatness is entirely superficial, he wants to feel good when he says he’s an American and his supporters do too. With that in mind you can project that his policies will all be superficial fixes if he does push an agenda instead of succumbing to the Ryan agenda. Trump’s primary example when speaking about infrastructure, for instance, was airports. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I rarely go to the airport. If we invest billions of dollars improving our infrastructure I’m a lot less interested in improving airports, especially the parts Trump is comparing to the rest of the world’s, than I am in the bridges I drive over or the schools my hypothetical children attend. It’s superficial for Trump, he wants to have the best looking airports. He’s not interested in improving the everyday infrastructure the rest of us use. When you start thinking about it there are numerous examples of Trump being more interested in the appearance of something changing than in the deeper problem being fixed. Once you accept that he’s most interested in superficial fixes you can project a lot of terrible policies being enacted. Assuming, of course, those of us who think Trump probably won’t spend much time governing outside of rubber stamping the Ryan agenda are wrong. My prediction is that Trump will go on some dumb Granada type escapade to improve American jingoistic morale, he’ll increase resource extraction and pay through the nose to keep automating plants here in America just to say we’re winning at trade because the trade deficit is smaller. If Trump isn’t the hero to fix these problems, which he won’t be, that’s when you really start to worry. The seeds of a very dark campaign to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants have been planted. A narcissist never fails unless someone is preventing him from succeeding, in their own mind at least. That means Trump will never think, ‘oh well, it was an impossible project in the first place,’ it’s going to be ‘those people over there are to blame.’ It’s all frightening, but clinging to melting snowmen of absurd maneuvers isn’t going to help. Only organizing will, organizing and fighting back.