Thursday, July 16, 2015


For the past year, I've been trying to file for Social Security Disability. It's because of severe and chronic sleep issues, issues pertaining to autism, depression, and anxiety. Working from home would be an option if I had a laptop and an extremely flexible schedule. Like Pokey flexible.

My mom keeps reminding me to document, document, document and her advice finally made its way through my fog soaked brain and hit home. I'm doing it here because paper and pen are not working, and Florida basically denied me SSDI because they said I was being lazy and didn't want to work. As if. I've tried reaching out to Florida's Vocational Rehabilitation and they told me they couldn't help and to apply for SSDI. Yup. Florida is really helpful. /sarcasm

Yesterday, I had a sciatica flare up, both legs. Made it impossible to walk. Chewed on my lip a lot. Got five hours of sleep. Woke up with right foot feeling broken, again, and left arm numb and left hand tingly, with my Kindle some how underneath me. And so begins my day.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Open Letter to the Extreme Autism Advocates

Dear Extreme Autism Advocates,

I've been letting the words stew in my brain for awhile now. Most of the time, the stew gets thrown out because I deem it not worthy of my energy or time. People will have their opinions and thoughts, each like a storm that heaves a ship upon the ocean waves. Now, I think it's time I unleash this stew of words because people - GOOD, decent, loving people, many which I am proud to call "Friend" - are being hurt. Whether it's intentional or not, I cannot say. I personally know that the path of good intentions is often paved to hell.

At the risk of sounding condescending (or any one of those words that I am supposedly not to use in either tone, actions, or words if I wish to remain a good Aspie), I want people to put on their listening ears. For all intents and purposes of this blog post, we're not going to sling around words like "murder apologist" or "ableist". We're going to define "extreme autistic advocates" as meaning "a person who accuses a specific, targeted group of actions based on the actions committed by one person, and uses that knowledge in an attempt to invalidate their feelings and/or silence them." Gather near me, people, autistic and non-autistic alike. Like most posts, I'm going to take you to the left field of some nondescript baseball field, and, hopefully - between points A to H, back to B, and finally slide HOME! at C, my point will have been made. At the end of this post, our goal will be to fortify our walls three times thick with the ultimate aim of uniting our autism community (really, just one of many communities) so that we shall not fall and that no PERSON should be left without a safety harness.

Before we being our excursion to the baseball field, please put all your feelings of anger, hurt, and exclusion in the Safety Box. They'll remain in this box, safe, until our journey is complete, when you can retrieve them again (though, hopefully - with any luck - I'll have changed your mind). Though valid, they will have no use here. By typing this, I mean you're going to read with an open mind, with no prior judgments based on your past (i.e. "playing the victims card"), and no judgement made on other persons involved. The words simply are, as honest as I can make them, and with no shits given for whether or not it's upsetting other people. Perhaps, I should also mention that this post is full of triggers (or perhaps I should have done that earlier, oopsie /light sarcasm), but, for the sake of fortifying our autism community, let's set those aside, too. Speaking of judgement, we're all going to agree that murder is wrong, and that no one here supports murderers. We can have compassion (because to be compassionate simply means we're flesh and blood human) - yes even for a murder - without condoning or agreeing to the accused's actions. To make this even less sticky, we're only going to stick to murderers, because I think we can all agree that rapists, arsonists, mass murderers, serial killers, and other heinous related crimes are an entire conversation all together.

I don't think I need to go back and detail the history of why and how ASAN was formed. Between 2007 and 2009, in between a haze of completing part time graduate studies, working full time, and dealing with my dad's sudden death, ASAN came to be. I was a proud Aspie supporter, and carried that battle flag fully flown. At the time of Autism Speaks and its controversies, the idea of an organization created and ran by autistics to support other adult autistic advocates ("nothing about us without us") was a welcomed distraction from my life. I was a newbie, having formally been diagnosed a few months shy of moving up to Maryland in 2005 for beginning my graduate studies, and had yet to even get scuff marks on my metaphorical Aspie shoes. I grew up feeling very much alienated and different from my peers. To say I cut my teeth on the words of bullies and a dysfunctional family would have been an understatement. As a child, I was punished numerous times for what is now described as an autistic meltdown, and have been fired from more jobs than I wish to count. I knew I had worth as an autistic person, as an Aspie, and that should never be comprised (okay, fine, it has been, but that's life, as I've come to learn). Up until last year, I was very much proud of ASAN and of its president, Ari Ne'emam. Yet, with the tragic attempted suicide/murder of Kelli Stapleton and her daughter, Issy, I have had to take a huge step back and seriously re-consider my identity as an autistic advocate. Could I still be a successful autistic advocate without having to support all that anger and hatred? Am I a "bad Aspie" for supporting parents of autistic kids? For even agreeing that, yes, autism can be hard, that it's not always unicorns and rainbows? Would that lower my value, my worth, as a person? What does exactly "justice" mean, let alone look like? My mom has always raised me to consider all sides of the argument, and that neither side always represents truth because Truth stands by itself and the other parties involved are only perspectives of it.

My father was an alcoholic and drug addict to such a point that he fried his brain on drugs, became a paranoid schizophrenic, and tried to kill me twice. I don't think he meant to do with it malice nor on purpose - it's rather a sad, tragic demise of a great man who was the only person I couldn't beat at Scrabble and gave me my equal love of books and blue grass music. Rather, it was a side effect of the nasty business pertaining to drug addiction. I know my dad loved my brother and I to the very depth of his being, and that he was sick, and not in his right frame of mind when these acts were committed. I saw my mom's struggles working full time while attending college, dealing with my varying mental health and health issues in addition to her own, and then dealing with my dad. I know without being a parent myself that parenting is nothing to mess around with, and - autism aside - it's a very demanding and taxing job, even calculating for the impenetrable love that a parent usually has for their child. I know that my mom would take a bullet for me in a minute, but that she's also human. My meltdowns and anxiety attacks still cause her an unnerving amount of pain. My dad's suicide attempts were talked in hushed whispers (one of them was on my 12th or 13th birthday), and I've lost count of my own attempts (the one last year, I was within 30 minutes of dying - it's why I now live with my mom in Florida and is half of the reason why I don't work). I've always known that justice never gets fully served, and that justice is just as vague as a term as "normal" in that its definition can vary person by person, even - shockingly - by jurisdiction, as seen in the fight for equality in gay marriages. The very institute that's supposed to uphold the law of the land and the Constitution, can and does deny protection to those very people its supposed to protect. "Mental Health" is still a foreign concept when it comes to law, because of the many twists and turns and this and that's which is the natural state of law.

I began my Autism growth and maturity in broadening my autism horizon. I colored it in with the views of parents - who have children with varying levels of needs and issues - and I listened. I read blogs from both sides, and quickly found that I had to shut out the angry sounds of "murder apologist" and all the nasty bits I won't hash out here, from some adult advocates. I paused my typing fingers, and I read and I listened. I learned more things about myself from the parents of autistic children than I have in my years flying my Aspie War Banner. I scuffed my autism shoes. I learned the following: Yes, it's okay to say that autism is hard. It doesn't mean you hate autistics or that you hate yourself. Some people are simply assholes, and it doesn't matter if you have a disability or not. Autism parents are very cool people, who are very funny, and - if anything is to be gleaned from their FB posts, they drink an ungodly amount of alcohol and coffee (sarcasm on the alcohol bit). I see in them a reflection of my mom: tough people with thick skins with awesome sauce sarcastic skills and a level of humor that eases some of the hard, the miles of waiting lists, the unlimited red tape, the headache which can be the IEP, the horror story which is the healthy insurance coverage and crumbling bureaucracy of the mental health systems that are yearly having their budgets cut and beds reduced, and the unflappable love that they have for their children and family. They take the hits and keep on running. They mean what they say, without a hidden agenda. When their child is hurt, they cry ten times the amount of tears until they can cry no more. Crying is not a crime or a shameful act that means that a parent hates their child. It simply means that the parent is human, and, if they could, they'd take away your child's struggles and their pain in a heart beat. Not because their child is autistic or whatever, but because they are a parent and its a natural instinct to want to protect their children.

When parents say they support a friend who couldn't take anymore (though wrong in her actions), then stand there while other people (ones who supposedly don't want others to speak for them, yet have no trouble speaking for others, even without consent and/or possible knowledge) stone them for their compassion, I cannot be silenced - especially when the only advice these supposed advocates - who have an appalling lack of psychiatry, mental health, psychology, case management, and all the knowledge isms that should have been researched in-depth beforehand - have to offer is to give up now and call CPS before they harm their own children. To speak of doing no harm, and then suggesting parents give up their parental rights because, gee, autism parents are apparently ticking  murderess time bombs that are set to explode at any given second (/light sarcasm). The actions of one person - whether intended or not - does not imply that ALL people will act in the same manner. To accuse a parent of becoming a potential murder based on the actions of a few, is like calling your mailman a thief because that one mailman years ago stole people's mail. I am upset, too, because voices of discussion - not of debate, but people's own thoughts and opinions - are deleted in attempt to silence them. If the time to speak of a lack of services and funding is not now, then when? You don't like your hands, your voice being silenced. Why do you try to silence parents when they reach out for help? Is it perhaps uncomfortable, reminding you too much of your own childhood, or that, just perhaps, if the world doesn't all singularly view autism as sparkly unicorns and rainbows, that you have failed in your mission of autism awareness? That others might look at you as something less, or that it'll bring you back to that one time when you were punished for simply being? If so, I am truly, sincerely sorry. It is hard to work though that anger and fear. To stop seeing bogeymen behind every closed door, every therapy as an instrument of torture (yes, some are and the history is deep, but, like myself, they have evolved), every "NT" as a person who is trying to erase your identity and/or every autism parent as a monkey trainer. It isn't always like that: life can suck, some people view disabled people as less than, and if you haven't changed their minds as of yet, I am sorry to type that those walls may never be broken down. Life, too, is a spectrum - from the common sense of the intelligent all the way to the ignorant assholes who choose to remain so for whatever reason. I know some of your emotional wounds may never heal, but, by the love of whomever, PLEASE stop picking at the scab! No matter how it itches or grates on your nerves, find your peace so that it may find a way to heal. Healing goes further than hatred. One of the lessons my dad taught me is that anger is wasted energy. If you're all ready short on spoons, I suggest not wasting it on anger, but that's my own two cents plus inflation.

When I hear of calls of justice, I wonder what Issy would have wanted. Where is her voice? Does her father agree to this advocacy on behalf of his daughter? I see hashtags to step into her shoes, but having been a fairly angry child myself with a streak of violence (oh, we laugh now about my mom threatening to sell our POS used Honda to send me to military school, but several years have passed to allow those wounds to heal), I know that I cannot speak for Issy. Having been twice injured by my dad's drug-related incidents, I couldn't even tell you what Issy would want. I'm one Aspie, one person. My experiences are unique onto me, and me only. For all I know, your dad could very well have also chased you out of the house with a hammer and you got sick at the thought of ever eating an egg salad sandwich again, but each of our feelings on said events would still be different. Our minds, thank whomever, are not hooked up to one giant Borg-like computer where we all share the same feelings and thoughts. I cringe every time that I hear the suggestion that autism parents are incompetent because they're not autistic, and thus should follow to the letter every single adult advocates' advice on raising autistic children (even if they themselves don't have children), that the advocates themselves are right and just in their actions. I would like to take the time to remind everyone that no one - even the medical experts - are the single sole source on how to raise a child, NT or otherwise. There's more opinions on that than there are products in any given grocery store. The person who is most likely to know their own child IS the parent. When I offer up advice, I caution them that I am just one Aspie, and each Aspie is unique. What works for me may not work for your child (especially given that I'm an adult without children), and you, as the parent of said child, should play the role of a detective to figure out what works and what doesn't. Period.

Not everyone is familiar with the story of Kelli and Issy. Every time I mention the topic to my mom, I have to remind her - who has me, a daughter with autism or however you wish to word it - who they are, of their story. I even know of other (less extreme but equally passionate in their desire for autism understanding) adult advocates who, for whatever reason, really don't care. Yet, for some reason, in the name of supposed justice, some adult advocates are refusing to let go of the fat piece of juicy meat clenched in between their teeth. Exactly, why is that? Some would say that this very controversy - if, it is, in fact, a controversy - has divided and polarized the autism community (I personally thought that Andrew Wakefield did a fine job of that, and this is nothing new). Over the past year, my dad's choices and even my own actions have been brought sharply to the forefront of my brain and re-examined in a new light. I have been able to further heal those wounds, to allow myself to say "I am human. I made a mistake. Where do I go from here, and how do I prevent myself from stretching myself so far that impulsively committing suicide in the future?". Healing is possible.

I know that I write lengthy novels as opposed to pithy posts. To recap:

1.) Autism parents - whether autistic themselves or not - have no desire to harm their children, nor plot their future murders. A parent's job is never done, so why waste the precious downtime that they may or may not have on such a messy thing as murder? To commit such a horrible act takes equally horrible, unimaginable amounts of pain and despair, and, unless you've been in that situation where all hope and options are gone, is impossible to understand.

2.) Mental illness and suicide are real. Some parents are mentally ill, but not all. Mental illness does not always equate to suicide and attempted murders on their children's lives. We each have our own breaking posts and limits to the amount of stress we can carry, parent or not. Thanks to this economy, mental health services are being cut while the demand for services goes up and the number of psychiatric beds are being reduced. Suicidal patients are being turned away due to a lack of beds in mental health facilities (sorry, I don't have the exact article to support my argument, but it's out there on the Internets).

3.) Please try to remember to speak only for yourself, and not others.

4.) Your definition of "justice" may not be the same as another person's. Remember, there's always your version of the truth, the other person's view of the truth, and the Truth.

5.) Because you were hurt and/or abused, does not mean other parents will automatically hurt their autistic child. Yes, people with disabilities are vulnerable, but this doesn't mean there's a boogeyman behind every door. Autism parents are not always the enemy.

6.) Because of a choice that one parent made in choosing to attempt to kill herself and her child does not mean that a.) All parents will suddenly jump on the band wagon and try to copy said person's actions, and b.) That said person didn't love or hate her daughter. In fact, it applies the exact opposite: How much a parent would love a child to make an unthinkable, horrific choice to take her own child's life so that said child didn't suffer the loss of a parent or their care once said parent was gone. BTW, that wasn't a multiple choice question.

7.) There are many, many gray areas that even NT's have difficulties in navigating. Compassion isn't a crime nor does it imply that you agree with said, it simply means that you care, that you are human. You don't know how you will react in a situation until you are actually in that situation.

8.) You really need to listen to autism parents and study up on subjects before speaking about them. It's another thing my mom taught me; if you want to argue something and expect to do so successfully, then you better know what you're arguing before you begin.

9.) You are the only autism expert on YOU. Everything else is advice, an opinion, a thought. A parent is the expert on their child, not the adult advocate.

10.) Even if they do the unthinkable or something you don't agree with, the autism community still supports one another. They don't cause the pain to become worse or the wound to deepen via misguided judgement and opinions. They don't tear down walls and divide. They build one another up, so that if there is an emergency, the house still stands.

11.) Assume makes an ass out of you and me. Communication is a two-way street. By all means, make hypothesizes or guesses; please don't automatically assume. What works for you, may not work for someone else. Therapies have evolved, and even bits and pieces of a controversial therapy might work best for someone. My mom taught me responsibility of my actions and words from day one (yes, even when I couldn't speak). It was a system of rewards for good actions (doing a list of assigned chores equaled so much allowance) and consistent consequences for "bad" behavior (throwing a fit in class would result in writing sentences; my mom knew repetition was one of the ways I learned). People with disabilities are vulnerable. It doesn't mean that they're ALL abused, tortured, and/or killed at every turn. Sometimes, it happens and sometimes justice doesn't happen. Life is shitty like that.

12.) Words and generalizations can hurt. Anger is wasted energy. Support people. Build them up, don't tear them down.

13.) One person with autism is one person with autism. Autism is a spectrum. Respect its variety of tastes, sounds, and being.

I am a proud Aspie who supports autism parents. My aim of this post is not to sling adult advocates across the stone of Damnation while casting autism parents on a pedestal, for all to see. No, I merely seek to open their eyes to the hurt that some adult advocates are inadvertently - intentional or not - causing within the autism community. Compassion isn't a dirty word. The autism community - especially autism parents and caregivers of autistic persons - need support more now than ever. Fredrick Douglas once said "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men". The same applies here: lay down your battle armor and let the wounds that need mended to heal. It is easier to support autism parents than to repair them when they are broken, when their hope seems to be lost, and they're hanging on by a single thread, exhausted, all options seemingly ended. To build someone up is to support them in whatever they may feel, even if it makes us feel squirmy and uncomfortable; to end their shame of their own feelings, of the need to hide lest they be deemed unsuitable parents, and to not cast judgement nor guilt. Most people who are depressed and/or feeling suicidal simply need a person to listen, to know that they matter, that this too shall pass, even if all hope has seemingly vanished. Give them a flashlight, a beacon of hope. That is how you support a person.

In conclusion, no one wins. Kelli is in prison - where she will likely not get the mental health support that she needs. Her children - yes, even Issy - have lost their mom. A family was torn apart. A husband lost the support of his wife, and vice versa. Kelli's friends are grieving - even more so by the stones thrown by some adult advocates. Caregivers have not been given more support and/or funding. Adult advocates continue on with their battle cry, having gained very little ground, and ignoring the other children - autistic and otherwise - that have been since killed by their caregivers. It's a horrific, sad story that has occurred. Knowing the verdict, where do we go from here? What can we do to fortify this community, to build one another up? What can I, as a moderator, do to help build a bridge to cross this gap? Is there some happy middle that we can all agree upon? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

As always, thank you for reading and guinea pig out!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

May 2013 to well, April 19, 2014

I'm almost a year stronger (and sane). Woot!

When I got out of the hospital for my suicide attempt, I filed all the paperwork I needed for the short term disability via my employer. The disability company denied my long term disability for reasons unknown. Apparently, you're supposed to recover after six weeks or so (I don't exactly remember) from an attempted suicide and pop right back up and go back to work! (/sarcasm) Yeah, that wasn't happening. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with "acute stress disorder", which meant no stress. That, and I had to pack before I got evicted from my apartment. Yup, that wasn't stressful at all! /sarcasm

I broke down and had to actually call the Montgomery County crisis center when I received the eviction notice from my apartment management. I was on shaky ground, and I was - and still am - very much depressed. I'm the responsible sort of person who goes to great lengths to ensure my rent and bills are paid on time, before even buying groceries and personal necessities for myself. It's how my brain operates, and it's logical to me. That's why not being able to provide for myself creates the ongoing depression cycle I'm still in - I abhor the thought of being dependent on anyone but myself. It's not how I was raised, and not how I live, one island alone or whatever be damned (yes, I do understand the irony of that statement).

To keep placing one foot forward, I made lists and a time table of when I'd try to get things completed. If I could just focus on the lists and calendars and nonesuch, then I could stay sane for the month and 22 days until my stepdad arrived to help me move:

Kitchen: 10; an old plastic storage container (minus a broken lid) for the Kitchen Aid and Keurig (coffee machine).

1 food box (This turned out to be three. I forgot about the flours and stuff that I usually kept in the fridge that were nonperishable).

1 box o' chemicals and laundry room stuff

2 bathroom boxes

2 boxes for the guinea pigs, plus diaper bag

1 box o' medications

2 suitcases and six boxes for clothes, hangers, shoes, graduate gown, and walking boot.

1 box o' random crap

11 living room boxes, including 2 office boxes, box for arts and crafts, and 1 for computers and accessories.

1 altar box

1 box for bike stuff (and bike)

4 boxes of books, including reference

4 plastic totes of winter clothing

1 plastic tote of bed sheets

1 plastic tote of yarn (don't ask)

2 boxes for writing, art stuff, and thesis

1 box of bowling trophies and random crap

3 boxes for bedroom

1 box for Florida

1 box for cookbooks

One TV (one had to get thrown away), two TV stands (the el cheapo one got thrown out), one dresser, three shelving units, three bookshelves, two shelves, 2 guinea pig cages, a coffee table, three folding tables, a side table, a side table for the bedroom (which got thrown away), a heating thingy, an ironing stand, a camping bed, 6 trashcans, 2 or 3 chairs (all got thrown away), a table, an art table (which got thrown away), a small tool box, 2 hay boxes (one got thrown away), an ottoman, two lamps, a bag of wires, a mirror, a three drawer thingy (which was previously patched up with duct tape, and was subsequently thrown away), and a file thingy with drawers. The couch also had to go - it was the most comfortable couch, but it was almost too big to get in or out of the apartment, and I couldn't imagine even trying to get it down the narrow hallway that led to my old room. I spent the last month or so sleeping on and saying good bye to my couch. The mattress was thrown away, too, because it was hard as a rock - you know you have a bad bed when the couch is WAY more comfy. Also thrown out was Nascar the Too Loud Vacuum Cleaner, the carpet steam cleaner, and whatever didn't fit in the moving truck. That was AFTER pairing down.

It was all I had as a reminder that I was once a functioning, independent adult. I hold onto these lists and pictures in my mind with the knowledge that, in the near distant future, I WILL be there again. My mom's house is only my temporary home until my mind is rested and no longer burnt out. This is the hope that I hold onto.

Image is my previous bedroom, which is full of empty boxes.
It was a crappy one month and 22 days. I had to sort through stuff, figure out what could be donated, what could be thrown away/recycled, and clean the apartment from top to bottom. I got behind when I accidentally kicked the rocking chair with the top of my foot, which stayed swollen for a good solid week. I even had to go see the orthopedic doctor for a special shoe because my foot was too swollen to even fit into my regular tennis shoe.

My bedroom was literally box city. I moved the art table and brick and board bookshelf to the side to make room for the boxes. The boxes were then taped up, sprayed down with bug spray, packed, bought even more tape and plastic totes for winter clothes (winter clothes in Florida? LOL!), and slowly fitted packed boxes back into the bedroom.

Image is of a box full of papers to recycle.
Then came the fun part: cleaning. Which meant taking down recyclables and trash down four flights of stairs. With a busted knee, sciatica flair up pain, and a sore foot. Oh, the fun I had! /sarcasm

Image: My feet, marked "R" with a blue marker and "L" with a red marker (both are upside down, because I wrote them right side up for my view). The right foot is obviously swollen and very bruised, and the left foot is its usually slightly swollen self.
Image: My medical shoe for my foot, which has Velcro straps to allow for swelling.

Image: A week after the incident, my foot is only slightly swollen and only slightly bruised.

Two sheets of paper are taped to the wall. They both read "To-Do List" and have various tasks written under them for Thursday through Monday.
The key to a good move is organization, lots of planning, and having a back up plan to the back up plan. Then I bought a can of frosting to keep my blood sugars and energy levels up. When I first moved to Maryland and couldn't afford food, I bought frosting, corn tortillas, peanut butter, orange juice, and bananas to keep me going. It was almost like I've gone full circle.

Picture is of a June 2013 calendar with various doctor appointments and goals to be accomplished.
To make it even more insane, I had to say "Good bye" to every single one of my specialists. For most typical people, getting to know their specialist is a walk in the park. For me - full of anxiety and trust issues - it was like walking on slippery stones in the river to get to the other side. Most of the time, I'd slip off the stones and into the river. Occasionally, the specialist and I had that connection, and they truly understood and reached out. I had actually worked a job for four years, which meant four years of continual insurance, and I got a chance to build these sought after relationships and we got to know one another. I had 7 specialists to visit and had to get an echocardiogram done for my heart, which is a recommended yearly thing. I picked up medical records and prescriptions. I said good bye to the pharmacist who had gotten to know me by name. I didn't have the money or time to take off a day from packing to go up to Baltimore and back to see the endocrinologist (that was sort of like a hate/love relationship any way. I never really got along with the specialist, but hit it off with the nurse practitioner). A year later, I still miss some of my specialists, especially my psychiatrist, counselor, asthma doc, and cardiologist. I could go to them any time with questions, or free samples of medication to hold me over until the next pay check. Even though I had to pay a co-pay, they were sort of like my mini family up in Maryland: they reassured me when my anxiety was bad, or when I was in a bind. Without insurance, it's kind of like throwing darts in the dark: you hope you don't accidentally hit somebody just walking by (in other words, I'm fine for now, but who knows when my heart will get worse, or what the future might hold?).

RIP, comfy couch. I miss you :-(

RIP TV stand I dragged home on the bus and TV. I wish I had the room for you :-(
In the end, this is what I looked like:
Image: Me, with soap suds formed into triangles on my head, and making a silly, crazy face.
I told the guinea pigs about the move to Florida, and reassured them over and over again that they would be coming with me, even if I had to tie them to the roof of the moving truck (joking with the last bit). I told them all about Florida, and gave them a social story each night to help them with the transition. Travel buddies help one another on long journeys by making it fun and interesting by comforting one another and not fighting, biting, or otherwise annoying the other person guinea pig. They panicked at first, but soon got used to the idea. Perhaps even enjoying it a bit.

Last night in the apartment! Image: Benny is seen in the back of a large dog carrier, munching on hay, and Zeke is hiding/chilling in his igloo, shown in the front.
My stepdad flew up on June 25th to help me pack the moving truck on and to drive down to Florida. I said my good byes to the few friends I had made (including the bus drivers) and my co-workers gave me a farewell lunch. My dear former supervisor came over to help me move. The Jehovah witnesses from the first floor and a lady from another building helped to move the couch down. The Jehovah witnesses took the brick and wooden bookshelf as payment. After an apartment inspection and we finished stuffing everything that would fit into the moving truck, we hit the road.

Travel Buddies. Image is of Benny and Zeke cuddled up on a blanket on my lap. Turns out the moving truck was just a little too small for their carrier. Yes, they spent the entire two days on the road on my lap. Zeke had a blast. Benny? Not so much.
So, now I'm here in Florida and sort of settled in. Lots of boxes still packed, but I got the basics unpacked. The guinea pigs have my old room. I got my brother's old room. I settled into a new routine, one that revolved around furry critters of the four legged variety and helped my mom with housework (when I'm not busy having sensory overload, anxiety, meltdowns, depression episodes, and not battling with pain of some variety). Soon after moving to Florida, my nephew L. (my best friend's kiddo) learned to walk. In quick succession, he's proven to be quite the little genius: he can now climb, say up to ten or more words, put two words together, count to three, loves being read to (he'll drag a book to his parents when he wants to be read to), and loves exploring his dad's computer. It's amazing how fast he is growing up, and I can't wait until I have enough saved up to fly out and visit him.

Meanwhile, my niece A. is busy learning to tear things apart (atta girl!), walk, and vocalize. She's her dad's and mom's pride and joy, and it's fascinating watching my younger brother - the person I had watched out for and all those sisterly things - turn into a husband and a daddy. I at once in awe of the man he has become, and so proud.

Benny has since turned 6, and Zeke is now 3. Zeke has had ongoing issues with a tooth abscess. The first episode in early October involved him not eating, a vet visit, draining the abscess, giving him daily antibiotics for forever and a day, and forcing him to eat by giving him all his favorite foods and oats to help him to gain the weight back that he had lost. He again had another abscess the first week of November, and this one actually exploded. He was given pain medication and more antibiotics, and is now doing okay with the exception of one tooth needing to be trimmed (which I cannot currently afford, but, as long as he's eating, my fingers are crossed!). Zeke has proven to be a brave warrior, and he lets me know he's doing okay by taking the syringe for his liquid vitamin C out of my hands and tossing it (the goof ball). Benny's getting old and sleeps more often, but he's still as demanding and cuddly.

In addition to Benny and Zeke (my "boyos", Irish slang for male friend), I also have these furry fiends of the four legged type to keep me busy:

Daisy, Daisy ...

Image is of Daisy, who is a Calico. Her left eye is surrounded by a black patch of fur while her right eye is a black and tan patch, with a white patch of fur running down her nose. Otherwise, her fur is all white. She's slightly pudgy, but healthy.

I adopted Daisy on July 14, 2013. I'd seen her the day before at a PetSmart adoption event, where my mom had pointed her out to me. She let me hold her and talk to her. I think she saw a sucker, as she all ready had those little paws wrapped around my heart. I decided that I didn't need another mouth to feed - especially on an unemployment salary, as I all ready had two guinea pigs to feed - and walked away. She kept wiggling her way through my mind, and, by that night, I had made up my mind to adopt her. I anxiously called the PetSmart store, but the person who answered had no clue whether she was still there, and advised me to call back the next day at 11 AM. I did, and they couldn't tell me whether or not she'd be adopted by the time I got there, and, no, they wouldn't put her on hold because it was first come, first served. My heart beat anxiously until I was able to go and pick her up, and she recognized me instantly. It was love at first wheek. She fit right in, and has a back bone and can stand up to her brothers, but is also as sweet as can be. She's loud and is a talker.

Poor Daisy sometimes gets the short end of the stick in that she's usually in her cage, awake and bored, while her brothers sleep the afternoon away. Both her and Benny have adapted to their new home, and can now be heard all the way in the kitchen (on the other side of the house) when they're hungry, bored, want hay, and/or a treat (spoiled little fur balls with sharp teeth :-) ). Daisy loves food - especially oat spray stalks - but refuses all fruit except blueberries, which is strange considering she had been previously starved. I'm just now getting to the point where I can hold and snuggle her without her overly panicking. She loves watching Guy on Triple D's on the FoodNetwork (I think she has a small crush on him). She hates bathes, having her nails trimmed, and being touched on the back. She's smart, curious, and, when she's managed to escape the play pen, is not afraid to wonder outside of the guinea pig room. She's now about two years old, give or take a half of a year, and is quickly proving her dominance in the guinea pig trio. You can't help but love her.

From left to right: Daisy, Benny, and Zeke. A rare moment of "Let's be still so we can play!".

Sabelle's Dooking it Up!

Shhh! Be very, very quiet - there's a sleeping Sabelle! Image is of a view of a sleeping Sabelle as seen from between the slates of Benny's crate, which was Sabelle's temporary home until we could get her a proper ferret cage.

On September 09, 2013, we took in Sabelle (pronounced "Sabel," which is her coloring and breed), a ferret that my mom's co-worker found in her backyard (which has since been proven by the fact that Sabelle loves eating the lizards and grasshoppers the cats bring in. Ferrets imprint from a very early age on the foods they'll eat). The day before we brought her home, I researched ferrets like crazy and figured out the best foods and care for her. She was undernourished and in need of a bath, but we soon fixed her up, and now she's as zany as any ferret deserves to be, and more intelligent than all of us combined. It took us a few weeks to get her to the point where she was healthy and energetic enough to play, but once we got her going, there's now no stopping her. She's known for her temper and throwing around her food and water when she's upset that we won't let her out of her cage - usually, it's for a time out for trying to get into the couch, but sometimes her humans are also busy and out of the house (how dare we go outside without her!) or sleeping in late. We dub these events as "Hurricane Sabelle." I affectionately call her "juvenile delinquent" and "Fuzzbutt" because of the amount of trouble she can get herself into, whether through zany ferret behavior and/or boredom. One morning, I walked into the pantry to find Sabelle on the first shelf of the pantry, posed to jump with a bag of marshmallows in her mouth. Whenever I forget to close the guinea pigs' door, she has been known to climb into Benny's or Zeke's cage or the play pen to "play" by jumping onto the guinea pig's back and refusing to budge.

She's currently teething, and loves chewing on plastic water bottles, plastic pit balls, and anything she can get a hold of to chew. Sabelle's best friend is a squeaky toy snake, and has been known to also cuddle up with her squeaky toy ducky and her teddy bear. She also loves starch peanuts, warm blankets, towels, and her heating pad (it's microwavable and made for animals), bubble wrap, carting off any bags that are foil or crinkly, Marshall's Crunchy Bandits Tartar Control Treats for Ferrets (which, of course, are now being discontinued, grrrr), climbing, trying to sneak into the guinea pig cages' to "play," going for car rides, and lizards and/or grasshoppers (don't ask, even I don't want to know). Sabelle enjoys being chased and chasing us (Sally's still working on this game). She doesn't really care for baths, most treats, or being told that she can't go outside. She's an escape artist, and figured out the cat door before the cats. Luckily, we have a door for the cat door, and my mom has trained her to come to the sound of her snake being squeaked, and we've been able to rescue her when she's managed to escape. Sabelle is my mom's baby, and she'll wake up as soon as my mom walks in the door. She sometimes won't fall asleep unless my mom's cuddled her, and she loves my mom singing to her. In short, she's spoiled, and very much loved.

Sabelle, sleeping between her teddy bear (left side of the picture) and her green squeaky toy snake (upper/right side of picture). In the very bottom right corner, a patch of yellow fuzz can be seen, which is Sabelle's squeaky toy ducky.

Skippy the (Traumatized) Squirrel

Picture is of a regular tree squirrel, who is looking rather pissed off and is clinging to the bathroom doorframe. To his left is a bottle of Windex. Say, Skippy, while you're down there, do you mind cleaning ...? Thanks! The date stamp reads "10/11/2013."
One October morning (the eleventh to be exact), Skippy the Traumatized Squirrel woke me up by loudly screeching. I woke up, confused as to why there would be a pissed off mouse in my room, thought for a minute about the cats, and soon discovered upon closer inspection that Tony (our hunter) had brought in, not a mouse, but a squirrel. With Baby Girl's help, Tony had the squirrel trapped in the corner under my desk area. I told Tony to get that squirrel out of here!, and he complied by picking the squirrel up and subsequently losing it some where between the living room and entry hallway. Some how, Skippy the Traumatized Squirrel had wound up in the bathroom. After forcefully dragging the cats out of the bathroom and quickly closing the bathroom door (and my mom and stepdad's bedroom door for good measure), I called my mom to inform her that there was a squirrel in the bathroom, clinging for dear life to the door frame. Following my mom's instructions, I found a trash can and a make shift lid, and spent the next few minutes coaxing a very traumatized Skippy into said trash can. To my dismay, he climbed the door frame, and was almost in the shower before I managed to trap him in the trash can. I was too afraid to pull back the make shift lid, as I kept having these images in my head of Skippy the Traumatized Squirrel biting my face clean off. I rushed Skippy the (now very) Traumatized Squirrel outside (dodging cats along the way) and slowly dumped the trash can out, yelling "Be free, Skippy! Be free!". He ran off without a moment's hesitation. Some where out there in our neighborhood, is a very traumatized squirrel. I wouldn't be surprised if he has PTSD episodes whenever he sees a cat. Poor Skippy :-/

Sally's Story

We got Sally a few months later, from a rescue place called Fallin' Pines Critter Rescue. We brought her home on November 09, 2013.

Sally, when we first brought her home (her nails are no longer that long, and she's slimed down considerably). Image: Sally is laying on top of bubble wrap, slightly in need of a bath, with a curious, cautious expression on her face.
At first, Sally would bite Sabelle, and so my mom broke the ferret cage up into two parts. She was very aggressive, obviously had not been outside of a cage much (she was rotund, to put it nicely), and had trouble using her back legs. My mom was thinking of sending her back, but I figured I'd try to make a connection with her. I'm known as the guinea pig lady, so there wasn't much of a leap to becoming the ferret whisperer.

I decided my best approach was to follow my instincts and join her in HER world during play time, which meant getting down to her level on the floor. I allowed her to set the pace, follow her lead, and to allow her to come to me. Consistency was - and still is - mandatory. If I had to reprimand her, a gentle "No" followed by removing her from the situation usually worked. Yelling at her would result in her running off and hiding. We eventually wound up using my room as her playroom (it has carpet, which equaled better traction for her feet) and using slow actions so she knew what was happening, that I wasn't going to hit her, I made play FUN! and exaggerated my happiness (it sounds corny, but she wasn't very social and it let her know I was A-okay). If she did X correctly without aggression she got a treat. This has also worked with litter box training and (with some success) getting her to come to us when we call her name. When she bit too hard during play, I'd gently put my finger by her mouth and firmly say "Gentle". I still have to do this on occasion, so she knows her boundaries, but only because she's really into playing and momentarily forgets.

I slowly extended the hours of our play, and now, five months later, she can use her legs to push herself, running like no one's business all over the house REALLY fast (it's hilarious to watch - it's like watching one of those ACME characters run away from a falling object), self confident, owning the joint, and trying to do all the stuff Sabelle can do. We think her back may have been broken at one point, because she couldn't use her back legs well, she doesn't jump around like Sabelle with her crazy Weasel War Dance (when Sally is really into her play, she rolls onto her back and does this improvised one hop dance), and, even though her balance and ability to stretch her neck has improved, she cannot climb. I help Sally to climb atop things when she looks intently UP at an object, and then closely supervising her. She's learning that legs are for jumping, but is still learning how to stick the landing. When she wants up onto the counter or wherever, I will have one hand free and near her at all times because she's gotten so fast, and will jump without a moment's hesitation. She loves nipping toes, which has earned her the nickname of "Carpet Shark" (when she lays down upon the floor, we call her "Ninja Carpet Shark" because her fur and the tile are white).

When we first brought her home, Sally was also very antisocial and disliked being held. She would often whimper in her sleep at night, and, from the way she would thrash about, they looked to be fairly bad nightmares. When I heard her whimper at night (and I have never been more thankful for having sleep issues), I'd wrap her in a towel, sooth her by repeatedly telling her "You're okay, I'm here, you're okay. You're safe, you're here now, you're okay," and pace the house with her until she quit shivering. After a few weeks, she settled in, and she rarely has the occasional nightmare and she's soothed a lot quicker - now, it's five minutes of orienting her that she is here, it's me, she's safe, and then she's like, "Play time!?" (2 AM? Uh, sure?).
I rewarded her for being held and let her know that hands are good by giving her treats. If she wanted down, I'd wait just a bit longer, and then let her down. She now lingers in your arms before wanting down. She enjoys curling up to my side to sleep, and she loves snuggling, and is now allowing my mom to snuggle her. She gives kisses. She's learned how to mimic a whimper so I'll come running to take her out of her cage. Even better is the "Fake Pooping in the Little Box" trick, so I'll either take her out of the cage and/or give her a treat. She's smart, but doesn't really care that we know it. She's happy to have found a home.

For a ferret that came to us with severe behavior issues, she really has come quite a long way. I recently had to pop her to get her off my oldest guinea pig, and she was shocked more than upset that I'd do such a thing! She went into her cage without a fuss, and, by the next day, all was forgiven. She's learning to walk on a leash, and has been on two successful trips to PetSmart. I've been able to socialize her by gradually introducing her to people. Now she'll even let children pet her, no biting. If I sense she's scared or tired, I'll pull her back, but, lately, it's like she's never had any social issues.

My mom recently bought Sally a bed like Sabelle's. Sally had no clue what to do with this bed, until my mom stuck her in it. Now, Sally hardly sleeps on the floor of her cage, and is learning to enjoy her blankets, her tent thingy, and rarely leaves her bed. We've even seen her stretch all the way to her water bowl from her bed, and she enjoys eating in bed. Sally enjoys treats (her favorite are these chicken stick treats that I call "chicken bones"), bubble wrap, opening up doors, finding new places to sleep, and giving herself spit baths via the water fountain or water cup. Sally enjoys chewing on pens, and has a few deconstructed pens (all the components of the pen, like the ink and inside parts, have been removed) under her tent thingy and hidden around the house. She's got toys, too: a blue mouse (she stole that from the cats), a kickster thingy that crinkles (it's used for cats to thump with their hind legs; Bella showed no interest in it, so Sally took that, too), a red, green, and white slipper sock that I used during one of our play sessions (and she subsequently kept and we've since discovered that she loves socks), and a teddy bear that she occasionally likes to snuggle up against (or push off of her loft when she's tired of it). She has this Grinch smile that means she's up to mischief, and it's such a joy to try to keep up with her. Sabelle and Sally have been initiating some form of play, mostly in the form of Sally playfully chasing Sabelle, for about three months now. It's a lot of small baby steps, some back stepping, and a whole lot of poo (which is how she earned her second nickname: Pooh). I will never regret the day that Sally came into our lives.

Image is of a picture of Sally partially hiding behind my craft box on my bedroom floor. Only her head, front torso, and two front legs can be seen, and she is smiling her Grinch smile (named after the infamous Grinch himself). Right after this photo was taken, she attacked my hand to play. Sally is also known to sleep while smiling her Grinch-y smile, obviously planning future mischief. What fun those dreams must be!
Note: It takes a TON of time to get an abused ferret to trust you. That first week was rough because I devoted most of my time to her (and still had to juggle an energetic younger ferret, three guinea pigs, three cats, and a dog) and getting her to know I was safe. It was exhausting, but rewarding work. In this sense, I don't mind being unemployed and having to move in with my mom. I am glad that I am here, that I am alive, and (begrudgingly, slightly less thrilled) that I moved down to Florida. I'm not sure if Sabelle would have been here, and Sally definitely would not have been. Sally needed a family, and I glad that she found us. She's rescued me from some of my own depression, and she makes every day a joy. When she sleeps (in any one of her endless sleeping positions), she is almost always smiling. You can't help but smile back. When she does something new, one of us is quick to point it out and congratulate her. Every day brings something new, and it's just awesome watching her grow into her own and blossom.

Five months later, Sally clearly has lost weight, her eyes are bright, clear, and shine with intelligence, her neck muscles are strong, she moves with intent, and her fur is all white. In this image, she is laying in her bed (her red, green, and white slipper sock is underneath her and can barely be seen; her little box is behind her), staring at the camera with a joyful expression, as if she is saying "I can come out, right!?" She can get out of her cage by her self via a ramp, but prefers that we pick her up.

This is my favorite picture of Sally and I. Sally is cuddled up with me, sleeping, on my left shoulder. My eyes are closed (due to the flash of the camera). We are reclined on my bed.

Tony is named for Anthony DiNozzo of NCIS. My mom sometimes calls him "Why not?" (because that's Tony spelled backwards!). He is very affectionate, and is very handsome (and knows it, too!). He's my furry hunk of a kitty, and I sometimes call him Tone Tone (because his meow is very tone-ful). He'll wait in front of the house for anyone to come home, and will wait up if I've gone on a late night lettuce run. When I'm in pain, he'll seek me out to comfort me, and he loves hogging the foot of my bed. He lives for cat treats, scritches, and kisses. He's also our hunter, and is known for bringing in the squirrels, snakes, lizards, and various insects. He loves lounging on the pillow I've placed on top of Zeke's cage, in the window itself, or near Daisy's cage (she used to have a mini crush on him until Tony decided to put his mouth around her to see if she'd fit).

Image: Tony, laying on the pillow on top of Zeke's cage, with his paws hanging into Daisy's cage. His expression is one of pure boredom, like he's just hanging there, and has no intention of bothering Daisy. Tony is part American curl, part Siamese (we think). His paws, chest, and underbelly are white.

Tony, asleep in the guinea pigs' laundry basket, with his tongue sticking out and his fangs showing. As you do.
Baby Girl

Baby Girl is my stepdad's cat, and she's a spoiled princess. She's known for swatting at the bell on my mom's and stepdad's door first thing in the morning when she's hungry and wants fed. She's the mother of the ferrets and guinea pigs, and has been known to clean and sleep in their cages. She's part feral cat, and is a little bit anti social and moves her sleeping spots around. If she wants something (usually turkey sandwich meat or whatever meat you're cooking), she'll start acting like she's starving half to death, and gets this "Puss in Boots" look on her face (very wide eyed and innocent looking). She's known for drinking out of the faucets (as if she's too good to drink out of the water facet or water cup). If she doesn't get her way, she will bang the drawers open and closed to show her displeasure. If she wants in a room, she'll scratch at the door until you either yell at her to stop or cave in (mostly the latter). She mostly does whatever the hell she wants, and enjoys tracking in her share of lizards and insects.

Baby Girl, clearly annoyed and grimacing at the camera. She is lounging on top of my blue pillow on the couch. She is a light tan/reddish brown shorthair tiger cat.

Bella - short for Bellissima - is the kitten. She's built solid with no fat on her, and enjoys jumping on and off of anyone, cannonball style (meaning, using her whole weight, so it hurts like hell). She doesn't have a lot of manners, and has proven it thusly by willfully cleaning herself on the counters and licking the butter on the microwave cart. We're trying to curb the behavior, but it's sort of hard to in a cat that just doesn't care. Bella only comes when she wants to - at first, I was convinced she was deaf, but nope, she just doesn't give a damn - she will come when it pleases her. She's very insistent and doesn't really care that you're busy - when she wants attention, she will get attention, or else. It's taken a lot of effort to move her off of me, the keyboard, or whatever, but she's finally gotten around to using her paw to bat at me when I won't give her attention. She's also known for farting on you when she's upset with you. When she was little and could still fit, her nickname was Spider Kitty because she'd climb under the bed upside down via her claws. She figured that as long as you couldn't get at her, she couldn't be thrown out of the bedroom. She's also known for sticking her head in your mouth when you're sleeping, which scared the dickens out of me the first time she did it (I broke my new laptop screen by throwing it at intruder who I thought had broken into my room; nope, just Bella! I no longer fall asleep with my laptop). She uses her voice really loudly to get in and out of the cat door when it's closed, and she's very expressive. For as annoying as she is, Bella is a sweet and very affectionate kitty. At first, I thought she had also been abandoned as a kitten (nope!), she's just very loving. When Tony isn't around and I'm in pain, Bella will seek me out and cuddled me up until I'm all better. It sort of balances out that whole annoying kitten attitude she has. Sort of.

Bat Kitty! Bella is a black and white Maine or Tuxedo cat (we're not sure which). She gets the nickname Bat Kitty because the way her ears flatten to look like the Batman silhouette when her name is being called. Some of the fur is missing on her right leg due to a recent surgery to spay her.


If Sabelle is the youngest in the house (followed by Daisy, then Bella, and up the age chain), then Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) is the oldest, at 13 years old. She is a white and light brown mop (I don't remember the exact breed per se) dog. She is known for protecting her "babies" (stuffed animals), sleeping, snoring, and being a general (loving) nuisance by refusing to move out your way when you're walking by her. When she wants something, she whimpers. She has arthritis, and enjoys following the ferrets around the house. She's especially found of Sally, and the two will sometimes play. Otherwise, she's pushed around by the ferrets (when they're not busy staring down the cats) and is often rebuffed and/or literally walked over by the cats. Buffy takes turns curled up at our feet, and loves moving towels around the house until she's found the perfect spot to sleep. The entry hallway is considered her bedroom. She loves treats and attention, and barks at thunder. She's a good dog :-)

Image is of Buffy laying down on a towel. She's looking the camera, obviously just having been woken up. She's the Buff dog :-)

A Christmas Surprise

Thanksgiving came with the usual threats of using the guinea pigs in lieu of a turkey, and was followed in quick succession by December.

My brother, his wife, and A. surprised us to celebrate A's very first Christmas and New Year's. I was so shocked that I actually cried. I hadn't seen my brother in a long time, nor had yet to meet his wife or my niece. He is in the Navy and had been stationed in Guam, and had just transferred state side to Connecticut in November. We weren't sure if he was going to get leave, and had pretty much convinced ourselves he was going to get his orders.

My sister-in-law is a smart, funny, beautiful, and strong lady. She and my brother are a good match. The Sister approves ;-) I was fearful of holding my niece, because I didn't want to drop her due to the neuropathy in my hands. I still got to have fun with her, and got to chase her around some. She's a happy, smart, stubborn, funny, gorgeous, and super awesome sauce kiddo. She can now pull herself up, walk in her walker, and is getting prepared to walk any day now. I'm one proud aunt :-)

From left to right: My brother, my sister in law, and A., who is happily waving around a toy. We're all sitting around in the living room, watching TV, and wearing shorts in the AC because that's Christmas in Florida ;-)

The Rest of the Story

Since January, I've been trying to get my mind to concentrate long enough to fill out the Social Security forms and other forms of various kinds. It's sort of difficult, too, in that I injured my right wrist when moving boxes and I cannot write for very long without my wrist getting tired and sore. Then I had a week of illness (probably a light dose of the flu) followed by a week of dealing with an ear infection. The left pedal on my bike fell off half way on a 16 mile bike ride, and I gave up my trustworthy bike - that could never be fully repaired because the accidents in Maryland mostly killed it - for a newer bike that I'm still learning to trust (hence, no pictures yet. My weary eye keeps expecting it to eat me alive, Calvin & Hobbes style). It's never ending fun around here! /sarcasm

Picture is of me holding the left pedal of my bike in my left hand. I am wearing my blue gel biking gloves.

My old Clear Creek men's 26 inch bike, complete with back rack and plastic bottle of coffee. My bike is perched against the bus sign, and there is a light drizzle of rain.
I am still trying to get myself to contact schools and the student loan people to see about going back to school. I'm thinking of psychiatry and eventually being able to work as an online psychiatrist and connecting people with the help they need, whether it be an ear to listen or a local resource. My eventual goal is to provide some free counseling for those without an income. I know the need is there, especially in rural areas where a therapist may not be found as readily in an urban areas, for folks who are too busy making ends meet to get the help they need, and for those forgoing help to feed themselves and/or their families.

I have (most) of the help I need. I need a counselor, and am still mostly tired to my core. I recently upset my sciatica nerve injury when I attempted to ride 16 miles to pick up my medications at Lakeside (the week of mind-numbing pain wasn't worth saving $2 on bus money). It's one step forward and a few steps back, and it's a dance I know well. No, everything is not picture perfect, but, phft, I never liked being photographed any ways ;-)

Until the next time, ferrets and guinea pigs out!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April 24, 2013 to April 30, 2013

“It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Albus Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.

I thought this quote rather apt for the following picture. I have really poor organization skills, but am great with the smaller details (Serenity, thy name is an oxymoron). Combine that with a small apartment (about six hundred square feet of living space), and I was often tripping over my own self. Toss in two guinea pigs and the fact that I have dyspraxia (basically, it means my body has no clue where it is in space and needs a defined, fixed visual map to move around; aka; the pathways have to stay clear and the furniture needs to stay in its place, otherwise I risk injuring myself by either running into or tripping over stuff), and I was often having to clean the apartment every single weekend, otherwise it'd look like a slob met a hay barn. Thanks to a small stackable washer and dryer and high cost of utilities, I was having to do a load of laundry every other day, because the towels and heavier items needed to be dried on a clothes line in the apartment. Most of the loads were guinea pig related because I got into the habit of using rags and old clothes over newspaper instead of sawdust after Oreo (the guinea pig who has since moved to the Rainbow Bridge, may he live in peace) developed sores on his feet from said sawdust.

Looking back on the following picture almost a year later, I can see the chaos and depression which were my mind.

Due to the lack of the space in the kitchen, I got good at stacking things so they wouldn't fall over. If you needed to use say, the rice cooker, you'd move the crap out of the rice cooker and into the catch all box on top of the makeshift shelf made from a discarded bookshelf board placed on top of the trash can for recyclables. Due to the lack of proper furniture and the fact that my life revolved around the coffee pot command central (aka the kitchen), I got good at stacking papers and other assorted daily living crap in the kitchen ... into the catch all box. It was difficult to think, much less function.

Description of the above picture: A picture of my apartment's small kitchen counter. From left to right in back: My Keurig machine (which broke during the move, grr), a bag of Eight O'clock Columbine coffee grounds (probably from a buy one, get one free sale), a Ziploc bag of gluten free crackers (which I got 50% off at Safeway because they were stale), a bottle of liquid Vitamin C for the guinea pigs, a red toaster, a large bottle of fish oil pills, a red rice cooker (in which holds boxes of English and Irish tea) and what appears to be either some sort of over the counter medication or antibiotics (I think I was recovering from bronchitis around this time). In the front, from left to right: A bottle of Lifewater (it's the red flavor), my Kindle, my glucose monitor organizer, a wooden bamboo cooking utensil, my red ceramic jar which holds loose Splenda, a Giant's container filled with some sort of soup, and what appears to be a large cooking pan (which has produce bags inside of it) that is sitting crookedly on top of an oven mitt. Several Ziplock bags holding various items and other boxes and random objects are all squished together in the background. On the wall is my two-level medication shelf (every day items on bottom, seldom used medications on top). I think there may even be a bag of almost-empty coffee grounds behind the toaster, and, yes, that is a box of decaf Irish tea sitting on top of something in the background, next to which a monkey cookie jar sits. A fruit bowl in front of it holds measuring cups, measuring spoons, and small snack sized containers with lids.

This is the other side of the kitchen which showed the shelving unit and the catch all box on top of the discarded bookshelf on top of the recycle trash can:

A very, very well organized kitchen. By "organized", I'm being totally sarcastic. It looks like the kitchen threw up (in other words, the kitchen is very, very messy).
In between the counter and the above "command central", are a stove with a microwave above that, and the fridge. It'd be the overstatement of the year to say that it stressed me out.

When it came to time, my mind felt like this:

Picture is of Benny moving so fast, that he is literally a blur. The blue bottom of his cage is shown, out of focus, in the background.
To make a long story short, I will summarize the last six days of April 24 to April 30, 2013. I put together these last days of April using Facebook status updates and photos.

April 24, 2013

Today my niece, A, turns 3 months old!

Picture description: A white cake with two red roses and leaves with the writing "Happy 3 months A-!" is laid to the left of my niece, who is wearing a bright yellow and white stripped "dress" infant onesie (which has a fabric white rose on the front). She is asleep with her hands under her head, looking cuter than a kitten. I have masked her face with a smiley face and bow via Paint (the program), and obscured her name for privacy purposes.
Originally, I had included the kitchen counter photo as my "daily picture," but I think the above photo makes for a happier photo :-)

April 25, 2013

Today's photo is example of food I ate on the run. Thanks to my Facebook statuses, I finally figured out why I had bought LifeWater's (usually, I cut out an unnecessary spending, like on bottled drinks, to save money). Apparently, for the past week, I had been waking up because my legs had been alternating Charlie horses.

When I was in a hurry and lacking in protein bars, I usually tossed left over cereal (in this case, Kix), whatever nut I had lying around (I think this bag contains walnuts), coconut shavings, currents, and freeze dried banana chips into a sandwich sized Ziplock bag. If I had extra money, I might splurge on dark chocolate chips. Sort of like a trail mix, but not.

From front to back: Ziplock bag of "trail mix", cup of coffee, and Lifewater (the yellow kind). In the background, the kitchen sink can be seen, in which there's a few dirty dishes in it.
April 26, 2013

The above picture shows you how I remember things: if I need a particular item and don't want to forget it, I'll carry it around the house with me until I get to the designated spot or activity. That's why there's soap in between the cup of coffee and the white egg "omelet." The soap is Irish Springs. I didn't learn until I moved back in with my mom that Irish Springs is a men's soap. I bought it because it was inexpensive, and I could get them online from WalMart. Oopsie. Now I just use oatmeal soap :-)

Also, RIP Possum! Indeed, who is going to fill their shoes?

April 27, 2013

From my Facebook wall:

Posted at 1:29 in the evenin':
Passed out cold on the floor, tucking the guineas in for the night. Poor things went without hay. I must have sleep walked at some point, because I woke up in bed without any pants. Man, just for once, I wish drinking was involved!

Need to finish dinner and figure out brunch. My excuses for "meals" lately have been a joke, so need a really nutritious dinner tonight. Um ...


Posted at 4:15 in the evenin':

Man, my lungs are sore! Feels like I've been breathing in water. Was sleeping until a hungry hay muncher woke me up. Zeke was also done playing with his paper sack and chowed down on his breakfast, so can he please have some more?

Posted at 5:18 in the evenin':

Sorry B dude, all you have left are the crappy treats (apple his foot! He loves the carrot flavored ones, but puts his foot down at apple!?). So, yeah, to the pet store I go or I'm going to break his heart.
Posted at 12:28 in the evenin':
Pain killers and piazza [pizza] night. Because, frankly, there's not much one can do with pb, tofu, and guinea food. Everything else is either frozen or involves beans, cabbage, or lasagna. Been there, done that, & lost its appeal.
Posted at 2:42 in the mornin':
LOTR :-)
Conclusion: A fully booked Saturday: I woke up without any pants (I must have taken them off while stumbling to bed after feeding the guineas and cleaning the guinea pig cages' - without giving them hay, shocking! - after working until the wee hours of the morning), fed the guinea pigs, fell back asleep, got woken up by the guinea pigs because they were hungry for hay, was prompted to go to the pet store after B insisted he needed treats, and then came back only to order pizza because I was in pain from going to the store and back, and the food options were lacking. I probably then proceeded to feed the guineas, clean their cages, and watched Lord of the Rings (LOTR), which I bought for my birthday.

Daily pictures:
B's birthday presents: The Scooby-Doo and the Pirates DVD cost me five dollars and the cat toy was under two dollars (I remember it was on clearance at PetSmart).

A picture of outside, as being seen from the balcony door (the only "window" in the apartment). The screen door is visible.
The above picture shows my laptop with a broken screen, which is why the flat screen TV is on (I used it as a monitor). The image on the desktop is a 2010 or 2011 Christmas picture of Benny snuggling his favorite "blanket" (an old flower print black skirt that was a hand me down). He has a gold sparkly bow on his head and looking quite upset.
April 28, 2013
I celebrated Benny's birthday today, even though it technically isn't until May 8th (his adoption day). I posted a short video to Facebook, which can be viewed here. He was pushing five years old, and I was afraid he wasn't going to live very much longer (ha!). Most of my guinea pigs died youngish. Oreo had passed away the previous September. He had developed a respiratory illness, and I couldn't afford to make him all better. He was eating very little, might not have survived, and so I made a very difficult choice to have him put to sleep. Benny spent the next five months sleeping with me until I put an ad in the paper for a friend for Benny, and Zeke came to live with us.
The last photos for April are of Zeke and Benny, after I have tucked them in and fed them for the evening.
Benny, sniffing the camera as to see if it's edible.

Zeke, looking skeptical.
I said good night to Facebook at 5:02 AM.
April 29, 2013
I was supposed to have an appointment with my psychiatrist, and overslept it. I remember that making me very depressed (oversleeping appointments and not having a regular sleep schedule are still triggers for my worsening my depression). I went to work, I came home. The only thing I did on Facebook is "like" a status by the Montgomery County Public Library:
Text reads: "The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of humanity." T.S. Elliot
I suppose on Tuesday I was going to have an MRI. I remember that very vaguely.
April 30, 2013
My only activity on Facebook:
At 6:15 in the mornin':

The implications of this is scary. Very, very scary.

What I've seen from Congress as of late is an aim to kick us back into the Dark Ages, where women have no rights, the people aren't allowed education, wealth, or even enlightment through speech, there's only room for one religion and one thought, and we're all being spied upon in the name of security. Frankly, my government scares the crap out of me and gives me the heebie jeebies!


At 12:59 in the evenin':

So, yeah, Zeke is now wheeking for food as soon as I get up and go to the girl's room in the morning. Is there not a minute of peace in thus [this] apartment!?
I don't remember when the call came. It could have been around 2 PM. I vaguely remember sending my supervisor an e-mail telling her I wouldn't come into work because I was committing suicide. You all know what happens next. If not, read Shadows.

It's not the way I wanted to end Autism Awareness month.

I was thinking of sharing an Autism Talk's photo:


I might have wrote about how I hate when people post crap like this. Clearly, families need more support and funding. I get that. But the other stuff is just plain bullshit. If all you do is look a rose's thorns, you'll never see the rose. AIDS, cancer, and diabetes are chronic diseases. Autism is a neurological disorder. AIDS and cancer can kill you; autism cannot. A child is more than a number, more than a cost, and more than a disability. They're human beings, too.

In my opinion, I don't think there's an autism epidemic. Diagnostic tools are being improved upon, the health care professionals are becoming more knowledgeable about the range of autism symptoms, and autistics are no longer being hidden away in institutions. In my opinion, funding for gathering these statistics (which are mostly used to build up panic and fear) should be allocated to improve support within the autism community via respite programs and costs for therapies, expanded education and college supports, and housing within the community so that autistic children have something to transition into once high school is completed. I wish more autistic adults would speak up and tell their stories, but I understand their fear. It's not so much the shame or embarrassment, but the misperceptions about autism, poor understanding of the characteristics of autism itself and how it presents itself, and lack of consideration that causes the most damage.

I might have posted the answers to the questions I received via Facebook.

Keepinitreeltwennyfoseven asked "What led you to suspect you were an Aspie, and how was the diagnosis process?".

This was my favorite question :-) My mom had laid an article down on the counter. She knows I'm nosy and will read anything laid down on the counter that doesn't look personal or confidential. It was a New York Times article on adults with Asperger's. It sounded like me: difficulty socializing and lacking in the skills to do so (ding!), highly intelligent yet marked difficulty in articulating one's thoughts (ding! ding!), having a special interest (ding! ding! ding!), and something to do about sensory issues - for me, lights are always too bright and I dislike itchy clothes (ding! ding! ding! ding!). Most of the people interviewed in the article sounded like me, and I got a tingling situation. I searched for Asperger's and adults, found (which has since been closed), and then found the Autism CARD program here in Orlando, FL, which referred me to the Vocational Rehabilitation department. The Vocational Rehabilitation department no longer does assessments, so I was very, very lucky in getting my diagnosis. Not only was it at no cost to me (I had a part-time job and no health insurance), but I was diagnosed even at the age of 22 (which, in 2005, was no small feat). I went to a neurologist for an assessment in January. The diagnosis process involved a series of tests to assess various properties of my brain and IQ. In May of 2005, I was officially diagnosed as higher functioning autism (which acknowledged the fact that I did not speak in full sentences until I was five - at the time, it was thought to be due to the fact that I had an issue with my tongue not being able to move around freely and/or ear infections). I was also diagnosed as having sensory, attention, and anxiety issues.

Todd from California asked: "How does fitness and nutrition play into your management of autism?"

Riding my bike has proved to help my depression and anxiety, but after a serious of major incidents in 2009 involving crashing my bike in not so graceful ways, I haven't ridden my bike in more than four years. My depression and anxiety subsequently became more difficult to manage, and I began adding onto my drug regimen. In the year 2014, I finally finished fixing up my bike and begun riding, only for the crank shaft to break and my pedal to fall off my bike not even two months later. I received a new bike for my birthday, but have yet to adjust it and add the new headlight I also got (my asthma has been acting up lately because of the high pollen counts). It's a work in progress for both the bike riding and managing the health/depression/anxiety issues.

As for nutrition, I try to avoid gluten and wheat. It's not so much for my autism symptoms (which was not the inspiration for a change in my diet), but for the fact that I kept coughing up thick white sputum, had digestion issues, female issues, and was generally feeling poorly. I figured the worst that would happen is that I'd spend a little too much money on gluten free foods and I still wouldn't feel any better. Feeling poorly could have been blamed on eating crappily during the first two years of graduate school. I was diagnosed as having Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP basically means my left heart valve is floppy, which allows for blood to regurgitate back into the chamber. This forces the heart to work harder to pump blood and oxygen to the body) shortly after my father died on February 05, 2007. The cardiologist had suggested I drop out of graduate school to reduce my stress and the strain on my heart. I only had two semesters left, and was going to graduate, no matter what it took. I developed a very strict schedule so that I would get enough sleep, eat healthier, and reduce my stress through walking and taking time for me (getting let go from one contract due to having a heart condition, then fired from yet another job for having an anxiety attack, allowed me the time to focus on school).

Maria from Maryland asked: "When you were in school prior, did you need special study practices, devices or materials to learn?"

Yes. I had my neurologist from Orlando send a letter to the disability office at the University of Maryland stating that I needed academic help. I received an extension on tests if needed, was allowed to work individually instead of in groups, and, at the discretion of the professor, I was allowed extensions on paper due dates. I asked for help when needed, and I took copious notes. If I didn't hear something, I would ask the professor after class for clarification. Due to my issues with hearing loss as a child, I was taught to always sit in the front of the room, ask for clarification, and re-write my notes after school or class so that I could process the material learned in class.

I admit that when I first started graduate school, I was immature. The experience forced me to grow up, to be more reliant on myself, and to not be afraid of making connections with other students and to share my experiences of being autistic. I was one of three graduate school students to publish a paper and present our findings at a major conference in Philadelphia. I typically avoid working in groups. My very last semester, I forced myself to work within a group (I was trying to work on my "team" skills. Fail!). During this time, my oncologist suggested that I might have eye cancer, and so the stress became a little too much. Luckily, it was later discovered that I just had a weird eye vein and had a pigment on my eye from a previous infection. I believe the differences between the two groups was that, with the first group, I was allowed to use my strengths (literature review material, data analysis, and creating the PowerPoint presentation), the members were accepting of my differences, and we worked well together. I don't remember why the second group didn't work. I believe it was my stress and communication issues that led to the conflicts. Graduating with my Master's degree had its challenges and, at times, I was ready to throw in the towel. From the time I can remember, my mom has been pushing education, and instilling in me that there is nothing that I cannot accomplish if I want it badly enough - it's all about choices in life and responsibility to oneself to achieve what I want. I never heard the words "disability" growing up. Instead, I heard "Try your best, that's all you can do"; "Put your big girl panties on" (meaning, get back up on that horse and try again, even if you may fall off that damn horse yet again); and "You have a choice in life - whether you wish to go off to college or live in a trailer park with six kids, living on Welfare, it's up to you." My mom's awesome sauce and then some :-)

With that, I will sign off to start yet another post to catch you up on the happenings from May onwards. You know, the stuff not relating to the suicide. Wooooot! Until then, guinea out!