Timing things

I haven’t had a single job where I haven’t at some point been disciplined for not arriving on time. Usually, the complaint takes the form of “You’re always late!” and that doesn’t mesh with my literal brain, so I’ll argue that I wasn’t late the past three days, or that I’ve only been 15 minutes late once in the last month and this was the reason, or something like that. Which then gives me a reputation for being intransigent and argumentative.

But aside from whether I’m actually “always” late or not, I do have a problem with timing things.

jablonec-stationWhen I have a specific appointment, I suffer from overbuffering. I’ll go, “Right… I’ll need to catch the 10:55 train, better be at the station at 10:50 so I don’t have to run… Hm, need to buy a ticket, never know how long the line’s going to be, better be there at 10:40… It takes me 5 minutes to get to the station… or is it 10 minutes? I’ve never actually timed it, better be on the safe side, leave the house at 10:25… That means I’d better have my coat on and my bag packed at 10:15, otherwise I’ll be rushing all over the place and panicking… OK, I’ll have to get ready at 10:00.” And the end result is usually that I’m at the station by 10:20, 35 minutes early. (Or, in even sadder cases, that I’m so stuck on the idea of leaving the house at 10:25, that I’ll be sitting on the sofa with my coat on for 15 minutes until it’s time to leave). Which is not really a problem, but it is a tad inefficient, and shows that I don’t really have a good grasp of how long things actually take me.

As soon as it’s a recurring appointment, though, I start getting careless. I remember that last time I twiddled my thumbs for 35 minutes, so I’ll just get myself an extra cup of tea and play on the laptop for a bit before leaving. And that’s when the real shit starts happening. Before I know it, it’s actually 10:45, and I have absolutely no chance of still making it to the station on time.

It’s even more complicated when it gets to work. I think in absolutes. The train leaves at 10:55, which is an absolute. One minute late and the train will have left. Even when I’m messing up how long things take, I still have a very clear end goal. With jobs, it’s not that easy. To my immense surprise, I learned last year that a 9:00am start time doesn’t actually mean the goal is to be there at 9. Because we’re dealing with people here, and their perceptions of me. The goal is that I should be seen to be WORKING at 9. So no getting coffee, no starting up my computer, no going through my schedule. I need to be AT WORK. And that doesn’t mean “present at the office”.

A complicating factor is that when I ask about starting times, I often get the answer of “oh, we’re not that particular about times, as long as you get the work done.” That is a lie. (And it has taken me nearly two decades to figure out it’s a lie). People get annoyed when I always get in later than they do, never mind that I’m also always the last to leave (usually by one or two hours). It doesn’t make sense. It’s all about messy human perceptions. It’s not about how much work I do, or how many hours I’m working. It’s only about how it makes people feel. And apparently, me getting in late makes them feel like I don’t really care about making an effort.

So, knowing all this, why is it still so incredibly hard for me to get anywhere on time?

Because I struggle. I struggle with timing, knowing how long things take me. I struggle with executive function, initiating the actions that will get me somewhere on time. I struggle with why it’s important, because to be honest, how it makes others feel is not a paramount motivation for me.

If there is a specific reason why I need to be at the office ahead of time (like manning the phone line that opens at 8:30, or having a website go live at 10:00), I can manage just fine. But simply keeping up appearances? Not logical. No motivation.

And I think the last part might be crucial. Because I’m hardly ever late for appointments with friends (although that’s also because the one-off schedule overbuffering kicks in there). But with people I’m not emotionally invested in? Not really. And maybe that’s why I get grief for being late for work. Not because it’s a rule not to be late, because others get away with being late on occasion, and I never get away with it. But because people can somehow tell that making them happy just by doing something completely illogical is not that important to me.

The problem is made up of so many unrelated but heavily interactive elements, that I have no idea where to start in fixing it. And I’m not even sure I want to fix it. Deep down, I just want to yell at employers to simply let me be. Let me do my job, because I do my job well and I put in all the hours and I always get things done on time. So why make my life miserable by focusing only on what time I get in? Is that really the most important thing about my job? Get a f***ing grip!

But this is the way people feel. Will I try changing them, or will I try to change myself?

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Cara

This is why I write. Why I reach out to others.

“On a sheet of paper I write a few lines. Blog addresses, websites, videos. I push it towards her. This is us.

This is how it starts. One by one, like exhausted swimmers, we pull them to safety. They sit in the boat, confused and scared, afraid to wonder if things might finally get better. And the pilots of the boats signal to one another. I’ve found one more. They’re safe. I’m bringing them home.

Lyssa and Me

Cara sits in the chair to my right. She looks everywhere but at me; at the floor, at my desk, at her hands. I read through the notes from my colleague’s consultation last month, and the letters from various agencies. Now twenty-two, Cara crashed out of university in what is described as a psychotic episode four years ago. Called to the lecturer’s office to discuss an unsatisfactory assignment, she refused to speak and ran from the room. Several staff attempted to restrain her, resulting in frantic head-banging until she was removed by ambulance to the local psychiatric department.

The years since then have been a pattern of admissions after similar episodes. Staff on the ward note that once she recovers she is calm and appropriate, but very scared of some of the more labile patients. She has moved from hostel to hostel, and has no friends, or support system

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What is this thing called picky

I’ve been reading a lot of stories from parents about their child’s picky eating habits. The despair is apparent: how can I get my child to try new things? How can I ensure that they get a healthy, balanced diet?

Well, speaking as an autistic adult: don’t. I was a very picky eater as a child, and I am not a picky eater anymore (apart from a few exceptions). And frankly, this is DESPITE everything my parents did in forcing me to try new foods and finish everything on my plate. I used to dread dinner time. Now it’s my favourite meal of the day.

Because I started cooking for myself.

Picky eating in autistic kids is not obstinacy or temper tantrums to get candy. It’s tied up with a whole boatload of sensory issues: not only taste, but also smell, texture and temperature. Most of us are far more sensitive to these things than you realise. That’s why some autistic kids don’t like crisps, or ice cream, or bubblegum… things you imagine every child would like.

Maybe I can show you by listing examples of the things I would and wouldn’t eat as a kid.

Vegetables

You know, the big one. The one every parent freaks out about, because if you’re not eating your veggies, you’re going to DIE. Or something. So let’s look at how I kept myself from dying so far.

© Katrien | Praetershoek

I liked broccoli but only if it wasn’t boiled too long. Spinach, only if it was nearly pureed. Green beans were alright. I was quite fond of string beans as well, but only sliced very thinly (my mother had a special slicer for that, pictured on the right). My favourite vegetable was curly kale, mashed with potatoes. Other than those five, I hated all boiled vegetables. I hated them so much, that I scooped them behind the radiator at my back when nobody was looking, or hid spoonfuls in my pockets. I also hated to eat anything in which I couldn’t identify the vegetables. Vegetable soup was a nightmare, mostly because of the texture of boiled onions and leek. I didn’t start to eat onions until I was 19, and then only if they were sliced razor thin. Leek took me even longer, age 25. I didn’t eat tomatoes until I was about 22. Tomato sauce was OK provided it was pureed to death, but not my favourite. And other vegetables? I discovered a marvelous thing once I started living on my own: I could eat them raw. Carrots, cauliflower, endives, beets, cabbages, courgette (zucchini), even fennel have all been added to my veggie repertoire now that I’m an adult. All raw. I love veggies. What a difference from when I was a kid. If only my parents hadn’t forced me to eat them boiled.

Fruit

I loved and still love cherries. Oranges and clementines have always been a favourite of mine. The tarter the better. I couldn’t stand overly sweet oranges, not to mention the ones that were sort of chewy and dry. I also had to spend about half an hour picking off every last bit of pith. I’ll call it attention to detail, but the adults around me called it exasperating and neurotic. Now that I’m an adult, I fortunately have a higher pith tolerance. Strawberries were more complicated. I love them plain, but process them in any kind of way and they became my most loathed fruit enemies. Strawberry jam, strawberry yoghurt, even strawberry ice cream: YUCK. It was a combination of taste and texture: processed strawberries are completely different from fresh ones. Bananas were and are still only OK if they are slightly green, with absolutely zero brown spots. The texture of brown banana is still grueling to me.

© Kornelia Häfele | Wikipedia

I could only eat apples if they were rigorously de-cored, and not with an apple corer because that would still leave pieces of core. Pieces of core even made me refuse apple pie if I found any of it inside. I hated the taste of grapes. I still can’t stand seedless grapes as an adult. Peaches, apricots, and plums were only edible if they were skinned, again a texture issue. In line with the tartness of oranges, I also loved and still love any type of berry: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, gooseberries. It probably helped that we grew most of those in our back garden. My favourite was gooseberry, cracking the skin and then sucking out the juicy flesh. So while I was very specific about the ways in which I wanted to eat fruit, fruit was never the nightmare for me that vegetables were.

Dairy

I was breastfed and then got formula for a couple of months until I was about 12 months old. I stopped drinking milk after that. It used to worry my mum that I wasn’t getting enough calcium. She shouldn’t have worried, because I’m an absolute cheese fiend. One of my first words was cheese. When people asked me what I wanted on my sandwiches, I always said “Cheese!” even when I meant something else. And even as a little kid, I preferred the stronger tasting and aged cheeses (I discovered blue cheese when I was about 14, and fell utterly in love). I also ate a lot of plain yoghurt, with little or no sugar added. Fruit yoghurts tasted artificial to me and were too sweet. As an adult, I still eat enormous amounts of cheese, but I’ve also added ice cream (yes you’ve read that correctly, I didn’t like dairy based ice creams as a kid), sour cream and other dairy products to my diet. I still can’t stand sweetened yoghurts or milk, though.

Meat and fish

© Kokodrill | Dreamstime.com

My love of meat was extremely dependent on texture. I wouldn’t eat sausages if they had chewy bits in them. I painstakingly removed rinds of fat from everything, including ham and bacon. I wouldn’t eat any type of cold cuts except very thinly sliced “rookvlees” (a kind of smoked carpaccio). Steaks had to be extremely well-done. Funnily enough, I loved such weird things as chicken livers, venison, and rabbit. As an adult, I’ve slowly moved towards liking rare steaks, but I’ve become very picky about quality, and prefer to eat vegetarian if I can’t get good quality meat. I’m still not fond of rinds of fat, but I’ve learned how to cook them to a crisp. Crispy is much better. Texture-wise, I also had to eat everything with knife and fork, even things like chicken legs, because I hated my fingers getting sticky. I didn’t eat spare ribs until I was 27. Any type of fish sent me into a panic because I was scared to death of choking on a fish bone. Even fish fingers had to be meticulously checked for stray fragments. I didn’t learn to like fish until I was in my late twenties, and I still check for fish bones, although not as panicky.

Beverages

In this sense, probably the ideal child, because I only drank tea or water. Even fruit juice and cordials had to be watered down beyond all recognition, otherwise I wouldn’t drink it. I couldn’t stand Coke or other sodas, because they were far too sweet. I liked carbonated mineral water, though. As an adult, I’ve added coffee and most types of alcohol (except alcopops) to this list, but other than that, no change.

Other things

Bread: as a child, only toasted (but not too crispy), especially supermarket bread. And without whole grains in them. And no hard crusts. I’ve come a long way since then, and now I’ll eat any type of bread, although I am still fairly snobby about supermarket bread.
Eggs: only fried or scrambled, and only if the yolks were broken up immediately and the egg was thoroughly cooked. I didn’t eat a soft boiled egg until I was 34. Hard boiled eggs still make me gag.
Vinegar: my nemesis. Just the smell is enough to make me throw up. My two brothers always tried to take advantage of this, by “accidentally” dropping some mayonnaise or ketchup on my chips so I’d refuse to touch them. More chips for them. I still have to be very specific in restaurants about not wanting any salad dressing or other condiments.

This image is enough to make me nauseated. Not kidding.
© Kliek | Wikipedia

You might be thinking to yourself that this doesn’t sound very picky, because the list of foods I would eat was still fairly long. However, it was still a list, and if something wasn’t on the list, I’d have a complete meltdown when forced to eat it. It was nearly impossible to take me to a restaurant because I didn’t want to eat anything I wasn’t familiar with. Once, when I was on holiday in Austria, about age 10, I ate nothing but Wiener Schnitzels at the local restaurant for over a week. This ended with the chef making me the most gigantic Schnitzel I’ve ever seen (about the size of two large dinner plates), to the extreme hilarity of everyone present.

For years, food to me meant being forced to eat things, because that was the way the world worked. It was only after I started cooking my own food that I dared experiment a bit more and develop a healthier attitude. I had control over what I ate and how I ate it, and that helped me to become less uptight about food. Even so, it took me a long while to stop feeling anxious when having dinner at someone else’s house, because I hated drawing attention to my long list of weird food dislikes.

I’ve finally come to the point where I eat and enjoy most foods. But it’s been a very long, traumatic road.