My Spot

Written Friday September 22, 2017

A lot of my life I haven’t known if feelings I feel, or thoughts I have, are common. I’ll ask myself, “Do other people get as upset about X, Y, or Z as I do?” or “Did no one else like this thing I liked?” or “Did anyone else see what I just saw?” So I am going to throw this question I had of myself this morning out to the world…

Do other people have a love-hate relationship with routine, or is it just me?

Depending on what stage of life you met me, you probably would have met someone who looks like she is laid back, a go-with-the-flow sort of character who appreciates almost everything and will gladly breeze along through life letting other people, or the needs and whims of the day, set the agenda. This version of me seems easy-going and often I can enter into the flow of what is happening around me like entering a gentle stream, letting myself be carried peacefully here or there.

And the rest of the time I am decidedly NOT nearly as amendable. I’ve yelled at my husband because he hasn’t given me his proposed agenda for the weekend. I have stuck stringently to toddlers’ nap and bedtime schedules for fear they would detonate. When medical issues are involved I arrive to appointments early, plan out every bite, make five year (ok five month) plans for exercise in excruciating detail. I once decided I would be the sort of person who kept her kitchen spotless and for a few days I became a compulsive monster-and I don’t use either the word compulsive or monster lightly. It was as if a switch was flipped and I suddenly absolutely COULD NOT handle having my life controlled by someone flighty and easy-going, like the idea of order and routine was suddenly EVERYTHING. I would think that perhaps this is my reaction to stress, that making order out of chaos is a somewhat natural reaction. Except that the version of me who is a slave to routine is decidedly more stressed out on a continuous basis than the relaxed version of myself.

I’ve been thinking about this dichotomy in myself for a while now, every time I feel ashamed that I’ve lost a paper a kid needed for school I vow to do better. Every time I set up a new routine that I have trouble violating I feel ashamed that I have lost my ability to be flexible. It isn’t that I’m fastidious with work but loosey goosey with the kids, or that I’m lax with housework but strict with homework-it isn’t broken down by category consistently that way. The arenas of life I am strict about are, ironically, quite variable. Sometimes I could double as a flower child following Phish, and sometimes I am Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory insistent that we eat pancakes only on Tuesday and that I have a spot.

Right now, I have a spot.

My Spot
Image Description: a laptop open on a table at a library, shelves of books on either side.

I’ve been coming to our library every day after I drop the boys off at school to write. I go to the downstairs bathroom. I come upstairs and stake out my spot, which sits between the books about the Hoover Dam on my left and a Japanese-language version of The Hunger Games on my right. I will stay up until any time before 11:00 AM, but never past 11:00 AM then leave for lunch. I had only done this for four workdays before it became a necessity.

I tried to mix it up.

My illnesses are quite variable, and with a recent heatwave my blood sugar has been dipping too often. This morning I stopped at Panera to get an egg white sandwich before writing (protein is good for keeping blood sugar steady, unlike the candy I would rather be chugging). I brought my laptop in with me, thinking that I could get to work there for a change of pace. I ate and sat and opened up Facebook and Twitter and all my social media and could not get myself to open that damn laptop. After ten minutes I gave up, and left for “the office” cursing myself for wasting time because now I would be late for “work”.

I literally could not violate my new routine without it causing me psychological distress. And it is distressing. Once I latch onto a compulsion or a way of doing things and have to change it, it is absolutely distressing. I am pissed that my oldest has two clubs that, for completely understandable reasons, have different dates than what I already wrote down in my planner. I do not like it that when my husband drives our car he parks in a different area of the parking lot than I would have. I feel strange not seeing a trailer or reading an article for a movie before I go see it. Sometimes I can be very rigid.

But, I also adored my high school students when they would come up with an unusual idea I had never thought of in class. I love when strangers sing unexpectedly in public. I love new restaurants and dishes and seeing where a conversation might meander. Sometimes I can be very flexible.

I wonder if my feelings about routines stem from the idea that I may not be neurotypical. Last April, I began to realize I might be on the Autism Spectrum. I “came out” to friends on Facebook this way-

“I’m running high on some post-workout endorphins, so I’m going to post this right now before I chicken out. My vague-post from last week, where I was happy? I finally realized/accepted something about myself and I felt immediately less alone and a lot freer.

I am not neurotypical.

I never have been.

In fact, the more I read and understand, I am pretty sure I am on the autism spectrum, possibly with Aspergers.

While working on an essay, I remembered just how much over my life I closely studied human behavior and behavioral patterns and mimicked what I figured out was “normal” for other people. From a very young age, I studied everyone and everything and hid.

Places where I felt comfortable, I let myself be “weird” and sometimes it worked out okay, sometimes it didn’t.

(And … I just started listing everything I just figured out about myself. You don’t need to know all that, so I just deleted it.)

Anyhow. I feel good.

I feel new respect for myself, realizing how tough I had to be. I was in the deep end of a pool, treading water for years, not knowing that a lot of other people looked calm on the surface because their feet actually reached the bottom.

I feel relief from the pressure to hide the weird parts of myself so often. Or trying too hard to push myself to actually *not* be weird. It’s never going to happen. I will always be weird. There won’t be a magic time when I suddenly won’t be different. I’ll still work on being socially appropriate, better at relationships, etc. But I recognize that for me it takes more work.

I feel less alone. The more I read the more I see myself in the narratives of other adult women who are not neurotypical. There are people out there that know what this feels like.

I have a new batch of coping skills for the parts of life that are hard. I struggle with things like anxiety, procedural compulsions, intense sudden special interests, inattention to things that don’t interest me, some rigidity, meltdowns and the inability to not notice a million details-that other people have found workarounds for.

So yeah. That’s what’s up.

And I feel a lot more free than I have in a long time.

For a lot of autistic people, routine is vitally important. But rigidity in sticking to a routine when it inconveniences other people very much goes against what it means to be a woman in terms of agreeableness. Knowing that I would be expected to either violate my routines or let them be violated, or be thought of as unfriendly and unhelpful, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I wonder if I studiously cultivated a life that was almost free from routine so I wouldn’t feel the distress of violating it, and would not feel the distress of violating what it means to be “feminine”. I think that perhaps I took enormous effort and discipline to be agreeable and easy when my mind wanted me to be rigid and uncompromising. Which is fairly counter-intuitive.

Routines, and the way I handle them, can feel like ensnarement. But, they can also be useful tools. Maybe, if I am aware of my tendency to get rigid with routines, I can harness some routines without them taking over my life and causing me distress. I’m not sure I can, and past evidence hasn’t given me the idea that it is something that comes easily to me. I want to be responsible and orderly when it helps me and my family, but still be loose and open to change when that is needed. I don’t want to ignore the part of me that thrives in routines anymore, but I don’t want to lose the person I am when I am able to let it go.

Maybe I need the framework to be orderly, but what I do within it to be open. Like right now-I am writing in my spot and I am rushing to finish this blog post as it is 10:51 and I have to be done by 11:00. But…I was supposed to be working on my book when the compulsion to sort this out became stronger than my compulsion to finish the chapter. So some routine, but freedom within the routine.

Like this blog. I had, in the past, expectations for myself that I would post something each week, or every other week, but the content was completely open to my whims and compulsions. Structure and fluidity.

I guess my take away question, as it is now 11:00…

My spot at 11
Image Description: A closed laptop on a library table, bookshelves on either side. A clock in the distance reads 10:55

Anyone else have the same kind of love-hate relationship with routine?

Or is it just me?

Moving

We decided last spring that it was time to start looking for a new house.

Scratch that “we”. My husband has been ready for a long time. Every other time we’ve moved -from Illinois, to Tennessee, to Texas, to Illinois- we had to do it quickly. A transfer with a few weeks notice, a three day hunt for a new place and about a month to say goodbye and hello and forward all our mail and set up a new phone number. Each time we knew that we would be staying just a few years, that the company would pay for the move and buy our old house if we needed them to.

Our last move was done this way (we saw about twenty different houses over two days with headcolds) when we moved back to Illinois with our one year old baby. In fact, his first birthday was when we closed on it. It was the absolute best option at the time, even with a fence that blocked off any and all access to the back yard. It felt airy and roomy. Light spilled in the way it had in our house in Texas, which was not an easy feat as the money we paid near Houston stretched a lot further than it did in the Chicago suburbs, making windows and space a bit of a luxury. We had three bedrooms which worked at the time-one baby+one home office+one master suite. It gave my husband space to renovate without being a complete renovation. We knocked down the fence and had this view-

Outside View
Image Description: a patio furniture set with a green yard and hedges in the distance

-for the next ten years. It was my favorite.

Then it got small for us. The house sat on a slab, and we never had a basement or a crawlspace. The shed that had been on the property had been…odd. It had blocked our view and had been illegally wired with electricity and air conditioning for the previous owners’ pet dogs, and it really needed to come down. We had little storage to begin with and we added another kid. Both boys fit in one room when they were preschoolers and kindergartners, but as they got bigger, as my oldest got to be almost as tall as me and his clothes literally busted out of the changing table we had converted into a dresser, the whole place felt tighter and tighter. My youngest plays piano and my aunt’s neighbor couldn’t find someone to buy his upright but wanted it to have a good home. We had to turn down a free piano because all the space we had was already spoken for.

I had resisted the idea that we needed somewhere new for a about six years of the last ten. I argued that we were accumulating things too thoughtlessly and discretion would buy us more space. I argued that I never wanted my kids to become spoiled, that it was important to me that they be grateful for what they already had. I argued that a bigger house just meant more to clean, or that it meant I had to pretend to be fancier than I was, or that we would be tempting fate and might drown in debt that I couldn’t help pay down because I was sick.

Because I was sick.

That was the real reason. The house had become my world for the last seven or so years that my health had started to decline. Whenever I was too sick to move, I could still see the backyard through our sliding glass door. The house was always there for me when venturing in the outside world was not possible, when I had been in too much pain to risk going out in the cold, when I was exhausted to the point of vomiting after being up half the night with babies or low blood sugar, when new medications made me too dizzy to drive-home was there for me. When my husband traveled for work and the boys were in bed and insomnia had a hold on me, the house held me and helped me feel safe. I didn’t want to lose that. But it had also become a cage, a place I had become afraid of leaving because I didn’t trust in my own ability to navigate the world while sick. Here I could hide how bad I felt, or nurse myself back to health. It was refuge and prison cell after so many years sick within its walls.

The house had also become a metaphor for how I felt about my broken body. I knew its limitations as intimately as I knew my own and every time my husband would complain that the roofline was not particularly attractive, that the electricity was tricky, that the rooms were small or the spaces limited I would feel stung. I felt embarrassed and angry for the house that he could only see its shortcomings and not the wonderful things it already held. I felt defensive, like I was fighting for my own worth, fighting against being discarded myself. I fought for him to appreciate the love and care he had put into decorating it, the creativity it held, the memories the boys made there, the memories I made as a young mother that no one else will remember because they were too young. I fought for the yard and the view and the windows and the landscaping we planted together. I fought for it like I was fighting to keep myself important.

I realized over time that yes, the house was a good house that would serve another family well; that I wasn’t being replaced with something newer, fancier or less trouble; that I had let myself become confined by its walls and that there wasn’t anymore room for me to grow or breathe or become something bigger than I had been for the last few years. It was time to look for a new place.

A place with room for each of us to be more, for my husband who was feeling stifled by the lack of new projects to be creative with our home again, room for the boys to be independent and to move without bumping into walls with their bigger bodies, room for hobbies and interests and collections. Room and space to dance and cook and sing. Room to hold onto things that are important to us. Room to expand beyond where we were. Room to feel free instead of constrained.

I finally knew it was time, but still had to be dragged through the process of it all kicking and screaming, afraid of what I was losing, not really able to visualize what I would gain. When you go for years losing, voluntarily letting go of something that had been so important to you is incredibly hard. Well, it was for me, and I assume it is for other people.

Moving Boxes
Image Description: Moving boxes and miscellaneous stuff stacked high in a garage.

 

This time, for the first time in our lives, we had time to really look. We had time to decide. We looked at houses from the beginning of May all the way through August and decided we wouldn’t settle for something that was close enough, as we had had to before. We finally found a place, after looking at every listed house in town for an entire summer, just on the other side of the pond where we had been living. After fretting about the boys moving schools, it is looking like they won’t have to. After grieving over missing our neighbors, they are literally just a five minute walk away. We haven’t closed on the house yet, but I am cheered that we didn’t even lose the view I came to love so much-we’ll just be seeing it from a different angle.

But we will have more space to grow.

It pains me to say it, but my husband was right. The process was hard and painful in a lot of ways-our boys have never (really) lived anywhere else and were doubtful they would survive the move, I had to confront the ways I had let being sick limit me, we had to ask all our family to help move most of our things into storage since we were still looking for the right place as our place sold more quickly than we thought it would. But it has been necessary. And worth all the trouble.

Essay at The Refresh

glacier-tour
Image Description: A family of four, two boys, a mother and father, bundled up in coats in front of a glacier

Hi Everyone!

I have an essay/article up at The Refresh called Traveling While Chronically Ill (clicking on the title will take you there). This is a reworked blog post from last summer about my experiences planning carefully before vacations. This version has some more information/tips that I find helpful.

Hope you’re all doing well!

Love,

Kristin

Beyond Your Blog Hall of Fame

BYB-HoF-Selection
Image Description: The words “Beyond Your Blog Hall of Fame Selection” in white on burgundy 

Ha! So…if you know me you know I am often an over-enthusiastic puppy dog with no chill. The things I am excited about I am all in for. Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter soon? I’ve got my Hufflepuff themed pedicure and I am getting myself either McGonagal or Luna’s wands. Battlebots coming back on TV? The DVR can’t be set yet, but I have reminders already in my planner.

I have been grinning all afternoon. Two separate guest editors at Beyond Your Blog selected my essay Finding Shelter , which was published at The Rumpus on Memorial Day, as a double honoree in the categories of Personal Essay and Editor’s Choice. Which hasn’t happened before, apparently!

This is what they posted today

“Finding Shelter” by Kristin Wagner on The Rumpus

Congratulations on being the first ever to be selected in a category AND as the Editor’s Choice.

Guest editor in the Editor’s Choice category, Rudri Bhatt Patel, shared this feedback: “A well-written essay seeks to make the personal a universal. Wagner weaves a complicated narrative through the lens of an impending hurricane. The anticipation of what might happen should this hurricane land pushes Wagner to contemplate self and her vulnerability. She creates a defined arc, integrates powerful imagery, and wields her truth through her prose. There were several lyrical lines which resonated. My favorite – “Maybe the only thing that lets anyone survive is the ability to stay joyful. It’s the only thing to make the end of the world not feel like the end of the world.”

Guest editor in the Personal Essay category, Lauren B. Stevens, shared this feedback: “There are so many layers to Kristin’s piece, that I’ve now read it a total of three times! Kristin conveys the complicated, and beautiful, nature of student-teacher relationships (I had my own “Dierdre” when I taught), explores the dichotomous nature of our class system in stark detail, and writes about prepping and evacuating during Hurricane Rita with detail so vivid it had me sweating! Absolutely beautiful.”

SO COOL!

That’s all,

Kristin

 

 

 

Essay at The Manifest-Station

Boys room
Image Description: A child’s bedroom with two beds and one wall that is mostly blue with paintings of planets, stars and a close-up of the moon on it.

Hi everyone!

Today I have an essay up at The Manifest-Station called Bedtime (you can click on the title to link to the essay).

This is a story of two bedtimes, one recent and one more than six years ago. Part of the story is about the painful limitations I encountered being a parent with chronic illnesses. Part of the story is about how miraculous getting to be a parent at all feels.

This is a chapter in the book I am working on called Quote/Unquote “Healthy”.  I announced here last summer that I hoped to have it done before the 2017-2018 school year. Well, illness gets in the way sometimes (and adds more chapters I need to write about!) but I hope to have the full manuscript done by November.

The Manifest-Station has given this story a wonderful home, and a gorgeous accompanying picture that is beautiful…and makes me smile as it doesn’t look much like the room this actually took place in. So, for you all I included the real thing, for authenticity’s sake.

I hope you are able to check it out.

Love,

Kristin

Essay at The Rumpus

Palm Tree
Image Description: Palm trees set against a grey sky

Hi Everyone!

I have an essay today at The Rumpus called Finding Shelter (you can click on the title to link to it).

It is about a hurricane evacuation in Texas, just a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina had decimated New Orleans. It is also about my inability to really be there for another person, and my realization that I needed to become better, to do better.

I am very proud of this piece. It is a longer one, and has been harder to place. I am so grateful it has found a home.

Thanks!

Kristin

P.S. There are some really neat original illustrations by Clare Nauman that go along with it that I just LOVE!

Political Essay at Progressives of Kane County

author pic Heidi

Hello everyone,

This weekend is an interesting (but not bad at all) one for me.

In the midst of celebrating Mother’s Day, I am attending a Die-In to protest the AHCA at a local representative’s office (Not mine, my representative is an outstanding advocate for us-the representative for the  neighboring suburbs is not).

I announced I would probably leave the house by 10:15 am to which my kids asked, “Where are you going?”

Without looking up from his phone my husband deadpanned, “To die.”

Luckily my kids are, by the ages of eight and ten, used to being teased by my husband and always ask me, “No really, what’s going on?”

I briefly explained that a lot of people voted against my ability to have affordable health care in the future, that people will die without treatment and so we were symbolically going to pretend to be dead for a few minutes in front of a congressman’s office, to demonstrate what he voted for.

Along those lines, and in a less brief format, today also I have an essay up at the website for the Progressives of Kane County titled “The AHCA Will Be Dangerous to Us All” (Click on the title to take you the essay). It details a little bit of my struggles with chronic illness, my reaction to the recent vote and what it will mean for my family if it becomes law.

This website is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to fight for progressive values in Kane County, Illinois, complete with calls to action, meeting times, important resource links. Please check it out for more info if you live in the area.

So, in a little bit I’m off to pretend to be a corpse. Then I’m going to visit with my parents and my kids in a park filled with lilac bushes, give my mom her customized #Iamapreexistingcondition t-shirt (I haven’t made my mom something with markers in a looooong time, I felt like a kid again) and enjoy both having a wonderful mother and being a mom to some pretty awesome kids.

Who are probably going to play Minecraft while I lie in a ditch somewhere.

Take care!

Kristin