I’m 1,350 miles away from home. I’m surrounded by 1,300 people, practically all of them neurotypical, from uppity posh socioeconomic backgrounds, full of White Whines and First World Problems. My view out the third floor of an equally posh hotel in downtown Los Angeles should be pretty cool, but the stubborn-hanging haze obscures all but the silhouette outlines of buildings. And I still have 45 minutes before our next session.
But, like all of the privileged doctors attending this conference, I have an iPhone and it has become trendy to criticize the burial of one’s face into one, but increasingly socially acceptable to actually (continue to) do so, so what the hell.
I’d rather talk to y’all anyway. The conference is awesome and I’m super-glad to get to go, but it does not take me long to get peopled out on a good day.
And this has not been a good day.
I got glutenated first thing this morning. That is to say that I have Celiac Disease and I got exposed to gluten, my absolute nemesis.
It does not give me any hint of its presence via the usual symptom profile, which for most Celiacs is the abdomen.
Nope, mine doesn’t do that. Don’t call me lucky just yet, though.
Mine hits my brain. It’s painless. But incredibly, confusingly, utterly, irritating. Angering. Over-stimulating. This Aspie/autistic person’s worst nightmare. The last thing I need.
While getting glutenated, I found myself caught between undesirable seat-neighbors. On one side sat otherwise-lovely-but-loud people who were messing with individually-wrapped snacks, wore metal bracelets that incessantly scraped against conference tables as they jotted down notes, and constantly got up and down. I’m sympathetic to whatever their problems or challenges or conditions were, but I have challenges too, dammit, and mine were being infringed upon without anyone considering mine.
On my other side–that was worse. The superficial inhibition-lacking type who is technology-obsessed but technologically inept, who thinks absolutely nothing of asking you questions right into your good ear while you’re trying to hear the important tidbit the speaker at the podium is still giving.
It took a lot of restraint not to turn to her and say, “I don’t know the answer to your question. You have the same PowerPoint presentations I do.”
Then came lunch. We were banking on the fact that, as stated in the conference schedule, lunch would be provided. Yay!! And it would go from 12.30p until 2p. Even better.
The last speaker of the morning went long. Very long. Most presentations I’ve sat through can burn through as many as 200 slides in a 90-minute time slot; this guy had 60 minutes to get through 28 slides.
But, this guy wasn’t an experienced speaker. His claim to fame was that he owned part of a company that provided services related to the subject matter. You can always tell one of those, because they’re too into irrelevant details, can’t manage their time (and they always run long), and they’re bone-dry and flat-boring.
He ran 25 minutes over; although the lunch period got pushed back somewhat, it was still shortened.
Once that last session finally let out, we arrived at the site of the provided lunch, only to find that there were only 900 spots. For 1300 people.
By now, my blood sugar is tanking and, my Aspie brain hadn’t thought to devise a Plan B. It simply did not factor in such egregious incompetence on the part of whoever coordinates reservations.
My recently-glutenated, still-foggy (from last week–hasn’t changed much), now-hypoglycemic Aspie/autistic brain was not at all in good shape. No sirree.
I finally found a pizza place that did gluten-free, waited in line for 40 minutes stimming pretty hard and hardly caring, and was near tears by the time I got to the nice person who took my order.
I stammered, also hard. I pushed the words out in fragmented chunks that would not come together to form any kind of sentence.
“Ummm… Gluten. Free. Please.”
I nod. “Yes. Allergy.” And a sheepish “I’m sorry” because I feel bad about the extra work they have to do. But my Celiac is high maintenance and doesn’t care about inconvenience. I wish it did.
“Would you like…” This, that, and a few other things.
I stammer and stutter and struggle through, but not before giving in and coming clean (“I’m autistic, my blood sugar is low right now, my brain function is tanking, and I can’t think or talk straight”). The fact that I nailed such a disclosure like a pro is indicative of how many times I’ve had to do this.
My pizza comes with 5 minutes to spare to get back to the ballroom and the festivities therein. Of course, the pizza sits on the counter for 10-15 more minutes than it should have because no one called my name coherently and I didn’t know it was mine.
I hustle back, pizza in a to-go box. I open the small box on my lap, keeping my picnic on the semi-down-low. It’s visible but not blatant. I don’t feel bad because it’s not my fault this happened, it wasn’t my choice, I had no other choice, and I knew I wasn’t the only one in the same boat.
Inhibition-free woman saunters in late and picks that time to ask me some dumbass question in my good ear again, this time also knocking into my pizza box from underneath and startling the shit out of me.
Seriously, sitting next to her is so nerve-wracking that I feel compelled to rock front to back, in small moves with little depth so as not to disturb the pizza picnic or the other people around me. But I feel like if I don’t move somehow, I’m going to go ballistic on this woman.
Please don’t mind me; right now I’m just standing here at the intersection of Asperger’s/autism and Celiac Disease and complete upheaval, chaos, annoyance, and overwhelm.
I’m trying to cultivate understanding, but this is increasingly tough as one’s own cognitive abilities and resilience diminish, and as the stresses accumulate. This is the stuff of eventual meltdowns, and I apologize, but I’m human, and for me, the goal of preventing one of those trumps the understanding of and benefit-of-the-doubt-giving to others every time.
At least the day is winding down and I will soon have a chance to recharge. 🙂
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