The Jury Room

Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Anxiety, Awkward!, Sensory | 0 comments

This morning went much better than yesterday, the first day of jury duty. Today there was an entertaining pair of pants on the curb at the bus stop. A fellow bus traveler wondered if their owner had been vaporized by someone else or was practicing disapparition and had forgotten his pants. I discovered the bus has a scrolling monitor that tells the time and the cross street for the next stop, so I didn’t mis my stop like I did yesterday. I got to the jury room early, so there were plenty of seats to choose from.

After a while, I wen to get a hot chocolate from the machine in the kitchenette. Upon returning, I found a heavy smoker occupying the formerly empty seat next to mine. Gagging on the smell of stale cigarettes, I left to find another seat, which is what I should have done much much earlier than I did yesterday.

Speaking of the yesterday, I passed by that jerk on my way back from the kitchenette. He was sitting up by the main desk, so, when I moved, I went back to the place I was sitting yesterday. I actually just heard people talking about him back here, so I guess I’m not the only one who returned to this area. The woman who first spoke up is here, sitting in the same seat. She jumped a little when she saw me, which makes me feel bad all over again.

But wait!

I haven’t told you about yesterday yet. Let me back up.

At the very back of the jury waiting room, there’s a little alcove with four round tables. The chairs are even less comfortable than the ones in the main jury room, but the tables make up for that for people with laptops or notepads, like me. I ended up back here yesterday simply because it was the only seat I could find, but I liked it. At first, anyway.

Frustrated muscular man with thought balloon sits next to loud man on mobile telephone. Thought bubble says, "OMG! STFU!"

Frustrated muscular man with thought balloon sits next to loud man on mobile telephone. Thought bubble says, “OMG! STFU!”

After orientation was over, a man at the next table began to talk on his cell phone. Loudly. In French. Continuously for what felt like an hour. I realize now that this probably was not annoying to most of the people around us. But after a 45 minute bus ride with people standing in the aisle and missing my stop because I couldn’t see street signs and a long walk with an even longer line to get in to the courthouse, meaning I was late, which is why there were no other seats available and nowhere I could move to get away from the French phone call, I was pretty much one big exposed nerve. I couldn’t concentrate to write, which didn’t really matter anyway, as my legs were bouncing away (one of my stims) and I was trying not to touch the table so that I wouldn’t make it shake.

Eventually, the woman sitting next to me – the one who reacted when she saw me today – said to me, “Is that bothering you, too?”

As I replied affirmatively, so did a second man, who was sitting behind the woman, in a seat not affiliated with a table. He added that it’s really rude and how people have no consideration for others anymore and how he had been accosted by people in the line to get in the courthouse simply because he refused to let a woman cut in front of him.  The woman who asked the question gave him a blank look, which is when I realized she was talking about the intermittent squeaky noise coming from the wall opposite us.

“Oh, you mean the noise,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, as the man behind her said, “No, the guy on the phone.”

I nodded at him and said, “Me, too.” I told the woman I thought the noise was one of the air vents or something with a joint that needed oil.

The man behind us got up and down a few times, sometimes saying stuff about rude people on phones, while the French man went right on talking and consulting his iPad as if this were his private office.

There were four other women sitting at the table with me. The upset man finally said to us, “Is it just me?”

This is the part I regret. I said, “No, it’s not just you.”

He nodded, got up, and began to berate the French man, who ignored him for a few minutes, then stopped talking into the phone and looked up from his iPad. “Are you talking to me? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were talking to me.” He said that a few times while the other man continued to rant, and then the French man left the area. Pretty graciously under the circumstances.

Everyone in the area was stunned. I was ashamed by my complicity.

Over the next hour or so, the women at the table with me would try to talk to each other. Not to me, which was fine by me, but each other. The angry man would invariable insert himself into the conversation, talk over everyone, and not notice that the original conversants had gone back to staring at their devices.

There was one point where he began talking about how we’re not supposed to talk to anyone or seek out news regarding a trial we’re on (that was part of the jury orientation) and how he would disregard that were he chosen because they don’t tell you everything in a trial. They throw out the information you really need to make a decision, so he would look that up on the internet or watch news programs for it.

You know I couldn’t stay silent for that, right?

I said, “And you think you’re going to get the information you need from the media?” He missed my point and kept right on talking.

One by one, the other women at my table got up and left the area. In fairness, two of them were called to courts for jury selection, but still.

New people wandered in to fill the empty seats, including the one vacated by the French man. And people began to talk on their phones. Not like the Frenchman; these people were making an effort to lower their voices and the calls were short. I even made one to cancel an appointment I’d forgotten for today. I went over by the bathrooms to do it because I thought that would be quieter, but a woman just did the same thing a few minutes ago and it actually acts like a microphone. Oops.

The angry man began to grumble again. As I took my seat after my phone call, he bagan to rail at a man sitting at the French man’s former table. This time, though, people around the alcove defended the man on the phone.

“Hey, his mother just died and he’s making arrangements.”

“He’s not bothering anyone.”

“We all have to be here, let’s just be tolerant.”

Cartoon businessman standing, angry and yelling on phone.

Cartoon businessman standing, angry and yelling on phone.

The angry man escalated. He yelled about how he has sick relatives and is missing work, he’s not bothering people with his phone calls. “People should take it outside! Maybe I should just call my friends and talk really loud for an hour. See how everyone likes that!”

One of the other men said, “Go ahead. Nobody’s going to say anything about it. You’re the only one who’s being rude here.”

So he got on his cell and began to pace around, telling the person he called about his new “friends” (quotation marks his) and how they were persecuting him and everyone is out to get him.

That’s when I walked away to another area. Shaking. They let us go for the day not long after and I was still shaking when I got home. I was still arguing with him in my head this morning, even though I said nothing at the time.

I found out today that the man whose mother had died has been on a jury for six months and they wouldn’t let him leave to take care of business for his mom. They have run out of alternates and, if they’d let this man go, it would be declared a mistrial and the six months would have been a wasted effort for everyone involved. Apparently jurors on that trial have had all kinds of things happen: one fell off a ladder, one’s mother had a heart attack, one woman’s job refuses to pay her while she’s serving. There were others, but I couldn’t write fast enough. I don’t know what kind of trial it was because you’re not allowed to say – because they don’t want people giving you their unsolicited opinions about whatever the alleged offense is – but I’m guessing murder. What else would take six months to try?

At noon today they let all but 20 of us go home, having completed jury service if you hadn’t been called by that point. Guess whose name was called last to stay for jury selection. Me. The angry man isn’t staying, but the woman who reacted when she saw me this morning is. I really hope we aren’t both chosen for the jury.

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The Price of Interaction

Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Anxiety, Executive Functioning, Sensory | 1 comment

Illustration of an anxious-looking girl in a blue dress standing against a wall.

Illustration of an anxious-looking girl in a blue dress standing against a wall.

As many of you know, Book Club Maven died earlier this year. Her service and celebration of life reception were held a week after her death. I spent the reception standing against the back wall with another introverted friend, sipping wine and watching the slideshow of BCM pictures. I even heard the term wallflower used to describe us. It wasn’t that I didn’t know anyone or didn’t want to interact; this is just what I do when I’m overwhelmed. By crowds. By noise. By emotion.

As the evening wore on and the crowds thinned, several friends made their way over to talk to us. We got to hear the story of how they got together from BCM’s husband. He tells it much better than BCM did (sorry, babe!), though that may have to do with the wine and fewer interruptions from small children. It’s a funny story and, if you know Mr. BCM, I recommend asking him about it.

I didn’t see much of Marathon Girl or Cookie or Hostess, who flew in from California to say goodbye. I think that was a little bit protective, on my part at least. I love them dearly, but I wasn’t quite ready for the four of us to be together without BCM. It was too soon for me. I’m not really in denial, as I’ve been claiming lately. I know she’s gone. I just prefer not to remind myself of her absence at the moment and I can’t do that when there’s an obvious gaping BCM-shaped hole in a group.

When the evening was almost over, some of the members of the book club BCM started (hence her alias of Book Club Maven) six years ago came over to talk to me. I stopped going to book club around the time the boys were diagnosed. There was just too much going on for me. They have decided to keep the club going and asked me to return.  I told them I would like to, which is true, but that I couldn’t on the date they were suggesting because I have jury duty, which is also true.

“Jury duty will be over by then.” This is also true and I totally understand why it was said. For a non-autistic extrovert, that fact must seem pretty straight forward. For an introverted autistic, it’s anything but.

Now, I want to preface what I’m about to write with the fact that I am beyond excited about being called for jury duty. I’ve always wanted to serve on one and this is the first time I’ve ever been called.

But I’m also dreading it. That’s true of most new activities that take place outside of my house, whether they are things I’m excited about or not.

Illustration of a city block jam-packed with buildings and cars and signs and people.  This is what my brain does when I try to plan a trip to somewhere new.

Illustration of a city block jam-packed with buildings and cars and signs and people.
This is what my brain does when I try to plan a trip to somewhere new.

First off, I need to plan things, especially new things, so I can be prepared. The more prepared I am, the less energy I have to devote to switching gears in my head to deal with unexpected situations. Most people who know me have no idea that unexpected situations drain my energy because I’ve spent 46 years perfecting a neutral facade. The problem with that is the facade costs energy, as well. So, before I’ve even begun to expend energy on the unexpected thing that’s come up, I’ve already spent some of my limited-to-begin-with energy on switching gears in my head and on upholding my neutral facade. Planning helps me save that energy for other things.

With jury duty, you have to call the court after 5pm on the day before you’re supposed to report to see if they even need you to show up. So, ability to plan for that day is out the window.

If I do go that day, there’s no way for me to know how long I’ll be there or whether I’ll need to come back the next day. Or the day after. So, there goes the planning for the whole week. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. The one thing I have a little control over is transportation. They sent a bus pass with the jury summons, so all I have to do is choose between driving myself or taking the bus, right? Yeah, not so much.

Driving myself means parking downtown, where parking is scarce on a good day. Even when you can find a space, it’s tiny and impossible to get into. Or it’s street parking, which generally means parallel and I suck at parallel parking. Then there’s traffic, which is unpredictable by definition, but right now my city has decided to block every exit from our neighborhood with construction – the kind that brings the street down to one lane, so the flaggers get to decide when it’s your side’s turn to use the lane.

The bus, on the other hand, means I don’t have to park. And it’s better for the environment and for my health (lots of walking to the bus stop). Unfortunately, it also means less predictable timing. I could miss the bus or it could be running late.

And it means exercising my poor sense of direction. Which side of the street do I stand on to catch the bus, for instance? I used to take the bus to the job that brought us to Washington in 2001. I took two buses, transferring to the second in the University District. On the first day, the only information I could get out of people was to stand on the north side of the street. That doesn’t help much when you’re standing there trying to figure out which way is north. “You can’t miss it,” is like throwing down a gauntlet for me. “Watch me,” I say. I miss turns and big pink buildings and landmarks all the time because it’s hard for me to concentrate on driving while looking for signs. Most people don’t know this about me because I plan and practice and leave early to make sure I have time to correct whatever I mess up.

I have a friend who lives on a cul de sac off a street with thee culs de sac that look identical to me. I once asked her at a party to remind me which street she lived on. I thought I had been really nonchalant about it, but she gave me an incredulous look and said, “It’s on the route you walk.” Which is true. I walked by it every time I exercised, about three times a week at that point. Then she said, “And you’ve been to my house.”  Which is also true. And I ended up at the same wrong house before eventually finding hers every damn time. I tried to laugh it off, as if I had been joking, but I think she was still having weird thoughts about me.

So, while riding a bus, I worry about missing my stop. I’m constantly trying to see street signs that are impossible to see from inside the bus. The bus driver calls them out, but…audio processing disorder! I can’t hear them with all the noise of the bus and the road.

And then there are the people. Buses can be crowded. I abhor crowds. Individual people are fine, but crowds are noisy, touchy, smelly, grumpy fiends, myself included.

I’ve spent weeks deliberating: drive or bus, bus or drive. Still no decision and it’s coming down to the wire.

Once I get to the jury room, I imagine it to be a big room of noisy, touchy, smelly, grumpy fiends, much like the bus. Only these people are extra annoyed because they have been compelled to leave their regular lives to be there. And, in the jury room, they’re not going anywhere; they’re just waiting. What level of Hell is that, Dante?

I’m hoping that waiting will result in me getting to actually serve on a jury, but there’s not even a guarantee of that.

So, after a day of ups; downs; crowds; noise; anticipation; and disappointment, I’m guessing I’ll need a lot of time to recharge. I believe that extroverts do that by going to a party or hanging out with friends, blowing off steam. If I did that, it would not be restorative in the least. Rather, it would further deplete my energy stores. I would likely snap at a friend for saying hello too loudly. She, and likely our friendship, would be hurt and  I would be embarassed and ashamed.

No. After jury duty, I’ll need to go sit in a corner by myself for awhile. Probably a very long while.

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What’s with all the screaming?

Posted by on Sep 5, 2014 in Anxiety, Autism | 1 comment

Happenings of the week:

Monday, 9/1/14 – I spent much of the day putting the final touches on the All About Me documents for the boys. This is a one sheet, front and back, description of the boys’ strengths, challenges, current therapies, goals, triggers, calming strategies, and so on. The idea is to give it to everyone in the school who interacts with that boy, so they might have a clue how to respond when said boy melts down in the cafeteria over a brown spot on his apple. You know, hypothetically.

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Meet and Greet

Posted by on Aug 29, 2014 in Anxiety, Autism | 0 comments

Meet. Greet. Two words that fill my heart with dread. In church, back when I attended church, one part I always awaited with apprehension was when the pastor/minister/preacher told the congregation to turn and greet their neighbors. Which way do I turn? What do I say? Do I stick my hand out to shake? If I concentrate really hard, will I be able to make myself invisible? Maybe if I cross my arms and snap?*

When I was 12, I attended mass with a catholic friend almost every week. For those of you unfamiliar, Catholics have a booklet that tells you what to say during call and response and during the meeting of neighbors. I apologize if I just got all of that wrong, it’s been almost 30 years since I last attended mass and I was still mostly lost then. When you greet your neighbors during mass, you say, “Peace be with you,” and they’re supposed to say, “And also with you.” Unless they say it first, in which case you do the responding. I still didn’t look forward to greeting my neighbors, but having a script soothed some of the anxiety for me.

Our school district has a thing they do just before school starts back up where all the kids and their families come to the school during the same 60 minute period, find out who their teachers will be for the year, and traipse down to the classrooms to meet said teachers. There is generally a classroom scavenger hunt involved. I’m sure there are people who are thrilled by the noise and general chaos of this event. These people are not of my acquaintance.

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Can School Just Start Already?

Posted by on Aug 22, 2014 in Anxiety, Autism, Depression, Sensory | 7 comments

School here starts the day after Labor Day, September 2nd this year. Why Washington chooses to torture me in this way, I have no idea. I put the boys in camp for most of the summer, but that’s over now. This week is the first of two where they have nothing to do. Not nothing, they still have various therapies, but there’s this gaping hole in the schedule where school should be.

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