autism and the tragedy of my landlord’s missing laundry quarters

IRL, this morning I placed the following 6-page single-spaced letter in the inbox at the rental office.  Real talk:

This is _______, resident of _________.  Before saying anything else, I want to be clear that I’m not writing this out of a desire to have drama and conflict with people.  I was specifically asked to complain about the security guards working at night…by the security guards working at night.  That struck me as an unusual request, and their explanation was that it confirms they’re out there doing stuff.  However, one of the security guards was very interested that I was the same person he’d interacted with on a different night.  After the fact it occurred to me that he could’ve been explaining to you all about how “suspicious” I am, and felt bad because I’d been respectful and explained that my concerns are due to autism.

Now I’m going to explain more about my medical issues than should ever be necessary to have the boundaries of my living space respected when I’m minding my own business.  Just to make sure you people don’t keep bothering me with YOUR paranoia, IF that’s what’s going on.  These are the kinds of situations that get autistic people murdered when real police are involved, because normal people are really the only thing that sucks about being autistic, in case you ever wondered.  So I’m going to just be autistic and discuss these things matter-of-factly.  I’m black and walk around in a hoodie, for autism-related reasons, so of course I have to assume the white people are thinking bad thoughts about me, realistically.  I’ve decided that you’re unlikely to be friendly about these matters based on the way you came through talking about the vendor who used to come through the courtyard.

These attitudes create a real danger to MY physical safety, whenever I go out in public and inadvertently do something weird.  Of all the people involved in this situation, I’m the only one experiencing interference with my medical needs in my home in the middle of the night.

You know what?  I also don’t like that people broke into the washing machines.  I don’t like that the door to the laundry room was locked before the scheduled time, without a note explaining why.  So I perseverated on the door.  Y’know, checked real OCD-like to make sure it was actually locked and not just me being retarded and having dyspraxia issues with the lock.  Based on remarks from the security guys, I later realized they might’ve watched footage of that and made ridiculous conclusions:

“Wow, look at that.  He’s really looking at the lock.  Is he trying to pick it?  Why does he keep pushing on the door?  I know!  He’s scoping out the defenses and that laundry basket full of clothes is just a decoy!  He lives right across from the laundry room and his desk faces out the window!  He’s in on it!  I knew it!  I am so good at this!”

Um…no.  As a matter of fact, I ALSO work in security.  From home, as a reasonable accommodation for autism.  As a taxpayer with a full-time job helping to maintain some of the nation’s critical business infrastructure, I don’t actually need to worry about stealing your quarters if I’m already not stealing from banks.  Yes, I do weird stuff, but it has to do with why I’m good at finding bugs in things.  Everybody wins.

I have to explain that, too, because it must be suspicious that I live here and my car is here during the day!  Also because there’s a realistic chance that you’d make condescending assumptions because I said “autistic.”

Here are 3 things you need to know about autism:  it messes with your sleep, it messes with all of your senses, and it causes ADHD-like problems that are made worse by the other 2.  The hardest part of work isn’t the intellectual effort.  It’s keeping my whole life balanced and regulated so that I can focus.  Writing this letter involved a great deal of pacing.  It’s sort of like tics (“stimming”).  It affects your motor function in addition to your sensory processing.  Suppressing it takes so much effort that it can be more productive to just be weird.

Are you seeing any reason why any of this concerns you yet?  Neither am I.

In my 20s I worked in neuroscience, to learn as much about my problems as I could.  Actually, I wasn’t diagnosed until a few months ago.  Before that, I just dealt with it and had treatments that did things but obviously didn’t make me not autistic.  This is why autism awareness is important, because I’m exactly half the age my dad was when he died, and it would’ve been SO MUCH EASIER to know I was autistic before my life was halfway over.

Now I’m going to get to the point:  how my symptom management interacts with your security guards.

For one thing, I use red lightbulbs at night, which I’m sure is visible from outside the apartment.  It’s not normal, and normal people are afraid of anything that’s not normal.  I move weird.  I don’t make eye contact.  I have a nontraditional lighting arrangement.  I get it.  Actually, scientists discovered something in our eyes called “intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells,” which suppress melatonin production when blue light hits them.  Once it’s dark out, I switch to red light (also used by the military at night because it doesn’t mess up night vision).  My phone and computers all have software to get rid of the blue after the sun goes down.  Like, a real autism expert wrote down in a document that my job should let me install that.

The effect of avoiding blue light when it would be unnatural is that I start sleeping in the pattern that was normal before electric lights:  I sleep in 2 phases and I’m up for a few hours in the middle of the night.

I bought a CO2 monitor off Amazon.  I find that the levels in my apartment range from 400 to 1000+ ppm, which spans the range in the research paper reported above.  They showed that 1000 ppm carbon dioxide impairs executive function (“makes ADHD worse”).  I’ve noticed a SIGNIFICANT improvement to my productivity once I could glance at an indicator and know when it’s time to air out the apartment.  Breathing and the heater both generate CO2 continuously, but I have to balance that with temperature control.  At times, the best way to balance those two concerns is to leave my door open, let the CO2 levels reach equilibrium with the outdoors, then close everything and turn the heater back on.  Repeat as necessary, depending on level of pacing etc (metabolism).

The first time I had issues with the security people, it was between midnight and 1 AM, and I’d left the front door open for a while.  From my bedroom, I noticed lights flashing all over the place.  The security guy is shining his flashlight all over my living room, for no good reason, when I was just doing what I need to do to think right and have the energy to exhaust myself trying to act normal to keep everyone happy during the day.

The last time I checked, as an adult man I’m allowed to quietly open my front door for ten minutes, without someone invading my personal space, shining BLUE light in my eyes, probably now also thinking I’m in the drug trade because normal people don’t talk about CO2 monitors but people growing cannabis do (and the lights!).  Why are these busybodies up in my shit? I mind my own business and I pay my rent on time every month.  I’ve long-since broken up with the girlfriend who had the annoying dog.

On that note, I’d like to point out that many of the notes left on our doors, sarcastically shaming people and so on, caused my heavily-traumatized borderline ex to rage out, which causes me to go into shutdown and start to become nonverbal, which pisses off the ex even more, and oh my fucking god you have no idea what I’ve been through.  You couldn’t reasonably anticipate that as a consequence, but YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES.  The person who set the tone of incivility is YOU.

Do I, personally, care about small amounts of flea spray in the courtyard?  No, but crazy ex-girlfriend did and the exterminator guy was a dick to her and triggered a PTSD meltdown over it.

It’s not true that crazy people hostile and unpredictable.  Sometimes they’re very nice, because they know from experience that people could have BAD SHIT going on, and it’s best to just be PEACEFUL.

Unlike the leaf blowers that cause me to lose whole days of work productivity, wear gun-range ear muffs in my own living room, and sometimes flee the resulting discomfort.  Autism and epilepsy are related conditions.  Overload –> meltdown.  It’s like…the inside of my head is a weed whacker and I can’t even explain.  I can feel the tension in my body every time the refrigerator starts buzzing.  Something about machine noises.  That’s fine, though.  Nobody else has ever complained, as you said.  Normal people are allowed to decide the inside of my head will be a weed whacker on Thursdays, because that’s a fact of life.

I’ll tell you, though, it caught me off guard when it started at 8:30 on a recent WEDNESDAY.  The medication has tradeoffs.  It helps overall, but it can make the sensory sensitivity more intense.  That makes sense, because it’s contraindicated in epilepsy.  So the medication kicking in coinciding with the leaf blowers is a BAD THING.  Threw off my morning.  Didn’t physically make it to the meeting and had to dial in.  After I had to go to the park and rock myself on a bench like a weirdo to calm down, I didn’t feel like getting in the car and making sure my entire day was stressful.  Things like that can make me look flaky, because I don’t feel comfortable discussing the diagnosis with my job at this time.  This is because normal people think they know about autism, don’t, and make assumptions that mess up my life.  Autism is an impairment in communication and social functioning.

It affects every single thing in your life, because the basic plan of brain development went a little bit weird for you.  In my case, my mom had preeclampsia.  This article is over-the-top but informative:

“Another indicator of the role that prenatal development may play among prodigies is the increased occurrence of preeclampsia among mothers of prodigies-to-be. Preeclampsia is a condition marked by a sudden rise in blood pressure and swelling of the face, hands, and feet. It generally occurs during the late second or third trimester and may be caused by an under-developed placenta. That, in turn, may be due to a genetic defect leading the mother’s immune system to treat the placenta like an invader.

It turns out that preeclampsia, in addition to being associated with more than its share of child prodigies is also significantly linked to the development of autism. So the experiences of a mother during pregnancy, in addition to genetic factors, may bear on whether her child becomes a prodigy. Whether she battles an infection or is exposed to some sort of trauma or injury, in other words—not to mention when in the pregnancy such circumstances occur—may have a crucial effect….

Joanne Ruthsatz, a psychologist at Ohio State University, who’s studied prodigies for nearly 20 years, says prodigies are “the most morally sensitive and generous individuals” she’s ever met. They often have a deeply felt sense of justice and the determination to improve the world. Along with their other exceptional capacities, this assertive benevolence may speak to latent but universal capabilities.”

My mom’s immune system randomly attacked me in utero.  Like many autistic people, I have some autoimmune issues.  Alopecia barbae is pretty lame, because my immune system is attacking the hair follicles all over my beard and left eyebrow, so my face always looks weird for that reason.  I am probably better at math than you and my entire life is a social misunderstanding.  That’s the definition of autism.

This one time, a real aggro dude in the Sprouts parking lot was going to beat my ass because I drove past him as he was backing out of a parking space and then my facial expressions were wrong, because autism.  Something about the grin on my face, which happens in uncomfortable situations.  It’s, like, scientifically documented that normal people fail at reading autistic people’s body language.  It goes both ways.  I can know exactly how an autistic person feels about what they’re talking about from how they’re moving, and the normal people are like “OMG stop flapping your hands and rocking back and forth.  Quiet hands!  Quiet hands!”  Then the normal people say that their child can’t communicate with them, and what a tragedy autism is and how it’s like a wall separating them from their child.  We’d better causes measles outbreaks just to stay on the safe side.

Normal people have no idea how dangerous they are when they’re being afraid of bullshit.  I’m racially ambiguous looking (half-German and half-black).  I’m frequently mistaken for Middle Eastern.  I’m afraid to go the airport and have sensory overload problems and look anxious and shifty-eyed and then set off the white people’s primordial fear of terrorism.  What if the cops beat the shit out of me in custody because they just KNOW something’s off with me?

It’s COMPLETELY UNREASONABLE how much of my life involves worrying about anxious normal people and anticipating their fears so they don’t do something violent towards me.  That’s the reality of autism.  It’s a disease of normal people that results in mood disorders and PTSD for the autistic.

It’s emotionally burdensome TO ME having to write shit like this in order to ADJUST MY HOME’S LIGHTING, TEMPERATURE, AND AIR CIRCULATION.  I’d be shocked if you didn’t enjoy that privilege, yourself.

What I actually wanted out of the situation was to talk to the security guard and say “Hey, dude, I’m actually awake and you’re systematically going around my apartment shining lights in the windows.  That’s fucked up.  Stop, as a courtesy to me.”  And then I wanted him to say yes and leave me alone forever.  But no.  He’s empowered to demand an accounting of myself because you can’t deal with the uncertainty of knowing the quarter thieves are at large and unidentified.

I’ve had things stolen from me before, including a car.  I understand it doesn’t feel good that random people can damage your space and you can’t retaliate.  I disagree that that was a good reason the negativity had to spill over into my life at the midnight hour.

Our qualities of life are equally important, as human beings.  It’s a delusion of rich people that their moral significance increases with their material acquisition.

It’s also a lie that autistic people don’t feel empathy.  It doesn’t feel good to be as mean-spirited as our culture expects.  It’s not working for the normal people, either.  That’s what I don’t understand.

Why is this letter inappropriate but the recurring invasion of my privacy is appropriate because petty theft pushes your buttons?  It’s INCONCEIVABLE to me that your material quality of life is affected by anything that happens to the washing machines here.  You go home and you eat food and you sleep there.  I’m in the lucky 15% (!) of employed autistic people, and handling life better than many normal people.

No matter how much “urban youth” make you uncomfortable and people break into the laundry rooms, your ACTUAL PHYSICAL SAFETY is probably never going to be as threatened as mine is.  And your fears are part of threatening it.  From my point of view, where talking to most people most of the time causes anxiety, where everything is too bright and too loud, where people can threaten or take advantage of me because I CAN’T SEE social cues, where medical issues impairing work performance happens ON SCHEDULE, arbitrarily, can you try to keep the bad feelings inside more?  I think most people are dealing with very stressful things right now and we’re all just trying to deal.

It’s tempting to become Big Brother.  I get it.  I work in security.  But wasn’t it great back in the 1990s when society wasn’t based on fear so much?  The chronic stress is really hard one everyone’s body.  All the stress and sleep deprivation is making us dumber, collectively.

Getting stuck on things and being unable to transition is a symptom of autism.  Writing this ate up my workday, but I’ve learned from experience that the best thing is to finish the thought so my head quiets down enough to focus on work.  The effect of getting stressed out or disturbed can persist longer than it does in normal people, and I can only partly control that.  I’m in therapy and everything, so I’m working on it in case you were wondering.

You have your own problems that I’m honestly sure are difficult in their own way.  It would be wonderful if more people found their identity in the shared fragility of the human condition instead of…however identity works for normal people.  I’m congenitally incapable of understanding it.

I think you agree with this on some level, or else inconsiderate things tenants do wouldn’t piss you off.  We’ve only ever had formal or hostile interactions, but I’m not anyone’s enemy.  Remember, my first instinct was to talk to the security guy directly on a courtesy sort of level.  I’m never the douchebag customer who demands to see a manager, fucking with people at THEIR jobs, unless strongly provoked.

Sorry not sorry for the length and the ranting.  It would be my dream for everyone else to do therapy and work on their social skills, too.  Being unable to talk about feelings is a kind of disability, too:

Although I’ve strongly implied you’re racist at several points, on another level it wouldn’t surprise me if this was one of the most sympathetic letters you’ve gotten from a tenant.  Or at least more conciliatory than you would have expected, based on not knowing me.  I don’t usually see the same effort extended from from white people to black people, or from normal people to autistic people, or from Christians to Muslims, etc.  Instead, the white men flipped out and made Donald Trump president because we’re asking them to just be nice to everyone and not judge, like their Bible says.

Because I wrote this at the security guy’s initiative and not on my own initiative, I’d like the situation to be over now.  I’m complying with a reasonable request from your contractor to document my concerns and our interaction.  Again, to make my intentions clear, I do NOT wish to see the individual security guards written up or anything like that.

I wanted to explain myself fully, if I’m going to bother.  That’s part of the problem with autism.  Nobody has patience to listen to a full explanation of anything, because it’s “too boring” or an “aspie ramble.”

It’s not my fault that normal people don’t care about blue light at night, background noise, or how much CO2 is in their apartment.  It’s in the newspaper that all of those things are bad for everyone and costing our society a lot of money and unpleasantness in health problems.  I don’t like being treated like a suspected criminal and having to identify myself to some stranger in the middle of the night for taking initiative to be healthy based on information in the newspaper.  Isn’t that fucked up?  Can you imagine if that was your reality?  2 black men systematically shining lights into your apartment past midnight, when there were recent reports of crime right across the courtyard from your living room?  I wasn’t a baby about it, and I approached them and we discussed it like reasonable adults.  How many white people would’ve had a panic attack and called the police?  Think about that.  How the fuck do I know that someone isn’t dressed up in a Halloween costume and checking out my possessions?

Again, it’s INCONCEIVABLE to me that landlord interference in your self-care habits at all hours wouldn’t piss you off at $1700/month.  Get a grip.  It’s just quarters.  You have food to eat and a place to sleep at night and first world problems.  You’re directly making it harder for other people to have those same things.  It’s your job.  You get to enjoy more power in life than most human beings.  That’s what I don’t understand about The Rich People.  You’re fucking grumpy.  What’s the point, even?  Do I get to judge your self-care habits?  Why don’t you take your money and buy yourself a drink at the bar, since the noise probably isn’t too much for you if you don’t mind leaf blowers?  Oh, right, maybe you have other medical reasons that are none of my business.

Between this and the Thursday leaf blowers, you apparently feel entitled to disrupt 40% OF MY WORK WEEK.  I am also accountable to my own supervisor.  I would greatly appreciate not losing work-from-home privileges, because avoiding 30 minutes of traffic stress twice a day does a lot for the depression and anxiety problems I’m ALSO diagnosed with.  I can’t stim at the office.  Scented products get to me.  The noise is distracting.  I have to be super vigilant about acting right because autistic people have to consciously analyze EVERYTHING instead of having social instincts you get for free.  It’s exhausting and not strictly necessary to my job, which has to do with sales demos.  It’s not currently an issue, but I couldn’t do a lot of phone meetings on Thursdays, if I needed to.

Autism can be a giant pain in the ass.  Did you know that I’m also vegan and in the process of phasing out gluten because a clinical trial showed a modest improvement in symptoms by switching to a gluten-free diet?  The gluten-free frozen pizzas have titanium dioxide, which damages the intestine.  Autism is linked to intestinal problems.  It turns out the gluten-free bagels have egg, so the dietary restrictions cancel each other out there.  Then I have to deal with negative assumptions because of what I eat.  The normal people have a problem with everything I NEED to do to function, and it’s really draining over time.  I’m genuinely trying not to bother them, but they go out of their way to cause problems for me.

Can you just leave me alone if I’m quietly minding my own business?  I don’t want any more late-night homework assignments from security guards, if at all possible.  Who are they and why do they get to question me on the spot about whether I belong at my own home?  Why did you send them to my apartment? Legal rights aside, what gives you the moral right?  Because I don’t own my own building? That’s a rhetorical question, I really don’t want to discuss this any further.