I was first introduced to the world of psychotherapy in college, when my bestie and then-future roommate started seeing the school's lone therapist. That was my junior year, and while I wasn't going through anything specific, I think even I knew in the back of my head that I had emerged from some kind of depression the year before. In any case, I would next see a therapist during and after my separation, and then intermittently from that point on, with some pretty long gaps here and there. I started up again a few years into our Florida adventure when work and parenting became a bit much to deal with without some help to figure out how to manage it all.
My last streak was late last year, with my last appointment in February of this year. When I pinged my therapist last week, she indicated that she wasn't really seeing people anymore, because she had quickly expanded into a small wellness empire with a dozen people in two locations. I thought she bailed because she had seen too much in the last year, but it turned out to be the opposite.
So she referred me to one of the people in her practice, and I met with her (virtually) for the first time last week. My initial impression is good, and I think she'll get me. I've done this for so long that I have a pretty good strategy to get the most for the money (which work coverage only covers so far), setting some high level agendas toward the things I want to address. In this case, I agreed to do several straight weeks and then go to more of a monthly cadence, in order to set a good baseline for her to get to know me and set some goals for myself.
You don't need to be suicidal to take mental health seriously, and I think it's fucked up that our society doesn't see that. You would think the last year, in the pandemic, would make that obvious, but I'm surprised at how few people see it and acknowledge it.
The troubling thing is that this is largely a luxury thing, and it shouldn't be. I have literally the best healthcare coverage of anyone I know (no payroll deduction, plus a reimbursement account for co-pays and deductibles), but it still isn't enough to cover what our family needs. Simon's ADHD meds alone cost nearly a hundred bucks a month after insurance. People working service jobs don't have access to even that, or likely can't afford medications like that. And don't get me started about insulin for diabetics. The system is so broken.
In the last few weeks, Simon developed a very serious tic, where he began to shrug his shoulders and tilt his head, violently and repeatedly. He's had stuff like this come and go before, like throat clearing and picking, but this came on fast. His teachers both let us know that they were observing it too. This one worried me a lot, because it seemed like there was some sudden and deep neurological problem. His doctor, however, chalked it up to stress, likely caused by the pointless state testing going on at school. It has mostly, but not entirely, subsided. He's very aware that he's doing it.
This was the latest thing, in a string of things, that have caused sadness on his behalf. He recently came home from school crying because there was some group activity where no one wanted to partner with him. Diana observed him on the playground, just before dismissal, hanging out with the teachers instead of playing with other kids. Tonight he expressed worry that once school was finished, he would never see his teachers again.
This certainly wears on us, and I live in a constant stream of guilt because I'm not there for most of it during the day. In fact, I'm usually just there for nightly routines that we can't seem to consistently make successful, and I lose patience quickly. It's just hard, all of the time, and it's emotionally draining.
I want to emphasize, Simon is not without joy. Last weekend, he got to hang out with a few of his neighborhood friends when our neighbor had a bounce house for his birthday. His return to a theme park last weekend was pure bliss. As usual, he loves to unlock achievements and play video games. But he is still emotionally immature, by a year or two, and coupled with all of the baggage associated with ASD and ADHD, he just doesn't fit in much of the time, and he knows it. I'll give him credit, he is surprisingly vulnerable most of the time, with us at least, about what he feels. Putting words on what he feels is something his therapist has worked with him on quite a bit.
We're also hopefully setting him up for success in school next year. While his grades this year tell a positive story, and his teacher and principal have been amazing, "the system" has largely failed him. His IEP process has been a total disaster. (One person from the district accounted for his poor handwriting as, "That's just how boys are.") The thought of him going to a middle school next year with 2,500 other kids seemed like a recipe for failure, so we made the decision to put him in a private school capable of meeting him where he is. Diana has been working on that for months, and she found a growing program that will suit him well. As with all things autism, there's a difference between intelligence and the interface to the world. For example, we don't know that writing is difficult for him because he can't compose a sentence, when it might be he just can't start when presented with blank lines and a deadline to put something on them.
I just want him to have more happiness, because I very much relate to his school experience, and those aren't good memories for me. I think we've got a solid reprieve coming, at least for a few months, with the end of school, and an opening world with fun things and a small network of friends with vaccinated parents. No kid should have to endure what he's enduring right now.
I was saddened today to see that Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast is going to be distributed exclusively by Spotify. This comes a few days after I was chatting with my neighbor, who consults with a ton of people on podcasting, and we talked about how the big platforms have become the gatekeepers of all the content, and no one will own their own thing anymore. That sucks.
Podcasting became technically possible when the RSS quasi-standard, "Really Simple Syndication," was updated to include "enclosures" in 2001. RSS wasn't that well understood by most people, but there were a lot of computer applications popping up, and even some that were web-based, that allowed you to plug in an RSS feed (which is at a URL, like anything else on the web) and it would update and show you when there was new stuff. What's awesome about this is that no one really owns your distribution. Sure, discovery is a different problem, but once you're known, you're known.
In 2004, as the iPod started to gain traction, and broadband began to put dial-up connections out to pasture, podcasts started to get a little attention. In 2005, former TechTV host and radio personality Leo Laporte started This Week in Tech, which turned into an entire network, complete with video. Suddenly, the niche started to show potential, with tens of thousands of listeners. That fall, I got the bug too, and put those dusty radio skills to use by starting the CoasterBuzz Podcast. I wasn't really trying to make a buck with it or anything, but before too long, we were consistently getting a few thousands listeners a week, sometimes getting tens of thousands if we got some weird Google juice or something. When I look at how "cool" podcasts are now, with every formerly quarantined celebrity starting one, I firmly present my hipster card for doing it before it was cool, and on software I built, thank you very much.
Of course, 2005 was a different time. Smart phones weren't really a thing yet, and some people didn't even have wi-fi yet, let alone broadband. But people who wanted to publish stuff on the Internet owned it, with their own site, and even with the dominance of Google in search, you didn't really have gatekeepers to content. It didn't run through apps or social media or video sites.
I'm not opposed to change on principle, and there's no question that the Internet has been good for the world, and insanely good for my career and financial well-being. But I hate how the openness of the Internet has been replaced by a few huge companies owning everything when it doesn't have to be that way. I mean, our old podcast is still available virtually anywhere that you find podcasts because it is neutrally self-hosted. I can search for it on the screen in my car and find it. I mean, to be timely, yeah, you can even find it on Spotify, and I never did anything to enable that.
There's little question that the Armchair folks are getting paid, I get that. But I also think that they're giving up control and limiting their audience. Meanwhile, the small players have all been shut out, so they publish their stuff on YouTube or Facebook and never own their distribution. That's unfortunate.
Early in my dotcom career, 2002-ish, I remember going down to Orlando, from Cleveland, to spend a week in November with Stephanie. This was largely a theme park endeavor, which was more my thing than hers, and I intended to cover the annual IAAPA show for CoasterBuzz. These were the days when the young web sites could reliably net four figures monthly, and I spent way too much free time working on events and stuff. That was the third year I went to IAAPA, and I realized quickly that my audience really wasn't that into it because, well, it's a trade show. Trade shows are great for relationship building and conducting business, which I was interested in, but the kids on the sites just wanted to know about roller coasters.
Anyway, I blew off the show after a few hours, and we went back to Universal, where we were staying. That week, we did a marathon day through three of the Disney parks, free on a retiree friend of my then grandparents-in-law, a road trip out to Busch Gardens Tampa, locally to SeaWorld, and of course, lots of time at Universal. Man, all that running around doesn't even sound fun to me now when I say it out loud. Steph was a saint for tagging along on that one. Anyway, paint the picture in 2002... there were no smart phones, there was no wi-fi. I did have a cell phone (a Motorola StarTAC, because that's how I rolled), but I remember in cases like that I didn't carry it on me, because why bother.
That was blissful disconnection. My sites were "social media" before it had a name, and operating such a thing was exhausting. I rarely viewed other sites of any interest, because I just didn't have time. However, the surprising thing about it is that these sites connected me with people that I consider good friends, two decades later.
I wouldn't experience disconnection like that again until early 2013, on our first cruise. For three nights, there was no Internet, no social media, no news feeds, just people feeding me and entertaining me, along with my young family and in-laws. Even years later, when you're at sea, there is no connectivity (because Disney isn't gonna give you that for free). I don't have the discipline to just turn things off at other times.
I want to be an informed person, who learns things, is challenged to grow, and contribute to the world. There is no question that the Internet has made this possible. Yes, I've read scientific papers (most recently, about the reduced instances of IBS symptoms in people taking antihistamines). I've really boned up on history, filling in a lot of blanks. I've tried to better understand statistics, especially this year. The Internet is essential for this.
Social media is only as good as the connections it offers, and many of the people that I've met over the years and addresses simply don't use it very much anymore, if at all. There's one guy we used to meet up with every year or two who has essentially disappeared from online use, and that's sad. This is hardly surprising, because the algorithms intended to build engagement have mostly minimized its usefulness. I estimate there are at most 20 people still using Facebook that I go for, and if they split too, I'm not sure how I'll be able to maintain even a passive relationship with them.
The mobile revolution has had some really terrible side effects, and you can see them all of the time. Was it so terrible, in 2002, when we were waiting in line for a theme park ride, to talk to each other? Even strangers from time to time? Now, everyone is always looking down at a screen. I am very deliberate in trying to keep my phone in my pocket in these situations. Although, people watching is pretty boring when everyone is doom scrolling.
Speaking of doom scrolling, when social media is filled with links to news, especially politics, that's exhausting. I know people who run multiple news apps, and look at every notification. (I'm guilty of just one, the NYT, but it only alerts on "breaking news," which averages less than 5 notifications anymore.
But here's the other weird thing I use Facebook and Instagram for... they're my time capsule. I have no fucks to give about the number of likes I get, but it's absolutely useful to me to see what I was up to on this day in 2010.
There's a part of me that just wants to build a social media site for me and a few friends. Get in, post stuff, read only actual friend stuff, and get out, but it might not be useful if no one else uses it. And to handle my time capsule, build it to import Facebook exports (that's more straight forward than you'd think).
Still, the reality is that the Internet makes me feel less connected, not more, but I value that small handful of people around the country that I don't want to lose touch with.
I recently observed a few different online discussions that revolved around individual liberties. I think that's an important topic, for sure, but I think many of the people who talk about it approach it as ideologues, over-simplifying it without the context of how humans must interact with each other.
I generally believe that individual liberties are important to a prosperous society, for sure, but they do not exist in a vacuum. People don't have the liberty to shoot each other, obviously, which comes at the expense of the person who would be dead in that scenario. There are a thousand examples that we could come up with like this, and each one is governed with accepted social contracts, whether they're written into law or not. I don't have to hold a door for a person entering behind me, as it certainly constrains my liberty to move quickly, but I hold it anyway because I'm not a dick.
The pandemic has been a real test to the balance of civil liberties and social contracts, and America largely failed that test. Much of the population believed that getting a haircut was more important than containing a disease that killed nearly 600,000 people. I get it, that it was a bad situation regardless, and there was no way of getting around the economic suffering it would cause. But consider this: When history looks back and the accounting is done, Americans will have suffered greater financial impact on a per capita basis, with higher instances of death, than those that buckled down for short-term challenges and emerged on the other side faster.
Now we have a real long-term solution to the pandemic in the way of vaccines. We have a way out, and we can get there faster than anyone because of our nation's wealth. And yet, there is a non-trivial part of the population unwilling to vaccinate, many because of their "freedom" or some willfully ignorant nonsense. Once again, this comes at the expense of the greater population, especially those that for one medical reason or another, can't vaccinate, including kids under 12. Is it judgmental to look at these folks negatively? Yeah, probably. But it's the person who doesn't hold the door, only the stakes are much higher. We get vaccinated for a lot of different diseases, not simply for our own survival, but for our families and communities. This is not a great sacrifice.
There are also people that are unsurprisingly selective about liberties, and which ones are important. A large group of Americans believe right now that there should be no restrictions to firearms, but are not at all vocal about voter suppression laws. Remember, firearm restrictions "interfere with lawful citizens," but voting restrictions apparently do not. Many of the anti-vaccine people are also the folks who want to dictate the conditions of women's health, too. It does not lend a lot of credibility to people who are ideologically inflexible when it's convenient.
The bottom line is that individual liberties do not exist without social contracts. What you believe you're entitled to can't come by way of danger or disadvantage to others.
Last week we were able to buy back in to our annual passes at Walt Disney World, and our first reservation was last night, at Disney's Hollywood Studios. We did a brief after-work visit for about three and a half hours. It was, as I expected, a little weird.
They're still doing temperature screenings, which I suspect will end soon now that the CDC says it's a waste of time, and Universal stopped doing it. Masks are required unless you're stationary and eating or drinking. Capacity is apparently limited to about 35%, which is why they're doing reservations. They do allow passholders to park hop after 1 p.m. now. They're not using the finger print readers for admission.
First off, what a good but weird feeling to walk in through those gates for the first time in more than a year. We didn't choose to live in this area specifically because of the proximity to the Disney property, but being this close is certainly a perk, and it's pretty great to have the kind of access that most people are lucky to have once a year at best. You kind of take a little ownership of it, like it's an extension of your backyard. Right away, we had our picture taken, which Disney is now OK with you unmaksing for.
There are no Fastpasses right now, and some queues for some rides extend outside with the 2-meter interval decals on the ground encouraging you to keep your distance. This results in fast moving lines in most cases. Some rides have staggered loading, reducing their capacity, which manifests itself the worst on Slinky Dog Dash, which never had a wait under an hour. They are still doing boarding groups for Rise of The Resistance, so we were not able to ride it because you have to either hit the app at 7 a.m., or be in the park for another shot at 1 p.m. In most queues, you can expect to find plexiglass barriers, and the barriers are at all of the food stands, and it's just hard to hear people. It's a little dystopian, even though I totally get the intention.
Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway was the new ride that opened just before the pandemic, and we didn't get a chance to ride it before the closures. Simon was pretty obsessed about the ride, watching all the YouTube videos and even recreating part of it in Minecraft, where he cleverly engineered the pre-show. Unfortunately, they're not running the pre-show, and that's one of the casualties of the pandemic. There are no pre-shows or any shows that result in people standing around together. That's particularly an issue at DHS, which ordinarily would engage thousands of people in various shows at a time.
The ride is absolutely the physical manifestation of the Mickey shorts that you can watch now on Disney+, which is to say they had a lot to work with stylistically. It's a fly-by-wire (wireless?) dark ride that's a lot of fun, and does video projection really well. We did it twice. I'm impressed with the precision involved in moving the cars, as they quite literally dance through one scene. I'm absolutely impressed. We waited 35 minutes the first time, about 15 the second.
From there we went to Star Tours, which was effectively a walk-on. They're loading every other row and put up dividers strapped to booster seats to block groups of 2 and 3 people. The barriers at each staging queue are very claustrophobia causing. The last act of our tour was on the planet with the salt flats and red dust, which I had never seen before.
Next was Smuggler's Run, which I think was just under 30 minutes. They are combining groups now, with 4 people doing the pilot and gunners, then groups of 2 filling the engineer seats, with clear barriers in between. My darling wife and son are terrible pilots.
We were ready to get something to eat at this point, when we realized that quite literally everything closed around 5 except for the counter service place half way down the street toward Tower of Terror. That location probably has the crappiest food, too. They're only taking orders via the mobile app (no cashiers), but what results is a bunch of crowding there and few open tables. I realize that there are likely staffing challenges and fewer people in the park in the evening, but it's not a great guest experience. Hopefully they'll figure out how to keep one of the other big locations, Backlot or Commissary, open later. One thing that felt immediately difficult is how expensive the food is, which I only notice after not buying any for more than a year. Our non-spending in the last year was extraordinary, and I can see partially why. Also, the quality of what's available isn't that great when comparing to the water parks, which I consider a more premium offering, or the counter service on the cruise line. I don't mind paying for theme park food, but don't be basic about it.
After dinner, we did a walk-on to Toy Story Midway Mania, and a walk-on to the flying saucers. Slinky was still an hour-plus, so we skipped that. That's when we took our second spin on Railway before calling it a night.
We were happy to be back in the park. Simon, in particular, needed the break because he's doing state testing this week, which stresses him out in a pretty serious and physical way. The 90 degrees outside with a mask is definitely uncomfortable, and hopefully as vaccinations continue to rise they'll consider dropping the masks for outdoors, though I'm sure the liability they face will keep them enforced for the foreseeable future. The neutered operations are very un-Disney-like, if necessary, but it's all temporary, hopefully.
A year ago today, our furry ragdoll cats were born in Naples, Florida. Three months after that, they came home with us. Today, Finn is about 13.6 pounds, and Poe is 11.6, and they're certainly not done growing. Their fur color has changed a ton, and they're really beautiful cats. All of the breed standard attributes that I was skeptical about have largely worked out. They do sometimes follow you around like a dog, and hilariously, they will flop over at your feet if they think there are belly rubs at stake. They will kind of go limp when you pick them up, most of the time, but like any cats, they'll let you know if they're not having it. They're not generally scared of things or people, whether it's a vacuum robot or a large bird outside that could likely carry them away. They're too curious.
Their personalities are different. Finn is definitely the bigger lover of the two, and he does this thing some nights where he jumps up on the bed, "monorails" Diana, buries his head in her hair and kneads with a full-on purr. With me, he waits for me to finish brushing my teeth in the morning, then follows me into the bedroom and flops over next to the dresser, demanding rubs. Poe is different. He's not aloof, not compared to most cats, but he's particular about engagement. He prefers to lay on your feet while you're cooking, and maybe nibble on your toes. There's also a fleece blanket he likes to meditatively knead. He enjoys brushing, which is good, because his hair is more "bunny fur" than Finn's. Poe is also way more food motivated, despite being the smaller of the two.
The boys also do what we were hoping for by getting brothers. They play together, wrestle, chase each other around, and groom each other like it's a part-time job. Some nights, one or both sleep at the edge of the bed. Sometimes they catch a lizard on the patio (and enthusiastically show it to you). With all of that running around, they sleep a good bit, too, but despite their size, they're a normal weight.
We found them via the breeder in May, and would have to wait until they were three months. They would be neutered by then and well taken care of and played with. The decision to get what are effectively "designer" cats wasn't something we took lightly, given that all of our previous cats were from shelters. But we were always pretty enamored with my brother-in-law's ragdolls, and I loved how robust and big they were. They fit the breed behavior traits as well. At our age, if we're being realistic, we get one more chance after this at adopting cats, because who knows if we'll be able to do it in old age. With that in mind, I was hoping for that ragdoll magic, and we got it.
The timing was unintentionally good. Part of it is just that the pandemic went on way longer than anyone expected, and frankly, we needed a little extra joy in our lives. But we also lost Emma before they arrived. That wasn't entirely unexpected given her age, but being the cranky one, I wondered if she'd go another few years. But then after just a few months with the boys, they lost their "old man," Oliver in December. While he was not young, at 14, maybe we figured by his kitten-like behavior that he had years to go. I had nearly 14 years with both of them, and traveled through 6,000 miles of moves with them. Simon only knew life with them, and it was a sad day when we said goodbye.
Finn and Poe are not replacements, and their arrival didn't make the loss easier, but they have added joy and love that we really needed in the last year. They legitimately make me smile every time I see them, no matter what the world is throwing at me. They're wonderful additions to our family, and I look forward to many years with them.
The boys, today:
First night home last August:
I recently came to the conclusion that wanting to feel inspired is a good desire, but it's downright silly to think that you can just get that entirely from within. It's not a personality flaw if you need a little encouragement or someone else to give you a spark.
I started to catalog the people in my life that have in fact been inspirational to me (because the last year hasn't provided enough time for introspection, right?), and I'm actually startled at how few people qualify. So small is this list that it almost creates feelings of sadness. Maybe the part that stings is actually the number of times that you've been disappointed by people that you thought should be inspiring. This has been particularly true in my professional life, that story where you meet someone and think, "This person has their shit together!" only to find later that it isn't together, they're only full of it.
It happens with public figures even more often. How often does an athlete beat impossible odds, only to find out he was doping, or beating his wife or gambling all of their money away. In business, we don't even celebrate success anymore, and seem to assume that any rich person got their in immoral ways. Musicians and actors? Society practically wants them to fail.
But in this last year where I've wanted to be a creator of things, where do I find my muse? I desperately want to see people who inspire me.
They're out there. I'm starting to see them. Like so many other things in the world, I think inspiration is waking up.
Last night, rocket scientist and YouTube genius Mark Rober, along with Jimmy Kimmel, did a three-hour fund-raiser for adult autism charities, and it was pretty great. Simon and I watched the whole thing, and he was fixated on the beaker graphic showing the donation totals.
Between celebrity appearances, they had a lot of great stories from autistic adults of every flavor, and it was one of those reminders that autism doesn't mean the same thing for any two people. I can't imagine being non-verbal or having difficulty controlling my body, while having a brilliant mind that can't easily manifest what it's thinking. The problem isn't always that the autistic person can't fit, it's often that society doesn't know how, or is unwilling to meet them where they are. Fortunately, a lot of employers are figuring out ways to utilize these adults with great success.
We had a fun night hanging out, but tonight was rough because something about having to shower before bed set him off into a meltdown. In the postmortem analysis of one of these, you try to figure out what happened, but in the moment, you focus on how to deescalate, because rationalizing the trigger won't do anyone any good. I also find myself cataloging the current crop of ticks, some of which are harmful (picking skin until it bleeds), and others which will make him a target of cruel peers (a compulsive shrugging thing that he knows he's doing).
All things considered, I don't think I've observed anything that might derail him as a functioning adult, but he has needs that are not being met. In his education, he makes the honor roll, while being behind in reading by a half grade level or more, depending on the assessment. He can seem to compose in small doses, but blank lines on a page produce a panic response. Even after getting back to in-person schooling, he isn't quite getting what he needs to meet him where he is, and for that reason, he'll go to a private school next year instead of getting lost in a middle school of 2,600+ kids. The next three years will be critical.
Meanwhile, the social and self-care skills we try to address via therapy, which we're now doing every other week. This doesn't have the clear objectives that we have with education, and often we focus on what happened the previous two weeks and look for ways to better prepare him. For example, this week there was a partner activity at school, and the kid he normally works with was out, and no other kid wanted to work with him. I heard the tears when he got home, and I knew, because there's a despair he feels that's different when external forces make him sad, as opposed to his own choices.
Trying to figure out how to help, in a way that teaches him to help himself, is a puzzle. Professionally, I'm good at puzzles... putting the right people together to build a team, coming up with the plan for people to work together, defining a problem so we can arrive at a concise solution. These are my super powers. But those skills don't translate well when you have an 11-year-old crying for reasons he probably doesn't understand himself. "Normal" is an "N-word" of its own kind in autism circles, because it implies that anything else is broken or substandard, but in the darkest moments, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I don't wonder why my child couldn't have a more typical development experience. It can be heartbreaking.
I am still struck by all the things that he goes through that I can relate to in a deeply personal way, when I frame it in the context of my own childhood. Rober closed his fundraiser making the point that autism doesn't go away, and if you've ever had irreconcilable emotional situations, lost friends for reasons you don't understand, or socially find it difficult to adapt, autism could explain a lot. I'm glad that Simon has the diagnosis because it at least reduces that ambiguity about why he sometimes struggles. I'm not sure I have the balls to get a formal diagnosis, even if my therapist, who is not a psychologist, believes many of the stereotypical traits are there. If it's true, it's almost a relief that explains some difficult times. If it's not, then I may feel genuinely defective, which certainly isn't healthy.
But I'm deeply empathetic with Simon. I know what it's like to be in a state where something happens and your brain simply can't reconcile it in a logical way. I also understand his sense of loneliness, and seeing how he expresses it makes me understand how much I used to repress it. Despite the empathy, it doesn't always lead to connection, and I sometimes tell him that I'm doing the best I can.
While I'm nervous to see what happens when hormones are added to the mix, I feel like we're doing all the things. Tomorrow, we're going to try and have a little fun.