Burnout by Proxy

In order to facilitate the burnout period for my wife, I have to enter her world and see things through her perspective. Because of that, I’m finding that the format of this blog has become very literal and to-the-point. By seeing the world through her eyes, I am able to support her needs in the way she usually does when she is able. So here are a few tips, reminders and guidelines that I have developed to get us through burnout. I offer this up to the autistic community, their allies and spouses for whatever use it may be. Please be advised this is the perspective of my life I share with my wife and is not a reflection of the entire autistic community as each autistic adult experiences burnout differently and each relationship will have their own coping mechanisms.

ACTIONS TO TAKE

  • Offer reminders to her to help her prepare herself for the impending fog that she does not see coming. “After ___ you may be burned out. You might want to finish ___ now so you have the space you need to burnout later.”
  • For my wife, burnout is accompanied with confusion and guilt. To counteract this, be a calming and reassuring presence. “You’re experiencing burnout. This is a natural part of your process. It’s ok to feel your burnout. I am not angry with you for being burnt out. You have all the space, time, patience and love you need to accommodate this. Focus on yourself. I love you.”
  • Provide space. Not just physically, but emotional space and sensory space as well. No touching, limited eye contact, no overwhelming smells, sudden noises, loud noises or textural changes. (e.g. not a good time to change all the bed sheets or wash her favorite clothes)
  • Provide consistent, positive reassurance. Smile at her, share the room with her to show you still want to be around her. Remember not to let your effort to give her space accidentally turn into the silent treatment. Show her you love her even when she’s going through burnout. For my wife, gifts are good.
  • During burnout, Stephanie is less self-aware than usual. Ensure she is eating regularly and develops no illness/injury during this time. Be careful to do this in a respectful way, without making her feel incompetent. I am still her wife, not her nurse.
  • Provide familiar, repetitive staples. For Stephanie, her staples that help her feel grounded when she’s lost in her “fog” are routine and comfort foods. These things help her to feel grounded in a time when she feels lost. A few of Stephanie’s staples are soup and oyster crackers, sitcoms during dinner, her favorite music and breakfast together in the mornings with the news.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • During burnout she is more susceptible to negative thoughts, keep it light.
  • She may take days or weeks to recover. I can’t let my boredom become her problem. Whip out the hobby box and call a friend. It is not her job to entertain me.
  • Don’t forget to take over her household responsibilities until this is over. Letting her responsibilities pile up is NOT conducive to overcoming burnout.
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself; you cannot care for her unless you are in a good place. For me, that means getting my daily dose of socialization elsewhere and providing myself with a little extra TLC (e.g. long baths, selfies, body lotions). I don’t need to be told I’m wanted, I can appreciate myself on my own.
  • Remember—helping her is helping yourself. She can’t be with you until she’s recovered.
  • If I find myself slipping and losing my ability to cope, it is okay to ask her for a reminder that she still loves me. But be specific and direct, not passive-aggressive. “I feel lonely and like maybe you don’t love me anymore. Will you tell me that you do?” The “will you tell me__” is extra important, otherwise I’ve set myself up for a blank stare, hurt feelings and an in-burnout argument—the worst of all the possible arguments. (This particular aspect we worked on outside the realm of burnout so that it was possible during burnout when I needed it.)
  • Sometimes this process is difficult. Sometimes it comes so naturally, I don’t even notice. If it is difficult, don’t let her know. Guilt is not conducive to recovery.
  • Be self-aware. Hurt feelings are sneaky. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a passive aggressive behavior before I realize what I’ve done. Remember it is MY job to make sure I’m happy, not hers. If I’ve become passive aggressive, I need to step back and find out which of my needs I’ve neglected and tend to them so I can be happy.
  • Above all, keep perspective. No matter how long it’s been or how deep she wonders into her fog, remember that the fact that this situation is unique does not make it less worthy of support. The fact that it looks strange to me, doesn’t mean she IS strange. Just because no one else in my life understands what I’m going through, doesn’t mean I am alone. Just because she is not conveying her love the way she usually does, does not mean she is not conveying love at all.

THINGS TO KEEP OUT OF MIND

“When she pulls away from me, it’s because she doesn’t want my touch anymore.”

Don’t let your feelings of rejection cloud your intellect. You know better. If you need physical affection, go find the cat.

“How could she say she loves me, then go days/weeks without talking/touching?”

You cannot let a difficult time negate years of happiness, love and affection. She has proven her love for years. She does not deserve this doubt.

“How could she just ignore ___”

She isn’t choosing to ignore ___. Her brain is selecting what to focus on. It’s being VERY selective.

“It’s been ___ days!”

Counting days doesn’t make them shorter. If you’re to this point, it’s time for a break. Call your friends, get out for a while.

Neurotypical couples don’t have to go through this.

You have made the decision to partner with an autistic adult. She is not only autistic when it’s convenient (like when I’ve made a wrong turn and need her brain map, or when she does that adorable info-dump that I admire so much) She is autistic all the time. Sometimes, autism makes things difficult. Do not wallow in self-pity at the expense of your admiration for your wife, she doesn’t deserve it. (I keep a list of autistic traits that I love about Stephanie, so during times when her autism becomes difficult for me I am able to reflect on all of the things I admire.)

Read about Stephanie’s experience with burnout here.

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The 50/50 Fairytale

When Stephanie and I began our relationship I had a very clear idea of the dynamic I desired. I intended for my partner to be unendingly loyal to me regardless of my faults, overwhelmed with adoration for my every detail, and dedicated to spend a lifetime catering to my every emotional need. Is that too much to ask? I also expected to provide the same in return and made a great effort to do so.

This was my version of a 50/50 relationship. It wasn’t until I was two or three years into our relationship that this formula no longer worked for me. This was when the 60/40 rule was born and it gave us the vocabulary necessary to communicate about our needs and availability with one another.

The 50/50 dynamic is a great expectation to have if you’re married to a Stepford Wife but these unreasonable expectations jump out the window at the first sign of struggle. I’m sure this is true for any couple, but it has never been true harder than it is in a neurodiverse relationship.

Depending upon a person’s character, accepting the 60/40 rule could be difficult for many reasons. Because I am a nurturing person, accommodating my wife when she needs me is a pleasure. Being there for her makes me happy and fulfills me in a way that nothing else could. Likewise, the moments that I can’t accommodate her are difficult for me to accept. It took me a few years of learning about myself and my wife to be able to identify when I was not able to accommodate her and should stop forcing it.

There are two reasons I may not be able to provide for her emotionally. First, I may not be in good shape myself and have nothing to offer. Being overworked, tired, depressed, hungry or stressed will cause me to snap at her and lose my ability to be compassionate. Second, Stephanie may be suffering from something I cannot help—meltdowns, anxiety, depression or over-stimulation, to name a few. It took years of trying to talk Stephanie down from a meltdown before I accepted that there is nothing I can do to relieve the struggle she is experiencing and I have nothing left to do but remove myself from the situation.

Watching her struggle, wanting to help and not being able to, has been the most painful process I’ve had to endure for our relationship. As uncomfortable as it was, accepting that there is nothing I can do has taken a lot of pressure off of us both. Now I no longer panic when I see the signs of a meltdown coming on, I don’t live in dread of them or take it upon myself to mold the world around her in such a way as to prevent them. In return, Stephanie is able to allow meltdowns to come and pass as part of her natural process without the guilt or concern of how it will affect her partner. Letting go of this part of her life as something within my control has been freeing for us both.

Learning to accept the times in which I cannot offer the 60% was not the only difficult step for me. I also had to learn that sometimes, offering the 60% meant taking care of myself. This one was a little more confusing. Because I am Stephanie’s wife, she takes on my problems and my burdens become hers. Because of this, I not only had to learn what I can/cannot accommodate for her, but I had to stop expecting her to accommodate a few things and instead take care of them myself. For example, if I have a hard day at work it’s no problem for me to come home and ask Stephanie for a little TLC. However, if every day at work is hard, it’s time for a new job and this becomes my responsibility. It is unreasonable to ask my partner to accommodate the repercussions of a problem I have brought on myself that she cannot control. This realization brought on an era of self-care that I had been neglecting for years under the guise of sacrifice.

So, after years of trial and error, the 60/40 rule to me means be there for her when I can, accept when I cannot and take care of myself so that I am able to be accommodating as often as possible. Being prone to depression and anxiety and being married to an autistic person, it would be fair to say that one of us requires accommodation daily. Applying these rules to our lives has given us the opportunity to enjoy the best of one another while we utilize the comfort having a spouse provides without abusing the endless dedication a loved one will strive to offer. I have these rules to thank for many years of loving support in my marriage.

Read Stephanie’s side: The illusion of fairness

On expectations, rejection and learning the language of love

Everyone, for better or worse, learns by example what a relationship should look like. Whether it’s from parents, friends, TV or romance novels, as we mature we piece together little snippets of relationships we’ve encountered into a daydream collage of ‘the one.’  The collage I had pieced together by the time I met Stephanie at 19 was vastly different than what she brought to our relationship.

When Stephanie and I first began seeing one another on a regular basis I thought she was my dream girl. Partly, because she was. She held my hand, put her arm around me, kissed me and complimented me. She said a few things here and there that seemed rude or tactless, but as a smitten young love, I thought, “Oh I love her honesty.” Sometimes she’d pull away from me, or walk away from me in a crowd and I thought, “I admire her independence.” In retrospect, I know she must have been putting in effort to conceal the characteristics of herself that were ‘abnormal’ or ‘weird.’ Paired with my rose-tinted love goggles through which I glorified her every move, we were both blissfully ignorant of the fact that we had unknowingly began what would come to feel, for me at least, like a long-distance relationship.

It was about a year in that Stephanie began feeling comfortable enough in my dedication to her to begin acting in a way that was more natural to her without fear of losing my interest. Of course, she didn’t do this maliciously, it’s only natural for relationships to get to a point of comfort with one another. For me, this meant packing on a few pounds, wearing less makeup and peeing with the bathroom door open. For her, it meant occasionally pushing me away.

Stephanie began to become more and more aloof. Always wondering what was on her mind made me feel self-conscious. If I were to sit in the room with someone and not speak to them it would be in attempt to convey contempt. Unfortunately, I had not yet learned the tools necessary to stop interpreting her behaviors with my own motivations so, to me she appeared to be doing the same thing… regularly. When I would touch her sweetly, to hold her hand or rub her back, she would pull away, rejecting my affections. When I would say sweet things to her or compliment her looks, she would stare at me with confusion or become irritated and lash out because she tired of hearing the same things over and over. Sometimes I would test her, unwittingly, by changing my hair or clothes to get a response from her. More often than not, she didn’t notice or worse, would give me a brutally honest assessment of the changes that resulted in my hurt feelings.

At 20 I did not have the experience or guidance to work through these problems. Each time my affections were rejected or unnoticed I became a little more desperate to be seen, a little more aggressive in my approach and a little angrier with Stephanie. It was then, at one of my most desperate moments that I began to allow a coworker to give me the affection and attention that I needed and felt owed.

She would write me sweet letters, sing me songs, compliment me and make me feel appreciated and I let her. It wasn’t until I was confronted with a proposition to leave Stephanie and begin a relationship with her that I finally ended the flirtatious grins and glances that had been just enough to keep her interest yet still allow me to pretend I was innocent. I responded to her that I would never leave Stephanie because I loved her and I apologized for having led her on. Then my secret stash of affection was gone and I was forced to cope with problems at home.

Of course, I didn’t tell Stephanie about this. I knew I loved her and had never physically cheated in any way so I told myself it was in her best interest not to know.  I spent several years afraid that this would happen again, thinking about the ‘what-ifs’ that would have led to my losing Stephanie. Eventually, through honest reflection and understanding, I was able to identify my emotional motives and create a plan to actively participate in avoiding these feelings in the future. It wasn’t until this point that I felt ready to tell Stephanie about the mistakes I had made.

Time went on and while I had learned how to prevent the possibility of finding affection or attention outside of my relationship, I had not learned how to find it within. I tried everything. I manipulated her with comments like, “don’t you love me?” I begged saying, “just hold me a few minutes, just until this movie is over.” I accused, “I love you so much I ache to hold you! How can you say you love me back, when you never want me in your arms?” and lastly, I bullied, “What’s wrong with you? Is this so difficult you can’t even pretend?!” I am particularly ashamed of that last one. I spent a lot of years seeing Stephanie as the problem and unfortunately, so did she.

This dynamic impacted everything else in our lives. Suddenly the dirty dishes she left in the sink were a testament to her selfishness, the books on her shelves a reminder of the hours spent seemingly ignoring my presence, and on the occasions she did come to me for affection or mention my appearance my response was, “So NOW you see me, right? NOW you’re ‘available’ for being held…that’s convenient.” My persistent resentfulness and her endless apologies whittled away at my respect for her until eventually she didn’t seem like my partner but like my burden, my responsibility, my ‘ball-and-chain.’

It wasn’t until we realized that she was autistic and found the autistic community online that we saw Stephanie for who she really was. Suddenly we had words we had never heard before like neurotype, stim, meltdown, sensory overload and shutdown.

This became a pivotal moment in my life, in our lives. With this realization I was forced to accept that Stephanie will never change. It wasn’t a matter of bad habits or disinterest, this is who she is. She will never instinctively know when something is bothering me and try to help. She will never spend hours with me in her arms under the blankets. Sometimes she will spend an entire day not speaking to me because for her, that is self-care. Sometimes she will push me away, even if I’m sad, because the person I have chosen to spend my life with feels pain when I touch her. This hit me so hard. I spent weeks…months contemplating what this meant for me, what it may come to mean for our future children. Each time she turned me away or failed to notice me I stopped and thought to myself, “this is how it will be” and I questioned whether or not this was the life I really wanted.

Even though it’s hard for me to even admit there was a time that I had questioned the life I have now, I am thankful I took the opportunity to consider what this meant. I made the decision that Stephanie was a person I did not want to live without and I chose to do whatever was necessary to be happy together. Making this decision, consciously, allowed me the opportunity to clear the collage of expectations I had for what ‘the one’ may have been and to create a new collage of images and thoughts that were conducive to who ‘the one’ actually was, my autistic Stephanie.

We learned to use tools like spoons, non-verbal communication, color codes and visualization. We practiced new ways to speak to one another, touch one another and express ourselves. For the first time in our relationship we were taking into account, not the other’s actions, but their intentions. I began changing my rhetoric to include more respectful terms, like replacing ‘why did you’ with ‘what did you mean when.’ I changed my angered body language from my usual hands on hips, shouting, stomping mess, to a gentler sitting position with softened tone and an awareness of eye contact.

Because I had consciously decided to accept her for who she was as my partner, when she did become inaccessible to me I no longer considered the way I would prefer for her to behave as an option. Instead, I seen the only true alternative to this, a life without her. This understanding prevented me from feeling angry and wronged and allowed me to see this behavior as a reflection of her needs, instead of a reflection of her love. This change took time, communication and an awareness of self even while in the throes of an emotional argument.  At times we succeeded and at times we failed but each time was a step closer to the life we envisioned.

Stephanie and I turned to anything we could find to help. We found chats, communities, books and articles, each giving us examples of new things to do, and some to avoid, to navigate this new territory we found ourselves in. One of the most helpful by far was The 5 Love Languages. This helped us to understand the different ways in which Stephanie and I send and receive love. By learning to approach sending and receiving affection in a more aware and deliberate manner we avoided miscommunication that had previously led to feelings of confusion, neglect or resentment. Now, when she withdraws at my attempts to send her love via touch, I don’t see this as a rejection of my love, but instead a rejection of the method of delivery, like putting a Blu-ray disc into DVD player, looks the same to me, but reads differently to her. She does not receive love via touch, Stephanie prefers acts of service or gifts. Letters, notes, candy, a hot meal, to Stephanie these acts are much preferred and say to her, “I’ve thought of you, because you’re important to me.”

5-love-languages

With each interaction Stephanie became more dynamic, involved and invested in our time together. I grew to know her for what I believe to be the first time. I had known her laugh, her favorite foods, the smell of her skin but I didn’t know her dreams, hopes and struggles until I gave her the space to show me.

I have the autistic community to thank for introducing me to Stephanie and I am endlessly grateful to you all.  I’m writing this as a tribute to the community that gave me my life with her. If anyone else out there is looking for help or guidance as we did, I hope this is useful to provide insight into a relationship that is working to undo the damage of neurotypical privilege.

‘Privilege’ meaning living in a society where only neurotypical behaviors are accepted as the norm. This causes behaviors outside of this norm to be considered wrong and abnormal instead of accepted and respected. A dynamic in which one partner is inherently invalid is hurtful to both parties during the duration of that relationship. But more importantly it is personally damaging to the invalidated individual. This leaves them with words they can’t un-hear like, “what’s wrong with you” or feelings they can’t un-feel like a feeling of brokenness or embarrassment. This becomes part of their self-identity. Stephanie still struggles with feelings of insecurity and guilt for behaviors that are out of her control and I have put them there.

It is not my intention to make neurotypical people seem heartless or inconsiderate. I understand it is an easy mistake to make when your partner is the only one you know behaving this way. Like a twisted game of ‘Spot the Difference’ each odd behavior seems out of place and foreign. This is because in society, autistic people are still unable to be themselves and exhibit these behaviors without fear of rejection. Until our autistic community is able to stim on the street or decline a handshake from a stranger, these behaviors will always seem odd. As a neurotypical partner of an autistic person I see it as my job to offer Stephanie the support she needs at home to behave as she sees fit in public so that we can contribute in some small part to a world where all responses and behaviors are valid.

Read Stephanie’s account of this aspect of our relationship: On passing, affection and relationship negotiations

Our Regularly Scheduled, Impromptu Date Night

Keeping a regular schedule is something that I have never attempted, let alone achieved. I eat, work, play and sleep pretty much whenever I feel like it, kind of like a bear in the woods. I thrive on novelty and I am prone to boredom, restlessness and depression if I don’t find ways to break out of my mundane world. However, it was when my sweet wife found herself in a blanket burrito on the bed with headphones and stim tools in hand, trying desperately to block out all other sensory input, that I realized a little regularity now and again may have an upside.

Hence, date night was born. This was a suggestion I made to my teary-eyed wife, as acknowledging her emotional needs is not a strong point for her and I have learned to advocate for her in times of need. She readily accepted the invitation and it has become a welcome change in our routine.

Yesterday was Tuesday. We had planned our usual Tuesday movie date and as usual I had forgotten all about it. I am very prone to forgetting things, regardless of importance to me, by some cruel twist of hereditary fate. Thankfully, I’ve (finally) learned over the years to try and hide the fact that I’ve forgotten from my wife as she puts a lot of effort and expends a lot of energy in preparing herself for the event and tends to take offense when it seemingly matters so little to me that I have forgotten or worse, made other plans. This was one of those “or worse” days because I had actually made other plans. Thankfully, I have the most flexible job in the world and was able to change my schedule last minute to accommodate an “impromptu” regularly scheduled date night.

So, off we went. I am the driving puppet and by that I mean I am physically operating the wheel and pedals but Stephanie, like a puppeteer, is directing me. “Get in the other lane please,” “We’re taking this road, the others are too crowded this time of day,” “That’s a red light,” “Now, it’s green.” These are all common commands I respond to while driving. There is also an underlying “eh eh eh” grunt that accompanies all sharp turns, lane changes and merges.

Years ago my responses to Stephanie were “It doesn’t matter!” or “There is nothing wrong!” or “Can’t you just trust that I can handle this?” or worst of all, “If this is so hard for you to handle, we’ll just go home,” as if my wife were a child kicking the back of my seat. Thankfully with patience and understanding of my wife I have learned that if she is brave enough to take on the stress she faces in order to enjoy this, she deserves patience and respect from me to allow her to process stimuli however she can. In turn, she has accommodated me by changing her stim grunts from an irritating “ah! ah! ah!” to something I could tolerate more easily, she’s added “please” and occasionally points instead of shouting when she knows my patience is wearing thin.

This seemingly abnormal driving routine has become second nature now. It was difficult at first, a lot of shouting on my part and sadly, apologies on hers. But now, through compromises and patience from both of us, we have both accepted that this is the method that works best for us during transport and it is painless, even missed when she is not around.

We arrive at the theater. She ensures that I have my money, phone and reminds me to lock the car on the way in. I saddle up with the purse full of contraband (aka sneaky movie snacks) because for Stephanie to carry them in and knowingly break a rule would be akin to sneaking in a weapon. As we open the door, she reminds me to silence my phone, tells me what we’re seeing and whether to pay with cash or card. Lastly, she tells me what she would like from the concession stand because once we’re inside, asking her is out of the question. We’ve learned that being presented with multiple options last minute with an audience is something that she does not respond well to, and is easily avoided.

Once we have our tickets, she carries them to ensure that I don’t lose them and so that if at any point someone were to question whether or not we’ve paid to get in, she is ready with proof. She goes on to find a seat she’s comfortable in, as that takes some doing, while I get our snacks and join her.

Then we sit and wait for the movie to start. The lights are dimmed and the audience is stirring, talking, playing on their phones, laughing and often, because of my fondness for cartoons, there are small groups of children restlessly wriggling around.

Stephanie is side-eyeing all of them as if they have each arranged to see this particular movie on this particular night as some city-wide attempt to ruin her date night. This used to irritate and depress me. Particularly because people-watching is one of my most favorite past-times. Wondering what their lives are like, where they live, how they’re related, watching the girl in the short dress on a date fidget uncomfortably and guessing as to how long she’s been with that guy. Trying to read her body language to predict whether or not their relationship will last. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to watch other people in my community in what feels like a very intimate setting. Snacks piled high, lights dimmed, they think no one is watching and it gives me a much needed reminder that I belong here and, as isolated as my life may seem at times, I am part of a larger community.

Stephanie doesn’t see it that way. She watches the children wriggling around and becomes anxious. Children stare inappropriately, behave erratically and tend not to follow the social rules of conduct that Stephanie has so painstakingly attempted to memorize. I’ve learned in this situation to help ease her discomfort by giving some insight as to why they are behaving that way. “He’s anxious for the movie to start, honey. At that age, he has a lot of energy and it’s hard for him.” She nods, watching him from her seat.

When the theater finally darkens and the show begins, it gets cool in the room and there is a reverent hush as everyone attempts to respect the fact that we have all paid to be here. Our seats are close and I slip my arm around my wife, kissing her shoulder. Direct PDA (kissing on the mouth) is out of the question, as years of being raised in southern culture has trained us to be fearful of responses, but shoulder kisses are still perfectly acceptable in this private arena. We snack, hold hands, make eye contact at parts we know the other will enjoy. Sometimes, without her knowing, I’ll just watch her face lit up by the screen. The shape her cheekbones take when she grins, her subtle dimples around her lips make my heart beat. This is an opportunity for me to enjoy her and receive affection in a comfortable way for the both of us.

Once the climax is resolved and the hero has won, I’m already packing up garbage and belongings. I’ve learned to prepare early in order to keep up with Stephanie as she bolts out the door. Sometimes I keep up. Other days I let her run ahead and I meander, enjoying listening to the comments the others say about the movie, watching the kids as they laugh about their favorite parts. As I walk out the door, my wife is standing anxiously by the car. I sit down and she says, “We’re taking Lexington”. After she has been given an appropriate amount of time to acclimate to the change from the theater to the car, buckled in and directed me to the most appropriate street to take home, we can discuss the movie.

The after-discussion is one of my most beloved traditions. Whether it was something as poignant as “The Help” or as simple as “The Minions” we always find ways to debate the morality of the movie, the intended audience, the intentions of the creator and an estimated sum of profit earned. Stephanie has such an intense and analytical mind, she always comes away with comments or observances I have missed. She elevates my observations from what would have been my original response, “That was funny and so heart-warming!” to “The representation of women of color or size was lacking, but it did touch on some relevant social issues, so overall that was beneficial, but had room for improvement.” We laugh and chat on the way home comparing notes that often times seem as if we’d each watched only half of a film and only together by communicating do we see the full picture.

The week seemingly flies by and before I know it, it’s Movie Tuesday again. She calls to remind me to get out of work in time. I respond, “Already on my way, sweetheart” as I drop what I’m doing and run out the door, just in time.

For my wife’s perspective on date night, read her entry: The Earth orbits the Sun, water is wet and on Tuesdays we go to the movies

Some stuff about me, my marriage and why I’m here

I’m Jesse, Jessica if I work for you or owe you money. I’m a passionate caregiver and activity coordinator for a group home of some of the most loving and active disabled seniors this side of the equator. Before this line of work, I was employed as a not-so-happy childcare professional. I enjoy cartoons, toys, children’s stories, crafts, all movies (particularly scary ones) and my very loud cat, Spencer. I also occasionally assist in my wife’s new-found passion of beekeeping. Mostly in effort to stay involved in her special interest as it is not a very special interest of mine.

I was raised in a small town in Kentucky. As a girl, I dreamed of a life with a husband and home and a teaching career. What really happened has been quite literally, better than I could have ever dreamed. I met Stef in college. We fell in love fast, but that’s another blog entirely. Her dreams of experiencing a life outside of Kentucky scared me and it wasn’t until all of my brothers had stable homes of their own I felt ready to move on. Being one of five siblings I battle with feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety…again, another blog for another time. I considered myself the caretaker of my family this was my identity and my source of self-worth. Moving out of the state has meant letting go of that idea and finding who I am when I stand on my own… if I can stand on my own. Living without them has been the most terrifying and liberating experience of my life. It has also provided the time and mental resources for me to dedicate myself to creating a life I want to live, instead of the life that happens to me. Part of that journey has been remodeling the relationship between my wife and I. This is the most important and precious task in becoming the person I hope to be.

This blog will primarily be about the constant effort it takes to maintain a positive and rewarding relationship in a neurodiverse marriage. I will be writing about specific events that my wife and I encounter together as it is seen by my neurotypical perspective. My wife, The Autistic Beekeeper, will be writing about the same event from her autistic perspective. Each of our posts will include a link at the end to the counterpart post on the other’s blog.

Our hopes for this very intimate blog is to give specific examples of how we have learned to accommodate one another in our relationship of eight years and as a means of reflection to ensure we continue to grow for the next eight. We do not consider ourselves to have figured it all out by any means and because mistakes are important learning experiences, we will be posting those too. Some of the things I say about living with my autistic wife may be hurtful or difficult to hear for other autistic adults. I hope everyone understands that I do realize some of my feelings in the past have been hurtful and this blog is an attempt to present the ways in which I have changed and uncover the areas that still need work. I will be posting honestly, in an effort to maintain transparency in this growth. If it will help anyone in a neurodiverse relationship find their way to navigate this confusing emotional balancing act, it will have been worth it.

As a neurotypical partner, by remaining uneducated and unchecked, I have caused my wife to suffer unduly from neurotypical privilege within our relationship. I have made her feel like a burden. I have told her in my words and actions that her feelings and thoughts are wrong, invalid and ridiculous. It has not been until this year that I have become the wife that she deserves. For me, my part in this joint blog is for any autistic person in the world who finds themselves feeling unworthy or unable to maintain a relationship to know that every person is worthy of unconditional love and that a relationship is something made to fit you, not the other way around. It is for everyone who loves an autistic person and wishes to better their relationship. Mostly it is an apology, and a promise, to my sweet wife that I am so lucky to have held on to through all of my mistakes.