Remember Dale? If not, read our previous post first.
But to give a brief description, Dale is our friendly neighbor from a few doors down, who is so eager to help us and offer directions on various garden and house projects we have going on. Although he has been an enormous help to us and we can’t thank him and his wife Lilly enough, the fact that he comes by so often makes Natalie and I more prone to melting down because our safe space has been invaded.
Well, the adventures of Dale and the dysregulated autistics continue!
In the previous post, I might have given the impression that our garden project is just about done. But no, it continues. In the back of the garden there is a hill that looks it’s all earth, but it actually consists of branches, half of which are decomposed into plant detritus, or soil organic matter, as I just learned. So I shovel the material on a large plastic sheet (repurposed gazebo wall material), and when I have a sufficiently large pile I close all four corners to fashion the sheet and ints contents it into a huge detritus bag, which I then carry through the garden to the bin to empty it, and then the process repeats as often as my respiratory system can handle, and so long as I don’t black out. And I know autism (or a subgroup thereof) is characterized by repetitive behaviors and interests,Factor Analysis of Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors in Autism Using the Autism Diagnostic Interview-R7 but this is not my idea of fun or relaxation. But alas, I need to get as much plant material into the bin as I can before it will be picked up tomorrow.
Also, when we sit in our chairs on on our new deck (see the previous post), we have a view of the driveway rather than our wonderful back garden as before. We cannot orient the chairs in a different way because it doesn’t fit, so instead of going for smaller chairs or something simple like that, we decided to expand our garden by removing part of the driveway! We bought a pickaxe and rented a jackhammer, and I have been drilling out large chunks of asphalt. But with all the projects we had going on already, why did we decide to take on another one? Because we are ignoramuses, that’s why!
Actually, we thought we were being smart. Since we still have the large waste bin, we figured we would throw all the asphalt in there. But Dale came by and told us we are not allowed; we need a clean fill bin for that! So now part of our driveway looks like the early construction of a mine, with a tower of asphalt which we cannot get rid of at the moment.
As we are taking on even more projects, you can imagine we get overwhelmed. But not on account of the work that needs to be done! No, we are fine with the work. What overwhelms us is the impending doom of social interaction, and/or the constant threat thereof! And the more garden and construction projects we take on, the more reasons Dale has to come over.
Yesterday, he came by to tell us he spoke to our neighbor from across the street—a woman we have never met even though she is not a new neighbor. She was redoing the wooden steps in front of her house and asked Dale where she could get rid of her old wood, and he told her to just throw it in our bin. She protested, but Dale said, “Ahh fuck them!” With the pride and joy of a child he tells us this. Dale is a truly evil man. To make matters worse, he said, “You see, that is the spirit of this community. We help each other out!” For almost 27 years Natalie managed to mind her own business and not get involved with anyone in the neighborhood, and now I come along and we are part of a community.
And don’t get me wrong—I’m all for the community spirit (it’s not for nothing that we came to call our Facebook group the Embrace ASD Community). But the horrible side-effect of being part of a community is that people come over to talk. They come at unexpected times, and they interrupt our routines, which causes us a lot of anxiety. In the clinical literature this is described as intolerance of uncertainty.Relationships between autism spectrum disorder and intolerance of uncertainty Today Dale asked me if I could help him put the neighbor’s old wood in the bin tomorrow. I asked him when, and he said, “Don’t worry about it; I will come by and knock.” So not only do I not have clarification on the time which leaves me with uncertainty, but again there is the threat of a knock on the door at any time!
I tell you, if it turns out God does not like autistic people and I have to experience an eternal afterlife in hell, my torment would be the threat of a knock on my door (I imagine I would have a house in hell, and endure the obligatory torment from 8–6 excluding potential overtime), and the consequential social interaction. I am starting to understand the stereotype of the old Southern geezer with a big rifle, yelling, “Get off my property!” to whoever dares enter his terrain.
A research study from 2018 by Roma A. Vasa et al. indicates the following about intolerance of uncertainty in autism and its effects of anxiety:Relationships between autism spectrum disorder and intolerance of uncertainty
Severity of social communication deficits, repetitive behaviors, and emotion dysregulation were each related to intolerance of uncertainty (IU) when controlling for the effects of anxiety. When these variables were entered into the regression model together, emotion dysregulation was the only significant predictor of IU.
These findings suggest that IU is directly related to features of ASD possibly due to shared genetic, neurological, or psychological underpinnings.
Lately, I keep being reminded of the importance of learning to self-regulate. Mindfulness plays an important role in that, because if you pay attention to the feelings that come up without chasing them, over time you will become detached from your emotions, resulting in more emotional control, calmness, and the ability to enjoy and fully experience the moment.
But we all have a limited amount of mental and physical energy available for activities of living and productive tasks, and for autistic people, this energy tends to be particularly limited when it comes to social interaction (sometimes referred to as the spoon theory). Because while introverts do get dopamine from social interaction but don’t need much of it (Natalie will explain this in an upcoming post), autistic people don’t get dopamine from social interaction, but from pursuing their special interests.
So I hope it’s starting to dawn on you what Dale’s daily visits is doing to us.
If you are not taking it seriously yet, here is something that should drive the point home: Natalie and I are celibate! Not by choice, but a neighbor-induced celibacy! A Dale-induced dry spell. Natalie has been counting, and we are on day 38 of the neighbors being over practically every day.
The fun often starts at 7 am; Natalie sometimes wakes up early and sits outside to enjoy the weather, and often Dale comes by for a chat. Fortunately, I am still sleeping at that time, but all too often Natalie wakes me with these anxiety-inducing words: “Dale wants to talk to you when you are up.” The nasty thing about that is that I have to get up at some point, and Dale damn well knows it. He is an evil social genius.
Once awoken, we begin the tasks the neighbors have laid out for us that day. As a result, even though in the previous post I announced we are officially back, I keep not having the time to actually write a post and get it published. So our time is taken away, our autonomy is taken away, and our spoons are taken away. We are trading in everything that makes us autistic and human, for more of Dale. And yes, Dale is inhuman.
Some days Dale makes us cry, as our buckets overflow. Other days we are able to be more mindful about it, are able to perceive everything with a certain distance (or might this be dissociation?), and are able to laugh about it. We have nicknamed our friendly assertive neighbor Daily Dale.
Some say the days go by quickly, but here, days don’t go by at all; instead, Dale comes by daily. And when life gets rough, you might say, “Well, tomorrow is another day.” But all I can think of now is, “Tomorrow is another Dale”.
And you know, life can indeed be a challenge, but you just have to take it Dale by Dale.
They say the day turns into night, but here, the day turns into Dale. With some luck, it changes back to day again. With even marginally less luck, the Dale turns into another Dale.
And I can’t wait to wish Natalie a happy birthdale this September!
Natalie’s warned us about the neighbors when they were helping us to such an extraordinary degree with the garden and the deck, saying, “When something seems too good to be true, it often is. When someone does something seemingly for free, ask yourself, what are they getting out of it?” And it seems we are starting to get our answer. Dale is a social vampire, who goes around robbing all the autistic people in the neighborhood of their spoons!
We have unknowingly signed a Faustian contract. Dale built our deck for $1,300, which we thought was amazing given the cost of the materials and the amount of labor, which we were expecting would cost us $7,000. But with all the anxiety we have been experiencing as well as the lack of sex, our quality of life has been reduced. We thought the deck was a bargain, but what we saved in money, as it turns out we have lost in
days Dales. And the more stress our nervous system experiences, the shorter our lives will potentially be.
Social interaction and relationships—it all starts so innocently, and before you know it, it’s shaving thousands of Dales off your life.
Here is some wonderful irony. Because Dale has shown so much concern over us and our property, he discovered several hazards in and around our house that may one day have cost us our lives. So we have Dale to thank for preventing our lives from being cut short. But at the same time, his excessive neighborly love is cutting our lives short.
It seems our lives were only spared to live in social service of Dale. From now on, do not call us by our names anymore, as they no longer have any meaning. From now on, all we are are devoted servants of Dale.
Dale is back to work, and only comes by now and then. That, we can handle!
And honestly, he is a friendly guy. Tough on the outside, but with a sensitive heart. A few days ago he came by with an inspirational story about autism (he knows we are autistic, which may in part be why Dale and his wife have helped us so much). He came up to me while I was working in the garden and asked, “Hey, are you guys music fans?” “We love music” I said. Dale says, “Do you know Supertramp?” “Yes,” I say. “A friend of mine liked them a lot” He says, “Do you know the song [something I don’t recall]?” I said, “No, I don’t. I’m not good with track names.” He said the song is about helping others, and then tells me about this residence for autistic people in Toronto, which Supertramp played a charity concert at. He thought that was very inspiring. And I know he is genuine, because I see how much he cares about helping people. He has a list of names on his arm. I don’t recall the length of the list, but I believe there are around 10 names on there, belonging to various people Dale prevented from committing suicide, and people Dale gave a temporary home when they had nowhere else to go.
Based on some of the comments I received on social media, from people getting angry with Dale or telling us to toughen up and establish firm boundaries, I think I should clarify the motivation for this post.
In part, I wanted to write this post to offer an account of what it is—or can be—like for autistic people to carry both everyday responsibilities and have to spend cognitive effort (or spoons) engaging with others socially. Sometimes, it can lead to overwhelm; or, when the burden is carried for a long time, it can lead to an autistic burnout (we are working on a post on this topic which we hope to publish next month).
But also, this post was written partly in jest. After we regulated our emotions and anxiety, we had to laugh about the whole ordeal. We felt our experience with Dale presented an excellent vehicle for humor. Like a member of the Embrace ASD Community stated, it seems like a script for a movie.
So thank you for your concern for us and the advice, but please, for the sake of humor, let Dale be Dale. He might just become a recurring character on this website. The Dale Chronicles are to be continued…