As I opened my door, my Aspie-sense went into overdrive. I ventured further into my apartment and it immediately became pretty apparent why. Uhh, wasn’t there a couch there? I could have sworn I had a clothes washer and dryer. Didn’t I sleep on a bed last night? Good thing it was summer, because I no longer had a blanket. While I had been at work, an individual (well, several of them) had taken the family business truck, the same one that had helped move me in, and completely gutted my apartment of all its contents. How nice of them. Since my (soon-to-be ex) wife and I were still legally married and I was not able to remove her name from the lease, I had no recourse until things were resolved in a court of law. Now that I look back, not only is it quite amusing, but I am far more impressed about how efficiently they were able to accomplish that task than I am angry.
So, left with nothing but their clothes and a few random kitchenwares, what does an Aspie do? He turns it into a learning experience of course – his own “Vision Quest”. I decided that I’d play along and just give everything else away in a grand new human experiment. Since the dissolution of my marriage was rooted in opposing expectations about lifestyle, about to what extent we were willing (or not, in my case) to barter our financial stability and future to accumulate “stuff”, I did what any sane adult would and bit off my nose to spite my face. A few “first person to show up” Craigslist ads and trips to Salvation Army later and my worldly possessions were pared down to my truck, my bike, and what was left of my clothing and housewares, all of which fit nicely in a single plastic tub in my newly redecorated living room. Ohhhhh, I’ll show her.
Next step, a plan. We don’t do anything halfway, so let’s jump headfirst into asceticism; without a helmet. Houston, along with heat and humidity which makes it feel like you are taking a shower in a microwave six months a year, has epic rainstorms. Like, pull over and get the kayak out because the entire city will be under a dozen feet of water in an hour downpours. Who needs a car in those conditions? My bike will do for my 30+ miles of daily work commuting; rain or shine. Nearly 1.3B people globally don’t have access to electricity, what makes me so special that I deserve lights, the ability to refrigerate food, and access to hot water? Let’s call the power company and shut off the electricity. Jain monks wear the same frock 365 days a year, why do I need more than a single pair of pants? So, they took the bed, blankets, and pillows; two towels on the floor and a gym bag stuffed with my workout t-shirts to lay my head on at night should do the trick. I don’t need stuff when I have my health, my own resolve, and plenty of responsibilities to take care of.
My typical day started around 4:30am, awaken by the voice of Freddy Mercury blaring from my flip phone – “fat bottom girls, you make the rockin’ world go round.” In the obscurity of the early morning, I’d lug my bike and daypack concoction down three flights of stairs and make my first commute across town, to the gym to get in my training before work. With the sun just beginning to rise, I’d hop back on the bike to my office downtown. I locked my bike right outside the front door, ran in hoping nobody saw me in my spandex and headed to the bathroom to change into my professional attire. Throughout the day I’d often make several similar Superman-in-a-phone-booth transformations as I traveled from destination to destination, meeting with school administrators about the health needs of their students. On one particularly interesting occasion, I couldn’t find anywhere inconspicuous to change so I hastily did it right there on the sidewalk in front of a school. As I entered, the center director pulled me aside:
“Hey D, I know what you are doing, but next time can you find a tree or bush or something? I don’t want you to get the teachers all in a tizzy with your strip show and it wouldn’t be a good look if I got a random call that some grown man was taking off his clothes in front of my school.”…duly noted Ms. Anglin.
Thanks to some extensive planning and trial and error, I eventually got the system down. A 55l tactical pack which carried my laptop and associated work stuff and two separate drawstring bags connected to the molle webbing, one to carry my several changes of clothes and the other to carry the sweaty remains. It was quite the balancing feat to safely mount and dismount at every stoplight, carrying what was essentially a perpetually moving elementary-aged child on my back. To Houstonians on their daily commute, I must have looked like a two-wheeled human-powered version of the Beverly Hillbillies. The extra acreage provided by the Costco-sized pack allowed me to stop at the library and grocery store on my return voyage home, because well, not having electricity makes it slightly difficult to have conventional entertainment and preserve food. First world problems. Upon my return home, I’d grab a handful of almonds, crack open a can of tuna (since I was just beginning to experiment with intermittent fasting, this was generally my first meal of the day), and head down to the pool with a book, or three. As the sun went down, I’d take the party to the community center to steal some artificial light before I headed back up to my apartment for my 2nd meal of the day before calling it a night. Rinse, repeat; for over six months.
There was nothing glamorous about that experience. There were days when I honestly thought I was losing my grip on reality. At times I became so lonely that I’d put down the books and spend my afternoon walking up and down the neighborhood streets, just hoping to catch glimpses of other people. Of course, actually conversing with them was off limits. Having spent so much time figuring out the logistics of living without many of the modern-day conveniences, I began to question everything. Not only the cliché philosophical stuff, like why am I here, what is my life’s purpose, but why would anybody view something like a water heater as a necessity when cold showers are so refreshing (and offer a host of health benefits)? I became fascinated with behavioral economics, reading everything available within the Houston public library system on the topic. Researching what goes into the normal decision-making process simply made me feel more disconnected to the human race. I knew I was different, but it now became ominously apparent. And, in typical Aspie fashion, I was right and they were all wrong.
Among the several dozen books I read during this time period, one which my bishop gave to me and which remained untouched for months in the plastic tub which encompassed my entire life, had the greatest impact. I had no intentions of ever reading James L. Ferrell’s “The Peacegiver,” I had accepted the gift from a man I respected as to not appear rude. I’ve never been a deeply spiritual person, my faith is quite distinct, both in its origin and its progression, and I had less than zero interest at the time in proselytization. I don’t believe Ferrell intended his preeminent text to be observed through a distorted wordly lense such as mine, but it was nonetheless deeply spiritual for me. I read these passages, over and over and over again:
“Being mistreated is the most important condition of mortality, for eternity itself depends on how we view those who mistreat us.”pg. 33
“…forgiveness was for the one who was forgiving, not the one who was being forgiven…”pg. 65
“My peace is not determined by others- whether they be righteous or not- but by myself.”pg. 136
I spent countless nights alone, unable to sleep, focusing on my shortcomings and pondering about how my life might be different if I could just do a few things better – if I could just be “normal”. I felt like a total failure; not only an outcast, but like my very existence was a burden to everybody I came in contact with. What those words helped me realize is that I needed to forgive those who had mistreated me, and most of all, forgive myself. My peace was determined not by how the woman who I had vowed my life to now saw me, but how I viewed myself. Holding onto that guilt and anger wasn’t hurting anybody but the man in the mirror. I could die an apathetic martyr or rediscover alpha and live. My choice.
It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in six-months. It’s been more than a handful of years and is still admittedly a work in progress. The process, unfortunately, has also not been devoid of casualties. I left a wake of destruction in the form of personal relationships. But, I learned to accept and forgive. Like a muscle, I had to totally break down in order to rebuild myself bigger, stronger, and more resilient. In overcoming these struggles, even if they were primarily self-imposed, I forgave myself for past transgressions, developed an indestructible sense of confidence, and regained my self-worth. The struggle saved my life, figuratively and possibly literally, and provided a clear path for the happiness that I have today.
Forgive those who have hurt you. Forgive yourself. Live.