To Lauren Dunn

Lauren,

It’s been five years since I got the call, thankfully from my father, that I would never see you again. Five years since I’ve seen you last. Five years of trying to deal with that day.

I went to your funeral. It wasn’t easy for me but I wanted to be in that room with you one last time. I saw you. I mean I didn’t really see you. I saw what held you. I was there though.

Then for about 3 months I couldn’t function. I feel bad about it but for most of the fall of 2014, I cried. My weekends were so hard as I just cried and cried and cried. I couldn’t go home. At one point I was outright scared to be home alone without Amanda. I was so broken.

I recovered but at about the one year anniversary, I broke again. That’s how grief goes. It becomes real then. I couldn’t function again for a bit.

And then it stopped. After the conviction and implausible sentence of your killer, I started letting go. I moved on. I had new things to cope with. But I never forgot you.

Lauren, I want to tell you what you missed. You missed so many movies. So much gossip. So much fun. You missed parties. You missed the arcade expanding. You missed Hastings dying. And most importantly you missed Lola. Yes, Amanda did indeed get pregnant. She had a beautiful, perfect, funny little girl.

I miss that we don’t get new memories. But I cherish what we have. Seeing Scott Pilgrim. Hanging at our houses. the conventions. Newspaper. We were lucky we had each other.

Lauren I miss you. And I will always love you.
Austin

When I needed to escape: September 2010

Note: I’m still kinda flailing to figure out if I’ll ever assemble another book. I have no idea if this will be part of it. But I like this story. So enjoy.

There have been many nights in my life I struggle with discussing. Many days too but hell follows me mostly at night. What night haunts me the most? Of all my many meltdowns, my many mistakes, one haunts me forever.

I remember almost nothing of the day leading up. I’m sure it was a boringly normal day. I know it doesn’t matter to the story. Doomsday rarely gives signs of its approach.

What I remember is this. I remember a billing issue with my satellite radio. I remember having a violent meltdown at work filled with screaming. I remember finding out I was wrong. I remember getting yelled at by my coworkers. I remember leaving. I remember having dinner with my dad. I remember going home.

That’s not a satisfying story but here’s the truth. I’ve blocked most of the details. There’s a cloud in my mind over that night. It’s something I don’t want to look back at. I remember the disastrous events of my time in West Memphis in crushing detail but this? My mind blocked.

So why tell a story that isn’t one? Because you need to know I had a meltdown the night before I did the most drastic thing I’ve ever done to escape my illness.

At dawn, after a night of almost no sleep, I got in my car and I drove. I got on I-40 and I drove because I decided I was going to spend the day in Memphis.

See right at that moment I hated myself so much. I had just laid bare exactly how autistic I was. I had just given the newsroom a complete floor show of screaming and crying. There was no doubt how broken I was. I was so humiliated. I wanted to vanish. I couldn’t vanish and I wasn’t suicide prone. So I pulled the next best thing. I ran.

Getting in my car felt powerful that morning. As the sky hung gray above me, I thought I was getting free of me. Sure I hadn’t taken a single standard trip step. There was no CD. There was no Mountain Dew in the car. No gas. But I was going!

I made it 1/4 of the way.

I stopped in Carlisle to get gas and Dew. When I got out of my car, I was hit with a wave of nausea. What the hell was I doing? I wasn’t ready to go to Memphis. I didn’t want to go somewhere happy under this cloud. I was out of my mind, literally.

I did grab a bottle of Dew. I did gas up. But stopping made me see a truth. I was running from myself. And what the hell would that accomplish? I threw my meltdown. That would not and could not be erased. Just as the ones to come, for there will always be those, could not. You can’t outrun what you’ve done.

So what did I do instead? I didn’t go home. Oh hell no I didn’t. What I did instead was run to Benton. I took out a hundred bucks because I needed a different form of escape. I bought a hardcover Archie set and a DVD set of The Office. I embraced what I loved to keep me ok.

A few weeks later I went to Memphis. I had two trip CDs. An audiobook and an Elvis set. It was a great trip.

Fine Again Or Thoughts In The Wake of An Anxiety Attack

I need to write this.

I need to say aloud that yes I’ve not been well. I’ve been recovering from an anxiety attack the last few days. A rather violent one. One of the hardest I’ve faced in years.

What brought it on? A combination of factors. Being sick definitely caused it. A lack of sleep impacted things. The summer heat gets blame. Interpersonal stress gets a share. Financial stress too. Internalizing a lot of anxiety about autism as well. Guilt over my failings as a person plays an underrated role.

And it wasn’t one moment of breaking. 2-3 separate incidents of fracture leading to a giant break at midweek. The giant fracture hogs the attention but the smaller ones were just as culpable.

I look at where I am and I feel fear. I feel fear I’ve damaged my life. When I devolve like I do I alienate people. My friends MUST be tired of dealing with me. I know that. I know exactly how awful I am. My coworkers must absolutely HATE me. They should even. I’ve made their lives hell! As for my family? Well I’m just sorry.

All of this feeds itself. It kinda has to. I look at who I am and I’m not liking it. Every criticism I’ve gotten lately springs from my inner monologue and hearing it from others hurts. I’m genuinely sorry. I know I’m a person of bad habits.

And here’s the kicker: I’m already recovering and by the time I reach my emergency scheduled therapy appointment I’ll be fine. I’m gonna be just fine. I am indeed getting better. I’ve been on fire at work the last three nights with a wildly ambitious schedule ahead. I’m working with friends. I’m healing physically. I really will do ok.

Recovery is so weird to me. In the pit you think you can’t ascend even as you are rising. It’s unreal. But the mind is built to do this.

Part of why we get to the pit is to see that we’re facing issues we’re not done with. That’s true for me. I’m not recovered from my childhood trauma. Reading and writing about Autism Speaks reminded me that. I’m feeling acutely aware that I’m autistic in a world that’s not high on that. I’m not at peace.

So right now I have a plan of action. I’m limiting my presence on Twitter mostly to limit my own words. I’m limiting my Facebook use to close friends. I moved up my therapy session. As always I’m on my meds. I live immersed in art I like. I am going to work on me.

Bear with me until then. I’m sick. I’ll be better.

Thanks to Chris Janisko, Connor Clay, Jason Wells, Lance Rutt and Sebastian Moreno for their support. If you want to see more content like this, support me here.

The 5 Stages of Grief For The Newly Diagnosed Autistic Person Dealing With Non-Autistic People

So, you’ve been diagnosed with autism. Good news. Nothing in your life should actually change. Are you still you? Of course you are. This is just a medical diagnosis that will enable you to get greater access to the care you need. You have a framework that will do you a world of good going forward.

Too bad you have to deal with people who aren’t autistic. To anybody with the condition, it’s obvious we’re dealing with no more limitations than anyone else. But NAs as I’ll call them see it very differently. They see us as hopelessly broken, unsolvable problems. They are going to make your life a living hell.

What follows is a guide to the five stages of grief* as conceived by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and how they can help you deal with the painful realization you’re about to spend the rest of your life dealing with people who think you’re subhuman based on a diagnosis that scares them so much they’ve resurrected literal plagues. These can be experienced in any order for any period of time but you should expect to see all 5.

Denial
You can’t believe it. You’re no different than you were before. Why should people treat you differently? And true the people you know closest to you won’t change their view of you. In fact they probably knew you were autistic long before you did. This article is not about them. It’s about society as a whole. And you’re not going to believe it. You can’t believe autism fears are what drive the anti-vaccination movement even though they are. You can’t believe Sesame Street would choose an organization that fear mongers for advice over actually autistic people. You certainly don’t believe Autism Speaks hates you. I mean look how much money they pump into…well…um talking about it. No, nothing will change. Sadly the only way to pass this stage is to do some reading on autism by NAs who aren’t Steve Silberman or Graeme Simsion and not recognize yourself at all. That’ll send you to:

Anger
You’re never going to truly leave this stage. Sorry. You will stay angry even if it fades. So angry. Why? Well you’ll encounter the doctor who tells you you have to make eye contact or never get a job. You’ll discover friends of friends who question if you can live independently. You’ll meet people who will shame you if you can’t. You’ll read a paper from Autism Speaks comparing a child’s autism diagnosis to their death and which talks about them as if they were a problematic pet. Look, you are never going to stop being angry and that’s okay. It actually helps you later on. The hard stage? That’s:

Bargaining
Here is a tricky path. Many of the things you should be doing for you satisfy them. You should be in therapy, definitely. You should be on medication. Not having nightmarish anxiety will floor you. But you must be careful. You are not looking to cure yourself. You can’t. You are you and that’s FINE. ABA? Run from it. You should not do anything that causes you pain just to satisfy NAs. You are not changing to fit into their world. You are trying to be the best you and anything they force on you to make them happy does not count! Because you’re not going to satisfy them, welcome to:

Depression
This is permanent too. Sorry. It shouldn’t be. But the weight of the anger you feel over what they say about you and the frustration you feel at being able to make them happy will crush you. You’re going to find a lot of pain having to live on guard that you have to be careful about identifying as autistic just to avoid the terrible comments. It’ll get better with time but only through:

Acceptance
Here is the beauty of the internet. You will discover you aren’t alone. You will find others. You will get support. The most painful thing to happen to you is common to them. You will find that you are normal no matter what you’ve been told. You will see that you have strength. And you will see that truly nothing will stop you anymore than the limitations everyone has regardless of their brain chemistry. Will you always be angry? Yes. Will you always be sad? Yes. But that’s not because of you. It’s because of them. And once you accept that, your life will be a joy.

*Real talk: I love this model. I’ve done extensive research into grief and lived it more than I like. This model is used for parody of Autism Speaks but it is sound.

Thanks to Chris Janisko, Connor Clay, Jason Wells, Lance Rutt and Sebastian Moreno for their support. If you want to see more content like this, support me here.

Review: The Immortal Hulk (Issues 1-21) by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett

This is a patreon request by Jason Wells. If you want to commission a review, click here.

The Hulk has had more status quos than most characters starting at the beginning when Bruce Banner turned into a gray monster at night. Since then he’s turned green (mostly) when triggered by anger. He’s been super intelligent. He’s been mindless. He’s been a gladiator. He’s been a bouncer. He’s been a SHIELD agent. He’s been a John Carter style hero. The beauty of the Hulk is he can be anything.

But has he ever been a horror book? Sure we know the Hulk is a “monster but has his book ever really been a horror title? Not really. There’s been hints of it but only hints. In a universe with literal Dracula as a major threat, Bruce Banner is just another superhero.

In fact in the ultimate mark of how not viewed as horror he is, the great Dread Central ran a review of the (excellent) 2008 film only to face castigating. Their defense was The Incredible Hulk is a kaiju film and a damn good one so yes they reviewed it. I’m with them.

Regardless of what we’ve had, there’s no debate about The Immortal Hulk, the current book by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett. It’s horror. It’s strong horror. It’s at times so hard to read you want to avert your eyes horror. It’s, pardon the pun, incredible horror.

The status quo this time is easily the darkest yet. Bruce Banner can be killed. He gets killed multiple times in the book. But come nightfall, he gets back up, turns green and giant, and the terrifying side of the Hulk known as Devil Hulk is unleashed. He can’t be destroyed. He can’t be stopped. He may literally draw his powers from hell. This is a new take on Hulk.

Or is it? Because while Ewing and Bennett take the character in a darker direction closer to Marvel’s 70s horror books, this honestly draws hard on continuity. Peter David’s multiple Hulk personalities? They’re here. Rick Jones’ time as an Abomination. It’s here. Betty Ross becoming Red She-Hulk and Harpy? Big time here. Jack McGee from the tv show? Now a black woman named Jackie McGee but here. This is a hell of a read for Hulk fans.

That blend between the old and the new is a genius choice because it makes the tonal shift work better. This is a book that takes virtually everybody connected with the Hulk and either literally or metaphorically puts them through Hell. There is so much body horror in this book ranging from the darkest take on Hulking out ever to Betty Ross becoming a monstrous version of the Harpy. It’s a book that accepts the retcon that Banner subconsciously kept Hulk from killing…but Devil Hulk isn’t going along with it. And it’s all palatable because you can tell Ewing & his art team know their history.

The book also understands that strip away all the status quo changes and at its core, the Hulk is the story of a man outrunning his darkest nature. This was something I had thoughts on earlier this week. Bruce Banner is always running. He’s always afraid of himself. Add to his hell that he can’t even die and that’s terrifying. This book wears the skin of a 70s horror book but it bleeds gamma green.

It’s also just a damned great crafted serial. Ewing is of the Kurt Busiek school, continuity heavy and solid as it gets. He routinely writes great story after great story. The art by Bennett is stunning, grotesque yet impossible to ignore. Each issue builds to a brutal cliffhanger the next issue only ramps up.. These are how comics should be.

Jump on now!

The Difference Between Mourning 80s All Over and Channel Awesome

80s All Over ended recently. It wasn’t sudden as the cast had gone on a hiatus to figure out if it was sustainable but it ended and the effect is the same. Something that had become a regular part of my routine is now gone and won’t be coming back. 90 minutes of time I’d gotten used to is out from my schedule.

Theoretically I shouldn’t write this entry. There are literal concentration camps in this country right now and I should speak on that. I should put my emotions towards the epic state of the climate crisis. I should rage against economic inequality. Something real. But I’m not.

I’m writing this entry as a way of wrestling with a weird emotion: grief. Because I do grieve for the end of the cast. I do mourn it. Not as intensely as I did the death of a dear friend 5 years earlier. But definitely I feel a sense of loss at something I loved going away.

We don’t really discuss the way entertainment can seep into our lives. It’s surreal. We come to love the way we can count like clockwork on a new edition. And with things like Harry Potter or the end of the Infinity Saga we get a chance to steel ourselves for the end. We’re able to adjust so when those (highly satisfying) endings come we get closure and move on.

I don’t get that with 80s All Over. There’s a mountain of films I don’t get to hear discussed in the inimitable fashion of McWeeny and Weinberg. The cast ends right outside Back to the Future. I’ll never get to hear them shred Top Gun or Ghostbusters II. I have to never get the joy of hearing them get why Hellbound: Hellraiser II is so cool.

I’m left hanging, incomplete. And I don’t even have the hope that one day someone will take over. No, it’s done. And I get why it is. I get that it was too expensive, too difficult. I respect greatly the men who made it and always will.

But I’m still mad. I’m so mad I haven’t gone back to the archive yet. I should in time. But I can’t. Not yet.

I’m also so mad that I can’t move on to a new podcast. Everyone has suggestions. Some are probably precisely ideal. Some likely aren’t. But for right now when I would listen? Just hearing silence because as silly as it is, I don’t want to move on.

I wonder if it would be easier if there wasn’t another thing I lost. In the past year I’ve lost pretty much every ex/current Channel Awesome member I watched in my rotation save for Todd in the Shadows, Rap Critic, and Linkara. I’ve had to abandon those shows because there’s a hell of a lot of ugliness that’s come out about all involved and even the ones I do watch aren’t all clean.

Channel Awesome’s contributors vanishing for me hurts because it’s just as open ended but I’m the one who walked. The shows are still going. Brad Jones probably has a new episode now as I speak. But the fun times I had watching these shows are tainted because I now know what uncomfortably toxic people created them. To be blunt I regret my fandom. I endorsed faulty product and while I couldn’t know all or even any of this, I feel bad that I ever supported something I shouldn’t.

And that’s the difference. I feel safe feeling sad 80s All Over is gone. I don’t feel like I backed bad people. Based on my interactions with the men, just the opposite. And I know in a few months I’ll celebrate that at least the first half of the decade was preserved and I’ll listen straight through.

I’m going to have to deal with the frustrating impulse on CA and its crew. I won’t go back. I can’t ethically. It’s done for me.

But ultimately the net effect is the same. There is silence where there wasn’t. And in time there won’t be. I’ll find a new cast. I had to find those too after all. In time there will be a new routine. But it’ll take time.

The Hulk and Meltdowns

Imagine this situation. You’re triggered. Someone says something to you to set you off. It can be innocent or malicious. Just like that the bomb goes off. You’d been calm and collected. Now you’re a force of rage. Something is wrong and your primitive instincts take over. The primal need to fix what’s wrong. You are a force of anger and wrath. Later, when you’ve calmed down, you look back at your actions in horror. What have you done.

Yeah, I’m going to guess I’m not the only autistic person who relates hard to the Hulk.

The Hulk is often understood as an allegory for the id. He’s Bruce Banner’s vicious rage made manifest in an inhuman form. The Hulk is usually not very intelligent, a caveman essentially. He’s the emblem of brute base emotions released. It’s easy to associate him with road rage or bar fights, sudden acts of violence caused by selfish need.

But that’s not the connection I make. For the purposes of this entry, I’m ignoring all the different versions of the Hulk to focus on the most classic one. (I’ll get to those next entry!) I’m talking the guy who gets angry and becomes a giant green rage monster. That Hulk. That’s the one we all know and get.

The Hulk is a deeply relatable character for the autistic reader. He’s mostly a good guy, a nebbish even. He’s smart. He’s good at his job. He never stops trying to do right. We all would be happy to be Bruce Banner. A loving, good soul.

The problem is Bruce Banner is cursed. He carries with him this monster that lives in his brain. He knows it can come out at any time. He does all he can to avoid him. That often means self denial because giving in is too risky. He knows the consequences are dire. He’s as scared of him as the rest of the world.

Everything I just described? That’s what living with a meltdown feels like. You do all you can. You’re in therapy. You’re on meds. You control your stimuli. But it’s there, in your dna.

And then it goes off. For Banner there is no control. For you? Some but the worst meltdowns? They feel like you witness them. They’re bad. So bad.

Then there’s the aftermath. Like Banner, you’re left with ruins. But yours are smaller yet worse. With a bad meltdown maybe you don’t destroy a town, but you develop a list of places you can’t go. People you can’t talk to. Coworkers you upset. Jobs you lose.

And like Banner, the sad piano music plays as you walk away, moving on, knowing you’ll do all you can. But it’ll always come back.