Into the Deep – Chapter 2. Into the Day

Peeved with myself for getting bent out of shape over having damp hands and wrists, I head downstairs to the kitchen. My posture feels strange today. I’m stooped and leaning a little to one side. I hold my head tilted a little to the left, and I bend forward slightly as I shuffle to the top of the stairs and reach for the banister. My movements are jerky, not fluid. And everything feels like it’s moving in the slowest of slow motion.

I’m feeling clumsier than usual this morning, and as I move slowly down the stairs, I hang on tightly to the railing. A dull roar is rushing in my ears, and I feel like I’m 75 feet under water. I try to move quietly, but the creaking of the wooden stairs screeches through my head like nails on a chalkboard. No matter how lightly I try to walk, the wooden steps complain at my weight. Despite the muffled effect on my ears, my hearing is acute… painful… picking up everything around me like a high-powered lavaliere microphone. As I descend from the second floor, the creaking and screeching and scraping doesn’t make it easier for me to keep my balance. It’s distracting, keeping me from concentrating on Just One Thing – my descent.

It feels like everything is conspiring, this morning, to prevent me moving smoothly into my day, and waves of frustration churn in the back of my mind. I can’t indulge that emotion right now, though; I force myself to concentrate on keeping my balance so I don’t fall. It’s more important that I reach the bottom of the stairs, than that I feel positive about the whole experience.

Near the bottom of the stairs, the light switch protrudes from the wall and rakes my knuckles, and I silently curse whoever built this house for putting the switch where it can hurt my hand. I’ve bruised myself on that switch numerous times – especially in the first weeks after my partner and I first moved in – and I’ve gotten in the habit of moving my hand away from it at the bottom step. But today I forgot, and my knuckles are paying the price.

At last, I reach the bottom of the stairs. Our two cats are waiting for me in the kitchen. They await with great expectation, knowing that our routine is the same every morning. First, I’ll put water on for coffee, then I’ll feed them their first wet food of the day, make my cup of coffee, sit down and write notes (sometimes petting the cats who come over for attention)… then I’ll head back upstairs and get in the shower, get dressed, check in with my beloved to wish her a good day, and head out to work.

This precise sequence of events usually works well for me. But this morning seems different than others – it feels more difficult, more challenging. As I cross the kitchen to collect the items I need to feed the cats and make my coffee, I find myself walking on my tip-toes. It feels a little strange, walking like that, but when my heels strike the floor, the thud of my heels on the floor reverberates through my whole body and thunders in my ears. I feel the vibration travel up through my hypersensitive body and drive like a spike into the center of my eardrums. Most mornings, when my ears are acting up, it just thuds loudly in my head, when I walk normally. But today, the sensation of the vibration through my body is intolerable. It’s too much. Too much for me this morning. Keeping on tip-toes is the one thing that spares my ears from the thudding vibrations, that relieves the full-body throbbing pain that radiates from something as innocuous and mundane as walking across the kitchen.

I feel odd and awkward when I step gingerly. I hate how loud “simple” footsteps can be. It’s stupid. So, so annoying. But today – as with many other days – there’s not a thing I can do about it, except keep my heels from contacting the floor. I feel feel insecure and self-conscious, but other than the cats watching me with great anticipation, no one else is around feed my sense of strangeness. There’s no one to interrupt my focus with questions about why I’m doing it, and nobody’s going to make fun of the unlikely sight of a grown woman tip-toeing across the kitchen. So I go ahead and carefully cross the linoleum plain that separates me from the far counter.

The cats don’t mind my herky-jerky motions this morning. If anything, they’re delighted that I stick with our routine. They have no problem with my stilted gait, as long as I’m on my way to prepare their food. They prize my predictability, too, which is a good thing, because I generally cannot tolerate any break in the usual pace of my mornings. Especially not this morning. If I lose my place in the sequence, I get confused, I forget what I’m doing, and there are consequences. When I get “lost”, I fall behind and don’t do the things I’m supposed to do. At home, I get in trouble for forgetting things, and at work, I get in trouble for lagging behind and letting things fall between the cracks.

If I have to think too much about what I’m doing in the morning – because my automatized routine is broken – everything feels like it’s falling apart. Including me. I literally feel like I’m tipping over, if I have to stop and figure out what I’m doing… and then what comes next… and next… and what comes after that. When my mind isn’t locked onto the immediate environment around me, and I’m not going through familiar motions, I can’t maintain my equilibrium. Waves of nausea roil up in me, churning up anxious frustration… and then I’m off to a bad start for the rest of the day. I’ve often heard it said that autistic routines are inexplicable, pointless, and a pathological sign of disorder, but the people who came up with that idea apparently have no idea what it’s like to have to function like this, off balance, in a state of hyper-alert sensory overwhelm, each and every day.

When I’m in rough shape, like today, routine makes total sense. With a set series of predictable steps I can follow without thinking, I can literally keep my balance. I can anticipate the actions I’ll be taking, I know what to expect in terms of sensory input and coordinated motion. I don’t have to think my way through each and every action I take, so if I feel like I’m losing my balance, I can right myself and put all my attention on my body’s state instead of the heady business of “simple” logistics. Routine saves me like nothing else.

I can’t stop my world, just because I’m off balance. I can’t give up on my day, just because I’m ultra-sensitive to the feel of water on my hands and wrists. I have to get to work. I need to earn the money that pays the bills. I need to get on with my day. I need to live my life like any functioning adult who’s supporting a household.

Routines enable me to do just that… and keep my balance at the same time. Both figuratively and literally.

As I move around the kitchen, my movements are slow and stiff, measured and almost robotic. I have to keep my posture ramrod straight and turn my entire body at once. I cannot move my head independently of my body, or it swirls wildly and I feel nauseous. I cannot allow my head and neck and torso to be out of alignment, or I start to stumble and lose my balance. Everything seems to be going in slow motion, and I have a certain sense of unreality as I go through motions I watch myself following, but can’t quite feel. When I lift the teakettle off the stove to see how much water is in it, my arm feels both heavy and light at the same time. As I fill it with water from the spigot, the splashing echoes loudly in my ears and jars me. When I set the full kettle on the stove, the sound of its metal bottom making contact with the glass cooktop sounds like a rifle shot, and I jump. Even the click of the control knob on the stove strikes hard against my eardrums.

I walk back across the kitchen on my tip-toes. I feel self-conscious and try walking heel-first, but the THUDs echo through my head like a series of thunderclaps, and I rise again on the balls of my feet. The heel-to-toe movement that everybody just takes for granted is not working at all, this morning. But besides avoiding pain, there’s a positive benefit to walking on tip-toes: it helps me better keep my balance. Walking heel-first puts me off my center and disorients me. But I use more and different muscles to raise myself on my toes, and that helps me balance.

What’s that sound? I think the cats are meowing, but I can’t hear them very well. They sound like they’re far off in the distance. I’m so intent on keeping my balance, working so hard to block out everything except staying upright, they could be meowing at the tops of their lungs, and I probably wouldn’t hear them. The roaring in my ears is deafening, numbing, inescapable, and not much is getting through. My eardrums feel sore and thick, aching and pulsing with intermittent poking pains. Out in the yard, I hear the uneven squabble of birds congregating around the birdfeeder. My hearing is so irregular, they sound muffled and distant, one second, then sharply Right-Here, the next. It’s startling, this variability, but I can’t think about it. My head is spinning. My breathing is tight, constricted. From the corner of my eye, I catch sight of blue jays fluttering and diving and swooping around juncos, as a cardinal lets out a loud CHIP with a flash of red. I turn my head away, so I’m not distracted from my progress across the room.

Never mind all that, I tell myself. It’s time to feed the cats.

I reach the other side of the kitchen and stabilize myself against the counter. Now comes the reward for all that work. Now comes the relief. I can go on autopilot now, as I re-enact a regular ritual that never changes. The cats expect me to feed them in a certain way at a certain time, every single day, and they are rarely disappointed. This step-by-step process – which they observe intently as though I were a mouse… or the red dot of a laser pointer – involves roughly the same sequence of actions, which is both a reward and a relief for me after my trek across the room.

First, there’s the ceremonious opening thunk of the food cupboard door (accompanied by meowing and some fidgeting of cats), whereupon I ceremoniously scan the collection of cans for their first wet food of the day and identify which is the appropriate choice. They can’t have the same kind of food every single day or they lose interest in other kinds, and that’s no good. If I can’t remember what they ate yesterday, I glance down in the recycling container to see what labels of spent cat food cans are most visible, and I choose one I haven’t served up lately. After a moment or two of deliberation, I pull out a can, crack back the pull-tab and open it with a flourish. Then I turn to the dish cupboard immediately to the left and pull open the cabinet door with another thunk of the metal latch releasing. As the cats’ meowing intensifies, I look inside, get their designated dishes out, and place them deliberately on the counter. The cats are now meowing at a fever pitch and circling hungrily in the middle of the kitchen, as the smell of fresh cat food fills my nose. Arranging the plates in front of me, I rinse cat food and juice off the underside of the lid and discard it in the recycling bin. I reach over and pull a fork out of the dish drainer to my left, then divide the food between the two dishes. Feeding takes place separately for each cat, in their own separate eating area, and as I lift the dishes off the counter – one in each hand – the cats yowl and howl as though they’ve never been fed in their lives.

This routine works well for all of us. Especially me, on a day like today. It orients me and keeps me moving in the right direction. It keeps me focused and able to function, even when I’m in rough shape. Like today.

As I commence our day-starting ritual, an irregular muddled jumble of individual noises rises and falls around me with sounds both sharp and distinct, and muffled. The sound of kettle starting to simmer on the stove sends a metallic HHHSSSSSSS up and down my spine, chilling me and setting my teeth on edge. The birds in the back yard call with piercing songs and cries that pepper me like so much buckshot from a well-aimed shotgun pointed into the fog that surrounds me. The cupboard latches create loud claps when I pull them open, startling me and echoing through my head with sharp reverberations. There’s the whooshing sound of my sweatshirt fabric as I move my arms… the distant rumble of the furnace in the basement kicking on… the deafening clank of objects on the kitchen counter – leftover dishes from the night before, utensil containers, various bottles and jars – I have to push out of the way to make room for catfood prep. My head feels like it’s wrapped in cotton batting, and my sense of where I am in space is completely skewed. As I move things around on the counter, I bump into the edge of the counter and my hand slams into the corner of the spice rack, then bumps the cat food can away from me. But I don’t feel any of it. I’m too focused on wrapping my fingers around the cat food can and pulling it out without dropping it.

Bombarded by sounds and sensations – dizziness, anxiousness about falling, and the distracting circling cats – my system is getting too overloaded with input to process. What am I doing? What am I doing? Stick with the plan… I pick a can of cat food and pop open the lid. The snap of the lid coming loose makes me jump, and I steel my nerves as the pungent scent of juicy wet food throws off my concentration, and I feel the world spinning around me again. The scent has sent the increasingly impatient cats into in an increasingly frantic dance of hunger. They’re desperately – and loudly – pining for their food, but their meowing seems to fade into the distance, as I force my attention back on what’s in front of me. Rinse the top of the dish. Get a fork out of the dish drainer. Get the dishes – now.

I pull the dish cupboard door open, then I jump, startled. The cats’ food dishes are not where I expect them to be, and a sudden wave of panic wells up in me. My heart pounds and my head spins. Where are the food dishes?! They’re supposed to be in the cupboard, on the left side of the second shelf! They should be there. They’re always there. Where are they now?!

I feel as though I’m being lifted on a swell of adrenaline, and then dropped into the trough between heaving stormy waves, before I’m swept up again. My reaction feels completely out of proportion. Logically, I know that missing dishes are not the end of the world, but something in me revolts at any deviation from the expected.

As I turn my head look around the kitchen, searching for the cats’ food dishes, it spins with vertigo. I’m upset by the waves of nausea – not this againand equally upset by the missing dishes. I look around the kitchen anxiously, seething and upset at this break in my usual routine, then I spot the saucers. They’re soaking in a wash tub in the sink, the remains of yesterday’s meals still crusted to their surface. Another rush of anger and frustration rises in me, and I curse silently that these plates didn’t get washed the night before. This is out of order. Everything is out of order. I am out of order. It’s too much, this early in the morning.

Quelling the wave of crashing emotion, I pause for a moment to collect myself and let my system settle down. It’s no good if I clean the plates in this state. It just makes everything worse. I take a deep breath. I do feel a little reassured that I found the plates, and I resolve to just get on with fixing our collective breakfasts.

Running warm water over my hands as I wash the saucers, I’m soothed for a few minutes. I can catch my breath. I can relax. The flowing stream seems to rinse away my tension along with the bits of cat food. I rub at the surfaces of the dishes, relishing the feel of the smooth, clean surface. As irritated as I was with the sight of them lying dirty in the sink, the clean feel of them restores a sense of order with me. Ahhh… that’s better. But when I turn the water off, however, and dry off my hands, I again start to feel agitated and tense.

Augh!

Not this again. As I try to clean off the cats’ food dishes, I have a hard time sensing their surface. I have a hard time holding them securely in my hands. My wet hands feel clumsy, slippery, uncertain, and I worry fleetingly that I’ll drop the plates. Short “films” of dishes falling and breaking into a hundred pieces flash across the screen of my mind, and when I imagine bending down to pick all up, my head spins and my stomach heaves. That’s no good. It’s no good at all. I fight it back, pulling my attention back to my hands, back to the dishes, deliberately ignoring the gnawing worry in the pit of my stomach.

Time is wasting. I need to feed the cats, and I need to do it quickly. The kettle is nearly boiling, now, water rumbling in its metal belly. The cats are now insistently getting underfoot, which makes me even more anxious. I can easily trip on them. I nudge them out of the way… careful… careful… trying not to kick them as I concentrate on getting their food served up exactly right, as speedily as humanly possible.

I dry off the plates, set them in front of me on the counter, and dish out the food in exact proportions – two thirds of the wet food for the older cat, one third for the younger. The older cat needs to put on weight, while the younger one needs to lose some serious pounds. I move slowly, as I deliberately divide up their food. The older cat throws up, if she gets too much wet food in the morning. And if that happens, either I will need to clean it up – and have to bend over to wipe the floor, thus inducing yet more nausea and vertigo on my already taxed system… or my partner will need to clean it up, which is an awful way to wake up in the morning.

I also need to take special care with myself. My head is spinning. I lean against the counter as I shape the little mounds of wet food, and when I pick up the dishes and turn to deliver them to my feline taskmasters, I move at a snail’s pace, keeping my body precisely aligned, my head inclined at a slight angle that will keep me from throwing up.

I put the food down for the older cat first, and I lead the younger cat into the laundry room, because he tends to eat quickly and then crowds the older cat away from her dish. She’s too old to fight him off, and he’s nearly twice her size. The younger cat knows the drill and follows me, just like he does every single morning, and I bend down carefully to position his dish. Once he’s begun eating and I know he’s not going to make a run for the older cat’s food, I step out and close the door behind me.

I have to keep mindful of the younger cat in the laundry room, because sometimes I get so caught up in what I am doing, I accidentally leave the house for work without letting the cat out. Fortunately, the younger cat is pretty vocal about what he needs. When he’s not happy with being stuck in the laundry room, he cries at the door and scratches to be let out. Most days, I notice. But some days, I don’t.

After I feed the cats, I turn my attention to my own breakfast. The kettle is boiling, and the shriek puts my teeth on edge. But when I take it off the hot burner, the sudden silence sends a wave of relief through me. It’s time to make my coffee. I set up my two coffee mugs with my one-cup drip filter. I always use the same two mugs every morning; they’re my favorite mugs, for sentimental reasons. The smaller of the two I’ve had with me since college. It was one of the first things that I actually bought for myself because I wanted to buy it, when I first started college. I’ve used it regularly for over 25 years.

The other mug is a larger one that I got one Christmas from my partner’s family. It’s light blue with a line drawing of a local mountain range on it, and it reminds me of the connection that I have with my in-laws, who have been very accepting and loving and inclusive of me for all 20 years my partner and I have been together. When I first met them, I was extremely withdrawn and shy and reluctant to interact with them, I felt extremely out of place – and I was. We’re from very different regions of the U.S., and the ways in which we view and interact with the world are fundamentally very different, even without my individual issues. I wasn’t anything like any of them, and I felt like a weird outsider.

Now, within the circle of my own blood relations, the way I behave is not always perceived as very strange. My whole family shares many, if not most, of my idiosyncratic traits (I inherited a lot of them, after all), so my behavior is not always perceived as abnormal when I’m around them. Admittedly, the way I act can be a little extreme and quirkier than the rest of my kin, and it gets even more problematic when I’m stressed, but the rest of my family (and the world they live in) is so much like me, they’ve never seemed to perceive any glaring problems. At least, they rarely made an huge issue of it, when I was growing up.

But like the rest of the mainstream world, my in-laws do see that I am “different”. And over the years, they’ve helped me learn to socialize with people outside the little world I was raised in. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with me, as I am, but dealing with mainstream people has always been a challenge. But through a lot of love and acceptance and practice on all sides, I’ve “polished” the socially rough edges of my default state and learned how to interact effectively with friends, family, and strangers, alike. Now, when my partner and I visit, I can interact with them much more fluidly. (On the outside, anyway.) Looking at that mug each morning reminds me that even if I’m at a total loss, socially, I can learn better how to interact with people. Even if I’m not the most socially adept, I do have the capacity to learn. My in-laws have shown me it’s possible. And that blue mug reminds me.

After I place the one-cup filter holder on top of the larger mug, I take a brown #4 paper coffee filter out of the box, fold it precisely along the two seamed sides and place it carefully in the filter. That’s the way I’ve found most effective for dripping coffee. It allows the water to drain through, while strengthening the naturally weakened seamed sides. I then measure out a heaping scoop of coffee from our shiny, cobalt blue ceramic coffee holder, followed by 4/5 of a scoop. I do it that way just because it seems like the right thing to do. I know the amount probably comes out to two even scoops, but there’s something about having a mounded first scoop and a second scoop that’s not quite full, that’s very satisfying to me. On days when I “mess up” and do not measure my coffee in just this way, I become agitated, and it puts me off my pace from the very start of the day.

When the setup is complete, I carefully pour the boiling water into my coffee-filled filter. I generally do this in three passes.

In the first pass, I fill the coffee filter up to the top with boiling water. I love to watch water mound up with the surface tension, and I delight in watching how it interacts with the coffee grounds, swirling and soaking them, lumping them together. But sometimes I lose my grip on the kettle, and I pour more water than I want to, breaking the surface tension and sending a brown waterfall over the edge of the filter holder. I get so agitated – absolutely beside myself – when this happens. Some days, it actually sends me into a rage. This morning, I’m paying extra-close attention. My attention fixed on the filter, I watch the level of the coffee water sink gradually, listening to the splash in the cup as it drips down. Sometimes I have to adjust the paper filter because the hole gets blocked and it doesn’t flow as quickly as I’d like. When that happens, a little flash of frustration wells up in me, and I want to lash out. Send the cups and coffee flying with a good swat of my hand. Throw something. But then I’d have to clean it up… Never mind. Today I barely have the presence of mind to go through my routine, let alone melt down, so I direct my anger by paying closer attention to the process of making my coffee.

When the coffee has drained into the mug, I lift up the coffee filter I look at how much coffee is in there – it’s usually about three quarters of the way full to the top of the mug, so I put the coffee filter back down and pour more boiling water on top of it, filling the filter up again to the top. I then I lift the filter up a little bit to see how quickly the coffee level is rising in the remainder of the cup.

Once the water gets pretty close to the top of my blue mug – within about a quarter of an inch or so from the brim – I quickly move the coffee filter holder to the top of my smaller mug, and I let the rest of the coffee pour into it. As the coffee drips, I pour in more hot water, filling the filter to the top, hoping that it’s going to be the right amount to fill my second mug without me having to make another pass at it. Making another pass – having to gauge how much more water to pour into the filter at the very end – can be stressful for me and agitate me, first thing in the morning. Thankfully, today, all goes well and my coffee is prepared without another incident or deviation from my plan.

This ritual is so important to me. It’s a set of specific steps that I prize each day. They keep me stable, they keep me centered, and I need to follow them all in silence, with only the sound of the cats eating in the background.

I sometimes make myself a bowl of cold cereal, but this morning I decide to make myself some oatmeal with the extra boiling water. I rip open the paper packet of instant oatmeal in a smooth, satisfying movement, relishing the soft tearing sound and pouring the powdery meal into a cereal bowl. I pour steaming hot water into my oatmeal, stirring and stirring it to just the right runny consistency.

There’s just one last step with my coffee. Turning to the refrigerator (which fortunately is just to my right), I open the freezer and take out an ice tray. I examine the tray to see where the larger cubes are, and I get one that’s not too small. Then I put the tray back in the freezer and slip the cube into the larger mug of coffee. I don’t drop it in, because then it splashes everywhere and that sets me off. I try to slip it smoothly into the cup, so that it bobs easily on the surface without too much wake.

I love to watch what happens to the ice when it hits the hot water. I love to watch how it melts. Sometimes a trapped air bubble will release with a little poof, or the ice will crack and snap in the heat. That startles me a little, but I enjoy thinking about the structure of freezing water that produces a dynamic reaction from seemingly inert materials. Sometimes I hold the cube between my fingers and dip it down in the hot coffee, so the ice melts uniformly in a straight line with the hot surface of the coffee. Sometimes I create little ice sculptures, holding and turning the cube this way and that, letting the hot coffee chisel its horizon into the frozen water. If I had the time and independent means to indulge this fascination, I would probably spend a lot of time creating sculptures like this, like a small-scale Andrew Goldsworthy. I’ve thought a lot about how I would hold the ice cube – how I would get a caliper or an ice pick of some kind… how I would hold the cube in the hot liquid, and for how long… how I would preserve the cubist ice sculptures in a cold room paid for by avant garde art enthusiasts and/or patrons… how I would exhibit my creations in a warm world… how I would feel about creating the sculptures, as I made them .. But right now, there’s no time to pursue that obscure passion. I have to make a living, and I have a job to do. So, my career as a natural-materials sculptor will have to wait.

When my coffee is all prepared, with one of mug cooled and ready to drink, and the other about to be cooled by time, I carry my mugs and oatmeal into the dining room and sit down at the table with my breakfast and my log book, my daily journal. I keep a daily journal of things I need to get done that day, things I did the day before, and other notes that seem important to me. I’m not sure how much I can actually write, today. This morning feels like more of a challenge than usual. Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion. I have a muddled sense of unreality… I cannot hear very well, and I cannot think clearly.

Willing myself to be present, I set down the mugs and bowl of oatmeal to my right, on top of a napkin, so they don’t accidentally dampen the place mat underneath them, and I pull out my notebook. I always use the exact same kind of notebook – 3-hole punched, spiral bound, college-ruled 8×10” – and I usually use the same pen – a good, solid clickable ballpoint pen that takes refills. I relish the familiar feel of the pen’s weight in my hand, which balances me and soothes me. Writing by hand is tremendously comforting to me, too. There’s something about the rhythmic movement of the pen, the sensation of its tip moving across the paper, and the stillness of it, that soothes me. I’ve been writing like this for decades, and it’s long since become an regular aspect of my soothing daily routine.

Keeping a journal is a part of my daily ritual that’s emotionally very important to me and is an integral part of my practical life for more than 25 years. I have been writing each morning on a daily basis for all my adult life; I started keeping a journal (irregularly) in my teen years, but then my writing became more important – almost compulsive, in some ways. I have tens of notebooks filled with my thoughts, feelings, and experiences that I recorded during the course of my life. They fill banker’s boxes stacked in the basement, as well as under-bed boxes in my bedroom. My journal-keeping for the most part has been about keeping track of my internal world, my exclusively internal experience, to ease the pressure of daily living and to soothe the agitation that I felt. But since the end of 2007, I’ve also been logging my external experiences, in order to see what is really going on in the world around me. I need to track the outside world things that happen to me, and track things that I do in response – things that I say, things that I experience, some of which turn out to be poor choices and get me in trouble.

As I push my pen across the paper, documenting what happened the day before, writing about what I hope will happen later today, tracking my thoughts, my activities, my impressions, and looking for patterns… I find it difficult to put into words what actually happened, and I then I have to pause and think back to reconstruct the exact course of events of yesterday. Some days, I will write down what I think is the beginning of what happened. But then I’ll remember that there were several events that happened immediately prior to that. I often start in the middle and work back towards the beginning and then have to work forward toward the end. Today is no exception.

I look up at the clock and I see I’m about 20 minutes behind my planned schedule.

I am getting lost. I have lost track of time.

I finish my notes quickly and put away my notebook till tomorrow. Then I carefully take my one empty coffee mug and empty oatmeal bowl into the kitchen, rinse them out, dry my hands thoroughly. I let the meowing younger cat out of the laundry room, and take my remaining half-full mug of coffee upstairs with me to drink after I take my shower. I move stiffly and robotically, pivoting on my toes as I move. I’m feeling a little better after my breakfast, but my motions are stiff and jerky, and I’m feeling anything but coordinated, this morning.

I move painfully slowly up the stairs, hanging onto the railing and putting one foot carefully in front of the other. Irritation wells up in me, but I press on.