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Vacation Anxiety

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So last week, my family and I went on vacation to Disney World. We drove all the way to Florida from upstate NY, which wasn’t a major deal considering I work midnights and I’m usually awake at night anyway. Then again, it was a near-24 hour drive, so yeah it kinda sucked. Sleeping in the car was no picnic with my kids singing “Let It Go” over and over again for thirteen hundred miles.

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Yes, I am fully aware that you are one with the wind and sky.

Considering my aspieness, you would think that being on vacation and messing up my normal routines would put me in a bad mood. And yes, I will admit that I end up missing my video games so much that by the end of every vacation I consider bringing my Xbox along on the next one. But it’s actually not that bad for me. I don’t mind being in a weird place because I know that the point of the trip is to experience somewhere new.

The one thing I do really need when I’m on vacation, though, is a “nothing day.” I’m fine with having lots to do on vacation; I just can’t have every moment of every day filled up with activities. If I don’t get any time to relax, then it just feels like work. And when I’m on vaca, bumming around in a cramped hotel room watching non-HD local sports and eating vending machine food is relaxing for me.

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I am so there.

So, as I said, the family and I went to Disneyworld. I don’t know if you know this, but it seems to be a very popular place to visit. My GOD was it crowded. And it was in the middle of the school year! What terrible parents these people must be, pulling their kids out of school to go to an amusement park! Excluding us, of course.  🙂

Anyway, yeah, LOTS of people. But you know what? I handled it fine. My daughter handled it fine. See, it’s not really people themselves that freak us aspies out, it’s the social interaction that goes with being around people. Most aspies are perfectly fine if they can blend in anonymously with a crowd. That’s what Disney felt like;  it felt like walking through Times Square in New York City – tons of people around, but nobody paying attention to anybody else around them. It was great! We had a great time. The kids really enjoyed the rides and stuff, and my wife and I enjoyed being able to act like kids without looking creepy.

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Shit like this don’t fly anywhere else.

The vacation was practically stress free, except for the Disney germs we all came down with when we got back home. I didn’t expect the most stressful part of my trip would be going back to work and having to talk abou my vacation with my coworkers. But that’s another post entirely.  🙂

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Picturing Aspergers

(It only took me to March to get posting again… not bad, right?)

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There’s nothing I hate more than having my picture taken. It’s not bad enough that I think I look terrible in about 96.318% of the photos I’m in – my wife will argue that it’s way less than that… okay fine, 95.279%, better? Everyone seems to have that problem. My problem is the actual taking of the picture. I can never have my picture taken without standing there and feeling like a complete ass.

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“When you said ‘cheese’ I thought you meant the camera was made of cheese.”

Think about the whole process for a second. I am extremely uncomfortable making eye contact with other people. Now, I have someone pointing a camera at me, most likely zooming in close on my face. It’s very intimidating. At least in regular situations I know when people are looking at me so I can avoid eye contact. With the camera in the way, I’m flying blind. My defenses are down! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!!!!

Hence problem number 1: I always end up looking away from the camera when my picture is taken.

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I call it the “terrified of something just out of frame” look.

Next comes the “direction” phase. Ah yes, how I hate this part with an immeasurable passion. This is the part where the photographer tries to get everything to get everything in the picture to look just right. For most people, this consists mainly of the person taking the photo saying “smile!” and then taking the picture. For me, not so simple. Instead, I get “okay smile… come on, bigger! Whoa, okay, not THAT big. Why are you tilting your head to the side like that? Straighten up a little. No, now you’re tilting farther, the other way. Okay, hold still. And smile… look at me now, and… head up just a bit… okay, you’re smiling too big again… you know what? Fine,” and they take the picture.

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It’s the “whatever is out of frame should be terrified of me” look.

How am I supposed to look normal in a picture when I can’t even make myself normal in real life?

Autism and Bullying

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Bullying seems to be a hot topic nowadays. I’m not sure why all of a sudden EVERYBODY is all up in arms about this. It’s not like bullying is something new that kids just came up with this year, like listening to crap music like Lorde. Bullying has been around for quite a while. The first recorded use of the word “bully” occurred in 1530 (yes, I looked it up; I don’t spend all day making up fake facts for this blog, I’ll have you know), but the concept goes back way before that. There were even bullies in the Bible, for Christ’s sake.

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Jesus likes!

Because of the nature of bullying behaviors, children on the autism spectrum at at a higher risk of being victims of bullying. Bullies often single out those who are weak or socially outcast and make an example of them. It’s not always about physical violence. The main motivation is an attempt by the bully to feel superior to others and to be looked at as being in a position of power. Due to the characteristics of autism (weak sensory perception, social awkwardness,  etc.), children with autism or aspergers are juicy targets for the bully to get what he or she wants.

A parent of a child with special needs is then faced with a difficult situation. Very often, children with autism will have difficulty communitcating to the parents that they are being bullied. The emotions that come with being pushed around are hard to understand; the child may claim to feel sad, tired, or simply hide their feelings in order to avoid them. It is the parents’ job to keep an keen eye on the child’s temperment and watch for any changes that may indicate that something is wrong.

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Or just outsource the job to the Chinese.

Bullies prey on fear; they count on their targets being to afraid to report them or do anything about it. Children with autism are already scared and anxious to begin with. A bully doesn’t even have to work hard to intimidate these kids; half the job is already done for them.

Another reason why it may be hard for parents to detect when their child is being bullied is that the child may not even realize that they are being mistreated. To children with social deficits, a bully may seem like a friend. After all, it’s someone who is talking to them and giving them attention. That’s a friend, right? Doesn’t matter if that the “friend” is taking their stuff, slugging them in the arm, and calling them names behind their back. That must be what friends do!

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“Mom! Tommy and I are gonna go play ‘Get Beat Up By Tommy!’ “

Now, it’s clear that special needs children are especially vulnerable to bullying. However, all of you special needs parents shouldn’t jump up on your high horse and think your child will always and forever be free of blame when it comes to bullying. Remember all of that anxiety and fear I was talking about before? Well, a funny thing about those negative emotions – they tend to send you child’s self esteem crashing faster than Healthcare.gov.

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Obama no likes.

These drops in self esteem can lead to children with special needs becomingthe bully. If the child has trouble understanding how to address social situations, the chance of inappropriate behaviors evolving into bullying is higher. We can’t just look at our children as wonderful little angels and allow ourselves to be blind to the other side of the coin. If you don’t want you child to be bullied, you have a responsibility to make sure your child doesn’t turn into one.

It’s clear that bullying is a critical subject that should be discussed with our children. We need to teach our children to be respectful of one another no matter what the situation. Remember, kids grow up to be people; the last thing you want to be responsible for is letting you kids turn into assholes when they are older.

I’m a Failure

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So today I found out that I failed miserably on a school assignment. It was a pretty big thing, and I’m really upset over it. My teacher is giving me another shot at the assignment, but I’m just so mad about it. I should have gotten it right the first time. The answer was right in front of my face if I had just taken the time to look for it.

Needless to say, I’m not taking it well. As I’ve blogged about previously, I can sometimes be a perfectionist. If I’m doing something, it’s gotta be right. I can’t fail, otherwise all of my effort has been one big waste of time. Because of this, I went into “IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD” mode in response to my failing grade.

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Don’t ever ask me what’s the worst that can happen. Because huge bunnies could attack New York City.

It comes down to the fact that I don’t like looking stupid. I hate not knowing something, and I hate it even more when other people know I don’t know something. It’s why I lie and say I know where a street is when someone is talking about a location that I’ve never been to. It’s why I try to fix any mistakes I make with as little fanfare and attention as possible.

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Nothing to see here, people.

It’s difficult for me, but I just have to accept the fact that I’m not and never will be perfect. There will always be things in this world that I don’t know, and these are opportunities to learn. And most important, I can be smart without having all of the right answers all of the time.

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Fancy NOT Meeting You Here

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A good rule of thumb concerning my social interactions is to assume that everything is extremely awkward unless otherwise specified. Today is no different.

Today I nearly ran into a co-worker of mine in the supemarket. I say “nearly” because he was literally two feet away from me at one point, only I didn’t notice him because I was busy trying to corral my crazy children and prevent them from running around and making a total mess of the place.

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Cleanup in aisle 4.

I honestly don’t know if he noticed me or not; I only realized it was him when he was walking away and facing the opposite direction. I considered myself lucky, though. I didn’t want to say hi anyway.

I hate that situation. I hate meeting someone that you know well from a certain setting, but meeting them in a completely different environment. It’s like running into someone from your church at the porno shop – it’s awkward, it’s strange, it doesn’t make any sense. For me, it’s escpecially difficult. As an Aspie, I find comfort in routines. This includes social interaction – I know what subjects I can talk about with certain people without seeming weird. When I’m at work with work people I can talk work things. But what do I talk about when I meet work people in the supermarket? Supermarket things?

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“Did you see the endcap between aisles 6 and 7? Crazy deals, man.”

This gets even more difficult when I run into someone and I cannot remember where I know them from, even if my life depended on it. I end up trying to coax information out of them to figure out why the hell I know them. Meanwhile, they have a certain expectation of the conversation, which I am obviously and painfully failing to fill. Now you know why I consider myself lucky that I ducked my coworker.

I spent the rest of the shopping trip looking around nervously, hoping to avoid him. I didn’t want to bump into him without warning, but I also didn’t want to make accidental eye contact while trying to locate him. Thankfully, I was able to avoid him for the rest of the shopping trip.

Now, all I need to do is come up with some excuse why I didn’t say hi when I see him at work tomorrow.

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Works for me.

Performance Enhancing Drugs

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I’m not a bad guy. Really, I’m not. I’m just under a ton of pressure. Most of you wouldn’t understand just how intense the pressure to perform can be. And everyone else is doing it, too. I just did it to level the playing field. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have been able to fit in. Yes, I am finally ready to admit it – I have used performance enhancing drugs.

Specifically, I took a Xanax in order to make a phone call.

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Ok, A-Rod. I admit it… I took two.

Yeah, talking on the phone is really that bad for me.

I had to make a phone call to schedule a school appointment. I was getting sick to my stomach because I was so nervous about it. I didn’t want to sound too casual, but I didn’t want to sound too stuffy either. I had no idea what to say or how to introduce myself. I was starting to panic. I almost backed out. But I HAD TO DO IT. So I looked myself in the mirror and told myself to get a grip and do what had to be done.

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Um… I don’t even know what to… let’s just move on, shall we?

 So I took some anti-anxiety meds in order to make my phone call. And it worked! I was able to calm myself down enough to get a grip and dial the phone. Of course, I got the guy’s voicemail, which seemed like a blessing until I realized that I’m probably going to have to call this guy again eventually.

At least then, I’ll know how to prevent a full blow panic attack before calling.

This Is My Aspergers

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I have written in previous posts a little bit about the history of my Aspergers and what it was like for me growing up, but I haven’t really gotten into it in great detail yet. Every aspie is different, comes from a different background, and has a different story to tell.

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This is my Aspergers. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I only became aware of my Asperger-ish tendencies a few years ago when my daughter was diagnosed, but the roots go back to when I was very young. When I was in preschool, I remember bouncing back and forth between friends, trying my best to connect with whoever was within proximity of me at the moment. I tried my best to mimic in order to be accepted; this works pretty well as a child, however I can remember not really having a sense of who I was. I would absorb the traits of those around me in order to blend in.

The defining moment in my young childhood came at age 6 when I was hospitalized for a severe kidney condition. I got sick on the first day of school, was rushed to the hospital, and nearly died. I was in the hospital for 6 weeks, subjected to blood draws and regular dialysis treatments. My family was devastated that I was so sick and scared of losing me.

The thing I remember most vividly is all the cool toys I had in my hospital room.

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Coming up next on Pimp My Pediatric ICU…

Granted, I was only six, so my memory of the experience shouldn’t really be picture perfect. But don’t you think it’s a little strange that I have absolutely NO memory of the horrible medical procedures that my mother tells me I had to endure, yet I can remember with great clarity the Lego kits my dad and I worked on and the inflatable Superman doll that hung in the corner during my entire stay? I think my brain decided that it wasn’t going to connect itself to what was going on, and I must have checked out and gone somewhere else mentally during the rough parts. I still use this skill to my advantage from time to time. I don’t know if the stress caused my brain to adopt an overall emotional disconnectedness – virtually “causing” my Aspergers – or if it was my aspie brain that allowed me to get through it. All I know is that the experience had a profound effect on me and my mental processes. It’s like my super hero origin story.

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Able to create soul-crushing social awkwardness in a single sentence! 

As I got older, I began to show more of what I realize now were classic autism/Aspergers traits. I memorized the bus route home from school, including street names; I even helped a substitute bus driver find the correct route on one occasion. I had a very rigid tv routine, watching my favorite cartoons every single day; I knew by heart when each was on and in which order. I would spend hours “racing” my Hotwheels cars, which actually meant lining up 30-40 of them one behind the other and moving them one at a time for a few seconds each. I would throw tantrums if I didn’t win while playing board games with my sisters. I would play ball in the living room by using a mini-bat to hit a foam ball aroud the house, completely oblvious to the risk of breaking things. I often played 2-player sports games by myself, switching between controllers to play both teams; I even kept stats and charted out seasons that I scheduled myself, long before games like Madden featured their own season modes.

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The list goes on…

I actually hid the social aspects of my Aspergers pretty well during school. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the cracks begin to show. Bullies were constantly trying to get to me, only I was so socially clueless that I didn’t even notice. Eventually, thye pretty much gave up and moved on. One of my best friends (even to this day) was with a group of kids who would brutally make fun of me on the bus. One day the other kids weren’t there, so he invited me to his house to hang out. Oblivious Aspie Me said, “Sure!” I continued with my “blending in” strategy, getting along with many types of people but never really connecting to any of them. I had a small group of close friends, but even they were distanced from me; I very rarely hung out with any of them one-on-one.

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“Thank God you guys are all here! I’m terrified of each of you individually!”

When I went to college, my isolation became official – I’m not exaggerating when I say I did not make one new friend during my four years in college. I tried a few times early on, but I just couldn’t make it work. In my mind, I had nothing in common with anybody at all. I had already figured myself as an outcast. Most of my social interaction came via the internet – where I could be whatever I wanted to be, take my time to measure my responses, and avoid the intensity of face-to-face contact. I actually met my wife over the internet during this time, and somehow she wasn’t completely turned off by my behavior when we met for the first time.

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It was slightly less awkward than this was.

At the time, it wasn’t so obvious to my parents that something was up with their son. Autism spectrum disorders weren’t featured as prominently in the news as they are nowadays. But looking back now, and with the benefit of the knowledge I gained while working to get my daughter diagnosed… it’s pretty clear. My childhood is no doubt different from the stories of other spectrum children, but I’m sure it also runs parallel to them in many ways. I worry about my daughter a lot – will she have friends? Will she be happ? Will she be successful? Looking back on my story gives me a sense of peace. If I made it this far in the face of this challenge, then the potential of my daughter is limitless.

Aspie Attachments

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A funny thing happened the other day. Our family is in the process of transitioning from our family van to a smaller, more fuel-savvy vehicle. My wife and I were talking about our plans for selling the van when my aspie daughter piped up from the backseat, asking if we were really going to get rid of the van. I turned to see her on the verge of tears.

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Incidentally, this is the same face she uses when she wants ice cream.

She was extremely upset. She didn’t want us to get rid of the van; she didn’t know how else we’d be able to drive around! “I don’t want to have to walk everywhere!” she cried. She was so attached to the van that she couldn’t even imagine having another car instead. And understandably so, I might add – we’ve had the van for pretty much three quarters of her lifetime. That would be the same as me getting rid of something I had for the last twenty five years.

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I can’t get rid of those. Those are my good pair!

I notice that I, too, often have strong attachments to inanimate objects. I’ve always felt compelled to say goodbye to every car I’ve traded in. I’ve named keychains of mine in the past… and present, actually. I get a little twinge of sadness when my click-pencil runs out of lead. The remarkable thing is that I feel so attached to these objects, yet I can’t get close to living, breathing people.

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Emphasis on “living” and “breathing.”

I’m pretty sure my Aspergers factors in here, big time. I’m simply more comfortable with objects over people. Interactions with objects don’t come with the same stresses that interactions with people do – social anxiety, fear of judgement, rejection, etc. It’s easier to deal with the simplicity of objects that the complexity of the person-to-person social exchange, And, perhaps, there lies the solution…

Treating people like objects.

I’m a genius!

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I absolutely love my new rain coat. It’s name is Todd.

My Autism Theory

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I’m currently reading The Panic Virus, a book that explores the history and development of the false link between autism and vaccines. It’s fascinating to see how people can develop theories about just about anything based not on data, but on their own personal perception of reality.

Then I realized I’m capable of the same exact thing.

I have tons of theories. I have a theory about how our universe is just a microscopic part of a much larger plane of existence, and that we are a much larger plane of existence for another smaller microscopic universe (and so forth). I have a theory that centers around how early human evolution still continues to shape many of our decisions inour modern day world. I have a theory on why my car’s “check engine” light is on.

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I’m pretty sure it’s the fuel injectors.

The important thing for me to mention is that they are just theories. I’m no expert on particle physics or automotive mechanincs. I have no hard evidence to base these theories on, just some observations coupled with feelings that I have. I’m not going to argue that I’m “right” in any of these cases. They are just ideas that I put forth as interesting things to think of. With that said, I have a theory on what autism is and what actually causes it.

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You’ve been warned.

My theory started growing in my mind when I started looking at my own stimming behavior – biting the skin on my fingers. There were times where I could go for quite a long time without biting, but then I’d get stressed out and tear the shit out of my fingertips. I started thinking that maybe my stimming was a hyper-intense stress reaction. Could this apply to other autistic stimming behaviors?

Another little factoid that contributed to my theory was the difference between my two children. My daughter (the aspie) was conceived using fertility treatments and hormone therapy, while my son (the NT) was conceived naturally. My daughter suffered from severe GERD as a baby, my son did not. I also noticed that a fair portion of the women my wife was in contact with from various support groups (both IVF and GERD online support groups) had children that were on the spectrum in some capacity. Where, if anywhere, does this factor in?

My mind also wandered around the fact that there seems to be a genetic component to autism spectrum disorders. The gene has not been pinpointed, but it has been shown that autism seems to run in families. Genetics are pretty straightforward – simply put, either you have a gene for a specific trait or you don’t. So why does it seems to get wishy washy when it comes to autism?

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Ok, so my theory is basically this – autism spectrum disorders are, at the core, anxiety disorders that manifest themselves into social and physical symptoms of varying severity.

Why does this make sense? Because it brings together all of the aforementioned details, quite nicely I might add.

According to my theory, autism starts at the genetic level as an inherited predisposition for abnormally heightened anxiety. Perhaps the genes that regulate stress hormones produce abnormal amounts, or perhaps the receptors for these hormones are tuned to be overly sensitive. Whatever the mechanism, these are the children who are at higher risk to develop autism.

The next step occurs during pregnancy – during early development, the child is subjected to some sort of “triggering stress.” This could come from a number of different sources – exposure to elevated maternal stress hormones in utero (possibly in reaction to fertility treatments), metabolic stress due to medications (an explanation to the perceived link between autism and vaccines), or physical stress to the child itself (chronic pain, GERD, etc.).  The triggering stress conditions the child to adjust his or her baseline level of stress higher than a neurotypical child’s baseline would be.

The symptoms of autism (most notably stimming and tantrums) are physiological responses to perceived stress. The fact that the levels of stress are extremely subjective leads to the wide range of severity of symptoms; a child with Aspergers may only be moderately affected by stress, while a child with severe autism may find the slightest stimulus to be crippling. The social aspects of autism spectrum disorders (parrotting, echolalia, isolating, flat affect) correlate with social anxiety.

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Skeptical reader is skeptical.

Autism as an axiety disorder makes some sense. It explains why treatment with anti-anxiety meds helps improve behavior. It also explains why children on the spectrum tend to function better when set routines are in place, reducing the anxiety of the unknown. I’m not sure how one would go about proving this theory to be true, nor am I sure what good proving the theory true would accomplish. Perhaps better treatment strategies could arise, approaching autism from the “stress reduction” angle that one would use when treating other anxiety disorders.

I’m curious to hear opinions on my theory, as well as any other theories that you readers may have. Fire away in the comments section!!!

Feeling Stupid

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It really is a no-win situation.

There were some issues with the bank that needed to get taken care of this morning… ok, fine, I’ll admit it. I forgot my PIN number for my bank card. As if I wasn’t already feeling stupid for the other stuff that I’m about to talk about. Thanks a lot, dickwad.

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Yes. Yes it did.

But I digress.

In order to get my PIN number reset, I had to call the bank and deal with (errrrg) customer service. This is not one of my many talents. In fact, I usually come off sounding more awkward than that friend of yours who asks you to be the best man at his wedding after his fiancee has already cheated on him with you. We’ve all been there, right?

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“So how are things going with the florist?”

So, this situation leaves me with only the following options:

A) Call the bank myself, and make a complete and utter ass of myself in the process

B) Ask my wife to do it.

Now many of you are saying, “Well, duh. If you can’t do it yourself, let you wife do it.” However, option B comes with a whole new set of problems. See, the customer service guy ALWAYS needs to confirm my identity before anything can be done. In order to do that, he needs to ask me to verify personal information. So my wife has to hand me the phone so I can talk to the customer service guy. There’s no escape for me, and now even the guy on the phone knows how big a douche I am.

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“Hey Bill! Check it out, it’s another lame ass guy who needs his wife to use the phone for him!”

Now, bless my wife, she tries to make things better by softening the blow and telling the customer service rep flat out that I “don’t like to use the phone.” It means a lot to me that she tries, but I don’t think for one second that it makes me look any more normal in the eyes of the person on the other end of the phone. They know the deal, they know what’s up.

So, inevitably, I threw a tantrum later, because I HATE feeling stupid. I only felt better after playing a car racing game with my kids and showcasing my mad skills.

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Because video games.

It is still nice to know that I have a family who cares for me – a wife who loves me enough to do the things for me that I can’t do myself, and children who will gladly have their asses handed to them on a platter so I can feel better about myself.