Adrenaline is in no short supply in my body. C-PTSD, anxiety, and a handful of other diagnoses ensure that my cortisol levels are always spiking and I'm ready to fight, flight, freeze or fawn at any given moment.
There are only a few places that consistently make me feel safe: forests, the stables, libraries, penguin colonies, and the newsroom. When I'm producing stories on a minutes-long deadline with absurd turnaround rates, I go into a weird trace somewhere between autopilot and hyperfocus. This is a common experience for autistic folks. I've heard others describe it as merging into the zone of genius. I'm not sure I'm quite confident (or experienced) enough to call it a genius zone, but it's certainly where I excel.
My anxiety drips off of me like and ice cream cone under the summer sun and my brain and body just know what to do. And if I don't know, I know how to find out.
Most days, I feel like my old van clunking through the world between Teslas and Mercedes whose owner manuals came with explicit instructions on how to navigate neurotypical society.
Meanwhile, I'm working with outdated technology, a bumped and bruised body and just trying my best to copy everyone else while fooling no one.
When I walk into the studios, I feel like I'm trading in the keys to my dented Town and Country for the pin code to a spaceship. Now, I'm not saying that I'm a brilliant journalist or that I know what I'm doing all the time, but that's what the confidence upgrade feels like.
Prior to this day, I had only been in the KERA studios once for headshot day. Since I started, I'd been working remotely between ATX, JAX and DFW. I knew the rest of the daily news team pretty well at this point - Teams calls are in no short supply - but I was admittedly a bit more anxious that I usually am. Not for the work, per se, but for social aspect.
When I came in for headshots, my editor asked me how the drive up from ATX was. I told him that there were lots of cows - not as many cows as I would have liked - but that some cows were better than no cows. I may have gone on a bit longer about the types of cows I saw and some fun facts but my brain graciously blocked it out. I do remember running to the bathroom to call Jeremy to help calm me down. A handful of frantic calls later, it was clear he wasn't answering so I dialed Josh. Still panicked, I didn't articulate what was going on well. What felt like an emergency to me came off as COWS! AWKWARD! *nervous laughter*
I was very excited to never repeat that experience again.
Thankfully, when I work my morning shift (5 AM - 1 PM) I get to soft launch my social skills as other reporters, producers and editor file in slowly. Our other Morning Edition host, Jamie, worked with me at my last station and is probably one of the best people I know.
He likes to tell people he's a Black, male Karen - which if you cross him, yes he is - but on the daily, he's a warm ball of energy who makes Morning Edition fly by.
The plan was to prerecord my newscasts while I settled into a flow and then go live on Friday.
The first newscast went up - none of my audio cuts played.
The second newscast went up - I missed my tag.
The third newscast when up - that one was better. Not great, but better.
Between 6 AM - 9 AM, I have eight newscasts to write, produce, voice, and air. One of the blessings of live radio is that if you fuck something up you don't have time to feel sorry for yourself. You just have to fix it and move on to the next thing.
There's always another cast is the mantra many of us repeat when something goes horrifically wrong.
Despite a shaky first few hours, my editor came in piping with encouragement.
I'm a words of affirmation girlie and PDB speaks my language.
My confidence revived, I started in on my last hour of Morning Edition and made it through without any major hiccups.
I spent the rest of my day coordinating interviews for a few stories I'm working on and chasing public officials trying to dodge my requests for comments.
I pitched a few more stories to my editor, figured out how to use the coffee machine and wrapped my day up at 1 PM. My bags were already packed in my van so I could head straight back to ATX.
A quick call to Jeremy later, I was on the road. I'm slowly learning which radio stations I like in each town between Dallas and Austin. I know which hosts annoy the ever-loving hell out of me and which ones I can suffer through for good music. I haven't found one that compares to my beloved Sun Radio in Austin, but I've found a handful that play the alt-rock I enjoy on long drives.
We touched base a few times throughout the drive, mostly chit-chatting about our time apart. I somehow found stories archived in my brain that I hadn't told him yet (and retold many I'm sure) and he told me about eating pizza and tiramisu with my mama while watching football.
He also taught her how to get our Alexa to say MOTHERFUCKER in Samuel L. Jackson's voice which was a big hit.
About an hour outside of Austin, Josh called and we talked about our upcoming travels. He told me we had received approval to film at a location we really wanted to go to this summer and we updated each other on our days. These calls are some of the best parts of my day.
I'm not sure which town I pulled over to stretch my legs and chat in but the parking lot was empty except for a murder of crows who thoroughly entertained me. We hung up and I got back on the road.
An hour later, I was in Austin. Exhausted, irritable and quite frankly, not at my best.
I collapsed into Jeremy, then into bed for an hour long nap before getting him, myself and our pup Rory loaded up in the van to head back to Dallas.
These quick turnaround trips are my least favorite. There's not enough time to enjoy the cities I stop in and my joins ache from driving. After confirming our hotel reservation at the SpringHill Suites in Dallas' Historic West End, we took off.
We made the drive back without stopping once and made fairly good time because it was late and very few cars were on the road and not at all because I view speed limits as speed suggestions.
Our valet doted over Rory while I unloaded Jeremy, his medical equipment, and a week's worth of clothes for the both of us.
"I've never seen one brindle all over like that," he told me. "And I'm from the farm. We breed dogs."
Rory was enchanted. She sat quietly while her tail dragged back and forth across the parking lot cement while he told her over and over what a good girl she was.
A few trips later, we made it up to our suite and I was thrilled with how big it was. We went for practicality this time, rather than luxury, and it paid off handsomely. There was more than enough room for the three of us, plus Jeremy's hoyer lift and wheelchair and our luggage without feeling even the slightest bit cramped.
I did my customary safety check of the room and when I slung open the curtains with the bravado of a slap-happy-from-exhaustion-dried-up-musical-theatre-kid the view stopped me in my tracks. The city was lit up around us, twinkle lights dripping from the trees.
"That'll do, Dallas, that'll do," I whispered in my best (and potentially the world's worst) James Cromwell.
We fell asleep almost immediately, curled up in our double beds (there were no King Suites available) and time might as well have not existed until my alarm went off at 4:30 AM.