Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Closing of a Decade

2019 has certainly seen me in some dark times. But it has also taught me a lot about myself and the company I keep. It also marked several anniversaries for me - the one year anniversary of my autism diagnosis, the one year anniversary of my surgery, the 10 year anniversary of getting out of my first abusive relationship, and the 4 year anniversary of getting out of my last (and final) abusive relationship. It also marked the 15th anniversary since my fibro diagnosis and the 11 year anniversary of not being able to have children. It was my brother's 35th anniversary since he passed and would've been his 36th birthday. I spent this year in Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Michigan. It marked the one year anniversary since I stepped away from the medical field. It also marked the new beginning of some friendships and the end of others. But even looking back on all of that, there are a few key things that stood out this year...

I helped a lot of people this year (no, I'm not saying that to brag or for praise. Keep reading). Helping people has taught me several lessons - not just about people, but about myself as an autistic person; some things I knew, but never gave much thought to until my diagnosis and learning all the things that came with it. So here are my takeaway lessons from helping others:

Not everyone you help really needs it. You read that right. There are people in this world who pretend to need help, but really don't. These are called manipulators. As an autistic person, I have a lot of trouble deciphering people's intentions. This leads me to be taken advantage of - more than I'd like. This happened to me in the early spring of this year and trust me, if I could have a do over, I'd tell this person to take a hike. They play on your emotions or on your desire for a friendship. As soon as they have what they want from you, they disappear and are complete assholes.

Not everyone appreciates the help you give them. I know you guys know this, but really think about it. Have you ever helped someone who you really thought would be grateful only to have them not be grateful? It's maddening. And it's rude.

Who's That? This applies to those people you help that are grateful that you are helping them, grateful right after you help them, and then  disappear like they suddenly forgot who you were. It's like 'Thanks for helping me. Now I gotta go. Peace out.' Also maddening.

People like to pretend. I'm not sure why. I mean, we aren't children anymore. But yet, some people like to pretend they are your friends. They like to pretend they have your back. They want you to support them in everything they do. They want you to participate in all of their endeavors. But when you need them, they are nowhere to be found. When you are low, they don't have a kind word to offer. They are silent.

Real Gratitude. These people are my favorite. These are the people that don't ask for help when they need it, don't expect you to help, are trying to help themselves, but are SERIOUSLY grateful when you do help. These are the people that come back and have your back. These are the people that don't brag about who they are. They often suffer in silence and are very humble. These are the people who stand up for others out loud, but rarely stand up for themselves out loud. These are the hearts of gold, the authentics, the honest ones, the beautiful souls. And these are the ones that bring me joy. These are the ones that keep me helping others.

So to recap, help those that genuinely need help, but aren't exactly expecting it. Help those who have been there for you. And if you choose to help someone, make sure you are doing it without expectations in return. That's the only way to not feel miffed when that person is not who you thought they were.

Takeaways from lessons about things/people that do not serve your life:

Not everyone is your friend - not even if they are related. Now y'all can be upset by that statement if you want, but let's be real. Not everyone has an ideal family. In fact, many people have dysfunctional families and yet still pretend like their family is great. I know some people will say, 'at least you have family.' True. And I won't argue that point. But what good is family if you can't depend on them? Or if you don't get along? Or if they don't support you? Sometimes being related doesn't automatically mean everything is wonderful. And before anyone starts making assumptions, I post about things I experience AND things I see from others, so don't assume who I am talking about. Which leads me to my next point...

Don't make assumptions. But what does this have to do with things that don't serve your life? EVERYTHING. Making assumptions sets you up for failure. How many times have you made an assumption and been wrong? And how many times were you right? In all likelihood, you were wrong more times than you were right. Why? Because assumptions are often biased and based on the one-sided version of what you can see through your own eyes. You can't be in someone's head, so you really have no idea what's going on in there. People make assumptions about me all the time and it is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves. I'm autistic. There is a 99.9% chance that anything you assume about me is WRONG. My brain doesn't work in the same fashion as everyone else's. This is also why I don't assume. I ask a lot of questions. In fact, I've been told I ask too many questions! But hey, if I don't ask, I don't know and I don't learn. Don't assume I know what you are thinking because I certainly don't ask questions for fun.

Let go of anything and ANYONE that's toxic. Yes, that includes friends and family. Yes, that includes whatever vice you use for stress that's unhealthy. Yes, that includes that person you've been hanging onto forever because you keep thinking something is going to change. The only person you can control is YOU. You cannot control anyone else. You can't please anyone else. You can't make anyone else happy. Nor is it your job to. It IS your job to make yourself happy and make sure you are healthy and taken care of. So do that. Do your job and take care of YOU. If someone is causing you unnecessary stress or hardship, show them the door. If you want to quit a bad habit but don't know how, seek help. If you are going through a hard time, take a time out and seek help. And remember, it's okay to disappear for awhile. It's okay to hibernate and work on yourself. It's okay to not be the life of the party. It's okay to go silent until your mind is clear enough to not be silent anymore. We learn the most in silence.

Make it a point to be healthy. Nobody get upset with me for jumping on the health train! Some people will roll their eyes at this one (here we go again with the health talk). But listen - you've got one chance at this life. I hear so many people say they want to see their kids graduate and get married. I hear so many people say they wish they didn't have to take meds anymore. I hear people say they wish they didn't always have to be in pain (I'm one of these). Granted, there are some conditions that no matter how healthy you are in every other area, you will still have illness. I'm not talking about these folks. I'm talking about the folks who don't want to eat well, give up smoking, drink all the time, don't want to exercise, etc. It's your life. And personally, I don't care whether or not you are or want to be healthy (unless you are my friend because then I do care because I love you). BUT if you choose bad choices for your body, then stop complaining or worrying that you won't be alive long enough to see or accomplish the things you want to see and accomplish. This may sound harsh, but what do you expect is gonna happen if you keep on this way??

Play more. Worry Less. And I seriously need to practice this one myself. Someone once told me (I think it was a counselor from way back when) that worrying didn't help anything. She told me that if I'm worried about something to ask myself three questions: Can I do anything about it now? Can I do anything about it later? Does worrying help me solve the problem? If the answer is "no" to all of these, then I need to let it go and not worry. It will work out however it is meant to work out because these are things I can't control. If I say "yes" to any of these, then I can proceed to figure out a plan to alleviate the burden of the worry. A plan helps me feel less anxious about something because even if I can't control it right that second, I know that at some point, I can fix whatever is causing the worry and stress - or change it. The play part comes into action because it helps relieve stress and it helps take your mind off worry. Just remember to play safe!

Not all family is related. Sometimes the best family is the one you create. You know that saying 'blood is thicker than water?' That might be literally true, but when it comes to family, this isn't always the case. Sometimes in life, you just gotta build your own tribe. You have to find the people that truly love you for who you are and accept you just like that - flaws and all. What I have found is that the things that I often view as flaws are the very things people like about me. Go figure! So who's idea was it that these things were flaws? I must've picked it up from somewhere, but I'm glad to know that people see something in me that I sometimes have trouble seeing in myself. And to these people, I am very grateful.

Authentic friendships don't always come from where you think they will. And boy is this ever true! I've made some wonderful connections with people that I wouldn't have thought I would make significant connections with. These are people that are genuine, have great sense of humors, are generous in their own ways, and make a valid effort to understand my crazy autistic mind. These are people who always have nice things to say even when they are going through a hard time themselves. They are often selfless and are happy to let you be yourself. They are also themselves around you. There's nothing fake about them. Some of these are connections I've had for years. Others are newer, but still as important. Every single one of these connections is unique and from all different walks of life. It helps me because I get to see so many different viewpoints and types of growth, but I also get to experience different aspects of love.

The real meaning of love is about choices, not feelings. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. It is a choice you have to make every day. It is easier to not choose to love, but in the end, choosing love can be more rewarding. Love is the action you show - not the words you say. One of the few sayings I understand is 'talk is cheap.' It costs you nothing. It also implies little (unless you are assuming). The other side of this saying is 'actions speak louder than words.' Isn't it amazing how many times we are willing to accept words without action? That is why when you give your "word," you have to follow it up with action in order to give your words value. And that is where love comes in. Choosing to take action to give your words value creates a bond, trust, and often, love. Love comes in all forms - friendships, romantic love, agape (unconditional), familial love, etc. Regardless of what kind of love you are experiencing, it still has to be a choice you make every day. You have to choose to be loving to someone. You have to choose to show someone why they are important to you. You have to choose to show kindness - even to yourself. Because saying the words isn't always enough.

Do not take time for granted. I'm pretty sure I say this one every year and it's one of the most important lessons. Time is the most precious commodity we have. Be wise in how you spend it and who you spend it on because you cannot get it back. If you waste time, you cannot get that back either. You don't know how many days, weeks, hours, minutes, or seconds you have left. That is why you should love freely, live proudly, and use your time for the best intentions.

Lessons I learned about myself:

Unmasking is HARD. If you have read my other blog (Inside My Puzzled Mind), you know I'm autistic. I've written about masking and the dangers of it. I've written about my experience with unmasking and realizing how much masking I've done all my life. Here's the facts in a nutshell: learning to undo something you've basically been trained to do since birth is crazy hard. I mean, how the hell do you do that?? Answer: with lots of therapy. Unmasking means losing people from your life. Why? Because some people can't handle who you really are. Some people are in denial about your autism. You start to see the truth about some people. And some people simply aren't present and don't take the opportunity to really get to know or understand you. Unmasking means I can't work just anywhere. Here's a newsflash - if I do not mask, there are certain environments in which I cannot work because they would require me to mask. It's quite a conundrum. So in order to do several jobs in the market, I have to go back to pretending to be a neurotypical while trying to hide my autistic characteristics and quirks. Um not so easy. Unmasking means heartbreak. You remember how I mentioned some people may be in denial about my autism? Yeah. I'll just leave it at that and say that unfortunately, these are people who should have had my back and really tried to learn and understand.

Unmasking is BRAVE. It takes a lot of energy and courage to say 'hey, this is me. I'm autistic. I have sensitivities and quirks that are different and you may not understand. I don't understand a lot of social norms and interactions. I might appear like I understand, but only because I'm trying to fit in.' You face a lot of rejection and criticism when you unmask. My mom even pointed out how much I have a hard time with kids. It's not the kids - it's the NOISE. You also face a lot of ignorance and people rolling their eyes at you or making dumb commentary.

Apparently, I'm insightful. Or at least this is what my therapist tells me. I'll have to take her word for it because I really don't feel all that insightful. But maybe I just don't give myself enough credit...

I don't view friendship the same as everyone else. My idea of friendship may be a tad old-fashioned. I believe that friendships need to be nurtured just like any other type of relationship. I believe that if people really want to create a bond with you, they will. I have more acquaintances than I do friends. I believe that friends are people that take the time to really get to know who you are and are accepting of that. And you know exactly who you can count on if you need to. But it seems to me these days that most people are so involved in the rat race that they don't bother to nurture their friendships. Distance shouldn't matter. It takes seconds to send a message to someone - and this is better than nothing. I certainly don't expect anyone to drop what their doing to call me for an hour or to even always have time to hang out (although an effort should be made to do this sometimes). But come on. No one is busy 24/7. You can take a few seconds to message your friends.

Reaching out is a foreign concept for me. And this is the other conundrum I face. And it is hugely hypocritical of the paragraph above. However, hear me out. Being autistic means I don't think about communication in the same way most people do. If someone talks to me first, I will happily talk back. But starting conversations takes me forever. I think about my friends and family ALL THE TIME. And I will even think about messaging them or calling them. And by the time I get going, I forget entirely. Why? Because I'm autistic and communication is not at the forefront of my mind. I get easily distracted by the sensory overload of the world around me. Plus, I'm horrible at small talk (I don't know how to do this). I also don't know how to sugar coat things and sometimes people don't like my full-on honesty. This is also why I have trouble making friends (I know it doesn't seem that way, but I seriously feel like most of my friends took me in first. Not the other way around). And no, I'm not trying to justify or make excuses. I'm simply aware that this is a challenge for me and that I will probably need my therapist's help to find a solution I can stick with. It's a work in progress.

I'm not as loved as I thought I was by some, but I am more loved than I thought by others. And this was/is a very hard reality to face. This goes back to love being about choices and action. I've heard the words with no action from some people that I really expected to see action from. And in the same regard, I've seen the action behind the words from others. I'll admit that experiencing the former has definitely left me feeling heartbroken. I'm still working on healing those wounds.

I can't forget about myself. And I did this to myself ALL year. And then I paid for it greatly the month of December. Or maybe it started in November. Regardless, I am paying for it greatly now. I forgot to take good care of myself. I forgot to put myself as a priority. I forgot to take care of my heart. I forgot to take care of my mind. Now I'm in recovery mode because my mind and body both forced me to take notice. I have to recommit to caring about me. I simply gave too much of myself away this year - and not always to people who deserved it.

I will probably always need therapy. Most people could use therapy. I will probably always need it to some degree. Maybe not every year, but in and out most likely. It's the only way I can make sense of this world. And for me, it is often easier to talk to someone who doesn't know me because they can stay objective rather than give me their opinion. Having someone objective helps me to be objective. It allows me to get all of my emotions out and then detach from the situation enough to look at it from the outside and find a solution. So, I need a therapist as much as I need a primary care doctor. And I'm okay with that.

2019 has been a very tough year for many people. I'm sure many of us will be glad to see it go. Many of my posts on social media this year have been dark. I've gone through some real shit this year and haven't talked about it much. But I've already started on my goals for next year. I always start in December because then I am more likely to stick with them (which I way I don't call them New Year's Resolutions). 2020 has some interesting things on the horizon and some real choices to be made, but they are necessary. I'm rediscovering some old dreams and creating some new ones. I'm not going to sit here and say I'm going to be all about "staying positive" all the time. That is simply not me. Sometimes I'm not positive. But I do keep going and try my best. That's about all I can ask from myself. This year has given me much to reflect on. And even though I'm still reflecting, rest assured the wheels are turning and motions are being put into action. I'm about to rediscover me all over again.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Dark Side of the Holiday Season

It's Christmas Eve. Today, feels to me, like any other day - unremarkable. This has how it's been for the last several years as Christmas went from being my favorite holiday to the time of year I dread the most. I just sit in wait all of November and December for the current year to come to an end and the new year to begin, with hopes that the new year will be better than the current one. Although it rarely ever is.

I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. There are so many people that can relate. And it's not just any one thing that causes this feeling of humdrum this time of year, but rather, a collection of things. For me, my family dynamic has changed. I don't think we've ever really had "traditions" although that may have been nice. But we used to have a collective togetherness that simply doesn't exist anymore. I'm always stressed this time of year - over money (mostly over what I spend on holiday things), over choosing presents (most of which I don't think make that much difference), over the lack of spark in my life, and even over opening my own gifts. I was being prompted today to open a gift. I set it down and said, "in awhile." Awhile never came. I know that person was disappointed, but the truth is, it's really not much fun to open gifts when you know what all of your gifts are. Nor is it much fun to open gifts when the things your heart longs for can't be bought. This is why I hate when people ask me what I want. And why I normally don't tell them.

Aside from the regular stressors, many people are without their loved ones. Granted, I'm not entirely without loved ones, I'm still in a place I don't like, am not comfortable in, and would do just about anything to get out of. Not to mention, I'm sitting here typing this alone because there are people that still have to go to work on Christmas Eve. Couple that with new medical issues, not being able to work for a week due to unforeseen circumstances that are NOT my fault, being far away from home, flashing lights and loud sounds, and autism and you have one big recipe for depression.

I've been doing all the usual "holiday" things. I've gone to stores. I've looked at decorations. I put up a small tree. I bought gifts and wrapped them. I've enjoyed hot cocoa and even splurged on a cookie. I've listened to holiday music and admired the Christmas lights. I've done all the "normal" holiday things, but my heart is not in it. I still feel no holiday cheer, no spark, no special light, no extra love, no joy. I had a brief glimpse of joy through helping others, but once helping was over, the joy faded.

Part of me wishes I could've skipped over the holiday season this year. Part of me wishes I could've not had to buy gifts (and I would've been fine with not receiving any either), not put up that stupid little tree, not cared about making a reservation for a nice holiday dinner for Thanksgiving (which was ruined anyway) or Christmas. Part of me wishes I were home (Seattle). Part of me wishes I could just go back to how my life was when the only obligation I had was myself and my personal responsibilities. If I could turn back time...

The holiday season always has me looking at my life and wondering what it would look like if I just stopped offering to do things, stopped helping so many people when I need to be helping myself, stopped trying to make other people happy and please other people...what would my life look like? I might still be stressed, but if I said no or cut out the things that did not serve my life, I imagine that stress would be less. Maybe I'd find myself enjoying the things that I normally love. Maybe I would learn to finish goals that I start without letting other people side track me.

I realize I'm the only one who can change these things. I've heard all the unhelpful lectures. I've heard all the same words of encouragement. I've also heard the silence. But when you are stuck in the dark gloom of the holiday season, the absolute last thing you want to hear (other than 'only you can change it') is to stay positive. My life is not a Hallmark movie - far from it. There's no spectacular moment when you realize all your dreams are coming true. There's just me and this reality. Perhaps once the new year starts, I will start to feel like I can breathe again. Perhaps once I return home, I will feel like myself again. Perhaps...

For those of you suffering from this dreaded commercialized, stigmatized, materialistic, in-your-face, lonely time of year - I feel you. If you are blessed to experience those Hallmark moments during this time of year, just remember to be kind. Open your arms and your homes to those of us who could use a friend (this Christmas seriously reminds me of every Christmas I've spent alone).

Next year, I might just skip out on all of the melodrama. I'd rather help others, serve the community, and find the real spirit behind this time that has me wanting to hide out in the local coffee shop. In my heart of hearts, I know I would be entirely content with just that.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

When Realization Dawns

I often do a lot of thinking in my sleep. I get my best ideas, have the strangest thoughts, and maybe most importantly, have the biggest epiphanies. This morning was no different. As I was in my subconscious slumber, a big epiphany occurred to me - I've always taken care of other people; I've never really taken care of myself. I was a bit confused by this thought when I came to. But when I started to actually analyze what I was thinking, I realized this was all true. 

As a child, I was placed into the caregiver role without the real knowledge that this is what was happening. It started out with looking out for my parents, moved to taking care of my sisters, and then taking care of my first husband. As a survivor of domestic violence, it took me three abusive relationships to learn how to break the cycle of being in abusive relationships. Yet, it didn't teach me how to take care of myself. 

You start out taking care of someone because you think it is the right thing to do. You think it is the best thing to do. But the more you do it, the more it becomes expected. Then you start taking on more responsibilities. And they let you. This creates codependency. And I've learned that codependency can be a dirty word. It can also be a form of manipulation. All of the empty promises to help, to be there, to change...often people will tell you that it's okay to take care of yourself, but then get upset when you try because taking care of yourself requires time away from taking care of them. 

I thought that because I had broken the cycle of abusive relationships, that I had also learned how to be part of an equal partnership. What I didn't take into account is the other half of that partnership. And then comes that dirty word...codependency. But when I look at my life as a whole, I see much more than just one example. I see dozens. I take care of my friends when they need help or just need to talk. I'm always asking how I can help. I'm always saying I'm here to listen (and I am). I'm always thinking about ways to lift people's spirits. I'm always listening to people vent. I'm always looking for ways to volunteer to help those in need. The problem with this is that I often find it is not reciprocated. Or that this leaves me with no time to give to myself. I've taken on this role of wife, mother, child, sister, friend, caretaker, doctor, nurse, therapist, accountant, personal assistant...the list goes on.

I thought I had learned something. After all, I had started to get comfortable taking myself places, doing things alone, spending quiet time - oh wait, I'm autistic. I already did that. But I haven't really accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I have big dreams for myself. And the more I get stuck in this role of being the caregiver for everyone else, the more I see those dreams fading away. People rely on me. And I rely on me. Only, I can't rely on me anymore because there's no room. And for the first time, I'm angry about it. I'm angry because I don't want to be a caregiver of everyone else anymore. I'm angry because I didn't choose this path for myself, but rather have been forced into it. I'm angry because as an autistic person, I have a difficult time understanding people's motives and that often leaves me in this codependency spot with little to no wiggle room. I'm angry because for once, I want to do something for me and I can't unless I let go - of everything. And perhaps I'm also angry at myself for not seeing the signs (which is hard for me to do), for not learning that taking care of myself is most important, for feeling like taking care of myself would be selfish (which is unacceptable to a lot of people). I'm angry for not saying no, for not taking someone at their word (especially when they say they didn't mean what they said), for not believing what people show me about who they are...

And for the first time, I'm seriously contemplating what life might look like if I were just a bit more selfish, a bit less available to people, a bit more free. I know I would piss some people off. I know I would have to let go of some people. But how much more happy would I be? How much more peaceful? Is the price I'm paying now worth continuing on this path? What would it look like if I just let go?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Vulnerability

Today I was vulnerable. Not to say that I'm never vulnerable, but today I was vulnerable in front of my dad. I didn't realize how much it bothered me to be vulnerable in front of other people until that moment when my dad knocked on my door and came in to find me lying in bed. It was the middle of the day. Now I know a grown woman shouldn't care if she's in bed in the middle of the day (since I'm allowed to choose that), but the real problem is that it causes me to admit that I'm sick. And after he left the room, the tears started coming.

I'm sick. Every day, I'm sick. 24/7 - 365 days a year. And I'll never get better because there is no cure for one of my illnesses. Some days, it shows that I'm sick. Some days, it doesn't show on the outside, but I certainly feel it on the inside. And once those tears started coming, I had to remind myself that it's okay for me to not feel well. It's okay for me to rest. It's okay for me to take a timeout from life to take care of myself.

I've been utterly exhausted. I've had horrible insomnia which finally led to my body being so tired that I could barely stand. On top of that, it aggravates my orthostatic hypotension which meant more dizziness for me. But what is it about being vulnerable that's so hard other than admitting I'm sick? I'm beginning to realize it's this crazy idea that other people think I'm strong. They think I always land on my feet and figure it out. I find this completely laughable because I can count on one hand how many times I've actually felt strong. And normally, I land on my face - not my feet. I'm just good at getting up, dusting myself off, and hoping no one else saw. I'm good at hiding my vulnerability. Even my therapist thinks so. Being autistic only makes this more so.

Most of the time, I don't really like people to see me as weak because then they don't take me seriously, but I DO want people to see me as human. We all need someone to talk to, to lean on, to cry to, to catch us when we fall, and to simply see that we can't always be strong. I guess this is why I try to let people know I'm here to listen if they need to talk. I try to encourage others. But sometimes I'm so tired or stressed out that I can barely be there for myself. Pair that with the anxiety and depression that comes with my autism and I'm one hot mess!

But look, if you take nothing else away from this blog post, at least take this - it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to rest. It's okay to leave the chores for a day. It's okay to hire a babysitter so you can get some you time. It's okay to be sick. No one should ever feel like they have to compromise these things for fear of being vulnerable, looking weak, or letting anyone down. You matter. And the only person who will truly treat you that way is yourself.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Life and Autism

It's been awhile since my last post and all I can say is that there's been too much and I just didn't have the words. Not that I do now, but I will try to have it make sense. I'm technically a Las Vegas girl now, but Seattle will always have a small piece of my heart, so the name of this blog stays. I've only been back in the desert for a month and I am still acclimating. But I feel like this year has been one big rollercoaster ride.

It's no secret that I'm autistic. I've been pretty verbal about that because my therapist said I was very good at covering up what I struggle with and not good enough at asking for what I need. I'm still not good at asking for what I need, but I try. Half the time it comes out as a request and half the time it comes out as a demand. I try to be nice about it, but autism doesn't always allow room for tact or for sugar-coating (which I just don't know how to do). So, sometimes people get hurt or offended. I'm really good at being extra honest. Sometimes the extra is out loud and I don't realize it until someone is staring at me with their mouth gaping, and sometimes I don't know why they are surprised to hear it since it's the truth. My friendship is not for the weak.

I miss talking to people I know. This might sound strange to some of you, but it's easier to talk to people you know and have gotten comfortable with. I am constantly told I should make new friends and meet new people. I say, easy for you neurotypicals (people without autism). I have a hard enough time being social with the friends I already have, much less make new ones! Plus, I am really socially awkward in new environments and it takes me FOREVER to feel comfortable. You wanna know how I made most of my friends? I went to karaoke by myself. I kept going to the same place because I was not comfortable enough to go to different places. The same people were there. Eventually they saw me there by myself enough times that they started talking to me. THEY STARTED TALKING TO ME. Not the other way around. It's never the other way around. And it probably will never be the other way around. So, you guys can go make new friends. I'm working on just being comfortable in the same (but new) places so I don't freak out.

I used to think my autistic meltdowns were mild...then I learned different. Granted, I don't end up on the floor kicking and screaming, but I feel like I'm just shy of curling up in a ball, rocking back and forth, balling my eyes out. Or at least that's what it feels like. The reality is I start freaking out inside and the tears start to prick the back of my eyes and I try my best to get out before everyone sees the tears fall. Sometimes I get angry, upset, hysterical, and raise my voice. Controlling a meltdown is damn near impossible - I've tried relentlessly. I've got about 5 minutes before I go into full crying mode. I've only been successful at postponing a meltdown, but never been able to calm down enough to not have one (I'm just prolonging the inevitable).

It's also no secret that I have fibromyalgia. And for those with fibro that say the heat helps, I don't have your luck. The heat does not help me. The cold does not help me. I think that's why I stayed in Seattle for so long - compared to everywhere else, the weather is pretty mild and consistent. Maybe I just need to find a new country to live in. Or a new planet. Losing weight doesn't help either. Fibro is lifelong and I knew the weight loss would not cure this. It just means I can now go through the whole day without a nap. Don't get me wrong, I still want my nap. But if I don't have time, I can muster the energy to make it through...usually. But, I hurt. My body is getting older (yes, I'm older than I look!). My muscles need building and toning because they are not strong enough right now. I feel weak. I feel fragile. If you've never tried lifting weights with fibromyalgia, let me just say it takes me about 2 - 3 days to recover. I think I'm gonna have to opt for the pool instead. Luckily, they make water weights and I'm hoping that means less recovery time.

It's also no secret I had weight loss surgery almost a year ago. My health became the reason because I was in a pretty critical crossroads in my life with my health and I needed to do something. So I got off the teeter-totter and made a choice. I'm glad I did. No regrets.

Now for the things you probably don't know...I got diagnosed with autism last May (2018) and have had to unlearn all of the ways I've covered up the things I've struggled with. In the atypical (people with autism) world, this is known as "masking." That means you pretend to be something you are not so you can fit in. Neurotypicals do this too. The difference is it is EXTREMELY hard as an atypical to continue doing that without wanting to kill yourself (I can't speak for you neurotypicals). So, at my therapist's encouragement, I've had to learn to stop masking and start learning actual useful coping mechanisms for my struggles (I'm still learning. I don't think I will ever master it). So yes, I've changed. You may have noticed I'm more direct, more brutally honest, more quiet, less inclined to talk, less inclined to go out, and I'm not good at reaching out to others (not on purpose). With autism, reaching out to people is not generally on your radar because you like to spend a lot of time alone decompressing. Plus, we are not social creatures. We are socially awkward. However, if someone reaches out to me, I have no problem conversing. So, if you haven't heard from me, reach out! Chances are you've crossed my mind and then I got distracted.

I'm getting a service dog. Yes, I need one. Yes, I'm that socially awkward and that environmentally overwhelmed. People ask what a service dog does for autism. Well, from my understanding (I'm new to this), she (yes, I'm getting a female dog - or at least I'm pretty sure. I'll know for sure on Monday) will shift my focus to her if I start getting overwhelmed. She will get me out of somewhere if a place is too overstimulating/overwhelming and I need out (hopefully before a meltdown), she will protect me if I do have a meltdown, she will be a barrier between me and whatever is in front or in back of me as a means of protection (based on my command), and a few other things. More importantly, she won't care I'm autistic and provide much needed companionship.

I have some sensory issues. Loud noise is probably my worst one. People ask me how I tolerate going to karaoke. I love music - it's that simple. And this makes it tolerable for me to a degree. I have been at karaoke at times when it's gotten too loud and I feel myself starting to panic. Sometimes I leave. Sometimes I tough it out if I can. But anywhere else is a nightmare as far as noise is concerned. I have to put my headphones on in Starbucks (especially here in Las Vegas because they play their music WAY too loud!). Jazz music keeps me calm. I had to wear my headphones in the Emergency room because those geniuses didn't think about the fact that autism + concussion headache + lots of noise = throbbing head and autistic meltdown in tears.

I hate large crowds. I will walk into a place and if it's too crowded or too noisy, I'll walk right back out. If I know I'm going somewhere where I'll have to socialize quite a bit, I have to mentally prepare myself and then I won't want to socialize for a couple of days after. I love hanging out by myself. And I love hanging out with some people. It's an oxymoron, but that's the only way to explain it. There's certain textures I can't stand (I will never eat tapioca or those boba things everyone loves so much).

After all this, it might seem like a crazy idea that people would want to be around me. The one major misconception about autistic people is that we can't learn well or that we aren't smart. But we have so many great qualities! I'm considered "high-functioning" and this group of atypicals is known for being WAY smart. But on top of that, I have a good heart. And those that take the time to truly know me and understand will experience a depth of loyalty that's hard to find these days. Some people actually LIKE that I'm super honest. It means they know where I stand, where they stand with me, and they know I will always give them the truth... No matter how much the truth might suck. In my opinion, that's what a good friend does. I might tell someone they are being an ass. But I don't love them any less. Telling my friends the truth is always done out of their best interest. Sometimes we don't see what others do. I'm no exception. I'm really creative. I get involved in so many different kinds of art. I love colors. I've got quite a sense of humor... I've been a sketch comedian for several years. It's a delicate balancing act between my great qualities and the things I struggle with.

Some people might wonder why I am writing about all this. It's simple. I've been very quiet about my struggles for a very long time. Lately, I've seen how little support there is for autistic adults. I've always been one to give a voice to awareness. This is no different. Most of you probably know someone who is autistic. And there are so many stigmas that need to be changed. We are people who do our best to function in a society that doesn't understand us - a society that speaks a language we don't speak. There's nothing "wrong" with us. Our brains are just wired differently. We see a world many neurotypicals can't see. And that is what makes us special.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Saying Goodbye to What Was

Recently, there was an event that triggered my PTSD. I'm not going to go into detail about the event, but rather I want to talk about its affect. I don't talk much about my past, so bear with me. These details aren't easy to express. I want to start by saying that I am not mad, angry, placing blame, or disowning anyone because of this event. But I believe it's important to talk about PTSD and triggers and any other mental issues that arise for people. We can't, as a society, keep ignoring it. So, here goes...

Most people don't know I've been in three abusive relationships. The first one was a marriage of 10 years in which I nearly died. The second relationship lasted about nine months (I was recognizing signs faster) and the third about one year. It took me that long to break the cycle...11 years and 9 months. That's a lot of time to lose out on. During that time, I had lost everything, lost myself, rediscovered myself, lost everything but myself, rediscovered myself again, and lost everything. Abuse is a vicious cycle. I spent years in counseling off and on. I spent years working on not being bitter and learning to love regardless of the risks. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (which was thought to be caused by the trauma I suffered); a daily reminder of the struggles I've endured. I was so stressed out that I was constantly flaring and couldn't work full-time. I was constantly sick. My ex-husband wouldn't take care of me when I was sick. Not even when the doctor was worried I had bone cancer. Not even when I was in a full leg brace with crutches. Not even when I had major surgery. 

My first abusive relationship was so bad it took me five years to be able to write a poem about one specific incident. Five years!! He spent 11 days in jail. He was so perfect on the outside, that no one believed he could be abusive - even though he admitted it in therapy. I lost friends. I'm not allowed to see one of my goddaughter's. He is truly a narcissist. He would threaten to kill himself just to get a rise out of me. It was his way of keeping me under his thumb. He brought me down so low I didn't recognize the girl staring back at me in the mirror. I was a shell of a person. My self-esteem was horrible. I was financially dependent on him. His family blamed me for not being the wife I needed to be. They bailed him out of any trouble he got into. 

During his 11 days in jail, I was delusional. And when I say delusional, I mean DELUSIONAL. I was so out of my mind I didn't leave my room for one week. I would look at bridal magazines and imagine what it would be like to renew our vows and start over. I didn't know who I was. I didn't know how I would survive without him. It took me another 2 years after this to leave. And only because my counselor helped me see my worth and my strength. The crazy thing is, we were both in counseling! I got better. He didn't. 

So many people look at me and comment on how strong of a person I am. I wasn't always this way. I was meek, shy, quiet...I wasn't the outspoken, brutally honest, straightforward person most of you see now. I wasn't strong. I wasn't solid. I wasn't sane. The work I put in is what got me there. 

My second abusive relationship was a surprise. I was actually best friends with this person for a very long time before we became involved. I didn't know the extent of his anger problems. He wouldn't get help or go to anger management. He would pick a fight with me over any little thing...including a box of chocolates. He had a short temper and everyone told him so. But because he had a good heart underneath, everyone gave him a pass. 

My third abusive relationship didn't start out that way. Then again, neither did my first or second one. That's how they get you. They do everything right, say all the right things, make you feel special. Then it starts with the name calling or the bickering. It starts with the nit-picking and the blaming. Then the yelling comes and the throwing things. The storming out and not answering the phone. Then things get physical. My third abusive partner had the cops called on him by a stranger because he was screaming at me at a bus stop. I don't even remember why he was screaming. He would try to use bible quotes against me to justify that I was disobedient and that's why he acted this way. He tried to control me and at the same time, didn't contribute very much. I was working full-time while he was on disability. He would stay home and play games on his phone all day. We would end up spending so much money on him that I couldn't afford my medications at the time. He left bruises all over my arms and I had to wear long sleeve shirts to work. He also, would not get help. Many people were aware of his abusive tendencies, but apparently didn't see fit to tell me about it. 

Now that you have some history, back to this PTSD trigger. This recent incident was like reliving a night from my past, only it was not the same people and it was not the same circumstance. I am not in a relationship with this person. I am not obligated to this person. Nor was I the sole focus of this person. Also, there was other influential factors. I say this so you can understand that this is not a typical situation for any of the people involved, but also so you can realize this is a single episode. 

I know it's hard to understand without having the details, but I'll do my best to at least explain certain parts. Violence, anger, yelling, name calling, and hitting were all involved. Now, I've done the work. I know people like to say that if you have triggers that you aren't over it. If you think that, leave my blog now because this shows exactly how IGNORANT you are. Otherwise, keep reading. 

I was the buffer. THE BUFFER!! Things were not initially or officially directed at me. But as the buffer, I saw firsthand the familiar snap in the eyes, the rage, the sheer evil lurking...it was like being in the room with my ex-husband while he held a knife to my back all over again. I could almost feel the blade pressing against me. I could almost hear myself praying again with tears streaming down my face. And when the verbal threats ensued, it was like being back in the room with my third abusive partner. Words dripping with venom meant to scare and hurt. I could almost feel his hands squeezing my arms so hard that bruises were eminent. But there was ONE major difference (outside of the circumstances)...I wasn't scared. I was angry. I was livid. 

I really didn't know my PTSD was triggered until days later. I had an instantaneous fibro flare that I'm still recovering from (better, but still have fatigue). But once I realized I was still very emotional about the whole thing (even after talking to people involved, getting a sincere apology, and not being angry anymore) I knew there had to be more to it for me. I had to dig deep. Why was I so bothered? Why am I still so anxious? Why do I feel like I can't breathe at home sometimes? That's when it hit me. Hello PTSD. It's like an old friend. A very unwelcome old friend. The kind you outgrew, kicked out of your life, hadn't heard from for years so you thought you were home free...yeah. Only to realize you've been found. So, what is my point of this story? Well, it's two-fold. I needed to get it off my chest. And I need you all to know how real PTSD is. It can be triggered anytime by anything. It doesn't matter how much work you've put in. It doesn't matter how many triggers you've gotten over. Sometimes you don't know a trigger exists until it's triggered! So, I've been a hermit, hiding in my room, doing some self-care, wallowing, and forcing myself to work so I stay occupied. I'll get over it. Just gotta take it one day at a time. 

Remember folks, you don't know what someone is dealing with so try to always be kind. Also, just because someone is strong doesn't mean they don't need anyone (this is a HUGE misconception). And if you ever find your PTSD triggered, it is important to learn to say goodbye to what was once again. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

When Everything Changes

When I was younger, I believed change was inevitable. I welcomed it. I yearned for it. I thrived off it. But as time has passed, I've realized a few things - change is indeed inevitable. But I'm not as prepared for the changes. I don't welcome them the way I used to. And I certainly don't feel like I thrive from change. What happened to cause this? When did this become different?

I'm sure many of you can relate to the idea of change being scary (even if it is exciting sometimes). As we grow older, we find that change is not as comfortable as it may have been. The challenges that come with change seem to be magnified and the realizations that dawn appear more harsh. I've often wondered why, as adults, we lose our sense of adventure. We get comfortable in the "known" and fear the "unknown." The problem with this is that many times, what is comfortable is also what holds us back. It prevents us from growing - from becoming our potential rather than just having potential. We become stagnant.

I know people that have been doing the same thing for years. They work the same job, live in the same neighborhood, have the same friends, do the same thing every day and on weekends. Then one day, BOOM. Something happens in their lives to shift or break the pattern of routine - of every day "norm." I see these same people scramble to cope with the changes that are being rapid-fired into their lives. I see them get depressed, take up a new unhealthy coping mechanism, run, hide, and lash out. But what would happen if they would just embrace the change? What would happen if they looked at it as an opportunity to grow into a better version of themselves?

I'm not implying that ALL changes are easy to deal with. I am implying that all changes are opportunities for growth. Yes, even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. Truth is, we learn most from the difficult changes and circumstances, not the easy ones. We learn most from making mistakes, not being good or right at something. Every good change is an opportunity to grow more in the path that we are currently on. Every bad situation is an opportunity to grow more in your soul. Let me give you an example. I have a friend. For the sake of this blog, we will call her Lorraine. Lorraine has been through a few abusive relationships. She was almost killed by her first husband and held captive with a weapon. Lorraine suffered verbal, emotional, and mental abuse. She was broken. She couldn't recognize herself in the mirror anymore and thought there would never be a way out for her. She felt worthless. She thought no one would want her or that she would not be able to survive financially. Then something happened...

Lorraine started going to school. She studied art and medicine. She was good at it. She got praise. She made new friends. She realized that she could have a life outside of abuse. She sought counseling. Her counselor taught her ways to be strong and realize how capable she was. She started planning her escape. It took 10 years, but she got away! She started thriving. And then she met her second abuser...

Luckily, she learned to get out much faster before things could get worse, but she suffered through three abusive relationships before she was able to break the cycle. But when she did, she had a new resolve and was determined never to live that way again. You see, what you don't know is that through the abuse, Lorraine had to learn to love herself again. She had to rediscover who she was and what she wanted in life. She had to eventually learn to forgive and let go for her own peace of mind. She had to learn to move forward - even and especially in the face of adversity. She had to learn to stand up for herself. She had to learn how to choose her battles and at the same time, fight for what she believed in. She had to learn to be truly, honestly, authentically herself. Without apology. She had to learn to be strong, smart, and brave. Granted, her situation is pretty extreme. My point is, most people would look at Lorraine's past and think 'poor thing! How horrible! Why didn't she leave sooner?' And many other judgmental comments. In fact, Lorraine used to say the same thing about herself. Then she realized the value of the lessons she learned. Not in spite of her situation, but because of it. 

What if we took a page out of the same book? What if we learned to thrive because of adversity, not in spite of it? What if we embraced all changes and looked at them as opportunities for growth? For new adventure? What if we let more things roll off our back and worried less about things we can't control? Can you imagine how interesting life might be?

Change is the only constant. Let us take the time to use these opportunities wisely.