Keeping Myself Safe

I have depression. I have had it for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes, but it never really leaves. It does not mean that I cannot be happy. It does not keep me from living a good life. It is not obvious to an outsider that I have this chronic illness. However, it does mean that I have to do some things differently to make sure I stay safe. Just like someone with severe allergies might carry an EpiPen to keep themselves alive if they are inadvertently exposed to something that can harm them, I do certain things to keep myself alive during an unexpected depressive episode.

I limit anything in my room that I could use to hurt myself. I do not have any long cords in my room. I have one belt that I keep in the back of my closet. I have one pair of scissors that I keep in a box on my desk. I do not keep any other sharp objects in my room. I keep a limited supply of medicine in my room, which is also at my desk. Both my desk and my closet are on the opposite side of my room from my bed. If I really wanted to harm myself, I would have to get out of bed and walk about 15 feet to reach anything that I could use to hurt myself. Generally, when I am extremely depressed and suicidal, I cry so much that it is hard to get out of bed. If I do make it out of bed, I generally don’t make it farther than the floor next to the bed.

Of course, it does not really matter where I keep things when I am doing well. On a normal day, I can walk past or use a million things that could potentially hurt me without any fear. The problem is that I never know when I will feel suicidal. I can go from being completely well and not feeling depressed at all, to feeling extremely suicidal in the space of a few hours. My world is unpredictable because my mind can quickly become overwhelmed by undesirable thoughts and feelings.

Studies have shown that limiting someone’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases their risk of dying by suicide. I know this to be true. I know there are things I will never do because of my depression. I will never own a gun. I will never have an internet server or other device in my room that requires a corded connection. I will never hike to a cliff by myself. I will never step onto a balcony of a tall building without someone nearby. I will never look over a bridge or overpass that does not have a protective fence. If I feel depressed, I will not go for a walk down the street without someone with me.

These are the things I have to do to keep myself safe. These are the ways I make sure that I have time to think before I can harm myself. This is my insurance to myself and my friends that depression will not win easily.

Sometimes it is not easy to keep myself safe. Sometimes I have to rely on friends to help me out of an unhealthy state of mind. I know that it is hard for the people that care about me to know that because of my depression, suicidal thoughts can quickly rise to the surface of my mind. But my promise to them is to do all that I can to keep myself safe. I do all that I can to make sure that their fears will never come true. I will not make it easy for this illness to hurt me. And I will continue to do everything in my power to fight my depression for as long as I live.

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Autistic Person vs. Person with Autism Follow-up

I wrote this post about 3 years ago, but never posted it because I was still unsure of how I felt about everything. However, after my last post, I feel this post will bring more understanding to my point of view.

I have never understood the whole debate between whether we should refer to someone that has been diagnosed with autism as an autistic person or a person with autism. Who decided that saying someone is autistic is an insult? Who decided that we lose value based on how we are labeled? Who decided that the order in which we say something connotes the importance of each part of the phrase? And ultimately, who decided that the order of words determines whether we are people first or disabilities first? Who decided that who we are has to be ordered?

To me the debate is completely unnecessary and detracts from life as a whole. If we can’t even say a sentence without someone arguing about the way we phrase something, how can we possibly hope to have a wholesome and healing conversation about autism and what it really means?

Autism is a noun; autistic is the adjective of that noun. Why does this have to mean anything other than that? Why do people even talk about person first language? We are all people. Who says that saying we have a disability detracts from our value as people? Who says that saying we are autistic people means that we are less than saying we are people with autism?

And in reality maybe we should be asking, what makes autism less than the rest of the world? Why is autism considered less, not as valuable, demeaning? Autism is a disorder. But this does not make someone with autism of less worth than someone without autism. Is a blind person less than someone with sight? You who see the world differently, does that mean my world is of less quality than yours? Perhaps I could show you things in your world that you never even knew existed. Perhaps my world is of no less quality than yours. Maybe it is just different.

And that is what we need to realize. Autism is not less. Autism is not person first or disability first. Autism is not an insult or a lower standard of living. Autism is a difference. Autism is the reality of a world that the rest of the world may never know.

And it is okay to be different.

Autistic Person vs. Person with Autism

There is a great debate in the autism community about how to refer to someone that has been diagnosed with autism. In general, it is usually parents or individuals who do not have autism that advocate for the terms “person with autism.” It is usually adults or teens living with autism that prefer the term “autistic.” I have a different perspective than most on this subject. For me, the terms are both equally applicable, but not equal in meaning. Saying that a person has autism is not the same as saying that person is autistic.

Autism for me is a thing. It is an abstraction. It is a label that is meaningless and insignificant until you apply a meaning to it. I consider myself to be a person with autism, not an autistic person. I have been diagnosed with autism, but I have not and generally do not allow myself to be autistic. You see, to be autistic is to be part of a community that lives differently. Being autistic is embracing the differences that come with autism and learning to live those differences rather than hide them.

To show you what I mean by this, I will give two examples. The first is a child who is born deaf. If that child is born into a family that is aware of and embraces the deaf community, the child will learn sign language. They will learn to communicate using their differences and to embrace the world created by their differences. On the other hand, a child born to parents that are completely unaware of what the deaf community has to offer may opt for cochlear implants, may teach their child to read lips, may communicate with their child through writing rather than words, or do other things to help the child live life despite their differences. One approach teaches the child what is possible because of their differences. The other approach teaches the child what is not possible because of their differences.

Another example that may be applicable to more people is terms used for athletics. Someone who plays sports is called an athlete. Someone who places an importance on sports so that it becomes part of their life is athletic. I enjoy sports. I play them when I can and have played on teams before. However, I would not say I’m athletic. I may have an athletic build, but I am not athletic in how I live my life. Likewise, I have autism, but I am not autistic in how I live my life.

I admire people who can be autistic. I also admire people who have autism, but are not autistic. One way of living is not necessarily better than another. It is simply different. However, in saying that, I need to make a point that I believe we should be more accepting of autistic people. The general public tends to admire people with autism, the people that pass for “normal” and do not show autistic traits. We say that they learned to control it, that they overcame this obstacle, that they faced opposition and did not let it stop them. While this is all true, it does not make the autistic person less valuable. They have learned to embrace what others fail to even acknowledge. They have learned to be themselves even if it doesn’t look like the people around them.

Honestly, I do not want to be autistic. I don’t think I could face that pressure. I have always wanted to be “like everybody else.” I pride myself on my ability to blend in. I cling to my sense of belonging. Maybe someday I can be autistic, but for now, I am simply a person with autism, and that is okay.

Too Much

I am kind of an intense person. I am passionate about pretty much everything that I do. I think that a lot of people feel that I am “over the top” in my reactions to life. I am overly grateful. I express my appreciation and love more emphatically than anyone I know. I give too much and love too deeply and feel too strongly about things. I probably come across as a “goody two shoes” in church or in certain situations. I’m too open, too honest, too long-winded in my explanations. I often feel like I am just too much for people.

I feel like I have lost friends because of this. I feel like I haven’t been able to become friends with some others because of this. But I don’t know how to be anything else. I try to tell myself to tone things down, to not be so expressive or assertive, but it gushes out of me. Words and actions flow from me like water bursting from a fountain. 

I have stopped trying to suppress my natural inclinations to say something to another person or to do something for someone else. I have stopped trying to force myself to stay in a box I never fit into. And so, I am left with the alternative of simply being too much.

My Open Box

I feel like I live in a pretty protected community. That’s not a bad thing. Everyone is really nice and they are willing to help out when needed or asked. Sometimes though, I just feel somewhat out of place. I feel like everyone has their lives wrapped up in nice little boxes, not fancy or anything- I don’t feel like people around me are self centered or pompous. I just feel like most people around me are the stacked up boxes ready to be shipped out of the UPS store. They are “finished” and sealed up and ready to be delivered.

I feel like an open box. I don’t feel like a broken box or a messy box, just an open box. I feel unfinished. In a world where everyone seems to present the completed parts of themselves, I feel like I am somehow behind or missing something. Parts of me are being taken out and rearranged and put back in. Some things are taken out and replaced with better things. It’s just a constant process. I am in a constant process of change and growth. And I don’t see my box being closed up and ready to be sealed anytime soon.

Looking around though, I feel like maybe I am missing something? Maybe I am behind and still need to catch up to everyone else? Is everyone else really done, just with the possibility of being decorated a bit before they’re presented in their best state of being?

I have always been a little behind developmentally. I feel like I went through my teenage years in college, my single years didn’t really start until many years after I turned 18, and I am still working on the whole dating life and getting ready for marriage even though I feel like I should be ready to do those things by now. Is that all this is though? Is it just that I need to catch up to everyone else? Or is it that I haven’t figured out what I need in my box yet?

I guess my question really is when or if my box will ever be closed. Will I ever be done like so many others around me seem to be? Or am I just an open box sort of person, constantly trying to switch out my contents for the next stage in my life?

I know a few other people that are like open boxes. I see them growing and changing and rearranging themselves. I connect with these people. I understand them because that’s how I am. I just sometimes want to be a closed box. I want to be finished, presented in a nice little package for my next stage of life.

I get that we’re never quite “done”. We keep learning and growing and becoming better. I just feel like most of the people around me grow and then get to a comfortable spot and stay there for a while until something new comes along, then grow again and get to a new state of consistency and do it over and over again. And I just wonder if I am missing that consistency or if it is just that I will constantly be different from everyone else. Am I missing out? Or is this just another way of living?

Be a Weed

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I had a thought today as I was looking at the weeds in our grass. Our sprinklers broke a few weeks ago and the grass has mostly died, but the weeds are still coming up green. As I looked at those weeds (and the other weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk), I had the thought, “I want to be like that.”

It is interesting to me that weeds are the plants that are the most stable, grow the best, and stay the greenest longest. Weeds have deeper roots than grass and as such, are very hard to kill. Everything about weeds is great, except that they are weeds. If grass came up without much work and stayed green without much watering and would keep coming back no matter how many times it was stepped on, most people would be delighted.

So what makes weeds so bad?

The short answer is that they don’t fit in. The longer answer is that they look out of place with the rest of the lawn, and they are hard to get rid of, even with weed killing spray and digging deep to try to take up the roots.

Anyway, to get to the point…

Being a weed is not always a good thing, but it can be very good to have the qualities of a weed in a lot of life’s situations. I want to be like a weed because of their resilience. I want to be like a weed because of their boldness in standing out from a crowd. I want to be like a weed because of the deep roots that ground them when life gets tough.

Don’t be afraid to be a weed in difficult circumstances. Be a weed in standing up against injustice. Be a weed in standing your ground when others are asking you to compromise your morals or values. Be a weed in fighting depression or anxiety or health issues or other trials. Be a weed in coming back up when life knocks you down. Be a weed in having roots so strong in what you believe in that no matter how far someone digs, they cannot kill that part of you. Be a weed when your circumstances are not ideal, but you are determined to grow up strong anyway.

And perhaps most of all, be a weed in being okay with being a weed. Be okay with being different. Be okay with not going with the crowd. Be okay with standing up for yourself. Not everyone will love you for it, but sometimes being a weed is the best thing you can be.

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Finding Your Voice

I have a hard time talking. I mean, I can speak. I just have a hard time finding the words and putting them in sentences when I am speaking. I have heard a lot about assistive technology for communication. I don’t need a device to communicate my needs, but I can relate to the feeling of helplessness with communication. I have needed to find my voice many times over my lifetime.

I found that voice in writing. Most of my good friends have been made through letters or texts. I need to write like I need to breathe. I am a very social person, but I struggle with spending time with people because I don’t know how to talk to them. But when I write, I can say everything I need.

I used to get embarrassed by my need to write things down to communicate. I know it is a different way of communicating than most people use these days, and I felt awkward and alone. People just don’t write letters very often anymore. People don’t write messages to put on the wall for people to see. And if they do, it’s usually something cute or important. My messages were just about telling someone how I felt or what I needed. It was the only way I knew how to tell people what was going on with me.

I have become more comfortable with how I communicate now. I know it is different, but I am different, and surprisingly, people understand that. So I encourage you to find your voice if you have trouble communicating your needs to others. Find a way to tell people about you and what you need. And remember that it’s okay to be different. The ones that matter most will understand and love you for it.