Feelings

I think I feel too much. That is what autism is most like for me. Autism is feeling everything acutely all the time. I literally feel everything. I feel every object in a room. I feel sounds and smells and tastes. I feel words. I feel emotions. I can’t say I feel differently than you because I don’t know exactly how you feel. I have never been you. But I can say that I feel everything physically. And it is exhausting…

I was telling a friend today that I think I love too much. Love for me is overwhelming. It makes my whole body tingle. Love is a burst of energy that penetrates every fiber of my being. It feels like it literally changes my DNA so that I am now connected to a person in a way that they are made a part of me. I love hugs because it feels like the energy inside of me finds a place to belong. Like the love inside of me connects with the love inside of someone else, and for a moment, I feel whole.

Joy is like that too. Joy is like a spring inside of me. It makes me feel like every particle in me wants to jump up and down. This is why I flap and jump up and down and smile like crazy, because the joy in me has to have somewhere to go. When I am “flapping happy”, I feel like I am flying. It is like the joy inside of me has come out of my skin and when I jump or flap, I’m releasing that joy into the world. It feels like the joy springs from me and dances in the air, and when it lands, it becomes peaceful, like it is lying on the ground watching the clouds on a cool spring day.

Unfortunately, depression and darkness are also things I feel acutely. Depression is like millions of tiny weights hanging from each hair, each skin cell, weighing me down with an enormity that cannot be seen from outside. And if the weight wasn’t already enough, it feels like there is a black hole in my chest. Opposite to the feeling of joy wanting to come out of me, depression feels like it sucks everything into me. It is a constant sucking force that seems to suck all of the air and light out of a room, making it difficult to breathe and to see anything other than the darkness inside of me.

Fear, joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and every other emotion that ever lives inside of me all have their own physical feeling attached to them. Each one is so powerful and all-consuming that I can hardly do anything else because my body is overcome by the feeling of each emotion. I think that this is why I shut down sometimes, because constantly feeling everything wears me out. And after feeling so many strong emotions, sometimes it is simply painful. Pain for me is like an exploding of every emotion. It confuses me, and I don’t know what will come out. I feel like Cyclops from the X-men before he learns how to control his powers. Everything comes out and I don’t even see what I’m destroying until after it’s done.

For the Love of Autism

I love looking at pictures of best friends. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some look alike and some couldn’t be more different. But the amazing thing is that somehow, someway, two people saw the best in each other and decided it was worth sticking around for.

I’m so grateful for my best friends over the years. My first best friend in kindergarten didn’t last long, but she gave me something to aspire to. My next best friend in middle school really didn’t need me. She was more popular than I could ever hope to be, but I loved her because she saw me for who I was. She saw the good in me.

In college, I felt like I made my first real best friends. The kind that wanted to spend time with me simply because they enjoyed my presence. Unfortunately, with all of these best friends from elementary school to college, situations change and I didn’t know how to keep a friendship outside of situational happenstance.

At 20 years old, I made my first friendship that really lasted outside of school or work or church. She’s been my best friend for about the last 7 years.

Last year, I made another friendship. I didn’t really think that it could get better than it was. I didn’t think that God would send me another friend because having one best friend was all that I ever hoped or dreamed of. But I am so grateful for our friendship. This past year was one of the hardest and best of my life. I didn’t know how much I needed my friend until I had her. And now I can’t imagine my life without her.

I never really knew what it was like to love someone so much that when they’re not around, it feels like a part of you is missing. I didn’t fully understand the feeling of missing someone until I had my best friends.

There is a connection in friendship that is like a bonding of your heart to theirs. It’s not that I didn’t feel that with my family, it’s just that with my family that bonding felt more like a computer network. We could be far away from each other, but we were still so connected that I didn’t ever feel a separation. I feel the same way with my best friend of over 7 years. But with newer friends, that bond feels more like a piece of gum. You can be apart for so long and still feel connected, but eventually that gum strains and breaks, and it takes a piece of you with it. You can reconnect it and get it back, but sometimes the person just never comes back into your life.

Some people think that people with autism don’t understand love, that we don’t value the people around us. It’s not true. I remember everyone from Kindergarten to now. I remember everyone who was kind to me, who talked to me. I feel love. Too much.

It’s just that I don’t know how to express it. I don’t know how to let you know that I like being your friend or spending time with you. It’s not that I feel like I’m better than you or that I’m indifferent. I just don’t know how to navigate the social skills to tell you what you mean to me. But I love you and miss you more than you’ll ever know. And no matter how small, you took a piece of me with you and I will forever miss that.

I know it’s hard for you not to hear I love you. I know it’s hard for you to feel like we ignore you or don’t appreciate you. I can’t speak for every autistic person in the world, but I can tell you that no one could love you more than I love my friends and family. Yes, we love. Sometimes we just don’t know how to tell you how much we love.

“Watchman, what of the night?”

I cannot sleep tonight. It’s the first night since I’ve been better that I haven’t just drifted off in peaceful bliss. One rough night doesn’t mean that you have slipped back into depression, but when depression has been such a constant in your life, one night can bring back so many reminders.

My mind is like a floodgate. Once the gates of self doubt or anxiety or depression or feelings of worthlessness open, the thoughts come bursting forth like giant waterfalls flowing along the well-worn paths they have carved in the landscape of my mind.

Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m thinking because I’m thinking so much that I can’t even process it. My thoughts choke me. They suffocate me. I gasp for the peace and reassurance I felt just a few hours ago. Where did it go so quickly?

There’s this scripture I love in Isaiah that says, “Watchman, what of the night?” It basically means, “how long will the night last? When will the morning come?” Sometimes the night seems to last so long, but morning always comes. Tonight, I am asking, “when will morning come?” But I know that it’s there, just on the other side of the darkness.

A New Person

It has been about a month since I last felt depressed. Realizing that I am not a bad person had a lot to do with that. Most people who know me would probably think it is strange that I would think of myself as a bad person, but it was the one belief that overpowered everything else in my life. It influenced every thought, action, and relationship. It ruled my life for so long that I hardly even recognized its influence because I was so accustomed to thinking that way.

I feel like a great weight has been lifted off me. I feel free. I used to be so scared all the time. I was scared of doing good things because I felt like a bad person so doing something good seemed hypocritical. I was also scared of not doing good things because I did not want to be a bad person. I was scared of getting close to people or making friends because I felt like it was just a matter of time before they found out how terrible I really was.

Looking back, my thoughts seem so strange. They did not make any sense. How could I be a bad person if I did not do anything to be mean or malicious or disrespectful? How could I be so bad if all anyone else saw in me was good? I guess that is how mental illness works though. Your thoughts are not inline with reality. Your thoughts directly contradict reality sometimes, but at the same time, your thoughts are reality. The way you see and think about the world is your reality, even if it is not true from the outside.

Now, I can look at how I used to think and see the flaws. I understand how I came to those beliefs and why I believed I was a bad person, but it is still difficult for me to believe I felt that way for so long. I mean, you would think that I would have noticed earlier. You would think that I would have recognized that these thoughts ruled my life. I guess I did recognize it to some extent, but I did not know how to change it. I would tell myself that my thoughts weren’t true, but I didn’t believe it. I believed my thoughts, not whatever I tried to tell myself.

I am not exactly sure what finally changed my thoughts. I had been going to therapy for a few weeks, and we were working on recognizing mental distortions.  I sat down one night and drew out my life and realized how and why I came to see myself as a bad person. I talked to my friends about it, and briefly to my therapist. Then one day, it was like all the pieces fit together in my mind. I recognized the lie and saw the truth, but, more importantly, I believed the truth.

I have felt like a new person since that time. The world seems brighter, more friendly and happier. I feel at peace with myself and everything around me. It is like clouds of darkness that had been there for years finally dispersed, and I can see the sun again. The strangest (and possibly most wonderful) thing is how I see my past now. I used to see hurt and sorrow and loneliness in my past. There were good times in the midst of that, but my general feeling was that the past was too painful to remember. Now, I see so much hope and light in past experiences. Even in the darkest times, I see the brightness of hope that was just beyond my view back then.

I am the happiest I have ever been! I wake up every day with a newness of life! The world seems wonderful and amazing! I see the beauty in everything! To someone that has been depressed for the majority of my life, it seems like a fairy tale and I am waiting to wake up or climb out of a rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland. But this is real! The feelings are real because I have been freed from beliefs that weren’t real. It is not that I stepped into a better world, but rather that I stepped out of the darkness. I stepped out of a prison cell I did not know I was keeping myself in. Now I have a chance to be free, to find out what the world is really like without distorted lenses. I can’t express how truly excited I am to be alive now! The world is a beautiful place, and I am so excited to experience that beauty for the first time without anything distorting my view!

 

Chameleons vs. Rocks

My best friend is a chameleon.
I am a rock.

She adapts to whatever situation she is in. She fits in with anyone anywhere because she knows how to read people and their personalities and act accordingly. She makes friends pretty easily because she is whatever people are looking for in a friend. The problem with being a chameleon is that she is often accused of lying or faking because how she acts isn’t always consistent with the rest of her life. She never tries to deceive people. She just finds her happy place in blending in with the people around her.

I am the opposite end of the spectrum. I am the same no matter who I am with or where I am. I am the same with my boss as I am with my mom or my best friends. I mean, the dialogue changes and some people see more of me than others, but I am pretty consistent. Even at concerts or when I am particularly happy, I don’t know how to get those emotions out of me. I can often seem like a “stick in the mud,” not because I am but because I don’t know how to express myself well. I have a hard time making friends and a hard time hanging out with people. I just stand out from the crowd, sometimes in a good way, sometimes awkwardly, and sometimes by being invisible.

We became friends because she sees me for who I am, and I allow her to be whoever she needs to be. Since I am a rock, she can act how she feels at the time because she knows I won’t change. She doesn’t need to act a certain way because I stay the same no matter what.

The thing is, it is hard to be a rock and it’s hard to be a chameleon. She needs me to believe her when other people are calling her a fake. I need her to be there because I don’t make much friends as a rock. We need each other.

I guess all I am saying with this is that even if you are as different as a rock and a chameleon, you can still be best friends. Give people a chance. Let people see you. See other people. You may be surprised at the friends you make when you do.

Making Progress

Most people feel good when they do something for someone else.

I have thought about that a lot over the last few weeks. I used to hate myself when I did something for someone else. I would get home and just cry for hours after I dropped off an anonymous gift at someone’s house or gave someone a letter or took food to someone.

People always say that when you’re depressed or having a bad day, you should serve and help someone else because it makes you feel better. It didn’t make me feel better. In fact, I had to stop doing things for people for about a year because I was so depressed that doing something like that would have pushed me over the edge.

Yesterday I did something good for someone. I didn’t even do it anonymously, which is usually the only way I can handle things like this. I did something kind for another person, and I didn’t hate myself afterwards. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t curl up on the floor and cry for hours. I just felt good. It was such an amazing experience.

I want to feel like this every day. I want to feel like I can be myself and see the needs of someone else and not be terrified to do something about it. I want to love myself. I hope this feeling lasts because I so desperately want to love myself. I don’t want to have to forgive myself for acting on my generous thoughts. I just want to do things without even thinking about it, without wanting to punish myself for it. I want to be okay with who I am. I want to feel good when I do something. I want this feeling of peace to last forever.

Autism Employment Forum

I have been thinking recently about the job experiences I have had as a person with autism in the workplace. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand that would have been helpful to know back then.

So I started researching support for working adults with autism. There isn’t really anything online. There are links to sites that will set you up with a job coach or employment specialist, and there are a lot of links about hiring someone with autism. But what if you have a stable job as a person on the autism spectrum? Or what if you are fully capable of finding your own job, but this is your first job and you have no idea what your rights are or what to do in certain situations? Where do you learn the things that no one really tells you about working and having/ keeping a job?

I am contemplating making a forum for working adults with autism, or for someone between jobs, or just entering the job field. I’ll answer questions I’ve had and initiate discussions about general employment practices or questions.

It will be a place where we can address topics such as: how do I know if I need accommodations? If I do need accommodations, how do I access them? Where can I go to get help? What are my rights? What do I do when I need a break but management isn’t readily available? Should I tell people I have autism? How do I quit my job? How do I ask for a raise? How do I ask for time off? How do I learn the rules and policies so I don’t get in trouble for breaking them? What can I do if I get in trouble with my supervisor or manager?

But before I go through the trouble of making this forum or discussion group, I need to know if there is interest in such a group, and if there is interest, I need help spreading the word.

That’s where you come in. If you would be interested, like or comment on this post. If you know someone that may be interested, share this post. If you have any input or suggestions, let me know.

If there is sufficient interest, I’ll get started on making a group like this. Thank you for your help!