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.

 

Friends Forever

Having friends scares me. I love people so much, but it seems that friendships hardly ever last as long as you would like. I have had so many people who said they would always be there for me, that they would never leave, but they have been gone a long time. I still think about them and wonder if they ever think about me. Sometimes when someone says they will always be friends with me or they will never leave, the thoughts return of everyone who has ever said that to me.

Friends forever

Having friends scares me because I don’t know what I am doing right or if I am doing something wrong. I try to understand what other people need, and I try to be respectful of their needs. I try to be a good friend. I try to be myself, but not overwhelm them.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me, why I could never seem to keep a friend. I came to the conclusion that maybe people just don’t need me as much as I need them. Why be friends with me when they have other friends… better friends?

Having friends scares me because losing a friend is the hardest thing I have ever done. People think that autism or depression or anxiety or so many other things are incredibly difficult (and they are), but the most difficult thing for me is feeling like I am loved and wanted, then having that feeling taken away. You cannot miss what you have never had, but once you have something that makes you feel better than ever, taking it away leaves a gaping hole in your heart.

I wonder if forever friends are possible. I wonder if I am worth being friends with forever. My views of myself have greatly improved over the last couple years. I no longer hate myself. I see good in me. But when it comes to friends, I still feel hopelessly lost. I still don’t know what I am doing. Maybe I never will. But even though I have lost many friends over the years, I still hope that you mean it when you say forever.

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.

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.