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.

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!

When Someone Understands

My entire life I have dealt with not being okay. There are different reasons why I might not be okay- maybe it is too loud or too bright or too hot or there are too many people or there is too much going on or I am hungry or tired or anxious or just not okay for some other reason. Sometimes I do a pretty good job of getting myself to become okay again; other times not so much. I have learned over the years that there are times I simply cannot handle a situation in a positive way because of how I feel. I have also learned to find a way to escape when I feel this way so that I won’t do something I would regret. But, until recently, I was generally alone in figuring out how to deal with all this.

A few days ago I was at a family event that was overwhelming for me. I felt crowded and hungry and the noises around me seemed extra loud. I went to a chair in the corner of the room and tried to pretend like I was okay. I didn’t really expect anyone to notice or do anything. I was just trying to disappear into my head. But, my sister did notice. She asked if I was okay and if I needed to go to a quiet place to be alone for a while. She and her husband hugged me and told me that it was okay that I was having a hard time. They showed me where I could go to get away from everything for a bit, and while I was away trying to calm myself, my sister made me food and brought it to me.

It felt so amazing that I cried. I cried because people are starting to understand. They are starting to realize when I’m overwhelmed and need a break, and they are helping me. When someone understands it changes everything. It is easier to become okay again when others don’t expect you to be okay in the moment. If they get upset with you or frustrated or scared or react in a way that makes you feel abnormal, it invalidates your feelings. You get upset with yourself because you should not react in that way, you should be able to control yourself, you should not be overwhelmed by the situation.

I feel like I have pretty good self control. I can generally hold in a meltdown until I get to a place where I am alone. I can generally calm myself down enough to get to another room before I get overly upset about a situation. It is hard though. It is hard once you are not okay to do everything on your own to become okay. It is hard to be alone, yet that is often how we believe we must deal with how we feel.

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of times when I was not okay. But I have been amazed at the positive, helpful responses I have received in these times. Not everyone has responded positively, but a few people have let me be not okay with them for a few minutes so that I could get to a point of being okay again. It has helped me to become okay so much faster and be able to still participate because I didn’t have to leave before I really wanted to go. Maybe it is not always that easy. Maybe sometimes other people can’t really do anything to help, but if someone can understand, if they can let you know that it is okay to not be okay, that can change everything.

 

Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

Trusting Someone with Your Anxiety

There are some people that you can just trust, that you know won’t hurt you, that you know won’t make you feel bad about yourself. My best friend is one of those people for me. It has taken me a long time to trust her, but she has patiently been there through it all.

The other day I was hanging out with her and realized that I was getting to the point of anxiety where I would either freak out or shut down. So I did what I always do and tried to escape as soon as possible. Of course, you can’t just leave without an explanation and because she’s my best friend, I told her the truth. Instead of just letting me go, she asked what would help. By the time I tried explaining everything, I couldn’t handle things anymore. I shut down and then freaked out and then shut down again, but it helped. I got it out of my system and could hang out again.

And she was totally understanding and didn’t make me feel bad about what happened or make me explain why I felt that way. She just hugged me and listened and let me still spend time with her afterwards.

I’m not sure what my point to this is, other than to just trust someone. Let someone know what you’re going through. Let someone know all of you, even the parts you don’t like. Maybe they will be more understanding than you would think. Maybe you will find someone who loves you anyway. And maybe then, you can heal from all the hurt and brokenness, from all the voices in your head that say you are not good enough and you are a freak and no one will ever love you. Maybe then, you can be whole.

I hope you find that someday. I hope you find someone that loves you and would do everything to not hurt you. I hope you find someone to trust with the hard things. I’m still working on becoming whole. I’m still working on the healing and recovery process, but with someone I can trust, with someone that loves me and doesn’t hurt me, I have hope that I will get there someday. I will get better. I can be whole. And maybe, just maybe, I deserve that.

Extrovert with Social Anxiety

I have come to a point in my life where I can start trying to understand my thoughts and why I have some of those thoughts. I am starting to come to terms with different mental models and philosophies that I hold. I know that a lot of my thoughts come from past experiences, and I know that a lot of those thoughts are not really true. The problem is that though I understand these things on an intellectual level, they have not been fully processed mentally and emotionally yet.

One of the most eye opening realizations that I have had in this process has been that I am an extrovert with social anxiety. I absolutely love people. I need people. I need to be around people, lots of people, tons of people. If I am not around someone or talking to someone or messaging someone, the majority of the time I go crazy. I just really need people. On the other hand, I hate people. I hate crowds. I hate noise. I hate people being everywhere all the time and not being able to breathe because there are so many people. I love spending time with people and being invited to hang out or go to an event or have dinner with someone, but I also totally freak out. Sometimes I don’t go, or I go and sit outside and then leave without going in, or I go and stay for a couple minutes and then sneak out, or I go and stay for longer than I am comfortable until I get to the point where I can’t hold in all of the anxiety and I rush out as fast as I can before I can’t hold it together anymore.

My best friend is getting married tomorrow. I have been excited to go to her wedding for months. I have been ecstatic to see her, but I knew it would be hard for me. I know that crowds and noise and people are hard, but I forget about that sometimes. I forget just how hard it is to stay sane with all of my anxiety in social situations. Tonight was hard. The last week has been hard. The last few months have been hard. But tonight, I didn’t want to go anymore. I don’t want to go to my best friend’s wedding reception because the anxiety has gotten to the point where I feel like I’m going to break all the time. She gets it because she’s my best friend, but other people don’t understand or even try to understand sometimes. Of course, I’ll go. I just don’t know when or for how long or how I’ll react or what I will do.

But having social anxiety means that there’s always a tension when you are around people. It’s like having a spring inside of you that gets squeezed the longer you are with people until it finally pops out. And being an extrovert means that once you finally are alone and don’t have to worry about everyone around you, you fall into a bitter loneliness that you just can’t get rid of. So you do this over and over again. You get squeezed until you’re about to snap because you desperately want to be around people and then you retreat until the loneliness is so thick that you can’t bear to be alone. So you go back to the anxiety and then back to the loneliness and back to the anxiety and back to the loneliness.

And you wonder if you’re just killing yourself slowly or if you should just consign yourself to loneliness because trying to be around people is so ridiculously hard. And maybe it is, and maybe you should just stop trying, but… there’s that other voice that says, “maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time it won’t be so bad. Maybe this time you’ll be okay.” And maybe you will be okay; maybe this will all end. And if not, maybe it will be worth it anyway.