My Story – Love

Trigger warning: This post contains methods of self harm, thoughts of suicide, and references to abuse.

I grew up believing that I was never good enough, that no matter how hard I tried or how much I did, I could never be loved. It took a long time to get over that. It took a long time for me to believe that anyone could ever love me simply for being a person, or simply for being myself. I didn’t think I was worthy of love, and I didn’t know why. Only recently have I started to come to terms with the abuse I faced and started believing that love isn’t earned, it’s a gift.

My parents loved me. I didn’t doubt that, but I was unclear on why they loved me. I always thought it was because of what I did. If I was good enough, if I was perfect enough, if I didn’t make mistakes, I felt like I could earn their love. That was all I ever hoped for. I didn’t know unconditional love could exist and even if it did, I didn’t think it would ever be possible for me to have.

This is why I tortured myself. This is why I beat myself, and choked myself, and starved myself. This is why I whipped myself and carved derogatory words into my chest. This is why I wrapped cords around my stomach and chest until they left marks and bruises. This is why I banged my head against walls and tried to puncture my skin. This is why I abused myself sexually, and allowed myself to be abused. If I was not perfect, I didn’t deserve love. If I made a mistake or if someone was upset with me, I deserved to be punished.

I saw myself as a bad person, as unworthy to be alive, as a prisoner owing a debt to society for my very existence. But as much as I felt like I deserved to be punished, I wanted to be loved. So I curled up on the floor or bed and told myself I had suffered enough, and maybe now I could be loved. I thought that now that I was punished, that now that I got what I deserved, I might be worthy to be held, to be loved, to be healed.

It didn’t come though. I just kept thinking, “Maybe if I hurt myself enough, I’ll be worthy to love.” The problem was that though I tried to increase the frequency or intensity or length of time I was tortured, it could never be enough. I was unworthy. I was a bad person and that’s all there was to it.

That’s why I attempted suicide. I did not admit that to myself before now. I told myself it was because I was lonely or felt like a burden. Those were feelings I had, but the reason for those feelings was much deeper. I felt like I was alone because I was unlovable. I felt like a burden because I couldn’t do anything right. No matter how much good I did, I was still, and always would be, a bad person. Killing myself was the only punishment that seemed to be enough for someone as horrible as I felt I must be. No other torture seemed to be enough to atone for my faults.

It took a long time and a whole lot of love to start changing those thoughts. I still struggle to do good things out of fear that I will do it wrong and remember that I am a bad person. It has taken a lot of people telling me that I am kind or generous or thoughtful for me to believe that I have a good heart. It has taken love that I didn’t deserve and kindness I did not earn to help me feel that maybe I do have worth.

It’s still a process. I still struggle. But I am learning to give love more freely and accept it more easily. I have hope that one day I can completely forgive myself, that one day I won’t expect people to hurt me, that one day I’ll feel like I don’t have to earn love. Until then, I am grateful for the people that continue to love me despite my thoughts that I don’t deserve it.

Being My Own Monster

Over the last couple years, I have worked hard to change the philosophies and mental models I developed while growing up. I have acted against what my mind and feelings told me to do. I have done very scary things for me and been incredibly vulnerable because it was the right thing to do.

This week, I started thinking about those philosophies. I started thinking about what they are or were and how they developed. One of those philosophies was that it didn’t matter if you did something good, if you did it in the wrong way or at the wrong time, it was bad.

This is why it is so hard for me to do nice things for people. I like writing letters and dropping off flowers or treats for people and doing little acts of kindness. But I have been so terrified of doing it wrong. Every time I did any of those things, I would panic. I would hide in my room and cry because I was so afraid that I did it wrong. I was so afraid of being hurt. I was afraid that the person would dislike the kind thing that I had done and shame me for it.

I don’t know how this philosophy developed. I don’t know how my self worth became so fragile that I was afraid anything I did, good or bad, was wrong and that I was a bad person because I did not know how someone wanted to be served.

I have looked back and scoured my memories for examples of that philosophy being carried out. I remember a few examples of my grandmother perpetuating that philosophy, but over and over again, I just remember myself doing that to others. I did it to my best friend, to my father. I yelled at them or told them to stop helping because they were doing it wrong. I was the monster I so greatly feared.

It has taken me a long time to change that about myself. It has taken me a long time to realize that there is more than one way to do something. It has taken me a long time to learn to appreciate someone’s efforts more than their results.

And it has taken even longer to forgive myself for not doing things perfectly. It has taken me a long time to allow myself to do good without tormenting my mind with thoughts of worthlessness. I still get scared. I am still afraid of doing good or doing bad or doing anything at all. I am still afraid that I am not enough and will never be enough. But I am trying. I am trying to dispel the monster within me that I don’t know how it was created.

But I am so grateful for the friends in this journey. I am grateful for the people that haven’t degraded me for the kind things I tried to do. I am grateful for the people that have loved me and encouraged me, because it has been really hard. It has been really scary. And those few moments of encouragement, that text that said thank you or the hug or the smile, have made all the difference. I needed each of them, and I am incredibly grateful for them and for the people who showed me that compassion.

My Story- Suicide and Depression

Five years old. That’s how old I was when I first thought about suicide. I was sitting in the car on the freeway and thought, “if I open this door and just fall out of the car, it will all be over.”

Twenty years later, I still have the same thoughts. “If I just turn the steering wheel, it will all be over.” “If I just use that knife or take that rope or walk off a cliff or loosen my seat belt on a rollercoaster, it will all be over.” I know it’s faulty reasoning. I could miraculously survive one of these methods of suicide, or if there is life after death, it may not be over. It just seems like such a good option sometimes. It seems like the only escape.

I don’t remember when I first felt depressed. Much of my childhood memories are flashes of pictures, glimpses of what may have happened with some vague feelings attached to them. I know that I cried a lot. I remember crying in bed nearly every day from elementary school through middle school. I remember the loneliness was so real that it felt like an extra layer of skin too tight for my body, suffocating me daily.

Therapy seemed useless. How can you cure loneliness? Drugs seemed useless for the same reason. In fact, no one even knew. So there was no way I would have gotten help anyway. I couldn’t tell anyone I wanted to die. Telling someone would make it real. I was afraid of it. I was afraid of the feelings, afraid of the thoughts, afraid that if anyone knew, it would give me a reason to follow through on those thoughts.

I wasn’t always depressed. In fact, I was usually pretty happy, at least with the people who would notice if something was wrong. That was part of the problem. Why would anyone believe I wanted to die when I smiled so much? I had no good reason for wanting to die except for being bullied and not having friends and not being able to communicate how I wanted to and stresses at home and difficulties in school. But I knew I had things good. There were lots of people who were worse off. At least I had a good family and freedoms and God. Life couldn’t be that bad. So I convinced myself to keep living, and I did, and I did a pretty good job of it until college when I started my first suicide attempt.

I practically begged to be heard. I blasted loud music in my room with lyrics about suicide. I wrote Facebook posts and notes stating how much I was hurting and how hopeless I felt. It wasn’t fair to my roommates to expect them to save me, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was drowning and had no where else to turn. I wanted someone to blatantly ask me if I was going to commit suicide because I had a plan and I needed help, but I needed someone to recognize how serious it was because I didn’t know what else to do.

I did end up going to a therapist, which helped minimally, and I attempted suicide again when I returned to school after summer break. It was a slow downward spiral with little hope of changing. Of course, with the periods of happiness and hypomania, it still didn’t really feel serious. I made it through college though and moved back home for a while.

The thing is, the suicidal thoughts never really went away. I took medicine, I went to therapy, I did everything you are supposed to do to feel okay, but I was still broken. I had one year of happiness. One year where I felt so happy that describing the feelings produced happy tears of gratitude and appreciation. There were still dark moments, but they were few and far between.

I became depressed again, plunging into the same cycle of suicidal thoughts and darkness of the mind. I finally found a therapist that helped. I finally had hope.

I have hope. I still think of suicide. I still get depressed. I don’t think people realize the extent of it. How can you take it seriously when you know I’ll never act on it? Or at least will likely never act on it? Even though the threat is minimal though, I sort of wish it was acknowledged more.

I don’t want people to worry, but I do want them to know. I just want positive thoughts, understanding, prayers. I mostly just want to know that I’m not alone, that I don’t have to do it alone. I have accepted depression. I have accepted that the suicidal thoughts will likely never go away. I just don’t want to do it alone. I don’t want to face this alone. You don’t have to understand, but please just let me know I’m not alone.

My Story- Forgiveness

I could have named this my story of abuse or family or any number of things, but I decided to name it my story of forgiveness because it’s not about what happened to me, but how I changed because of it.

I had a pretty good home life. My parents loved me. In general, we were well taken care of and had everything we needed to live. But we fought a lot. My parents fought; my siblings fought. I generally did not fight and was considered the peacemaker of the house, which was sometimes a lot of pressure as a kid.

I also tended to not get in trouble. I remember my parents chasing after my sister with a shoe when she slammed the door to her room. I remember my dad telling my younger brother that it would be taken out of his blood when my brother had thrown a book across the room. I remember the fear of not wanting to be hurt and the pain of seeing my siblings punished.

I don’t want anyone to think my parents were severely abusive, that was just the parenting style they grew up with. In fact, the real abuse came from my father’s mother, my grandmother.

Up until about a year ago, I would avoid my grandmother as much as I could. I associated her presence with discomfort and pain. I don’t remember what age I was, but probably around 10, when the incident occurred that formed my most vivid memory of abuse.

I was at my grandparents’ house, probably helping them to paint or something. They wanted to feed me dinner. It was macaroni noodles covered in mayonnaise. I can’t eat mayonnaise, it makes me sick… But you don’t say no to grandma. So I had the great idea to flush my dinner down the toilet. Well, grandma found out what I was doing and took the noodles out of the toilet, rinsed them off and forced them down my throat. I still get sick just thinking about it.  I would rather be beaten than forced to eat something.

It has been hard to forgive that. It has been hard to associate my grandmother with anything other than hate and pain. Miraculously though, it happened this year. I stood there and hugged this woman who abused me, who I cringed at the sound of her voice, who I feared more than anyone in the world. I held her and softly assured her that things would be okay. I protected her; I loved her.

My story of abuse isn’t that bad. I didn’t get broken bones or physical scars. I did get emotional scars that stayed deep for many years, but I have forgiven. I don’t know how I forgave. It didn’t change how much she hurt me. It didn’t change that I don’t trust anyone alone with her. It didn’t change her. It just changed me.

I changed. I forgave my parents first, especially my dad. I forgave him all of his faults and the physical and emotional crimes I felt he committed against me and my mom and siblings. I forgave him because he is human. I forgave him because he needed it, and I needed it too.

Forgiving my grandmother was completely unexpected. I didn’t know it would happen. I didn’t know it could happen. But it has been freeing, incredibly freeing, to let go of that pain and that fear, and just be free.

My Story- Friends

I think my first birthday party that someone came to was in eighth grade. One person came.

I always wondered what was wrong with me. Why did some people seem to have dozens of friends while I struggled to even get one person to come? Was I flawed, unlovable, unworthy? Would I ever have a friend who wanted to spend time with me?

I cried myself to sleep most nights because I just wanted someone to care. My sister had sleepovers and went to friends’ houses. My brothers had friends they played with. Every outcast, bully, and misfit at my school seemed to have a friend. If they didn’t, they must have hid pretty well because believe me, I looked. I thought, if I could just find someone as lonely as me, I could be their friend.

In high school, I did make more friends. Not any that I could spend time with outside of school, but at least I was talking to people… even if it was just helping them with homework. I did have a couple other birthday parties and a few more people came. I didn’t feel as lonely. I didn’t cry myself to sleep every night. I didn’t think about suicide as much. In fact, high school was pretty amazing for me.

Then I went to college and pretty much had to start all over. I had suitemates, but they were stressed out college students that I had no idea how to connect with. I attempted suicide. I begged to be seen. It was an utter loneliness that I had never experienced before. At least growing up I had my siblings, there I had no one who understood me.

My second year of college, I withdrew for a semester and laid in bed helping every depressed, suicidal, or discouraged person I could talk to online. I finally had friends. It became an addiction. I wasn’t addicted to helping people. I was addicted to the feeling of being needed. I couldn’t lose that feeling. I didn’t care if it was real. I just desperately needed to feel loved and wanted. And I was hurt by many people’s lies.

But I gained a friend, a real person that seemed to want me around. I did everything to keep that- things I shouldn’t have done, things I didn’t want to do. But we’re still friends. We worked things out and our friendship is generally pretty good.

I still wonder what’s wrong with me sometimes though. When I feel alone and like no one really wants to spend time with me, I wonder if I really am flawed. My best friend is my best friend because she needs me as much as I need her.

But I do have other friends. I do have other people who don’t need me quite as much. Life can still feel very lonely. And when something disappointing happens, it’s easy to go back to my 12-year-old self sitting alone with my birthday cake and just hoping my friends got lost.

It’s hard to convince yourself that things have changed when life gives you evidence that it hasn’t. But I try to look at the big picture. I try to remember the good thoughts, the positive affirmations, the evidence that I’m not unlovable. Maybe one day I’ll really believe it.

My Story- Gender Identity Disorder

Up until this point, I have written one blog post specifically addressing my gender identity. My family and my friends do not fully understand the extent of my gender identity issues. I currently classify myself as gender-less or asexual.

I struggled with gender identity disorder since I was a child. My family does not call me Julia. They call me Chewie. (Yes, after Chewbacca from Star Wars.) This is the name they have called me for as long as I can remember. It is the name by which I refer to myself. Julia is like my undercover name and Chewie is like my secret identity. It feels strange to be called Chewie by someone who does not know me like that. However, I feel like Chewie is the real me.

What’s in a name? Well, for someone who struggles with gender identity, everything. It makes life so much easier or so much harder. Being called Chewie at home gave me a way to cope, a place of safety, a way to be myself.

I don’t hate being a girl anymore. I used to. I used to despise it. I used to avoid bathrooms like the plague. I would pee my pants in middle school to avoid using the girls restroom. I would avoid talking to new people for fear of the dreaded question, “are you a girl or a boy?” I would answer girl but be offended if someone said I looked like a girl.

People labeled me what they wanted, and looked at me strangely if I used the girls restroom or the boys restroom. I could not belong no matter how hard I tried to be one or the other. I didn’t have the characteristics to be a girl, and I didn’t have the parts to be a boy.

It hurts to talk about it. You can read any post, website, or article about gender identity or transgender and see people who don’t understand the conflict. They say it comes down to body parts, but what about people who have both? They make it sound so easy, but many are likely the same people who would call me sir in a restaurant, ask me to leave the girls dressing room, and look at me strangely when I buy feminine hygiene supplies.

It is only by choosing to classify myself as asexual that I have come to peace with my gender. It doesn’t matter what people call you if you don’t classify by either gender. It doesn’t matter if you get kicked out of dressing rooms or get strange looks by curious cashiers. I can finally accept that I will never fit the mold, and I no longer feel like I have to.

What does this mean in regards to the rest of my life? Pretty much nothing. I still attend the women’s activities at my church; I wear a skirt to work and pants as soon as I get home; I shop in the ladies section and the mens section interchangeably. The only thing it changes is my dysphoria in regards to my gender.

I no longer cry myself to sleep because I don’t fit in the gender norms. I don’t get offended when people question my presence or belonging. I am content to not fit in, to not conform, and to be who I am without letting labels define me.

My Story- The Other Side of Autism

In my last post, I described the social situations that led up to my autism diagnosis. This post will focus more on sensory differences, repetitive movements, and restricted interests.

“That’s not normal.” “Normal people don’t do that.” “Don’t be seen.” “Stop.” “Someone is looking.” “Disappear.” “Be like them.”

These thoughts and more, have flooded my mind over and over again for as long as I can remember. I have forced myself to fit in, stopped myself from doing things that seem strange to others, and carefully analyzed the world for signs of acceptance.

I feel like I don’t know myself. I don’t know what I like to do or what makes me happy. It hasn’t mattered up until this point. It wasn’t about me; it was about everyone else. Flapping is not acceptable; having a meltdown is not acceptable; refusing to try new things is not acceptable; reacting to loud noises is not acceptable; escaping uncomfortable situations is not acceptable; enjoying or seeking out certain sensory experiences is not acceptable. Acceptable- that has been the thorn of my existence, triggering the ultimate thought, “I am not acceptable.”

How did it come to this? How did I get to the point where I was afraid to do anything for fear of doing something wrong? How did I become so scared of being different that I felt like it would be better for everyone if I wasn’t alive at all? How did autism collide with depression and suicidal thoughts, resulting in fear, hiding, cowering behind a cover of normalcy?

Things have gotten better. Fear isn’t as strong as it once was. Suicidal thoughts aren’t as prevalent. But, I have yet to accept my differences.

There are so many groups, websites, and people promoting autism acceptance. They say to be yourself, to flap, to sensory stimulate, to do what comes naturally. I don’t believe it. As much as I try to believe that autism acceptance is possible, my rational brain rejects the idea. How could people possibly accept what they have told me for so long to hide? I am not strong enough to endure the criticism of allowing myself to appear autistic.

I have not done what I could have or possibly should have done to promote this blog. I convince myself that it is because I simply don’t have the time, but the truth is that a large, well-known blog attracts controversy. People will do anything they can to destroy any hope that threatens their perception of perfection. I have experienced this in my life and it has brought me into hiding. I hide my sensory, behavioral, kinetic differences in order to preserve them from being attacked, to preserve me from letting them die.

So I do not flap in public, but I flap openly in my room. I am also starting to do so more at work and church and school when I happen to find myself alone and the chances of being seen are relatively low. I do not rock in public, but I find a quiet, solitary place to release and calm down. I do not chew on pens or furiously scratch ink onto notebooks; instead I calmly draw little pictures, take pens apart and reassemble them, and silently trace little designs with my fingers. I do not twist my hands or do complex body movements to relieve tension; instead I crack my fingers, stretch, shift in my chair, and attempt to distract myself.

Is there such a thing as being free or is freedom learning to live within the structural, social, cultural, religious, and legal constructs of the world? I don’t know if this is freedom, coping, or hiding. I don’t know if this is ideal, disheartening, or simply necessary. I don’t know if it makes me happy or sad, frustrated or satisfied, anxious or relieved. I do know that it’s not likely to change soon.

I am not likely to suddenly start flapping in public or allowing my textural interests to show or talking about my specific topical interests for more than a few seconds or allowing my body to do complex twisting movements. I am not likely to allow myself to show that I am autistic. But, the thoughts of hiding my differences and forcing normalcy are becoming kinder. I am becoming kinder with myself, more understanding of my weaknesses, and more accepting of my sensory needs outside of the public view.

SensoryBlogHopNew

Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!

Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!

My Story- Autism

It is difficult to tell my story with autism because I’m not exactly sure what autism means for me or how much of my life it has affected. I felt like a pretty normal kid until third grade. I had a good group of friends that I would spend time with at recess or during lunch. I was in speech therapy because I had a hard time saying the letter “R”. I didn’t feel like therapy made me any different than anyone else though. I went with a few other students and we played games. It just felt like a break from class for a while.

In second grade, I started hanging out with a certain boy in my class. Typical, elementary school crushes, we would sit on the swings at recess and talk. I hardly spent any time with my group of friends because I would be with my seven-year-old crush. The next year, he moved away and I assumed that I could go back to my group of friends and nothing would have changed. Of course, I was wrong. A lot changes in a year. My friends had new friends, a new leader of the group, and new things they liked to do to pass the time.

I no longer felt like I fit in, and set off on my own to find other friends. The thing is, I had no idea how to make friends, how to talk to people, how to recognize facial expressions or know if someone liked me and wanted me around. My first group of friends evolved around the sister of my brother’s best friend. She had been to my house before and so it was natural to gravitate towards her at school. When I left her and that group of friends, I had no leads. I had no one to gravitate to, and not being able to say the letter “R” made it difficult to avoid teasing or misunderstanding.

It’s a pretty simple story and seems to have little to do with autism, which is exactly why it took until seventh grade to receive a diagnosis. People said I was shy; they blamed it on my speech impediment; they said I was lazy or that school was just hard. I don’t even think my family understood. How could I explain something so simple and yet so difficult? In my seven year old vocabulary and social skills, how could I explain that I was still the same person, that nothing had changed about me; it was the situation that changed and I didn’t know how to handle it.

Once I was diagnosed, nothing really changed. I had some accommodations for school work and we focused more on social skills in my speech therapy sessions. It was still incredibly difficult, but I just kept going. That was all I could really do, all I can really do.

Now that I  know more about autism, I am beginning to explore what it means. I’m beginning to explore the differences in social reading, emotional reciprocity, and giving of social cues. I’m not good at it, but I am pretty good at faking it. I guess and then search for clues that I was right or wrong and make a course correction. I think we are all like that. We all don’t fully understand each other, no matter how well we can read social cues. For me, it’s just been more of an emotional and psychological journey.

What I am learning more about and learning to embrace more is the “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior”- the sensory side of autism, the special interests, stereotyped movements. In my intellectual, black-and-white mindset, it’s not easy to accept these sides of autism. My mind tells me they are wrong, abnormal, different, unacceptable, unforgivable, unlovable. I’m just starting to get past those thoughts, but it’s difficult. It’s difficult to rewrite years of observation, experimentation, and self-experienced research. But that journey is a story for a different day.

My Story- Introduction

Have you ever been so different that you just wished you were the same?

That has been the story of my life. When it comes to being different, I have experienced quite a lot of differences in my life. Racial differences, political affiliation, religion, gender stereotypes, disability, speech deficits, intelligence, poverty or lack of government benefits have all been part of the thoroughfare of differences that marked my young life.

No matter where I have been or what I have done, I was always different. I was the exception to every rule, the outlier, the odd one out. And I knew it. I have always known it and will likely always feel it. Not that I can’t blend in, I just know things others don’t know, I have experiences others don’t have, and no matter what group I am in that will always be the case. I know that’s a truth for everyone, but sometimes your differences don’t matter as much as other times. In some groups your differences don’t matter as much as in other groups; I have yet to find the group where my differences don’t seem to matter.

At some point, you learn to accept your differences and live with them. I am close to that point, but I’m still working on it. Growing up, I just had so many differences that I would give them all up to just be the same. I would have given up my intelligence, talents, athletic ability, anything good about myself just to fit in. I wouldn’t do that anymore, but when you are bullied, lonely, teased, and simply ignored as a kid, you’d do anything to be normal.

However, it is only through my differences that I have learned to be myself. When you are so different that you can’t even blend in by conformity, you learn to be who you are and not buckle under pressure because acting like everyone else will never allow you to fit in anyway. Through my differences, I have also learned compassion, sympathy, understanding, courage, perseverance, and ultimately love (which I am still working on learning every day.)

So, welcome to my life. I hope as you read about the different stories that have made me, me, that you will find hope, inspiration, and connection. I have never before shared the many stories that have made me who I am. As I write, I will be discovering along with you the person that created autismthoughts, underthesurfacepoetry, and servingaservicemission.