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- 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.

Grateful for Trials

The last week has been difficult physically, but amazing emotionally. I have been in intense pain constantly, but I am super grateful that it happened now. Emotionally, this week has been very rewarding. I have spent time with friends, completed therapy, and applied to get my second bachelor’s degree.

The virtual end of one trial and beginning of a new one has made me contemplate just how grateful I am for trials. It might seem strange to be grateful for something that causes so much pain, but every trial I have faced has made me better.

I am more understanding because of depression, more forgiving because of abuse, more sympathetic because of health issues, more open and honest because of autism, more accepting because of gender identity disorder, more giving because of poverty, and simply a better person because of all those things combined. There is more I could say about my trials and how they have made me better, but it is not so much how my trials have made me better as the fact that they have made me better.

I would not trade all I have learned from all I have suffered to have an easier life. I would not trade a lifetime of pain for a lifetime of ease because I would rather be better than happier, and in the end what I learn makes me happier. I am so grateful to give up being happy for a few moments to make others happier for so much longer. I am grateful to be in pain so that I can understand the pain of others. I am grateful for bullying and ridicule that has made me kinder, gentler, and more careful with my words.

I am just so grateful to have experienced so many difficult circumstances because it means I can be trusted with other people’s difficult circumstances. I couldn’t ask for a better plan or a better life. I am grateful for the trials that make my life better by making me better.

If we can find beauty in the pain, gratitude in the heartache, and light in the darkness, we will be okay.

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.

Grateful for Honest Voices

I’ll continue with my letters tomorrow, but today I wanted to talk about something else for a minute.

I have felt very alone for much of my life- alone in my struggles, alone in my journey, alone in my loneliness. And when I started this blog, I felt alone in my openness. I stopped blogging for about a year because it felt too scary to stand alone in my honesty, in my vulnerability, in my humanity. I was scared to tell people that I was different. It’s not like it was a secret, but saying it or writing about it seemed like social suicide. And let’s face it, my social life didn’t need anything else to help it plummet faster.

But I am so grateful that I’m not alone. I am so grateful for all the other honest voices out there. I am so grateful for all the people who have shared their stories, who are sharing their stories, and who will share their stories. I am so grateful that this isn’t a one way conversation. I’m grateful that I’m not just a voice lost in the vast world of the internet. I still am just one voice, and a relatively small voice at that, but I can unite my voice to the many voices. I am so grateful for that.

So, thank you. Thank you to all of you who put yourself out there. Thank you to all of you who are honest voices. Thank you for being voices I can unite with. Together, we might just make a difference.

Selective Mutism

There were years of school where I went through selective mutism. The teachers would call role and I just couldn’t answer.

I didn’t understand it. It felt like I was afraid of my voice. But I could talk at other times. I could speak to one person, but just not to many. People would look at me and wonder why I didn’t speak when they had heard me speak before. But I was very fortunate to have people who spoke for me, who defended me from substitutes who didn’t understand or were rude to me.

Teachers didn’t understand. They made it seem so easy. “Just tell me what you need,” they said. I wished it was that easy and I chastised myself that it wasn’t. I hated myself for not being able to speak. And I desperately wanted friends, but could see no way to get them. I tried to become invisible instead, which also didn’t work. In a world where everyone demands that you speak up, look them in the eye, conform to their standards, it’s hard when you can’t. And you get in trouble a lot.

If there’s any advice I could give to teachers, it would be to not demand conformity or at least not enforce it with punishment. Some of us are doing our best. We’re not trouble makers. We just don’t know how else to do things.

Autism and Anxiety

I went to an activity tonight where we talked about anxiety. The presenter asked if anyone had anything to share about depression, anxiety, etc. Everyone was quiet. So she asked me. I was a little nervous to share out loud about what I go through, but I figured “hey, I blog. This isn’t that different.” So I shared with my church group about my mental health issues. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be and it opened up the floor for others to share hard things.

The remainder of the discussion was about anxiety. It was interesting to me to note that I really don’t struggle with general anxiety. In fact, I am one of the least anxious people I know when it comes to life. I really don’t worry very much. However, I do worry more than the average person about social situations because I often don’t know how to conduct myself in those situations.  I worry more than the average person about keeping on good terms with friends because I have been teased and bullied most of my life.  I worry more than the average person about my actions because I know what it’s like to be stared at for being yourself.

Thankfully, therapy has helped with much of the anxiety I have felt from experiences I have had. I read an article about why people with autism tend to be more anxious, which basically said it’s because we have more to be anxious about. I am constantly in pain and discomfort. I am constantly put in situations that are not natural to me. I am constantly trying to figure out and analyze the world and my surroundings. So, yes, this makes me more anxious. But no, I don’t have a problem with anxiety. I worry less than others in some things and more than others in other things.

It’s just life. We’re all different and we all have different struggles. I struggle with autism, depression, GERD, gender identity, and probably a few other things. I know that some people with autism do have anxiety disorders. Some people without autism struggle with social anxiety. We all have something to deal with. My philosophy is just accept what you can’t change, change what you need to change, and don’t stress about how long it takes to do either one.

Please Be Selfish

I begged my friend today to be selfish. Maybe it was selfishness in myself, but I just couldn’t handle it anymore.

No amount of abuse should ever be tolerated. No matter how much you want to give people the benefit of the doubt or give them a second chance, it should never come at the expense of your own physical, mental, or emotional health. We see heroes as people who sacrifice themselves for the good of someone else. And it’s true, they do. But sacrifice doesn’t make sense if the expense is greater than the gain.

Risking your life to save someone else’s is a fair trade. Staying up late to talk to someone going through a hard time is a fair trade. Standing up for what you believe in despite opposition is a fair trade.

Allowing someone to yell at you and make you want to die to avoid hurting their feelings is not a fair trade. Allowing abuse to make someone feel loved is not a fair trade. Keeping someone in your life who decreases your safety or health in order to not damage their self-esteem is not a fair trade.

If any of this is something you can relate to, if you’re avoiding hurting someone else’s career or esteem or feelings, please please be selfish. Please let them go. Let them out of your life and get the help you really need. Life is too short. Life is too short to allow yourself to be hurt.

I’m begging you to be selfish, just this once so that you can be safe.

Beth’s Story

I have no idea how Beth and I became best friends. We are complete opposites in almost everything. She is a country girl who grew up mostly in trailer homes. I am a city girl who grew up 15 minutes from 3 major malls, 2 giant amusement parks, countless beaches, and pretty much anything you would want to do in southern California. She enjoys cuddling, saying I love you, and watching romance movies. I don’t usually hug people, much less cuddle with them, have a hard time saying I love you, and would rather watch an action film than a romance. She struggles in school and doesn’t generally enjoy learning about random stuff. I love learning and hardly ever study because it comes so naturally to me.

Almost every time we talk, one of us will say, how did we ever become friends? But the fact remains that we are best friends and plan on remaining so until we’re old and senial and forget each other’s names.  Then, we’ll be new best friends.

I could say more about our friendship, but this story is about Beth. How did she get here and why is she struggling?

Beth grew up in an abusive household. Her mother was an addict when she was pregnant and it didn’t change after Beth was born. Beth’s older siblings took advantage of her, experimenting their perceptions of life on Beth and taking out their frustrations on her. Living in abuse led to not knowing how to prevent it in other places. So school wasn’t much better than home.

I won’t go into details, but by the time I met Beth, she had been through a lot. She was a freshman in high school and I was a sophomore in college.  We’re only 3 years apart in age, but miles apart in life circumstances. After 2 years of friendship, I made the decision that would change both of our lives forever by bringing Beth to California.

It has been 3 years since then and we’re still best friends, but changing Beth’s circumstances didn’t change her past. She still has PTSD from everything that happened to her as well as health problems and depression. It did change everything for me though. Being friends with Beth gave me freedom from depression for the first time in my life and changed how I view the world and myself.

I know it’s not as easy to change effects of abuse as it is to change effects of loneliness, but I want the same thing for my best friend as she has given me. That can’t happen until she gets the help she needs. I contribute all I can to help her, even signing as a cosigner so she could get an apartment after being homeless for 9 months. But if anyone else can help too, it would mean she may be able to get the help she needs to become whole like she has helped me become.

Click here to see our campaign.

Effects of Abuse

In some ways, I do not feel I should write this post because I have never really been through severe physical or sexual or even emotional abuse. The abuse I have suffered has been minimal and mostly observational, but it has still had an effect on me.

So I write this post not only to explain that effect, but also to show that you don’t have to go through something dramatic to suffer the effects of abuse. I will not describe what I suffered in this post, but I will describe how it influenced my train of thought.

I believe in justice. I believe that when you do something wrong you deserve to be punished. I believe that doing something wrong can include little things like forgetting something or not doing something you were asked to do.

I have punished myself before. I have tortured myself for my weaknesses, mistakes, and failure to comply with demands. When I could not torture myself physically, I often tortured myself mentally or emotionally. I feel pain with others when I see or think of their suffering. I have used this sympathetic pain to torture myself.

I am not proud of what I have done to myself. I have felt like I deserved to die because I did torture myself when there are people going through real torture from others. At times I have made myself sick with the physical and mental anguish over my faults.

That is the effect abuse has had on me. Some may say it did it’s job in getting me to fear disappointment, mistakes, and doing something wrong. Maybe they are right, but I question the cost.

I have mostly stopped my mental and physical torture. I have mostly stopped thinking that doing something wrong should result in punishment. But I still struggle with justice. I still struggle with the thoughts that people should get what they deserve, which is always at least some sort of reprimand because no one is perfect.

And I am slowly starting to believe in mercy and that it is possible to be forgiven without the suffering of justice.