Disconnect

My mind goes a lot faster than the rest of me. It takes me a long time to translate what my mind is thinking into words. I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it. I first have to focus enough on forming the words in my head, then on keeping the words while I focus on finding the opportunity to say them.

When I am sitting in class, I often have many thoughts that come to me. Sometimes I can form those thoughts into words before the teacher moves on, and I have the opportunity to contribute. Usually though, the teacher moves on before I can form my thought and I have to wait for another opportunity where my thought might fit. Or I move on from that thought and start over again.

It can be frustrating sometimes- this disconnect between my thoughts and my ability to communicate or act on those thoughts. I sometimes wish it was easier. It would be less embarrassing. I would be able to contribute more often. I wouldn’t have to work so hard to pay attention and still focus on my thoughts.

But on the other hand, if it wasn’t so hard, I might say things before they should be said. I might offend more people. I might not give meaningful input because I would be more focused on the output. It’s hard to think so much and try so hard when it seems that other people put no work into their thoughts and fill the time with little long-term value.

But I am grateful that it’s so hard because it means that everything I say has been carefully contemplated. Everything I do has a specific purpose and meaning. It gets me in trouble sometimes and can make me look incapable or unintelligent, but I would rather look incompetent than say something that could hurt someone else. In the end, it is worth being slower because it gives my insights that much more thought and meaning.

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.

Gender Issues

This will probably be the hardest post I will ever write. I have never talked about this before and it is probably the scariest thing for me to talk about. Hopefully, I can do this justice despite my fears of addressing this.

I consider myself to be asexual or genderless. In other words, I don’t think of myself as either male or female and I don’t associate myself with either male or female sexual orientation.

Just saying that makes me tense… The words transgender, homosexual, etc. flood into my head when I talk about gender identity issues. But I don’t relate to any of that really. In fact, the only reason I classify myself as asexual is for me, because it makes it easier to deal with certain things.

So… why am I writing this? If this is only for me, why am I taking the risk of writing it for all of you to see?

Well… to be honest, I don’t know… But maybe, just maybe, there’s someone out there struggling just as much as I was.

For as long as I can remember, people haven’t been able to tell whether I am male or female. I get called sir and miss interchangeably, sometimes in the same sentence.

This used to bother me a lot. I used to hate using the restroom in public or going out at all. I’ve been asked to leave dressing rooms, been shown to the men’s restroom, and had people call me shim or whisper gender questions behind my back. And I would cry myself to sleep many nights because of this.

But now it really doesn’t matter anymore. When someone calls me a man, I don’t even acknowledge it. I don’t get upset or stressed or feel the need to correct them. It doesn’t matter because I don’t have to consider myself a girl and therefore feel the need to defend that characteristic of myself.

Now in saying all of this, I’m not in denial and I do realize that I am a girl. I just don’t care if others realize it because I know I don’t fit the norm and that’s okay.

Hopefully this all makes sense. Basically I just want people to realize that it’s okay to have gender questions or acknowledge that you feel differently about your gender than others. And you don’t have to go to LGBT parades or “come out” on Facebook if you feel like you don’t fit in. We’re all different and it’s okay to be different.

The important thing is that you know who you are and you like who you are. And if you don’t like who you are then keep trying until you do. I think everyone deserves to love themselves and to be loved, and if you have to think outside of the norm to make that happen, do it.

“Life is too short to be anything but happy.”

Why I Blog

When you talk so openly about life, it’s hard not to get anxiety every time someone new can see what you post. I debate almost every time on whether or not I should hide things from certain people, but then I remind myself why I’m doing this… because someone needs to.

People don’t talk about problems that they don’t think other people will understand. And so, people continue to not understand because no one talks about it.

Talking so openly about autism and depression and suicide and other important issues goes against human nature. We naturally want people to like us and understand us, and we don’t want to stand out or seem different. If you’re different, it’s harder to make friends. So we all try to be the same, but we are different and the differences are usually what makes the friendships interesting.

Once you get past a certain level of being different though, it’s like a completely different world. I am at that level. And because I am so different, I blog about those differences. By talking about my differences, I feel like I have been able to see that we are more alike than we think we are. So I continue blogging because one day I won’t feel as different as I do now and that will make it all worth it in the end.

Picturing People

The other day I was thinking about a friend of mine that I went to help with some cleaning. It was interesting though because this friend is in a wheelchair and has been for as long as I’ve known her, but when I pictured her I didn’t picture her in a wheelchair. In fact, I totally forgot she is in a wheelchair until I was trying to think of why I had helped her clean.

And I just thought… wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone could picture everyone like that all the time? What if we could all just see each other without our disabilities, without seeing what makes us different, and just see what makes us the same? How different would the world be if we could all see how we’re alike instead of how we’re different?

I know it sounds idealist, but if I can forget about someone’s wheelchair, I’m sure people could forget about my autism or depression or other faults. So maybe I don’t have to worry so much about all my differences. Because if I can picture other people without their disabilities, maybe they can picture me without mine.

Autism Acceptance

April is Autism Awareness month. But from what I’ve seen we have awareness of autism. People know the prevalence numbers. They have some sort of idea of what autism is (whether that idea is accurate or not is a different story). So really this should be autism education month. I say autism education because acceptance is not likely to occur any time soon and I don’t see awareness as a current issue.

So… if I don’t believe that autism acceptance is a likely possibility, why did I title this post autism acceptance? – Mostly because that’s still the ideal.

It might sound silly, but I think of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He talked about acceptance of different races and ethnicities and skin colors when it was not a likely possibility. And even though the world isn’t completely color-blind yet and we still have discrimination to some extent, it’s gotten a lot closer to racial acceptance.

So that is my dream- not racial acceptance, of course, but autism acceptance. I know it’s not likely to happen, but maybe one day it will be a lot better. And I do realize that things have gotten better already. We’re not at the point we were 20 years ago. Still though, I hope that one day it will be easier to have autism in this world where being different can be seen as such a negative thing.

Second Chances

People don’t generally give second chances. We talk a lot about first impressions and how important they are, but the implication of a first impression isn’t just important; it’s life changing.

This may be an observation that isn’t necessarily true of society but, from what I have seen, people expect you to act the same way you acted in their first impression of you. In other words, people find it strange when you act different than the person they perceived you to be when they first met you.

This is incredibly hard for me because, in general, I am not the person people perceive me to be on our first meeting. I’m funny and outgoing and sarcastic and I don’t take life seriously and I love spending time with people and talking and joking and having fun. However, most people think that I am serious, reserved, shy, intelligent, standoffish, and more or less an introvert.

This has created quite a dilemma for me over the years because inside I am not what people perceive me to be on the outside, but I know that people expect me to fit their perceptions and I don’t want to scare them away by being someone they didn’t think I was.

So my entire life, I have lived up to people’s perceptions. If I was reserved in our first meeting, I would be reserved around them from that point forward. If I was outgoing in our first meeting, I would be outgoing from that point forward. And if I happened to be around someone that I was outgoing with and then someone that I was usually reserved with stepped into the scene, I would be true to my outgoing self and they would have a new perception of me that would be connected to a specific person or situation.

Make sense so far?

Well, here’s the point of all this:

I have decided that I’m going to try breaking people’s perceptions. I know that I would be happier if I could be the person I want to be rather than the person people expect me to be. I am going to try to create a second chance for myself and see what happens. And if it completely fails, well… I don’t plan on staying here forever so I’ll just move on and try to make a truer first impression in the next place.

Wish me luck! 🙂

Limitations

Autism is defined by limitations. There is always more inside than what we have the capacity to express or act on. In truth, life is defined by limitations. We all have limits- things we can’t do or won’t do or are afraid to do. Sometimes we set our own limits, sometimes they are set by our environment and sometimes they are set by our own physical, mental and or emotional state.

It’s not bad to have limits and some limits are beneficial. However, our limits can at times make us feel weak or helpless or worthless- especially if those limits seem to be different than everyone else’s limits.

The people I look up to the most tend to be the ones that have no or few limitations in areas where I have huge limitations. And in turn, there are people who look up to me in areas where they have many limitations and I have few limitations. It’s hard to see why they would admire me when I look at my limitations and how much I admire their abilities in my weakest areas. But if we consider ourselves as a whole and other people as a whole, we realize that we all have aspects of ourselves that can be admired.

However, even in acknowledging our strengths and being proud of them, it can still be hard to accept our limitations. My limitations have been very difficult for me to accept over the past few years. I have so much more to give and so much more that I want to do, but because of my limitations I am unable to make those thoughts and desires a reality.

And to be honest, I sometimes envy those whose limitations are obvious. I know it sounds wrong, but I wish that my limitations were obvious so that people would understand why I can’t do certain things. No one would look at someone in a wheelchair and wonder why they’re not running. And yet, it is common for people to look at someone like me and wonder why we aren’t making eye contact or socializing with everyone around us.

So I would have to say that the hardest part of having limitations is people assuming that you don’t have those limitations. It’s hard to know that I can’t do certain things and it’s frustrating to try over and over and continually fail at those things. But what’s harder is thinking that you should be able to do those things. What’s harder is feeling like a failure because the rest of the world doesn’t see a reason for your struggles. What’s harder is knowing that you may never be able to overcome a limitation that no one else may ever understand you have.

Why I Gave Up My Tablet

In order to help my best friend who is struggling right now, I bought a tablet from her. I paid her the full price she had paid to buy it new from the store. So it wasn’t the cheapest tablet I could have gotten, but I was helping out a friend so it wasn’t a big deal.

Anyway, I decided after about a month of owning the tablet that it is not a good idea for me to have a tablet. The thing is, I am obsessed with games. It’s an addiction. If I have access to a gaming device, I will literally play on it for hours. Even after I need to go to sleep or do something more important, I will keep playing sometimes until I make myself sick. I just feel a need to get to the next level or complete the next objective and then the next one and the next one.

Why are games such a problem for me?

Because games make sense.

Games have rules and objectives that I can understand. I don’t have to try to decipher social cues or maneuver my way through awkward conversations. I can just follow the rules and everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. And the best thing about games is that if you make a mistake, you can always try again. The game isn’t over until you give up or you get it right.

Life isn’t like that. Sometimes in life it seems like you’ve lost the game before you even had a chance to start it. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make up for inadequacies. And even when you think you understand the rules, there’s always things that can happen that seems to put you back at square one.

Have you ever played a game for the first time and felt completely lost as to what the rules were and no matter how much you learned as the game went on, you always felt like you were two steps behind everyone else? That’s what life has often felt like for me. I don’t understand people’s intentions. I don’t understand how to start conversations. I don’t understand how others seem to make friends so easily or start a conversation with ease. And when I feel that lost, it makes me not want to play the game ever again.

So it’s easy to see why games can seem so much more appealing than real life. It’s easy to see why people who feel different play games so much. It’s easy to see why I can play games until I’m sick because it’s one of the few things that makes me feel not broken.

But I gave up my tablet. I gave up playing computer games. Not because I don’t enjoy them, but because life is more important to me than feeling whole all the time. Life isn’t easy for me; playing games is easy. But I’d rather be involved in something that’s not easy but has meaning than something that is easy but doesn’t have meaning.

So I gave up my tablet not because I didn’t like it, but because I’m willing to take on the hard stuff to become better. I know it’s not going to be easy because it never has been, but it is worth it.

I think sometimes the world tries to convince us that life should be easy or that we should try to make life easy for our kids or those we love. But the truth is that it’s in the difficulties that we really live the most. The most memorable lives in history have been the ones that weren’t easy. So don’t be afraid to live a hard life because that’s what makes your life great.