Chocolate

They say that people who eat chocolate every day are happier. I am starting to believe it. I have never been a chocoholic. In fact, I have never really liked eating a ton of junk food or sugary food. I splurge every once in a while, but then I get sick of it and just want to eat fruits and vegetables for a few weeks. But I have discovered that a little bit of chocolate can really help offset a depressed mood.

There are times when I just feel heavy. Nothing bad happened that day. There are no reasons for me to feel down, but I do. I feel so heavy that I don’t want to go on. I don’t want to do anything or try anything. I don’t want to go outside or go to work or eat food or read a book or draw a picture or anything. I just want to curl up on the floor and forget about everything and pretend like the world doesn’t exist for a while.

Recently when I had an anxiety attack, I ate some chocolate and it seemed to help calm me down a bit. I remembered that today when the heaviness returned and life seemed almost unbearable. So I had a piece of chocolate, and it helped. I mean, I wasn’t jumping up and down or smiling or laughing or anything, but the heaviness eased up. I felt a little lighter, a little more able to bear the weight of life, a little less isolated from the world.

Depression is such a difficult illness. There are things that help, and you get better, and you have hope, but sometimes it just doesn’t go away. I have chronic depression. I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. The longest I went without long periods of depression was one year, and I still had moments of depression within that year. I described depression to a friend once as pain that grips you, and some days it grips you so tightly that you can barely breathe, and you feel so weak and heavy for no describable reason.

So, no, chocolate won’t cure your depression. But maybe it will help. And when every day is a battle for your life and you feel like you don’t want to fight anymore, anything that relieves the burden in the slightest is a blessing. So eat chocolate, eat ice cream, eat pizza, do whatever makes you happy, because life is too short to not feel better.

Struggling

“I’ve been struggling.”

This is not a common phrase you hear in most conversations. In general, people keep the fact that they’ve been struggling to themselves or maybe one or two close friends or family members. We just don’t like to admit that we’re having a hard time because we’re supposed to have it all together.

However, this phrase has become more common to hear in my conversations. I have reached a point in my life where I need to admit that I’ve been struggling. I need to tell someone because I realize that I can’t do this alone.

At work I have needed to admit I’ve been struggling quite a few times over the last year or so. In my previous job, I discussed with my boss how I had been struggling. I explained to him how I felt so that he could understand when I didn’t do everything 100% like I used to do and so that if a situation arose at work, he would know how to handle it. In my new job, I have needed to admit that I’m struggling to keep up because I don’t know how to do everything quite yet and I’m not as fast as someone else might be.

With my friends, I talk about my struggles fairly openly because I need them to know when I’m not okay. I need someone to be there when the struggling becomes too much to bear. I have been pleasantly surprised that some of my friends have also been open with me when they are struggling.

This life can be hard. It can be so difficult that I wonder what I’m doing here or if it’s even worth it. But I think these conversations are necessary. I think they are good steps towards an environment of open communication and trust. So I hope that we can all say we’ve been struggling to someone when we have a hard day or just don’t know what to do, because we all struggle at some point. We just have to decide if we want to do it alone or if we’re willing to let someone help us in the journey.

Forgive Yourself

I think the hardest thing for me is to forgive myself for the things that are not my fault- to forgive myself for being different, to forgive myself for not being able to make friends easily, to forgive myself for everything I want in life that I just can’t do right now.

We have to learn to forgive ourselves for the bad things that happened to us, for the things we wish we had control over or we wish we were stronger to be able to stop from happening. I have to forgive myself for being so lonely, for not making the friends I wanted, or for not reaching out or knowing how to talk to the friends I did have. I have to forgive myself for the times people took advantage of me or made fun of me or hurt me. I have to forgive myself for being me.

I have hated myself for my disabilities, for my mental illness, for my speech impediment. I hate myself the most for the things I have no control over.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we tear ourselves down for the things we cannot do?

If you were raped, you couldn’t have stopped it. If you were abused or bullied, you couldn’t have ended it sooner. If you have been lonely and friendless, you couldn’t have made friends any faster. Because if you could have done any of these things, you would have. No one likes to be hurt. No one wants to be lonely. No one wants to be an outcast or to feel like others don’t understand.

Forgive yourself for the things that are not your fault. Forgive yourself for the things you hate about yourself. Forgive yourself for everything that hurt you. Maybe then we can find the healing we need to love ourselves.

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Life Savers

Tonight I had a meeting for church that lasted two hours. After about the first hour, I started getting restless. After another 20 minutes, I felt like I was dying inside. I pulled out the little ziplock bag I had brought with sour gummy worms and munched on those to get through the rest of the meeting. By the time it was over, I just about flew out of the chapel. Those gummy worms were life savers in that meeting.

Having autism doesn’t mean that I can’t do everything I need to do or that I can’t do what everyone else does. It just means that some things are harder, and sometimes I need more life savers than the average person. Granted, there are some things that I really can’t do right now (maybe someday, but not right now), but in general, I can do the important things given enough help.

Sometimes I feel like I need too much help. I feel like I am constantly in need of someone to save me from myself, from how I feel. There are some people that have literally been life savers for me throughout the years. They have talked me through suicidal thoughts and urges. They have helped ground me in situations where I felt lost and didn’t know what to do.

We all need life savers at some point though. There is a point where we all break or when things become too much for us to handle. Life circumstances and events and our physical, mental, and emotional states, all come together to determine where our breaking point is and when we get there.

For me, autism feels like taking in too much of the world. I feel everything. Sitting in a room, I feel like I can feel the gravity of everything around me. I feel the chairs and the lights and the people and the curtains and the jackets and the sounds. And it’s a lot. It’s a lot to feel every object and every emotion and every noise. And in loud rooms with lots of people shifting in their seats or writing on paper or even just breathing, my breaking point gets extremely close. If I have eaten and I am in a good emotional state and I am not in pain, I can usually handle it fairly well. If one of those things is lacking, I break pretty easily.

I remember one particular night when I broke more than I ever had before. I was at a camp for young single adults, and we were in a devotional meeting. I had been stressed from helping a friend move, and my mom had broken her arm, and I was in a period of severe major depression, and I had worked all day and then sat in traffic to get there, and the microphone was extra loud, and single adults tend to chatter a lot, and I was not feeling well physically. All of that added up to far more than I could handle, and I broke. The only thing I could think about was that I had to get out of there. I had to get away. It didn’t matter how. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Luckily, I had a wonderful friend with me that night that understood and stayed with me and helped me get to a quiet place where I felt comfortable and could become okay again. I don’t know what would have happened that night without her.

I read about children and teenagers and adults with autism wandering off, and no one knows where they are. It is really not that we are trying to leave safety. We are trying to find safety. We are trying to get to a place where we can be okay again. Maybe if we had more life savers, we wouldn’t get to that point. Maybe if we could lighten some of our burdens, we wouldn’t reach our breaking point. There is not a one size fits all solution, but what I can say is that we need our life savers. I know I need mine, and I am so grateful for all of my life savers over the years. I don’t know where I would be without them.

Just Keep Going

It’s pretty amazing how much can happen in a year. I went back to college in January, working on my second bachelor’s degree (this time in computer science.) I also started this year with some unknown health issues. As soon as I started to figure out what to do for my health, I plunged into the worst depression of my life. As soon as I figured out medications to get out of that darkness, I got in a car crash that totaled my first car and broke my first bone (a little bone in my thumb that will remain broken for the rest of my life).

So, needless to say, it’s been an eventful year. But in the midst of all the brokenness and difficulties, some of the best moments of my life took place. I made some of the best friends I have ever had and strengthened many of my prior friendships. I learned what I am made of and who I truly am when all the layers are stripped away.

I have grown so much. I have been broken and humbled, but I have also learned to love myself. I learned that I was worthy of love and was able to see the good in me. But… I hope next year is easier. Even though this year has been one of immense growth, I am ready for a break. I am ready for things to get a little easier for me.

For the last few years, I have given a gift to Christ for his birthday. This year, my gift is just to keep going. Things have been so hard. I haven’t wanted to go on. I’ve just wanted to give up. So my gift is simply to endure, to not give up no matter how hard it gets or how much I want to. I pray this next year is easier, but my commitment is to not lose faith no matter how hard it gets. I will hold on to hope. I will keep on keeping on.

Commit to Kindness

I have been having a lot of bad dreams lately. I wouldn’t call them nightmares. My bad dreams are just real life situations that could happen because of the things I live with. Autism, gender identity, depression, and suicide have all been themes of my bad dreams. I have dreams where I am yelled at, ridiculed and rejected, bullied and discriminated against, or simply not believed to the point that I feel there is no other escape but hurting myself.

The world is not always kind. My dreams remind me of that. But my waking hours remind me that there are kind people, that those dreams won’t always be realities. And that if something like that happened to me in real life, hopefully someone would come to my aid and show me kindness.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I commit to being kind. I hope you will too.

It is an Illness

**Warning: This is a difficult post to read and it does get a little graphic at some points of explaining how I felt.**

It has been about 7 months since I fell into the worst period of depression I have ever experienced. It was so difficult that I wondered if I would ever be okay again. It got to the point where I told my friend, “I have one more night left in me. That’s all I can promise to be safe for is one more night.” I couldn’t trust myself to be safe anymore. I was in such a desperate place of darkness that I decided I needed to take time away from life until I could handle things again. So I spent a week with my sister, hoping to get better and return to normal life.

Things didn’t get better. Although the week was beneficial in that I was able to sleep and rest quite a bit, it made me realize just how bad things really were. I had bad dreams nearly every time I closed my eyes, even naps were filled with unpleasant dreams and thoughts. Days were not much better. I saw myself being hurt in every way imaginable. I pictured killing myself in multiple ways. I could be anywhere, from church to work to driving on the freeway, and I would see blood running down my arms or see myself hanging from ceilings or other similar circumstances.

The darkness was so thick, so debilitating that I told my boss that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to return to work. I told my church leaders that I probably couldn’t teach anymore. I told my friends that I might need to be hospitalized if it continued much longer. I wasn’t sure where life would take me or what would happen next, but I knew that I was nowhere near being okay.

I had been taking an antidepressant this entire time. I didn’t know if it was helping, but I wanted to give it a chance. I wanted to really see if it could help me. I stopped that medication a week ago. It has taken this last week to get the medicine out of my system, but I started getting better slowly. The nightmares and images were less frequent, less severe. It wasn’t so hard to smile anymore. I started seeing light where there was only darkness before. I had felt like I was drowning, but then it progressed to feeling like I was trudging through deep mud, to feeling like I was treading water, to finally feeling like I was on solid ground again.

I can’t tell you how relieving it is to finally feel okay again. I can’t tell you how excited I was to wake up this morning and feel like I was able to breathe. I can’t express how exhilarating it was to sing in church today and feel the music running through me like a beautiful, positive energy. Last Sunday, I couldn’t even sing because it hurt too much. The words wouldn’t come. I just starred at the hymn book and wondered when I would see the end of all the pain. Today was the complete opposite of last Sunday. Contrasting the two shows me that I will never feel that bad again. Maybe I will still struggle with depression, but now that I see the difference, I can have the reassurance that that is not how I am meant to feel.

This whole experience has reassured me that depression is an illness. It is completely the same as any other illness, only with its own set of symptoms and treatments. You are not in control of how your body feels. You cannot think yourself out of mental illness and no amount of exercise or eating right or positivity can cure you. You are simply not well and until you become well again, whether that is by taking medicine or getting off the wrong medicine or simply time passing, you cannot ignore the symptoms of what you are experiencing.

At the end of all this, I can say that I am grateful for the experience. It was hell. It was the worst, most desolate, desperate, despairing time of my life. I went to bed every night praying for the end, hoping to not wake up in the morning to the pain I experienced every single moment. But now I know. I know what it is like to wake up in the morning and be unable to get out of bed because it hurts so bad. I know what it is like to try to breathe your way through panic attacks that happen at seemingly the most trivial, daily stresses. I know what it is like to say, I do not know when I will be okay again.

But most of all, I am grateful because I can say that I know what it is like to trust someone when you feel like that. I know what it is like to be completely vulnerable with someone to the point where they know exactly what you are going through and how hard it is. They may never understand, but they know the darkness. People I never would have trusted or reached out to were able to be a part of my healing because the darkness was so bad that I would have trusted anyone who took the time to listen. No, this trial was not easy and I hope I never go through it again, but it showed me what I was made of and how understanding and wonderful other people can be. And that is something to be incredibly grateful for.