A New Person

It has been about a month since I last felt depressed. Realizing that I am not a bad person had a lot to do with that. Most people who know me would probably think it is strange that I would think of myself as a bad person, but it was the one belief that overpowered everything else in my life. It influenced every thought, action, and relationship. It ruled my life for so long that I hardly even recognized its influence because I was so accustomed to thinking that way.

I feel like a great weight has been lifted off me. I feel free. I used to be so scared all the time. I was scared of doing good things because I felt like a bad person so doing something good seemed hypocritical. I was also scared of not doing good things because I did not want to be a bad person. I was scared of getting close to people or making friends because I felt like it was just a matter of time before they found out how terrible I really was.

Looking back, my thoughts seem so strange. They did not make any sense. How could I be a bad person if I did not do anything to be mean or malicious or disrespectful? How could I be so bad if all anyone else saw in me was good? I guess that is how mental illness works though. Your thoughts are not inline with reality. Your thoughts directly contradict reality sometimes, but at the same time, your thoughts are reality. The way you see and think about the world is your reality, even if it is not true from the outside.

Now, I can look at how I used to think and see the flaws. I understand how I came to those beliefs and why I believed I was a bad person, but it is still difficult for me to believe I felt that way for so long. I mean, you would think that I would have noticed earlier. You would think that I would have recognized that these thoughts ruled my life. I guess I did recognize it to some extent, but I did not know how to change it. I would tell myself that my thoughts weren’t true, but I didn’t believe it. I believed my thoughts, not whatever I tried to tell myself.

I am not exactly sure what finally changed my thoughts. I had been going to therapy for a few weeks, and we were working on recognizing mental distortions.  I sat down one night and drew out my life and realized how and why I came to see myself as a bad person. I talked to my friends about it, and briefly to my therapist. Then one day, it was like all the pieces fit together in my mind. I recognized the lie and saw the truth, but, more importantly, I believed the truth.

I have felt like a new person since that time. The world seems brighter, more friendly and happier. I feel at peace with myself and everything around me. It is like clouds of darkness that had been there for years finally dispersed, and I can see the sun again. The strangest (and possibly most wonderful) thing is how I see my past now. I used to see hurt and sorrow and loneliness in my past. There were good times in the midst of that, but my general feeling was that the past was too painful to remember. Now, I see so much hope and light in past experiences. Even in the darkest times, I see the brightness of hope that was just beyond my view back then.

I am the happiest I have ever been! I wake up every day with a newness of life! The world seems wonderful and amazing! I see the beauty in everything! To someone that has been depressed for the majority of my life, it seems like a fairy tale and I am waiting to wake up or climb out of a rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland. But this is real! The feelings are real because I have been freed from beliefs that weren’t real. It is not that I stepped into a better world, but rather that I stepped out of the darkness. I stepped out of a prison cell I did not know I was keeping myself in. Now I have a chance to be free, to find out what the world is really like without distorted lenses. I can’t express how truly excited I am to be alive now! The world is a beautiful place, and I am so excited to experience that beauty for the first time without anything distorting my view!

 

Making Progress

Most people feel good when they do something for someone else.

I have thought about that a lot over the last few weeks. I used to hate myself when I did something for someone else. I would get home and just cry for hours after I dropped off an anonymous gift at someone’s house or gave someone a letter or took food to someone.

People always say that when you’re depressed or having a bad day, you should serve and help someone else because it makes you feel better. It didn’t make me feel better. In fact, I had to stop doing things for people for about a year because I was so depressed that doing something like that would have pushed me over the edge.

Yesterday I did something good for someone. I didn’t even do it anonymously, which is usually the only way I can handle things like this. I did something kind for another person, and I didn’t hate myself afterwards. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t curl up on the floor and cry for hours. I just felt good. It was such an amazing experience.

I want to feel like this every day. I want to feel like I can be myself and see the needs of someone else and not be terrified to do something about it. I want to love myself. I hope this feeling lasts because I so desperately want to love myself. I don’t want to have to forgive myself for acting on my generous thoughts. I just want to do things without even thinking about it, without wanting to punish myself for it. I want to be okay with who I am. I want to feel good when I do something. I want this feeling of peace to last forever.

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.

16715958_10155153658197450_2623281799209023211_o

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.