This is My Life

I was officially diagnosed earlier this year with chronic depression- early onset, which basically means I have had depression for as long as I can remember and it will likely keep coming back for the rest of my life. I hadn’t really pursued a diagnosis before this year because it seemed pretty obvious that I had depression and I didn’t need someone to tell me. But even with a diagnosis, it is sometimes hard to believe that this may never go away.

There are times when I am just so happy and at peace with the world that depression seems like a distant memory, hardly relevant to the joy I am experiencing. But the truth is, those exquisite moments of joy are possible because of the deep craters of despair that have come before them. This is my life. This is my reality. I am going to have moments of despair so strong that I forget anything good ever came before them. But I am also going to have moments of joy that are so incredible that I forget what pain feels like.

I feel like I am a pretty happy person. I love life. I see the good in it. I see the good in everything and everyone. I love people more than anything else in the world. But I wrote a post a couple years ago where I talked about drinking up happiness as much as I could when it came so that I could get through the next period of depression.

The last few months have been really amazing for me. I progressed so much mentally and emotionally that I felt like maybe depression was finally gone. All the self doubt and self hate and hurt from past experiences had all disappeared. I felt completely and totally whole for the first time in my life. But… I have chronic depression. So, it came back.

The point I am trying to make though is that sometimes having depression feels like trying to drink happiness through a cup with a hole in it. You do what you can to fill your cup and to keep it full, but it doesn’t always work. The thing is though, I have come to the point where I realize that it is okay. It is okay that I have chronic depression. It is okay that I have nothing to be sad about, and yet feel such deep despair that I cannot begin to describe the pain I am enduring. It is okay because I am alive. After everything, all the brokenness and lonely nights and heartbreaking thoughts, I am still here. I am still here to enjoy the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. I am still here to listen to the sound of rain outside my window and drink hot chocolate and watch fun movies. I am still here to experience all that life has and all that life is.

So, maybe in an hour, I won’t be able to get out of bed because depression grips me so tightly that I can hardly breathe. But in the moments that I am well, during the times when I can see the beauty around me, I plan to love it all as much as I can. I plan to find joy in the difficult situations and enjoy the good times. I plan to live because I am here for a reason. And whatever that reason is, I’m going to make it a good life. This is my life, and I’m going to love every minute of it.

 

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Autistic Person vs. Person with Autism

There is a great debate in the autism community about how to refer to someone that has been diagnosed with autism. In general, it is usually parents or individuals who do not have autism that advocate for the terms “person with autism.” It is usually adults or teens living with autism that prefer the term “autistic.” I have a different perspective than most on this subject. For me, the terms are both equally applicable, but not equal in meaning. Saying that a person has autism is not the same as saying that person is autistic.

Autism for me is a thing. It is an abstraction. It is a label that is meaningless and insignificant until you apply a meaning to it. I consider myself to be a person with autism, not an autistic person. I have been diagnosed with autism, but I have not and generally do not allow myself to be autistic. You see, to be autistic is to be part of a community that lives differently. Being autistic is embracing the differences that come with autism and learning to live those differences rather than hide them.

To show you what I mean by this, I will give two examples. The first is a child who is born deaf. If that child is born into a family that is aware of and embraces the deaf community, the child will learn sign language. They will learn to communicate using their differences and to embrace the world created by their differences. On the other hand, a child born to parents that are completely unaware of what the deaf community has to offer may opt for cochlear implants, may teach their child to read lips, may communicate with their child through writing rather than words, or do other things to help the child live life despite their differences. One approach teaches the child what is possible because of their differences. The other approach teaches the child what is not possible because of their differences.

Another example that may be applicable to more people is terms used for athletics. Someone who plays sports is called an athlete. Someone who places an importance on sports so that it becomes part of their life is athletic. I enjoy sports. I play them when I can and have played on teams before. However, I would not say I’m athletic. I may have an athletic build, but I am not athletic in how I live my life. Likewise, I have autism, but I am not autistic in how I live my life.

I admire people who can be autistic. I also admire people who have autism, but are not autistic. One way of living is not necessarily better than another. It is simply different. However, in saying that, I need to make a point that I believe we should be more accepting of autistic people. The general public tends to admire people with autism, the people that pass for “normal” and do not show autistic traits. We say that they learned to control it, that they overcame this obstacle, that they faced opposition and did not let it stop them. While this is all true, it does not make the autistic person less valuable. They have learned to embrace what others fail to even acknowledge. They have learned to be themselves even if it doesn’t look like the people around them.

Honestly, I do not want to be autistic. I don’t think I could face that pressure. I have always wanted to be “like everybody else.” I pride myself on my ability to blend in. I cling to my sense of belonging. Maybe someday I can be autistic, but for now, I am simply a person with autism, and that is okay.

Too Much

I am kind of an intense person. I am passionate about pretty much everything that I do. I think that a lot of people feel that I am “over the top” in my reactions to life. I am overly grateful. I express my appreciation and love more emphatically than anyone I know. I give too much and love too deeply and feel too strongly about things. I probably come across as a “goody two shoes” in church or in certain situations. I’m too open, too honest, too long-winded in my explanations. I often feel like I am just too much for people.

I feel like I have lost friends because of this. I feel like I haven’t been able to become friends with some others because of this. But I don’t know how to be anything else. I try to tell myself to tone things down, to not be so expressive or assertive, but it gushes out of me. Words and actions flow from me like water bursting from a fountain. 

I have stopped trying to suppress my natural inclinations to say something to another person or to do something for someone else. I have stopped trying to force myself to stay in a box I never fit into. And so, I am left with the alternative of simply being too much.

My Open Box

I feel like I live in a pretty protected community. That’s not a bad thing. Everyone is really nice and they are willing to help out when needed or asked. Sometimes though, I just feel somewhat out of place. I feel like everyone has their lives wrapped up in nice little boxes, not fancy or anything- I don’t feel like people around me are self centered or pompous. I just feel like most people around me are the stacked up boxes ready to be shipped out of the UPS store. They are “finished” and sealed up and ready to be delivered.

I feel like an open box. I don’t feel like a broken box or a messy box, just an open box. I feel unfinished. In a world where everyone seems to present the completed parts of themselves, I feel like I am somehow behind or missing something. Parts of me are being taken out and rearranged and put back in. Some things are taken out and replaced with better things. It’s just a constant process. I am in a constant process of change and growth. And I don’t see my box being closed up and ready to be sealed anytime soon.

Looking around though, I feel like maybe I am missing something? Maybe I am behind and still need to catch up to everyone else? Is everyone else really done, just with the possibility of being decorated a bit before they’re presented in their best state of being?

I have always been a little behind developmentally. I feel like I went through my teenage years in college, my single years didn’t really start until many years after I turned 18, and I am still working on the whole dating life and getting ready for marriage even though I feel like I should be ready to do those things by now. Is that all this is though? Is it just that I need to catch up to everyone else? Or is it that I haven’t figured out what I need in my box yet?

I guess my question really is when or if my box will ever be closed. Will I ever be done like so many others around me seem to be? Or am I just an open box sort of person, constantly trying to switch out my contents for the next stage in my life?

I know a few other people that are like open boxes. I see them growing and changing and rearranging themselves. I connect with these people. I understand them because that’s how I am. I just sometimes want to be a closed box. I want to be finished, presented in a nice little package for my next stage of life.

I get that we’re never quite “done”. We keep learning and growing and becoming better. I just feel like most of the people around me grow and then get to a comfortable spot and stay there for a while until something new comes along, then grow again and get to a new state of consistency and do it over and over again. And I just wonder if I am missing that consistency or if it is just that I will constantly be different from everyone else. Am I missing out? Or is this just another way of living?

Be a Weed

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I had a thought today as I was looking at the weeds in our grass. Our sprinklers broke a few weeks ago and the grass has mostly died, but the weeds are still coming up green. As I looked at those weeds (and the other weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk), I had the thought, “I want to be like that.”

It is interesting to me that weeds are the plants that are the most stable, grow the best, and stay the greenest longest. Weeds have deeper roots than grass and as such, are very hard to kill. Everything about weeds is great, except that they are weeds. If grass came up without much work and stayed green without much watering and would keep coming back no matter how many times it was stepped on, most people would be delighted.

So what makes weeds so bad?

The short answer is that they don’t fit in. The longer answer is that they look out of place with the rest of the lawn, and they are hard to get rid of, even with weed killing spray and digging deep to try to take up the roots.

Anyway, to get to the point…

Being a weed is not always a good thing, but it can be very good to have the qualities of a weed in a lot of life’s situations. I want to be like a weed because of their resilience. I want to be like a weed because of their boldness in standing out from a crowd. I want to be like a weed because of the deep roots that ground them when life gets tough.

Don’t be afraid to be a weed in difficult circumstances. Be a weed in standing up against injustice. Be a weed in standing your ground when others are asking you to compromise your morals or values. Be a weed in fighting depression or anxiety or health issues or other trials. Be a weed in coming back up when life knocks you down. Be a weed in having roots so strong in what you believe in that no matter how far someone digs, they cannot kill that part of you. Be a weed when your circumstances are not ideal, but you are determined to grow up strong anyway.

And perhaps most of all, be a weed in being okay with being a weed. Be okay with being different. Be okay with not going with the crowd. Be okay with standing up for yourself. Not everyone will love you for it, but sometimes being a weed is the best thing you can be.

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Finding Your Voice

I have a hard time talking. I mean, I can speak. I just have a hard time finding the words and putting them in sentences when I am speaking. I have heard a lot about assistive technology for communication. I don’t need a device to communicate my needs, but I can relate to the feeling of helplessness with communication. I have needed to find my voice many times over my lifetime.

I found that voice in writing. Most of my good friends have been made through letters or texts. I need to write like I need to breathe. I am a very social person, but I struggle with spending time with people because I don’t know how to talk to them. But when I write, I can say everything I need.

I used to get embarrassed by my need to write things down to communicate. I know it is a different way of communicating than most people use these days, and I felt awkward and alone. People just don’t write letters very often anymore. People don’t write messages to put on the wall for people to see. And if they do, it’s usually something cute or important. My messages were just about telling someone how I felt or what I needed. It was the only way I knew how to tell people what was going on with me.

I have become more comfortable with how I communicate now. I know it is different, but I am different, and surprisingly, people understand that. So I encourage you to find your voice if you have trouble communicating your needs to others. Find a way to tell people about you and what you need. And remember that it’s okay to be different. The ones that matter most will understand and love you for it.

 

Light in the Dark

“Service activates the light”

-Tim Ballard

I went to a devotional tonight where Tim Ballard spoke about finding light in the darkness. Tim Ballard started the organization, “Operation Underground Railroad,” which exists to rescue children from sex trafficking. His job is basically going into the darkness and saving people from it. What he said tonight really resonated with me.

I don’t know why I took things so hard growing up. My life really wasn’t that bad. I’m pretty sure my siblings didn’t see things the same way as I did, or at least it didn’t affect them the same way. I’m not exactly sure what triggered in me all of the thoughts and feelings that followed.

What I do know is what I learned from it all. I learned to take care of people. I learned that everybody hurts and gets stressed and afraid. I learned to protect the people I loved and to bring light to the lives of the people around me. Serving other people is so ingrained in me that I literally cannot stop myself from trying to help someone.

My world growing up often felt chaotic and unfriendly. Part of it was autism and anxiety and depression, part of it was circumstances, part of it was past experiences, but I felt like I was fighting off darkness. I kept putting out light though. I tried to help and serve and do good to others. I remember tutoring people all through high school, joining clubs and participating in activities that helped others, doing things around the house to help my parents. As long as I was doing something for someone, I felt good. The darkness set in at night when the world was quiet and I found myself alone, but as long as there was someone to help, there was light. Like Tim Ballard said tonight, “Service turns the light on.” For me, service was my light. It gave purpose and meaning to my life.

I struggle with being myself. I struggle with loving myself. I used to think I was a horrible person. I used to hate myself. I used to think I never did anything right. Over the last few years, I have been able to change those thoughts. But they still come back. I still struggle to see my worth. I know I need to be good to myself. I know I need to love myself like I love other people. I know it is important for me to take care of myself. I’m just not good at it.

But serving people, loving people, helping people? I am good at that. It is hard to fight the darkness, but service gives me hope. Seeing light go into someone else gives me hope. When I can’t see light going into others, I lose hope. Someday I hope I can put light into myself, too. But for now, I am glad to realize that helping others can be my light in the dark.