Different in Happy Ways

If there is one thing that life has taught me more than almost anything else, it is that I am different. That fact has been drilled into me from teasing in elementary school to tutoring in high school to not fitting in at church. I have just always known that I am different. Other people don’t see things the way I do. They don’t think the way I do. I see shapes and patterns, connections and intersections, possibilities and additional realities, where other people seem to just see an object or a story.

It is not bad to be different, but it can be difficult. It can be difficult to communicate so much where other people seem to see so little. It can be difficult to express feelings and emotions when others don’t seem to have the same connections. I have struggled with feeling different from others, feeling out of place and awkward in the things I do.

The thing is that most of my differences are good. I see needs that other people miss and I respond in ways that others might not think of. I notice details others ignore and draw connections to things other people are not thinking about. But sometimes, I just feel out of place. I feel lost in a world that seems to be lost in itself.

I have never been very good at joining groups. I struggle to find ways to become included in things without specifically being invited. So I do things for people. I notice needs and I respond to them. I do everything I would want someone to do for me. And people appreciate it, but it doesn’t make me belong any more than I did before. I still don’t feel like I belong. I still don’t feel like I fit in. I still feel out of place.

In a general meeting for women that my church does, one of the speakers said that people are drawn to our church when we “are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.” As I have been struggling with feeling different lately, I have repeated this often to myself. I can be distinct and different in happy ways. It can be hard and lonely to be different, but maybe somehow, people are or will be drawn to me because of my differences.

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The Cure for Autism

It is amazing to me how much things can change in a year. With everything that has happened this year, I feel like much more time has passed. I look back at who I was 10 years ago and laugh at my selfishness and childish thoughts. I wonder how anyone put up with my whining and shortsighted views. I look back 5 years ago and am amazed at how much I have grown since then. I look back at two years ago and can hardly believe the healing and help and hope that has come into my life since then.

Two years ago, I posted about how I wanted to experience friendship like the love I had for others. I wanted to learn to love better and to love myself. I had grown to be strong and intelligent, resilient to the trials life would bring, but I was haunted by loneliness. Loneliness was a familiar friend, and many nights were spent in the deepest despair of want for human interaction.

I am not lonely anymore. That is the most beautiful statement in the world. I do not feel lonely anymore. I never thought this was possible for me. For so many years, I longed for a single person to see me and want to be more than a situational friend. It wasn’t until college that I felt like I had friends outside of church or school or activities. At that time, I was still getting used to the idea of having friends, and I messed up more times than I care to relate. But a little over two years ago, I started to really feel wanted. I started to have people I could call friends. I started to believe in hope.

I feel so blessed. I have felt love beyond my capacity to comprehend. I feel wanted, needed, important, and safe- most of all, safe. Two years ago, I was terrified of everything I was doing. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to people that I had no idea how to communicate with and doing things for others that scared me almost to death. Every day felt like walking around with my heart in my hands, hoping that it wouldn’t get crushed along the way.

But those sleepless nights and silent tears and debilitating anxiety led to the most wonderful friends a person could imagine. All my loneliness, all my pain and suffering, seem like nothing now compared to the love and protection I feel. I feel overflowing gratitude for my friends and for all that I have learned. I feel healed, whole, loved.

I can text someone when I want to talk. I can say hello to someone I recognize when I see them in a store or on the street. I can ask for help. I can tell people how I feel without feeling awkward or out of place. I can hug people or let someone give me a massage. I can relax. I can be myself.

No one knows how far I have come, but it is impossible for anyone to miss the progress I have made. Everyone who knew me before can see how I have changed. We talk about milestones in autism- being able to talk, looking someone in the eye, communicating a need, but the most important milestones are the ones that make you want to be you.

I learned how to do everything I was supposed to do at an early age. I analyzed people to the point where I knew how to appear normal. No one would guess that I have autism, unless it was one of those rare moments when I made a mistake. But despite my capacity to fit in, I could never find the capability to belong.

My milestones are hope, love, and belonging. If there is a “cure” for autism, this is it- hope, love, and belonging. All I ever wanted was to feel like I have a place in this world. I wanted to feel like I belong, that I am wanted here. I wanted to feel like autism wasn’t a wall that kept out love. You want to find the cure for autism? This is it- love, accept, embrace, help. After that, everything else will just fall into place.

Grateful for Family

I have had an amazing week of spending time with family and friends! I spent a few days with my sister and her family and extended family. Then, I came home and spent some time with my nieces and nephew. Today, we had a Thanksgiving meal with one of my best friends, who is practically family to me. I am very grateful for the wonderful people in my life. They help me so much. I really do not know where I would be without my friends and family.

I realized a few years ago that it is not a good idea for me to live alone, detached from the people that love me most. I need to be able to see people that love me on a regular basis. I am grateful for how readily everyone accepts me into their lives. I feel at home whenever I go to my sister’s or my parents’ or my best friends’ houses. They all make me feel so welcome and like I belong. I like that feeling of belonging. I like the feeling of being wanted and needed and appreciated. I am grateful for that feeling especially during the holiday season.

As a single person, I could feel very lonely. I do feel lonely at times, but I have so many people around me that help me to not feel so alone. I know that I am loved. I know that I will always have a place to call home. I know that I will always be welcome when I visit my family and friends. I am grateful for that knowledge. I am grateful for the feeling of belonging and love that I feel every time I am with my family and friends. And I am grateful that so many people accept me into their lives and let me be a part of their families.

I Am Loved

I am loved.

I have to remind myself of that often. I feel a little ridiculous in recounting all the things I do to remind myself that I am loved and wanted and important and of worth.

I have sticky notes in my car from friends saying encouraging things. I have pictures on my wall and my dresser and my nightstand. I have notes and letters on my nightstand and sticky notes on bed posts. I keep emails and texts and screenshots of especially meaningful texts and emails and Facebook statuses. I have a box under my bed, filled with every card or note or tiny piece of paper almost anyone has ever given me.

I used to take a particular street to get to my house because it passed a friend’s house and seeing it every day helped me remember that I have a friend. I kept a picture of my best friend from middle school on my dresser for 8 years even though we didn’t really stay friends after middle school because it reminded me that at some point, at some time, someone cared about me enough to give me a picture of them.

Things are different now. I am more loved than ever and feel it more than I ever have before. And yet… I still need to remind myself of it every day. And sometimes, I need others to remind me of it because my reminders are just not enough.

Is it ridiculous that after feeling like I didn’t really have friends for over a third of my life, that I still can’t believe it on most days? Is it ridiculous that I constantly need to be reminded that I am loved and wanted and people enjoy my company?

I still wonder why anyone would want to be around me. I still wonder why people even try to talk to me. I still feel like a stranger that will never fit in or belong in this world.

Does everyone’s past bother them this much? I feel like I have overcome a lot of my past. I have worked through a lot of stuff. I have healed and recovered and gotten better. Yet, there are times when I wonder if I’ve made any progress at all. Is it possible to stop doubting my worth? Is it possible to believe that I have friends that want to be my friend and that I’ll always have friends? Is it possible to believe in a reality that doesn’t seem real?

Do you ever wonder if you are loved? If you have worth? If you have friends? What do you do to remind yourself?

Friends Forever

Having friends scares me. I love people so much, but it seems that friendships hardly ever last as long as you would like. I have had so many people who said they would always be there for me, that they would never leave, but they have been gone a long time. I still think about them and wonder if they ever think about me. Sometimes when someone says they will always be friends with me or they will never leave, the thoughts return of everyone who has ever said that to me.

Friends forever

Having friends scares me because I don’t know what I am doing right or if I am doing something wrong. I try to understand what other people need, and I try to be respectful of their needs. I try to be a good friend. I try to be myself, but not overwhelm them.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me, why I could never seem to keep a friend. I came to the conclusion that maybe people just don’t need me as much as I need them. Why be friends with me when they have other friends… better friends?

Having friends scares me because losing a friend is the hardest thing I have ever done. People think that autism or depression or anxiety or so many other things are incredibly difficult (and they are), but the most difficult thing for me is feeling like I am loved and wanted, then having that feeling taken away. You cannot miss what you have never had, but once you have something that makes you feel better than ever, taking it away leaves a gaping hole in your heart.

I wonder if forever friends are possible. I wonder if I am worth being friends with forever. My views of myself have greatly improved over the last couple years. I no longer hate myself. I see good in me. But when it comes to friends, I still feel hopelessly lost. I still don’t know what I am doing. Maybe I never will. But even though I have lost many friends over the years, I still hope that you mean it when you say forever.

Extrovert with Social Anxiety

I have come to a point in my life where I can start trying to understand my thoughts and why I have some of those thoughts. I am starting to come to terms with different mental models and philosophies that I hold. I know that a lot of my thoughts come from past experiences, and I know that a lot of those thoughts are not really true. The problem is that though I understand these things on an intellectual level, they have not been fully processed mentally and emotionally yet.

One of the most eye opening realizations that I have had in this process has been that I am an extrovert with social anxiety. I absolutely love people. I need people. I need to be around people, lots of people, tons of people. If I am not around someone or talking to someone or messaging someone, the majority of the time I go crazy. I just really need people. On the other hand, I hate people. I hate crowds. I hate noise. I hate people being everywhere all the time and not being able to breathe because there are so many people. I love spending time with people and being invited to hang out or go to an event or have dinner with someone, but I also totally freak out. Sometimes I don’t go, or I go and sit outside and then leave without going in, or I go and stay for a couple minutes and then sneak out, or I go and stay for longer than I am comfortable until I get to the point where I can’t hold in all of the anxiety and I rush out as fast as I can before I can’t hold it together anymore.

My best friend is getting married tomorrow. I have been excited to go to her wedding for months. I have been ecstatic to see her, but I knew it would be hard for me. I know that crowds and noise and people are hard, but I forget about that sometimes. I forget just how hard it is to stay sane with all of my anxiety in social situations. Tonight was hard. The last week has been hard. The last few months have been hard. But tonight, I didn’t want to go anymore. I don’t want to go to my best friend’s wedding reception because the anxiety has gotten to the point where I feel like I’m going to break all the time. She gets it because she’s my best friend, but other people don’t understand or even try to understand sometimes. Of course, I’ll go. I just don’t know when or for how long or how I’ll react or what I will do.

But having social anxiety means that there’s always a tension when you are around people. It’s like having a spring inside of you that gets squeezed the longer you are with people until it finally pops out. And being an extrovert means that once you finally are alone and don’t have to worry about everyone around you, you fall into a bitter loneliness that you just can’t get rid of. So you do this over and over again. You get squeezed until you’re about to snap because you desperately want to be around people and then you retreat until the loneliness is so thick that you can’t bear to be alone. So you go back to the anxiety and then back to the loneliness and back to the anxiety and back to the loneliness.

And you wonder if you’re just killing yourself slowly or if you should just consign yourself to loneliness because trying to be around people is so ridiculously hard. And maybe it is, and maybe you should just stop trying, but… there’s that other voice that says, “maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time it won’t be so bad. Maybe this time you’ll be okay.” And maybe you will be okay; maybe this will all end. And if not, maybe it will be worth it anyway.

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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