Keep Going

The other day, I did something that was impossible for me a year ago- I said hello to a friend in the grocery store. I know that probably sounds pretty trivial to most people, but I have never been able to greet someone if they were not looking directly at me. I have a hard time controlling my voice volume so I was always worried that I would be too loud and scare the person or that I would be too quiet and they wouldn’t hear me.

I also had a major fear of touching someone, like on the back or shoulder to let them know I was there, which is another thing that has changed recently. I have gotten “pins and needles” before when a friend rubbed my back. I was not used to being touched and my body reacted in negative ways to it. But the other day, a friend rubbed my back and there was such an incredible warmth that went through me. It felt like love radiated through me from the touch of their hand. It was such a beautiful and calming feeling.

Anyway, I said hello to this person in the store, and we had a conversation like we would at church or any other place I might see them. It was simple, natural, completely normal to any onlookers and something that person probably didn’t think twice about, but I was ecstatic. I texted another friend to celebrate my accomplishment. I had wanted to do this my entire life. I even asked for help on this blog at one point to get ideas about how I could learn to say hello to someone. It seemed like a daunting task at the time, but has become less terrifying as I have learned how to communicate and express myself better. In this moment, I celebrated how far I have come in the last few years.

I have come so far and made such amazing progress that I just want to encourage everyone to keep going, keep trying, keep working on getting better. Looking at all of my progress is almost unbelievable. Things that were impossible are now normal. Things that used to make me feel uncomfortable can now help me feel the incredible love others have for me. These changes have truly been a miracle. One of the biggest miracles is that most people don’t know how hard these things used to be for me. They see who I am now and think nothing of these major milestones because it fits me now. I have become the type of person that talks to people and loves and feels love, and that is probably my biggest miracle of all.

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Grateful for a Best Friend

Thinking about the last two years, there is one thing (or rather, person) that I am grateful for more than anything else that has happened in that time. Becoming friends with my best friend, Shannon, is by far the most wonderful thing that has happened to me in the last two years. I cannot describe the joy and peace and love that she has brought into my life.

She taught me how to trust. She helped restore my faith in people. There is no one that I feel more safe with or more loved with than her. She has brought such a beautiful peace into my life. She has given me hope in the worst of circumstances. She has been my constant in a world of disorder and uncertainty. She has helped me make more progress individually and personally than anyone else.

Shannon, if you are reading this, know that you have changed my life. There are very few people that I am more grateful for than you. Your friendship means everything to me. Your love has made the biggest difference in my life. Thank you so much for everything.

Thank you for seeing who I really was and could be. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me. Thank you for the long nights when you were there for me in my most desperate hours. Thank you for the times you helped me or stayed with me when I was sick or hurting. Thank you for being the friend I always wanted but never knew existed. Thank you for allowing me to practice talking with you. Thank you for allowing me to be autistic with you. Thank you for letting me not be okay sometimes and not judging me or condemning me for it. Thank you for never making me feel like less than a person. Thank you for helping me to not be scared anymore. Thank you for teaching me how to love myself.

There are so many more things I would thank you for. I would thank you for every note you ever wrote me, every picture you ever sent me, every prayer you ever prayed for me, every conversation we ever had together. But I think most of all, I would thank you for every smile, for every night that I wasn’t lonely, for every breath that I felt at peace because of your wonderful, beautiful, perfect friendship. I know that you are not perfect, and our friendship is not perfect, but you have been the perfect friend to me. You have healed my heart and mind, and I could not be more grateful for all you have done for me. Thank you. Thank you for being the best friend I could have ever asked for.

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.

Feelings

I think I feel too much. That is what autism is most like for me. Autism is feeling everything acutely all the time. I literally feel everything. I feel every object in a room. I feel sounds and smells and tastes. I feel words. I feel emotions. I can’t say I feel differently than you because I don’t know exactly how you feel. I have never been you. But I can say that I feel everything physically. And it is exhausting…

I was telling a friend today that I think I love too much. Love for me is overwhelming. It makes my whole body tingle. Love is a burst of energy that penetrates every fiber of my being. It feels like it literally changes my DNA so that I am now connected to a person in a way that they are made a part of me. I love hugs because it feels like the energy inside of me finds a place to belong. Like the love inside of me connects with the love inside of someone else, and for a moment, I feel whole.

Joy is like that too. Joy is like a spring inside of me. It makes me feel like every particle in me wants to jump up and down. This is why I flap and jump up and down and smile like crazy, because the joy in me has to have somewhere to go. When I am “flapping happy”, I feel like I am flying. It is like the joy inside of me has come out of my skin and when I jump or flap, I’m releasing that joy into the world. It feels like the joy springs from me and dances in the air, and when it lands, it becomes peaceful, like it is lying on the ground watching the clouds on a cool spring day.

Unfortunately, depression and darkness are also things I feel acutely. Depression is like millions of tiny weights hanging from each hair, each skin cell, weighing me down with an enormity that cannot be seen from outside. And if the weight wasn’t already enough, it feels like there is a black hole in my chest. Opposite to the feeling of joy wanting to come out of me, depression feels like it sucks everything into me. It is a constant sucking force that seems to suck all of the air and light out of a room, making it difficult to breathe and to see anything other than the darkness inside of me.

Fear, joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and every other emotion that ever lives inside of me all have their own physical feeling attached to them. Each one is so powerful and all-consuming that I can hardly do anything else because my body is overcome by the feeling of each emotion. I think that this is why I shut down sometimes, because constantly feeling everything wears me out. And after feeling so many strong emotions, sometimes it is simply painful. Pain for me is like an exploding of every emotion. It confuses me, and I don’t know what will come out. I feel like Cyclops from the X-men before he learns how to control his powers. Everything comes out and I don’t even see what I’m destroying until after it’s done.

For the Love of Autism

I love looking at pictures of best friends. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some look alike and some couldn’t be more different. But the amazing thing is that somehow, someway, two people saw the best in each other and decided it was worth sticking around for.

I’m so grateful for my best friends over the years. My first best friend in kindergarten didn’t last long, but she gave me something to aspire to. My next best friend in middle school really didn’t need me. She was more popular than I could ever hope to be, but I loved her because she saw me for who I was. She saw the good in me.

In college, I felt like I made my first real best friends. The kind that wanted to spend time with me simply because they enjoyed my presence. Unfortunately, with all of these best friends from elementary school to college, situations change and I didn’t know how to keep a friendship outside of situational happenstance.

At 20 years old, I made my first friendship that really lasted outside of school or work or church. She’s been my best friend for about the last 7 years.

Last year, I made another friendship. I didn’t really think that it could get better than it was. I didn’t think that God would send me another friend because having one best friend was all that I ever hoped or dreamed of. But I am so grateful for our friendship. This past year was one of the hardest and best of my life. I didn’t know how much I needed my friend until I had her. And now I can’t imagine my life without her.

I never really knew what it was like to love someone so much that when they’re not around, it feels like a part of you is missing. I didn’t fully understand the feeling of missing someone until I had my best friends.

There is a connection in friendship that is like a bonding of your heart to theirs. It’s not that I didn’t feel that with my family, it’s just that with my family that bonding felt more like a computer network. We could be far away from each other, but we were still so connected that I didn’t ever feel a separation. I feel the same way with my best friend of over 7 years. But with newer friends, that bond feels more like a piece of gum. You can be apart for so long and still feel connected, but eventually that gum strains and breaks, and it takes a piece of you with it. You can reconnect it and get it back, but sometimes the person just never comes back into your life.

Some people think that people with autism don’t understand love, that we don’t value the people around us. It’s not true. I remember everyone from Kindergarten to now. I remember everyone who was kind to me, who talked to me. I feel love. Too much.

It’s just that I don’t know how to express it. I don’t know how to let you know that I like being your friend or spending time with you. It’s not that I feel like I’m better than you or that I’m indifferent. I just don’t know how to navigate the social skills to tell you what you mean to me. But I love you and miss you more than you’ll ever know. And no matter how small, you took a piece of me with you and I will forever miss that.

I know it’s hard for you not to hear I love you. I know it’s hard for you to feel like we ignore you or don’t appreciate you. I can’t speak for every autistic person in the world, but I can tell you that no one could love you more than I love my friends and family. Yes, we love. Sometimes we just don’t know how to tell you how much we love.

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.