The Need for Opportunities

Not many people realize I have autism. It is not a topic that comes up very often in everyday conversations. And I have grown so much in my abilities to communicate and cope with my surroundings that I hardly notice it much of the time. Through all this, I have realized how important it is to have opportunities to learn and grow.

Most people take talking for granted. They see friendship and having conversations throughout the day as normal, everyday occurrences. This is not always the case for someone with a disability or for someone who is a loner or an outcast or even just an introvert. I remember being afraid of my voice as a teenager and young adult because I used it so little that I was constantly afraid it would not come out right when I needed it.

I have grown so much over the last several years because of the opportunities I have been given to communicate with others. I have seen the differences in my abilities to communicate because of the practice I get in communicating. I talk to people constantly at my work and at home with friends and family.

This has not always been the case in my life, and I first started noticing the difference when I visited my sister’s family on a regular basis. I noticed that it was easier to communicate and the words came more readily because I would always talk more when I was with my sister. I would read books aloud to her children. I would be engaged in conversation with the family and extended family. I was given the opportunity to use my voice more in those situations, and it created a notable difference in the rest of my week.

Since that time, I have been given an incredible amount of opportunities to improve my social and communication skills. I was asked to teach a class at church. I translated often at work and conducted orientation meetings for new hires. I gained a best friend that pushed the limits of my communication skills and allowed me to explore the social demands of friendship in ways I never had before. I was constantly using my voice and communicating my needs and using my social skills. They say that practice makes perfect. I am not sure if that is true, but practice definitely makes you better. The more I was able to practice my skills, the better they became.

My point with all of this is that growing up, I went to therapy and had scattered opportunities to learn communication and social skills, but it was not enough. I learned the skills necessary to place an order, ask a question, or do other things that were required of me, but it never came easily. It was a constant battle to communicate my needs and not feel lost in a world that I could not seem to understand. Now, communication and life in general has become much easier to handle. I know how to do things that I never thought possible in my earlier years. And things do come relatively easily.

I don’t know if it would have been possible for me to have more positive social experiences while growing up. I was an outcast and bullied and extremely cautious with who I trusted because of those things. But I hope that the world has changed enough that it is more possible for children today to have these experiences. I hope it is more possible for children with autism to learn social skills by practicing with their peers. I know the importance of those opportunities. I have seen how much of a difference they can make. And I hope we all try a little harder to give people the opportunities they need to become better.

Hangry

Last week was an especially difficult week emotionally. I had multiple breakdowns a day and just struggled to control my emotions several times throughout the week. By the end of the week, I realized that this was not simply the result of inconvenient timing of mood swings but was instead directly correlating to my eating habits. The longer it took for me to get food, the more aggressive and anxious I became.

I have always known that I struggle with handling needing food. I can tolerate hunger and can go without eating for a while without issues, but if I do not get food when I am expecting to eat, I lose self control. I lash out and have even injured myself at times. This probably sounds a bit extreme, but I looked up a couple articles about “hanger” and aggression around hunger. The ones I found most relevant explained that low blood sugar can decrease serotonin, which increases stress and affects the ability to regulate your mood.

As someone who already struggles with serotonin levels and mood regulation, this can easily send me over the edge. I remember as a kid, kicking myself off a bed because I was so hungry that I didn’t know what to do with myself. The biggest problem with all this is that it is difficult to provide food for yourself when you get to that point. Trying to cook something when your brain isn’t working leads to more anger and frustration because the process takes too long or is not going as planned.

At this point, I have realized as an adult that I have three options. I can withdraw myself from the situation until my body tires itself out and I no longer have the energy to be aggressive, or I can try to maintain self control just long enough to get something to eat, or I can allow things to get to the point when I explode and am at risk of hurting others or myself. I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced these problems as an adult, much less as a child. Granted, as a child, someone else was mostly responsible for providing food for me, but I had less control about how or when that food came.

I think it is interesting to note the differences between what we expect of children and adults. Often when we become most frustrated with how someone is acting, there is probably a physiological component to their behavior. Maybe they literally cannot just keep calm and carry on. Maybe they cannot communicate their needs. Maybe they cannot provide for themselves in the ways we expect. The difference between children and adults though is that we expect the child to learn to do these things and the adult to know how to do these things. But maybe instead we need to focus more on why things are happening to help prevent the physiological reaction because at that point, it is too late in many ways to avoid unwanted reactions.

An Effect of Antidepressants

I have been taking an antidepressant fairly consistently for a couple years now. There have been times when I stopped taking it because of money or pride or thinking I would be okay without it. I always go back though because I see what my depression does to those I love. I never want to hurt people, but depression is a complicated beast that is hard for me to control without medication.

My antidepressant works wonders. It helps me go from constantly suicidal to occasionally suicidal. It helps me go from desperately needing to be saved from myself to being as close to normal as I can imagine. Medication helps me stay alive.

Unfortunately, medicine has side effects. Sometimes these are in addition to its helpfulness. Sometimes it is because of how it is helping. I have noticed recently that my antidepressant seems to make me less compassionate and sympathetic. In addition to suppressing my harmful urges and destructive thoughts, I sometimes feel nothing when I want to feel something. The medicine does not completely negate my emotions. I still feel sadness and pain and all the other emotions tied to depression, just at a more normal level. There are some emotions though that I enjoyed.

I feel like I loved people more in my depression. I felt for them more. I understood them more. I wanted to be around them more. It can be hard to lose these feelings, to feel heartless, emotionless, unable to connect to others. Depression is a beast, but it made me feel more compassion for others.

I am not sure how to get those feelings back. I know that I cannot stop taking my antidepressant because the consequences of that are worse than not feeling emotions I want to feel. Maybe I just need to learn how to feel differently, love differently, live differently.

Alone

Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.

~Anne Hathaway

I have been having a rough few days. Well, to be entirely honest, it has been a lot longer than that, but the last couple days have been especially hard. There is something about being alone that has always bothered me. I do not do well by myself. Even though I am a very independent person, I crave the companionship of others. I have a hard time concentrating by myself. I work best when I have other people nearby, but we are all doing our own thing.

The point of all this is that being alone is hard for me. I have not been alone physically lately, but I have felt very alone in many ways. I feel alone in my struggles, responsibilities, questions, concerns, doubts… I fear that if I tell anyone how I feel, they will worry or not understand or take it too seriously. Sometimes I just want someone to listen to my concerns because most things cannot be fixed and some things do not need to be fixed, but it is nice to have someone to tell what is on your mind.

I have some pretty wonderful friends, and one in particular that has been there for me tonight. I realize that I did not tell her everything and there are a lot of things I have been keeping bottled up, but I was so grateful to be able to share some of my burden, to feel just a little less alone tonight.

Impossible

I had this insight at church today about Luke 1:37. One translation says, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” I think it is interesting that it says “shall be” because sometimes things are impossible at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they will always be impossible. God can mold and shape us into a new person that can do what was impossible for who we used to be.

I have done things that were once impossible for me, but are now natural and even easy. I asked for help to do these things. I tried over and over, but I had limitations that I could not overcome by myself. But, then, I changed. I became a new person because people saw something in me that I could not see in myself.

We are so often told that God won’t give us more than we can handle or that all things are possible with God, but the process is not explained very often. God makes us so that we can handle things. Sometimes that is through trials, but I think most often it is through other people. People teach us, change us, and stretch us to become more than we once were. And sometimes it is not a good experience. Sometimes it is difficult, painful, and heartbreaking experiences with people that force us to become better.

I think in the end though, we can find reasons to be grateful for all the growth experiences, even the unpleasant ones. The key is allowing yourself to be changed, so that the impossible can become possible.

You Can Only Handle So Much

I have been struggling lately. I have a hard time regulating my emotions and finding positive outlets for them. It is probably because I am working two jobs. The interesting thing is that working two jobs does not feel hard most of the time. The jobs themselves are fairly enjoyable, and I rarely feel overwhelmed at work. The only part of working that has been overwhelming is scheduling the jobs around each other. It is hard to make sure you get everything done when you don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything.

The real struggle though is everything else. Having autism means that everything is bombarding my senses all the time. I am extremely protective of the autistic side of me. I have developed a long fuse or way to hide my autism despite it wanting to come out in difficult situations. The same thing is true for my depression. I prevent these parts of me from coming out just anywhere because I know most people do not understand and that could potentially be very dangerous for me.

Working two jobs has forced me to take care of myself in ways I have not done before because I do not want the vulnerable parts of me to come out at times when I am working. However, self care can only go so far. I still work two jobs and have depression and autism, so I tend to get to the end of what I can handle when I get home. This means that I have been having more meltdowns and breakdowns and more thoughts of suicide and self harm.

This is especially true at times when my body needs something. I find myself to be overly aggressive when I feel hungry. I have broken things or yelled at people or thrown items when my stomach feels even slightly empty. I have also struggled with self harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings of desperation and loneliness when I am tired. It is interesting to me how completely hopeless I can feel at night, but it all seems to dissipate when I wake up in the morning. How can I go from the brink of suicide to feeling mostly at peace in just a few hours?

The best explanation is that I am not truly suicidal. I love my life. I do not want to die. But my body is unable to handle life and simply wants the pain to stop. I remember times when I was truly suicidal. I was convinced that I was a burden. I felt that the world would be a better place without me. I felt sure that my family and friends would be better off without me. That is no longer the case. I don’t feel like anything would be better off without me. I just want the pain inside me to get better. I want to stop hurting so much.

Of course, there are lots of ways to help your body handle more. Eating, sleeping, hugs and other physical touch that helps you feel loved, spending time doing something you enjoy or being with someone that relaxes you, and anything else that helps you feel better mentally, physically, or emotionally allows you to be able to handle more of life. I have learned from spending my life trying to hide my autism and depression, etc. that you can force yourself through almost any situation if you use the right resources to help your body cope.

So, I guess the point of this post is to remind myself and others to find ways to cope. Find things that relax you, that help you feel loved and wanted and needed, or that meet a physical need. By finding and doing things that help your body feel better, you allow your body and mind to be able to handle more difficult situations. You allow yourself to be able to get through things you could not handle before. And you might be surprised at the difference it makes it your mental and emotional state.

Normal

Feeling normal is amazing.

Okay… Back story…

I spent most of my life believing that I was a horrible person. It was not just that I thought I was not good enough. I literally believed that I was bad. And I thought that there was nothing that could be done about it. I believed that I could not do good, but… I also could not stop myself from trying to do good.

I cannot help but see people’s needs and wants and desires. Even when they don’t want people to see or are trying to hide how they feel, I see it anyway. And I can’t help wanting to help them. I can’t help wanting to make people feel good about themselves or the world or life. And once upon a time, I believed this was a horrible trait.

I saw myself as unwanted, unlovable, and annoying. Why would anyone want someone like that to do something good for them? But I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t stop myself from trying to do good things for others. I tried everything to keep myself from trying to help people, but it was a piece of myself that wouldn’t die. So I tried to kill myself, over and over.

And then one day… It finally clicked… It finally got into my head that I was not a bad person. It finally made sense that I was better than I ever dreamed I could be. I had worth. I had value. People wanted me around. And I actually mattered and made a difference for good in the world.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this post is because it is amazing how much less you stress when you realize it’s all okay. I remember driving down the road and stressing so much about everything. I would analyze every word I said and every word said back to me. I would have conversations with people that I never had in real life because I decided they would not go well if I actually tried to talk to that person.

And I know that normalcy is a fallacy that we tell ourselves is achievable to anyone but ourselves, but… feeling normal is amazing… Especially with friends. I absolutely love having a best friend. It makes me feel so normal- not weird, not flawed, not unlovable. I feel whole. And just remembering that, remembering I have a friend is totally freeing. It makes me feel like life is the best thing ever.

So now I worry that I’ll be the overly thankful friend that frightens people away because I’m so excited by these feelings that I can’t help but be grateful. And I still worry that I’ll be too much or not enough. But… Those moments when it feels normal to just be myself are the most amazing feelings ever.