Loving My Brokenness

Prayers are answered in strange ways sometimes. Sometimes it is through our weaknesses and brokenness that our most sincere and important prayers are answered.

I am constantly amazed by how well things all work out. I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always had autism. But I never suspected that depression would help me with autism.

I started going to therapy a couple months ago because I was thinking about suicide often enough that I thought I might attempt it again. I had gotten to the point where I just had to do something because I just couldn’t keep living the way I was. I needed something to change. So even though I didn’t feel therapy had ever helped me in the past, it was the only thing I could think of. 

I am so grateful that I got to that point of depression and suicidal ideation because it made me turn to therapy, and this therapy is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me. It has helped me so much with my struggles with autism. It has helped me with the deeper thoughts that lead to wanting self injury or death. It has helped me with self image and being a better friend and better person in general.

It’s not fun to be broken, but there is definite beauty in the brokenness. I am learning to love my brokenness because it leads me to help I wouldn’t have sought, friends I wouldn’t have made, and understanding I wouldn’t have had. I love being broken because I feel the difference it has made in my life. I am a better person because of the broken pieces of my life that have become something beautiful.

I Want to Live

Have you ever wanted to die? What did it feel like to want to die?

(As a warning, this may be an intense post to read. It is something I want people to understand, but I understand that the information may be too dark for some people.)

I don’t know why, but I have wanted to die for as long as I can remember. I’m not saying this because I want you to feel sorry for me, but I’m saying it because people need to know. People need to know that suicidal thoughts are not uncommon. If you have ever wanted to die, you have a brief glimpse into what I feel on nearly a daily basis. Suicide for me is like the urge to eat chocolate for someone else. It’s just a part of who I am, but I resist those thoughts because it’s not a part of who I want to be.

Among people’s most common fears are fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of death, and fear of the dark. My greatest fear is the fear that I will not be able to control my urge of wanting to die. I fear heights because I’m afraid that my urge will get the better of me and I will jump or cause myself to fall. I worry about public speaking because I fear that if I perceive that people think negatively of me, my urge to die might increase. I don’t fear death or darkness, but rather I fear that I will one day embrace the death and darkness within me.

I fear wanting to die because I really want to live. There is so much to do in life. I want to accomplish so many things and read so many good books and learn new languages and experience new cultures and places. I fear that my urge of wanting death will overcome my desire of wanting to live- like someone’s urge to eat chocolate can overcome their desire to be healthy. The difference is if my urge overcomes my desire, the outcome will be irreversible.

I recently bought a book by my former patriarch in my hometown. As I have read this book, it has reaffirmed to me how grateful I am that my urges have not overcome my desires yet. I have attempted suicide a few times, but these were all superficial wounds. I never actually did enough damage to ever have the possibility of death. And I am so grateful for that. As Jack Rushton says, “It’s good to be alive.”

Limitations

Autism is defined by limitations. There is always more inside than what we have the capacity to express or act on. In truth, life is defined by limitations. We all have limits- things we can’t do or won’t do or are afraid to do. Sometimes we set our own limits, sometimes they are set by our environment and sometimes they are set by our own physical, mental and or emotional state.

It’s not bad to have limits and some limits are beneficial. However, our limits can at times make us feel weak or helpless or worthless- especially if those limits seem to be different than everyone else’s limits.

The people I look up to the most tend to be the ones that have no or few limitations in areas where I have huge limitations. And in turn, there are people who look up to me in areas where they have many limitations and I have few limitations. It’s hard to see why they would admire me when I look at my limitations and how much I admire their abilities in my weakest areas. But if we consider ourselves as a whole and other people as a whole, we realize that we all have aspects of ourselves that can be admired.

However, even in acknowledging our strengths and being proud of them, it can still be hard to accept our limitations. My limitations have been very difficult for me to accept over the past few years. I have so much more to give and so much more that I want to do, but because of my limitations I am unable to make those thoughts and desires a reality.

And to be honest, I sometimes envy those whose limitations are obvious. I know it sounds wrong, but I wish that my limitations were obvious so that people would understand why I can’t do certain things. No one would look at someone in a wheelchair and wonder why they’re not running. And yet, it is common for people to look at someone like me and wonder why we aren’t making eye contact or socializing with everyone around us.

So I would have to say that the hardest part of having limitations is people assuming that you don’t have those limitations. It’s hard to know that I can’t do certain things and it’s frustrating to try over and over and continually fail at those things. But what’s harder is thinking that you should be able to do those things. What’s harder is feeling like a failure because the rest of the world doesn’t see a reason for your struggles. What’s harder is knowing that you may never be able to overcome a limitation that no one else may ever understand you have.

Making Mistakes

This week I made a pretty big mistake at work. Mostly it happened because things were busy and more complicated than normal and I was trying to just get things done. Anyway, I was feeling discouraged and I was thinking about what had happened when it dawned on me that this was just a normal mistake. I mean, it was a mistake that anyone could have done. And that realization felt totally awesome.

You see, most of my mistakes have somehow or other stemmed from autism. They either happened because I didn’t have the social skills to handle the situation properly or because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do or because I didn’t do what I should have due to fear that I wouldn’t have the skills to accomplish it. But this mistake had no connection to autism. Even if I didn’t have autism, I’d probably still have made the mistake.

I’m still not happy that I made the mistake, but I am happy that I can say “I messed up and I’m sorry” without thinking in the back of my mind that if I didn’t have autism this would never have happened.

Life Happens

Life happens… and sometimes it’s awesome 😀

In the past couple months I have had a lot of really amazing things happen. First, my niece was born on my birthday. Next, this blog started taking off and gaining followers. Then, another niece was born. And now, I have gotten a job doing the same thing I have been doing as a volunteer (missionary) for the past 7 months.

I start work on Monday and I am so excited.

What does this have to do with autism? Nothing. And yet… everything…

During my interview for this job, they asked what my eventual occupation goal is. I told them that I want to be a motivational speaker. So they asked what I would talk about as a motivational speaker. I responded that I have been through a lot of challenges in my life and have worked to overcome those challenges and want to tell others about that and inspire them to work through their own challenges. The manager then asked the seemingly inevitable question about what those challenges were and what I have learned from them.

Well, I took a deep breath and then explained that I have autism. I told him about how I struggled with communicating and learning how to read other people’s social cues and making eye contact. Then I told him how I have learned to communicate better and to respond appropriately to others. I ended by saying that through my experiences I have learned that our greatest limitations are the ones we put on ourselves. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can’t do something and our thoughts make it so. The reality though is that we are often more capable than we give ourselves credit for and if we only try, we may find that we can do things we thought to be impossible.

Anyway, the manager was pretty impressed with my response and asked if I could talk to his daughter because she needed to hear that. He also complimented my communication skills and eye contact. And I guess it must have worked because I have the job now. 🙂

So even though this job doesn’t really have anything to do with autism, it has everything to do with autism because autism has made me who I am. I am a better person because of autism and I’m grateful for this opportunity so that I can become an even better person than I am now.

The Unexpected Busy

The last few weeks have been incredibly busy. Between my niece’s birth, a family reunion, and general craziness at work, I have been pretty overwhelmed. But the busyness itself isn’t what makes things overwhelming. It’s the unexpected busyness that really causes stress and anxiety.

I have heard people say that people with autism can’t handle busy schedules, but that isn’t necessarily true. We can handle busy schedules if we are prepared for them and expect them.

When I was in high school I was involved in nearly every extracurricular activity available. I participated in sports, in our school’s theater program as a stage technician, and in 10 or so clubs (4 of which I either founded or held a leadership position in). However, this busyness was generally not a challenge for me. I knew what I had to do to make everything work and I knew what to expect in each activity. The times that I became stressed during this period of my life was when something unexpected happened in addition to my regularly scheduled activities.

Staying busy can actually have a positive effect on me. It keeps me active and helps prevent me from becoming asocial or apathetic. It also helps me feel a sense of purpose and direction.

Things that come up unexpectedly though throw off my sense of direction. I feel like I’ve been knocked over by a strong wave in the ocean and am caught up in its current. Eventually I become free, but it leaves me exhausted and irritable.

In addition to unexpected things happening to me are the unexpected thoughts that come to me. Sometimes I feel myself flooded with thoughts that I don’t have time to organize and process. I wish that I could have more time to go through my thoughts and attempt to understand and make sense of them, but life doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes unexpected events and unexpected thoughts coincide with each other or one causes the other. This makes it especially difficult to function because my mind becomes crammed with all of the information I am taking in.

Luckily, these types of things usually don’t happen often and I can recover from unexpected busyness to return to my normal state of being. Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to recover that I need which can sometimes lead to meltdowns. Meltdowns can speed the recovery process in terms of time but are definitely more energy consuming.

Although I don’t blame people for not understanding that I get overwhelmed and therefore more irritable when things don’t go according to plans, I do wish that people could see what I feel sometimes. I think that if people could understand the stress that some things cause, they would be less likely to judge and more likely to validate my feelings.

Looking Normal

I think that one of the hardest things about autism is that most people with autism look completely normal. When you are born with autism, there are no characteristics that doctors look for and no way for doctors or anyone to know that you may have a disability. In a way, this is a great blessing. It allows people with autism to live relatively normal lives without being prejudged on their appearances. This can also make certain things harder though because people tend to be less forgiving of those they see as normal.

I’m not saying that I want to look different so that I can be people’s charity case. But it would be nice if people could understand why I act the way I do without having to get to the point where I can explain that I have autism. I almost wish there was a way to let people know that I have autism right away so that when I am awkward in some situations, people don’t label me as strange and avoid me in the future. Maybe if there was a way to let people know I have autism, they would be more understanding of my uneasiness.

Looking normal is part of the pressure of trying to live a normal life for someone with autism. Since we look like everyone else, we want to act like everyone else. We want to fit in like a normal person does. When we aren’t able to pull off this lofty goal, it’s a reminder of our weakness and it can feel devastating at times. The pressures to fit in are always present for anyone and realizing that this may never happen is not something anyone wants to experience.

I know that looking different from everyone else wouldn’t make me or anyone else with autism fit in any better, but it might help us realize that we are different and that we don’t have to measure up to the normalcy of the world. Just because we look like everyone else doesn’t mean we have to be like everyone else or live up to their standards. We can still be ourselves and still find a place for ourselves despite the differences that are unseen. If there is one thing I’ve learned from having autism, it’s that our differences make us who we are and can be a huge benefit if we aren’t afraid of them.