5 Reasons I Love Musical Theatre

It’s summer in St. Louis, or at least the 95 degree temperatures make it feel that way, and summer here means lots of cool outdoor events. One of my favorites is seeing shows at The St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, otherwise known as The MUNY. They put on shows all summer, a new show every week, and if you’re willing to sit in the nosebleed seats, it’s even free!

This year the lineup is Jerome Robbinns’ Broadway, The Wiz, Singin’ in the Rain, Jersey Boys, Annie, Gypsy, and Meet Me in St. Louis- not a bad lineup!

We saw our first show of the season yesterday, and it reminded me how much I love live shows. So here are all the things that my autistic heart loves about musical theatre

  1. It’s Sensory Friendly: At least when it comes to performances. I don’t know about you, but I need earplugs to make it through movie theatre previews most days. (in fact, the movie Dunkirk was so painfully loud, I swore off movies until it was out of theatres). Concerts are also loud, although they can be loud in a good way, and often have lighting effects that make me kind of nauseous. Live theatre is great because it’s not prohibitively loud, unnecessarily bright, and more and more often sensory friendly shows are being offered! The only negative sensory thing I experience is having to sit still for a couple of hours- and I can’t really complain about that.
  2. Orchestral Music Gives Me Goosebumps: For most of my life, I was unaware that not everyone gets intense goosebumps and tingles when they listen to classical music. And I was astounded. I couldn’t imagine an existence where Vivaldi didn’t send chills up and down my spine, or where the score from Jurassic Park didn’t give me full body tingles. I always thought when people said that a piece “moved them to tears”, they were describing how. damn. good. music makes their body feel. For me, this sensation is the best type of body stim, and musicals are basically just 2 hours of stimmy bliss.
  3. The Themes are Universal: Relating to people can be tough. Sometimes when I’m in social situations, I find myself just smiling and nodding along- mostly because I’m either confused about other people’s experiences, or I just can’t relate. Real life is hard, but musicals are easy. They are about human things that everyone has felt before. Feeling oppressed? Les Mis. Feeling Misunderstood? Wicked. Family Troubles? Lion King. Mental Health Issues? Dear Evan Hanson. Cats? Cats! Sometimes it’s really just to just sit back and relax- without having to interpret the world.
  4. The Characters Literally Sing Their Feelings at You: That’s right, I said it. No figuring out facial expression or body language, no sorting out metaphors, and absolutely no dealing with the consequences of guessing wrong. I love knowing exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling because it lets me immerse myself into the story- something that doesn’t happen too often in real life. Can you imagine: you’re in a complicated situation, and you’re trying to figure out if you’ve said or done something wrong, and all of a sudden, the other person breaks into song? YOU DIDN’T VALIDATE MY FEELINGS EARLIER AND I FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T CAAAAAAAARE! It would certain make life more interesting!
  5. All the Feels: Sometimes I have trouble identifying my emotions. Am I upset? Am I overwhelmed? Am I sad? And I know for me, not knowing how I’m feeling can lead to a build up of emotions, and I will eventually explain. Figuratively, of course. So, at regular intervals, I find that I just need a good cry. I don’t even have to by crying about my life and my problems- musicals let me cry about other people’s problems. Key examples include: Do You Hear the People Sing (Les Mis), Wait for It (Hamilton), For Good (Wicked), and Goodbye Love (Rent). There are many more. Seussical, which is a funny show based on the works of Dr. Seuss has a song that makes me cry. Maybe I’m too emotional, but at least I’ve got an outlet, right?

So there you go! Now that you know how I’ll be spending my summer nights, I think it’s only fair that I know about your plans. Tell me what you’re looking forward to doing this summer, even if it’s just saying at home and enjoying your air conditioner!

I’m a Quitter

It’s official. As of Saturday, I will officially be a non-smoker.

I’ve been smoking on and off since I was 16, and while I’ve quit before, it’s never lasted more than few years. I think a big reason for that is because smoking becomes such a satisfying routine.

A goodness knows that I thrive on routines.

So I’ve been thinking about quitting for a while now, but I’ve been having trouble doing the actual, you know, quitting part. I’ve been slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes that I smoke a day, but I’ve hit a bit of a wall. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to quit, but I was having what I think of as motivation issues.

Until last Saturday, that is. Since then, I’ve had tons of motivation.

I’m having surgery in July, and since it involves grafts, the surgeon requires me to not smoke. Fun fact: smokers have a 20% more chance of graft rejection than nonsmokers, which is good enough motivation for me to push through the discomfort and just quit.

Back to the routines. I smoke at specific times of day, every day. The act of smoking is so closely tied with things like eating meals and leaving the house that I have trouble separating the two. These sorts of activities are transitional, and that’s an Executive Dysfunction thing that I really struggle with.

So, the struggle begins to find replacement activities! After much consulting and debating, I’ve got a plan that I think will work. I’m going to use both distraction and sensory replacement to keep myself honest. Enter my Gameboy and coffee flavored hard candy. Instead of smoking before meals, I’ll take 5-10 minutes and play a game (Mario-kart and Mario party, mostly) and suck on hard candies to fulfill the oral fixation.

I’m not sure how this is all going to go. It looks good on paper, but goodness knows that changing routines is far more difficult than it should be, at least for me.

Wish me luck, and please excuse any rant-y posts while I adjust to all the changes!

P.S. If you’ve ever quit smoking and you have any tips, please let me know!

4 Reasons Staycations Are Great for Autistics

The word “stay-cation” gives me a bit of a visceral reaction. Which is weird, because I usually like wordplay, especially of the rhyming variety. But for whatever reason, ‘stay-cation’ makes me cringe and promise myself that I’ll never take one.

Except that my in-laws came to visit this week, and they wanted to do all the cool but totally touristy stuff that St. Louis has to offer.

It was exhausting. I don’t understand how people can go from doing minimal movement in their day to day lives, to being able to walk miles upon miles and climb an infinite number of stairs.

Now granted, I would have been mentally and physically exhausted whether we were in St. Louis or Paris, and as the week went on, I came to realize that once I got past the name, stay-cations were made for me!

So here are a few reasons why taking your vacations at home are awesome:

  1. Minimal Travel: I don’t know about you, but while I love going places, I hate getting there. Travel gets difficult because it’s hard to predict. There could be an accident on the highway, your plane could be delayed. No matter how hard you try to plan out your stops, the rest area you were counting on could be closed. And here’s a slight bit of TMI for you- I’m not great at telling when I have to go to the bathroom, so when I have to go, I have to go NOW. So to sum it up, cars are uncomfortable, airports are loud, trains are crowded, and buses smell funny. Staying in your own city minimizes all of these issues, and frees up tons of energy for stuff that’s more fun!
  2. Familiar Food: Eating out once and a while is a lot of fun. I like getting to eat foods that I can’t easily make at home (like sushi and curly fries), but holy crap does eating out have diminishing returns. It goes from fun to tedious in the blink of an eye! This week was no exception. But something that I noticed was that familiar foods made eating out a bit less stressful. I could mostly stick to restaurants that I’d been to before, which added in familiarity. And be not being somewhere new, I could be sure that the dish I was ordering wouldn’t have any weird regional variations (who puts beets on burgers? I’m looking at you, Australia).
  3. Your Schedule isn’t Completely Messed Up: I thrive on my routine, and even if I’m having the time of my life on a vacation, not being able to do things at their scheduled times really takes a toll. You can do as much planning as you want, but it still won’t be quite the same. My cartoons before bed routine just isn’t as effective if it isn’t my bed. Enter the stay-cation. Being at home means that even if your days are all messed up, you can keep your mornings and nights pretty much the same! I’ve found that I’m in a lot better of a place if I can start with my morning routine and end with my bedtime one. It makes the chaotic middle part more tolerable. And as a bonus- you get to sleep in your own bed! (Also, you don’t have to fit 5 stuffed animals into your carryon)
  4. You Can Always Just Go Home: None of us wants to feel like we’re failing at things. It’s a crappy feeling, and for me it generally leads to me mentally kicking myself for no being able to do what “normal people” can do. But failure happens. To everyone. And no matter who you are, it sucks even worst on vacation, because you spent time and money traveling, just to not be able to enjoy yourself. That’s what’s so great about stay-cations: you’re close to home. So it’s not like you wasted a day of travel. Sometimes you just need to go home, take a break, and try again later. And there’s no shame in that.

Have you ever taken a stay-cation? What was the best part? If you haven’t, tell me one thing about where you live that’s worth seeing!

Bonus Stay-Cation Pictures

The Gateway Arch

Penguins at the St. Louis Zoo

Meramac Caverns

Hearing and Saying

I don’t know where this month has gone. My life right now feels like a whirlwind.

Between spending 6 hours a week at a hospital getting saline infusions, making trips out to campus to finalize my fall semester, planning our trip to Kansas City for the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, preparing for my in-laws’ visit in May, and starting an intense physical therapy protocol, I haven’t had time to breathe.

And breathing is important, or so I’m told.

Writing, too, has taken a set on the back burner. And it’s not like I don’t have ideas, I just can’t get them down before they fly out of my head.

So this isn’t a carefully planned and researched post about a facet of Autism. It’s not even one of my typical lists, with discussions and comparisons. No, this is a collection of the one thing that’s been sticking in my head these days: funny and/or ridiculous things I’ve said or heard recently.

“He sounded disappointed that the cat didn’t fit down the toilet?”

“Are you prepared to make your evil laugh?”

“Just because she didn’t pet you doesn’t mean you can hiss at her.”

“The bush is buzzing again. Must be April.”

“This sign is old. Irish people people objected to being compared to potatoes.”

“I can’t tolerate it orally”

“Buttons makes everything a bit more formal.”

“I need you to come touch Einstein’s face. NOW.”

“What, have the hipsters ruined hats for everyone now?”

“But if we end up there, can I ride a camel?”

So here we are. It’s funny the things that come out of our mouths somethings. I’m not an eavesdropper, but I definitely feel like I hear more of other peoples’ conversations than your average neurotypical. I like to chalk that up to hyper-hearing and a natural curiosity.

I hope that your week is filled with amusing conversations!

Three Wishes

I’m walking along the beach, looking for sea glass, and doing my best to ignore the grains of sand that have worked their way into my shoes. I see something in the distance, glinting in the sunlight, and I dash forward, hoping to find more glass for my collection. As I reach for my treasure, I realize that it is a fully intact bottle, not the rough and tumble fragments I’ve been searching for. Bottle in hand, I try to clean the sand off the bottle, when it disappears with a POOF.

In front of me stands what I can only describe as a Man/Moose hybrid, and when I manage to drag my eyes away from his massive antlers, I see him gazing at me, expectantly.

“Well, what will it be?”

I have no idea what he’s talking about. I figure if I don’t respond, he’ll explain himself.

“I don’t have all day here, you know.”

I’ve lost my words. It figures that a fantastically magical being would render me non-verbal. I cross my fingers that he understands ASL, and I sign DON’T-UNDERSTAND.

With a great huff and shake of his head, he says “Your wishes. You have three. Use them wisely. ” Under his breath he adds “Ugh, mortals.”

Thanks to a childhood Special Interest in mythology, I know that genies are rarely benevolent. These tricksters never have your best interest in mind, and take joy in warping wishes. I know I will have to be careful.

One thing that I never understood about wishers in stories was why they never used their first wish to make sure their remaining one were granted accurately. I tell this to the Moose Man, and his eyebrows furrow.

“You would waste a wish like that? I know you, mortal, and you have too many problems to be wishing for precision. In fact, I’ll make you a deal. You use me to wish away the demons that plague you, I give you my word that I’ll stick to the spirit of the wishes.”

Demons? Can those antlers let him see something that I can’t? Am I infested? I feel itchy just thinking about it.

Before I make any decisions, I definitely need to know what he means by “demons.” Again I sign DON’T-UNDERSTAND.

“Your brain, it is different from those of other humans. It causes you pain from your senses, confusion from social interactions, and despair from living a world that is not meant for you. I can use your wishes to take all of that away- why would you wish for anything else?”

I am stunned. Does he not realize that by taking away the bad, he would take away the good as well? Yes, I experience sensory hell, but there is sensory heaven in my world tool. The joy from my special interests outweighs the struggles I have with things like socialization and executive dysfunction. And mostly importantly, changing how my brain works would change who I am. Who would wish for that?

I have to think carefully about my wishes. They need to be so clear that he can’t warp them, and they have to benefit not only me, but everyone in my community.

He paces and glares while I take my time, but eventually, I am happy with my choices. I turn back to him and say:

“I like who I am, and would never risk changing that. Here are my wishes, and I hope they reflect that.”

  1. I wish to be included in my own Advocacy. I know myself best. I know my needs and struggles, and I need to be considered an expert in the field of myself. We will never make progress unless we give precedence to the voices of personal experience.
  2. I wish for Accessibility. Many of the problems that I experience could be easily resolved by people willing to meet me in the middle. All people with disabilities would be able to accomplish more if more of an effort were made to see weaknesses and then find solutions to balance them out. It’s possible, and more of an effort needs to be made.
  3. Lastly, I wish for Acceptance. Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are, and no matter what their abilities are. I don’t want people to make pity-eyes at me, and I don’t want people to think that the way my brain works is a tragedy. I am who I am.

He looks and me solemnly, and after a few moments replies “As you wish.”

All around me, lights swirl around me, and when I’m practically surrounded, I hear another great POOF and

I wake up in my bed. Half asleep and bleary eyed, I try to remember the Moose Man, but all I can recall is his ignorance, and his massive antlers.

4 Feelings That Rock

A few weeks ago I was having a really bad week, and I wrote a list entitled “4 Feels that Suck”. It was mostly a vent disguised as a post, and it was very therapeutic. But the universe craves balance, and I realized that I’d have to do a ‘good feelings’ post as soon as I was in a better mindset.

So here I am. I’m feeling a lot better mentally, thanks mostly to some necessary psych med adjustments, and while I’m still having trouble with things like anxiety and self confidence, I think I’m in a good enough place to talk about happy feelings.

I know that feelings that rock, like feelings that suck, aren’t universal, but these are some things that never fail to make me feel good!

1. Finishing a project: I feel like I have been deprived of this feeling lately, but I’m relieved to notice that I’m slowly starting to finish things again. For me, this applies to a lot of activities: Knitting, Reading, Crafts, etc. I even get it from blogging sometimes. It’s not usually a long-lasting feeling for me, which is okay, because it’s easy to achieve. I don’t have to knit an adult sized sweater to get the satisfaction of finishing. A chunky knit hat gives me the same feeling. And while getting to the end of a 1200 page novel (I’m looking at you, The Count of Monte Cristo) is really satisfying, so is reading a short illustrated young adult book (A Monster Calls) is just as good. I think that the act of completion is so satisfying is closure. While I’m in the middle of something it’s open and active in my brain, which is its own kind of satisfying, but once it’s done, I can wrap the whole experience up in a nice box and keep it with me forever. And once it’s wrapped, I now have space for a new project! And believe me, there’s always a new project.

2. Finding a new favorite: With all of the media out there these days, you’d think you’d be finding new show, books, movies, or games every other day. This has not been my experience. I suppose Sturgeon’s Law applies here: 90% of everything is crap. Especially the way Netflix, Amazon, and other services are chugging out media with what seems sometimes like little regard for quality. This is why finding something new feels so good for me. I can usually tell within one episode/chapter/play-through if something is going to hook me, and when it does? I get goosebumps. And not in a special interest way. I’m not obsessed, I don’t need to know everything about everything the author/actor/publisher has ever done. I don’t hunt don’t obscure trivia. I’m not thinking about it all the time. I’m just thoroughly enjoying something great. Right now, I’m loving a book called A Tale for the Time Being, a show on Netflix called Love Your Garden, and a two player card game called The Fox in the Forest. I know these things won’t stay new forever, but I’m enjoying them while they are, and I’m confident there will be more great new things to come.

3. Connecting: Now, stick with me here, because I know what you’re probably thinking. “But Meesh, don’t Autistic People notoriously have issues with connection?” Actually, maybe you’re not thinking that. I’ll leave it in just in case. But connection. Sometimes I think struggling to connect makes it so much better when it happens. That’s one of the things I love about the online communities that I’m part of- for whatever reason, I feel connected to not only to experiences I have with people, but to the entire community itself. And I think that’s pretty cool! I want to point out that when I talk about connection, I don’t only mean to other people. Personally I connect with animals, characters from TV shows and books, and a certain street sign that I’ve named Oliver. He’s lovely. Although Jess has asked my not to name inanimate objects any more. I get attached. I guess my point is, that no matter what makes you feel less alone, and like a part of something, it counts as connecting in my book. And unlike some things on this list that give short term happies, connecting to something can sustain your need to not be alone for weeks or months or years. It might not be in the front of your brain all the time, but you can pull it up whenever you want. Essentially, it’s hibernating. Like a badger. Also, did I use the word connect too much? It doesn’t even look like a word anymore. Sorry for that!

4. Knowing Who You Are: Ok guys, I’ve gotta tell you. Up until I was about 25, I really had no idea who I was. I didn’t really know what I liked, or how I felt, or what I wanted. I’m honestly surprised I survived that way as long as I did. Enter Autism. Now, I can’t credit my diagnosis for everything. I’d slowly been getting to know myself, and I think having a name to put to what was going on in my head was just the tipping point. I did so much research. I stopped living in my head and started having experiences. Because honestly, how do I know what my favorite flavor of ice cream is unless I’ve tried all 31 flavors? It’s mint chocolate chip, by the way. However, I’m not here to talk to you about ice cream. After much trial and error, much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I can say with 93.2% confidence that I know myself. And that is such a good feeling. I get warm fuzzies when I can defend something that I know that I love, and when I can explain to my therapist what’s going on in my head. I’ve learned to break down problems that I’m having so I can find solutions. I feel like the Sherlock Holmes of myself. Or maybe the Hercule Poirot. That man knows how to rock a mustache. I know that I’m not a detective, but that’s how I feel sometimes. I am Meesh: Self Detective!

Bonus TMI: Taking a really good shit: Oh my god, I can’t even describe how satisfying this is. I’m one of those people who deals with serious constipation, and it majorly affects my life. Let me go on a quick tangent to tell you this story:

When I was about 23, I started having serious pain in my neck and (left) shoulder. I put up with it for a few weeks, figuring that I’d probably pulled something, but eventually I had to make a doctor’s appointment, because I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. After talking through my symptoms with me, my doctor decided to x-ray my abdomen, and when she came into the room afterwards, she could barely keep a straight face. She announced, almost gleefully, that I was “full of shit”. Literally. Full. Of. Shit. My entire intestinal tract was full up, and was cause referred pain to my shoulder.

It’s only gone downhill since then. I’ve been on medication, which helps, but I’d forgotten how good a great bowel movement could be until I started having Fluid Therapy treatments recently. Turns out that with 2 liters of saline, even my awful gut can keep things moving. Within about an hour after my treatment, I having the best poop ever. I look forward to it every week. Please don’t judge…

So those are my top happy feelings (at least for this week), I hope you all experience your own happy feelings this week, and I’d like to leave you with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut.

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point: if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

90% Shameless Self Promotion

I absolutely understand if you don’t click on this. Who wants to hear someone talk about themselves day in and day out? Except maybe bloggers…

Anyway, it’s April, which is Autism Acceptance Month, and I’ve been having some fun. My Etsy store is empty 90% of the time, but as April draws closer, I start feeling the pull to get creative. And I figure, I’ve got all this stuff that I think people might enjoy, so why not?

I’ll keeping the pitch simple here. My shop is open. Everything is under $5. 10% of anything I make goes to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Free shipping to the continental US, and 15% off if you spend more than $5.

So. If you have any need for cute stickers, pins, or worry stones, I’m your person.

Thank you for reading this far- I’m just going to leave you with a few pictures…

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Autism is not a tragedy

special interest

autisticat body