5 Signs You May Be Experiencing Burnout

When I was 19, I was trying my best to be a grown-up. I was living with Jess in a new city with no friends or family around. She was in medical school, and I was working full time and going to school part-time.

I thought that this was what adults do, and so I missed a lot of warning signs that something was starting to go very wrong.

It was burnout.

Autistic burnout is usually caused by an autistic person attempting to suppress their autistic traits over a period of time. It causes regression, and sometimes, some of the regressions are permanent. For example, I’ve never regained the sensory tolerance I had before.

Looking back now, I can easily identify the red flags. I hope knowing what early burnout looks like will keep it from ever happening again.

These are my symptoms. Yours may be different. But I hope that you read this and think about what your symptoms might be, so you can prevent burnout too.

1. Everything is TOO MUCH- Everything is too much all the time, you might say to me. And I get that, I really do, but this TOO MUCH will be different. It’s the difference between a gust of wind and a tornado, so I promise that you’ll know the difference. The main thing to watch for is that the overload will keep increasing and it will feel neverending. If one day you realize that you’re hiding in your closet because the world seems like too much, it might be time for an intervention.

2. You’re tired all the time- And not just sleepy. I mean falling asleep sitting up tired. Can’t get out of bed in the morning tired. Things that are usually easy hurt to even think about. And there’s a reason for this exhaustion, the parts of your brain that handle sensory issues and social skills are working overtime- and you’re paying the price. Self-care, taking time for yourself, giving your body what it needs, and asking for help if you need it are the best way to deal with this.

3. Communication is a struggle- Let’s face it, most of us are not great communicators at the best of times, I think that we can admit to that. But we know our strengths and weaknesses, right? I know that I communicate most effectively in writing and that if I get too stressed, I lose all of my verbal communication skills. That’s just my normal. It’s when things start happening outside of the norm that I know there’s a problem. If I’m having a lot of trouble communicating with my wife (who is my person), I need to consider that something might be up. I think that you probably know where your point is, when your gut tells you that something’s up. If you don’t, that’s fine, beginning to notice what’s normal for you and what isn’t is an easy, but an incredibly useful skill to have.

4. Can’t stop stimming- Do you unconsciously stim sometimes? I definitely do, and it has been reported back to me that I have ‘good’ stims (that I do when I’m happy! or excited!) and ‘bad’ stims (that I do when I’m stressed or tired). For example, if I’m rocking side to side, I’m in a super chill mood, but if I’m rocking front to back, people should be concerned. And that’s what I’m talking about. When stimming turns into a frantic or upsetting activity, whether there’s self-harm or you just can’t stop, that’s when this sign becomes a big deal. As with all of the other signs so far, you know what your norm is, and it’s the deviation from that that needs to be questioned.

5. Your special interests seem extra special- 5 books a week. 2 hats, 2 mittens, and a scarf. Top scores on everything. Special interests are one of the defining behavior of us autistic folks, but there’s special, and there’s Special. Sometimes all I want to talk about is Star Wars, or Phineas and Ferb, or Stephen Sondheim. I can, for the most part, be persuaded to talk about other things, if in a slightly less enthusiastic manner. But during that burnout? I literally couldn’t think about anything except my special interests (which at the time were Super Mario Brothers and Guinea Pigs). This might be the hardest one to notice in yourself. At least for me, I didn’t feel like I was thinking or acting any differently, but in hindsight I definitely was. In this sort of situation, having a buddy is definitely helpful.

A Note– If you know anything about mental health, you might have noticed that a lot of these symptoms could also be caused by anxiety or depression. For me, autism and mental health go hand in hand, to the point of them influencing each other, and it might be the same for you. All I’m trying to say is if you’ve read this whole post (thanks for that!) and you see yourself in some of these signs, checking in with a professional you trust is totally reasonable.

Take care of yourselves, friends!

 

 

 

 

7 Things People Don’t Know About Service Dogs

The general public sees a dog in a vest and the thought never crosses their mind about why the dog is wearing it. Up until recently, most people assumed that every vested dog was a guide dog, and that was that. It’s better now. A little better, anyway. People are a lot more educated about service animals, but the majority still can’t tell you the difference between a service dog, an emotional support animal (ESA), and a therapy dog.

These are misconceptions I’ve noticed while researching, or when talking to people about Winnie.

1. Service Dogs and ESAs Are Two Separate Things-

Emotional Support Animals have been in the media a lot lately, and as usual, it’s been making everything more confusing than less. Let me clear it up right now, there is no such thing as Service Peacocks. This is because Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) are totally different things. Emotional support animals are for just that- emotional support. They help ease their owners’ anxieties and phobias, but they are not a psychiatric service animal. EAS’s are not covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (the ADA), instead, they are covered by the FAA, if their owners are trying to bring them on planes, and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), if their owner needs to live in a place where pets are not allowed. Planes and Housing are the only places where ESA’s have rights, and to get these rights, the owner needs a letter from a doctor, and sometimes extra paperwork. *note* individual airlines are starting to crack down on ESA’s in planes, which should spark some interesting discussions.

2. Getting a Dog Doesn’t Work the Way You Might Think-

The media would have you believe that there’s only one way to get a service animal. You realize you need help, you get in touch with a charity that trains cute little puppies into perfect service dogs that are delivered right to your door for free. You bond with the dog immediately, and all of your problems are solved. This is so not how the process works. For one, service dogs are almost never free. The average cost of a dog is $20,000. And if you do find a charity that gives away dogs, their scope is very narrow. Combat Veterans. Blind People. Autistic Children (but never adults). And regardless, there are waitlists. A two-year waitlist to even be assigned a dog, plus two years of training, you might not see your service dog for years. Because of all these factors, people sometimes decide to train their own dogs.

3. Some People Train Their Own Dogs Instead of Going Through a Service-

The law says that people have the right to train their service animals. This is a huge decision. Training a service dog is a lot of work, and as someone with a disability, it’s even harder. Self-trained service dogs also wash out (which means fails as a service dog) at a much much higher rate. Self-training also doesn’t save money, which is an upsetting surprise for a lot of handlers. Dogs cost money. Food and toys and vet bills and training materials and specialized trainers and service vests. Self-training means you don’t need $20,000 right at the beginning, but over the course of the training, you’ll still be spending at least $20,000. Self-training is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I am self-training Winnie mostly because no programs who work with autistic people work with adults. I also have had dogs before, and I have Jess at home to help. I do think, after 3 months of puppy-hood, that if I get another dog when Winnie retires, I’ll be seriously considering a service.

4. Service Dogs Aren’t Required to Wear Vests-

You will always be able to recognize a service dog by its vest, right? Wrong! There is nothing in the law that requires a service dog to be identifiable in any way (this is because the Americans With Disabilities Act is really big on privacy). So why do most owners put their dog in a vest? The honest answer is that it’s easier, and by easier, I mean that if you’re in a public place with a dog who isn’t wearing a vest, people will harass you. In fact, even if they are wearing a vest, and someone decides that you don’t look “disabled enough”, they might harass you. I think we’ve all experienced “disabled enough” before here.

5. There is No State or Federal Registry For Service Dog-

You might have seen a service dog walking around with an ID or certification papers, and listen to me now when I tell you that it’s all crap. The only requirements that make a service dog a service dog is that its handler has a disability that requires an assistance dog and that the dog is trained to do tasks for the handler. The dog may be asked to leave a public space if it’s not well behaved, but that’s slightly different. So, to get down to it, service dogs cannot be certified, and asking handlers to provide paperwork or asking invasive questions isn’t legal. Any company that says that they can provide papers, or certification, or identification are just looking for money.

6. Service Dogs Aren’t Just Well Behaved, They’re Trained for Specific Tasks-

Service dogs look like the most obedient dogs in the world, and while this is true, obedience is the least of what they are trained for. The things that make service dogs more than just well-behaved pooches is the idea of tasks. Service animals are trained to do specific things. A guide dog has very different skills than a diabetic alert dog, and these skills are called tasks. Tasks break behaviors into little bits, like a guide dog can be trained to lead their handler to a specific place. Tasks are required, period. Generally, 3 is the minimum. Using Winnie as an example, she’ll be trained to do Deep Pressure Therapy, to sense when I’m getting overstimulated and lead me to a quiet area, and to interrupt my harmful body stims. This is just for me. Another autistic person might have their dog do an entirely other set of tasks. Everyone is an individual, and that’s one of the things that makes training a service dog so complicated.

7. Service Dogs Can be Any Breed, From Chihuahua to Great Dane

Picture a service dog for me. There’s a golden retriever in your mind’s eye, isn’t there? That, or a doodle of some sort. And there’s a reason for that. Labs, retrievers, and poodles are all very well suited to being services dogs, because of their temperaments and learning styles. This does not mean though that other breeds aren’t up to the job (although some breeds are more suited than others). Any breed as long as they’re smart, trainable for the handler’s needs, and polite and non-reactive can be service dogs. So, while German Shepherds make good guide dogs, smaller more portable dogs like chihuahua and Shih-Tzus might make fantastic seizure alert dogs. An informal note about this though, using a non-standard breed can and will make people pay more attention to you. It’s just a thing.

So, there was a lot of information! Do you feel smarter, or just tired? Anyway, if you’ve got questions, or you think I forgot something important, or if you think I’m just plain wrong about something, drop me a line, and let me know!

Top 10 Books I’ve Read This Year

So I know that the year isn’t over yet, but something else is- I hit my reading goal for the year! I started out this year doing the 52 in 52 challenge, which is where you set a goal to read 52 books (one a week) in 52 weeks. Now, I hit 52 books in June, and I upped my goal to 78 books, which comes out to about 1.5 books a week, and this week I finished book #78! Now of course this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading, but it’s a nice feeling to have hit a concrete goal.

My favorite books from this year have been all over the place, genre-wise. I am usually drawn to science fiction and fantasy, but to make this challenge more interesting, I pushed myself to read books that I might not have necessarily picked otherwise. Genres like Biography, and Classics, and Literary Fiction. And it worked great! I’ve already started thinking about what new categories I can add to next years challenge.

So, here are my faves from this year. I reviewed and gave most of them 5 stars on Goodreads, which is a good indication of how much I liked them, given that I tend to get stressed out when writing reviews. In general, I only review books I really loved or really hated.

So I’m going to try and do something that’s really hard for me- I’m not going to be long-winded. So, if any of these descriptions go over 4 sentences, feel free to publicly shame me in the comments.

1. A Man Called Ove: A theme that ran through this year’s book choices for me was grief, and A Man Called Ove managed to treat the subject with tenderness or with humor. Ove is a grumpy old man who’s recently lost his job and his wife, and all the wants is for everyone to leave him alone so he can kill himself in peace. Did I laugh- yeah, did I cry- oh yeah, have I now read almost everything that Fredrik Backman has ever written- absolutely, and that’s one of the highest praises I know of.

2. The Song of Achilles: Did you have read Greek Mythology in school? And if you did, did it come off as being super gay? If so, then The Song of Achilles is the right LGBT+ coming of age novel for you! This is yet another grief themed book that treats love gently and beautifully and tells an interesting side of the Helen of Troy story.

3. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet: I loved this book, mostly because it talked about non-sci-fi in a sci-fi setting. I mean c’mon, what science fiction story discusses pronouns, and AI romance, and space autism? I’ve found in my life that sci-fi page-turners are rare, but this was a fast and fun read, while will having excitement and emotion. It’s always a good sign when I don’t want a book to end, but I’m also impatient to get to the sequel.

4. East of Eden: So here’s the deal- I read Steinbeck in school (Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl, if I remember correctly) and I was never a fan. But I made myself a goal to read more “classics” this year, and I swear the internet has a hard-on for East of Eden, so I figured why not. It took more than a hundred pages to get into the story, and even when though I liked the story, I only rated it 4 stars on Goodreads. And then I thought about it constantly, for a whole week, so I finally gave in, went back, and rated it 5 stars, so my advice for you is to stick it out, love Lee, and just accept that it’ll take a while to sink in.

5. A Monster Calls: Once upon a time, there a boy whose mother was dying, and one day a monster came out of the woods and told the boy that he knew the boy’s greatest wish, and if the boy could figure out what his desire was, then the monster would grant it. A Monster Calls is a beautiful story about love and grief, something I’ve been struggling with for the last few years, and when I finished this book, I felt a weight lifted. This book is short and may look like a kids book, but it definitely is not. If you can, read the illustrated version, it’s worth it.

6. The Rosie Project: This book was a huge surprise for me, all I knew that it was a “funny love story”, and I think that I know why- it’s because neurotypical people were the ones writing the reviews. Nowhere in the synopsis or the reviews was autism mentioned, but within the first few chapters, I knew that the protagonist and I had a lot in common. I never get to read about people like me, and never in the tender way that the author writes about Don. When I finished, I made my wife read the book, so I could ask her if she sees me in the loving way that the book shows, and she said yes!

7. The Hate U Give: I think that I’ve mention that I’m from St. Louis, which after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO (which is in North St. Louis) became an important location for the Black Lives Matter movement. I wasn’t a teenager at the time, but I was (am?) a Biracial person living in a city with an embarrassing amount of police corruption and violence. When I finished this book, I declared that it should be required for protesters coming into cities, because it makes you think about what can happen if you’re not responsible, if you jump to conclusions, or don’t respect the home communities. It made me think, in a good way- and I’m always happy about that

8. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: Imagine if, as a child, you learned that you have been reincarnated, but instead of coming back as something awesome like a narwhal or a corgi, instead, you came back as you- over and over and over. I enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives- it read with the ease of a thriller, the page-turner quality of a thriller, but I didn’t feel kind of empty at the end of it. In the beginning, I thought that Harry living his life over and over again might get old, but the author skillfully manages to avoid that. Lastly, the antagonist is Moriarty-like in the best possible way, which is hard.

9. I Contain Multitudes: This is my only non-fiction book that made it onto my Top 10 this year, which is kind of unusual, but luckily, I Contain Multitudes totally holds its own. Even if I wasn’t someone with a crappy digestive system (and I totally am, you might even say that it’s shitty) the author is able to take a subject like gut bacteria and manages to produce a book that’s fun and interesting and easy to read. I promise you’ll never take your biome for granted again!

10. The Fifth Season: This book is difficult to talk about because almost anything I can say might be a spoiler. What I can say is this- The trilogy that this book is part of made history for being the first trilogy to have each book in it to win a Hugo Award, which is s a big deal in the fantasy world. The Fifth Season, sort of like …Long Angry Planet finds a way to talk about important real life things in a fantasy setting. Towards the end of the book, I was literally getting goosebumps, that’s how awesome this book is.

So here they are, my favorites from this year! My to-read list is out of control (911 books and counting), but I’d still love to hear any favorites that you have! Also, if you’re a Goodreads user, you can find me here, if you want to connect!

10 of my Favorite Things

So here’s the deal, my friends, I can’t lift more than a coffee cup, I haven’t showered in a week, and I’m still kind of high on painkillers.

So. I’m going to cheat just a bit and make this List Wednesday about some of my recent favorite things. I hope you’ll understand, and possibly even find a new favorite things

1. Chocolate Bundt Cake: It can be hard sometimes to find a recipe that converts well to gluten-free, but you’d never guess that this cake wasn’t written that way. We use Cup4Cup gluten-free flour blend, and it comes out moist and fluffy and everything you’d ever want in a Bundt cake!

2. Shel the Unicorn: I’ve had a few surgeries over the years, and they all have two things in common: afterward I get pancakes and a stuffed animal. Shel the Unicorn (and her relative Dax the Sloth) come from the Manhattan Toy Company and are about the softest stuffies I’ve ever had. There is nothing better than having a new friend to snuggle after you have an operation.

3. 3DS Kingdom Hearts: The original Kingdom Hearts for ps2 was my first RPG, and it holds a very special place in my heard. About 15 years after Kingdoms Hearts came out, we’re finally going to get Kingdom Hearts 3. It’s been one hell of a wait. But while we’re waiting, Nintendo put out a new 3DS version that I’m having so much fun with. New worlds and old favorite characters are making the wait much more bearable.

4. Overdrive App: I have been a library addict since I could read, and the only thing that makes free books and other media better is not having to go to the library at all! The Overdrive App lets you check out eBooks and audiobooks out from your local library without ever leaving the house. Plus they sync with kindles, tablets, and smartphones so you can read and listen wherever you want!

5. The Golden Compass Audiobook: The His Dark Materials trilogy has been one of my favorites since childhood, and oftentimes the problems with loving a book so much is that the audiobook is never as good as it is in your head. This one is an exception. The author, Phillip Pullman is the narrator, and it has a full cast that sounds very close to what I expected. We listened to this on the way to and from Kansas City and it was perfect road trip material!

6. Simple Gel Cream: I thought when I made it to adulthood without acne, I was in the clear. That was a lie. Here I am at 30, with my face bleeding every time I touch it. Washing my face is sensory hell, as is lotion, but I’ve been trying to find things that I can tolerate, and this moisturizer is it. It isn’t a weird texture, it sinks in quickly, and there’s minimal smell. If only all skin care was this easy.

7. Queer Eye on Netflix: Whenever I watch an episode of Queer Eye, by the end I’ll inevitably end up with dust in my eye because I’m definitely not crying. I’m old enough that I watched the original Queer Eye in high school, but this reboot is miles ahead of it. Yes, there’s still a wardrobe change and new recipes and a big reveal, but the reboot takes more of a holistic approach, helping the Guy live as his best self. The original focused on Straight Guys, but the new seasons so far have has a woman, a gay guy, and even a trans guy!

8. Hardback Game App: I think I may have mentioned my love of board games here before, and the only thing better than board games are board games on the go. A lot of board game producers are starting to make app versions, which is great, because they’re way cheaper and much more portable, and let you play online or against someone sitting next to you. Hardback is like Scrabble on steroids, and for less than 5 bucks, it’s my favorite new game.

9. Speed cube: I learned how to solve a Rubik’s Cube almost 10 years ago, and since then have been using it as me “fun facts about me” fact. It also makes a great stim toy. I used to buy Rubik’s brand cubes and take them apart and sand them down, and then lube them up with silicone, in order to make them faster and smoother. But no more! Paying the extra couple of bucks for a speed cube makes so much difference, I can’t stop playing with it, and it glides like butter.

10. Angel: My cats have had to live in the office while I’ve been recovering, but Angel is gentle enough that he’s been allowed supervised visits. It’s lifted my spirits to have him snuggle up against me and purr like a motor.

So. These are a few of my favorite things. As always, I’d love to hear about yours- it’ll give me something to check out while I’m couch-bound!

5 Reasons Why My Gender is Complicated

Ladies, gentlemen, and all genders in between: I have glorious news!

After years of dysphoria, lots of therapy, and jumping through insurances’ hoops, I have been approved!

For what, you ask? For surgery- Top Surgery! Finally, twenty years after developing this painful and unwieldy chest that never felt like it was mine, as of yesterday (for you, I’m writing this on Sunday- Greetings, from the past!) will be rid of them. Goodbye boobs, and good riddance.

After years of stressing about what my gender is, or should be, I have come to the realization that gender is complicated, and mine (and yours!) will never be the same as anyone else’s.

So I give to you some of the reasons why gender is complicated.

1. Gender is a social construct: So gender seems like a pretty straightforward thing, right? From a young age, we’re told that girls wear pink and play with dolls, and boys wear blue and earn $0.18 more per dollar. But for me, it’s not that easy. Honestly, I didn’t even think about it until puberty, when everyone suddenly had opinions about what I should be like. I was a girl because people said I was- that’s it. Each society gets to define what gender is, and while most western societies only have two: Boy and Girl, other societies have more. I’m not particularly interested in stressing about gender, I am me, and it doesn’t matter what my body looks like. I was Nonbinary with boobs, and I am now without them. I’m Meesh, and I’m just trying to make my body fit my spirit.

2. There’s a lot of gender vocab: Trans, cis, nonbinary, demi boy, demi girl, gender fluid, genderqueer, neutrois. These are just some of the language used to talk about gender these days, and it’s great! Because it’s so important to have an identity that fits you. It can make things complicated because new terms are being developed, and a lot of them aren’t standardized. For example, nonbinary is a very broad term- it’s definition means that it includes anything outside of the gender binary, aka, anything that isn’t male or female. In fact, if you look at all the terms that come after it, they all fall under the nonbinary umbrella. That means that people who are nonbinary can identity incredibly differently. Nothing wrong with that, just another complication.

3. Body dysmorphia vs gender dysphoria: I come from an Eating Disorder background, where body dysmorphia runs rampant. Most people with eating disorders experience this to some degree- when they look in the mirror, they can’t see their body for how it is. They see fat even when they’re underweight. This phenomenon is surprisingly similar to gender dysphoria. When I look in the mirror and see breasts and feminine curves, I feel anxious and detached. Both body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria make me hate my body, and it can be hard to tell which one is causing my distress. Do I hate my curves because they make me feel fat, or because they make me look like a girl? Being able to tell the difference is vital for my mental health, but trying to figure out which is which is complicated.

4. Them/them/theirs: Oh pronouns. How can something that seems so simple get so complicated so fast? Traditionally, the English language only has two pronouns: she and he. And when the majority of people only identified as one of two genders, the pronouns worked fine. But now that we know that there are many genders, he and she just aren’t going to cut it. But what will the new pronouns be? Can we just make shit up? The answer is yes, we can totally make shit up, which is how we got pronouns like xe, sie, and zir. The other option is to borrow an already existing pronoun, in this case, they. I use they/them/their pronouns, mostly because they’re easy to explain, not because I’m drawn to them, or because they fit me perfectly. The grammar snob in me hates my pronouns, it screams that you can’t hit a plural pronoun for a singular person. I agree, but since I can’t stand being called ‘she’, ‘they’ will have to suffice for now.

5. Neither here nor there: Once upon a time, there were only two gender identities, Cis, and Trans. You either identified with the gender that was assigned to you at birth (Cisgender), or you didn’t (Transgender). In recent years, we’ve begun to understand that there is a lot more to gender than the trans/cis binary. That there are genders that exist in between them, or in some cases, completely outside of them. This is a fantastic development for people like me, who thought that even though they felt uncomfortable in their bodies, that they must be Cis because the Trans label just didn’t fit. As fantastic as this is, it can leave Nonbinary folks like me in a crappy place- it’s easy to feel like we don’t belong anywhere. Many people, myself included, want to feel like there are other people like us, who share our experiences and can be a resource to us. Actually, that’s a lot like the Autism community too, isn’t it? I guess most minority groups have a lot in common. Feeling like I don’t belong in Trans spaces, or in Cis spaces, can be really lonely. I’m lucky to have 2 other NB people in my life, but even so, sometimes I just want to slide easily into a clearly marked box.

So here we are! You, reading on your screen, and me, propped up on the couch and dozing on painkillers. It’s a little weird to be putting this together beforehand (although here in the past, I am still on the couch).

I may not be able to respond for a week or two, but I’ll still ask the question. Is there anything about you that is Complicated? How do you handle it?

If you read this far down, send some virtual good vibes my way!

6 Ways I Survive Haircuts

So here I am, waiting for a haircut. And you may not know this, but letting someone cut my hair is a god damn miracle, because for many years (read decades), I wouldn’t let anyone except Jess cut my hair.

But a few years ago, I started investigating if I could make a real haircut work, and it took some time and some tweaking, but I can proudly say that I get my hair cut regularly, and, AND I survive it.

So here are a few quick things I do to keep myself sane, and then I’m off to get trimmed.

Wish me luck!

1. Plan the day: So I think the number one most important thing for me is to keep my haircut day clear. No other appointments, no other stress, basically keeping myself as un-stimulated as possible, to make up for the inevitable overload. So I keep my day low-key. Watch a favorite show, eat my safe foods, cuddle with the cats. I want to keep myself as fresh as possible for my appointment.

2. Schedule Smart: My stylist knows me really well now, and when I make appointments, she schedules me when her schedule is mostly free. So I’m not in a room with 6 other people and clippers and blow dryers blaring. It’s just her, me, and maybe a couple other people. Going to smaller salon also helps with this, because they’re not trying to get people in and out as quick as possible like a chain does.

3. Get to know a stylist: I am so lucky. I found my stylist because my wife went to her, and they got talking and Jess learned that my stylist (L) had an autistic sister in law, and she offered to see if we could make it work. Now I realize that not all stylist can know someone with autism, but finding someone who can listen and work with you makes a whole lot of different. L knows that I don’t like small talk, so we only talk about the cut. She turns the chair away from the mirror for me. She asks good questions about what I want. I know I lucked out, and it usually takes some stylist shopping, but it makes a huge difference.

4. Sensory sensory sensory: The absolute worst part of the haircut process for me is the many ways that I can get sensory overload. There are things that I do now to keep things as doing as possible. Here is a short but hopefully complete list. Washing my hair in room temperature water, and having strategic towels to keep water out of my eyes and ears. When touching is necessary, firm pressure at all times. No snip snip of shears, long deliberate cuts that don’t sound hellish. No blow dryers ever. Extra thorough efforts to get hair off my neck, so I can make it home to shower. I’m sure there are more, but these are my important ones

5. Be prepared: I still make sure that I’m prepared for a haircut appointment like I am for anything else. So for me, that means stim toys, earplugs, and miscellaneous things like wipes, snacks, and something to read. You never know when someone will be running late and you’ll have to wait, or when you’ll be more overwhelmed than you predicted. Lastly, if you can go with a buddy, absolutely do. Having someone safe and familiar around is calming, and if necessary they can help you communicate and advocate for you if necessary.

6. The Cheat: This is cheating slightly I think, because most salons don’t have a shop dog, but I am greatly helped by this tiny bundle of love!

So it’s haircut time, with any luck I’ll make it through, and my hair will finally be out of my face. Wish me luck!

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 preview for 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 certainly 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 be 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 staying at home and enjoying your air conditioner!

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 not 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

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 me not to name inanimate objects anymore. 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 about 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 afterward, 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 causing 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 have 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.”

4 Reasons There’s No Post Today

I’ve been having a tough week, health-wise (see Monday’s missing post as an example), but I figured I could leave you with a short bit of dark humor

1. I think my head might explode: I have the headache from hell, and since it’s in my neck too, I’m having a hard time convincing my anxiety that it’s not meningitis. Also, my cat Spike is a mother hen when I don’t feel good. It’s sweet, except that he’s 18 pounds and he insists on constantly touching my face.

2. I keep falling asleep: And not just in inappropriate ways like when I’m laying down. Sitting up is fair game too. You know the warning they put on NyQuil about not operating heavy machinery? I need that on me.

3. The world is spinning: Since I started physical therapy a few weeks ago, my POTS has been in a consistent flare. It’s depressing that 7 minutes of laying down exercise can affect me this badly. I’m eating tons of salt, like the experts recommend, but my I can’t really feel my face anymore…

4. My hands are shaking: Another POTS symptom, it’s because my blood sugar is all over the place. My body goes into full-on trembling shaky sweaty rebellion if I don’t eat exactly every 3 hours. I never thought my pancreas could hold me hostage, but here we are. Who knows, maybe next week my spleen will demand $10000 in unmarked bills.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your bodies feel better than mine.