6 Ways I’m Getting Through The Semester

I have been in college for 4 weeks now, and has it been a serious adjustment. Last time I was on a campus, I was a tiny baby autistic me, only 18 years old! At the time I knew nothing about autism, and I especially didn’t know that I was, in fact, autistic, so I moved through the college world overwhelmed and confused.

I failed a class, not because I lazy, but because I couldn’t find it. No matter how hard I tried, I got lost, and eventually I just stopped trying. Little me also didn’t know that you could drop a class, which could have been really useful.

I was also so sensory overwhelmed that I spent most of my time hiding under my bed. Some days I wish I could still do that now, but my bed isn’t tall enough. #adultproblems

Because I knew how hard college was last time, I made sure to have a plan going in, and that really helped. Did all of it work? No, of course not, but it gave me a great foundation for tweaking it, so it can be better for the coming semesters.

So, without further adieu, here’s what’s worked for me so far.

  1. Visual Directions: My wife is a genius on multiple levels, but the skill she has that I admire most (besides her ability to estimate, I mean how am I supposed to know how big an inch is?) is her internal sense of direction. She’s one of those people who can just point to north, just like that. A few hundred years ago she probably would have been burned as a witch. Anyway, the week before classes started we walked around campus, following my schedule, and she took a ton of pictures, and they turned into this! I have one for every class, and thank goodness, because 4 weeks in I still get totally lost without them.

 

2. Hybrid Classes: When I met with my advisor, I signed up for 4 classes equaling 12 credits, as a way of easing my way back into the wonderful world of college. At the time I wasn’t thrilled, because most people take 5 classes/15 credits, and I wanted to prove that I could too. Thank goodness I didn’t. I ended up dropping and replacing 2 of my courses, partially because they weren’t doable sensory wise (30 college kids in a tiny classroom all talking at one is my sensory hell), and also because I just couldn’t handle wearing my neurotypical mask all the time. I knew I didn’t want to go the all online option. It was fine for my associates, but I knew I needed to learn some of the social skills necessary for employment in my field, so I compromised. I now have 2 in person classes, 1 hybrid (half in person/half online) class, and one totally online class. I think if I had tried to tough the original plan out, I would have burned out by midterms.

3. Color Coding: No one who knows me would say that I’m an organized sort of person. Executive Dysfunction rules my brain, and I struggle with notes and studying, and with keeping myself on track. Color coding has been a life saver. Each of my classes has a color (red, green, blue, purple) and everything pertained in each class is done in its color. So my green class has notes in green pen, is highlighted in green, uses green post its, has its due dates written in green, and every mention of it in my planner is green. It’s a great way for me to visually track what’s going on, and to keep all the details from running together.

4. A Really Good Schedule: I struggle with making good use of my time. It’s hard for me to know what I need to be doing and when. In the wild, I naturally fall into a routine, and am drawn to activities that happen at the same time, every time. But when my day is totally packed with stuff has to get done right now, I need more than my natural routine, hence, a Really Good Schedule™. Folks, I am schedule down to the 15 minutes. I know exactly what time I need to leave, what time I do Physical Therapy , even what time I need to what time I need to shower. Having a Really Good Schedule™ makes the world of difference, mostly because I’m not constantly stressing out that I’m going to miss a class, or not leave at the right time. 

5. Built in Self Care: I’ve been in mental health treatment and therapy long enough to know how important self care is. But I am only human, and when my life starts getting busy, all of a sudden I forget everything that I know about self care. With hyperfocus especially, I’ll work for hours, only to realize that my eyes are dry, and my back is aching. So, I make sure set a timer so I take a break, stretch, maybe read a bit. Self care for me also looks like making sure to spend time with Jess. We try to do little thing like bake and play board games every day, and we try to go to the park or the movies or a museum once a week. But for those random “I need self care right now” moment, I have a list. It has everything from taking a walk, to playing brainless games on my phone. The most important part is that I don’t have to make a decision. If I’m stressed enough to need self care, I can guarantee I won’t be in a headspace for picking something and making a plan.

6. Quizlet: I am a largely visual learning, to the point where just making flashcards helps me study more than actually using them. Please excuse my age for a moment while I say that it is So! Cool! That there are flashcard apps, because when I was in school the first time, it was pen and paper all the way. Enter Quizlet. It’s an app that also has browser access, and it is so much more than flashcards. Not only can you make the cards as you might traditionally, but it will help you learn by increasingly spacing out the amount of time it quizzes you on things, plus, if you have the date of your exam, it will make sure you learn in time. Add in multiple types of games and the fact that you can use other peoples cards and share yours, it’s a win for me.

There we go, all of the things that have kept me sane for the past  month. I know that I usually open up the comments for your input, but this time I’m very very very curious. If you have any tips that got you through school, please let me know! I know I’m going to be tweaking my system for the next few years, and I could really use ideas!

 

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!

A Desk Garden

My desk is a mess. I cannot even see its 2×3 surface.

It is not enough to hold me.

On a good day, its piles and cups are contained, like organized chaos.

Today is not one of those days.

The piles slide, and the cups vomit out pens without my permission.

I ignore it for now.

The landslides begin, I can no long ignore the journals and index cards and paperclips.

It’s time to tend my garden.

Everything has a place, and must return to it.

But it can’t be too clean.

I operate well in a space that is messy-but-organized

So the architecture of my paper towers must be sound.

But nothing lasts forever, and soon I know that the inevitable will happen.

It will be time to tend my garden again.

 

 

5 of My Essential Apps

Technology is amazing, and it’s so hard to believe that in the last twenty years, we’ve got from cell phones the size of bricks, to tiny computers you can hold in your hands. Out of the millions of apps out there, there are a great deal that I’ve found incredibly use for not only Autism, but Mental Health as well.

They’re not all Autism specific, but even so, I’d like to share some of the ones I find essential.

1. Habitica- I’ve mentioned here more than once that I struggle with Executive Dysfunction. And on top of that, I’m not the best at transitioning between activities. Habitica helps with both of these tremendously. It’s like a To-Do list on steroids, and it fills in the gaps in my brain. All you have to do is enter tasks you need to complete, whether it be daily, week, or monthly, and it helps you track them, and will even send you reminders. And to encourage you, it takes the theme of a Role Playing Game, so the more tasks you complete, the higher your level, the more powerful your weapons, and the cooler your pets! I definitely get more done using this app.

2. Emergency Chat App- This app is designed spefically for Autistic people. It fills an incredible need- communication when you’re non or semi-verbal. One of my biggest fears about going places by myself is that I’ll get overwhelmed and lose my words. This app calms my nerves. When opened, it pops up a message, telling the reader that I’m not currently able to speak, and that I’m very sensitive, so I shouldn’t be touched. It then provides a text chat service, where the other person and I can text back and forth. Although I rarely need it, the fact that it’s there makes me feel safer.

3. Community Apps- One of the best things about my Autism diagnosis is that it came with a huge and wonderful community. As someone who would be considered a life-long lurker, it took me a while to dip my toes in, but now I’m liking and posting and commenting all over the place! I love having access to my people wherever I go, and to be honest, sometimes the apps are better than the websites (I’m looking at you Instagram!) The ones I rely on most are Tumblr, Instagram, WordPress, and Reddit. They all have amazing Autistic communities, whether you have a question, have something to share, or just want to feel understood.

4. Distraction Apps– Sometimes all I need is a distraction, and my number one favorite distraction is board games. They force me to focus on one thing, and let me tune out the many things in this world that overwhelm me. Now, I prefer to play games sitting around a table with real people, but lets me honest, that’s not always possible. Luckily, as board gaming gets more popular, the app versions of many games are getting better. All of my favorites have single player options, where you play against an AI, and even better, some let you play with friends. My favorite distraction-worthy board game apps are OnirimAscensionTsuro, and Lattice. I especially like that I can play Lattice with my wife over a period of days. The heated battle of tile laying is definitely a distraction!

5. Spotify– Music is great, because it can serve a number of purposes. It can block out unpleasant noises, it can transport you to a different place and time, it can be a source of entertainment, and it can calm your mood. I’m including it here for the first and the last reasons. Oftentimes music and my headphones are the only way I can tolerate crowded spaces. And once I’ve survived said crowds, music also helps to calm me back down. Now I know that all phone give you access to your music library, but I chose Spotify because it provides you with community made playlists. So you can just search ‘calm’ or ‘anxiety’ and up pop playlists that work for other people, so there’s a good chance it might work for you. And as a personal note, if you use Spotify a lot- the premium version is totally worth it. I promise they haven’t paid me to say that.

Well there we are, my essential apps! At the time of this posting, all the apps I’ve mentioned are free, and available in the ITunes store. For Android users, you’ve got access to most of them, and from a quick search it seems like there are comparable options.

Are there any apps that you can’t live without? Let me know while I’ve still got some memory left on my phone!

 

Executive Dysfunction: Bullet Journal

Executive Dysfunction has plagued me for my entire school life. I was terrible at taking notes, because I couldn’t discern what was important, so I spent all my time trying to write down everything, and I constantly missed deadlines because even though I had a planner, I got overwhelmed when I tried to organize it. In college, I relied heavily on my wife to help me make schedules, check my notes, proofread my assignments, and to be my tech guru, because I’m awful at navigating anything electronic. Even though I’ve finish school, I still struggle with Executive Dysfunction type things. We usually have three calendars running at any given time, and I need constant poking and prompting to get me to transition between activities. This bothers me. I want to be productive. I want to be independent. This year, I think I got lucky, in the most sideways of ways. I’ll give you a hint. Instagram.

One day a post came across my feed, a picture of something I’d never seen before, a planner that was anything but a planner. Thank god for tags. I found out that this thing I’d seen was called a Bullet Journal, and so began the week of inhaling any and all things Bullet Journal related. It turns out that the Bullet system had been set up a few years before as a productivity system, but, over time, people had started using the basic framework to create custom planners/trackers/calendars/art pages. I thought well, I like stationary, I like doodling, and I want so badly to be organized, why not give it a shot? It took some trial and error for me to come up with a system that worked. That wasn’t a surprise, but was what a surprise was that I actually enjoyed the process of trying, as I’m usually hesitant to try something that I’m not sure will work.

I’d like to show you some of the things that work for me, and provide you with some resources for if you’d like try it for yourself. This post is going to be a bit picture heavy, but in this case, a picture is worth at least 100 words.

This is an example of my weekly spread. I use the same basic structure, and decorate according to the Theme Week topic. Each day is divided into three, the bottom section is for appointments and such, the middle strip gets colored in according to my mood, and the top one, the most important one, is my priorities box. When I have a lot of things to do, I get very stressed, because I feel like I need to do them ALL, right now! And that’s not doable, no matter how much sleep I sacrifice. So, to combat this, every day, I get to prioritize 3 things. Those are the one’s that I’m allowed to stress about. Once those are done, anything else I get done is bonus. This system works surprising well for me, and has definitely lowered my stress levels!

My BINGO card is something that my Occupational Therapist and I came up with. In an effort to help me move between tasks, and to do more with my days, we decided to make things a little more fun. And also, with a bit of a monetary incentive. The activities are split between fun stuff, like reading and playing guitar, things that I enjoy, but sometimes need incentive to do, and household chores. It works beautifully, because when I’m lying on the couch playing with my phone, I don’t always want to move, but the idea of getting to mark things off on my BINGO cards can get me moving!

One of the cooler things I think I’ve done is my self-care Mind Map. I don’t know about you, but for me, self-care doesn’t come naturally, and if figuring out what to do takes any effort whatsoever, it’s probably not going to happen. So here, I have a number of different categories, with a few suggestion for each, in an effort to take any work out of the process. I know I’m happier and less stressed when I’m practicing self-care, so making a shortcut page was totally worth it!

Trackers are one of the coolest things about Bullet Journals! At least in my opinion. I really like getting to see data trends over time, and knowing that I won’t get to color in my tracker is a good incentive for doing things. Are you seeing a trend here? Getting me to do anything requires extensive bribery. Trackers are great because you can track anything you want, and they can be weekly, monthly, or even yearly!

I’ll leave you with some resources, in case any of this seems interesting. I’m always around to answer questions if you’ve got them, and I’d love to see anything you create!

My Bullet Journal Instagram

How To Bullet Journal

http://bulletjournal.com

Bullet Journal Supplies

Is Bullet Journaling Right For Me?

Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Bullet Journal

Instagram Tags: bulletjournal, bujo, bulletjournaljunkies

Executive Dysfunction: Theme Weeks

Once upon a time, nine months ago, when my little blog was littler and newer, I put up a page called Theme Week Outlines. At the time, I was transitioning out of an Eating Disorder Intensive Outpatient Program, which kept me busy 3 hours a day, 4 days a week. I don’t do well with transitions in general, and especially ones that leave me with a sudden lack of structure. So my team and I started brainstorming ways that I could keep some semblance of structure while I moved to outpatient care. We discussed volunteering, which at that time wasn’t really doable, seeing that I wasn’t handling new situations very well at the time. We tried to plan out a very structured hour by hour schedule, sort of like what I was used to in Residential care, but it didn’t really work well with my home life. Finally, we hit on something that worked. The idea of giving each week a Theme.

And so Theme Weeks were born. After assigned the theme, I had the very enjoyable challenge of finding four activities that fit within in. An outing (which forced me to leave the house), a food (which challenged me to cook, and to try to things), a craft (which was just plain enjoyable, honestly) , and a sensory project (which can really hard, once you get past slimes and doughs and water beads. Also, most sensory tutorials out there are aimed at toddlers).

It was a little rough at the beginning. I over-planned. I overestimated my abilities. I picked recipes that were too hard, or ones that were impossible to succeed at. Remind me to tell you about my Vampire Teeth cookie debacle some time. I did eventually get into a good flow.

Very cool Theme Weeks have included Inside Out Week, Weather Week, Lego Week, Batman Week, and Knitting Week. Batman and Weather Weeks produced some very cool art, during Inside out and Knitting week we had very cool Cake Ball based recipes, and during Lego Week I put together an awesome AT-AT that now lives on my desk.

What makes Theme Weeks work for me is kind of threefold. I’ve come to find the planning really enjoyable, even if it’s turned me into a Pinterest fiend. Interestingly my Theme Weeks board gets a lot of hits! It gives me structure to my week, without forcing me to plan out every single thing that I do. So some structure, but not too much structure. It’s a delicate balance for me. Lastly, I get to spend time with my wife (because she likes these activities as much as I do) and I get to produce things that I’m proud of! Sometimes being unemployed can eat at your self esteem, but when I successfully make art that can hang on our walls, food I can share with friends, and crafts that fulfill my sensory needs, it makes me feel really good.

I would highly suggest some version of theme weeks for Executive Dysfunction. Having a small pool of activities to choose from means that I’m a lot more likely to be able to pick one. Also, after a few successful weeks, getting myself to get started on an activity is a lot easier, because I know I’ll feel good after doing it. I’ve also found that after using the Theme Weeks as training wheels for planning, I’ve been able to expand my new skills to be more successful at trying non Theme Week situations.

So give it a try! The Theme Week page is up at the top, with some descriptions, along with a PDF of the planning page I use. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, and if you end up with any interesting Themes or Activities, I’d leave to hear!

P.S. Is it just me, or does Theme Week not look like words anymore?

Executive Dysfunction

If you were to ask me to pick the most autistic thing about myself, it would probably be a tie between sensory issues, and executive dysfunction. Unlike the sensory stuff, which I’ve always known I experienced differently than other people, I had never heard of executive dysfunction until about two years ago, when I was pursuing a formal diagnosis. I had always thought I was lazy, and unorganized, and an A+ procrastinator until the psychologist interviewing me started asking me all of these questions about how I learned, and how I retained information, and how I motivated myself, and after about 20 more minutes worth of questions, she informed me that I exhibited signs of Executive Dysfunction. Which I promptly went home and googled, because those aren’t two words you hear together very often. After inhaling everything the Internet had to offer, I was immediately relieved. I wasn’t lazy. ‘Smart but lazy’ had basically been my go-to identity for most of my life, but I had no reservations setting it aside. After a week of basking in my new ‘not lazy’ personality, I realized that not being lazy was great, but now that I had a word for what was wrong with me, I should probably figure out what to do about it.

Oh and do something I did. Many somethings, in fact. More than would be humane to tell you about in one post. So my plan is to break it down into a few posts. The first one, you may have seen on the blog already, it’s a page called Theme Week Outlines, and it was one of the first things we tried, and it’s still going strong! I also plan to include a post of Executive Dysfunction Hacks, a post showing how I use my Bullet Journal to keep myself calm and organized, and post talking about how having 3 whiteboards for calendars, lists, and reminders is definitely not too many. I’m slowly learning how to do executive dysfunction things on my own, but I’ve got to give credit to my wife, Jess, for enduring years of questions about how she breaks things down into steps, and how she makes lists, and what do you mean she can decide she wants to do something and just do it?!

I’m hoping to spread these posts out over the next month or two, so as not to inundate you with all executive dysfunction all the time. If there is any interest, I may host a Ask An Executive Dysfunction Superstar type thing where Jess can answer all your weird and random questions. Because I swear, I have never met anyone (not even my occupational therapist!) who is more creative about this sort of problem solving. So please, come pick her brain!