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!

5 Things I Wish I Knew Were Autism Things

So I’ve been getting the urge to branch out from my twice a week posting schedule. Not that I don’t enjoy writing essay or putting together my 6 Word Stories from the week, but I guess I’ve been wanted something a little more…fun. I always enjoy when people make lists. It’s kind of a cool way to get to know them. And I think I’m going to give it a try. So going forward, I declare Wednesdays List Days! I’m aiming for a mix of Autism and non Autism stuff, although to be honest, most of the things I write end up with a tinge of Autism anyway. I plan on opening the comments up so people can add their own stuff to the list. It seems like it’ll be more fun if it’s not just me talking out into the void. But please don’t feel any pressure! Also, if you have ideas for topics, bring ’em! I figure I’ll run out of topics eventually anyway. So here they are:

5 Things I Wish I Knew Were Autism Things

-Getting Lost: I am terrible with directions. I once managed to get myself lost in the monkey house at the zoo for 45 minutes. Not even GPS can help me. My first semester of college, I had to drop a class because I couldn’t reliably find it. From what I can tell, no one’s really sure why Autistic people have a tendency to get lost, but it’s very common in our community.

-Not Being Able to Make Lists: My wife has a super power. She can take any situation, any task, any problem, and make a plan to solve it. No matter how big, no matter how steps it takes, give her a pen, paper, and 10 minutes, and she’s ready to approach it. I however, cannot figure out how to make cereal. The process of breaking a task down into steps is so foreign, that I don’t even know where to start. This is a common experience with Executive Dysfunction, and for me it involves post-it notes all of the place in hopes that one day they’ll be useful.

-Being a Picky Eater: I fought this for a very long time. ‘I love Indian food!’ I thought. ‘But I put hot sauce on everything!’, I can’t be a picky eater! But looking deep into my heart, I know that I’m incredibly texture sensitive, I make other people taste new dishes so they can describe them to me, and I will argue to the death that real Cheerios are NOT the same as the store brand ones. There is a word for this: ARFID. It’s listed as a type of eating disorder. And my therapist is ok with not pushing me as long as my diet stays varied and healthy.

-Touching EVERYTHING: I am very slow when shopping. It’s partially because of medical issues, partially because I’m slightly overwhelmed, and partially because I have to touch all the new and exciting things. I love walking through the towel section at Target, and the yarn aisle at Michael’s. This makes sense, as I am hypo-sensitive to touch. I crave spiky pine cones and microfiber cloths and pulling dried glue off my fingers.

-Repeating Things: I am not the best communicator. If I don’t have a script for it, I’m usually anxious about what to say. I am also a pop culture junkie. This totally works for me, because between movies and tv shows, I have a wealth of scripts! On bad communication days, I can go hours only reciting lines from various sources of media. Besides using these things as scripts, it’s also a form of echolalia. So not only is the repeating satisfying, it also helps me connect. I’d call that a win win!

So that’s it! I’d love to here if anyone else has any of these too!