Ready, Set, Goals!

For most of my life, “goals” has been a 4 letter word. Now, I am fully aware that “goals” has 5 letters, but it might as well have been “fuck” or “shit” or “twat-waffle” (which also doesn’t have 4 letters) because goal setting is not something that I have the ability to do.

I don’t know about you, but in every grade from middle school up, the school provided a planner, which we were just magically supposed to be able to use effectively. And most kids did (at least as well as a 12-year-old can organize their life). This was one of those things that made me feel like I was lazy and stupid and a whole bunch of other words that ruled my life in childhood. Teachers said I was ‘smart but insert word here‘. Lazy, unmotivated, not willing to change, inflexible.

I believed all of these things about myself, until 2016, and then again in 2019, when I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and 2 Specific Learning Disabilities (Reading and Writing).

This is how education changes live, folks. I believed that I was lazy and stupid and all those other things negative identities that got gotten lodged in my self-identity for 28 years. That’s a seriously long time to think those sorts of things about yourself. that’s a whole childhood. Especially since all it took was a handful of hours and a bunch of tests to show that I’m not, in fact, lazy. I’m autistic. I have learning disabilities. I have Auditory Processing Disorder, and I’m Hard of Hearing.

Turns out, with hearing aids, aural therapy, and occupational therapy to help me, I’m actually pretty great at organization!

I’m not going to proselytize about Bullet Journals again, but I did want to show how I set goals and using my Bullet Journal has led to my success, both in organization and in goal setting.

I’ve never been able to make a pre-made planner work for me, and oh how I’ve tried. This makes sense if you’ve really think about it. Journal, planners, and calendars are made for the neurotypical majority, and autistic minds simply don’t think that way. This led me to the realization that if I wanted something that was going to work for me, I would have to be the one to design it.

I’ve been Bullet Journaling for more than 2 years now, and I’ve gone through a lot of changes because I started out knowing that I needed something, but not knowing how to do it. I did a lot of trials. I tracked a lot of things that didn’t actually need tracking, and I set goals with no support or follow up. None of this was effective. I’ve spent years tinkering and I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve got, especially with this new goal system I’m trying out for this semester.

I begin the month by setting 3 or 4 goals. These are monthlong things that I want to work on. I also have a to-do list that has single things that I want to get done before the end of the month. I have daily trackers for things that I’m aiming to do every day. These used to be located on my weekly page, but they cluttered it up, and I’ve found that being able to see trends monthly instead of weekly is better anyway. This is what I fill out out the beginning of the month- it has a follow up at the end of the month, and that’s what makes this so effective.

The end of the month goal page lets me analyze how the month went. Thinking about what worked and what didn’t work not only helps me change to how I make future goals but lets me figure out how to make changes for the next month. Next month changes can either be solutions to the ‘didn’t work’ stuff, or it can help guide goals for the coming month.

There are also less analytical parts that aim to be positive and fun. I love reading and I read a lot of books a month, so picking just one can be a satisfying challenge. It’s also really interesting to be able to see what songs have been stuck in my head over time (does anyone else have an earworm at all times?). Successes is a feel-good after analyzing what went wrong. Successes can be related to the goals, or they can just be stuff that I’m proud of and want a record of.

I’m totally okay with saying that the numbers cloud was borrowed from a bullet journal Instagrammer because it’s awesome. Like the earworm list, it’s fun to track over time, plus, it can be a catch-all for little things I want to remember, and is the place for humor (like the ‘doing nothing as self-care’).

So there we are. This is how I set goals. Is it always perfect? No, but that’s the point of goals, at least for me. I need to work through what I actually want and how I’m going to get it, and this set up allows me to do that.

I never would have thought before that organization could be so individualized, and  Occupational Therapy definitely taught me how to figure out what I want from being organized and how to set goals, and most importantly, techniques for figuring a system out on my own.

If any of you folks have a goal system, an organization system, a bullet journal, or anything that you feel inspires you, I would love love love to hear about it!

Just Take Me Back to Who I Was When I Was Younger

“Just take me back to who I was when I was younger” A Great Big World

I turned 30 this year, and I’ve started to notice that people my age are feeling old (in a bad way). And I think that’s pretty standard for your thirties. Your twenties are for making mistakes and finding yourself, and you get through that all of that and come into your thirties only to find that you’re *gasp* old.

It hits some people harder than others, I think. From my observations, people who had really positive teens and twenties have a harder time leaving them. I’m talking about the folks for who the phrase “high school is the best years of your life” applies. And this isn’t a bad thing! I mean, who can judge someone for having a positive experience, right? All I’m saying is that I was definitely not one of those people.

My teens were filled with a chaotic home life, trouble with teachers, coming to terms with my queerness, and the beginning of the mental illness that would define my twenties. My twenties, as you might have guessed from the previous sentence, were filled with breakdowns. I had an Autistic Burnout which left me with a slew of sensory issues. I cycled from being incredibly productive to not leaving the house for weeks (if this sounds familiar, I suggest you check out Bipolar Disorder). I spent two years in higher level care for an eating disorder, and also three psych hospital stays during that time.

I clawed my way out of my twenties, and now that I’m free, I’ve realized something. You couldn’t pay me to be young again. I like being my age, so many good things have happened over the last year or two that makes me so happy to be where I am in life.

The thing that changed my life was my Autism Diagnosis. Guys. Ladies and gentlemen, dudes and dudettes, knowing changes everything, and the number one thing that it changed was how I viewed myself. I had been told (and so I believed) that I was smart but lazy. Feeling that way about yourself does a number on your self-esteem. So when I found out that I was not in fact broken, but Autistic, something changed. Not overnight, obviously, fast than I had expected. My diagnosis also gave me access to services like Occupational Therapy, where I’m learning strategies to help me function as my best self.

So here I am at 30, and how am I spending the first year of my decade? I’m in college, for the first time in many many years. I am active in my church, and I volunteer with an organization that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities. In a few weeks, my wife and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and our relationship is so strong (partially because we’re awesome, and partially because we’ve had a lot of therapy, individually and together. I’ve been working on my gender identity and had top surgery to help me feel like I fit in my body. Due do a procedure and a new medication for my POTS, I am so far able to do more things (museums, the zoo!), and be so much more active (riding bikes, rock climbing!)

And that is just this year. For the first time in forever, I’m looking forward to what’s coming. And I’m not one of those blissfully optimistic types that assume everything will always be perfect. I have Autism, and sometimes, that sucks. I have mental illnesses, and sometimes that sucks. I have a chronic illness, and that almost always sucks. But when these things are well controller, I can work around them. When I am a stable human being, I’m better prepared for issues that may come.

I definitely don’t want to go back to who I was when I was younger, but I do wish I could leave past me a note saying “don’t worry, it won’t always be like this.”

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Hygiene

Let me be real here. Hygiene is not a topic that I like to talk about. I’m embarrassed; it’s one of the least talked about social skills, yet the one you’ll be judged most for not complying with. I have spent my entire life battling with hygiene, mostly because the barriers to success are twofold. One, what is considered hygienic is highly dependent on the society, and two, the majority of activities that are categorized as hygiene are very sensory heavy.

My current cleaning challenges are not new. Since I was very young, I’ve had an aversion to things that had, what I called, ‘slimy’ textures. There’s even proof! Home video exists of an adorable toddler me, fighting with my mom about sunscreen. It wasn’t a tantrum, no, in true me fashion, I slowly back away, grunting and flapping. Interestingly, that’s still my reaction to lotion.

The minute I was old enough to not require supervised bathing, I began looking for solutions to limit my exposure to it. Baths made me feel slimy, and showering got my face wet, no matter how hard I tried to avoid it. I did learn quickly that if I turned on the shower and then sat in the bathroom reading for 20 minutes or so, no one really questioned whether I actually got IN the shower or not. On top of that, my biracial hair, while not as porous as my father’s, only needed to be washed every few weeks. Which was good, because when it was long, most of the way down my back, it took at least 24 hours to dry. If I was lucky. Since then I’ve perfected the ideal balance of waiting just long enough to shower. My hair is also very short, so it can remain unwashed almost indefinitely.

In high school I solved another hygiene problem- I hate wearing clean clothes. The smell of detergent, even scentless, is unpleasant, and while most people love putting on crisp clean clothes, I vastly prefer putting on something that I’ve worn for days. Or weeks. Turns out, everyone in their teens is going through their smelly puberty phase, no matter how much body spray they put on to cover it, and if you wear jeans and a hoodie every day, no one can really tell how often you’re changing them. Teenagers can be very self-centered. Thank goodness.

Becoming an adult brings new hygiene expectations, and I struggled to meet them. Working with kids meant that it was acceptable to wear comfortable clothes, but being socially acceptably hygienic was a puzzle. What was the maximum length of time between showers that I could get away with? Would my fuzzy curls give away the fact that they weren’t being washed? And worst of all, would the kids give me away by informing me at the top of their lungs that I was smelly?

 Autistic Burnout and mental health issues plagued my twenties. Which was bad for my career, but good for my hygiene preferences. When you never leave the house, showering, teeth brushing, and changing your clothes suddenly become unnecessary. Granted, having a very understanding spouse in this situation is important too. While my wife definitely encouraged me, constantly, it seemed, she was very understanding of my reasons for not conforming to social cleaning standards. Plus, she was amazing at taking stubborn tags out of clothes. We also made deals, if I showered, I had to put on clean clothes (even socks!) and if we were leaving the house, deodorant was necessary. Even I couldn’t deny that it was reasonable.

An autism diagnosis changes a lot of things. A lot. So many things start to make sense, and for me, hygiene was a big one. Framing my many issues as sensory problems suddenly made them more understandable. I don’t like water on my face because of how it makes my skin feel. I despise brushing my teeth not only because the toothpaste tastes terrible, but also because it makes the surface of my teeth feel different. Changing clothes had to do with things smelling different, and also with the texture of the cloth changing. Seeing it all this was made me feel less guilty about not caring about societal expectations.

Occupational Therapy did not begin pleasantly. There were so many things that I wanted to work on, and all my OT wanted to talk about was hygiene. We had sticker charts, we made routines and schedules, we even devised a reward system for when I made my hygiene goals. Most of these flopped. Luckily, my occupational therapist, who knows me so well at this point that it’s infuriating, realized that forcing these changes on me without delving into what the base issues were was useless. This is still a work in progress. Clearly.

I spend a lot of time explaining the way that I think. How autism affects who I am as a person, and how I live my life. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m putting my struggles out there, specifically because it’s not something I can really explain. Yes, I know that the issues are sensory based, but there’s no reason why enacting small changes should be so hard for me. These issues have existed my whole life. I’ve spent my whole life trying to minimize my contact with cleanliness. Even this doesn’t explain my problems. Two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes two steps back. Sometimes three. I fear that I will be fighting this thing for the rest of my life. I fear that no amount of stickers, or rewards, or distractions will decrease the stress I experience on my scheduled teeth brushing day. I fear that it’s not worth it. Is it worth it?