4 Feelings That Suck

Sometimes you just feel like crap. Such is the human experience. I think that the goal of life should be making sure that good things are the majority, and the crappy things are the minority. But even if your life is mostly good, even if your feelings are largely positive- some of them still suck.

This post isn’t about changing these feeling. That’s a totally different post. This is just acknowledging that feeling like this are real, they exist, and that they are universal.

Plus, I find screaming into the void to be very therapeutic sometimes.

1. Getting lost: Realizing that you’re lost immediately turns you back into a 5 year old. All of a sudden, everything around you is 10 times taller and you’ve shrunk like Alice after she drank that potion. I get lost a lot. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Between having a terrible internal compass and stopping every 5 feet to touch something shiny, I’m a pain to shop with- just ask my wife. She always finds me eventually, but not before the panic that I’ll never see her, my home, or anything familiar, ever again sets in.

Honorable Mention for being lost in a more existential way as well. That also sucks.

2. Losing a special interest- I don’t know about you, but I’ve had special interests for as long as I can remember. And with the exception of Star Wars, none of them have lasted. And sometimes that’s ok. When a special interest gently fades to the back of your brain, it’s like it’s lived a good life, and now it’s time for it to go. Especially if it’s making way for something new. But there are other times. Times when you realize that something you love is being pulled away from you, and while you desperately try to hold on, all you can do is watch as it slips away. For me, I spend so much time with my special interest, that losing them is like losing a constant companion.

Honorable Mention for accidently gaining a special interest that you didn’t want. That also sucks.

3. Everyone understanding something but you: Smile and nod, just smile and nod. Because in situations where for whatever reason everyone knows what to do except you, you’ve got to fake it. How do the public collectively know what to do in these situations anyway? I find being in social situations like this comparable to everyone in the room doing a dance that you don’t know- usually I compare it to the Macarena- and they’re all having too much fun dancing to explain to you what’s going on. So instead you mentally beating yourself up for being too dumb to do something that everyone else can easily do, you tell yourself over and over that you don’t belong, and you’ll never to try again, because this feeling isn’t worth it.

Honorable Mention for spelling something wrong for years. That also sucks.

4. Being Misunderstood: Communication is hard for everyone, but I know that since I sometimes communicate in a somewhat non-standard way, I seem to run into misunderstandings more often than most. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through an interaction, and then realizing that you’re having two different conversations, or realizing that you’re not being understood at all. Besides being really frustrating, it’s often guilt inducing, knowing that you’re bringing your best communication game, and it’s still not working. It’s like you’re grabbing at a possibility to connect, and you’re just missing it.

Honorable Mention for having your tone of voice be misinterpreted. That also sucks.

So this one was a bit of a…downer. Sorry.

I hope you know that I’m not trying to imply that these feeling are always present, or that wallowing or over-analyzing is the way to go.

I know that I’ve found it therapeutically useful to recognize when I feel like this, and acknowledge it, so it can pass. I also know that when I can share them with people who might have similar experiences, it can turn feels that suck into feelings of connection.

So go! Watch your favorite show, hang out with your favorite people, pet a puppy! Hell, pet 10 puppies.

Take good care of yourselves.

Stage Fright

I’m standing in front of a crowed room, heart racing, ears pounding, because I know that in mere moments, I’ll have to talk to the entire room about…sex.

No, it wasn’t a nightmare, and I wasn’t talking about the act of sex, but about the sexuality spectrum, but oh man, was I nervous.

I sit on a committee at my church that is called Welcoming Congregations, and we are the people that represent the LGBTQ+ population. We do  Teach Ins, and educational seminars. We handle the Pride services, and our float for the parade, and we put on a really inclusive Coffee House every year called Feel the Love, that attracts everyone who wants to talk or play or sing about love of any  kind.

Today, we held a seminar about Gender. We covered Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Sex Assigned at Birth, Sexual Attraction, and  Emotional Attraction. We had a different speaker for each section, and for reasons I still don’t understand, I volunteered to present one.

I don’t volunteer for things. I think it’s partially an Autism thing, in the sense that I don’t like doing things if I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. And in my experience, what’s required from a volunteer will change at least a few times from beginning to end.

My need for sameness can’t handle that.

I also have a ‘no public speaking’ rule. When I was freaking out about this event, I started trying to figure out why I hate talking in front of people so much. Because I’m not afraid of people judging me, I ruled that one out pretty fast. And none of the other reasons for stage fright, like the inability to handle pressure, don’t apply to me either.

It took me a few days, but I think I figured it out. I’m not afraid of being judged, I’m afraid of outing myself.

Which is ridiculous, I’m a proud and outspoken Autistic Person, and everyone at my church knows it, so why am I so afraid?

I’m afraid because I suck at public speaking. And while, even as a youngster I was pretty good at fitting in and faking it, public speaking is not something that I could disguise. I don’t know who to make eye contact with. I struggle to control the volume of my voice. I can’t even follow along with my notes, which makes me mumble along with an uneven cadence.

And because of all of these, somewhere deep inside of me, I knew that if I was forced to give a speech or a presentation, everyone would know what I was.

Different.

I think that feeling is still inside me somewhere, and sometimes it comes out and takes the form of a boulder that sits on my chest, at the most inconvenient of times. I’m hoping if I acknowledge it, and remind it that now that I’m an adult, I’m not afraid of being different, not afraid of being who I am, that it will eventually fade.

And hopefully one day, I’ll be able to speak in from of people without the fear sitting on my chest.

Adept at Adapting

I can do magic. It’s a skill I’ve had since I was very young. And like any good magician, I’ve kept the source of my skills a secret. Why, a good magician never reveals the source of his magic. Especially when it’s not. Magic, that is. My tricks fall more in the line of pure deception. My goal is to get the audience to believe that everything is fine, and by no means should they pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. In short? I am a con artist. I con everyone I meet into thinking that I don’t modify the world to fit my experiences. That I don’t have to change everything I touch to make it make sense in my head. And that one deeply desperate thing I certainly don’t do is tweak myself. I am a con artist. And how could I not be? After almost 30 years of adapting to a world was not meant for someone with my brain, I’ve become pretty good at making things fit my needs.

When you find out that you don’t think like other people, you react in a couple of steps. They’re sort of like the steps of grieving, except that instead of grieving a person, or a relationship, you’re grieving a state of mind. While most of us go through a phase of feeling weird or alone, the idea that your brain works in fundamentally different ways than a “normal” person’s, you go into shock. At least I did. The idea is so foreign, it was a while before my brain could make sense of it. After that, I suppose there is a period of mourning. Mine didn’t last long. It’s not that I didn’t wish things were how I thought they had been, but more because the next phase is fascination, and fascinated basically describes who I am as a person.

I love to pick things apart in my head. I like to pick things apart with my hands too, but that’s a different story. Give me a thought, or a story, or a theory, and I will analyze the crap out of it. It makes conversations interesting, because I often get sidetracked thinking about what someone has said, even though they’ve kept talking. It usually end with me proclaiming the results of my thoughts in excitement, and them being very confused, as they’d moved on from that topic five minutes ago. Needless to say, I’m much better at text based conversations, as it gives me time to think and analyze without someone standing right in front of me.

Like a lot of autistic people, I learned to adapt to my surroundings pretty early. I think I was lucky, in that my love of analysis meant that I could observe how people around me acted, and then take that data to make rules for how people behaved. I don’t think I ever knew why those people were doing what they did, and I certainly didn’t know why I was acting that way- except because it was a Thing that people do.

This is the beginning of my long history of pretending. I mentioned that I am, in essence, a con artist, because I cultivate infinite versions of myself; whoever I need to be to fit the situation. Just to keep the record straight, I’m not changing who I am as a person, I’m not changing the important parts of me. Think of it more as a filter, as millennial as that makes me sound. The essence of the photo doesn’t change; the subject and the composition remain intact, but a filter lets people see it differently. And you can change the filter to fit the person. I may stay the same internally, but I certainly encourage people to see the external filter that I want them to see.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that all this amazing and complex filtering takes incredible amounts of mental energy. Which is interesting, because when I realized exactly what was going on, I was really surprised. After some, you guessed it, analyzing, I realized that over the past twenty-five years or so I had actually automated the observe-analyze-regurgitate process. It was like malware running in the background of my brain computer. I didn’t remember installing it, it slowed everything down, and it didn’t always have my best interest at heart. Not to say it isn’t useful sometimes, but I’d like to be the one who decides when it happens.

I’ll be coming up on my two year diagnose-iversary, and I’m planning on giving myself a gift. Luckily for me, I know exactly what I want: more brain space. Since I started learning more about myself, I’ve realized that there’s so much that I want from life. I want to educate people and to be an advocate, I want to go back to school, I want to write. And spending all my time trying to perfectly fit into every social situation is keeping me back. I’ve practicing being slightly more autistic, even though it feels like I’m doing something wrong, because of the huge amount of energy it grants me. I’m even getting more comfortable with just being myself. I’m perfecting the balance of wanting to be a kind and polite person, and staying true to who I am. And while there’s nothing wrong with adaptation, I’m finally learning how to make it work for me.

Plumbing

I often imagine my energy reserves a large basin that funnels my daily energy where it needs to go. In my mind, the energy looks shimmery and silver, glinting whenever it hits the light.

When my reserve is full, everything is good. I feel like the world is my oyster, and I can do anything and everything. This feeling is brief and fleeting, because from the moment my eyes open, the fluid starts getting sucked away, and I have little say in where it goes.

Each part of me requires its own set of tubes, and the older I get it seems, the more there are. The ones that draw most heavily are the tubes labelled Autism, POTS and, Mental Health.

As the energy shifts from shimmering silver to a matte purple, gravity pulls it down the mental health pipes. It pulls enough drops to  make sure I take my meds, another few drops toward meeting my food exchanges and following my meal plan. Yet more drops into the well of self care.

Already I am tired.

POTS rejects the pull of purple and makes a subtle change from iridescent silver, to gun-metal grey. This liquid leaks rather than drips, oozing down chutes that prevent me from fainting. The ironic thing about this is that in trying to give me energy, my body steals more than its share from my reserve.

The autism energy oozes, never staying never staying color for more than a handful of seconds. It squeezes its way through narrow pipes, in an attempt to balance my sensory input, understand and imitate social behavior, and to do things like remember where my phone is (in my hand), how to make coffee (in my defense, the filters were in the wrong place), and figure out if I’m hungry or not (I am, I think?).

After all of this, there is a spoonful left in the bottom of the tank. Just enough to get myself  to bed, and prepare for tomorrow.

I wish I knew how full the tank would be when I wake up. Some days there’s an excess, and I can take a walk, and some days I’m scraping the bottom before lunch, and I won’t be able to stand for the rest of the day.

My energy plumbing is a little broken, but it is mine. Some days I’d like to borrow yours, but I know in my heart that it wouldn’t be the same. My plumbing, with its tubes and its pipes, is as part of me as my soul. Both can be problematic, but hey, so am I.

 

Almost Functioning

Neurotypical people seem to love using functioning labels, as if labelling someone as high or low functioning makes them feel safer because they can put us in neat little boxes. That they can convince themselves that we’re not scary anymore, because we’re predictable.

“Of course they can’t achieve that, they’re low functioning.” “They don’t need any assistance, they high functioning.” “They can’t understand you, they have the mind of a child.” “How can they be doing so poorly, they’re so high functioning.”

They call me high functioning, which to them means that I’m almost good enough to be like them.

This is what I hear when I’m called high functioning:

You’re too good for help, but not good enough for me for accept you

Please tell me that high functioning means you don’t do any “scary autism” stuff

You’re better than those autistics, but not as good as me

If you can talk now, you can talk all the time

You don’t act the way I expect someone with autism to, but you don’t act like me

Because I couldn’t tell you were autistic, I’m just going to ignore it

You can do some normal things, so you can do all normal things

I don’t care that “passing” is an energy drain, if you can do it, you should

Functioning labels don’t mean anything. They’re an outdated system based on old stereotypes. Every autistic person is different, and has different needs. And categorizing someone by functioning labels tells you nothing about a person’s strengths and weakness, the level of assistance they need, and most importantly, who they are.

When you call me high functioning, it’s not a complement. When you say that you can’t tell that I’m autistic, it’s not a complement. I don’t like to be told that I’m almost like you. I don’t need you to reinforce the belief that I have to be normal, no matter the cost.

Tell me that you like my hair. Tell me that my jokes make you giggle. Tell me that you enjoy spending time with me.

Ask me who I am, not how I function.

 

 

 

Now I Know 30 Things

I turn 30 today, and for the past few months I’ve been feeling really anxious about it. I get caught in this spiral of feeling like because of mental health reasons, chronic illness, and autism, I’ve wasted my twenties. Lately though, I’m more in the mindset that I’m just a late bloomer. I’ve got a lot of life left in me, and I plan to do great things with it! But the most important part of this whole thing is, because I’m 30, I now know 30 things. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to share them with you.

  1. Trapping bugs under a cup instead of killing them is good. But if you’re not going to take them outside right away, for the love of God, tape the cup down. They can escape.
  2. Doing the right thing sometimes doesn’t feel like the right thing. That doesn’t mean that you should stop.
  3. Hydrogen Peroxide can get dried blood out of almost anything. Do with that what you may. Not murder.
  4. Whatever amount of garlic a recipe calls for, double it.
  5. Just because an emotion you’re feeling is negative, doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
  6. Always keep a snow shovel in the trunk of your car, in case there’s a freak storm and you need to dig yourself out.
  7. The key to never having to talk to telemarketers is googling any number that you don’t recognize, and if it’s not important, ignoring it.
  8. Don’t meow back at cats, it just encourages them.
  9. If you like something about someone, be it their hair or their shoes or their sense of humor, tell them. It’s good for both of your souls.
  10. Self care is whatever makes you feel calm and safe, so don’t let anyone tell you how to care for yourself.
  11. The key to not being embarrassed is realizing that 97% of the time, people are too busy thinking about themselves to notice you.
  12. Most DIY projects are expensive. If your goal is to have fun and get messy, awesome, go for it! But if you’re trying to save money, do the math first.
  13. You can write on mirrors with dry erase markers, which is way more convenient than writing notes on your hand. Also, there’s less risk of accidentally washing away important information.
  14. If you have weird medical symptoms, Google with care. The internet is almost definitely lying to you. You do not have cancer.
  15. Superglue is a necessary evil, and it is inevitable that at some point, you will glue your fingers together. Luckily acetone, which is found in most nail polish removers, will un-stick them quickly.
  16. Finding used books that are written in is like finding treasure. Seeing other peoples’ notes, the parts they loved, the parts that confused them, the parts they disagreed with- it’s like reading through someone else’s eyes.
  17. If someone criticizes you in a non-constructive way, meaning they aren’t giving you realistic advice on how to improve, that’s not criticism, it’s an attack. Feel free to fart in their general direction. Or just ignore them, I guess, that works too.
  18. If someone is tailgating you, as long as you’re going the speed limit, there’s no point in speeding up. It won’t help, and you’ll be the one pulled over for speeding, not them.
  19. Don’t talk down to kids, they’re smart little cookies, and they understand more than you think. Also they’ll rule over us all in about 40 years.
  20. If you’re looking for a masculine haircut, go to a barber instead of a hairdresser. They’ll get the lines right, plus it’s way cheaper.
  21. The snooze button is not your friend. It’s too easy to forget how many times you’ve hit it, plus, you’re not getting any quality sleep between alarms.
  22. Chopping chile peppers is a threat to your mucus membranes. Wash your hands immediately and always remember that, in an emergency, milk works better than water.
  23. You can get heatstroke without a sunburn, especially if you are 8 and at Disney World. Signs and symptoms include dizziness, headache, and vomiting, and if you suddenly stop sweating, it’s time to find some help.
  24. Because humanity is largely social, people generally want to help each other. This means you’ll have much better luck getting someone to do something if you phrase it as needing help, instead of as a demand.
  25. Most Dollar Stores sell the same candy you’d get at the movie theatre for a dollar. You’re welcome.
  26. There are other pronouns besides He and She. Gender non-conforming people also use pronouns like They, Ey, Zir. You’d think with all these options I’d have less trouble picking one…
  27. When you start a new medication, always check if it interacts with anything else you’re taking or eating or drinking, because doctors are notoriously bad about catching uncommon interactions.
  28. We all over-salt recipes sometimes, whether our hands slipped, or we got distracted by the dog outside our window and forgot that we’d already added it. Luckily, anything liquidy can be saved by sticking a raw potato in there for about 10 minutes.
  29. Turning your computer off and on again isn’t always the right answer. Sometimes getting another person close enough so your computer knows you’ll look incompetent if starts working again is just as good.
  30. You’re not wasting your life. You’re not wasting your life. You’re not wasting your life.

Judgeypants

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m a bit judgey. Not in a bad way, I don’t judge peoples’ character- just their actions. These days at least. I will fully admit that as a child, I was pretty terrible. And it all comes down to one thing: Theory of mind.

This topic is one that that comes up a lot in the Autism discussion, and tends to be highly debated. Some professionals believe that Autistic people don’t have it at all, while others argue that it, like many other autism symptoms, exists on a spectrum. This is what I’m inclined to believe as well.

The way Theory of Mind is explained is when someone has Theory of Mind, they know that other people have thoughts and feeling different than their own. So, just because I’m feeling sad, doesn’t mean the person next to me is also sad. Neurotypical children develop this skill at about four years old, and oh boy can I tell you, I definitely did not know anything like this when I was four. Or five. Or ten or twenty.

Let’s just call me what I was- a judgeypants. I judged everything everyone did, mostly because they were doing things that I didn’t like. Let’s just pop in to my kindergarten aged brain for a moment. At that age, I despised bananas. I still do, but that’s not the point. So if someone’s eating a banana next to me, I’m disgusted. I can see the texture, I can smell that pungent banana smell, and I feel one thing. Hate. My heart is bursting with banana hate, but my brain however, is beginning to judge. Bananas are terrible. Why would this person eat something that they hated so much? This was a question that I couldn’t answer, and it brought forth the judgements.

Do you see where I went wrong? It’s pretty obvious now, but back then, it never crossed my mind that someone could have different opinions than me. So what was I supposed to think? The way I was observing the world, people kept doing things they hated, eating things they hated, and the worst part, they didn’t even have the gall to act like they hated it! Or so I felt. That was all intertwined at that point.

Embarrassingly, no one challenged me on the difference between My feelings and Their feelings until I was in my twenties. I use the word challenged because the idea had been mentioned before, but I had elected to ignore it, because it confused me. Which is pretty much how I dealt with things up through my mid-twenties. I don’t suggest it.

For me, even thinking about Theory of Mind related things kind of hurts my brain. Logically, I know that everyone’s brain’s work differently, and that my thoughts are unique to me, but it takes me that extra step to get to that knowledge. I regularly have to remind myself to remember what the other person might be thinking. And at first, I had to do this every time I talked to someone. Anytime one of us expressed a feeling or an opinion, I had to say “Self, don’t forget that they’re their own person.” Every. Single. Time. Thank goodness, if you do this long enough, it becomes pretty automatic, and on top of that, you start being able to recognize that feeling, that internal judgeypants feeling bubbling up and you’re able to respond to it before it becomes an external judgeypants situation.

There’s an activity that tests for Theory of Mind, called the Sally-Ann Test, if you want to look it up, and it is the most frustrating thing in the world for me. I’ve taken it on my own, and with a psychologist, and even though I know what the right answer is, I can’t stop my brain from picking the wrong one. I know the answer! How dare my brain make me wrong! I suppose that shows the strength of Theory of Mind; even when you’re right, you’re wrong.

I feel like most professionals looks at Theory of Mind as an interesting tidbit of Autism, and they don’t acknowledge the huge effect that it has on social abilities. Children especially use play to practice social skills, and knowing that other people think and feel differently than you is like the number one social skill. It’s a skill that gets more important the older you get, at least in my experience. One thing I’ve realized about myself is that I am very intolerant people feeling differently than me. Not so much in a difference of opinion, but if I’m angry and no one else around me is, it makes me almost irrationally upset, because I spent the first twenty-some-odd years of my life assuming that everyone felt like I did.

While it’s hard to keep myself from having that immediate reaction, I’ve gotten much better at not letting it alter my actions. I do this by drawing on my innately curious nature, and challenge myself every time to tell myself a story about what they might be thinking. Of why they might be thinking that. Using one of my favorite autism coping skills, “Turn It Into A Puzzle”, I not only get to practice thinking about other peoples’ internal processes, but I also get to explore why I’m feeling what I’m feeling.

So, am I still a judgeypants? It could be said that since I’m able to recognize and quickly shut down my judgments, that I have shed my judgey ways. But I think I would argue otherwise. My argument would that judgment is not inherently harmful, and that used correctly, can even be a positive. I see my judgeypants status as making a good thing out of a not so good thing. Which in my experience, is what being autistic is all about. So I’ll shout it from a mountain top. I’m Curious. I’m Autistic. And I. Am. JUDGEYPANTS.