6 Essential Self Care Things

It seems as though I never think about doing self-care until it’s too late. Let me explain, at this point in my life I find the act of self-care pretty instinctual, and when I’m doing alright, I rarely have to think about it. It’s when my mood starts creeping downwards and my anxiety heckles raise, aka the exact time when I need self-care, I forget to do it.

Luckily, over the years I’ve developed tools, I track my moods and my self-care, I have lists of options, and I follow the buddy system and have people who can remind me to check in with myself.

I think these self-care categories are largely universal. Neurodivergent or neurotypical, people with mental health stuff and people without. Everyone will have their favorites and areas that work better for them, but all in all, I think this list offers full coverage.

1. Sensory Things– This one’s easy. I don’t know about you, but my body uses sensory devices to unconsciously soothe me. That’s a really nice way of saying that when I’m stressed out I rock. Rocking isn’t the only sensory means I use to care for myself. I like swings, I like hot hot hot showers (as long as my face doesn’t get wet). I also use stim toys like tangles and squishes and slime. My hard of hearing side as well as my autistic side both enjoy as-loud-as-it-can-go-speaker-vibrating-would-probably-cause-hearing-loss-if-I-wasn’t-half-deaf music.

These aren’t the only options though, some people like ice packs and essential oils and fish tanks and a million other things. If you use your senses to experience it, then it counts as sensory!

2. Comforting Things- This one is highly personal, but I think it’s one of the more important categories. I know when I’ve had a godawful day I want nothing more than stuff that makes me feel safe. Disney movies (Moana, Big Hero 6, and The Emperor’s New Grove to name a few), my weighted blanket, and preferably a pet (or 2!)  are my ideal combination.

Some people really like tea. Some people like rewatching all 9 seasons of The Office (or Buffy, or Scrubs). Some people like big fuzzy sweaters. Some people like going for a run. If it makes you feel good right down to your soul, then it’s likely a great candidate as a comforting thing.

3. Connection Things- Autism can make this more complicated than for your average person, but it’s still useful. Most of us aren’t overly social, even if we enjoy people. I have a great time in small groups where I know everyone well. My ultimate nightmare either a roomful of people, or talking 1 on 1 to someone don’t know. *shudder*.

There are lots of ways to feel connected if you’re willing to think out of the box. Connection can totally happen with people you meet on Tumblr or Discord or WordPress (hint hint). I love going to coffee shops to read or write because just being around other people gives me a connected feeling. So find your connection to the world and don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong!

4. Creative Things- Sometimes when I’m in a brain space where I need self-care, the only thing that will work is the act of creating something. I think it’s the feeling you get when you can hold something tangible in your hands that you made.

Luckily, there as many was to create as you can think of. I’m partial to things like knitting that have repetitive motions, and Sticker by Number books that have a huge creative bang for its minimal effort buck. Other mediums include Perler beads, crochet, painting, sewing, and polymer clay. You can also incorporate a Special Interest and double your self-care!

5. Movement Things- I hate admitting that movement is good for me. I’ve always hated doctors telling me I’ll feel better if I  just ‘go for a run’. Well, it’s true. Not the running part, I hate running, but finding ways to move my body that I enjoy can really help. I love riding my bike and playing with Winnie (who is still full of puppy energy). I also, despite being 31, still love to climb and jump off things.

“Good” movement is different for everyone. So walk through your neighborhood and stretch like a downward facing dog and become a ninja warrior and play a team sport. It all builds up. So jump and twirl and spin your cares away!

6. Organize Things– There is nothing more satisfying than having everything in order, and I can always tell that I’m stressed when I start making lists of things. This year during finals week I reorganized my whole to-read list on Goodreads- all 1300 books of it!

There are lots of things to organize though. Alphabetizing your books or sorting t-shirts by genre or color. You can sort Tupperwarewear or photos, plus you can make lists! Favorite movies, places you’d like to travel to, and go-to meals are just a few of them. If you need inspiration, Marie Kondo has a Netflix show called Tidying Up that’s both soothing educational.

There we go, my top 6 essential self-care categories. Think I missed something? Let me know! The more self-care options the better in my opinion!

5 Summer Hacks For Autistic Folks

Summer is here! The exclamation point is less about excitement and more about alarm. Don’t get me wrong, there are good things about summer, like smores and fresh berries and corn on the cob (how have I never noticed that my favorite parts of summer are food?) But at least to me, the downsides of summer outweigh the good stuff.

I’ve spent 30 summers on this earth so far, and I like to think that I’ve learned some things, especially when it comes to sensory stuff. So here it comes, the worst parts about summer and how to deal with it.

1. Sun Safety- There is a video of me dating back to about 1988 that I will never live down. I’m about 18 months old, I’m at the beach, and I’m refusing to let my mom put sunscreen on me. This is slightly funny at best until you picture a tiny Meesh rolling back and forth across the room attempting to escape the sunblock.  Luckily it is no longer 1988, and there are many more sun safety options.

As an adult, I still find sunblock on my skin to be sensory hell. I have found, however, that the spray on versions are way more tolerable. These work for me because I’m biracial and don’t burn, however, this may not be the best option for people with lighter skin. This year though I found Solar Buddies. You can fill it with your favorite sunblock, and it has a foam applicator and a roller ball for a thin but protective layer. And if sunblock is a total no-go, a good hat and a light coverup can do a lot.

2. Staying cool-  I live in Missouri, and that might not mean anything to you yet, but I have 2 words for you: 80% humidity. It is hard to keep cool for your average person, but autistic people like me need to work even harder at it. I can overheat in about 10 minutes, which is unacceptable to me when there’s so much cool stuff to do. I refuse to miss out on festivals and concerts and roller coasters just because I can’t figure out how to stay cool. My two staple things to beat the heat are fans with water misters and chill bandanas. They both involve small amounts of water, but it’s never been enough to bother me (and I’m the ruler of hates getting wet). Bringing a large umbrella for the worst of the sun work well too. Plus they come in cool prints!

3. The Pool- Ask any kid what the best part of summer is and they’ll tell you that it’s the pool! Even as a child I was confused by this. It’s not that I hated swimming, I was on the swim team for years, but what I did hate was chlorine stinging my eyes, water getting stuck in my ear, and the way the pool felt all rough on my feet. I still hate those things, but I feel like I’m better able to tolerate them now with the tools I have. Here they are- goggles (I think these seal the best), pool socks, and swimmer’s earplugs. If you really want minimal getting wet, more and more pools are putting in splash pads too. I still don’t like getting wet, but sometimes it’s necessary.

4. Clothing- I am bad at going from season to season when it comes to clothes. So bad in fact, that it was cited in the documents about my autism diagnosis. It’s just so stressful! It’s hard to tell when it’s time to switch from pants to shorts, or from tank tops to hoodies. It also doesn’t help that sometimes wearing a t-shirt is okay, except that it gets soaked at the first drop of sweat.

So here are my rules for dressing during the summer. Rule 1, try to stick to light colored clothes if you’re going to be outside a lot. It’s a little thing that really helps. I also have super lightweight vests if I need layers. Rule 2 is all about athletic wear. The moisture wicking is amazing, so it helps keep you cool, plus it keeps the gross sweatiness at bay. Lastly, rule 3 is natural fibers whenever possible. Polyester doesn’t breath the way that cotton, linen, or hemp does.

5. Hygiene- Do you know what comes along with the summer heat? Sweat. And sweat makes everything feel…honestly? gross is the best way I (a Writing Major) can describe it. The balance is so hard because there are two opposite forces pulling at you. One says that the sweat is making your skin prickle and you clothes clammy, and the other says that the last thing I want to do when I’m already hot and uncomfortable is to get in a hot shower and get my hair and my body wet, and risk getting water and soap in my eyes. Did I mention that I hate being wet? So here’s what I’ve got for you. Deodorant wipes are about the best thing ever. I like these Pacifica ones. But they make scentless ones and individual wrapped ones. Anything you could possibly want from a wipe. I also like Lush’s anti-chafing powder, mostly because you can put it anywhere you get sweaty and it will absorb the sweat and make things smooth.

So there are my summer tips in a nutshell. Summer officially starts after the 21st of June, so we’re just in time! If any of you have summer tips I will gladly take them! I’m already counting down until the coolness of Fall rolls in.

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!

 

 

 

 

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!

6 Word Stories pt. 27

So it’s been a while… And the worst part is, it’s not like I haven’t been writing my 6-word stories, it’s just that two weeks in a row, I bolted up out of a dead sleep at about 2am on Saturday morning realizing that I haven’t written a blog post. I then immediately fall back asleep, which is less than useful.

I’ve had a long couple of weeks. I started physical therapy, which makes my POTS flare, which means I’m ‘fall asleep sitting up’ exhausted. My heart rate is also in the 150s which makes me feel like I’ve had 5 shots of espresso one after the other. Luckily, I found a glut of gardening shows on Netflix, so I can just lie on the couch and stare at the TV when necessary.

So with the whole ‘skipping two weeks of posts’ thing, I’m going to leave you with The Best Of March’s Stories. Thanks for reading!

  • I started today with negative spoons.
  • Oh where has my ambition gone?
  • So tired. I blame Daylight Savings.
  • A thousand earplugs are not enough.
  • After too much socializing, it’s naptime.
  • Just for today, I’m not overthinking.
  • It’s hard to describe my feelings.

Well, there we go! My last few weeks in 42 words. Sorry for the missed week, but if you ever feel like you’re in 6 Word Story withdrawal, my Tumblr blog, 6 Word Autism is updated daily!

Hope you all have a great first week of Spring!

6 Word Story pt. 25

So I didn’t do a 6 Word Story roundup last week. In my defense, most of the stories would have gone something like ‘ouch, pain, naptime, where’s my ice?’, and that’s not exciting for anyone. What is exciting (at least for me!) is that I’m feeling a lot better. On Thursday, I didn’t use my cane for a whole day, which is a big deal considering I’ve been using it for almost 7 months. Fingers crossed, but it looks like this is one medical problem that will resolve itself!

No more surgeries, as far as I know, so stay tuned for business as usual!

 

  • Post surgery tradition is a stuffie.
  • Self, platonic, and romantic are all love.
  • Nothing distracts me from the pain.
  • Nap like you don’t even care.
  • Rain rain go away. No. Seriously.
  • Smelling books is a sensory experience.
  • Today I walked without my cane!!!

 

Meltdown Embarrassment

Oh man, what a day.

Any day that includes a meltdown is tiring, but rarely am I as embarrassed as I am about the one I had today.

For some reason, sensory-related meltdowns seem acceptable to me. My senses are being bombarded, I’m overwhelmed, and often in pain, so I find it completely understandable that my brain reacts so intensely.

This was not a sensory meltdown. Today I had my first IV saline infusion, and I’m kicking myself for not being able to predict what happened. I had to wake up early (strike one), I had to navigate a large medical complex (strike two), and I was going into a brand new situation (strike three).

I really thought that I had a handle on it though. I knew what was supposed to happen, and had been mentally practicing what was going to happen.

This is where everything went wrong.

First, they were running late, and I had to sit in the waiting room for more than half an hour. Secondly, the first nurse to check my chest port thought it was warm and pink, so she poked and prodded at it, and eventually called over another nurse, who also poke and prodded. After that got sorted out, they informed me that since I was a new patient, they had to run the IV at a liter every two hours, instead of one an hour like I was expecting. I’d been planning to be there for about two hours, and suddenly it turned in to four hours. After all of that, it turns out that my doctor had written the orders wrong, and we’d have to change plans for future infusions until it was sorted out.

This was when I started melting down. After the waiting, and the touching, and the change of plans, my brain couldn’t hold it together any longer. I started ranting at my wife. She helped me keep my volume under control, and to not blame the nurses for things that they couldn’t control. After that, I lost my words. Everyone was asking me questions and all I could do was nod and try not to cry. My body started stimming without my permission, my extremities started shaking rhythmically, and my head bopped violently to invisible music. And I couldn’t make it stop.

Thank god my wife was there. She communicated with the staff for me and helped them contact my doctor for the correct orders. She told my nurse that we were going to cut the infusion short, and stop after one liter of saline instead of the two we had planned. She also had them reschedule me for later in the week. After all of this, she got me out of there.

I was so embarrassed.

I have non-sensory related meltdowns so rarely anymore that I kind of thought I had moved past them. I think I have a sort of elitist view of myself that says that since I’m so self-aware, I should be above this sort of thing. I’m embarrassed about this too.

I talk so much about Autism Positivity, and I totally believe what I say, but I think that I have to remember that it doesn’t matter how smart a person is, or how self-aware, or if they’re well prepared or have coping skills, sometimes meltdowns happen. They happen to all of us. And they’re nothing to be embarrassed about.

Even so, I’m really hoping that next time goes better.

6 Word Stories pt. 20

Sorry guys, this week’s stories are a little medical heavy. With spending New Years Day with a stomach bug, and my surgery coming up this Tuesday, I’ve got a bit of a one-track mind. I’m excited though, once this chest port gets up in, I won’t have to have one find a vein in the arms (if they’re lucky) or my hands/feel (if they’re not). The site has to be kept incredibly clean in the beginning though, and I think that’ll be a sensory challenge. Wish me luck, friends!

  • Hopefully surgery is easy and successful
  • I invited someone over. On purpose?!
  • The fabric store is my favorite!
  • Afraid surgery will be sensory hell.
  • Stomach flu is bad for Autistics.
  • Peeling is fun until you bleed
  • I ran out of samefoods- help!

Can You Relate?

I run my hands over something soft

Something bumpy, something smooth

There’s no describing how good it feels

Can you relate to that?

 

I’m in a place that’s much too crowded

Too much noise, too much light

My senses hurt me, overwhelmed

Can you relate to that?

 

Engaging with my favorite things

Special Interests, special joy

Makes me want to jump and flap

Can you relate to that?

 

Talking to people I do not know

Try to smile, try to listen

Being polite is a social requirement

Can you relate to that?

 

Accepting that I’m a bit different

Always have been, always will

I’m starting to love who I am

Can you relate to that?