Self Love

Valentines Day is coming up, and while I very much enjoy celebrating romantic love (my wife, Jess and I usually mark the occasion by eating chocolate and playing video games), I also think that the holiday is an excellent excuse to celebrate self-love too!

As I think that I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent a lot of time in Eating Disorder Treatment, which is basically a nice way of saying a butt load of therapy. Like, therapy 3 times a day. And a lot of the therapeutic emphasis is on self-care and self-love and all of those other ‘self’ things. So yeah, I’ve sat through a lot of group therapy on these topics.

And it may seem like I’m a self-love zealot- I know, I have been talking about it a lot lately. But there are definitely parts of the self-care thing that I think are silly, or don’t work for me.

For example, a lot of people have a really hard time with shame, and they need to put in a lot of time and effort to let that go.

And while I totally understand how it works, I don’t really experience shame (I do experience guilt, but that’s a whole different post), and so doing exercises around shame are sort of boring for me.

Self-care though? I’m totally behind. Treating your mind and your body with care and respect? I’m all for it. I know that when I’m tuned in to what I need, I have more energy, less anxiety, and I’m more flexible and less sensory sensitive. Win-win, right?

There are lots of ways to care for and love yourself, and I’m just going to share today some things that I do in my day to days life.

Stimming is definitely the most important part of my self-care routine. This is something unique to us neurodivergent folks and doesn’t get included in most articles about self-care. For me, this sort of self-care takes two forms.

The first one is making time for stimming and sensory needs in my daily routine. I start my day with my favorite sensory friendly food (Cheerios). I take the time to knit. I wear clothes that are comfortable, tagless, with flat seams, and I buy the only socks that I find tolerable in bulk. I end my days lying in bed with my weighted blanket and my glitter lamp casting blue shadows on my ceiling, and I ease into sleep.

The second is certainly more challenging, but it’s also just as important. I call it sensory-on-the-go. And it’s a big deal because following my home routine is easy, really but dealing with the real world is hard. It’s really hard! You have to be able to sense what you need before you need it, because at least for me, by the time I realize that I need intervention, I’m not in a very good position to do it for myself. So on-the-go self-care requires pre-planning, and, if you’re lucky, a buddy. So I don’t leave the house without a sensory emergency kit, and I check in with myself regularly, so meltdowns don’t take me by surprise. They still happen, but somehow it’s (a little) better if I know they’re coming.

I’m a total introvert, so this type of self-care seems like the opposite of what would work, but I’ve learned that I need to connect with people. If given the choice, I’d go days without talking to anyone except my cats, and if you’d asked, I would say that this is the ideal situation and that I was very happy indeed. And don’t get me wrong, I definitely need quiet me-time, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I really benefit from interacting with people. So I volunteer, and I play music with people, I interact at church, and I connect to my awesome internet community. And while there are days when I don’t want to talk to anyway (not even the cats), that’s fine, because I know that my connections will be there waiting for me when I come back.

There are dozens of other things I do to take care of myself, and if I listed them all, this post would be 26 paragraphs long, and you’d probably have gotten bored 19 paragraphs ago. So here are just a few more things that I think are worth mentioning, and then I promise that I’m done.

Hot hot hot showers. I hate being wet, so I sit on the floor of the tub and let the steam come rise up around me. I also like talking to myself in the shower, which is apparently a thing?

Bookstores. There’s nothing more calming than being surrounded by books. Especially if they’re used, cheap, and smell good.

Watching movies I’ve seen over and over again. Being able to predict every line and every song makes me feel safe. Props to Moana, Into the Woods, and Sondheim! The Birthday Special.

I feel really grateful for my time in treatment because it let me think critically about how I treat myself. Learning about who I am and what I need has let me practice self-care, which in turn has led to self-love.

I hope you guys are able to send some love to yourself this week, because Valentines is about all types of love, including self-love. Happy Early Valentines Day!


Stim The What? An Origin Story

If comic books have taught us anything, besides the fact that not everyone can pull off spandex, it’s that everyone, hero or villain, has an origin story. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the majority of these characters come into their powers, weaknesses, and world views through some sort of trauma. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman after his parents are killed in front of him. Magneto survived the Holocaust and because of that, makes it his mission to be the aggressor so he would never have to experience being oppressed again. Good guys and Bad guys are defined by how they handle trauma, and that’s what makes comics so universally liked. Ten people could be in the exact same situation, and they would handle it in ten different ways. I relate a lot to comic books, they make a lot of sense to me. I think that everyone has an origin story, whether they’re a hero, a villain, or an extra. While I’m likely an extra in the grand scheme of the world, I’d like to think that I’m the hero in my own origin story; and I’d like to tell it to you. In the interest of time and attention span, I’m not going to start at the beginning. I think I’ll start not at the beginning of my life, but at the beginning of where I am now. Picture it: New York, 2014.

Our story begins in an apartment in the Hudson Valley, in New York. See the person sitting on the couch covered in cats? That’s me. And to be honest, I’m in a pretty rough place. I’m tired, and confused, and lonely, with no direction, and very little hope that things will get better. I haven’t held a job in several years (future me wishes that I can create a wormhole and leave myself a note to google Autistic Burnout), and it’s weighing on my self-esteem. Even though the estrangement from my parents was my choice, I am still missing the idea of them, and while my in-laws are nice, they still don’t feel like family yet. At 26, most of my high school and college friends have moved on or moved away, and since I lack the small talk gene, I haven’t really made any new ones. And on top of all of this, I’ve developed a chronic illness that frequently leaves me couch-bound. I love my wife and I love my cats, but I’m isolated and unsure how to resume living my life. Also, I’m starting to have a strange niggling feeling about my body that I can’t place (spoilers: Gender Dysphoria!). So to sum it up, I hate my life, I hate my body, and I hate everyone else because I can’t have what they have. Hm. Now that I write it out, I’m definitely started to sound more like a villain. Guess we’ll just have to keep moving forward and see what happens.

The more miserable I get, the more I start to slide back into old behaviors. Self-Harm, Food Restriction, and Intense amounts of exercise seem more and more like valid ways to deal with my problems. My brain sees these as the acts of a hero, I’m hurting myself instead of hurting anyone else. Because c’mon, everyone knows that heroes are all about self-sacrifice. And besides, doing these things make me feel better. A part of me knows this isn’t a good excuse, but it’s easy enough to silence that part. So what if my hair is falling out and I’m covered in bruises? I no longer cared that I couldn’t live the life I wanted because I had a life of counting and pacing and ignoring that fact that I was different. Also, my boobs went away, which mostly solved the dysphoria issue. Win-win. Soon to be lose-lose. Lose because I had a brief glimpse of what was actually happening. I tried to suppress my inner villain and I quickly learned that I couldn’t. So I did the hardest thing, but the truly heroic thing. I asked for help.

In eating disorder treatment programs things are often presented as very black and white. You are good, your Eating Disorder is bad. Good, bad, hero, villain, these are gross simplifications of mental illness, and of life in general. At this point in my life, I knew what Autism was. How I had never considered it might apply to me, is still kind of a mystery. This is relevant because my autistic traits were looked on as being very negative, by the staff at my first treatment center. My food issues were me being stubborn, my poor social skills were often got me labeled as aggressive. My intolerance of change made them tell me over and over that I clearly wasn’t ready for recovery. None of these things were true. I was there for almost a year. Eventually, we came to a mutual agreement that I needed more “complex” care, and that I shouldn’t come back. I consider what happened after that to land me solidly in the hero category. I could have given up. I could have said screw this, clearly,l I am not meant for recovery, I’m done. But I didn’t. I accepted change, I was flexible. I drove 800 miles, 800 miles from my wife and my cats (remember them?) and I started again. At a place who worked with me, who were able to see my behaviors as something more than stubborn, and staff who knew what Autism looked like, and how to work with it. Now, I wasn’t given special treatment (that would have been a total villain move), but they provided me with tools that gave me the best shot at recovery.

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good”. I’m in recovery. You probably guessed that though. I still think that I fall into the morally gray area when it comes to my Autism and my Eating disorder. I’m stable, but sometimes when I’m in distress, self-harm behaviors pop up. I follow my meal plan, but occasionally I fall into the hole of routines and textures and sameness and I don’t follow it as well as I should. The correlation between Anorexia and Autism is high, although no one knows why. The Correlation between ARFID and Autism is even higher. When I started this blog, I called it Stim the Line, because I often feel like I’m walking the line between Anorexia and Autism, that most members of my team know about Eating Disorders or Autism, but not both. I wanted a place to examine that line, and to connect with others who walked similar ones. I may be a hero, but I know now that Autism is not a villain. Neither is my Eating Disorder, although falls more into the trope of ‘villain but for a good reason’. Both the Eating Disorder and the Autism influence who I am, and I’m still finding a way to take the good influence and leave the bad ones. I’ll probably be doing that for the rest of my life. But it’s my life, and I’m working to make it into something that I’m satisfied with, and maybe even proud of. And that’s why I’m a hero.