Category Archives: Living

To Those Who Still Don’t Understand

(Content Warning: medical problems, references to death, suicide, murder)

I came across an article by Sarah Kurchak today, entitled To Neurotypicals On My 36th Birthday and it really resonated where my thoughts have been lately.  I commented on the article, but I felt I needed to expand my comment.

I have tried to live a healthy life style all my life.  I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I don’t do recreational drugs, I try to eat right, and I am I runner.  Unfortunately, the statistics are not on my side.  Due to my genetics, my life expectancy has been shortened. 

As the aforementioned article states, the ages for the life expectancy of autistics vary a bit, but the statistics point to an uncomfortable reality.  Autistic life spans are shorter than typical life spans.  A study out of Sweden completed late in 2015, entitled Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder, revealed that people with autism died an average of 16 years earlier than those who do not have autism.  There are other studies out there that support the Swedish study findings. 

Why is it this way?  Why do autistics seem to die younger than those who are not autistic?

Previous studies had shown that 30 percent to 50 percent of people with ASD have considered suicide at some point in their lives.  Bullying, anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and alienation all contribute to this.  There is a high cost trying to cope in a world that is not designed for you nor is accepting of you.

Then there are the co-existing conditions that seem to be common to people with autism. Chronic health problems can shorten a person’s life span.  Epilepsy, Elhers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), gastrointestinal problems, sensory overload, and lots of stress related illnesses, which can lead to physical ailments, including heart disease, brain inflammation, strokes, and diabetes – these seem to be common occurrences in the lives of autistic people.  

I was diagnosed when I was 36 years old. This is the same age that the article is focusing on, the same age that the researchers CNN cites say is the average age that people like me die. 

I am a teacher and have been for almost 20 years. During the 2011-2012 school year, the same year I was diagnosed, my doctor told me that my stress was actually killing me. This is why I don’t have a classroom of my own anymore. I was very fortunate to be able to find employment where I can work predominately from home, but still keeps me in the education field. I don’t know if I will ever be able to return to the classroom on a regular daily basis.

Due to EDS, my body has been falling apart all my life. I have been a runner for 24 years. It has kept me out of a wheel chair. I had to stop backpacking and weight lifting long ago. I have had to garden in pots for years now (doctors’ orders). I am not even supposed to push a grocery cart anymore, because the right side of my diaphragm is no longer securely attached.

I don’t know how much longer my body and mind can take. Stress can literally kill you. I am so tired. I do know that whenever I just what to collapse, my body won’t. It has got a lot of fight in it still, though. When everything went to hell at 21 weeks when I was pregnant with my son, my body gave everything it had to keep him alive. He was born healthy and to term. That was 15 years ago and my body has never fully recovered. I am still bleeding internally with significant nerve and tissue damage.

I am 42 years old now and I don’t know how much longer I have. So, I will just keep carrying on the best I can with the time I have.

Looking through my old writings, I see that this carry-on-attitude is found all over.  I mean, what else can I do, but to keep moving forward? I am a single mom for two teenagers.  I don’t feel there is much choice in the matter.  The only other option that I see is giving up and dying.  My resilience is too strong, which I explain in “Strengths of Autism – Resilience”.  My body won’t let me give up, so I keep going. 

In The Hidden Meaning Behind “I’m Tired”,  I explain that the phrase “I’m tired” is just a cover for a long story of struggle, confusion, stress, frustration, pain, and exhaustion.  I am always tired.  It never seems to go away and it has only gotten worse as I have gotten older.

In September 2017, I came across this meme with a quote by Dr. Shana Nichols:

Females with ASD“Females with ASDs often develop ‘coping mechanisms’ that can cover up the intrinsic difficulties they experience. They may mimic their peers, watch from the sidelines, use their intellect to figure out the best ways to remain undetected, and they will study, practice, and learn appropriate approaches to social situations. Sounds easy enough, but in fact these strategies take a lot of work and can more often than not lead to exhaustion, withdrawal, anxiety, selective mutism, and depression. -Dr. Shana Nichols”

How long can a body maintain a perpetual cycle of burnout, stress, and pain? 

I really don’t know. 

Something my children’s psychiatrist told us this past week:

ARC – Autistic Renewal Cycle

ABC – Autistic Burnout Cycle

They need to acknowledge ABC, but focus on ARC. Both are in ABC right now. As a family, we need to find ways to break the ABC using ARC.

I have struggled with ABC for so long. Every year I would find myself in some level of autistic burnout. I need to break the cycle, too.

What the ARC looks like depends on the individual. Basically, an individual needs to be encouraged and provided opportunities to do activities that fuel them, that give back emotional currency.

Being stuck in ABC can potentially shorten a person’s life.  The cycle must be broken, but that is not a easy thing to do.  How does one fuel their emotional currency?

Personally, I feel it has a lot to do with acceptance.  I feel acceptance is the greatest gift you can give to a person. 

According to Rick Hanson Ph.D.:

“Accepting people does not itself mean agreeing with them, approving of them, waiving your own rights, or downplaying their impact upon you. You can still take appropriate actions to protect or support yourself or others. Or you can simply let people be. Either way, you accept the reality of the other person. You may not like it, you may not prefer it, you may feel sad or angry about it, but at a deeper level, you are at peace with it. That alone is a blessing. And sometimes, your shift to acceptance can help things get better.”

Acceptance is an action and it requires work.  Kassiane S. explains this concept beautifully in Acceptance vs. Awareness:

“Acceptance comes from a place of understanding.  Understanding isn’t generated by soundbites and posterchildren. Understanding takes work. To accept us, people first need to acknowledge us as individuals-as three dimensional, growing, developed characters. We are not all the same, and we are not but a collection of deficits. Acceptance is seeing that-and seeing that one’s distaste for an autistic person is more likely than not because of “autism”. Awareness tells you that anything objectionable about us is “autism”, but that explanation is clear, simple, and wrong.

Acceptance requires facing that which makes you uncomfortable about us, thinking about why it makes you uncomfortable, and confronting any prejudice at the root of that discomfort. To accept us is to make a conscious effort to overcome that prejudice, to recognize that your discomfort with our differences is far more your problem to overcome than ours.”

In Accept Them As They Are, Dr. Hanson continues to explain how you find acceptance:

“Consider how you have gotten tangled up with this other person, struggling to change them. When I do this myself, I become aware of my own rightness, positionality, judgments, pushiness, irritability, narrow views, hurts, longings, grievances, or remorse. See if you can let go of some, even all of these entanglements. Open to the easing, relief, and peace that can come when you do.

Also consider how much you like it when you feel that another person accepts you completely. It’s a beautiful gift – and we can give it ourselves to others when we accept them. Imagine how it might improve your relationship with someone if that person felt you accepted him or her fully. Acceptance is a gift that gives back.”

I am so very tired of fighting just to survive. I explained this in So, how does it feel to actually live your life as opposed to just surviving?  I chose years ago to live in the moment, because I don’t know how any moments I have left. 

When people want to push the idea that there is a supposed autism epidemic (there isn’t), I have found the question that will inevitably come up is, “If there is no epidemic, then where are all the autistic adults?”

Autistic adults are there and have been there since there have been people.  From what I have learned, autistic adults seem to disappear either by choice or design.  As they age, they either remove themselves from society to get away from the unrelenting life killing stress or they die at a much younger age than non-autistic adults.  The question really should be, “If autistic adults have always been there, then why are you not seeing us?”  

In closing, I would like to reiterate what Sarah Kurchak stated in her article about what to do if you want to help and add a few words of my own.

  • Listen to us.
  • Believe in us.
  • Let us be our authentic autistic selves.
  • Invest in our work.
  • Invest in science and actions that actually make our lives better now instead of chasing a hypothetical cure.
  • Meet us halfway, we can’t do all the work to conform to your world. Compromises need to be made and bridges need to be built. Help us build that bridge.
  • Tell us you accept us and mean it!
  • Tell us we don’t bore you.
  • Tell us we don’t drain you.
  • Tell us we are not broken.
  • Tell us we are not a burden.
  • And above all, don’t kill us.
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So, how does it feel to actually live your life as opposed to just surviving?      

Have you ever been struggling for so damn long, then find yourself in a situation where things are working out, but your anxiety has gotten you on guard waiting for the possibility of the rug of life to be pulled out from under you again?

Ya, I am there. It sucks the feeling of relief right out of you. It is really annoying. I keep telling myself that I am in a good place right now, that everything I have been working toward professionally all these years is finally starting to materialize and it is not literally killing me in the process, but my damn brain won’t settle.

There are many reasons why I no longer have my own classroom anymore. Due to my physical health, I don’t know if I ever will be able return to a regular classroom teaching position. After nearly 20 years as a teacher, I miss being in a classroom, but my current job is allowing me to stay in the education field and apply my experience and training in a different way by helping one family at a time. I am paying it forward, you might say.

I am still grieving in my personal life. I have been grieving for years. It feels like forever. It is called Complex-PTSD. Even 15 years after my initial diagnosis, the pain is still there.  I have better coping skills now, but it is still hard. These days there are more good days than bad days.

Too much trauma and loss in my life, I suppose. I have been struggling so long just to survive, and be both mom and dad as well as teacher to my children, that I guess I am not sure how to live.

After everything that has happened to me, I have really struggled to convince myself that I have worth. I remind myself constantly. I have worth. I know I have worth.

*Deep breath.*

*Start again.*

I have value. I am worth it. I will not give up!

*Punches chest.*

I am a real person with real needs and dreams. I will not be silenced!

Not again . . .

—————————

Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I have been at the bottom two levels for many years now.

So, how does it feel to actually live your life as opposed to just surviving?  

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Rescuing Myself from Unrelenting Frustration

Frustration. I am not talking about the type of frustration that you experience while sitting in a car and the person in the car next to you is blasting the bass that pounds your ears, it is too hot, and the red light just won’t change to green. You can escape from that type of frustration.

I am talking about the type of frustration that is ongoing and seemingly unrelenting. The type of frustration that you can’t escape from, the type that makes you feel stuck and helpless in an intolerable situation that you can’t do anything about.  I have been experiencing this type of frustration for far too long.  

Here is a video by Charlie McDonnell about him coming out about having anxiety and depression – Anxiety, Depression, and Being a Downer.

I can’t escape it, I can’t make it better, and it is not going to get any better any time soon. I am past the point of “dealing with it”.  I am to the point of just trying to survive it.  I must endure for mine and my family’s sake.  They are stuck in the same frustration that I am, but how we each are experiencing it is unique to each individual.

How do I explain this? Where do I start?

First of all, we are in the process of building a house. Due to weather and financial setbacks we got behind on our building time line.  Our lease ended before our house was even close to being able to be lived in.  As of tonight, we are on our 26th night living in tents on our building site which is on half of my in-laws’ 160 acres of cleared pasture, but mostly heavily treed land.  Three nights ago I was done with tent living.

It is not just the fact that we are living in tents that has gotten me to this place. It is the constant buzzing of insects (lots and lots of yellow jackets), the heat during the day and the cold at night, the dust, the lack of proper bathroom and kitchen facilities, lack of privacy, the lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition, and lack of money.

As I type this I am struck by my privilege. Here I am typing this on my laptop while sitting in my tent with a bottle of clean water next to me.  I am used to having a proper toilet, running water, and a cold refrigerator.  I am used to having four solid walls and windows and doors that lock.  I am use to having access to the internet on a regular basis.  I am use to being in an environment where I can control for the most part how light or dark or cold or hot I want it to be. 

I am not used to living in tents. I am used to tents being something you use to go camping in when on vacation, not to live in for a prolonged period of time.  I am coming from a place of privilege and I am whining about how frustrating my current situation is.  Yes, it could be worse.  We could be living out on the street.  We are not eating well, but we are not starving. It could be winter instead of summer. 

Again, yes, it could be worse. The key here is that I am not accustomed to this type of prolonged living.  There is no safe place for me. My body and mind cannot recover from the stress in the way that I need them to and am using so many more “spoons” living in this environment then I would be in the environment that I am accustomed to, the one that is safe for me.  I have lived in various states of burnout for years.  I know what I need to do in order to replenish my “spoons” so I can function well.  I am using way too many “spoons” right now and I am not able to adequately replenish them.  I knew it was going to be hard, but it still frustrates me that I am not able to tolerate living in tents to the level that I had hoped I would.    

An addition to our stressful living situation is the constant driving that I am doing (my daughter is an outpatient at a facility that is two hours away from where we live now). I am on the road four to eight hours a day depending if I come home or not during the eight and a half hours that my daughter is away.  That is A LOT of money being used to pay for gas.  I had fuel vouchers, but they were revoked for reasons we still don’t quite understand.  What we got out of it was that psychiatric health care is not seen as important as physical health care.  It is a long story that I won’t go into here, but just more frustration to add to the mix.

There is also the stress with our pets (one dog, three cats, and two parakeets) and the problems we have had with feral cats trying to get to our house cats that stay in my tent all day. My tent has been slashed open in many places. I sewed it up as best as I could, but the tent is pretty much trashed.  

Then there is the big problem of dealing with my husband’s past transgressions and all the choices he made during a three year period of hell when he was self-destructing. For more Information regarding this read Reaching for More, but also Striving for Balance.

My family is still in the process of healing from that and we got hit big time these past few weeks with triggers and the stress of unprocessed pain. We can’t seem to get away from the triggers (i.e. certain individuals that will remain nameless).  It has been a particularly difficult time for all of us, but since the pain has been brought forth front and center, it shows what we still need to address.  So many unanswered questions, so much confusion, so much hurt.

This all came ahead four nights ago. We had made it 22 nights, then I had a meltdown and my son had an anxiety attack at the same time.  That was Sunday night.  Tuesday morning my daughter had one of the worst meltdowns she has had in a very long time.  Later that day my husband admitted that he was overloaded.  He wants out of the tents as well.

Unfortunately, our house still is not livable quite yet. Today is Wednesday and the good news is that the metal roofing is going up on Friday and hopefully will be completed by Monday.  We don’t have the money for doors or windows yet, but we have talked about screening up everything and moving some stuff into the house so we and the pets can get out of the tents.  With the metal roofing up, we can then start putting in the wiring, then the insulation, then finally the drywall.    

We are building this house on our own with the help of friends and family and out of our own pockets. The going is slow and the frustration is high. Why are we doing all of this?  Why are we putting ourselves through all of this?

These are the questions I have found myself asking. The answer is we needed a fresh start. A chance to give ourselves a real opportunity to heal and live in a place where it is quiet, where we don’t have to worry about landlords and making rent every month, and struggling to pay bills with our limited income. It is a place where we will have a real chance to finally be able to live instead of just trying to survive each day.  With everything with the house, my family has had to really put in the effort to learn how to effectively communicate with each other.  We are learning to be a family again through the process of building our house. 

As frustrated and helpless that I have been feeling lately with everything, I have to remember that we are all together working on this project and we will see this through. There is no turning back now, no running away from problems. We have to face these problems head on, hand-in-hand, supporting each other through it all.  

Surviving means to “continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship”. We have survived this long and I plan to continue enduring our frustrating situation until such time as it begins to improve.  My family has been through so much in a relatively short time, one thing after another after another after another.  We have survived this far and we will continue to persevere.  I am waiting for the day when I can start to live my life, to feel that I am actually thriving, and not feel so burned out all the time.

To me, as an autistic person, to feel comfortable would be a dream come true. There has only been a few times in my life where I could say I felt comfortable and there times were short lived.

Ah, to feel comfortable . . .

My kids have that wish, too. To feel comfortable in an environment that is not constantly bombarding you with sensory input. To feel comfortable in an environment where your anxiety is not always so high, draining you of energy, and keeping you so tense that you actually start to shake under the stress.  To feel comfortable means having the ability to finally being able to relax.

I am waiting for that day, the day when I can finally relax both my mind and my body in a safe place that is my own amongst my own things with my beloved husband, children, and pets.  

As I have been writing this, I was listening to an album called “The Sound of Rescue” I found it to be very calming music.  I also thought the title was appropriate for how I feel.  Rescue from this frustrating situation is coming and I will part of making that rescue happen.  In this particular case, the only people that will be rescuing us are ourselves.

Rescue yourself

Finding the Words . . . .

It is almost 2AM and once again I cannot sleep.  I do not understand.  Why won’t my body let me sleep? I am tired. I am tired of not being heard.

Tired_20-year-old_cat

Wikipedia:Tired

I am tired of not being accepted. I am tired of not being understood. I am tired of not being wanted. I am tired of my deficits only being seen and my strengths being ignored. I am tired of hurting, both mentally and physically. I am tired, but my body will not let me sleep.

I don’t know . . . I don’t know the words. I can’t find them. I need to explain how I feel, but the words won’t come. Why am I not wanted, why am I not seen? I am good at what I do and I am true to who I am. But I am not seen, not the real me. The one who sees the magic and beauty in how the morning sunlight glistens off dew on a spider web. The one who feels so much joy when a flower bud is about to open. The one who gazes upon the stars and is blow away by the wonders of it all.

Forestwander.com

Forestwander.com

The one who still believes in being honorable and having integrity. The one who still struggles with things that most people don’t even think about and don’t understand when I ask for help. This is me.

I just want to be seen. Not ignored. Not disregarded.  Not blown off.  Not made to feel guilty or ashamed of how I am or how I feel.

My heart is real. What I feel is real. I am here.  I have always been here. I have survived through so much and will continue to do so. They haven’t destroyed me yet. I will keep on fighting. But right now I feel like a wilted and crushed flower. There for all to see, but ignored and discarded.

Dead_flowers,_Pére_Lachaise_Cemetery

File:Flickr – Whiternoise – Dead flowers, Pére Lachaise Cemetery.jpg

What do I do?   What can I do?   I need to find a way to mend my damaged petals and continue on. I need to find the sun and let my spirit dance on the sun beams. I need to find a rainbow and let the colors play across my skin.

My journey is not complete. The sun is still calling to me, that beautiful star that fuels life on this amazing blue marble that we live on. Through everything that is ugly and full of pain, there is still beauty and wonder out there. I still believe in that.

Full_Sunburst_over_Earth

File:Full Sunburst over Earth.JPG

 “Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”

― Walter Anderson

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson