Friday, December 2, 2016

There Is Hope for Us

There is hope for our species, the Neurodivergent.

The world has imposed upon us a standard which many of us cannot meet, leaving us scarred in the process of trying to get there.

Stigma, a badge of shame attached to diagnosis, hurts us. Mental illness is not a character flaw, it’s what happens when society’s demands are incompatible with our natural abilities. It’s the pain we feel at being forced in line when we need the freedom to be ourselves. It makes us hate who we are when we can’t control it.

But there is hope for us… our voices are getting LOUDER. Tools like the Internet are giving us a platform to speak and connect with others like us. There is such overwhelming support, we just have to look for it.

We have to be willing to look at ourselves and others with fresh eyes, not through the dirty goggles the world has pulled over our faces. To be accepted, we must accept ourselves and others, and avoid judging each other and buying into damaging stereotypes the way others have done to us.

Keep in mind that many of us Neurodivergents have experienced unspeakable pain, and it is absolutely valid even if Neurotypicals assume we are overreacting.
Overreacting is a myth.
We react based on the intensity of our experience: so we are reacting just right. We should not laugh at each others’ complaints or struggles, whether it comes from a Neurotypical or Neurodivergent. Everyone should be respected.

Anyway… let me tell you what sparked this.

I have been mentally “away” on and off, swinging between self-hatred and love for our kind. 
In my everyday life, I struggle a lot due to the weaknesses that come with ASD and OCDThey just don’t seem compatible with some necessary aspects of adulthood, and I find myself overwhelmed by too many tasks and demands. So I swing back and forth between happiness and misery (thanks especially to ASD extreme moods) depending my tasks for that day, or whether my days off are for “recovery,” or if I actually have enough energy to enjoy myself.

When I’m in school, these problems are x10 (times ten) since the college life leads to persistent information overload for me. The exhaustion so physically and emotionally painful that simply describing my issues as articulately as the last paragraph is near impossible in that state. It ends out coming out in a rant of details rather than a summary--my more natural form of talking.

With every screaming demand and anxiety trigger, my mind stacks another intrusive thought or painful memory over my normally happy self, darkening my vision, and silencing my voice. I hide away because I can’t be socially graceful with all that junk. And after every college semester, I’m left with a hardened shell I must chip away at until I can see myself again. Last time, it took me nearly a year to break free from it.

I’ve been sick, depressed, anxious, and trapped inside my shell for a long time this semester. I scream from the inside, but it comes out in barely a squeak. Sometimes I see a crack in the shell, and find some comfort or inspiration in a ribbon of light before it closes up again. So, I do still have good days, but I have to cling to them for dear life.

It was another ribbon of light that sparked this post. My misery was my only company, so it felt better to shout words of hope to others also stuck in a shell. I know what it’s like to feel trapped, exhausted, and misunderstood.
So keep chipping away. There is light outside waiting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Autism Is No Excuse, but It Kind of Is.

If you are friends with me in person, on Facebook, or have interacted with me online, you might be wondering a few things.

For one, why am I talktative sometimes, and then suddenly seem to be ignoring you for ridiculously long periods of time? Or in some cases, drop off the face of the earth by disabling my Facebook?

And why do I decline video/voice calls and requests to hang out? Or say I will, but then change plans or never get back to you?

Why do I fail to follow through if I dare to make promises?

Here's the thing: I am not being a jerk.

I do not dislike you. You are not annoying.

I don't do these things because I want to purposely hurt people.

Yes, I do realize the consequences of my actions, and that whatever I do will inevitable affect people. I will take responsibility for that.

Just remember though: I am Autistic.

This isn't an excuse for everything. If I wrong you, I will apologize. I will try to make it right, and if I do not meet your expectations, I will distance myself so I won't cause you trouble.

I do not expect everyone to accept me; not everyone can handle me. That's okay.

But I do want to explain myself, in relation to being autistic. Because autism is a big, big factor in most aspects of my life:

  • I suffer from constant information overload.
    • Scrolling through Facebook on a bad day is paralyzing
    • Overhearing conversations can be aggravating
    • My unread emails give me a headache
    • Advertisements make me angry
  • I am overwhelmed at least 50% of the time (or more).
    • I've had to call in sick, skip school, and miss fun activities because I would peel off my face otherwise.
  • I have multiple, complex psychological problems that interfere with daily functioning and relationships.
    • Simply getting ready for bed or for class is psychological hell
    • Starting an unfamiliar task or homework assignment can make me cry
    • Worrying about unanswered questions wastes many of my hours

These things torment me. They distract me from doing what I really want to do, and from supporting the friends and family I love.

I try my best to be a good friend. I don't purposely seek to offend. But I might say I can't hang out, or not reply for ages, or not pick up hints, or say all the wrong things... I cannot ask you to not take it personally, because some of you inevitably will. But I do want you to remember that I don't do it on purpose.

I love you, and I care about you. I just cannot process life efficiently enough to show you.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I Am Not Lazy.

Rarely am I accused of being lazy, but the few times I had been have really stuck with me, sometimes making me wonder if it's true.

I usually get paranoid about being "lazy" if there's a particular task I am putting off. For instance, today was dedicated solely for reading three journal articles for my homework, and I ended up only spending an hour reading a portion of one. If I look at my whole day through the eyes of my initial expectations, I will say "Yes, I was lazy!" But when I look at everything I did that day, aside from the homework, my answer would be NO.

I fried eggs for breakfast, chopped up a salad for lunch, took my supplements/meds, washed the dishes, showered, groomed myself, and exercised on my bike. Between each of those was a large pocket of time for gently coaxing myself into switching tasks in the least painful way.

While it might look like procrastinating or getting caught up in "everyday tasks," I am actually working towards my assigned tasks by FIRST getting my needs out of the way. My general well-being demands a lot of my time and energy, but I MUST be okay first, because I literally cannot do what is expected of me unless I am balanced. So, homework ain't happening if I'm anxious or hungry or under-exercised.



Uninspiration exists, and inaction exists. But I think it has more to do with frustration, anxiety, or fear of failure. My creative road blocks come from my perfectionism, not laziness. My procrastination might look lazy, but the real problem is me not wanting to fail. I absolutely detest it when someone accuses another person of being lazy--I even consider it verbal abuse in some cases, and I see no purpose in it because it only reinforces the "lazy" behaviors. Calling someone lazy won't make them say, "Hmm, you are right, I will get up and be productive now." And even if they do, the real problem (whatever it is: burnout, anxiety, depression, etc.) likely isn't being addressed.

I try not to think too hard about the possibility of being lazy. Yes, there are times when I really do need to hurry up and get my butt moving, but my productivity gets worse if I beat myself up about it. Now that I am aware of my OCD, I can be more intentional about not letting my brain run away with the seductive lies. They are not real, and they are not me.

I am not lazy.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Why I Disappear

I had mentioned on my Facebook page that I would explain my absence. I didn't explain everything in my latest vlog, so I will do so in this post.

(And here's the video if you haven't seen it yet)

First reason for my absence: disappearing from social media, YouTube, and even real life is normal for me. I am very introverted, and my Asperger's and OCD (recently diagnosed, as I mention in my video--will elaborate more in future posts) keeps me too busy managing myself. Everyday things like cooking meals, doing laundry, or even getting out of bed take more time and effort than they should.

With the everyday things alone, I would probably be posting a bit more often. But when I'm in college or working, it's extremely difficult to do so even once a month (aside from my occasional "hey look at this" Facebook statuses that don't require much effort). Even so, I probably post a lot less than the average person. I know it doesn't matter, but it's hard not to feel anxious about keeping up, and I sometimes fear losing followers because I took a month to reply to my messages or couldn't keep a commitment to upload regularly.

Second reason for my absence: I'm adjusting to too many changes and my mental health has reached new depths of difficulty. I say "new depths" because it's not that I have suddenly declined and stayed that way, it's more that my "low points" have gotten even lower. I had a mental breakdown that led to me taking a semester off school, which isn't normal for me. I thought I'd get better over the summer (which I sort of did, gradually), but I had more mental freak-outs over seemingly small things, or for "no reason," and they were a lot scarier than my typical freak-outs.

As you can imagine, managing myself has taken up a lot of my time and energy, so I can't be as active in all areas as life without extreme caution. I do want to improve though, so I sought a diagnosis for OCD since I suspected for a long time that I had it. I just didn't think I needed a diagnosis--until I got a wake-up call from my increasingly distressed brain.

For now, I will do my best to at least post helpful videos, podcasts, and blog posts when I can. If you have any questions about mental health issues that you'd like me to address, please leave a comment.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

I Am Slow, And That’s Okay

“You need to work with more urgency.”

You’re kidding, right?

This about sums up my annual reviews from when I was working in retail. Every time it was the same.

I didn’t know it then, but turns out I wasn’t just a lazy worker. My disability did make me a bit slower, but I was more thorough and detail-oriented than many of my co-workers.

Unfortunately, what was considered more important in that workplace was speed.
Now that I think about it, speed is highly valued in our society. Good quality work is still important, but it’s expected to be done quickly or by a certain deadline.

panic attack
I have weird relationship with deadlines…

I would always beat myself up for not finishing on time. And I did that a lot, even with small things like laundry or cooking meals by a certain hour. It has been difficult for me not to feel rushed, even if no one is waiting on me, like when I am getting ready to go out on a quick errand (it takes me an hour to get out of the house). I get frustrated at myself for even being late for my own lunch + TV break, on my own schedule, when it really doesn’t matter.

When I get up in the morning and go about my routine, I notice how  s l o w l y  I walk, even when I feel energetic. I can force my body to go faster, but it feels unnatural and makes me anxious, as well as making me dizzy and giving me headrushes.

I would notice how it took my mom 15 minutes to do a quick surface-cleaning of the kitchen, while I would take an hour cleaning it thoroughly (I cannot bring myself to surface-clean).

It always bothered me how dreadfully slow I am compared to other people, how I couldn’t complete work on time, react quickly enough to social opportunities, etc.


Moon Flowers
This is just one example of what I create, from my various hobbies.

I sold this flowerpot for $10 (originally $15 but I gave a discount). I made it from scratch using various materials. How long do you think it took to make?

Well, $15 at minimum wage would cover about 1 1/2 hours of work.

It takes me 6-15 hours to make these flowerpots.

So, I have to sacrifice far more time and energy than the average person to get things done.

But the end result is worth it. I have been told that I am talented at what I do, and that once I take interest in a new hobby, I quickly become good at it.

Thing is, I am able to do that because I am slow, or as I ought to call it, “zen.” My natural zen pace allows me to focus on details and really establish them in my brain, rather than practicing with numerous (excuse my French) half-assed attempts. I want to do things right the first or second time, or I’d feel sorry for the half-assed creations that only served as a stepping stone.

In addition, my work leaps in quality the more I practice, since every attempt is relaxed, focused, and thorough.

Hence the huge difference between my first and second feature films:


Between these, I did get a bit of practice with (unfortunately) half-assed video projects in college, because taking forever to complete them wasn’t an option.

But I learned far more from pursuing larger film projects at my zen pace, than from many smaller projects at a rapid pace.


Getting caught up in fast lane is practically normal. There is far too much pressure to keep up! But when was the last time you slowed down? And who says you have to spend every moment in “work mode”?

Even if you are required to work, you don’t have to give in to the idea that your life is just work. It is possible to slow down, even if it’s simply taking a few minutes to appreciate something. Like…

Leaves rustling in the wind. The puffiness of the clouds. The aroma of your favorite food. The colors all around you. The beauty of a human being.

Even if you’re busy, you are capable of enjoying these things. There are so many details to appreciate, even at workplaces you don’t like, or with people you’re not fond of, or environments that aren’t ideal to you.

Even if you can’t slow your life, you can slow your mind. It’s like exploring deeper in the ocean—you’re bound to find some rarities not yet discovered!

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with slowing down.
Society seems to tell us that living at a million miles an hour is normal, but it takes a toll on the quality of our work and our lives. Creativity flourishes when we go at our own pace, rather than forcing it into a box of expectations.

So now I can say…

I am slow, and that’s okay.

In a chaotic world, I accept my zen and all the treasures I find along the way.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Autistic Pride Day - It's Not What You Think It Is.


So, I got a comment on this photo I posted.

(Note: I have deleted the comment so please do not attempt to track it down.)

This guy's comment makes sense to an extent, considering the fact that autism is labeled as a disorder and it does come with struggles and comorbid conditions. Plus, this person has a right to their own opinion, as does everyone else.

However, to someone who has spent most of their life coming to terms with my differences and accepting myself, his comment was unnecessary and a bit insensitive.

Autism is a huge part of who I am, as it affects just about every facet of my life.
Either this individual doesn't understand that, or perhaps he is an undiagnosed aspie with low self-esteem, or a stressed parent of a severely autistic child. If it's either of my last two assumptions, I'm guessing that he posted it out of bitterness. Either way, I disagree with his perspective.

I try to be a peacekeeper. So instead of replying to his comment, I decided to use it to educate others on the meaning of Autistic Pride Day in this blog post. I will also mention Autism Acceptance Day since they are related.

---Autism Acceptance Day---
This is the alternate name for Autism Awareness Day, as dubbed by autistics. Amongst the fear-mongering messages of those pushing "cures" for autism, autistics have begun to take a different approach, promoting acceptance and positivity towards autism, since it there is no cure. This positive perspective is often attributed to the Neurodiversity Movement, which is based on the idea that everyone's brains work differently and that's perfectly okay.

P.S.: I would have shared this for Autism Acceptance Day had I not been a bit paralyzed by all the negativity spreading around on social media... it still applies to Autistic Pride Day, so feel free to share it!

Autism is Me meme3
---Autistic Pride Day---

While Autistic Pride is similar to the Gay Pride movement, it is not the same in the sense that it has less to do with changing laws and more to do with changing perspectives. It seems to focus on dispelling the negative stigmas of autism to encourage a positive self-image in those on the spectrum.
Here is the definition:
Autistic Pride Day, an Aspies for Freedom initiative, is a celebration of the neurodiversity of people on the autism spectrum on 18 June each year.[1][2] Autistic pride recognises the innate potential in all people, including those on the autism spectrum.

How I see it, it’s a way to humanize autism. It shows that we are not just a cluster of symptoms. It shows that we all have a place in this world. It shows that like everyone else, we have our own unique personalities, perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses, and
we should accept each other as humans even if we are different.


Like any social movement (i.e. gay rights, women’s rights, etc.), there are
several sides to the issues surrounding autism. And like any social movement, there is the potential for (and has been) much hostility between those with different perspectives.

Here are several sides that contribute to the debates on autism:
(Note: By “cure” I don’t mean treatment, I am referring to the elimination of autism.) 
- Autistics- supporting Neurodiversity, supporting treatment
- Autistics- supporting Neurodiversity, opposing treatment
- Neurotypicals- supporting Neurodiversity, supporting treatement
- Neurotypicals- supporting Neurodiversity, opposing treament
- Neurotypicals- supporting a cure
- Autistics- supporting a cure (ironically)

Among these, it seems that the three groups where the most dissention occurs is between parents of severely autistic children, scientists with the curist mindset, and autistics supporting Neurodiversity.


In addition to everyone getting their metaphorical panties in a bunch, here are two reasons for hurt feelings and senseless arguing in the autism debate that I see in other movements:
1. Those on opposing sides cannot empathize with each other, and/or do not attempt to understand the other perspectives.
2. There is a severe lack of sensitivity and caution in interacting with opposing sides.

Allow me to elaborate...
1. Let's face it: Everyone's metaphorical shoes are a different size. We may be able to relate on some things, but each person's experience is unique to them. When people of the same social group ban together, it is more difficult to see an individual's perspective due to unavoidable stereotypes and generalizations of that entire group. Unfortunately, many contributors to debates are rigid and unwilling to listen to those they disagree with.
2. Those on either side may demonize the perspectives of opposing groups, even if the opposing opinions are shared in a sensitive way. It doesn't help that some make hurtful statements and generalizations without considering its impact.

In conclusion, there will always be someone who disagrees with me.

That's fine.

I'll do my best to ignore unhelpful comments, but I will surely speak up when someone crosses a line.

I used to be as (internally) negative about autism like the fellow who commented on my page (mostly involving hating myself rather than lashing out), but I realized that got me nowhere. Especially since releasing my documentary, I am finding others like me and learning how to slowly repair the damage done by the negative stigmas attached to my diagnosis.

That is why I embrace Autistic Pride. Because to me, accepting oneself is important to having a fulfilling life.

This is what Autistic Pride means to us.

(actual quotes from autistic people)

"I can stop hiding in the shadows and shine bright, how I was meant to."
~Tracey Maksymowicz

"Autistic pride as a movement is very, very meaningful to me. I was diagnosed in July 2009 at the age of 20 - late, because girls are inevitably diagnosed later and that needs to stop - and I initially felt so, so alone, almost as if I was now officially on the outside looking in at society. It felt like a label that said 'I don't belong here.' When I started blogging about my autism, however, I discovered a huge community of fellow autistic adults, people like me who were seeking to be understood and accepted by society, and I realized that yes, I do belong here. I belong on this earth, in this society that may not be ready to accept me yet but someday will. I'm determined to insure that this society takes me as who I am, not who it wants me to. I am good, I am valid, I am autistic. And nobody can take that away from me."

"Autistic pride to me means embracing the special operating system you were created with. It means shining like the star you were born to be. Autistic pride is my driving force to help other autistics learn to do the same, and to flourish!"

"To accept and be proud of who I am and what I can achieve if I believe. To find happiness my own way and to never let limitations set by others stop me from accomplishing my dreams."

“We're different than normies, but we are equal. We have disadvantages and advantages just like they do, but different sets.”

"Enjoying being me, the real one that stops and stares at a tiny water drop slowly falling from a leaf, the sun making it shimmer and dance, while the world scurries past and misses the beauty of the world around."
~Heather Lamb

"Not proud to be autistic but proud to be openly autistic. To be able to say loudly I'm autistic without thinking it's something to hide or to be ashamed of. Being able to defy the paradigm of pathology and give others a new, more self-caring way, to see themselves."
~Mónica Vidal Gutiérrez

"Autistic pride means being sure of your self-identity, and not ashamed of it. It means knowing you are different, and celebrating those differences and not hiding them. It's about saying that autistic is not less, it's just a different way of being human."
~Shayna Gier

"It means finally being able to celebrate all of me... even the parts I had hidden away."
~Jennifer Felden

"Autistic pride means having a solid understanding and acceptance of who you are deep down -- both your strengths and your challenges -- and then knowing that you absolutely belong in the world and sharing yourself with others."
~Nadya Gomez

"Being happy and proud of who I am. Even if other people don't see my accomplishments or personality the same way I do."
~Shmoo Zissou

"For me, Autistic Pride means happiness in finding my own ways of living life. My mind is wired differently from most people, and my real self is almost always evident."
~Noah Weiss

"For me that term would mean to acknowledge and celebrate that autism and Asperger's Syndrome is an integral part of who you are."
~Michael Lopez

"Autistic pride means for me is that you shouldn't let having Autism limit you from being able to do things that you want to do in life."
~Emily Caron

"It means that I can be myself, no matter if the majority of people don't understand, simply put."
~Ryan Duffy

"What that means to me is embracing who I am, with my strengths and weaknesses. I love knowing that my creativity can bring me joy and good humor when I share it with loved ones. I love that my gifts can also be a fundamental aspect of expressing my thoughts and feelings. I've learned to like the unique quirks and tics about myself along the way. But most of all, I love how working with my condition has inspired me to become a better human being and it has helped others see the world from another angle. That is what I am proud of."
~Nathan Cook

"For me, it means pride in my son, who is different, not less."
~Kristina Murray

"It means that I'm weird, you're weird, we're all weird let's all go be weird together."
~Kayla Gasztonyi

"It means I am not alone. I am not some one-off broken person. I am special and unique but there are others like me. Others have the same benefits and deficits I do just perhaps differently, but we are all family. Not feeling alone, feeling like part of a community."
~Arianna Christina Brandstetter
“I am proud to be Autistic simply because I am proud of being me, and autism is a part of it. <3"
~Tina Robol Scricciolo
“It means being proud of our differences. And accepting ourselves for who we are no matter what others think of us. Being able to live every day to the fullest we can and make of it. And not worrying so much about what others think. Especially if we have even just a few people who we know deep down love and care for us.”                                  ~Sarah White Wolf Whalley 
"I understand Pride as a perversion of self-respect. My Father created me, and he makes no mistakes, I'm just called to overcome I rely on my Father to cause me to overcome. And my love for him grows."                                                                             ~Daniel Gow 
"It means accepting myself as I am instead of trying to force myself to emulate a level of normal that I will never achieve. It means understanding my limitations and knowing that it's alright to take care of myself. It means speaking up for other, nonverbal Autistics, that we are still human, many of us are intelligent, and we are not a blight to be cured, but a difference to be embraced. Neurodiversity is as important as Biodiversity, and it's long past time society acknowledged it."
~Kat Nelson

What does Autistic Pride mean to you? Comment below! :)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pet Therapy for Mental Health

I find that a lot of aspies I know (including myself) own pets, and they seem to benefit from them (I know I love my dog!). Pets can offer unconditional, non-judgemental love, not caring whether you have a disbility or differences.

The following are stories about two aspies and their pets. I uploaded a video so you can see some footage of them, but their full stories are below.

Katie and Her Dogs, Molly and Max:
KT Molly
"Molly was everything to me. She was by my side when no one else would or could be. She stayed with me at night when I was alone and afraid of everything. When I could not sleep because of self-deprecating thoughts or nightmares she stayed by me and let me hug her till they went away. She never made me feel like I was stupid or dumb or pointless or worthless. She never told me who I was supposed to be, just that I wasn't a bad person. She never judged me or told me that wanting to hide was a bad thing. She stood by me and helped me feel strong when everything else said I wasn't. She never complained when I would hug her for hours on end. She was smart and loyal and loving. This is why she is one of the best things to ever happen to me, and this is why my boyfriend is now the best thing to ever happen to me. I love them both."
~ Katie McKellar

"Molly was adopted from Anderson Animal Shelter when Katie was 10. She was a mutt, very smart with a wonderful personality. We visited the shelter many times looking for the right dog. Finally we saw Molly. All the dogs were in their pens. The other dogs were barking like crazy and Molly was sitting quietly looking at us. We took her for a walk to get to know her, she began to respond to basic commands, sit, etc. The kids picked her. Molly had to stay a few days until she could be spayed. We went back to visit Molly everyday until she was ready to come home. Katie and Molly made an instant bond. Molly was 1-1/2 years old at the time.
Some friends owned Max when they decided he wasn't a good fit for their family of young children. Max is a Mini Australian Shepherd, he was born to herd, and he constantly herded their toddlers. Our children were older so he was a better fit for our family. Max was 6 months old. Katie was 19 when we adopted Max.

Molly was Katie's emotional foundation. But, when she got her first hamster we discovered she could focus on studies better if she held the hamster. Holding the hamster while she did schoolwork seemed to eliminate her ADD fidgetiness so she could think and focus."
~ Carol McKellar, Katie's mother

Stephanie and Her Cat, Murphy:

(View the original post on Tumblr)

“This is going to be a pretty emotional story, so brace yourselves if you haven’t heard about my cat Murphy yet.
In 2009, when I was a sophomore in college, I suffered a mental breakdown due to my OCD taking over my brain. I wasn’t able to concentrate on my schoolwork, my social life, or really anything because the OCD thoughts were constantly in my brain and wouldn’t shut off. They were the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I thought of before I eventually drifted off to sleep after agonizing hours of laying awake and trying to make the thoughts stop.

The thoughts were so relentless that my brain even suggested that the only way out was to die. I didn’t want to commit suicide and the fact that my brain even thought that in the first place terrified me, so I started getting help from one of the campus psychologists. She told me that I definitely did have OCD and began seeing me weekly, but I was still struggling mightily - even two of my professors that semester noticed that I was off and asked me about it. (To this day, their words mean a lot to me - it’s so nice to know when your teachers care.)
And then I found a cat.

A friend of my future roommate and I had been walking back to his dorm with one of his roommates when they’d heard a kitten crying. Some other people in the building had attempted to coax him out with a can of tuna, but he refused to budge. My future roomie and I sprang into action and went over to help. I used to volunteer in the cat ward of a local non-kill animal shelter, so I instructed the others to nudge the kitten out from the back into my arms. They did so, and I picked him up and wrapped him up in my jacket.

He didn’t shut up. (That’s him and me.)

After a while, he settled in and fell asleep in my room. I then attempted to bring him to the animal shelter near my college, but it was closed on Tuesdays. It was fate, so I named him after my current favorite player on the Mets, Daniel Murphy, and he stayed in my room for the week until my parents came out and picked him up.

We practiced eating dry food - he was only six weeks old or so when I found him and hadn’t been weaned when he was separated from his mother. We cuddled and played and learned how to use the litter box like an adult and were generally only separated when I went to class. It gave me a purpose again - I had someone to take care of and worry about, someone who unconditionally loved me back.

It’s been almost four and a half years since my mental breakdown now. Murphy still lives with me and we adore each other’s company - he cuddles with me at night, follows me around the house, and chirps at me when he wants my attention.

He never stopped talking.

This cat indisputably saved my life. He’s the reason I’m writing this answer for you to read right now. He’s the reason I graduated on time and am now in graduate school. He’s the reason I’m still breathing. I owe him absolutely everything. He’s the most incredible cat I’ve ever had the fortune to meet, and he means the world to me.

I may have saved his life that night by bringing him into my dorm room wrapped up in my jacket, but he definitely saved me, too.”
~ Stephanie Dioro

Looking into animal therapy or Emotional Support Animals? Resources below:

The Health Benefits of Dogs (and Cats):

Pets for Depression and Health:

Benefits of Pet Therapy:

What is a Service Animal?
"Service animals are dogs (and in some cases, miniature horses) trained to perform major life tasks to assist people with physical or severe psychiatric impairments/disabilities. Service animals are sometimes referred to as assistance animals, assist animals, support animals, or helper animals depending on the country and the animal's function."
- NSAR (National Service Animal Registry) Website
More info on Service Animals:

Register a Service Dog:

What is a Therapy Animal?
"The primary purpose of a therapy animal is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties."
- NSAR (National Service Animal Registry) Website

More info on Therapy Animals:

Register a Therapy Animal to help others:

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses trained animals to enhance an individual's physical, emotional and social well-being
- American Humane Association
More info on AAT:

What Is An Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
"An emotional support animal (ESA) is a person's pet that has been prescribed by a person's licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist (any licensed mental health professional). The animal is part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person's emotional/psychological disability."
- NSAR (National Service Animal Registry) Website
More info on ESA's:

Do you qualify for an ESA?:
Register an ESA:
Alternate ESA registration: 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Keeping Enthusiasm Alive in the Real World

Remember my last blog post, I Don't Wanna Grow Up? I talked about how I wanted to regain my childlike mindset. As someone on the autism spectrum, I realized that a big part of that (for me) is keeping my “obsessive interests” alive.

Now, obsessing can be good or bad. What I discuss in this vlog is an example of "bad" obsessing for me:

But in this post, I'm talking about a GOOD kind of obsessing, involving extreme interest in things that HELP--not HINDER--one's mental health. I’ll call them “enthusiams,” to distinguish from the “bad” obsessing. For instance, it's not necessarily bad if an aspie really loves video games, as long as it doesn't hinder their ability to function normally. An Enthusiasm should provide an aspie relief from stress and keep them content.

However, it is more difficult to maintain Enthusiams as one gets older, for many reasons. For me, it affects...
  1. Friendships: Over-enthusiasm can freak people out or bore them to death. (i.e. talking about Pokemon for two hours straight)
  2. Productivity: I lose interest in things I SHOULD be doing.
  3. Time: Time flies, and I'm not getting any younger.
  4. "Better" Things: I had a feeling that I was "missing out" on life. (for the record, I was wrong--my brain is WAY better than what the Real World has to offer)

One example of an Enthusiam for me:
My childhood interest in superheroes and cartoons.

I was a HUGE fan of CARTOON NETWORK in the 90's and early 2000's, and my favorite show was Teen Titans. I didn't just like the show... I felt the show. What I mean by this is that I was so emotionally invested in it that I felt like I was a part of it, and turning off the TV to live real life again was a Shock to my system.

I also had a serious crush on Beast Boy.

When I got older, my interests changed and I became obsessed with pirates. I "lived" the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

I wanted to live out my fantasy of being a pirate, so I decided to make my own pirate movie. The finished film is by no means professional, but it was one of my biggest dreams I had ever accomplished, so I am proud of it!
(You can watch the film here.)
Cursed Waters 5 Year Anniversay (smaller) Big shoutout to my awesome friends and family who helped me produce it!

Like with my previous interests, a defining feature of each of these Enthusiams is the Shock factor of coming back to reality. As you can imagine, I had to experience this “shock" more and more often as reality creeped to the forefront of my adult life. Hence, reasons not to pursue obsessions have been DRILLED into my brain over time. Whenever I felt a new Enthusiasm developing, I didn't let it surface. I had to keep up with everyone else.

I know this is why my mental health has declined as I've grown older. In the Real World, so many things pull you back into REALITY. A schedule to keep up with, events to prepare for, bills to pay, emails to reply to, social obligations, people to listen to, family to attend to, etc. etc. It makes me depressed, anxious, and numb.

All of this makes it very difficult to maintain hobbies and even any desire for them--and they often leave me with a lingering sense of futility. This is very sad, because my Enthusiams have been a huge part of my life. Without them, I am depressed and apathetic.

I didn't even notice at first that I was losing my Enthusiasm. But as years passed, I slowly realized what was happening, and I was scared that I would lose it forever.
But it wasn't too late for me.

After a mental breakdown that led to me taking a semester off school, I focused solely on improving my mental health. This journey has taken me through all the things I hate about myself, like my workaholic tendencies and inability to focus. I realized that I have been limiting myself, and I need to allow myself to enjoy things no matter how odd they may seem. I need to follow my creative desires wherever they may take me, without worrying too much about other people or the boundaries of the Real World.

This opened up my heart and mind to seek new Enthusiasms. I am starting to watch more cartoons and movies, avoiding the strictly "gourmet" 90's kid mindset. There are a lot of great hobbies and media to enjoy in this generation, even if they are different! You just gotta look for them.

Two shows I have been obsessing over recently are Gravity Falls and Steven Universe (lol don't judge, 90's kids). My interest is Gravity Falls is waning a little now that it's over, so I've switched to Steven Universe. I NEVER thought I'd watch that show--I assumed it was cruddy like a lot of other new cartoons.

And now, I can't even express how much I like Steven Universe and how much it has helped me since it became my new obsession. The story is skillfully structured and the characters are interesting. I love the fantasy  elements and the variety in the show, and I never thought there'd be so many feels in it! It is also a well-developed world that shows many perspectives.

I find the characters refreshing and relateable. None are stuffed into a stereotype and they are very complex. They are more like real people than I've seen in other cartoons, and more importantly, they are like MY people... they show traits that aren’t often represented positively in the media, like anxiety and OCD tendencies (*ahem* Pearl), yet these traits are normalized in the show.

Everything must be just so.

I could go on for hours about Steven Universe, but alas, this is a blog post, not a TV show review.

So how does an aspie maintain Enthusiasms while living in the Real World?
It's not easy, but it’s doable.

I realize that while my Enthusiams can no longer be the sole focus of my life, they can linger even when I'm doing other things. I could be playing a mental montage of my favorite moments from Steven Universe while I do the dishes, or ponder ideas for Vael while watering the plants, or monologue my next blog post to myself while driving places.

While I embrace my Enthusiasms, I have to manage my feelings about them--sometimes I despise Real World tasks for taking me away from what I love , even if it's just for a short time. Or, I get WAY too into my obsession and it starts to feel wrong.

Either way, I should not have a negative association with them.
I may run into issues like this otherwise:

  1. I will stop functioning normally in favor of my obsessions
  2. I will set aside my obsessions completely to live a "normal" yet depressed life.
    (^ My black-and-white all-or-nothing thinking right there.)
In the aspie world of black-and-white (as well as "all-or-nothing") thinking, it's especially important to find a balance, as I have stated in previous posts.

With practice, I've learned to suppress my obsessions just enough so that they are manageable, but not so much that I can't enjoy them. Like I mentioned earlier,  it helps me to think about them while doing other things to motivate me. It's actually quite easy for me since I'm an imaginative visual thinker. I can "become" my Enthusiam if I wish to, even if that interest has nothing to do with what's in front of me in the Real World (i.e. errands, dishes).

Becoming My Obsession
If I have been watching a show, playing a game, etc. often enough, specific elements of them (usually characters or places) stick in my head as images.

pearl content sword fighting
Pearl suprised shocked STEVEN
While the images are incredibly varied in content and detail, I get a lot of facial expressions to either match or influence my mood.
{Character: Pearl from Steven Universe)

In the same way, images of familiar places from media also reflect or change my mood.
{Images in order: “Spritied Away,” “Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” “Shadow of the Colossus,” “RealMyst”)

My mind can easily mesh with the feelings or "aura" I associate with those images. When I was younger, sometimes my outward actions would reflect this inward state. Here is one example, with me acting in a short play I wrote:
This is me mimickinglicking a specific hand gesture of Guybrush Threepwood, a pirate character I liked at the time.

When I was in college, my stress levels suppressed my visual mind. So I couldn't "become" my obsessions anymore, for a long time. But I regained this ability after taking the semester off, and it's helped me a lot!

Currently, the character my mind chose to fixate on is Pearl from Steven Universe (it’s probably obvious, considering the above images), since I identify with her the most, and her demeanor and movements often reflect how I feel. She is also prone to being a little neurotic like I am. :P

Allowing the Obsession
I have found that by allowing myself to engage with my Enthusiasm on a daily basis (or at least every other day), I function better with other tasks. One thing I try hard NOT to do though, is to use my obsession as a reward for other tasks. Enthusiasms or “obsessive interests” for aspies are more like coping mechanisms, not privileges. There should be at least one activity of intense interest that is allowed routinely.
For me, it is crucial to my sanity.

My Enthusiasms changes sometimes, so I always plan to do what I am currently interested in until it serves its purpose. Usually I know to change my routine interest once I no longer feel any excitement over my current one. It can be anything--a particular TV show, a video game, sitting in the sun, drawing, etc.

Overall, it is crucial for aspies to engage with their interests.

Obsessions can be good or bad depending on whether it helps or hinders their daily functioning. From my experience, it helps to get to know your own needs and what feels natural to you, and to find your own method of balancing interaction with Your World and the Real World.