Thursday, October 12, 2017

I'm Not Perfect: My Meltdown

I hate to admit this, but as an autistic advocate I need to be honest: I had a meltdown yesterday.

"To Dare" by autistic artist Donna Williams

It was a difficult day to begin with. I was doing my best to adapt to unexpected schedule changes (by not thinking about them and pretending I'm OK--bad idea). I had the beginnings of a cold as well. I was with Matt (my fiance) at his college, sitting in a crowded, muggy library trying hard to function despite everything and get some writing done, and then I discovered that someone stole my lunch. That was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I was outwardly annoyed and inwardly upset, but I held it in all day until I got home and could be alone. I cried for several hours feeling like crap for being upset over something so "small."

I couldn't turn my brain off to sleep that night, thinking over and over how I'm just an ungrateful burden that doesn't deserve my fiancé or anything I have. I thought: I'll never get a job, and if I do, I only deserve a minimum wage one (despite my college degree) and am doomed to choose between acting "normal" or being rejected.

Of course, these are not necessarily true, but these worries crop up when my weakness starts to show.

Let me point out that everyone (even NT's) experiences a sort of "meltdown" in the form of "general adaptation syndrome" or how we respond to stress. Meltdowns are not just an autistic response, but a more noticeable response that seems "extreme" to others because they have a higher stress tolerance and normal senses. Little do they know how much we put up with, and how hard we work to smile regardless of it.


When I say "meltdown" I am also referring to "shutdowns." "Meltdowns" are usually defined as angry outbursts that look like tantrums, but in adults it tends to not be as obvious (mine are more like shutdowns) and behavior varies from person to person.


1. Don't hold it in.
Seriously. But I don't mean lash out without restraint: I mean don't stuff it down for too long, because like a can of soda in the freezer, it will explode at some point! It's better to handle it sooner than let it fester.

2. Escape.
This can be a physical place (like a dark, comfortable room) or when that's not an option, a safe haven for your mind (like playing a phone game that calms you down, or ranting your worries to a trusted friend).

3. Express.
You need to let it out. If social communication is difficult, express how you feel in other ways: write, paint, listen to music, dance, cry, yell, stim... whatever releases those emotions. Writing this blog post has helped me in the recovery process.

4. Apologize.
Meltdowns are not your fault! But chances are, the other person doesn't know that, especially if they are unaware of your autism or how meltdowns work. They might be confused, upset, or annoyed, so an apology will help them be calm and listen to you. Be sure to recover as much as possible before approaching them.

5. Educate.
Explain how your autism affects you, and how you perceive the triggers that can lead up to a meltdown. If this person is a friend, family member, teacher, or someone you will spend a lot of time with, give some pointers on how to identify a meltdown, and how they can respond in a way that doesn't worsen, but helps the situation. While other people aren't responsible for your well-being, a helpful response can smooth out the process of calming down and make it easier on both people.


1. Don't express disapproval.
"Again? *sighs*"   "You're just overreacting."   "Calm down because I'm too busy for this."
Please don't say things like this. Save those thoughts for later, and confide in another person (not the person in meltdown) after the situation de-escalates. Keep in mind that the autistic person is not intentionally acting that way. In fact, they probably already feel ashamed about it--so expressing frustration, disapproval, or general negative feelings (like suggesting they are a burden) about their meltdown will only make them feel worse and want to shut you out.

2. Know ahead of time what they need.
It's easier to ask how to react to meltdowns when they are not already melting down. Ask if touch is helpful or not (like a hug, deep pressure, etc), or if they need a quiet, dark room to calm down, what coping mechanisms help (i.e. stim toys, games, music), etc.

3. Keep communication simple.
If they are in meltdown, ask what you can do to help with as few words as possible. Avoid figures of speech, sarcasm, and anything that is not honest and literal statements. Give them the option of texting or writing their response if necessary. If they don't respond to verbal expression, try texting or writing your question. Yes or no questions are best, like: "Want to be alone?" "Do you need quiet?" "Are the lights too bright?" "Do you feel ignored?" "Are you hungry/thirsty/tired etc.?"

4. Listen.
When the autistic person tries to communicate, listen and reassure them that you are listening. Feeling ignored can make the meltdown worse. And, you might get some vital information about what's upsetting them and how you can help.

5. Reassure them that they are not a burden.
For me, half of my upset is me feeling guilty about my meltdown. Feeling like a burden makes the situation worse and prolong it. Being assured that I am loved even at my worst is one of the best things for me to hear, and can snap me out of it enough to take care of myself and recover more efficiently from the meltdown.

How do you deal with meltdowns? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Undersell Myself

If you've seen my video about selling stock footage, well... disregard that.

(I've made it unlisted to avoid misleading my viewers, but you can still watch it here.)

I wanted to do something good by selling stock footage at low prices for small-budget filmmakers.
But here's the thing: I tend to undersell myself.

More on that in a bit, though. Here's what I decided to change: I will reset the prices on my stock footage clips to reflect their actual quality. And because most are of professional quality (like most other clips on Pond5), excessively low prices might make potential buyers suspicious and decide not to purchase them. I want to be tactful in regards to what the market is like, and not just jump in selling these for pennies when I could be actually supporting myself (Pond5 takes 50% of the profits anyway).

Back to the point on underselling. 
This may be blog about Asperger's, but I believe this issue to be relevant to other adults on the spectrum, especially those who are sick of the workforce and/or want to make a living for themselves.

Here are my top 3 reasons I may undersell myself:
1. I’m indecisive.
2. I'm too nice.
3. I believe my effort is worth less.

Let’s start with #1.

1. I’m indecisive.
My family, friends, and followers who have known me long enough have probably noticed this at least once. I take forever when I shop, trying to find EXACTLY what I’m looking for (hence why I usually do my shopping alone), and I stare at restaurant menus for ages. Ask me which of my hobbies I like best, and at one moment I’ll say “writing” and at another I’ll say “video games.” A post might appear on my Facebook timeline, but then disappear because I got self-conscious about it. And I might schedule and cancel social plans on impulse—I’m better about that now, but my anxiety and “lack of spoons” is still an obstacle.

2. I’m too nice.
Yes, there is such a thing as being too nice.
Truth is, I'm too much of a lady to be a professional business person. I'm not saying women can't be successful business people, as I know of quite a few—I’m personally just too squishy and compassionate to rob people of their hard-earned cash.

One example is my flowerpot decorations.

They are intricate and take a lot of time to make. I listed some of these online for $15, a fair price in my opinion, even though I spend up to 6 hours making each one (that's $0.40/hr). They didn't sell very well. I was only able to sell one for $10, and another for $3 to a college student--because how could I take money from a poor college student? The rest of the flowerpots became gifts for my loved ones.

One exception was when I had a booth for several of my products including my documentary DVD's, handmade soot sprite keychains, and one flowerpot for $30 at a graduation event for my transition program (I was invited back years after my graduation to speak at this one). A graduate eagerly bought it for full price with her graduation money; I was happy that she genuinely seemed to like it. Not to mention that it was a huge self-esteem boost for me.

Not the exact one, but same style.

Being a freelancer is my only option right now due to life circumstances, so of course I will give it a try and learn from my mistakes. But I've made quite a few mistakes in an attempt to be nice. And that's my problem: I'm too nice! Being too nice is incompatible with being a profitable business. It kinda sucks, because I want to be helpful and volunteer my time and effort on behalf of others who don't have a lot of money. But I also want to be able to eat, pay my bills, and have a comfortable place to live.

3. I believe my effort is worth less.
Not "worthless," but unhelpful and/or worth less compared to others.
I honestly hate setting prices for anything I sell, whether it's my stock footage or eBay items, because sometimes I don't think my time or effort is worth shiz. I wonder sometimes if the lack of sales causes me to undersell, or if the underselling causes the lack of sales. Or perhaps my negative thinking is bringing negative outcomes, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I do realize that part of this is my attitude: I find it very difficult to be internally positive. I blame my self-perfectionism: any tiny infraction, even "normal" human things like me halfway doing the dishes, is unforgivable to me. But I'm certain that this immense guilt comes with the Asperger's package.

Feeling lower than dirt is a universal struggle, but it is especially hard for an aspie to avoid. We may be able to hide our difference (especially as adults), but it will inevitably surface long enough for someone to notice, reminding us of all the times we were corrected, scolded, even bullied as a child because we didn't understand some unspoken social rule or reacted to a painful sensory experience no one else was experiencing.

Years of that can make one feel as though their needs don't matter. That their experience in invalid. And constantly being compared to others may teach them that they will never meet "normal" expectations, never get a job, never find love, and never contribute anything significant to society. Not to mention that being lumped together with the disabled or "special ed" community may place untrue stereotypes on us, like the idea that disabled folks will only ever have minimum-wage jobs.

It's difficult to change your attitude when your negative to positive ratio is 4:1. It's even harder to do knowing that the world loves confident, positive people (especially in the workforce). I really want to be positive! But if I act that way all the time, I might be lying about how I really feel, and I always want to tell the truth. (But I will try to be more positive anyway!)

In conclusion...

I really do want to be successful, to be hired or start my own (profitable) business. I want to show the world just how useful I am. I have a college degree and the skills to do great things. I work hard, and while I may not be as efficient, my results can be high quality. I want to help others and be a fresh, smiling face amongst the tired ones whose years of work has made them sluggish. I suppose I have an advantage in that sense: I’ve got pent-up energy and I’m ready to use it. Hey, there's something positive!

Stay tuned for my future post on autistic women in the workplace.