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How To Care For Your Autistic Partner

It is my opinion that because I have autism and anxiety, I am going to process my emotions, feelings, and environment in a way that a non-autistic person may not.  Personally, I like to think of autistic vs. not-autistic people in the same way I think of Apple Mac’s vs. Microsoft’s personal computers (PC’s).  They both operate in different ways, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they are both computers.  Likewise, an autistic human is still a human; they just operate a little differently than most.  (I wish this simple fact was understood by the majority of the population!) 

Likewise, I think it’s absolutely necessary to emphasize the fact that autistic individuals feel emotions.  To put it bluntly, we aren’t robots!  The emotions we feel are big, powerful, and often overwhelming.  It can even cause panic attacks.  

Relationships, like any other form of bonded socialization ─ I.E., friendships ─ take a bit more work for us sometimes.  That said, I would argue that any good relationship ─ neurotypical or autistic, romantic or platonic ─ requires some serious dedication for that matter. 

While every autistic individual’s experience is completely unique due to autism’s mighty diversity, I want to take some time to address common experiences mixed with some very personal examples to create a helpful ─ but in no way “exhaustive” ─ guide for any non-Autistic person out there.  My next blog post will be for the autistic person: how we can return our partner’s care and meet their needs as they ought to meet our’s.  (Relationships, after all, are about “give and take.”) 

1) Your autistic partner may need constant reassurance. Please give it to them!

There have been several times in a single, five-minute moment where I will sit there and ask my partner, “how are you feeling?”  This is usually followed up by questions like, “am I doing this task correctly?”  Or, “Are you thirsty? Can I get you a bite to eat?”  Of course, most folks will often get annoyed at the fact that the autistic partner is asking too many questions, or the same question repeatedly.  This is not our intention!  In my experience, I want my boyfriend to be happy and cared for.  In fact, “I care for you,” is something we have been saying in lieu of “the L-word” due to the fact that its far too early to say “I love you” ─ plus, “I care for you” is much more personable.  

2) Autistic people often have special interests ─ topics or subjects that they are super passionate about.  Respect those passions!

Perhaps the healthiest thing you can do for your autistic partner is to listen.  I know for a fact that my jeans-and-a-shirt boyfriend doesn’t share my love and passion for fashion in the slightest.  Where I see fashion as a means of feeling confident ─ a silent statement, a means of feeling confident ─ my boyfriend sees vanity.  If he’s getting a compliment on his shirt, it’s likely because of the anime character embalmed on it.  

Having said that, he meets me in the middle, and for that I am thankful.  Daniel will engage in this passion of mine by helping me scour the racks for things I may like.  He suggests I should shop practically instead of impulsively.  I completely doubt this is his idea of a universally fun outing, but he takes the time to care.  

My Mama always said that Dad seldom buys her flowers.  Instead, he gives my Mama the gift of changing the oil in the car, mowing the lawn, working hard for our family, and making a pretty sweet creek in our backyard.  Likewise, Daniel’s way of caring for me is by taking the time to make sure I have cute clothes to wear.  He sits there and lets me play my favorite love songs to him, as, I hope, he knows that I’m quite the soppy romantic.  Everyone will tell you “I care for you” in different ways. My boyfriend displays it by taking the time to let me vent, let me go shopping (on a budget), and let me be Morgan.

3) Sensory overload is a real thing. 

Respect us when we say that we are physically, mentally, and/or emotionally overstimulated.  We aren’t “snowflakes” ─ and I’m tired of that ableist term being thrown around in politics.  As I said previously, we are humans with big emotions.  We can often feel things to a point where it starts to become painful and confusing.  

Early on in the relationship, I told Daniel that loud noises trigger me to a point where the anxiety attacks feel like heart attacks. Triggers include screaming children, balloons, and fireworks.  I have gotten better about learning to calm myself down whenever I see or hear a trigger of mine, but it still doesn’t negate the fact that it’s a trigger.

Daniel owns a Soda Stream, a device that allows you to make your own soda at home.  The device uses CO2 canisters to carbonate water for the soda.  One time, Daniel let out some of the CO2 gas for a few seconds, creating a triggering hissing sound.  In response, my heartbeat escalated and anger seeped out of my voice. “Can you please never do that again?  My autism doesn’t like that!”  I snapped.  Daniel abruptly apologized at the sight of a distraught Morgan, vowing never to do it again.  He also gave me a hug, my way of signifying that I am sorry or that I have forgiven someone.

Similarly, it can be all too easy for an autistic person ─ or any neurodiverse individual ─ to have sudden panic attacks.  These can be traced from obvious sources, such as a busy party, or a grocery store with industrial lighting, too many noisy shoppers, and a million colorful objects for sale on the shelves.  Other times, panic attacks are random; they just happen.  I have had moments where my environment was completely calm and collected, and all of a sudden my mind starts to race and my heartbeat picks up.  Finally, even the smallest things can be overwhelming to us.  Having to do a chore or take a shower may seem like a basic part of being an adult human being, but to those who have executive functioning struggles, these “simple” tasks can be damning.  Whatever the source or whatever situation your partner may have a panic attack over, it should be in your best interest to be their supporter during that stressful time.  I personally suggest you take a moment to “TALK” to them:

T ─ Talk in a calm, soothing manner.

A ─ Ask them what is wrong and how you can help them. 

L ─ Listen to what they need.  Talk only to confirm what they need. (“Do you want a glass of water or your stimming toy?”)(

K ─ Know their needs.  We all have different ways of reacting to stress.  Perhaps your autistic partner has a favorite plush toy they take with them everywhere?  Maybe they want someone to hold their hand or give them a hug? 

By knowing your partner’s preferred way of destressing, you are able to help get them to a calmer state of mind, and a happier them. 

4) Sarcasm or teasing can often go “over our heads,” being misunderstood as something to be taken literally. 

If you are going to say something you think is sarcastic, witty, or in good humor, make sure to clarify that you’re being funny or sarcastic. 

On this very night, I told Daniel that the two large mugs of coffee I had made me feel “pleasantly warm and buzzed.”  My boyfriend, translating this statement to equal drunkenness,  asked if I added a bit of Bailey’s to my coffee.  I insisted I did no such thing.  My boyfriend cracked a joke that was in reference to a video game we both loved, called Among Us.  “Ur acting kinda sus,” he replied to me over Messenger.  When I took him literally, Daniel made sure that I knew he was just having fun ─ and using the opportunity to make the perfect Among Us joke.  While I was about 75% sure he was just teasing me, it took all of three seconds for him to type, “I’m just joking, I trust you.” 

(To explain the joke, in the game, the “crewmates” ask each other a series of questions to find out who the two “imposters” are. “Ur acting kinda sus” essentially translates to “you are acting suspiciously.”)

Again, its the little things that help the autistic partner out so much! 

5) “Don’t let the elephant sit in the room for too long” ─ Daniel

(Translation: Don’t let your burning questions go unanswered!)

I am very happy to be in a serious relationship with a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.  If there is something I need to work on, Daniel always addresses it.  Likewise, when I have a serious question, I am able to ask Daniel without it being “awkward” or without feeling like I have asked a ridiculous question.  Already in our three months of dating, we have talked about a wide range of subjects.  These include finances and money, me moving in with him, what our plans are for the upcoming holiday season, and what chores we both need to work on during Daniel’s weekends.  Sometimes the conversations are easy; other times it feels like you’re, well, asking an awkward question.  No matter what, communication is key.  If you’re in a steady, healthy relationship, you should be able to have those difficult conversations without fear of retaliation or awkwardness.

I know I just threw a lot of information at you, so allow me to recap some of the main points.

  1. Constant reassurance will ease any anxiety your autistic partner has.
  2. Respect their special interests and passions.
  3. Acknowledge an autistic person’s sensory processing issues — especially if they have a panic attack. TALK to them.
  4. Sarcasm and “playful jokes” do not always sound like sarcasm and playful jokes to an autistic person.
  5. Don’t be afraid to address the tough subjects and ask controversial questions!
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Am I Adulting Yet?

For the first time ever, I visited my childhood home not as a resident but as a guest. I walked into a living room that now had brown leather couches and a kitchen that had been decorated for the autumn season. Since it had been a while since I last saw my Chocolate, I sat down on the floor to pet an old boy who had so much physical age to his otherwise puppy demeanor. To say I nearly sobbed is an understatement! 

After my visit back home, I noted to Daniel how it felt so unreal that I no longer could consider that beautiful tri level house my home ─ my place of residency. In a way, that moment put so many things into perspective. This wasn’t a moment of shame as in times past, when I was only at home to live there temporarily as a desperate last resort. I am living with my boyfriend in his beautiful one-bedroom apartment, I have a job lined up working as a fuel clerk for Fred Meyer, and I didn’t feel like an epic failure for once in my life. As we descended down the hill my house is on, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was doing something right. 

Having said that, I still have this fight within myself wherein I consider myself to still be that doe-eyed 18-year-old adolescent who’s still struggling with her identity. I’ve made mistakes ─ little, yet significant ones ─ that I should have learned from eons ago.  This started to make me feel defeated.  What real adult just slams a bunch of dishes in the dishwasher, puts the machine on start, then walks away only to find that she missed a bunch of cups sitting on the side tables of the couch? Nevermind the childish mentality that I can rely on the good graces and welfare of Mommy and Daddy whenever I find myself in a rut.

It’s in this moment, as I am sitting down to write this that I realize I’m letting my anxiety get the better of me.  Life, to me, is a balancing act.  If you don’t have anything you are trying to accomplish, nor a series of goals set for yourself, you probably aren’t going to get very far in it.

Perhaps the number one way I have been combating this negative energy is to give myself complements alongside those critiques, followed by a way to encourage myself to remember to do better in the future.

Example: I’ve been having one hell of a time trying to convince myself to was my face twice a day.  This may seem arbitrary to you, but to me, it’s quite the struggle.  So I shun myself for my inherent apathy. I bought the acne cream, so it’s in my best interest to use it as directed.  But then, I always follow up that criticism with a bit of love and encouragement.  I’ve been getting so much better about forcing myself to shower regularly.  In fact, I’ve been getting good about doing it on a near-daily basis.  And alongside my self-care needs comes the fact that I’ve been religious about taking my pills and a multivitamin daily, resulting in a Morgan that feels good about herself. 

Similarly, chores can be, well, a chore. As I’ve said in a previous blog post, my executive functioning (or “dysfunctioning” as I put it) can make a list of basic, everyday chores feel like a mile-long to-do list.  “I am the worst at getting off the sofa and doing some basic stuff around the apartment,” I’ll tell myself.  What truly helps with this mentality are a couple of factors: 

  1. I am doing chores to help contribute to the apartment, especially as Daniel works 36 to 48 hour weeks.
  2. It will feel so good to get the chores done and see the results of my hard work via the sound of a washing machine, whirring of a washing machine, or looking at all of the clean clothes I have to wear.

Now, these constructive criticisms aren’t without self praise and a bit of celebration.  I have mutually chosen and have been with the most wonderful human being I get to call my boyfriend. He has encouraged me to better myself in every way and in response, I thank him just about everyday for letting me be his best friend and roommate. Only in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be applying for an apartment, securing a decent-paying job, eating more mindfully, and as of yesterday, exercising on a regular basis.  I no longer have to feel as though happiness is a fleeting feeling. It’s no longer just a temporary sensation that’s just here for a good time, not a long time.  This newfound type of happiness is here for the long haul, and thank God that I have this opportunity to actually work towards this happiness and optimism.

So, maybe this whole adulting thing is being addressed and approached appropriately?  (How’s that for a tongue twister!)  After all, what is life without trial and error, making goals you find to be difficult to keep track of, and falling down a few hundred times?  The way I see it, I think I’m doing alright.  I just have to keep working hard on these goals.  It is, after all, a marathon ─ not a sprint. 

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Rules of the Road Trip

It had been a strong desire of mine for some time to take my boyfriend to the Oregon Coast. What I envisioned was a fairly romanticized interpretation on a classic day-trip, bgut what actually happened was something of an adventure filled with a little bit of controlled chaos mixed with poor Google maps directions and ultimately learning more about my partner than ever before. And while there was undoubtedly several moments where my antics likely wanted to to make Daniel drive his Volkswagen GTI off a cliff, I’d still argue that the trip was a crucial part of our relationship. Simply put, if you want to test the strength of any relationship, take your partner on a road trip.

Two hours of deriving gives a human a lot to talk about. We took turns playing D.J. with Daniel’s smartphone with Daniel introducing me to a slew of country music songs he grew up with while I selected things that brought back memories from middle school and high school days. Our conversations ranged from waxing nostalgic about my childhood years, to more serious talks of depression and my recent brush with homelessness. Only Morgan could manage to cry at listening to “Save A Horse,” recalling the fond Shotski’s memories of male revues and drag shows. Daniel confessed that he could also relate to feelings of depression as I told him what eventually led to a tedious twelve hour stay in a “stale” emergency room. Daniel ultimately saw what made me tick, and I, in return, learned what made him Daniel.

Upon our first sighting of the Pacific Ocean, I knew that I was up against making a Cali boy fall in love with a local girl’s passion for the Oregon Coast. However, we decided that to compare Californian landmarks like the San Francisco bay to the likes of Newport was a matter of comparing a Gala apple to a Granny Smith. It was two similar environments with their own perks.

That still didn’t stop me from giving him hell when Daniel had the audacity to say that a clear-skied, 66 degree day was considered “cold” in comparison to his 90 degree California beach trips.

More than anything, I think Daniel got to learn a lot about me and my Autism. Any concerns or criticisms Daniel had for me have always come from a caring nature. Whenever I apologized for something that was completely out of my control, he kindly reminded me that I didn’t do anything to merit the apology. When I spoke my mind, he told me that I probably should save those (controversial) comments for the privacy of the car. Daniel has this exceptional ability to hold me accountable. But when he ─ righteously ─ points the finger at me, he is good about holding himself responsible as well.

Perhaps my favorite moments of the trip were when Daniel and I lovingly had “negotiations.” Upon arriving at the beach, we made a “pit stop” at a local Fred Meyer’s, spending some time examining paint samples in their home improvement section. We disputed over potential house colors he likes, many of which weren’t to my taste. 

Setting aside our clashing tastes on home decor, we proceeded to Newport to grab a bite to eat. The meal itself was mediocre, not meeting up to the expectation of a great value meal for a reasonable price. (His bread bowl for his soup tasted a day old, while I received tiny portions of a $14 fish and chips basket. 

By the end of the day, we were both happy but exhausted campers. We stopped in Depoe Bay for a nice dinner at Chowder Bowl, its fluffy fish and chips and soup-saturated bread bowl more than exceeding our requirements for a proper seafood meal. Following our lovely dinner, we headed across the street for sunset. Jack Johnson serenaded us as we concluded our beach time with Daniel holding me in his arms as we watched the sun disappear on the horizon.

That trip obviously wasn’t without its faults and mistakes, but its never a road trip without a few bumps along the way. I will never forget our first beach trip together, and I look forward to doing it all again in the near future.

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Thank You For Being A Friend

I never wanted summer to end… 

Laying down on a gray sleeping bag in my friend’s tent, I spent much of my summer homeless. The days seemed to endlessly drag together, but I always had an idea of what day of the week it was. And each day that passed by meant I was one day closer to Oregon’s signature rainy months. 

I wasn’t a complete nihilist at that point, but I wasn’t exactly optimistic either. Somewhere in the middle stood an empty shell of a creature whose only aspiration was to make it through another day of her life without indulging in her bad thoughts. If I’m being completely frank, I didn’t have much motivation or a will to live. I just knew I made a blood oath to myself that I wouldn’t ever give up hope in the way I did in May.

This year has been hell for all of us, but I’d selfishly argue that nobody hates 2020 more than I do. COVID-19 delayed many of my plans to get an internship that could have led to permanent employment opportunities. On top of that, I lost my place at a transitional living program and found myself couch surfing. My coping mechanisms were far from healthy, but they sure did help ease the emotional burden of being homeless. I didn’t really care about how much fast food I consumed, how quickly I could smoke my way through a pack of cigarettes, or how…promiscuous I was feeling. Mentol’s, McDonald’s, and sweet, sweet misery replaced my medications. I just wanted to get through the day. I just was trying to feel something other than complete hopelessness. 

Summer did come to an end for me. Its date was September 8, 2020. A Tuesday. Two days before, on the sixth, I went off and had cocktails with a friend from high school with whom I never talked to but wanted to befriend. Sitting in the patio area of a bar, I wouldn’t have guessed for a second that the next day, September 7, would bring crimson skies and a gnarly windstorm. That cruel night, the air was filled with ash and smoke. I could hear the sirens of first responders in the distance. “Was this the apocalypse?” I asked on Facebook after setting the scene of what I was surrounded by.

The winds rocked the tent, and eventually half of the tent folded in on itself, its pegs buckling under the pressure of the wind. I didn’t give much thought into what had happened. In hindsight, should I have taken a closer look at it? At the time, I was too exhausted by 2020’s mayhem to mind the imploding tent situation. I just wanted to rest. And rest I did right into the morning. I checked Facebook on my phone, the tent’s owner came outside to inspect the damage. To give some context, he was a very quiet man, but outspoken when he was furious. Righteous anger he was entitled to ─ his property was damaged after all ─ but ultimately, I cited the damage as a two-way street. 

Yes, I should have probably asked to have come inside and stay in his room. But at the same time, I wasn’t exactly invited, and he took no precautions to ensure that the tent would survive the storm. For that reason, I continued to scroll on Facebook, ignoring his anger. At that moment, I had bigger fish to fry than a couple of broken plastic pegs. Meteorologist, I am not, but I knew one thing about smoke: it sticks around for quite some time. Scared about not having a safe place to sleep, I scrolled through Facebook in the hopes of coming up with an idea of where I’d be staying. And when the former friend retreated back to his bedroom, I decided to quickly pack my things and catch the next bus downtown to meet Mom at her work.

It was roughly 11:30 when I arrived downtown, and at noon, mom and I would try to figure out what we’d be doing for lunch. With the pandemic closing down most restaurants and the smoky air closing out the ones that managed to stay open, Mom took me to her house. There, I made myself a sandwich, pet Chocolate, and watched a lot of TV. That evening, I decided to take the plunge. At that point, I had been dating Daniel for about two months. I asked him if I could stay with him, and he agreed. 

A month has passed since Daniel agreed to give me a hand-up. I recall vividly the goals he had me make for myself and how much progress has been made since then. Cutting out carbs and sugars have been the biggest jumpstart to my overall wellness. A recent blended coffee drink made me realize just how much sugar was truly in my once-favorite Dutch Bros order. Regular showers have gotten rid of the acne on my upper back and help me feel refreshed for just about every day that comes by. I find myself having more energy, and I actually have a will to live. 

I don’t take for granted a single day. In fact, I make sure that I take a moment to treasure what has been so generously gifted to me. 

Too often, us autistic folks are seen as antisocial abnormalities. I don’t think that’s the case, at least not for me.  I treasure my friendships so dearly, even though I’m the worst at calling people up and asking them to hang out. I think it’s so important that we all get a little help to thrive in life. I’m just thankful that the generosity of my friends has been so abundant and graceful.

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My Quarter Life Crisis

“I may have not gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”  ─ Douglas Adams, author

“As cliche as it might sound, to make it through 23, you have to become good friends with yourself, and practice being in the moment. Whenever you feel like you aren’t ‘adulting’ yet, just remember no one really knows what they’re doing, no matter how old you get.” ─ My friend from the community college newspaper

When I was working for a community college newspaper, one of my fellow journalists asked the question, “Am I Adulting Yet?” She was 23 years old, and I was just 19.

Four years later, I find myself asking the same question.  I am a college dropout due to my Autism acting as a learning disorder.  And if I were to attend college regardless of the stress college brings to me as an Autistic person, I would have a very vague idea of what I want to do with my journalism career, meaning I would just be going to college for the sake of going to college.

Like many people my age, I have a horrible addiction to social media, especially Facebook.  The hours I have wasted away in front of the screen scrolling down newsfeeds and timelines, liking statuses, and staring at the accomplishments of others is rather damning to one’s self-esteem. Especially when I have been told by good, honest, successful people that there is no law that says I have to have done something dramatically successful exactly five years after graduating from high school.  

While I know better than to compare myself to someone who went to a four-year university right away, a different person who got married right after high school, or another former peer who had given birth to a child (or two), there is still that insecurity that exists that says I am not doing it right.  

Even amongst my best friends, I feel like there’s something missing from my post-high school accomplishments list.  One dear friend is a double-major and is about to transfer from community college to a university to complete her degree. Another is a nursing student who will make for an amazing registered nurse.  Meanwhile, I, Morgan Marie, can barely hold a job for longer than a month or two.  Attending college has been put on the back-burner while I figure out what exactly I want my major to focus on.   

And that is just my college dilemmas, which make up just a tiny fraction of my problems. This doesn’t include the fact that I have treated my Mom ─ the one person who loves me more than anyone else on this planet ─ like shit.  That I decided I was tired of living at the transitional living program and decided to give up on proceeding through the program ─ and my future.  It doesn’t mention all the one-time dates I have been on that turned out to be something of a hit-and-run experience, the alcohol I have drinked in excess to drown out my sorrows, or the pot I have smoked with the intention of literally getting “higher than a kite.”

Remind me again why I’m not supposed to feel depressed?

Nineteen-year-old Morgan wrote a reply column to the “Am I Adulting Yet?” article.  At first, I thought she was so naive, so unprepared for what her future held, but then I got to thinking.  This is a letter from my past that I can use to give myself advice as a now-23-year-old woman. 

“…that’s not what life is supposed to be about,” I wrote back in 2016. “You’re not supposed to have your head stuck in the ground like an ostrich. You’re not supposed to be envious of a person who has it going for them. It’s a literal matter of comparing apples to oranges.” 

A lot of people have taught me a lot of solid life lessons some three weeks after my hospitalization.  The biggest one that I will take away: “Don’t let your emotions control you.  You must control your emotions.”  In other words, when depression strikes, or when I feel yet another intense wave of anxiety, I have to conquer my saboteur ─ my Narrator ─ and replace these thoughts with facts.

The lady who told me to not let my emotions control me is the lady who has generously offered to mentor me.  Yesterday, June 2, we met up for the first time.  She didn’t look at my resume the way I looked at my resume. Instead, she saw a lot of skills accumulated over my miscellaneous jobs and saw someone who was a skilled worker.  

I consider myself to be incredibly privileged to have gotten this opportunity to be mentored by this incredible, successful woman.  I consider myself also privileged that my parents have given me my 100th second chance. And I am beyond thankful that I don’t have to go through this “quarter-life crisis” alone. 

I still don’t know what I am going to do within the next month or year, or even next week. But what I find comfort in is the fact that I am able to make goals and go through life with an awesome support team. I just have to put in the work and effort into wanting something big for my future ─ something that doesn’t need to include a four year degree from a university, marriage, or children.

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Let’s Talk About Suicide and Allyship

When You Take A Psychotic Chic to the ER…

On May 11, 2020, I was admitted to the Albany Samaritan Hospital’s emergency room after making blatant suicidal threats about myself.  I would be admitted at about eight-thirty that night, and wouldn’t get out until eleven o’clock the next morning.

The first thing I remember doing after getting dressed in the signature blue medical scrubs and a white medical mask was taking a selfie of myself scared out of my mind.  Not knowing what to say, I decided to say what little I could: 

PRAY FOR ME.

I wouldn’t say that going to the hospital saved my life, but it did stop me from ending my life.  Perhaps it was because of my gloomy, f*** this mentality ─ okay, it was definitely that mentality ─ but everyone at the doctor’s office couldn’t give me a single good reason for living.  They just told me that I couldn’t die. 

When you get entered to the ER, they like to ask you a bunch of what I called, “stupid, rhetorical questions.” 

Are you feeling suicidal? How long have you been feeling suicidal for?  Is Mars red?  Is Trump a bad President? Do you always wear glasses?

F***!

I don’t know what convinced me to stick around in a room that was about as inviting as a hug from a porcupine. I cried about a dozen times over those sixteen hours, and I definitely couldn’t sleep until they gave me some Trazodone to help calm me down.  All I remember wanting was my cheap smartphone, so I could at least respond to the comments on the status I made, along with a teddy bear from the gift shop to comfort me.  Anything to comfort me from my salty tears and the hospital blankets made out of this weird papery material.

Now, I wouldn’t exactly call myself religious.  But when you’re battling with these demons ─ with suicide, depression, and just not giving a damn anymore ─ you have to rely on something to get you through the endless hours of sitting on some state hospital bed, trying to fall asleep amidst all the noise and buzzing of a hospital’s emergency room department.  And I swear on my life, God was the only thing keeping me going, because literally the Lord only knew that I wasn’t going to make it out of there on my (nonexistent) will to live.

I am quite fortunate that I had one singular nurse that wasn’t a complete idiot.  He had this magical ability to joke with me and get me back into that version of Morgan I once knew and loved, who liked to poke fun at others ─ and herself.  (In the drag world, we call it “throwing shade.”)  I told him the only thing I wanted right now, besides to peacefully die in my sleep, was a huge beef burrito from a local fast food chain and a giant Pepsi.  Comfort food.  He ended up bringing me a small Pepsi, which ended up being the second thing getting me through that hellhole. 

Even when she’s threatening to end it all for good, it cannot be said that this woman doesn’t have an appetite. 

Morning finally came, and the darned mental health team wouldn’t call to release me until a couple hours later than anticipated.  But this time, instead of telling them I wanted to die, I told them that I felt a tiny beacon of light and hope come out from somewhere.  I would call Mom for a safe ride home, and I got to get dressed in my regular clothes.  I got to feel like a human all over again.

To Grandmother’s House We Go 

Upon picking me up from the hospital, Mom asked if we could go talk to Gram (her mother) about my “game plan” moving forward.  Not really sure what else to do, I agreed to her idea. 

I wouldn’t say that the conversation we had was pleasant, but I also didn’t need someone to kiss my butt and tell me that everything’s okay.  Gram essentially called it “tough love,” a name I agreed with.  We discussed what my goals in life were, and why I was making such boneheaded decisions.  I told them the truth, sparing no details.  This wasn’t the time and place to fake-smile and tell white lies about how I was doing.  I was more than happy to state that I was feeling lost, confused about my future, and suicidal because I was making more blunders than I was progress in life. 

For some reason my mother decided to treat us all out to a nice lunch from the nearby country club after a rather difficult conversation to have. (Okay, I know the reason: my Mom’s the biggest Christian there is and has an abundance of grace that comes with her faith.) 

Man, I don’t know where I’d be without my family. 

Beach, Please  

Part of the agreement I made with my mother and grandmother was that I was to admit myself into a homeless shelter where I was to continue my progress I was making at the transitional living program toward independence. 

The only problem: because it was COVID 19 season, I had to be quarantined for a few days until a test came back saying that I didn’t have the ‘rona.  

Being at the shelter was giving me ER flashbacks all over again due to the fact that I had to be quarantined until my test came back negative for the Coronavirus.  Sure, the room was a bit more inviting than that white, empty ER room, but not by much. There was only so much social media, reading, and writing one could handle before one went “mad.” 

I ended up chatting with a friend, explaining my current situation and what I had been through that past week. He had mentioned something about going to the beach to visit family.  My version of the story was that I had simply asked if I could tag along, because the worst thing he could say was “no.”  His version of the story was that I wasn’t allowing him to go unless he took me with him. Either way, I felt something deep within my soul wanting to go with him to the Oregon Coast, arguably one of my favorite places on planet Earth.  

On Saturday the 16th, he picked me up at around ten o’clock that morning. We grabbed ourselves two blended coffee drinks on the way out of town, and headed straight for the coast. Even though the beach was still relatively “closed” because of the pandemic, and the weather had its typical occasional showers, I was able to fully smile for the first time in ages.  I thought it was awesome that we got to go to the Goonies jailhouse, look around, and get me a ridiculously cute shirt with a very appropriate message on it: GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE.

The friend took great care of me, let’s get that straight. But there was still something missing. His goals for his life and my goals for my life didn’t exactly match up.  Not to mention I was a city girl trying to go country.  And while the Romeos were comfy, and the trip to the coast was a lifesaver, something just wasn’t working out.  Simply put, something was missing, and it wasn’t his fault. 

On the 27th of May, he brought me home so he could get some work done.  I was mighty thankful for my mom allowing me to be home, but the trip with my friend also lit a fire underneath me.  

Something’s got to give.

The Truth About Suicide 

Trying to heal from a suicide attempt is an awful lot like healing from a broken bone.  You don’t just go to the hospital and get healed instantly with a couple bandages and some good vibes.  Healing takes weeks, if not months or even years to complete.  I’m not constantly happy all the time, and nor do I want to be.  That’s simply creepy and nonrealistic.  I still think about what it would be like if I didn’t exist. Fortunately, at this current moment in time, I’m glad to say that I have enough strength to tell those feelings where they can go, but it’s still not ideal. (Ideal being that I don’t have these intrusive thoughts at all.)  But I have been seriously suicidal before ─ last year, in fact ─ and I know I can heal, grow stronger, and kick this demon back to Hell where it belongs. 

There’s a saying out there that says, “People who want to die by suicide don’t want to end their lives. They only want to end the pain.”  I couldn’t agree with that quote more when it came to my trip to the ER that Monday.

A lot of people don’t realize that, for me, there’s about a million reasons why I almost took my life.  I didn’t just do it because it’s an “easy way out,” or that I simply didn’t want to exist anymore.  I did it because every single mistake I had made was haunting me to a level of pain and misery like I had never experienced. 

I’ve ruined my mother’s trust hundreds and hundreds of times.  I messed up my place at a transitional living program because I couldn’t talk about my feelings. And I have been running away from my problems in a similar way a thief would from the police. 

I could go on, but I hope you get the picture. 

Allyship 

In a blog post I wrote last summer, I wrote about how to be a good ally to those of us who are neurodiverse.  It’s called “If You Love Me, Please Stop Telling Me To Be Happy.”  You can check out the link here: 

https://confessionsofanautisticfreak.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/if-you-love-me-please-stop-telling-me-to-be-happy/

Once again, I see a lot of the same thing happening to me after my May 11 incident.  People want to see me smiling and “acting myself.”  The only problem about that is the fact that my brain hasn’t “felt like itself” in years.  

What breaks my heart and enrages me the most is when people would compare me to what I was as a child. It’s true, I was a great kid.  Passionate, funny, outgoing, optimistic, moral. And while I hate to burst bubbles, the fact of the matter is that I’m no longer six years old.  

So, maybe I should introduce you to adult Morgan real quick. I promise you’ll like her. She’s also passionate, funny, and outgoing.  But she’s also developed her own beliefs, style, and personality. Me and her aren’t always best friends, but everyone can say that about not loving themselves all the time. And I promise that I am working hard to make sure she can become a successful, outstanding adult who doesn’t make her mother cry 24/7. 

Moving Forward

Perhaps the biggest concern that people have for me is what kind of support system I have. I can reassure you that my support system is strong.  I have two parents who love me and are constantly challenging me to grow.  I have an awesome psychiatric nurse who is always there to make sure I get the right types of medication alongside the right dosage.  I have two awesome counselors I can see to really help me work on my goals and make sure I’m taking care of myself. I also have some great friends I have been talking to on a regular basis to make sure that each one of us is doing okay. 

But I’m not just being taught that I must frequently rely on others in order to be independent and successful.  When my team works with me, they’re working on ways I can be independent.  Right now in my “future goals,” we’re working on getting me an internship (for college credit!), and I’m working on re-learning a schedule in order to have successfully completed a few chores and other mandatory activities each day.  (The dog isn’t going to walk himself!)

I do have these big moments where I feel frozen.  Where these anxiety attacks become the norm, because I feel absolutely overwhelmed by the obstacles I need to face in order to achieve my independence.  Among the list of things driving me bats*** crazy, I question whether or not I will get that crucial internship, whether or not my anxiety will be maintained by a newly added prescription, and when life will finally go back to the way it was before the Coronavirus.

Perhaps the biggest thing helping me right now is a little book called Independent Living with Autism: Your Roadmap to Success.  Authored by my Aunt Wendy, Dr. Wendela Whitcomb Marsh, the book gives in great detail what obstacles we face as Autistic adults of all ages (from age 18 to 62).  The free copy that she generously gave me has been read and reread time and time again, and it feels like she’s giving me some literal lifesaving advice.

Just Hold On, We’re Going Home 

I have been residing at home for a couple days, and I’m more than thankful for my parent’s hospitality and willingness to take me in so I have a safe place to stay.  The future is quite uncertain for me, and this uncertainty sure comes with a lot of anxiety.  But what I do count on is the fact that I am able to use rock bottom as a solid foundation to build myself up and create an empire and a life for myself that I’m truly proud about.  I also appreciate that we aren’t just thrown into life without having any support. And I’m especially thankful for every one of you who has reached out in some way to make sure I’m doing okay. 

Trust me when I say there is a lot more to come in the very near future.

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Merry Me

The popular fashion/lifestyle blog, Man Repeller, once asked, “What would you wear if you married yourself?” 

This question came at a time when “sologamy” was a trending hot topic.  Since reading that article, I have long thought about what it means for someone to marry themself.

It’s been a little over three years since I was in my first ─ and latest ─ serious relationship.  Yes, I’ve done my fair share of dating, but not a single one of the three-dozen men were the one I wanted to pursue a relationship with.

After dating said three-dozen men, I started wondering if there is something wrong with me.  In my not-so-humble opinion, there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with me. I put a halt to ninety-nine percent of the online dating I was once doing, with the exception of meeting the occasional person at a restaurant for a good meal and (hopefully) great company.  The time I was no longer spending on online dating was instead being invested in myself.

Some people may argue that only doing things to make yourself happy would be considered egotistical and selfish.  But in my experience, focusing on my needs has led me to contribute back to the community I live in, as well as hone in on my goals. I’m no longer worrying about whether or not a romantic partner is the key to happiness; I’m focusing on making me the source of my happiness. 

As Spring blossoms around me and brings forth fresh blooms and warmer weather, I continue to dive deep into the world of loving myself and treating myself as my number one priority.

To Have and to Hold ─
To Love Yourself as you want Someone Else to Love You

In her TED talk “The Person You Really Need To Marry,” relationship expert (and three time divorcee) Tracy McMillan wrote down four vows that she swore to keep with herself, in which she details what she is going to do to show herself love now, and not just “in the future.”

Her vows go as follow:

Number 1 

“You are going to marry yourself for richer or for poorer. This means you are going to love yourself right where you are. You don’t say to yourself, “When you get to the corner of Hollywood and Vine, then I will marry you.”

I truly believe that I love myself right now in my current situation.  Why? Because I know the me of the future is going to give thanks to the me of the past and present for doing everything she has done ─ and is doing ─ to create the badass she will be in the future. I am not where I would like to be, but I am where I need to be.

Number 2

You are going to marry yourself for better or for worse. I’m talking about for worse, you know, the big life disappointments. Maybe you don’t own a home, you didn’t get the career you wanted, maybe you didn’t graduate from college, maybe you didn’t get the relationship you wanted.

It seems that while everyone has graduated college, gotten a secure job, or had a baby since graduating high school nearly five years ago, I’ve been trying to find myself and reinvent myself.  Like a phoenix, I take pride in the fact that I’m constantly giving myself room to grow, change, and restart my life from any given moment. 

Number 3

Third, you marry yourself in sickness and in health. So what this means is that you forgive yourself for your mistakes.

The mistakes in my life were enough to make me contemplate ending my story far too soon last year.  But I ultimately didn’t end the story, and continued onwards with my goal to take care of myself and tell my story to others.

Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself." - Coco Chanel ...

Number 4

Last but not least, you marry yourself. When you marry yourself, it’s to have and to hold yourself. What does it mean to have and to hold? Well, I think it means that you love yourself the way you want someone else to love you.

Today, I vow to marry myself. 

I vow to always be my best friend when I feel like my worst enemy.

I vow that I will love myself, despite not feeling like I have everything together in my life.

I vow to always forgive myself, because I’m human, and dammit, I’m just doing my best!

I vow to always compliment every single inch of my body, which empowers me to be the amazing person I am.

I vow to cry with myself during moments of sadness, laugh at every silly meme that I find funny, and smile at everything there is to possibly smile at.

I vow to call myself out on my toxic, damning behavior, and cheer myself on when I succeed at life.

I vow to always get dressed to impress on a regular basis, but enjoy the comfort of sweats and pajamas when necessary.

I vow to always seek medical treatment, practice self care, and practice wellness as much as I possibly can.

I vow to always pet the dog, admire the flowers, and enjoy every little moment in between.

I vow to always be me ─ unapologetic and proudly me. 

Sidenote: I’m walking myself down the aisle in a lavender version of Ariana Grande’s Giambattista Valli tulle Cinderella dress.

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Let’s Talk About Ableism and Autism Spectrum Disorder

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“Autism for you might be great, but for other people it’s debilitating.”  

Something struck a nerve in me when I was told this not only by a complete and total stranger, but a complete and total stranger who also identified herself as being Autistic.  It felt like she didn’t sympathize with the similar struggles we share as being part of the Autism community. 

It felt like she told me it isn’t okay for me to take pride in my highs, my lows, and my basic identity. 

Pride, to me, means claiming your identity and owning that identity with a smile on your face ─ even though it can (and will) cause you to have so many dark and depressing moments in life. 

Simply put, I am proud of my autism despite how much it can kick me in the butt. I am proud of my autism despite the regular panic attacks I receive just by living a typical human life ─ panic attacks that stem from interacting with others and having to follow the three-thousand rules of social etiquette. No matter what life throws at me, I persevere. I survive. I am Morgan.

Let’s go back and define some key terms. Firstly, the most basic definition of Ableism is discrimination in favor of able bodied people. As an intersectional feminist and someone who doesn’t have any visible signs of disability, I would like to include people who have mental disorders and mental disabilities to this definition. Therefore, I would like to add that this discrimination is also in favor of those who are neurotypical. (Neurotypical is defined as not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior.

In my journey to combat the Ableism I experience everyday, I believe in the “person first” and “identity first” language and discussions. Bodily autonomy means a great deal to me. Every single Autistic person out there deserves the right to call ourselves what we feel fits our needs and desires best. I believe that we must do away with political correctness and let the Actually Autistic people define themselves. Therefore, I believe it is okay to state that I, Morgan Connelly, have a disability. I am perfectly fine with other Autistic people not identifying as being disabled, but for me, I believe that I am disabled. To summarize why I believe I have a disability, I would like to refer back to my blog post on executive functioning, where I explain that basic life tasks such as chores and showering become quite difficult for me to do.

Another crucial thing that must be done is getting people diagnosed who we think are diagnosed. To me, an individual getting their Autism diagnosed is not done as a means of labeling an individual. Rather, for me, getting my Autism diagnosis is no different than when I was told by an optometrist in the second grade that I would need to wear glasses in order to correct my blurry vision.  

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing glasses. Likewise, there’s obviously nothing wrong with having Autism.  Knowing that I was going to have some challenges I was up against helped my mother get a four-year-old Morgan on an Individual Education Plan, or IEP.  This IEP allowed me to take breaks and get the extra help I needed in order to succeed throughout school, as Autism is a learning disorder.

Now that we’ve gone over some basic ground rules and definitions, I’d like to take the time to address what exactly ableism looks like for me as a so-called “high functioning” (high-masking) Autistic woman.  So to accomplish this goal, I would like to address some popular examples of ableism that I have personally experienced, along with examples that have been frequently documented to occur with Autistic individuals:

ABLEISM IS THE COMMENT:  “FUNNY, YOU DON’T SEEM LIKE YOU’RE AUTISTIC.” 

This isn’t a compliment whatsoever, and while you may say that because you’re genuinely flabbergasted, it comes off as disrespectful to us. By saying, “you don’t seem to be Autistic,” you probably believe (intentionally or unintentionally) that acting as a neurotypical is the norm. If we do not act neurotypical, we get judged for “acting out.” Just because some of us have the ability to mask our Autism more than others can, doesn’t mean we are any less Autistic. 

ABLEISM IS WHEN PEOPLE SAY: “YOU CAN’T BE AUTISTIC BECAUSE THAT’S NOT THE WAY MY BEST FRIEND’S CHILD ACTS.”

Talk about comparing apples to oranges! I’ll never understand how we generally teach that there’s diversity within the human race, but suddenly that stops when Autism comes into play.  Again, Autism’s full name is Autism Spectrum Disorder, meaning that there are a whole range ─ or spectrum ─ of ways that people can be Autistic.  

My favorite example is me and my dear best friend of ten years.  She’s the polar opposite of me ─ introverted, studious, neat, etc. ─ but the biggest thing we share is the fact that we’re both Autistic.  

People come with an infinite amount of differing personalities, traits, and uniquenesses. This doesn’t just stop because we’re Autistic. 

ABLEISM IS THE MEDIA PORTRAYING US TO BE A STEREOTYPE SUCH AS “SHELDON COOPER” OR “RAIN MAN” 

The Sheldon comments need to stop. Comparing me to any fictional character whatsoever needs to stop.  I speak with a lot of emotion, I can understand sarcasm, and I can usually carry on a conversation just fine.  Arguably the biggest problem about these characters is that they seem to be written by nonautistic writers basing characters off of research they’ve done on Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurodiverse characters.  Research, in my opinion, rarely translates well to reality when it comes to creating fictionalized Autistic characters. 

(That said, “Forrest Gump” and 2019’s “Joker” are some of my favorite films of all time, proving that the media is fully capable of making beautiful films that accurately describe what neurodiversity looks like.) 

ABLEISM IS HAVING TO PROVE TO DOCTORS, PSYCHIATRISTS, AND OTHER MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS THAT YOU ARE AUTISTIC. 

(This one is going to be a lengthy explanation, but if you stick around, I promise you’ll understand why we Autistic people dislike the DSM.)

I have heard of so many cases where Autistic individuals reporting the fact that their healthcare providers didn’t believe them when they said that they were on the Autism spectrum.  While there are a slew of reasons why this is happening, I believe that we should focus on two main things: the Diagnostic Statistical Manual and the fact that Autism is based on young child-aged males.

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual is this gigantic encyclopedia that acts as one of the most definitive guides to diagnosing mental disorders. Therefore, many healthcare professionals will use the DSM in order to determine whether or not to diagnose someone as having Autism Spectrum Disorder.

While there is no doubt in my mind that the research done to create the DSM is scientific, I take offense to the research field that the DSM psychiatrists used in order to create their definitions of Autism. 

Nearly four-thousand, five hundred children. No adults, just children. 

This is absolutely detrimental to the adults on the spectrum who must be recognized. Too often, for some reason or another, people who actually have Autism go undiagnosed. When a diagnosis doesn’t occur during childhood, it can be extremely hard to get one as an adult. It’s also common for misdiagnoses to occur. (Autism and ADHD/ADD could be seen as cousins in the mental disorder world.) 


My hope for medical experts is that they look past the DSM and try to study real Autistic people, and believe people who state that they’re Autistic. Self-diagnosis is one-hundred percent valid, and people who state they are Autistic should be believed. It can be extremely difficult for some people to get a diagnosis, period, and the cost of getting a formal diagnosis can cost someone thousands of dollars.)

This is what my friend had to say about her late diagnosis:

“Children are still learning. Adults normally understand their meltdowns, sensory overload, and accept their special interests. There’s a lot of room to work with when it comes to teaching them proper skills to cope with things that may be debilitating.

“Adults on the other hand, I can’t speak for everyone but this is what I’ve experienced. I was bullied for my special interest in medicine. Constantly told to [shut up]. If I had a panic attack it was the “get [the hell] over it” mentality. If I speak honestly, I’m wrong. Long story short, adults are very misunderstood especially if they’re undiagnosed. [This] is why it’s common for autistic adults to develop depression.

ABLEISM IS THE FACT THAT MALES ARE GETTING DIAGNOSED FOUR TIMES MORE OFTEN THAN FEMALES ARE. 

“…The true male-to-female ratio is not 4:1, as is often assumed; rather, it is closer to 3:1,” says a PubMed.gov study. 

I wish I was making this statistic up, but I’m not.  Over the course of my research on Autism, I have found that approximately 1 out of 42 males have Autism, while one 1 out of 189 women are estimated to be Autistic. 

[Insert visual here]

The publication Scientific America took a look at the difficulties young women face getting an Autism diagnosis in an article titled, “Autism ─ It’s Different In Girls.” A repeating theme in the article is that women need to have “more behavior problems or significant intellectual disability, or both, to be diagnosed.” 

For instance, take for example Lowell (male) and Frances. Lowell was able to get his diagnosis early, at 16 months old.  Meanwhile, Frances had to wait until she was much older. Frances’ mother was also told that her Autism was actually side effects from an eye condition she had.

Says their mother: “We got a lot of different random little diagnoses. They kept saying, ‘Oh, you have a girl. It’s not Autism.’” 

Another example is a 2012 study by the neuroscientist Francesca Happ of King’s College London. Her team found that “if boys and girls had a similar level of such traits, the girls needed to have either more behavioral problems or significant intellectual disability, or both, to be diagnosed.” 

Translation: if girls aren’t “Autistic enough,” they don’t qualify for an Autism diagnosis, making it so that males are most likely to get diagnosed.  

SO, HOW CAN WE BE BETTER ALLIES?

Take the time to really get to know your friendly neighborhood Autistic person. Learn that Autism is more than the cliches and stereotypes you have heard about in the news. Don’t denounce that someone is Autistic, just because you don’t think they fit into your definition of Autism. Give the person some time to properly introduce themselves to you. 

Remember that we are human beings, and that as human beings, we must be treated with love and respect. Show a little compassion. 

Most importantly, we must remember that Autism is a spectrum disorder. Maybe I should emphasize this part, just in case: AUTISM IS A SPECTRUM DISORDER! Everyone is going to have a different take on what Autism is, because every single person is a unique individual.  (Again, going back to my best friend example: she’s reserved and organized, while I’m loud and messy. This doesn’t make either one of us any less autistic!)

SIDENOTE: Even though life was rough to them, and they didn’t get the early diagnosis they wanted, my aforementioned Autistic friend has their own way of fighting back the misdiagnosis: 
“I’m trying to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. They can diagnose and prescribe medications too. I want to be able to help people like myself. I don’t want anyone to go their whole lives questioning why is everything like this.” 

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Quit Calling Me High-Functioning

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The two ends of my Autism Spectrum described in an infographic

In my last blog, I introduced the concept of “executive functioning,” where I explained that my inability to get basic chores done isn’t necessarily from laziness, but from a condition of my mind where I get overwhelmed by life itself and choose to conquer that anxiety by doing nothing at all.

Today, we’re focusing on a different type of functioning: high-functioning Autism and how I do NOT agree with the term. 

You see, scientists seem to like to branch us off into two binary (or black and white) categories of Autism: high-functioning and low-functioning.  High-functioning implies that you are able to appear as a neurotypical (an individual who doesn’t have a mental disorder).  Low-functioning implies that someone has an intellectual disability. 

While someone in a white lab coat and a stethoscope could argue that this is all there is to the high-functioning v. low-functioning conundrum, I would like to argue something entirely different: I am not high-functioning. 

I am also not low-functioning either. 

You see, Autism exists on a spectrum. It’s literally in the full name of Autism ─ Autism Spectrum Disorder.  There are a million different ways Autism can manifest itself in individuals. And within each individual comes a wide spectrum of ways that Autism can be experienced. 

I’m going to use myself as a first-person example.  I was initially diagnosed as having “Asperger’s syndrome.” Asperger’s has often been tagged as mild Autism.  This never made any sense to me. My experiences as an Autistic person is an omnipresent experience. I constantly have to remind myself that I am Autistic.  This is not a bad thing, in my world. It’s no different than reminding myself that I have horrible astigmatism, and therefore need to put on my glasses first thing in the morning to be able to see.

However, by calling me high-functioning, someone is essentially making a complete series of assumptions that have little to no connection with the Truth ─ the Truth being that I don’t always feel like I’m a truly high-functioning individual. Going back to my blog on executive functioning, I’m not always able to function as a “normal” human being.  

Here are a few main reasons why I hate the term high-functioning:

  • SELF CARE: I miss out on taking regular showers, seldom change out my socks everyday, and consider brushing my teeth to be as difficult of a chore as cleaning the bathroom is.
  • BRAIN FUNCTION: Anxiety is real when it comes to me and my Autism.  In fact, for all I know, you can’t have Autism without Anxiety.  It’s like Oregon without rain ─ when Anxiety is not present at every single second of the day, something’s just not right.
  • APPEARANCE: I often get the comments of “you don’t seem like you’re Autistic” after I announce my Autism.  It gets really annoying after a while, but you get used to it. Sort of like how tall people are fed up with being asked how the weather is up there.  But I’d like to take the time to remind you that I am not good at being neurotypical. I am good at masking ─ the art of acting as a neurotypical person. 
  • MASKING: Masking is a form of survival, and I believe that “being good at masking” isn’t really that good of a talent to have.  As an autistic individual, I am forced to find that perfect balance of “being normal” verses “being your genuine Autistic self.” This is something I have had an extremely hard time doing.  I credit my love of fashion, my self-confidence, and the ability of celebrating my uniqueness in getting me to the point where I am right now in life. 

In continuation of being frank, calling my Autism “high-functioning” is only good for the neurotypical’s point of view, if that.  I don’t think that someone who knows nothing whatsoever about my life should have the ability to determine exactly who I am in two hyphenated words. Besides, this “high-functioning” term is only good for the neurotypicals who are trying to wrap their brains around “this complex thing called Autism.” 

After doing a little research on the subject, it appears that the term high-functioning comes from using IQ scores as means of defining where a person lands on the Autism spectrum. Again, I would argue that this is looking at Autism in that black and white, binary way. This is definitely not okay in my book, when Autism is a wonderful spectrum of colors and diversity.  (Because of this fact, Actually Autistic folks have adapted the rainbow infinity symbol as their sign of Autism.)

Consulting an Expert… 

Katherine K.M. Stavropoulos, Ph.D. (Neuroscience in Transition), takes a closer look at the term high-functioning for Psychology Today.  She took a look at a study of 2,000 Autistic individuals that determined IQ was a poor indicator of an Autistic person’s “behavior skills.”  

“…we should not be using IQ as a proxy for adaptive behavior skills. We should not assume that just because a given individual with ASD has cognitive skills in the average range that he or she will automatically have adaptive behavior skills in that same range.” 

Dr.  Stavropoulos goes onto explain that when we use this system, we may not be fairly allocating services to the Autistic people that actually need services.  In other words, if an individual isn’t “Autistic” enough ─ that is, they don’t show signs of an intellectual disability ─ they don’t get the help they need to lead successful lives.  

Her conclusion is simple: “If ‘high-functioning ASD’ is based on cognitive abilities ─ as is often the case ─ it doesn’t accurately capture the experiences, needs, strengths, or weaknesses of a given individual. Not only might this term limit supports or services for those who might need them, but it can also be inherently offensive to individuals who would be considered ‘low functioning.’” 

Perhaps the best example I have found is from an online comic: 

Image may contain: possible text that says 'UNDERSTANDINg The SPECTRUM Introduced by Archie! 2 Language can be conFusing for me. It takes me longer than the average person process conversations. And although I am good at making conversation, take me longer then then normal to respond. But, neurotypical people Find language confusing too. And it can lead to some people mispercie mispercieving who I am.'

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Image may contain: possible text that says 'The truth is though, someone who is neurodiverse in some areas of their brain, will also be no different to your average person in other areas of their brain. Language Motor stils P executive fucsion You see, the autistic spectrum looks something more like this.'

Image may contain: possible text that says 'The spectrum consists Some traits create many different difficulties or ways every day life. which the brain Chence being diagnosed) processes information. Language Motor stil FTE 10 arecutive Futtion But also many traits are useful in every day life. Each person with autism set different areas the spectrum. The areas where they don't have trait Function no to neurotypical brain, affected by circumstance In example, good at making conversation (language). But get sensory overload in crowded spaces, which makes conversation very for me.'

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It’s NOT Laziness: Executive Functioning and my Autism

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Back when I was living at home, my Mom, like any parent, would leave me with a list of chores to do for the day. The list is short and simple, some people would argue. It’s not like I’m required to have the house tidied up and dinner set on the table by 6:00 p.m., as if I was Cinderella. My Mother simply asks me to do a few simple tasks that might take me an hour to do at the most.

I stare at this list of chores my Mom has left for me on the kitchen counter. Again, the chores are straightforward, and it usually looked something like this: 


Load the dishes & run the dishwasher
Clean the counters 
Sweep
Unload dishwasher
Take a shower 
Walk Chocolate at the park

In theory, the list isn’t strenuous, and I’m aware of this.  It’s just a list of tasks one should do everyday in order to keep a clean house.  But to me, the list looks like it’s a mile long. My anxiety disorder transforms the list into a mile-long to-do task list instead of six basic chores. I can’t help it, I wish I could help it.

I make attempts to do the list throughout the day, but instead, I go to the couch. I prop my legs up on the recliner, insist to myself that I’m only going to watch an episode or two of a sitcom, and then all of a sudden, I find myself drifting away to sleep…   

Hours pass by, and it instantly becomes 4 o’clock in what seems like a matter of seconds. I freak out, frantically trying to get something done in less than an hour.  Grab out chicken, plop it in hot water. Shove dishes in the dishwasher and run it, completely neglecting about a quarter of the dirty dishes that are sitting there by the sink in plain sight. Let the dog out front, hoping my parents won’t notice that the leash in the garage hasn’t moved an inch all day long. 

In short, I’m a hot mess. 

I have been asked so many times, “why are you so lazy?”  I hate this. It’s an implication that I’m purposefully wasting hours doing nothing productive or contributing for my family. See, the fact of the matter is that I’m not necessarily lazy. The reality is, I have an executive functioning disorder.

Image may contain: 1 person, possible text that says 'Aleksandr Wilde @aswilde1 My Daily Routine w ADHD: -Wake Up -Do Fucking Nothing For 5 hours -Panic -Do Stuff In A Panic for 1-2 hours -Hyperfixate on doing one thing for 4 hours (the wrong thing) -Existential Dread -Make pact with myself to break out of of this pattern tomorrow -repeat pattern tomorrow'

So, what does executive functioning mean? 

According to Harvard, “Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. ”  This skillset is important because “the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.” 

With Autism Spectrum Disorder (alongside other mental disorders such as ADHD), it can be quite difficult to make everyday goals. After all, the Harvard article goes onto state that we aren’t given this skill set at birth.  Instead, it’s something that must be learned over time. But much like learning how to socialize, it’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally to Autistic people. 

I personally define executive functioning to mean “the ability to do everyday tasks ─ such as making goals, taking showers, doing your chores, and other tasks of adulthood ─ without thinking twice about it.”  Executive functioning is a verb ─ perhaps the most important one out there ─ and the fact that it doesn’t come naturally to me puts me at a huge, unseen disadvantage in my life. 

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So, how do you try to overcome your executive functioning disorder?

I don’t really know if there’s a one-size-fits-all solution for this, because humans are obviously not one-size-fits-all beings. (You’ll know this is true when I rant about using the term “high-functioning” to define Autism.) 

For me, personally, there are several factors that go into improving my personal executive functioning skills that include:

  • Getting enough sleep and drinking enough coffee in the morning.
  • Taking my medication, so that I’m happy and alert for the day’s festivities.
  • Talking about how I am feeling to Mom, so that we’re on the same page.
  • Somehow scrounging up the courage to get up and go do the damn thing. 
  • Feeling accomplished by only doing one or two small tasks.
  • Arranging a routine that best works for me, and sticking to it.
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Ask the professional… 

I found myself being misunderstood by so many people about my executive functioning disorder.  It got to the point where even my former counselor essentially asked me why I was being so lazy. 

My new counselor, Dr. Wendela Marsh, took a less-degrading approach to addressing my executive functioning issues.  Instead of calling it a problem of apathy, she considered it an obstacle I had to navigate around. 

“Autistic people thrive with routine,” she said. 

Her biggest suggestion: write out a schedule of my day and stick to it. In addition, she also reminded me of all the positive things that happen when I do these chores. For example: I feel better after I take a shower. My dog is happy and worn out after a walk in the park.  My parents smile when they see their kitchen nice and clean, and dinner is already made for them as they come in the door. What my mom said is true: what takes me maybe an hour to do makes the household community I am apart of work better.

I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better at working on my executive functioning skills since my teenage years, but I have a lot of work left to do.  I credit being in the transitional living program with helping me get a routine down, requiring me to stick to that routine. 

But that doesn’t mean everyday is perfect for me right now.  I’m still working on some basic things such as brushing my teeth and taking showers regularly. 

Having said that, I don’t let these little negativities bring me down altogether.  It’s important that I keep reminding myself of how far I’ve come ─ and how far I have yet to go.  

My penultimate piece of advice for anyone who is also struggling to do the little everyday tasks of life is as follows: 

  • Celebrate the tiniest of victories.  This can be something as little as waking up in the morning and brushing your teeth before you head out for the day, walking your dog on a proper walk, or even getting out of bed when you’ve gotten zero hours of sleep. Adulting can be so hard when you have a mental disorder, and it can be even harder when you feel like you have a million things to do in a single day.
  • Even the people we think are professionals at Adulthood struggle with adulthood.  I cannot tell you how reassuring it was when my favorite aunt asked me if it was really necessary to take a full shower when all she wanted to do was clean yesterday’s makeup off her face.
  • You’re still human ─ and you’re doing a great job of being human.  If you got up and volunteered all day, good for you! If you simply got up and went to work out of necessity, good for you! No matter how much or little  you got done today, you woke up, you got dressed, and you made an effort to be human. So long as that’s not a huge pattern in your life, it’s okay to have days where you just want life to be as easy as it gets.

Cut yourself some slack.  Adulting is hard, but you’ve got this thing.

I believe in you!