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The Experience/Book

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How I Lost All My F-cks is more than a book. It’s a 3-part experience, lasting one month, that will help you to shake off harmful societal conditioning and find a version of yourself that knows how to feel satisfied, how to have some freakin’ fun, how to prioritize the things that really matter, and how to be present during them. 

Part I is a 30-day meditation challenge, teaching you various methods of mindfulness meditation, which I’ve been practicing for close to two decades, as well as daily reflection questions and a space for a short journal entry. It also includes several concepts and tales meant to leave you in an uplifted and thoughtful state, pulling from sources like psychology, philosophy, the nature-oriented spirituality of the Tao te Ching, and more.

While you’re finding your meditation groove, you’ll also be rising to the challenge of Part II’s Fuckless Adventures; choosing 20 dare-like experiences (out of 30) that are aimed to incorporate more authenticity and vulnerability in your life, connect (safely) with others, and immerse you in a whole lot of fun. This section also includes a handful of inspiring tales from lives lived boldly, learning how one Prince’s truth expanded the rights of millions, how Frida Khalo overcame tremendous odds whilst fully expressing herself all along the way, how an octopus helped renew one man’s spirit, and much more.

And while you’re meditating and adventuring, you’ll also be reading Part III. This section elaborates on this “fucklessness” business, often using entertaining tales from my, uhm, “colorful” life to ground the concepts and ideas described within it. It’ll take you through learning to care about all the wrong stuff (as we’re conditioned to do), teen shenanigans, serendipitous magic in a philosophy class, near-death meets chronic illness, adventures in jail and mental institutions, homelessness, and more.  

Together, it’s an average of 20 minutes a day or so, longer if you get creative with it. 

The world is presently a confusing place, and this book will help you to better orient within it by teaching you to center in yourself. By the end of your fuckless experience, you’ll feel like your life has gone through a refreshing cleanse, and so has your mind—which is really your home, if you think about it. (And the lease is for the rest of your life…)

I’m presently seeking representation, so stay tuned for the release of How I Lost All My F-cks! (Support on the socials is also much appreciated, @howilostallmyfs across the board 🙏❤)

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Why I Stopped Trying to Be “Normal”

Normal is inherently othering, divisive, and reductive.

Photo by Dan Parlante on Unsplash

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

The word “normal” comes up a lot in our society.

We use it as an aspiration, “I just want to be normal,” or as a judgment, “that’s…not normal,” it’s even used like it’s a synonym for healthy, “that’s perfectly normal.”

I believe that all three uses are problematic for many reasons; but primarily because these homogeneous expectations have a very toxic effect on our mental health.

I feel that this is true even for those who feel they’ve achieved this mysteriously lauded act of mediocrity, but it’s especially toxic if you’re born in a body that excludes you from this supposed normality.

During my school years, the adult world told me that I was one of those lucky people, that I was normal, and that this was definitely a good thing — that I’d do just fine in life because of it.

I always knew it wasn’t quite true, and certainly faced much teasing despite this supposed normality, especially early on, and I certainly struggled to adjust to adult life more than my peers — but at 37 years old, I learned that I’m even less normal than I realized.

Last summer, I was officially diagnosed with Level Two Autism.

Society convinces us that we need to be less of ourselves in order to make more of ourselves. This is just bonkers.

This curveball brought many feelings, many of which were good, especially through the initial process of self-diagnosis; learning all about how my particular neurotype works while finally connecting to a community of people who quite literally think like me. There’s been much self-acceptance and empowerment since the diagnosis, it’s hard to explain the lightness that has come from knowing the physiological reasons as to why I am the way I am.

But, unfortunately, those weren’t all of the emotions. It was also really hard to learn that I was not only not normal, but that having tried so hard to pretend like I was had helped send my body and mind into malfunction.

After my diagnosis, I was tormented with endless painful memories slicing through my consciousness, each even sharper through this new lens; often making the other people involved seem cruel. Sometimes it even made me give up on humanity at large because most of them weren’t even “bad people” they were f**king normal peopleIt was horrifying, especially once I learned how high Autistic suicide rates are.

Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.” ― Brené Brown

The combination of that emotional maelstrom plus not having anyone to talk to about it brought continuous Autistic meltdowns, which led to dangerous public scenes, seizures, a terrifying mental break, and neurologically-disabling Autistic burnout that I’m still fighting nearly a year later.

The most overwhelming upset was, and is, because Neurodivergent people are made to believe we need to spend our precious mental energy on acting “normal” to be accepted and survive. (FYI: Faking your neurotype doesn’t leave much energy for the important stuff.)

And we aren’t the only ones — in addition to systemic issues and individual biases, BIPOC communities are given the burden of code-switching, which has toxic effects on mental health. As a fellow Medium writer puts it, “Code-switching causes more harm than good because it creates tension between self-expression and social acceptance.”

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

There are many more examples of how already-disenfranchised communities have to bend and twist to squeeze into “normal,” and it’s not at all limited to those who’re in bodies perceived as different in some way — there are all kinds of ways we can be “too different,” “too much,” or “not enough,” and they rarely have anything to do with lacking integrity or kindness.

Additionally, when crises happen in people’s lives, they often feel as if they’ve been thrust from the safety of being perceived as normal.

Whether it’s with issues regarding abuse, finances, rape, or the many other ways life can unexpectedly go pear-shaped — people who’re already going through a lot often then also have to deal with shaming from the people in their lives, as well as fearing they’re perceived as “having baggage,” or being “too broken.”

We wind up feeling like we have to hide in some way to be safe, which often leads to going through difficult times alone.

In my case, others continually encouraged me to hide the (many) ways of being I know now are Autistic, and it took me over 25 years to see that the opposite is true — we must show up authentically to have any shot at finding true acceptance and belonging.

If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” ― Maya Angelou

We’re all being taught the wrong message.

In effect, society communicates that our whole selves aren’t enough; it actually manages to convince us that we need to show up as less of ourselves to make more of ourselves. This is just bonkers.

Plus, it’s just a scam! The idea that being seen as “normal” keeps us safe is just an illusion, a test to see how far we can bend before we break. And if you look at the headlines in recent years, it’s easy to get the impression that the time to snap is upon us…

If you ask me, we’re collectively losing our shit because we’ve been convinced that we must be something we aren’t to survive, that we must be “normal,” because everyone else is and that’s just the way we like it.

But normal isn’t a freakin’ thing. (And it never was.)

Screw Normal, Go Be Your Best You

Photo by davisuko on Unsplash

Comparison is about conformity and its paradoxical message is to “be just like everyone else, but better.” — Brené Brown

While some folks might truly feel they are whatever is presently considered “normal,” it’s safe to say most of us find the expectations dictated by the concept to be FAR too tight (to say the least ) — so we have to squeeze ourselves into an uncomfortable mold, conforming to unwritten expectations that don’t suit, and, mental health-wise, there’s a heavy price to pay for this self-erasure.

To prioritize being normal is to decide that *who we are* isn’t safe. This is not an okay expectation! And it does not improve the lives of those working to oblige, it very often does just the opposite.

When we squeeze ourselves into whatever’s currently typical, when we spend our days trying to “be normal” — we wind up wasting our energy and focus on losing ourselves, rather than on becoming our best selves.

I love the way another Ascent writer describes the empowerment of tossing conformity aside, saying her whole self is “far more powerful than the Swiss cheese cutout I used to be.”

And of course it is!! We need our whole selves to thrive.

7 Reasons to Stop Trying to Be “Normal”

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

Let’s break it down, here’s 7 reasons to stop trying to be normal:

  1. Normal” is not a thing. I moved from city to city, hoping to find a place where the whole me was considered “normal,” and while I never found it, I did discover that there’s actually no such thing. While it’s most definitely possible to feel not normal, and some people do feel it more often than others, normal is just an illusion. Life isn’t that simple.
  2. It upholds toxic norms and power structures. The concept of normal is a moving target that’s defined a million ways, but most influentially by — and for — the people in power; the people in charge of media, the people at the top of the ladder, the influencers of our world. It’s an ephemeral nonsense concept that serves to uphold the status quo through shame. It’s bullshite, we don’t need it, and we certainly don’t need to waste our energy pretending to be it.
  3. The concept is inherently othering. As discussed above, “normal” leaves a lot of people out. There’s just far, far, faaaar, too many ways to be not-normal, and humans are a beautifully diverse species — and we’re stronger for it! Diversity is an evolutionary advantage, it’s a good thing that we’re all different. We need to start letting people share their full stories, and we need to start fully listening to perspectives and experiences different from ours. Working to understand each other better is the only way to improve things.
  4. Fitting in is very different from belonging. My life changed when I started reading the work of sociological researcher, Brené Brown. I’ve already shared a couple of quotes of hers, but here’s one more: True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world — our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. In other words, when we squeeze ourselves into normal-shaped molds, we give up our ability to know real belonging due to denying our authentic selves a voice.
  5. Save yourself mid-life crises (or end ‘em). Trying to be normal is basically committing to the role of who we think we’re “supposed to be.” And if we look around, it’s easy to see that this often creates long-term commitments we can’t keep. How many of us wind up totally rearranging our lives halfway through because our original choices don’t really suit who we are as we start to really know ourselves? What if we could save all the fuss by simply living true in the first place?
  6. John F. Kennedy said it sucks. In his more dignified words: Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.
  7. It’s not important, kindness is. Normal is often used in a way that suggests some associate the concept with integrity, with being good, “someone nice and normal,” but they are completely different things. They have nothing to do with one another at large, but especially in societies where marginalized societies report systemic ill-treatment. It’s easy to see that normal is very often a big jerk. Acts of compassion and understanding are demonstrations of integrity, not looking or acting a certain way.

When we simplify the human experience to one word, it reduces people to stereotypes and pits us against each other.

As a species, I think we’re ready to graduate from this Us vs. Them paradigm that leaves nearly everyone scared to be seen as “them,” and all of us competing against each other instead of working together. (And we’ve got some very real problems to solve.)

We have to stop trying to put each other in boxes, we’re all wildly unique people — that’s the beauty of humanity! It is not something to hide.

Screw “normal.” We don’t need no stinkin’ boxes.

Photo by Kristina V on Unsplash

Why Many Autistics are Offended by Elon Musk’s Use of “Aspergers”

The term is no longer in the US’s diagnostic manual for very good reasons…which include Nazis.

(Image via People.)

Originally published in the Medium publication, An Injustice!. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

In early May, Elon Musk made a personal announcement while hosting the NYC-based show Saturday Night Live, one that’s upset many autistic people: “I’m the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL, or at least the first to admit it.”

It’s okay if you’re not seeing the harm in that.

US society (and global perception at large) is becoming more conscious and undergoing many simultaneous changes in perception, like a massive detox — people at large are still ill-informed of impactful issues concerning disadvantaged communities, and the autistic population is no exception.

All we can do is listen to a variety of people from the affected communities, and learn.

In this case, community objections include the smaller issues that Dan Aykroyd was actually the first autistic person to host (which was uncool to gloss over), and the word ‘admit’ could reflect internalized ableism — but the main issue is around the term ‘Aspergers,’ which has become controversial, especially here in the US.

It was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) in 2013, when Asperger’s Syndrome was absorbed by Autism Spectrum Disorder (many in the community prefer the more-descriptive Autism Spectrum Neurotype).

(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

The associated functioning labels were also dropped due to harmful outcomes: those labeled “low-functioning” experienced opportunities being withheld despite ability and many in the “high-functioning” category were conversely presumed able to do things that they could not, therefore denied support and accommodations, leading to meltdowns and reduced functionality (and worse).

Basically, the functioning labels were a hot mess that left a lot of autistic people traumatized.

The new way has many flaws as well, mostly for also having a vague approach that leads to similar experiences of ableism — but at least it’s a little more specific and refers to support needs rather than pretty directly implying ability in the verbiage. Now, formally diagnosed autistics are assigned a Support Level at diagnosis. (Self-diagnosis is also widely accepted in the community due to excessive bias and barriers in the diagnosis process.)

I have a diagnosis of Level 2: Requiring substantial support. I was just diagnosed last year, but suspect I’d have been a Level 1 around 6–7+ years ago, as the problematic areas have greatly increased; something that’s common among autistics who mask their traits.

It’s presently a helpful distinction for me, as being without support has resulted in extended burnout and frequent meltdowns — however, it’s easy to see how it could backfire in very similar ways, especially as troubling traits fluctuate.

To provide an example of how problematic autistic traits can be fluid,
at this time I’m capable of doing things like writing essays about my current special interest (ta-da); but if I were to try to do this in an office, early morning hours, or even attempt to change topics, I’d very likely wind up having a meltdown, which would then take days (or more) to recover from.

I wasn’t always so sensitive in those respects and easily flew above the radar by subconsciously masking my traits (as happens, that backfired in a multitude of ways, including increased need for support).

Presently being a Level 2 doesn’t mean that I’m more intelligent than a Level 3, or less so than a Level 1.

These levels have absolutely nothing to do with intelligence, nor capabilities at large — instead describing our need for support/accommodations in order to function in our (neurotypically-biased) society.

The DSM describes differences in ‘social communication’ and ‘restricted interests & repetitive behaviors’ (the latter of which are affectionately known as special interests and stimming in the autistic community). This is a change from the old paradigm, in which those with Aspergers were widely viewed as being more intelligent due to superior intellectual development, a perception that has not died.

Public perception has very real effects.

When Elon Musk publicly disregarded the changes of DSM-5 in its home country, he portrayed himself as someone more intelligent than the autistic community at large; and the continued use of the term has negative ramifications on other autistics.

He could have used the updated terminology, helping to erase harmful stigma via a show that’s been a US culture staple for decades — but instead, he perpetuated it.

Sure, maybe he didn’t know, but given his fame and legendary genius status it’s safe to presume that someone gave him a head’s up, or he got there on his own; particularly since the change is nearly a decade old, and he’s been based here since 1995.

Also, Nazis.

The term ‘Aspergers’ got its start in Germany, 1934, when Dr. Hans Asperger discovered Nazi psychiatry.

In a 2018 New York Times article, researcher Edith Sheffer described his work on autistic children: Some laud Asperger’s language about the “special abilities” of children on the “most favorable” end of his autistic “range,” speculating that he applied his diagnosis to protect them from Nazi eugenics — a kind of psychiatric Schindler’s list.

But this was in keeping with the selective benevolence of Nazi psychiatry; Asperger also warned that “less favorable cases” would “roam the streets” as adults, “grotesque and dilapidated.” Words such as these could be a death sentence in the Third Reich.

And in fact, dozens of children whom Asperger evaluated were killed.

Yes. You read that right.

The term Asperger’s is directly aligned with the murders of dozens of autistic children — all for the sake of Nazi eugenics, or wealthy white dudes deciding who’s “fit” to live life on Earth.

Another horrifying passage from the NY Times article: One of his patients, 5-year-old Elisabeth Schreiber, could speak only one word, “mama.” A nurse reported that she was “very affectionate” and, “if treated strictly, cries and hugs the nurse.” Elisabeth was killed, and her brain kept in a collection of over 400 children’s brains for research in Spiegelgrund’s cellar.

Sooooo, that’s where the term ‘Asperger’s’ comes from.

It’s Time to Do Better

It’s disturbing to know what’s really going on here, but that’s the reason why we DO need to acknowledge it. (Image of Hans Asperger via Nature)

While I understand that it’s hard for people to just have their diagnosis terminology switched on them, the changes in the DSM-5 were made for crucial reasons (more than discussed here) — and the update is having a really hard time gaining awareness.

This lack of societal knowledge means the continued perception that those with “Aspergers” are more intelligent/capable than those identified using the term “autistic.”

I want to emphasize that not all autistic people are aware of these US-based changes, and there are also situations where continued usage is logistically necessary. I don’t want to imply that individuals, autism organizations, and social media figures with the term in their branding are bad for not having changed.

We can only do what we can do. I get it.

But Elon Musk is not a likely-to-be-cash-poor non-profit or YouTuber, he is literally the richest person in the world and he’s also one of the most well-known.

He could have easily helped, but instead he did the opposite — and while that (alone) isn’t worth vilifying him for, the move shouldn’t just be overlooked.

It needs to be learned from.

Another quote from that NYT article brings this point home: Does the man behind the name matter? To medical ethics, it does. Naming a disorder after someone is meant to credit and commend, and Asperger merited neither. His definition of “autistic psychopaths” is antithetical to understandings of autism today, and he sent dozens of children to their deaths.

Other conditions named after Nazi-era doctors who were involved in programs of extermination (like Reiter syndrome) now go by alternative labels (reactive arthritis). And medicine, in general, is moving toward more descriptive labels. Besides, the American Psychiatric Association has ruled that Asperger isn’t even a useful descriptor.

She wraps up the essay with a request to the reader: We should stop saying ‘Asperger.’ It’s one way to honor the children killed in his name as well as those still labeled with it.

People act like psychology was built on the backs of giants, but it wasn’t.

Asperger may be the most offensive of offenders, but he’s far from the only toxic contributor.

It’s time to start looking at things from a more inclusive, efficacious, and empowering perspective.

We need to truly acknowledge that everyone’s worthy of life, even the (many) demographics that struggle to thrive in a society that was not built to include us — and moving away from this harmful term is one step towards those ends.

P.S. Nikola Tesla is rolling over in his freakin’ grave for being associated with such a perpetrator of societal ills. (You big Edison!)

My 9-Year Authenticity Mission Led to an Autism Diagnosis

Plus, tips for your own life-changing authenticity mission.

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The journey to my summer of 2020 autism diagnosis — at 37 years old — was a lifelong one with a jillion ingredients, but my 9-year authenticity mission was certainly a crucial one.

It started one evening in early 2012, the night I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore.

I’d spent my twenties trying to find my people, my place in society — and after far too many job changes, ill-fated relationships, and moves, I’d come up short. I still had no idea where I fit, and worse, all that external striving had led to feeling like I didn’t even know who I was anymore.

I was 29-years-old; confused, broke, 40 pounds overweight, isolated, lonely, burnt out, and just completely lost.

I knew I had to find my way back to myself. But how?

Luckily, like many late-diagnosed autistic people, I’d spent the vast majority of my college credits trying to figure out the human condition, taking every sociology, psychology, and philosophy class that I could.

Brené Brown rocked my world with quotes like, “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”

In one called Eastern Philosophy, I was taught how to meditate, and why I ought to. I fell in love with it immediately but my practice was sporadic at best, as I was too focused on the external world to really focus on my inner one.

Additionally, my insides didn’t really match my outside, and this fraudulence was all I could think about when I tried to convince my mind to sit still in meditation. It was painful.

However, that class also introduced me to mindfulness, which can be done whilst also doing life-stuff, so I had a much easier time keeping it up.

Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

That decade of consciously observing my headspace before realizing I was lost created at least a semi-awareness of my mind’s contents; so I knew that I spent most of my enjoyable thoughts contemplating the nature of reality, just philosophizing my lil’ brain and heart out.

It meant the world to me, but the few times I’d tried bringing these ideas up — ideas that examine our society, reflect on spirituality, and figure out how to live a soul-satisfying life — they usually resulted in a comment on my strangeness, a giggle, or a rolled eye.

And the rest of my thoughts, well, they were heavy on the grieving, pining, distressed, and self-effacing.

It wasn’t a great time to be me.

But, externally, I did my best to keep the “too weird” musings and endless sad thoughts to myself.

When I socialized, which was less and less by the year; I had a tendency to engage by asking questions and agreeing.

Talking about myself brought pressure because people very often reacted differently than expected, plus the sad stuff had a way of seeping out. Like many autistic people who mask their traits, I commonly felt like I didn’t have much to contribute, or that it wasn’t wanted.

Because I was using these social occasions, which were usually alcohol-centered, in such a deflective and people-pleasing manner — I usually felt like less after them.

Despite having genuinely laughed, enjoyed listening, even talked some story myself; I was usually left obsessing about what errant looks and comments had meant, wondering why I never felt seen, and if anyone else really did. (Do they?)

My Outer World Falls Away

Photo by Taha Sas on Unsplash

So, after that 2011 revelation, having finally admitted to myself that I was lost, I sat down on my living room floor and meditated.

And, though my practice wasn’t daily, I kept meditating.

Additionally, I started changing the way I approached the internet, heading straight for personal development articles. That’s how I discovered authenticity maven, Brené Brown.

She rocked my world with quotes like, “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”

It was so spot-on, it felt like a personal attack.

After decades of wondering what my problem was, I had found my problem, at last — I wasn’t behaving authentically, and it was eating me alive.

My life got even more tumultuous after that, so the next decade or so would be a complete and total shitshow; but my mission co-occuring helped ensure that it was a highly centering one.

The primary cause of the shitshow, though there were many, was a congenital B12 deficiency that’d been prolonged by a homozygous MTHFR mutation; I’d nearly die from it in late 2015, with the doctor saying, “132 pg/mL is extremely low, you’d have been paralyzed in months and dead within a year.”

It’s been said that travel can help uncover who we really are by removing our own society’s influences; well, I didn’t go far, but my homeless experience did that for me.

The three years between starting my authenticity mission and getting that diagnosis were filled with ever-growing mysterious symptoms, moving too many times, and much professional chaos — however, this didn’t impede my authenticity mission, I kept right on at it.

The most important change I made was no longer having my “after-work beer(s),” something I’d presumed was normal from watching TV.

Instead of spending my nights zoned out, I started to tune in.

I used my time after work to start writing again, publishing personal essays on sites like MindBodyGreenTinyBuddhaand Elephant Journal; as well as starting a blog largely about how to apply spirituality to messy ol’ life.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Additionally, I started a happy hour club for spiritual people; which brought much enlightening conversation, memories with many lovely people, and a great friend that I still have today.

All of these centering activities set me up to emotionally survive the experience I’d recently started on that diagnostic day: living a near-completely solitary life — just me, in my isolated apartment, alone with my mind. All. The. Time.

I’d leave weekly for a doctor/grocery trip, made possible by a Medicaid ride service; but other than that and maybe 10 precious visits spent with loved ones, I was all alone — for 22 months.

If I’d gone straight from that lost evening to such an isolated life, I wouldn’t have been able to survive the darkness that inhabited the ignored corners in the back of my mind. (Honestly, it nearly killed me anyway.)

But since I was a couple of years into working on being a more whole me, that unwanted isolation also presented a unique opportunity — I would truly see who I was without the ever-present influence of other people.

At first, I’ll admit that I just refixed my excessive other-orientedness to Facebook; a junkie looking for any kind of social fix, any shot at connection, at feeling understood.

But that’s not really what Facebook is for.

It became depressing, maybe it’d always been that way and I hadn’t noticed, but watching my world go on without me definitely wasn’t helping, so I stopped, and haven’t let myself idly scroll there for close to five years. While I know and care about those people, so miss knowing what’s going on with them; it’s really helped sort out my issues around insecurity, which are directly related to feeling like it’s safe to act authentically.

Of course, it was still a tremendously difficult time, and I had many personal relationship issues and related insecurities that whirled around in my head — but at least I wasn’t persistently feeding them new content.

And, eventually, I got to a place of feeling really, truly, centered.

I was insanely stressed trying to get marketing clients from my sickbed in order to pay bills, plus all the health chaos, so this experience was not at all expected.

This inner calm was actually so unfamiliar that it was a bit jarring.

I’d just gotten out of a long meditative bath, and laid down in a sun puddle — and quite suddenly realized I felt just thriving, it was like an energetic peace had been waiting under all my other-oriented mental bullshit and it’d suddenly filled my heart and spread to the rest of me; it was wildly inspiring, it felt like a peace that was ready to bust out bold works of creativity and authenticity.

And it did.

Getting to the Root of the Issue, at Last

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

That feeling, if only sporadic, helped me power through the rest of my time alone in that apartment — and then it helped me survive eviction, three months of being a guest whilst sick AF, and seven months of living in my barely-functional 1993 Camry.

If nearly two years alone is great for an authenticity mission, then losing the societal comfort you’ve always known and falling into abject homelessness is fan-f**king-tastic.

(Don’t get me wrong, I don’t at all recommend it, but it was wildly helpful, nonetheless.)

It’s been said that travel can help uncover who we really are by removing our own society’s influences; well, I didn’t go far, but my homeless experience did that for me.

My society may still have been everywhere I went, but I felt removed from it like I was no longer a member; that detachment hurt, but it also gave me perspective on what really matters to me and helped me release ideas for my life that no longer fit.

My diagnosis has also been a beacon of hope, and a lens for the world that finally makes sense, at last.

I eventually pulled myself out of homelessness (and into sensory-overwhelming roomate-ness), then finally won a disability payment for a couple of years of the (still-ongoing) health crisis, and that combined with paying writing gigs allowed me to get into my own place again, at last.

And it was here, in my lovely little space, that I realized my authenticity problems weren’t just about insecurities and fears, and my people problems weren’t just a result of my messy life — it was here that I’d finally learn I’m autistic.

When I moved in, I was feeling pretty darn good, lifewise. I finally had work I could do with health needs, it was fulfilling, I was finally making survivable money; and, after four loooong and lonely years, my health was manageable enough that I was out trying to make friends regularly, at last.

I was so excited to meet people in my new community as my wholly authentic self, and sans all the unappealing life-chaos…but it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

Even though I was looking for my people in places where I was likely to meet like-minds, and even though I was talking about the common interest at hand, not life-drama — they still looked at me funny after I spoke, like I wasn’t doing it quite right.

They still thought I was hitting on them, or otherwise misread my motivations. They still totally misunderstood the things I said. They still made inaccurate assumptions. And they usually stopped returning my texts after knowing me long enough.

I didn’t know it yet, but my authenticity mission had largely unmasked my autism, so people were reacting to that differentness; plus, now-ineffective-yet-ingrained masking behaviors just confused matters further (still do).

By the time the pandemic started, I was relieved to no longer engage in the heart-wrenching activity of trying to meet people who truly get me.

However, the shocks of 2020 quickly overtook that relief, and the meltdowns that I’d been attributing to physical pain from health issues, went from monthly-ish, to several times a month, even though much of that body-wide pain had dissipated.

The meltdowns continued to increase and by the end of June, they’d taken over my life and neurological health — each one causing hours of being unable to do anything but cry, scream, zone out, pace, or, honestly, self-harm (autistic meltdown norms), and days of intensified symptoms afterward—they are truly terrifying experiences.

Additionally, working on becoming a more whole version of yourself won’t just help boost your joie de vivre, it can lead to you having a better impact on the world, yours, and ours.

I sought answers by looking into the neurology of Highly Sensitive People, something I’d been thinking of as “muggle empath,” and kinda wrote off due to already doing all kinds of spiritual work on owning this sensitivity. But I quickly discovered that there are actually neurological differences, so kept digging and found an article asking if HSP’s were actually representative of the female autism phenotype.

My life flashed before my eyes as I read the article, and it kept on doing so when I moved on more information, my brain suddenly doing its hyper-focus thing — an occasional autistic perk that allows me to work on chosen topics with great speed, for many hours.

And, via the grace of telemedicine and a serendipitous therapist recommendation, I was diagnosed with Level Two autism just a few weeks later.

(My diagnosis experience is not at all typical, I got lucky — as a result of this systemic hurdle, self-diagnosis is widely accepted within the autistic community.)

While it’s been extremely overwhelming (to put it mildly) to learn that I’m actually autistic after nearly four decades of thinking I just sucked at being normal; my diagnosis has also been a beacon of hope, and a lens for the world that finally makes sense, at last.

Additionally, I’ve also been able to join online support groups for autism (and late-diagnosis autism specifically), which has felt miraculous. I log onto those groups and get to read posts that I could have written — it’s uncanny and wonderful.

I’m not a freak. I’m just autistic.

And now I know there are all kinds of (literally) like-minded people out there; I have a word to describe people who think like me, a word that can help me find more of them, and a word that’s helping me get tools so I may get better and actually go meet them.

Without my autism-unmasking authenticity mission, I may have just been a failed neurotypical forever; doomed to have therapists always looking at me quizzically, never providing the answers I so desperately needed.

Regardless of your neurotype, getting real can help you get your answers.

Authenticity can teach you how to can best live by introducing you to yourself, your whole self—and anything else is one shaky foundation to build your life on (trust me).

Bring More Authenticity into Your World

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Your authenticity mission isn’t likely to result in an autism diagnosis, but it can still help shift your life into one that truly suits you — and you don’t need to almost die, endure years of isolation, nor become homeless to do it.

Score.

Additionally, working on becoming a more whole version of yourself won’t just help boost your joie de vivre, it can lead to you having a better impact on the world, yours, and ours.

When we become more aligned with who we really are, we become more present, more willing to engage, and better able to express ourselves in ways that are helpful — as well as more interested in doing so.

Things might shift a bit, but when they settle, it’ll be somewhere we can better grow.

Tips:

  1. Plan alone time. Years in isolation aren’t necessary for everyone — thank goodness! — but quality solitude is a mandatory step in becoming more authentic.
  2. Pick up a childhood hobby. For me it was writing, maybe for you, it’s horses. Whatever it is, pick it back up and remember what made you love it, even if it doesn’t recatch your fancy it’s likely to inspire something that will.
  3. Stop gossiping. Help rein in the urge to compare by curbing the urge to know and spread others’ business, as well as reconsidering how you experience social media behavior — is it focused on others, or is it focused on what you’d like to bring into your life?
  4. Acquaint yourself with norms in other circles. While it can feel like our personal world is the entire world, “normal” isn’t a freakin’ thing, and reminding ourselves of that helps relieve the pressure to live up to others’ expectations.
  5. Meditative time. Maybe it’s full-on meditation, or maybe it’s a walk in the woods, but get quiet and see what’s really on your mind to connect with your whole you.
  6. Keep reading about it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, and learning from other people’s mistakes, detours, and mishaps is a highly efficient way to approach any task — so devour any authenticity and personal development materials that catch your eye.

Best wishes on your journey! There will probably be growing pains and some awkward feelings, but certainly no more awkward than pretending to be less of yourself.

Remember, you need your whole you to thrive — this journey is worth it.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

How I Went from “Normal” to Homeless

…and the valuable lessons I learned from the experience.

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

Photo by Ussama Azam on Unsplash

It was a long and tumultuous journey that led to me living in a semi-functional 25-year-old Camry for the end of 2017, and much of 2018.

It was also wildly unexpected.

I’d graduated college with a decent GPA, had a semi-impressive career in marketing, threw charity fundraisers, volunteered and held positions on non-profit boards, cared for my people, and made sure they knew it — I had trouble managing sometimes, but did alright and was giving life my all.

If something happens to you and you proverbially fall, even if it’s not your fault, the government — whom you’ve given 30% of your life’s income to — will not catch you.

And, up until my late-20’s, I seemed pretty healthy. I knew I’d had a cacophony of seemingly random issues my whole life, but they didn’t interfere with things too much and were basically hideable.

Then, in 2009, I attended a get-together that left many of us with H1N1, or the “bird flu.” (I didn’t have the wherewithal to get to the hospital, but several of their cases were confirmed.) After that harrowing experience, the aching body pain never went away; and while I’d always seemed to be more exhausted than those around me, it got much worse.

Unfortunately, I’d have been screwed even if I’d missed that pandemic, as there were already several other health issues going on.

In my 7-month “bed,” feeling like hell. (Image via Instagram.)

Physiologically, I was a walking timebomb.

For one, I was born with a B12 deficiency, which was prolonged by a homozygous MTHFR mutation. This means that my nervous system was slowly demyelinating, losing its protective cover, and causing random issues throughout my body.

Some of these are kinda funny in retrospect, like my not being able to taste salt very well, which led to me using it excessively. (In my teens, movie theatre coworkers once pranked me, dumping a “ridiculous!” amount of salt on my popcorn while I was away — I didn’t even notice. Mmmm.)

Others weren’t funny at all, and still aren’t.

These issues mostly had to do with mental health (and unhealthy coping mechanisms), but those issues had another massive factor — undiagnosed autism.

I wouldn’t know it until 2020, but I’m a great example of what’s presently called, “the female autism phenotype,” which can present in any gender. Though there are many differences in this presentation, the key difference is having a better ability to adjust to social situations by doing something called masking, essentially faking normal; which helps cope in the short-term, but also creates a host of mental and neurological health issues.

I have another mutation that makes me high-risk to pandemic flus, so the physical trauma of H1N1 certainly played a role, but that aching pain I had, often diagnosed as fibromyalgia, is common in women with autism.

I finally got my fibro diagnosis right before homelessness, about a year and a half after the B12 deficiency was diagnosed — them telling me, “132 pg/mL is very low, you’d have been paralyzed within a few months and dead within a year.”

Home sweet home. (Image via Instagram.)

By my B12 diagnosis, late 2015, I was already basically on bed rest, but stabbing myself every day with a form of B12 called hydroxocobalamin — after learning the hard way that the cheaper, more common, cyanocobalamine can lead to panic attacks, yikes — was leading to many of the random symptoms to drop away.

Things were starting to improve, but since I was missing key diagnoses, I didn’t know what I needed to do to heal. I regularly overdid it, which would result in weeks of make-you-cry pain — but I had no idea that’s what was happening because the symptom flares can come up to 5 days later. Plus, it’s also really hard to tell when I’m pushing it, and the weather is a huge factor; which took over a year of seasons to sort out on my own.

It was maddening. (To be honest, still is. Fibro is no freakin’ joke.)

I was in that bed for about 20 months.

I wish I could tell you that’s how long it took me to get better, but that’s how long it took me to lose the bed.

I did everything I could to earn, but I just couldn’t keep it up. I’d get more productivity hours as time progressed and my intensive wellness regimen did its thing, but that first year I had a marketing client that could afford just 9 hours a week; and I was repeatedly overdoing it trying to do that and keep up with life, my never-ending UI case (that looked statistically bleak due to my being young-ish, 33 when I applied), doctors appointments, prescriptions, etc.

When you’ve got very limited storage, organization is key. (Image via Instagram.)

Shit, just going to the grocery store very often led to public meltdowns that meant recovery days of no productivity and horrendously intensified symptoms.

I had a handful of good health days that coincided with an event or visitor so got to go out into my old world a few blessed times (usually aided by self-medicating with wine) — but the vast majority of my days, I was all alone in my isolated apartment, all day, all night. (Homelessness aside, I’ve basically been in lockdown since 2016.)

I regularly went several months without seeing a friendly face, or even talking to someone on the phone.

The idea of ‘peopling’ was nearly always just too much. Plus, I didn’t have very many friends in my newish city; most of the people who loved me were back home in Alaska, hundreds of miles away.

So, it was just me and me, alone in that apartment.

Me and me, trying to heal. Trying to get through physical therapy. Trying to remember to take too many pills that did too little. Trying to navigate systems that very literally make my head feel like it’ll explode. Trying to stay on an intense allergen-free plant-based diet on a teensy budget.

Trying not to cry all day, every day.

And trying like hell to avoid homelessness.

On that last one, we didn’t succeed.

The Bottom Falls Out

Three years later, seeing this still makes my body clench and my heart ache. (Image via Instagram.)

Though more (very part-time) clients teamed up with donations from friends, acquaintances, and total strangers, as well as my very patient landlord, to keep me homed for nearly two years — I lost that studio apartment in the summer of 2017.

I’d been told by several health professionals that moving from rainy Portland, Oregon to a drier and hotter climate would help my condition, so it seemed serendipitous when a friend I hadn’t seen in well over a decade offered to let me stay with her in Los Angeles county.

This outsider feeling extended to my night in a homeless shelter, where I learned just how privileged my upbringing, my life, had been.

That climate advice was spot-on, and my symptoms decreased dramatically in the hot summer weather; I don’t believe I’ve had to use my walker even once since the move, which I’d been largely dependent on. However, living in someone else’s home had the opposite effect on my undiagnosed autistic brain, and I went into what I now know is autistic burnout; leaving me holed up in my dark, quiet, A/C-free room most of the time.

The housing situation ended a week or so after I climbed out of that then-mysterious mental hole, and a couple of days after I was directed to Skid Row, where I discovered the public housing waitlist was 11 years — and there was a lottery to even get on the list.

Once it really hit me that it’d finally happened, that I was really homeless, my mental health became dangerous to my safety. Having lost my mother to her own hand and fearing the same fate, I checked myself into a mental health ward for the second time since the health crisis started. (But that’s another tale.)

And when my 72-hour hold was up, my 7-month misadventure in homelessness really began.

A Whole New World, Sort Of

From unable to leave home, to no home to go to. (Image via Instagram.)

In spirituality, we often say the phrase, “in the world, but not of it.”

Homelessness is kinda like that.

The outside-looking-in sensations of living with undiagnosed autism were infinitely multiplied by being in the same spaces as others, while also not being like everyone else in it — having a secret likely get me scorned, shamed.

I used face cleansing clothes and dry shampoo to help keep me looking like I belonged in our society, but I’ve never felt more like an outsider. (And I’ve felt like an alien my whole life, so that’s pretty bad.)

Though warmer, this outsider feeling extended to my night in a homeless shelter, where I learned just how privileged my upbringing, my life, was.

Every shelter I called was full, which is normal — if you haven’t caught on by now, our safety nets are broke, really effing broke — so I was lucky to get a spot in one. It happened to be Thanksgiving, which felt like an extra blessing, as I’d been fearing the holiday all alone. I was overwhelmed with the sensory environment, being around people, and my usual symptoms; so I mostly just listened as they talked.

Some shared their relief for a night off the streets, talked about how rough it can be. Many had been in-and-out of homelessness since childhood, so this was a pretty normal experience for them. I thought about my experiences of financial struggle growing up, which weren’t even in the same league. Things were scary sometimes, and it did have a long-term effect on my mental health; but I always had a roof over my head, I always had nutritious food to eat.

It helped set a grateful tone for the experience, after all, at least I had a semi-functional 1993 Camry to sleep in — providing shelter, storage, some privacy. Many of these (kind, funny, truly alive) women didn’t even have that. Plus, coming from a community where people were generally having an easier time financially; I had people helping me along, helping ensure I wasn’t literally sleeping on the street.

But, the attitude of gratitude can only go so far — it was still the hardest seven months of my life.

My days were spent trying to improve things, often working until the array of bodily symptoms and mental fatigue would start to make me cry. I didn’t have an unlimited internet plan on my phone, so most of my time at night was spent lying down in the back seat of my car using meditation and visualization to take myself to a more peaceful place.

Of course, many other nights it was just crying, feeling terrified, and wondering how I’d ever get out of that mess.

I always put the window shade “funky side in,” in hopes of being more discreet. (Image via Instagram.)

I’d eventually pull myself out of homelessness when the symptom relief of warmer weather coincided with a referral for a job working for someone who was incredibly understanding about the accommodations I needed, which wound up leading to regular writing work.

And in the summer of 2019, nearly four years after I originally applied for disability payments; I was awarded about two of those years, anyways — allowing me to repay loans that helped me survive, get a working vehicle, and finally move to a place that’s a bit more compatible with my extensive sensory needs.

I’m still disabled and life still has its challenges, but even 2020 had nothing on living in my semi-functional car whilst broke and horribly ill.

It’s been almost three years since it ended, but I’m just starting to feel like I’ve moved on.

It was both traumatic and eye-opening.

It changed me.

It changed me in negative ways, like increased C-PTSD symptoms; but it also changed my view of the world, my level of consciousness in regard to what really happens in our society, and my perception of what I can handle, what I can overcome. (Plus a real random one, just ‘cause life’s lessons can be like that.)

5 Lessons from My Homelessness Experience

My masking behavior is clear to me in the caption, which stings. This was a torturously dark night: an actually very broken foot, and a broken car — I was wrong about the low bill too. (Image via Instagram.)
  1. I’m a bit of a badass. When you have an invisible disability, people are constantly questioning the authenticity of your condition, as if they’re thinking, “It can’t really be that bad.” (Without the #spoonie community all the gaslighting may have driven me off the edge.) It’d gotten to me, just as all the years of strife before had gotten to me. I felt meek.

    Then, while homeless, I fell and shattered my foot, but walked on it for 10 days because it hurt less than the rest of my body — so I figured I was fine.

    That’s f**king fierce. (Fibro fighters and autistics are fierce in general, and society has no clue.) And I stayed pretty darn positive too, I remember a drug store employee commenting on how I was smiling despite needing crutches and thinking, You have no idea what else I’m smiling through right now.”
  2. There are heroes and helpers everywhere. There were so many times I hit obstacles that seemed completely insurmountable, but people continuously helped me out.

    My home/car died repeatedly and a few people fixed it for cheap, one even doing it for free; and when I lost the apartment, friends, acquaintances, strangers donated enough to get the $500 car itself, then helped keep me in gas and internet-giving coffee purchases, as well as connecting me with creative work and donating occasional hotel stays that helped revive my spirit and get a good night’s sleep.

    Despite being so far away from the people who care about me, despite it being a physically solo journey — I didn’t go through it alone. As the woman who created the great Fred Rogers would say, when faced with scary things, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
  3. But people who leave piss on public toilet seats are the scum of the earth. That’s it, that’s the lesson.
  4. There are two Americas. And, even though it was still really effing hard, I’d been living in the comparably easy one. When you’re living in the easy one, things can “seem fine” for folks, but this is a result of the other America being overlooked, ignored, and full-on lied about. If you’re still in the easy one, please try to learn from advocates what it’s really like for people in poverty, and please call others out when they say disparaging things about those who need help.
  5. There aren’t safety nets, not really. I thought there’d be some kind of program to help disabled homeless folks find stability, someone who could help me find an adjusted place in our society. But the homeless center heralded as best resource in LA county was more like a massive mostly-empty waiting room outside of mostly-empty offices that offered pretty normal apartment listings, and a communal shower. I couldn’t even get mail there.

    I appreciated the showers, don’t get me wrong, and the humans there were wonderful; but the way “our federal safety nets” had been described to me all my life, I thought, you know, there was something to catch us when we fell. It’s not true. Our programs are archaic, under-funded, and frankly seem to be on the verge of collapse.

    If something happens to you and you proverbially fall, even if it’s not your fault, odds are that the government — whom you’ve given 30% of your life’s income to — will not be there to catch you. That is a toxic societal myth, and retelling it has very dire consequences for our most vulnerable people.

Sending you good vibes in dealing with whatever scary thing life’s sent your way, may we all find and be the helpers in this world.

A happy day, homed at lasssssssst! Thank you for reading, hope your day’s a goodie. (Image via Instagram.)

Help Autistic People; by Tossing Out These 6 Toxic Norms

People don’t mean to push us down, but it happens every day.

Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

In our society, with its multitude of toxic norms, people often hurt one another without even realizing it — an unfortunate fact that likely applies to everyone, and one that is a result of something called social conditioning.

Society trains us how to act, teaches us how to “fit in,” the things we need to do, and the ways we need to be to succeed.

Some of these things are helpful. Good manners are lovely: I like that it’s customary to say “please,” that we should apologize if we’ve hurt someone, I dig that it’s considered rude to invade personal space, etc.

Basically, I’m into all the ones that are about caring and safety.

But then there are the other ones

The norms that wind up hurting people — perhaps especially autistic people — are often the ones that aren’t taught, or even really talked about; the norms that aren’t kind, but are also socially acceptable.

People don’t get called out for these behaviors. People certainly get hurt, but there are no repercussions for doing the hurting.

For example, gender norms are undergoing reconstruction, at last, due to high toxicity: women are, at large, no longer tolerating the unwanted sexual attention put upon us for centuries, men are increasingly less expected to just repress their emotions (thank goodness), and those who don’t identify with either category are finally starting to get their stories heard.

This evolution of our norms is a result of the original toxic expectations that were put upon us — and we’re nowhere near done, there’s still toxic norms all over the place.

The conditioning that creates these norms happens from the very beginning, with our parents teaching us the things they were taught; then it amps up when the socialization of school begins, and gets really serious once we’re learning not to “rock the boat” at work.

Serious harm is very often done in ways that are completely socially acceptable.

We Autistics don’t comprehend much of this conditioning, so we’re disadvantaged due to frequently misinterpreting these norms, thereby not knowing what’s expected of us; then further disadvantaged because adhering to these standards is extremely difficult due to having a different neurotype, so being quite different at large.

Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

While I had a few plain ol’ bullies, most of my adverse social experiences happened casually and persistently, even with people who I know to be generally kind.

I’m not talking about our social evils here, but our social blindspots; “normal” modes of behavior people don’t seem to realize are harmful.

This kind of socially accepted behavior is usually othering, and/or discourages Autistic people from speaking up about our needs, teaching us instead to disregard them in order to blend in — which has consequences. Dire ones.

Fortunately, we each have the power to start changing the toxic norms we find ourselves surrounded by.

We just need to care enough to try and change.

I’m suggesting that the following changes apply to our social norms at large, not just to people who’ve disclosed that they are Autistic.

Of course, we need to address many harmful social norms in our society; but I’ve gathered a handful of tips relating to Autistic folks.

Before you dive in, it’s crucial to know that since there’s such stigma and misunderstanding around Autism, especially in adults, many of us aren’t open about it; working very hard to mask these differences (which, btw, creates other issues).

You cannot tell if someone’s Autistic or not by appearances, especially in adults.

So, while the explanations are going to be in relation to Autism, I’m suggesting that the following changes apply to everyone in our society — not just to people who’ve disclosed they’re Autistic.

Also, since it’s can be hard to articulate these things, and because internalized ableism is most definitely a thing, I recommend my fellow Autists also watch for these unconscious behaviors in ourselves.

Finally, I believe that everyone in society would benefit from these shifts in behavior, that they can help us all better support one another.

I hope you’ll consider them. (TW: #5 has a suicide statistic.)

Help Autistics by Tossing Out These 6 Toxic Norms

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
  1. Pointing out “weirdness.” Even when a comment about my weirdness (or its many synonyms) is potentially meant as a compliment, it’s usually triggering — like so many Auties, it’s just been used negatively and resulted in my being isolated far too many times. When admiring how someone’s doing something different, something like “I like your style,” or getting specific about why their different approach is notable is probably a safer bet.
  2. Telling people what they need instead of asking. When Autistic people draw boundaries to protect ourselves, or otherwise go about things differently; people very often push back, suggesting we do it their way instead. This pressure can lead to meltdowns, shutdowns, and Autistic burnout — all things known to completely disable us. Our needs need to be taken seriously, and since we are the ones that can feel our bodies…we are the ones who know what they are.
  3. Judging others based on how things “seem.” We all know that looks can be deceiving, that we shouldn’t judge books by covers, and that there’s more than meets the eye — and yet, people so often think they can quickly size someone up, judging their character and competence based on how things “seem.” Things will seem a jillion different ways based on our own experiences, personality, and…neurotype. At large, coming to a quick conclusion about people is not a wise way to facilitate an accurate understanding of other human beings.

    But in the case of autistic people, this huge societal problem can become straight-up dangerous. Being misjudged can lead to our lack of employment, housing issues, and isolation, which are all stressors that make our brain functionality decrease. So, before you assume someone isn’t a great fit for a job/home/friend because they “seem slow,” or strike you as “goofy,” or look a bit disheveled, etc. — give them a chance. In our society, far too much importance is put on “seeming together,” and it’s not helping anyone.
  4. Writing someone off because you “just don’t understand them.” People are all different, and some people will take longer to understand — especially when they‘re of a different neurotype. It’s not fair to just disregard someone because you don’t intuitively get them; as a society, we write people off way too fast, and often for harmless things. This happens a lot to many Autistic people, leaving us with the feeling of, “What did I even do wrong??”

    Sometimes a good conversation will clarify everything, but people usually don’t bother. When I was diagnosed, I asked the therapist if neurotypical people might have an easier time connecting with me now that I’m able to explain my differences. She responded by gently managing my expectations, saying, “Honestly, probably not. Most feel like it’s too much work.” But why are we expected to do all of the work?? (Questions asked with kindness are always the first step towards understanding.)
  5. Ignoring (or laughing at) someone’s struggle because it’s “too different.” This is heavy, but it needs to be known: isolation is a top reason the rate of suicidal ideation in Autistic people is a terrifying 72%. Serious emotional harm is often done in completely socially acceptable ways, like no longer communicating with someone who’s going through something very different, and/or difficult — and people in our society are big on that.

    It can be hard to reach out when someone’s struggling, sometimes it brings up our own fears and issues; I’ve been there and done the wrong thing because I was scared. But it wasn’t okay. As a whole, we like “happy and normal,” and try to ignore the rest, or even mock it. Hard times are often faced alone in this society, regardless of neurotype. It‘s messed up and we can do better.
  6. Suggesting people are “just _____,” when they’re struggling. When someone’s having a hard time and it’s suggested that a condition may be the reason, people often say things like, “they’re not Autistic, they’re just crazy.” (This is something that applies to chronic illnesses as well, i.e. “they don’t have chronic fatigue, they’re just lazy.”) When someone in our life is having a struggle that we don’t understand, we need to ask *them* questions to better understand their experience; and to do so whilst giving the honest benefit of the doubt.

So, if we could start cutting out these behaviors in ourselves, and speaking up when they’re coming from others, it’d sure help!

I know a lot is going on right now, with many different communities asking for change; and even when the changes are wanted, warranted, and we’re on board — changes in what’s normal can still be hard.

But since the reward is a kinder society with improved mental health, making the effort is so f**king worth it.

Image of Autism + Neurodiversity symbol via Pixabay

Autism Acceptance > Autism “Awareness”

Awareness efforts very often do more harm than good to the autistic community. Listen to us, not people talking *about* us.

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

Everyone knows autism is a thing now. It’s been aware’d.

The problem is groups like Autism Speaks haven’t made people aware of what autism *actually* is, instead having the effect of “BEWARE of autism” — that organization even put out a commercial about how autistic children destroy their parents’ lives.

We don’t need a warning. We are not threats.

We are human fucking beings.

We need people to know we have different needs and when people push them it can have dire neurological consequences.

We need people to know that problems with executive functioning don’t mean that we’re stupid, it just means you need to give us a second.

We need people to know that if they’ve met one autistic person, they’ve met ONE autistic person. (The spectrum is already colorful, #colorthespectrum peeps, the problem is that no one is interested in all of the different hues!!)

We need people to know that “curing” us would mean that we’re no longer born.

Autism is a neurotype. A type of brain.

The only thing that could “cure” it would be on the lines of eugenics or genocide.

I’d love for there to be more research done on ways to prevent meltdowns, tamper sensory issues, and other tricky aspects of the neurotype — but sorting all that out would not “cure” us.

We’ll always be different.

We’d still approach things differently, also referred to as “thinking outside the box.” We’d still speak directly, which can be very useful in a society where facts have become debatable! We’d still miss things that seem obvious to NTs, and still notice things that they/you do not.

Diversity is an evolutionary strength in nature, and human beings are no exception to this rule.

Please help us rock our differentness, please help us to thrive so that we may better contribute to society.

Read the stuff we write, watch the videos we make, and otherwise engage with the #actuallyautistic population.

(We’re here! We’re chatting away, even if it takes a keyboard!)

It is not okay to listen to people claiming to speak for us. It is dangerous.

We have truly terrifying mental health stats.

This. Is. Important.

To those promoting harmful NT ideas of “awareness,” please, please for the love of freakin’ god, use your voices and platforms to shed light our community itself, people who are #actuallyautistic.

Please stop hurting us with this puzzle piece bullshit.

It’s already hard enough.

7 Benefits of My Late Autism Diagnosis

It’s about brain functionality and mental health, not “feeling special.”

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

People who are autistic need to know that they are — we’re wired differently, and there’s power in learning how. Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

Seven months ago, at 37 years old, I was diagnosed with autism.

What. A. Trip.

One of the many ways it’s so bizarre is discovering the bewildering reactions that some people have to the late-diagnosis community, especially on internet spaces like YouTube and TikTok.

Most of the comments tend to be positive ones from other autistic people, but it’s also common for “normal” neurotypical (NT) people to troll these posts and make disparaging comments.

In these online interactions, the motivations of the often relieved and jubilant newly diagnosed autistic person are questioned by the NT — “You’re not autistic, you’re just weird. If you don’t even seem autistic, why claim it now?”

And it’s not uncommon to see such comments even on videos that talk about dealing with trauma related to being unknowingly autistic, making it seem like they didn’t even bother to watch the video before doing the gaslighting.

These people often accuse the autistic person of just seeking attention, a reason to feel special, or something to use as an excuse.

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

I don’t know what to make of this behavior. There are so many people engaged in this cruel nonsense, it’s really quite sad. (They seem sad. Why else would you do that? #hurtpeoplehurtpeople.)

But mostly, it’s just mind-bogglingly messed up.

Despite my having had a decisive and thorough professional assessment, and despite it concluding I’m Level freakin’ Two autistic (not that self-diagnosis isn’t valid, it is), just reading these kinds of public exchanges led to my experiencing persistently defensive thought patterns, a kind of imposter syndrome eating away at my new—and desperately-needed—clarity.

This internalized ableism is common among the newly diagnosed, which is dangerous considering the terrifying mental health stats in the autistic community.

Plus, we’re trying to emotionally and mentally process so much already — finding out you’re actually autistic after decades of thinking you just really sucked at being normal is disorienting, to say the least.

To say a little more: discovering that you’re actually autistic after decades of trying to be NT is a complete and total mindf**k.

I had trouble sleeping for months afterward because I was plagued with painful memories from my past, slivers of trauma that finally made sense after diagnosis coming up to be reprocessed under this new lens, over and over and over and over and over and over

Photo by Ian on Unsplash

It was a fragile time, to say the least. I clung to autism studies and first-person testimonials to keep some semblance of my sanity; each new piece of information clicking into my psyche, helping me understand that I’m not broken, I’m just different. Knowledge truly is power.

So, it’s really frustrating to finally find a lifeline—a sign of hope after decades of feeling like life is impossible—only to have ignorant people question its validity.

And there are all kinds of people assuming that autistic stereotypes are the full picture, that autism can be spotted with one’s eyes rather than by extensive knowledge of one’s internal processes.

This perspective is normal, which creates an abundance of toxic behavior.

It has to stop.

People need to understand what autism truly means, so that they may stop making things even harder for us—even well-intentioned people know so little about autism in adults that their comments are often persistently painful.

For example, saying “I can’t even tell, you seem normal enough, you’re cool,” isn’t a compliment—it’s an insult to the very autistic parts of me I’m not showing you, as well as my community. (Which is actually cool AF, FYI.)

To that end, here’s a little more about the journey; then I’ll share the benefits of having found my answers, at last.

From Lost to Found

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

A year ago, I was wildly disappointed with myself for being so relieved that the pandemic meant I could stop pushing myself to “get out there,” an effort that had led to a renewed eye twitch, aided by several already-established relationships that had me distraught.

Despite years of working to cultivate more authenticity, I was riddled with behaviors that, in hindsight, were clearly unconscious attempts to cover my differences and make myself more palatable; a coping technique called masking that’s common in autistic people (especially those of the so-called “female” phenotype, which can present in any gender)—but the actual effect was to make me feel misunderstood, unseen, and unheard.

And, since I was clueless as to why this was happening, I had no idea how to stop creating the same lonely results.

I was plagued by insecurity, always trying to stop mentally hand-wringing about my differentness, my loneliness; trying to answer endless questions about why I did the things I did and felt the way I felt.

Finally being diagnosed with Level Two autism was like being thrown a life preserver in a sea of soul-sucking confusion.

Why did people continuously misinterpret my words? Why did they assume things about me that are untrue? Why was I persistently underestimated? Why did they say I sit and move my body weirdly? Why was I still so tired, why couldn’t I ever keep up? Why did light and sound overwhelm me? Why did I always feel like I was making up for some unidentified shortcoming, even with strangers? Why did people have such odd reactions to me? (What did I do wrong this time?!)

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

And why did I always feel like I had to put on a show, a facade of someone less complicated than me? Less emotional, less opinionated, less open, less awkward, less neurotic. Just. Less.

And why was it so hard to stop? Why did it feel like my very safety was tied to this mask?

What the heck was my deal?!

It was literally maddening—after years of struggle and related physical ailments, my mental health finally became truly dangerous to my safety; with my being hospitalized twice because I was afraid of what I might do alone overnight when physical and mental health symptoms peaked.

Finally being diagnosed with Level Two autism was like being thrown a life preserver in a sea of soul-sucking confusion. It’s been really challenging to process, but it absolutely saved me as well.

Goodbye, self-hate. Hello, self-wisdom.

The experience of late autism diagnosis can also be compared to using the instructions and procedures for a PC your whole life, then discovering that you’ve been a Mac all along. You’re not inherently broken, you just need to do things differently for smoother performance.

There’s a learning curve, of course, but after decades of mysterious errors and malfunction; I finally have the manual to my operating system, at last, plus a community full of people navigating the same errors and malfunctions.

To quote the autistic autism researcher Jac den Houting“I wasn’t a failed neurotypical person, I was a perfectly good autistic person.”

Benefits of Late Autism Diagnosis

Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

In an effort to help fight against the scourge of folks messing with the already stressed minds of the newly diagnosed, I’ve prepared a list of seven actual benefits of discovering your neurotype isn’t typical, but autistic.

I hope that it will help arm potential allies by describing some of the internal experiences as well as the benefits; and I also hope that it will help my fellow auties feel more secure in their autistic selves, as well as encouraging those who wonder if they might be autistic to start seriously learning about it—maybe you is and maybe you ain’t, but either way, knowing is a good thing.

  1. A community of (quite literally) like-minded people. It’s amazing to be able to log into an online autism support group after a horrid day and be like, “Had a mega bad public meltdown due to a ridiculously loud noise and bright lights, then had to sit in a dark room and stim out with goo for hours, anyone relate?”—and not only will they relate, but they’ll probably reply with empathetic stories and memes to help cheer you up.
  2. Tools to identify and manage adverse autism traits. Executive functioning issues used to result in my internally mean-girling myself for being “such a ditz,” but now I know that it simply means my autistic brain is getting tired (because it lives in a neurotypical world, which is tiring), and I just need to take a break, maybe go stare at something sparkly for a while (which, like the aforementioned goo, is a helpful tool called ‘stimming’). Goodbye self-hate. Hello self-wisdom.
  3. Tools to identify and maximize positive autism traits. For example, like many auties, when my brain’s happy I can hyper-focus on a chosen task and work very quickly, for a very long time. This is especially common with special interests (SI), so finding a way to make your SI your job is maybe the ultimate maximization of positive autism traits. Other potential areas of strength to maximize: naturally thinking “outside the box,” honesty, passion, visual thinking, and unique (+ uniquely delightful) sense of humor, for starters.
  4. Better ability to advocate for oneself. Now that I have an accurate way to describe my challenges, it’s a hell of a lot easier to explain why my needs are different and what, precisely, they are. For example, now I know that loud and/or bright things really agitate me due to my high sensory sensitivity, their ability to induce a public meltdown is because my brain’s not doing so well in recent years—and autistic meltdowns due to sensory overwhelm are very common, especially when already struggling.

    Meltdowns also contribute to the incapacitating state of autistic burnout, which means not being able to depend on one’s brain. So actions taken to limit the overwhelm aren’t me being too particular, it’s protecting my neurological and mental health—so, my life—it’s not only okay to ask for what I need, it’s crucial.
  5. Less confusion. As you may have caught on with all those questions before, I was riddled with confusion before my autism diagnosis. Autism is a neurotype, basically a type of brain; so interacting with the world was very disorienting due to my thinking differently, and further so because I didn’t know that.

    I had no idea why technology is the opposite of intuitive, why forms that take others a few seconds make me want to poke my eye out with the pen, why so few people seemed to “speak my language,” etc., and it all added up to me feeling like an alien, like maybe this world just wasn’t built for me. (This is a common viewpoint among autistic people.)

    But now I know the latter part is actually true—that the world was indeed built for a different neurotype—those things aren’t further triggered with a lifetime of confusion, anger, and shame. It still frustrates me that we aren’t societally considered, of course; but now that I at least know what I’m frustrated about, those moments feel less…explosive, even despite my currently not being in a great neurological state.
  6. Improved confidence via self-understanding. Knowing why I am the way I am also helps worlds in the self-acceptance department. I’ve been through a lot and still have work to do, both internally and externally, but, day by day, it gets better. I find myself in fewer negative thought patterns around past failures and rejections, and more hopeful about connecting with people, with life, due to this expanded perspective of who I am and what I need.
  7. Paradoxically, feeling more “normal.” It’s so strange that internet bullies so often bring up “you want to feel special” allegations because I actually feel way less original after spending time in the autistic community. Many of my “quirks” are actually just autism traits, and many others are expressions of such, seen displayed by other auties all the time — like doing thissssssssss, for a random example. And it’s awesome. I freakin’ love being able to log on and find thousands of people who actually speak my language, face similar challenges, and just generally get it.
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

How I Went from “Normal” to Homeless

…and the valuable lessons I learned from the experience.

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

Photo by Ussama Azam on Unsplash

It was a long and tumultuous journey that led to me living in a semi-functional 25-year-old Camry for the end of 2017, and much of 2018.

It was also wildly unexpected.

I’d graduated college with a decent GPA, had a semi-impressive career in marketing, threw charity fundraisers, volunteered and held positions on non-profit boards, cared for my people, and made sure they knew it — I had trouble managing sometimes, but did alright and was giving life my all.

If something happens to you and you proverbially fall, even if it’s not your fault, the government — whom you’ve given 30% of your life’s income to — will not catch you.

And, up until my late-20’s, I seemed pretty healthy. I knew I’d had a cacophony of seemingly random issues my whole life, but they didn’t interfere with things too much and were basically hideable.

Then, in 2009, I attended a get-together that left many of us with H1N1, or the “bird flu.” (I didn’t have the wherewithal to get to the hospital, but several of their cases were confirmed.) After that harrowing experience, the aching body pain never went away; and while I’d always seemed to be more exhausted than those around me, it got much worse.

Unfortunately, I’d have been screwed even if I’d missed that pandemic, as there were already several other health issues going on.

In my 7-month “bed,” feeling like hell. (Image via Instagram.)

Physiologically, I was a walking timebomb.

For one, I was born with a B12 deficiency, which was prolonged by a homozygous MTHFR mutation. This means that my nervous system was slowly demyelinating, losing its protective cover, and causing random issues throughout my body.

Some of these are kinda funny in retrospect, like my not being able to taste salt very well, which led to me using it excessively. (In my teens, movie theatre coworkers once pranked me, dumping a “ridiculous!” amount of salt on my popcorn while I was away — I didn’t even notice. Mmmm.)

Others weren’t funny at all, and still aren’t.

These issues mostly had to do with mental health (and unhealthy coping mechanisms), but those issues had another massive factor — undiagnosed autism.

I wouldn’t know it until 2020, but I’m a great example of what’s presently called, “the female autism phenotype,” which can present in any gender. Though there are many differences in this presentation, the key difference is having a better ability to adjust to social situations by doing something called masking, essentially faking normal; which helps cope in the short-term, but also creates a host of mental and neurological health issues.

I have another mutation that makes me high-risk to pandemic flus, so the physical trauma of H1N1 certainly played a role, but that aching pain I had, often diagnosed as fibromyalgia, is common in women with autism.

I finally got my fibro diagnosis right before homelessness, about a year and a half after the B12 deficiency was diagnosed — them telling me, “132 pg/mL is very low, you’d have been paralyzed within a few months and dead within a year.”

Home sweet home. (Image via Instagram.)

By my B12 diagnosis, late 2015, I was already basically on bed rest, but stabbing myself every day with a form of B12 called hydroxocobalamin — after learning the hard way that the cheaper, more common, cyanocobalamine can lead to panic attacks, yikes — was leading to many of the random symptoms to drop away.

Things were starting to improve, but since I was missing key diagnoses, I didn’t know what I needed to do to heal. I regularly overdid it, which would result in weeks of make-you-cry pain — but I had no idea that’s what was happening because the symptom flares can come up to 5 days later. Plus, it’s also really hard to tell when I’m pushing it, and the weather is a huge factor; which took over a year of seasons to sort out on my own.

It was maddening. (To be honest, still is. Fibro is no freakin’ joke.)

I was in that bed for about 20 months.

I wish I could tell you that’s how long it took me to get better, but that’s how long it took me to lose the bed.

I did everything I could to earn, but I just couldn’t keep it up. I’d get more productivity hours as time progressed and my intensive wellness regimen did its thing, but that first year I had a marketing client that could afford just 9 hours a week; and I was repeatedly overdoing it trying to do that and keep up with life, my never-ending UI case (that looked statistically bleak due to my being young-ish, 33 when I applied), doctors appointments, prescriptions, etc.

When you’ve got very limited storage, organization is key. (Image via Instagram.)

Shit, just going to the grocery store very often led to public meltdowns that meant recovery days of no productivity and horrendously intensified symptoms.

I had a handful of good health days that coincided with an event or visitor so got to go out into my old world a few blessed times (usually aided by self-medicating with wine) — but the vast majority of my days, I was all alone in my isolated apartment, all day, all night. (Homelessness aside, I’ve basically been in lockdown since 2016.)

I regularly went several months without seeing a friendly face, or even talking to someone on the phone.

The idea of ‘peopling’ was nearly always just too much. Plus, I didn’t have very many friends in my newish city; most of the people who loved me were back home in Alaska, hundreds of miles away.

So, it was just me and me, alone in that apartment.

Me and me, trying to heal. Trying to get through physical therapy. Trying to remember to take too many pills that did too little. Trying to navigate systems that very literally make my head feel like it’ll explode. Trying to stay on an intense allergen-free plant-based diet on a teensy budget.

Trying not to cry all day, every day.

And trying like hell to avoid homelessness.

On that last one, we didn’t succeed.

The Bottom Falls Out

Three years later, seeing this still makes my body clench and my heart ache. (Image via Instagram.)

Though more (very part-time) clients teamed up with donations from friends, acquaintances, and total strangers, as well as my very patient landlord, to keep me homed for nearly two years — I lost that studio apartment in the summer of 2017.

I’d been told by several health professionals that moving from rainy Portland, Oregon to a drier and hotter climate would help my condition, so it seemed serendipitous when a friend I hadn’t seen in well over a decade offered to let me stay with her in Los Angeles county.

This outsider feeling extended to my night in a homeless shelter, where I learned just how privileged my upbringing, my life, had been.

That climate advice was spot-on, and my symptoms decreased dramatically in the hot summer weather; I don’t believe I’ve had to use my walker even once since the move, which I’d been largely dependent on. However, living in someone else’s home had the opposite effect on my undiagnosed autistic brain, and I went into what I now know is autistic burnout; leaving me holed up in my dark, quiet, A/C-free room most of the time.

The housing situation ended a week or so after I climbed out of that then-mysterious mental hole, and a couple of days after I was directed to Skid Row, where I discovered the public housing waitlist was 11 years — and there was a lottery to even get on the list.

Once it really hit me that it’d finally happened, that I was really homeless, my mental health became dangerous to my safety. Having lost my mother to her own hand and fearing the same fate, I checked myself into a mental health ward for the second time since the health crisis started. (But that’s another tale.)

And when my 72-hour hold was up, my 7-month misadventure in homelessness really began.

A Whole New World, Sort Of

From unable to leave home, to no home to go to. (Image via Instagram.)

In spirituality, we often say the phrase, “in the world, but not of it.”

Homelessness is kinda like that.

The outside-looking-in sensations of living with undiagnosed autism were infinitely multiplied by being in the same spaces as others, while also not being like everyone else in it — having a secret likely get me scorned, shamed.

I used face cleansing clothes and dry shampoo to help keep me looking like I belonged in our society, but I’ve never felt more like an outsider. (And I’ve felt like an alien my whole life, so that’s pretty bad.)

Though warmer, this outsider feeling extended to my night in a homeless shelter, where I learned just how privileged my upbringing, my life, was.

Every shelter I called was full, which is normal — if you haven’t caught on by now, our safety nets are broke, really effing broke — so I was lucky to get a spot in one. It happened to be Thanksgiving, which felt like an extra blessing, as I’d been fearing the holiday all alone. I was overwhelmed with the sensory environment, being around people, and my usual symptoms; so I mostly just listened as they talked.

Some shared their relief for a night off the streets, talked about how rough it can be. Many had been in-and-out of homelessness since childhood, so this was a pretty normal experience for them. I thought about my experiences of financial struggle growing up, which weren’t even in the same league. Things were scary sometimes, and it did have a long-term effect on my mental health; but I always had a roof over my head, I always had nutritious food to eat.

It helped set a grateful tone for the experience, after all, at least I had a semi-functional 1993 Camry to sleep in — providing shelter, storage, some privacy. Many of these (kind, funny, truly alive) women didn’t even have that. Plus, coming from a community where people were generally having an easier time financially; I had people helping me along, helping ensure I wasn’t literally sleeping on the street.

But, the attitude of gratitude can only go so far — it was still the hardest seven months of my life.

My days were spent trying to improve things, often working until the array of bodily symptoms and mental fatigue would start to make me cry. I didn’t have an unlimited internet plan on my phone, so most of my time at night was spent lying down in the back seat of my car using meditation and visualization to take myself to a more peaceful place.

Of course, many other nights it was just crying, feeling terrified, and wondering how I’d ever get out of that mess.

I always put the window shade “funky side in,” in hopes of being more discreet. (Image via Instagram.)

I’d eventually pull myself out of homelessness when the symptom relief of warmer weather coincided with a referral for a job working for someone who was incredibly understanding about the accommodations I needed, which wound up leading to regular writing work.

And in the summer of 2019, nearly four years after I originally applied for disability payments; I was awarded about two of those years, anyways — allowing me to repay loans that helped me survive, get a working vehicle, and finally move to a place that’s a bit more compatible with my extensive sensory needs.

I’m still disabled and life still has its challenges, but even 2020 had nothing on living in my semi-functional car whilst broke and horribly ill.

It’s been almost three years since it ended, but I’m just starting to feel like I’ve moved on.

It was both traumatic and eye-opening.

It changed me.

It changed me in negative ways, like increased C-PTSD symptoms; but it also changed my view of the world, my level of consciousness in regard to what really happens in our society, and my perception of what I can handle, what I can overcome. (Plus a real random one, just ‘cause life’s lessons can be like that.)

5 Lessons from My Homelessness Experience

My masking behavior is clear to me in the caption, which stings. This was a torturously dark night: an actually very broken foot, and a broken car — I was wrong about the low bill too. (Image via Instagram.)
  1. I’m a bit of a badass. When you have an invisible disability, people are constantly questioning the authenticity of your condition, as if they’re thinking, “It can’t really be that bad.” (Without the #spoonie community all the gaslighting may have driven me off the edge.) It’d gotten to me, just as all the years of strife before had gotten to me. I felt meek.

    Then, while homeless, I fell and shattered my foot, but walked on it for 10 days because it hurt less than the rest of my body — so I figured I was fine.

    That’s f**king fierce. (Fibro fighters and autistics are fierce in general, and society has no clue.) And I stayed pretty darn positive too, I remember a drug store employee commenting on how I was smiling despite needing crutches and thinking, “You have no idea what else I’m smiling through right now.”
  2. There are heroes and helpers everywhere. There were so many times I hit obstacles that seemed completely insurmountable, but people continuously helped me out.

    My home/car died repeatedly and a few people fixed it for cheap, one even doing it for free; and when I lost the apartment, friends, acquaintances, strangers donated enough to get the $500 car itself, then helped keep me in gas and internet-giving coffee purchases, as well as connecting me with creative work and donating occasional hotel stays that helped revive my spirit and get a good night’s sleep.

    Despite being so far away from the people who care about me, despite it being a physically solo journey — I didn’t go through it alone. As the woman who created the great Fred Rogers would say, when faced with scary things, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
  3. But people who leave piss on public toilet seats are the scum of the earth. That’s it, that’s the lesson.
  4. There are two Americas. And, even though it was still really effing hard, I’d been living in the comparably easy one. When you’re living in the easy one, things can “seem fine” for folks, but this is a result of the other America being overlooked, ignored, and full-on lied about. If you’re still in the easy one, please try to learn from advocates what it’s really like for people in poverty, and please call others out when they say disparaging things about those who need help.
  5. There aren’t safety nets, not really. I thought there’d be some kind of program to help disabled homeless folks find stability, someone who could help me find an adjusted place in our society. But the homeless center heralded as best resource in LA county was more like a massive mostly-empty waiting room outside of mostly-empty offices that offered pretty normal apartment listings, and a communal shower. I couldn’t even get mail there.

    I appreciated the showers, don’t get me wrong, and the humans there were wonderful; but the way “our federal safety nets” had been described to me all my life, I thought, you know, there was something to catch us when we fell. It’s not true. Our programs are archaic, under-funded, and frankly seem to be on the verge of collapse.

    If something happens to you and you proverbially fall, even if it’s not your fault, odds are that the government — whom you’ve given 30% of your life’s income to — will not be there to catch you. That is a toxic societal myth, and retelling it has very dire consequences for our most vulnerable people.

Sending you good vibes in dealing with whatever scary thing life’s sent your way, may we all find and be the helpers in this world.

A happy day, homed at lasssssssst! Thank you for reading, hope your day’s a goodie. (Image via Instagram.)

Societal Conditioning is Losing Its Grip, Let’s Help

Advocacy movements are changing harmful norms, but they can’t do it alone.

Still from ‘They Live,’ a 1988 cult-classic, very clever take on societal conditioning, and great follow-up to reading about this topic. (Image via letterboxd)

Social conditioning is a lot like air, we hardly notice it, and yet it affects every aspect of our lives.

It’s defined as ‘the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society,’ and it looks like going to school, interacting with peers (especially “fitting in”), engaging with pop culture, adapting to work environments, etc.

These things shape the way we view the world and interact with others.

And right now, Americans are learning that our “air” has some fiercely toxic issues.

Though there have always been Black advocates speaking up, nearly a decade ago The Black Lives Matter movement finally brought national attention to the fact that we most definitely do not live in a post-racial society (which has been clearly reflected in demographic statistics for decades) — and yet our public schools essentially teach that the ’60s brought equality to our country.

Generations were taught that we’re “a nation that doesn’t see race,” learning that ignoring our racial differences was helpful; and this conditioning has led to continued societal disbelief and inaction in regard to the very real racial disparities in the US. It’s horrifying.

Luckily, the evolution of societal norms is often a direct result of individuals speaking up.

Then the #MeToo movement busted onto the scene in 2017, exposing the harmful misogynistic norms that women have been dealing with in America all along — and making a lot of us pretty furious about all the “sugar + spice” conditioning that basically trained us to put up with harassment and abuse, all in the subconscious pursuit of trying to be the “good girls” society told us to be.

Photo by Edrece Stansberry on Unsplash

And though disability advocacy movements haven’t yet caught the nation’s attention, we’ve been yelling for a very long time.

From extensive issues with accessibility (for wheelchair users and beyond), massively-funded nonprofits that actually work against us (*ahem, Autism Speaks*), to a society rampant with inspiration porn in place of actually informing people about how to work with our different needs; to excessive government focus on “preventable illness” and little-to-none on the myriad of conditions that can’t be, resulting in a blame-the-patient culture that’s really hard to survive —we’ve got a lot to be upset about.

All-in-all, America has a white-supremacist, sexist, ableist (+!) set of social norms; and they need to change, fast.

While developments like oodles of (brilliant) intersectional entertainment, advocacy movements regularly trending on Twitter, and increased diversity in politics are helpful and encouraging; we also need our societal conditioning to change in a structural way, in our government and healthcare systems, schools, workplaces, and how media is sourced and distributed.

Luckily, the evolution of societal norms is often a direct result of individuals speaking up. A paradigm shift is not only possible, it’s already happening.

For example, those same public schools teach young minds that Thanksgiving commemorates a peaceful celebration of unity between settlers and Native Americans when history shows that the opposite was true. And this propaganda is taught by teachers who are overwhelmingly white, with a lived racial experience that 4 in 10 Americans cannot relate to.

Photo by Mwesigwa Joel on Unsplash

We need schools that teach actual, factual, history, and it needs to be taught by teachers who represent the demographics of the students in this country.

Now let’s pick on the media. Television and magazines propagate impossible ideals, corporate support/dependence, and harmful norms that serve to protect the status quo — which isn’t surprising since six white-male-led companies control the vast majority of the media, often resulting in news coverage and bias that benefits those already on top.

The “normal” office space is also rife with room for improvement.

The constraints of “acting professional” usually have more to do with not causing waves than treating colleagues with respect — and this conditioning serves us in the exact same way as the “sugar + spice” bullshite, helping to maintain the toxic status quo through unspoken demands like code-switching.

The effect of our present societal conditioning is that people are expected to “fit in” in order to move up in life, which is functionally racistsexist, and ableist in application — ensuring that the people on top, stay on top.

(And we’ve only talked about 3 offensive istsharming our society! There’s plenty more.)

It might “make waves“… 😮 (‘They Live’ film still provided by Universal Pictures, via Fonts in Use.)

How to Help

Norms are changing on our screens, now it’s time to securely bring inclusive changes into the schools, offices, and community spaces of the United States.

It’s time to check ourselves. And it’s time to speak up against harmful norms.

Everyday.

Everywhere.

Luckily, the evolution of societal norms is often a direct result of individuals speaking up. A paradigm shift is not only possible, it’s already happening.

But it needs all of us.

Here are 6 ways we can help detoxify the effects of societal conditioning:

  1. Learn, learn, learn. We need to educate ourselves in areas where we have societally-suggested knowledge gaps (or even misinformation), carefully ensuring that what we’re reading was written by a member of the affected group. This can take some effort, but it’s worth it to ensure that what we’re reading is truly the perspective of the community affected. (There are lots of advocacy personal essays on Medium, so you’re at a great place to start.)
  2. Inspect our language. Our culture is rife with popular terms that are actually offensive to our many vulnerable demographics, and even well-meaning can people offend. (We’re practically trained to, via societal osmosis.) And it’s important to pay attention to aspects that aren’t usually considered; such as more subtle aspects of discrimination (ex. for ableism, hurtful usage of words like ‘crazy’ and ‘stupid’), phrases like “that’s just the system” that subtly stand up for the status quo. And it should go without saying, but this applies to every space — not just those where minority groups are present.
  3. Request change from the leaders of our society, especially politicians and corporations. Be it an email to your local political representatives about the harm of letting misinformation masquerade as news, no longer supporting an offending corporation due to sexist advertising, or calling out a celebrity for the societal ramifications of an ableist action; individual complaints add up and are often (eventually) appeased.
  4. Request change in your environments. Again, individual input matters! When enough of us ask for changes in respect to well, respect, leaders have to respond. And there are now training programs to help educate employees, students, and communities on how to better accommodate one another, so why not encourage one?
  5. Speak up when you’re affected. We need to speak up when we’re hit by the negative outcomes created by societal conditioning, or it will seem like “we’re fine with it.” If a teacher only calls on the white kids, if women in your office are paid less than men, if you’re being treated as if your disabled needs are irrelevant, or anything else of that nature — now’s the time to speak up.
  6. Learn to welcome the different. Even when we try not to let it, subtle-yet-constant conditioning affects how all of us see the world, often creating anxiety around allowing new experiences and people in. But in addition to being the inherently more kind thing to do, diversity has proven benefits; the more perspectives, the more coherent the collective understanding will be.

Inclusivity, attentiveness, and compassion in regards to our differences need to replace the societally-pervasive dinosaur mentality of “that’s just how things are done.”

And it starts with us.

7 Things I Learned from 5+ Years of Solitude

Isolation can be transformative and empowering, here’s how.

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

It’s been one year since the pandemic started, a year that’s brought significant changes for just about everyone.

Some of us have been overly trapped in a house with too many people; but others of us have been all on our own for quarantine, left alone with our minds, and a pet, if we’re lucky.

Going from a life of being out in the world, talking with people, experiencing novelty and freedom — to being all alone in your apartment, like, every day, can be immensely difficult.

In October of 2015, I had my last day working at a health company that had been extremely compassionate in regard to my sick time. I had been crashing right after work most days for years, and the days where I couldn’t leave the house at all had started to outnumber the days that I could.

Since then, it’s been a life of treasuring the days where I do feel good enough to leave the house.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

I’d learn that I had a B12 level of 132 pg/mL; the doctor noting that I’d have been paralyzed within a month, and dead within a year. A year and a half later, having been tested for just about every other ailment — I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, explaining the pain all over my body, but leaving me with many unanswered questions.

And, finally, just this summer I was diagnosed with Level Two autism, a mind-blowing diagnosis, for sure, but one that has brought me the answers to those questions, tools, and a literally like-minded community (if only online, for now).

So, when the pandemic started, I was already on year four of near-complete solitude — I have been completely by myself for the vast majority of my hours, for five freakin’ years.

At first, it was really hard. Not gonna lie.

But this solitude has brought me treasures, as well. Transformational ones.

May we all be infinitely more awesome versions of ourselves by the time the world reopens, ready to rock its socks right off.

Our world constantly feeds us information to process and react to, and while letting all that go might be difficult; its absence can be immensely centering, especially with some intention and effort.

Though the arrival of vaccines is exciting, the reality is that many of us (especially my fellow high-risk peeps) are probably going to be solo’ing it up for some time — so I thought that I’d share the gifts that isolation has brought me, and how to get at ‘em.

7 Things I’ve Learned from Extended Solitude

Photo by Afonso Coutinho on Unsplash
  1. The most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. For a lot of us, it’s easy to be thrown into everyone else’s world, letting other people occupy our mental spaces rather than focusing on cultivating our own internal peace. It’s important to engage in activities that help us feel closer to ourselves; for me, it’s spirituality and making art (ta-da) — maybe for you, it’s gourmet cooking whilst listening to personal development podcasts. But whatever it is, making it happen regularly is absolutely worth the effort.
  2. Self-care, like meditation and daily movement, is not optional. Similarly, it’s important to hold ourselves accountable for taking care of our minds and bodies, which can be tricky when your whole routine is thrown out of wack. Luckily, to get rolling all you need is a bit of floor space, maybe some direction and inspiration from YouTube, and willpower derived from knowing that self-care leads to happier and more productive days — making you your best you.
  3. It’s okay to follow your own rhythm. Our society pushes a fast-paced lifestyle that starts at 6:30 am, and even if you’ve been laid off, or your hours have become more flexible; it’s likely you’re still feeling pressure to keep it up. Take this opportunity to learn about your own internal rhythms — see what time you wake up natural, be busy on a Sunday and chilled out on Monday, discover what truly works for you.
  4. Authenticity is key to sanity. I first started falling ill regularly over a decade ago, and the forced solitude helped me realize that I wasn’t being my full self when around others, that I feared doing so, and it made me anxious, almost constantly, which I hid, constantly. After a few months alone, unobserved, unguarded, unedited; I found myself being sillier, as well as feeling more joy and peace, and I’m better able to bring that into my relationships when I do have the energy to connect.
    .
    Notice how you are alone, and how you are with others — is there a gap? As the great Brené Brown says, “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief,” which is something I can personally vouch for. Mind the gap, my friend, then close it good.
  5. Societal conditioning is utter nonsense. All this time alone, without being persistently exposed to and influenced by the views of others, being able to control the amount of conditioning I’m exposed to — has helped me to really see our society for what it is. (And, very often, it’s not great.)
    .
    Inspect your psyche and motivations, how much is “mother culture” affecting your goals, assumptions, and beliefs? How does advertising affect you? Social media? Keep your eyes peeled for internal reactions (especially shame) when encountering aspects of socialization and our society, observe how conditioning can be an insidious mofo.
  6. The key to never being bored is caring more. My mother always used to say, “If you’re bored, you’re boring,” which irritated me as a restless teen, but I’ve come to see its wisdom. Engaging people are always engaging with something, learning about their new passion, supporting the people around them (if only from afar), and generally cultivating their curiosity at every turn — and the key to it all is caring.
    .
    While happy hours and concerts allude, opportunities for caring are still abundant, and one is never bored whilst giving a shit about something. (It just can’t be done.) Whether it’s getting involved with your community somehow, taking up a new hobby, or exploring your obsession with some random topic you love with all your heart; bid adieu to boredom and get it get it.
  7. It’s crucial to know what company uplifts, and who drains you. When availability for interaction is limited, it’s especially important to be particular. Once I started examining how I felt after talking with people (in-person or otherwise), I realized that I very often wound up in a negative space afterward; realizing that they hadn’t asked me a single question, that an errant comment was making me insecure, or that I was feeling otherwise diminished, less seen.
    .
    My experience was certainly colored by my unconsciously deflecting to mask my autism (and other coping methods), but this isn’t an uncommon issue. Some of us are keener to hold space, and others are keener to take it — it’s important to find balance in both our behavior and in the company we keep. The forced space of quarantine can help ween out potentially toxic relations, leaving more time for connection that uplifts.

While I hope that this isolation is broken sooner than later, I try to remember the overwhelmingly external times in my life, the days I had too many places to go, too many people to talk to — and remember that those times will come again, and they’ll likely send me into a light nostalgia over my present situation.

Let’s make the best of being here, now, shall we?

May we all be infinitely more awesome versions of ourselves by the time the world reopens, ready to rock its socks right off.

We got this.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash