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.)

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

The #ActuallyAutistic Movement vs. Sia’s Movie, ‘Music’

Authentic representation matters, especially when the demographic is so vulnerable.

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#ActuallyAutistic actor, Anthony Hopkins, with Kate Winslet. (Image via Lester Cohen and People)

Like Sir Anthony Hopkins, I am a late-diagnosed autistic person.

And when I tell people that I was diagnosed with autism at 37 years old, they very often don’t know what to make of that fact — some even hinting that since I don’t “seem autistic,” that I might be misdiagnosed, that the highly-experienced mental health professional who spent hours diagnosing me was incorrect.

This experience is rather typical for late-diagnosed adults.

The reasons for this are multitudinous, but can largely be filed under “autism updates in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition” and “stigma and misrepresentation,’ which is where Sia’s movie Music comes into play — as the film is highly problematic in that regard.

As we say in the neurodiversity community, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.”

In 2013, the DSM-5 redefined autism when it combined five developmental disorders (including Asberger’s) under Autism Spectrum Disorder, a term contested in the autism community, with many favoring the less problematic, and more descriptive, Autism Spectrum Neurotype; but a change that’s generally been supported in both the scientific and autistic communities, though some do call for more revisions to help autistics find diagnosis (and its tools) before traits become more problematic.

The changes were completed nearly a decade ago, but are still being integrated into the often-archaic mental health system, and autistic females are still thought to be extremely underdiagnosed.

One of the reasons for this underdiagnosis is that females are often adept at a coping method called masking, which involves suppressing natural reactions in an often-unconscious attempt to “seem normal.” (It should be noted that this presentation, called the ‘female phenotype’ is another debated term as there’s great evidence that any gender is capable of this — Sir Hopkins, an accomplished actor, is a very likely example of a male who could likely sort out “acting normal” via observation and imitation.)

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Sir Hopkins, normal’ing it up for ‘84 Charing Cross Road.’ (Image via ScreenRant)

Though masking can be very effective, this coping method often becomes problematic for the autist’s mental and neurological health.

Masking is highly associated with autistic burnout; a condition which very often results in a severe physical and neurological incapacitation (including going nonverbal) that can last for months, or even longer, and is (unsurprisingly) associated with suicidal behavior.

So, while one might think that if autistic traits don’t persistently disable, they shouldn’t warrant a diagnosis — it isn’t that simple.

Hiding the way one’s brain functions requires an immense amount of neurological effort, and, sooner or later, it comes at a cost; and if society keeps getting the same stereotyped representation, autistic people will continue to be underdiagnosed due to them, and their therapists, not seeing autism as a potential diagnosis.

We shouldn’t live in a society where medical professionals often follow media and societal expectations over science, but we do, so we need the media to take portrayals very seriously.

The Representation Issue

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(Image via @ThriveAutieThrive.)

To explore the second matter, “stigma and misrepresentation,” we’ll first turn to the #ActuallyAutistic movement.

Actually Autistic is a movement that was started by the autism community on Tumblr in 2011 and has since been spread to other social media platforms, which now has millions of posts across TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

The movement was started because people in our society, at large, have a very narrow idea of what autism looks like, and it causes a lot of really harmful issues for autistic people.

The thing is, autism does not look or “seem like” anything — and the media is telling people it does.

We’re individuals with unique experiences, each affected by different areas of the spectrum; plus, many of us are masking our traits in order to survive in a society that seems determined not to take us seriously.

As we say in the neurodiversity community, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.”

To further explain, autism also can also manifest in all kinds of ways because the autistic neurotype affects many aspects of neurological function.

Unfortunately, ‘Music’ has not only had oodles of ableism issues, but Sia herself taunted the autistic community when the abundant representation issues were brought up on Twitter.

Most think of the spectrum as a linear construct that goes from ‘mildly autistic’ to ‘very autistic,’ but the autistic experience is actually more akin to a color wheel representing many different traits and behaviors within the areas of executive functioning, perception, social abnormalities, movement, language, monotropic mindset (focus on special interests), sensory processing, and more.

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Abed might look wildly refreshing in this line-up, but these presentations are extremely similar — there’s so much more to the spectrum. Lineup: Sheldon of TBBT, Rain Man, Abed of Community, and Dr. Murphy of TGD (Image via @ThriveAutieThrive)

So, Rain Man might have been highly affected in the areas of language, monotropic mindset (counting), and social abnormalities.

Sam on Atypical might have a very similar profile, and, more importantly, expressed in a very similar way.

The same goes for Sean Murphy on The Good Doctor; as well as Abed in Community and Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, who arewidely perceived as being autistic.

Therein lies the problem.

When physiological conditions are repeatedly portrayed in the media in a similar fashion, it creates a broad misunderstanding and stereotyping in regard to what conditions actually look like, and, crucially, what responses are actually helpful, and which can (often unintentionally) harm.

This gap in public perception and awareness leads to a lack of emotional support, denial of crucial services, and even misdiagnoses — which is a huge deal as 72% of autistic people are considered high-risk for suicide.

How autistic people are represented matters.

It needs to be accurate, and it needs to involve us.

The Trouble with ‘Music’

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We don’t need Kate Hudson’s patience, we need actually freakin’ autistic portrayals in the media. (Image via Signature Entertainment)

So, you might be saying, “What about Sia’s movie? That’s different, it’s about a female.”

Unfortunately, ‘Music’ has not only had oodles of ableism issues, but Sia herself taunted the autistic community when the abundant representation issues were brought up on Twitter. (This controversy resulted in the filmmaker deleting her account after publicly apologizing.)

Makers of streaming art — please let this Sia moment be the last stereotyped representation of an autistic person.

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Image via Twitter screenshot. (@Sia has been deleted.)

Additionally, Music appears to be a female version of a similar profile: speech problems, monotropic mindset (music), and problems with social awareness — with a large helping of differences in movement, resulting in highly-problematic stimming imitations performed by a neurotypical actress.

And, again, it’s expressed in a very similar way, Music is a lot like Rainman…but with more pizazz.

There needs to be a wider representation of the autism spectrum, so that people may gain a better idea of all the different ways we can appear in life, and stop unwittingly harming us.

To give an example of a potential presentation that defies stereotypes, I’ll cite another fictional character dubbed likely autistic by many autie fans: the wonderful Leslie Knope, of Parks and Recreation.

Knope is a passionate and hilarious woman who only wants to talk about her special interests (politics, her friends, waffles, and Friday Night Lights), can behave aggressively (often inadvertently), has great difficulty understanding boundaries, and though she’s extremely compassionate and caring, the emotional reactions of others often surprise and confuse her, which continuously causes issues. (She’d have a really challenging time in the “real world,” I guaran-fucking-tee it.)

Or, better yet: the similarly dynamic, complex, and utterly delightful Matilda on Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, played by Kayla Cromer — who is actually autistic!

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This is a neurotypical actress. This is not okay. (Image via news.com.au)

As Matilda’s a recent grad, maybe in future seasons we’ll see her dealing with day-to-day adult autism issues; trying to make it in an office without masking herself into burnout, dealing with sensory issues whilst need to “be professional,” managing grocery shopping with executive functioning issues, and the challenges of stunted success due to simply not “seeming normal.”

And while I could do with less self-deprecating humor from Matilda in regard to autistic traits, I love knowing that the performance is at least coming through an actress who knows what it feels like to behave in ways that are often misunderstood; and it’s also just so healing and inspiring to see an actually autistic person rocking their chosen field.

Though I still watch The Good Doctor and I wish Atypical hadn’t been canceled, now it has been done: Cromer, and Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, have proved that an autistic person can lead a television series.

As a result, if a new show or film comes out without true autistic representation, it will almost definitely get shit from the #ActuallyAutistic community.

Which brings us back to Music.

Personally, I’m not black-and-white on if only autistic actors should play autie characters; but they absolutely have to be extremely knowledgeable about why we do the things we do, they should understand how it feels, physiologically — and no one knows that better than someone who is actually autistic.

This is especially relevant for a character like Music, who is completely nonverbal (which doesn’t mean vacant, as many presume) and has very visible stimming traits.

We Have So Much to Offer, Please Help Enable us to Do So

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Actually Autistic actress, Kayla Cromer, being a badass despite a hidden disability. (Image via Media Access Awards)

I truly cannot overstate the importance of our society becoming more aware of the fact that autism can appear in a myriad of ways, especially in adults.

It’s extremely difficult to live in a society that was literally built for a different kind of brain, that persistently overwhelms our neurology; a society that disables and disregards us, and very often when there’s a simple way to just work with us, if only people would choose to try instead of dismiss.

And I believe, I hope, that they would choose to work with us if they just knew how; and if they just had any idea of what we’re actually up against.

The autistic community hasn’t been able to get people to understand on our own; unsurprising as there’s a lot working against us, and the vast majority of us are exhausted and platform-less.

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(Image via EGBO Giphy)

We need the media’s help with this. We need you to start telling our stories.
Our actual stories, in all their complexity and variety.

They need to be heard so people will start taking us seriously, so we can get the support we desperately need. When you start listening to autistic adults, hearing our harrowing tales of trying to survive in this incompatible world — that horrifying statistic about 72% of us being high-risk for suicide starts to make a lot of sense.

We are truly up against so much, even if we don’t “seem autistic” in the moments that you’ve witnessed.

But our struggles don’t mean we have nothing to offer the world; as wonderfully demonstrated by Sir Hopkins, Miss Cromer, and so many others, we have much to contribute.

We just need people to start asking and learning how to work with us, rather than (often unwittingly) working against us, so that we may live up to our true potential; and while readers are encouraged to peruse the internet of #actuallyautistic, we desperately need the media to take the lead in ensuring accurate and authentic representation of the vast autism spectrum.

So, makers of streaming art — please let this Sia moment be the last stereotyped representation of an autistic person. Fund actually autistic projects, hire actually autistic creatives, and seek actually autistic consultants.

Nothing about us, without us.

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More of this please, media. 🙏 (Image via EGBO Giphy)

10 Suggestions for Switching to Low-Maintenance Clean Eating

No gluten, dairy, soy, or caffeine; low sugar/carbs, as organic + plant-based as possible—on a budget, with low prep time.

There are many reasons for becoming a clean eater, the best ones being around simply wanting to feel better about how you eat so you may live a life that’s as thriving as possible.

But, for me (and perhaps most), it was a lifestyle change made out of health necessity.

I did an elimination diet, which is when you cut out various allergens to see how it affects your bod — while I also started eating to eat cleaner, enacting a plant-based diet.

It turned out that nixing gluten, dairy, soy, and caffeine, while also severely restricting sugar/carbs helps me feel better.

Like a lot better.

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Eating clean might seem like a big ask — but it’s easier than you think. (Image via Giphy)

I, unfortunately, turned out to have several health complications; but, nonetheless, improvements post-diet-switch were so stunning that it seemed like I’d found my cure.

After a lifetime of feeling like I had to think around a corner, or through sticky cotton candy, my foggy mind became clearer. The stomach discomfort that sometimes got so bad it felt like I was being clawed from the inside just disappeared.

My energy, though still unimpressive due to those other issues, vastly improved. Additionally, over time, my skin cleared up, my dry scalp issues faded; and I stopped being preoccupied with food and eating, finally being able to maintain a healthy weight, which had been an issue for decades.

Give it six months, just six lil’ teeny tiny months, and I swear you won’t want to go back.

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You need the next aisle over! Seek the green signs! (Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

But HOW do you actually do it?

I’ve always been a veggie-lover, and I highly value conscious living, but it was still a tricky adjustment the first couple of weeks. The taste aspect was a bit of a bother; but for me, there was also a learning curve in regard to how to manage the change.

I remember trying to figure out a new coffee routine — decaf was apparent, but there were several options for nut milk, and I’d always done sugar in my java, but all the sweeteners had sugar or scary ingredients I cannot pronounce, which breaks the first rule of clean eating.

It felt like every aspect of my eating and drinking had to change, and it was overwhelming.

Fortunately, through years of trial-and-error, I’ve gotten it all sorted out (within my constraints, anyways); and can now say with full honesty that I love eating this way.

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It’s time to fall down the rabbit (food) hole. (Image via Giphy)

10 Tips to Make the Switch

  1. Look organic/clean firstThe price difference can sting, so read a shit-ton of information on pesticides and additives —then head straight for organic when you get to the store. Just pretend like that other stuff isn’t even there.
  2. Chop and separate. Put on a playlist or podcast and chop your vegetables for both cooking and salads, storing separately; enabling quick prep when it’s time to eat.
  3. Start with a craving, healthy it up. For example, if you’re craving greasy Chinese food, try your hand at cooking up some veggie-heavy fried rice (more veg than rice) with coconut aminos. Also, keep your eyes out for seasonal veggies that meals can be centered around.
  4. Cook once, eat several times. If you’re on a budget, be it financial, energy, or time; leftovers are your friend, so make big batches. My favorite cook-once is yellow curry (Mae Ploy!) with shit-tons of veggies and jasmine rice. Zucchini spirals make the best pasta, but gluten-free noodles have also gotten tastier in recent years; just be sure to follow the directions precisely, and taste-test for texture before straining.
  5. One nutty decaf, and spice ‘er up. Oatmilk (creamiest)+ splash of almond (tastiest) + decaf with infused cinnamon = dreamy. Just mix Ceylon cinnamon into the grounds, using no more than ~1TB in a standard-sized pot, as it’ll overflow if the mixture gets too fine.
  6. —with two handfuls of nuts. Organic mixed nuts make an easy, fast, filling and nut-ritious (heh heh) breakfast; of course, you might need more than that, just eat ‘till full. For the most nourishment, aim for a sugar-free unsalted mix that includes Brazil nuts, which are high in selenium. (When my budget grows, I’d like to enjoy them with raspberries and sugar-free coconut yogurt, if I can find some …)
  7. Cacao is the shit. For me, letting go of sugar was the hardest part, but my tastebuds adjusted surprisingly fast, rendering old favorites overwhelming; and cacao has kept those cravings satiated since. My go-to is cacao baking chips blended with coconut oil, shredded coconut and whatever else looks yummy/is around, like fruit or nuts — sprinkling on a little sea salt and/or cinnamon adds a luxurious-feeling touch.
  8. If you’re gonna splurge/cheat…Adding veggies to takeout extends the nom while making it more nutritious. Gluten-free bread isn’t the real stuff, obviously quite carby, but a very tasty treat when in dire need of a sandwich. Low-sugar-vegan-ice-cream is a thing, it’s not cheap but it’s delish. Just so you know.
  9. Watch your condiments. They can be an afterthought when making so many changes, but are often full of sugar and additives that add up fassst.
  10. Handpop your corn. The microwavable kind is full of all kinds of toxic nastiness; but plop some coconut oil into a stovetop popcorn maker, add organic kernels, twist the turny-thingy for a few minutes, sprinkle on a little sea salt—and you’ve got yourself one healthful-yet-delightful snack for some tasty movie fun.

Changing one’s lifestyle can be overwhelming, and food choices can be especially difficult; but as you find new favorites, feel better in your body, look better in your clothes, and get that skin a glowin’ — your new foodscape will become more and more satisfying.

And if you’re already on this mission, please share any favorites and/or tips that you’ve got!

Happy eating.

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Get it, get it, you saucy conscious eater, you. (Image via Giphy)

Autism becomes a superpower when it is empowered.

But how tf do we do that? Here’s some ideas, from one trying autie.

(Image via Thrive Autie Thrive)

It can be really overwhelming to be autistic in a neurotypical society.

Things quite literally weren’t designed for our often extremely sensitive nervous systems, causing all kinds of potentially-serious issues; and people very often misunderstand us, making NT assumptions about our behavior. (Like, how hard is just asking a direct question? 😅)

Of course, there’s a bunch of other bummers, but that’s not what this here page is going to be about.

There are also many cool things about being of the autistic neurology, unique ways of being that help add color, innovation, and life into the world. We are also more powerful than most folks recognize, especially when we’re in an environment that is conducive to our different sensory needs.

I believe that we can thrive, that we can find a way to work with (and influence) society, and that we can be our whole, best, selves.

I’m not yet a master on how to thrive autie style, as I was actually just diagnosed seven months ago and have been in-and-out of autistic burnout for months — but I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how to thrive as my authentic self for nearly a decade, after far too much living as a half-me, striving to “just be normal.”

Fuuuuck it. Normal means neurotypical, and we’re just not. In order to thrive, we need to sort out a few things; and we need to do them on our own terms, whenever possible.

Here’s what I got, so far:

  1. Own our needs. Different needs are often disrespected by others, so it’s crucial to analyze what our biggest triggers/drains are and know we have a right to live a life that accommodates them. If you don’t already know the #spoontheory — learn it, know it, live it.
  2. But don’t forget to own our shit. If we use autism as an unnecessary excuse, acceptance will never happen. While letting other people push us is a great way to get ourselves into #autisticburnout, we must know when to push ourselves.
  3. No people-pleasing. When peopling can be so persistently hurtful and confusing, it’s tempting to try to be what others seem to want us to be — but we’re often not great a figuring out wtf that is, for one, and two it just leads to complications and being seen as less. Fuuuuck it.
  4. ID strengths and weaknesses. Autism generally has perks as well as weaknesses, like hyperfocus and an ability to understand the nuances of topics. Finding means and tools to amplify the former and better manage the latter is wildly empowering.
  5. Calm down list. It’s not fun for anyone to be overwhelmed, but with us it can lead to meltdowns and neurological upset, so it’s important to know how, precisely, to mellow. Making a calm down list with things like favorite stims, special interest activities, and comforting rewatch shows, is a great way to regain control.
  6. Get organized. If you don’t already have a method that works for you (or several), find a way to manage your life that truly works for you. Personally, I use a desk calender, Cardsmith on my computer, and the Strides app. I found it overwhelming, but lots of auties love the Tiimo app too!
  7. Be healthwise. It’s not uncommon for auties to also deal with comorbid illnesses, and we’re also more likely to have gene mutations like MTHFR, which can cause complications; so it’s wise to read up about how we can better manage our bods.
  8. Empower ourselves with knowledge. Learning about how the autistic brain works enables us to identify triggers; for ex., before knowing I was autistic I was extremely sensitive my executive functioning difficulties, resulting in feeling bad about myself really often — but now when they happen I know my brain’s just tired, and I best be mindful with my energy.
  9. Connect with other auties. While it’s thrilling to gain understanding and control of our minds through methods like books, articles, videos, and scientific research; communicating with other auties about how to live better brings answers, connection, and community that only two-way communication can provide. Online platforms, like Facebook, and hashtags like #actuallyautistic or #neurodiversity are great resources.
  10. Get into self-improvement, especially around self-acceptance. Yes, you might roll your eyes, and you might cry — but there’s no way to learn to fill our own cups if we don’t believe we have anything to offer. And. We. DO.

I’ll be posting more content like this on my new Instagram page, Thrive Autie Thrive. I so welcome your connection over there too!