You Don’t Have to Feel This Way

There are a number of habits that I’ve accumulated over the last few years that really cause me a lot of stress. I find myself consistently getting more and more anxious as I think about performing these unhealthy habits. Every now and then, I’ll manage to see through the fog of this anxiety and realize, I don’t even have to feel this way. I don’t have to do any of those things if they are causing me distress. I’m the only one making myself do them. It’s a strange realization to have, but it gives me so much relief.

I don’t know if this type of thing is common with other people, if it has to do with anxiety, or autism, or OCD, but it could also just be me. Either way I’ve been trying to remind myself when I notice I’m getting all wound up inside, that there isn’t anything wrong. I am only upset because I’m having to meet my own unreasonable demands and expectations. And I’m the one I have to answer to in the end. I don’t have to put this pressure on myself at all.

What a weight off my shoulders! I feel I’m able to breathe more deeply just thinking about it. It’s bizarre to think that I can so easily forget that I am the one in charge of my life. There are so many things that I get to choose each day, each moment, that I take for granted. I’ve let my past self continue choosing for me. Even when those choices no longer serve me.

I often find myself taking things too seriously. Taking this life too seriously. It is easy to lose sight of the true purpose I’ve chosen for this life. In the end, all the really matters to me is to be as good of a person as I can, and to enjoy myself in the process. That’s it. Easy enough. Nothing else matters. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t even have to achieve anything necessarily. I just have to live my life in a way that makes me and those around me happy. Everything else is just extra.

So at the end of the day, there is no need to stress. All I have to do is do my best with what I have every day. Nothing more, nothing less. And we are all capable of that much. I want to practice listening to my inner wisdom, my intuition, my body, my breath, my heart. It seems I’ve lost touch with them all long ago. There is a silence inside of me. Important voices that have withered after not being heard for so many years. I want to remember that I don’t have to be afraid. I can trust myself. I can trust in this universe to guide me, to always place me exactly where I need to be. Everything is as it should be. Always. And I am lucky enough to be a witness to it all. To be a part of it.

It has been a revelation to realize just how important our focus is in this life. Something so seemingly small compared to the vastness of this existence. Yet it has the potential to change absolutely everything. What an amazing power we have all been given. The power to choose where we place our focus. Even though it can be hard, we always have that choice. And we can practice this power. We can learn to strengthen that ability to choose, our ability to focus on what we want to focus on.

I will continue to use my meditation as exercise. An exercise for the engine that creates my reality. Because in the short time that I have on this earth, I want to be able to choose. I won’t waste anymore time stirring up my own self-inflicted suffering. What a silly thing to do! When there is so much beauty, so much love, so much to be grateful for with that energy inside of me instead.

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To Understand & To Be Understood

Navigating interpersonal relationships has always been something I really struggle with. But last night I had an interaction that made me really proud of myself. Let me explain. A lot of the time I feel almost threatened by other people. It’s as if their presentation of who they and the things they say and believe are saying something about who I am. And I need to defend myself, my identity. I hope that makes sense.

I understand this is irrational, but I get caught up in the moment and get into arguments or get fed up with the person all together. But yesterday I somehow managed to avoid my normal pattern. And it felt so good.

Instead of feeling personally challenged or attacked by what my friend was saying, I just listened. Really listened, with genuine interest and curiosity. I didn’t get upset or get lost in my own interpretation of his words. I allowed myself to be curious. To really try to understand not only the words, but how he intended them, what he was really trying to convey.

I asked a lot of questions. Questions that led to answers that surprised me. Instead of angry or frustrated, I felt intrigued. For once I felt confident enough in myself to not feel threatened by the perceptions and actions of someone else.

Normally that conversation would have devolved into a bitter argument. Over nothing honestly. It would have left me feeling aggravated and ashamed and more alone than ever. But instead I was able to let it turn into an insightful, meaningful conversation that helped me understand my friend better. Maybe even allowed me to provide some support and comfort to him. For once I was able to take myself out of the equation. Finally I was able to focus on who I was talking with rather than myself. And it felt so incredibly good. It was one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time.

I am so proud of my behavior. I was able to remain calm and inquisitive. I expressed myself honestly, openly, clearly, and confidently. My friend even said jokingly that it felt like he was talking to a therapist at one point, which I took as a compliment. Therapists listen. They ask questions. They remain selfless in the interaction. They help people. I hope I was helpful. Even if just for one brief encounter.

I also hope this interaction was not just a random fluke. I hope that it is a reflection of some type of inner growth that has occurred over the last year. I want to have conversations like I did last night again. I want to be able to stay calm and through that openness and willingness to be vulnerable have more moments of genuine connection with my friends and loved ones.

I have to remind myself that each person in this world has a fascinating, unique universe inside of them. And I want to learn about those inner worlds. What could be more interesting? I’ve often heard the phrase “to love and to be loved” expressed as the quasi goal of this life. But I would add to that “to understand and to be understood.”

I’ve spent so many encounters in a hostile state, focusing on myself, wanting to be understood, yet not at all expecting I ever would be. But I was missing half of the equation! I was not trying to understand the person I was talking to. I was too wrapped up in myself to understand them. It is equally nice to love as it is to be loved. I am just now finally learning that it is also just as nice to understand someone else as it is to be understood yourself.

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Autism Pros & Cons

I want to preface this by stating once again that I have not been formerly diagnosed. However as someone who identifies as being on the spectrum, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding this disorder. For the majority of my life, I really had no idea a lot of the things about me where signs of autism. I assumed that I couldn’t be autistic. After all, I was a relatively normal, functioning, contributing member of society. And autistic people are easily identifiable, highly dysfunctional, handicapped human beings aren’t they?

I think this is what most people tend to believe. I am ashamed to admit that it’s what I believed. Even with an education in psychology. Until one day I stumbled upon a video on YouTube about high functioning autism (formerly known as Asperger’s) in women. The video caught my eye because the thumbnail was of a young “normal” looking girl. I thought to myself, “I’ve got to see this. There is no way this girl is autistic. Is she just trying to get attention?”

But as I watched her video I was stunned. Only then at the age of 25 did it even cross my mind that I might be on the spectrum. The things this girl were describing were things I had experienced my entire life. At first I was afraid and repelled by the label, but also simultaneously excited and intrigued. Perhaps I had finally found an explanation for why I am the way I am.

Since that day I have been more aware of the behaviors I exhibit which may be due to being on the spectrum. While there are some that are definitely a hindrance, others I am quite happy to have. In the end I don’t think I’d “fix” myself even if I could. Let me explain why.

Cons:

I think most people are aware of the negatives that come with autism. There is a certain social ineptitude for one. I’ve struggled to learn how to fit in with other human beings my entire life. And while I think for the most part I am able to successfully camouflage myself, it is still a quite tiring part of each day. Things that come naturally and almost unconsciously for most people require a lot of thought and effort for me. This leaves me exhausted by social situations most of the time. Not to mention it created intense social anxiety for the majority of my life.

Another annoying downside is being highly sensitive. It is comforting to have an explanation finally to why I am so intensely bothered by the strangest little things. I still remember one day around the age of 4 being absolutely hysterical as my mom tried to put my socks and shoes on. I was VERY particular about the kinds of socks I would tolerate. If there was a pronounced seam along the toes I simply could not stand it. I was not a fussy child and was always well-behaved, but this discomfort would inevitably cause a massive meltdown much to my mother’s confusion.

Even now I have a strange fixation when it comes to the sensation of wet strands of hair. I just cannot handle the feeling of loose, wet strands coming off in the shower and sticking to my bare skin. I dread every moment of washing and brushing my wet hair. It always produces an intense physical revulsion.

Pros:

Despite the drawbacks however, there are a few core aspects of my personality that I believe I have autism to thank for. My lack of social skills has the benefit of also creating a more open and skeptical mind when it comes to accepted social norms. There are a lot of aspects of society (such as eating animals) that I am able to see from an unbiased perspective. I am able to view the world and social practices logically without any emotional attachment or social influence. This is something I have always been proud of. Many of my core values and high intelligence are things I believe I owe to autism.

I believe this is what contributes to my strong sense of justice as well. Black and white thinking certainly has it’s drawbacks, but I do appreciate that it has seemingly also given me the courage to live by my convictions. I generally don’t care much about the social stigma attached to something. I will do what I believe is right regardless. I am compelled to.

So in the end, I am grateful to be on the spectrum. I am grateful for the person these differences have allowed me to become. And I am so SO grateful to finally have a reason for why I have always felt so separate and unlike everyone else. It is a great comfort to know I am not alone. There are plenty of other people in the world just like me, with the same struggles and the same strengths.

Sexuality on the Spectrum

Today I wanted to somewhat build off of what I wrote about yesterday which was emotional intelligence. I feel as though my deficit in that area contributes a lot to my increasing uncertainty when it comes to sexuality. There are a lot of peculiarities when it comes to my sexuality and sexual expression that leave me wondering where I fit in. What labels would even suit me? Do I even need any? The ever-evolving sexual nature of our society has left me more confused than ever. In addition to that, though undiagnosed, I also think I struggle in part due to autism and general lack of understanding when it comes to relationships and social situations.

When it comes right down to it, I think the biggest problem is that I don’t seem to know myself very well. Especially when it comes to sex, romance, and where the line is in between the two. I never thought much about it when I was younger. But as I’ve gotten older and explored my sexuality more things have become murky. The libido inhibiting effects of taking an SSRI certainly haven’t helped.

So here’s where I am currently. I am pansexual. I am attracted to who a person is rather than their gender or gender expression. I would also, in the same light, consider myself demi-sexual. I am not sexually interested in anyone until I have a romantic attraction toward them. These are the only two labels I feel comfortable with at the moment. And hardly anyone in my personal life even knows I identify this way. It isn’t that I’m hiding it. I just don’t feel it would be appropriate to make a big announcement or anything.

Here is where I’m stuck though. I have been taking Paxil for so long, I don’t know if this is even an accurate reflection of how I truly feel or if it is in large part due to my now practically non-existent libido. It is kind of difficult to tell who you’re attracted to when you’ve been single for years and rarely ever feel any sexual attraction anymore in general.

I have even been contemplating the idea that I may be asexual. After reading more about this orientation, it might fit me. Apparently there are asexual people who do have sex with their partners, but it is more to please their partner than it is to please themselves. This seems to fit me pretty well. Despite going months or even years without sex, I never really think about it or miss it. If it were up to me to initiate, I doubt I’d ever have sex. But I am happy to have sex for my partner’s sake. And I am certainly capable of enjoying it, especially if I have a deep loving bond with that partner.

However, I am hesitant to identify as asexual. Because once again I don’t know if this is true or a side effect of my medication. Or if that distinction even really matters at this point. I am also afraid of the sigma that may come along with that label.

Tying in my last two posts about internalized sexism and emotional intelligence, this is a huge fear for me. Part of me thinks no one would ever pay me any attention if they knew I felt this way sexually. Seems like it could be a huge turn-off to a lot of people. That’s the sexism part, as if I am only worth anything as a human being if I can also be pictured as a sex object. The other side of that coin is my low emotional intelligence.

It is hard for me to really understand my own feelings and reasons for having sex. Have I ever truly wanted the sex? Or have I just wanted to feel desired, loved, accepted, admired? Perhaps it could be both, but I know I’ve definitely had sex for the latter reasons.

I may never have thought about these things in the initial phases of my sexual experience because for the first few years of it I was in a relationship with someone I dearly, dearly loved. Yet I also was not taking Paxil. So I was very interested in having sex with that person. But was it because I loved them, wanted them to show love for me, or because I actually had a libido back then? Are you starting to see why I’m hopelessly confused?

As for now, I am a pan and demi-sexual. Although I am warming up to the idea of identifying as asexual as well. Not that any of these labels really matter. I don’t think I’ll be publicly proclaiming them anytime soon. I’d just really like to understand myself better. Otherwise, how can I even hope to be understood by another?

Emotional Intelligence

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I have always considered myself a highly intelligent person. It is one of the only things that I am proud of. I can feel extremely threatened when this aspect of myself is called into question. Until very recently in life however, I didn’t consider that there are different types of intelligence.

I have a friend whom I believe to be very smart. Yet she never did well in school, and there are some things she’s done or said that normally I would consider quite dumb or foolish. Eventually I realized that while this friend may not be “book smart” she has a high level of emotional intelligence. This explanation satisfied me, and I didn’t think much more about it until years after this realization.

When I ask myself the question “Do I have a high emotional intelligence,” the answer is a resounding “no.” The answer isn’t surprising to me as I’ve never been very good with people or handling my own emotions. I was surprised, however, that I’d never even thought to ask myself the question before.

I was thinking about this deficit a lot today. So I decided to take an emotional intelligence test on Psychology Today’s website. Even as I was going through the questions, I could tell I was not doing very well. My result at the end was only 57 out of 100. A grade I never would have received in school. Unfortunately you had to pay to learn anymore details. But it was enough to confirm my suspicions about myself.

In my opinion, this is yet another piece of evidence that I am on the autistic spectrum. It is hard for me to admit to myself that I have this huge lack of knowledge and understanding. I cannot believe I have gone my entire life without realizing this. Not only that, but I have no idea what I can really do about it. Perhaps this is something a therapist would be able to help me work on somehow.

I suppose at least now I know and can take this into consideration as I go about my life. As someone who has been called a “know-it-all,” on more than one occasion, it is quite humbling to discover this handicap. I hope that in the future I will be able to improve in this area.

Mental Illness & Culpability

Earlier this week, I did something awful at work which I immediately felt sick with regret and remorse over. Despite, by the grace of God, managing to get away with it, I have spent a lot of time thinking it over. I keep asking myself why did I do it?

Part of me says I did it because I am selfish and callous, cruel even. I didn’t want to have to stay late. I didn’t care about anyone but myself in that moment. Not the client that I could have helped, not my friends and coworkers, not the organization that I’ve come to love. It was more important that I got home on time and maintained my meticulous schedule. Me, me, me. I am just an despicable person.

But another part of me challenges that explanation. If I don’t care, why do I feel so wretched about my actions? Do I only feel guilty because I was worried I’d get caught? I didn’t get caught though. And I still feel terribly ashamed. I also know that logically my actions weren’t even in my best interest. While taking a different path may have still caused me anxiety it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the amount I inflicted on myself by making the choices I did.

Part of me wants to say it isn’t my fault. That I am mentally ill. That I am simply unable to control myself sometimes because of this. I have severe anxiety. I have intense OCD behaviors. These things are manifested in poor decisions and inexplicable actions. I am unwell. This feels more true to me than the idea that I’m just a shitty person who doesn’t care about anyone. But is that only because I’d rather it be true?

I want to take responsibility for my actions though. I don’t want to make up excuses for myself. But I also want people to understand why I sometimes behave in these unforgivable ways. I don’t want it to be a justification, but an acknowledgement that I need help. I guess the culpability comes in when you consider that I know I need help, yet I haven’t made an effort to go ask for it.

After all this thinking though, I started to wonder about other people. Are there even any truly bad people? Or are they just displaying symptoms of mental illness like me? It’s impossible to really know what they are experiencing inside themselves. Many may not even understand what they are experiencing. I don’t think there are evil people in the end. Just sick people that need help. Whether they understand that or not.

I hope I can keep this lesson close to my heart. I hope it can help me do better in the future. Help me be more forgiving, more understanding, less angry, not as quick to pass judgement. Likewise I can only hope others will be able to understand and forgive me for my shortcomings, for my mistakes. And ultimately, I hope I will be able to forgive myself too.

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Questions

One of the reasons I suspect I may be on the autistic spectrum is my inability to comprehend and/or engage in small talk. Ever since I was a child, it has always seemed boring and nonsensical to me. I didn’t (and still don’t) get the point of saying: “How are you?” “I’m fine.” “Nice weather, today!” Or just asking random, vanilla questions for seemingly no other purpose than to fill silences. I do hate awkward silences, but I seem incapable of generating these space fillers that come so easily to most people.

Part of the reason it seems to be so difficult is because I am not really interested in having those types of conversations. I feel like I’m being phony. Asking people questions I don’t really care about the answers to. It’s like putting on a show. It’s a lot of work for me. It’s tiring. And maybe I sound cold. Do other people genuinely care about the answers to all those generic questions? I’ve just never had any interest in talking for the sake of talking. The silence is only awkward to me because I feel like other people are expecting me to talk. I supposed I quickly got tired of hearing people say “you’re so quiet!”

There are questions I’d like to ask people I don’t know yet. I realize that each of us has our own universe within our head. I am fascinated by the different things people think and their perspectives of the world. I like to know about people’s pasts too and how that has influenced who they became. The problem is, I don’t really know when the appropriate time is for learning those things about a person. I guess that stuff is usually divulged organically through other conversation. But often if I just wait for that to happen I find myself stuck in a limbo of surface level interactions.

I have a hard time remembering to ask questions, because the questions I’d like to ask are too random and possibly inappropriate, offensive, or insensitive. And as I’ve said I feel weird trying to make small talk. So instead I usually end up talking about myself a lot. Sometimes I wish other people would do this too. That way I could know what interests them, what is important to them, get a good idea of who they are. I always get along best with extroverted people that easily fall into talking about all sorts of topics and branching out from there. I’m absolutely hopeless at carrying on a conversation with someone who is quiet and reserved. It’s almost palpably painful for us both. I find myself wishing social etiquette would allow me to just remain silent. I guess that is rude though…

I want to make a list of some of the questions I’d really like to ask of people I don’t know yet. Maybe someone reading this could tell me if they’d be okay to ask or what context I could give them to make them okay. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  1. What is the last dream you can remember?
  2. What is your first memory?
  3. Do you believe in God?
    • Why or why not?
    • How has that impacted your life?
  4. Have you ever done any recreational drugs?
    • What have you tried?
    • What was your favorite and why?
    • Why did you try them initially?
  5. Are you afraid of dying?
  6. What was your childhood like?
    • What is one impactful moment from childhood you remember?
    • How do you think it’s affected you?
  7. How do you see yourself?
  8. How do you think other people see you?
  9. How would you like people to see you?
  10. What is something you’re passionate about?
  11. What was the most difficult time period in your life?
  12. What was the best time period in your life?

These are just the first questions that came to mind. Some seem more appropriate than others, but I wouldn’t know how to sprinkle any into conversation naturally. Maybe you could suggest some more interesting, yet normal questions to help me chat with a new person. Can any of you relate to this type of discomfort? How do you handle it? I’ve definitely gotten better at faking it with time and practice, but I still don’t think I’m a very good conversationalist. I’m not sure that’s really something you can learn.

Black & White Thinking

One of the things I’ve realized about myself after starting to suspect I am on the autistic spectrum is that I tend to have trouble seeing the gray areas of life. This hasn’t been an overall negative thing. In fact, I believe it is the reason that I am able to stand so firmly in my beliefs. A compliment someone gave me once that I’ve always particularly liked is that I “have the courage of my convictions.”

I think that this has contributed a lot to my decision 8 years ago to go vegan. I have seen a lot of other women, such as Greta Thunberg, who are not only vegan, but autistic as well. I would love to see some research into whether or not this is a trend. I believe the autistic brain may be more able to avoid cognitive dissonance in some ways. When I turn my mind toward a subject like animal agriculture, there is a very stark contrast between right and wrong. Once I had the information, I found it simply impossible to imagine continuing to participate in such a clear atrocity.

So in some ways I do feel my autistic traits (whether I would truly fit the diagnostic criteria or not) are some of my greatest strengths as an individual, things that I am quite proud of. However, understanding this tendency for black and white thinking has also allowed me to realize how I am hindered by it.

Like most aspects of autism, this becomes more of a problem when it comes to social situations. Human beings are one big gray area that despite my best efforts, I am still struggling to understand. It makes it quite difficult to form meaningful relationships with people when you are constantly viewing them as either all good or all bad. Either someone loves me or they hate me. I matter to someone or I mean completely nothing at all to them. See the problem? Neither of these perceptions is very often the reality. And even though I’ve come to recognize this, it doesn’t change the way I view the world.

I find myself constantly going around in mental circles when I am given contradictory signals from the people in my life. I just can’t seem to comprehend that both signals can be true and valid. Someone can be cold to you from time to time and still love you. Just because a person does something hurtful or inconsiderate towards you doesn’t mean that they think you’re worthless. I know that this is true because I can see these contradictions in myself. I have been terribly cruel to people that meant the world to me in the past. But that didn’t mean the feelings I had for them were a lie. Yet it’s hard enough for me to reconcile these strange scenarios within my own heart and mind, let alone deciphering them in someone else.

This seems to lead to rather rocky relationships with other people and even effect the way I view myself. It’s often hard for me to accept someone demonstrating negative behaviors can still be a good person. I also struggle immensely in that regard when it comes to my self image. Sometimes I love myself and feel like I am incredible. Other times I dwell only on my flaws and mistakes, thinking it impossible that any good exists within me at all. Exaltation or condemnation, there is no in between.

I truly hope it proves to be beneficial to have at least begun to realize when I am being influenced by this black and white thinking. Perhaps with practice I will be able to overcome the negative impact this has the potential to inflict on my future relationships.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

I feel somewhat uncomfortable even writing about this since I have yet to be diagnosed. However after randomly stumbling across a video about how Asperger’s and autism spectrum disorders present in women a few years ago, I have been becoming more and more certain that I am one of these women. I would really like to start therapy and have an actual assessment done so I can be formally diagnosed.

You may wonder why on earth anyone would want to be diagnosed with autism. For me it has been a great relief to learn more and more about the symptoms and how I identify with them. I have always felt as though there was something deeply wrong with me. Until a few years ago, I chalked most of it up to social anxiety. Yet even after starting medication which has improved social situations for me immensely, I still have never really felt like I’m the same as other people.

Knowing that this could be an explanation for the way I’ve felt my entire life is very comforting somehow. I don’t feel like I have to blame myself anymore. My brain just doesn’t work the same and that isn’t my fault. I hope that one day soon I can work up the courage to finally see a therapist and find out for sure.