ASD and Decision Making

One of the many struggles I have in life that I attribute to my undiagnosed Autism is my utter inability to make decisions. I’ve felt like decisions were so much harder for me to make than my peers even as a young child, but I feel it’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and the decisions I’m faced with every day have become more and more serious and important. It’s hard enough for me to decide what to wear or what to make for dinner, let alone if I should take a new job or move.

I used to be more able to make a decision if I felt somewhat forced into it out of discomfort. I’d wait until I reached my breaking point, where the discomfort of not choosing a different path exceeded the discomfort of change. However, that threshold for discomfort has become larger and larger as I become more dependent on and attached to my routines. It feels impossible to make a big decision regardless of how certain I feel it will be good for me, because I know it will inevitably cause turmoil and disrupt my normal patterns and habits for awhile. Despite unhappiness with where I am, it still feels easier to just let things remain how they are. At least I know what to expect, even if it’s nothing good.

I’ve been trying to focus on the positive things I stand to gain from making a change. Part of me does get excited at the idea of beginning a new phase of life for myself. Who knows what wonderful new things might enter my life if I only have the courage to make room for them? However, I am immediately terrified and overwhelmed with the idea of the immediate future that lies before any of those benefits. How on earth can I bear the pivotal moments of action? It seems like an insurmountable task. I wish I was able to press a button, make the decision, and wake up a few weeks later beyond the initial aftermath.

Possibly worst of all is the feelings of guilt, shame, disappointment I feel with myself for not being able to do this. It’s hard to even talk about with other people, because I am so embarrassed. I can’t really ask for advice, because it’s obvious what they’ll tell me I need to do. Part of me is afraid that their certainty will push me into action. No matter how sure I am of something, there is always a small voice in the back of my head pushing me in the opposite direction, warning me that I might regret this. I know that’s not something I can ever avoid for sure. But I already have so many regrets. I’m afraid to trust myself. I’m afraid to be the one that chooses how my future will unfold. I don’t want to blame myself for making the wrong choice someday.

On the other hand, what if I am making the wrong choice by remaining where I am? There may be wonderful opportunities and people passing me by because I haven’t been brave enough to create space for them in my life. I hate feeling like such a coward, like a child, that needs someone else to make all the important decisions for them. I just want to ask for help, but I know that there is no one that can help me to live my own life. Some things we just have to do on our own.

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What I Want Most

I never considered
the things I wanted
was asking too much

It's not as though
I wasn't willing
to work very hard

As children we're told that's enough
that great enough efforts
will inevitably succeed

The more time passes
the more aware I become
of my error

My trial was never
taking on the hard work
it was something worse

My life is about learning
to let go of what I want most
all together

To accept all that I've sacrificed
has been worthless and wasted
leading to the same result

Which is utter surrender
to a life that lacks everything
I've yearned for since my youth

Growing up has
turned out to be
a lesson in starving

An appetite spoiled on fairytales
is unable to stomach
the bitter truth

The Endless Cycle of Introspection

Sometimes it takes an impending change to jolt us awake. It feels like I’ve been running on auto-pilot for quite a few years now. I’ve begun to wonder who I am and what I really want again. The misty idea of where I’m heading has become all together obscured. Do I even want to keep moving in this direction? Have I been moving at all? Why did I start wanting all these strange things I’m pursuing? When one change comes, for some reason, it starts to feel more possible to change everything, to choose a different course entirely.

It feels so scary to let go of all the goals I’ve been clinging to and clawing at for all this time. But there comes a pivoting point where I have to ask myself if the person that wanted those things is even still me. I think the brain likes to default to routines and rituals to conserve energy. It’s tiring to always be asking yourself why you’re doing the things you do. It takes a lot of brain power to start something new.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to contemplate recently is my seemingly life-long body goals. I think right from the very beginning, I never truly believed I’d achieve them. Although, I thought I’d get closer than this. The image in my head is still a high-school girl. The popular one with the perfect body that all the boys try to talk to. The older I get, the more obvious it becomes. That image is unattainable. My window of opportunity (if it ever existed) is quickly closing as I stare down the last two years of my twenties. Am I still going to be chasing the “perfect” body when I’m 50? Perhaps it’s time to start loosening my death grip on that aesthetic before this uphill climb starts to become a desperate, inevitable decent.

Why was it so important for me to look a certain way in the first place? All my inner longing has just left me years of unappreciated youth and a blindness of my own strange form of beauty. I’m sure I’ll look back on the body I’ve had with envy soon enough and wish I had enjoyed it more instead of wishing it were different. Still this battle has lasted long over a decade. It feels so foreign to let it go, not to mention the crushing sense of failure and acceptance of defeat.

I guess overall, I’ve realized that all I really want is to enjoy where I am, wherever that might be in any given year, at any given moment. That’s all any of us can do. Anything else is just wasting time we could have spent being happy. But after 28 years of immense self-hatred and dissatisfaction, I don’t know how to turn my inner dial to “happy.” Sometimes I’ll catch myself realizing how much better I’d feel if I dropped all of my self-imposed obligations and just let life be what it is. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s true freedom.

My ego is always quick to chime in and say, “BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” It yanks me back into old habits much easier and more frequently than I find those moments of surrender. The older I get, the more apparent it is that I’ve let the driving force of my life become fear. Fear is what inspires nearly every action I take, every thought that swims in my troubled mind. I’m always afraid if I don’t do this, that will happen, or if I do that, this will happen. I’d much prefer to move from a place of curiosity and love. But fear is such a primal force. It is so powerful. It closes down my ability to love, to access that higher self inside. I’ve known fear so much more intimately and often than I’ve known love. I’m terribly sad to admit it. Do I still have time to change that? Was it ever really my choice?

Some days I feel like I have an immense amount of free will. It seems completely possible to change course and fall into new patterns. But other days it feels like I’ve never had any say at all. Everything I am and everything I have been feels like a heavy weight around my neck. Standing still is all I can manage. It’s hard to believe I can simultaneously be every aspect of the self I embody. All of the shifting selves I’ve ever seen staring back at me in the mirror. Were all of them me? Or am I none of them? Can it be both?

Getting to witness the unpredictable and constant nature of change is one of the privileges of growing older. There is a point as a teenager where it really feels like you finally know it all. But life doesn’t stop. You keep going. And you realize you never knew anything, that maybe you never will. For me there was a beautiful, mysterious comfort in that realization. What a relief to know all the dark certainties I once held about myself and the world were just illusions, transitory passing clouds of perspective.

A big part of me has stopped trying to pin down or predict what is coming in life. Maybe that’s why it suddenly feels more possible to consider enjoying the present. When you aren’t sure of anything, it becomes much harder to move with aggressive conviction in any one direction. It seems much more practical to just enjoy where you are in the journey. Life was never a trip from point A to point B. It’s an expedition, an adventure through uncharted territory. Tomorrow I may push aside the brush to find a beach or a desert or a cliffside or maybe just more endless forest. It’s frightening, but it’s also what makes life worth living.

The Performance

Life these days has transformed
into some kind of performance
a play we curate for the eyes of others
to love and be loved, now
to consume and be consumed

My face feels hot under this heavy gaze
the vague surveillance of the whole world
perched outside my window, watching
there is a strange thrill in being perceived
show and tell on a grand stage

Sometimes I like to pretend I'm on TV
a character where every bland moment matters
the pleasure of being devoured by hungry strangers
the pride of a life worth putting on display
the perfect, personal, self-aggrandizing parade

But a life does not need to be witnessed
to be meaningful and worthwhile
when every head turns away, who am I?
we seem to believe we'd all disappear
without a crowd to jeer or cheer

The curtain still falls at the end of every day
to reveal that I am the audience of my life
I am the true observer that sees every season
the only one that will ever know the full story
rather than the shallow highlight reel

There is a beauty in knowing
there are parts of me that are private
that I couldn't share even if I wanted to
precious sugar cubes of experience
tucked away for private viewings

A world reduced to surface level
let's us forget about all that's concealed
the breathtaking mystery of each individual
hidden beneath the painted masks
the silent pressure of all that's left unsaid

Reincarnation

Summer stirs something deep inside
a soul shaken awake by sunshine
renewed and ready to add its song
to the symphony of early morning

Slipping unharmed from the jaws of winter
wondering at this cycle of renewal once again
where did I go while the world was dark
resurrected by blue skies as a brand new being

The shadow of death has fled from my heart
crept into the creases to await autumn
ready to beguile me with cottage core
cozy sweaters and pumpkin spice

Every season seems splendid and romantic
in the intoxicating summer air full of flowers
all of life seems brighter, softer, less scary than before
safety found in long, winding, aimless days

Warm skin soaked in bright light
greedily drinking the sun's special elixir
this soul of mine is solar powered
one juicy charge lasts until January

Every season is all or nothing
in the summer I know I'll live forever
in the winter I know I've already died
celebrating my 28th year of reincarnation

Playing the Game

What if this is just a game?
would we still feel as attached
to the arbitrary outcome
and keep hacking away
at ourselves in order to win

What if we chose this avatar
in another life we've forgotten
was this path placed before us
with loving, mindful intention
a joyous challenge, a precious lesson

Will we feel silly to wake up
and realize we felt such urgency
a desperate need to get it right
in a form we can return to
as much as we'd like

Still Learning

I want to rise to meet the gaze
of those that inspire me
to honor their contributions
to my life and to the world

I don't want to waste
the grace they've given me
I want to pass it forward
to be a beacon for others

My soul begins to stir with hope
as I brush shoulders with beings
that are shining emblems of
the best humanity has to offer

My greatest motivation
to be worthy of their presence
to make them proud
is my deepest wish

I am so grateful for the chance
to learn by their example
for the opportunity to emulate
those dearest to me

I am honored to be the humble student
to practice choosing silence
as I sit attentive at their feet
may I learn well

Sweet Air

Winter wipes away all memory
of the sweetness of summer air
it stops me in my tracts
when my senses are infiltrated again
with the intoxicating scent of soft petals

The cacophony of sensation
that saturates the warmer months
never fails to fill my soul
with reverence and awe
for our magnificent mother

Inspiration seeps into every pore
when the world reawakens
at my doorstep
the miracle of resurrection
witnessed once again

When all hope is nearly lost
the tender blades of grass whisper
"just give us one more day"
I fall to my knees upon it
and gratefully obey

A Life Wasted

a wasted life
is spent indoors
away from the forest floor
mesmerized by straight lines
and artificial symmetry
souls stripped down
and soaked in bleach
spotless feet pacing
over pale plastic tiles
separation from source
cut off from the stillness inside
dharma replaced by distraction
until we no longer know value
when we see it
lives spent chasing after emptiness
buried in bullshit 
brutality as a birthright
white knuckling our way 
to the top of inverted pyramids
what is success?
being a CEO?
building ourselves up 
with the broken body of mother nature?
I'd rather be nothing at all
I'd rather let myself 
be blown away by the wind
to disappear into the tall grass
if only to remember the cool caress 
of the soft, dark soil
back where I belong

Love, Nature, Humor, & Suffering

Have you ever noticed something very particular and seemingly random suddenly coming up again and again in your everyday life? Almost as if the universe is calling you to pay attention to this specific thing? I know some people have this sensation often, even to the extent they start making every little thing extremely meaningful in some way. For me, this hardly ever happens. I have a very weak sense of my intuition. I never really think much of the strange coincidences that happen in my life. That made it all the more poignant to me how much this sign stuck out and refused to be silenced.

Over a month ago, I was in a training and one of the instructors mentioned the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As she said it, I glanced at my bookshelf and realized, I had that very book! I hadn’t purchased it. I had gotten it secondhand from a psychologist that retired from my last job and left piles of books to give away to whoever was interested. I took a lot of those books, but hadn’t read many of them yet. I decided that I just had to read it now, but I was in the middle of another book so I put it off. Then I heard it mentioned on a few podcasts. One podcast host, just as I was thinking it, made a comment to the effect of “if I was playing sign’s from the universe bingo, two of the squares would have to be Viktor Frankl and neuroplasticity.” Chills immediately ran down my spine. Neuroplasticity was another pivotal concept I’d learned about in school that had changed my life and seemed to be endlessly talked about wherever I went afterward. I knew this book had something for me, maybe exactly what I was needing.

It’s not a very long book so I got through it pretty swiftly. Much to my delight, there were even notes in the margins from the psychologist that I had inherited the copy from. I took my own notes as well, and this is what I’ve taken away from Frankl’s text. What is the meaning of life? Or rather, what things give life meaning? Love, nature, humor, and suffering. These are the things that make life meaningful.

Frankl brought me to tears with his descriptions about how even in the face of the most horrific suffering anyone can imagine, inside the concentration camps of Auschwitz, with seemingly nothing left to live for, the image of his wife’s face in his memory was enough to give him strength and keep him going. It wasn’t necessarily that he felt he had to survive to see her again. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. But it didn’t matter. The love he had for her was real and could not be taken from him. The love itself was enough to keep living. I think we’ve all tasted the incredible power that love gives us, but his descriptions really drove home how inherently meaningful love is, that it truly can conquer all, even our own immense suffering and hopelessness.

He went on to explain, that despite the numbness the prisoners succumbed to after so much time engulfed in pain and suffering, the beauty and majesty of nature was still able to grip them. As they stood in agony in a filthy train car, supposing they were on their way to the gas chambers, they still crowded around the tiny window just to see the breathtaking image of the distant mountains against the horizon. He also recounts the story of one prisoner that tells him before she dies that the scraggly limb of a tree that she could see through the window at camp kept her going. She said the tree spoke to her. It said, “I am here. I am here. I am life, eternal life.”

As morbid as it may seem, Frankl also recounts the humor he and his fellows found even in suffering. Starvation, pain, humiliation, death, and disease were not enough to take away their ability to make light of it all somehow. Regardless of the situation, no matter how dire it may seem, we still have the power of perspective, even if only in fleeting moments. We can find the humor in even our darkest hours. And sometimes that is enough to get us through. No one is demanding we take life so seriously. There is so much power in laughter, especially dark humor and laughter at our own misfortune. The gift of humor is transcendent.

Finally, Frankl explains that there is meaning even in suffering itself. Although we try to find happiness and avoid suffering as all living beings do, there is still inherent value in the suffering that touches each and every one of our lives to some extent. Suffering can be seen as an opportunity. It can be a fortifying fire that turns iron into steel. Sometimes our suffering can be seen as a sacrifice, a way to protect someone else from the fate we now bear. What could be more meaningful than that? Love can make even the most bitter suffering a beautiful gift. While we don’t wish for suffering to stain our lives, it is not an evil if we can transmute it into a source of strength and spiritual transformation.

Near the very end of the book, when I thought I had already seen what the universe had directed me here for, I was moved more deeply still. A concept I had been incubating for a while now was presented to me in the most perfect phrasing, in words I hadn’t quite been able to grasp yet myself. Frankl used the example of a chimp being experimented on for a cure, but as this left a bad taste in my mouth, I thought of a better one. Consider a honeybee and its life’s work. As it flies from flower to flower, the bee is only concerned with collecting pollen to make honey for its hive. It has no hope of becoming privy to the larger significance of its daily labors. The bee will never know that in addition to providing for its fellow bees, it is pollenating the plants it visits. It is making it possible for an unimaginable abundance of life. It is giving life not only to the flowers and vegetation, but also the beings that consume them to survive. The bee is unwittingly the humble servant of all Earth’s life.

Faith for me is learning to trust that this grander scale of significance also exists for human kind, even if I’ll never see it or be able to understand. “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life; but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.” This quote, right here, is the reason I believe the universe directed me to this book. This is the confirmation of the inner truth that I have been searching for. This was the universe patting me on the back and saying, “You finally got it. You’re on the right path.” My task in life is not to understand it all, like I once thought. My task is to keep going despite my lack of understanding, to learn to trust in something beyond myself. When I lost the belief in God, I also thought that I lost this higher purpose. But that isn’t true. I may not see an omnipotent being beyond myself, but there is still something. I don’t need to give it a name to feel the truth behind it. There is peace and beauty and strength in learning to surrender to the unknowable meaningfulness of life.