Being Autistic

Since I mentioned in my “About Me” post that I, and my kids, are diagnosed on the spectrum,  I thought it might be appropriate to have a category about autism. 

In this particular post,  I would like to address a little more about my own autism and some of my personal experiences. 

  First of all,  I did not know about my autism for most of my life. I was apparently diagnosed around five years old. My mother didn’t see any reason that I should know about it.  Her reasoning,  “You had to learn to live with it anyway,  so what was the point in telling you?” (I may discuss more about this conversation  later. )

I did not know that I was autistic.  But,  I did know that I was different.  Even at a young age,  I knew that something “wasn’t right.” I didn’t fit in and nobody at school liked me. Everyone made fun of me and I didn’t understand why. 

When I say everyone made fun of me, it is not an overdramatic statement.  I would later on, during early adulthood run into an elementary school class mate that I hadn’t seen since 6th grade. Not only did she recognize me, but I made the comment that everyone made fun of me in school.  She said, “Yeah, I know. Those are usually the people that everyone remembers.”

I remember that I tried to fit in, but no matter what I did, I just never could.  Since I didn’t know about my autism,  I came to the conclusion that something was wrong with me as a person. 

Add to this that in the early years, learning did not come easily to me. Other kids would understand the lessons,  but I was struggling.  I even had to repeat kindergarten.  Luckily,  that was the only grade I repeated.  I managed to scrape by enough to pass every other grade. This brought me to the conclusion that I was stupid, just like the other kids said.

Being classified as weird and stupid, lead me towards low self esteem and eventually depression.  I felt like the reason I had no friends was because I wasn’t worthy of friends. 

I wanted to fit in. I wanted friends.  I remember wishing that I could be normal.

Sixth grade was a big turning point for me. We moved away from the school that I hated so much. The next school was a little better.  I still didn’t really have friends, but noone knew me either.  So, I was not picked on nearly as much.

I also started to mature more. I have always been fascinated by people. So, with my fresh start, I started to pay closer attention to my peers and tried to immulate them as best as I could.

It wasn’t easy. I thought they were all kind of weird. They said and did stuff that to me made no sense, whatsoever.

It didn’t work right away. I didn’t do so well at that school or the next. My third school, I finally managed to make a couple friends. By then, I was in the second semester of 8th grade.

Another thing happened to change my world a little bit. School became easier, well not math, but most of it. Suddenly, I started to excel at English. Most of my other courses became easier on me too.

I attribute this to a few things. The first is that at that point, a lot of learning became self study. Looking back, now knowing of my autism, I can only hypothesize that the material didn’t make sense to me for the same reason that people don’t make sense to me. It wasn’t taught in a way that my brain could comprehend. This is nothing against the teachers. My brain just doesn’t function the way most people’s brains do.

The second reason is that as I got older and matured, my brain felt like it worked better. As a young child, my brain often felt “sticky,” as if I knew the thought or information was in there, but I couldn’t access it. I felt like I should be able to, but my brain just wouldn’t grasp it. As I got older, my brain became more “fluid ” and “accessible.”

The third reason I believe impacted such a huge change in my learning ability, is that I was under less emotional strain and duress. By high school, I had a few friends and even a boyfriend. I still didn’t fit in with most kids at school. But, I had my little group. We called ourselves the outcasts. None of us quite fit in for various reasons.

I still struggled with depression.  I still do to this day,  despite having a much higher level of self esteem and self confidence.  I was told it is a chemical imbalance and would never go away.

As an adult,  I found myself able to maintain a steady job. I still struggled with fitting in, especially at first. I had to teach myself how to be around others and not have what I call a freak out. This wasn’t so hard with most coworkers.  I was raised with a lot of siblings,  plus had to be around people all day at school. 

The difficult part was learning to deal with customers.  Anyone who has ever worked customer service jobs can attest to how rude and abusive customers can be. Sometimes for no other reason than they’re having a bad day. 

The biggest game changer for me was deciding that I didn’t care what others thought or how they acted. It took a while,  but I eventually convinced myself that fitting in didn’t matter.

It would take way too long of a post to describe everything I went through and how I adjusted and learned to function in a way that most people would find “normal.” I will just say that it was a lot of mind over matter,  developing a very thick “skin,” careful observation of my peers, and of course maturity has played a huge role.

I am going to skip to my son’s diagnosis of autism.  He was in kindergarten. I am not going to go into him in this post. I mention his diagnosis for a specific reason. 

When he was diagnosed,  I started researching autism very thoroughly.  I wanted to understand so that I could be the best mom possible for him. The more I researched,  the weirder the information I discovered was.  Not because of the autistic signs,  symptoms,  ect, but rather because I was shocked that the many of the articles could have been written about me. They described so much that I identified with, had actually experienced.

That was the first time that I had the suspicion of my own autism. However,  after stewing over it for quite some time,  I convinced myself that I couldn’t be autistic,  because I would have known by then. I figured someone would have diagnosed me,  having no clue that I had been. 

  About three or four years later I was talking to my son’s therapist.  I was extremely frustrated.  I told her, “I don’t understand why people have so much trouble understanding him. He is a logical child. Sometimes I think he is the only person that makes sense!”

She looked at me dead in the eye and says, “Well yeah, that’s because you are autistic too.”

I was shocked into silence for a few minutes.  She just sat there watching me,  as therapists do. Until finally I told her that she was wrong. I denied being autistic. Yet in my brain, part of me already knew.

Later that day, I told Mom about the conversation.  I expected her to laugh it off and reassure me that I was not. Instead,  she calmly looked at me and said,  “You are autistic.  I’ve known since you were five.”

I felt like my whole world rearranged that day. At first it was just mind boggling. Mom knew and yet never said a word. Not even after Brian and then Jaime were diagnosed. 

Over time though, it became a blessing to know.  So much of my life that never made sense just clicked into place. 

Above all was a slow sense of release. There wasn’t something fundamentally wrong with me as a person.  I wasn’t stupid. I simply have autism.  It’s not my personality that is all wrong.  My brain simply functions differently than most people’s. 

It took a while to fully digest this real life plot twist. However,  once I did I finally found something that I had long searched for.  Self acceptance.  That has made all the difference in my life. 

[Note: I felt the need to add this note. I may not agree with Mom’s decision to not tell me about my autism,  but I do understand her reasoning.  In the 80s there was a lot less help for people with autism than there is now. Whoever diagnosed me just wanted to put me on Ritalin. Mom didn’t want that for me. Nor did she want me labeled. She wanted me to have as “normal” of a life as possible. And she was right about my having to learn to function. I do appreciate the fact that mom didn’t coddle me, nor did she allow my life to be about my diagnosis. Yes, it was rough not understanding why I was different, but to be fair I don’t think I ever shared my struggles with her. I have always been self contained to some degree. She seemed genuinely surprised when I told her, after she admitted that I was autistic about my internal struggles. (I was angry and frustrated at the time and so I was ranting about everything I’d gone through because of not knowing. ) I feel like, at the end of the day, Mom did what she thought was best for me. I am certainly not a perfect parent. The perfect parent doesn’t exist. My experiences made me stronger. I owe that strength in part to my mom. It was difficult earlier in life, but I believe that my struggles have made me not only a stronger woman, but a better mom too. R.I.P. Mom. I know you did what you thought was the best. I hold no ill will, only love.]

What am I working on?

I have always got several projects in the works. Lately, in addition to building my website and doing my natural skincare course, I have been working on weaving a rope basket, trying to crochet a blanket, and prepping my dining room to build a breakfast bar.

Needless to say all projects are slow going. However, I know that the effort I put in to each thing will be well worth it.

Building my website and doing my skincare course will hopefully lead to a promising career…well two promising careers.

The rope basket will eventually house the toys that I keep in the livingroom for two of my young nephews. It is a step in the right direction of organizing my very cluttered house. The breakfast bar is as well.

Crocheting blankets is a personal project. I am planning to crochet a blanket for each of my four grand babies. (Yes, I am young to be a grandmother, but it is an honor to be an honorary grandmother to the kids of my unofficial stepchildren. )

I admit it’s a lot to balance and not everything gets equal time. However, I can honestly say, I never have time to be bored. I figure that since we only have one life, I want to make the most of it. For me, that’s trying anything (within reason, of course) that I take a fancy to.

After all, I could put off things for a later time, but tomorrow is never promised. Even if I could guarantee many years to come, I always say, “Patience is a virtue…..that I do not possess.” LOL.

Unfortunately, I do have to put off things at times. We all do. Life is busy and chaotic. In my case, life loves throwing curve balls at regular intervals.

Add to that, I have way too many interests and creative ideas for my own good. It’s a blessing and a curse, at times. Because of this aspect of my personality, I seem to always have a to do list and a want to do list a mile long each.

This blog is a dream I’ve had a long time. It may be a little rough at first as I learn the in and outs. However, I will definitely never run out of things to post about. Maybe it will even help me to stay focused on my various projects. After all, I have to tone it down a bit and actually finish things if I want to write about them.

I usually never swear to anything, but I feel comfortable saying that a journey with me will be truly unique. Never know what I might try next.

Thanks for adventuring with me as I try various projects and take on life head on.

About Me

I am one of those “jack of all trades, master of none” people.  I have such a large variety of interests, that I simply am not able to choose just one or two.

  I have three very weird kids that are my world. Two of them are autistic (as am I), but are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  My youngest is a bit of a wild child. Let’s just say they keep life interesting. 

  Some of my hobbies include reading,  writing,  crocheting,  sewing,  carpentry, maintenance/repair/remodeling, restoration/makeover of old furniture, drawing, herbalism, natural skin/hair care/bath products,  gardening,  and though it sounds strange researching.

  As you can see, I am a very creative and eclectic person. It’s not unusual for me to be in the middle of three or more completely different projects at one time. As such, my blogs are likely to be as varied as I am.

My daily planner

I do not have an official daily planner. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, more often than not. I keep appointments in my phone calendar.

Though I am very unorganized and even worse at following a set schedule outside of planned events, that doesn’t mean that I don’t plan at all.

I simply prefer to create a flexible to do list every morning. I find that it is less stressful for me to follow a basic task list at my own pace, than to schedule every block of my time.

This is perhaps not the most efficient way to go about things. However, it is comfortable for me.

When I worked outside of my house, I was very reliable. I never had a problem following whatever schedule/routine was required.

However, I enjoy just going with the flow now. After all, I find that I am much more effective at whatever I take on if it is decided based on how I am feeling and what else is going on that day.

Yes, I do realize this is a luxury that most do not have. Yes, I am very grateful for this luxury.

Until a couple years ago, I certainly didn’t have much flexibility in my schedule. I spent six years as a single mom to my three kids. I was always scheduled to the max, between working, cleaning, cooking, and being mom.

I have no complaints. My children are worth every moment of every fully packed day. They are worth every stress, fear, exhaustion, and tear shed.

I love being able to pursue my various interests now. I enjoy working at my own pace and just deciding day to day what I want to do.

However, it is my children that have really added beauty and value to my life. I wouldn’t trade one moment of mommyhood, even the not so fun parts, for all the flexibility and freedom in the world. Children are truly the enrichment in life.

Staying Organized

I think that it’s pretty apparent by now that I am not exactly the most organized person. Not all of the clutter and chaos is from lack of trying though.

I often say that I am a living, breathing oxymoron. Organization is a very good example of that.

If you were to look at my house, my office, my truck, my lack of scheduling, ect the impression that you would get is of a person who completely lacks and is uninterested in organization.

However, the truth is that I crave organization. I even know how to organize. I can picture in my head exactly how and where I want everything.

Yet, I live in chaos and clutter. It doesn’t make sense, does it?

I spent years trying to figure out why, as much as I crave organization, can’t I even keep things as tidy as I’d like.

As a single mom, it seemed obvious that I simply didn’t have enough time and energy in the day. When I got married again, I had this picture in my head of how I would now be able to finally have the beautiful, organized life and house that I’ve always wanted.

Three years later, things are still chaotic and cluttered. This really bugged me. I asked myself, “Am I just lazy?” “What’s wrong with me that I can’t get and keep things the way I envisioned?”

So, I started to analyze my days. I started to really pay attention to how I was spending my time. I started keeping notes/journal entries on each day’s activities.

If I spent a lot of time watching TV, reading, or other activities, it would make more sense. But, I knew that wasn’t the case. I just felt like I was constantly spinning my wheels, yet never getting anywhere.

After a few weeks of really paying attention to how I was spending my days, I started to analyze my observations and notes.

As it turns out, my analogy of spinning my wheels was quite accurate. I really did spend a lot of my time trying to clean and organize.

As a matter of fact, I really started noticing all of the things that I wanted to do that I forsake in honor of trying to get things done.

So, if I wasn’t wasting a lot of time, why did things never seem to improve?

The answer is not one single issue, but several.

To start with, I was constantly exhausted and well past burnout. Because of this, I was constantly stuck in first gear.

My emotional and mental state was frazzled and irritable, which obviously didn’t help.

Aside from this, I also realized that I tend to hyperfocus on each task. Instead of tidying up one area in a respectable time frame and then moving to the next, I was trying to clean each area up to perfection.

Basically, I was trying to spring clean each individual area. While a deep clean is definitely important, it is not practical to be OCD on every little task, every single day. (I do not say OCD flippantly. I actually do have OCD. Most people with autism do. Hyperfocus is also common with autism.)

What I learned about myself is that my very tendency to automatically organize, is exactly why my house stays so unorganized. A task that would take the average person maybe 20 to 30 minutes, was taking me an hour or more.

By the time I got something exactly how I wanted it, me or someone else would need to use that area, therefore messing it up all over again.

Stress and frustration only made the problem worse. At the end of the day, I would look around and feel like I made no progress all day long.

These feelings only added to the problem. I was really hard on myself and all this negativity only drained my energy more and more.

Once I recognized what the issues were, I started looking for ways to resolve them.

I found a lot of tips online. I try to monitor myself closely. I started setting a timer for each task. When the timer dings, I move on to the next task. This has helped me to combat my OCD and hyperfocus.

I also learned the art of speed cleaning. This allows me to focus only on the most important tasks per area. If I have time at the end of the day, I can go back and do some of the detailing. Meanwhile, I cover a lot more area during the day. It doesn’t make the house spotless, but it does keep it much tidier in general.

I also have been teaching myself the value of small progress. I’ve had to realize that I can’t get everything done in a day. Some days, I might not be able to do much at all. So, rather than always being harsh with myself, I have learned to accept and be proud of even the smallest accomplishments.

This lesson impacts me in several ways. It helps me to stay healthier emotionally and mentally. Getting just a small thing done, is not the same as accomplishing nothing. Also, when I feel like I am making, even just a little progress, I stay better focused and more motivated.

Perhaps the most important thing that I got out of taking a step back and analyzing the situation, is that taking time to do the things that I want to do is just as important as cleaning and organizing.

Taking time for myself may sound lazy, but in reality I get more done when I take time out to pursue my interests.

For one thing, I am happier and I feel much more balanced. This in turn helps me to have more energy to devote to my to do list.

Constantly stressing and cleaning drains a person after a while. When life is never any fun, it begins to feel pointless. You start simply existing, rather than actually living.

We need our pleasures, interests, and good old fashioned R &R to recharge and revitalize us. We are creatures that require balance in order to live productive and meaningful lives.

I have come to accept that having an organized house isn’t going to happen overnight, no matter how hard I push myself. I am learning to be ok with a bit of mess and chaos.

One day I do hope to have the house I picture in my head. But meanwhile, I can’t put the rest of my life on hold. I just have to take every day as it comes.