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Category Archives: Autism: Mental Health and Healing

Autism: Employment Barriers

For six months I have been struggling with the words spoken to me by my psychiatrist during my last appointment, “So you can work, but you don’t want to,” she summarized after I was explaining that I had tried working and going to school so many times in the past twenty years, and failed all along. Her summary was completely off, but that is what happens with me: I feel like I am being completely clear – and when people summarize them for me, the meaning is all twisted and wrong. I don’t know what I am doing or saying to have my words interpreted so poorly – or what I can do to communicate better.

So I wrote, and wrote, and wrote again trying to express my struggles to her so that she would not misunderstand me the next time. However, as is true for me, even my most condensed versions were pages and pages long. So I tried again. And again. And again. Until finally I was able to cut it down to little more than a blog page in length. What was left was this:

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Can’t work, or won’t work? These are the most pressing barriers standing between me and being able to succeed at employment.

  • Severe anxiety – I am told this has to be healed before I try to work again.
  • Easily overwhelmed – prone to ‘crashing’ that can last several weeks or months after just a few days of work, or meltdowns/shutdowns that I cannot avoid.
  • Multiple sensory issues – really, I need to be home, as I can’t avoid these in public.
  • Very low energy – can’t do active jobs (stocking shelves, housekeeping, construction, landscaping, etc.) as I struggle for weeks or months with very low energy, which gets worse the busier I am supposed to be.
  • Emotionally draining – being near people (even not talking to them) leaves me drained after a couple of hours, and lasts days to recuperate.
  • Arthritis – back pain, joint pain in fingers, hands, and toes that gets worse with use – cannot do physical or repetitive jobs, stand long periods of time, sit long periods of time, etc.
  • Physical issues – digestive issues, allergies, stomach upsets, etc that are all made unbearable when away from home. I can’t use public bathrooms (have nightmares) and this makes me sick when away, too. Any work I find would have to be at home.
  • ‘Exposure therapy’ doesn’t work for me. The more I have these experiences, the harder they are for me to bear.
  • Social anxiety – I am paralyzed trying to work with other people around, and must work alone (also no phones, no problem solving, no customer service, no criticism, no handling complaints… I can’t.)
  • Further education is out of the question. I went to college twice, and (through extreme stress, and only being able to get through due to a definite short term end date) did well, but the resulting jobs were overwhelming for me. I can’t seem to apply my knowledge out of the classroom. We can’t pay for more schooling for me – and again, leaving home to go to school includes all of the above issues.
  • Multiple sensitivities – from smells of people’s food in the lunch room, to the smell of smoke on a person, or chemicals that leave my nose bleeding, my hands sore, unable to function… There is much I cannot work around – and such are in each workplace.
  • Sleep issues – I get sick if I try to do things in the evening/overnight. It takes a long routine (8pm to 8am) for me to get the sleep I need. If this is interrupted, I cannot function. Also, there are many nights I struggle to sleep anyway, and then can’t function the next day. I am immediately affected by lack of sleep.
  • Daily Routine. I can’t do changing shifts. I can’t work outside of my routine without getting sick/not being able to function. I can’t just change rules, make exceptions, be flexible…
  • Physical routine. Not so much routine, but I have to eat meals on my schedule, and snacks as I need them, or I ‘crash’ and can’t function. Need to use the bathroom at a moment’s notice, too, so can’t be tied to anything I can’t move away from – and causes panic, sickness, frequent meltdowns when away from home.
  • Multiple triggers – especially when I am in public. These are caused by dates, attitudes, certain personalities, smells, sounds… any reminders of traumatic events and failures – and I have a lot!

It isn’t that I won’t work. If all of these could be addressed, and a suitable job could be found for me (which would pretty much have to be something I could do at home on my own schedule) I would do it – but I am told I am asking too much, and won’t be able to find work like that. Anything less is a setup to failure. I can’t go through that again.

Being told I should go to work when these things aren’t addressed (and some are such a part of me, they won’t be healed, but must be worked around) is like telling me I have to return to a severely abusive relationship – and it terrifies me. After my last appointment, it took me months to be able to get past the depression, and back to the activities that were adding value to my life (but seemed to be dismissed in favour of finding a job.)

 

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Autism: Fighting Demons

It was probably the nicest day of the year so far. It was a Saturday, and I had nothing pressing to do. The day before had been my cleaning day. I had my blog posts written and up to date. There was no shopping that needed to be done…

My mom and I were sitting outside, watching ‘my girls’ who had spent a while happily exploring the yard, and running around, and had moved to rest on the lawn.

I set up the hammock I had gotten from the thrift store the previous fall, and brought out my bag of papers and pencils in case I was inspired to write.

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I lay down on the hammock, and looked up into the maple tree above me, and there I stayed for maybe two hours.

The sun was filtering down through the branches, and the leaves were gently swaying in the breeze.

It was as calm and content as I have ever felt. No fears. No anxieties. No worries. Just peace. For that moment, all was right with the world.

Yet even then I felt this tug at my heart, and fought these words in my mind.

“You will be punished for this.”

Punished for feeling content. Punished for feeling good. Punished for taking time to be okay that I was not in control. Punished for making peace with all that I have lost, and all I have experienced.

And though I tried to push away the attack and fight the demons within, I was not well succeeding.

When other people in the world are so busy, or are so sick, or are living in war torn places fearful for their lives – how can I take an afternoon, and spend it laying on a hammock watching the leaves sway in the breeze.

How could I?

I tried to fight it more. After all, I am never content, like I was that afternoon. I am always fighting some battle in my head – and trying to gain control over things I have no control over – and trying to return to a past that I can’t reach – and trying to make up for things I can’t overcome…

And if I let go of the past that hurt me so many times, and took so much from me, does that mean I don’t care?

If for just one moment, or two hours on a Saturday afternoon, I can make peace with the life I was given, shouldn’t I take that opportunity?

And the demons say, “no.”

But God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Only I am always afraid – and when I am not afraid? That scares me to. The demons I fight are very strong, and their words are familiar, and it is hard for me to stand.

 

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Autism: Not What I Meant

Evenings are not the greatest time for me to visit at the best of times. Even on a good day, I am tired and crashing, and really looking forward to bed shortly after supper is over. On a harder day, I can barely even function, and speaking is nearly out of the question.

That day was a harder day. While I have very much been enjoying life recently, I am not used to so much activity. Part of it was about me – I had the appointment out of town, after all. It wasn’t like we would have gone if it weren’t for that.

Part of it was just another person’s normal. When you live less than a 5 minute walk from the grocery store, I guess you tend to go more often – and I admit, it is nice to have fresh fruit and vegetables more often, and not just on weekends (when I am less likely to enjoy them since the kitchen is more often in use.)

Some of it is due to having a visitor – we talk more, and walk more, and go more places just because we really don’t have all that long together. Besides, it is nice.

But it is also exhausting.

We have the vehicle, and so have been going with that type of ‘normal’ – frequent trips to the grocery store and such. Crowds wear me down, though – so though we might only spend 10 minutes or so in the store, and though I am pleased that we were able to go and get fresh foods, at the end of the trip I am tired.

And the walks? I think they are wonderful! It is calming to be out in nature, unlike the time spent in town. I love the smell, and the view, and enjoy the conversations (though my son is a lot quieter these days – perhaps he would talk more if I talked less, and maybe I would try it if I weren’t afraid of putting too much pressure on him to speak and having him stop coming altogether.)

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As I said, I am enjoying these days very much – but it is well beyond what I am used to (though likely still a lot less than other people do in a typical week.) So I am happy, but so very exhausted.

That day was harder because it was the third day in a row of what I would consider extreme busyness. Tuesday we went to vote. Then we went to the grocery store for a few things, for a walk in the afternoon, and then to the movies (which I have done more in the past 5 months or so than I have likely in the last 5 years.) On Wednesday, we drove nearly an hour to a much busier city (population about 50,000 I think! – and yes, that is 50, not 500) It was so busy, and so tiring – but we did have a picnic in the park, which was nice.

Then on Thursday we went to the thrift store for bag sale, did a little more shopping (not that we’re buying much, but… potatoes, bananas, fresh vegetables… I don’t do errands like that, but it is ‘normal’ for some, and besides… I don’t have to drive!) and had another walk. Not so much, but I was crashing. I was crashing bad. I mean, I hadn’t even been able to catch up on writing my journal since being out Tuesday night. And I was so, so tired.

So when I did go out, and they asked if my mom was tiring me out (for I was obviously exhausted) and I said, “yes” – so they prayed and joked about trouble with mothers wearing us out, well… that is not what I meant.

But I was so tired, I couldn’t explain it well. I love having my mom here. And the fact that I was exhausted for life group this week doesn’t mean she is draining, or asking me to do too much, or… It is just that my normal is so much less than what other people expect, and I do get drained from it. Yet what they heard was not what I meant, and I really hope it doesn’t come back to her and leave her feeling bad.

 

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Autism: Early Wake Up Call

It was 6am when I heard the door to his room open. He walked down the hallway and started doing things in the kitchen: Opening and closing cupboard doors. Using the microwave. Opening the back door for the cat. Walking around. Doing things.

I tried to get back to sleep, but he was so loud.

Okay – I admit now that he wasn’t any louder than he usually is, and he is usually a pretty quiet person, but… when I am supposed to be sleeping? Everything is loud. It was loud to me, though he might not have thought so.

Anyway, once I am woken up, it is rare for me to get back to sleep. Only if there was silence – but he had things to do. Only if there was time – but it was only an hour until my girls got up, and the time went fast while I was waiting for him to stop moving.

Molly even protested when I said I was going to get up. “Too early, Mom,” she seemed to say as her eyes – heavy with sleep – closed once more.

Too early. I agree.

But I couldn’t get back to sleep, and that meant a hard day ahead.

I tried to see it from his perspective – he had somewhere he had to go before work, and so had to leave early, and so had to get ready early – but I needed that sleep.

He had to work all day – just like he did the night we picked my mom up at the airport and didn’t get home until nearly 1am (I was really tired that day, too.)

I didn’t have to work. But it still made me sick all day.

It was only one hour less of sleep, and sometimes that happens just because my medications don’t work some nights, and without them I have insomnia. It isn’t unusual for me to struggle with sleep.

Yet every time I struggle with sleep, I have a bad day the next day. It leaves me nauseous, and uncomfortable, and head-achy, and even all my muscles ache from the lack of sleep. I can’t think well. I can’t function well. I can’t even visit well (“Sorry mom!”)

I know he didn’t mean to wake me up. He probably didn’t even know he did (he rarely seems to notice that he woke me up – mostly, I assume, because once I do wake up it takes me another 30 minutes to an hour to actually get out of bed.

I also know that I often struggle with this on my own.

But it affects me so much – why doesn’t it seem to affect other people the same? I mean, sure it “catches up with them,” but with 6 hours of sleep in a night (it takes me two hours to settle in bed, reading and such, and another two to get to sleep – so it is unreasonable for me to try to get to sleep before midnight to avoid this problem) I can’t even function the next day. I am pretty sure most people don’t have that.

Since it causes such struggle, and I have enough bad days on my own, I really need to not be woken up. I have no idea how to solve that issue except to pray he sleeps longer than I do (which is unlikely, since it takes him 5 minutes to get to sleep, I can’t even start to go to sleep before him, and he doesn’t seem to need as much sleep as me.)

What to do.

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Autism: Much As I Can Handle

For anyone who would have seen me the past few weeks, I believe the general opinion was that I was healthy enough to work. Day after day from early in the morning until later in the afternoon, I was out in the garden, with my girls. I was turning the soil, and pulling the weeds, grass, rocks, and lots of June bugs out of the ground, trying to get the gardens ready for planting.

The work was steady, and repetitive, and took a lot of work – though not a huge amount of focus.

At the end of each day, I was dirty, sore, and exhausted. Yet each morning, as long as the weather cooperated (and to a smaller degree when it didn’t) there I was. Working.

There was this time pressure to complete, as spring was coming fast. Well… it was spring, but… the last frost date, or whatever. We have a short growing season, and this year even shorter as it was a longer winter than normal. So things need to be planted ‘on time’, or so I have read.

Though I study the material, and try every year, I really don’t know what I am doing in the garden. But this task was pretty simple. Dig and flip the soil, crumble it in my hands, remove all weeds, grass, rocks, and bugs that look like they might eat my plants, throw the soil, worms, and ground beetles into the ‘good’ pile.

People walked by and commented, as they do. I tried to reply appropriately, and went back to work.

My ‘girls’ chased anyone passing, and ran through the garden, and very much enjoyed themselves. I gave them the attention they needed, watched for eagles (that live just down the road), fed them on their schedules, ate on mine, and went back to work.

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Unusual to me, I was somewhat thankful for the rainy days, for then we had to stay inside. Perhaps I should have rested then, but there was so much to do inside in preparation for my mother’s arrival, that I was nearly as busy inside as out.

For three weeks I worked hard, and anyone who saw me would likely think I was well enough to get an actual job.

Though it was something I really wanted to do, however, I started to crash at about the 1.5 week mark. By 2.5 weeks, I was really pushing myself. Those last two days I almost didn’t make it through – and had it needed more work, I couldn’t have done it.

Three weeks for a job I liked, that I could do at home with my girls, and where I was mostly alone doing something for myself. Three weeks, and I crashed.

And there lies the problem of seeking another job at this point in my life. I would go into the interview having to prove to the manager that I was the best person for the job (and in the beginning, I just might be.) I would take the job with everyone hoping, and even expecting, that this would last. It would almost be like I was telling them they could count on me – for what else are we really saying when we agree to take on a job?

Yet I would know it was a lie. I would give that job everything, because I can’t give less (for I am always concerned about what people think of me) and I would try really hard to keep going. But, as has been true pretty much my entire life, and certainly from the start of high school at not quite 14 years old, the crash would come.

If it was a particularly good time in my life, and the job was one that suited me well, I might (if not asked for too much change, or too much time, or too much…) last 5 or 6 months before I fell apart. And then, if it was still something I was enjoying, and I was getting along with the people I worked with and for, I might be able to hide the fact that I was crashing from the people at work for a few months more.

At that point, no amount of effort on my part – or incentive from outside – would prevent me from falling apart even there. Meanwhile, the effort would have taken a strong toll on my marriage, my home, and my emotional state.

And that is for a good job, that I want to succeed at.

If it were any less, I would still give my all (for I can’t give less) but I would likely not last a week before I was really struggling, and in less than a month, everyone else would know it.

So here I am, doing the very best I can to take care of my home (which is of top importance for me) and after three weeks of working hard, I am crashing. Thankfully I am at home. This is my work right now. Thankfully, though I could lose the work, and have everything come crashing down around me (it happens) a few days, or even a few months of ‘crashing’ won’t be viewed as a public failure. And that is about as much as I can handle.

Yet I always feel pressure from outside that I should/could be doing more.

 

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Autism: The Greatest Love

The other night, as I was lying in my bed reading a Christian book that I had downloaded to my tablet, I came across a chapter that brought out a strong and sudden response.

The book was non-fiction, but this chapter was about a vision which the author claimed to have experienced… as if it were real. It might have been real. I do believe that some people do experience visions – and if I hadn’t believed it was real, perhaps it wouldn’t have upset me as it did.

In the vision, the author was speaking with Jesus, and said, “some people have strange opinions on Christianity,” or something on the lines of that, “some believe they will see their dogs in heaven.”

I cried so long, and so hard, that when I woke in the morning my eyes were still heavily swollen. In one sentence, the author had re-awoken a trauma that, while it hadn’t healed, was at least not as… loud anymore. It was as if my dog had been taken from me all over again, and it hurt just as much as on the day when I unexpectedly lost him.

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“I need him, Lord,” I cried. “I need all of them.” If my animals aren’t in heaven… how could it be heaven then?

This is difficult to explain to people who don’t understand. And I know that this is something that Christians disagree on. But…

You see (and I know God knows this about me, for He put them on my heart, and He gave them to me to love) I really struggle to form connections with people. No matter how hard I try, and no matter how much I like them, I just… I am always afraid, always uncomfortable, always ashamed of who I am when I am with people.

I try to be myself, and I try to be known, and I really do try to connect – but at the end of the day, it is my ‘babies’ that I feel closest to – and they aren’t people.

All of my life, it was them. It was the animals that carried me through. It was my animals that kept me going. Even as I cried over this sentence in the book I was reading, my cat verbally questioned what was wrong (not in English, of course, but I understood him) and my girls came to lick the tears off of my face.

My husband walked by, but it was my ‘babies’ that came straight to me to ensure I was okay. I wasn’t.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love ” 1 Corinthians 13:13. God gave me my babies to love. All through my life, they have been there to love – and I have. I really, truly have. So if love remains, why wouldn’t they? I cried myself to sleep that night praying, “Please, Lord, I need them.”

The next morning I woke with this verse on my mind: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” Ephesians 3:20. This verse has been used as a comfort for here, but also in heaven – and for heaven to be “abundantly more than I could ask or imagine,” my babies would have to be there.

They would have to be… wouldn’t they? The thought that they might not be there has me crying still – two days later – and has re-opened wounds that the presence of those still with me have worked to heal. “I need them, Lord. Please.”

 

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