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Category Archives: Autism: Mental Health and Healing

Autism: Tapestries

When I was a child my Aunt had a wall mural along one wall in her basement. It was framed like a window, and even had a curtain. Since her couch was against this wall, I didn’t spend as much time, maybe, as I would have liked looking at that mural.

I am not sure if she still has that mural on her wall as I moved across the country 17 years ago, and haven’t been in her house since.

When I was a teenager, there was one day when several of us were visiting at a friend’s house. For whatever reason, which I cannot now remember, we were visiting in her sister’s room (her sister wasn’t there, but in my memory I don’t have the impression that we shouldn’t have been in there.)

On one wall of her sister’s room, there was also a mural. Two of my friends were on the bed, which was along the wall with the mural. They were doing a hypnosis game, which we did a lot in those days. Another friend and I were sitting on the couch facing the mural.

As I was sitting there, I suddenly felt myself transported into that picture, which was of a forest, and for many minutes I was imagining that I was walking along one of the trails into the woods. As I was ‘walking along’ I felt a presence to my right, with an awareness that someone was walking along another trail to that side of me.

A few minutes later, the friend on the couch beside me (as I was sharing what I had been imagining) told us that she had, at the same time, been imagining that she was walking along that other trail to my right.

Pictures.

I can get lost in pictures, and in fact frequently do. Perhaps that is why I like Pinterest so much, and spend so much of my time perseverating on that site.

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A few days ago, as I was looking through my… I don’t know what it is called… feed??? Anyway, as I was looking through Pinterest, I came to a picture of Christmas tapestries. Immediately my interest was piqued, and I followed through to the site where they sold these tapestries.

They did have a lot of Christmas ones, and I really liked them – but they also had forests, and beaches, waterfalls, the night sky, cities… so many beautiful pictures. I spent hours looking through them, for even in these tiny representations of the much larger tapestries, I could see that they were realistic enough that in looking at them I could be transported in my mind to other places and experiences.

I think that if I were going to get a tapestry (and I can see what huge benefit this would bring to my life) I wouldn’t just want one. I would get several, and change them depending on my mood or what season it was.

And I would spend hours staring at my wall and imagining I was somewhere else.

How magnificent would that be?

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Autism: Hot Water

What was it I was trying to say?

An entire blog post to share that my husband had our hot water tank replaced, and I didn’t talk about that at all. So like me, I have to share all the small details to ensure that my story is 100% accurate with no room for misunderstanding (of course, it seems even with all that – or maybe because of all of that – I am frequently misunderstood anyway.)

So a post about my new hot water tank instead became a post about going swimming, and why (though I love it) I don’t do it very often.

We have lived in this house for 14 years (and nearly a month.) My husband bought it for us, with my input, when we were getting married. When we were looking for a house, houses were selling fast! This was the fall of 2003 just before prices jumped so much that we couldn’t have afforded to buy a house at all. We put our offer in for three other homes before we bought this one.

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One of the issues in choosing a house was that I was running a daycare at the time. There were many regulations to running a licensed in home daycare, and most of the houses we looked at might not have met the rules. I suppose it didn’t help that I knew that if I had to worry about everything my husband was doing in the daycare/house we wouldn’t have had a good marriage, so I was insisting we have separate space for living and childcare – and I never even considered that we could use the main floor for my business, and the lower level for our home… and the daycare had to have two exits, so… it took a lot of houses to find one that suited.

Okay, so this blog isn’t about my daycare either…

When we bought the house, it had a really nice, all one piece, bathtub. It looked very inviting, but I quickly found out our hot water tank wasn’t large enough or strong enough to get enough hot water for a bath (for adults anyway.) It was fine for little children, even when we had three having baths one after the other and another having a shower after that.

For myself, though, I could only get a couple of inches of water warm enough in the bottom of the tub before it was cold coming out of the tap. So for fourteen years I stuck to showers in this house. Great for getting clean and conserving water, but not great for soaking – and I have had a lot of issues with back pain, foot pain, and general aches… I could have used a bath.

But the tank had been replaced only a few years before we bought the house, and it seemed selfish to me to ask for a new hot water tank just so I could have a bath. No one else cared, and we thought we had enough hot water for everything else.

Turns out we didn’t have enough for our dishwasher either. We always got our dishwashers from the thrift store, so when the dishes weren’t getting clean enough, I just thought it was because they were second hand. Then another of a long line of machines we tried broke. There was no way I was going to pay hundreds of dollars for a new one that might only last a few years, so I started washing by hand. That is when I realized we didn’t have enough hot water for that, either.

Plus, the tank we had was nearly 20 years old, and we found out we would have to replace it anyway due to insurance reasons. So my husband agreed.

Now I am able to have a very hot bath – so hot I have to turn on the cold water about halfway through just so I don’t burn myself getting in.

And it is so nice.

I might not get the exercise that I would get from swimming, but it provides for all other benefits without all of the effort.

  • No leaving home.
  • No crowds.
  • No wet clothes to deal with after.
  • No chlorine (well not nearly so much anyway.)
  • No extra shower after.
  • No pre-booking transportation
  • Very little pre-planning.
  • Lots of calm!

Besides, I can get my exercise in other ways without having to go so far from home.

 

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Autism: Letting Go

It isn’t that the entire day was hard, but…

I woke up at 4am as I have been doing far too often lately. Since it is typically after 12am that I finally fall asleep (that takes a couple of hours itself) it is very unfortunate that, less than 4 hours later, I am awake and unable to get back to sleep. It certainly isn’t that I am not tired. In fact, I can’t even get up – I just lie in bed for the next three hours trying unsuccessfully to fall back to sleep.

Needless to say, I have been very tired, and not functioning very well.

There was some cleaning to do – laundry especially. Ever since the city workers came by and blasted out our storm sewers while I had laundry going, it has been prone to flooding. I don’t know if they are connected, but that is the load it started with. The clothes get cleaned fine, but when the washer is spinning, piles of fur and debris (much more than what is reasonable from what went into the wash) pour out with the water into the sink.

If I am not there to catch it, the water floods over the sink to cover the laundry room floor, hallway, and the bathroom beside (where it pours down the drain by the shower.) Such a mess! This has been happening for at least a couple of months now.

Since I have to watch the washer as I do laundry, I stayed downstairs to sort through boxes of food storage containers. I have no idea why we have so many – but they had been sitting in boxes in storage for over a year now, and we don’t really have storage space in our home.

That was exhausting, but I mostly got through it. I put our Christmas tree outside (so the animals wouldn’t eat it) for the thrift store – I was the only one who cared since our kids were moved, and we really haven’t the space for it (we will use a small tabletop one instead.) I left the rest down in the hallway, though I am sure it will annoy my son who rents the space from us since he has a very curious cat.

In the afternoon I spent several hours sorting toys into bags to give away. This was a very painful activity for me. Though our (foster) kids have been gone for over 8 years, and I haven’t even babysat in 7, and have been considering giving these toys away for at least 6 years, it was still exceptionally hard for me.

But I have felt a strong (near constant) prompting over the past few weeks to do this. Because it hurts, I kept blocking the prompting out, saying I wasn’t ready (I would probably never be ready if left to myself, to be honest) and the push kept getting stronger.

So I got the toys sorted and waiting in the upstairs hallway – but as I said, it hurt… a lot!

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So many hopes, dreams, memories, and losses tied up in those toys – and to give them away!!! But they should be played with, and…

I can’t have children, and I can’t go back – both of which frequently cause me a lot of pain in themselves. I am being asked to let go, and though it really does hurt, I know it is the right thing to do.

It was Misty (my newest addition – Chihuahua) who was most concerned as I sat crying, surrounded by piles of toys my children used to play with – though Clara and Molly looked to see what was wrong, too. Sweet girls! I am so very thankful for them, and it is only because of them I was able to answer this call to let go, but…

This is hard!

 

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Autism: Introducing Grace

As predicted, the snow fell today. The first of the year. I woke up to a winter wonderland and it left me feeling… content.

Though his alarm woke us, it takes me a long time to get up (often about an hour,) and my husband had the fire going and the tea made before we even got down the hallway… ‘we’ being my girls and I.

The girls don’t like the snow. They sat in the doorway shivering before two went out running after someone on the street (they can’t actually make it there as we have a fence in the way.) Immediately they regretted their decision and came running back.

“Take us in please, mom,” they pleaded, looking as miserable as they could though they had been out less than two minutes, and the temperature was hovering around zero. They jumped in my lap as soon as I sat down, and buried themselves in the blankets.

The next few times I went out for more wood they wouldn’t even come to the door. I came in to find Clara trembling. No way was she going out there again. “Please don’t make me,” she begged. Thankfully I didn’t have to – they have their indoor pads, though I worried that my youngest wouldn’t know to use it.

We only got her 6 days ago, after all.

She is learning from the others, but she is still not quite sure – and until now she was able to get enough time outside to go there.

It is true that I didn’t need another dog. I didn’t even feel I needed the second until she got here. In fact I was quite sure in the beginning that we were okay as we were. Clara loved having me all to myself. She is my ‘baby’ and let me know rather quickly that she wanted to be treated as such – carried around, showered with love, talked to, sung to… I needed her. She wanted me.

We were doing great, and any thoughts of ever getting a second dog disappeared as I watched her lunge at every other dog that passed us. She didn’t like one of them – and she was so tiny and cute (before she started growling) that people and dogs were all drawn to her… in the beginning.

I was okay with ‘just’ Clara. But then they asked me to take her mother, too. I was sure they would back out, or find someone else, or… it took me a long time to give them an answer, and I was afraid all along. But the moment Molly came into my home I knew she was a good fit. Such a sweet, cuddly, trusting girl – and Clara? From the beginning the two have been inseparable, like twins. And Clara is so happy Molly is here that she can hardly stop licking her.

But did I really need a third?

The girls have been doing so well, I certainly didn’t feel another could possibly be a good choice, but… she was Molly’s baby, too. She was Clara’s younger sister. Most importantly, knowing my girls, I knew the other interested homes would not be a good fit for her – and their ‘owner’ knew that, too. Those families worked full time, and were away a lot, and there she would be (after being raised in a home with at least 10 other dogs around all the time, and people home constantly) alone for more than 8 hours a day.

My girls cry when I leave the room a lot of the time, and become stressed out if I go out even a couple of days in a row. It wouldn’t have been great. They offered us some incentives to take her and I fearfully agreed… and then she came. My girls accepted her right away, and right away she became another of ‘my babies,’ who bring me more joy and contentment than just about anything else in my life.

So did I need a third dog? Absolutely!

I think I will call her ‘Grace,’ for God has blessed me so much more abundantly than I deserve, and I am so thankful for her.

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Autism: Poor Time Management

While I was working I fully believed that I was good at time management. I would arrive at worked 15-30 minutes before my shift… one time I was only 10 minutes early, and my coworkers were worried that something happened to me as I was never that ‘late’ (even though pretty much everyone I worked with would get there the minute they started, and one was nearly always 5 minutes late.)

I would panic before work, and that panic would grow as the time drew near, so I would go early. Besides, I needed that time to calm down before I had to start. I needed that time to transition.

I would get to work with a list in my head of things that I would like to accomplish on my shift. When I got there, I would add in anything extra that still might have to be done (like if there were rooms that hadn’t yet been cleaned, or a lot of laundry still to be done – I worked at a motel; front desk, but we did it all.)

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Unless there was something unusual – like a snowstorm or an accident that closed the highway in both directions thereby requiring me to be at the front desk helping guests the entire shift – I would get my work done. I knew just when the wash would be done and needed to be switched over, and the exact time I should check the hot tub, add chemicals… I knew how long everything took, and most of the time would be exact in getting it done. That was unusual among my coworkers.

In my life I only ever forgot one appointment – a speech therapy appointment that I had made for my middle ‘foster’ daughter that occurred within days of getting back from a week long trip to the children’s hospital in Vancouver BC for assessments on my youngest ‘foster’ daughter (a week where I was alone with my four children, taking buses in a city I didn’t know well, and wasn’t sleeping as my middle two couldn’t sleep in strange environments…) I felt horrible. I was sleep deprived, and not thinking well, and not functioning well, and…

It wasn’t at all like me.

However, the older I get the more I realize how much that level of time management is bad for my mental health. It causes extreme anxiety to focus for such long periods of time. It causes exhaustion and burnout to live at such a pace (even though I was only working part time.) I can’t hold on for very long.

And perhaps that is a lot of the reason I have not been able to hold on to a job, or continue with school, or do anything lasting any real length of time without it ending in failure.

Time moves too fast for me.

One short activity in a day takes all of my energy and focus and leaves me exhausted for days after. I require a LOT of breaks (which is not something freely offered, or which I would feel comfortable asking for at a job – they are paying me for that time after all.)

Without a lot of breaks and time for thinking, my mental health and functioning declines very quickly.

On a good day an hour or two of work or activity is about all I can handle. That is a full day for me, and even then I need days (DAYS!) off in between to rest. If I do more than that and I crash – often for months after. And that is when I am doing well – which in itself is a rare thing.

Looking at these facts I would then have to admit either that I am not in fact good at time management or that at the very least being good at time management is too hard on me.

 

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Autism: Nice While It Lasted

For a few weeks I went swimming.

When I was young I lived in a large city, and swim passes were cheap – something like $25/month and there were a lot of public swims. I think that even then the pass was for all of the community centres, so if one was closed, we could go to another. I think.

In the small town I live in now, there is only one pool, and it is something like $6.50 per swim. But we do have what is called a ‘Toonie swim’ which right now is available four times a week. For $2 (the Canadian $2 coin is called a ‘Toonie’) we are able to access the pool and hot tub for an hour. It isn’t a great deal, but it is good enough.

All of last year I wanted to go, but didn’t have a vehicle to access the swims during the day, and was just too tired to go in the evening. Besides, I don’t like driving at night – and while I prefer to do most things alone, I don’t like to go places alone; the thought overwhelms me with anxiety and I back out.

Anyway, this fall all of the ‘Toonie’ swims are during the day, but for a couple of months I had access to a vehicle. On top of that, the Thursday before my birthday this year, my husband had an unexpected day off of work (they had to close to get the electrical system switched or something like that) so I asked him to go with me.

My husband is often tired, and when he isn’t working, volunteering, or going to watch a hockey game, he pretty much likes to stay home – so I was surprised and pleased when he agreed to go with me.

I was anxious. I am always anxious. That is me. But we got to the pool, he paid, and in we went. I already had my swimsuit on under my clothes, so I was one of the first people in the pool.

The moment – the very moment I got in the water a feeling of calm and contentment washed over me. Even in spite of the many people who did end up coming to the pool at the same time, I felt calm.

So the next week, though I was alone (and very close to a panic attack) I went back to the pool, and it was the same.

For a person whose mind is always going, always concerned with things of the past and of the future, I was amazed at how present I was. Just me in the water swimming, with very few thoughts of anything else (even of the people I had to swim around as I did my laps.)

The next week was the same – panic turning to instant calm that lasted for the hour I was in the water.

And then…

That is about how long my good habits last. Timing, illness (I got a cold two days after I went swimming the last time) business – even though I don’t work, and technically most of my time is ‘free’ I still often feel overwhelmed by how much I do have to do… and the routine is broken.

I haven’t gone back, and after this week I won’t have access to a vehicle to go. I can get a bus, but that means I need to know at least three days in advance that I will be up to going in that moment. I don’t believe a second vehicle is a good use of money for our family as it is very rare I am up to leaving the house anyway, but…

Who am I kidding? Three weeks. Three weeks and even a good habit that brought me so much peace was broken – even though I did have the van for a few weeks after. But it was nice while it lasted.

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