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Autism: Joy at the Petting Zoo

“Did you want to stop in at DeMille’s and get some corn,” my husband asked me as we drove into town on our shopping trip. DeMille’s is the local farm store in our community – and the reason it is the store (when we do have others) is that they have a really nice petting zoo.

“Sure,” I answered. I love going down to see the animals, and I love the feeling of walking through the store full of (mostly) local produce, and pretty canning jars, and freshly baked pies, and… That place is what ‘living’ feels like.

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It is real, and it is natural, and it is… me (though I’ve never lived on a farm.)

Mostly I just head straight for the animals, though, while my husband does the shopping. Today I went in with him. He got the corn. I got a few sweet potatoes (I really liked how they were smaller, and not the huge potatoes the grocery store gets.) He also asked me to pick out some apples, and I got a nice looking 10lbs bag.

We put them in the car, and on the way back to the animals my husband asked if I wanted to buy something to feed them.

Really?!!! We’ve never bought food for them before – I always just go in and look. “Yes, that would be fun!” I replied.

We went back in and he bought two paper bags full of seeds and corn and such, and then went back out to the animals.

They have it set up now so there are two gates to get in (and keep the animals inside.) So now they are able to have some of the animals out of their pens.

When they saw us come in with the paper bags, they came heading strait for us. I took out some seed, and they each took turns eating it. They were all so gentle. They even let me pet them after I fed them, and when we walked to see other animals, we had a following behind us – donkeys, sheep, a llama, some chickens…

We got to some “fainting goats” in their pen just as a worker was about to drop lettuce and such in. She let us take some out of the box to feed them first. We did that, and gave them more from our bags. As we were walking down the ‘boardwalk’ (a bridge of pallets covered with plywood) a rooster came running at us. I gave him some food from the bag, too, and he happily stopped to eat.

We fed more goats, and some Alpacas (with ‘Beatles’ like haircuts – so cute!) and more chickens, and at that point the sheep and a donkey met up with us and got the last of our food.

$1 a bag! That was probably the best dollar I have ever spent in my life! Hours later and I am still filled with joy from the experience. Such a wonderful gift my husband gave to me today – if ever he wanted to convince me he knew me; really knew me; it was in those words, “Do you want to buy something to feed the animals?”

I think my experiences with animals are much like what I see when other people are interacting – but always feel left out and awkward then – completely natural, and full of more joy than I could express.

The only thing I might like better would be a day (or weekend) spent at the fall fair – but my husband and son don’t like the fair, so I never get to go. Anyway, that doesn’t take away from how happy I am at this moment after spending even a short time at the market, feeding the animals.

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Autism: People Watching

Last night my husband took me into town for a free music concert which happens every Wednesday throughout the summer. It was unexpected, as it was only the second time we went down this year (the first time was while my mom was visiting, and wanted to go before she left.)

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Since I wasn’t expecting it, I had prepared a large meal for my husband and son that night, and was holding off on my shower until just before bedtime as usual (when I am going out, I will have it in the afternoon.) As a result, I had 45 minutes after supper to have my shower and get all of the dishes done. For a while there, I was quite overwhelmed.

I did end up getting all of this done, and was only about 5 minutes later than I had hoped when I was ready to leave – but I also had a large wet spot on the clean shirt I had just put on, from doing the dishes. I can’t seem to wash dishes without some of the water getting on me. At least this was clean water – but it still made me quite self-conscious, and I didn’t really have time to pick out a new shirt.

Anyway the weather is still very hot and dry, and my shirt was dry by the time we got down there.

The band was… well, my husband described them as bluegrass. The music itself was fine, but I really didn’t like the lyrics. My husband thought they were ‘fun.’

There were a lot of people there, and I very much struggle in crowds. We did sit near the back, on a short ledge, with a garden behind us. We sat beside someone I went to school with for my building trades program at college a few years back. I didn’t talk much to her – I am not good with people – but I did enjoy visiting with her dog!

Most of my time there, at the music concert, was spent in ‘people watching.’

People really confuse me. This has been true my entire life – and I have spent just about my entire life, as I was last night, on the outside observing.

There were children dancing, and some adults too. Some people sat in place, tapping their feet to the music. Others were talking, visiting, hugging, laughing.

Some parents were playing with, laughing at, or dancing with their children.

People were… living.

Fully present in the moment, and (maybe it just appears that way to me, but) not even self-conscious about what they were doing, or how they were interacting, or how they were coming across to others, or…

The thing is, no matter how hard I try, I could never come across as being spontaneous, or… free. For no matter where I am, or what I am doing, every detail is being analyzed in my mind, and I am aware of… everything.

All I do is forced for it seems nothing comes naturally to me. And when I watch people – not just at the concert last night, or at church, or… but everywhere – I see that a lot of life for most people seems to be just that – natural. And maybe that is what people have been calling me on my entire life, while I believe that I am doing things the same as they are: they are natural, and for me, it is all forced.

So they don’t trust me for seeing that my responses are forced, they believe I have something to hide – when in truth the only thing I am trying to hide is that I don’t belong here. Not just in that place, or this city, or that church, or… but in the world.

Nothing is natural – except maybe, just maybe my interactions with dogs. Nothing is natural, and it makes me really sad – for I really do want to be free like them.

 

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Autism: Powerless to Help

There was a Facebook post: A 13 week old puppy, who carried a stuffed toy with him wherever he went was at a shelter. He loved the toy so much, the workers would have to take it away from him so he would eat.

But the shelter is a high kill shelter, where the animals are given just weeks, sometimes even days, to find a home – before they are ‘humanely’ put to sleep.

No one showed any interest in him, so he was moved to the back – to death row.

He took his stuffed toy with him. His only source of comfort as he sat in the cage waiting to die.

I don’t know what happened to that puppy. I know there are many young and old in a similar situation. I can only hope the word got out on time, and he was saved.

I cried when I read about him. I am crying still. The world is a cruel and evil place, and I feel powerless in it – nearly as powerless as that puppy, sitting in that cage, holding his stuffed toy for comfort.

I cannot save them all. I couldn’t even save that one. And it destroys me.

Maybe that is why it is so hard for me to live in this world: I can’t block these things out. I can’t NOT see – and I am powerless to help.

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Autism: Thoughtful Interactions

A few days ago I went shopping with my husband. As we approached the one mall, in the rain and sleet, I saw a sign that he had missed. “Event today,” at the pet store, it said. It didn’t stand out much, though, as their balloons weren’t floating due to the rain. “Event at the pet store!” I said to him as we walked towards the mall doors. “What?” he responded, and I pointed to the sign.

We walked through the doors, and I was in Heaven! Dogs everywhere! I guess people had brought their purebred dogs to the event to show about the different breeds. They were all in the center of the hallway in exercise pens (except the largest, who were just being held on their leashes.) Of course I had to visit them all (I am very social when it comes to dogs, though I ignored all but one person.)

Thankfully my husband understood this about me, and allowed me to go up and down the hallway saying hello to each individual dog. What a great event!

The one person I did talk to had been the interpreter for a deaf student in my Women in Trades program. Of course, I pet her dogs before, and during the time I talked to her. That made it much easier to talk. “I should have taken the RV Tech course,” I told her.

During our gateway program, the three of us had attended a ‘Shadow day’ together at the main college 1.5 hours drive from home. We spent half the day shadowing the RV Tech course, and all of us were impressed. Afterwards, the interpreter said that if I took that course, she would too – only it was in a different city, and I couldn’t get there every day. I couldn’t afford to commute, even if I could make myself drive it every day, and I couldn’t afford to live apart from my family for ten months. So I declined, much as I thought I would enjoy the course.

The interpreter told me that (the deaf student) said the same thing. She hadn’t done so well in the course she took (which completely surprised me as she was super smart – we thought she would excel at it – apparently the instructor didn’t believe in ‘women in trades,’ which I believe as she was really smart, as I mentioned.)

Too bad.

I ended up taking Residential Construction, and helped build a house as part of the course, since that was offered in my city. I did very well in the course, but… the yelling, and swearing, and weight of the material, and pace – all were far too exhausting for me, and I only worked in that field about 4 weeks total (in two different jobs) after finishing (with honours, no less.) It was too much, and I couldn’t do it any more. In fact, for all of those 4 weeks with the exception of the first day on each job, I was seriously praying to get into an accident, or fall of the truss table, or something to provide an excuse that I wouldn’t have to go back – it was that bad.

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The thing that impressed all of us about the RV tech course, was how calm everyone was. The pace was much slower, yet they learned so much more (plumbing, electrical, carpentry, even some welding.) Several of the people in the class were even being retrained after they had bad back injuries at their previous jobs in construction – so the weight, pace, and even back issues did not stop them from being able to do the job.

Plus I love small spaces. In my last job at the motel, my favourite place in the entire building was about the size of a small walk in closet. On one side it had a stacking washer and dryer, and the laundry tub. On the other side were all the clean, folded towels for the rooms, and cleaning rags for housekeeping. In the center were two doors – one leading to the guest laundry, and through to the back rooms; the other leading to the motel kitchenette (we provided continental breakfast) and the office.

On my breaks, I would bring in a chair, and sit in that closet with both doors closed – until they took out one door for the sake of ‘efficiency’ and I felt exposed in there.

My point is, had I been able to do it , I really believe I would have really enjoyed the RV Tech course, and I likely would have even very much enjoyed working in that field afterwards. At the very least, I would have learned all the skills I wanted for my home, though on a smaller scale. But I couldn’t get there. Plus my husband liked the idea that as a carpenter, I would have started at the pay scale that a typical journeyman RV Tech would have expected at the end of their apprenticeship.

Well, now I am unable to do either – and as I have said in the past, my dreams nearly always exceed my abilities, so I guess it is just as well. But it would have been nice to have a job I could do, and enjoyed doing.

 

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Autism: What Am I Good For Anyway?

Lately I have been struggling a lot with low confidence and overwhelming depression. I have spent days… weeks even, trying to ‘see’ anything, anything that I might be good at, and coming up empty. With that, the tears flow, and the depression grows. I have no real gifts. I have no real talents. What is it I am doing here, anyway?

So as I do, I prayed. I prayed that God would reveal to me through my thoughts and writing anything that I might be good at; to answer the question: “What am I good for anyway.”

What follows is what came of that prayer. As I read it, I knew it to be true, for I do know myself – yet it is not a boast. For one of my biggest issues is that I compare myself to others, and always come up short. Other people can, I can’t – hence a lifetime filled with depression and low confidence.

The response: (By the way, I don’t hear these things, I just allow the thoughts to come.)

There are things you are good at though you do not see them. That you don’t make money for these things, and that others don’t acknowledge that these things have value, does not mean they are not worth anything, or that they aren’t gifts from God.

  • You are good with dogs.
  • You are good with cats.
  • You are good with rabbits.
  • You have a heart for animals.
  • You have a heart for the broken and hurting, stronger than most people have.
  • You have a desire to do good.
  • You have a desire to bring honour and glory to God.
  • You care deeply for your son.
  • You feel responsible towards your mother and her circumstances.
  • You are quick to forgive.
  • You are understanding of the struggles of others to do good.
  • You sincerely want other people to turn to God and be saved, even people who hurt you.
  • You cry for the lost.
  • You cry for the broken.
  • You want real peace, and real love in the world – not the fake stuff you see around you.
  • You know that you are broken, and are not deceived that you are a ‘good’ person.
  • You realize that all that is good in your life comes from God.
  • You realize that to have anything in life, it must come from God.
  • You desire a relationship with God.
  • You want to do something worthwhile with your life for the sake of others more than for yourself, as alone you would be okay where you are.
  • Your mind is able to create entire worlds, and fantasies that take you far from the pain that overtakes you.
  • When you are interested in something, you will research for hours to understand it better.
  • Though you have no talent for these things, you still want to garden, and create, and grow.

These are things that God has given to you. So you write about them, and you dream about them, and you do not get paid to do these things – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t what you are meant to be doing. God provides for you. You are to do what God lays on your heart to do – even if that is ‘just’ to adopt and love your pets. God can use you where you are.

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Autism: Less is Better

The tears have been flowing for days now, it seems. Yesterday I was exercising on my elliptical machine with tears so heavy I could hardly see. “I can’t. I can’t do it,” I cried over and over. “How do I carry on in a world with so much evil?”

The battle has been strong since I first realized the connection as a young pre-teen. It has grown stronger with age. It becomes overwhelming in times of loss.

Animals have been the best of life for me. The absolute best. In my hardest moments, they were the ones sent to carry me through. Animals. Not people. God knows that they are able to reach me in a way that people never could. That they give me comfort when people bring me fear.

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And I know with absolute certainty that my love, and their spirit that speaks so well to mine, is not limited to cats and dogs. Lambs, goats, horses, cows, chickens… pain even comes for the ant crawling on the ground, or the bee that didn’t quite make it to the flower, or the wasp drowning in the pail of water. I can’t leave them to die. And when the spider is squished on the wall, something inside of me screams murder!

So I see them taking so much more than they need, and it fills me with anger. And I eat what is given to me, and it fills me with pain. How could I? How could they? How could this ever, ever be okay? It eats away at me as I have eaten them, and I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t do it anymore. It isn’t who I am.

And I turn to what I know is right, even if it is different – and every meal with them feels like a battle. “If you won’t eat it, that means more for me.” No!!! Please no. Why can’t you see what your response does to me? Why can’t you see? How don’t you see it?

Eat it if you must, but don’t eat more. Never more. Less is better. None is best. But don’t eat more when I stop having any. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. You attack me with that response. You punch me in the gut without ever laying a hand on me, and the pain eats away at me. Eats away. Eats away with the ‘food’ you are eating.

And I get angry, and you don’t understand, and I haven’t the words to express myself without you becoming offended. Everyone is offended these days. How do we find the words to speak what we must say when it is so often seen as offensive? But this is my hurt I am trying to explain to you. Mine, not yours.

The posts and the videos come, and I know it is true. So much pain. So much suffering. So much evil. That is what I see. Evil, the way they are treated. Evil the greed with which we consume. Evil. And it hurts me deeply, and I do cry.

I look in their eyes, and see love. I look in their eyes, and see pain, and fear, and it breaks me. It breaks me. And I feel so hopeless, so powerless in the face of so much pain. And I think, “I can’t. I can’t live in a world with so much pain and suffering.” And why?

Eat it if you must, but don’t eat more. Less is better. Consider the cost.

And I say “Vegan,” and they ask, “Why?”

 

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Autism: Layer Upon Layer

Two hours I spent this afternoon with my cat curled up, and purring, in the crook of my arm. It isn’t often I sit still for that long – my skin frequently irritates me, and I need to move around. But today… it was like holding a sleeping baby. So warm, and trusting… it seems that moments like this are what I am made for, and I had no desire to disturb him.

My tablet ran out of batteries, and for a while I just sat there, wondering if I should sleep too. It was then I remembered that I had my library book on the floor beside me – One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. So I began reading. It is this book that is teaching me to live, and find thankfulness, in each moment. And that moment, with my cat purring in my arms, was a great one.

People should purr – don’t you think? How comforting it is to be so assured that someone is completely content to be where they are, right then – even if that means being with me! Just joking… sort of. Animals love me at least. I am comfortable with them. I think that makes all the difference. People are just too unpredictable.

It is still the Christmas Holidays, and my husband is off from work until after New Years. I am glad he has the break – he certainly needs it – but I am out of my routine, and that can be very unsettling for me. We have had some really good moments during his break, and I am thankful for them, but I am really looking forward to returning to my routine.

I can breathe here. In my most uncomfortable moments, when I am visiting with people (though I like them) or unable to do my housework, practice my keyboard, or take time to knit for the paralysis that sets in knowing that someone else is home. I should be used to him by now, but it seems the only person I am very comfortable with is my son, who has been with me a very large portion of every day since he was born (he was homeschooled after all.) Anyone else, and I have to push myself, with flushed face, and a strong inability to think or concentrate, and often I can’t even do it then. In my most uncomfortable moments, I can breathe in the relief that comes in knowing that for the foreseeable future, I will be home, and can return to that routine I love so much.

It helps. It helps a lot to not have the constant anxiety that accompanies thoughts of work – any work… always. The anxiety that never really lets up, and clenches my hands into fists, my stomach into knots, my head in a vice until the pounding refuses to let up. I have been taught that work is the goal of life, and anyone who doesn’t work is lazy, useless…

But my disability went through. It went through fast. When 60% of applications for federal disability are rejected, and many take four to six months to hear an answer, it seems they must have seen strong reason to agree with my counselor and psychiatrist on this one to approve me in the first month. Therefore I am trying to accept it. Not as a fault, but as a necessity. I have always known I was not well enough, strong enough, stable enough for the work… for any of the work that I have tried – but I pushed myself just the same.

From pushing myself, I have come to my worst failures. The ones I just can’t let go of. That should have told me something, but I believed their words. I believed their labels. I thought I just needed to push myself more – and then I fell apart again.

Now… I have never judged people on disability as if they were fine – yet always I tried, and failed, and hated myself for failing, to not end up there, too… and now I have layer upon layer of pain and failure to overcome in order to just be okay.

Now I am accepting – maybe accepting – that this is a part of me. A necessity. And with this acceptance, my fists unclench. My stomach unravels itself. The vise around my head loosens. And I can breathe, and find thankfulness and peace in sleeping, purring cats.016

 

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