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Autism: Possible, Not Easy

It makes it possible. Not easy. Not easy.

These are the words that often run through my head as I am riding. I have been riding my bike a lot lately. My bike. Our bike. We share it. I ride it. A lot.

A couple of months ago my husband got a call from his brother. Not at all unusual. He came to my room where I was writing in my journal and asked, “Do you think (our son) would like an electric bike?”

He wouldn’t. He doesn’t like bikes. He doesn’t much like being outside – if it is too hot, or too cold, or too ‘buggy,’ he doesn’t want to go at all. Plus he finds bikes uncomfortable. We might think it would be useful for him – since he doesn’t drive, and there is no bus service here, and we are surrounded by houses and farms (no stores or anything close to us.) We might think it would be good for him, but he wouldn’t.

“No, he doesn’t like bikes,” I answered, “He thinks they’re uncomfortable.”

I would like an electric bike, though,” I told him.

He talked with his brother some more, and a few weeks later, we had an electric bike. Since my husband’s nephew works as a director for the company in Canada, and two of my husband’s brothers also bought e-bikes at the same time, we got an amazing deal.

Still I felt guilty. When someone buys me something, I always feel guilty. It comes from my childhood. It comes from trauma. Plus I worried that I wouldn’t use it enough, or was spending too much (I don’t work, after all) or like most of my decisions, it would be a bad choice.

And then the bike arrived, and my husband rode it home from his brother’s house.

As another brother (my husband has lots of brothers!) drove in with our van (that we bought off him 10 years ago – though I guess that’s not important to the story) and visited with me while we waited, I understood that my husband wanted the bike, too.

In fact, by the words of the people he knows that have talked to me about the bike, it sounds like we got the bike for him. I am okay with that. It removes some of the guilt of having the bike bought for me. We did get a great discount – but it is still an e-bike, and still wasn’t cheap.

Anyway, he works 4 days a week, and is too tired most of the time when he isn’t working to want to ride. At the point of this writing, he has gone about 35km, and I have gone more than 420km!

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The thing is, where we live in British Columbia, Canada, every direction has hills. Steep hills. So since moving here, riding has been pretty much impossible for me. Other people might be able to do the hills. I have too many barriers. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do them. I couldn’t.

And then we got the e-bike. And then I started to ride. And unlike driving a car, I found that riding a bike calms me – even if it is technically more dangerous. I also understood (though I have lived in this house more than 14 years) that half a kilometre away from me are rural properties – for a long ways. I love riding by the farms, and seeing the animals and trees and land. I love that I can ride, and hardly any vehicles come past me. I love it!

So I ride. Day after day. First 5km a day, then 10. Then one day I decided to ride to the beach 5km away. It is a short drive, but I never drive it, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Half the way there, I started saying, “uh-oh!” It was all downhill. So steep downhill that I pretty much had to ride the brake. I didn’t know – and now I would have to ride back up.

On the way home, I honestly thought I would die. My chest hurt so bad, and I couldn’t breathe. I prayed the whole time to be kept alive for the sake of ‘my girls’ (my dogs) and my son. When I got home I told my son I wouldn’t likely do that trip often.

Two days later, I did the trip again. Three days after that I did the trip again. By the fourth trip, I didn’t feel it was enough, and (after getting back up that hill) I took a detour to make the trip longer. I now ride about 15km each day – and I seek out the hills.

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But the hills??? They aren’t easy. Not even on an electric bike. It doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it possible.

And as I was considering this thought again, I started comparing it to accommodations, supports, and income assistance for people with disabilities – and I think these are pretty much the same thing (or at least that should be the goal of them.) They don’t make life easier than other people have it. But they should make living with a life quality similar to others without disabilities possible.

Not easy. Possible.

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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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Autism: Learning to Can Part 2

I have heard (and this is the reason I decided to go with the pressure canner to begin with) that once you start canning, it becomes addictive. I now know how true that was.

I canned the plums, and it took a long time. My back was sore, and I was very tired. There was the added bonus of, having this huge pot of boiling water that needed to be dumped, being able to take a bath (we have an extra wide bathtub and not enough water in our hot water tank to ever use it.) I needed that bath then with my back hurting so much. I really enjoyed that.

After that, my husband brought home a huge zucchini and some cucumbers. Of course, they needed to be pickled (especially since I am the only one in my house that eats them and the zucchini alone was over 4lbs.) Then, too, I also had a fresh head of cauliflower, some carrots, lots of onions, some garlic from the garden… They could be pickled, too! I made 12 pints of Italian flavoured zucchini pickles, and 12 pints of mixed pickles.

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And that is when my pressure canner came in. Of course, I had to try that out, too.

I must admit that I have been afraid of pressure canning. I mean, it seems everywhere you turn on the subject people are saying how dangerous it could be – but then… mostly it seemed the danger in the canning itself was involved in the older style of equipment (the new ones have safety features built in) and the rest is about not following directions.

I can follow directions… if they are written down, that is.

So I made white bean soup. White bean soup (very much like the chicken stew with rosemary I used to make in my pre-vegan days) is one of my favourite meals – but it makes way too much considering I am again the only one here who eats it; same with most of the food I eat. I made 10 pints. One didn’t fit in the canner – I guess my pint jars are the same width as wide-mouth would be or something; I could only fit 9. One jar didn’t seal – there was a new lid which was slightly bent. I meant to save that for something I would just refrigerate, but I unbent it, washed it, and couldn’t tell it apart from the others. The others all looked great!

So much fun!

Then a couple of days ago, having bought some dried black beans, I decided to can some more. I made black bean soup and vegetarian chili – 8 pints each (I forgot I could fit 9 in, but 8 was a good number and the jars were all just filled with the amount I had made in the slow cooker.)

I learned that day that pressure canning two batches in one day was too much for me. My head hurt from the amount of concentration I had to keep. My back hurt, and my girls were stressed out since I wasn’t able to sit with them until after 7pm that night. Yet looking at those 16 jars, and hearing the pings (I have learned to love that sound!) of jars sealing was incredibly satisfying.

Course, here I am two days later, aching to do more canning. I suppose it isn’t really worth the time. 16 jars worth maybe about $11 after factoring the cost of the food for a whole days work – when an eight hour shift would have paid quite a bit over $100 if I could have kept working, yet… this calms me and brings value to my life, where working caused me panic, stress, burn out, and an overwhelming feeling that whatever I did didn’t matter.

There is more to life than money, and I think… I think I really like canning.

Oh – and in response to my mother’s question when I spoke to her the other day, “how does it taste?” Better than I could have imagined! Really, there is no comparison to store bought canned vegetarian soups.

 

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Autism: Learning to Can Part 1

It started out with plums. Lots of plums. Our tree was full this year and… I had to start somewhere, so – plums!

The pressure canner I ordered back in August never came in. I waited and waited, and then went camping – but my son was still home and he watched for it. It was in Edmonton, and was supposed to arrive here the next day, but never came.

Did someone steal it? Ugh people!

It isn’t like we live in a poor neighbourhood. We likely live in one of (if not the) oldest and least expensive homes in our area. We are surrounded by doctors, teachers, nurses, business owners… We may not have much, but the people around us do – so if it got here and they stole it??? I don’t understand that.

Perhaps it never made it this far – but then… it was fed ex that had it (I think; might have been Purolator.) Did one of their workers take it?

So I got back from vacation and was stressed out to find it had not come in. I emailed Amazon about it, and they said they would send another. Then I learned of ‘my baby,’ and everything else dimmed in comparison. I struggled for many days and then one day woke up deciding this was the day I would harvest plums and try canning for the first time.

I guess when most other people learn such things they turn to people who know what they are doing and learn from them. That isn’t me. Working with other people presses on my heart and mind that I am not good enough. I don’t belong. They may not be thinking the same thing; I will allow for that. When I am with other people, however, I get attacked – in my head, in my heart, all around me – and I just can’t.

Though I am sure most other people don’t understand this level of anxiety or isolation, I am sure that if they experienced anything similar – like perhaps they received an electric shock every time they got something right, they would be afraid to keep going, too. Not that I get shocked – but it is like that. I get attacked through thoughts and feelings. It makes it so hard to function that when other people are around, I really can’t function. Not won’t. Can’t. I drop things, I spill things, I make mistakes. I can’t think for the shouting in my head (that I am working so hard to silence) telling me how stupid I am to think I belong there, or could do… anything.

So I don’t. Other people work, and serve, and do things with other people – and when I am there, I sit, or I try to hide in a corner and become invisible.

It has to be this way, it seems, for I am not strong enough to silence the attacks – and the attacks always come.

This means that if I want to learn anything, really, I have to learn alone. I seek out ideas, research, study, spend an inordinate amount of time fixated on the subject, and then one day I will just try.

Well, knowing I was interested in canning, my husband brought a huge water bath canner home from the thrift store where he works. I mean, it was huge! It took up two burners on the stove. I had all these plums, so that is where I started. Over a couple of days I made 24 jars of canned plums (and got at least that amount again in fresh plums, some of which we brought to my husband’s work and gave away.

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Autism: Overrated Sanity

And then the days come when I am once more interested in learning and growing. This both surprises and saddens me – how could life go on after such pain? It often feels that when my heart breaks, it actually does break – and there should be nothing after it. No life. No laughter. No joy.

Perhaps death. Death feels like the appropriate answer to a broken heart. And in the moment only death holds hope that peace and joy could ever come again. I am not suicidal, but there are frequent moments in my life where I long for death. This is not the same thing. One is an action, the other is a prayer.

Mostly I pray, when things hurt so bad (and for me I get to that spot several times a month even on a decent month, for my past holds many painful memories, and my mind frequently forces me to relive the trauma) that God will take me home. Please take me home. Please don’t leave me here any longer. I can’t do this any more. I don’t want to be here anymore.

And in those moments I realize that I am absolutely no different from the child I was long ago, lying in my bed, praying for the same. I don’t belong here. I never have.

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This world is not my home, and this is a truth I can never alter – but there are some things that help me to hold on just a little longer.

I suppose for other people it is family and friends – and I do hold on for them. I pray to stay when I long to go because of what my death might do to other people… not a lot of other people, but there are some. What would happen to my son? To my girls (dogs?) To my mom?

I pray to stay for them, but make no mistake – this is a sacrifice for the ones I love. For me the sacrifice is in living, for death means home, and home is what I long for.

The other day I was watching Sherlock and he said something that I immediately had to go and type down (though I may not have it quoted word for word.) He said:

“Your death is an event that happens to other people. Your life is not your own; keep your hands off of it.”

I am not suicidal, but to stay is a sacrifice – and there are many days when I am lying in bed thinking I can’t keep holding on. I just can’t.

There are some things in life that make it easier to stay for a little longer – and that usually comes out in hobbies and events, such as learning to can. I can’t learn when I am struggling; my mind shuts down and won’t let any new knowledge in.

So when I got up in the morning and decided that this was the day I would make my first attempt at canning, I knew. I knew that whatever it was that I used to convince myself that what was real really wasn’t was worth it… is that too confusing?

Perhaps my grip on reality isn’t strong – but it isn’t strong on purpose. My reality threatens my sanity, and it is only… ONLY through letting go of the truth a little, and accepting the possibility that there is a way to escape the confines of the natural law – only then can I get up and live again.

However I do worry about where the line is, and how much more I can take before I cross it. Then again, there are days when I think that sanity is highly overrated.

 

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Autism: To Can or Not To Can

It has been one of my strong interests for a number of years now, and so it makes sense that it comes up again and again – after all, I do seek out information on the subject. Really, not just information, but… everything I can find.

Pictures, books, documentaries, movies… they are some of my all time favourite ways to pass the time; to make me think.

I love to be inspired, and nothing inspires me quite like stories of people who… can.

There is a person in my church who draws comic like pictures based on the sermons each week, and they share them online with the rest of them. The last one I saw was about two different ways of ‘carrying your cross;’ as in, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

They entitled this picture “the tale of two crosses” or something like that. There was one person, carrying what appeared to be a heavy wooden cross up a hill. The other person was driving an RV filled with lots of ‘stuff.’

I could understand the point – much like my pastor says, “It is dangerous to live (where we live),” because things are easy, and we get… complacent or something. Like the saying, “you don’t know God is all you need until God is all you have.”

In a way I agree with that, only for me, life is more like a battleground than a vacation – though I live in a place where everyone seems to be experiencing life here as if it were some sort of tourist destination. I suppose my experience is much like a soldier returning from particularly brutal experiences at war, and trying to fit in to a society that can’t even imagine what that might be like. I may have never been to war, but my own traumatic experiences have strong, painful, frightening triggers in every day life which affect me in much the same way.

So I appreciate that I live in a land that is not at war – yet I have no trust, and much fear, that this so called peace will last. In fact, I am nearly always on heightened alert that society as we know it is on the brink of collapse – and fully aware in that fear, that I haven’t the skills needed to survive, and most of the people around me are… asleep.

So comforted by the ‘knowledge’ that food comes from the grocery store (and will always be available,) water comes from the taps, heat and power come from automated systems in our homes, and we are basically ‘safe.’

Part of me so longs to be like them. This fear? It is exhausting. And yet the subject captures my thoughts so well that I will spend months of every year, and much of the time in between, watching, researching, considering, planning for this very thing.

For me, I am neither the person carrying the heavy wooden cross, nor the person driving in the RV filled with lots of stuff – for me it feels more like I am carrying the RV filled with ‘stuff.’ It is a burden, and I dream of ‘putting it down.’ For the weight of all of this unnecessary stuff takes so much of my attention that I can’t focus on what is really important.

So I consider: if something happened (and it is very possible that it will to some degree) would I be able to survive?

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We are so dependant on electricity, natural gas, cars, money, grocery stores… most of us have no idea how to survive without them – and I must admit, I really have no clue for all the research I have done. I thrive off ideas, but I couldn’t live off them; for that I need skills.

Through the year I have been taking surveys and such every day to earn money towards gift cards. Finally I had enough to cash in, and want to trade them for something that would be useful now, and would help me to feel confident that I could survive should something happen to change the world as I know it.

And that search led me back to the thought of ‘canning.’ If I used it to buy a pressure canner, and equipment for it – though I have never canned before – would that fit my desire to use both my time and my (gift cards) towards things that would build on the skills I would need to survive; or would it increase the burden of ‘stuff’ that I carry, which takes me away from what is important?

Would I be able to learn to can safely – and would I be able to find enough recipes of the type of food I would use (vegan soups, for instance) to make it worthwhile; or would it be another failure on my part which just takes up more storage space… and if so, what would be a better option?

First world problems? Ye-es, but for one who is always concerned that we are all right on the edge of some disaster that will lead us to being completely dependant on our own skills to be able to survive… but then I think, I couldn’t fight. I couldn’t kill animals for food. I couldn’t defend myself. If it is some type of illness, I wouldn’t likely survive it. So if something does happen – I probably wouldn’t be alive long enough to use any of these skills if I did have them.

Which brings me back to the question: To can, or not to can?

 

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Autism: Live and Learn and Grow

I must say, this has been a particularly good year for gardening for me. It isn’t that a lot is growing – I have realized some mistakes along the way (that I will hopefully not make again in the future.) I am growing organic without any especial help, meaning that some of my food is being eaten by bugs. I haven’t added a lot in terms of food or fertilizer; though I have done some.

Having planted wildflowers in the past, several of my garden beds are being overrun with flowers where I had intended to have vegetables. Things kind of look overrun and unkempt I guess; especially when compared to other gardens in the area.

I think the best part is that when I have needed the energy – to turn the soil, or pull the weeds, or especially to harvest the food – it has been there. That certainly hasn’t been true in other years, and even between harvests this year my energy has been so low that I have often wondered how I would get it done. But then the food was ready to harvest – and suddenly I had the energy to gather the food.

It has been wonderful!

Having food growing in my yard also means having access to foods I wouldn’t normally purchase, and being able to experiment with recipes that I hadn’t tried before.

One day I went out, and my ‘onions’ looked ready. Well, I thought all along they were onions, as that is where I planted some green onions last summer – only I had so many volunteer tomatoes come up in that garden last year that the onions got buried. Luckily they came back again this year, and there were a lot of them.

So I went to harvest my ‘onions’ only to find that what was growing there was garlic! Bonus! I certainly wasn’t disappointed in this find – only surprised. I have tried growing garlic before with no luck (apparently close to where I had planted the green onions!) and was surprised to find that up on the stem of the garlic, there were smaller, milder garlic cloves (at least I think that is what they were) growing in a bunch.

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I pulled out all of those baby cloves (since they didn’t look like they would store well) and harvested some chard to go with them, and sauteed them up for lunch. I can’t express how good they tasted! That was a meal I hadn’t tried before – but then, I do like most vegetables (so long as they don’t have too many seasonings or such added to them.) These I just sauteed up in olive oil with a bit of salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast (makes it taste cheesy!)

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Well, I harvested much more kale and cherries; made kale chips; dehydrated the cherries; felt like I was making good use of the life I was given. Kale chips just might be my favourite food in the world. Of course, I make them myself. I am not sure I would like them so much from a bag in the store – especially with the huge price on them (though I even understand that as four big batches made in the oven only fills a couple of medium sized bowls when finished.)

I brought those kale chips camping with me, and they saved me many days of food meltdowns filling multiple dietary and sensory needs, and allowing me to move on to other foods without struggle. (Though I did have to use a LOT of self control not to eat them all in one sitting.)

I have been home for a few days. A neighbour dropped off some garlic by my gate – again with the baby cloves. Remembering how good the chard was, and adding that to the memory of my sister in law telling me beet greens tasted like chard, I sauteed them up with beets from my garden, and beet greens. Again, so good!

Just this morning I spent several hours harvesting raspberries from my backyard. I got a large bucket full (or 9.5 US dry pints to be exact – I measured) and I have another large batch of kale ready to go. I think I will save that for tomorrow.

All in all, I will say that this hobby has met with success. I am so happy, and so content – even though not everything grew as I wished it would. Well, live and learn, and… grow!

 

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