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Autism: Freedom For Now

We had this vehicle that was sitting in our driveway for many months, not being used. It wasn’t our vehicle, but we had agreed to store it for family.  Since no one was using it, my husband asked if it would be okay for us to get it insured during the time that my mom was here – and the owners agreed.

Suddenly I have a vehicle – not that one, for it is a standard. I can drive standard, but… I am anxious enough driving an automatic. With the standard, there is so much more to think about, and so many more issues that could arise.

For example (and I guess this is the worst one) when I have to stop on a hill in the standard, I am painfully aware of how close other vehicles stop behind. When the light changes, and it is time to go, I not only have to think about the lights and the traffic in front of me – but there is the brake, and the clutch, and the gas, and the gears, and… the vehicle that will roll backwards before it moves forward.

It is all too much – like city driving (which I don’t do – at least not in or near the city I learned to drive in.)

So my husband will take the standard car to work, and I will have the use of our automatic van during my visit with my mom.

Only he didn’t just get insurance for the 2 months while my mom is here, but for six months!

It feels really strange.

I haven’t had free access to a vehicle for a long time. In fact, in our first 9 or 10 years of marriage (even after I got a job outside of my home, and with different shifts from my husband) we only had the one vehicle.

When I was going to school, and had to travel to and from the job site frequently (we were building a house) my husband decided it was best to get a second vehicle for convenience. But when I stopped working, well… there really wasn’t enough reason to justify the expense of a second vehicle, so the extra went to the wrecker (we only ever buy well used vehicles) and we were back down to one.

It made sense. It did make sense.

If I needed to get anywhere, I would have to drive down to work with my husband, and pick him up at the end of the day, in addition to doing my own thing. Sometimes I did, but… driving into town and back once causes me severe anxiety (just being in town without driving causes me strong anxiety.) By the time I got home, I was nearly always crashing – and going out again was really a very difficult thing for me. So I didn’t do it often, and have spent most of these years at home.

Then I qualified for door to door bus service – only I had a bad experience with that, and was afraid to try again.

Instead I have been home. I like to be home, but with no accessible way to leave home, I have felt trapped and isolated.

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And now, suddenly, I have a vehicle again. I drove into town today to pick up a few things for my mom’s visit – and town was busy! I don’t know why it was so busy on a regular Monday not altogether close to tourist season, but it was.

I arrived home worn out and exhausted, and very anxious about having to go out again to pick my husband up at the end of the day… but then, I don’t have to, do I?

It feels strange, but I am grateful for the sudden freedom that having a second vehicle allows. Perhaps not worth the expense long term, but it is really nice for now.

 

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Autism: Becoming a Hermit

I hate to leave home. Even when I go camping, I wish I was able to teleport to get there and back so that I could have my own kitchen, and bathroom, and be able to enjoy what I love about camping without having to truly leave home. Or perhaps I would appreciate making my home on a property that would also work for camping.

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I prefer shopping online, and learning online, pretty much doing everything from the comfort of my own home. I suppose that is why the idea of virtual reality appeals so much to me, for I still want the experiences, it is just… I don’t want to leave home to have them.

My first, and longest lasting job was running a daycare from my home. I appreciated that the work was brought to me, and felt terrified of any thought that I might ever have to work away from home.

This wasn’t always the case, however.

As a child, school gave me extreme anxiety – but ‘home’ was worse; especially when my dad was there. So I went to school (and wished I was invisible.) When school was out, I spent a lot of time exploring parks, forests, and waterfalls with my older brother.

I loved camping, and going for walks, and picnics, and visits with family. Amusements were, and continue to be (though I now live nowhere close to them) my favourite places to go, despite the crowds and noise.

When I was in cadets, that was where I wanted to be, and those were the people I wanted to be with. Anxious? Extremely. Yet I still preferred being there to being at home.

Even during my teen years, though I really struggled with school, and often ‘chose’ not to go (really, I couldn’t make myself some days, and some seasons) I still preferred to be on the school grounds, visiting with my friends, or even sitting alone, to being at home.

It is true that for all of those years, eating, and especially bathrooms were a huge issue for me – but then, they were at home as well. There really was no safe place for such things for me. Such issues only became worse with time.

I finished high school through correspondence, which was a much better option for me, but I still wanted to be at the school when I did the work – just not in the classroom, and sometimes not even in the building.

When my son was born, and we were still living with his birth father, I would walk for six hours a day, every day just to get out of the house. I suppose the reason for that was more that my son’s father was on a different schedule than us, and wanted us to be quiet while he slept during the day – an impossible thing with an infant at home. Still, I enjoyed that time out walking with my son.

Shortly after my son turned one, I started babysitting my six month old cousin. Suddenly it was too hard to get out of the house, and we spent most of our time at home – and I felt trapped. That only lasted through the summer, and after that I took my son to playgroup, playgrounds, children’s museums… anything to get out for parts of the day.

I think it was my first attempt at college (for which I did really well – though again was extremely anxious) that being home all the time became most appealing to me. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and shortly after graduating, I opened my home daycare.

In the years since, I have become more and more of a hermit – or perhaps I just became too exhausted with the anxiety and judgment, and failure, and… that happened whenever I left the house.

Though I do go to church, and I have gone to college again, and I have had jobs away from home, it has never become any easier. The older I get, the more my entire being screams to be home whenever I go away, and I guess that over time I have just become too exhausted to keep fighting it.

After all, I like being home.

 

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Autism: On The Defensive

“There aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants one anyway,” I think to myself in defense. “Some people are always going to be out of work; especially in this economy. So why should I push myself to do something that would be really bad for me, and lead to another failure.”

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The thing is, I do get so defensive when I feel pressured to work. Yet people always seem to judge and pressure people in one way or another. Why do we do that? As if our opinion, and our preferences (or how we chose to push ourselves) is all that matters – and who that person is, and what is best for them, means nothing at all.

I know that people do this, yet it still consumes my thoughts, overwhelms me, and fills me with anxiety and self hatred when it is directed at me; it always has – even when I was working, and especially as I was raising my children; for parents get the worst pressure put on them to conform to other peoples opinions.

  • I should want to work; what is wrong with me?
  • I should push myself to work; I must be lazy.
  • I shouldn’t want to be home all the time; it is wrong to be isolated.
  • I shouldn’t be living off public support; I must be selfish.
  • I should just live with the overwhelming anxiety, depression, irritation, exhaustion, burn-out… that comes from working – like everyone else does, right?
  • If I can’t work, I have no value.
  • If I have no value, I don’t deserve… anything.
  • If I can’t meet their expectations, they would be better off if I didn’t exist.
  • No wonder they hate me.
  • If they hate me, I must be no good.
  • Since I can’t be good, I hate me, too.

And you see how quickly the pressure for me to do what they think is right leads to depression and suicidal thoughts?

Because no matter how hard I try; no matter how hard I have always tried; I am always a failure in their opinion – and no matter how defensive I become towards their opinion, somehow I always end up believing they are right, and I am broken, and I blame myself for that brokenness, for they seem to be of the opinion that if I tried harder, I would be okay.

Yet it is for these very reasons that I was approved for disability. It isn’t as if I woke up one day thinking, “I don’t feel like working anymore. I think I will live off public assistance,” and then somehow convinced those in ‘power’ that a person who was able to function well, but didn’t feel like it, deserved that money. It just doesn’t work like that!

It was out of the brokenness that they found me, and realized that (when 60% of applications are denied for this type of disability payment) that my barriers to employment were so extensive that it was unlikely I would be able to work for a very long time, if ever again.

And still I know that if I ever find myself healed, and healthy, one of the first things I would do would be to go looking for work. I don’t need the opinion, disgust, judgment, or pressure from others to take me there. If I am well, I will find work. If I am not, pressuring me to do what I am not ready for will only break me further.

 

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Autism: One Short Email

The thing is, even being content or happy doesn’t shield me from the effects of receiving an email like that. I even allow that she might not have meant it the way I read it. But the pain, and the panic, and the after-effects were as strong just the same.

That morning, I was exceptionally happy – for me. I rated my depression as a five out of ten (and considering I have only gotten above a five a couple of times in over a year, that is really good – for me.) I was doing so well, and I was accomplishing so much, and then out of nowhere came this email.

I won’t say exactly what it said, as it both isn’t important, and will trigger me again – but it basically said, “You are doing it wrong.”

There.

Conflict. Criticism. I just can’t do it.

Small as it may seem, it is a huge trigger for me. I mean, big. I did mention I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, right? That does come from a traumatic childhood, but it was healing. Triggered at times, but not in all I did. It was getting better.

But then I had three children removed from my home in a failed adoption – and the trauma from that is so bad that one small encounter with a stranger, or one sentence in an email can take me from the most contented I have felt in months, to hiding out in tears for days after.

“You are doing it wrong.” Those weren’t the words she used, but it is the same thing. It wasn’t even about something that is absolute – just like with the children’s ministry – one theory, one opinion, in a world full of them. What makes them right?

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Only power. But power doesn’t make a person right, it only gives them the ability to destroy those that don’t have it. “You don’t agree with me? I will crush you.” And the thing is, they can. Forget this, “what can they do?” for I know what they can do. They can crush me – and they do. Again and again.

And what can she do? She can take back what she gave to heal me. I have never even met this person, and she has the power to destroy me, because in a moment of overwhelming pain I agreed to accept a gift from her.

Yet from my childhood, and from trying to adopt my children, I know. I know that any gift given can also be taken back. And any gift that isn’t taken back still gives that person so much power over me. And with that power, they can (and do) crush me. And it terrifies me.

So one line, in one email, can set me to days of panic attacks and tears. One comment can set back months of healing, and cause more fear than I can express. People want to believe that other people are resilient – that what they say and do doesn’t matter, really – but not all of us are. Not all of us. Many of us have been through so much already, that we just can’t take any more. And what have we learned? That other people have power. That other people can and will use that power to destroy.

Maybe she was just making a suggestion. Maybe I took it too hard. The next email said how well she thought I was doing… but then, the children’s ministry did the same thing – over and over – and they destroyed me, and then blamed me for being too stressed out working with them.

So what can one person who disagrees with me do? More than I hope any other person has to experience. One line in an email. One line. And the fear, and the trauma, and the social anxiety, and the desire to isolate myself grows in leaps and bounds. For what could they do, but take away the life line they threw to me, and leave me to drown.

 

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