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Autism: Hostile World

I don’t belong here.

It has been the resounding theme of my life.

Unliked. Unwanted. Not like them.

Not trusted. Not accepted. Not belonging.

I want to be liked.

I try to fit in.

They allow me…

Because it is Christian.

Because I am… family (of a sort.)

But not because I belong.

I don’t.

First they let me know;

By glances and actions rather than words.

I try harder, and harder still.

And rather than improve their acceptance of me –

It gets worse.

They don’t want me there, and…

I wish I could be a person who doesn’t care.

But of course I care.

I’ve always cared.

Yet if I can’t be accepted,

My impulse is to run.

Maybe another school,

Another group,

Another part of town?

Maybe another province,

A city where I have never been?

But wherever I go,

Whatever I do,

There I am:

Not belonging.

So I build these worlds.

These fantasies in my mind.

And the more pain my reality contains,

The further from reality my fantasies take me;

Until there is little left

To bring joy or relief

In the world around me.

So much fear.

So much pain.

I would spend most,

If not all of my life,

Dreaming;

Just to endure it.

But the older I get,

The less the dreams satisfy;

For I know my dreams,

These fantasies,

They won’t come true.

I return to a world that feels hostile to me.

Alone and fearful and full of pain

Thinking “maybe if I try harder,

Try harder,

Try harder…”

But the harder I try,

The less I belong.

I wish I didn’t care,

But I do.

I am still nothing more than that small child,

Crying to sleep at night

For being abandoned in a big, frightening, painful world

That never wanted her.

me at 7

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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: Perfectly Imperfect

When I started, it was the first bit of energy I had felt in weeks, if not months. My anxiety had been high, and really, I had very little hope left for the project. The catalogues I had ordered sat collecting dust on my shelf, and I was wondering if the 30 year seeds my son got me for my birthday last fall would actually still grow if I left them that long.

It wasn’t the plan, but sometimes life… or in my case, a lack of energy, and an overabundance of anxiety, just gets in the way.

The rain was coming down. Not a lot, but enough that the day was dark. Typically, especially on dark days, my mood reflects the weather. It is hard to get motivated when there is no sun. Of course I know the sun is always shining, even if I can’t see it – I am more aware of this on sunny days when my mood is low, and my mind blocks the light streaming in on me, than I am on the darker days when I almost expect to struggle.

On this day, however, I had a drive that wasn’t dimmed by the weather, and I gave myself up to it.

For hours on this dark, rainy day, I happily sat on the floor in my living room surrounded by tape, and scissors, and catalogues, seeds and a coiled notebook (the type I buy in bulk every fall, and use often for my journals.)

For hours I cut and taped directions and pictures to match the 33 seed varieties that had come in the small silver package.

The lines I cut weren’t exactly straight, and the tape kept twisting and wrinkling, and as I carried out this activity I realized something that I had never quite understood about myself: my perfectionism and anxiety around making mistakes is there for the sake of other people, not myself.

These things that so frequently overwhelm me to the point where I won’t even start an activity for fear of failure are all about how I see others judging me, rather than about how I see myself. How frequently do I look at myself through my perception of how I think others see me, rather than through standards I set for myself?

I completed this scrapbook that I had made, and looked over the pages – which were kind of in alphabetical order, but not quite, as I missed some seeds, and had to put them in as I remembered them. The cuttings were somewhat crooked, the tape wrinkly, and all over the page. It looked not much better than a grade school project that a child did alone.

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Yet as I looked over this gardening scrapbook I had made, I was entirely satisfied with the result.

The difference in my opinion of how this turned out, and so much of the things I do, was that this didn’t have to be shown to other people. I was proud of it because I did it, and it reflected me perfectly. It wasn’t perfect, but it was ‘me,’ and though my back was really sore from sitting so long on the floor; and though I was surrounded in leftover scraps of paper, and a catalogue that was in pieces, I felt pretty much perfectly happy.

This project enlightened me to the fact that my perception of myself is not based on looking in a mirror, and seeing a failure – but rather looking into the mirror at a group of people standing behind me, and seeing ‘failure’ written in their eyes.

If I could let go of this fear of how other people are seeing me, I think perhaps I would be perfectly happy with most of my imperfections… and maybe it is there I would find the courage to try all of these activities I fear I could never do well enough to satisfy.

 

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Autism: My Dad

My dad was good at a lot of things. As I was lying in my bed yesterday afternoon, exhausted, and depressed, and overwhelmed by life, I was thinking of that. He was good at a lot of things. I am not really good at anything, and that fed my depression.

My dad was a good son. He was a good brother. He was a good friend. People liked him, and I think he genuinely liked people. He was the first one people often called for help. They would frequently drop in unexpectedly, and he would welcome them in. I remember at least two instances in my childhood where people were really struggling, and my dad invited them to come live with us; and they did.

Frequently my dad took people out for coffee, or just for drives, and he talked to them. My dad was very social, and was very easy to talk to. He was generous, and giving, and caring. He liked helping people. He liked being useful.

My dad liked spending time with people. We spent a lot of my childhood visiting with his friends and family, and camping as a large group with his extended family. He would go fishing with his brother and brother’s kids, and sometimes take us; when he didn’t, he always brought small gifts home with him to show he was thinking of us. He would take us and go to amusement parks with his sisters, our cousins, and his parents. He would take us to the drive in theatre (a lot!) or just rent movies and invite people over to watch at home.

My dad liked spending a lot of time with us. He would take us for walks along the creek, and on picnics, and for drives just to talk. When my dad was home and awake, he was almost always visiting. He even came with my older brother and I to nearly every cadet meet we had. He would bring donuts he got free from Tim Horton’s because, of course, he was friends with all the workers there. Even my fellow cadets (I’d like to say friends, but since I didn’t talk, I guess I wasn’t much of that to them) liked him.

My dad liked to sing. He had a great voice, and when we were on our drives, he would put in a tape and sing along. He would encourage us to sing too, even though my younger brother and I did not have good singing voices; he never criticized us for it. I still love the songs that he used to sing.

My dad was a hard worker. Though he worked in a steel factory, in a physically demanding job (and though he was injured before I could remember, and had a bad leg as a result), and though it was shift work which changed week to week, he never complained about having to go to work. He worked full time, and was the sole income provider for our family for a long time. Even so, when he wasn’t working or sleeping, he was visiting with, and helping people.

My dad was good at woodwork. He finished our basement in the house we moved to when I was four, and put a lot of detail into it. He built us a nice toy box/bench, a corner cabinet, a desk… He kept our homes in good condition. He even whittled animals and things from wood, and they were really nice. He was just good at it.

My dad was good at a lot of things, but the brokenness in him… I guess that is why people didn’t believe me when I did speak – for my father was good at a lot of things, but the deepest seeds of evil he pretty much reserved for me.

My dad was good at a lot of things. I am not really good at anything. Maybe that is why I am depressed. Maybe.

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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: Knowing Myself

I am a person who struggles a lot with discontent. Whatever I have, I dream of something different. I am working on this. I am praying about this. Still I struggle.

I wonder if this has to do with a lifetime of trying, and failing, to meet other people’s expectations. A lifetime of thinking that this lifestyle, or that job, or some ability is the definition of success. Here I am 40 years old, and I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I like. I don’t know what I might be good at, and spend so much energy fighting against those things that I am definitely not good at – because I feel I should be able to do them.

Take, for instance, my strong desire towards, and fixation on, homesteading. So often I long to be able: to grow food, to harvest food, to have a wood stove, to gather, and store, and know that if I want to eat I have to work for it. I want to be able to knit, and sew, and make crafts to display around my house. I want to have many animals (and not have to eat them) and a large piece of land far away from people.

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Only I have no energy, and am not gifted in any of these areas. None. Okay, I am good with animals, but I am not good with death. I’d like to have them, but to what purpose? I don’t have the physical strength to keep up the work of caring for them day after day, and I really need my time for sleep, which having a large farm to care for would not allow.

It doesn’t make sense, yet I feel so strongly that I should be able to do this, that I am completely denying the truth of whether I actually could. Maybe it has more to do with my lack of trust in the economy, or my dislike of being dependent on other people – but there is so much about that lifestyle that I cannot do, and rather than accept that fact, I become discontent with my lack of ability.

Then there is the idea that a good life includes a huge family, which brings on the desire for many children. Only I couldn’t have more than one child, and even trying to adopt didn’t work out. All of my life this was something I wanted, and I could not understand why some people didn’t want that. In these later years, however, as I pick and pull at these desires that have driven my life, I begin to question: Why? Why do I want children? Why do I believe having a lot of children is the definition of success?

I was so upset by my failures in this area, that I was constantly feeling driven to try harder, and beg for more that I never stopped to question whether I should. I loved being a mom, don’t get me wrong, but there is so much about being a parent that is beyond my ability or comfort level, that the knowledge my son has grown beyond those years should bring me peace rather than a longing to return.

Being judged by other people, for instance, is a huge struggle for me. Yet parents are being judged constantly, and it seems nothing can be done ‘right.’ The more children a person has, the more room to be judged. On top of that, I am completely awkward around other people. Playdates, schools, teachers, playgrounds, other parents, birthday parties… having children demands interaction, and all of this was way beyond my comfort level.

Then there is the idea of being responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of another person. The very idea of that level of… power – it terrifies me. And with children, all of my sensory issues are tested to the limits each and every day, and my attention (which automatically turns inward, and is quickly exhausted when pulled out of myself) is demanded at all times.

Above all of this, there is the constant terror of all that could go wrong, and I see it all. Someone said that having children means to forever have your heart go walking around outside of your body – and this is both completely true, and overwhelmingly terrifying for me: anything could happen. Anything.

I like my quiet. I like having a lot of time to sit, and think, and analyze. I like having a lot of alone time, without demands being placed on me to get things done. There is so much involved in both of these areas which I am not good at, that even the desire to live in such ways leaves me feeling like a failure.

So I believe I have been given this time to review and rewrite my idea of what success means, and to understand what drives this discontent in my life, and figure out how to let it go.

 

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