Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What Happens to Me at Night

As of now, I am feeling a content unease. I am used to this feeling. It approaches at night when I stay up too late.

"Content unease" is hard to describe.
(Image by blind artist George Redhawk.)

This "content unease" is only a mild version of my strange nocturnal states. It's not too late right now (11:00pm) and I am keeping myself occupied with some crafts.

When I'm not actively distracting myself in a healthy manner, I can sink into a weird episode of extremely strong emotions and intense sensory experiences. Sort of like being high, but it can be uncomfortable too, like a bad trip.
Sparkles from my brain

I can range from intense mental pain, self-hatred, depression, anxiety etc. to extreme confidence, euphoria, feeling powerful, and delusions of grandeur--a manic state that hurts so bad yet feels so good.

Visuals come alive...

Music becomes eargasmic...

And I feel everything.

...try smoking marijuana and you'll see what I mean.
(Actually don't. And don't tell anyone I suggested that. xD)

I feel the intended emotions so strongly, I must be careful about the media I take in.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to control my compulsive curiosity in this state, so I can find myself in weird places on the Internet (*cough cough* the weird side of YouTube). Luckily, it doesn't have much impact on me the next day, when my brain gunk has been flushed out by a good night's sleep.



Still, it's amazing when I do things I really enjoy during these states, like playing Skyrim, watching a favorite music video on repeat, stream-of-consciousness writing, or organizing my computer. Whatever it is, it feels great when it's something I really want to do in that moment.


Though it's a part of who I am, I do categorize it as a part of my mental illness. Because like any feeling, I don't want it in excess. It disrupts my sleep patterns and I'm self-conscious about it when I'm around people (besides my fiancé and a few trusted friends) since I may act hyper or too self-focused. I'm ashamed to say that I can even be verbally/emotionally abusive if I'm experiencing the more painful side of these episodes. A lot of this is due to dissociation: or a mental/emotional disconnection in an attempt to escape the pain.


The best solution for stabilizing it is to have a strict bedtime every night, and early enough that I never enter that state in the first place. I typically go to bed anywhere between 10pm-12pm on a good night, depending on my schedule.


Don't get me wrong, sometimes my "crazy" comes in handy. While the dark side of it can be painful, I can intentionally use these states to be hyper-productive. It can fuel my creativity as well, but it's often a dysfunctional creativity--think half-finished splatter paintings and a story about an antler lady attracted to lampposts. So I prefer assigning myself a specific, planned-out task ahead of time; that way, my crazy self knows what to do.


I've gotten through editing some of my documentary this way. I had to, because of school; but I found that I got a lot of good work done when I kept at it all night sometimes, uninterrupted by daytime responsibilities.

Over time, I've developed a love/hate relationship with that manic feeling, as it paints everything (including my work) as both awful and beautiful. I appreciate those extremes and the crazy places they take me--it makes life more interesting. It makes me want to keep creating, and to keep striving for improvement.

Whatever these "episodes" are, they are a part of me. While I do want to stabilize them, I don't want to erase them.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Holiday Aspie Special! "Through Our Eyes" Discount

Holiday Aspie Special!

Get a $10 DVD copy (special edition) of "Through Our Eyes: Living with Asperger's" or streaming access to the full-length film for only $5, for yourself or loved ones. $1 Neurodiversity magnets in my shop, more goodies to come.



This deal will last all through the season and expires Monday, January 15th.

May your holidays be filled with happy flaps and quiet rooms aplenty.

~Alyssa

Friday, November 24, 2017

I Am Thankful for Vael. (Journal Tidbit)

I know Thanksgiving is over, but it's never too late to be thankful for something. I try to reflect on the good things in my life all year round.

I am thankful for Vael.

(For those who don't know, Vael is my fantasy novel that I have been dreaming of for the past 7+ years. Check out my blog documenting my progress here.)

"Companions"
Digitized version of a drawing I made for my friend Ed, who helped me create the world.

I've been working on Vael a lot lately. I kinda hid away in my room for a while, off my meds, so I could go crazy on the outline. I actually got a lot done. I used a stickynote method where I put basic plot points (and other important story points/info) on my closet door and arrange them in order. I will have to frequently re-order these to add new points since this is only 1/3-1/2 of the story.


The first photo was from Day 1 of outlining... the second is from Day 2-3. I purposely blurred the photos to avoid giving away spoilers.

I plan to continue once this busy weekend is over. Too much going on...

In regards to Vael, I work best when I can focus intensely, and non-stop if possible. I still need to take breaks to take care of myself, but there is nothing more exciting to me than working on a project I love for hours on end without thinking about anything or anyone else.

This can lead me to be somewhat "neglectful" of those around me, but it should be okay if it's just for a few days. I just have to explain to people that this is my passion and I need to disappear for a while to really make progress.

I hope they understand. I really love Vael.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

I'm Not Perfect: My Meltdown

I hate to admit this, but as an autistic advocate I need to be honest: I had a meltdown yesterday.

"To Dare" by autistic artist Donna Williams

It was a difficult day to begin with. I was doing my best to adapt to unexpected schedule changes (by not thinking about them and pretending I'm OK--bad idea). I had the beginnings of a cold as well. I was with Matt (my fiance) at his college, sitting in a crowded, muggy library trying hard to function despite everything and get some writing done, and then I discovered that someone stole my lunch. That was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I was outwardly annoyed and inwardly upset, but I held it in all day until I got home and could be alone. I cried for several hours feeling like crap for being upset over something so "small."

I couldn't turn my brain off to sleep that night, thinking over and over how I'm just an ungrateful burden that doesn't deserve my fiancé or anything I have. I thought: I'll never get a job, and if I do, I only deserve a minimum wage one (despite my college degree) and am doomed to choose between acting "normal" or being rejected.

Of course, these are not necessarily true, but these worries crop up when my weakness starts to show.

Let me point out that everyone (even NT's) experiences a sort of "meltdown" in the form of "general adaptation syndrome" or how we respond to stress. Meltdowns are not just an autistic response, but a more noticeable response that seems "extreme" to others because they have a higher stress tolerance and normal senses. Little do they know how much we put up with, and how hard we work to smile regardless of it.


TIPS FOR DEALING WITH MELTDOWNS


When I say "meltdown" I am also referring to "shutdowns." "Meltdowns" are usually defined as angry outbursts that look like tantrums, but in adults it tends to not be as obvious (mine are more like shutdowns) and behavior varies from person to person.

---FOR AUTISTIC PEOPLE---

1. Don't hold it in.
Seriously. But I don't mean lash out without restraint: I mean don't stuff it down for too long, because like a can of soda in the freezer, it will explode at some point! It's better to handle it sooner than let it fester.

2. Escape.
This can be a physical place (like a dark, comfortable room) or when that's not an option, a safe haven for your mind (like playing a phone game that calms you down, or ranting your worries to a trusted friend).

3. Express.
You need to let it out. If social communication is difficult, express how you feel in other ways: write, paint, listen to music, dance, cry, yell, stim... whatever releases those emotions. Writing this blog post has helped me in the recovery process.

4. Apologize.
Meltdowns are not your fault! But chances are, the other person doesn't know that, especially if they are unaware of your autism or how meltdowns work. They might be confused, upset, or annoyed, so an apology will help them be calm and listen to you. Be sure to recover as much as possible before approaching them.

5. Educate.
Explain how your autism affects you, and how you perceive the triggers that can lead up to a meltdown. If this person is a friend, family member, teacher, or someone you will spend a lot of time with, give some pointers on how to identify a meltdown, and how they can respond in a way that doesn't worsen, but helps the situation. While other people aren't responsible for your well-being, a helpful response can smooth out the process of calming down and make it easier on both people.


---FOR NON-AUTISTIC PEOPLE---

1. Don't express disapproval.
"Again? *sighs*"   "You're just overreacting."   "Calm down because I'm too busy for this."
Please don't say things like this. Save those thoughts for later, and confide in another person (not the person in meltdown) after the situation de-escalates. Keep in mind that the autistic person is not intentionally acting that way. In fact, they probably already feel ashamed about it--so expressing frustration, disapproval, or general negative feelings (like suggesting they are a burden) about their meltdown will only make them feel worse and want to shut you out.

2. Know ahead of time what they need.
It's easier to ask how to react to meltdowns when they are not already melting down. Ask if touch is helpful or not (like a hug, deep pressure, etc), or if they need a quiet, dark room to calm down, what coping mechanisms help (i.e. stim toys, games, music), etc.

3. Keep communication simple.
If they are in meltdown, ask what you can do to help with as few words as possible. Avoid figures of speech, sarcasm, and anything that is not honest and literal statements. Give them the option of texting or writing their response if necessary. If they don't respond to verbal expression, try texting or writing your question. Yes or no questions are best, like: "Want to be alone?" "Do you need quiet?" "Are the lights too bright?" "Do you feel ignored?" "Are you hungry/thirsty/tired etc.?"

4. Listen.
When the autistic person tries to communicate, listen and reassure them that you are listening. Feeling ignored can make the meltdown worse. And, you might get some vital information about what's upsetting them and how you can help.

5. Reassure them that they are not a burden.
For me, half of my upset is me feeling guilty about my meltdown. Feeling like a burden makes the situation worse and prolong it. Being assured that I am loved even at my worst is one of the best things for me to hear, and can snap me out of it enough to take care of myself and recover more efficiently from the meltdown.


How do you deal with meltdowns? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Undersell Myself

If you've seen my video about selling stock footage, well... disregard that.

(I've made it unlisted to avoid misleading my viewers, but you can still watch it here.)

I wanted to do something good by selling stock footage at low prices for small-budget filmmakers.
But here's the thing: I tend to undersell myself.

More on that in a bit, though. Here's what I decided to change: I will reset the prices on my stock footage clips to reflect their actual quality. And because most are of professional quality (like most other clips on Pond5), excessively low prices might make potential buyers suspicious and decide not to purchase them. I want to be tactful in regards to what the market is like, and not just jump in selling these for pennies when I could be actually supporting myself (Pond5 takes 50% of the profits anyway).


WHY I UNDERSELL MY WORK
Back to the point on underselling. 
This may be blog about Asperger's, but I believe this issue to be relevant to other adults on the spectrum, especially those who are sick of the workforce and/or want to make a living for themselves.

Here are my top 3 reasons I may undersell myself:
1. I’m indecisive.
2. I'm too nice.
3. I believe my effort is worth less.

Let’s start with #1.



1. I’m indecisive.
My family, friends, and followers who have known me long enough have probably noticed this at least once. I take forever when I shop, trying to find EXACTLY what I’m looking for (hence why I usually do my shopping alone), and I stare at restaurant menus for ages. Ask me which of my hobbies I like best, and at one moment I’ll say “writing” and at another I’ll say “video games.” A post might appear on my Facebook timeline, but then disappear because I got self-conscious about it. And I might schedule and cancel social plans on impulse—I’m better about that now, but my anxiety and “lack of spoons” is still an obstacle.


2. I’m too nice.
Yes, there is such a thing as being too nice.
Truth is, I'm too much of a lady to be a professional business person. I'm not saying women can't be successful business people, as I know of quite a few—I’m personally just too squishy and compassionate to rob people of their hard-earned cash.

One example is my flowerpot decorations.

They are intricate and take a lot of time to make. I listed some of these online for $15, a fair price in my opinion, even though I spend up to 6 hours making each one (that's $0.40/hr). They didn't sell very well. I was only able to sell one for $10, and another for $3 to a college student--because how could I take money from a poor college student? The rest of the flowerpots became gifts for my loved ones.


One exception was when I had a booth for several of my products including my documentary DVD's, handmade soot sprite keychains, and one flowerpot for $30 at a graduation event for my transition program (I was invited back years after my graduation to speak at this one). A graduate eagerly bought it for full price with her graduation money; I was happy that she genuinely seemed to like it. Not to mention that it was a huge self-esteem boost for me.

Not the exact one, but same style.

Being a freelancer is my only option right now due to life circumstances, so of course I will give it a try and learn from my mistakes. But I've made quite a few mistakes in an attempt to be nice. And that's my problem: I'm too nice! Being too nice is incompatible with being a profitable business. It kinda sucks, because I want to be helpful and volunteer my time and effort on behalf of others who don't have a lot of money. But I also want to be able to eat, pay my bills, and have a comfortable place to live.


3. I believe my effort is worth less.
Not "worthless," but unhelpful and/or worth less compared to others.
I honestly hate setting prices for anything I sell, whether it's my stock footage or eBay items, because sometimes I don't think my time or effort is worth shiz. I wonder sometimes if the lack of sales causes me to undersell, or if the underselling causes the lack of sales. Or perhaps my negative thinking is bringing negative outcomes, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.


I do realize that part of this is my attitude: I find it very difficult to be internally positive. I blame my self-perfectionism: any tiny infraction, even "normal" human things like me halfway doing the dishes, is unforgivable to me. But I'm certain that this immense guilt comes with the Asperger's package.


Feeling lower than dirt is a universal struggle, but it is especially hard for an aspie to avoid. We may be able to hide our difference (especially as adults), but it will inevitably surface long enough for someone to notice, reminding us of all the times we were corrected, scolded, even bullied as a child because we didn't understand some unspoken social rule or reacted to a painful sensory experience no one else was experiencing.


Years of that can make one feel as though their needs don't matter. That their experience in invalid. And constantly being compared to others may teach them that they will never meet "normal" expectations, never get a job, never find love, and never contribute anything significant to society. Not to mention that being lumped together with the disabled or "special ed" community may place untrue stereotypes on us, like the idea that disabled folks will only ever have minimum-wage jobs.

It's difficult to change your attitude when your negative to positive ratio is 4:1. It's even harder to do knowing that the world loves confident, positive people (especially in the workforce). I really want to be positive! But if I act that way all the time, I might be lying about how I really feel, and I always want to tell the truth. (But I will try to be more positive anyway!)

In conclusion...

I really do want to be successful, to be hired or start my own (profitable) business. I want to show the world just how useful I am. I have a college degree and the skills to do great things. I work hard, and while I may not be as efficient, my results can be high quality. I want to help others and be a fresh, smiling face amongst the tired ones whose years of work has made them sluggish. I suppose I have an advantage in that sense: I’ve got pent-up energy and I’m ready to use it. Hey, there's something positive!

Stay tuned for my future post on autistic women in the workplace.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

7 Things I Like About Being Autistic

Being autistic isn't all misery and woe; we're just a little different. But like non-autistic people, we have strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the things I like about being autistic.
DISCLAIMER: While these apply to me, they may not necessarily reflect all autistic people. 




1. Feeling "high" all the time

Trippy, man.
Okay, maybe not 24/7, but definitely very often. I have a strong visual mind, vivid dreams and imagination, and an overall rich perception of life. While it makes me vulnerable to sensory overload, it also allows me to feel all sorts of euphoriaand without drugs. Music can be an spiritual experience, my emotions reacting like a VU meter (those little fluctuating volume bars on stereo systems). 

And just about anything I see with my eyes or visualize in my head can be beautiful, regardless of what it is. So anything visual and/or auditory that I enjoy can easily draw me in and mesmerize me.


2. My attention to detail
Just look at that grass. Look at it.
This can be both amazing and annoying. Amazing because it makes mindfulness techniques super easy: a single blade of grass can grab my attention and hold it. I can never ignore the rays of sunlight through the clouds, or forget a fire-hydrant painted like Van Gogh's "The Starry Night." Annoying because a single utensil out of place in the kitchen makes me irate 😠, and a bit of shine can distract me from a conversation and I'd have to ask the other person to repeat themselves.

Another benefit to this is my strict adherence to guidelines: I like to do things by the book 📖, every detail done correctly. This helps me in cooking / baking challenging recipes and make it good (or better) every time. And it certainly helps me in all my creative endeavors like writing and video editing, as I make sure everything is just right and meets expectations. It may annoy employers or professors who assign "normal" deadlines, but I can work thoroughly and skillfully when given the proper timeframe.


3. My unbreakable focus
Don't interrupt me.
I can focus intensely for long periods of time. Combining this with my attention to detail helps me memorize facts, imagery, and crucial information. When I get interested in something, my mind is hooked and I can't tear myself away. It's much easier to control this now that I'm an adult, but I do let off the reigns selectively when my hyperfocus has a reasonable purpose.

For instance, my "Mask of Normality" video was the result of my hyperfocus for two days straight, only taking breaks to eat and sleep. I don't typically do this long-term, but it's useful for projects big and small. One exception is my Asperger's documentary. My fiancé recalls me working on the film almost every night for many hours when I was in college, and he would often stay on a Skype call with me until he couldn't stay awake anymore. I would keep plugging away in the meantime, sometimes until sunrise. My focus seems to weirdly defy (or ignore) my human needs, so I'd gladly call it a superpower.


4. My connection to the earth
Everything is beautiful.
While I do like big cities as a site for social adventures, nothing beats wandering the forest on resting days. I seem to have a primal connection to nature, so being surrounded by it makes me feel at home. Too much of the city and I start to feel a strong urge to run off to the woods and away from people.

I also have an overall childlike fascination with the world and everything in it. So regardless of where I am (city, forest, Disneyland, parking lot, dumpster), I can always find something to amuse me. It's like mindfulness, taking in a scene or focus on a detail, and I hold onto that moment as if it is something miraculous.


5. Accepting others comes naturally
That's me taking the group selfie.
I find it easy to like anyone regardless of their differences. Since I myself have a disability, I understand from personal experience not to judge a book by its cover. This makes it easier for me to make friends 😊, and a very diverse mix of of them at that. The only downsides to this are some awkward social outings with mismatched friendsI can't always tell when people are uncomfortable with each otherand my vulnerability to toxic behavior / abuse thanks to my trusting nature. I'm more wary of the warning signs nowadays, though.


6. My deep self-awareness
Focus inwardly to improve outwardly.
My self-awareness makes me naturally insightful when it comes to things I experience, observe and internalize. This might seem odd for an aspie emotionally, considering the commonality of alexithymia among autistics (difficulty identifying / expressing one's own emotions). I DO have this problem, but I am quite good at psychoanalyzing myself in retrospect. This means I need to experience something first, live through the consequences (often many times), then recognize why it happened and how I should respond next time.

I've been told I am very self-aware and insightful, which surprised me at first since I assumed it to be normal, and then I felt sorry for those who lack the same ability (I guess that's why we have therapists!). At least I now know my anxiety triggers and how to avoid them in most cases, and have worked through some of them by delving into the psychology behind them. It's also helped my bodily awareness and planning a natural health regimen to further improve my well-being.


7. My constant need/drive for self-improvement
Truth.
It's easy to get lazy in your habits when you're well-adjusted and comfortable. But if you're the average autistic, you're probably not well-adjusted by nature. You're forced to adapt to the world around you on a daily basis, and because you lack instinctive social skills, you have to work pretty dang hard to learn them. This constant demand to fit in has always kept me on my toes, even in recent years when I do feel more well-adjusted (some people forget I am autistic).

Since self-improvement has been drilled into me socially, I apply this to other areas of my life like managing my emotions, healing my traumas, and replacing unhealthy habits with beneficial ones.

It also comes in handy in pushing myself to excel in my areas of interest and skill, like writing, video editing, cooking, naturopathy and (more recently) cultivating plants.

What do you like about being autistic? Comment below, I'd love to hear from you!