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 next post on working as a disabled person.


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!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I wish I could say more

I am very hesitant to write here often for many reasons. First, I question my own sanity as I often have conflicting thoughts and feelings. I have to think very carefully about what I really want to say.

I may be social in my everyday life, but on a deeper level I'm very reserved and hesitant to share anything personal at all... I think a lot of this is because I really don't want to deal with the emotional triggers associated with my deepest thoughts. It's anxiety-inducing talking about what's causing me anxiety!

Most of the time, I just don't have a ton to say. I only want to open my mouth if it benefits the world somehow. My documentary is probably my most extensive message, and it will take me many years to get that many organized words out again in any form, whether that be my fantasy novel or future films.

Deep down, I am always dealing with some kind of pain, but I'm so used to it by now and well-practiced in effective coping that I see no point in sharing everything. I sometimes feel old for thinking this way, since you sorta have to accept a lot of things you don't like as you get older.

But hey, I'm also blessed... I have a good life, great friends and family, a fiancé, and a bright future. Sure, I'll always have mental health problems, and while I can chip away at some of them, others may remain unresolved. That's okay. (It's taken me many years to be able to say that and truly believe it.)

If the closest I get to sharing some of my deeper mental health issues is to talk about them vaguely, I don't mind as long as it accomplishes something. Even if it's not particularly interesting to you guys as my readers, it's fine with me because I already feel better writing this.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

DVD Discount to Celebrate 3,000 Subscribers!

I now have 3,000 subscribers on YouTube! I am super lucky to have you guys watching my videos and giving feedback. I'm also happy to see that my Asperger's documentary has spread so much awareness and helped promote acceptance of our species!

To celebrate, I applied a discount to my DVD copies of "Through Our Eyes: Living with Asperger's." This offer is only valid until August 9th, so if you don't already have a copy or want to pick up one for a friend, now is a great time!


Thank you all for your support! I love making videos on Asperger's and Autism and I hope to continue it for a while.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Autistic Gaming Initiative

Do you appreciate autistic people who love video games?
How about autism organizations that make an effort to support them?


If you haven't heard about the Autistic Gaming Initiative yet, you're in for a treat. Autistic gamers from all over the Internet are teaming up, playing games live once a month to raise money for the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the Autism Women's Network. These charities are autistic-approved organizations that advocate for the interests of autistics, while providing them with much-needed resources.

EDIT: This specific stream is over, but there will be more since we have these once a month! Check out my Events page to participate in the next one.
Today begins the second Autistic Gaming Initiative live stream event, running from 3pm EST today to 3pm EST tomorrow.

This is the craziness that happened during the June 2017 streams:


           Steph Diorio                                         Alyssa Huber / Gingersnaspie
   
                                            kiotsukare                                                         Chaz

Each gamer has their own time slot before passing the baton to the next gamer. Check out the schedule to see who's streaming!

EDIT: This was for the June 2017 stream, please check AGI's Facebook page for the more recent schedules.
(ALL TIMES IN EST: Stream starts at 3:00 PM.)
3:00-5:24 EST: Sam: https://www.twitch.tv/maniacalchimera
5:24-7:48 EST: Sythra: https://www.twitch.tv/chibidragon007
7:48-10:12 EST: kiotsukare: https://www.twitch.tv/kiotsukare
10:12-12:36 EST: Tijawn: https://www.twitch.tv/tijawn
12:36-3:00 EST: Wolfesbrain: https://www.twitch.tv/wolfesbrain
3:00-5:24 EST: Joobles: https://www.twitch.tv/joobl
5:24-7:48 EST: Ell: https://www.twitch.tv/eldritchcadence
7:48-10:12 EST: Steph/1863_project: https://www.twitch.tv/1863_project
10:30-12:30 EST: Alyssa Huber / Gingersnaspie: https://www.twitch.tv/gingersnaspie
12:36-3:00 EST: Chaz: https://www.twitch.tv/chazserir

You can read their bios here.

EDIT: You can find Alyssa's next scheduled streaming time on the Events page.

To watch Alyssa's livestream, tune in tomorrow (Saturday) at 10:30am-12:30pm ESTthat's 9:30am-11:30am CST for local Chicagoans.


If you aren't already following Alyssa's blog on Asperger's Syndrome, check it out! This website (Alyssa Huber Films) is mainly for event updates, but her blog gives a more personal look at her experiences of being on the spectrum.

Thank you for your support, and see you then!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Social Limitations.

I'm what I call a "social introvert."
I like pretty much everyone, and find it easy to get along with diverse types of people. While solitude is my preference, I am also energized by certain people and activities. I'm up for all sorts of adventures as long as it's within my abilities, has an important purpose for me and fits into my schedule.

That being said, I might seem UNadventurous in many cases due to my limitations associated with Asperger's and introversion. Both severely limit how much adventure I can take in, regardless of my desire and determination to do it.

Let me give you an idea of my social capacity.
Every friend hangout, depending on the "difficulty level" can render me "disabled" for a day. It usually takes me 1-3 days to be restored to optimal functioning where I can keep up with most "typical" people. It doesn't matter how much I enjoyed it, or my "willpower" to recover. I also cannot "build up stamina" because my brain and body don't work like that. I have managed to increase my stamina/capacity with supplements, diet, sleep, and exercise, but even with that, overdoing it comes at a price. I still cannot push beyond my limits without crashing later.



The "difficulty level" of a social hangout is increased by things like:
  • Change of plans
  • New locations
  • New people
  • Sensory level of places / people (how loud, bright, etc.)
  • Information level of places / people (how much will be stuffed in my brain?)
  • Presence of anxiety triggers
  • Etc.

In this post, I am also taking into account other life stuff that uses my energy:
  • Being out in public, around people, noise, light, etc.
  • Shopping, errands, driving
  • Unpredictable events at home (family walking about/talking, guests, phone calls)
  • Work tasks, writing, research, filming, coordinating
  • Cooking, cleaning, watering plants, etc.
  • Managing my mental/physical health (exercise, meds, making herbal mixes, counseling, redirecting my scattered brain constantly, worrying about people, problem-solving)


HOW OFTEN CAN I SOCIALIZE?

How often I socialize really depends on the nature of the event, but it also depends on who I'm socializing with.

If I see a friend once a month or more, they are likely in my top 4 and I consider them a close friend. (#3-4 can rotate, but my top 1-2 stay the same.) I am not the typical person who hangs out with friends everyday at work and then again on the weekend. One friend per week (rotating friends so no one is left out) is quite enough for me. The only exceptions are for work and brief "stopping by" or "dropping things off" visits.

I also live with my family, which uses up a good bit of my energy as is.

If I see a friend more than once a year, it means they are probably in my top 20 and I value my relationship with them. No, I really do—that huge time gap for me is actually very small and I will feel like I just saw them yesterday.

For people who want to meet me, I am content to see them just once in my life.

I have a vivid memory, so I don't need many social hangouts to feel satisfied with relationships. In fact, too many can overload me and I'll end up resenting hangouts with the people draining my capacity. Of course, they'd never know because I can't be anything but polite to them.


WHAT ABOUT ONLINE FRIENDS?


Sometimes, people I have never met want to talk to me (like online friends and followers). And this is fine, I like talking some days, and I am flattered that others find something valuable in interacting with me. 

But I can't reply consistently, and I can't be everyone's best friend, so patience is pre-requisite for those who want to chat online with me.
I am happy to offer advice and encouragement, but I'm not an expert and cannot help resolve every problem that is presented to me (as much as I would like to). And I am so grateful to those giving me positive feedback and encouragement and would like to express that when I finally respond to them!


This is my email inbox. I promise I will answer you all, it will just take a while. T-T

It's not natural for anyone to have 100+ best friends; I'm sure you understand. I do really want the best for you guys, but I also want to be sane. :)


Friday, June 2, 2017

My Brain Exploded. | Delayed Overload

It's days like this that remind me of my limitations.

I've been doing really well lately, feeling like I can take on the world. That feeling flew far out of existence this morning when my overwhelm hit me like a ton of bricks.


And for no reason.

I take excellent care of my physical and mental health, so logically there shouldn't be any reason for this to happen if I was like most people. But I'm not like most people. I have Asperger's.

I know my ASD makes my brain neurodivergent and unique, and has helped shape who I am. So I don't hate me, I just hate the bad side of ASD! (And OCD, I have both)

My theory is that my recent bouts of exhaustion are due to "delayed overload." Since my lifestyle habits and supplements help increase my mental capacity, I can take in a lot more information than normal! I can do a lot more, too.

But every once in a while, that pile of sensory data and information explodes in my brain.



I go back to feeling like a failure as my body and mind feel sick. I suddenly can't control my thoughts, and I'm afraid of doing anything lest I add more fuel (information) to the flames (my broken brain).

I already feel bad about my social failures as is: like not hanging out often enough, or not being able to reply to all my emails and messages. I know part of it is that I know too many people, and part of it is my scattered attention...

I feel like no matter what I've done in life, I'm still a ditzy amateur and not meeting expectations.




The best I can do in these situations is wait it out, by myself. (Lest I vomit my insecurities on other people). I allow myself feel the pain, and let it pass. It helps to see it as a natural part of my system restoration process. Like running updated software on a system with outdated hardware, I sometimes gotta take a day to fix my system so I can continue to function at everyone else's level.

Sorry, everyone. I'll feel like myself again soon.