Thankfulness

I took a walk today, and I put on a Boundless Show podcast (Episode 354). Lisa was interviewing Louie Giglio about his advent book, and she asked him a question about single adults trying to hold onto hope instead of dwelling on what they’re not having.

We always have that choice of saying, well this is what’s not happening. I’m gonna focus on what isn’t happening. And the end of that journey always leads us to a really dark place.

Yeah.

It was good timing.  You’d think that since two days ago was Thanksgiving I would have figured it out, but lately I’ve really been down.  Mostly because it’s so easy to fall into thinking about the things I don’t have.  I don’t mean the stupid things like a functional iPod (though I miss that), but the big things.  Marriage. Or even a date.  Kids. A group of friends to hang out with all the time, like when I was younger.  A home of my own.  A great job.

It’s hard, because too often I look at the lack and blame it on not being good enough, or being weird.  Or I catch myself thinking it’s not fair.

 ◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊

A very wise person once told me,

God answers our prayers in three ways:

“Yes.”

“Not yet.”

“I have something better for you.”

I’ve tried to hold onto that, the idea that he isn’t simply saying “no” to things, but he has a plan for my good and his glory.  It’s hard to trust sometimes.

◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊

Anyway, I realized on my walk I should spend some time reflecting on what I *do* have.  As soon as I heard that part of the podcast I knew I should sit down and blog.  This list could clearly go on for a very long time, so I’ll just hit a few highlights.  It’s a good reminder to resume the habit of writing down daily blessings, a la One Thousand Gifts.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to go back to college.  I’m thankful that my inheritance from my grandfather meant that I was able to jump into getting an associate’s degree without the added stress of going into debt.  My classes have been going really well.  I strongly dislike the networking topic, but I enjoyed the C++ programming class so much that I finished my final assignment 3 weeks early.  It’s encouraging to see that I really do have an aptitude for this field and enjoy the material, as I had hoped.  I’m hopeful that it will lead to a good job where I can thrive.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to continue working part-time with my autistic client, and I am especially thankful that he got moved back to the best teacher I’ve ever worked with.  Not only is she great to work with, but we’ve started spending time together outside of work as well – it’s so much fun to get to have a conversation with her without the kids interrupting every 10 seconds! I’m also thankful for the opportunity this job gives me to show other kids some love.  There are some really sweet girls in my client’s class, and sometimes we have good conversations at lunch.  They, in return, are a huge encouragement and blessing.  Look at this:

I’m thankful for the awesome time we had in Nashville in September, at the Jars 20 Celebration Weekend.  We got to casually chat with the band, meet other fans (including some people I interacted with online many years ago), have a special concert in the Blood:Water Mission office, tour their studio, and go to the Concert to End All Concerts at the Franklin Theatre.  The guys were kind and gracious as always, and they even put up my photo gift where I could see it when they did the next online concert.  Only The Office Convention weekend comes close in awesomeness.

Jars 20

I’m thankful for my family, who accept and support me in so many ways.

I’m thankful for my best friend, and my godson, and the technology like FaceTime that lets us keep in touch so it’s easier for him to remember me when I finally get out there to visit.

I’m thankful for my sweet, fluffy cat Gandalf.  He makes me smile.

I’m thankful for the many bloggers who have helped me discover my place on the spectrum, understand more about myself and others, and make me feel less alone.

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Perfectionism and Performance Anxiety

I’m frustratingly busy, so I’ll try to keep this one short. But being so busy also has me feeling very anxious. And with the thoughts swirling, I thought it might help to write some of them out.

Just the other day I was talking with someone at work about the concept of “performance anxiety,” that unpleasant feeling we get when someone is watching us do something (or the anxiety leading up to that event).  I recalled what I was taught in school, about how basketball players will practice free-throws until the movement is automatic, like a machine.  That way, when they are standing in front of the crowd and under pressure, their performance is less likely to suffer from the situation.

Today I was thinking about how the social deficits of being autistic can cause an almost-constant performance anxiety whenever I’m around people.  I know that a lot of this, for me, comes from an unhealthy “fear of man” – that is, caring too much about what people think of me, and getting identity/value from that.  But at the same time, I need to know if what I’m doing or saying is having negative consequences.  I have a lifetime of memories of messing up.  I’ve unintentionally hurt feelings, caused people to think I was arrogant (instead of insecure and shy), made assumptions that led to damaged friendships.  This evening, I remembered reading a blog post about social anxiety and autism; I just looked it up, and once again she says so much good stuff I’ll recommend you go read it instead of trying to write my own version here.  For example:

When a person with impaired social communication abilities has anxiety about social situations, they are like a poor swimmer who is anxious about boarding a boat. The perceived risk is real and rational.

-Cynthia Kim, Musings of an Aspie:My Anxiety is Not Disordered

Taking college classes again, I’ve been frustrated by my desire for perfectionism.  I keep reminding myself that missing questions or losing points is an opportunity to learn, but I still want that 100%.  I’ve always been told how smart I am, and that was a big part of my identity – so the desire for good grades goes deeper than just wanting a good number on my resume so I can get a better job.  It means I spend too much time on assignments, worrying the whole time about if I’m doing it right and doing enough.  Like I said, it’s very frustrating.  (Oh, and this “perfectionism” topic could easily be a separate blog post.  Of course, there’s one worth reading over at Musings of an Aspie).


Another area where the perfectionism and performance anxiety are driving me nuts is my photography business.  I’m about ready to call it quits.  I get so anxious before the shoot – will I be able to get the shots they want?  And then there’s the viewing – will they like the shots?  And there’s the sales component, where I have to deal with the uncomfortable topic of money and asking them for it, and I have to talk myself up.  Oh, and the editing.  I spend too much time trying to “perfect” images before I even know which ones they will want (of course, it’s hard for them to know what they want if they can’t see how beautiful it will be in the end).  And even in applying edits I’m constantly doubting myself and anxious.  Ugh.  I do really love being able to give people beautiful portraits, especially of their kids.  I’m looking forward to getting a new career that pays all the bills so I can go back to giving away photography.

Speaking of giving away photography – I’m going to combat the negative feelings by ending with this photo.  At the totally amazing Jars 20 Celebration Weekend in Nashville, I gave the guys a gift.  I took a picture of some of Dad’s vinyl records, with my Jars of Clay albums mixed in.   They liked it 🙂

On Birthdays and Measuring Years

30. 1. 20.

We attach so much significance to our measurements of time.

I recently turned 30.
It’s been 1 year since I realized I have Asperger’s.
Jars of Clay is celebrating 20 years as a band. (Their new album is excellent, btw).

Jars 20

30. I don’t feel 30, of course. I’m not sure what 30 is supposed to feel like. Of course, life doesn’t look the way I expected it to look at 30.

One thing I wanted to write about was my birthday, and how it was an example of what I’ve learned over the past year. Here comes the Aspie problem of not knowing exactly how much back-story to give. . . to be brief, my 28th birthday was very sad and emotional because of a relationship situation. The next year, I planned to have a better birthday. I even had a party for the first time in years, complete with goodie bags!  Some of my favorite people came to visit, and the house got noisy when some family friends were in town and came by also.  But another relationship situation went down shortly after, which ended up tainting the weekend.

So this year I was back to not looking forward to my birthday.  Since the previous two were tainted by guys, I decided to not even mention that my birthday was coming up to the guy I was chatting with online.  Every time I thought about my birthday coming up, and tried to decide what I wanted to do (such as invite people over) I would just want to cry.  My very wise best friend encouraged me to “do something fun . . . like eat ice cream for breakfast, don’t do any school work, and watch HSM3 or Darren Criss.”

I took her advice.  (Well, I saved the HSM3 for the next weekend when she was coming to visit, and I had a different dessert for breakfast.)  I went to my morning work session, then relaxed at home with my parents and watched some movies with them.  Mom made delicious food.  I got a few thoughtful gifts from my family.

My bestie sent me this shirt. Link and Harry are my homeboys.

While some might see my change in behavior as “giving up” or withdrawing, I recognized it as growth in understanding and accepting myself.  Ever since I was small I have loved the *idea* of a party, but the party itself was often problematic.  I have a hard time splitting my time and attention properly when I’m with multiple people.  I have to be constantly “on” socially and concerned about how people from my different circles are getting along.  It can easily get noisy and overstimulating.  There’s the inevitable disappointments (too often I ended up crying in my room at parties) and the stress of opening gifts.  Tangent time!

I hate opening gifts.

I have theorized that this goes back to getting things like Barbie dolls as a child from people who don’t actually know me (like if I invited a classmate to a party and their mom never met me).  Talk about disappointing!  Like most people on the spectrum, I was never good at hiding my emotions and lying.  I know I’m supposed to act happy and grateful when I receive a gift, but that is SO HARD when it’s a disgusting magenta box with an ugly doll inside.  (I used to avoid the magenta toy aisle at all costs; I thought about taking a picture of one for the blog and decided it’s too awful, so I’ll skip it.)  So imagine it – being a little kid, excited to see what new toy is under the wrapping paper, but then seeing the hot pink and feeling seriously disappointed while having an audience – including someone who will feel sad if you show your disappointment, and you don’t want to make them feel sad.  It’s not fun.  And while I slowly got better at acting thankful, that trepidation still accompanies every wrapped gift and every surprise.   (Second tangent – I don’t like surprises. . . unsurprisingly, my relationship with a magician did not end well).

</tangent>

So, instead of stressing about organizing a get-together that would inevitably stress me out, and thinking about all the ways my birthday could be different, I decided to honor who I am and what I actually enjoy, and give myself the gift of a relaxing day of good things.  And I got to have other good things to look forward to, like my best friend and her family coming to visit and the arrival of the not-yet-available LEGO Mini Cooper my parents wanted to give me for my birthday:

LEGOS!

This was one birthday toy that did not disappoint! My inner-child was SO HAPPY.

The Joy of Jars

A lot of posts I write will inevitably be focusing on the things about Asperger’s that make life difficult; after all, the diagnostic criteria are based on deficits (for a positive spin, read Discovery criteria for aspie by Attwood and Gray).  So here I wanted to share something that brought me great joy.

At the beginning of my “Emotional Overload” post I told you that I had sent my favorite band a link to the blog post I wrote about naming this blog after one of their songs.  And I shared that I got a little notification that Charlie from the band “liked” my post; I appreciated so much that he actually took the time to read it.

This past Friday Dad and I drove 5 hours to Columbus, OH to see Jars of Clay yet again.  Normally we don’t go that far just for a Jars concert, but I had never been to one of their Christmas shows and I got a deep desire to go. . . and my dad never says “No” to a concert.  Music is an aspie-fixation we share, and we’ve built a lot of wonderful memories traveling to shows together over the years.

We gave ourselves a large time buffer for the trip and made great time, so we arrived about 2 hours before the Meet and Greet was scheduled.  The venue served food in the front, and as we were about to sit down at a booth Charlie saw us (before we saw him, this time) and came over to say hi.  I thought to get a picture.

Charlie and me

Charlie is awesome.

He was supposed to be heading back for the sound check, but he talked with us for a few minutes about the tour, answered Dad’s question about shooting a music video in the Philippines, and listened to Dad’s story about one of my first concert experiences.  Then he turns to me and says, “Oh, and I really liked your blog, by the way.”   *invisible internal happy-dance*

While Dad and I ate our early dinner we listened to the band run through “Loneliness and Alcohol” for their sound check, and I was feeling so extremely happy after that interaction that eating was almost upsetting my stomach.

We had a nice time exchanging a few words with the rest of the band at the Meet and Greet, and Jude kindly rounded up the guys for a group photo.  They also graciously signed a set-list I grabbed from the stage after the show.

Matt, Charlie, Stephen, me, Dad, Dan.  And cookies.

Matt, Charlie, Stephen, me, Dad, Dan. And cookies.

Dad and I were able to stand right up front against the stage – it isn’t the best for sound balance, but it’s just so much fun!  This is what it looked like:

Years ago I had recognized that my love for the band was bordering on obsessive (creating a website, being highly active in the wonderful Jarchives community, etc)  and I consciously toned it down; I didn’t know at the time that it was an Aspie “special interest”/fixation, but I knew that things like stalking are socially unacceptable. 😉   But any of you who are on the spectrum will know how important special interests can be, and so you will probably understand why I had such a wonderful, joyful day.  Dad and I used to get excited when we could tell they recognized us from the many concerts we had attended; thinking of Charlie coming over to chat with us and bringing up the topic of my blog post truly warms my heart.  If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to check out their music.  You can even download some for free on NoiseTrade.com.

Emotional Overload

Last night would have been a lot more difficult if I hadn’t been able to view it through the lens of having Aspergers.

         

I was having a good Sunday.  I had no problems running sound during the morning service, ordered a new lens to use during portrait sessions, started a sewing project after a month away from the machine, and began watching a favorite TV series over again in a very Edwardian fashion (if you haven’t read 600 Hours of Edward – go do it).  Then to top it all off, after I shared the link to my Inland post with the band through facebook, Charlie from Jars of Clay liked the post.  I always appreciate when they appreciate my appreciation, you know? 😉   It was time for dinner and I was excited to tell my family about the latest interaction with my favorite band.

But then my phone rang.

Fortunately I didn’t answer.  I don’t know if I would have responded well if I had.  The caller left a message and leveled a false accusation against me.

I’m not sure how to accurately describe the emotions I felt.  My heart raced and I felt like I was shaking (I don’t know if I was physically shaking, but it at least felt that way emotionally).  I felt like my temperature dropped. A lot of times I ask my autistic client, “How do/did you feel?”  And he almost always responds, “Upset,” instead of giving me a more specific word like “Sad” or “Mad” or “Scared.”  Last night I felt “upset.”

I was dumbfounded by the accusation and by the fact that the person actually called me.  I went downstairs and told my family.  Through my new lens of self-awareness I noticed a lot of things.  I noticed I was talking too loudly.  I noticed my family was going to be done eating by the time I finally took more than a single bite, because I was too upset and too busy venting to eat.  I noticed that I kept forcing myself to take big deep breaths, same as I prompt my client.  I noticed (and even commented aloud) that I felt like rocking.

I noticed that my mom kept reassuring me that I had acted above reproach in the situation the call seemed to be referring to, and I kept trying to explain that I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was still upset.  I wasn’t upset because I thought I had done something wrong.  I was upset because I KNEW I hadn’t, and I was being thought of and talked of as if I had done something wrong.  And that’s NOT FAIR.  I have always had issues with “fairness.”  I was upset because I thought I wasn’t going to have to deal with any more drama from that specific part of my past, yet it kept coming up.  I was upset because I was under attack and there were just too many emotions (my own and the accuser’s) to process.

I managed to shove down my dinner through deep breaths and exhaled nonverbal sounds of frustration.  I had to eat so I could leave for Bible study.  I got out to my car and my mind was still churning over the situation, and I was spiraling downward.  I stopped my car before even leaving the driveway and switched the CD to Jars of Clay’s Self-Titled album.  It is my go-to record when I am desperately upset; it is the most effective medication available to soothe my soul.  I turned up the volume and sang along to reduce my ability to ruminate.  It’s a 20-minute drive, and during the last 5 I found it impossible to turn off my thoughts of what I wanted to say about what just happened.  Right before I turned into my pastor’s driveway I started crying – those unwanted tears of emotional overload that cause me so much frustration that I cry even more.  I hate those.  I took a few deep breaths and dried my eyes, then walked in.

I was still visibly shaken; my pastor’s wife immediately asked me what was wrong.  Before group began I was able to briefly discuss the situation with my pastor and his wife, who are two of my most trusted counselors.  My pastor advised me to ignore it; I nodded and said, “Yeah, I’m just feeling all. . . ” and waved my hands on either side of my head, unable to articulate what it was I was feeling.  Then instead of taking my normal seat on the floor I sat in the rocking chair.

And rocked for two hours straight.

I’m feeling much better today.

Inland

When it comes to interpreting art, I’m usually pretty black-and-white.  I am a firm believer in Truth, that there is absolute truth out there.  I hated having to interpret poems and stories in English class – I’d think, “I don’t know what the author meant by that.  I haven’t asked them.”  I’d get annoyed if a songwriter, when asked what a song was about, would say something like, “It can mean different things to different people.”  I understand what they’re saying, but it still vexes me.  Normally I want to know what a song is truly about, the true meaning behind the words, from the person who wrote it.  So it always surprises me when I come across a piece of art and can experience it meaning something personal to me, something different from what it meant to the artist.

Matt Odmark



Jars of Clay is my favorite band.  Fixation-level favorite.  Their music resonates with me, even when I don’t always “get” the lyrics – I still resonate with the “feel” of the songs.  I was listening to a few tracks from their latest record before the full album was released, and it was around that time that I realized I am an Aspie.  So while thoughts about my self-diagnosis were swirling through my head, this song was also swirling around in there.  And because I like finding patterns and connections, I recognized my journey in some of the lyrics.  I hope you’ll listen to the song before reading on:


They don’t believe in oceans, you, you were a sailor

Who burned your ship and walked on, far away you walked on

“It is a song about walking toward mystery and not being afraid to take risks,” Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine tells Rolling Stone. “The idea came from Homer’s Odyssey. In the story, Odysseus, a man who lived his life on the sea, is provoked, to take his oar and walk inland until he finds someone who doesn’t know what an oar is.”

This reminds me of what it feels like trying to enter the neurotypical world.  It’s a land where I have my oar and describe the sea (a very real object and a very real place I’ve experienced and know well) but they can’t comprehend what I’m talking about.  They may even think I’m making it up.

Yes, it's Gandalf.

Yes, it’s Gandalf.  He’s walking.  Not all who wander are lost…

 

There are no streets to walk on, no maps you can rely on

Faith and guts to guide you, wander ‘til you find you


Growing up undiagnosed, I didn’t have any maps or guides to help me navigate. Fortunately awareness and resources are increasing, but it still involves a lot of that “wander ’til you find you” stuff.


You keep turning inland where no man is an island

It’s where you’re supposed to be

I’m encouraged to make the effort to connect with others, instead of trying to be an island.  Even though it takes a lot of energy, in relationship and community is where I’m supposed to be.

My kitten Gandalf looks through an Inland vinyl. See, it all connects.

 


Afraid of your conviction, they said the land would change you

Steady your confession, your course make no corrections

When you are a stranger, hold your tongue and wager

That love will set you free, until it sets you free


It’s hard to feel like a stranger, but people will love us.  And the land will change us.  Hopefully we can change it for the better, as well.

 

Follow your desire, leave it all, you’re leaving all

Just burn it in the fire

Of everything you once knew

And everyone that knew you

Remove the shoes you came on

Feel the earth you’re made from

Pack up all your questions

Just keep heading inland and come on home to me


I can dwell too much on the past, especially the hard parts.  I dwell on how others treated me, times I was misunderstood, times I misunderstood and hurt others, etc.  And while it’s important to consider the past and how it shapes us, at times we need to “leave it all behind” in a sense.  I also dwell on unanswered questions – it can be good to pack them up and keep moving forward.

One of my favorite shots of the band, from 2005.

One of my favorite shots of the band, from 2005.

 


I will always be here by your side

I will always stand next to you

Where your darkness hits the light

In the place where you stand against the tide

I will always stand next to you

I will always stand next to you

I will always be here by your side

I’m thankful for the people in my life who love and support me unconditionally, even when they don’t understand me.  I have been blessed.

And of course I’m thankful for the guys of Jars of Clay.

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