A Video About Panic Attacks

I haven’t had a panic attack for several months, but as Wes Murphy says in this video they come and go. If you have ever tried to explain a panic attack to someone who has never had one, it can be quite difficult.

The video below (not mine) has some helpful tips to help combat and overcome this horrifying phenomena.

 

I Like Animals More Than Most People

… Ok well maybe that is not exactly true. I like people, but more from a distance. It is hard to explain. People I don’t know make me anxious, mostly because I have trouble understanding them.

I was raised around animals (and people). Animals have always been easy to read. They speak with their entire bodies and always tell the truth. People (at least from my perspective) tend to be more cryptic.

Being around people, even people that I know and enjoy spending time with, give me anxiety. I need alone time so I can be away from people but I NEVER need alone time from my dog.

Being around animals is relaxing, perhaps because I don’t have to worry about communicating with them verbally. It is well documented that having animals in your life is good for your health.

Dog training was one of my childhood obsessions. I took classes, read books, and worked with my dog for hours. My dog was my best friend growing up. He was always there for me and never lied. We loved and respected each other.

Before I got my first dog, I thought I was broken, disconnected, and incapable of love. Having a dog around helped me to connect with the world and brought me out of my shell.

I’ve always felt a deep connection with animals, perhaps that is because people on the spectrum tend to be visual and pattern thinkers that thrive on positive reinforcement (just like dogs). Heck, Applied Behavior Analysis, used to teach Autistic children, is almost a perfect mirror of the dog training methods I learned growing up.

PLEASE do not misunderstand me, I in NO way mean that as a bad thing. I LOVE animals and am grateful that I can connect with them in ways that NT’s can’t.

Temple Grandin, brilliant Autistic mind, professor ofanimal science at Colorado State University, best-selling author, and autism activist is known as The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow.

Personally, I think animals are very wise in many ways that humans can not understand due to their inability to communicate verbally. I would not at all be offended if somebody called me “dog brain”.

Maybe I don’t really like animals more than people, despite my social anxiety and other “typical” AS issues. I am a very loving and compassionate person who is often misunderstood, but I do care a lot. People are just hard for me to handle, no matter how much I like them.

Spending time with animals relaxes me and brings me peace. Is it really that hard to understand why if given the choice to hang out with critters over people, I will take the situation that leaves me calm over the one that stresses me out?

Acceptable Adult Stimming

As a child, I remember doing a lot of spinning, rocking, foot tapping, and verbal stimming. There were probably other stims that I had as a child, but these are the ones that stick out the most. In adulthood most of these behaviors have dissolved or evolved into more “socially acceptable behaviors”.

These behaviors were often pointed out as “wired” by my peers and punished by my teachers.

Over the years I have evolved and so have my stims. Below are some stims that I have now as an adult.

  • I tap or rock my foot under my desk. The movement is hidden so people do not notice it.
  • I sit on my feet and legs applying deep pressure (often until my legs are asleep and my ankles are bruised).
  • I wiggle my tongue, bite and chew on he inside of my mouth, and scratch at my face.
  • I play with my hair.
  • Twirl and fidget with my wedding ring or any other jewelry that I am wearing.
  • I always have candy or gum in my mouth and enjoy chewing and twirling.
  • Petting a dog in my lap is my favorite form of stimming because it gives my hands something to do AND applies pressure to my legs.
  • My job has me typing on a laptop all day. The rhythmic clicking of my fingers, and scrolling of my mouse is also soothing.
  • I wiggle my toes inside my shoes and strum my fingers / run my thumb across the tops of my fingers in a rhythmic fashion.
  • Sometimes I DO flap my hands when I am excited (but I try not to do it at work and around people I don’t know).

I am sure there are additional stims that I am unaware of, because many of these things are automatic and subconscious.

The Aspie Quiz – Version 4

When I first started to wonder if I might be on the spectrum I stumbled across the Aspie Quiz. I took it assuming it would prove that I was “normal” but all of my scores were WAY on the AS side of things. I was in denial fr a while as the possibly of having “problems” started to sync in.

This test is NOT a substitute for a formal diagnosis, but might be helpful if you are wondering if there is a chance you might be on the spectrum. It is a VERY thorough quiz for something that is on the internet.

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Trouble and Bullies in School

I was a smiley and happy girl before I started school.

I hated school when I was young. My body was made to be constantly in motion. Sitting still and paying attention to the teacher was difficult.

School was overwhelming. It was the first place I experienced sensory overload, and I had a hard time understanding my teachers in a classroom environment. The florescent lights gave me “headaches” and I had a hard time focusing because of all the “background noise”.

In first grade the other kids were learning how to read, but I taught myself to read at an early age.  The teacher wanted me to sit still, not distracting the class, but I had other ideas. I wanted to crawl around on the floor, hide under my desk, and spin in circles.

My teachers were not amused by my behavior and suggested my mother have me evaluated for ADHD. At the time ADHD was the general diagnosis for disruptive children and Ritalin was being passed out like candy. Teachers liked active kids being doped up because it made their jobs easier, but nobody seemed to question if these drugs would have harmful long term effects on the children.

My mother refused to have me evaluated. She was angry when my teachers suggested that I was unintelligent. I was a bright child and my mother knew me better than my teachers did. Unfortunately there was no convincing me to apply myself to the “trivial” things that my teachers wanted me to learn.

The other kids were horrible to me. I was picked on constantly, verbally abused and physically beat up regularly. When my mother would ask how my day was I never mentioned the bullies. I took my beatings as they came.

The other kids told me I was “creepy” and called me a “witch”. When Practical Magic came out in 1998 the kids started to use the chant “Witch witch you’re a bitch!” any time teachers were out of earshot.

Things didn’t get any better in middle school. I spent most of my childhood wishing to be an adult, just trying to get through being a kid. I HATED my childhood. I wanted to be an adult, because adults treated each other better.

I remember my first ride home on the school bus in sixth grade. In elementary school bus seats had been assigned, but the bus driver let me know that I could sit wherever I wanted. I was one of the fist kids to board the bus in the afternoon, so I chose the very last seat.

A boy tapped me on the shoulder and I took my headphones off. He let me know that I “was in his seat”.  I smiled politely and let him know that we did not have assigned seats this year. Before I knew it his fist was in my stomach. It felt if he had punched all the way through my gut into my spine. Nobody said or did anything to help me.

I sat in the seat directly behind the bus driver for the rest of the year on days I had to ride the bus.

The warm happy girl who had started school only a few years earlier had almost completely vanished. I was in a dark place, every peer I met became a potential threat and I was learning not to trust anyone.

In high school I became a better “actor” and learned to mimic the people who were not getting picked on. Things got better, but I had become a very shallow and fake person. I had backstabbing and untrustworthy “friends” and became just like the people that I spent time with.

The bullying had stopped, but I had become a shadow of my true self.

Years later I am still cleaning up the damage done by my childhood, rediscovering my true nature, and getting back to being that warm and happy girl that I was meant to be.

TheTruthergirls – ASD Stigma and Are Aspies Autistic?

Many of us struggle with the stigmas of living with Autism. In this video TheTruthergirls host shares her story.

Multiple Personalities Multiple Personas

I’ve always had multiple personalities or maybe I should say multiple personas.  In the history of me there has traditionally always been two distinct character roles that I fill at one  time.

Now that I am able to look at this feeling through the lens of Autism, it is much easier for me to understand the battle that has been going on in my head almost my entire life.

When I started school I was a strange child with only one friend. My only friend was a neighbor and did not end up being placed in the same classroom as me on the first day of school (or any day there after). At school I had no friends and was viciously bullied.

Out of necessity my second personality started to come to life. Growing up I would call her “School Me”.

School Me grew up to be tough. By 8th grade she had become somewhat stuck up, rude, and a bit bossy. Despite School Me’s bad manners, she did not get picked on. School Me was a mask that I wore when it was convenient, when I felt insecure and needed to hide.

At home there was just “me”. I acted like all the other girls in school, blending in, but at home I was my same dorky and goofy self – a much more genuine reflection of who I was.

My mother took a Psychology correspondence course when I was a teenager.  She spent a lot of time asking me to read over her papers, and asking me if any of the conditions sounded like the fit her. I remember that she had “diagnosed herself” as bipolar, although I am still not sure if she was being serious or not.

I had always felt or worried that I was mentally ill. Even as a young person I had a feeling that my thoughts and experiences were not like those of the other children. Perhaps I was bipolar too, or had multiple personality disorder. Reading all of the Psychology material was overwhelming. There were so many mental illnesses, too many to count.

If I had ever thought about sharing some of my “weird thoughts” before, I definitely was not going to tell anyone now. I had a fear of being institutionalized growing up. People who are not right in the head get locked up.  I had heard that somewhere and it had become a fact in my mind.

To be “right in the head” you have to think like every one else, and I definitely had my own way of thinking.  I decided that is was better to pretend the strange things in my head weren’t happening.

School Me evolved into “Work Me” as I got older and entered the work force.

Work Me was a force to be reckoned with, she was a hard worker who would not be pushed around. I loved working. There were clear rules, that seemed logical (unlike the rules I had to deal with in school).

In school I had been a rebel, mostly because the rules in school seemed nonsensical. At work I was a rule following star employee. Having a job gave me confidence and routine plus having my own money was great.

I learned about Autism in my late twenties. I had heard about it before but had dismissed the similarities. Before turning thirty I would accept that I had this “condition“.

Finally I realized that there was nothing wrong with me. My brain was neurologically different from most people’s, but there were others out there just like me.

Despite my constant craving for solitude, I had felt lonely my entire life. For the fist time in my life I was not alone.

Suddenly everything started to make since, all of the strange things that I kept to myself were “normal” in the Aspie community. Looking at my life through the lens of Autism made everything crystal clear.

The world had two basic brain types. (There are probably more but that would make this description less simple.)

Most commonly there is a verbal, social brain. This is a brain that picks up on non verbal cues, can read the emotions of others and values the view of the masses. These brains are technically average by definition.

My brain type is the second type. We are the “nerds” and “weirdos“. We are tragically brilliant but often unable to express the level of genius hiding within. Those of us who do express well become famous scientists and artists. Our brain type is composed of people who change the world, like Einstein and Steve Jobs (neither proven to be on the spectrum but it does seem possible).

Many of us are picked on and beat down by our “peers” with the first brain type. It is almost as if they can sniff us out and feel the need to destroy us before we get to them. Don’t they realize that we come in peace?

We develop coping mechanisms, learn to blend in by adopting Social Masks. Hiding in plane sight, we learn to act Neurotypical. It is natural for Aspies to have two (or more) distinct personalities.

Wearing a Neurotypical Mask is tiresome. It is heavy and playing that role is a lot of work. When we come home from a long day at school or the office it feels good to be released back into our natural, Aspie form.

The falseness of it nags in the back of my mind, but I know the rest of the world is still not ready  for the real me. They cannot handle me in all of my Autistic glory. We wear the mask to protect ourselves.

For now I must still maintain my “multiple personalities / personas.”

How Buddhism Has Helped My Career

Before I knew anything about Autism, I already knew that I was struggling in my life. I had problems that other people did not seem to have.

Instead of holding my tongue, I seemed to have “diarrhea of the mouth” spewing out whatever popped into my mind. (Since I have a VERY active mind, some of the things were quite pointless and often offensive.) I loved to talk just for the sake of talking – perhaps this was some sort of verbal stimming.

I tend to be very honest, even when things that I have to say can be potentially hurtful to others. Unfortunately, I often am unaware when I have offended someone unless they blow up or get angry. Even if I somehow find out that I have upset someone, normally I have no clue why the person is so upset.

I am good with rules and patterns. Buddhism has a lot of lists and I LOVE lists! Below are two lists that have been extremely helpful to me. I kept these lists in handy places as reminders, sometimes even writhing them down on sticky notes or on my arms.

Right Speech:

  • To abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully.
  • To abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others.
  • To abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and
  • To abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.

So before speaking I would try to mentally run through the checklist below.

  1. Is it true? (If it isn’t true, do not say it. If it might be true, it isn’t true, so don’t say it.)
  2. factual?  (If it isn’t factual, do not say it. If it might be factual, it isn’t factual, so don’t say it.)
  3. Is it helpful? (If it isn’t helpful, do not say it. If it might be helpful, be careful about saying it.)
  4. Is it pleasing? (If it is helpful, true and factual and pleasing, then you may say it.)
  5. Is it timely? (If it is not pleasing, but helpful, true and factual, you would choose the right time to say it.)

More about Right Speech can be found here.

These list are largely responsible for my “passibility” as a NT person. Without them I am sure I would not be the successful person that I am today. Additionally, there has been less drama in my life because I am not constantly offending and upsetting everyone I meet.

I don’t care as much about passing as NT anymore, but having less drama in my life has definitely been wonderful. Being able to act somewhat “normal” has allowed me to land a GREAT corporate job. Most people have no idea that I am not the “typical” corporate business woman.

That is how Buddhism has helped my career.

 

 

Autistic Comorbids

Many people on the Autism Spectrum have other comorbid disorders (myself included). Below are a few things that bother me even now as an adult.

Anxiety – I live in a near constant state of anxiety. The only thing that helps is my overly logical mind. I can normally “out logic” my anxiety and then distract myself. When a panic attack occurs, I can sit “calmly” on the outside and nobody would ever know anything was wrong (unless they noticed that I was a bit spaced out or tried to get me to talk).

Insomnia – my entire life. I have a hard time falling asleep and wake often. If I know that I have to get up earlier than usual in the morning my anxiety will keep me up all night in anticipation. Getting out of bed is also extremely difficult because I still feel tired.

Gastrointestinal / bowel disorders – I’ve always had problems with my stomach, as long as I can remember. There are certain foods that can trigger a horrible vomiting attack, but the main thing that seems to cause this is stress. It is possible that my stomach illness are what happens in the most extreme version of a “meltdown” but that is more of a theory for now.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – My teachers tried to convince my mother that I had ADHD in elementary school. I am easily distracted and have a hard time focusing on things that I am not interested in. My mind wanders off. However I have hyper-focus while working on tasks I enjoy. Luckily my mother refused to have me evaluated for ADHD because she did not want me medicated. I honestly think this is just part of the AS personality type.

Depression – it runs in my family and I now believe this is actually Autistic Burnout.

Sensory problems – most of us have these. Mine seem to worsen and become more intense when I am tired, but there are certain things I can never tolerate for long. Certain lights give me headaches and hurt my eyes. I can NOT handle the feeling of a manual toothbrush in my mouth or getting my nails filed. Also there is only a few types of socks that I can wear.

Nonverbal learning disorder – People with this disorder may not at times comprehend nonverbal cues such as facial expression or tone of voice. Has trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination. (Yes, Yes, and YES!)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder –  I have more obsessions than compulsions. Most of the time I am able to mentally talk myself out of doing something that I fell heavily compelled to do. (Although the nagging thoughts / urge to do something can linger on until I find something else to occupy my mind.)

“Obsessions themselves are the unwanted thoughts or impulses that seem to “pop up” repeatedly in the mind. These intruding thoughts can be fears, unreasonable worries, or a need to do things. When a person is tense or under stress, the obsessions can worsen.

Compulsions are the behaviors that may result from the obsessive thoughts [. . .] Compulsions may be rituals, repeating certain actions, counting, or other recurrent behaviors.”

Epilepsy  / Seizures – I have only ever had one seizure and it was at a time where I had way too much stress in my life. Perhaps this was brain overload in its most extreme form.

 

I’ve Been Thinking About Service Dogs

I’ve been thinking a lot about Autism service dogs laity. I have a wonderful dog who already helps me out with a few tasks around the house, but since I don’t want people to know about my AS for now I am going to keep working him in private and places that already allow dogs.

I’ve always been good with dogs, and have spent a lot of time training and working with all the dogs in my life. People often will comment on how amazed they are by my dog’s exceptional public manners. Undoubtedly my boy would pass the Canine Good Citizens Test if I paid to have him certified.

I am able to do a great job passing for normal and pretending everything is fine, even when I am having a panic attack. As a young woman with no obvious disability, I worry that I would have trouble with people saying “you don’t look disabled”. Because of my problems with shutting down during confrontation, trying to explain myself to a total stranger would be my worst nightmare.

Technically, I CAN function in the world as a fairly normal person, but the truth is, I am often struggling while pretending that everything is ok. So does that mean I don’t qualify for a dog even if it could make my life much easier?

My current dog has naturally started to help me in the privacy of my own home in a few ways. Most days getting out of bed is a struggle, but my number one dog is very persuasive, forcing me to get out of bed, refusing to allow me to snooze my alarm more than once or twice.

He also reminds me to step away from what I am doing to take breaks. This is a VERY valuable thing for me, since I work behind a laptop and can get so focused that I forget to eat, take bathroom breaks, etc. He is very in tune with me and seems to know when I am tensing up.

In general my anxiety levels are much lower when I am around any animal, but my dog gives me extra comfort and connection. Stroking a dog’s fur is a fairly socially acceptable form of “stimming” that I truly enjoy.

I saw a video online of a service dog trained to “block” people from getting too close to the handler. The idea of having a dog protect my very sensitive personal space bubble is honestly a very exciting  one for me.

There are are few other tasks that I think I could easily train my dog for that could potentially be very helpful, especially when I am feeling low on spoons / am nearing Autistic Burnout.

Back to the part I struggle with the most – admitting that I need help, dealing with the extra attention that having a dog brings, and the real question – will people hassle me if I train my own dog to help me in the ways that I see fit?

There is a lot of negativity out there about “fake service dogs” and emotional support animals. People can be down right hostile. I’ve heard service dog handlers with no obvious disability tell stories of people confronting them about their dogs, demanding ID, medical explanations, etc. I do not think I could handle people injecting themselves in my business that way.

Generally I am a very private person, that is why my blog is anonymous. I like to be left alone while out in public, and don’t really enjoy talking to strangers. Having a dog might make blending in impossible.

Since the extra training sessions only increase the bond that I have with my dog, I am going to keep them up even if I never have the guts to put his skills to good use.

#ActuallyAutistic – An Aspie obsessed with writing. This site is intend to inspire through sharing stories & experiences. The opinions of the writers are their own. I am just an Autistic woman – NOT a medical professional.

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