Monday, June 18, 2018

Pride (a poem for autistic pride day)



Pride; the state of being proud of yourself.

To be proud of your achievements, your life, your state of being.

It is to feel fulfilled in what you’ve accomplished. It is a state of contentment or even happiness.



Pride; a civil rights movement. 

It is an act of rebellion. It is breaking the chains that society wants to keep us confined to. 

It is passion and it is anger. It is a fire burning in my heart for my siblings who could not escape the chains, who were selfishly taken from this world but not without making an imprint on it. I promise to live the life they never got to finish, I promise to fight the fight they never got to win. We will win it for them.



Pride; the name of a group of lions.

Together we are invincible.

Alone we are strong, but together we are stronger.

We are in this together, for each other. 

They try to cage us. They abuse us until they can use us. Until we have something to offer.

They try to tame us. They expect us to just sit silently and take it.

To hell with that. To hell with silence.

We are big, we are angry, and we will roar.

We will roar so loud until they won't be able to ignore it anymore. One day they won’t be able to ignore it anymore.

You cannot tame us. 



I am proud, damnit.

You ask why I am proud of a disadvantage, of a defect.

The only thing defected is this society we live in.

I have big, beautiful wings, and society sits on them.

But they cannot keep me down for long.

Wings are made for flying and damnit, I will fly.

I will soar.

I will flap.

I will be free.



Pride; a necessity.

We have to be proud. Because who else will be? 

Who else is going to truly grasp and appreciate the gifts we possess? 

Who else is going to fight for us?

Who else is going to be proud for those who couldn’t? We have to be proud for them. Someone has to be proud of them.

We have to fight back. We cannot let them trample us. We cannot let them hold down our wings. Wings were made for flapping, for flying, for soaring. 

I try my hardest every day to live proudly. Because this isn’t something I get to choose, it’s something I need to do. I was thrown into this war and damnit, I’m going to fight. 



Pride; to fight the greatest fight you will ever fight. 




Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How to accept your autism




As an autistic advocate, a question I get quite often from autistic people and allistic allies alike is “how do I accept my autism/help someone accept their autism?”

I think it’s easy to see someone who appears to be very accepting of who they are and wish to be that accepting. But here’s a secret: self-love and acceptance is not a constant, it’s not a destination that you eventually arrive at. It’s something you have to constantly practice and work on. Even the most confident people with the highest of self-esteem still have their moments. I don’t think anybody is in love with themselves at every minute of every day. 

However, I think you can reach a place where you can say “I love myself, for the most part,” You can reach a place where despite the insecurities and work it takes to squash them, you can return to loving yourself. 

Being autistic in a neuronormative society is profoundly hard and disabling. To be able to love yourself at all and not be completely brainwashed by the idea that who you are is a mistake in need of fixing is an accomplishment alone. 


I may seem proud, I may seem very accepting and open about my autism—and don’t get me wrong, I am—but believe it or not, this is still a very new thing for me. Self-acceptance is still not something that comes easy to me, it’s still something I have to practice and work very hard on. I’m still not as open of a person as I’d like to be. I’m more open than I’ve ever been before, but I still feel the urge to hide, to blend in. 

I spent my whole life acting. Taking on different parts and memorizing a script, always being someone else, anyone but me. I knew I was different, and so did everyone around me, and to avoid the attention I tried to hide it, I tried to camouflage with the world around me. But the more normal I tried to be, the more obvious it was that I’m different, and the more miserable I became. People were cruel, I was abused by my teachers and bullied by my peers. I blamed myself for so long. I thought it was something I did wrong. I thought their inability to accept me and try to understand me was my fault. I came home from school every day and just broke down, I spent my whole day holding everything in and come home and let it all out, and I did that every single day until I became physically ill. My health became too bad to go to school anymore, which was a blessing in disguise because had I not left that environment I would not be where I am now. I honestly don’t even know if I’d be here at all. 

Not too long after leaving school and beginning homeschooling I got my diagnosis, and since then, I’ve been rebuilding, I’ve been rebuilding all the parts of myself that were broken down, I’ve been discovering myself and coming into my own. It isn’t easy, I spent years without a true identity, just a canvas for other people to paint on, now I am finally the one with the brush. In a lot of ways, I feel as if I’ve been reborn, learning I was autistic was the first time in my life everything truly made sense, it truly saved my life. I knew I was different but now I finally know why. I was never truly living before, I was existing, I was surviving, but I wasn’t living. I get to live now. 

I now get to belong to a community of people just like me, who are wired like me, that love me for and understand who I am. I no longer have to hide. 

I’m still getting used to all of it. There are days, a lot of days, where I just don’t know who I am. I feel disconnected from myself and the world around me, I am still getting used to living as me rather than a copy of other people. I am still getting used to the fact I don’t have to pretend anymore, I can stim, I can be as weird as I want, I can be me, I can be autistic.

When you’ve been taught your whole life that you’re broken, not even just directly but through the many, little, unspoken words of society that make it clear, it is hard to truly accept yourself. But you can try. Even being able to pick out one thing about yourself that you love, that you view as an advantage rather than something wrong with you, just being able to do that is enough. Being able to metaphorically flip the bird at the ableism that wants to hold you down, and being able to rise above it, even just for a moment, is enough. 

Nobody loves themselves all the time. A lot of people don’t even love themselves a majority of the time. It’s especially hard for an autistic person. 

So to answer the question of “how do I accept my autism?” There will never be a day where you just arrive at complete acceptance. It is not a destination, a place you will eventually arrive and stay, but rather a place you just have to keep visiting. Nobody lives in acceptance, we all have to just visit it. And you visit acceptance every time you allow yourself to be autistic. Every time you allow yourself to stim, every time you allow yourself to take an accommodation, every time you allow yourself to exist as yourself, as an autistic person in this world. 

You visit acceptance by surrounding yourself with people like you. Like birds, we flock to those like us. That’s not to say you can’t be friends with someone who isn’t like you, but you don’t have to force yourself to be friends with allistic people. There is nothing wrong with surrounding yourself with people like you, it is crucial and important to have likeminded people in your life, because how are you meant to love yourself if you feel completely alone? You are not segregating yourself, you are accommodating yourself, you are allowing yourself to be with people who speak your language and truly understand you. People who will not drain you but bring you to life. 

You visit acceptance by knowing that the abuse and oppression you face as an autistic person is not your fault. It is not because of something you lack but because of something others lack. You are not the one in need of fixing.

You visit acceptance by realizing you do not owe allistic people more than what any other person does. You do not have to accommodate people who do not accommodate you. You do not have to change who you are to make others more comfortable. Let others do the changing for once. We do not have to change just because the world is too close-minded to accept and understand us.

You visit acceptance every time you just say “eff you” to a neuronormative world that wants you to conform to their bogus rules, and you make your own rules.

You visit acceptance every time you stop dwelling on what your life could be like, and you make something beautiful out of what it is. 

I cannot promise you it will get easier, but I can promise you that you will get stronger, and you will get better at loving yourself. You will be able to own who you are and state it proudly with a voice and hands that shake less than they did before. That I can promise you with full certainty. It just takes a bit of practice.

So practice. Go out and flip that metaphorical bird and flap your hands as hard as you can and start living for you rather than someone else. No matter who you are there will always be something about you that someone will dislike, that someone will deem as “wrong”. But what is wrong? What is right? Who decided there’s only one way to be human? There are infinite ways to be human. Infinite colorful, beautiful ways to be human. Live your color and live your truth, those who don’t like it will just have to adapt, they don’t matter anyway. Those who matter will embrace you with open arms, those who matter do not expect you to change for them. Acknowledging that is how you visit acceptance. 


I hope that answered the question. 


Sincerely, 


Skyler 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Social anxiety



Hello everyone. It’s been quite a while since I’ve made a blog post. 

I’ve been trying to make a blog post for a while, but then I’d burnout, or something would flare up in my life. But, then there’d also be moments where everything was fine, but like a muscle, I had just gotten so used to not writing that I’d just locked up, I kinda forgot how to do it. So I just didn’t write.

And so time built up, it’s been a few months, and I’ve still been trying to write something. But I realized the biggest problem I was having with writing is I wasn’t pouring myself into it, I wasn’t just doing it, I was overthinking it. I was thinking “well I haven’t posted in a while so I can’t just jump back into it again, I have to explain myself.” But why? I’ve made countless posts on social media updating on my life, and the issues in it that are completely out of my control, so why can’t I let that be enough? Why do I always feel the need to explain myself?

I’m not very good at keeping friends. Allistic friends, mostly. I work differently than them, I am wired differently than them, so to someone who is not familiar with differences like mine, I can be offputting. People are afraid of change, that rings very true for myself, but I think it holds true to everyone in a way. Like birds, we flock towards our own kind. We go towards people that are like us before anything else. That doesn’t mean that a friendship between completely different people cannot happen— it can and it does— but it’s natural to mostly surround yourself towards people who are like you. We all just want to relate to someone. So I’m not offended when allistic people don’t know how to be my friend and I don’t know how to be theirs, it’s neither of our faults. But I’ve lost a lot of friends, and when a friendship ends I put a lot of blame on myself. I blame myself for being too different, too talkative, too blunt, too bad with boundaries, too annoying, too one sided, too weird, too autistic. I’ve spent my life mimicking, and while it’s not as bad now, I still find myself monitoring myself; trying to filter myself even though my brain was wired to work otherwise. I’ve hurt enough feelings and I’ve felt bad countless times that now I’m hesitant to be blunt, I’m hesitant to give my opinion, I try my darnedest to be appropriate and keep my words gentle. I have trouble saying no, I have trouble setting boundaries. I’m so terrified of losing people— of hurting people, of pushing people away—that I lose myself in the process. I maintain a life motto of and preach to people about being yourself, that it’s better to be liked for being yourself than to be liked for someone you’re not, and all that. And I still believe these things, these things matter very much to me and I hold them very true, but I feel like I can’t take my own advice. 

When it’s been drilled into your head all your life that you are wrong, that you are broken, that being different is bad, and that it is always *you* and no one else that is the reason for every problem—no matter how untrue—it’s hard to shake that. When you’ve had enough rejection your brain stops seeing it as just a natural and faultless part of life but rather something to do with you. When you’ve learned conflicting messages, each equally efficient in its affect on you, it’s hard to stick with just one. 

When you’ve had your flaws pointed out to you your whole life— even if they’re not even flaws at all— you begin to point them out to yourself. And you obsess over them. You monitor them. You fear them. You berate yourself for them. And in the process, you isolate yourself. 

I’ve lost friends so many times that now I obsess over every possible way I could lose the ones I currently have. I’ve said the wrong thing so many times I obsess over every possible way I could mess up what I’m going to say next and I obsess over what I’ve just said until I can find a mistake. I’ve been second guessed so many times, so now I do it myself. I’ve had to apologize for things my whole life—even when it’s unnecessary; especially when it’s unnecessary— and now I just do it before I have to. I’ve had to explain myself so much that now I do it before I’m asked to. I’ve failed at social interaction so many times that I avoid it altogether so that way I can’t fail. I’ve been bullied, so I’ve become my biggest bully. 

I’ve had enough bad experiences to develop severe, crippling anxiety over it. 

I have social anxiety disorder, and a very severe case of it. 

Its disheartening how common SAD is amongst autistic people. It’s disheartening that so many autistic people have been through the same things as me, especially the fact bad, mean people may be able to walk free of consequence and remorse, we still relive it. We relive it every day. 


Some of you may know this already, but I am a huge musical theatre nerd. I love doing it, I love listening to it, I love the scripts and the routine of it, I love getting to be a different character— everything about it, I just love it. I have loved it for as long as I can remember. But anyways, my favorite musical for the past few months has been Dear Evan Hansen. I started listening to it because Ben Platt originated the titular character— he’s so amazing, okay. I’ve loved and admired him all the way back to Pitch Perfect— but I had no idea what it was really about. But the first song I listened to was “Waving through a window” and I didn’t like, full blown cry, but I did cry a little, and I certainly wanted to cry more because I was just, so overcome with emotion. It is, first of all, incredibly beautiful, and I could listen to it... for forever (badum tsss, if you know Dear Evan Hansen you will get the reference), which I probably will. But, second of all, the lyrics explain social anxiety near perfectly, and just so beautifully. 

“I’ve learned to slam on the break, before I even turn the key. Before I make the mistake. Before I leave with the worst of me.”

That’s it. That’s exactly it. That’s exactly how it is, what I do. 

I’m so petrified of crashing that I don’t even get in the car. I’m so afraid of failure that I just don’t try. And when I do, I have to fight every urge to give up; I have to fight every overwhelming urge to just run away, to shut myself off and shut everything away. I’m so afraid of being isolated by people that I isolate myself so they can’t. My body prepares me for the worst before it’s even happened, before I can even experience it, or the good, or anything for that matter. I’m already slamming on the break before the key has even been turned. 

“Give them no reason to stare. No slipping up if you slip away. So I’ve got nothing to share, no I’ve got nothing to say.”

How can you mess up a social situation if you just don’t go? That’s what my brain tells me every day. “No slipping up if you slip away” is exactly how I think. That’s my internal monologue. 

People can’t stare at me if I don’t interact with them at all. I can’t mess things up if I just shut myself away. Nothing can go wrong if I do nothing. 

But it’s isolating. You can’t have a bad experience if you experience nothing, but...you’ve also experienced nothing.


“Step out, step out of the sun if you keep getting burned. Step out, step out of the sun because you’ve learned.”

Once again, so perfectly explained. If I step out of the sun I cannot be burned by it. If I push people away they cannot reject me. If I don’t leave the house I can’t make any mistakes outside of it.

But one also needs at least a bit of sun now and then to grow and survive.


“On the outside always looking in. Will I ever be more than I’ve always been? ‘Cause I’m tap-tap-tapping on the glass, and waving through a window.

Try to speak but nobody can hear, so I wait around for an answer to appear. While I'm watch-watch-watching people pass. I'm waving through a window. Can anybody see? Is anybody waving back at me?”

Just because you’re afraid of something doesn’t mean you don’t crave it. Some people like horror movies because they like the feeling of being scared. I like interaction, in reasonable doses; I also crave it. I crave experiencing the world. But what I want so badly is also the thing I fear. This chorus perfectly outlines how isolating and frustrating social anxiety is. You’re always on the other side of the glass, and though you’ve put yourself there, you don’t really want to be there. You’ve isolated yourself but you want to be surrounded, even though it’s the very thing you were avoiding. It’s confusing and it’s frustrating and it’s utterly painful. It is a constant fight between fear and desire, and it is exhausting. I wouldn’t wish this on even my worst enemy. 

“We start with stars in our eyes; we start believing that we belong. But every sun doesn't rise, and no one tells you where you went wrong.”

The first perspective we have is our own; we all begin innocent. We all begin believing everyone thinks, looks, acts, talks (etc. etc.) like us, but that is not the case.  We believe the best in everyone and every situation, some people more intense than others. And it’s the highest towers that come crashing down the hardest. 

Some people fit in a mold, others don’t, and others wildly don’t. I am someone who wildly doesn’t. I’ve always stood out, even amongst desperate attempts to stand in, I’ve always been so utterly transparent to everyone around me. I was a very naive child, probably more than other children. I believed everyone was kind, because I didn’t know how to be mean, so I assumed that it just wasn’t an option. 

I believed everyone was like me because I didn’t know any better, and that is what a lot of people maintain still to this day, but not everyone is like me and not everyone is kind. 

“No one tells you where you went wrong” they just let you know you’ve made a mistake. I’ve been made aware of my (sometimes spectacular) failures in social interaction, but I’ve never known what it is I get wrong. What makes someone bad at socializing? Is it subjective? Who gets to decide?

This line also rings very true to just being autistic (Evan isn’t canonically autistic, but he’s close to it. It’s quite implied and he’s also left ambiguous enough that anyone can read him however they want) allistic people see in between the lines, and so they expect you to also, but they forget not everyone sees what they see. I don’t see anything there! 

Often I misunderstand an allistic person and they let me know I’ve misunderstood them, but they don’t tell me why nearly as often. It’s like we speak completely different languages; there’s a gap between us.

“When you're falling in a forest and there's nobody around, do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?”

This bridge is heartbreaking and powerful. These lyrics reference a plot of the musical, which is that Evan fell out of a tree and broke his arm, but it also speaks to the part of social anxiety that is so debilitating (even though it all is, of course), which is the insecurity; the doubt, the constantly questioning yourself, the feeling of insignificance.

These lyrics, to me, are a significant-to-the-musical way of asking “do I matter?” And that’s a question I’ve asked myself an infinite amount of times. 


I love this song so dearly, it’s become like my personal theme song. Also Owl City (one of my favorite musicians since childhood and fellow autistic person) covered this song so that’s one more reason it’s awesome. 

After I listened to this song a billion times, I started listening to the other songs a billion times (I still do, constantly) and reading all about this musical and watching whatever I could of it online, and it’s just...so good. It’s just so good. That is an understatement but I cannot quite put it into words how beautiful and close to heart it is. Everything is so good, the music, the writing, the acting, the cast— all of it, it’s all just so, so good. It is some of the best representation I’ve ever seen, because it’s accurate, but also more importantly, it doesn’t demonize nor overcoddle neurodivergent people. Every one of the main teenagers in the story can be read as neurodiverse (I read them all as autistic), and none of them are without flaws. They’re all very morally grey characters, and that is just that. I’ve rarely seen neurodivergent characters and storylines handled so well. 

To avoid this post turning into a 10 hour infodump, I’m gonna cut this short, but if you are interested in this musical, look it up and become obsessed with it for yourself. The storyline is simple yet complicated, and ultimately I just wanted to talk about that one song, but the whole musical has such important messages, both relatable and empowering ones, and it’s just so real and raw and beautiful. All the hype about it is, in my opinion, one hundred percent deserved. 

The most important message for me about this musical is that everyone is important in their own right, and that no one is alone. And no matter how a situation goes, no matter how bumpy the road of life gets, just being you is enough. Everyday has good in it just by having the courage to be yourself.

Anxiety is an illness I will battle for the rest of my life. It isn’t fun, it will never go away, and some days it completely swallows me whole, but it doesn’t define me. It doesn’t dictate if my life is good or bad, only I can decide that. It may fight me tooth and nail, it may try to break me, but it hasn’t yet, and I am still fighting. If you are battling too, please know you are not alone in this. The thoughts in your head may seem so much louder and stronger than you, but just know you are just as loud, and just as strong. 

I will not sugarcoat this. There aren’t a lot of positives except, like, maybe, I’m gonna be alert when I need to be. But I am sick, and I always will be. But I have two options: 1) I can just give up, let the anxiety win, and live a life of isolation and misery, or, 2) I can fight back as best as I can, be me despite the voices in my head telling me not to, celebrate victories both big and small, and try to make the best of every day and every situation. 

My goal in life is to choose 2 as much as I possibly can.

And if all else fails, in the words of Evan Hansen, “at least you’re you, and that’s enough.” 

I am working on seeing myself as good enough. 


Sincerely, 

Skyler 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

One year ago (thank you)



One year ago.


One year ago I was a severely depressed, severely anxious kid struggling with emotional issues and self acceptance.

The walls around me would laugh at me, tell me I'd never see beyond them.

If you met me a year ago, I was someone completely different.

If you asked me if I saw myself being the proud owner of a blog that I've been told has changed lives? I'd tell you know.

I saw myself as a nobody. Someone who would grow up to be an even bigger nobody, or maybe wouldn't even grow up at all.

It wasn't death that I wanted, but a way for the things I was feeling to die. I wanted to go into hibernation; Have a little time to just disappear from the world. 

I felt so alone, so purposeless, and like there was the world and then there was me. I felt weird and I felt like everywhere I went there was this giant outline. I thought this was a bad thing.

I essentially had a mental breakdown. 24/7 was spent screaming and sobbing and hitting and kicking and breathing hard breaths and hurting myself because I didn't know how else to get out the extremely heavy hurt inside of me.

I would cry myself to sleep. I wouldn't even go outside, because everything out there petrified me. I felt like the world was out to get me and I was isolated and scared and miserable all the time. Happiness was a childhood fairytale, let alone contentment. 

But I wanted to get better. One year ago I wanted to get better.

We searched and typed and emailed and looked until our eyes were bloodshot and our fingers were rough and numb. 

One year ago I found a psychiatrist and started medication. 

It hasn't been a cure all, but it has leveled me.

My breaths became a little less heavy, my thoughts a little less calm. I went to bed at night with rarely damp eyes.


Writing has always been an outlet. From the time I was just little. From the time I was 9 years old and sick, and miserable, and trapped in a prison they called School where I never felt safe and I always felt I was deteriorating. But when I picked up a pencil the world stopped. When I typed how I felt a new one began. When I got it out, I was free.


I had contemplated being an advocate for a while. I was so discouraged at the astounding lack of autistic voices in the world. I knew they were there, but there were so few. So few people not silenced by the stigma.

For so long, I was silenced too.

And then one day something happened in me. Words began to bleed from my fingertips and I had to let it out. I wrote my story. 



One year ago I started reading fellow autistic people, I began to realize that weird is good. Autistic is amazing. And I am not alone. You are not alone.


Their voices helped me let out mine. And I saved that story, I saved it, and I waited for the right time.


One year ago, today. 

It began.

I made a little blog, decorated it nice, and I posted my story.

I didn't expect anymore than maybe one person to notice it, but that was enough for me. And I promoted my page, and I did what I could, thinking maybe if I didn't help anyone at least I might meet some people.

And I did. I did both.

A year.

A year of comments and friends and words that I'll never forget.

"You've given us a voice"

"You've helped me understand"

"I no longer feel alone"

Words that could've been mine to people I admire. I did that. You did that.


One year ago if you asked me if I saw myself where I am now, I'd tell you know. I didn't see myself as capable, I didn't see life as something that gets better.


I was right- Life doesn't get better, it doesn't get easier; But you get stronger. You walk through hell and suddenly you can walk through anything. 

Capable? Damn right you are. Shut out the voices, including and especially your own, telling you otherwise. They are nothing but lies. They are nothing but lies to slow you down because the world isn't ready for what you can do. So be it. Make them ready.



One year ago I was small.

And I still am small.

But sometimes all it takes is a pebble to make a ripple.

I am but one little ripple in an entire sea, but I have made something that is my own. And that means something to me.

You have a story? Tell it. Be a ripple.


Today.

Today I am open. Today I am proud.

Proud of the second family I call my own. Proud of the friends I've made who are some of the best I've ever had.

Proud at how far I've come. Because I've come so far.

Proud of what I've seen grow in a year. Change I've had the privilege to be a part of. 

Proud to be me.

I am weird, I am the farthest from normal one can be. That threatens people.

It threatened me.


I still walk with an outline around me. But because of it, I can see other people's outlines too. And I surround myself with those people.

It's those with outlines that truly make a mark. It's those without them that often grow jealous. You have something someone else does not. Embrace it, Gosh damnit. 

You are a spark, and not everyone can handle sparks. Because they're too bright or too loud or too, whatever. That is your gift. Your spark is what gives you an advantage, not a setback. 

It is those who do not understand that truly hold us back. Those who choose not to understand. 

They tell you no one is normal but they promote this idea that normal is so good.

They tell you to do one thing but then get mad when you don't do something else.

We were born speaking another language.


The one thing I wish I could tell everyone is that normal is a mirage.

The closer you get the more you realize how it never was real and you realize you wasted all this time.

There is something all around you and that is what you're meant to find.

You find your tribe, you find where you belong, you find your purpose.

We are all in this universe to find those things. Don't doubt that you won't, because I believe that we all do and we are all meant to. 

We are not meant to be alone. We are stars in a grand universe, how in the world could you feel alone?

There is someone for everyone, look for the outlines.

Embrace yours.

You will feel free.

You will realize you are not alone.

You never were.


Today.

I am surrounded.

I am proud.

I am free.

And I owe it all to you. 

I thank every single one of you, I see every single one of you. Each of you have made a permanent imprint on my heart. You've given me hope. You've shown me that, good goodness, I am here for a reason and I am seen and I may as well embrace that. I have a reason and I have a place to be, and I belong somewhere. We belong somewhere. 

Thank you. Words completely fail to say how thankful and full of love I am for you all of you. You are a home, a forever home, and no matter what I do with my life I owe it all to you. I will always do everything to represent all of you, to represent us. It's my duty, I owe it to you. 

You may be thanking me, but it is me who needs to thank you. You are the reason I am here. You have kept me going. All the little cracks in the middle I have been able to get out of. All because of you.

Today. I am free. I am surrounded. I am proud. I am here. 


Today I am somewhere I wasn't before and I love it. I love here. Here is home, and here is where I can finally be me. I am finally me. 

I am here.

I am autistic.


Sincerely,

Skyler. 


Thank you.