Why can’t we be like flowers?

Flowers are not perfect, but people rarely notice their imperfections. Wrinkled petals, malformed blossoms, or even torn or browning edges. Flowers are still beautiful, even when they are lacking.

When is the last time you looked at a blooming flower and thought something negative about it? I certainly can’t recall that feeling for myself.

Why can’t we look at one another the way we look at flowers? See the overall beauty and gloss over the quirks and imperfections, whatever they might be. 

The world would be a much happier place if that was the case, don’t you think?

I leave you with some photos of my amaryllis, which unfurled from the bud with a fair amount of imperfection, yet resplendent in beauty all the same…

The sweet side of homeschooling…

One of the most wonderful aspects of homeschooling C is that he is able to happily explore and develop his interests. When he was in public school, he would require several hours upon arriving home to “recover” from the sensory/emotional stress of the school day. This often meant he would take a nap, or sometimes he would break down in tears or melt down once he was inside the safety of home. School caused him to experience anxiety, low self esteem, and depression. I am happy to report that as we near the end of our second year of homeschooling, C has little anxiety and what he does experience, he is able to healthily relieve through stimming (his desk and work tables are a melange of slinkies, magnets, jars of play-doh and silly putty!). His self esteem has risen, and he no longer experiences feelings of hopelessness or depression. He’s happy, balanced, well-rested, and hopeful.

C starts his homeschool lessons each day around 9 AM, and most days we are finished by 1:30. He works steadily through the same subjects each day, starting off with math at Khan academy, Italian with Duolingo, spelling and vocab at Spelling City, grammar and composition at Time 4 Writing, Reading (currently reading the His Dark Materials series), and then finishing up with Science and History lessons from Connect the Thoughts. He does the same exact schedule each day, and does so in the calm and relaxing environment of his bedroom and homeschool room. This leaves an entire afternoon to explore his current special interest and top contender for the future- BAKING. C dreams of being a baker or pastry chef, and this past autumn, won first prize at the county fair for his delicious maple bacon chocolate chunk cookies. He bakes at least two days a week, and spends hours researching recipes, and watching his favorite cooking and baking shows, which we have set to record automatically.

C does other “extracurricular” activities as well- we hike many miles each month, often incorporating aspects of his geology lessons into our hikes, and he’s a member of 4H, currently on the sharpshooting/BB gun team. He’s a huge dog lover, and also enjoys Minecraft and will read for an hour or more on any given day of the week. But baking takes the top slot!

I am consistently impressed by his desire to try challenging recipes, interesting flavor combinations, and pressing forward even when his baking experiments fail. Recently, we’ve had delicious vanilla cake donuts with a root beer glaze, lemon meringue pie, almond meringue cookies, and these scrumptious devil’s food cupcakes with mint buttercream frosting.

C was so happy with how these turned out, and he beamed with pride as I photographed them and told him with his permission, I would like to share them on my blog. With this batch, C got to practice using the piping bag- a new skill he is trying to master. It was his idea to go outside and pick fresh mint leaves to use as a garnish, and the silvery sprinkles are one of the neat things he ordered from King Arthur Baking website, using the $50 gift certificate he won in the baking contest.

Although I have food sensitivities to both gluten and dairy, I can never say no to C’s tantalizing treats! I try to make up for the goodies with extra long hikes and lots of dog walking.

I can’t wait to see what he bakes up next!

Communication woes.

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What happens when we try to communicate, but our benevolent intent is lost in translation? Caught in the bottom of a cast iron mailbox and no one has the key? That’s how my Autism feels a lot of the time. And that hurts.

 

The thorn in my side. Trying to communicate properly and effectively. Thinking that maybe I’m even starting to “get it” or that I’m doing a good job. You know, making progress. Starting to succeed at something I’ve repeatedly failed at. Is progress possible when your entire life has been a long chain of miscommunicated and misunderstood events and ideas? I think so. Or at least, I thought so. And I will probably think so again. But right now I’m again standing at a fork in the road.

It’s well known that there are differences between how Autism manifests between the male and female sexes. And that one of the hallmarks of female autism is social and communication deficits. Unfortunately, I think what most people don’t understand is the feelings of pain and helplessness that accompany these deficits. Social/Communication deficits are my top autism-related struggle after sensory sensitivity issues. While sensory sensitivity issues cause physical pain and discomfort, my social communication deficits cause a different kind of pain-  an aching in my soul, longing to connect, but being misunderstood. It feels similar to heartache, actually.

I find it ironic that we live in a world that aims to be so accepting and inclusive of people’s differences, but then balks at invisible disability. A world that seems to blatantly shout that it’s fine and good if you’re different, but I don’t want to hear about it, and if your disability affects your abilities to interact with me? Then you shouldn’t even be trying to interact. You should be relegated to the sidelines. I’m not kidding here- this is actually, really happening to me right now. Do these people know I’m autistic and that I have pronounced communication deficits? A good portion of them do, yes. Whether or not they actually understand what it means, I have no idea. All I know is for those who do know, those who care and take this into account are the exception. It’s not that I think they are uncaring people, or that they are trying to purposefully be hurtful. It’s more complicated than that. Some have written about my being openly autistic as if it is something that makes them uncomfortable, it is “too much information”, or it is some deeply personal thing, such as a serious mental illness- that is a taboo to share. Or, if I’m autistic, then I shouldn’t be communicating or talking at all, is their stance. I should always have someone else talking for me. I should not have a voice because they don’t like my voice. It rubs them the wrong way.

That’s easier said than done in the world we live in. A world that highly prizes and rewards those who are extroverted, socially effervescent and charming to the hilt. People who can communicate with ease, with flair, and with grace. People who are pretty much the total opposite of me. I’m very introverted, and “charming” has never been a word associated with me. I don’t know if this is because of my autism or not. I just know that I’ve always been that way, and every time I’ve taken the Meyers-Briggs? I’ve been a solid INFJ. Introverted/Intuitive/Feeling/Judging is what that stands for. Famous INFJ’s are said to include Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Emily Bronte, Carl Jung, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Florence Nightingale, among others. Apparently, a strong sense of social justice is inherent. Is there a link between this personality type and autistic traits? Sometimes it seems possible. “INFJs are guided by a deeply considered set of personal values. They are intensely idealistic, and can clearly imagine a happier and more perfect future. They can become discouraged by the harsh realities of the present, but they are typically motivated and persistent in taking positive action nonetheless. The INFJ feels an intrinsic drive to do what they can to make the world a better place.” <— Sounds like a lot of Autistic people I know! <3

Are autistic people always introverted? I don’t think so. To be honest I am not sure where a lot of so-called personality traits stop and start in relation to my being an introvert, being Autistic, and having ADHD. I have a friend with Aspergers who is far more social and outgoing than I am. She seems to enjoy online posting and interaction, and reaches out into the world in a way that I could never see myself feeling comfortable or capable of doing. A lot of extroverted Autistic people seem to be those more inclined to be activists, and to be comfortable with and even proficient with- social media and/or public speaking.

This is easier said than done given my circumstances. I have part time help with emails and customer service for my work (so that my communication deficits don’t negatively impact these really crucial communications), but other than that, I have very minimal supports. I don’t have a husband or partner who could take up my slack. I have friends around the country, many of whom I’ve known since high school- but I don’t have what I call “daily friendships” or “let’s meet for coffee friendships”. I don’t have someone I can completely hand the reins to, while I stay in my proper autistic place, with my mouth shut, never rising above my station. Because that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? A game of, “if you can’t communicate exactly how I like, then I deem you unacceptable”? This may not be how it actually is, but it is how it feels.

This challenge couldn’t be more great in relation to my work. I’m one of the very small percentage of Autistic adults who is employed. Most are not. Most struggle with it- having long periods of unemployment spotted with short attempts to be part of the workforce, or do their own thing. Because of this, the majority of autistic adults have to rely on the support of others. This is a source of anxiety and depression. The suicide rates in Autistic adults are the highest of any group. Here’s just one example of many: “Co-author and ARC Director Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen said, “Adults with Asperger’s syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, underachievement, and unemployment.”

I’m currently feeling significantly beaten down and misunderstood. For you see, my best attempts to communicate are frequently met with criticism or harsh words written about me. Why do I have access to being able to see criticism written about me? Because my work is an online business, where customer-owner interaction is necessary and important. I’m expected to interact personally with customers on Facebook or social media. To not interact is seen as cold and distant. In trying to avoid social media, I found out I was perceived that way. So I started trying to reach out and connect, posting on Facebook to ask customers for their opinions on things, involve them in polls and feedback threads to show them I valued their opinions, and was eager to meet their needs. Sounds great right? Except it isn’t. It’s backfired. Again.

People don’t like how I communicate. My trying to be friendly, helpful and interact? It “rubs people the wrong way”. I feel at a great loss when even my best attempts to be “normal” are met with criticism, and people putting me down as if some disruptive character flaw is present. This causes me to feel a deep sort of psychic pain. Having it happen once or twice, I could handle that alright. But this is constant. It’s happened my entire life. It’s a bit easier now that I have an autism diagnosis which helps me to understand and put my differences into perspective. But it still hurts. I am “autistically out” in relation to my business because for me it’s important to be myself, and hopefully raise the standard for awareness and acceptance of the gifts/challenges that adult female Autistics face. I think the world would be a better place for Autistic people if neurotypical people could stop and reframe their perspective in relation to autistic people.

What do I mean by “reframe their perspective in relation to autistic people”? What I mean is for them to halt their thought process, which is undoubtedly careening towards critical thoughts about the autistic person’s presentation and attempts to communicate. From what I’ve been told and from what I’ve read, customers on my Facebook page are “rubbed the wrong way” by when I’ve posted polls or discussion threads asking for customer feedback about certain things. They feel I shouldn’t ask for customer opinion, I guess. Or they are fine with my asking, but they don’t like how I communicate. Insert me between that rock and that hard place, because I’m not asking customers to share their preferences because I’m an uncaring jerk. Or because I’m clueless and helpless and am trying to stir up drama. I ask customers to share their viewpoints and opinions because… I ACTUALLY CARE. I really, truly, beyond a shadow of a doubt want to provide products and services that match the needs/wants to the customer majority.

Personally, as an autistic person operating on a different neurological framework, I don’t see being autistically out any different than you voicing your preference for Apple or Android. Being autistically out doesn’t mean I want special treatment or sympathy. I simply want my differences to be viewed as being different- NOT LESS. You can criticize how I interact, but due to the fact that I am autistic and this presents in me as profound social and communication deficits, you are never going to get me to act like another company owner, who engages in a carefree, natural, spirited and flawless way. I’m not capable of it. That doesn’t mean that I am a bad person, or that my business is not worthy- although ultimately it is you who decides who you wish to spend your money with. And I understand that, I really do. What it really means that I am different. It means that social interaction is not one of my strengths, but if you look closely, you might see that I have strengths and unique gifts that another person does not. But if you’re too narrowly focused on the fact that I’m not an ebullient portrait of social appropriateness whose words flow onto Facebook like ambrosia from Mount Olympus? Then sadly, you will not see my strengths or my talents. You won’t see that I have something to offer, also.

My personal experience, my current quandary:

It’s very difficult for me, as an Autistic person trying to operate a small business in the indie makeup community. A dominant part of the attraction for customers purchasing indie makeup is that they get to interact with the company owners. They want to interact, for this represents a personalized aspect of shopping, and the rewarding feeling of supporting a small business with a real person attached to it- not a faceless or nameless corporate conglomerate. A determining factor in the online success of an indie cosmetic company is the online presence of the owner. Because I have difficulty communicating, I’ve had to at times, completely remove myself from the online equation- working only in the background. The result of this approach? The perception that my company is lacking an online presence and personality. That my company is cold and removed, or not friendly. That I am not personally involved, or “only in it for the money”. Obviously this approach does not work without the context of what is expected from an online indie makeup company. So, despite the challenge and stress that socially interacting causes, it is decided that it is really best that I try to “put myself back out there”. I do, and think I’m doing really well. Customers seem to really like interacting, and a lot of people comment on the posts I make on Facebook asking for their opinions. At least that’s what I think.

Turns out, as I describe above- my best attempts to communicate and interact are failures. If I don’t communicate, my company is cold and distant. If I do communicate, my very presence and interaction rubs people the wrong way. And I don’t mean just a casual feeling- I mean, my interaction rubs people so much the wrong way that they unfollow my page, or decide they don’t feel that they want to support my company. Then they go to online forums and write harsh and critical things about me- even despite knowing that I am autistic. My crime? Asking customers for their opinion too often. Asking customers how they feel about certain sales, or product sizes, or artwork on jars, or basically- things that I am unsure about and am eager to hear what customers think so that I can work on improving their experience. I do it from the heart, because I really care. And what happens? What happens is what usually happens. People either misinterpret my communications, or they judge them as being different. And different is not good. I’m then made all too painfully aware of the fact that I’m different, and different is not acceptable. Having been put in my place, I return back to my stool in the corner, put on my dunce cap, and face the wall. Apparently, that’s where I belong. At least until I bravely feel like I can again try to conquer this hurdle.

Ever wonder why Autistic adults struggle with depression and anxiety? Now you know just part of why that is. There’s much more, this is just a tiny glance into the frustration, stress and pain. Just imagine how confusing and difficult it is to navigate your life in this way. Constantly trying to fit in, and even thinking that you’re doing a great job- only to be slapped into submission and made to feel like you’re broken, inappropriate and perpetually wrong. That your voice doesn’t fit in. That you need to never come out of the shadows, instead having always, someone to represent you. Because, you know… you’re just not good enough.

And so I return to those shadows, with heavy heart. Like Icarus, I have flown too closely to the sun. I’ve been in a place I was never meant to be. The harsh light of the sun has melted the wax of my wings, my feathers disintegrating into a useless whirl of fluff and flutter. Sending me spiraling back down to my depths.

Do you think that’s fair? That the neurotypical world is such a harsh, sharp and cruel place, where Autistic people continually try to convene, but continually feel ostracized and cast out?

If you don’t think that’s fair, then consider learning more about autism and neurodiversity. Nick Walker of Neurocosmopolitanism presents an amazing definition of Autism. Autism awareness is a thing, but what is “awareness” when it is lacking acceptance? You’re the missing link between awareness and acceptance.

I leave you with a poem. One of my favorites from long ago. 

“Alone”

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—

North Carolina Hiking: Fowler Creek Trail/Ellicott Rock Wilderness 1/25/15 9.88 miles

We hiked today in the Nantahala National Forest/Ellicott Rock Wilderness, in North Carolina and South Carolina. The trail is the Fowler Creek Trail, also known as the Bad Creek Trail. At the fork, we opted to go left toward the Fork Mountain Trail (also known as the Sloan Bridge Trail) instead of taking the switchbacks down into the Chattooga River gorge. Reason? Because I’d already hiked that section of the trail on one of my futile attempts to find Ellicott Rock. I wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of the notorious rock on this particular day.

We started at the tiny little parking area off Bull Pen Road in North Carolina. The trail winds in and out of the two states. We passed over two creeks and started revisiting the trail we’d hiked a few weeks ago, here. At the 5 mile mark, we turned back around and hiked out the same way. As usual, my GPS didn’t read an even ten miles at completion. This always irks me, as I really like even numbers. Here’s the GPS of today’s hike.

I use Map my Fitness app on my iPhone to track my hikes. Even if there is no cellular signal, it will still track the hike via GPS. It is a drain on the battery though. I also have a Misfit Shine fitness tracker, but this only measures # of steps and pace- it does not track your location or produce any map results. It’s generally accurate, for today’s total activity reading 10.7 miles. It also tracks my sleep, and I believe using this has helped me to sleep better. Not sure how, but it has. I like both ways to track, as I enjoy data in all of it’s forms- be it graphs or maps.

The comfort of rain

Today it rains, and I feel at ease.

If I stand still enough, I can hear the sound of every raindrop hitting every leaf.

The sky is a pale grey with the occasional tinge of warmth or pink.

I know the sun is rising, but I’m pleased that I won’t be seeing it on this day.

I love rainy days, when the world becomes quieter, slower, and time stretches and drags.

I imagine these tiny raindrops, and their endless journey. They fall and are absorbed into the leafy earth I stand on, making their way into tiny rivulets which in turn become small creeks. Creeks give rise to streams as they work together to tumble the water downward. These small creeks empty into rivers, then lakes, then rivers again… eventually making their way into the ocean. Only to rise again into the clouds, and fall again. An eternal cycle. An ebb and flow we hardly notice in our technologically savvy cocoons.

When the sun shines, life feels faster and more hectic. Statically charged with perpetual possibility. It eventually tires me, as I long for the cool predictability of the long, grey day… with foggy mornings, low clouds and the intermittent pitter-patter of droplets.

On these days, my body rests. My senses are at ease. But my creativity soars.

I’m always happy when it rains.

 

Georgia Hiking: North of Russell Bridge hike to nowhere… 1/21/15

We hiked on the Georgia side of the Chattooga yesterday, starting at the parking at the 28 bridge. We were supposed to find our way to Reed Creek and Persimmon Gap, but that didn’t happen. Deep in the river gorge and with no GPS visible tracking, we’d turned completely back around without even realizing it.

When I got back home and saw the actual map, we were SO close to Reed Creek! Like, 200 yards away. But without a clear trail to follow, I didn’t want to continue and end up lost in the backcountry. Next time we attempt this, we’ll take orange tree tape with us, to leave breadcrumbs. There isn’t an official trail on the Georgia side of the river here, you see- it’s basically a tangle of old logging roads, and weaving side trails leading back and forth to the river. This is a popular trout fishing area. We did really well until we reached the scrubby flood plain of Reed Creek, where the trail just… disappeared. Without anything to mark the trail or cut back the briars, we decided it was best to stop and go back, as we thought we’d gone the wrong way. Wrong. We were on the right path.

Here’s what we were supposed to find (from Sherpa guides):

For easy hiking and fishing, the section of the Chattooga between Russell Bridge and Reed Creek is hard to beat, for there is a trail (or log road) on either side. At the north side of the Russell Bridge, one looks out over a marsh with ponds and wood-duck boxes. This was the old Whitmire place, formerly a fertile cornfield. When it was acquired by the Forest Service, beavers promptly dammed up Mose Branch, creating a marsh dominated by alder shrub, sedges, and marsh grasses. One can go up the river by climbing down the bridge riprap or, more easily but less speedily, by taking the (gated) first road that turns off west of the bridge. About a mile up this road (1.75 miles by river) are some beautiful pools and camping places. Farther on there is an old field, called Reed Creek Bottoms, planted in loblolly pine, which is rare in the mountains unless planted. Here one can turn up a trail on the west side of the field that leads up Reed Creek. Soon there will appear one of the most beautiful stands of white pine in north Georgia, with abundant patches of club moss and pink lady slippers. Farther on one enters Reed Creek Gorge. There are no trails in this section. The cascades, falls, and pools are extremely scenic and not too difficult to negotiate. With luck the visitor will see the highest of the falls, Reed Creek Falls, before a more tranquil section leading up to Persimmon Gap.

Sounds like a nice hike, doesn’t it? We did have a nice hike. A beautiful hike, in fact. It was about 65 F and breezy, with clear skies. The river was crystal clear and a beautiful green color. One of the most interesting experiences on this hike was learning that both of our dogs… can climb trees. Really- see the pictures! Luna climbed so high on her own that she got stuck, and it took some coaxing to get her to trust that I wasn’t going to drop her if she allowed me to help her off her branch.

The tree you see the dogs in is a Chinese Chestnut tree- someone planted this tree, and several others. American Chestnut was wiped out of these forests by blight a long time ago. I absolutely love chestnuts, but they are so costly from the grocery. I identified this tree from it’s large spiny seed pods- I had no idea they contained chestnuts, or else I would have started cutting them open with my knife, to see if they were still edible. However it’s several months past their prime harvest, so I’m going to assume they were probably long gone. Next September/October I will be back at this tree with a basket- ready to collect! There were thousands of these seed pods scattered around the tree.

Until next time, when I will without a doubt reach Reed Creek and Persimmon Gap!

The Aspie Adult – An Uncomfortable Reminder? [REBLOG]

Sonnolenta:

This is a very relevant post from Planet Autism. For me, at least.

I know I’ll always be different, yet I still struggle to try to fit into the neurotypical world. I am transparent about being Autistic because I am both hopeful, yet incredibly naive in thinking that there has to be some people who will be open minded and kind about my Autism. Someone who will- instead of turning away, or claiming that their knowledge of my Autism “makes them uncomfortable”- will instead stop and consider the fact that if it makes them uncomfortable? Just think how uncomfortable the Autistic person is every minute of every day- struggling to communicate and fit into a world that is too sharp, too loud and too fast.

That’s what I hope for, every time I reach out and am transparent about who I am. And every time I find myself slapped back into submission, and informed that I don’t belong. That I should just keep my big mouth shut. That my Autism makes people uncomfortable. That I should ALWAYS let someone else speak for me, and that person needs to be neurotypical, because I’m not capable of communicating.

Dear neurotypical people- it’s challenging enough to get through each day. I really don’t need to constantly be reminded of how I am not welcome in your world. It hurts. It undoes my forward progress, damages the self esteem I am constantly trying to piece back together, and makes me feel that even trying to reach out… is futile.

Please click through and read the whole post, in particular the statements at the end:

“Can’t we celebrate some of the positives of having autism? Can’t we allow autistics just to… be? Do we have to be shocked and angry when someone tells the honest truth without malice? Do we have to shut people out because they don’t conform? Do we have to expect them to be like “us”? Do we have to continue to force these square pegs into round holes? Because society is currently blinkered, does that mean it has to continue to be? When we face an autistic adult, can we not stop turning our faces the other way? Can we not stop criticising their traits as something to be ashamed of, or ganging up to ostracise them?”

 

“So next time you are online (or even in “real life”) and you don’t like an ASC adult challenging the status quo, delivering information in a factual way, or saying the things no-one else will say, maybe try opening your mind and realising that if we don’t do it, perhaps no-one else will. Everyone has their purpose in life. Some of the greatest minds that have existed are thought to have been autistic. Sometimes, it’s the black sheep that makes the biggest mark. And that person allowed to be themselves, could be your child.”

Originally posted on Planet Autism Blog:

Ostrich This is a challenging post to write, but never one to shy away from speaking the truth, I decided to go ahead – and hope it would make people think – and not jump to defensiveness.  Buzzing around in my head, were questions such as “will it offend people?” and “will it alienate people?”  As an adult with Asperger’s, I have been only too aware of my differences over the years and the difficulties I have faced.  Granted, I was not diagnosed as a child, so I existed without any of the supports that are available today for autistic children and it could be called into question whether I would have fared better with those supports – but I suspect not.  I slipped under the radar – as do many Asperger’s females, people might have thought I was shy or a bit anxious, but no-one ever questioned me being…

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