Aspies: Challenge or Opportunity? Your Choice!

We all know about challenges like climbing Mount Everest or crossing the Pacific Ocean on a raft.  If you’re up for that kind of challenge, you may read no further. Congratulations!

For some Aspies, the word ‘challenging’ may seem to be synonymous with ‘anxiety-producing’, creating stress.

Experts tell us that whether stress becomes a positive or a negative factor in any particular situation depends upon how we respond to that stress.

Worrying creates unhealthy stress, whereas allowing stress to spur us on into action in a challenging situation ensures that it leads us forward into a positive learning experience.

For some Aspies, ‘challenging’ may even refer to those activities which for many people are common, almost daily occurrences.

For instance, what if you would like to go to a certain shop but it’s in an unfamiliar area of town; one into which you have never ventured. You don’t know how to get there, let alone how to get back!

Maybe you’re hesitant to take a bus because the numbers, the routes and the schedules can be quite confusing.

Breaking down a challenge like this into its relatively simple components will allow you to realize that you can resolve each of them, separately, quite successfully.

You could download a schedule for the number of the bus you need to take to get to your desired location.  When you are ready, go to the nearest bus stop.  When that particular bus comes, take it.

Carefully observe what roads the bus is taking, what shops and restaurants you are passing, or which other points of interest are along the way.  You could make a mental, or even a paper or e-note of them.

When you get to your destination you may not wish to initially venture too far from the bus stop.

Familiarize yourself with the three or four blocks around the bus depot, note the street names and any other unique or ‘landmark’ buildings, parks or memorable natural landscape features.

Once you have experienced the bus route and the nature of the surroundings at your desired destination, you can take the bus back home again.

You might find it helpful to do this two or three times until you feel comfortable in your knowledge of the route, how long the trip takes and the nature of the area surrounding your destination.

What will you have accomplished?  Just this: you will no longer need to wait for someone else to have the time to drive you where you want to go. You will be able to move about based on your own agenda, not that of your parents, your siblings or your friends.

You will be in control of your day, and just a little bit more in control of your own life.

And you will feel a sense of success, maybe even of triumph!

Becoming more knowledgeable about your community and its surrounding areas can increase your confidence, giving you a greater sense of independence.

You will find that knowing where you are going and that you can get there on your own can be exhilarating and liberating.

The result is that your sense of self-respect will receive a tremendous boost, encouraging you to undertake similar challenges, in a similar manner, with far less anxiety in the future.

It is important to realize that falling into the trap of simply avoiding the initial anxiety which may accompany a novel task will not get you where you want to go. But meeting the challenge will enrich your life.

When we decide to take control of a situation in our lives, we ask something of ourselves.

When we respond positively and successfully we present ourselves with an opportunity for growth, which involves meeting, accepting and overcoming challenge after challenge.

Ultimately, we become our own heroes, infusing ourselves with the courage, even the desire to face whatever challenges present themselves. In this way we can view new challenges as opportunities for enhancing our experiences.

Our reward is a life fully and joyfully lived, with gratitude for challenges which come our way.

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Challenges: Help For Aspie Anxiety

When your teacher or professor assigns homework, when your parents or your roommate ask you to clean up your room, or to look after some household chores—what’s up with that?

Perhaps your roomates want you to take responsibility for two meals a week.  Or maybe you’ve made a commitment to yourself to exercise three times a week or walk six blocks a day.

How can challenges that seem worrying actually help reduce anxiety?

Anxiety is a huge issue for many of us with Asperger’s.  There is no point in asking why we often see six thousand compounding facets in every single little incident in our lives, or why simple chores like washing the car or cleaning our rooms can morph into multi-day events.

 The question is, why would we challenge ourselves with any of these responsibilities at all?

The answer is simple.  By making demands of ourselves, and by disciplining ourselves to attempt to meet those demands, we give ourselves room and encouragement to grow.

By repeatedly doing simple manageable tasks we develop routines and a self-confidence which can serve us well when we encounter more complex issues.

When we attempt to accommodate another’s reasonable demands, we acquire and continually enhance the skill of determining exactly what is required of us.

And we practice discerning how best to initiate the task in the most efficient way so as to successfully complete it with the least stress … and perhaps even a certain degree of pleasure!

This translates into the essential life-skills of listening, comprehending, asking questions about the process when necessary, and successfully completing the task.

We are rewarded with the personal satisfaction which comes with the completion of any worthwhile accomplishment!

And the more that is asked of you, either by others or by yourself, the greater you will feel challenged.

But, the greater the challenge successfully met, the greater the personal satisfaction.

Challenges are not only necessary for our personal and professional growth, they are a fast-track to ensuring our lives remain interesting and fulfilling.

 

 

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Greta Thunberg: One Person, One Aspie Can Rock the World.

Can One Person make a difference?

If you are a student taking part in the Fridays for Future climate change protest, then you are an individual who is taking action aimed at creating global, national and local change.

And you may have become aware that Greta Thunberg, an Asperger teen from Sweden believes that one person can work to create positive changes in  our world.

What convinced her of that?  Possibly her conviction came from the way in which her parents responded to her concern about climate change.

Greta asked her mom and dad to acknowledge that the earth is in a dangerous state due to many factors.

She pointed out that the quality of her future life was in jeopardy because of government and individual inaction. And she felt that if her parents shared her concerns and honestly cared about the world that she would grow up to live in, they would personally make lifestyle changes.

She wanted them to change some of their routines and eating habits so that their personal lives would reflect their acknowledged growing concern about the environment.

And they did.  They made changes that were not easy for them.  For instance, they agreed to give up air travel, which meant her mother had to forego some choice roles in her career as an opera singer.

Because her parents agreed to effect changes in their lives as a result of her discussions with them, she realized that she could be persuasive. Perhaps this ability to create change could reach others beyond her family.

At the age of 15, Greta decided to take her protest beyond her home, to the grounds of the Swedish parliament buildings.  She did this on a school day.

She was protesting the lack of any real climate action on the part of the government and she felt it was important enough to miss school to make this happen.  It was the first strike for climate change.  It had an attendance of one!

Last week, almost four million students around the world protested with Greta.

On this coming Friday, the 27th of September, the Friday for Future strike will come to BC, to cities and towns such as Tofino, Victoria, Campbell River, Burnaby, Vancouver and Prince George, as well as Gabriola and Saltspring and other Islands. Check the map at the links given below to find out if your community is included.

Are you ready Aspies?  Ready to Rock the World?

To find the locations for the Friday for Future Strike, including the one this Friday, September 27, 2019, check these websites:

https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/news

https://fridaysforfuture.ca/

https://fridaysforfuture.ca/event-map/

Please be sure to read the information regarding security.  Certain safeguards are suggested.  Remember that at any large gathering, people who are more interested in making trouble than affecting political change could become involved.  Know what action you need to take to protect yourself if such a situation should arise.

The French Kiss: An Aspie Makes Peace with Her Past.

If you’ve read my memoir,  Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, you’ll know I was once subjected to a French kiss that was the beginning of a severely anxiety-producing period in my life.  This column is about a much better relationship: one with the French language.

As Aspies, we need constant challenge.  To live without it is a form of unpleasant inertia for us.

Perhaps that’s why we find games so absorbing; they challenge us while providing an anxiety-free way of being engaged.

An Aspie self-reflection might be to ask ourselves how we can utilize our Aspie focus in a more productive way.

This early in the morning, I’m usually doing a French lesson on Duo Lingo.  So far it’s free, I’m interested and I’m learning French!  As with many games, my online French lessons do not require any anxiety-causing social interaction, just self-motivation and tremendous concentration, at which Aspies excel.

Why French?  Because I have a brief background in the language, including some high school instruction (This is Canada after all, where French is our official second language) and some French at university where a second language was required in the first couple of years.

So, imagine my amazement when visiting in France I discovered that while I could read the signs, and understand quite a bit of what was said, I was unable to communicate verbally.  When it came to speaking my tongue got thick, my mouth got dry and I got stuck. That was an unpleasant and for me, rather traumatic surprise!

Now I spend a great deal of time in a household which includes someone who is a native French speaker; someone kind enough to teach me conversational French.

Taking  advantage of this opportunity with any degree of accomplishment meant revisiting the vocabulary, the conjugations and the grammar. Voila, Duo Lingo!

At first the conversational aspect was terrifying.  After all, it combined a modicum of social interaction along with the practise of something in which I had already failed while in France.  It was an effort to go into the sessions and blunder my way through.

Then, one day, for the very first time we had a conversation in which I could fully engage, understanding every word and being understood in return!  It remains so significant to me that I even remember exactly where we were standing in the kitchen when the exchange took place.

I may never get back to Hyeres in the south of France, but I will have the satisfaction of being able to speak in another language.  To wrap my brain, my tongue, and my throat around another verbal method of communication can only be good for me in so many ways.  Surprisingly, each night, my dreams include a word or phrase in French.  And the exercises, now that I am in my third month of self-imposed study, have become far more complex; a challenge I enjoy.

Is French helping me in any measurable way?   I cannot say.  I can only say that the universe has opened up this opportunity for me.  And I learned a long time ago—do not say ‘no’ to the universe!

 

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My Asperger Personality Unmasked.

Research published online on May 19, 2017 examines the notion that Aspies and others on the spectrum camouflage their autistic personalities in order to manage social situations.

The study entitled, “Putting on My Best Normal”: Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions* looks at a number of issues ranging from:

  • why females in particular are often diagnosed later in life,

  • if the fact that so few females are diagnosed is due to the feminine personality being more successful at camouflaging, and

  • that perhaps camouflaging can be detrimental to our mental health.

Before I read the study, I wrote this blog in an explosive mood after experiencing severe anxieties about taking a bath. I didn’t post it because I was afraid of what my partner would think if he read it.

After what I read in the study, I realized that by not showing him the blog I was camouflaging, masking my anxiety–though honestly, not very well.  

Why did I take a bath?  Because it’s such a normal thing to do, and I felt that I must be weird to be so resistant to sitting in a tub.

What follows in the resulting blog are my true feelings about the situation.  Looking at it now that a little time has passed, I realize that while some of the blog sounds reasonable, logical and fairly intelligent, other aspects simply seem to be the rantings of an angry child.

Here it is then, one Asperger personality, my own, unmasked and unleashed!

The Bath: A Source of Anxiety for Asperger Me.

As an Aspie, maintaining a relationship can be a challenge.

My partner thinks of baths as sensual, delightful, peaceful and meditative experiences.  Candles, essential oils, music, time for reflection.

There is no music in my bathroom, I told him.

To break the ensuing period of uncomfortable silence, I spoke up.  I said Baths are boring.  Which, granted, was probably rather inconsiderate.  That’s when he brought up the essential oils, candlelight, reflection etc.

You have to sit there.  I said.  Doing nothing.  

People who take baths seem to think that to truly enjoy bathing you have to sit in the water … like forever.  I am not tall, but my chest is always out of the water.  It gets cold.  I soak a cloth in the warm bath water, but it quickly gets cold too.

I could catch a chest cold.  Not to mention the other alternative: die of boredom.

You haven’t learned how to let go, he says.  How to be one with the water, breathe in the aroma of the oil, enjoy the sensual texture of the water against your skin.

It’s tap water, okay?  Tap water.

You want me to be at one with the water?  Take me to a warm ocean, where the air is fresh and salty, the water buoyant and in constant motion.  My body, floating, swaying with the sea, caught up in the ebb and flow, me at one with the sea responding to the universe. Now that rocks!  Moving in tune with the moon’s gravitational pull … that’s a sensual, soul-saturating sense of unity.

But a four-foot tub filled with tap water?  Come on!

You have to learn to relax, he says.  He means be STILL.  Unfortunately to actually be still is a physical impossibility for me.

I have a familial tremor, which means my body is in constant motion whether I am consciously moving it or not.  It also means my adrenalin is always, to some extent in fight or flight mode, under which circumstances, unless I’m sleeping or comatose, it is pretty much anxiety-producing to be still.

But okay.  I had a bath.  I believe I stayed in that tub for ten whole minutes.  Maybe eleven.

Because I know it’s important to him.  I just don’t know why it’s important to him that I have a bath.  I shower every day.  Sometimes twice a day. I’m a bit of a clean freak.  But it’s important to him that I try, so I’ll fill the tub, light the candles and sit there as long as I can bear it.

Next time?  If he brings in a portable CD player and puts on some Celtic music, I’m going for twelve minutes.

*More about this study can be found at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5509825/

 

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Social Context: Finding & Attracting Genuine Friends with Common Interests.

When making new friendships it is important to be seen and to see others in context.

Consider how you wish to be seen.  Is it sitting alone in Starbucks?  Probably not.

A richer context for making connections is likely to exist in areas where you are fully engaged: when you are at the community centre doing volunteer work or at college taking classes or in your town, taking a tour of the art gallery, a historic part of town, or of the local flora and fauna.

People you meet while working in a community garden or volunteering at your local wildlife refuge or animal shelter are likely to be interesting, active and involved people who may make excellent friends.

The same could be true of those people you’d meet as a regular participant in a church group or continuing education classes or neighborhood events.

People need to know who you are and what is important to you and being alone in Starbucks may imply a story of vulnerability, isolation and aloofness.

I am guessing that is not what you want to convey; not what you are about!

Seeing others in context is equally important.  If you do not meet someone in the course of a group activity, you may be missing several important clues about them: how well do they relate to others?  Are they compassionate?  Funny? Kind?  Critical?  Irritating?

 Is their outlook mostly negative?  Or is it mainly positive?  Are they friendly and welcoming?  Are they impatient with others who may have difficulty understanding instructions or performing certain tasks?

These questions can more easily be answered within the context of a social gathering.  When we are always alone there are fewer clues about who we are.

Explore your interests and your options to find a social context—a club, committee or group of real live people that you can join.

By giving yourself a social context which honestly conveys what you value to others, you increase the reliability of their estimation of who you are and of interests you may have in common.

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Aspies: Flat Aspect–is this the Botox Experience?

When I read Carla Ciccone’s article in the September 7th edition of the Vancouver Sun, my first thought was welcome to an Aspie’s world, Carla!

When she had a Botox treatment to alleviate some of the wrinkles in her forehead, she lost the ability to express her feelings facially; something I immediately saw as the equivalent of an Aspie’s ‘flat aspect’.

Ciccone writes that she was proud of her ‘bitch’ face. The one with frown lines between dark brows and eyes that narrowed aggressively to a “hawk-like gaze”, a look which she used to express feelings ranging from confusion to rage.

She wanted people to know when she was angry.  And she conveyed that emotion through facial expression.  

But after her Botox treatment, “I was feeling a frown on the inside but my face reflected…serenity.” 

Could our Aspies’ ‘flat aspect’, or lack of facial mobility, be the equivalent of having frequent Botox treatments?

As an Aspie, I often have strong emotions that I do not express, either verbally or facially.  

I let the moment pass and try to sort out how I’m feeling and why.  Is it normal to have this feeling?  How can I express my emotional reaction without being offensive?  Sometimes it may take days for me to figure this out.  

In the meantime, those around me have no idea that I’m upset.  The only emotional barometer they have is linked to my speech patterns. 

I become more quiet than usual; contribute less to the conversation.  I have a less animated reaction to conversations–which is hard to detect as speaking in flat tones can often be my normal.

It occurs to me that if I follow Ciccone’s example and learn facial expressions to convey what I’m feeling, it will be easier for people to understand what’s going on with me in the moment, instead of hours or days later. 

This could be integral to successful socializing and a crucial component of being in a meaningful relationship.

Ciccone also writes:  Since nothing that I was going through in my inner world was visible externally, I began to feel a little bit dead inside.

How about it, Aspies?  Is this true for us, too?  Is ‘flat aspect’ or the lack of facial expression of emotion, a reason we sometimes find ourselves on the periphery of social life?  And do we need to change that?

However, having said that, there are obvious benefits to being an aspie with ‘flat aspect’.  As well as being inscrutable, look how much we can save on Botox treatments!!

 

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The One That Got Away: An Aspie’s Sales Nightmare

When a topic fascinates us, we Aspies can talk for hours.

Unfortunately, speaking in itself, does not constitute a conversation.

It is listening to someone else and then responding to their information that allows for an exchange of ideas.

This can be a hard lesson for us Aspies to learn.

I once had a book published on tax; on money that people receive when they are downsized and what happens to them tax-wise when they do.  I called it Jack and Stanley’s Buyout Adventure.

A human resource manager called.  He had read the book and wondered if I would come and talk to him about doing seminars for his employees.  He worked for a mining company and the mine was shutting down.

I drove all the way up to Logan Lake from the coast and met a very pleasant man.  One who told me he had read the book all the way through just to find out what happened to Jack and Stanley in the end.

That book, as well as being about income tax, was also my first published attempt at characterization and I was flattered to hear it so well received.

In response, I spoke for what seems in retrospect, an hour without once asking him what he and the employees needed.

I’ve been over it a thousand times in my mind.  What would a better approach have been?

Maybe something like this: Hello, my name is Margaret and I am thrilled you like my book, Now, what is it you have in mind?  How do you see me working with your employees during this closure?

That would have shown a real interest in his dilemma as a human resource person, and also illustrated the fact that I wasn’t just there to tout my book, but rather to be a real help to these men who were being laid off.

Instead, with his encouraging first remarks, I launched into a long history of the book and how it came to be and what it meant to me.  I doubt I let him get in a single word.

Needless to say, I did not get the opportunity to give any seminars. Instead, I got to drive all the way back home again, berating myself for a personality flaw that I knew only too well; one that I vowed to work hard to conquer.

In a way, that day was a gift.  One from which I have benefitted over and over.  It taught me a lesson:  It is never just about me.  A fruitful conversation always includes others, and that requires not so much talking, as truly listening.

I do hope this helps you.

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

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Advocating For Your Loved One: Eight Practical Suggestions.

Caregiver Me

How often have you noticed something that needs to be addressed in order for your loved one to have the best care? Probably almost as often you have felt mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.   

The key to dealing with these situations is to be prepared, to be as informed as possible. Armed with the relevant information you will feel empowered and confident. 

These eight practical suggestions will ensure quick access to the records you need to be effective in your dealings with medical professionals and bureaucrats when issues arise.

1.  At every appointment, take notes and always date them.   

  • Be sure to include a list of all participants. At meetings with medical practitioners ensure that you record key terminology and associated terms, and any recommendations that are made. This applies not only to specific medical concerns but also to diagnosis and treatment options.  I kept these notes in one…

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Aspies: Five Ways To Lower Anxiety

What is the difference between anxiety and fear?  I’ve heard it said that fear is a specific dread–for instance, you might be afraid of the man next door because you have heard he’s a pervert or because he always looks angry.

Anxiety on the other hand is the dread you experience but can’t explain.  You might be having fearful feelings but not be able to say why.  This is very challenging because not knowing where the fear comes from, means you have no way to face down the fear.

But relax.  There is help.  And I know we’ve talked about this before, but with more than fifty percent of 100,000 college students* rating anxiety as their biggest issue when visiting a campus clinic, and the Canadian Anxiety Disorder Association stating that anxiety is now the number one mental health problem in Canada, this information bears repeating.

So here is help:  Five ways to fight anxiety and come out a winner.

  1. At the end of each day, think of three things that went right.  Focus your thoughts on those incidents.  Did you hand a report in, and get a good mark?  Did someone compliment you?  Did you finally make that phone call you’ve been dreading to make? Did you balance your budget?  Smile at someone who smiled back at you?  How did you make these things happen?

    For more on the power of positive thinking from Michigan University see:  https://www.uofmhealth.org/node/651843

  2. Be grateful.  Think about something you have–your health, your living space, your cat,–and be thankful for it.  It can be something as simple as a beautiful day, or rain for your garden or the sun on your face.  Feeling and expressing gratitude leads to reduced anxiety.  For more information about this topic see:  https://www.bphope.com/bipolar-buzz/10-ways-to-use-the-power-of-gratitude-to-help-depression-anxiety/

  3. Be kind.  Doing a good deed doesn’t just lift the spirits of the recipient of your kindness; it somehow magically transforms something inside of us to a good emotion.  And here’s the great thing–it doesn’t matter if you save someone from getting hit by a train (very anxiety producing in itself!) or if you just say hello to the lonely senior living down the street–it’s all powerful anti-anxiety medicine.

    To learn more see: https://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer/media/research-news/all-english-research-news/doing-good-deeds-helps-socially-anxious-people-relax/679444

  4. Volunteer: think of some charity you’d like to lend a helping hand to, then go and sign up as a volunteer.  You’ll meet people with similar interests, see that you are better off than some people, and possibly make new friends.  At the very least you’ll have social contact and feel productive.

  5. Be compassionate to yourself.  Forgive yourself your blunders. Tell yourself you’ve learned something from that embarrassing situation and will do better next time.  try to see the humour in it, and understand that you are loveable, you are unique and you are worthy of happiness.

    *From a Penn State University study.  Read more at:  http://news.psu.edu/story/343727/2015/02/05/research/annual-report-offers-snapshot-us-college-students%E2%80%99-mental-health

 

Margaret Jean

What is the difference between anxiety and fear?  I’ve heard it said that fear is a specific dread–for instance, you might be afraid of the man next door because you have heard he’s a pervert or because he always looks angry.

Anxiety on the other hand is the dread you experience but can’t explain.  You might be having fearful feelings but not be able to say why.  This is very challenging because not knowing where the fear comes from, means you have no way to face down the fear.

But relax.  There is help.  And I know we’ve talked about this before, but with more than fifty percent of 100,000 college students* rating anxiety as their biggest issue when visiting a campus clinic, and the Canadian Anxiety Disorder Association stating that anxiety is now the number one mental health problem in Canada, this information bears repeating.

So here is help:  Five ways…

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