Language Translation

Friday, December 23, 2011

To Give My Heart....

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!  I am enjoying a new idea of Christmas this year.  I just taught my seminary class about Hanukkah, why it is such a special time and the miracles God wrought for the people.  Now, as I am pondering on my celebrations of Christmas, I am remembering other times. 

I have been recalling many Christmas's past and family traditions that we had - both the sacred and the silly.  There is one that is still my favorite.  We had a box that is an heirloom.  It's a small wooden box that I believe was made by my great-grandfather.  It is a lovely box, with decorative Christmas flowers carved and painted on it.  Inside the box, while it sits packaged away throughout the year, are two little dolls that are also tree ornaments.  One doll represents the spirit of Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child.  The other doll represents the coming of the new year and the renewal of life and hope it promises.

Each year, as soon as the tree is up, the dolls go on the tree and the box is placed under it as the first gift.  Up to Christmas Eve we all put little pieces of folded up paper into the box.  On this paper we write our gifts to the Savior.  We do acts of service and kindness to our family members, our friends, our neighbors, and perfect strangers.  As we do those things we consciously do it as a gift we give to Him, in celebration of His birthday.

On Christmas morning, the unsigned papers are read aloud and we each hear the joy that was brought into the lives of those around us by giving our gift to the Man who is the reason we are gathered that morning.

I love that tradition.  I've heard of others doing things that are similar.  I visited a church in New York last Sunday and they encouraged us, in the women's meeting, to do acts of service and e-mail what we did or write it down.  They had a box there, which contained the papers.  It made me smile and think of my own family tradition.

There is another tradition that started when I was a little older.  One of my married siblings was living at home with his family that year.  His wife had a family tradition that she has added to our family.  Each year, before we go in to the tree and open our presents, we have a birthday cake, with candles and we sing Happy Birthday to the Savior.  My mom always cried.  Every time.  I would snicker and try to keep singing while feeling ridiculous and silly for singing such a common song to someone so sacred and, admittedly, seemed more of a story than an actual person.  Now, I always cry too.  And somewhere inside of me I'm glad I don't have a disrespectful, unfeeling daughter to laugh at me.  I wish I could tell my mom how sorry I am and that I see how much my snickering must have hurt her.

We would sing songs, of course.  The month of December was full of singing and concerts and caroling.  We would bake goodies and take to all our dear friends and special neighbors.  We would do the 12 days of Christmas for a few families each year.  There were stockings made by my mother that hung along the wall of the living room.  There was the progressive dinner with two other families each year on Christmas Eve.  There was the acting out of the Nativity, skits, stories, more Christmas Carols.  Our table was filled with all kinds of goodies on Christmas Day.  Mom would make cookies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, many different kinds of candies.  The plates of goodies we received from friends and neighbors, bags of chips with different kinds of dip, and any other number of junk food could be found on that massive table (which was big enough to seat 13 people around it).  It was covered from border to border with food.

But the thing that I loved most about Christmas was my family.  I spent more time with them during December than any other time during the year.  I loved that.  The older kids would come home sometimes and that was special.  I used to sneak out of my room in the middle of the night to lay in the hall and listen to mom and the older kids as they talked on the couch in the living room.  I couldn't wait until I was old enough to stay up late and talk with them.  I never did get to have one of those late-night talks on the couch with my mom. 

So, as I ponder all of these things this year, I find myself with a new Christmas desire.  This is my first Christmas since my divorce.  I've spent many Christmas's in my truck on the road, but my husband was always with me.  And this year I've a sister who lives minutes from me.  I will be joining her family for Christmas Eve and our favorite traditions.

Yet.  Last night as I was readying for bed, I found a sweet feeling of comfort at the idea of celebrating my own Christmas, in my little room with my little wooden painted tree.

There is something sacred and solemn about Christmas for me this year and a part of me feels that there is too much in my heart to be anywhere but by myself in my room with my Savior.  I want some one-on-one time, if you will, with Him for His birthday.  Or, I want to give Him that one-on-one time.

I think part of it is this last weekend's experience as I celebrated my birthday.  I want to share a few things of my heart with you, in the hopes that you will understand the correlation between my birthday and my desires for my Christmas this year.

My sweet sister and brother-in-law gave me a wonderful gift for my birthday.  They sent me to New York.  Thank you Elaine for knowing I needed to be on a trip rather than in, what felt at the time, a stagnant room of emptiness.  It was the perfect gift.

I spent the weekend seeing the city and occasional visits with several different friends.  What I loved most about my time there were the one-on-one visits with my different friends.  Don't get me wrong, the city was magnificent and I adored the lights I found at every turn.  It was much more lovely than any movie or picture could display.

Sitting with my friend as she and I shared a short moment here and there was so lovely.  She took special care to make every meal the one I wanted most that day.  She gave of her heart to me and shared with me her desire to have me be a part of her most open, emotionally vulnerable time in life.  What a gift.  Thank you Tiff.

Dear Sarai called me, as I was wandering the streets of New York alone on the night of my birthday.  It was almost as if she were with me as we talked and wandered Columbus Circle, enjoying the lights, the music, and an AMAZING hot chocolate from Grom.  Thanks for knowing me well enough to know that I needed your phone call that night and not just a text wishing me a happy birthday.  Sarai, "thanks for knowin'".  ;)

The next day, walking with Michelle, through the city was so very lovely.  It was as though her heart spoke directly to mine and I found myself feeling like I belonged somewhere, not just because I wanted to belong there, but because I was wanted as well.  She and I share such a unison voice in so many areas, we found ourselves just echoing each other throughout the evening.  It was surreal to me to think that someone could agree with my heart on so many levels and so completely.  She must be an Aspie.  ;)  (Yes, that was a joke.  See?  I can learn.)  Thank you dear Michelle for the gift of your time and your heart and the lovely hand-written card.  They are all precious gifts to me.

My dear Sherri sent me 5 hand-written cards, all arriving on different days.  When I returned from New York, there was a package waiting for me.  It had some good things in it that were perfect because, not only were they things I really love, but they are also inside jokes.  I found myself laughing and crying at the same time as I hugged the hugging reindeer she sent with the potatoes and the chocolates.  :)  Sherri, I see finally, after nearly 15 years, you get me.  It was a wonderful moment of realization and I called her and shared it with her.  Thank you Sherri, for working so hard to understand me and for knowing the things that mean most to me. 

And of course, my dearest Cecily.  Who, everyday, helps me know more and more what real friendship is about.  She has blessed me with a lovely gift that has been most useful, one that she gave to me but longed for herself.  What a selfless friend.  But, the gift she's given me that I cherish is her friendship.  I am a much different, much better person for having known her.  Cecily, thank you for making time in your life and allowing me to be a part of it.  This is a priceless treasure.

My birthday gifts from my sister and my closest friends taught me so many things.  This is the first birthday I have celebrated in many, many years.  And it is the first time in my life that I spent my birthday doing exactly as I wished, for the whole day.

I find myself comparing my birthday celebration this year with the way I celebrate my dearest friend's birthday each year.  His birthday had never been much of a celebration in my heart...at least not towards Him.  Does that make sense?  I have always adored Christmastime and the love of the season.  But I've never felt anything special about it being the day we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  Mostly because, until this last week, my own birthday meant very little to me.  It was not something that was ever special to me before.  It was always a throw-together gift from my mom who forgot, in the rush of last minute Christmas preparations, that is was my birthday.  So I guess I learned through the years that my birthday wasn't really that important or special.  Which then translated into I wasn't special and birthdays, in general, were not special.  But this year, with my birthday meaning so much to me for the first time in my life, I find my heart yearning to make His birthday as special for Him as mine was for me.

I find I want to share with Him my heart.  I want to sit with Him and listen to His heart.  I want to give Him my time and share it with just Him.  I want Him to see that I now know how it feels to be special to people and to have people be special to me.  I want Him to know that He has made it all possible, that He has taught me and changed me and healed me and given me light.  I want to give to Him the miraculous days and nights of light, burning without enough oil - yet still burning and giving light.  I want Him to feel the adoration and love I have for all that He is.  I want Him to feel as special to me as Elaine, Sherri, Tiff, Sarai, Michelle, and Cecily made me feel to them this last week as each of them gave of themselves to me.

I want to give me.  Forever.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Regressing? There Is Always A Reason.

Today I spoke with a heartbroken mother.  Her son who, a few months ago, seemed to be progressing nicely suddenly began to regress.  Through her tears she told me she didn't know what to do, or how to help him.  Times like this make my heart ache more than most, I think.  I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to be the parent of a child who not only stops improving, but begins to regress and fall back into that unknown world.

This was not the first conversation I've had like this.  I have had countless e-mails, phone conversations, and in-person encounters with mothers who have expressed this same gut-wrenching dilemma.  What do you do when he stops progressing and nothing you or the doctors or the therapists can do will get him moving forward again?  How do you keep hoping for improvement when all the professionals around you shrug their shoulders with a confused look on their faces?

There are many reasons a child on the spectrum may suddenly begin to backslide.  It could be his physical health.  It could be an emotional upset or trauma of some sort.  It could be diet related.  It could be environmentally related.  It could be.........

So what do you do?  Why was he progressing and then one day you suddenly wake up and he has stopped completely?  It just seems too extreme to be something that no one can find an answer to, right?  How could he be talking one day, and then wake in the morning without the ability to say a single word?  Or forgetting words he has used for 2 or 3 years?

There is not any one set answer for any child.  Sometimes it may be an illness he has been exposed to.  Other times it may be an emotional upset someone close to him is going through and it is too overwhelming for him.  With each child, the reason he begins to regress is as singular as are his fingerprints.  I can't really tell you exactly what it is without a one-on-one session with him.  But what I can tell you is this.  Pay close attention to what happened yesterday that made today different.  Or it may have happened a week ago and the meaning and affect of it is just now sinking in to his consciousness.

I have found that when a child is regressive, there is always a reason....which means there is always a solution.  We just have to look harder (and for a NeuroTypical person, in the unusual places) to find it.  I suppose this doesn't give you much to go on.  I wish I could give more, but each case truly is so very singular.  If it is diet related, that is fairly easy - put him on a GFCF diet.  It is harder to have a child on that diet.  It means more work for you and, if he's never been on it before and is a little older, it means possible tantrums when he doesn't get his regular meal that he loves so much.  But there again, you have to weigh out the cost vs. the benefit.  If he is healthier and happier more regularly, wouldn't it be worth two weeks of tantrums and meltdowns?  Here's the secret.  He's going to have the tantrums and meltdowns anyhow because his body isn't functioning in a way that he feels comfortable.

So the real question is, do you want tantrums and meltdowns with no end in sight, or with a light at the end of the tunnel?  If his body is receiving proper rest, nutrition, activity, and emotional support, then you will find him a much changed child.  His tantrums will be fewer and far between and meltdowns in the home will all but disappear.  As long as his needs (as listed above) are met, the only time you will see tantrums and/or meltdowns pop up at home is if someone else is having an emotional explosion (inward or outward).

I guess what I'm trying to say about the backsliding is that it is probably due to one of his needs not only not being met, but being seriously neglected.  He isn't sleeping well for extended periods of time.  He isn't getting vitamins and nutrients that his body so desperately needs.  He isn't being given enough one-on-one time and the attention he craves from those who care for him.  He isn't getting good, healthy amounts of outdoor exercise with fresh air.  Fix these problems and once they are all as they ought to be, if he still is not progressing, then you know it is an emotional issue caused by something he is picking up from someone else.

Then the task will be to filter out who it is.  Is it someone in the home?  Is it one of the children he interacts with at his social skills therapy?  Is it one of his regular therapists or doctors?  Is it his shadow at school?  Is it a new neighbor you are interacting frequently with?  Etc., etc., etc.  Once again, yes, this is a lot of work for you.  That is why it is nice to have someone who knows what they are doing and has done this before to walk you through it and help you learn the skills yourself.  It will take some time, but then you will be able to adjust things for him, no matter how often his environment and growth demand adjustments.

Once again I feel like I'm not giving you a lot to go on, but without interaction with each individual, I cannot accurately state one positions for certain....well.  Except this one.  There is always hope.  Don't give up.

This is yet another Mindy Gledhill song.  There is something about her music that just speaks to me and to special needs people.  This song is called "Hourglass" and it is very touching for those little ones who are so tender and precious to you.  I found this video on YouTube and loved it, so I posted this version rather than just one with the lyrics.  :)




Monday, November 7, 2011

If You Don't Believe In Him, Who Will?

I received a message from one of my favorite cousins the other day.  She and I were penpals growing up and, although our interaction is almost entirely on FaceBook, she remains very dear to my heart.  Anyhow.  She told me about an experience the other day.

A child has Autism.  This child was playing with her child.  There was a verbal exchange.  Her child left the room.  The child on the spectrum just stood in place - not knowing what to do or how to let go of what she was feeling.  My dear cousin wrote,

"I told her that she was okay (no blows had been exchanged.. just territorial discussions!) and she bursts out saying... 'You don't know. I'm AUTISTIC! And I feel like everyone bullies me. My parents, my teachers, EVERYONE!My initial reaction in my head was, hey, autism is not your whole existence, just a part of who you are, and your behavior should still be within social norms. So I repeated that she was okay and started to walk away. Then I thought of you and how you talked about not reading situations correctly and feeding off of emotions.

So I walked back and put my arm around her and proceeded to explain that no one was bullying her, that everyone gets stress in their lives and we all have to learn how to live with it. We had an interesting discussion. One of my favorite things she said to me was, 'You have stress too?'  I replied 'yes'.  She then said, 'Because you are a mom?' and I replied 'YES!'  She calmed down and went on to go play somewhere else.

So I don't know if I did all the right things. But I tried to convey calm peaceful feelings through it all."

I told my cousin that I could just kiss her for this!  It was so wonderful to read.  I wanted to share this for a couple of reasons.  First, I wish every child on the spectrum had someone like my cousin in their lives.  Too often we use the diagnosis as a crutch to excuse behavior.  It is meant, from my perspective, as a great guide for a starting place.  Yes, I may have to work harder than most people to be able to adjust to social norms.  But is that any harder than the person who is born a psychopath and we expect him to "adjust to social norms" or we lock him up?  I know that is going to offend some of you parents and loving ones, but please hear it from my perspective.  

Telling me that I am excused for my bad behavior because of my disability is just enabling me.  I'm not saying you should be hard on your loved one.  I'm saying you should expect more of them.  Does that make sense?  I'm not telling you to beat the child if they step out of line.  But I know, from my own childhood, that I am capable of adjusting to social norms.  I do not always understand the "why".  I do not always get the rules right.  A lot of the rules make no sense to me, at all.  But they are still the laws of our society.  Verbal abuse is verbal abuse, even when the person giving it is on the spectrum.  It still leaves a mark.  No matter what.  I shouldn't be allowed to bully parents, teachers, peers, etc. just because I am on the spectrum.  That, in my mind, is wrong.  So.  There you have it.  I know.  It sounds harsh and cold, but if I could convey my heart on this....

I see all around me, children who are on the spectrum.  They have been given a free pass for their behavior.  I feel like I am watching the parent whose child was born without an arm.  Instead of expecting that child, from birth, to learn how to do things without an arm, they coddle and protect and try to make life "easier" for this child.  What they don't understand is that they are just crippling their child further.  

I have some very dear friends whose daughter was born with most of her arm missing, she only has a couple of inches below her elbow joint, and no hand.  Her parents, being wise, knew that one day their daughter would have to learn to make it in life without their help.  So their hearts ached for her as they watched her learn to function with only one full arm and hand.  But I have spoken to this girl many times and asked her what it was like.  Her response is always the same (she is now 13).  She said that she doesn't know any different.  And that she is glad her parents let her figure things out as a child because she can do pretty much anything a person with two hands can do and it isn't any harder for her.  She adapted to her body.

I did the same, because my parents expected it of me.  Yes, it required ingenuity on my part.  Of course it was sometimes frustrating and aggravating.  Definitely there were days that I just didn't understand and had a meltdown.  But I kept going because mom and dad expected me to keep going.  Your children are giving you what you expect of them.  Whether your child is verbal or non-verbal, there are basic levels of conduct that can and ought to be expected of them.  

I'm not saying that you should expect your non-verbal child to politely say "hello" to everyone...that would just be plain asinine.  What I am saying is that if your child is having temper tantrums, you can expect them to change that behavior.  If he is throwing a fit, give him a consequence and when he has calmed down, teach him the proper way to express his frustration or anger.  Whether your child is on the spectrum or NT, this kind of teaching is the same.  

He can be taught to have a meltdown in a way that is not abusive to anyone.  He can be taught to express his frustration in ways that do not harm those around him.  If you expect him to listen and learn, then he will.  Yes, it may be frustrating to you that you have to repeat yourself over and over.  But that is better than learning that your son is being charged with assault when he is 20 and interacting with people in the real world.  Isn't it?

If you do not teach him appropriate behavior, who will?  If he goes to therapy and then comes home and the things he learns in therapy or in school are not reinforced - it is all for naught.  I'm sorry.  I feel like I'm preaching here, but this is just super, super important!  I cannot tell you the number of homes I have been in and taught this one principle and seen "miraculous" results.  If you hold your child accountable for the things that you would hold your NT child accountable for, you will find much different behavior patterns developing.  Oh.  Let me clarify one thing.  Hold him accountable at his neurological age, not his physical age.  

So, if he is neurologically 2 years old (even though he may be 16), expect him to act like a developing two year old.  Meaning, when a 2 year old has a temper tantrum, you correct them.  You teach them the words they are looking for to express themselves.  You help them with the skill they are grappling with that has caused the frustrated outburst.  You don't just let them scream and scream and terrorize the household.  

Expect your child to be capable of anything that someone their neurological age is capable of.  If you will do that one thing, you will see so much improvement.  I have watched it happen over and over again.  The families I've worked with who treat their child like a child who is NT at that neurological age have all had phenomenal results.  You have to think of him as that age, no matter what his body says his age is.  He is developing, at a much slower rate, but he is developing - so treat him like he's developing!!!  Meet him where he is not where he should be and he will blossom as you've never seen before.  But that also means disciplining him where he is and in the same way that is appropriate for a child his neurological age.  


Okay.  I'll be done now.  It's just really, really, super important for your child's progression that you understand this concept.  It is the difference that helped me move from moderate-low functioning to very, very high functioning.  If you don't believe in him, who will?  Your expectations of him need to be realistic, but also need to encourage growth, rather than consigning him to be where he is for the rest of his life.  There is nothing quite so disheartening for one trying to progress than the feeling that no one thinks he can progress.  Believe in him, and then treat him like you believe in him...even if that means disciplining behavior that is inappropriate for his neurological age.  You can do it.  And one day, he will thank you.  



Sunday, October 30, 2011

DON'T TOUCH ME!!!!!

I used to hate, and I mean HATE hugs.  I wasn't sure what it was, but something about people touching me really made me frustrated.  There was a "DO NOT TOUCH!" sign on my forehead, and if you did touch, you may have gotten slapped or at least I would swing at you.  As a very young child I don't think that was my issue.  But as I got older it definitely became an issue.  It wasn't until I spent time trying to understand it that I was able to overcome that problem.

So now, I will attempt to convey what I know...although this is one thing I've never tried to explain to anyone before, so it may be a pretty rough post.  Hold on with me and we'll get through it, hopefully with the right words so that what I mean is understood.  Here goes.

Do you remember how we talked in the very first post (It's Not What You Think It Is) about how I feel everything around me?  And then later I clarified in another post that I don't feel the surface stuff, only the deep down things that are really pressing on a person emotionally at that moment.

I'm doing this backward.  Sorry.  Start over.

Touching was very abhorrent to me.  I didn't know why.  I just didn't like to be touched.  I didn't want hugs, I didn't want to shake a person's hand, I didn't want a back rub, I didn't want any form of human touch.  Period.  It always bothered me.

One day I heard someone reference C.S. Lewis' book about the Four Loves that made me start thinking.  I was probably about 14 or so.  Then, the summer before my senior year I was introduced to a book called the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  Adding the two truths together, I learned that my secondary love language, even though I couldn't stand the thought of it, really was physical touch.  That was hard for me to swallow.  I decided though, that I was tired of never feeling truly loved and if I needed to accept my love language to feel loved, then I'd better just get on it already.

So when I left home for college I decided that I would just be a huggy person, whether I really was or not.  It was awkward and uncomfortable at first.  I bothered me, a lot.  After about 6 months or so, I had grown to stomach my way past the initial reactions.  I still didn't enjoy hugging, but I knew that it made me feel better even if it still was not something I enjoyed.

Fast forward a couple more years.  I'm married...yeah.  A whole new set of physical challenges there.  But anyhow.  I started to learn more and more about myself.  I had not been diagnosed with Asperger's yet, and I'm glad of that.  I don't think I would have come to understand it the way I do if I had been diagnosed...I probably would have said many of the things I hear around me.  It's part of me and I cannot ever climb out of the box, I'm stuck in it.  My brain just works differently, etc., etc.  But because I had no diagnosis, I just assumed I was supposed to be like everyone else but just wasn't.  It made me search and ask more questions and want to find the answers.

Anyhow.  So I discovered, consciously, the gift I had of being able to feel what those around me are feeling.  It was an accidental discovery that happened one day while I was talking with a friend.  She was really struggling with something and wanted to talk about it.  I found that everything she was about to say went through my mind just before she said it.  At first that really disturbed me.  As time went on I discovered that I was "hearing" her feelings and that she and I had such similar ways of expressing ourselves, that the words I used to express an emotion were usually the same words she would use.

Through this experience I discovered that I wasn't hearing her thoughts (something that almost rocked my spiritual foundation because of the beliefs I had), but that I was feeling her emotions.  Then I began to wonder if it was just with this person or if it was with everyone.  I paid attention.  I tried to sort out how I felt, but it seemed an impossible task.  I didn't learn how to sort myself out until years later.  So I spent many years feeling things from people and thinking it was the way I felt.

Here we come to the point.  When I touch people, it "turns up the volume" on their emotions.  So if a person is hugging me, it's almost like I can't hear anything but them...sometimes I can't even hear myself, depending on how emotionally tangled up they are.  If I had a sense of myself and who I was, I don't think the physical would have bothered me.

But I had no clue who I was or what in the world was going on inside of me.  So my gut reaction was to pull away when someone touched me, it was a feeling.....ummmmm........it was like they were trying to subdue me.  I know that was never the intent, but it felt as though I could not be my own person.  A feeling like....I'll figure out how to describe it in a moment.  We'll come back to this.

Anyhow.  This feeling, whatever it was, made me want to run away from physical touch - the one thing that also made me feel loved and connected.  It was a hard thing to overcome.  AH!  That's how to explain the feeling.  Imagine this:  You are sitting outside on a lovely fall day, enjoying the slight breeze that makes an occasional leaf float to the ground.  The colors are gorgeous!  The trees are aflame and the air has that almost-crisp smell to it.  It's the perfect temperature, cool enough for a nice, light snuggly sweater, but the sun is shining down on you with a gorgeous blue sky as a backdrop to the glowing colors of the trees.

Suddenly someone comes up to you, yanks you up from where you are serenely sitting, and drags you inside of a dark, gray-walled closet.  They shut the door and then proceed to yell at you.  They aren't angry at you, per se, but their anger and hurt and frustration are all pouring out at top volume and you can't get away from them because they are blocking the door.  You're trapped while they just yell and yell and yell.  After what seems an eternity, they open the door.  They feel lighter and go on about their day refreshed from the release.  While I stand there in the closet, the door is now open, but I'm in such shock that I can't move.  I'm not sure what to do.  Am I supposed to do anything with all that they just yelled out to me?  Am I supposed to be hurt by all of that, because I am a little.  Should I pretend like nothing happened and see if I can regain my composure and serenity outside?  What?!?!!?!?  What do I do with that?!  Frozen panic.

So, that is kind of how it used to feel when a person would touch me.  I was not my own person because at any given moment anyone who wanted could just grab me and force me into this closet.  So I hated physical contact, even though my spirit was screaming out my need for it. 

Now.  How did I get from there to here?  Here, meaning the kind of person who not only loves physical contact, but seeks it out.  The kind of person who, if you're not careful, you may find giving you a kiss on the cheek as readily as a handshake.  How in the world did I move from the dread-fear of physical interaction to the enjoying-captivation of it?  I'm not sure how to put the process down on paper....but here we go anyhow.  :)

As I stated earlier, I forced myself to do it at first, even though it was repugnant to me.  I found my own voice.  That was a long process, but only because I wasn't consciously seeking it.  Had I known the path that would give me, I would have consciously sought it out years ago.  But, for better or worse, I took the long road.  Point, Tara, point.  Sorry.

I gradually came to enjoy my love language through several steps.  I had to hear my own voice.  I had to accept myself.  I had to be comfortable with me.  I had to give myself permission to be.  I had to believe that I was worthy of love.  Because when it all boiled down to the bottom there were two obstacles: the first, meaning easiest to see, was that I was overcome with the other person's emotions.  The second - and much, much harder to see and accept - was that I felt like I was worthless.  (I discussed this a little in my post Empowering Families to Heal Themselves.)  That is a hard thing to accept...the idea that to my core I am worthless to me.  Rough day, that.

Those two challenges are what kept me from enjoying my love language.  The first because it was so loud that I couldn't feel anything but that person's frustration, hurt, anger, etc.  The second because I believed I didn't deserve to feel loved.  I didn't deserve to hear anything but the pain and hurt and anger from others.  I didn't deserve the love they were trying to send with that physical interaction.

Okay.  Now, how did I get from all of the epiphanies to the shift?  Good question.  How did I?  I'm not certain.  Let me think back for a moment....

I guess the shift occurred slowly.  It started as me accepting that others felt horrible and that I could give love to them in that moment instead of just feeling boxed in and like I'm being attacked.  So I began to consciously think about how much I loved that person, or if I didn't know them that well, then I would think about how much God loved that person.  After a while I let God's love intermingle with my love and sent them both out.  During this God was healing my heart as well...you cannot give His love without feeling it first, and it is always healing to anyone who feels it.

Next, I found that I was giving love, but I wasn't receiving the love others were trying to give.  I was still only hearing the heavy parts.  That shift has been a fairly recent one for me - I'd say within the last 2 years.  There are times I cannot hear anything but pain until a person has contact with me, and then I hear the other things too.  After a time I learned to balance.  Although there are still times I'm not able to balance.  Especially if I am with someone I care deeply about.  Then all bets are off.  For now.  That, too, is changing though.  Thank Heaven for a patient friend who allows me to learn and doesn't hold it against me.  She's a miracle worker in my life, without even knowing it.  But I think telling you her name would make her uncomfortable.  So I won't.

Anyhow.  So here we are, and not very well summed up.  I feel like the whole thing should be erased and re-written with some structure.  But, I will not.  I think maybe the inner workings of me are a little more evident in this post and that, too, may be helpful for those of you with a loved one on the spectrum.

As I leave you, I want to leave a thought through music.  Another Mindy Gledhill song.  I just love her.  Thank you Stephen and Tammy for introducing me to her...such a gift!  :)  The words to this song are exactly how I feel about the kids I work with, and I imagine it is how you feel about the loved one you have on the spectrum as well.  But more than that, it's how I feel about every person I meet - on the spectrum or not.  "It's all about your heart."  The pictures are of some of my closest friends and some of the children I have worked with.  Enjoy! 






Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You're SO cute....but I just don't understand what you're saying!

There have been many times in my life, and still are occasionally, when I have not been able to understand the words coming out of the mouth of the person in front of me.  Conversely, they have not been able to understand me.  Once again, the communication barrier has been a source of never-ending frustration for myself and those around me.

I was talking with a father today who asked me if there was a moment of elucidation - a moment where language suddenly made sense to me.  I told him there was not.  It was, and continues to be, a bunch of gradual steps as I learn this language.  But after reflection, I realize that was not quite accurate.  There was a moment in my life that I did have a shift in my brain and suddenly language made sense to me.  It happened when I was about 8 or so...I was in 3rd grade, whatever age that was.

My 3rd grade teacher was the first one who was able to get me interested in reading - mostly because we would get a free single-serve pizza at PizzaHut if we read the most books.  Pizza was my favorite food at that phase in my life (I still really, really like it - but there are too many good foods to call pizza my favorite now.  However, I would never want to imagine a world without a good pizza, that would just be sad.  Anyhow.).  I was definitely motivated to get that pizza.  I read and read and read.  I have no idea how many books I read, but I won the pizza, I remember that.

The point is that it was shortly around that time that my shift took place.  My theory is that I experienced something very much like what a NT person experiences when learning a second language.  Those who really become fluent in a language all have described a moment when they suddenly found themselves speaking the language.  They began to think and dream in that language.  That is when it really became something more than just words they were speaking and hoping they were getting the intent of the words correct.

Listening to people speak, I could understand a word here and there, but the majority of the language was "foreign" to me.  People would speak so quickly and my brain just couldn't process their words that fast.  But reading was a different matter.  I could read at my own speed and stay on one sentence until I understood it's meaning fully.  This was the turning point for me.

So what if your child does not read?  Speak slowly.  Let each word be heard individually and pause to allow the meaning to hit before you move on to the next thought or sentence.  Enunciate every consonant so that his brain can spell out the word in his head.  This will help dramatically.  There also seems to be some sort of auditory issue, although I have aced every hearing test I've ever taken.  Again I have a theory about it, but it is just my theory.

It seems that my sensitivities to the non-verbal world are so loud that I sometimes feel like a person is speaking even when they aren't.  Or I am literally hearing their heart while different words are coming out of their mouth.  I have, whether by intent or by some other design, learned to shut off the auditory and pick up on the heart.  So when someone is speaking to me, it is sometimes hard for me to shut off listening with the heart enough to be able to hear the auditory.  Does that make sense?  So sometimes the emotions coming out of a person are so strong that I cannot hear their words.  I'm learning to be better at hearing words and not just emotions.

Back to the comprehension of the words.  It was shortly after I read all of those books that things began to "click" for me.  I can't say I understood everyone and everything, but I moved from being able to put together a few words that had meaning to comprehension of the meaning of those words.  This shift is what really allowed my language skills to grow.

After that shift, the verbal visualizations were the most helpful thing to increase my comprehension of the language.  When I heard a word that I did not understand, I had no idea how to figure out what it meant.  But describing an emotional connection to a word helps me a lot.  So if you want me to understand what beautiful means, paint me a verbal picture.  I would watch for the next time a look of wonder and joy comes across your child's face as he is watching a sunset, or watching a butterfly, or looking at the way his foot leaves a print in the freshly fallen snow.  Then, when we are in a situation that calls for that emotion, I would recall to him the feeling he had in that moment that the sky went ablaze with color.  Suddenly the word "beautiful" has an emotional experience attached to it.  Now I comprehend the meaning of the word because you used my language to describe it to me; namely, the language of the heart, of feelings.

I still have words I do not understand or misunderstand the meaning when people use them.  I still hear the heart far more than I hear the mouth.  But, for English being my second language, I think I do pretty well.  :)

So, I've kind of just been meandering through my thoughts here.  I hope the feeling of what I am trying to convey is clear.  Speak more slowly.  Read more often.  Seeing the words spelled out in front of me increases my comprehension by about 45%, maybe even a little more.  If he can read, write down things that are really important and that you want to be sure he will comprehend.  Then if he does not understand a word, encourage him to ask about it.  Don't be frustrated about his learning.  It may seem tedious, but he is building one massive vocabulary in a foreign language.  No matter what your language is, verbal communication is a foreign language for him.  It is as easy for him to learn to communicate verbally as it is for you to learn to communicate with just your heart and no words.

Middle ground?  You learn to open your heart as he is learning to use his tongue.  Then the gap is bridged that much more and the two of you will find conversations going back and forth between the mouth and the heart, not even noticing that you are slipping between the languages as effortlessly as you slip between breathing and blinking.


Monday, October 17, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Autism

I've seen this written about before, the idea that those of us on the spectrum experience rage and/or depression more often than NT people.  The reasoning of the medical professionals is that we feel completely isolated in a world full of people.  For once, I agree wholeheartedly with what the professionals have said is the cause.  However, I do not agree that the answer is medication for depression or anxiety.

The purpose of medication is for a chemical imbalance...your body simply does not produce that chemical anymore.  The kind of depression that isolation brings, however, is caused by an emotional imbalance.  While the chemicals can be artificially replaced, the medication adds to the problem in the long-run.  There is nothing wrong with the production of the chemicals, I am simply not having the experiences that cause my limbic system to react.

Now, when you take into account the ability to be so acutely aware of others deep feeling, my theory is that herein lies the problem.  I sense your deep concern for another person.  Or maybe the sense of satisfaction and pride you have in your child or sibling or parent.  Then, because you don't know me, your emotional attachment is minimal.  You may feel enjoyment of me, but I don't feel that coming from you, all I feel is the lack of depth when we interact.  This makes me feel like you don't really like me at all.  So, while I am interacting with you and there are the beginning phases of a normal relationship that may grow into more, I don't feel like you like me - more like you are just putting up with me.

With this belief, I begin to be stupid.  I question the friendship.  I doubt your interest.  I think that you are merely one more person who is taking pity on poor, stupid Tara.  I say these things and more, which then cause you to pull away - I mean, who wants a needy friend that will continually question and doubt the validity of the friendship I am giving.  "Fine," you say, "I'll take my friendship where it is appreciated."  And off you go.  Doing as I knew you would.

Do you see the cycle as plainly as I do?  What if I had understood what a basic friendship looked like?  What if I had not expected those intense, deep feelings from the get-go?  What if you had understood that I was misreading you?

I believe, more than any other thing, understanding this one situation and what to do about it will help so many out there who are on the spectrum and are struggling with loneliness and/or depression.  We long for that connection, but don't know how to build a friendship the "normal" way, and sometimes lack the patience to wait for it.  What if I could be trained though?  What if someone could coach me through the phases of a normal friendship?

Now, herein lies the second hurdle that needs to be overcome.  If I am an adult with Autism, living by myself or with similarly challenged people, I have lived my life without feeling this connection.  I am desperate for it.  How do I develop the patience to cultivate that friendship long enough that it will become one of the relationships I long for?

You see, the problem with medication is that it does not teach me any of those skills.  It does numb me, which makes me less sensitive to those around me, which gives the appearance of helping me.  However, underneath the surface, while those drugs are "helping" other things are happening.  My body, which was already producing Seratonin on the levels that were normal for the kind of interactions I was having, begins to produce even less.  So the medication doses increase.  My body produces less, more meds, less natural secretion, more meds.....etc., etc., etc.

What do we do?  Because now we have created a true chemical imbalance on top of the emotional imbalance.  Understand how that happened?  Just in case.  Let's say my body is producing 5 parts of Seratonin.  I need 9 parts to feel at a decently happy level - not ecstatic - just enjoying life in general.  Then medication steps in, let's say they even miraculously get the dosage exactly right.  So let's say I get 4 parts chemical to put me to my 9 level.

Well, that's great!  For a while.  But then I am still not having the human interaction necessary for my body to produce those chemicals on it's own.  Based on my interaction stimulation, my body says I should still be at 5 parts, not 9.  So my body backs off.  I begin only producing 1 part so that, with the added 4 synthetic, I am still at my 5.  So I go back to my doctor.  "This pill isn't working anymore."  He may prescribe something new.  He may up my dosage.  But either way, the goal is to get me back to a 9.

Well, no matter what I do, until I have the external stimulation that justifies that level, my body will keep reacting and dropping the dosage.  Then I'm in a real pickle.  The longer I am on medication, the more conditioned my body becomes to this level of production.  So if I stop taking the medication, after a year or two of lowered production, it is going to take some time to get my levels stabilized again.  In the meantime, I am in a true chemical depression.  What to do now?

The balance could be found in short-term, and I really stress the words short-term, medication coupled with intensive socialization technique.  If I can learn the social skills necessary to build a friendship within a given period of time (not necessarily an I've-known-you-all-my-life-and-know-your-deepest-secrets-and-greatest-hopes kind of friendship - just one that gives a sufficient amount of human interaction to allow my body to normally increase production) I could potentially have a normal life in the emotional realm.  Granted, my gifts will not go away.  I will still be sensitive to those around me.  But I will feel included, part of, rather than an observer and a bystander.

So, let's say I go to the doctor.  He prescribes something to get me to the ideal rate.  I begin social therapy with someone (it could be a family member, a "friend", a therapist, anyone willing to help you see and understand the world around you from their perspective).  I begin to interpret the actions of others as signs of desired friendship, rather than pity taken on someone they look down on.  I begin to notice the signs without being queued.  My body begins to produce a little more of what I need.  Now my medication can be dialed down, to keep me at a normal level.

Then I begin to cultivate the friendships from those who have shown signs of interest.  My natural production increases, my chemical intake decreases, until I am producing normal levels on my own.  This is what the entire human race does on it's own, but we just need a little help interpreting the signals.

You see the flaw in my plan?  Well, I do.  I am not good at regulating myself.  If I find one person who is interested, I am more likely to stay their friend and not seek out other friendships.  But, as a couple of my friends have recently reminded me, no one person can be all for anyone.  That is truth.  And, while I was not seeking that, my actions made it that.

So we are back to the drawing board with one more key player.  Someone to help understand regulation.  If I can learn to switch projects, then I can learn to switch friends, right?  Building a friendship with one person seems overwhelming.  Building a friendship with multiple people feels impossible.  But what if I had someone or something to remind me that I have other people in my life who care about me?  What if I had some way of getting my brain to see the relationships around me?

To be honest, the biggest problem in changing things is that it causes an emotional disturbance.  If it ends up being a positive shift, then I am glad of it.  But it is an unknown factor and so I worry and stress and fear it.  I think that I have a good friend in front of me, the other friends aren't calling me, they aren't talking with me, they aren't messaging me....they must not want to be in my life.  This person is here.  This person wants to be in my life.  Well, okay then.  But I forget that those who aren't here at the moment don't necessarily want to be out of my life.  They just have life going on with them.  That's all.  After a couple of years of reminding myself of this, I do pretty well at remembering, except when I don't. ;)  Honestly, I usually remember except in my really desperate times, and then the following helps.

I have developed a system that works for me.  It may not work for everyone, but it is an idea that may spark other ideas.  I have only had 7 times in 4 years that this tip has not worked.  I have an envelope I keep with me in my purse.  In it are hand-written notes and letters to me from people who love me and have good friendships with me.  Hand-written because it is more personal and I can derive more emotion out of it than I do something that is typed.  They are things these people feel towards me, memories we've shared together, or just random quotes from our lives that make us both laugh.

A few lines from some of them:

"Tara, you bring sunshine to my life!  Pure happiness!  I love your smile, it brings me joy!....everyday is a good day for sharing - especially when you have York mints! ;)  Thank you for being willing to be an instrument in the Lord's hands and help others heal."

"So you don't forget....Tara, my life is exciting with you in it....thank you for having the courage and trust in the Lord to help me break down my door....I love you forever!"

"I love your beautiful blue eyes and how intense they are at seeing through the surface...I love how we can talk about important or trivial matters...I love that you try to focus on what is most important in this life.  You put people in front of "things" and I think it's fabulous!  I love how you are able to find true joy even in the most difficult circumstances - I so love it!...I love how you make me laugh when you get so bossy!  I love that you choose so many good things to do with your time.  Some might get caught up in their grief of blessings not realized - but you haven't and I think it's amazing!  I love you so much and you are such a dear and precious friend!!"

"Dearest Tara, How are you?  You have been on my mind much and something within me desires to share...that which you already know but perhaps could serve as a reminder....Tara you are surrounded by the answers you seek and you have been surrounded by them each day of your existence...you know with your heart as well as your head and God has answered your prayers.  You know because you've examined a snowflake, felt sunlight kisses on your cheeks, dreamt of your backpack being taken, ran through sprinklers with no shoes, felt music burst from your heart, and seen a yummy summer squash rise from a mere seed...Please repent and stop being so stubborn (did I mention that I love you!) and I promise He will answer your prayers again and again and again.  He has not given up on you and neither will we so please don't give up on yourself."

"Dear Tara, it was a joy to speak with you on the phone tonight - thank you so much for calling!!  My reason for writing is...to thank you and also to tell you why it was especially pertinent that you call when you did.....(story, story, story)....my point in telling you this is that your call, right before hearing this news, prepared me for this tragedy.  I had been buoyed up by your confirming words and by the evidence of your goodness, and I knew that even if ****** had lost the perspective I had offered, you had just let it lead you to glory!  I was so grateful to know that one person out there - you - had found joy because of me.  Thank you for calling me and reminding me of goodness just before I heard about my lost friend.  You are still my great triumph...you are an incredible strength and tower of your own now, and obviously I have complete faith that you will follow this path for the rest of your life.  That assurance is a gift you have given to me and I thank you.  Some are won and some are lost, I guess.  I've lost *******, but your victory is worth so much more.  I love you!"

"Dear Tara,  I have been watching you lately and want you to know how much I appreciate you.  You always have a smile everyday and seem to always be in a good mood.  You have touched my life in a way no other person has, and I thank Heavenly Father each day for sending a friend so special to me.  You're someone I would like to become.  Thanks forever many times, for being that great influence on me."

"Dear Tara, I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated talking [recently].  The day you called, I was feeling frustrated with the seemingly stagnant state of [my marriage].  I was unsure, as explained, about what path I should be following....Your advice was a real light - or breath of fresh air to my consideration.  I've felt some sense of peace since that time.  I really want to thank you for following the prompting to call just then. :)"

Anyhow.  You get the idea.  I have about 20 of such notes that stay in my envelope, tucked into a readily available spot in my purse.  These notes tell me what they love about me, what they enjoy about me.  I read them when I am feeling down and lonely and they almost always help.  Then I don't feel quite so alone and I am able to face the fact that those who are physically in my life may need more work and time before they are ready for a true friendship with someone like me - which Heaven knows is not a simple thing to take on.

I find, through these things, I am able to keep a level of balance that, if not happy, is at least content.  I do still long for a best friend, that person I can talk to about everything and at anytime.  But I have recently been reminded that, according to "normal" definitions of that word (which I refer to above), I am only going to find that in my spouse - which is as it should be.  So, in the meantime I will face the "loneliness birds" which circle in my heart and lay their stone eggs*, with slingshot in one hand (my packet full of letters) and their own stone eggs in my other hand (my knowledge that loneliness is an experience that one day every person will face and maybe by weathering it well, I can help others do the same).  One day those loneliness birds will take flight for good, and I will be left with my heart full of loved ones who are as glad to be here as I am to have them.
*This is a reference to the book, "The Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Eyes That See

I have been in Utah for the last few days.  I came out for work as well as a wedding.  I got to see some of my family, old friends, and make a few new friends too.  It has been a wonderful experience - so many great things that I could not have even dreamed of happening, happened.

Anyhow.  If you'll remember, a few posts ago we talked about the steps to healing and how it is a three part process of being able to see, hear, and then understand.  So here is the part about being able to see.

My first night here, I sat and talked with one of the women who is one of the 7 people I mentioned in my "You Anchor Me, Ground Me, Keep Me" post.  She and I have been friends for nearly 12 years.  As we talked on Tuesday night, she asked for help with opening her heart.

There are so many ways we can open our hearts.  I sat and pondered for a moment and said a prayer.  I asked for help in knowing which method was best for her at this moment.  The answer came very clearly.  She did not own herself yet.  I will endeavor to explain this more as we progress through this post.

As I have addressed in previous posts, unless I am unified within myself, I cannot be where I need to be to really heal.  If I have several places in my life that I developed false core beliefs, then each of those places creates a "damning" point in my growth.  I am incapable of seeing clearly if my view is that of a five-month old, a two-year old, an eleven-year old, a twenty-year old......

It is like going through life cross-eyed.  Only much worse, because instead of two of everything, there are multiple.  Each one looks like it is the real thing, but only one actually is.  How do you determine which is the truth?  Do you reach out and try to touch each one every time?  You could, I suppose.  But then you will have to do that with every interaction because if I go cross-eyed one way and then the other, the position of the real thing moves.  Does that make sense?

So, if I have all kinds of core beliefs in my history that prevent me from being whole, they also prevent my motives from being pure.  I tend to do things in order to get what I need to heal whichever age is loudest.  Let me see if I can use an example to help.

Quite a long time ago I was trying to find at what age I actually quit growing.  As I felt it out, I kept going back to a very young age.  I just couldn't get it out of my mind.  As I circled around the age, it became very clear that I had my first dam blocking my growth when I was about 10 months old.  I thought, "Great.  So what do I do?  I can't fix it, and that is forever ago!"

The thought came to me to see if I could tell what "she" (my 10-month old self) needed.  (I will continue to refer to the different stages of myself as "her" or "she" and when I refer to myself as "I", I am speaking of myself as I am today - this is to make what I am trying to say easier to understand.)  I closed my eyes and relaxed.  I opened myself up to letting a visualization come.

As I sat there, just feeling, I saw a room.  It was a very dark room and I could hear a baby crying in the room somewhere.  It was a cry that tore at my heart.  I went over to her and picked her up and just held her and loved her.  I let her cry until she was comforted and done.  I was amazed to watch her instantly begin to grow before my eyes.

She stopped growing around the age of 3.  I didn't know what to do, but the thought came to me to ask her what she needed.  "Love."  So I put my arms around her and sang to her as we sat together on the floor.  Once again she began to grow.

The next age she stopped growing was about 7 or so.  Again the question, "What do you need?"  The reply was the same.  "Love.  I'm scared."  So I took her hand and we went for a walk in the sunshine and talked about what we saw and how it made her feel.  After a short time of walking, she looked at me and said "Thank you."  Then she began to grow again.

At the next juncture she seemed to be around 15.  I repeated my question, "What do you need?"  The answer, "I need to feel loved.  I feel so lonely.  No one cares about me.  No one cares what I think or how I feel."  So I asked her to tell me what she thought and how she felt.  I reassured her that I did care.  It took her a moment to believe me - to believe that I was interested and would listen and not condemn anything she felt or thought.  She did open up after a little while.  We talked.  She told me about her life.  She told me how hard it was.  She told me what she was learning.  We talked about what she liked and what she didn't like.  I asked her questions about why she felt the way she did.  I asked her to show me how the world looked through her eyes.  It was a most enlightening conversation.  It was a very long conversation as well.  When it was over, she gave me a big hug and began growing again.

Our next stop was at about age 22.  I asked, "What do you need?"  She said, "I don't know.  I just hurt so deeply.  But I don't know what I need to heal it."  I sat with her for a moment and tried to feel her out.  It was really hard until I reached out and took her hand.  Then I suddenly was overwhelmed with heaviness, darkness, and a great amount of pain.  I had no idea that was in there.  I also had no idea how to heal that.  It was a level of pain that was beyond my ability to give healing to.  I was stuck.  I was at a loss as to how to help her and I just sat there and ached with her.

After a few moments, the thought came to me that I needed the Lord in on this one.  Only His love could heal something this painful and this deep.  So I said a prayer and asked for Him to come and help me.  As I sat there next to her, the Savior walked into the room.  I asked Him if He would heal her.  He told me, "I want to.  But she does not want me to.  She does not trust me yet."  I was not sure what to do.  Then He said, "I'll give to you what you need to help her.  She trusts you and she'll let you help her."

Then He stood directly in front of me and asked me to stand up.  I did so.  He placed His right hand over my heart and took hold of my right hand and placed it over His heart.  Then He asked me to allow Him to cleanse me.  I opened to Him and watched in amazement.  It was like my entire body was filled with particles (that I later learned were energy) and they were all different levels of light.  There were a lot of really dark ones.  They flowed out of my right hand, into His heart.  As they passed through His heart, they were "healed" or "cleansed" and became brilliant.  Then He sent them through His right hand and into my heart.

As the brilliant ones entered my heart, they pushed the darkest ones out.  (We could talk forever, literally, about the light this sheds on the scriptures.  The scriptures about light, about God not being able to abide the least degree of sin, about Christ as a healer and a Savior, and myriad of other things.)  This continued to happen until every last particle had been cycled out of me, through Him, and back again.

When this was finished I sat and talked with myself again.  I listened as she expressed her fears and her pain.  I waited until she had said all she needed to say, empathizing with her and truly listening.  When she was finished I asked her if she wanted to let go of those things.  She said she didn't know if she was ready to yet.  She was afraid of letting go of them.  It was the fear of the unknown.  The fear of not carrying any more of that weight and burden; fear of letting go of what had defined her life for so many years, suddenly vanishing.  Who was she then?  What did it mean?  We talked for some time.  Finally she said she was willing to try, even though she was very afraid.

So I asked her to face me.  I asked the Savior to place His hands on my head and then I asked her to put her right hand on my heart and I put my right hand on her heart.  I did with her what the Savior had done with me, but I had His hands on my head, pouring in brilliant light as I helped her let go of things.  It took quite a while for her to be willing to let go of the darkest ones.  She happily sent out the lighter ones first.  But after a little while she tentatively let go of the darker ones.  As each of them passed through my heart, I could feel each memory and each experience - every piece had a bundle of memories and emotions that came with it and as it passed through me I experienced each one anew.  That was a little difficult, to relive those experiences.  But I only had to relive them, she didn't.  (So had she been willing to let the Savior help her, the entirety of reliving would have been His alone.  Sometime maybe we'll go into how this knowledge affected my view and understanding of the Atonement and the Garden of Gethsemane.  Maybe.)

Anyhow.  Once she let go of everything and was as brilliant and glowing as I was, she began to progress again.  This time she didn't stop.  As she grew more and more, we just merged.  Then I was just me, standing beside the Savior as myself, complete and whole.

From this point on I was able to be true to myself, and my motives shifted.  They became the true motives of my current self.  I still do some of the things I've always done.  I still use the same words.  I still offer the same help and advice, but the reason behind it changed.  The motives were no longer selfish in any way.  They became what they ought to have always been.  Before I was not even truly aware of my motives, I think.  I did things, thinking that I was doing them with a pure heart.  I never allowed myself to question though.  That is a big warning sign.  If I run away from questioning something, it's because there is something under the surface that I am trying to hide from myself.

My point is that at the end of this experience, I was no longer "cross-eyed".  There was only one view.  I could see, much more clearly, which views were truth and which were erroneous.  It was then easy to hear my own voice and so to see where to go to work and change things.  Until I was whole, I was so confused by the many voices within me that I could not have found real truth if I looked for a hundred years.  Well, maybe if I made a conscious effort for that long, but it would have been arduous and horrific.  I probably would have stopped long before I was able to be truly successful.

In the Tao we read, "He who knows men is clever.  He who knows himself is enlightened.  He who conquers men has power.  He who conquers himself is powerful." (Tao te Ching, chapter 33, in part)

I have found this to be true.  I could not step into who I am and what I am meant to do until I could first step in to myself.  This is what I helped my friend do on Tuesday night.  I walked her through the beginning of the process until she got the hang of it, and then just sat next to her, offering silent support and love as she continued through her process.  I don't think she got all the way through, but it was far enough for her.  She felt much lighter.  When she was done she couldn't quite smiling and looked at me and just began to giggle.  She said she felt like such a weight had been lifted off of herself.  It was beautiful to witness.

The truth of all things is abundantly clear when we have singleness of heart.  In order to have singleness of heart, I have to agree with myself - at every age.  As Isaiah told us, the process to healing begins with seeing with our eyes. (Isaiah 6:10)  If we will see with our eyes (which is impossible to do if we are "cross-eyed"), it will allow us to distinguish truth from error in what we see.  Then we can begin to truly hear.  Once we hear our hearts will be capable of understanding.  Then we will "convert and be healed."


*This is a blog about my own life and my own experience.  If you choose to follow anything written here, you do so without any claim on me for problems or complications that may arise.  I am not a doctor.  I have no degree.  I am not a professional.  This is my perspective and experience, that's all.  If you don't think you should do something on here, then don't.*


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Do I Have a Purpose?

Moses went through Egypt, a wilderness of trials, years of living with a shepherd's family after his entire life of pomp and circumstance in court....

If you'll let go of your plans and allow God to show you His, without any requirement or personal agenda that needs to be in there, but really just submit to Him fully....I have a feeling He's trying to tell you, but you're looking so hard you're missing the still, small voice through which He is speaking.

Cecily, the other day, told me "When we're so busy attacking a problem, we often miss the solution." That, my friend, is truth. :)  IF you want to know your mission, your purpose on this earth, the first step is to know who you are in relationship to God...and I mean know it in your heart, not just in your head.  After I know that, I have to be willing to follow whatever He asks of me, no matter how crazy it may sound.  Then, while I'm doing those things, He gives me glimpses of what my purpose is.

I have the habit of taking that glimpse and running with it, assuming it is the full picture.  Then I get frustrated when it isn't the real thing at all.  But through the years I've learned a couple of things from that.

1) I need to just take the step I am given, assume nothing, and go as far as the step ACTUALLY says to go - no further.  God defines where I am headed and what it all means.  I go back to Him regularly to make certain I am still on that path.

2) All of the steps added together equal my purpose.  For example: I thought I would be a singer.  That was my gift, my talent.  I thought I would spend my life singing and sharing my love of God through music.  Then I developed vocal nodes.  So I considered my life.  I thought I would teach English and write.  I love to write, I love communication and my favorite school teacher was Ms. Rutter, who was my Senior English teacher.  She taught me so much more than English and I thought, "Well, if I can't sing, then I want to teach.  I want to be like Ms. Rutter."  So I started to run down that path.  But it wasn't right either - however, I needed the things I learned from pursuing that path and the classes I took.  Then there were pursuits of Psychology, Law, Physics, Religion.  None of them were my path either.  BUT!  Add them all together, all of the things I've learned from each path, all of the truths I gathered from those who taught me and who were willing to mentor me....AND WOW!  Tara has a purpose in life!

Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be reaching out to parents of children who are on the spectrum.  Never did I dream that by coming to know what I saw as my greatest weakness was going to be the very thing that God would use for me to fill the measure of my creation!  How cool is that?

In the Book of Mormon God said, "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)

In the Holy Bible Moses said to God, "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue."

God's answer was, "Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say." (Exodus 4:10-12)

Once again God promising that, no matter the weakness, He would strengthen.  Letting us know that if we are patient and come to Him in humility, He will show us His designs and then He will tell us what our part is in that design.

In the Tao te Ching, we read:

The ancient adepts of the Tao were subtle and flexible, profound and comprehensive.  
Their minds were too deep to be fathomed. 
Because they are unfathomable, One can only describe them vaguely by their appearance.
Hesitant like one wading a stream in winter; 
Timid like one afraid of his neighbors on all sides; 
Cautious and courteous like a guest; 
Yielding like ice on the point of melting; 
Simple like an uncarved block; Hollow like a cave; 
Confused like a muddy pool; 
And yet who else could quietly and gradually evolve from the muddy to the clear?  
Who else could slowly but steadily move from the inert to the living?
He who keeps the Tao does not want to be full.  
But precisely because he is never full, 
He can always remain like a hidden sprout, 
And does not rush to early ripening.
(Tao te Ching, chapter 15)

In other words, we need to learn to be before we can learn to become.  Until I can see where I am, I cannot see where to go.  Until I see that the water is muddy, I do not know that it is not clear.  Until I can see that I am afraid, I do not know I have courage.  It is the opposition in all things that gives us the balance and helps us to see what we need to see.  Until I see my pride, I cannot find my way to humility.  Until I know empty, I cannot comprehend full.  All things put a balance on each other.  Which side we are on does not matter, for we must know both sides before we can truly know any side.

The Tao also says:

"Welcome disgrace as a pleasant surprise.
Prize calamities as your own body."

Why should we "welcome disgrace as a pleasant surprise?
Because a lowly state is a boon:
Getting it is a pleasant surprise,
And so is losing it!
That is why we should "welcome disgrace as a pleasant surprise."

Why should we "prize calamities as our own body"?
Because our body is the very source of our calamities.
If we have no body, what calamities can we have?

Hence, only he who is willing to give his body for the sake of the world is fit to be entrusted with the world.
Only he who can do it with love is worthy of being the steward of the world.
(Tao te Ching, chapter 13)


So what is my point?  What am I trying to say here?  Well, if you want to find your purpose, your mission, you must first be open to where you are in life.  You must be willing to see things as they truly are - unpolished, unrefined, and sometimes altogether ugly.  What we accept on one level, we attain in the opposite direction. 

If I want to know I have a purpose, I must first know what it feels like to feel purposeless.  If I want to see, I must first know how it feels to be blind.  Only by knowing the polarities will my vision be clear as to what is truth and what is not.  This, then, allows me to see the path that has already been clearly defined by God.  But until I can completely accept where I am, as I am, right now....

It is like this.  If I open myself to the idea that I am weak and imperfect, then I can see where I can grow.  If I see where I can grow, I can begin to grow and learn and become better.  Then the weakness becomes my strength.  It is by seeking out my weakness that I learn to be strong.  

I cannot become strong by subduing my weakness.  Let me say that again.  I CANNOT BECOME STRONG BY SUBDUING MY WEAKNESS!  I must accept it, take it all in, allow it to be with me and part of me.  Then I can learn to release it, because I understand it and know it.  I cannot overcome that which I do not understand.  If I fight against my weakness, I am tearing myself into pieces.  If I accept it and just be in it, then I can come to see it for what it truly is.  Then I have the knowledge needed because I have understanding of it.

This was one more lesson I learned the other night while at "Wicked" with Cecily.  Whenever anything is overwhelming and I begin to head towards a meltdown, my thumbs start going over my middle fingers, the faster they go, the worse the meltdown is going to be unless it can be diverted.  This time, as I was sitting there, feeling everything I talked about in the previous post (Social Grace), I did something different.  Usually I try to manage it and control it and hide it.  I try to force it down and away so that no one can see.  I try to force myself to stop and get control of it.  This time I tried to just be in it.  I just felt it and let it be what it was, knowing that if I needed to take myself out, then that is what I would have to do.  So I sat there and, of course, Cecily helped me tremendously.  But I was able to just be in it and then, all-of-a-sudden, I was no longer overwhelmed.  Fighting it was what made it so bad.

As an aside, I've discovered what always made it so much worse before that has changed within me since I've known my friend Cecily.  I used to feel like I had to appear normal in public because I could feel others' shame when I didn't look normal.  I didn't want to embarrass those I loved by doing the stupid things I did to cope with my meltdowns.  So I would try to stop it or control it.  I hated and loathed it for the sake of the person I was with.  Had I just let myself be me and just do what I do, it would have been much easier and I would not have gone all the way to a meltdown.  I've learned, from my friend Cecily, that I need to just be me.  If that looks like a meltdown, then that looks like a meltdown.

I was never ashamed of who I was, only how I made others around me feel.  It bothered me that I was someone they were embarrassed of and I didn't want to be that - for their sakes.  Now I know differently.  Now I see that when others are embarrassed of me, it is because their pride is at stake; I am not responsible for how others feel about me or how they feel when they are around me.  Now I see that being embarrassed of someone else is just a cover for worrying if people are judging me because I am with that person.

I had someone I was embarrassed of once.  I treated this person poorly in public, because of things that this person would say that would feel like those around us were judging both of us.  They would think that just because I was with this person, that I agreed - wholehearted - with the extreme things that were said, or the outrageous actions that sometimes happened.  I felt so embarrassed because of the lack of etiquette and consideration for those around us.  I felt like I had to make sure others knew that I didn't feel the same way as this person - instead of just loving my friend and showing that I cared about how this person felt.  I preserved my pride instead of preserving an important relationship.

Anyhow.  I have learned, by being the ashamed one and by being the one others were ashamed of, that when others feel ashamed of me, it is not my problem.  If I am ashamed of someone, then I don't honestly love them.  I may feel love towards them, but true love is enduring and lasts through all acts and all words, not just when they are done in private, between the two of us.  I find I am more ashamed of myself more than anything else.  It was easier to feel embarrassed of my friend than it was to face the truth: I did not love this person as I ought, I was the one I was embarrassed of - not my friend, I was just projecting that onto my friend. 

So, back to my point.  Accept where you are as you are.  Accept all of you.  Do not see it as good or bad, but more as a starting place.  The "worse" off you are to begin with, the more spectacular you will become because of your understanding.  Now that's not to say that I think you should seek to become worse off - just so we're clear.  Where you are weakest, when you take it to God and let Him show you that weakness fully, miraculous things happen.  You come to understand it.  Then you overcome it.  Then you can release it.  Then you become a whole being who is able to show light to those on the path as well.  Your greatest weakness, when viewed through God's eyes, becomes your greatest strength.  And I would almost guarantee that whatever your greatest weakness is, when it becomes your greatest strength, you will have found your purpose and your mission.  You will then know yourself fully.  By knowing yourself, you can become all that God has in store - trust me, it's always far more than you ever could have imagined.  

Yes, you have a purpose.  No, you will not find it by pretending to be strong.  No, you will not find it by the facades or the pretenses or the pomp you display.  We will end with one more thought from the Tao.

What is in the end to be shrunken,
Begins by being first stretched out.
What is in the end to be weakened,
Begins by being first made strong.
What is in the end to be thrown down,
Begins by being first set on high
What is in the end to be despoiled,
Begins by being first richly endowed.
Herein is the subtle wisdom of life:
The soft and the weak overcomes the hard and the strong.

Just as the fish must not leave the depths,
So the ruler must not display his weapons.
(Tao te Ching, chapter 36)

If you will be all you can be, your path must begin in humility; in recognizing your weakness and accepting it as a gift - not a punishment.  God will show you who you are if you will ask Him in all humility.  He will show you your weakest point, because His plans are to make you His strength in this world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Social Grace

I recently went to New York.  While there I saw "Wicked" with my good friend, Cecily.  It was such a fun experience for me.  I worried that the energies flying around the auditorium might be too much for me.  With the exception of the symphony, I have rarely been in a packed auditorium without being on the stage - the extra energy was great because it just gave me a little more while performing.  But sitting and watching is so different.  I rarely patron the theater, mostly because I've been afraid of what it would do to my ability to stay grounded and balanced.

Then the play started.  I have a hard time turning off the "symbolism" button in my brain.  It is always there and no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I just see things, always.  So as it began, I related greatly to the main character.  She is different.  She is odd and it is apparent to everyone that there is something about her that is so very odd - so much so that they fear her and will not allow her to be close to them.  Then she is kind of thrust into a friendship with someone who is willing to consider a different view.  They end up close friends.

As I watched this, I felt so drawn into the story and the emotion was so powerfully true to my life that I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all of the emotion.  Cecily, as always, knew just how to help me and I was able to stay and enjoy the rest of the show without having a complete meltdown.  She is good like that. 

Anyhow.  I learned a couple of things.  It takes a lot, I mean a lot of conscious effort, but I am able to step away from the symbolism and see things on the surface like others do.  It is really hard though.  It is hard not to see how everyone and everything is connected.  I'm learning though.  This play was a great exercise for me.  It may sound silly, but something Cecily whispered made a huge difference.  I already knew this.  I knew it clearly, but the connection between brain and heart kind of was lost for a minute.  She said, "Tara, it isn't real.  There are a lot of things that you see that are similar, but it isn't the same thing.  There are a lot of things that are different.  It doesn't mean this is the way your life is going to go just because you see a few things that are how your life has been."

It took a minute for my brain to translate her words, but once I did, I realized what she was saying and what she was seeing.  I was so caught up in the emotional connection that I forgot that I was watching something that was completely fictional; that this show was meant to have similarities, that's what makes it successful.  But there is nothing that says it is a prophecy for those of us who may relate to the characters.  Well, duh!  Right?  It is so funny how my brain has such a hard time keeping the reality on the forefront.

So what I've learned from this experience about how my brain works differently from that of my NT family and friends:  The story may be fiction, but the emotions are reality.  If you know anything about metaphysics, you know that emotions have substance to them, actual form.  They are more dense than wavelength but are not as dense as matter.  They are something of substance and they are not kept within our bodies.  They come off of us, some people (like those of us on the spectrum) are more sensitive.

Now.  Try to see from this angle for a moment.  I am picking up the emotions of all of the people in the audience.  Excitement.  Disappointment.  Frustration.  Exhilaration.  Boredom.  Tired.  Interest.  The list goes on and on in that large of a setting.  Then there are the emotions of all those involved in the show.  Backstage is rushed, stressed about keeping things moving, worried about the bloopers and how to adjust the props to fit the changes, lighting and music queues, etc.  Orchestral members were frustrated with some of the things...I'm not sure what, I was trying to not sort it all out.  I think the conductor was upset about something.  Anyhow.  The orchestra was struggling with feeling like a group.  Then there were the actors.  Frustrations with their voices not being what they wanted them to be.  Times when the audience didn't react where they expected it and because they've done it a million times, the air was popped out of the balloon.  Then the audience did react where they weren't expecting it and again the actors felt a little off.  There was so much emotion coming from the stage that was incongruous with what the character was supposed to be feeling.

I was also picking up on many of the things Cecily was feeling, but I'm not going to share those things because that is personal and not mine to share.

Then we come to my personal feelings.  The story was a surprise to me - I knew two of the songs from the play, that was all I knew about it.  I was surprised by how much I related to it emotionally.  So my personal emotions were very heightened.  Then I felt bombarded by everyone around me.  I felt lied to because what the actors had in their hearts was different than the lines and the songs.  Sometimes they were in character enough that it felt honest, but most of the time I was trying to tell myself that I was okay and no one was lying to me.  No one was breaking the rules.

Bless Cecily's heart for leaning over to me and just saying "It's not real...."  We talked a little during the intermission and that helped as well.  I am happy to report that by the end of the play, I was able to completely separate from the situation and just enjoy the show.  That was quite an accomplishment for me.  :)  The separation was hard to do until I quit thinking about it.  It's like the Tao te Ching expresses - when we are trying to think about or name something, it escapes us.  When we are just being, it comes flooding into us without any effort.  Or, I should say, without any effort at grasping it.  The effort is there.  It looks like opening and accepting rather than chasing and reaching though.  There is effort, it is just an effort to be open, to accept, to be rather than to do.

Now.  To my main point.  There is a scene in the play where the socially-outcast main character finds herself in an all-too-familiar awkward situation.  They are at a dance and she is being gawked at as she flops around, trying to dance.  Her counterpart, who had been ornery to her, felt badly.  She reached out to the main character and showed her the same movements she was making and did it slightly different.  She showed her the grace and flow that would make her movements rather lovely.

I feel like that is what people in my life do for me, especially my friend Cecily.  They show me that what I'm doing isn't too bad, it just needs a little finesse, a little grace.  I've learned that, while it takes a lot of very conscious effort, I can learn to come across as normal.  I can learn to be less offensive and less blunt.  I can learn to not step into others' personal space and to be aware of social queues and body language.

I am capable of being like everyone else.  I don't want to be anymore though.  I don't want to try to do things the way my NT family and friends do.  I wasn't made that way and it is so much effort and work to do that.  It causes so much stress and work and frustration in my life.  I learned, by watching "Wicked" with my dear friend, that I am not only just fine the way I am - quirks and all - but I am meant to be this way.  I may not have social grace.  I may not be the most charming woman you will ever meet.  I probably will never be easy to live with or be around.  I will definitely never stop asking a million questions or being curious about all people and things around me.  I will never lose my passion for religions and culture and customs.  I will never stop being fascinated by the connections between different belief systems and cultures and the individual.  I will never stop LOVING the word "why" - ever. 

This isn't pride - not even in a good sense.  This is acceptance.  This is opening and letting myself be instead of do.  It's interesting that in the moments I am able to do that, I am able to do all of the things I had been trying to do for years and years.  I learned that by accepting me and just being me I actually do have social grace.  Imagine that!  ME!  I can do things properly without thinking and running through the millions and millions of variables that could be considered.  I can just be.  How happy is that?!