Monday, May 25, 2020

Autism Answer: In Service

My youngest with my sister's youngest.

Today is Memorial Day in the USA. Memorial Day is set aside to honor and remember those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

I confess, that while I have no struggle with honoring and remembering people, I am deeply uncomfortable with the United States Armed Forces.

However, it is easy for me to use this day as a refreshing of, and reflection on, my passion for honoring and remembering the value and complexities of being in service.

A desire to be in service, I suggest, is innate in all of us.

But too often we refuse it. Or when we choose it, it is by stepping into an oversized system that is built to simulate a sense of being in service. Those systems almost always include aspects and opportunities for true service but rarely are entirely holistic or sustainable when put to the test of their proposed mission.

But we do all have an ability and desire to be in service.

We can do this daily by being willing to inconvenience ourselves, divert from our scheduled plans, even put ourselves in danger, to take time with someone reaching out.

It is true that sometimes people don't reach out until they are in a dangerous state. It is true that sometimes we put ourselves in danger when choosing to meet them where they are and hope to guide them to somewhere healthy. In these cases, be careful. Ask for help yourself if you can. But on Memorial Day it serves us to remember that moving into danger to be of service can be heroic. Can be, if we are careful and aware of who we are risking our safety to help.

My youngest brother is highly capable now, compared to where he was only years ago, and that is because a) he works at it, has clear goals, and wants it b) he reaches out to me or my mom when he needs guidance, ideas, calming down and c) trusts we will help.

My mom and I rarely are too busy for him, even though we often are. And when we don't take the time to guide him out of his misery, it is always with a belief in his ability to do it himself, not pity or avoidance of him.

Memorial Day can be a day for us to be in service. As we remember and honor the fallen vets, we can reach out to a living disabled veteran, one struggling with addiction, P.T.S.D, depression, or mobility issues. This will serve us equal to, if not more than, them.

And reflect on how accessible we are. Every day, how accessible are we? How inclusive and accessible is the world around us?

Make changes, ask others to make changes.

This Memorial Day - honor and remember and give gratitude to the fallen vets, and everyone who finds ways to make being in service a lifestyle. We will all be fallen one day. Let's honor those who have fallen before us. Who have been heroes and livers of intentional inclusive lives in service to others.

And let's become a hero in service ourselves.

“We don’t grow sophisticated alone.” ~Dr. Lynette Louise (“The Brain Broad”) 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Autism Answer: When My Son Told Me He Was Gay

I wrote the following piece for
Back in 2014 my son, who was still in high school at the time, took a deep breath and nervously told his friends he was gay. Well, nervously posted it on Facebook. His plan, as he explained it to me later, was to post it and gauge reactions, ready to say he had been hacked and it wasn’t true if he didn’t feel he could face the reaction. 

When he told me about it I was impressed, surprised, and uncomfortable about the need for him to “dip his toe in the water” as he put it, instead of just be who he is knowing that who he is was perfectly fine. 

But also I was confused about something.

"Why didn't you tell us first?" I wondered out loud. “We’re your family, I’m surprised you didn’t tell us first that you’re gay.”

"Oh, mom," he laughed, "I don't have to come out to you guys! You love me no matter what. It's not something I felt like I'd have to sit you down and tell you. I knew my friends would have to process it, and that some of them wouldn't be okay with it. I never worry about that with my family!"

Well. Huh. That's a pretty awesome reason!

But, and here I would like to stop writing and leave it at we are all an awesome family. 

But –

I did not behave awesome. I behaved okay.

At first, I just accepted it out loud while internally questioning.

Is he really gay? Or perhaps he is bi-sexual, clearly he has feelings for some of the boys, I’ve seen that, but he’s had so many girlfriends. My goodness, he’s had at least one girlfriend on the go since he was in kindergarten! And his freshman year in high school he had two. (He was not two timing, they were all in one threesome relationship.) 

Then I started asking him. “Are you sure you’re gay?” 

“Yes.” He’d say, easily. 

“But all those girlfriends! Did something happen? Did it change, or are you maybe bisexual? Do you think it’s a phase?”

I don’t know why I felt the need to ask these questions in the way I asked them. I know part of me was worried that he’d paint himself into a corner by announcing “I am this” which is something I keep an eye on for myself and all my children, but there was clearly more to it. I was worried about him being gay in small-town Texas. But I could have had these thoughts and concerns without questioning him. I could still ask questions, those are wonderful! But I wish I hadn’t questioned him.

According to him he’s always known he was gay but tried not to be. He tried to like his girlfriends, girls who chose him and insisted he go out with them, because he didn’t think it was good to be gay. Around him he didn’t see gay couples, none were in his favorite movies, his friends and brothers used the term as a punchline. So, sad and simply put, he tried not to be.

But he is gay.

And it is okay, it is fine, it is not at all something he should have to “come out” and say.

I was okay when he told me, but I was not awesome.

I hope others will be better than me.

I hope others will be awesome. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

My son, Shay.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Autism Answer: Mental Health During this Pandemic – Three Indoor Tips for Growing Healthy from Inside to Out

May is Mental Health Awareness month. I encourage everyone to seek information that can stymie stigma and encourage personal mental health, always. But during an “awareness” month there tends to be a bit more, well, awareness! Hence May offers a timely opportunity and easier access to information.

I am not a mental health expert, but my mom (Dr. LynetteLouise, aka The Brain Broad) is. 

Firstly, I encourage you to read her books, watch her videos, listen to her music, and explore her articles, particularly if you or someone in your family has special needs or a disability. 

Secondly, though I am not an expert I am both a human during a challenging time, and a sister to people with autism and other mental health challenges. So though I am not qualified to counsel I do have pertinent experiences and insights to offer. And as a human during this challenging time and as a sister to people with mental health challenges I am compelled to share my tips in the hopes that it will help you, which in turn will help me and my family. After all, we all live together in this same world. Even when we see it and experience it so very differently.

I confess, I love chatting about tricks for personal mental health and happiness. I could (and will, given a chance!) discuss with you for hours various thoughts and habits and stories that shine new light, offer new perspectives, and plant nourishing healthy beliefs. But we are not together and cannot discuss.

So, here are three tips I can share easily. Though I do wish you were here to chat about it with me! We could discuss why I believe helping ourselves grow healthy on the inside will help our world when we go back to the outside. Anyway, three tips: 

1)   Bingeing on shows, books, songs: Right off the bat, I’m going to cheat. My mom wrote a brilliant and influential article published on titled: Bingeing For Self-Improvement – I do hope you read it. In the article, she uses her expertise as an international expert as well as a mom. As her daughter, I grew up in a home that intuitively took seriously the art and stories we put in our brains. We chose our movies, shows, books, songs, and images with purpose and self-reflection. In such a diverse home as ours (my mom had eight kids; six were adopted, five had various cognitive challenges, four were on the autism spectrum, and all of us had unique personalities) it quickly became clear what was/is healthy for the brain of one person was not necessarily healthy for the brain of another. And, always, the individual doing the watching/listening has a responsibility to notice and choose how they receive what they put in and what they will allow. CONCLUSION: Choose what you watch, read, listen to, binge on always with purpose and self-reflection. But particularly now, as anxiety is prevalent. Although anxiety is not your friend you can use it in a healthy way. With worries top of mind, notice them. Explore them. Be purposeful and careful, do not wrap up and hide away because of them but, instead, see what it is they are telling you about you. Then watch, read, or listen to something that takes you in a healthy direction. You don’t
want to seek validation for your anxiety (don’t worry, you’ll find it anyway) but rather actions you can take to confront it, or even simply let it go.

2)      Intimacy with yourself. This is an excellent time to explore your own intimate self. Yes, I am hinting at sexuality and masturbation, but it can and should be part of a more all-encompassing intimacy. May is also national masturbation month. Orgasms are a healthy cost-free way of relieving stress, but sex can also be fraught with mental health barricades. Traumas, disabilities, worries, body image issues, there are so many vulnerabilities that we can’t ignore during sexual encounters. If you are at home with a partner, or alone, these issues can be explored. Be intimate, be purposeful, be inclusive, be curious, be gentle and patient. If you are only alone, use this time to truly know what pleasures you and why. Pay attention to your fantasies – do not judge them! – but certainly, ask yourself questions about them. Pay attention to what types of touch you like and don’t like. Wonder why. Practice asking for it. If you are with a partner, this can be done together I hope. Some of us, sadly, are alone with a cruel or abusive partner. (RAINN and other organizations are set up to offer help in these cases.) But even more of us that are alone with a partner could really spark healthy and important conversations and connections with careful considerate and intimate explorations. CONCLUSION: Touch yourself, touch your partner, and have the vulnerable naked conversations about sex and pleasure that perhaps you have avoided or never even considered. And if you are comfortable and able, share what you are learning with others. (The site would love your stories!) People with disabilities are dangerously underrepresented in sexual literature and learnings, so I doubly encourage you to be brave and share. If you can. Firstly, work on yourself. ;D

3)      Trauma and Healing – this pandemic is causing trauma for many. And for those of us who are already trauma survivors it can be triggering as well. Also, many of our go-to healing activities have been taken off the table as options. For example, I go dancing. One of the things I do when I need to center and find my inner healthy connected-to-the-universe and valuable self, is go dancing. But all the clubs and dive bars are closed, rightfully so. Dancing at home is lovely and helps, but I don’t have a sound system that pulses the music into me the way it does at a bar. What I’ve done is switch it up a bit. I still use music and dancing, but instead of crawling inside the music and setting my body free, I'm surrounding myself with songs that bring me back in time and I am reliving my memories with purpose. Coloring them in with intention and love of self. This has helped me. I know you can do something similar. Reaching out to our support networks and healing activities may look different for now, but it is worth doing. Finding the different that helps you. Help your happiness and healing by finding new ways to balance your brain; using old tools or discovering completely untried ones. Now is a wonderful time to try things you put on a back burner for later, or even things you thought were silly. Perhaps you can make them not silly. Do them in a way that works for you. Yoga, guided meditation, dancing, singing, building, climbing trees. CONCLUSION: We can take care of our own mental health during this particularly challenging time even if our common helpers are not available to us or are only available in a different way. We also can still reach out to our networks of support. Our networks are also in need of support, and offering it is also healthy. Whether we offer it in the form of asking for them to be there for us, or in the form of being there for them, it is still a mutually beneficial relationship. Even if it must be remote, we can still be connected. 

These three tips are helping me during this strange time in our world. As I said, I am not an expert in mental health. At least, not in your mental health. But I am rather good at knowing how to help me and my family.

And since we are all one family right now, navigating this world at a unique and challenging time, I can’t help but want to share with you and to presume one or two things I have to offer will be helpful.

If we share our ideas and tips, we can build ourselves healthy from the inside out so that when we do go back more convincingly into the outside world, we can step out of our inside with a stronger mindset and healthy ideas.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!