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!!