Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Monday, April 25, 2016

I Just Have To Say This

"Hmm, which bathroom should I use?"
Today in my Facebook feed there was a link to this post. If you don't have Facebook you might not be able to read it, so I'll just summarize it for you. A woman wrote an open letter to "America," about the fact that she is going to boycott Target because they've announced that their customers and employees are allowed to use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable in. It is a rule that has pretty much always existed, but wasn't publicized before. It is really geared towards transgender people... so for instance, a transgender woman would be free to use the women's washroom, even if she was biologically born a male. In the letter, the woman stated that she didn't really care so much which washroom a transgender person might use, but that her real concern was that when her "beautiful, blond-haired niece" used the washroom, a man might follow her in, and there would be no way of stopping him. The post went viral, with lots of people commenting to support her view. They were mostly women who were worried about "creeps" using the bathroom with them.

There were many things that bothered me about this letter, to the point where if I commented it would have been too long, so I thought I'd write about it in my blog.

First of all, I think it was weird that she pointed out her "beautiful, blond-haired niece," as if someone who is beautiful and has blond hair needs more protection than the rest of us.

Second of all, and this is sort of embarrassing to me but I am going to say it anyways in hopes of helping people empathize with others who might go through this for various reasons. I am not transgender... I am a female and I identify as a female. But my looks could be described as sort of androgynous, especially in my younger years. I rarely wear makeup or do much with my hair, and although I do love to wear bright colors and sometimes dresses or skirts, I am just as likely to be seen in blue jeans and a T-shirt or hoodie. At least two times, back when I was in my late teens and early twenties, someone stopped me in a women's washroom to tell me, "This is the women's room." Both times were really embarrassing, to have to say, "I am a woman," and have them either turn red and apologize, or just look at you doubtfully. And you have to wonder, were they saying it because they really thought I was a boy, or were they saying it because they thought I looked unfeminine and wanted to mock me? Having been in that position, I understand how it is important for people to be able to use the bathroom they feel comfortable in, without being questioned about it.

Also, what public washrooms are all of these people using, that they feel like they're in grave danger of someone following them in? At TARGET? When I use the women's washroom at Target or another public place, here's what happens... I go into the stall, lock it behind me, go potty, come out, wash my hands, and leave the washroom. Nothing terribly interesting happens in there.

(On the other hand, one time when my aunt and I were in a Best Buy in Seattle and we asked to use the washroom, we were told that the washrooms were no longer open to customers, because they'd been having problems with people using drugs in there. So, I guess that happens... but I'm pretty sure that is improper use of a public washroom no matter what gender you are.)

If I thought that someone was following me into a washroom, or if someone appeared to be watching me too closely... maybe peeking through the cracks of the stall or something... I would leave and tell someone.

I also would not be eager to use a public washroom that doesn't seem safe. The washrooms at Target are usually right in front of the store, near the employee break room and/or the service desk. I feel pretty safe using it. But if I thought that a washroom seemed questionable... for instance, at an empty rest stop along the highway at three in the morning... I probably would not use it. I would never think, "Well, the sign on this washroom says WOMEN, so obviously no creepy people will be coming in here." That would be crazy. Anything could happen in there.

Basically, here is what I think. There is no way to neatly categorize people. There is not a dividing line. You cannot say, "All women are safe to be around, and all men are questionable."  You can't say, "This is one hundred percent right, and that is one hundred percent wrong." You can't say, "By putting THIS sign up, I will be protecting myself and others from bad things happening."

Everyone has responsibilities in life. Target and other stores have the responsibility to keep their public washrooms as safe as possible, by keeping them well-lit, keeping them in well-populated areas, even posting security guards in there if need be. Individuals have the responsibility to use the washrooms properly, by going in there to use the toilets or wash up, and not doing other things in there such as using drugs or assaulting others. Also, individuals have the responsibility to look out for themselves, by keeping their eyes open and not going into situations... such as the creepy washroom in the empty rest stop in the middle of the night... that they think might not be safe, or by reporting someone who might be doing questionable things in the washroom. And if you are truly afraid of using the Target washroom because a man might waltz in behind you, then it is your responsibility to find another washroom to use.

That is all I have to say about that. What do you think? 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It's My Anniversary

Me and Lily in the lily field last weekend, April 2016.
Exactly one year ago Friday, my dad and my small dog and  I woke up early in the morning... it was snowing, which was weird for late April, even in Chicago... and we set off for the Pacific Northwest. And exactly one year ago today, I arrived here.

It is actually sort of hard for me to write about it. While thinking about this blog entry, I went back and read some of my old blog entries from around the time that I was preparing to make the move. Most of my entries were about the severe anxiety I was experiencing. Like Melting, and 2 More Days, and It's Getting Closer, and I Have Emotional Support Animals. The painful part of reading these is the fact that the anxiety I was going through then has really not improved at all. I still go through that same exact anxiety every single time I go home to visit and then have to leave. I go through the same homesickness when I return. I still haven't unpacked my suitcase from my last visit home, or unpacked the box of things my mom sent to me shortly thereafter, because it makes me too sad to look at all of the things that I used in Chicago. I still haven't even brought some of my favorite things... my childhood blankie, the rest of my snow globes, my ice cream maker, etc... out here, because in my mind those things live in Chicago and to separate them from their home in from Chicago would be to separate the last remaining parts of me from my home.

Not that I haven't come a long way. Last week I graduated from DBT. As part of our graduation ceremony, everyone had to say something to each other. The things the other DBT people said to me, including both of my therapists, really touched my heart! They all talked about what a spirited and brave person I was, how I dared to dream big and tried so hard to go after my dreams, even when it was painful for me, how I cared so much about every living thing, how I was straight forward and funny, and how when a new person joined the group I was the first person to talk to them and make them feel welcome. (The person who had joined most recently was laughing as she said that I literally turned to greet her and start talking to her the moment she opened the door, and how she felt welcome, and how she was impressed because that wasn't something she would have done.) Connecting to others has always been one of my biggest challenges... but it turns out that, maybe because I do try so hard, others feel connected to me. Maybe not everyone. Maybe just certain people. But still. The things they said to me, I wish I could have somehow recorded their words, because they were some of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me.

So there's that.

Plus there is my job, working as a 1:1 assistant with Tizzy. It is an extremely challenging job, and it wears me out. But the other day, the principal told me that she "thanks Jesus every day" for my being there with Tizzy. For much of last year I experienced a lot of anxiety about going to work. But with this new job, I have never missed a day yet, and I even arrive early and stay late much of the time.

(Although sometimes I think my true best life would be working with animals. I got to goat-sit this weekend for my friend who has 11 goats, and I loved it so much. The goats are my friends. And they are much easier to take care of than Tizzy is. Even though they sometimes butt me with their horns. If Tizzy had horns, he'd probably butt me with them too.)

I still have my goal of moving out and living independently. It is no longer extremely urgent, because my aunt and uncle have decided not to downsize to a smaller house after all, partly because it would be so much work to get their current house ready to sell, and partly because they just couldn't find another place that they'd enjoy living in as much as they enjoy their own house. So I do have a place to stay, but I still want to get out on my own. 

I wonder if I will ever get over my homesickness. Maybe it is actually a good thing that I get homesick... it just means I love my family that much. One of the people in my DBT group was actually in tears when she talked about it, saying that it is actually so great that I cried on the airplane, because it means I care so much. Caring does hurt. But it isn't a bad thing.

I mean, it is terribly painful sometimes to go through But would I rather be a person who doesn't love and care? I think not.

Me and Lily in the lily fields on my first day of living in the Pacific Northwest, 
in April 2015.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Adam and Eve and Tickle Me

I tried to teach Tizzy a riddle/joke/trick that is a tamer version of the Adam and Eve and Pinch Me joke I once heard when I was a kid. The original goes, "Adam and Eve and Pinch Me went down to the river to bathe. Adam and Eve were drowned. Who do you think was saved?" 

My kinder, gentler version went like this. 

Me: "Hey, Tizzy... Adam and Eve and Tickle Me were on a boat. Adam and Eve fell out. Who was left?"

Tizzy: "Uh... you?"

Me: "No, I'm not in the story. It's just Adam and Eve and Tickle Me. Adam and Eve and Tickle Me were on a boat. Adam and Eve fell out. Who was left?"

Tizzy: "Me!"

Me: "No, you weren't on the boat either. Okay, how about this... Miss Angel and Tizzy and Tickle Me were in a boat. Miss Angel and Tizzy fell out. Who was left?" 

Tizzy: "Miss Angel!"

Me: "Tizzy, listen closely. Adam and Eve and Tickle me. Were in a boat. Adam and Eve fell out. But Tickle Me stayed in the boat. WHO stayed in the boat?"

Tizzy: "Us!"

Me: "Adam and Eve and Tickle Me were in a boat. Adam and Eve fell out. Now only Tickle Me is in the boat, all by himself. Who was in the boat?"

Tizzy: "I don't know. Who?"

Me: "Tick... Wait, no. Look, Tizzy, see my fingers? This is Adam. This is Eve. This is Tickle Me. Now Adam falls out. Now Eve falls out. So who is left?"

Tizzy: "Pointer!" 

Me: "Just say, `Tickle Me!'"

Tizzy: "Tickle Me!"

Me: (tickles Tizzy)

Tizzy: "AAAAAH! Okay. No more jokes."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Action Urges

I've been visiting my parents in Chicago for a week now. I have to leave on Tuesday morning.

I have been enjoying every minute of this visit... from the extra fun things like going to the aquarium and going out to dinner, to the routine things like going to the store or watching a movie in the basement with my mom.

But in the back of my mind, it is always looming, that I have to leave again! And you know how hard that is for me!

I even talked about it in DBT. In DBT we learned that if you are feeling an emotion and you don't quite know how to name it, you can think about what action you feel like doing. For instance, if you feel like attacking someone, verbally or physically, that action urge usually comes from anger.

I talked about the fact that, whenever I am in Chicago, when the time gets closer for me to leave, I start to get really clingy. I don't want to be in a separate room from my parents, I want to be able to see them, and I do not want to talk or think about Washington or leaving, don't want to pack my stuff, etc.  In the past, I always connected these feelings with depression and sadness. But my therapist pointed out that the action urge for depression is to withdraw from everyone and everything, which is the opposite of what I do.

The action urge to avoid or escape... not wanting to talk or think about Washington...comes from anxiety and fear. I was surprised to learn that what I've thought of as depression settling in is really anxiety... the fear of being separated again from my parents and my home, and the fear of being homesick soon.

Then there is the action urge I have to cling to my parents and keep them in my sight. This is actually an urge that is usually connected to jealousy. This one sounds weird, because I usually think of jealousy as wanting something someone else has. That is actually envy. Jealousy is actually another type of anxiety, sort of...  you're afraid of losing what you have, or having it taken away, so you try to control it or protect it. For instance, we've all heard about jealous boyfriends or girlfriend. If someone looks at their friend's significant other and wishes they could have that person for themselves, that is envy. But if the person already has a significant other and is afraid their significant other might get interested in someone else and leave them... when, actually, there is no other person involved... that is jealousy. Envy = "I want that." Jealousy = "I want to keep what I have."

So weird... now I can actually define what I am feeling. DBT makes emotions almost into a mathematical equation. (Jealousy + Anxiety) = (Wanting to keep my parents + Being afraid to leave them). (Wanting to keep my parents + Being afraid to leave them) = Wanting to keep my parents in my sight and cling to them, and wanting to avoid thinking about going back to Washington.  It is a perfect equation.

But what do I do with it? Making my feelings into an equation doesn't make them disappear.

In DBT once you define your feelings, you then have to decide if they are "justified." That doesn't mean deciding if your feelings are okay or not... whatever you are feeling is okay... but is more about figuring out if something you're emotional about is actually happening. A common example is, your friend isn't returning your phone calls, so you start to think she's mad at you, and then you start feeling mad yourself, or hurt. But if you were to find out, in reality, that your friend has been extremely busy with a new job and hasn't had the time or energy to return any non-work-related phone calls, your madness and hurt might go away. If you found out your friend wasn't returning your calls because she was in a car accident and was in a coma, your emotions would probably change.

For me this part is tricky because I pretty much know the facts about what is happening... I am going back to Washington in a few days, and won't see my parents, dog Trixie, grandparents, etc, for many months. In DBT, anxiety and fear are "justified" when there is a threat to your life, health, or well being. Being far away from my family doesn't threaten my life or health, but it somewhat threatens my well-being. Jealousy is justified when something or someone that is very important to you is in danger of being taken away from you. My going to Washington does take my parents back away from me, in some ways... they'll still be my parents but they will be so far away.

Then it occurred to me that, actually, yes, I am somewhat in a position where others are taking my parents away from me... including my parents. From the first time that I decided to move out to the Pacific Northwest, I was adamant that I wanted to visit as much as possible. And from the beginning, my parents, brother, etc were like, "No, you'll only get to visit once or twice a year." Each time that I've wanted to come back to visit, I've had to put up a fight and try to convince multiple people of how badly I wanted/needed to go. I hear arguments like, "Plenty of adults go years without seeing their parents," (I am not them) and "What will you do when your parents are dead,"(That one was from my brother, he actually suggested that what if a meteor crashed into our house and killed our parents. I found that somewhat unlikely to happen.) and "You can't afford it," (I'll save up... I'd rather have a plane ticket home than a new Kindle anyways) and  "You can't take time off of work" (One of the few fringe benefits of working in schools is that I do get at least a week long break for spring, winter and Thanksgiving, plus there is summer break and I do have a few weeks free between my school job and my summer job). The first time I was going back to visit, my brother actually called me up the day before I left to try convince me to cancel my plane ticket and come visit him instead so I could babysit my nephew for him. And before that, when I first moved out there I was planning to take my usual summer teaching job in Illinois and go back for 5 weeks for that, because, teaching, which everyone said was fine at first, but then when it got time to make plans, my parents argued to me not to come, and I had to call and un-accept that teaching job, which sort of sucked, but I ended up getting my summer camp job, which was cool, but definitely didn't pay as much as the teaching job would, but I guess it all worked out in the end, but, still...

I believe this contributes A LOT to my anxiety and "jealousy" about leaving here when I am visiting... because I do feel like I've had to fight so much just to get out here, and once it slides out of my hands again I have no idea how or when I'll be able to come back. I feel like I have no control over it, no power of decision, so that is why I hang on tighter. It is also hard for me to stop being homesick when I am so worried about whether I can go home again. It is like (yay here comes one of my metaphors) if someone goes on a diet where they cannot have any sugar or sweets, and then they are just craving sugar and sweets all the time because they cannot have it. But if they go on a different plan where they learn about healthy choices and learn that they can have sugar and sweets when they want but they know how to balance it with healthier foods and exercise and stuff... then they don't crave it as much because they know that they can have it whenever they want. They are given control over their own diet plan, so they can say, "That is my very favorite chocolate cake in all the world and I really want a slice," or "That cupcake looks good but I can live without it."

So in DBT, after you've figured out whether your emotion is justified or not, the next step tells you what to do. If your emotion is not justified, you're supposed to do the opposite of what your action urge is. For example, if you think your friend has stopped talking to you and your action urge is to confront them or just accept that they are out of your life, if you find out that your anger and hurt are unjustified you should do the opposite of your urge... be patient with your friend, let them know you want to talk to them when they have time, etc. If you find out that your anger and hurt are justified and your friend is avoiding you (which you could only find out for sure if the person actually told you) then you have to move onto problem solving, which means brainstorming some different ways you could deal with your problem, and then choosing one or two to try. 

Okay. So I've found out that my emotions are justified, so now to solve the problem. I've been doing some brainstorming and here is what I have come up with so far...

1. Make a plan to save money so that I can travel home when I want, while STILL being sure to save money for necessities and emergencies. I could even make a second savings account.. whenever I get enough money in it, then it will be my choice on whether, and when, to go home for a visit. 

2. Explain to others what I need. There is even a method for that in DBT! It is called DEAR MAN. It goes like this.

Describe the situation - I've been living in the Pacific Northwest for a year now. Each time I want to go home for a visit, multiple people want to convince me, or even make the decision for me, that I should not go or that I should go for a shorter amount of time. 

Express your feelings - When this happens, I start feeling really anxious. I have a hard time enjoying my time when I do get to visit home, because I am so worried about not getting to come back again for a long time. I have a hard time making the most of the Pacific Northwest, where I used to want so bad to live, because I'm so anxious about home. 

Assert your wishes - I would like for you all to let me make the decision about when, and for how long, I can visit home. 

Reinforce - If you all leave that decision up to me, then I think my anxiety and homesickness will really ease up. I will feel in control enough to plan things out and make wise decisions. I won't be so anxious that I feel desperate to get home at all costs. 

The MAN part is sort of hard to do here in a blog, because it involves how you respond to the person you are asking. It stands for staying Mindful (focusing on the matter at hand and not getting distracted or pulled into an argument vortex), Appearing confident (you can't see me, so just imagine I look pretty confident) and Negotiating.

So now, you have just witnessed me using my DBT skills to process my thoughts and come up with a possible solution. How do you feel? I feel pretty good, myself!

If you want, you can help me with the Brainstorming part. I want to brainstorm some specific ways that I can start making Portland feel more like home. Right now, it still feels like a really long vacation, except I have to work, so that makes it actually a sort of crappy vacation. I want find ways to feel like I actually belong here... I think that would help me with my homesickness as well. 

Any ideas?