Posts Tagged ‘therapy’

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know that I am on the autism spectrum, and that I’ve had opportunities to speak about it a couple of times, including a widely-circulated video which I posted back in March. I was able to get my job partially because of my autism, and a lot of the work I do involves working with, accommodating, and advocating for people with disabilities in the workplace, including but certainly not limited to autism. I don’t go around everywhere broadcasting my diagnosis, but it does come up on occasion.

One of those recent occasions was for my organization’s newsletter. I was asked to write a short essay, about a page long, about having a disability, about the program that helped me get a job in my organization, and what that’s been like. That article was published recently, along with a couple of other testimonials, and it’s been getting around. A lot of people have been coming up to me and thanking me for being so open with my story.

Today, I got an email from someone in my organization who had read the article, and had contacted me asking for advice. His adult nephew had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago, well past the point where intervention can be at its most effective. And in the  years since his diagnosis, his life has not gotten easier. I won’t go into details, but it was heartbreaking to read the man’s email and to hear about his nephew’s suffering.

At the end of the email, he asked what could be done for his nephew, and if maybe the program that helped me get my job could help his nephew.

What do you say to something like that? What sort of comfort can you give when there’s already so much pain?

I don’t know if I ever meant to be an advocate for people with disabilities. But over time, that role has kind of been molded around me. A good part of this has been because of my job. As I said, I have to advocate for people with disabilities in the workplace. To that end, I’ve learned how to market to people who are able-bodied why they should hire more people with disabilities. I can tell them that people with disabilities have a much lower turnover rate than the general population, 8% compared to 45%, that getting them accommodations rarely gets anywhere near the $500 mark, and then back all that up by talking about my own satisfaction with my position, and how the only accommodation I’ve needed for my ASD was permission to listen to my iPod or audiobooks while doing certain tasks. I’ve also been asked to do essays, like I did for the newsletter, and the video I recorded back in March. And sometimes it just comes up, like when explaining how I got my internship in Germany (yeah, my ASD played a part in that), or using it to illustrate a point in conversation, or a hundred different scenarios.

One way or another, it seems like I was meant to be an advocate, especially at this point in my life, when I’m doing so well at work, living on my own, and even as a writer.

But as a giver of advice? I’m not sure I expected that. And I get why it’s happening. Autism is a scary diagnosis for anyone to get, as well as for the loved ones of those diagnosed. It’s a disorder that varies widely from person to person, it can never be cured, the cause is still unknown,* the number of people being diagnosed with it has grown exponentially with improved diagnostic tools. Depending on what traits are present or what other disorders are present with autism can also affect everything from therapy to school choices to possibilities in adulthood. And when the diagnosis is made in adulthood, as happened with the young man whose uncle emailed me, it can be a sort of terrifying that no horror story can tap into. With all that in mind, hearing from someone who not only has the same diagnosis, but is successful in the real world, can be a soothing balm for the mind and soul.

I just wish I had all the answers. Or that I was more confident in the answers I have to give.

But if I’m going to give any sort of advice, it’s that we shouldn’t deny or try to hide our diagnoses. We shouldn’t try to be “normal,” because normal doesn’t exist, especially not for us. We process the world so differently than everyone else, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ashamed or afraid. I’m able to succeed and do the things I do every day because I process differently. So embrace your different. It may be called a disability, but it can be an asset too. Some of the greatest innovators and creators the world has ever known have been on the spectrum. And once we learn to work with the issues we have, we can learn to become those great innovators and creators.

And don’t be afraid to look for or ask for help. Even if you’re diagnosed later in life, there’s still plenty of resources for you. Many states, including my beloved Ohio, have programs that offer help and direction for people with disabilities and families, whether they be children or well into adulthood. Many schools have or are adding programs to ensure the disabled can take full advantage of their educations. More and more employers are recognizing the importance of hiring people with disabilities, and what they can contribute. We’re not being left alone like a ship in a storm. There is help.

Living my life strong, no matter what my diagnosis is.

And it’s important to be open about your diagnosis, especially with your friends, family, coworkers and teachers. Keeping it a secret has never helped anyone get by. It’s better to be open, so that those around us are better equipped to work with us, and join us on our journey as we work our way through life. I know it’s scary, and you don’t want to be any different than anyone else. But remember, there’s no normal. We’re all different, and many of us wear it on our sleeves. Might as well display this different too, if only to make life a little easier.

I hope you find this helpful. I hope the man who emailed me today found my advice helpful. And if you or someone you know has autism, I hope that no matter what, you or your loved one is able to hold their head up high and know this: you are great the way you are.

*And if you’re about to comment saying some bull about vaccines, let me tell you a story, since anti-vaxxers seem to value testimony more rather than scientific consensus: my mother has told me a few times that I was different from the day I was born, well before I received my first vaccine. I was nothing like the baby books predicted I’d be, and it wasn’t until my younger sister was born that she saw any of that stuff. I trust her word, so that means vaccines had nothing to do with the way I am. And if you still insist that vaccines had something to do with the way I am, you may be calling my mother a liar, and them’s fighting words.

I was having a comment conversation the other day with another blogger Caitlin Kelly, a freelance journalist from New York who at the moment is teaching at the Pratt Institute. Her post, which you can read here (and I highly recommend you do), was about how the effect of all the horrors going on in the world and being reported to us by the media. I mentioned in my comments that after digesting all the real horrors, it’s not uncommon for me to immerse myself in fictional horrors. Caitlin replied that one of her students, who “has seen his fair share of horrors”, also prefers the genre of horror. I said that for some people, horror acts as a kind of therapy.

Now, some of you who are reading this will probably be thinking “Horror? As a kind of therapy? We’re still talking about the genre where serial killers can be heroes, what trait your character embodies can determine whether you’re killed or traumatized, and fans debate on how good a movie is based on use of suspense, special effects, and gore, right?” Yes, we are still talking about that genre, but just bear with me.

Look at a news feed, particularly one devoted to global events or major issues facing Americans today. This is probably what you’ll see:

  • ISIS murdering Shiites, Yazidis, journalists, and anyone else that they don’t like.
  • Ukraine fighting both its own people and Russian insurgents.
  • Hamas attacking Israel and Israel firing back (and it’s only a matter of time before that starts up again, mark my words).
  • Several cases where police have shot and killed unarmed black men, with the most recent and famous case in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • Congress’s constant squabbling and bickering
  • An immigration crisis that continues unabated
  • Ebola spreading throughout West Africa and father beyond
  • Kristen Gillibrand, a well-respected senator and possible 2016 presidential candidate, being sexually harassed by older, male senators
  • The suicide of Robin Williams and the hurtful responses from people and groups such as Westboro Baptist Church, Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, and Gene Simmons (my article on that is here)
  • CeeLo Green making horrific remarks on the subject of rape on his Twitter account
  • Justin Beiber is in trouble with the law again.

Depressing to read, isn’t it? What’s worse is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. All over the world, people are facing discrimination, violence, poverty, illness, corruption, greed, incompetence, and just about every other horror under the sun. And these problems are huge, multifaceted, and difficult to resolve. In fact, there are many people who may have multiple opinions on how to resolve just one of these issues. And assuming that the people in positions of power are able to come to an agreement and implement some sort of solution, there’s no guarantee that the issue in question will be fully resolved or not or will leave lingering micro-issues that will eventually grow and become major issues in their own rights.

“It’s true, I got defeated by some snot-nosed brats. I don’t like talking about it, though.”

There’s that. And then there’s the stories told within a horror novel or the latest scary movie. Let’s take Stephen King’s IT, for instance. The antagonist is a shape-shifting demon that can take on the form of your greatest fear and prefers the form of a clown. Well, that looks tricky to defeat, but it isn’t as hard to pin down or as multifaceted as an insurgency group or a virus or children brought to this country illegally fleeing violence and poverty. And guess who defeats It? Seven kids. They face their fears, band together, and defeat the monster in its own lair as kids, and then most of them come back as adults to finish the job. And after they’ve fought It for the second time, It’s dead. It isn’t coming back in any form ever again. Sure, at the end of the book the characters start to lose their memories of their war with It, but the story ends on a happy note.

In this way, horror stories–fictional horror stories–can act as therapeutic. We see very real versions of hell unfolding at home and abroad, and then we dive into a story where the characters are fighting their own hell. And we know deep down it’s fiction, but we don’t care. We sympathize and empathize with the characters. Occasionally we even recognize ourselves and our own brutal, tortured pasts in one or two particular character. And we see them defeating demons, exorcising ghosts, kicking serial killer butt, solving murders, and sometimes even bringing back the dead! Sure, plenty of people die in these stories and a good number of them end up traumatized by their experiences. But they usually defeat the enemy, they come out of the conflict stronger, and they sometimes even find romance.

What a horror novel can do for us.

And that fills us with hope. We think to ourselves, “Sure it’s fictional, but I see myself in these characters and the problems they face. So if they can take on ultimate evil and defeat it, what can I do?” In essence, horror takes the feelings of depression and jaded cynicism out of us and fill us with possibility and optimism. Weird, I know. These are stories that aim to scare us and fill our dreams with terror. But horror can do that and lift up your spirits too.

Horror is certainly one of the things that can lift up my spirits when I’m feeling down.

Has horror ever made you feel better after you’ve been feeling down? What happened? Why do you think you felt better afterwards?