Letter From The Editor
Finding Joy and Strength Amidst Crisis
-August 9th, 2015-
Three things happened to me last week-
1. My Grandmother’s Birthday
(Prelude To A Breakdown, for me, not her…)
2. The Day After my Grandmother’s Birthday
(Reflecting on unfulfilled goals and dreams)
3. August 6th 2015
(The Mental Breakdown Like None Before)
This trinity of events had forced me to face sobering realities and emotions I’ve too long buried. I’d already had two breakdowns earlier this year, and now I found myself falling further into despair.
Before I go on, I need to tell you something about me few outside my inner circle of offline relatives and online writer friends know.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, and while most people who are familiar with or know someone with autism, associate it being a learning impediment, it’s also a social disorder.
One of the issues I have when the media highlights autism, they only highlight the extreme cases, kids who can’t speak, struggle walking, unable to feed themselves, etc.
But RARELY (if ever) do people like me ever get even an honorable mention.
I can talk (albeit I sound like a chipmunk auctioneer and have to work at slowing down my speech), I certainly can walk, and I don’t need people to feed me, and I frankly I’ve been cooking my own meals since my teens.
I don’t normally talk about my personal life on T.A.A., except in these occasional letters to you, my readers, and I’ve been very careful who I tell about my Asperger’s.
One of the misnomers about people on the autism spectrum is that we’re developmentally stuck at the toddler level, while that’s sadly true for some kids, teens and adults with autism, it’s not my story.
This is part of why I’ve had a hard time being at peace with having Asperger’s.
While I don’t deny it, I get frustrated when people confuse ANY negative feeling I have or express as being caused by my Asperger’s.
Like I’d NEVER feel negative emotions or get angry if I didn’t have a mental disorder.
You don’t have to have stage 4 terminal brain caner to be afraid of death.
You don’t have to be abused to feel powerless and alone in your pain, be it physical, mental or emotional, or some combo thereof.
Your parents (or parental figures) don’t have to be negligent or uncaring to feel distant from you at times.
So why do too many people think that just because you have a mental disorder of any kind, everything negative is solely the fault of your disorder?
Yes, autism or other mental disorders color people’s reactions to a point, but I’m still a human being, and human beings feel anger, sadness and pain whether or not they have a mental disorder.
I’m allowed to be sad. Asperger’s or not.
I’m wired for anger. Asperger’s or not.
I’m meant to be a human being. Asperger’s or not.
That said, I now realize I can underestimate how deep my Asperger’s effects and hinders the progress I want to make as a writer and in life.
It certainly didn’t help that my mother (who has Schizophrenia) often manipulates those around her, including me, her own son, and especially my grandmother (her mother).
I know it’s at least part of why I set overambitious goals or benchmarks for myself.
I don’t want to be the soulless jerk who uses their issues as an excuse to get away with treating people bad.
Essentially, playing the “Insanity Defense” often overused in the criminal justice system.
But I now have to acknowledge that my limitations are more challenging than I first wished to admit.
Because my grandmother raised me, and is beginning to decline, I put more pressure on myself to be self-reliant, not because I was in a hurry to marry or have kids (future dreams I fear I’ll NEVER be able to do because I lack what being a good spouse or parents needs) but for the practical reason that she won’t be here forever, and I’ve no one else in my family I can turn to for help emotionally, financially or otherwise.
This is also why I get easily enraged when I read countless accounts of people saying all negative feelings are “optional.”
That just doesn’t compute for me.
Yes, pain of some kind is inevitable, but contrary to this popular myth, suffering is NOT “Optional.”
We say it’s okay to grieve the loss of a parent, sibling, or family pet, right?
Well, part of grieving is SUFFERING. If they didn’t matter in our lives, we wouldn’t be sad when they die, just because they’re not human doesn’t mean we valued them less. Yes, the relationship and its expectations are different, but no less valid.
No, my dog Pepper dying (2001-2014) won’t have the same impact as my grandmother dying, but both were important to me, and I’m at peace with Pepper dying, but getting there with my grandmother (who again raised me when my mother could not) will be a LOT longer a process to reach the same level of peace.
Just as writers are told not to rush the nebulous process, we can’t rush grieving, and grieving can’t exist with some degree of SUFFERING.
Those who say otherwise are either in denial, or have a faith (be it spiritual or devoutly religious) so strong it gives them an anchor to ensure they don’t collapse entirely.
People say worrying it’s a useless emotion.
I don’t agree.
I think in the best conditions (barring chronic paranoia), worry is a cue from our subconscious to think about something or someone other than yourself.
Yes, we can overly worry about ourselves, but that’s a separate issue.
This is also barring noteworthy exceptions like the often preached “put your oxygen mask first” thing, someone truly self-centered wouldn’t think of other’s needs at all, and thus not worry about them.
While it’s not helpful to worry all the time, it can remind us that we care about someone or something bigger than (or other than) ourselves.
You don’t have to be a paranoid/neurotic “Helicopter parent” to want your kids be safe, right?
If we’re worried about the safety of a close friend, relative or spouse, it may not fix anything, but it reminds us that we’re not always looking out for ourselves.
Sure, no one likes to be (or be around) a extremist worrywart, but neither do we wish to be around an arrogant, self-obsessed jerk either, right?
Just as there’s a BIG difference between self-obsession and self-worth, there’s just as wide a gap between a passive worrywart versus an proactive empathizer.
To say it’s optional is to dismiss all negative feelings we experience as humans I feel is a DANGEROUS and extremist mindset to condition someone with.
I didn’t choose to have Asperger’s, but I have it, I can’t get rid of it, but nor can I pretend it doesn’t effect me.
Plus, for those of you with devout faith as you anchor, how can you argue against negative feelings when God designed us to have them?
Just because we can’t change something doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect us, nor does it mean we can will it away or pretend it doesn’t exist.
Sometimes I think we tell people to “let go” or “move on” we’re in effect telling people to be androids with ZERO autonomy.
But that’s just as unrealistic as expecting a toddler to run the Boston Marathon with the composure and stamina of an Olympic-Class athlete.
Even the iconic “Rugrats” couldn’t pull that off, short of a daydream sequence.
This is probably what I feel most at odds with having been raised Christian.
While I’m in no way excusing myself or others who do less than helpful things amidst feelings of pain and mental collapse, I don’t believe everything we say or do is ALWAYS a conscious choice, and nor do I believe we can command our emotions anymore than we can command the weather.
Yes, we all can be overly fixated on less than helpful things, but I often think we confuse self-control with being inhuman.
Do we have to kill someone we’re mad at? Of course not.
But can we turn the anger off with the ease of a light switch? NO.
Does every sad thing that happens illicit a tear-riddled breakdown? NO.
But is telling someone to “quit being a baby” helpful?
Unless you’re hyper-masculine, NO.
You don’t have to be a baby to feel the need to cry.
We also have to remember that crying in ACTUAL babies/toddlers is their primary form of communication, when people beyond the infant/toddler years cry, it’s our way of releasing intense emotion, not only when we’re physically or emotionally hurt, but even when we’re HAPPY.
Though those “Happy Tears” don’t happen nearly as often as the tears from pain.
That may not be what some “Tough Love: Type-A Pragmatists” want to hear, but it’s the truth for many, including myself, and unlike me, you don’t have to have (insert mental illness here) to feel that way.
I’ve done and said my share of stupid things because of my inherently emotional nature, my temper, and simply not thinking things through.
But it’s these same hyper emotions that allow me to see things others around me don’t. Even if I can’t live up to the serene, selfless and quite demeanor my grandmother modeled for me, doesn’t mean she failed instilling those values in me, I just don’t access them as easily as her.
It’s not just because she’s had 60+ years to practice these principles, it’s also her nature to not be as volatile in her emotions as me, that’s just as valid a point to make.
That doesn’t make you a petty, bratty monster, that makes you HUMAN.
I’m in no way justifying the times I’ve (unmeaningly) hurt people or got things wrong, but to dismiss my pain as “optional” is like telling a child he’s a “demon” for teasing his sister.
Of course, teasing his sister isn’t nice, but neither is demonizing a child who feels jealous toward his sibling, and we all feel jealous at times, but that doesn’t mean we’re Satan’s apprentice, either.
The trick is helping the jealous sibling find ways to express his feelings of envy in ways that don’t discount him, without scarring either the siblings or the parents (or parental figure[s]) involved.
A writer friend who helped me during similar dark times in my life says, “You can express the negative without being negative.” She’s right.
I don’t always succeed at this ideal, and I still feel it’s a nebulous fortune cookie saying at times, but it is possible.
Anyway, part of why I’ve been MIA on the blog since June is because of my previous mental episodes, and after last week’s breakdown, I took the first steps to get back into therapy, and because of the bureaucratic red tape that is the U.S. health care system (in Michigan if not America at large) the process won’t start until the end of August 2015.
I’ve had to put the blog and all my future book reviews on hiatus.
You can still find me on Twitter (via @TAA_Editor and @Taurean_Watkins), but much of T.A.A.’s day to day operations are on indefinite hiatus, and our YouTube Channel will have fewer new videos for some time.
This was not an easy decision to come to, but while I know I’ll lose momentum I always struggled to build, in the long run better that than lose any semblance of sanity I have left.
Sometimes doing the right thing for our personal growth/salvation clashes with what’s good for business, and this is the crossroads I’m at now.
As scared as I am about how I’ll take care of myself financially (and my ultimate goal is to grow T.A.A. as a media brand that alongside my author career would ideally feed me creatively AND financially to some significant extent) I have to put my sanity above all else.
Thanks to all who’ve reached out to me on Twitter and Facebook, and for those of you who’re loyal patrons of my “Bites From The Cheese Shop” newsletter. I know you’ve not recieved a new letter in weeks.
I don’t like breaking commitments, and without making excuses, understand that I don’t want to flood your inbox with anything that’s less than my base standards of providing whatever value I can muster.
This flies in the face of a lot of people who say “engage your list every day or week” but sometimes that’s not possible.
So, all that said, this isn’t “Goodbye forever”
just “Goodbye For Now.”
The title of this letter is “Finding Joy and Strength Amidst Crisis” and you might be rightly wondering. where’s the joy in what I’ve shared?
At this point, my joy comes from the fact that in spite of the pain I faced last week especially, and all of my 28 years of last week, I’ve never once wanted to kill myself.
I never used drugs or alcohol to medicate myself, but I’m guilty of using food for this purpose, thankfully not to deadly extremes.
I consider that a testament to how much strength I do have that others worse of than me don’t, and I say it not to brag to those of you who have used these or other unhealthy self-medicating things, but only to put my own struggles in perspective.
I happily spared myself and, by association my family, the pain of becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict common in my family.
But they’ve had to bear the brunt of of my hyper-emotional, raging temper, and traumatic outbursts I’m not proud of nor excuse, but I also can’t erase from my biogenetic makeup.
Though they may look like childish outbursts for those on the outside of living with mental illness, these aren’t the same kinds of outbursts an actual child has.
I’m not whining for not getting candy or a video game (I still like those things, of course, but not getting them won’t depress me), I just can’t deal with everything in a serene, cool and calm manner.
I used to think I was a hopeless child, even though I’m not a child anymore, despite what some people over 30 often felt.
Often as kids and teens we’re taught to “count out” our madness, but the kind of anger and rage I feel I can’t be counted away.
I’ve gotten as far as #50 and while I’m less inclined to destroy furniture, that’s as far as it goes.
I used to think that made me defective, but I now realize that my Asperger’s prevents a lot of common practices to regulate my emotions from working.
It doesn’t mean counting doesn’t work for anyone.
It just doesn’t for me.
I don’t yet know what will work more consistently for me.
I just know counting down from madness isn’t my way.
I just hope we can find more strategies for those of us who have more volatile emotions like me.
This way we can spare those few people at our side at least some of our painfully potent emotions, that while we can’t turn off, we can lessen the impact, and to remind us that we’re not heartless monsters, even if our “not always 100% in our control” actions can look as such.
Still, I can’t help but smile when I think of how the school of thought used by the kids of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
When You Feel So Mad That You Want To ROAR!
Take A Deep Breath and Count To 4.
It doesn’t work for me.
But I’m glad for the kids this strategy will work for.