Go on a Self-Care Date, alone.

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship … anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.” ― Parker Palmer

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These are some divine pancakes I had for breakfast recently at my local cafe… Photo by me!

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One of the key ways that I manage my well-being with autism, by keeping anxiety and depression levels low, is taking myself out on dates.  I do not bring anyone with me on these dates; I am simply focusing on ME.

I know for many, the idea of going on a date alone seems ludicrous, but it can actually be extremely liberating and exceptionally calming. Being alone does not need to be unbearable or a sign that you are a “weirdo” or a “loser”. Hey, most of us autistics choose to be alone on a regular basis! I know you have a favourite outfit, a favourite cafe, a favourite meal, a favourite book to read… So pick yourself up, get outta those PJs and go on a self-date!

I take myself out, once a week, on a “self-care breakfast”, and it really relaxes me.  In fact, I’ve just come home from my weekly breakfast (see pic below!), and considering I had to locate a new place, walked 33 minutes to get there… and 33 minutes back home… I’m actually feeling pretty good I was able to do that!! And get something nice to eat.

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Today I had the Big Breakfast, and it was pretty good 🙂

These self-care dates give me a chance to be in a special place outside of my house where I can enjoy the food I like, the environment I like, get to talk to a few people, and I can also “people-watch” or write in my journal.

 


 

Self-care dates are SELF LOVE!

Self-love – yuck?!  I guess you might hear ‘self-love matters’ way too much, and think this is all happy-clappy stuff.  But it’s true.  See, self-care is that act of nurturing and caring for yourself; that act of loving yourself.  It’s not a selfish action, but a selfless action…. for being able to give yourself kindness means that you can actually be an amazing light and power to all others around you.

Self-care is defined as any activity you do which promotes positive outcomes for your personal health and well-being. 

If you’re wondering if you need to start a self-care regime, I’d go out on a limb and say, YES YOU DO. So many of us just don’t do it.  Perhaps you give to others all the time, and at the end of the day feel drained and unable to be kind to others? Maybe you just keep promising yourself to book in a massage because you have such a bad backache, but it never happens? Or you spend lots of time working or playing computer games, and then neglect yourself, by forgetting to eat, shower, sleep? Taking some time out to just be with yourself can be so positive for your life.

Ideas for self-care dates:

  • Self-care breakfasts at your favourite cafe (breakfast time because there are less people in the cafe!)
  • Sit on a park bench and write in your journal
  • A trip to the art gallery (on weekdays, to avoid the crowds!)
  • Watching a movie
  • Having a massage or pamper day
  • Learning to dance, rock climb, paint, or ???
  • Go for a walk in nature

Self-care activities are not over-indulgent (it’s not about eating an entire chocolate cake every day, or spending half your wage on pretty clothes or gourmet foods!); self-care dates are measured, planned, and allow for an external (outside of your home) calming space where you can just be YOU.


 

Self-care dates improve your life…. How?

  • Something to look forward to – Even when everything sucks, you always have your self-care breakfast! I love going out to my local cafe, where they understand my behaviours and patterns, accept my teddy bear who sometimes accompanies me, and allow me to just be myself. I go there and I know everything will be okay.
  • Builds confidence and self-sufficiency – The first time I went out, it was scary because I had to find a new cafe, talk to waiters, and interact with other people. But over time, I found myself more confident in my abilities and more comfortable to just be myself.  Going out alone also made me realize I am a lot more capable than I thought.
  • Expands your horizons – Over the past few years, I took myself on activity dates, where I learned how to dance.  This was totally out of my comfort zone, but it was something I had always wanted to do.  By doing it more and more, I began to cope better managing my anxiety in groups, and I even met some fun and lovely people.
  • Try new things – Whether you’re trying a new breakfast menu item, or giving rock climbing a go, when you take yourself out on self-care dates, you will become more adventurous.   The key with your self-care days is not to force yourself to be that which you are not… but as you take days just for you, you may find that the “salmon croquettes with poached eggs” might inspire you more than your usual fried eggs on toast…. or that going out to the art gallery may be a new adventure, rather than just walking by the river… Trying new things because it was your own idea? Fabulous!
  • Promotes quiet-time and self-reflection – Sitting alone with an empty chair across from you can be confronting, but it is also calming.  There are no expectations when you are alone.  You can simply sit, drink a coffee and reflect on life.  Being alone on self-dates allows a space of quiet reflection.  You can go for a walk in nature, and think. Sit and think. See an art show, and think.
  • Makes you a better “dater” – You may not be taking yourself out on dates in order to be a better spouse, but going out alone certainly teaches you some preliminary skills for dating.  You know what it is like to be with yourself, you understand the rules and happenings of a cafe, you know how to order, and you also should have a good idea of what kind of place you like! You’ll also be more confident in yourself, and you’ll hopefully also now be relaxed about your clothes/ hair/ makeup.
  • Teaches financial management – When you take yourself out on dates, you’ll quickly learn that you need to make sure you have a budget, and that you need to stick to it.  I’ve set my self-care breakfast dates to a strict budget of $40 per weekly outing.  That gives me enough money for one elaborate breakfast meal and two coffees. If I want more, too bad; that’s the budget.  This is the amount I can afford. I also learned to manage my weekly money better, because if I splurge elsewhere, I am unable to go out for my breakfast!
  • Allows you to find yourself, like… really, deeply, completely – I’ve mentioned it above a few times, that going out on these self-care dates gives you a chance to get to know yourself better, build confidence and try new things… and all of this gives you space to figure out who you are, what you like and dislike, what you can tolerate, your triggers and your coping mechanisms.  By being out in public with yourself, you learn both the glittering edges of human kindness (they remembered my favourite coffee! they saved my a favourite table! they told me of changes in the menu! they waved to me in the street! they knew I needed lots of space today!) AND your own experience (when is it time to leave? what upsets me? how do i calm myself down when change happens?)

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Give yourself a chance to experience a regular self-care date! You deserve it! 🙂

Apps 4 Autism Hackathon: Reflections

When autistics get together, something magical happens!

‘Moondance’ by Amorphisss, an amazing artist on deviant art. Go check him out!

So, a couple of years ago, I attended a Hackathon called Apps4Autism, inspirationally brought into existence by the Autism CRC, and sponsored by some lovely peeps at Salesforce and ANZ.

The Hackathon ran for 3 days with its purpose being to design user-validated apps for people on the Autistic spectrum. I had many reflections on the event at the time, and these are some I had right after.

I am re-posting this  coz I think the thoughts I made at that point in time were valuable, and maybe they can help others too.


What is the key issue all Autistics face?

Relationship.

(Yep, that’s correctly spelled).

The primary problem we have is the understanding of “relationship” — it is the relational space between ourselves and objects that poses confusion. Just as a quick aside, in psychology the self is perceived as the subject, and the “other” is denoted as an object. A key priniciple of psychology (whichever technique you ascribe to) states, to attain a deeper connectedness with the world, and a deeper awareness of yourself in the world, you need to first understand your relationship with your self.

First and foremost, Autistics (or, ‘aspies’) are introspective. They look within. Aspies look at their own relational space first, and then they look outside us. Now, herein lies the challenge. When Aspies look within, they see something so deep and so complex; so immense and unbounded that they can’t make sense of it. In my team on the hackathon, one of my fellow Aspies said, “The scope is too big, and that causes the overwhelm”. Nail on the head! When Aspies look within ourselves, they see a myriad of “stuff”. They cannot even begin to label what’s there, because there is so much there. Similar to my post on FOCUS, when Aspies view themselves, they get lost and frustrated.

Autistics are problem-focused. We are constantly seeking solutions.

When you are Autistic, and you are naturally drawn to creating systems and solving problems, consider how it might feel to look at yourself and be lost in there. If you have ever wondered why Autistics tend to get angry/ frustrated/ annoyed, this is good place to start your enquiry! They want to solve the problem of Self. Aspies MUST solve the problem. Then when they look outside themselves at others, they still cannot make sense of it. The problem of understanding others lies in relationship. The problem is in the relational space. And, this issue is magnified by the fact that when we look at others, we do not see a reflection of ourselves. Let me explain using an example-

Different Not Less

In the evening of the final day of the Hackathon, I was honored to join a group (Austistics) for drinks at a pub. Between much chatter and drinking, at one point someone said, “See, we don’t have a problem with socializing! We’re doing it just fine with eachother” — I think that is the key point here. Being Aspie certainly means our main issue is relationship, but moreover, the “problem” lies not in how we communicate per se, but how we are understood by everyone else (those not on the Spectrum).

When we look inside ourselves, it is confusing because the scope of Self is without boundary. But when we look at others, we (more often than not) find ourselves comparing our sense of self and understanding of the world with non-Autistics. We do not see a reflection of ourselves in the world. We see difference, and, at a very young age, that feels like rejection…. but moreover, from a deep reflective sense of how we Autistics understand our world, we see a problem to be solved. And purely using logic here-

If you are 1 and everyone else is 2… it is natural to think 1 is wrong, and 2 is right

If you are 1 and everyone else is 2, and you never meet another 1, and you can’t understand 2, but everyone else understands 2 because they are 2, then it supposes that 1 is not 2, and if 1 cannot be made into 2 by means of altering looks, behaviour, clothing, spoken word, or any other transformation, then it further reinforces that 1 is different from 2. And if 2 rejects 1 for being 1, then it is a natural reaction (and based in science) for 1 to think 1 is wrong and 2 is right.

Therefore I am wrong, and everyone else is right. I am the problem, and the external other is the solution. I need to obtain the other to solve the problem, but I am the problem. How can I be the problem and other the solution? How can I solve my internal struggle of making sense of myself if externally is where the solution lies? How can I make sense of myself if I don’t know where to start because the self is so immense? How can I connect with the other if that other is so immense? And if I am the problem, then maybe removing the problem is the solution?

Our incredible skill of analysis and systems exploration is what makes Aspies so bloody brilliant…. but it also makes most of them quite apathetic, depressed or dismissive especially of themselves and especially when it comes to rationalizing whether social interaction is worth time and effort.

Weird photo taken at Apps4Autism.

When Autistics get together, magic happens

Yes, we are different. We are 1’s!! Amongst each other, we are much more able to build quick and lasting friendships because, if I may swear here, we cut past all the meaningless bullshit. When you finally meet another Autistic person (and, I might add, you have finally got a diagnosis), you feel NORMAL. For the first time ever, when a Autistic meets another Autistic, we have a mirroring of self.

At the Hackathon, I found it so comforting to be surrounded by so many other like-minded people. In my group, we didn’t need to clarify anything (although we would perfect exact synonyms) when we spoke to each other. We didn’t need to read into what might have been said, or was not said but intended (subtle cues of non-Autistics), we didn’t need to expend all that energy on pointless things. That was nice. I also notice that Autistics tend to be the kindest, most loving people. This is not to exclude non-Autistics, because certainly you can be sweet too. I just want to explain how it felt to be ‘mirrored’. I would posit we Autistics are kind because we have felt ostracized whilst analyzing the intricacies of that rejection. We want nothing more than to understand our immense self, and understand the immense other. We want nothing more than connection (like every human does). When we see ourselves reflected back, it is beautiful.

Autistics cut past all the meaningless bullshit.

I often reflect on Fritz Perls, Gestalt clinician (b.1893–1970) who said, “A good therapist doesn’t listen to the content of the bullshit the patient … The real communication is beyond words”. Perls talks about the “spaces between” being the place where communication exists. This is not to say the primary communication is body language, but rather, in reading a ‘typical’ client, you need to ignore the bullshit to actually see the person and see what their issue is. With an Aspie, you don’t have to filter the bullshit, because we already have done than task. Incidentally I love working with other Autistics in my practice because there is less to filter off. If they feel anxious or pissed off, most often they will tell you directly. Instead of the crap, we have EMOTIONS everywhere. But hey, at least that’s authentic. What a waste of energy expending it on the bullshit. Yes, I love you Fritz.

A way forward?

So essentially in this reflection, I wanted to draw attention to a few points from the Autistic perspective — my perspective. I cannot “solve” the problems put forth in all these points, but I think that working together is the way forward. I have gained such amazing insight from working with a psychotherapist (as a client in therapy) and I have gained so much from my own analytical self. I believe quite strongly in the need for solutions- not at all to CURE us (blegh/ AutismSpeaks wankers), but to support Autistics in a greater sense of self understanding…. because understanding the self is the first step to greater awareness and being able to “be” in the world, and be happy as part of it.

It was nice to be “seen”

I did feel quite blessed to have taken part in the Hackathon…. and I want to say a few words about that now. Thank you to the Autism CRC and everyone who helped make the Hackathon possible. It was nice to be “seen”, to be recognized for my experience, for my life, for my ideas and my talent. I have too often felt excluded in those areas. I also want to say thanks for bringing other Autistics together, and giving us space to be ourselves. I have made some wonderful dear friends, and connected with authentic and caring practitioners. I think that’s really special ❤

Focus and Procrastination

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Something many autistics struggle with is FOCUS.

Parents with autistic children ask me: “Why can’t my kid focus?” “Why can they focus on one thing and not others?” “How do I get them to give all school subjects equal focus?”.

Adults on the spectrum ask, “Why can’t I get motivated to do [subject/ work]?”, “Why I am terrible at sticking with something?”, “How do I stop procrastinating?”

 

All these questions point to one thing:

FOCUS.

I know. As soon as someone says your kid (or you) have “focus issues”, there are raised eyebrows and accusations of other conditions, communicated in a derogatory fashion- “do you have ADHD?” or you get comments like, “You seem a bit bipolar”.

Don’t be confused here. The “problem” autistics experience is not that they lack the ability to focus, but rather that they are continuously hyper-stimulated in their ability to focus.

Remember, we autistics experience the world at full-volume: 100%.

The “problem” about focus

If something is interesting, everything and everyone outside that laser-focus is ignored. At school, that means autistic kids may ignore the teacher; you may ignore your boss or your parents… This also happens to me in my love relationship a lot.  I get so involved in my work that I complete exclude my partner. I ignore SMSes, calls, and when Z. is in the house, I can shut myself off from him emotionally.  It’s not malicious. It’s simply that everything outside the focus loses importance. This laser-focus can make autistics seem to “disappear”. The interesting thing is the focus. Nothing else. Then after a number of hours your autistic will reappear and are starving because the focus has replaced the need for food, or they are exhausted because the focus has replaced the need to sleep. Eh, I digress.

To neurotypicals (people not on the Spectrum), consider autistic-focus like this: You know when are “in the zone” and you get loads done? That special kind of experience doesn’t happen much, but when it happens you feel great. Now, imagine being “in the zone” all the time. You can get heaps done, but also by the nature of being “in the zone”, you will reject everything outside of your focus. Now, imagine that everywhere you look, you see everything with that “in the zone” ability. What do you focus on? What do you choose to do?

Need for Harmony

In my experience (lived, observational and working) with autism, it seems many autistics view their relational world as a system which needs to be harmonious. The need for internal harmony is exceptionally important. This homeostasis need, or striving for ‘universal balance’ means that autistics tend to create structures within their world that bring order and maintain calm. By the way, this is where the desire for routine comes in. Now, the issue of focus is such that autistics often have difficulty prioritizing stuff. Our internal harmony needs always come first. Internal harmony needs are not to be confused with basic human needs. What maintains harmony in our own individual worlds is a completely personal and transitory experience.

The problem with getting outside-world things done (like meeting a deadline/ doing schoolwork/ getting to an appointment on time) is that the need for internal harmony takes precedence. Given enough time, however, outside-world things do get it done. Deadlines, generally, are frustrating to most autistics because of these focus issues. That is– No autistic likes to be told, “you MUST [be somewhere/ do something]”. That outside element of “must” is horrifying. If we create our own rules, it’s universal law and internal harmony, but if the rule or demand comes from outside, therein lies the challenge! (Consider theory of mind)

“We are doing something very intensely, but to the outside world, it seems like we’re doing nothing”

This inner world/ outer world struggle is something that autistics continuously re-evaluate. For example, autistics are sometimes misinterpreted as “doing nothing” or being distracted over “pointless” things. Rather, we are doing something very intensely, but to the outside world, it seems like we’re doing nothing.

The outside world (neurotypicals) do not see what we see. So, quite understandably, if I were to I spend a whole day at home, micro-adjusting the pillows on my couch, most people not on the Spectrum would view that behaviour as A) crazy; B) a waste of time; C) pointless; D) incomprehensible. However, in the autistic world, that intense pillows-adjustment has now enabled me to maintain inner-world homeostasis. By maintaining my inner structures, I can now spend a measly 3 hours working on an assessment, where I write 5,000w in perfect academic prose. Tell another autistic this, and they shrug – it’s normal. Tell a neurotypical and they don’t know what to do with it.

Basically, the need for harmony is such that the internal balance comes first. Now, the assessment might have a deadline, and it might be important in some external outside world kind of way… but in my internal autistic world, there cannot be balance in the Force until the pillows are adjusted!

 

Strategies to improve focus

If you want an autistic to stay focused, then you have to make the desired topic of focus the ONLY focus. It’s hard to stay focused on someone speaking to you when they are wearing glittery earrings and the light is dancing all over them. It’s hard to stay focused on the teacher if there is a spelling mistake on the board. Equally, it’s hard to feel inspired to start something if there are other distracting things in your immediate environment. You may find this is precisely why most autistics like to study in complete silence, in a cocoon of comfort…

What I hope you might gain from this article is that though focus issues might appear to manifest in autism, they are not permanently debilitating. If you absolutely must complete a task, a key way to manage or hone focus is to rationalize the situation, or create new rules for prioritizing things.

 

How to manage “getting focused” when you feel–

·       I CAN’T BE BOTHERED

Is there something about the task that you can find interesting? Maybe it’s the way of working, or the systems you’ll use to find the information, or perhaps you can rationalize that by learning more about the topic, it could become interesting.

·       I AM ANNOYED THAT I HAVE TO DO [THE TASK]

What makes doing it annoying? Maybe it’s a good idea to rationalize on the usefulness of completing this task. Will completing the task advance your schoolwork, get the teacher/ your boss to appreciate you more/ get you closer to finishing your study? Remember, you can always create a voodoo doll of that stupid teacher and poke it with pins to take out some anger whilst completing the task 😉

·       I FEEL IT WON’T BE GOOD ENOUGH

Ahh anxiety-time! How about gently reminding yourself that your version of perfect is far exceeds anything the average person can even conceive. Bolster confidence. Say “you can do it; it’s great”, or simply, “I am fantastic, and everything I do is fantastic”

A lack of focus is not inherently bad.

You just learn to go with the flow, accepting the knowledge that things will be completed in their due course. If you ditch topics or abandon jobs, don’t worry about it so much. Essentially you have gathered all there was to learn about it at that moment in time. We can always go back and try it again!

I think it’s good to always always always remember that being autistic is not a disorder (quite apart from the diagnosis label). If anything, being autistic is a “bringing-to-order”. Being autistic makes you different, and while it brings inter-relational challenges, they are not insurmountable.

Being autistic is okay; it really is.

The Isle of Loneliness

 

In solitude, the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself. — Laurence Sterne

alone autumn mood forest cold countryside

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

WHAT IS LONELINESS?

You might say it feels like:

Emptiness. Sadness. Missing out. Not feeling part of it. Yucky. Unpleasantness. Disconnected. Uncomfortable. Not fitting in… but wishing you did. Without friends. Without anyone. Just “without”. Being all alone.

I think there’s a difference between being alone, and being lonely. Although being autistic makes it hard to find the thin veil of this line. I wonder, perhaps loneliness is not so much “being alone” or “to have solitude”, but rather, “feeling unwanted and isolated”?

Understandably, feeling unwanted is an emotion that goes hand-in-hand with autism. As a person with autism, we are different. We are “unwanted” by the typical mainstream society… or at least, that’s how many autistics feel growing up. But, as we are on a SPECTRUM, each person on the spectrum is different. Although we share a common problem (autism-ness), we still have a wide array of different interests, ideas, and life experiences. So some of us may feel variations of this loneliness sensation.

Loneliness has its benefits, and its pitfalls.

In the quiet space of being alone, of having solitude, there is a great deal of space for self-reflection, to be able to see things clearly and create a future plan to explain and “release” ourselves from current issues…

However, being alone also brings out our negative thought loops and overthinking of things.  Being autistic means I sometimes experience an issue of “analysis-paralysis” where we analyze ourselves into corners.

I think that’s why having a good therapist is so important. I can be be alone, but see my therapist to air my ideas and thoughts, gain feedback, and see where my thinking is skewed.  As an aside, I’ve had a fabulous therapist for the past 17 years and she’s really helped me to not fall into analysis-paralysis when I’m alone.  I find my alone times very self-caring now. I find the solitude brings me peace.

 

 

How to work on/ work with loneliness

First and foremost, I need to say:

It sucks to feel darkness in loneliness. It really sucks. 

But you CAN work on this. 

The catch – yes, there’s a catch – is that working on loneliness is like working on any emotional state you perceive as “bad”. It takes WORK. When something feels bad, it is harder to look at, it is harder to work on, to work through…. because, quite logically, it feels bad! Consider this: when you feel good, everything seems easier, correct? When you feel good, being in the world is enjoyable, and things you do are more uplifting. When you feel “bad”, it’s going impact on your ability to stay with it, and to get things done. In a nutshell, that’s depression.

So, when you feel loneliness, and hence, you feel “bad”, the most most common response is to run away. Fight or flight. Something is hurting me (in this case, emotionally), so I can either choose to fight it (but stay in the emotion) or run away (get away from the emotion). It does, on a very basic level, make sense you want to retreat.

Here’s the tidbit of useful information-

Sometimes it’s okay to run away. Just don’t make a habit of it.

How to deal with “bad” feelings?

It is all about a journey of self-care. Self love, as it were. Now, I know self-love has been absorbed into a happy-clappy new age concept, but it actually sits at the very core of our human psychology. If we care for (or love) ourselves, we are able to give ourselves what we NEED. Self-care is about becoming aware of what you actually need in the moment, not what you want.

For example, when you are out with a group and feel uncomfortable, perhaps what you truly need at that time is to stay. What you want might want most is to run away, but what you need (from a deeper psychological perspective) is to be present in the experience and try to connect with others. It’s also possible that what you *need* is to recognize that you have reached your limit of social interaction and you need to accept that is okay for today. You may want to stay in order to prove to yourself that you can, or because you want others to like you (and think you’ll be judged if you leave early), etc. Do you see how your needs and wants affect each other? It is essential to learn self-care so that you can protect yourself and give yourself what you need.

Sure. I can put my needs first…. but how do I figure out what I actually need?

A good question!

Quite simply, trial and error. In a more complex sense, you will find that more introspective work or mindfulness activities will help you begin to understand yourself better.

Having a supportive therapist is excellent for help with your own inner-journey

By working on ourselves, by loving ourselves, by building a relationship with ourselves, we are able to build meaningful   connections with others. And we are more able to manage and understand our emotions.

Specific steps and strategies to manage loneliness

  • Talk to your therapist about your feelings of loneliness. What happened? Where were you when you felt loneliness? Did you feel any other feelings alongside the “loneliness”?
  • Become mindful and aware of your “lonely feeling” states. It’s okay to feel a feeling. Be mindful of it. Hold that feeling in your mind, and breathe. Tell yourself, “Hello Loneliness. I am aware you are here again. Welcome Loneliness”. This might be hard at first (like, why welcome something horrible?), but the more you do it, the less power Loneliness has over you. You are in charge of your body, of your mind. Befriend all feelings you have. Loneliness is part of you. Being mindful of the less nice parts of you, is loving yourself.
  • Act on what you need rather than what you want. When you begin to turn inward (in terms of working on your psychological space), you will learn to love yourself more. You can learn when it is time to stay focused on what you need, instead of reacting or following your habits/ automatic behavior patterns and thoughts. How to do this exactly? Self reflection, chatting with your therapist, reading psychological books and critically analyzing yourself.
  • Practice self-care by setting boundaries. You’ll love yourself more and you’ll also feel less lonely when you set limits or say no to work, love, or activities that deplete or harm you physically, emotionally and spiritually, or express poorly who you are.
  • Protect yourself. Bring the right people into your life. Surround yourself with people who support you, encourage introspection and self-growth. If you have experienced a trauma growing up, make sure you talk about it with a therapist. Show yourself a little kindness. What happened to you was horrible; it wasn’t your fault. You deserve a little kindness….
  • Forgive yourself. Hey, sometimes we forget to show ourselves a little gratitude. We often don’t stop and think about how we may tend to demand perfection of ourselves. We can be so hard on ourselves! Certainly be responsible and take responsibility for your actions, but remember punishing ourselves too much for our mistakes is not helpful. You have to accept your humanness (the fact that you are not perfect), before you can really love yourself. Practice being less critical of yourself when you make a mistake. Remember, making a mistake doesn’t mean you are a horrible person. You are human, so give yourself a break. Forgive yourself for getting it wrong. Accept your humanness. Take note of the mistake, apologize if you have hurt others, and now set your mind to making it right. If you have learned and grown from your mistakes, that is a positive thing.

So why even “love yourself”? What’s that got to do with loneliness?

In short, when you feel lonely and “unwanted”, what you’re really feeling is a lack of connection with yourself. I know that sounds self-help-shitty, but it’s like this: When you have strayed from your strong sense of self, or forgotten to self-care, you’ll start doing things that are destructive.  You’ll start feeling that experience of being unwanted and alone, even in relationships/ groups. You’ll have more fights with others; more misunderstandings, more issues…. and you’ll also find your autism “gets worse”.

The fact is, we do not always really love ourselves or care for ourselves.  It’s hard to always self-love and self-care.  It’s hard for most people, but when you’re autistic, I’d garner it’s harder.  Not only do we have life events and stresses, but we’ve got all these other thoughts going on in our head– sensory challenges and taking on feelings, overflowing changing emotions, intrusive negativity, recollections of things other’s have said, quotes from books or films we’ve read, things our friends/ family/ partner has said, our own ideas– all this jumbled stuff to sort out and to choose which is important (which is “correct”?).

Being autistic means I know sometimes I don’t hear things correctly, and sometimes I don’t understand what is meant, and sometimes I can’t interpret your face/ tone/ expressions, so I know I’m already on the back foot in communication.  I am acutely aware of my limits.

My loneliness and disconnection from the world and those in it just grows and grows when I deny my own self-care time.

So, I may go to a group, try to get myself “back out there” and then I feel lonely in the group. I feel lonely around my family/ friends/ partner.  All this: the loneliness with others is not about them.  It’s about YOU.  That feeling lonely is actually reflective of your own disconnection with yourself.

When you love yourself, you build the connection with yourself and you self-care with intention and kindness…  So, you deepen your connection with yourself, and this solidifies your strong sense of self.  In turn, the deeper your self-care focus, the more you can build  healthy connections with others.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

 

Figure out your own self-care plan

When you’re “back to normal”, or working with your therapist, it’s a good idea to create a self-care plan.  A self-care plan is as the title suggests: a plan to increase your self-care, something that is manageable and when you do these things, you feel good.  This can be a 1 page go-to list, or an essay-length plan.  It just needs to be YOUR plan.  This is about you.

Think about the answers to these questions, to help you develop your own plan:

  • What indoor activities lift your spirits?
  • What outdoor activities lift your spirits?
  • What music makes you feel happy?
  • Who do you most enjoy spending time with? Why?
  • How often (per week) can you give time to your self-care? How long?
  • How often do you need to see your therapist? Do you have a next-appointment booked in already?
  • How do you feel when you self-care?
  • Describe how you know your self-care activities are working for you.