Faithfully Autistic

Autistics have sensory processing difficulties, and this means that a seemingly everyday task such as getting dressed, can become a challenge. Materials that feels soft to some, can be interpreted by the autistic brain as rough. And the intensity of these sensations can change without warning, improve over time or even worsen.

Until my mid twenties I couldn’t shake hands with people, no matter how gently my hand was held I experienced pain akin to sharp tingles, like ‘pins and needles’, and other times it felt hot as though I had been burned. I would recoil in pain.

Sound is another sense that I process differently. For certain sounds my hearing is so acute that it hurts. I can hear the buzz of electricity in a plug; the spark of a charge as a light turns on and yet I can miss an entire conversation happening right beside me.

However, there is a flip side of being negatively overwhelmed by these heightened, sometimes ‘wonky’ senses and that is something I am learning to embrace and enjoy.

I can see minute detail, the capillary on a leaf, and individual segments of seemingly smooth skin.
I can see every whorl of my finger prints, each twitch of my cats whiskers.
I enjoy a deeper level of taste which brings flavour to even the blandest of foods.
The experiences of brushing my hand across the back of my cat, of running my fingers over the textured pattern of the screen of our ancient LED television, or the bumps and grooves of my tangle stim-toy is amazing.

I am bathed in a wash of sensation and before it becomes too much – and it always becomes too much – I stand in the precipice, a step beyond the limit of ordinary, and it is wonderful.

And it is here that I find my deepest faith.

When you are in touch with the world in a way that few can even understand, your interpretations and experiences of a place are enhanced, and it is in those experiences that I see the majesty of the world. It is there that I find gratitude and peace. It is there that I do not feel disabled, I do not feel broken or wrong. I feel blessed.

Imagine, if you will, that moment in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ when Dorothy’s world turns from greyscale into full Technicolor and you have barely brushed the surface.

A very good friend described it like this:

I think it was more of a perspective thing for me (…) [I] Admire more of the small stuff around me.
They have always been there. I have just been too scared, to actually enjoy the things around me.
To live.

It is this duality to these unusual, and intense, sensory experiences that allows me to say that I am grateful to be Autistic.

Yes, there are times when I am so overwhelmed it is hard to function but on the other side of that is a glorious rainbow of experience that a neurotypical brain would never be able to connect with.

From this day forward, I want to use that connection as my drive and my passion; I want to create and share those experiences in my own limited way.

I want to glorify the gifts that they afford me.

I am autistic, God made me that way. And it is wonderful!

August Reading List

As part of my journey to being more intentional with my spiritual life, I want to start reading more faith-based texts so I have decided that each month I will pick 3-5 books that are focused on building a personal relationship with God; religious experience; spiritual growth; a bible study, or a devotional. There is no major rush to have every text completed by the end of the month (especially the devotionals) as I personally think that it is more important for me to actively read and mentally digest the words and the message placed in front of me than to rush towards some hypothetical ‘finish-line’.

With that being said, I thought that I would share the texts that I have chosen for this first month of intentional faith-based reading and write a bit about why I chose a particular text, and what, if anything I am hoping to garner from them.

Continue Reading

Faithful Creativity

I don’t always read my devotionals in order. Sometimes I just flick through the pamphlet and see where I am drawn, I am also inclined to read older publications as sometimes that past message is relevant for present me.

This week I was drawn to a word from a few weeks ago and the focus of the message was creativity:

God has made us all with the ability to be creative…

There are plenty of alternative, creative ways to connect with God. We can journal, read books, study theology and worship Him through art, music or hospitality. So if we’re feeling a bit stuck in our relationship with God, let’s think creatively and try something new. (ref)

In my last post, I told you about my prayer journal and my plans to develop my faith, encourage my spiritual growth and to take time to meditate on the word of God. As you know, I want to be more intentional with my prayer life and I want to ensure that I take time every day to read, study, contemplate and pray.

It was with this in mind that I was drawn to the latest release from Me and My Big Idea’s, Happy Planner collection; the Classic-sized 2018-2019 Walk By Faith is a lovely disc-bound planner that has restarted my #plannergirl dreams (one day I should take a photo of my ‘collection’). I plan to use this planner, alongside the prayer journal, as part of my faith-toolkit and my aim is to explore if having a focused, and themed planner will help (or hinder) my continuing spiritual journey and daily intentions.

I know I have to carefully manage all of my creative pursuits, and I do not want to get caught up in anything that causes a distraction, however, I want to experiment with the idea of faithful creativity and how our time with God can take on many forms.

My current plan is to create a plan-with-me style blog and/or video each week as I decide which scriptures I want to focus on that week, go through my current study notes and also show how I take time to incorporate my faith with my mental wellness journey.

If I do create videos they will be posted on YouTube and I hope to see you other there soon.

 


 

Rebecca Barlow Jordan says: All of us are artists, and God has work for us to do. [He] encourages us to enjoy the fruits of our labour. But the true blessing comes not just in knowing we’ve overcome…[it’s] when creativity validates its divine origin and brings honour to God (ref)

 

Pray Always

 

prayer journals

Since late 2014 I have tried to include journaling as part of my prayer life. At first, it was difficult to know what to write but my thoughts and prayer quickly ended up being letters to God.

I spent the next few years writing in my pink journal. I found it on Amazon and what set it apart from other notebooks was the Christian design. On the cover is a quote from Matthew, and on the bottom of each page is a biblical verse. Sometimes the verses brought inspiration but other times I wrote without fully appreciating their meaning but, nonetheless, I was grateful for their presence.

 

“With God, all things are possible” Matt. 19:26

 

Within the pages of this notebook are some of my darkest moments. There were heavy times when I felt as though I were drifting away from my sanity, and other times when I felt like I was losing my connection to God.

I didn’t have a set routine, I just wrote whenever I felt compelled to, which meant there were weeks when I wouldn’t even glance at the journal.

 

A few weeks ago it was finally time to say goodbye to my pink companion, and as I searched through my ever growing collection of notebooks I came across this little gem from Grace and Salt Ink

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 [ESV]

I cannot remember how long I have had this basic Moleskine in my possession, but I love its simple, yet beautiful, customisation.

At the time I was preparing to use this little notebook I also decided to restart my favourite daily devotional, and a line immediately made itself clear to me, and summed up my new intention: ‘Starting today I’m going to do what it takes to grow up spiritually and discover God’s plan for my life.’

Although I had long committed myself to God, having undergone an Anglican Confirmation in 2013, I am still very much in my spiritual infancy. I have been disconnected from any form of church family, or fellowship, for at least three years and although I started a course in theology I didn’t see it through to completion. I have always identified myself as a curious Christian, someone who wants to explore ideas of faith and prayer and not be limited by cultural expectations or current trends. I wanted to understand liturgy as well as Celtic prayer. I wanted to read about the mystics as well as the saints. I wanted to understand the Jewish history and find the path that best suited my personal relationship and understanding of God.

And I still do.

However, I found that in this curiosity I didn’t actually take time for prayer. I didn’t always take time to talk with God, to be quiet, to be still. To just listen. So eager was I to gather a new nugget of information that I began to lose sight of why I had started my spiritual journey in the first place. I started to become overwhelmed with the thoughts and ideas of others and I forgot to connect with my own.

When I finally stopped I found that I was lost. I had not departed from God, nor had I changed my belief in him but I had lost sight of what was important – my personal relationship with God. So, I went back to my notebook, inspired by that devotional. It is time for my faith to mature.

‘Let us go on instead and become mature.’ Hebrews 6:1 NLT

This prayer journal is going to become an integral part of my new faithful intention, and my plan is to share more of my weekly prayers, readings and studies so that this blog can grow and develop as I do.

What do you feel as though God has been pressing into your heart recently?

Are you like me and seeking to be more prayerful?

I’d love to know your favourite studies and devotionals so feel free to comment below or tweet me @thisgirlmatters

I Was a Sad Child

The last few weeks have been tough.

Both my mental and physical health have taken a hit and the journey to get back to a place of stability has been difficult.

I become quite introspective during times of depression, and I recently started thinking about how long I have had to live alongside this darkness, and although I cannot pinpoint an exact time I realised that I have always been sad.

The one thing that is clear when I look back at pictures from my childhood is that I was, even in my youngest years, a sad child. 

From the stories my mother has shared with me, I never cried, I didn’t complain and I never spoke of discomfort – however my sadness was palpable.

I was 10 years old when I first entered the mental health system. I was not diagnosed with depression, in fact, we were told that children could not have depression, however, that did not stop years of counsellors, therapists and various medications. By the time my depression was diagnosed I was a broken teenager, and completely unresponsive to any help that may have been available.

I cannot help but wonder who I would be, and where I could be in my life if I had not been dismissed. If somebody had taken the time to piece together all the clues that with hindsight are so glaringly obvious. If someone had wondered why I was so sad, and not just assumed that it was due to my sister’s health problems, my parent’s divorce or a lack of attention.

If someone had seen how overwhelming I found the world; that every sight, sound and touch brought pain. That I didn’t speak, because I couldn’t speak. That my head was full of words, thoughts and ideas that all wanted to burst free but, even as a child, I held back.

I was a sad child, and I wish someone had seen the hurt. Had read the suicide notes that I would scribble in the dark depths of the night only to find myself waking up the next morning.

But they didn’t. Or if they did they didn’t speak up.

I was a sad child, and now as a grown woman, I grieve for that little girl. Each day I wear her pain and feel her desperation. Some nights I find myself caught up in her anguish, fighting back in the night terrors in a way she never could.

I was a sad child, and I cannot change my past, however, today I commit to healing that part of my soul that is still that little girl.

Today, I promise to cherish her and comfort her.

I was a sad child, but today I am free.

Adjusting Plans & Embracing Superpowers

After taking the time to write about streamlining my blogs and keeping everything in one place – I started a new blog.

With the clarity of a therapeutic level of medication I realised that something I thought was a negative could, in fact, be a positive. Whilst I was suffering from an overwhelming lack of focus, with a few adjustments this diversity of my mind could work in my favour. My neurologically diverse brain works in ways that isn’t typical and so I had to realise that I shouldn’t seek to manage it in a neurotypical way.

The truth was, that whilst I was working on being an advocate for others, I forgot to advocate for myself.

I worried that others would thing I was ‘doing too much’ and I wanted to make thing easier but easier for who? Turns out the need for separate compartments (digitally and mentally) was a technique my brain created to manage, and it turns out that it was a good thing!

When I return to education in October I’m going to need a space that is just focused on academia and study skills; and I like having a place that I can focus on my faith and another place to talk about gaming. It’s okay that my brain has a multitude of interests, it is past time that we see this as a skill, a God-given gift, rather than a hindrance.

My neurodiversity is not something I should apologise for, or try to excuse. Yes, I think differently. Yes, I process differently and yes often that goes against the quote-u quote norm. But so, what?

Maybe this is my superpower?

What if we started looking at our quote-unquote differences as a superpower God has given us, rather than something wrong that we are suppressing to fit in, or to do things the supposed right way?

Although my path has been uncomfortable (and let’s be honest, there have been moments it has been life threatening) as time goes on I am learning more about myself and how best to interact with life, and I realise that what were weaknesses have the potential to also be strengths.

I thought that with medication, and diagnosis I would have to erase those aspects of myself, when the truth is, they are the reason that I have manage to get this far!

 

So today let us turn to God in thanksgiving that we think different; that we move through the world on different frequencies.

Let us embrace who we are and share ourselves honestly, and unapologetically.

Mindful Gaming

I’m sure we’ve all seen those articles that blast some video game or another being the cause of violence, increased aggression, ill health and even death; and if you’re a kid of the 90’s you may remember the ‘moral panic’ that was attached to the Grand Theft Auto games.

However, for some (including me) games can bring a much-needed relief.

They help me find a place of focus that is otherwise lacking in my daily life, and I even use some games to engage with mindful techniques such as staying present; and as such gaming has become a key component of my mental wellness toolkit.

Gaming allows me examine scenarios, better understand social interactions, express creativity, and to develop/explore my imagination. They are also great at allowing me to de-stress.

One of the most important things to do when thinking about engaging with games for mindfulness is knowing what games help you and what games harm. For me in games, as with books, I seek peace and escape. I love games such as Animal Crossing which are not timed, paced or otherwise rule based. I have enough daily ‘shoulds’ and ‘coulds’ that digital fishing and little chats with cute villagers are an opportunity to find calm in the chaos.

Right now, my favourite mindful game to play is Minecraft which on its own is an amazing sandbox experience, however with added mods I can craft gameplay that best suits my needs. Interestingly this was not a game I immediately connected with. I found it too blocky, I didn’t like the monsters, and I’m no good at fighting. I need things that keep my attention without overwhelming me (plus those zombie noises are a sensory nightmare!) so I avoided playing it for years, but then I started watching YouTube videos and I discovered modded Minecraft. My laptop is an older model and not at all a gaming system so I have had to learn to be very selective with the mods I play, however with a few adjustments Minecraft has become a safe place to explore and express myself creatively. One of my favourite gameplay styles in Minecraft is playing in peaceful because one of the things I love the most in Minecraft is the cooking and crafting aspect. I love to create little worlds to happily mine away and then cook pixelated roast dinner!

I don’t currently play first person shooters (FPS) mostly because I struggle with the louds sounds and it has a bit too much going on for my brain right now, but I wouldn’t rule out playing them.

This year I wanted to make a commitment to myself to be more social, however with my disabilities I knew this would not be something I could easily achieve so I began researching how to make friends and have more social interaction and one of the most popular pieces of advice was to find people who share the same interests as you. Well, I love playing games, mental health and disability advocacy and storytelling – would there be a place out there for me? Maybe a few years ago the answer would be no, but there is an amazing gaming community online full of people who care about accessibility, disability rights AND play games!!

*squee*

I have ‘met’ some amazing people in the last few months and have grown not only as a gamer but as a person. I am much more confident in my interactions (yes, my shyness and anxiety occur in digital communication too) and I have even started playing a few multiplayer games. This is not something the me of last year could have ever imagined and I am having so much fun engaging with other gamers (disabled and otherwise) that I want to get more involved with the community and continue my advocacy works.


You are welcome to join me in my Mindful Gaming adventure as I explore digital worlds, share what gaming means to me and grow as an advocate for mental health and disability, as well as gaming accessibility at:

Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/kjplaysuk

Mixer: https://mixer.com/MindfulGamingUK

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdSVNyCXKsEGuF1Tf-JAGew?view_as=subscriber

There’s no content right now as I am planning my first stream for the end of the March (my birthday!!)

Keep up-to-date with my progress on Twitter: @mindfulgamingUK

 


 

More information about accessible gaming can be found at: https://igda-gasig.org/ who recently (March 2018) had held an amazing conference in San Francisco that I was able to participate in from the comfort of my bed thanks to the amazing gaming community.

 


And remember:

“There is a world within – a world of thought and feeling and power; of light and beauty, and although invisible, its forces are mighty.” Charles F. Haanel

Fresh Starts

So 2017 was rubbish, especially in the later months.

I barely wrote, I didn’t read much, and my physical health took a nosedive. At the same time I was both directionless and overwhelmed.

I had more doctor’s appointments in the last three months of 2017 than I had had in the entire previous year.

In the early weeks of 2018 I was finally diagnosed with ADHD. Whilst having that diagnosis doesn’t negate my physical health, mentally I am feeling much stronger because I have some answers.

Now I know why I am easily distracted, struggle to focus and become overwhelmed. I understand why I attempted three blogs when one makes more sense, why I tried to separate my thought processes in a bid to manage them but ended up burnt out and silenced.

My head is full of thoughts and various interests but for years I have tried to compartmentalise all the different aspects of my personality as though belonging to different people. I have struggled with identity and disassociation for as long as I can remember (and I have memories from when I was 18mnths old, so it’s been a long time!) and I am beginning to realise how damaging this has been to my mental health.

Recovery

I really want to start a new path of mental health recovery, and the first stage in that is to begin to allow myself to express various aspects of my personality/interests without feeling as though I have to become separate parts.

In a few weeks I will be starting  the adventure of finding the right ADHD medication, but I know from experience that medication alone is not a complete management/treatment plan for me. I need to work with my doctors and also seek out other support in order to work on my overall wellness.

My current plans aren’t too intense and build on things I am already doing which I think is the best way to approach this.

Body

Since the Spring of 2017  I have been going for a walk once a week as part of a group. Most everyone there has a disability and it has been a significant help to my social anxiety and mental health. It is at a set day, time and location each week which my ASD brain thrives on.

Whilst this will be at the core of my physical wellness I am aware that I live a sedentary life. Going to the gym is not something I can do, but I found some indoor-based, disability friendly exercises on YouTube (including an indoor walking programme) that I want to give a try.

Mind

A key part of  wellness is knowing your limits, for example not trying to do everything just because you are having an okay day. That leaves you open to putting too much stress on yourself and needing more downtime in the long run.

On that note I realise that I need to streamline my digital life. Part of that is blogging only on one platform (this one!) and editing/transferring any posts I wrote in other places that are relevant.

I want to edit (or rebrand, as the cool kids say) this website and actually take the time the blog deserves. I think that commiting to a routine may be helpful, like picking a set day to write/edit/upload but I think that will develop with time.

For now I just want to be consistant.

The Strength of Starting Over

I sat on the Central Line my noise-cancelling headphones on to block the harsh sounds of the London tube, and fear gripped me. I hate travelling on the tube and it’s very rare that I do it by myself.

The problem with anxiety – at least in my case – is it doesn’t stay focused on the intial point of fear. At first it was the people, and the noise but it quickly morphed into an anxiety surrounding my recent choices.

I recently withdrew from university. Again.

I know it was the right decision, and yet my thoughts were being battered by loud cries of failure and rejection! How could I do this, again?!

Caught up in my thoughts and looking for a visual distraction I started reading the adverts that are placed above the seats. There was the usual ad for vitamins and one for a London-based internet service and then I saw an advert from Oxford’s Black and Red branded notebooks that declared ‘starting over is a sign of strength’.

Although it was not the first time I hadseen something along those lines, it felt like it was. As though I was finally able to truly let that thought settle into my soul, and allow a different kind of thinking. A more positive thinking. That I wasn’t a failure or had waste my life. Rather it took strength to make the decisions that I have, that when something is hurting it is okay to stop.

It wasn’t easy to put my education in hold yet again. I had started the summer of 2017 with much hope and I could’ve continued to push myself but I had already pushed my physical and mental health to the brink.

What good would it had done to push further? I have in the past and it took years of recovery, would it be a sign of strength to do that again or is the true strength in knowing when to pause, when to stop and when to start again?

(30.01.18)

The Christian Challenge

One of the toughest things I had to face in recent months has not been depression or anxiety (for they are familiar states) but publicly acknowledging my Christian faith. To put yourself forward by such an identifier comes with it many battles in the spiritual and the natural.

One such battle was the fear that friends would view me differently. That they would no longer want to confide in me from fear I would judge them, or not understand.

I worried about people opposing God and what I would say in His defense.

I worried about not being associated with ‘those’ Christians. I want to constantly add that whilst I’m a Christian I’m not one of ‘those’ Christians.

And quite frankly how dare I?

How dare I act as though God is some dirty secret that I must hide, or qualify? Or Defend?

I do not have to justify my personal relationship with God. I do not have to explain to others why I desire Him in my heart. It just is.

Like my brown eyes, my dark skin, and my sometimes curly hair.

I’m am not ashamed of being a Christian. Not anymore.

One challenge down.