[Post three of four today. Another long one. I know. It’s a lot for one day; but if you’re honest with yourself, you know you love it. I heard once that the definition of addiction is when you keep needing more of something to be satisfied. Let’s face it my friend. You’re here again. I’m an addiction.]
I would like to share with you about my wellness journey. In some ways it’s one that I started over a decade ago, when I became vaguely aware of the concept of “feeling well”. One of those moments when you know something’s missing, but you aren’t really sure what it is or how to get it. The details are pretty fuzzy until about five years ago. In the summer of 2007 I left my job as Para educator at the Northwest Children’s Home and started working at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Clarkston, WA. At this point, the longest I had been able to keep a job was about 20 months (and that was only once, until now; next month will be two years here so far!).
Before, I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t hold on to what it was or find the words to express what I thought it might be. I had briefly considered depression or anxiety while in University, but the meds made me sick, and the way those disorders were explained – they just didn’t fit. I knew it had to be something else.
I wish I could tell you exactly what happened that summer five years ago, outline the steps I took, provide a list of books I read or YouTube videos I watched; but to be honest, I have no idea how it started. I’m left with just one conclusion: it was a God thing. The time had finally come for me to move forward in a big way.
Another thing that isn’t clear to me is when I realized I was changing. Other than losing about 25 lbs that summer (only ten of which I gained back later), there wasn’t much difference. At least not in obvious ways. Looking back on it a few years down the road, a good friend of mine said, “It was like you’d been sleeping, and you just woke up.”
I love metaphors. And being a visual person, this was one that I could easily understand. So I embraced the concept as I continued to grow stronger. By 2009 I had basically hit a plateau as far as my size and weight (I'm down three pant sizes, though to my utter annoyance, certain parts continued to grow rather than shrink), and I began to see myself in a different way. That is to say, I began to see myself. Up to this point, when asked how I saw myself, I would have said “it’s like I’m in a deep well looking up at this shell of a person that everyone else sees, and no one can hear me screaming for help.” That’s really how I felt, until I “woke up”.
When I finally started to see myself, to crawl out of the well and be that person that everyone else saw, I noticed things about the way I dressed and acted that bothered me. They didn’t reflect me. It was like looking in the mirror and not seeing your own reflection; I saw a stranger, and I didn’t particularly like her. I also had a revelization (not a real word, but it works for me): if I want to get married and start a family (which I did, and do, desperately want) I need to draw him in with what’s on my outside before I can keep him with what’s on my inside. Now that I was out of the well, it was time to start working on the “me” that everyone else saw.
It took another year before I was able to make any significant changes. I started to dress more appropriately (like a thirty year old teaching woman rather than a sixteen year old boy), and finally started to explore the diagnosis I had been given before I left University: I have Asperger’s.
Asperger’s is part of the Autism Spectrum of Disorders, at the “high-functioning” end, and the older you get the more difficult it is to identify and diagnose. When I first found out, I put the knowledge aside; I wasn’t ready to know that about myself or explore how it explained me. Now (we’re in the fall of 2010 at this point in the story), I was beginning to understand the significance of the phrase “knowledge is power.” I had just started the job I have now, something I was meant to do, working as an elementary Special Education Para educator in Pullman. I was moving out of an unhealthy living situation into my own place. It was time.
Another year went by, with my progress slow but forward, and as I entered the 2011-12 school year, I decided to try a “social experiment” of sorts. I changed the way I dressed, to be even more feminine, age-appropriate, and “teacher like”. Nothing else changed, my personality was still intact if not more pronounced than ever. I still felt disturbed by making eye contact and never said hi without it first being said to me. I just wore different clothes. And I was treated differently.
I had been told this would happen for years, by many friends who have had to suffer along with me on this journey of self-discovery (and I thank God every day for their patience and persistence!), but I hadn’t really understood or experienced it before. I was finally “awake” enough to understand the power of perceptions. If I want to be taken seriously as an adult I have to look the part. Another significant realization was that I could accomplish this without sacrificing who I am.
Now to the present. On June 12 I started taking Adderall for my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and have spent the past four weeks watching the sun rise on my world. The result was immediate: I felt quiet inside, realizing for the first time that I had been living with this inner chaos. It’s not easy to explain how this felt, even with this new clarity, but I would relate it to moving out of the city. When you’re born there, and you spend every day of your life in the middle of it, the noise of traffic and people doesn’t really register. It’s just part of your world. Until you move to the country, and everything is….silent.
In this new silence I have begun to see myself even more clearly, and I can honestly say that right now, today, I am more myself than I’ve ever been, and it gets better every day. It’s still true to say that five years ago I “woke up,” but what I know now is that I didn’t crawl out of a well. When I woke up, it was to the inside of a cave, on the shore of the ocean. I could see the light outside, but I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to reach it. Sometimes the tide would come in too high and I’d feel like I was drowning. Now? I’m walking on the beach. It has rocks, and sand, and I still get hit by waves – but I’m not getting knocked over, and I can breathe.
A surprising side-effect of taking this medication is that I’ve been losing weight. I happened to weigh myself in April, and was about the same as last summer when I first started exploring changes in diet or adding exercise to my routine. Now, about two months later, I’m down ten pounds and counting. Even better, I can finally look in the mirror and see myself – and some days I even think “Hey, I look cute today.” So I’m going to continue with the changes in my diet, and add some more intensive exercise, and who knows? Maybe my outside will finally change enough that I can draw someone in for keeps.