Wednesday, April 24, 2013

St. Teresa, Shock and Trauma

I've thought a lot this week about a class Father Stephen Watson, OCD taught at our last secular Carmelite meeting. He was teaching us about “St. Teresa and the Resurrection,” from Volume 1, Testimony #12 by Kieran.

In this example, St. Teresa of Avila had emotionally merged so much with the passion of our Lord Jesus and identified so much with the experience of His mother that she was unable to be happy and celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday. St. Teresa was still deep in mourning for what our Lord had experienced. She even said her “hands grew numb in affliction.” Her soul became suspended. St. Teresa experienced something known as a “rapture of affliction.”

I had never heard of this, but a “rapture of affliction” is an experience that takes us beyond ourselves but not in the sense of ecstasy. While in this state, St. Teresa contemplated Jesus and Mary. In her contemplation, she saw Jesus with Mary after the resurrection. Mary was in such trauma after the experience of watching God, her son, be tortured to death, she could not shake herself out of it. She stared, numb, as if “shell-shocked” even when her son returned from the dead in his glorified body. She needed help, and he stayed with her a long time, St. Teresa said. So, St. Teresa let Jesus “stay with her a long time” as He did with His mother, helping her to recover from all of that agony in order to celebrate new life.

Nowhere in the Bible is there reference to Jesus going to visit His mother, but that was a personal thing and not a public one. I can imagine the disciples would not feel this relevant to include while recording Jesus's public mission. Perhaps this was one of the many things that happened that was not written? Regardless of whether Jesus was there to help comfort Mother Mary in her trauma, He will always be there for us.

How often does that happen to us, after an occasion such as the Boston Marathon bombing or one of the many school shootings or other mass murders our nation has faced? Trauma is a fact of life. Our Blessed Mother may have gone through it. It is during our deepest trauma that Jesus comes to us and wants to help heal us until we are able once again, to celebrate His resurrection and the miracle of life. He is always there, patient and waiting, even if we are too in shock to see Him there.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

No matter how you hurt, God is not a drug.

Lately, I've had a lot going on in my head. For those who remember, in my last blog post, I was stressed and overwhelmed. I have good news for you that I've been resolving things. When I first published that post, I wanted to take it down. It seemed too personal. Yet, when I received comments on Reddit that people really related to what I was going through and that it helped them, it was worth it.

I thought I was doing too much, pushing too hard. I even thought I was on the verge of hypomania. I saw my psychiatrist yesterday and he said I'm doing better than he's ever seen me. He said the last thing I need to do is worry about how I'm doing. But, growth hurts sometimes. It's tough.

Last week, I wrote about trying to learn how to stop myself from driving myself crazy. The odd message I felt God wanted to give me is that I didn't need to stop His love. What I felt Him say confused me. It made no sense and wasn't the answer I was looking for. But, now, I understand. Let God out, let Him run free through my body and soul. Give God unbridled access to living through me. Then, I don't have to worry about stopping. I just need to let Him start and not stop HIM.

This doesn't mean I don't take breaks, rest, meditate, pray, know when I've gone too far and quit activity. It means exactly that I DO need to do all those things. I need to do those things because if I don't, I put limits on God and what He can do. Just like He told us, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

I'm an intense person, no doubt about it. I have the wide feeling range of a bipolar, the laser like focus of an autistic and sometimes, anxiety attacks on top of it all. So, I can relate to just about anybody who is a little crazy.

I remember years ago, when I worked as a mental heath case manager, I had a client who called me up and said, in a terrified, gasping voice, “Laura, I NEED you, I need you, come here.” I asked her why and she just cried and repeated, “I need you.” So, since I made home visits, I drove way out to her trailer in the Appalachian mountains. When I opened the door, there was my client, with a shotgun pointed at her mother. I won't say much further except to say that all survived, she went to jail and I quit my job.

Sometimes, I have felt that way myself. Now, I don't mean I've felt like I would point a gun at anybody, but I've felt that desperate, terrified need. So many times, I pray to God in that voice, “I need you! I need you!” I will often flash back to that client when I feel that, thinking, “Wow. The pain!” Anyone with anxiety disorder can relate, I am sure. It isn't even logical.

I used to approach communion like that quite a lot. I wanted to be fed with God's comfort and love. I would return to my pew and sometimes cry with joy. Jesus became a drug. So, my spiritual director asked me, “What kind of way is that to treat anyone you love? Next time when you receive communion, pray that the sacrament will give you the strength to serve Him.”

Wow. That was around nine months ago that we had that conversation and I have always said those words in prayer before communion and after. It's made a huge difference in my life. I've learned things this year about the great sacrifice Jesus made for us. He gave us everything. My job is to learn to give everything back, to learn to give as He did.

I've had thoughts spinning around in my head this week about how Jesus told St. Peter that if he loved Him, he would feed his sheep. In other words, if St. Peter loved Him, he would show mature love and give until it hurt.

Over the past nine months, I've learned more every day about how to grow in maturity and love. The secret to my happiness is to push forward instead of sliding into anxiety verging on despair. For instance, instead of crying, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” as if in panic from the bottom of a well, awaiting rescue, I've learned something that feels really novel and unique to a former Protestant.

I've learned how to offer Him up. I can lift up my arms to God and hold Him high and say to God, “Behold, your son. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! There is nothing worthwhile I can offer you except for this.” Jesus died because we had nothing at all to offer God without Him. If I don't offer Him up, I still have nothing. To give Jesus to God, as the gift Jesus wants to be, is amazing. We do it every time in the mass. We do it every time we pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Jesus is the only worthy gift to give to God, but if we seek to merge our lives with His, we will grow in holiness and love. How do we merge with Him? Give like Him. Give like he does, and that means all we have and all we are. Yet, I have to remember that when I'm keeping myself insanely busy, trying to justify myself and prove myself, impress people and get approval, I'm not making any room for Him to live in me. Everything I do is absolutely worthless without Him. Remembering this is a constant challenge for me.

There is so much pain in our world, so much tortured misery. We have extreme violence erupting all over our planet and we have since the day we left Eden. We cry out to Jesus, “We need you,” and then we make ourselves crazy with activity to try to kill the pain, when really, we need to learn to serve Him. Only then can we have peace.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I Don't Know How To Stop

I feel whiny today. Yesterday, I cried.
Why, oh why, do I have to slow down?
I hate it. I want to stay busy.

Everyone who cares about me annoys me by trying to get me to stop. I want them to go away, since I'm too busy for them anyway.

My therapist said I need more breaks in my day to take care of myself.

My spiritual director said I need to keep doing Eucharistic Adoration for the next three months and then we'll re-evaluate whether I need to continue. I don't have to obey what he says, but I'm not seeking direction because I'm a genius at how to grow spiritually. My talents lie more in the realm of driving myself to the edge of psychosis and back. So, I agreed and I do what I agree to do. I realize that what I want isn't always what I need.

I don't want to slow down. It's almost as if I feel the world will come to an end if I do.

I used to play computer games non-stop at night, five and six hours at a time, to de-stress. But, that just charges adrenalin and provides escape. Plus, annoyingly, none of my advisers think this is healthy anymore or want me to continue. In fact, I have yet to find anyone in their right mind that thinks I should continue. Wow, I'd love to find one!

So, I have to do other things, like turn to God more. 

I'm pushing myself really hard. I've spoken before small audiences four times this week- four. And it terrifies me to do that. I'm also making a special effort to be more present and responsive to my boyfriend. I emotionally neglect him and autism is a reason. Especially when I'm overloaded, I want and actually need to shut down and go inside myself to hibernate from everything. However, it is but not an excuse to ignore him completely and in general, act like a jerk. I can't stop doing my best to give my best. He's sick this week too, so he needs more care.

Also, there is my overwhelmingly difficult Quickbooks class and the fact that I am preparing three books for printing and none of that is going as smoothly as I think it should. But mainly, the problem is that I don't want to let go of my control and give that over to God. I just don't.

I tell every autistic I know not to make big changes in their lives all at once or they will set themselves up for meltdown. Yet, I refuse to listen to what I know is true.


I SAY that I want to do the right thing, with all my heart, more than anything else. And my heart breaks that it's never enough. Yet, even though I feel that's true. I'm lying to myself. I don't know what the right thing is. I just want to push myself to feel important, valued, and redeemed. It's really all about me.

After receiving communion yesterday, I just prayed, and I said, "Jesus, I don't know how to stop. I don't know how to put limits on anything." I felt His presence clearly and a soft voice spoke in my heart, "My love needs no limits."

The infinite love God offers us doesn't push us to the brink of insanity. That sort of thing is MY forte, not His!

I need to go do my Eucharistic Adoration in about an hour. For my non-Catholic friends, it's basically spending an hour with God in a chapel. Tomorrow, at the end of my monthly day at the Carmelite Monastery, I meet before a council of officers and our spiritual adviser, to see if I will be permitted to enter formation. What do I need to do more than focus on de-stressing and making room for that unlimited love in my heart? Only my pride wants to save the world. Enough.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Autism Acceptance and Morality

April is "Autism Acceptance Month." Some organizations have called it, "Autism Awareness Month," but because so much of the negative advertising of many autism charities, autistics like myself have re-titled the month, "Autism Acceptance Month." It seemed most charities only wanted to make people aware of the negative parts of autism, leaving out the good parts!

 I've had a tough time accepting my autism since the day I was diagnosed. The part I hate most about it is that I need help in areas and ways that other people don't. Because of that, I feel like I'm not equal to other people. So, "Autism Acceptance Month" has given me a lot to think about.

Autism is a difference in neurological wiring. Although some aspects of this are disabling, they are balanced by the many strengths we also have. Autistic people generally have a great eye for detail, an unparalleled conscientiousness, sincerity and honesty. In general, we're the people you can count on to be careful and hard workers. Lying is actually a complex social skill and so  if we're ever able to develop it, it is usually later in life.

"Autism Acceptance" is a movement toward helping other people understand and have empathy for us, rather than trying to change us into being like people we are not. In regards to our identity, I completely agree that we should not be told we're not as "cool" or "normal" as other people and should change. In regards to our behavior, I agree that it is unfair to expect us to do certain things easily, but I think it is also unfair not to expect us to try at all. Working to improve ourselves is not the same as seeking to cure ourselves or become a different person. If we don't try to do a little better each day, we are cheating ourselves and the world out of better relationships and productivity.

Most people know that autism can make learning to do social things a lot harder. Yet, the challenges go well beyond social things. Our brains are not wired to put things in prioritized order, although we can be obsessed with order. 

When most people think of autistic children, they picture them lining up their toys or putting them into categories. Each time I see those pictures, I laugh. I was one of them. Only dolls I loved were given real names. The dolls I didn't like very much were all put in one category. They were ALL named, "Sue." I loved to play "landlady." I'd organize "The Sues" in neat categories in cardboard boxes and come along to collect the rent. "Librarian" was another fun game for me- "The Sues" would line up to check out books and I would stamp them and keep track of when Sue #4 had an overdue book. (Wow- it must have been fun being one of my dolls- ha!)

However, the order I come up with isn't usually a practical order. The order I come up with is usually order for the sake of order, to make sense of an overwhelming world. The way I like to order things is not always (or even usually!) what the world thinks is important, and sometimes I don't care. Leave me alone and don't disturb me while I re-sort my computer folders or socks!

What is most important? What comes first? Hell, if I know!

This is why: As an autistic person, I have severe deficits in "executive functioning."

Here's a basic summary of what executive functioning means:

Executive Functioning (EF) is  "a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one's resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation." 

Executive functions help you manage life tasks of all types. For example, executive functions let you organize a trip, a research project, or a paper for school. EF also governs all levels of task management, including prioritization, scheduling and seeing the "big picture." Lack of executive function can make inhibition tough and when I want to stop something at an appropriate time (actions, thoughts, etc.) it is very difficult. Also, shifting focus from one situation or task to another takes me a very long time. 

I used to find it humiliating that I wasn't able to be as organized and focused as I wanted to be, but then I learned that I don't have much innate strength in that mental capability, so it is pointless to beat myself up. I was like a blind person beating herself up because she can't see. What a useless thing to do! So, I have a home health care provider who helps me organize my life every week.

I run my own business. This means I manage lots of things and juggle multiple projects. I can do this without great executive functioning, because my helper and I sit down once a week for 2-3 hours and break down my priorities, goals and task lists. Once that's set, I don't worry about it anymore. The first thing this helps is anxiety level. I can relax and just follow my schedule and routine. I'm at least three times more productive than I've ever been in my life. It is awesome.

I've also found that learning the Catholic rules of morality have anchored me, so that my daily anxiety is reduced. Even so, I can drown in moral ambiguity, worrying on and on about something probably inconsequential and minor while ignoring something that borders on a grave sin. That's one of the many reasons I keep myself in spiritual direction.

Let's see what happens when an autistic person prepares for confession! The first thing usually suggested in preparing an examination of conscience is to review the ten commandments carefully. The content of the ten commandments is basically the same but the commandment numbers are divided up differently by Jews, Protestants and Catholics. And for the autistic person, this alone is a cause for anxious alarm. In Catholicism, the first three are basically about our relationship with God and the last seven are about our relationships with others and society. Catholics are encouraged to run through an examination of conscience nightly. Most guides to confession are very detailed and being a fairly contemplative person, I am actually more aware of problems with my relationship with God than I am with other people.

So, as an autistic Catholic, I would normally spend quite a lot of time on the first three and when I am tired of it all, go through the rest without much concentration-- I mean, I'm not murdering or stealing, right? And, it's almost impossible for me to successfully lie. And, I'm autistic, right? So, any social screw-ups are just my disability, right? Not to worry!

But, guess what? My Spiritual Director has started asking me to focus on my relationships with others first. This is a big switch for me mentally. It's easier just to say that I'm not very good with people and it's my disability, not a moral issue. Yet, if I'm not aware of the impact my behavior has on others and I'm not focused at all on trying to improve that, then yes, it is a moral issue. It's an issue that needs to come first.

If autistics are so honest and without guile, there is no serious sin autistic people can get into, right? Wrong. We want to belong an fit in, so we can be prone to peer pressure. Peer pressure can lead to everything from drug use to serious criminal activity. Computer hacking is sometimes a problem behavior for those on the spectrum. We can be misled by false teachers. We can get so caught up in one direction or track of thought that we don't fulfill important responsibilities or we emotionally neglect the people in our lives. Some can do some crazy impulsive things. There is a lot of room for error and some serious error. I can attest to how easy it is to spin completely off the rails. I'm very good at it.

Yet, to get the best grasp on these problems, it is most helpful to start focusing more on our relationships with other people and putting that focus first. Without consciously doing that, it may never actually be done at all.

I think I'm finally learning "autism acceptance." People said I was a "child prodigy." I was supposed to be "better" than other people all through life. My family and society had high, high expectations for me.

It's been SO hard for me to admit I need help and that I cannot manage completely on my own. It's been SO hard for me to realize I'm a good person and still a very smart person in spite of the fact that I feel like such a mess. I never wanted any of this. 

Want it or not, it just is.

God, help me today and every day to accept that being autistic does not make me less than anybody else.

Autism Acceptance is the key to making peace with ourselves AND to growing more responsible with our lives.