A Strong Back: Lessons in Autistic Resilience

I guess this is what passes for self-care.

When I need to “be in the thick of it,” but also catch a break, I’ll find some space and lie down in the prone position and rest. And then comes my scamp tot Zo, who insists I “stay right there.” I brace myself.

She then begins to walk up my calves (which, ouch), then tiptoes delicately from my lower back, spine, with her stout little feet planting square betwtixt my shoulders. She stops, pauses, kneels. I wince. She then springs into a jump from atop my shoulders clear over my head.

Whew. Glad that’s ov—

“Again, again!” she pleads. And on I lie for another calf-back-shoulder-jump walk. I like to think it’s some sort of walking massage, but with a tiny person who occasionally jumps on your head when it’s done.

After a spell of injuring my lower back and being laid up multiple times, I’ve since built back my back, forging weakness into strength, soft dough into cast iron. As a kinda-tall dude and a dad of three, I’ve had to shape up and ensure I can withstand backbreaking activities. Like whatever this thing is that Zo does.

I’ve had to build a stronger ‘back’ in my autistic experience as well.

Thanksgiving week is always tough, but this round taxed both my literal back (with perpetual kid-handling, toting, baby-propping, etc) and my figurative back.

What do I mean by that?

Autistic resilience is withstanding things. With some major back-to-back episodes in my home life, I ended up doing a lot less but bearing more: late-breaking changes to plan, unexpected purchases, a wild Thanksgiving day, and then some. I only wished to be called to action to focus and fix things, but instead, I had to endure a lot of uncontrollable variables with a smile. In autism, active calamity feels more purposeful; passive calamity is painful.

Autistic resilience is isometric. If you’re into fitness, words, or both: you know what I’m talking about. In both exercise and autism, I prefer plyometrics: where I can jump or otherwise create momentum. But isometric workouts, like wall sits, planks, or (my grudging new favorite) hollow body holds, require a painful amount of positional endurance. It looks easy, but it isn’t. This has a distinct autistic parallel, to where things like “sitting and small talking without being able to escape” are the psychological equivalents of a 2 minute wall sit. Ouch.

Autistic resilience is a hidden strength. When it comes to “prominent muscle” – one’s back isn’t the first thing to pop out of a shirt or in one’s physique. It’s not something you can often show off ahead of time. The metal is there, but you only see it in the effort spent. I feel that way a lot, where going through events and holidays with a smile, shreds of congeniality, and maybe a pinch of small talk — that can be extraordinarily taxing. It may not look like I have the “guns” for such, but I’ve had to work up the back for it — it’s there when it counts.

Maybe someday I’ll write about the autistic equivalent of deadlifting! To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram.

Oh, if you’re still here, would you consider subscribing to my YouTube channel? I write because it’s my one talent, but apparently The Life Autistic videos are pretty entertaining as well, and I think you’ll enjoy them. Thanks so much!

Autism Speaks, Long and Short: How Leo Tolstoy Gave Me Hope

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A work colleague once criticized the length of some winding, baroque piece of communication as being “Tolstoyan.” 

As both a literature aficionado and connoisseur of words, I chatted her on the side and said, “At that length, I’d say it’s probably more Proustian!” 

Here’s something about Tolstoy, though. He doesn’t deserve the stereotype.

It reminded me of a sad episode in my career.

One of my former bosses gave me feedback about my questioning and speaking style.

He didn’t know I was autistic, and I was afraid to disclose or even hint at it.

But he noticed that I’d posit questions to others in Daedelan artifice, unfurled labyrinthine inquiries in rich and winding tapestry. I’d walk around the proverbial garden with them, frontloading and picking, packing florid petals of context to circumnavigate others together in my thoughts so they’d get it like I got it.

He hated that.

He offered me feedback with the grace of a punch couched in a boxing glove. I could hear the grating, detesting tone as he described what I did, like I was flaying the back of his mind with claws.

I felt like a doomed man, doomed to long thoughts.

As an autistic person, I wanted to be able to speak both long and short. 

In comes Tolstoy.

If you ever have the chance, read Hadji Murad – it’s Tolstoyan in art, not length.

Brevity is beautiful. Bountiful is beautiful.

Why not appreciate both?

 

Before you go: thank you for taking a few minutes to read this post. I spend a lot of time saving you time by keeping these brief – that’s extremely intentional! If you want to learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspectivethen feel free to follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!

The Beautiful Changes

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Of the stanzas of poetry I have read, forgotten, and re-remembered, there are few.

This one, from Richard Wilbur’s most notable verse, stands out today:

the beautiful changes / In such kind ways
I often cringe at change, as is the predilection of autism and my experience. It is far more brace than embrace.
But many things have changed since I last wrote. The time away put distance to my eyes—and despite my physical nearsightedness, I’m a farsighted soul, and the steps away sharped and focused things both outward and inward.
Here are three changes that came into view.
Fatherhood is a changing endeavor. Now with three kiddos, I at last embraced that I’m less in control of the routines. It is OK. Where I more often found comfort in control of the minutia, I had to reframe my autistic experience to find peace in the larger parts of the map.

“Sleep? This might not happen at this time, but it will happen at night.”

“Breakfast? Ugh, it’s late, but at least it’s happening.”

Even the good things are stressful. Can I confess a thing? I stopped all my blog work for the last four weeks and it vaporized my stress and magnified my peace of mind. 
How?
I enjoy creation, but the stress of delivering for and on a time was more impactful on my autistic psyche than I thought. In a way, this very blog is its own stressor.
Obligations are taxing, and I’m in a higher tax bracket than I thought. But now I know.
My autistic experience is comparatively easy. Since the murder of George Floyd, I’ve had a bit of a reckoning, a sobering one:
“What about the black autistic experience?” 
My perception changed for the better, where I realized more clearly that I still benefit from some privilege being a generic white dude, despite being patently autistic.
I don’t want to leave that change as is, and I’m more earnestly exploring ways to be a better ally, and a better one for people of color, especially on the neurodiverse spectrum. While I might suffer a bit from a bias that kicks in once people interact with me, I can’t imagine it kicking in as soon as people see or hear me.
And that needs to change.
The Life Autistic will change, too. It already has. There are plenty of topics yet to explore. Challenges to confront. Causes to support. Cadences to adjust.
But from here, perhaps it’s time to brace less and embrace more these beautiful changes, in such kind ways.