Posted in musings

stimming for joy

I stimmed today, for the pure joy of it.

I shook my hands back and forth like there was a vibrato in my wrists; I made waves through the air like the swirling lines of a dancing ribbon; I watched my fingers sparkle against the sky.

We were at the park; a storm was rolling in and the air was cool and crisp, with a bite to the wind. I was pushing Aubade and Limerick on the swings, feeling like I could fly with them, happy in the weather and the hours we’d been at the park already and the laughter bubbling from them as they swung. I would run towards them as they flew backwards, then dart backwards out of the way just before they could swing forwards and crash into me, and they would laugh so hard they could hardly catch a breath. Aubade would crow, “Three!” and I would push her three times, each one bigger than the last, so the third push would make her erupt with glee. And as the happiness ran through me it ran to my hands, and I chose to let it be instead of shutting it down, and I found as my hands danced in response to my happiness they also made it grow, until I was as completely blissful as I have ever been as far back as I can remember.

Normally, I have my body on some sort of lockdown – I can feel an impulse to move and then before I even have time to process it there is a counter signal to hold still. Normally, the only things that get through this lockdown are the stims that I need to cope with my anxiety or the stims that occur when I’m thinking hard enough about something else that I don’t notice what my body is doing. In other words, I let my body process and express my negative or neutral emotional states (at least to some extent, because I have learned that it is important for my mental health), but I prevent it from feeling my joy.

I’m starting to think, now, that the stimming of my happiness may also be important for my mental health. I have walked the thought paths of depression for so many years, always feeling inadequate, always feeling like I was carrying a nameless secret that would make people reject me if they found out, always shutting down my happiness from reaching my body so that even the moments of the most joy and beauty were tinged with sorrow. But here my body is ready and waiting to give to me the gift of happiness – of taking my happiness and escalating it, elevating it, prolonging it – able to protect me from the darkness of those roads, if only I am willing to let it do so.

I stimmed today, for the pure joy of it. I hope I can feel free and confident enough to do it again.

Posted in family life, musings

stepping outside of routine

Change is hard. Routines give life structure and reduce anxiety. This is probably especially true in a partially autistic household…

But sometimes, you have to swallow your fears and set out into the great wide somewhere, without knowing what might happen, even expecting that something may happen for which you are utterly unprepared.

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And then, sometimes – more often than your fears would lead you to believe – there is freedom, and there is joy.

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There are places and times when the beauty and the wonder overcomes the discomfort of uncertainty or freezing water, and happiness can reign uncontested.

There are moments when the lure of the next rock over proves greater than your apprehension about the deep pool that lies between you and it, and moments when crossing over through your fears ends up being one of the best parts of your day because that thing you were so worried about is actually something you love, that brings out the adventurer in your soul.

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It takes a lot of energy to step outside the normal and comfortable patterns of everyday life; I’ve discovered that I need to plan for a day of rest and recovery afterwards. But the thrill of living more fully, more expansively, less bound by our anxieties and routines, is very often worth it.

And for me, the scent of the clean air, the caress of the warm sun, the rhythm of the flowing water, the strength and grace in every line of plant and rock – those things are always worth the effort it takes to find them.

(Many thanks to the friends who made this possible by inviting us along and giving me a safety net to quiet my anxieties! I wouldn’t have gone without the assurance of helping adult hands, since my husband wasn’t able to come along, and now I know that I am capable of handling this kind of adventure on my own in the future. Your support was invaluable for the moment as well as for the moments that are still to come.)

“…many parents, educators, and therapists prioritize academic achievement over instilling happiness, even if it greatly increases stress. In fact I have heard proponents of some approaches take issue with the idea of emphasizing happiness, arguing that for children with autism, it is far more important to develop skills than to be happy. In other words, instead of measuring happiness, we should be measuring skills.

“Not only is this way of thinking misguided, but it misses the point. Children – and all human beings – learn more readily when they are happy. They retain information more effectively when they feel positive emotion. When we try to learn under persistently stressful situations, we retain less, and it’s more difficult for us to access what we learned. But when we’re feeling a positive emotion, we’re more primed for a learning experience, and our learning is deeper and far more effective.”

– Barry M. Prizant, Uniquely Human

because academics isn’t the ultimate end

Posted in musings

bike thefts and mindfulness

Remember how excited I was about biking in my {SQT} post on Friday? Well… it’s a good thing I’d written that post the night before, because when I went out to the garage that morning both my bike and my husband’s bike were gone. Beautiful brand-new bike (first new bike I’d bought since I was in junior high), stolen. I took the car instead that morning, and worked on cognitive-behavioral techniques about it all day (because sadness triggers a lot of unhelpful thought patterns for me), and prayed about the best way to move forward, and just generally felt sad and disappointed and hurt all day long. It wasn’t just a bike that was stolen: it was my quiet time with God, my exercise time, my outdoor alone time, my time of refreshment and empowerment, that was taken away. And I didn’t know if it would be financially wise to buy another bike when we apparently live in a high-risk area.

But what I did know was that I didn’t want my (very legitimate) sadness to prevent me from experiencing the happiness of all the good things that were just as much a part of my life as the bike theft. Driving home, I thought about how the kids were waiting for me, how they would be excited to see me, and want me to play with them, and fill the house with silly games and wild stories and sweet cuddles – and how my sadness could interfere with my ability to connect with and cherish them, or keep me from feeling the joy of their laughter and craziness. Was I going to let this unknown thief steal the happiness I have with my children? No I was not! It is ok to be sad, I told myself, but right now, in this moment, I am going to seize the joy and beauty and love that presents itself, and let the sadness wait until a time when I can listen to it and determine how to address the practical issues the theft created. The bike was stolen in the past; the commuting will take place in the future; but my children are with me now, offering up their little happinesses, desiring my love and happiness in return. And I can choose what I am going to open my heart up to in this now, this present moment. (Oho! Look at that! It’s my 2017 word of the year!)

One of the things I’ve learned from my therapist is that it’s extremely pointless to try to make a thought or emotion go away. The more one fights it, the bigger and stronger it gets. Choosing to open oneself up to a new thought or emotion, however (a more helpful alternative), allows the unhelpful thought or emotion to slip away, or at least shrink into the back reaches of the mind. So that’s what I tried to do with my sadness and disappointment, by fully living in the present moment so characterized by the happiness (and neediness 😛 ) of my children.

(And in the end, we found two cheap old bikes on Craigslist that will work for now and not be quite as appealing to thieves – or quite as much of a loss if they are stolen! I still miss my bike, but at least I don’t also have to miss biking itself.)