Conquer Our Fears

Conquer Our Fears

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Opening Ourselves Up to Self Improvement

The time between high school and college is a very volatile and unpredictable period. It is during this time frame that a young adult’s maturity and their readiness for this next stage of life can be determined. Which leads me to describe the effect of an overly swift transition from high school into the unfamiliar territory of college, specifically Marshall University. To be true to my point, two years ago I had a very unprepared, closed off, and immature outlook on school, declining and avoiding the valuable student services available to me. For example, due to me having the condition of Aspergers, my parents had enrolled me in the aspergers program at Marshall. During our meetings with the staff and coordinators of the program, I was resistant and opposed to this outside help, mainly for my insecurities of needing “special” help and lack of initiative towards my condition. At the time, I did all I could to erase the thought of my aspergers from my mind. I loathed this condition, and did not want to dwell on it, much less have such focused help in this area. Therefore, I was resistant and obstinate to the program, and I believe they sensed my dissatisfaction and unwillingness from the start.

In addition, I did not take my school work as seriously as I should have, and my motivation for success was not at the level it needed to be.  This whole college experience was a new thing for me, and without guidance, it was inevitable I would fall into disorder and stray from my priorities and resources. Needless to say, by avoiding the resources available to help me and not taking initiative to develop a mature mindset towards school and priorities, I had set myself up for failure. Sure enough, by the end of the month, my grades had slipped dangerously, and I knew I needed to pull out. If there is any redeeming factor in this past learning experience, I would say it was the fact that I had finally realized my instability and drew it within myself to leave Marshall before the consequences grew greater. I was simply not at a place in time to be able to focus wholeheartedly on my studies, and I began to realize a gap year would have, and still could be a more practical step. Thus began a period of time that would bring me to a new state of being, a new mindset, and a new outlook.

During these last two years, much has changed in a positive way, to a point that my family and I feel and know I am at a place in my life to be able to succeed at Marshall. I have spent these last two years both working a job, and taking classes for credit at Carroll Community College. The outcome for both of these ventures has been successful, and I have held a steady job, as well as passed my credit classes, except for Intermediate Algebra, due to a lack of available help and general struggle with the subject. I feel that the tutoring services, my aspergers program, and additional resources at Marshall will help me meet success wherever I may struggle. I have matured, and developed a new method of study and focus during these past two years at Carroll Community College, successfully passing classes and acquiring credits. When I am not at school, I was, and still am at this point working a part time job, teaching me responsibility and structure. As I will be both taking classes and working at Marshall, I will be entering the semester with years of study methods, initiative, and a new frame of mind to use to my advantage. I know what to expect in this upcoming semester, and am extremely open and anticipating of the resources available to me both through the aspergers program, and great tutoring services at my disposal. There’s a saying that states “Good habits are only learned through experience, time and effort”. I feel this quote can relate to me in the sense that I have improved immensely in experience, time management, and effort towards my priorities.
I look forward to a new semester, a new beginning, and using my newfound mindset gained through these past two years. My academic objectives will be to make any and all academic areas, including class work, tutoring, and program interactions my priorities. I will use my new focus and mindset to succeed in these areas, correcting my past mistakes by attending class, going to both aspergers and tutoring programs, and most importantly to tackle school work and tests with the utmost dedication. With experience, time, and effort at my disposal, I feel that I can now reach my goals and succeed this semester, and those to come. I embrace not only my newfound ambition and motivation, but also the resources available to me as an aspergian, including my school’s program focused specifically on me and other young adults that have the condition as well. How great a feeling it is to know I am not alone in facing my anxieties and potential struggles in the semester to come.

What improvements have you made this year? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Aspergers and the Struggling With Multi-Tasking:

Being a futuristic thinker, impending obligations and tasks ahead of me seem to loom, drawing closer. By focusing on several of these at once, I create a wave of paranoia and anxiety that builds up like plaque on the enamel of my worried mind. A new realization of this problem has encouraged me to pursue ways to combat the unhealthy levels of worry and fear of what's ahead. I first identified this as a problem during my last few weeks of spring classes. With four final exams approaching rapidly, I worried over how I would study efficiently knowing that there were also four written assignments to complete. In the past, I might have procrastinated without care or fear of consequence of failure. Developing the maturity and internal growth that emerges with age, however, I felt the weight of the multiple obligations I had to eventually complete even though they were weeks away. "How about working on one at a time?" a friend suggested. Now there's an idea.

The closer the deadlines of obligations approach, the more stress, frustration, and mania I began to feel. Sometimes, to the extent of lashing out at others, antisocial tendencies, and inability to think and act rationally in various situations. Having experienced past repercussions of these, as well as wanting to avoid the internal frustrations, I vied for a more practical approach.Whereas many people plan out their "to do" list in charts of similar time periods often seen as the norm(a written assignment begun a few days after announced), I began planning out obligation charts much farther ahead to match my pace of completion. For example, knowing that I had a few weeks before the papers would be due, and also fearing the impending final exams, I started my written assignments immediately, in a way that suited my method of organization. One task at a time. I knew that in order for me to study comfortably for finals, I would have to eliminate this competing obligation of written assignments. Therefore, I started with my english paper and ONLY my english paper, writing multiple pages in just the first few days of research and reading on the assignment. By the end of the fourth day, I had finished the paper, with just three left to go. Using this method of early completion, I was able to pace myself and complete the remaining three assignments by the end of the second week. Knowing the papers were written, and I just had to focus on studying now, my stress levels were at an all time low. I found that I worked better by pacing myself, and focusing on one task as a time, a uni-tasker one might say. Multi-tasking is a challenge for many of us with Aspergers, and if you are experiencing anxiety around juggling several projects, I urge you to focus on one at a time. It will help!

Interestingly, a few other Aspergians I've spoke with also function better as uni-taskers I learned, a trait that seems to be commonly shared. Indeed, tackling obligations individually rather than at the same time, helps me to complete tasks with less stress and strain on my energy reserves. "Focus on the first task ahead" I often tell myself when multiple obligations begin to build up. I select an obligation, and fulfill it before attempting another. Similarly to how I used this approach in my education, I am using this method in my applications to summer jobs, and undoubtedly will use this in other aspects of my life to come. Knowing how this helps me, I hope this uni-tasking approach will help other Aspergians face obligations with less stress and frustration.

What are some ways that you manage anxiety around a busy schedule? Let's discuss in the comments below!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Organization and Structure: Worth The Effort

Organization. Some people's lives revolve around it, while others disregard it altogether. For many of us though, we try to incorporate some form of organization and structure into our hectic lives. Growing up with aspergers, I have struggled finding a successful and useful way to manage the school, work, and social aspects of life in a structured manner. I have determined from my past and present experiences that stress and lowered potential can accumulate in relation to lack of organization. This first became apparent around the high school years.

Whenever I would receive a paper during class, into my book bag it went without a second thought. By the end of each day, I would have a backpack full of crumpled,jumbled, and mismatched papers. You can imagine the time it took for me to find the homework for each class by sifting through dozens of papers, time and time again until I found it. And this would repeat the next class, and the next. I was an organizational mess. My grades suffered, my homework and test accuracy suffered, and it was frustrating for me to find anything I needed. My mother eventually helped me set up a folder system, in which I would be putting class papers in their corresponding subject folders. Great idea, great system, except it really didn't work that well for long. I would start off Mondays with a nicely purged backpack, the papers nestled in their correct folders, no paper cluttering. I would begin the week by actually using the system, putting papers in their respective folders, no problems yet. Eventually, however, I would slip up and throw a paper in my backpack erratically, just like old times. This one paper would slowly but surely turn into two, three, even ten cluttered papers by the end of the week. The papers were missing their mark, and old habit was rampant. The folder system had failed.

This pattern actually continued throughout high school until my senior year. My grades improved significantly that year and I can attribute it to an organizational system I created and effectively used myself. Instead of a folder system, I used individually colored binders to represent each different class. It may seem odd that use of colors and binders would have such an impact on my organization, but it did. Knowing that colors help me differentiate subjects, I used this as my personal method of paper organization. Eventually, this lead to me creating a personal system of charts that would help me focus more on fulfilling upcoming obligations. Knowing my preference of computer printed documents, I would use Microsoft Word to create a homework, work, and event chart. With these three charts, I would write down upcoming homework, work days, and events for that week. And surprisingly, I ended up actually using the system. After a chore or similar obligation was completed, I would cross out it out on my chart with a pen. It felt good to see accomplishments marked off in success in front of me.

Help an Aspergian find his or her own organizational fit, and they will reap the rewards. My mom's folder system was a good idea in her eyes, but for me, it wasn't a system I WANTED to use. So I brainstormed and came up with an organizational system that felt comfortable for me and happily stuck to it. Today, I am still using that chart system for school, work, and social events. If I set up a movie night on for Friday, you know it will be on that chart to help me remember. As a young adult with Aspergers, I strongly recommend others with the condition to follow suit and come up with an organizational system that is of their OWN design and that they are comfortable with. Parental ideas may help and even work in some cases, but in essence, its up to you to determine a system that fits your personality and style. I simply enjoyed the never-changing print format of charts, and knew that consistency was my best friend. I'm still using the system today, and it has helped immensely in every aspect. It is a visual of upcoming obligations, and for me, there's comfort in having a preemptive approach to life through organization.

What organizational tools do you use? What has been helpful for you or someone you know with structuring? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Accepting Who We Are, and Finding Inspiration in Others

Life has the oddest, sometimes most miraculous ways of reminding us of our actual worth in this world, our inspiration to overcome obstacles and work with the quirks that make us unique. Just today, I read an amazing article that had given me hope for my future as an apergian, and shifted my viewpoint of self worth to dynamic levels. This article focuses on an American Idol finalist, James Durbin, and his battle with not one, but two disorders: aspergers AND tourettes. What really stood out to me was what he said in relation to his conditions; “I have Tourette’s and Asperger’s, but Tourette’s and Asperger’s don’t have me". This article brought tears to my eyes as I realized that if this affected singer can find success and self worth in himself, perhaps I as well, can find the same perspective within myself. The story of his success, even faced with these conditions he lives with, gives me hope for the future. What an inspiration.

Quite recently I've been struggling with frustrations revolving around my aspergers diagnosis. These last few weeks in particular, I find myself hypothesizing the "what if's" in relation to my Aspergian life. What if I was born without these asperger related struggles? Would I be a different person? And would I live a better and less discouraging life? These are just a few of the questions that revolve in my mind during an average week. There are often constant and lingering anxieties, stemming from personal insecurities in regards to my struggles navigating the world of sociability. Sometimes I absolutely despise my condition.

Periods of frustration and negativity make me want to shut down and close off to the world. My ambitions seem to fade, and I begin to lose hope in myself. I often feel like an "alien" in a world of regular people (neurotypicals), people that see and interact with the world so vastly different than me and my Aspergian brethren. Sometimes, my methods of dealing with these struggles just don't seem to make the cut and its days like these that I begin to feel hopeless, despairing, and discouraged. In my last few blogs, I have focused on the positives in my success in dealing with aspergian struggles. To counteract negative thoughts and depression, it is helpful to focus on finding inspiration. Seeing James Durbin as a role model for Aspergians, who accepts who he is, and embraces it, is a reminder to me that I can accept who I am as an individual, and know that there are others out there who believe in themselves.

Who are some of your role models? What inspires you about them? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Ability to Preempt Paranoia

As my first week of spring classes comes to a close, I realize how great a week I've had in terms of social anxiety/relations. It really feels like things are looking up. But to start off, I'd like to detail some of my past and even present struggles in social situations. Mentioned in my previous blogs, exercise has helped immensely in controlling my stress, anger and frustration, but there is no magic alleviation to the struggles faced in life. This holds true with social anxiety and paranoia faced by many Aspergians. There are however, healthy methods to combat these as I have discovered.

A lot of social anxiety plagues me on a day to day basis, with a strong mix of paranoia. I worry a lot about what people think about me, and my insecurities consistently emerge. For example, I might arrive to my community college and proceed to my class. Almost every day, I will be walking down the hall when I feel paranoia creeping up like a shadow. With my first social interaction, I might go from being in my own complacent thoughts to a completely unhinged, irrational mindset of which I have no control. Some days I may have little to no social anxiety and paranoia, but for the most part, it affects me daily. And when it does, I begin feeling like each and every person is staring at me, theirs eyes burning into my back, judging me based on appearance, based on my expression, even how I'm walking.

Let me put this in perspective for you. Have you ever seen a horror movie where the soon to be victim of the killer is moving cautiously around every corner, showing their paranoia and dread of what they see as the inevitable? To an extent, this is metaphorically comparable to how I feel regularly in social situations, whether it be school, the mall, or even the library. The "killer" being other people, and their eyes constantly following me, watching my every move, judging me. I may pass someone in the hall who simply meets eyes with me for a brief moment. In that time, my brain may interpret this as a threatening glare, when in all reality, it was just a curious glance. And boom, my anxiety and paranoia is set off. I will now spend the next class period or so fostering this paranoia, thinking about it, tearing apart in my head why I have received such negative vibes from others. During this paranoid phase, I would often be very withdrawn, avoiding eye contact with others, maintaining a cold, stern expression, and making minimal conversation. I certainly don't look like a person someone would be comfortable approaching at this point.

Thus, the irony develops. On a good day, I might have been my talkative, positive and friendly self, perhaps starting potential acquaintances and friendships on the right foot. But first impressions are often set in stone, and now I've doomed myself to the speculations of others based on my antisocial behavior. People will respond to my antisocial behavior in ways I had initially thought they would, whether it be ignoring me for days after, or distancing themselves from me and my unwelcoming, cold demeanor. I'm sure I make them feel uncomfortable when I put my social wall up. I observed this almost predominately in high school, before I had developed a deeper understanding of how to work the social tools available to me. Needless to say, because I started off high school with a skewed perspective of self image and gave in to my paranoid tendencies, I distanced myself from people, and lost the potential for more friendships. And although I have many regrets from high school, I can truly say it was a learning experience and helped me improve my methods of dealing with my ongoing social anxiety and paranoia.

The difference between my present and past paranoia is how I deal with it now, currently. And let me tell you, it has made such a substantial difference. I described how I had gave in to my paranoia in high school, but I have not detailed the methods I now employ to fight and manage paranoia when it emerges. Everyone desires positive social connections, and through my past frustrations, I have found ways to meet this desire. When I feel that unavoidable social anxiety and paranoia approaching, I use a positive mental approach. I will tell myself repeatedly that no one's judging me, and that my paranoia is not realistic. I self affirm, telling myself that I'm a friendly guy, and that people aren't as shallow as my paranoid tendencies make them out to be. I push myself to socialize to overcome my anxieties, even if just starting a friendly conversation with a stranger. Finally, and most importantly, I will tell myself to reflect this self confidence and friendliness through my expression and voice. Where before I may have walked around with a scowl and avoided people, now I maintain a consistent smile, and force one on even when I'm in a poor mood. I try to use a friendly vocal tone in my conversations with others to give the the impression that I'm an open and genuine person. Using these methods, I have found that I can successfully overcome the negative effects of the social anxiety and paranoia that I currently, and always will face. A positive mindset about yourself and others seems to be a powerful factor in this success.

As an Aspergian, its uplifting to know that where there's a will, there's a way. While I can't avoid the inevitable anxiety and paranoia's that are a part of me, it's comforting to know I've successfully developed and maintained many friendships and relations through this self-perseverance.To anyone who struggles with similar anxieties and paranoia, don't lose hope. There's a drive in each of us that can be used to conquer and overcome our fears. Its taken me years to find mine, but I've found it and held onto it with an iron grip.

Thank you for following my blog! I'm grateful to have readers that are willing to read the contents of my mind and experiences as an Aspergian. I aim to help, educate, and inform others, whether as a fellow Aspergian or a curious reader. Aspergers is growing larger in prominence every year, and awareness and understanding is necessary.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Anger and Stress Management: An Aspergian's Experience

Welcome back to my blog, friends. I would like to focus today's post on another part of every day life that has for many years been a severe struggle for me in my adolescence. Anger. Growing up, I was prone to frequent outbursts of anger which would often occur after even a minor provocation. Let me give an example. As a child, I remember losing a tooth, and how excited I was for the "tooth fairy" to come. As many children know, losing a tooth sometimes means a nice shiny quarter or two under their pillow in the morning. Maybe I had my hopes set too high, or maybe I had just imagined the tooth fairy as being loaded with cash. In either case, I placed my freshly lost tooth under my pillow and drifted off to sleep.

In the morning, I woke in anticipation, and eagerly threw my pillow aside. Instead of the crisp dollar bill I had been sure I would find underneath, I saw a quarter. One little quarter. I stared in disbelief, clenching the coin in my fist. I rushed to my doorway, yelled down the stairs to my parents how unfair it was that I only got a quarter,and proceeded to throw the coin forcefully down the stairs, screaming. I ran back inside my room, slamming the door, and lay down on my bed, crying. Now for those of you reading, this may sound like I was just a spoiled little brat. But let me assure you, I was not spoiled as a child, although the brat part was more true than not. And this was just one of many episodes like this that erupted. Over the years, whether it was weekend plan cancellations, being grounded, or even not having things go as I had expected, I would break out in anger fits over the smallest disappointments in life. My parents could not understand this irrational behavior, and came to the conclusion I had anger issues. They took me to countless therapists, counselors, even putting me on an anger medicine prescription. Nearing high school, I got extensive testing done, and that's when I found out I had Aspergers. I will detail this in a future blog.

Anyways, I didn't understand the diagnosis any more than my parents seemed to at the time. Nothing seemed to help, and I began to despair as I pushed away my family and friends in frustration. I felt helpless. I would go through periods of relative peaceful behavior, and sooner or later descend into my rages. Music seemed to be my only friend, and I would spend hours in my room listening to my ipod depressed, restless. And then one day, everything changed. It was my junior year in high school, and I had my first day of weights training. Our weights coach walked us through class procedure, and over that week, I learned how to use each piece of equipment, and what parts of the body they affected. Until this point, I had not so much as lifted a dumbbell in my entire life. Let me be completely honest, the first month in that class was intense, it was hard, and I would go home sore all over. I didn't see how anyone could actually enjoy this kind of exercise, because I certainly wasn't...yet. Coach Schaeffer would walk around the weights room, shouting out encouragement and advice as our class strained to complete a repetition or set with the various weights and exercises(will be thoroughly explained in future blogs). A rigorous month of weight training class had passed, and I began to notice several changes. First, I was not getting as sore as I had after workouts in the beginning. In fact, I found I could work out a good bit longer than I used to. Second, I could lift heavier weights, bit by bit. And third, and most importantly, I felt GOOD. To be specific, I felt a spark, a positive energy coursing through my body and mind after every workout. What was this feeling?! It was as if the few good parts of my week suddenly conjoined together, and I felt a  positivity I had rarely known. This new sensation had me curious, and that weekend, I shared with my parents this new experience. Considering the fact I never really talked about how my day went, they were all ears when I opened up about this new found feeling. I told them how great i felt after working out, and how my mood seemed to dramatically shift towards the better after weights class. They told me they were glad, and encouraged me to continue this venture.

I took this to heart, and continued my workouts with increased intensity and dedication over the course of my junior year. I found some old weights in my house basement, and even began lifting on the weekends. I began to find that through this regular exercise, my emotions seemed to be MUCH more stable, my anger outbursts less frequent and intense, and my negativity and insecurities seemed to fade away, at least to healthy levels. After years of failed attempts to get myself to a better place, I had finally found a method that seemed to help. These changes were tangible and real, and I now had a tool, an implement to dispel my depression, my insecurities, my anger. If I felt an angry or harsh response boiling up at home, I would bite my tongue, head down to the basement, and lift weights to music until my rage subsided. I would come upstairs a new person, a new Austin. Senior year was my best year of high school, my best year at home, and it all related to my improvement in emotion, anger and mood through exercise. Adding a healthy diet into the mix that year and cutting back on sedentary behavior(being idle), I was able to curb the extremes of my Aspergers, and I saw life positively for the first time in a long time. I'm proud of the person I've become and while I can't change the fact that I will always have Aspergers, I can now deal with the extremes of the condition, which for me can be irregular anger, emotion, mood, and reactions. Exercise and fitness has emerged as such a crucial life tool for me as an Aspergian, and it will be my ongoing efforts to help others use this in a similar manner, for the improvement of all. In future blogs, I will be exploring more potential methods as well, that other Aspergians might  be able to use to improve on  personal extremes. Where there's a will, there a way. And we all have the will within us.

What are some ways you deal with stress, anger and anxiety? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Irritability Meter: Little Things That Annoy Me

Not a generalization, but a common trait I've found I share with many other people who have Aspergers is a heightened irritability rate. For me, this can be stimulated by a variety of factors. Noise related, they include the repetitive tapping of a pen, the shrill whistling of my dad to a radio song(I can hear him over the music), the rustling of a chip bag, even the almost inaudible sound of a person chewing. I hear each of these quite clearly, and due to my hypersensitivity to sound, the noises slowly raise what I like call my "Irritability Meter". When this meter increases,(you'd be surprised how fast it does) I change quite a bit, in terms of verbiage and posture. The higher my irritability levels, the more prone I am to irrational, antisocial behavior which includes cursing and rude language. I might say something along the lines of "Can you stop eating so damn loud?" or "Quit tapping your pen". Often times I will get a clueless stare from the instigator as if their wondering if I'm serious about such a small noise annoying me. And yes, indeed it does. That's just how it is. 

In school or public situations where I am generally less outspoken, I will usually just relocate myself away from the instigating noise, a much healthier method than coarse verbiage. Besides noises, the everyday stresses of life including school, home, and prolonged social events(even movies with friends) will increase my irritability. Whether its finals week, chore day at my parent's house(until last year), or a two day weekend at a friend's house, excessive time spent in the same environment will draw upon my energy reserves and bit by bit, I will become irritable. I've found that moderating my time spent doing different things is vital for me to keep stress levels low. As my fitness teacher said, "Everything in moderation, nothing in excess." This held true in many life aspects, beyond the nutrition and food context. So when I spend 3 hours at a family dinner and I feel that irritability creeping up, I isolate myself and spend time by myself. If I could use a metaphor, I'd compare myself to a battery, and people as a drain, and when I'm low on "juice", I spend some solitary time "recharging." I group irritability and stress in the same context, and in my next blog, I'll dive into how exercise has become such a huge construct for me in fighting both. I believe every person with Aspergers has their own method(s) of dealing with stress and irritability, and I just know that exercise is my biggest, personally.

What kind of things, big or small, are irritating for you or someone you know? How do you deal with these irritability triggers? Let's discuss in the comments below!