Conquer Our Fears

Conquer Our Fears

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 During this paranoid phase, I would often be very withdrawn, avoiding eye contact with others, maintaining a cold, stern expression, and making minimal conversation.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!