Conquer Our Fears

Conquer Our Fears

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!
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