Selfishness is both highly over- and underrated. There are good and bad kinds of selfishness. There is the bad kind that puts oneself first at the expense of others, or that doesn't consider anyone else at all. There is also the good kind, the kind that puts itself first out of love and the knowledge that one is important and that one cannot help others without being taken care of oneself.
I try to make investments in myself. An investment is a way to put in a little effort to get back a larger gain. Investments take financial, emotional, mental, or physical energy. How much you put into it determines what you get back, just like any other investment.
I believe in a good healthy selfishness. I believe that if I don't eat right or get stressed out, or any myriad of neglects, that I will be unable to live my life well. I will be unable to serve those I wish to serve. I will not do as well at my job. I will not be able to keep up my home or make myself happy. I believe in saying “no”. I believe in refusing company of those I don't like. I believe in taking time for myself. I believe in joy and appreciation. I believe in long hot baths with a good book, and a bar of 88% cacoa chocolate when my hormones rage. I believe in yoga and jogging and long walks and a healthful diet. I believe I am a very important person to me and my world.
Food is the building block upon which all cells in the body are made. Garbage in, garbage out. Therefore, eating healthful choices is an investment into your physical future. It also determines your mental and emotional state, so it is an investment into those futures, as well.
A good diet is just basic self-care. It nourishes, keeps down stress and illness. It is also a way to appreciate yourself. Every time you eat a healthful and delicious meal, you can know that you are important enough and cherished enough to be fed this well.
Avoiding foods that you are allergic or sensitive to helps remove a factor that exacerbates autism. This usually means a fairly strict diet. For all that we autistics are fortunate in many regards, whatever causes the brain set up tends to play havoc on the body. This is true of our sibling disorders bipolar and schizophrenia, as well. Therefore, I keep my diet low carb and as low in preservatives as possible. (Go to the store and find meats and cheeses without preservatives. It's a challenge!)
I spend more on food than the average person. Doing so keeps me from getting sick as often (fewer doctor bills and sick days – days I won't get paid), keeps me from needing insulin (a very expensive need that I have avoided through diet), keeps me from being as moody and keeps my meltdowns to a minimum. More than worth the bit of extra money, in my opinion.
And, best of all, my food tastes really really good. I invest about an hour a day on my food. It is one of the more relaxing parts of my life!
Your mother was right. Keeping things clean will improve your health. Cleanliness might not be next to godliness (I've never understood that phrase), but it certainly influences your mood and mental state.
Obviously, not cleaning means lots of dust and molds and other allergens.
Not as obviously, environment and mind reflect one another. If your thoughts are scattered and disorganized, so will your home be. If you can force organization on your home, it can actually help you think more easily. Especially if your version of autism includes easy distractability.
Benefits to a clean house:
- you don't have to rebuy things because you have lost them to the piles of messes
- fewer allergens = fewer health problems
- even if you stay home most of the time, getting up, getting dressed, and making your bed can help improve your emotional state even if all you do is flop on the bed and read a book
- you become more efficient because you can find things quickly
- you know where everything is so you know whether or not to panic when something is in a new place
Cleanliness also includes cleaning yourself. Showers are your friends. Clean hair is good. Deodorant and toothbrushing are also good. Brush your hair. Wear clean clothes. If you are going somewhere important, be sure your clothes match.
The dreaded “s” word. Socialization! Most autistics get it drummed into them from a very early age that interaction is dangerous and terrifying. Autistics are, literally, hurt by interaction most times they attempt it. People talk to loud and hurt our ears. There are too many people talking at once so we flounder in confusion. There are lights and smells and input from everywhere.
People expect us to know rules they never were able to teach us and so we might be ostracized or picked on or we might simply give up on them as a bad job. People make sudden movements with their bodies and their topics of conversation hold no interest for us.
However, it is rather a requirement for survival of a human (or mutant human). Without socialization, a small child gets Failure to Thrive. This tendency never changes. It might not kill you outright, but you will shrivel up and die inside.
This creates the greatest difficulty most autistics face. You must have the thing that hurts you most. So autistics keep trying and keep getting hurt and getting more and more neurotic about the entire thing which makes them more likely to get more hurt because it makes them pretty damned annoying to be around, on top of their other social deficits.
The solution: become a masochist. Learn to revel a bit in the pain, appreciate it, and force yourself into small, controlled groups until you build up some resistance.
If you seem to have no talent towards masochism, it will be more difficult, but you can still manage it.
Hobbies are one of the easiest ways to start. There are clubs online for everything. You can probably find a yahoo interest group for whatever your obsession is. In fact, the group will likely have several other autistics all obsessing together and pleased they finally found people who understand.
Once you get comfortable talking online, find a local group that plays to your hobbies. They might even have information online so you can meet people before you attempt to actually face them in person.
The main reason that autistics get depression so often is because they don't get interaction. Most people with severe depression don't get enough interaction. Forcing them all out the door and into comfortable social situations is the goal of most of their therapists. So, save yourself the money and chuck yourself out of your nest and see what happens.
Yes, it's gonna hurt. Yes, there will be meltdowns. You will even have all the secondary symptoms of social contact: stupid fights with friends, gaining and losing love, getting over involved, getting hurt... and most importantly, finding one or two people who you connect to and feel close to and who become really good friends.
Another wonderful way to interact: volunteer. There are animal rescues, there are nursing homes, there are libraries... There are more ways to volunteer than I can think of. But if you are interested in something, there is very likely someone who would appreciate your services.
Preparing to go out into the world: wash first. Remember the toothbrushing and deodorant and all the other points about cleanliness. Think of topics that are safe for public consumption. These things include the weather and sports teams. Failing that, find something that will at least not offend. I have no damned clue what this might include, but I have friends willing to write me lists before we go places.
Exercise Those Brain Muscles
Never fear, I really do know it isn't a muscle. Nonetheless, expand your horizons.
- Enjoy your obsessions. Study in depth and off to the side. Find neat new tangents you hadn't considered before. Find a new application for your interest. Take it to a new level. Autistics have the obsessiveness and drive to make new discoveries and form new concepts. Take advantage of those talents.
- Expand your obsessions. If you love one type of car, can you get equally interested in other vehicles? Mechanics? Physics? Build a car?
- Do something altogether new. Yes, all change is bad and anything new is, by definition, a change. See: becoming a masochist. And while you are at it, find a new hobby. Fear doesn't harm you, it is just uncomfortable. So challenge yourself. Learn a new skill.
- Read a new genre of book. Try switching between fiction and non-fiction. Try a new author. Read how-to books.
- Try a new food. Stay within your diet, but try something new. Never had... whatever that spiny fruit in produce is? Buy it and try it. Never had thai? Try a new restaurant. This is also a really good way to break away from severe food habits and to help get all the nutrients your body needs.
Raise your emotional IQ
We are very deficit in emotional understanding and empathy, as a group. It is part of what autism is. We develop very slowly in many of the emotional and mental areas. It isn't that we aren't ever going to get there, it is that we take a lot longer to make it. At age 32, I am morally and emotionally about 8. Luckily, I study enough to understand the basics of good communication and am able to get by as an adult, but my basic stance is not that of an adult. It will keep growing as I keep working on it, but it is delayed. Autism is a developmental delay. People don't seem to understand that developmental delay means autistics' development is delayed.
Because we are very young in this department, don't try to approach it like an adult. It will be over your head. Study at your developmental age. There are some great websites about ages and stages that can help you figure out where you are and guide your reading choices. Choose children's books designed for your developmental age. There are some wonderful ones out there and they will be much easier to understand.
Learn about cause and effect. Because this is logical, it is a bit easier to follow and understand, but there are children's books about it, too, if you need a lower level to start at.
Buy children's autistic guides to communication. Comic book communication is one series, I believe.
Find a therapist to pelt with questions about social rules and your feelings. Learn to express them appropriately and find healthy coping mechanisms. A good therapist can help you learn to manage your stress and teach you ways to deal with meltdowns. They can be a sounding board for your ideas. Mostly, they are someone to talk to who is more likely to accept the developmental stage you are at.
Read books about autism. Non-fiction, written by autistics, are the best ones. However, I highly recommend Unstrange Minds.
Study communication. Learn about how conversation works, connotation, cultural concepts, word value... There is a lot to communication! You can even find books that break down non-verbal clues, like stance and volume and pitch of voice.
All it really comes down to is appreciating yourself. If you are worth your own time and energy, other people will see your value as well. People believe what you tell them. If your words and stance and actions all say “I am not worthy”, no one will have any reason to believe otherwise. If your words and stance and actions all say “I am important and worth spending time with” they'll believe you. Even when you annoy the living crud out of them, they'll find they enjoy your company. Your quirks become one of those wacky things you put up with, instead of a detriment.