Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Grieving Archeologist

This is the hardest week of the year for me. This is the week where as hard as I try, the creeping depression looms its head. Depression zaps my energy and steals time I would rather be spending working or hanging out with people. This also bites because this week always is always before my birthday and prevents me from looking forward to it. On March 2nd 2005, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury that stole my life from me. Not only did I have months of occupational therapy, physical therapy, medical issues, and no support from my school; I lost my memories.

Yes. Everything in my life before March 2nd in 2005 is now lumped as the scattered images in my head. School years, friends, major life events are all blurred together with no real details and only vague shapes of space where things may fit.

I lost it all.

When things first happened, people thought I was exaggerating. Even now, people don't understand and can't wrap their heads around the idea. I looked the same, but there were things I didn't know or didn't know that I didn't know. Even know, I'm never going to know everything I've missed. I've spent the past few years relearning everyone other people learn in grade school about the world around them and I still have more to learn. It's not like there is a checklist I could go through for memories and see if things are there. Some memories I glimpse scattered in dreams and others take a random trigger to get a peek at what once was.

There sits in my room, wherever that may be in the world, a small box. In this box there are notes and letters and photographs. When my family had to leave our last house, we couldn't take everything. Most of my childhood drawings, photos, and childhood memories were left and destroyed in the house. In some ways it makes it easier to have my old life confined to the size of a shoebox.

This time of year I take out the box and try to look through things; searching for who I once was.

Like any good anthropologist, I look at the clues and try to make connections based on what is in-front of me and the resources at my disposal. I look at pictures of a little blonde girl playing with some friends and I don't know who they are or where the picture was taken. Guess can be made, but finding the answers of names or places only gives small details of the story of her life. Was she happy that day? Were these her close friends? Why was she there that day with those people? These are just some of the eternally unanswered questions about the life I use to have.

My accident came 8 days before my 16th birthday and my birthday was spent in a full body CAT scan. When other people celebrate the life they have had on their birthday, I spent mine in unimaginable pain. This year I turn 25 years old, a quarter of a century, and I only remember the last 9 years. People tell me how young I am and my only response to them is "you have no idea."

It is true, I still grieve for the life I'll never remember. For years after my injury, I spent my time just trying to survive while hiding the emotional and physical pain I felt. It was only after asking those people who knew me both before and after the injury did I realize what was truly lost. My middle-school and high-school career was filled with anxiety and being bullied. I lived in a home more like a warzone where I was hostage to an abuser others denied existed. My self-esteem was crushed and I felt hopeless in my life many days.

 I can't leave this post on a negative note, lest you think I dislike the life I have now.

I've been told after my injury, I became "Brigid" again. I once again became the strong blonde girl who didn't let bullies hurt others, who cares about people she may never meet again, who stands up for what she believes in even if she stand alone, and I've found the happiness years of abuse from many people took away from me. It's true I have remembered some of the worst things that happened to me, but it never feels like it was me living those moments. It was all just a girl who looked like me and shared my name. I've become stronger because I the things I've had to live through have helped make me this way when I didn't let them break me.

This is the hardest post I've written and tears have been streaming down my face the whole time. Part of the reason I write so much now is an ingrown fear I'll forget. I want a record of my life somewhere because I am missing 16 years of records. Thank you all for joining me on this journey and I am very hopeful of what is next for me. Not everyone gets a second chance to lead their life and I work hard to never feel like I'm wasting a second.

I'm Brigid 2.0: the new and improved version. (Now with 2 Birthday Cakes)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Slut-Shaming on the Spectrum

In popular culture, women are presented in two distinct ways. They are presented as sexual objects and we condemn the women who embrace their sexuality as sluts. We also tell women they should remain chaste and modest or else they will get pregnant and their lives will be over. For women on the Autism spectrum, these juxtaposed stereotypes pose even more problems.

I've mentioned the concept of schemas before, or the way we organize ideas into different categories. People on the Autism Spectrum function well by placing things into schemas, even when things are way more complicated than just slapping a label on something to figure it out. The concept of what a woman should be is something many females struggle with and even more so women on the spectrum. We get concerned with choosing the "right" option and this creates a lot of anxiety. In the world of glossy magazine covers, we are bombarded with how we 'should' look and how we 'should' behave.

In my opinion, one of the most personal choices anyone can make is in relation to the expression of their sexuality. Some women choose to wear revealing clothing or make-out with their partner in the street, that is how they choose to embrace their sexuality. Others keep their expression behind closed doors with the lights off. Some people are raised with religious guidelines or have family values instilled in them as to how they should behave in regards to sexuality.

A problem I've seen in my professional and personal life is when parents or guardians don't want a person to explore their sexuality for a number of reasons. This may be a personal reason or because they don't want their children to explore what many consider to be 'intimate relationships'. I'm very much in favor of having open communication and educating people on what healthy relationships should look like. There are situations where a person may not have the ability to consent to intimate relationships with another person, but they should not be left in the dark about their own sexuality.

It's a difficult talk to have with anyone, but it is a conversation that needs to happen also to protect the individual from being taken advantage of. It is a scary reality, but there are predators out there who do take advantage of others. Education on 'good touch' or 'bad touch' is important to help people know they should tolerate and when they need to let someone know something wrong is happening.

More that 90% of people diagnosed with a developmental disability, this includes Autism, will experience some form of sexual abuse in their life. 49% will experience 10 or more incidents of sexual abuse.  
- Valenti-Heim, D.; Schwartz, L. The Sexual Abuse Interview for Those with Developmental Disabilities.


This being said, there are people with all types of ability levels who are in healthy relationships. These may be not be the conventional hetero-normative one man and one woman, but the relationship may make the person happy. There may be people who have intimate relationships we don't understand or that may go against our beliefs in relation to age, gender, or any number of other variables.

That's not our business.

To voice our opinions of what a person does with their sexuality it to slut-shame them. I've seen it happen very recently to a young woman was told she should not have a boyfriend until she has resolved all her mental health issues and she should break up with him because there are stressers in her life. There will always be stressful things happening in our lives. I'm currently experiencing some seasonal stressers, but I do my best to deal with things in a healthy manner for my overall mental health. I'm sure some of the people reading this right now are experiencing stress. Sexuality is not a reward to being a good person or not having a stressful life; sexuality is part of the human experience.

I can't judge someone for how they choose to express their express their sexuality because I'm not them. There are so many mixed and contradictory messages out there, all we can do is help educate people on what healthy relationships should look like and not judge people for how they choose to express their sexuality. As long as a person is in a healthy and happy relationship, why should anyone else be affected by it? Sexuality is not a one size fits all box, it's custom made.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Resting, Relaxing, Relationships

This week I needed a break from my hectic schedule so I ran away for a few days. I ran away to New York to visit some friends and I did get caught in the storm on the way back.

Resting and relaxing is not something really in my nature. I jokingly blame my mother for this. We come from a family of hard workers. "Days off" are not really a common occurrence in my life and it's only very recently I'm working on building them into my schedule. This break was very much needed because I could feel myself getting worn out.

Relaxing is important to everyone and leading the type of life I do, it's even more important. If I get too stressed, my Lyme acts up and I will get very sick very quickly. I'm talking about not being able to swallow liquids or solids serious. 48 hours of that and then I'm needing to get my nutrients from tubes. Luckily, I have a Prius and can travel quite a bit on not a lot of gas.

My last day of adventuring ended up with me leaving Vermont yesterday. I bid farewell to one of my best friends and knew I'd be seeing him again soon. Through the winter storm advisory, my little prius ventured back to Maine. The glow of spending good times with my friends helped to keep me safe as the snow drifted around me. The people I hung out with are some of my closest friends. They know some of my deep dark secrets and still want to be friends with me. That means a lot since some of my baggage does not say "Handle with care" as much as "Danger: Contents under pressure" or "Warning: Flammable".

I'll be the first to say I'm not the best at interpersonal relationships. It was the observations of one of my best friends that really drove the point home to me. Talking about yet another person who I once was close friends with who now dislikes me, she pointed out the theme of my life.

"You know Brigid, that happens a lot to you. Some of your closest friends once really disliked you and people who you once were best friends with now dislike you. People either like you or they don't. There's no real middle ground."

I've heard this a lot. Like A LOT. Something about this really sunk into me this time. This past year I've distanced myself from some people who are working on their own baggage and the place they are in right now is toxic to me. Or the more accurate thing is to say the more I learned about them the more I decided I didn't want to be close to them.

How do you deal with that?

I'm quick to socialize and quick to trust some people, but the more I learned about some people the more I learn they can't be close to me. I can't be friends with people who are not patient, who are emotionally volatile, or who won't communicate about serious emotional issues with me. Those people are best kept at arms length from me because I care too much. I care about people who don't hesitate to wound me or who really don't care about me.

That being said, I am learning more and more who I do want to be involved in my life. It's important to realize now everyone will like me, but there are people who love me for my flaws. The love of my friends and family helps when the world feels too heavy. We all have those days when things pile up on us like the snow accumulating outside my windows. But the snow must end and summer is just around the corner. Things take awhile, but I can rest soundly knowing my friends can help dig me out if I need a hang.

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” ― Dita Von Teese

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mystery (Wo)man

I think it's pretty well know I have done some odd jobs in my life so far. My first job after graduating college was as a paper delivery person. Then there was the summer I worked mainly off of Craigslist as a fun experiment. One of my random jobs now has been pretty well known to me before, but in a completely different context.

I'm now a mystery shopper.

Now, it's not a full time gig and I am making my own rule to never shop in a place where I personally know the employees. That's just too much of a conflict of interest for me.

I use to work at the Maine Mall and we dreaded secret shoppers. We knew when they'd be coming and had to make sure every thing was perfectly in order. If you've ever worked at the mall during the holiday season, you know this is as easy as herding cats in a hurricane. Without fail, these secret shoppers would always come in when we were understaffed and filled with people only to complain how busy our store was.

So I went to my secret shopping adventure with an open mind and lots of random facts memorized. It's not that I have unusually high expectations of customer service, but I have bare minimums of how I feel customers should be treated.

Fact: The customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer is misinformed, stubborn, rude, and wants to take their bad day out on anonymous underpaid employees they will never see again.

Fact: Shopping in stores is a necessary evil at times and should not be as bad as having a root canal without Novocaine. Employees can help make this process easier.

Fact: Manners take very little effort and sometimes a smile to a stranger can change their entire day. Some of my favorite experiences when I worked in customer service were from interacting with really cool people.

Being a mystery shopper is not the best or strangest thing in the world. It's just a system to check in on stores and make sure people are doing their jobs. It's not going to change my life, but having worked in customer service for years I think I may have a different perspective on things.

Wow, I have a different perspective on things. Who would have guessed?