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Autism and Sexism

Many times, I’ve been told that autism presents differently in girls.
Many times, I’ve been told that girls are less likely to be autistic.
Many times, I’ve been told that male autistics are different.

I’m here to tell you that’s sexist.

Autistic girls are NOT different from autistic boys.

Autistic girls do NOT “present differently” from autistic boys.

This is sexist.

At one point, I thought it was eye-opening to read articles about how autistic females presented differently. And then I realized that was my own internalized ableism and sexism talking. Now I am ashamed of myself.

By saying it presents differently, we are erasing non trans and non-binary experiences. What does it say to someone non-binary, if we constantly talk about the diagnosis within the gender binary? We say that autistic males are xyz. We say that autistic females are abc. But what about those who are not? If you fit in those boxes, well, good on you. But we weren’t made to fit in neat little boxes. In fact, by clinging to these things, we are enforcing gender stereotypes. Which is bullcrap.

I know people who have come to their autism diagnosis by reading about how it presents in girls. Which is fine and dandy. But realize that those lists come rooted in sexism. You now know better, so DO better. A female doesn’t need a different form of support than a male because she’s female, she needs different forms of support because she’s HUMAN.

I don’t fit the neat checkboxes of autism in girls – I don’t have a high IQ because my learning disorders make IQ tests impossible. Despite being a straight A, honor roll student my IQ is actually quite low. This is called being twice-exceptional,  where I am so-called “gifted” but struggle with multiple learning disabilties (and the concept of gifted is problematic but that’s another blog post).

Many of my so-called “special interests” (oh mylanta, I hate this term. This is another blog post. That’s two, two blog posts promised in this one. -count von count voice-) line up more with what is considered boyish. If you google “autism in girls checklist”, you get dozens of super gross checklists.

Because I present as female, it doesn’t mean my autism is different than someone who does not. It means it is different because I am human. Just like anything else on my massive checklist of “how many things Nora has been dx’d with”, it is different from person to person. There is nothing unique about my autism solely because I have a vagina. It’s different because I am Nora. Yes, autistic girls sometimes present differently from autistic boys. But autistic girls present differently from each other, just like autistic boys do.

That isn’t to say there aren’t atypical autism traits. There are. That isn’t to say autistic women aren’t disabled. They are. That isn’t to say it isn’t sexist to say that girls are less likely to be dx’d than boys are. They are.

I’ve talked about this with my friends. Some of us male, some of us female, some of us non binary. My friend Leila said in one of our discussions that “all the articles etc. that I’ve seen about “Autism presents DIFFERENTLY in girls!” is all about how autistic boys are mathematical and logical and emotionally withdrawn, and autistic girls are creative, intuitive, emotional artist-types, and, like… that’s just regular old sexism with “autism” in front of it.”.

This is true. Think about it. If we remove the word “autism”, people would be PISSED. “But my son is a creative artist!” “My daughter is a brilliant mathematician!” Yep. But yet, somehow it’s magically okay when we try to make an autism dx fit gender stereotypes. We must question ourselves. WHY? We get pissed off when we try to assign stereotypes, but when it comes to neurodivergence, it’s somehow magically okay?

Why? Do we feel that autistic girls need coddled more? Do we need to make sure we know that they aren’t like THOSE autistics? It’s a form of supremacy, to be honest. And that’s ableist, sexism, bullcrap. Do we feel that they’re superior, because they pass better? (Newsflash: autistic females don’t. Some autistic females pass, some autistic females don’t. Some autistic males pass, some don’t. Some non binary pass…oh, I could go on all day. You get my point).

That’s not to say it isn’t okay to talk about autism and gender. It is. That isn’t to say that it isn’t important to boost female autistic voices. It very much is. Everyone’s voice needs heard – no matter what their gender is.

But when we say we want to smash gender stereotypes, when we say we’re feminists, when we say we’re for equality…we’ve got to include disability in that. And disability includes autism.    It includes realizing that even when we don’t realize it, our thoughts are often rooted in sexism. I’m guilty of it. I’m not immune to call outs. I even used to like and share those posts that talked about how different autistic females are, thinking I was helping my friends. Thinking I was helping making voices heard. Until I realized and questioned why I was sharing it. Until I realized that I was contributing to sexism. Until I realized that no one fits into that neat little box – myself included. Until I accepted that I don’t have to keep lying to myself, to who I am, to make myself fit into the “autistic female presenting” box. I’m still autistic. I still present as female. It’s okay that I don’t meet everything on that checklist – it doesn’t make my DX any less or different.

It’s sexist, plain and simple, to say that autistic females present differently. I think it’s important for us to discuss this. I think it’s important for us to boost female voices, yes. But that doesn’t mean that that, in and of itself, has problematic roots. It means that we realize that we don’t present differently because of what our bits and pieces are or because of what our gender is, but it’s simply because we’re HUMAN and we each have our own jam

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I didn’t graduate college, and that’s okay.

I didn’t graduate college.

I have a massive pile of debt. Debt I will never be able to repay. I have loan companies calling me daily telling me I have to pay when it’s literally impossible. I have a cap and gown that I’ll never wear. At times, I still daydream of the degree I wanted so desperately and came so close to getting.

I didn’t graduate college.

College classes aren’t designed for disabled students. While schools have disability services, they aren’t always to make classes Nora-compatible. My immune system is too week, I get stressed out too easy, I get  too severe of sensory overload, I simply can’t people, oh, you get the picture. They can’t custom craft a class to be perfectly okay for me, because then it would make it inaccessible for someone else.

Part of learning, part of growing, part of acceptance has been coming to terms with the fact I won’t get my degree. I was merely a semester and a half away. But my classes cannot be completed in the state I am now. I didn’t graduate college.

But I am not worthless. The fact I don’t have a degree doesn’t mean that I failed as a person. It doesn’t mean my classes were worthless – I learned a lot. It doesn’t mean that I am worthless – not everyone gets a college degree. I still write a blog. I still advocate. I’m still an activist. I still do so many fun things with my life!

I don’t have a degree. Sometimes I do get stir crazy without classes or a job, hence why I’m trying to find a volunteer thing. I’m not happy just sitting around doing nothing on the days when I feel well enough to do things. I try to do what I can, but it’s really hard when society is designed to go against disabled people.

But I am worth it. I am worth trying. I am worth doing things. And that worth isn’t defined by fancy letters after my name or a really expensive piece of paper.

 

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Adventures with Anxiety-Girl: now with extra anxiety powers!

Hi, my name is Nora and I have anxiety.

I have officially diagnosed general anxiety disorder, OCD, and a smattering of phobias as well as suspected social anxiety. This makes life, well, interesting at times. Living with anxiety isn’t easy. Living with anxiety is kind of like living with someone who is constantly abusing and gaslighting me, only that person is me and lives inside my own head. It’s horrific.

I feel that a lot of times, people think I use my anxiety  as an excuse. No, it is’t that I just don’t want to make a phone call. It’s that I literally feel physically ill before making them. I often wind up shaking before and after making them. It isn’t just unpleasant, it’s literally uncomfortable and often times actually physically painful. I’ve had full blown meltdowns and thrown up simply because I have to make a phone call. It isn’t attention seeking, it isn’t guilt tripping. Making that phone call is sometimes actually, really and truly, impossible.

While I’m an introvert and hardly a social butterfly, I’m also bubbly and outgoing. I like going out and doing things. However, anxiety!brain is sometimes plaguing me with “what ifs?”. What if this happens. What if that happens. What if if if if if…and starts to spin me into a downward spiral of despair that is neither productive nor helpful.

I have been this way since I was a young child. I don’t know what it’s like to not have anxiety. I replay convos with friends over and over in my mind, before and after they’ve happened. I honestly had no idea that people existed that didn’t obsess over everything they said or everything someone else said. When I started texting, I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to panic over words on my screen.

Sometimes I’ve seen people ask “what’s one thing you wish people understood about xyz?” There isn’t one thing I wish people would understand. I just wish that people would realize that it ISN’T simple like that. Just understanding one aspect of it won’t magically make my life easier. Just understanding that hey, sometimes I can’t do the thing you want me to do or something I have to do things differently so anxiety brain doesn’t cause me to have a panic attack doesn’t really make a big difference. What I DO need you to do is to stop shaming us.

Different people cope with their anxiety differently. I choose to medicate. For me, it’s the best choice. I can tell a difference in when I take my meds and when I don’t. For ME, Nora, medication is the right choice. I will not, and should not, be shamed because I choose meds. However, for someone else, medication may not be the right choice. It may make it worse, or they may plan just not want to take medication. And you know what? That’s their choice too. Just because we have psychiatric disabilities doesn’t mean we should be denied agency.

Anxiety always has, and always will, be a part of my life. I’ll never fully live without it. Through self care and accepting my limits, that’s what living looks like to me. That may not be it to someone else, and that’s okay. But this is my edition of adventures in Anxiety Girl! Your milage may vary.

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Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been

I am learning.

I was once racist. Ableist. Homophobic. Transphobic. Against myself, against my friends, against people I didn’t even know. I was raised evangelical conservative Christian. Anything outside of my bubble, anything outside of what I knew was really HARD to accept. Because, you see, I had the BIBLE on my side. I was RIGHT and they were WRONG. Their feelings? Didn’t matter. I am really glad social media wasn’t a thing when I was in middle school because I’m pretty sure I would have had an epic case of being a major butthead. I was pretty active online starting around age thirteen, and I outright cringe at stuff I wrote. And this was just on message boards and such! Twitter didn’t exist until shortly after I graduated and Facebook wasn’t open to high schools until during my senior year. My brunt of social media was on Myspace. Yeah. Myspace. 😉 And Xanga and Teen Open Diary and Neopets and, well, you get the picture. Social media was just a baby. And so was I.

I’m sorry for the person I became.
I’m sorry that it took so long for me to change.
I’m ready to be sure I never become that way again
’cause who I am hates who I’ve been.
Who I am hates who I’ve been.

I was young. The internet was young (at least, compared to the form it is in today). I am really glad that one of the Christian message boards I was active on (hi there, Zeeps!) kinda imploded because I’m sure I said some things that would make me want to hide forever now. But the message board literally doesn’t exist so you can’t find it. WHEW. Even reading back journal entries I wrote back when I started Forgotten Regret (my previous blog) in 2010, I cringe at stuff I said.

You see, I thought I knew so much. I thought I was so wise. I did say some good things. But I also said some horrible things. Because you know what? We’ve all done it at some points in our lives. Even if our -isms are internalized, even if we’ve never spoken our thoughts, it’s not something any of us are innocent of. But what matters is what you do once you know better. What matters is what you do once you are told that you need to sit down, shut up, and listen.

It’s hard for me, because I don’t want to admit that I’ve said some really awful things in my lifetime. It’s hard for me to admit that I was once one of the people who cracked “Adam and Steve” jokes. It’s hard for me to admit that I said things that are hurtful to some of the people I care about most. But I was wrong. And I’m sorry. And I’m doing my best to make it better. I’m doing my best to show I’ve changed. It isn’t easy. Change is hard. Heck, I’m autistic. I like things the way they are and I don’t like having to change. 😉 But I can change. Even though it’s hard. Even though it’s difficult. It’s a lesson we were taught in The Lion King, kids!  He said that change is good! He also said this:

““The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.””

Yeah, the past hurts. Yeah, it sucks knowing we’ve screwed up in the past. But do we learn from our screw ups, or do we run from them? Do we accept we screwed up when confronted and challenged by things we said, or do we double down and gaslight people? Making mistakes is okay. What matters is what we do when we’re called out.

So I am pledging this.

I am pledging to do better. Know better, do better, they say. I am pledging to accept that I’ve made mistakes in my past. I am pledging to make amends to the people I’ve hurt. I am pledging to do my best to make things right again. It isn’t easy, but it’s good.

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Yes, I am a “keyboard warrior”.

Why I am a keyboard warrior.

I have seen a lot of memes and posts over the years trashing so called keyboard warriors. Also known as “slacktivists”. It seems that since we use our keyboards to speak out and we’re deemed to be hiding behind a screen, our opinions and voices aren’t valid. I’m here to tell you that’s ableist.

There are many reasons why I choose to use my blog and Facebook as a platform. And when you try to tell me that isn’t valid, you’re being ableist. It’s flat out gross to imply what I say isn’t worthwhile because it isn’t possible for me to do it in what you deem to be real life.

I can’t attend protests. It doesn’t  mean I don’t want to. It doesn’t  mean I don’t care. But what it does mean is that due to anxiety and being autistic, for me it simply isn’t possible. The mere thought of attending one makes me physically ill. It doesn’t mean I’m not willing to help organize one, make signs, etc. And frankly, what is needed isn’t always bodies at protests. It’s one thing if you’re at a protest, but there’s also value in behind the scenes work. Your health is still important and if attending a protest isn’t a part of taking care of yourself, is it worth the cost for you? For some people, it is. For others, it isn’t. And either option is okay.

Here’s the thing. We can make a difference from behind our screens. It sometimes is large scale, it sometimes isn’t. Changing a friend’s mind is making a difference. Offering a new perspective is making a difference. Sharing an article is making a difference. Making a difference and being an activist isn’t always adding a new voice or a new perspective. It’s something amplifying what is already out there. It doesn’t mean that I’m lazy or I don’t care because for me, the best form of being an activist is by typing.

It’s ableist to say that I should just shut up. It’s ableist when you tell me that I’m not making a difference. It’s ableist when you call me lazy for choosing this form of speaking out. It’s ableist. Not everyone can do every form of activism. And that is healthy and OKAY.

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I was once a self-professed grammar nazi. (I now wince at that wording. Like, wow. “Nazi” is NOT a good choice of words there!”). I gleefully corrected the grammar of anyone who was wrong. I didn’t care how blunt I was; I didn’t care how I made them feel. What was important was pointing out that they were WRONG and I was RIGHT. Thoughts and feelings of others? Didn’t matter to me. The thought that I could be hurting someone on the other side of a screen? Well, why did it matter, right? Didn’t they know that they were wrong and shouldn’t they be glad I’m helping them learn grammar?

But then I realized some things. Insisting on proper grammar is racist. (EDIT: this article was shared not because I agree with the author. I disagree with the writer and agree with Chalabi. This is an example of someone disagreeing with it. It’s still racist. There are a couple good points in the article but it’s an example of someone being the unnecessary type of grammar snob as well) It’s classist. It’s ableist. AAVE is proper English, even though people seem to be quick to correct it. And quite frankly, it has no place in the social justice movement. It is almost important to keep in mind that many more people are using phones or tablets, which make grammar errors even easier to happen. Autocorrect, typos, it all happens so much easier. I mean, just today I messaged my roommate with “booby dungeon” instead of “bonus dungeon”, so, like, I know perfectly well how easy it is to fall down the autocorrect hole. 😉 Continue reading

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It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap

I’m through accepting limits, because someone said they’re so
Some things I cannot change, though till I try, I’ll never know
-Defying Gravity, Wicked

I am fiercely stubborn. If you tell me I cannot, I will. If you tell me not to do the thing, guess who is going to do the freaking thing? I have a love/hate relationship with this trait. It makes me an awesome Hufflepuff because it means I will kick the butt of anyone who hurts my friends. At the same time, it makes it hard and painful to walk away from friendships that are not healthy for me.

I have trouble trusting my instincts. My entire life I’ve been told they’re wrong. That I need to do what the world tells me to do. Sit down, shut up, be quiet, be still. Even though all these things are literally physically difficult for me. I fidget. I stim. I’m vocal at times. But sometimes I trust that instinct. Sometimes I close my eyes, and leap.

As a disabled adult, I’ve been told so many things I can never do. I’m tired of accepting those limits. There are some limits I have accepted, and others I have not. I have accepted that I will never go back to college and never have a job. I refuse to accept that my life is not worth living. That I still can’t be an advocate and an activist. I refuse to accept that my life has no value, just because I cannot live up to what society says a “good person” should do, what society says someone who contributes to it is like.

I’m funny, I’m loyal, and yes, I’m disabled. I have the limits my own body and my health puts on me, and I have the bullshit limits the world puts on me. But you know what? Striking the balance is fine. Shouting out “NO” to the limits that everyone else tries to put on me, tries to pin me down with, is perfectly okay and perfectly acceptable. Because I, and only I, get to choose my limits. I get to choose what I can and cannot do. I get to decide. And that alone is a huge step. That alone is a big deal.

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when your ableism is about yourself

I’ve talked and talked about ableism. I’ve talked and talked about what bullcrap it is. I’ve written so many things about how much ableism has an affect on my life. I’ve said so many things about how much of an impact your ableism has on my own life….

And yet, the person I’m the most ableist is someone I see in the mirror every day. The person that I know the most intimately. The person who is intertwined with me…because that person is me. The person I’m hardest on? The person who I use ableist slurs at? That person is me.

It’s pretty common knowledge I withdrew from college. Largely because of my physical health at the time, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say my neurodivergent brain wasn’t also a factor.

Which is where my own ableism comes in.

I tell myself that if I had just pushed myself harder, I could have gotten that degree.

Which is bull, because if a friend had done the exact same thing, I wouldn’t dream of saying that to them.

Somehow, the words I would never utter to someone else, are magically OKAY when it’s about me.

[image description: drawing of an orca saying “Just because you had to drop out of school doesn’t mean you’re a failure.” in a gray speech bubble. Thank you to EMM not EMMA. on Facebook)

[image description: drawing of an orca saying “Just because you had to drop out of school doesn’t mean you’re a failure.” in a gray speech bubble. Thank you to EMM not EMMA. on Facebook)

In high school, I was told that I could do whatever I wanted. That my disabilities wouldn’t hold me back. In fact, I was told I minimized my “struggles” and didn’t fully grasp how much my disability impacted my life. This casual ableism, this micro- aggregation… became so twisted inside me, so much a part of who I was… that I likely stayed in college for far longer than I should have.

My own, personal ableism could have killed me. I tell myself my disabilities are no big deal, even though I’m totally and permanently disabled. I cannot work. Not only is my health too unstable, I’m likely to push myself on the days where I am well enough too much and land myself in the hospital. I was threatened at least once while in college that if I didn’t skip class, my doctor would put me in the hospital. My own, personal ableism is lethal.

I talk about the ableism I deal with from others on a regular day. But to admit that I am ableist about myself is hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever said. I feel that people judge me, and think I’m just selfish or lazy because I can’t get a job. It isn’t for lack of wanting. I desperately want nothing more than to hold down my dream job. I want nothing more than to finish my college degree, but college is a world that is completely inaccessible for me. And THAT is terrifying to say, terrifying to admit. It’s like I’m saying I’m a failure, it’s like saying I’m worthless (see, there’s my own casual ableism at play once again).

My name is Nora, and I am ableist sometimes. And the person I pull down, the person I bash the most, is myself. The person who I judge the most for their disabilities, is me. If another friend were autistic, had my physical health list, had my same brain cooties, I would support them. I would tell them  they were good enough, they were enough. That it was okay they didn’t finish college. But the person who I cannot give that same advice to is myself.

Part of becoming a better person, a better advocate, a better activist, is learning to remove the ableism from my life. Even when it’s about me. This isn’t easy, but it’s something I’m trying to do. And admitting is the first step, right?

 

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Day of Acceptance 2017

I feel like there’s something telling to be said about the fact it’s the disability day of acceptance And the fact I’m having one of my GI flares. I’m sure I could write some profound analogy…but that would involve my stomach not staging a mutiny. But that’s neither here nor there and I really don’t want to write about the president today – my already unstable health cannot take it.

But today is the disability day of acceptance. For those new to my blog or my life (hi new friend!), I am multiply disabled. I am autistic. I am physically disabled. I have an alphabet soup of brain cooties. I don’t even want to start counting my physical ailments but there are a crapton.

I was born disabled, vs having acquired disability. I don’t know what it’s like to be able-bodied and I never will. I have been both accused of minimizing the impact my disability has and of using my disability as an excuse or exaggerating it. I’ve been told that I cannot do things because I’m disabled and that I should suck it up, buttercup.

I’ve been told I am literally incapable of holding a job and this is true. I do volunteer stuff and my advocacy stuff but I cannot hold a job. My disability does not allow that. I’m a college drop out. I will never be capable of going back to get my degree. I will never be capable of having a job. These are things that society says I have to do, to be a good person. To be a valuable person. To be worthwhile in society. So many people place my worth on what I cannot do, vs the things I can do.

Part of growing has been accepting my disability. I dropped out of college three years ago. I should have graduated from college in December of 2014. I was literally a semester and a half away from graduating. But I couldn’t, because I’m disabled.

Disabled children become disabled adults. And accepting this as a reality is hard. I wasn’t ever expected to live on my own, but I did. Even though I ultimately wound up moving in with friends because living alone did not work for me. For years, I tried to deny the fact I was disabled. You’re talking to the person that literally had to be threatened with putting in the hospital in order to convince her to stay home from college classes. I was very much of the “push through, it isn’t that bad, it’s all in your head” mindset. This actually made my disability worse – this made my health worse. Because I couldn’t do the thing even though I tried to insist I could.

Today is the disability day of acceptance. And I’m here to say my life is worth living. Despite people thinking budget cuts should be made to avoid that. Despite people saying that I’d be better off dead than disabled. Despite people saying that I don’t deserve health insurance. I’ve accepted my disability and it’s time for you to accept it as well.

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Adventures of Anxiety!Brain

I have anxiety. To people who don’t know me well and haven’t seen me in panic state, it may not be obvious. I’ve learned how to pass well. I’ve learned how to hide it. Cope? That’s laughable. I still don’t know how to cope and as a result…

To the outside eye, I look lazy. I look like I just don’t do the thing. I look like I’m just putting off sending the email or making the phone call. I look like I just don’t care about my diet when I rely on easy-to-make stuff instead of making actual food. I look like, for all intents and purposes, I’m just someone who doesn’t give a crap about many things.

For the sending the email or making the call thing, I have to write a script. I have to come up with possible replies. Calls are worse because I have to try and think of what their possible response will be. I have to come up with a list of possible outcomes. Emails are nice because if my preferred time to send them is at one forty two AM and the rest of the world is asleep, there’s nothing stopping me with sending it when it’s best. But then I’m plagued with saying the wrong thing. Wondering if I made a grammar error that made me sound foolish. There are so many outcomes. And what if I typed their email wrong and instead of emailing my case worker, I email a random dude with the same name in Ecuador!?

So instead, I just don’t do it. I pretend it doesn’t exist. I act like it’s no big deal and just brush it off. To the outside eye? To the random person who just seems me in a Nora-puddle on my bed with two fuzzy cats, a large mug of tea, munching potato chips, while browsing Tumblr on my phone? I look like someone who is merely unmotivated or lazy but in reality it’s so much more than that. I have so much motivation locked up inside me. I just don’t know how to pull it out.

Likewise, I make easy foods. I have sensory issues and allergies. I make foods I like. I find comfort in my routine and what I know. I don’t tend to branch out often. This means that current, I exist on pasta, chicken nuggets, potato chips, and cheese. There’s a few other things mixed in but for the most part it’s pretty simple and I don’t want to have to make decisions when I already know what I like.

The biggest thing, however, I wish people understood about anxiety!brain Nora is that I don’t cope well with change and pressure. I like things to stay the way I know them. I like things to be the way they’ve always been. I’ve had the same Tumblr layout for basically the entire time I’ve had a Tumblr. I play the same video games over and over despite having a huge back log.  I have a huge pile of books to read, but I go back to my old favorites. I have thousands upon thousands of songs but I listen to the same few dozen over and over. I like my life to be the way it’s always been.

I recently moved. It wasn’t just a move from point a to point b, but it was a move to a new state. Even though I’m literally just a few minutes away from my old state, I had to change everything. I moved away from my friends (though toward other friends – both new and old! YAY!). I started over. And it was very much needed – my physical and mental health is the best it’s been in years. But changes happen. And I struggle to keep coasting and not to just shut down.

When I’m pressured, when things have been set and I’m asked to change what I thought I had stabilized, I panic. My brain goes into overdrive. It feels like I spiral out of control. I like things to be the way I know them. I don’t like things just popped on me at random. Even surprises, the good kind, can be stressful. Which is why change is bad. Which is why I don’t like things not being what I expect. Which is why I cling to my routine. Because otherwise, I don’t know how to cope.