Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: December, 2016

Taking Shape

This past year has been a transformative stage in my life. It’s been a time of many breakthroughs, but perhaps the most significant for me is that my volunteer work in autism advocacy has developed into a paid job.

In March, I started working as a classroom mentor for students on the spectrum at a local high school. This is something I never thought I would be capable of doing, but I absolutely loved it, and I’ve already signed on to work at an additional school next year.

My work as a speaker has also taken off in a big way. Among my many gigs this year, I got to talk at the Victorian Autism Conference, at a forum on Autism and Employment with Amaze, and at Young Social Pioneers 2016. It still boggles my mind that people would pay money to hear me talk, but hey, I’m not complaining!

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Autistic Teens group I was recruited to help run in February; I’ve met so many amazing people there, and while I would’ve been happy to continue doing it for free, that too will become a paid position next year.

Now that I write all this down, I feel like I’m bragging, but I’m really just over the moon to finally have paid work, and for that work to be so awesome that it doesn’t even really feel like work at all.

My dream of having a full time career in autism advocacy is taking shape, and I can’t wait to see what’s next in 2017.

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A Change of Pace

Aloha lovely people! First of all, I just want to thank you all from the bottom of my blood pump for your continued support. Producing a new blog entry every Tuesday for almost three years has been challenging to say the least, and the main thing that’s kept me going is having such an awesome and appreciative audience.

Alas, after so long, I fear I am reaching the point of creative burnout. For the last few months I’ve been really struggling to come up with new entries once a week, and as we move into 2017, I’ll be stepping up my commitments at work.

As a result, while I will continue to post new blog entries, from 2017 onwards I will no longer be doing so on a regular weekly basis. Rather, I will simply post whenever I find the time, energy, and a good enough idea.

It will be difficult to let go of my weekly routine, as I know my OCD will make me feel like I am somehow ruining three years of work by doing so, but in the long run I think I will be better off, as posting every Tuesday has begun to feel like a stressful obligation.

I just thought I should give you all a heads up, in case in seemed like I was abandoning this blog, which I assure you I’m not. The Shop of Horrors will remain open, just with different business hours.

“Mildness”, Farts, and Mirror Masks

“Your autism must be very mild.” Oh boy, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that one, I’d be sleeping on a pile of gold like Smaug, and living in an air conditioned chocolate palace with a swimming pool full of coffee.

I’m not offended by these comments, mind you. It’s not meant maliciously, so I don’t take it as such. After all, it’s true that a lot of people on the spectrum face significantly more challenges than I do.

On the other hand though, I feel I should point out that my “mildness” is, at least partially, an act. When I’m out in public, I wear a mirror mask, which reflects the social norms of those around me. If you saw me in the privacy of my own home, “mild” might not be the phrase that comes to mind; I flap my hands, I make funny noises, I do a lot of the things more typically associated with the word “autism”.

If I appear “mild”, it’s because I’m expending a tremendous amount of effort to appear as such. My autistic characteristics may not be apparent, but that’s not because I don’t have them; rather, I’m holding them in for the time being, kind of like when you’re on a date and you really need to let out a nice fart, but you know it’ll spoil the mood.

I’m not ashamed of my autism. I mean, I’m not ashamed of the fact that I fart either. They’re both natural parts of who I am, and restraining myself from indulging them in public doesn’t change that.

Learning to shake hands

Early this year, I set myself a goal; that by the end of 2016, I would have trained myself to shake hands with people without flipping out. Now, that may not sound like a difficult thing, but when you have OCD, shaking someone’s hand can be the equivalent of an arachnophobe picking up a tarantula.

I don’t mean to sound derogatory or judgmental towards others, but whenever someone offered me their hand to shake, my OCD would kick into overdrive, and all I could think about was “you don’t know everywhere that hand has been and everything it might have touched” and “what if they forgot to wash their hands after going to a toilet” and “what if they sneezed into that hand or wiped their nose with it a few minutes ago?”

The fear would kick in like a shot of liquid nitrogen, and I’d tell them that sorry, I don’t do handshakes. It was nothing personal, I just would rather not deal with the anxiety that would inevitably result.

This year I resolved to confront this fear, using the same techniques I used to acclimatize myself to hugs, rubbish bins, public toilets, and public transport; gradual controlled exposure. I made a point of shaking hands whenever I met someone new. At first it was terrifying, but I forced myself to keep doing it, and over time, it got less and less scary.

I can’t say it’s completely lost its bite, but I’ve reached the point where I can cope with it reasonably well, and I no longer avoid it. And so, another battle is won in the ongoing war against anxiety. Now to decide which fear to target next. There are still plenty to choose from, but slowly yet surely, the list is shrinking.