Sunday, January 24

A New Autistic Understanding of Empathy

Dear Self:

Today I had a thought.

I know that nothing happens in isolation. The circumstances of my life, whether big or small, personal or public, can deeply affect people on the other side of the world. Good things and bad things that happen to me can be incredible blessings to others, and each of us can learn from the experiences of others.

But it's more than that. I had a glimpse today into the reality that, perhaps, life circumstances are more connected to others (and more influenced by them) than I really understand.

My example: 

I often make people feel uncomfortable, sometimes just by existing.

(It's not on purpose; I wish I could do something to make it never happen again. I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable, ever.)

Support?

Being attracted to guys makes some people uncomfortable. (Am I attracted to you? Maybe. It's unlikely. Even if I were, it wouldn't go anywhere. The law of chastity is pretty clear on that one.)

Being just autistic enough to be strange, but not enough to be obvious, makes some people uncomfortable. (Am I really that brash/proud/unthinking to not be able to pick up on what that person actually meant, or to break that social norm? Maybe. I'm just normal enough that people can attribute *all* of my social flaws to personality defects.)

Appearing highly confident (more like emotions just don't communicate as easily) can make some people uncomfortable.

Sounding "smart" (or having an obsession with selecting the right word for each sentence because of each word's inherent differences and nuances) can make some people uncomfortable.

Most of the things in my life can make people feel uncomfortable. And  many... and maybe even most... people have told me, and tell me, all the time, that they feel that way. That being in my presence (and it's magnified many times by those who spend a lot of time with me) makes them different... in a usually somewhat unpleasant way.

Side note.

When I realized that many people felt uncomfortable around me the first time... I immediately cut social ties with every person who was close to me but not family. The realization that I, just by existing, made people uncomfortable, was something I couldn't handle. Helping people feel loved and accepted and worthwhile is one of my biggest personal goals in life, and realizing that I was doing the exact opposite made me want to give up. I realized later that it was worth being around people even if it hurt me and them. Usually.

So I have a bunch of facets that can make me uncomfortable to be around. My best friend tells me that he feels inferior to me no matter how many times I try to build him up. My younger sister tells me that she doesn't feel creative when compared to me, even after creating really cool things. A girl once even went so far as to say that I was scarier as a judge (of her internationally acclaimed music performance) than the judges she was preparing for.

And what if God intended that?

What if God made me the way I am so that I could be a stumbling block? A stray thorn?

I realize that my trials can help people when they see or realize a greater perspective, but what if they're also designed to burden the people around me? To push them beyond their limits, try their patience, and bruise their self-esteem? What if my trials, the ones that burn me out and make me want to cry myself to sleep, were also sent to my family, associates, ward members, and everyone else in contact with me to try them as well?

Maybe this is obvious to everyone else, but until today it had never occurred to me.

When my sister got cancer, it wasn't my trial. It affected me, but not really all that much. When my brother had cancer, it was harder, but only because I was trying to help take care of him, our business, and graduate school all at the same time. I ran out of time and energy every single day, and that was my trial. The actual trial of leukemia never even got close.

I've talked with other people who had the same experience, and it had a massive impact on their lives. For some of them, it shook their faith. For others, it pushed them closer to God.

For me...

Maybe it's from the autism. Maybe one reason I struggle to empathize with people with experiences I haven't had is that they don't affect me the way they do everyone else. 

And perhaps that's also why it never occurred to me that my trials could be a burden to others.

Are there people who look at me and wonder the same questions I do? Are there people who can somehow feel the emotional pain hidden under the busy, successful outer layer?

I think there are.

And that adds a whole new facet to life. One that I hadn't thought about.

...

...

If I had had this insight/revelation six years ago, I think I would have made the decision to never reach out to people again.

Because my focus was on not hurting people. I knew that *some* people experience discomfort at the beginning of the relationship, but anyone who stayed got past that, right? And my problems were my own problems.

But they're not. My problems are your problems and his problems and her problems, and somehow just by existing the emotional pain I feel affects you.

That's why people have such a hard time with gay rights issues. And why news stories can affect political voting. And why so many people are deeply affected by things they know nothing about.

...

So what's my conclusion today?

I've realized that sharing who I am openly can make people hurt inside, as well my intended goal - to help them heal.

Do I, out of supposed care for the people around me, hide my problems so that others can't vicariously experience what I do? Do I coat myself with a thin, hard veneer such that people can't catch what's inside?

Thankfully, in the last few years I've learned something important about how God works... and something important about happiness.

Happiness isn't about having an easy life or having things the way I want. Happiness isn't about knowing all the answers or understanding why or how things will happen. Happiness isn't about knowing the future or being in control. It's about trusting God, and following Him.

Learning to be happy takes time. It takes work. And, in many cases, it takes a lot of difficult experiences. Sometimes those experiences are inside us. And sometimes they're not.

I don't know how I feel about my newfound understanding. It highlights a bunch of red flags I didn't even know I had. 

But I think I'm ok. This helps me in my goal to not be afraid. When I understand the things I face, I can measure them, rather than cower in fear of the unknown.

Now I understand why I've had therapists cry during counseling sessions. I never got it before.

So my life, as hard as it is for me, might be hard for others, too. The seeming unfairness I've had to struggle with could be a struggle for someone watching me. And my own painful pathway could inflict emotional wounds on others when we've never even met.

I don't understand it... because that's not how my life works. But I got a glimpse today that, maybe, that's how it works for others.

If that's how it works, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that anyone has felt my pain. And I hope that anyone watching me can find the light that I have... and feel the love of God as I have as well.

Sunday, January 17

Update: Alternate Day Feasting

It's been two weeks since I began Alternate Day Feasting.

And I like it.

I honestly *really* like it.

I feel better about myself, I feel better in the morning, I feel better during the day. I love being reminded to study the scriptures, and after two weeks, I'm not as hungry on my fast days. So I'm going to keep going.

As a recap, this is how Alternate Day Feasting works:

1. On Day 1, I eat as much as I like. I'm still vegan and don't eat sugar, so food is still pretty healthy.

2. On Day 2, when I'm hungry, I drink a glass of water and study the scriptures. Don't eat at all.

3. If someone offers me food and today is a Fast day, take some for tomorrow. If I want to eat something specific, make a plan to eat it tomorrow.

4. Exercise regularly. When I exercise, I listen to scriptures using headphones. It's something I did for a long time, then stopped... and it helps me enjoy the time I spend working out.

I thought it would be a major social issue. Social events and activities are based on food - and when whether I eat or not on a given day changes each week, that *ensures* that there will be some hurt feelings and some people who will wonder why I'm not eating.

But it hasn't been that much of an issue. I've tried some crazy diets. And, interestingly, it caused far more stress for people in social situations when I was on a super-strict diet (like no carbs) than when I'm fasting. People seem to be okay with fasting in Utah... even if it's every other day. I haven't done any major holidays yet though.

I told my family about how it works, and convinced my younger brother to try it as well. He still acts the part of a cancer survivor, and I think this will give him some new life. One of my sisters wants to try it as well.

I'm excited.

I'll say it again, I *really* like this.

I'm not a huge fan of the hungry feeling that sometimes comes on fast days, but that has lessened dramatically. And I can eat tomorrow. :)

Some more specifics for people who, like me, like the nitty-gritty details about my version of Alternate Day Feasting:

5. Each day matches with a calendar day - so midnight to midnight. This is for multiple reasons. First: to make it simpler for me and others. Today is either a food day, or it's a fast day. Second: to make it easier at the hardest parts of fasting - the beginning and the end. That way this type of IF (intermittent fasting) approach is in practice more like a 30-18 or 36-12 (36 hours of fasting followed by 12 hours of food - if food happens between around 8am and 8pm on food days) than a 24-24.

5b. There is an exception to that rule. Fast days begin faithfully at midnight, so I need to finish eating before then. But food days don't begin until I've slept. Regardless of how late I stay up on a fast day (including past midnight), I don't eat until I've slept for the night. Part of that is hormone balancing - I feel like letting sleep be a differentiator for my body will help it understand what's happening. The other part is to motivate me to go to sleep on time.

6. I can add another fast day to the mix, but not another food day. It's not suggested, as the added fast day replaces a food day... and that means not eating for 3 days. Water fasting for 3 days won't hurt anyone who doesn't have hormonal or sugar imbalances... but I'm already going to be fasting 15 days a month. I think I'm good.

7. If Fast Sunday falls on a food day... then I'll either wait to eat until everyone else breaks their fast, or I'll have a special fast the day before. It doesn't change the cycle.

8. Holidays will be interesting. Because there are other people involved. But while it's totally not normal to fast at Thanksgiving... no one will disown me if I do, right?

While I may feel good about my diet and feel good physically, I have to be real with myself. Alternate Day Feasting isn't the best thing the world has ever seen. It's not going to fix all my problems. It may have some neuroprotective effects, but it isn't likely to cure autism. And while better physical health may give me better emotional resiliency, it's not going to make me superman by any stretch. 

Look at today as an example: I feel great physically, and most of the day I've been really happy. Today is a fast day. Then something emotionally rough came along. I say rough, but most people probably wouldn't think twice about it. In my case, I got knocked down, found myself second-guessing everything I try to do, and felt like garbage. I'll be ok in another hour. But my minuscule emotional and social capacity hasn't changed.

I'm excited. Tired, stressed, concerned for a dozen different things... but also excited. And that's a feeling I want to hold on to.

Monday, January 11

Socio-Emotional Armor

There are only a few things that make me hurt deep inside. Most of the time my emotional grief, while I may write about it passionately here on (G)MG, is fleeting. Tears dry, my memory somehow disappears, and the only proof it ever happened is stored on a blog server who knows where.

I sometimes use the metaphor of social armor. Some people have thick armor that keeps them safe from social blows (intended or not), and others don't. It's not a perfect metaphor, because there are different types of social impacts that can have dramatically different effects depending on who you are... but it sort of works. In my case, I don't have much, or any, armor - so even a grazing blow will probably make me bleed. Disappointment, betrayal, grief, frustration, and pain all hit me hard enough to make me concerned about melodrama. But underneath armor there's another part to the metaphor - how does your social self respond to actual injury? Does it allow deep cuts to fester and scar for a lasting memory? Does the pain cripple you for days or weeks? Or does it do something totally different? In my case, I feel like I heal quickly. So the grazing blow that caused minor bleeding or the vital strike that made me want to die stops as fast as it began, and it's like nothing even happened. And, in most cases, I honestly don't remember it.

Over the last few years, I've developed a set of social armor that deflects at least a few of the things that used to hit me hard, but there are some things that bypass the outside and hit me no matter what.

People are one of those things.

Specifically, watching people develop relationships. Watching people make friendships, fall in love, get married, have families, or just grow closer to the people around them... it's one of the most beautiful things to watch, and one of the hardest.

It's beautiful to watch my best friend with his family. To listen to their bantering, hear their jokes, know exactly when his mom is going to be exhausted with it all, watch them laugh, and feel the incredible bond between all of them.

But that beauty is bittersweet. My family is close. We talk and banter, joke and laugh, and when I'm with them, there are times that I feel like I belong. There are even times when I smile with my best friend's family. Yet the same socio-emotional body that stops the bleeding within moments rejects positive emotion as it does negative. Somehow, again within moments, all the feelings of belonging drain out, leaving only emptiness. I forget the experience just as quickly, and the emptiness pervades, no matter how many people are around me and no matter how deeply I draw on the emotional reservoirs I try to keep alive.

I think that's why being around people, and watching people develop relationships, is so hard for me. I've thought before that perhaps I just never felt like I belonged, and my life has been a constant search for that feeling - and that I envy people their progression because I've never felt anything like it. I've even written that here before. But I think reality is different. I think that sometimes I do truly fit in, that sometimes I do find situations where everything feels right. Life is literally perfect, and I'm simply happy to be with the people that surround me... but, for whatever reason, the feeling disappears just as fleetingly as it comes, and my memory wipes it just as fast.

Maybe.

I have tons of blog posts that explain social pain that I can't remember anymore... and hidden in the archives, I have others that talk about intense happiness that I've forgotten just as completely. I'm sure that I don't fit in as much as I wish I could, but perhaps the conflating factor of my experience isn't just not fitting in - maybe it's that fitting in doesn't have the lasting impact on me that I, or others, would expect.

If that's the case, and my bucket is constantly draining, that could potentially help me understand how to find greater emotional impact from situations that can be guided or structured.

Let's go back to the armor metaphor. 

If I have heavy armor, the best way to ensure minimum pain is to spread social trauma out over time. As long as everything is somewhat minor, and never more than just a grazing blow, nothing will get through. I'll be whole at the end of the day without much effort. Major blows cut right through and will probably leave major scars, give me motivation to make even thicker armor, and may take me out of commission for a while.

If I have no armor, or really light armor, the best way to minimize pain is actually the opposite. Grazing blows throughout the day would maximize pain, and even though I may heal quickly, they still happen. If there are ways to structure the social experience such that, instead of frequent grazing blows, I deal with infrequent massive ones, then the pain is actually minimized. Major blows will hurt, but disappear quickly and leave no mark.

I feel like socio-emotional armoring is designed to minimize pain. I've seen armoring grow as an effect of prolonged difficult situations like verbal abuse... and also as a result of major trauma like rape, betrayal, sexual abuse, or even catastrophic accidents. Armor can give people the ability to function in a difficult world while they work to heal major wounds. 

But oftentimes the socio-emotional armor that people create for themselves doesn't just affect the ability of social trauma to get inside. It also restricts positive social impacts... and so, perhaps, the armor metaphor doesn't just help me understand how to structure difficult social situations. It could also help me see how to structure positive ones to gain the greatest possible benefit.

I'm somewhat skeptical of this. But let's see where it goes. For those of you new to (G)MG, usually I don't write knowing where my thoughts are going to take me. I just write.

So if I have major socio-emotional armor, and I'm protected from minor negative situations, then perhaps I am also insulated from positive emotional ones. To maximize my personal happiness, I'd want to seek out major positive experiences, then draw out the deep, lasting impact of those experiences over time. Little daily positive things aren't as likely to give me joy as events or situations that can bypass the armor and get inside.

For me, since I don't have much socio-emotional armor, and good feelings disappear just as quickly as bad, it's more important for me to have small, frequent positive encounters than to have major ones. Big experiences may bring big happiness, but they won't last for long, and a handful of smaller experiences could bring the same total result with potentially much less planning or effort.

That was definitely not where I was planning to go with this post.

I was thinking it would be about the difficulty of watching people develop relationships, and then introspection into how I could improve my own relationships, how I could be a better friend, or how I could overcome my fears. I even wrote a paragraph about all the different people that made me envious thinking it would fit somewhere later in the post. It didn't.

So...

I don't have any desire for social armoring. But I do want to be happier in my life. I have some control over negative social situations, but I heal quickly, and controlling negative social situations is about pain mitigation, not improving happiness , so that's probably not the most important place to put my focus. So maybe I'll try to work on the positive side... and find lots of little things to make me smile.

...

I wonder how it works for everyone else. Maybe it works the same way - and some people will need big, planned events, and others will need little ones that happen all the time. And if I can match the ways that I serve people to their personal needs - whether big or small - then I can have a greater impact on their lives. I think I'll talk to my best friend about that and see if it matches... then figure out how to structure positive and negative experiences in our friendship. 

I think I may already know the answer.

Thursday, January 7

Alternate Day Feasting

I'm trying a new eating lifestyle to see how I like it. I call it "alternate day feasting." Most people would call it alternate day fasting, but I want to remind myself to feast on the scriptures during the time I don't eat every other day... and why focus on not eating, when I get to eat whatever I want tomorrow?

I've been drawn to it for a while, and have just begun to try it. With alternate day feasting, I eat whatever I want (my norm anyway - anything vegan without sugar) on Day 1, then I just drink water and don't eat any carbs (or much at all) on Day 2. The goal is to move my body into processing ketones, but allowing me to keep a mostly normal lifestyle every other day. Sort of. People tout longevity, better immune function, and a host of other pluses as positive benefits to alternate day fasting.

Usually I have something pushing me to do things like this. At the core, I don't have a burning reason for this one - just a tug at my mind that's been there for a while. And I got a bunch of chia seeds on sale. Chia seeds don't have any carbs, are great to eat alone, and are awesome to eat on my almost-fasting day. I don't want to follow an optimally-balanced-weigh-out-all-your-food-and-only-eat-exactly-what-you-need diet, but I'd definitely like to continue to improve my health. I still have major issues that maybe diet could influence. 

I'll see how it turns out, how I feel, and how the social consequences run. I read somewhere that I should feel hungry for the first 4-5 fasting days, or until my body has gotten used to the longer cycle and doesn't need quick carbs to function. I'm sure hungry right now. But I can eat tomorrow... and I got extra scripture study in today.

Tuesday, January 5

Open Again

The move is complete. Nature's Fusions is moved to its new location, and The Soap Factory opens its doors again tomorrow for customers at our new location on center street in Provo. The last few weeks have been stressful and chaotic - trying to move the store, then simultaneously maneuver all the legal issues, tax and licensing, more licensing and fees, plumbing and power and gas and signage and parking and new equipment to make the space look beautiful.

It took a lot of time. I guess it took longer the last time we opened a store... but this time we were on a time crunch. It just felt like a lot of long days, with me and Mitchell putting in lots of hours.

But we open tomorrow, which means that we're ready. Well, we have to be ready even if we're not.

The chaos of moving overlapped with New Years. This year I just went to sleep on New Years Eve. I didn't go anywhere or do anything... I just went to sleep.

My goals this year are across the board. One is to take better care of my body. I already eat well, but exercise has been sporadic. With a gym literally next door and a membership where I can take a friend each time I go, I'm hoping that this year can be different.

Another goal is to be more positive. This one ties to my main goal for the year - to be less afraid.

When people meet me, the last thing they imagine me to be is afraid. Proud? Probably. Outgoing? Maybe. Awkward? Yeah. Shy? If you catch me at a difficult time. But afraid? No. Not David. And yet I am. I live in constant, ever-present fear. 

Very few people have ever been able to see my fear. Most see the person I am trying to be - outgoing, passionate, friendly, happy - and can't see past the outer shell to see deep into who I am. 

The reality is that sometimes I sit at home alone in tears because I am afraid to call or text someone, afraid to go outside, and afraid to do anything but sit there. 

I know that sounds melodramatic. And absurd. It is. It's also real.

Some of my fears are unfounded - I could probably go watch a movie on Netflix without anything terrible happening in my life. 

Other fears are rooted in experiences from my life. If I call someone, or text them, or email them, there's a good chance that I'll do something that will stress our relationship... and then the friendship will be over. Even if I have a good excuse, it may still happen. With a couple relationships, I feel comfortable enough that I can make a phone call or send a text without jeopardizing everything, but most never get to that point.

Is that logical? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is a constant, real fear that I face, and it literally keeps me from doing anything with anyone, ever, or reaching out to others unless there is a good excuse, unless I'm invited first. Life is about reciprocity, and gripping fear makes it close to impossible for me to join.

So my goal this year is to be less afraid.

I don't know how it will happen, or what to do to make it happen. The fear is founded on bad experiences, so maybe making good ones will help it go away. But am I appreciably different from the guy who destroyed fledgling relationships not that long ago? Or will it just be the same end result?

Even if I am still the same person, maybe it's worth overcoming the fear anyway. Fear doesn't come from God. Faith does. Blind faith doesn't, and I can be aware that I'm walking on dangerous ground... but I can learn to have faith in God and trust Him even if everything goes wrong. In some situations, it hasn't gone all wrong. I greet people at Church because I want to reach out, and I don't think anyone hates me for that.

I guess that's my answer. It's worth trying for a lot of reasons. Opening up and showing the real me is something worthwhile. Because people are worthwhile. Because I'm worthwhile. And because overcoming fear is a good thing to do, even if all the fears come true.

I have a long way to go.

Sunday, December 27

One Little Candle

Today was our ward Christmas program. My younger sisters sang a song called "One Little Candle." It was beautiful, but I didn't understand all the words during the program. I came home, found the music, played it on the piano... and cried.

The song starts out simple. But the second verse begins:

One little word to someone new...
One little deed of kindness too...
Kindles the friendship flame anew...
Soon the loneliness is gone.

...

Ironically, this verse captures both essence and anathema of my life. One of the things I care about most is helping people feel wanted and loved... so I'm the person who greets & tries to befriend new people in my ward, the author here at (G)MG, and the owner of a shop where anyone can make something beautiful. Most of the things I do are driven by people, from the person I've never met to my best friend.

And it's worth it. Being outgoing, showing kindness brings rewards that nothing else does. I get to watch people learn to smile, find new hope, and become new people. Having someone who honestly cares when no one else seems to understand can make all the difference.

The bitter irony of the verse is this: For many people who are truly outgoing and friendly, the blessings go both ways. They have no lack of friendship - their loneliness, too, is gone - and they develop close friends from the many around them. 

"Soon the loneliness is gone" doesn't really apply to my life. Yes, the loneliness goes away when God takes it away. Other times it gets locked in a box when I'm too busy to worry about it. But it's still there... and no amount of kindness, from my side or sometimes even from others, can make it go away. Most of the friendships I kindle with kindness are stepping stones or waypoints on a journey to something else. People realize, either consciously or no, that I'm different, awkward, and broken. And so they move on.

Sometimes I feel like I need someone to put their arm around me and let me cry into their shoulder. Or to listen as I just talk about all the things I wish I could change in my life. Or to be physically in the same room, not because they feel obligated or want something or admire me or are attracted to me, but because they honestly care.

The reality is that someone could do all those things, and more. It would make a difference. But it wouldn't take the problem away. It could chip away the outside, but the core would stay whole. People have moved mountains and done countless things for me... yet I'm still the way I am.

Part of my feeling this way could be the holidays. I began writing a blog post on Christmas Eve about how much I couldn't stand holidays - here was the beginning:

>>

Can I be honest? Totally honest?

I want quiet. I want to be alone. And I want there to be no more holidays.

Being with family is great for the first ten minutes. But then it plunges into constant, loud, insistent chaos. It makes me concerned that someone will push me over the edge and make me yell at people and cry or rip my hair out just so that I don't have to deal with it.

>>

The holidays are loud, overwhelming, and chaotic. That usually means I have to look for time to retreat and find quiet. In this case, I was really sick yesterday - the day after Christmas. And during the quiet that brought, I thought about my life.

I *am* lonely. But I've been lonely for a long, long time. First I fought it, then I prayed for it to go away, then I fought it more in every way I could fathom. I've read books and studies on communication, gone to see therapists and counselors, tried medications and lifestyle changes, and pushed myself far beyond my comfort zone. And then I finally accepted it. A while ago I realized it probably would never go away - that, most likely, God has given me this so that I'll always remember to reach out to the people around me. That realization killed both hope and pain.

All the fighting, while it hasn't changed my feelings, has taught me how to be a better person. How to apologize. How to listen. How to watch for cues and signals and signs, and little bits and pieces of what they mean. What it means to really show someone I care. And all the things I can improve to better show kindness to the people around me. From that perspective, it was worth it. 

(I guess.) 

No. It was worth it. It is worth it. *People* are worth it.

But there's something else. Some people must have some type of ability to break through to me - else why would I be so deeply drawn to them? Why would I crave friendships, yet also push some people away? It doesn't make sense that just because I'm lonely I would reach out to help others avoid my same fate... or does it? Maybe I love people enough to give without getting anything in return, or maybe God aligns blessings with when I reach out, or maybe something in some of my relationships with people actually fills a need, albeit partially, deep inside me.

...

I don't know.

Talking like this makes me wonder if I should let myself hope again. Tonight I'm too emotionally exhausted to deal with that demon, and I probably still have a fever from yesterday. I blame anything wrong with this post on the flu.

Maybe someday I'll understand it all. Maybe someday it will all make sense. For right now, I'll just keep trying to be a good person. To be friendly. To be kind. To be a friend to the people around me the best that I can. Perhaps it may not meet the needs I wish it would, but sharing the light of Christ helps others find their way... and that's worth it. That sounds like a good thought.

Sunday, December 20

Happy Birthday. Merry Christmas. God is Love.

I turn 30 today.

Happy birthday. :)

My life the last few weeks have been hectic and stressful. Holidays always are, and moving my business at the same time has made it even more so. Thankfully, I've had time just to sit back and enjoy - to watch the snow fall, or sing Christmas carols, or look up at the night sky.

I've begun posts about Christmas over a dozen times. I've tried to share my feelings in just the right words, to tell stories that make sense and give justice to an infant Savior. But nothing works. Nothing feels right. The words sit on my phone screen and don't communicate the feelings I have and the real meaning of Christmas.

I'm going to try again.

I know that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God. That He was chosen in the beginning to be our Savior and Redeemer. That He spoke to prophets of His coming and revealed the pathway that would lead us all to eternal happiness. 

I know that He was born to Mary and raised by mortal parents... yet grew into a perfect God. I know that He lived, taught, served, suffered, and died for me, and that He lives again in a perfected body of flesh so that I can live again.

 I know that He felt my pain, my sorrow, and suffered for my sins. Even the feelings I couldn't imagine anyone else understanding He understands... because He felt them to better love me and help me overcome the world.

I know that He restored the Priesthood to the prophet Joseph Smith, and brought His Church back to the earth for us today. I know that He speaks to prophets and guides the modern Church with a steady hand... and I know that following His teachings, counsel, commandments, and advice will always bring greater lasting happiness than any other alternative.

I know He is the great Healer. That He knows me and understands me. That He is there for me even when I've pushed Him away or forgotten how to hear His voice. That He will always be there - not distant, but standing beside me every step of every day. My life is the Gift He gives to me... and as I follow Him, He makes me into a better man than I could ever become on my own.

Yes, following Christ and giving my soul to the Child born in a manger will make life hard forever. True strength and growth comes from overcoming obstacles and triumphing over circumstances. And He will be with me.

I know that Jesus is my Savior. That He lives and loves me. And that His way is the right way and will always be.

That feels right.

Merry Christmas, friends. May God bless you with a feeling of His love, the ability to see His hand all around you, and the generosity to share the Gift of Christmas.

Sunday, December 13

(Un)finished

Sometimes blogging inspires me. And sometimes it stifles me. 

Today I'm feeling both. 

I started half a dozen posts yet finished none of them. And half-finished thoughts are, honestly, best left alone until they find their other halves.

I felt like just saying that life is good. Most of my published writing is full of complicated emotions, chaos, and stress. And while that's definitely a facet of my life, it's also only one facet. Most of the other facets are crazy, funny, happy, or whatever else I'm feeling.

Feelings that don't always come through here. 

I'm not completely sure why. Part of the reason could be that I've painted myself into a corner. I feel like things are only worthy of being on (G)MG if they seem useful. And then when I'm having a good day, I don't blog about it because I'm just having a good day. It's a lot harder, for me at least, to write about good things. It's ironically much easier to see the hand of God when I'm going through some type of deep emotional turmoil.

Either way, life is good. I have a lot to do and a lot to change and improve, but the gospel offers an amazing promise:

If I do my part, everything will work out for the best. The road will be rocky, chaotic, and probably nothing like I expect or want, but the final destination will be better than anyplace I could have found on my own.

Friday, December 4

Ironically Messed Up

I did some reflection today and realized how messed up I am.

I'm autistic, and while I've worked with dozens of therapists, few were able to even understand me, let alone help me see improvement.

I was sexually abused by someone I trusted.

I bear scars of major emotional abuse (thanks whichever therapist told me that...), probably symptomatic from autism and a late diagnosis.

I'm attracted to guys and not girls.

My adolescence was made up entirely of and dictated by bipolar mood swings.

My habits and hobbies all changed to match bipolar. Everything, from cleaning my room to exercise, revolved around the cycles of up and down.

I'm no longer bipolar. I don't have depression anymore, but the pattern that governed my life is broken... so everything - including my life, room, and exercise habits - is a mess.

Being my close friend seems to cause massive amounts of chaos in people's lives. And the chaos doesn't seem to go away.

I can't seem to communicate properly with most people unless I'm in a specific role and I know what to say... and then is that really real communication?

Someone told me, after knowing me for over a year, that until I asked to be their friend a week earlier, I was literally terrifying as a person... and that even though they wanted to be my friend, they assumed I didn't want to be theirs. Others have said I exude an aura of "don't touch me" or "I'm not interested."

I'm hypersensitive to touch, so touch confers intense emotional meaning. For a long time I avoided being touched, ever... and then realized I needed it but was essentially a one-year-old who pokes other kids in the eye because they don't get it but then cry if a dog licks them. Yeah.

I'm terrified of pushing people away... and even more terrified of getting close to people because of how awful it is to be rejected... and see burning bridges.

My mind doesn't always prioritize the right information, so instead of a list of people who have hurt me and ideas of how to improve for the future, I often just feel hurt.

Instead of turning to people and opening myself up when I need help most (and hence creating opportunities to improve relationships), I turn away from relationships and potential friendships and write on a blog. First, because it's safer to write to faceless masses. I'm terrified of losing relationships, so much so that I avoid even starting them, and I'm afraid to just talk to people because my thoughts aren't put together. But anyone who reads my blog isn't going to think twice about my going through something frustrating or just talking. And it doesn't impinge on their time. They can change the page or stop reading when they want, and read when they do. 

Add to that the fact that turning to (G)MG, and processing my thoughts here, instead of with people in real life, sometimes helps people in dire situations. So in addition to being easier, I feel obligated to the unknown people who could potentially find something useful in my thoughts.

And then people in my life read my blog... and some wonder why I didn't talk to them or tell them what I was thinking in person, and others never talk to me in person because they already read my blog.

I've realized that the few close friendships I've had were usually based on romantic attraction. The other person was willing to brave the chaos that comes from being my friend because they were in love with me.

Except...

That's not completely accurate.

I mean, I have an amazing relationship with one of my sisters. That isn't based on attraction. So I can't really just say it's attraction, though that was how it was in my head a few minutes ago... and for the past long time. But it's also not enough to say "attraction or family," because my relationships with some family members have been some of the toughest ones in my life. And there have been people who were my close friends when there was no attraction involved - though those were somewhat rare.

I've always just classified those people as outliers in my life. Unexplained blips on the social chart that just happen. But writing it here, I just realized I can't do that. Because that's not really fair to them or reality. I have had relationships with people that were different from the norm, and they weren't based on attraction or just being family members. There was something different about them... or, perhaps more, different about the way that we communicated.

I feel like, potentially, those people who got far enough to hit the chaos... I'm not sure how to describe it. We could communicate clearly? Most of the time, I feel like my conversations are underwater. Garbled, with tons of things said that I can't hear and neither can they. But I look back and... the other group feels different. These were people I could communicate with... conversations where I felt safe being myself no matter what that meant... and where sometimes I didn't even have to finish my sentence for the other person to get my meaning.

Wow. I was about to honestly rethink blogging to process my thoughts because I realize how messed up I am to turn to a phone instead of people, and then I have a revelation that totally changes how I think and helps me realize that learning to understand and be understood should be primary factors in developing and growing relationships... which may not have happened if I weren't writing my thoughts on my phone's screen for the world to see.

*sigh*

I really am messed up.

Thursday, December 3

Blessing of Peace

I'm leaving my essential oil company.

A lot of things have happened in the 6 years since I founded Nature's Fusions. I made a lot of mistakes with my first business, and somehow it still has kept going. I've also learned a lot - things about myself, things about others, and things they taught me in MBA school but I was too proud to believe at the time.

It might seem ironic to someone on the outside that I'm moving right when Nature's Fusions is finally starting to make money. Maybe it is ironic. Money is important, and perhaps I'll get a founder's benefit/legacy... but the reality is that in the past few years I've turned down careers that would have made me much more.

Whatever. :)

But that's beside the point.

The reason why I began writing tonight was that I wanted to write about blessings.

A little over an hour ago, I felt awful. Emotionally drained, exhausted, tired... after finishing work I drove to the Provo Temple and cried in the parking lot.

My best friend texted me today and told me that I needed to get a blessing. I'm grateful that he followed the prompting to tell me that, because I definitely needed help. 

Sometimes I'm too proud to ask for help. People ask me for advice on life and health and *everything*... so I should have all the answers, right. But a bigger issue is that I'm honestly afraid to ask people for help because... because I'm afraid that I'll be a burden. Or that my huge issues will become an issue. Or that by asking for help (even something as simple as a blessing) I'm sending a social signal that is incongruent with the level of our friendship. Or that I'll inadvertently say something so socially inappropriate or shocking or whatever that the person will never talk to me again.

It's happened before.

But I really needed help tonight.

But who to call?

It was after 9:00 at night. I thought about calling my home teachers. But I couldn't remember their names. That's a familiar experience - I forget everything. The elder's quorum presidency was sick on Sunday, so I didn't want to be a burden there. My bishop has been swamped with tithing settlement and interviews... and I know how busy he is, so I didn't want to call him.

But my bishop, while he wasn't the first person I called, ended up being the right person after all.

I got to his house, cried for a bit, and then we talked for 20 minutes. He gave me advice, asked for some advice, and we just talked. And as we did I felt loved. I could feel how much he loves me and the people in my ward. How much he prays about decisions and ward members. How much he cares. 

Then he gave me a blessing.

And I feel ok.

It's likely that tomorrow and the days to come will bring a whole lot of frustration, difficulty, stress, anxiety, and a lot else. But tonight I feel better. Peace that I'm definitely doing the right thing. Knowledge that, in God's eyes, I'm ok. And confidence that everything will turn out in the end for my best.

Note to self: When you're facing rough times, or life seems harder than you can handle, ask for a blessing. And ask early. Don't just go to Him for "special occasions" or when you're in dire need. God is always there. He always wants to be involved in your life.

Monday, November 23

Wrong

It happens all the time. The conversation turns direction, and someone says, "That's not right. That's wrong."

What does it mean for something to be wrong?

Sometimes being wrong means being imprecise - whether the statement lacks information or makes gross assumptions that aren't valid. When I took advanced Newtonian Mechanics, I learned that pretty much *everything* I had ever learned about physics before had been wrong. While the equations were good at approximating some very simple situations, at the core they were wrong because they approximated almost none of reality. Useful, but wrong.

Sometimes wrong is simple inaccuracy. Like when I use the wrong word, and have the undeniable urge to fix it, or when I close my eyes and type on my phone, then go back and edit the words that I inevitably misspelled. Or let the phone automatically edit for me. Or fix the esoteric words that my phone doesn't know and autocorrected into nonsense.

Sometimes wrong is contextually inappropriate - like when I wear the wrong color to match my skin tone or my pants and shirt don't go together. Or when I say something that makes people feel uncomfortable because it's awkward. Or when I talk waaaaaaay too much even after I've realized that I should have stopped talking... and then realize after the fact that I had been talking even more than I realized before. 

Sometimes wrong is applicable to someone in particular because they are an exception. Like when I expect someone to react and think in one way, except that they don't.

Sometimes wrong happens because people and circumstances change. Assuming that someone is always a liar may be accurate, until they've repented and become a new person.

Sometimes wrong is a personal or social judgment of unfair, immoral, or unethical treatment.

And sometimes wrong is wrong because God has revealed that it ultimately leads away from Him... and toward unhappiness.

There are a million opportunities to be right or wrong each day. To do the right or wrong thing. To drive the speed limit or not, wear the right clothes or not, say the right things or not.

In countless of those opportunities, I find myself failing every single day. I rarely say the right thing, and often say the wrong one. In social situations, I look like a totally normal person, but in reality I'm far more like an elephant in a china shop, who is trying to carefully pick up and polish each piece. With extreme care, I can do it. But ask me to do anything more, I become someone who inevitably smashes far more plates than anyone could have ever thought possible.

It's also easy to be wrong. To know the wrong things, and even to believe the wrong things. Most sources of information - popular, social, medical, scientific, humanistic, artistic, philosophical, interpersonal, and through the senses - are awfully imprecise and easily tricked, manipulated, or simply misinterpreted. 

The only sense and form of communication that can really convey truth is the Spirit of Truth - the Holy Ghost, who testified of truth and burns it into my heart beyond question.

Hence my thoughts tonight.

I'm ok with making mistakes - being temporarily wrong - in most of life's decisions. Wearing the wrong clothes might make me feel silly or out of place (if I notice), or make other people wonder, but it's unlikely to make a big difference in my happiness. And not knowing the actual equations for air resistance when I try to calculate the velocity of a waterfall really doesn't make a difference.

But I'm not ok with being wrong on other things. I need to be right - and whether that means sticking to my guns regardless of circumstance or changing my outlook, that's a necessity in my book.

The most important one to me is knowing what God believes. From my perspective, God's judgment on right and wrong aren't really judgmental in the most commonly used form of the word. Does sinning bring down justice? Yes. But God prescribes and proscribes actions and beliefs because He loves me and wants me to be happy... not because He wants me to suffer.

Some of the big things that are right in my life, and lead to happiness: the law of chastity, service to others, faith and patience, and the love of God.

Some of the things that lead to unhappiness: same-sex sexual relations, selfishness, pride, impatience or entitled-ness, and being unwilling to listen to God.

I realize that the world is moving deeper and deeper towards unhappiness. People are becoming more entitled, more unfaithful, more unwilling to follow God's commandments no matter what the sacrifices requires... So I wanted to share my testimony that life isn't about momentary fulfillment. It's not about being right... but about doing the right thing, regardless of the cost. 

Following God will always bring greater lasting happiness than any other alternative. I've had to make huge changes in my life to follow God. I've had to change who I was, and let God reform me in His refiner's fire. And I am a witness that it works. I still have a long way to go, but the gospel does truly work. For everyone.

And that's at least one thing that I know with absolute certainty that is right. God Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, burned it deep into my soul. And it continues to burn as He teaches me what is right.

Sunday, November 22

(Not) Dating: Post-Public Era

When I felt prompted to switch (G)MG from total anonymity to public a few years ago, I honestly felt like it would make dating and friendships easier. Being attracted to guys, and moreso not being attracted to the girls I went on dates with, was previously a huge issue that never came up in actual conversation.

Except once. But that was before I learned that you're not supposed to tell a girl that you're not attracted to her. Even if she asks. Before you impose all sorts of socially prescribed judgment on me, remember that I am autistic. Normal people somehow learn stuff without ever actually being told, but I had to have a girl sit me down and tell me everything socially wrong with the way I dated. Which was a totally socially awkward situation for her.

But that's beside the point.

My assumption was that when I told the world about (Gay) Mormon Guy, it would make it far easier to know who to ask on dates and who wanted to be my friend. Guys and girls alike would know from the outset that I had issues... and simply, anyone who met my previous criteria, and still met them after knowing about (G)MG, was someone I'd try to befriend.

Except the criteria, in retrospect, is anything but simple.

Since I'm not attracted to women at all currently, and I have no desire for sexual intimacy with guys, my own personal feelings don't really matter. My "simple" mental hurdles aligned with finding someone who was (1) aware of the things I juggled in life, (2) interested in spending time with me, and (3) close enough physically/socially that a relationship could work (e-relationships and distance relationships haven't really worked for me).

Simply put, I try to ensure that people are aware of (G)MG and that I'm on the spectrum. Then, if a week passes and I notice that someone is making an effort to be a part of my life, then I'll try to make it work.

On the surface, that seemed just fine to me.

Except that, being autistic, I don't pick up on most nonverbal cues. So a girl could be shouting nonverbally and I'd be clueless. And a potentially romantic relationship with someone with same-sex attraction isn't really an easy-to-understand issue that can be reconciled like different eating habits. Most straight guys my age already have friends, or they assume I have friends. And almost no one really understands developing a relationship - of any type - with someone on the autistic spectrum.

So the number of girls who asked me out or who I got readable signals from dropped dramatically. To almost zero. And the number of people who wanted to be close friends stayed close to there.

But a much bigger impact was that in the moment that I shared my blog with the world, part of me... changed? Gave up? Got scared? I used to get promptings to befriend people - I didn't just rely on trying to read their emotions. And even though few relationships worked out, the time I spent with people helped me learn about society and the world. 

Back then, I didn't feel like I had to come clean in the first sentence and say, "I'm not attracted to you (whether you're a girl or a guy). I carry a ton of baggage, but I want to make friends and you seem like a nice person."

Now I feel obligated to share that.

Maybe I shouldn't. Most people don't show signals that indicate their problems, and many take months or years to open up.

...

But then there's the reality of my history. My brain tells me that friendships are really hard to build and to grow they take a lot of effort from me and especially the other person. Is it fair to try to befriend people when being my close friend summons inexorable chaos into their lives? And if chaos from friendship is rough, dating is even worse.

I don't know.

My best friend is convinced that if I make other friends, date, fall in love, or get married, that I'll stop being his friend. He's seen a lot of people leave their friends completely when they fall in love, or when they make new friends. The mere mention of dating, by anyone, in any circumstance, has caused rifts between us. He doesn't date at all - a girl would have to ask him out to start the process, and even then he might say no. It takes a ton of effort to make our friendship work for both of us. 

But he gave me his support to reach out and make more friends - and inherent in his support is the acknowledgement that our relationship is secure enough that we can both focus some of our energy into building others. I had never needed his permission, but it's nice to be able to talk about my plans without jeopardizing the friendship.

Now I'm just facing one question. 

Is it worth trying?

Friday, November 20

Changing Directions

It was my freshman year of college.

A few weeks before classes opened for registration, I had a powerful prompting: I was supposed to be an ambassador.

I signed up for Hebrew, Arabic, Middle Eastern Studies, and American Sign Language. My goal was to work for the State Department in Israel and other war-torn areas, trying to help people find peace in their lives.

My parents, interestingly, were supportive of my goal. And the first week of classes was a blast. Arabic and Hebrew are strikingly similar, so I could apply the little things  I learned in one class in the other.

The day after the add deadline for classes, I got another prompting, this one just as strong as the first: I was definitely not supposed to be an ambassador.

So I dropped Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, leaving myself with the lightest credit load of my college tenure.

I still don't know why I got those changes in direction.

A few years later, I had another circuitous set of promptings. First, I felt prompted to go against education department rules and take an art class during my student teaching. Then I felt like enrolling in the classes at the BYU Salt Lake Center. Then to live in Salt Lake during the week so I could attend. Then to enroll just as an audit course. Then to drop the course. Then to attend Institute instead. Then to join the Institute choir.

By the end, I had purchased three different sets of art supplies, paid for a new ID card, begged an instructor to let me audit his course only to drop it two days later, convinced family to let me live with them, and broken half a dozen BYU policies.

The Institute choir I joined performed in General Conference, and during one of the Institute classes I attended, I routinely received powerful guidance for my life (totally unrelated to what was taught, but whatever). That was the end goal of all the changes in direction... and it was definitely worth it.

If God had tried to tell me what to do from the beginning, I probably wouldn't have been able to understand. That said, I'm glad what happened, happened.

A few years later, I was walking on the campus of Stanford University. I was there to learn about their PhD in Learning Sciences, the most compelling program I had found to date and one that made me feel absolutely awesome inside. My experience at Stanford was nothing less than stunning. Everything seemed to shout at me that I was going the right way, and that all the cards were in my favor. The admissions committee director told me that my application was extremely impressive, and current students were sure I'd get in. I had flown out to be there, meet people, and attend the one in-person info session available. I fell in love with the grounds of the campus and met people there who I hadn't seen in years... and had some great learning, growing, and teaching opportunities with people I knew and had never before met.

When I returned at hit the phone interview stage, I found myself talking with my chosen mentor, who honestly sounded like he was trying to convince me that Stanford wasn't the right place for me. He talked about how his current graduates would have been better served by getting an MBA - the degree I already had. Halfway through the phone call, I had the strange feeling that nothing I said was going to make a difference. He had been prompted to deny me admission, and the interview wasn't really to determine my fit... but more of a search on his part to try to understand a prompting he couldn't disobey. My rejection a few weeks later wasn't a surprise. But it was definitely a huge change in direction from the passionate, fiery course I had set just a few weeks earlier. Maybe the entire push for Stanford was so that I could talk with one person on campus that day. Who knows?

Not long after, I tried out for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I pulled all the strings I had and recorded my audition CD, studied for the exams, and finally auditioned in person. It all felt right, and the hours of preparation and study was a thrill feeling like I would get in. Every step I got back feedback that I was doing awesome. But when the final letter came, the simple reason was yet again the same - MoTab wasn't right for me. It didn't match my vocal style. And yet again, I felt peace. It had been the right direction, but MoTab wasn't the right destination. There were still changes to make. Trying out for MoTab and doing so well - in every step of the audition - gave me the courage and confidence to start my own a cappella group - Grace - just a few months later. I think Grace was the reason I had started that journey.

Fast forward to today. A year ago I emptied my personal bank account and started a new business called The Soap Factory. My store is in a great area - blocks from BYU - but a terrible location. The store has been growing like wildfire. We're one of the top rated attractions in Provo on Trip Advisor, and people come from all over the world after Googling "Things to do in Provo." Our current lease ended in October, and the landlord decided to take advantage of our growing success to raise our lease rates by over 30%. So we started looking for a new location, and found one that felt perfect. It's just across the street from the new Provo City Center Temple, on Center Street, and it had the perfect layout for us. Massive main floor, and a huge basement, at a great price. We felt like it was the right thing, so we submitted an intent to lease the same day. We expected to hear back within a week, since the intent to lease required us to not pursuing other locations until negotiations had finished. We pushed and pulled, met with the owner and submitted financial data, and all the while got no response. Days turned into weeks, and we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place as our current landlord wants an answer and we committed to not look for other locations or negotiate other leases. It seemed like good news was on the way... Then today we finally learned what happened when we went to the location for their last event of the year. The listing agent had encouraged the owner to sign a lease with Sub Zero Ice Cream... because "they have more money"... and she had already done so.

I'm sure that the peace and confirmation and hope will come eventually. Right now, though, I feel burned and frustrated and confused. I spent the last month waiting, hoping, working, jumping through hoops and sending in lists of potential improvements and finances and paperwork... and nothing came from it. Of course my newly-founded startup business isn't going to have as much money as a corporate franchise with 49 locations. They've been around for 11 years, and I've been around for 1. I didn't even get the feeling that they would have told us about the resolution of the deal had we not asked so many times. But isn't our success enough proof? I had a total of 10 minutes to cry in the back room tonight before we had so many customers that my best friend couldn't take care of them all.

I know that changing directions is an important thing. God uses situations like this to help me to get to destinations that I never would have imagined... and I'm grateful for the absolute knowledge that everything will work out. It will be for the best. The world isn't ending, and this, more than anything is proof of it, because God is actively involved in my life.

But, in the moment, sometimes it just feels like hitting a brick wall.