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Autism and Defying the Odds

Was diagnosed with autism, but autism doesn’t have me!

I find it fascinating looking back on my life. In the past I use to consider myself a very introverted person, shy, and very set in my own closed routines. I was also more of a thinker than a doer, a dreamer than a leader.

Being labeled as “depressed” and “autistic” in 7th grade may have been my starting point, the point where I confirmed these ideas to myself that this is who I was and who I was going to be. But even at the time I remember feeling I didn’t want to be labeled like this. Continue reading “Autism and Defying the Odds”

What is Spirituality

When you think of “spiritual”, what’s the first things that come to mind?

Hippies? Meditation? Yoga? New Age? “Namaste”? Supernatural? Religion?

What if I said spirituality is reflected in many more aspects of our lives than we think? 😮

✔️ In the Olympic athlete who surpasses the physical capabilities expected for the average human being.
✔️ In the wealthy person who was given “everything” from birth, yet still feels empty inside.
✔️ In the individual who had the worst of circumstances but found the will to triumph despite the odds.
✔️ In the sheltered adult who finds much excitement in attending events like Burning Man and Tomorrowland.
✔️ In the way 2 people can express love towards each other without a single word spoken.

Spirituality is not a religion. It’s not dogmatic, although it can certainly be treated as such. If I could try to simplify it as best as I could, I would say spirituality is an exploration into the subjective experience of life, understanding what it means to be a human being. In other words, it’s involves all of our lives, our entire world. 🌎

Science has the objective side covered with logic, rationale, and critical thinking (all still very important, by the way); spirituality is on the subjective side with the theoretical, the phenomena, the profound, and the soulful. Both in their own ways are in search of truth: understanding how the world works and why we’re here. 🕵️‍♀️

For those who knew me a few years ago I use to embrace a belief system of agnostic atheism. And for those who only just met me…plot twist haha! But I don’t embrace it anymore. I’d say if anything I embrace a form of secular (humanistic) spirituality these days, not focused on anything divine or supernatural but on the other human beings all around me. 🙌

I found that science didn’t have all the answers, so my journey brought me into spirituality. I had more realizations, more understandings, more experiences I cannot place into words, and voids I couldn’t fill with science. 👍

Let me clarify I’m not dismissing science at all either. Our civilization would not be where it is today without all the advances in technology, agriculture, and understanding on a molecular level without it. I embrace both science and spirituality as two forms in the search for truth. ☯️

I do notice sometimes though with the emotional fulfillment spirituality brings that one can easily throw out the baby with the bathwater. I caution with that, yet continue to welcome others who want to experience this other aspect of life. For me, a void has been filled. Science was not the endpoint. But neither is spirituality. And neither is my continued creation of meaning. 😁

Spirituality has been given a bad rap, and it’s far more than someone just being a hippie. I encourage you to take a dip. 😃 #TranscendLabels

What Did I NOT See? What Was I MISSING?

Back in April, Tony Robbins received harsh criticism for his remarks on the MeToo movement. From personally being at the event to reading the following articles posted to how people were labeling Tony based on a single article, I still have come to the conclusion the overall situation was blown out of proportion, often times taken out of context in favor of sensationalism and cherry-picked facts. At the time, it really bothered me! Being such a fan of his work and the results I’ve found using his tools, I was determined to provide another perspective. 

Initially I shared my perspective online just as many others would do to provide further context and understanding to what happened. Soon after, I was given multiple labels, many which included labeling me as a “sexist”, a “misogynist”, and a “rape apologist”. By the word’s definitions, I certainly do not define myself to be even remotely close to these labels. 

There was a part of me that wanted to refute their labels, to quickly dismiss their perspectives as “irrational” and “illogical”. But THAT’s where the problem is coming in here! THIS is where the our conversations between each other are NOT working. And if you think you’ve never been “irrational” or “illogical” in your life before, I’ll highly doubt it. It needs to be taken in a different direction. Rather than me telling someone they were wrong or continuing to provide my perspective, this subject needed to be further approached with love and compassion. 

Hurting people hurt others and are easily hurt by them. Often the ones who hurt the most are the ones who need love the most. Dale Carnegie said: “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” It’s why me adding context and perspective to the situation did not matter to some of these individuals.

What we may try to explain to someone from a logical perspective to be “irrational” and “false” may not align with someone who is seeing it from an emotional perspective to be “without a doubt true”. For example: If I hypothetically had a deep-seeded belief that men are inherently sexist pigs and I cannot trust any of them, I’ll somehow find that in one form or another reflected in my perception, regardless if a man actually fits the definition of a “sexist”. With my beliefs, it does not matter if someone else disagrees with me; I see it and feel it, therefore it is more true to me than wanting to use any additional logic or reason. Let me add this is a very simplistic example, but to provide a point. 

There were many criticisms against Tony online and one I saw multiple times was: “I know what I saw.” But from my own experiences I’ve found many times where my emotions were incorrect interpreting something, and my perception became distorted in what I was willing to accept from someone else’s point of view. It’s why I’m a big endorser of using critical thinking and promoting people develop this skill. What I saw Tony saying and doing in the situation was very different from what the other individuals who labeled me saw. We came to 2 separate conclusions about the situation. Why? 

My beliefs about the world, how I should live, who Tony is and what he teaches, very likely do not align with their beliefs. We very likely have separate predispositions, and we primarily evaluated/concluded the situation from 2 separate ways of thinking (emotions vs logic). 

Regardless, I don’t like seeing people suffer when they feel and believe the world is against them. I also don’t like when individuals use movements like the MeToo movement to further push a personal agenda when that was not the movement’s intention. I want anyone, men or women, who have genuinely felt sexually abused to speak up and be open about their pasts, not to blame others but to set themselves free of the pain and resentment. Some people may go to their deathbeds not ever feeling they had someone they could trust to express such feelings. I don’t want this subject to be taboo, yet I also don’t want the subject to be used and abused either. We have to come further together and see it from multiple angles.  #TranscendLabels

Depression and the “Chemical Imbalance”

💬 “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” ~ Alexander Den Heijer 💬

As someone who was diagnosed with depression at an early age, I was told a common story: it was because of a chemical imbalance in my brain, I cannot help it, and medication is the primary go-to solution. At the time, medication was chosen because it was much cheaper and less time-consuming than therapy. It took less time and energy to focus on the solution. 👍

I went through multiple medications, had many levels of doses, and even combined them at a point. The depression persisted, went in and out. But today I would no longer honestly say I consider myself “having depression”. But I wouldn’t say it was because of medication…😲

Of course, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between depression and everyday sadness, depression that is in fact stems from biological and genetic factors, and everyday sadness whose factors are far more complex, sadness that extends past the biological and also includes the psychological and sociological. 🤔

I believe these distinctions are VERY important in a world where mental health continues to be an increasing concern. Suicide rates have continued to increased for 18 years straight. According to the World Health Organization, depression is now the leading cause of illness with an estimate of 300 MILLION people affected. The World Health Organization even mentions how mental health can be very much affected by our environment. I find it more than reasonable to say the current solutions we’re providing and their effectiveness be placed under further scrutiny. 🔎

Despite this, I continue to hear the biological narrative more often than not as the primary cause. Much of this can be credited to our Western culture’s embrace of reductive physicalism, the idea that everything can be reduced down to its physical parts (biology, hormones, chemical reactions, neurotransmitters). It’s modern science, and I’ll add it’s fantastic we have individuals who are continually focused on these areas. They have great studies that show how our biology and genetics affect us (a great example is the story of Phineas Gage). 💯

But what if there are other factors we aren’t taking as much consideration into?

A few years ago I would’ve also been a part of the World Health Organizations’s statistics. I’m grateful to say I’m not anymore. But why? What changed in me to help with my depression?

👍 I started focusing on doing things in my life I was deeply passionate about.
👍 I started choosing to see problems as “gifts” I could learn from.
👍 I started challenging my own destructive habits. I quit drinking soda, coming from 3 to 4 cans a day. I started eating more plant-based foods. I started exercising. In turn I lost over 80 pounds.
👍 I started embracing the ideas of personal responsibility and self-reliance.
👍 I studied philosophy and saw there’s MANY more ways to look at life, including the definition of depression.
👍 I embraced a form of secular spirituality.
👍 I started meditating and becoming aware how my thoughts were controlling my life.
👍 I made it a daily habit to be grateful for something no matter how “bad” the day was.

From what I can observe, it wasn’t an antidepressant that “cured” me of depression; it was many lifestyle changes that were meaningful and purposeful. It wasn’t seeing depression as a biological defect that helped me alleviate its symptoms; it was changing my perspective on depression, seeing it instead as signs telling me something in my life needed to change because it kept occurring. 😲

Let me emphasize: I’m NOT against medication or antidepressants. What I’m expressing is my concern on the over-dependence of medication being unconsciously treated as the primary or only solution to our mental issues. They should definitely be an option, but not as a critic, it should also be known it is ONE OF MANY options. 👍

Depression and mental health is a sensitive topic for a lot of people. A few years ago I would’ve been in the same boat as the people who will be critical of what I’m sharing with you now. A few years ago I would’ve rejected hearing my current arguments because it doesn’t sound reasonable. 

It’s commonly accepted in our society to simply accept the “chemical imbalance” narrative which was heavily marketed way back when by pharmaceutical companies for antidepressants. I’ll add again: I’m NOT against antidepressants or even pharmaceutical companies for that matter. And I don’t ever plan on being in that camp. But I do believe there’s plenty of ADDITIONAL (and possibly even more effective) long-term options we should greatly consider implementing more of. 😊

The question I ask to myself (and with anyone): what is the story I have been telling myself in the past about my pain and suffering? Do I believe it can ONLY be helped with medication? Are there other options that may require me to do more work but that I don’t want to take the time to do? It’s hard to consider other viewpoints when we’re attached to what we already believe and perceive as “true”. 🤔

What if on the Nature/Nurture debate we’re spending too much time focused on the Nature explanations and spending too little time on the Nurture ones: our society, our environment, our peer groups, our politics, our poverty, our treatment of each other as human beings, etc?

I don’t want more people suffering, and with change also needs to come new ideas. It’s something to think about…

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR READING:

Sam Harris’s Podcast: https://samharris.org/podcasts/142-addiction-depression-meaningful-life/

“Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression” by Johann Hari

Imposter Syndrome

🌟 Don’t beat yourself up…

There’s a part of you that no matter how hard you work, it’s ready to tell you what’s missing from your life. There’s a part of you that no matter how much you believe you’re doing well, it comes knocking at your mental home to challenge you:

“Are you SURE you’re doing enough?” 💭
“Do you REALLY believe everything you say you are is true?” 💭
“Do you TRULY deserve what you’ve been given?” 💭

I’ve felt this in me before, multiple times in fact…

There’s the psychology term “imposter syndrome”. It’s the tendency to believe our achievements pale in comparison to what we believe we’ve actually done. To put it another way, we don’t feel the status, success, or fame we’ve received is equal to our own feelings of self-worth. In our minds it doesn’t feel like it’s “deserved”. We have this irrational fear we’re ultimately going to be exposed as a “fraud”. 👈

Would it surprise you to hear even the most famous of individuals have experienced these feelings? Individuals like Tina Fey, Maya Angelou, Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and even Meryl Streep have openly expressed feeling like this. Despite all the wealth, awards, and recognition they’ve received from other people, there’s a part of them that still at times self-doubt what they had accomplished in their lives.

What’s easy to forget on this journey called life is remembering all the achievements we’ve made. Now I’m not saying I’m a celebrity or am following the same path these individuals are. I’m saying these feelings of self-doubt are universal, these feelings of inadequacy and not being enough just where we are. A character from the film “Before Sunset” summed it up pretty well: “I feel like I’m designed to be slightly dissatisfied with everything.” 😝

This past year has truly been a journey: ups, downs, lefts, rights, zig-zags, and any way the Wonkavator is going. Even now, being almost a year since I stepped into this new path for myself, I have felt these emotions come up. It creeps up when you least expect it, too. As I write this, I can already hear the echoes of this voice in my mind.

But I have an answer for this voice as well as your own…

📍 Disconnect yourself from these voices. These voices are not You or Me. These are voices of Fear. These are voices from your Past, voices that are no longer serving you now and in your future.

📍 Unconditionally accept yourself where you are now in the present. The past (literally) no longer exists but in your mind. So why not take what’s most useful from your past into the future?

📍 Reflect on your achievements. These moments of self-doubt are temporary; all the achievements and impact you’ve made on the world and others is forever. Remember that everything you do has an effect, even if you don’t have the chance to see it for yourself.

📍 Remember your WHY. You are where you are today for a reason. Something might have pulled you here, something might have pushed you here, but you’re here for one reason for another. When you have strong enough reasons for why you’re here, your self-doubts will easily start to disintegrate.

Writing this post this evening was in it’s very own way cathartic. As much as there have been times I’ve experienced this self-doubt, I remember all the amazing things I’ve achieved in my life that have shaped me into the person penning this very post. This is a moment in time I won’t ever get exactly the same again. No moment is, and it honestly feels quite surreal thinking about it in that way. ☺️

But I digress. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s not worth your future. I can guarantee you’re not alone, and that everyone else has done it before too. But the key is to remember those moments are not meant to stay; they are meant to pass. Much love. ❤️#TranscendLabels