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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”

My Transformation(s) #TranscendLabels

We’ve all had moments where we ask ourselves the The Big Questions: Why am I here? Why are we here? What is my purpose? Is there a purpose?

But what if you had a darker moment, a moment where you wholeheartedly asked yourself these questions and you felt really shaken? What if you pondered these questions and started seeing holes in what you believed about your very way of life? What if you started feeling your identity starting to crumble around you, that what you once held so dear and tangible to you now felt “empty”? What if what you once felt so “true” now seemed “false”, making your beliefs meaningless? A hopeless endeavor. A lost cause. A pointless journey.

There are many terms for this experience. Mental breakdown. Existential crisis. Dark night of the soul. Depersonalization. Ego death. Identity crisis. It’s not pleasant. It can be scary, frightening, overwhelming, depressing, and all of them together at once.

I know because I’ve been there. As the philosopher Nietzsche may say: I stared into the abyss. What had once fulfilled my life had become a void. I was now stuck with way more questions than I had answers for. I felt lost. I felt numb. I felt anxious. I didn’t want to do very much other than to sit, think, and find out the reasons why I felt the way I did. At the time I really didn’t know what it was. But I know now what it was…

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Before I was diagnosed with any mental disorders, I remember as a kid reading an article online that talked about the definition of Depression. The article read almost like the results of a personality test. Was I feeling down for no reason? Yes. Did hanging out with my friends not feel the same way it use to? Yes. Did everyday things not seem to matter much to me anymore? Yes, so true! Well then you very likely have Depression and should see a doctor!

I self-diagnosed myself online. I was the one who told my mom “I think I have Depression”, and it’s why she ever took me to a psychiatrist. I wouldn’t have been diagnosed if I had never told her. And when I was officially diagnosed after a short interview with a psychiatrist, I hung onto these newfound labels. My newfound labels. I embraced their titles and their definitions as my own.

Why? Because I had discovered the answer to my problems. It explained exactly why I felt the way I did, the Ultimate Truth to my suffering. It wasn’t because I had lost my sense of self; it was because I had a “chemical imbalance” in my brain. It wasn’t because of any daily habits in my personal life; it was because I simply “couldn’t help it”. It was just something I couldn’t help except with some medication and therapy.

I hung onto these beliefs because I had my identity back. I had now found Donald again! Donald was suffering from these illnesses. Donald is the way he is because he is ill. It’s what others told me, it’s what I heard, and in doing so I inherited their beliefs as my own.

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But as I was asking before: why did I feel the way I did? The answer was because I accepted the opinions and beliefs of others about who Donald was: how I needed to live, what I needed to do, rather than discovering the answers for myself. The problem was I was living in dozens of other people’s dreams, rather than the one-and-only I could’ve created for myself.

I believe the answer is the same reason for why it’s so hard for any of us to change ourselves and our beliefs. I believe it’s the same reason why it’s naturally hard for many of us to be open to someone else’s ideas and perspectives. I believe it’s why so many people will fight each other for the sake of being “right”. Because being “wrong” invalidates our identity and challenges what we see as reality. Our existence. Our ego. Our sense of self. Our purpose in believing what we believe. If Donald’s beliefs are “wrong”, then who is Donald to even have these feelings? Does Donald’s voice even matter in this world if he’s “wrong”?

Dale Carnegie said it very well: “Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insulted his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. ‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.'”

Now by no means am I saying I’m perfect or have mastered this skill. I’ve had my share of biases, mistakes, and letting my emotions dictate my responses. Nevertheless, I want to provide you all this because I believe this is one of the reasons why so many people are suffering today, why it’s part of my mission to Transcend Labels. We each have our own, unique identities. None of us sees reality 100% like another person, and no person is 100% the same individual. We’re going to meet cultures, religions, lifestyles, and people in our lives we won’t agree with. We will hear ideas and opinions that will challenge our very existence of our identity and character. And that’s okay; there’s nothing “wrong” about that.

The Bible talks about the Tower of Babel and how God disrupted the languages of the people building the tower so they would no longer understand each other. Everyone became divided and they could no longer build the tower up to Heaven. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the story provides great symbolism. Can anyone try and play God? Should we focus on becoming Gods ourselves? Or should we be grateful in what we already have on this earth? What if the people in the story found a way to communicate and work together despite their differences?

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I lastly want to let you know if you’re in the dark, if you’re feeling like your life lacks any meaning or purpose, I want to provide some very good news. Yes, it’s true! We can certainly look and focus on this emptiness from a pessimistic viewpoint. But I want to provide you another perspective: With this emptiness, you now have a room you can fill up with ANYTHING you want! You’re a clean slate, and it’s now an amazing opportunity to fill it with the things in your life that make it worthwhile!

Here are some additional strategies that have greatly helped me in lessening my stress and anxiety:

  • Acknowledging I’ll never know ANYTHING 100%. And that’s absolutely okay! We want to believe that somehow, some way if we keep searching for the answers that we’ll uncover The Ultimate Truth. I’d like to myself at times, as it seems like quite a reassuring feeling to my identity! But we also as human beings have been seeking to find it for thousands of years. I believe we continue to grasp towards it, similar to the story of the The Blind Men and the Elephant. But will we ever know 100%? Can we play God? And if we don’t, can we let it go and continue living our lives?
  • Set standards for yourself. Hold yourself to your word. These standards are for you to decide, not me or anyone else. Build up your identity, build up whoever You want to be. Because every time you don’t hold yourself to your standards or your word, you make a dent in the foundation of your identity. Who are You if you keep changing your standards or your word? Are you You, or are you what the Environment dictates you to be?
  • You can STILL hold onto your old Self. That’s right! You don’t have to do a complete 180 degrees on your identity! If there are beliefs that served you in the past, why not keep them?! The only difference now is that you see you have a greater awareness and understanding that you can change them. The world now appears bigger. The possibilities of who you are and what you can create seem more infinite. You can not only embrace your old beliefs, but now you see you can also replace the old ones with new ones that better serve you. With this freedom you have the power!
  • Change takes time to adjust. I know what some of you are thinking: “Well this is all easier said than done, Donald! You don’t know what I’ve been through!” You’re right, I don’t and I won’t pretend I have. I’ve never met you, I’ve never been in your shoes, or felt what you’ve felt. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. As with any habits in our lives I’ve observed it’s much harder to break one than it is to create new ones. But is it possible that we really can change and transform ourselves into the people we want to be? Is there far more fluidity to our existence than we know? Yes!
  • Don’t take life too seriously. I have chosen my mission to Transcend Labels. But am I to say my way is the only way? Not at all! I only wish to share with you what has personally helped me on my journey. You can take it or leave it. Look online and you will find thousands of people with similar or different beliefs than mine about life. You don’t need to take my beliefs, but you’re more than welcome to borrow whichever ones may help serve you until you can create your own. 🙂

Creation is about coming from the inside-out, not the outside-in. Instead of being what someone else is (outside), why not create your own beautiful, unique You (inside)?

“Life is not about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself. So live the life you imagined.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

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Want to know how to Transcend Labels too? My FREE eBook “Transcend Labels: The 5 Keys” is NOW AVAILABLE! Click HERE to get your personal copy!

Do You Believe in Coincidences?

Do you believe in coincidences? Do you believe everything happens for a reason? As my other blog entry about reuniting with my old friend illustrated, I’m a believer in this area, how life happens for us, not to us. The past few years I’m noticing what I’d call “happy coincidences”, occurrences I can’t fully explain but I can’t help but smile about. I’m not talking about anything paranormal, but occurrences that make me think that the odds of them happening were so slim. Nonetheless, they happened.

I’ll share with you another example. Two weeks ago I was on my way to London to do some volunteer work. I’d never visited London, let alone traveled to Europe by myself, so a lot of Firsts were going to happen for me on this trip! Little did I expect an additional First that I wasn’t even expecting!

The day of the trip, I anxiously packed my bags, got driven to O’Hare airport, stepped onto the Norwegian Airline plane, and traveled 4000 miles across the world to London’s Gatwick Airport. Minus my new sleeping accommodations, I was so anxious I could hardly sleep on the plane. By the time we had arrived at the airport, I was needless to say a bit dazed and drowsy!

As I stepped off the plane, it was now 10am in London. Still in my half-awake mode, I grabbed my bags at the baggage claim and went straight to Customs so I could enter the UK. I believe I waited in the line there about 2 hours, but given my sleepy mood I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and say it was at least an hour. It was one of those long lines where the airport had it set up to zig-zag throughout the room. It was one of those lines where every 30 seconds everyone took a step forward except you because you likely weren’t paying attention. It was one of those lines where you could look at the crevices in the floor and write a bestselling novel about them before you reached the front. Long story short, the line took a while.

And here’s where it happened.

I was waiting in line, rubbing my eyes with one hand and holding my baggage in the other. I’m looking to see where the front of the line is, and then to the back to see how much longer the line has extended since I got in it. And then I see him. I see a taller gentleman with a woman. At first I’m unsure, but then I have this feeling in stomach that I know who he is. This person that was about a dozen people behind me in line was someone I use to work with.

I remember my body feeling tense, because in my mind I debating whether or not I should ask and confirm it was him. The part of me that was saying not to do had a valid point: What is the possibility I’d really run into someone I knew from a different state, from 10 years ago, 4000 miles away from home, in the same country, in the same airport, and in the same room?

It was him. He was just as surprised as I was. We honestly didn’t know what to make of this surprise reunion. He noted how he vaguely recognized me, but he remembered. We briefly spoke, we gave each other our farewells, and we went on our way. This person, I worked with him 10 years ago at a summer camp. I barely knew him at the time then too, but I never forgot his face. As I got to the front of the line and walked out of Customs, I started smiling to myself: The possibility of that happening happened… 

I had many great memories on my trip, and this was just one that continues to stick out to me. 🙂

#TranscendLabels???

What do I mean to #TranscendLabels🤔

We create and use labels very often. We use them with political parties (Republican, Democrat, Independent), with personality traits (Introvert, Extrovert), with racism (African American, White, Asian), with sexual orientation (Gay, Straight, Bisexual), with food habits (Paleo, Atkins, Vegan), with medical diagnoses, etc.

Creating labels gives us a feeling of security, the impression we greater understand how the world works. They reinforce what we wish to understand more about versus what we don’t. They provide a sense of community among others who share the same beliefs and values.

And none of these things are right or wrong. But I’ve also found the more labels we continue to create, the more limitations we unintentionally set in understanding ourselves, others, and the world around us. I see it having a negative effect. Instead of the individual, we have a category. Instead of having multiple political views, we have a side to choose. Instead of understanding someone’s emotions, we have a diagnosis. Instead of understanding a culture, we have a stereotype.

By no means am I saying I’m perfect either. But I wouldn’t be where I am today if I kept saying: “It’s because I have Autism…It’s because I have a disorder…It’s because I’m an Introvert… It’s because Veganism is weird…” Transcending our labels and the ones we’re told about who we are, you will soon see how much you in this life are capable of. Much love. #TranscendLabels 

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Want to know how to Transcend Labels too? My FREE eBook “Transcend Labels: The 5 Keys” is NOW AVAILABLE! Click HERE to get your personal copy!

Dear My Teenage Self

At times I forget how far I’ve come in my life. I sometimes forget parts of my past that shaped me into the person I became. But when I let myself think about them, I remember a whole lot. The more I close my eyes and envision myself back as a teenager, the more memories that start to pour in. And if I had the chance to speak to him, my teenage self, to share with him what I’ve learned since then, I would tell him:
Continue reading “Dear My Teenage Self”