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An Interview With Dani Bowman From 'Love on the Spectrum'

Dani Bowman is an animator and founder of Danimation Entertainment, a company that teaches animation to youth on the autism spectrum. Dani was one of the stars of the U.S. version of “Love on the Spectrum,” a Netflix reality dating show about autistic people who are looking for love. The show was in the Netflix Top 10 for two weeks following its May 18, 2022 premiere and introduced tens of millions of viewers to Dani and her ambition to change society’s perceptions about what people on the spectrum can accomplish. The Mighty’s senior editor Karin Willison sat down with Dani to find out more about her passion for animation, her experiences as an entrepreneur on the autism spectrum, and what she has been up to since “Love on the Spectrum.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Karin Willison: What made you decide to appear on “Love on the Spectrum”? And how did you find out about it or get a chance to be on there? Dani Bowman: The director, Cian O’Clery, reached out to me. He saw me in the documentary “Dani 101” and thought I would be a good fit for the show. I have been busy with my animation work for so long that it’s hard to find the time to date or find the right fit. Because the guys I meet on or off the spectrum always say they could handle me being busy, but then they realize, oh, yeah, she’s really busy. I don’t have time to “hang out.” The only time I have free is when I am doing something that relates to animation, like going to animation events, the screenings, the conventions, and so on. And if the guy that I meet is not interested in animation, then it’s really difficult to relate. I do try to like their interests. But I have a lot of phobias, too. I don’t like scary stuff like horror films or serious action films, except for superhero movies. I really like documentaries and nature films. I also don’t like amusement parks or picky eaters, because I am a foodie. So you see, it’s really hard to find someone on my own. That is why I was really excited when I was approached by Cian O’Clery and he said that the show would help me find a date. Karin Willison: So how much did the show reflect what all actually went on? What didn’t we get to see? I’m really curious about that. Dani Bowman: The series did reflect a lot because it scans for the issues I have when it comes to dating. However, after seeing myself on the show, I realized I came across as only caring about animation. I do love animation because it’s my life, but there’s way more to me than that. And I also learned lots of lessons that I never really thought about before. Because everyone that I dated before, I knew well before I dated. But I didn’t really understand blind dates. I thought I should act the same as a regular date. And usually, when I go on a date, I give them a kiss at the end. However, on a blind date, it’s not a good idea for me to do that. I realized I need to get to know the person better, otherwise, I could get into situations that may not work out so well. Karin Willison: So was that one of the lessons you learned from the show? What else have you learned from being on the show? Dani Bowman: Don’t express [love] or kiss on the first date until you get to know someone. And most importantly, I have to set my boundaries from the very beginning. Karin Willison: What advice would you give to other people on the spectrum about dating, based on either what you learned from the show or otherwise? Dani Bowman: Get to know the person first, make sure they understand and respect your boundaries. And most importantly, just be yourself. Karin Willison: How has being on the show on the show changed your life? It doesn’t have to be about dating. Did it grow your social media following? Did you have other unexpected benefits or changes from being on the show? Dani Bowman: Yeah, my social media really skyrocketed. “Love on the Spectrum” was in the top 10 most streamed TV shows on Netflix for two weeks, which is so incredible. And now they’re nominated for three Emmy Awards. Karin Willison: From watching you on the show, I realized that you love animation. It’s everything to you. And I’m very curious, why does it mean so much to you? Dani Bowman: It’s what I have known since I was a kid. It’s my way of communication because I was nonverbal until I was almost 6. Animation showed me how to communicate because of my autism. I couldn’t look at people’s faces. But I could look at the faces of animated characters and study their expressions. I find it the most creative medium of storytelling, because animation brings my imagination to life and helps me express myself. Karin Willison: That totally makes sense. I’m curious, what is your favorite animated movie or show of all time and why? Dani Bowman: Oh, wow. That’s a hard one because I have so many. I will share three. One is my childhood favorite series, “Pokemon.” Ash Ketchum is a character that I could relate to because he had amazing adventures. Ash Ketchum is actually based on the creator Satoshi Taraji, which I thought was really amazing. The second would be “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic,” because I can relate to the character Twilight Sparkle as she learns about the importance of friendships. And the last example is the Netflix show “Kid Cosmic” because the main character reminds me of my childhood and how I acted and felt so different. Not only did I walk in the shoes of one of my animation idols Craig McCracken, but the whole trilogy is definitely a hero’s journey, a philosophical lesson of what it means to be a hero. According to Kid, heroes help, not hurt. Heroes care and look out for each other. And heroes make sacrifices. The beauty of each show is how the stories are based on the creators’ real-life experiences. Karin Willison: Who are your favorite neurodivergent animated characters, either characters that are specifically autistic or neurodivergent, or they’re coded to be, or reminiscent of a neurodiverse person to you? Dani Bowman: I don’t know if Kid Cosmic counts as a neurodivergent character, but he does display some autistic traits, which I could relate to. However, there’s another neurodivergent animated character that I discovered. Have you seen the LGBTQ animated series “Dead End: Paranormal Park”? I love Norma. She’s such a character. And the most fun part is she’s based on the creator’s experience. Hamish Steele is on the autism spectrum. Karin Willison: Yes, I love that show! Dani Bowman: I don’t know if the actress of Norma from “Dead End” is on the spectrum. But I am amazed at how the creator of the show carefully chose the great voice cast to make the story feel relatable. That’s the beauty of how creators make the right choices for any representation. Barney, for example, is a trans male character voiced by an actual trans man. Authentic LGBTQ and neurodivergent representation in animation are so important. Karin Willison: What about in the industry in general, in terms of representation? You just said that Hamish, who created that show, is on the spectrum, so that’s great. Are there other well-known creators who are on the spectrum, especially if they’re open about it? Dani Bowman: Yes, of course. Jorge R. Gutierrez is the creator of the Nickelodeon show “El Tigre,” the feature film “Book of Life,” and the Netflix miniseries “Maya and the Three.” It’s been really incredible to get to meet him a couple of times. He is openly autistic, which is amazing, and he also has a son on the spectrum. Karin Willison: What about opportunities for your students? Is the animation industry looking to expand representation on the employment side? Dani Bowman: I am not sure if the studios are actively recruiting autistic candidates, though, I have met a few that have worked at major studios before. That is the reason why our mission at Danimation is that we entertain, educate, elevate, and empower people on the autism spectrum to transition their animation hobbies into an actual career that can bring their voices to life. Karin Willison: How does it feel to be able to work with others on the spectrum in your classes? How does it feel to be a teacher and a mentor? Dani Bowman: I feel so proud when the students develop their animation, leadership skills, and work ethics. I know how it feels to be left out, because we are underestimated in the workforce. I show my students that they can do whatever they want in life, not just animation. It’s amazing to show the world what we are capable of. It makes everything worthwhile. Karin Willison: What advice would you give to people on the spectrum, and people with disabilities in general who are thinking about starting a business? Dani Bowman: You’re never too young to start and don’t let anyone stop you from following your dreams. Karin Willison: How have you coped with and grown with your autism? What kinds of things have you used to help yourself or what kind of therapies have you done? Dani Bowman: My aunt has been my life coach for the last 17 years. There weren’t many programs for people with autism back then. So my aunt figured out how to help me to come to the world and not expect the world to come to me. I mean coming out of my shell and being out there. I don’t use any fidget toys or other typical coping mechanisms for a lot of people with autism. I used to, but I kind of grew out of them. I use earplugs occasionally when I’m going out due to loud noises. But that’s about it for me now. Karin Willison: What kind of projects or things have you been doing since the show aired? What has been your focus since then? Dani Bowman: Since the show aired, I just finished a couple of big projects. Last month, I finished editing a live-action short film while I was part of the CBS Leadership Pipeline Challenge. We made a short film called “Rewilding” for a nonprofit organization called Friends of the LA River. And the second one is “Parker and Boo,” which is an animated short pilot in collaboration with a nonprofit organization that addresses bullying. We’re going to be premiering it at Comic-Con in about two weeks. “Parker and Boo” is about a young girl who experiences anxiety, and she meets a talking dog voiced by the famous Rob Paulsen. It’s a pitch pilot that we are showing at film festivals, hoping one of the major animation studios picks it up. And the third one is I’m going to SIGGRAPH, a convention on new technologies. In addition to all the projects, I have two camps coming up. I’m in the middle of teaching animation to students from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Next week will be in Los Angeles. And then in the last two weeks of August, we’re teaching in person in the UK. I stay busy, I know. Karin Willison: Yeah. It’s amazing though. Is there anything else that you want me to know? Dani Bowman: I’ve got one other project to mention. I just finished the animation sequences for the upcoming live-action feature-length documentary “Schlitzie: One of Us,” about a sideshow performer who appeared in the 1930s Tod Browning film “Freaks.” Karin Willison: Oh yes, I’ve seen “Freaks” and I’m very interested in sideshow history, so I will absolutely want to watch this. Do you know when it’s coming out? Dani Bowman: I’m not sure when it’s coming out. But I was the lead animator. Karin Willison: That’s really cool. I can’t wait to watch it. Congratulations on all these opportunities that you’re having. I’m very happy for you! Dani Bowman: I’ve gotten so many inquiries, new students, and leads since “Love on the Spectrum.” I had to hire more assistants to help with the students. I have about 26 one-on-one students right now and climbing. Karin Willison: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, it was great chatting with you. Dani Bowman: Great chatting with you, too.

Community Voices

Are you portraying a fake identity?

Have you ever stood looking at yourself in a mirror and thought “What am I doing with my life and is this really what I WANT”? If so you are not the only one, I’ve been there myself and they are tough questions to ask. Asking them may even mean giving something or someone up to achieve happiness.

These questions can become even more prominent when you are dating. When you date the usual questions bounce back and forth. One of the most usually asked is what you do in your spare time or what are your hobbies. If you are anything like me you have hesitated to tell them in case they think it’s boring and then loose interest. What can be even worse is when you suffer from anxiety, you tell them and then feel like they are either judging you or simply saying nice things to be nice.

If this is something you have experienced then it may be time to ask and answer those questions. But to do this you have be to be completely honest with yourself. Why? Well, if you aren’t comfortable with who you are and what you do with your life, how can you be comfortable expressing and sharing this with a potential partner.

Believe me I have been there, and it eventually leads to an increase in anxiety levels and a craving for something the other person won’t be able to provide. What I mean by this is that if you do not have anything else in your life you enjoy or working towards you will then expect that one person to full fill all those needs. What a lot of pressure for one person, especially if you have just started dating and ultimately this will lead to disaster. They will constantly feel under pressure, you’ll come across needy, they will pull away. Even worse if you are like me you will blame yourself and second guess everything you did and are doing. Leading into an anxiety spiral where you head feels like scramble egg. Not good or mentally healthy.

So, to create a bond and relationship with someone you first must be secure in who you are. For me I had to had to go through this process very recently as I felt what I was doing wasn’t fun or exciting enough to other people, so it shouldn’t be those things to me. Well FUCK them!!! I love what I do, and I am good at, with lots of potential to change the world if I continue to work hard. Them, well one day I may hire them to clean my medals, degrees, and toilets whilst they reminisce# the good old days in the pub. The things I can do once I have achieved what I want. The same goes for you.

What I am trying to say is. If you don’t feel secure in yourself, go out there and work fucking hard until you do. Find hobbies and experiences you are proud to shout about and when you do meet someone not only will you come across more confident in yourself, but you won’t drive them away with neediness and high expectations. Don’t let any once else tell you what you want isn’t good enough, especially people who think they have no time to achieve but watch Love Island every night. Finally remember no one person can meet all one person’s needs and to expect that is a lot of pressure and not healthy.

#Anxiety #Identity #Dating #selfawarness

How to Tell If You're Hyperfixating on a Crush With ADHD

I live with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), meaning I also live with a fun little trait called hyperfixation. To hyperfixate on something means that I essentially make that thing my whole personality for however long. They’re interests, hobbies, topics and even people that you ultimately become overly invested into to the extent that you lose complete track of time when interacting with the medium. On top of that, it’s easy to become a little obsessive, learning and doing as much as you can when it comes to your hyperfixation. When you have a new crush, it’s very easy to become invested and excited when it comes to that person. It’s something that most people who experience romantic attraction can attest to. A part of falling for someone is wanting to talk to them and be around them more, but when does that cross into them being a hyperfixation? First, in my opinion, hyperfixating on a crush isn’t inherently a bad thing. It only is if you start to lose touch with the reality of the situation, and you start going out of your way in ways that may not be appropriate to the stage of dating you may be in (if you believe in stages) that could be to your own detriment. Just like any hyperfixation, I believe that it’s largely negative when it’s impacting your quality of life or prohibiting you from going about your day to day. That, or the crush is largely impacting your perceived sense of self or the world. So when are you just naturally crushing on someone, and when are you hyperfixating? Here are a few key ways to know from my experience. All of these are subject to how you interact with your hyperfixations, so please take this with a grain of salt. 1. How detached are you from the outcome? It’s 100% OK to want someone to be your person, or to simply want to date them. Getting your hopes up is fine as well, but are you able to remove and detach yourself enough for it to be healthy? Let’s say you are in love with the idea of someone dating you, so much so, that it’s all you can think about. You’ve played out what you’ll wear when you meet their parents, and exactly what dish you’ll bring to the family dinner. The sheer idea of you two not making it sends you into emotional fits. Meanwhile you’ve only gone on a few dates with this person and you aren’t even exclusive. That, to me, reads more like a hyperfixation due to how attached you are to them specifically being your person. 2. How much do your daydreams take up your conversations with other people? Have you ever had a friend who won’t stop talking about their crush, non-stop? I’ve been that person, but only when I’m hyperfixating on them. We tend to talk about what excites us, which is fine, but in the same way that my baking hyperfixation ate up months of my life and hundreds of dollars from my account,  how much real estate are they taking up mentally? Are they on replay in your cranium the same way “Hamilton” was for me for six months in 2020? We think about our crushes a lot, but if they’re dominating your mind, it may be a clue that you might be hyperfixating on them. I have a friend (and I’m sharing this with permission) who would spend hours in bed daydreaming about their crush. If anyone interrupted, they’d become immediately angry or agitated. Sure, people bothering someone when they don’t want to be bothered can be annoying, but to have that reaction? That’s a little much, don’t you think? 3. Are you able to stop? When I say stop, I mean stop all of the added little things that you want to do because you just love and care about them so much. The one problem with hyperfixations is that they can easily borderline into obsession, which is super dangerous when it’s another person. What is you hyperfixating on them could be misconstrued as love bombing, which isn’t great. Yes, shower the person you love with care and affection, but know when to reel it in and back. If you can’t (like, you legit can’t ), that may be a red flag for you. For example, once someone I had a crush on mentioned that their allergies were bothering them. I, thinking this was completely “normal” (normalcy is relative) , went out of my way early morning to a CVS, spent money on three different types of OTC allergy medication and kept it in my purse just in case their allergies were acting and I just so happened to be there. Was that sweet? Sure! A little over the top and an immediate sign that I was hyperfixated on this person? Oh yeah. As I mentioned, hyperfixations aren’t immediately bad. It can become negative when you’re spending too much money, your judgment making is impaired, or it is negatively impacting the quality of life for you and the people around you. Hyperfixations on people run the same way. Being aware of the fact that you’re hyperfixating on someone is important, because it can help keep you in check and keep the relationship healthy. It’s easy, especially due to the love chemicals in the brain, to ultimately believe that you’re still in a “safe” zone emotionally and mentally even when you’re not. These are my ways of knowing I’m hyperfixating on someone. As always, seek advice from a medical professional if you have questions pertaining to you and your ADHD-related habits and tendencies. Everyone is different, especially when almost sorta in love.

How to Tell Your Therapist You Got Back With Your Toxic Ex

The point of having a therapist is to be able to tell them about what you’re going through in life without judgment. That being said, there are some things that are harder to talk about simply because either you’re ashamed or you’ve gotten some harsh opinions from other people about your choices. One of those choices that can be universally awkward to talk to your therapist about is going back to that ex. You know, the ex. The one that started your therapy journey to begin with. The one that makes you blast “All Too Well” until your voice is hoarse (the 10 minute version, for the record). The one where you go from saying is the worst person you ever met and thus you’re better off without them to how much you miss them and you’d do anything to get them back? There’s the walk of shame (which I’m judging you’re familiar with if you’re back with the ex) and then there’s the walk of shame. AKA, the walk you do to the couch or chair in your therapist’s office as you break the news saying “You know that thing you explicitly told me not to do? Yeah. I did that.” If you’re struggling to vocalize this and find the right words, maybe we can give you some ideas: 1. “Hey! So good news. I drank a lot of water since the last time we talked. I also made some time for myself and decided to finally start listening to my gut. My gut said to text them back.” 2. Make a meme breaking the news and send it at 3 a.m. with the simple word “Surprise!” Here’s an example: 3. “You’re going to be so proud of me. My ex texted me this weekend and I didn’t text back, instead I showed up at their house at 2 in the morning and didn’t leave for three days.” 4. “OK, so pick what you want to talk about first. My debilitating imposter syndrome, the fact that my PTSD was triggered by watching a show designed for 2-year-olds, or that I decided to have sex with my ex even after I said I wouldn’t.” 5. “Good news! Paid off my credit card! Bad news, it was my ex’s money that did it because we’re back together again.” 6. Just send them a link to “Oops I Did it Again” with no context and leave them on read until your next session, after you and your ex stop talking again of course. 7. “I decided to take the road less traveled down, which may or may not have led to my ex’s house. Which then may or may not have led to us hooking up again. Which then may or may not have led to us giving it another shot.” 8. “Before we start, in my defense, you said I should allow people to be there for me. That, and I was horny.” 9. “I’d say I made a bad decision, but good and bad are relative, don’t you agree?” 10. Just ghost them until you’re off again in the on and off again relationship. Or you can just be blunt, but wait until the last minute of the session. 11. “I’m back with my ex.” At the end of the day, the push and pull of a toxic relationship, especially intimately, can be alluring. While we should be dedicated to growth and doing what’s best for us, sometimes what’s wrong feels right and we do only live once. That being said, always remember your therapist and medical team are there to support you, even through your toxic relationships.

10 Tips for the Person With Anxiety Who Wants to Use a Dating App

Finding the perfect match on a dating app can feel daunting for anyone, but using dating apps may feel especially overwhelming for people with anxiety. If you live with anxiety and want to try to find a partner on a dating app, here are 10 ways to manage your anxiety while swiping, chatting, and of course, trying to find love. 1. Include as much or as little information on your dating app profile as you’d like. You don’t have to fill out every category on every dating app profile you make if you don’t feel comfortable. Include anything you think a date would want or need to know about you, and ignore the rest. Creating your profile is the first step in online dating, so why not make yourself comfortable from the get-go? 2. Know what you like before you swipe. Before you start swiping, have a general idea of what you’re looking for. Do you want a hookup? A friend with benefits? A date for a special occasion? A relationship? Take inventory of the qualities you want your matches to have, too. If you know you’re into intelligent people with winning smiles and no fish photos on their profile, then don’t swipe on people whose profiles are full of photos of their latest fishing trip. Pay attention to what people’s profiles say, and think about whether or not you’d connect with them well before you swipe. 3. Don’t start conversations if you don’t feel comfortable. Unless you choose a dating app where a match of a certain gender is expected to start conversing, you don’t have to start any conversations with your matches. Seeing who reaches out to you and how they kick off a conversation can tell you a lot about what they’re looking for and how skilled they are at making connections with their matches. If you wait for someone else to start chatting with you, you can usually get a fairly immediate sense of whether they want a friendship, a relationship, or pure, unadulterated sex. 4. Unmatch if your match doesn’t pass your “vibe check.” If you’re living with anxiety, you may wonder if you can trust your gut instinct when you feel worried or overwhelmed a majority of the time — but you still can. If your match is flirting with you in a way that makes you uncomfortable or simply gives you creepy vibes, it’s completely OK to unmatch with them. Your intuition is great at keeping you safe, so use it to weed out people whose conversations make you feel worried or unsafe. 5. Take dating as slowly as you want. If your matches ask you on dates, but you don’t feel ready to meet in person yet, take it slowly. You can decide that you want to keep chatting before you connect with your matches “in real life” or even suggest doing a phone call or “video date” before moving on to an in-person meetup. Take the dating process as slowly as you need to — the right people will respect your boundaries and wait for you. 6. Tell your friends when you’re going on a date. Whether you want to stay extra safe on your date or you just need a little extra encouragement to keep your anxiety in check, tell a few friends you trust before you go out. Let them know when and where your date is, what your date’s name is, and when you think you’ll be back. If you thrive on encouragement from other people, knowing your friends are hyping you up can calm your nerves a bit before you go out. Giving your friends the time and place of your date in advance can also keep those, “What if something happens?” thoughts a little quieter. 7. Manage your dating expectations. You might not have a perfect fairytale connection with your first Tinder or Bumble date — and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you won’t find someone — it just means you probably haven’t met the right person for you yet. On the contrary, if your anxiety constantly convinces you that everything will go wrong, you might think that your date will hate you or you won’t like your date, but that might not be the case either. Anxiety often works in extremes, so try to remind yourself that there’s a middle ground — you can have fun and learn about yourself even if there’s no second date. 8. Be upfront about your feelings. If you and your match are hitting it off before you go on a date but dating makes you feel anxious, sharing your feelings with your match may help normalize your experience. Sharing that you feel a bit nervous for your date might feel uncomfortable, but your match might also feel the exact same way. If your conversations are already running smoothly, mentioning your feelings around your upcoming date can help both you and your match feel less alone — and maybe even connect on a deeper level. 9. Get yourself in a calm headspace before your date. When you have a date coming up, take extra steps to make sure you’re putting your mental health first. Stay on top of your medications, talk about your upcoming date in therapy, and use coping skills that work for you in the days prior to your date. Whether staying calm means taking a warm bubble bath, doing breathing exercises regularly, or cutting down on your favorite true crime shows for a few days, do whatever you need to “cope ahead” for your date. 10. Embrace the awkwardness of dating. If your date doesn’t go exactly the way you envisioned it, you may feel your anxiety crop back up, but try to “embrace the awkwardness.” You may have silences, stumbles, or little missteps on your first date — and that’s completely OK. Remind yourself that even if your first date doesn’t go perfectly, you and your date may just have “first date” nerves.” You can watch your date go a little bit “off-script” and still land a second date if you feel a connection with your match. The right person will make the awkward moments fun and know that they don’t define how successful your date is. Using dating apps as someone with anxiety can feel like an uphill battle, but there are plenty of ways to swipe, match, connect, hook up, and date while still caring for your mental health. Whether you’re new to dating apps or are trying hard to get off dating apps, take time to manage your anxiety, and don’t forget to have fun!

6 Tips for Going on a First Date When You Have ADHD

First dates can be like interviews – you know, make-or-break, all-or-nothing, and completely anxiety-inducing. When you live with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) it can be even more daunting. Knowing when to (and when to not) talk, being hyper-aware of your fidgeting, making sure you don’t zone out in conversations, and other little pesky things can cause just that much more stress when you’re trying to impress someone or find the love of your life. We can’t help our ADHD traits in a lot of ways, but what we can do is find ways to accommodate ourselves even in the very private and somewhat intimate first date setting. 1. If you’re going to a restaurant, check the reviews first. Dates sometimes like to bring us to new fun places, but if you live with sensory overload, that could sometimes be a little tough. Personally, I can’t stand to be in any super loud environments where I can’t hear the other person. By checking the Yelp reviews, you can see what other people thought of a place, the ambiance, and even prep yourself for the menu. If anything seems off, you have enough time to change the plans. 2. Know what you do and what you don’t like doing, and mention if you don’t like surprises. Yes, trying new things can be fun! However, I am someone who is very bad at straying and trying new things or being surprised (if I don’t already completely trust the individual). Staying true to the sensory overload theme above, knowing what your icks are as far as activities and places in this sense will be major. I feel extremely uncomfortable when I’m sweating, so I prefer not to do any first date activity where I’m sweating or around excessive sweat because of the smells. Overly loud (in an unstructured chaotic way) places are a no-go. I hate the sound of revving car engines so race car dates are out of the picture. The list goes on. 3. Prep any wearable stim toys you may have! ADHD folk stim too. Did you know that? Leg bouncing and fidgeting are typically stims for us. Sometimes I personally feel self-conscious about that. If you do too, consider your stims and try to think of other ways you can accommodate them. I guess you could almost consider this masking, but I personally don’t see it that way. I typically play with a coin in my pocket or under the table if my hands aren’t being seen, or I’ll draw the other person since drawing is a stim of mine too and make it a part of the night without telling them what I’m actually doing. 4. If you zone out in conversation, remember the basics. OK, social cheat sheet time? If you zone out in a conversation, just say one of the following. “Huh! Tell me more about that.” I’ve noticed that even if people don’t feel like there’s more to go into, instead they’ll just retell the story. If you really can’t focus beyond that point, try this conversational turn. “Wow that’s really interesting,” take a pause, “OK, not to change the subject but I have a question.” And change the subject to something that you know you’ll pay attention to (that they would still talk about). 5. If you cut people off, take notes on your phone of what you were going to say. Let’s be honest. How many of us are guilty of cutting other people off when they’re talking, even if it’s unintentional? I know I am. I know phones on dates are a little taboo, but don’t be afraid to take your notes app out and jot down any stories or thoughts that may come to mind when the other person is talking. If they ask, you can simply say, “That made me think of something, but I don’t want to cut you off so we can get back to it,” that way they know you aren’t scrolling through your phone or deliberately trying to be rude. Some people may actually find it endearing and courteous. 6. Don’t be afraid to be honest. Living with ADHD can come with some traits that other people may not love. While we can’t help it, it is a part of who we are. Sometimes, if you’re comfortable, just telling someone the truth “I have ADHD, so if I do XYZ, please know I’m listening,” or whatever it may be. You never know. Besides, even though all these tips are helpful, nothing tests companionship more than feeling the ability to be true and honest to who you are without fear, shame, or guilt. Be true to you, and happy dating!

How the SSI Marriage Penalty Affects People With Disabilities

It is June, and the most popular time of the year traditionally for couples to get married. All kinds of couples join in the eyes of God and the people around them to start a life together. I am writing this fully aware of the upcoming anniversaries of both the Supreme Court rulings in Loving v. Virginia on June 12, 1967 and Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015. Any adult can marry anyone else without penalty, unless there are people with disabilities in the mix. It is 2022, so how does this continue to be an issue? It is a well-known and often lamented truth that people with disabilities have a difficult time in the dating scene. Maybe it is shallowness or ignorance by people without disabilities. Maybe it is ableism run amok. Then, if a person with a disability makes it through that, there is another huge problem waiting in the wings should they make it to the altar. I refer to this problem as the SSI marriage disincentive; it also affects people on Medicaid. This goes all the way back to the beginning of the SSI program. On January 1, 1974, Title 16 of the Social Security Act starts the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. After a long (and painful) look at the eligibility rules, I can only assume that they were written for the concept of two people who are both eligible for SSI marrying. Even if two people on SSI get married, the penalty automatically kicks in with the last number that I am aware of being about $200 per couple per month. From there, the SSI rules involving marriage get far more draconian in nature. The worst-case scenario? A spouse goes to work and makes enough money to affect the benefits of the other spouse. Such a situation happened to me and the person that I was taking care of. During a review, Social Security asked my person about my job title. The state referred to me as a companion, and Social Security assumed that we were married. It took four months and a copy of the Administrative Code to get their benefits reinstated. How many thousands of times do this and other similar events occur in a year? People with disabilities should not have to choose between love, marriage, home, and family on one hand and being able to have what they need to function on the other. It is counterintuitive to invite people with disabilities to join the world around them and then make full participation in that world impossible. There are much larger problems that need to be addressed here. Isn’t this the government interfering with the sanctity of marriage, and thus the practice of a person’s religion itself? If so, wouldn’t that violate the First Amendment to the Constitution? Then, there is the question of these rules strictly targeting Medicaid and SSI recipients. Shouldn’t there be an equal protection clause and possibly a due process test under the Fourteenth Amendment? Meanwhile, people with disabilities lack equity in engaging in the act of marriage, something that should be held in the highest contempt until these rules are repealed. I have cerebral palsy, and the person I took care of also had cerebral palsy. Life for the two of us wasn’t easy, but it was worthwhile. The trend with these court cases would dictate that the government should stay out of the private affairs of people. Perhaps, SSI can be corrected to do a means-based income test on a person, regardless of marital status. The current system is broken and is in serious need of a fix. I will hope for a day when SSI will work with people and not against them. The promise of the Loving case needs to be inclusive of persons with disabilities also, or there will be no justice for us.

Community Voices

First Pride / Dating Discouragement

I recently came out as bi after only dating men my whole life and all I want is a girlfriend and to celebrate pride which I am trying to do myself. I am on dating apps also but they just make me feel so discouraged and quite literally depressed. I know I don’t need anyone to live a happy life but I want to find my partner. Any suggestions for this baby gay? #LGBTQIA #Depression #OnlineDating #Dating

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Linda Silano

Dating When You Have McCune-Albright Syndrome

I grew up with an extremely rare bone disorder called McCune Albright syndrome. This disorder affects 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1,000,000, so I guess you can say I won a genetic lottery. I want to explore dating and disability and how it has affected me personally. I have always felt that people viewed me as powerless because of my condition. It has been very challenging because I have felt that I have been limited in setting boundaries in relationships. I think about what my dating experiences would have been like if I didn’t have a disability. Would I have the perfect man? I guess perfection doesn’t exist for those born without a disability either, although I couldn’t stop thinking that this was the primary reason why I couldn’t be in a relationship. Let’s face it, dating is difficult for everyone. Throw in a disability mixed in with anxiety and you have a great first-date disaster. I have lived most of my adulthood hoping and wishing for the perfect guy to come into my life. I created this fantasy as a coping mechanism to dull the pain and loneliness I was experiencing. Was it OK to create a fantasy? It served a purpose in my 20s, but now in my 40s, not so much. I believe everyone with or without a disability can find happiness and date and find someone that is right for them. It has been a tough journey of self-discovery for me, but if I can come face to face with accepting the part of me that I have always tried to deny or keep hidden from potential mates/dates, I think everyone can. I have realized that whether you’re disabled or able-bodied, it’s OK to just be you! That’s all anyone can ask for.

3 Things to Consider if You have C-PTSD When Planning a Date

As someone who struggles to turn their brain “off,” dates can be a very stressful situation. I live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and it causes me to be hyper vigilant whenever I’m out of the house, and it’s led to me having some issues with social anxiety that I don’t remember living with before C-PTSD. Not being able to turn my brain “off” means I’m always thinking about the people directly around me and trying to analyze or guess what their next moves may be, and then shifting my own self accordingly. This isn’t just with partners, either. It’s with every single person around me wherever I am. I’m always in “go mode,” which is almost as exhausting as dating itself. Knowing my triggers, I tend to have a tight grip over the situations I’m in, but with dating comes adventure, new places, and people who I’d rather not have an episode in front of. After some thought, I’ve come up with three major things to consider when it comes to figuring out date activities (especially first dates) for people with C-PTSD and/or other anxiety disorders. 1. Forgo busy environments, jump into nature. I am a sucker for a botanical garden. Typically gardens are quiet, serene, and beautiful. On top of that, there’s enough space that you aren’t surrounded by other people bustling about, meaning there’s a lot less stimuli to cause anxiety. If you don’t want to do a botanical garden, consider other options like nature walks, hiking, lazy rivers and creeks, or quiet beaches. 2. Restaurants outside of peak hours. When there’s less people, there’s less people to watch and survey intentionally. Sometimes going to a restaurant outside of peak hours is a good way to have a calmer, and quieter, meal. Yes, happy hours have better deals, but what’s more important is comfortability over BOGO drinks. 3. Interactive activities that keep your focus. This can vary, but hands on dates can be a great idea, especially when they take all your attention. That being said, knowing your (or your date’s) triggers are really important. For example, if you have a dog related PTSD trigger, you may not want to go on a date at a puppy store. If loud noises or bright lights trigger you, maybe an arcade isn’t right. But other hands on activities (bowling, ice skating, top golf) could be great. At the end of the day, remember that knowing yourself is really half the battle. It’s super important, because if you don’t know yourself, your triggers, and the situations that could make your brain glitch, then it’ll be harder figuring out what you do and don’t feel comfortable doing. Also, communication is important. Opening up to someone new is hard, but there are ways to communicate with them about your traumas without actually telling them about your traumas. If they get pushy, remember “no means no.” You deserve to have fun on dates, without having a panic attack of some sort . Promise. Happy dating!