Eileen Lamb

@eileenlamb | contributor
Community Voices

Your feelings as a parent of a special-need child are valid

This is your reminder that you are a great parent. A little reminder that you’re worth it – that being overwhelmed means nothing other than you’re giving it your all and need some lovin’ too. Believe me, it doesn’t say anything negative about you, or your ability to parent your child. You’re doing just fine. To all the moms and dads out there trying their hardest for their kids, autistic or not, you are amazing, and I see you.

I see you trying to juggle work, drop-offs, pickups, and doctor appointments.I see you trying your hardest to understand your child’s needs despite his lack of verbal communication.

I see you searching tirelessly for tips and tricks online to teach a nonverbal child sign language or AAC.

I see you jumping for joy at the smallest gain from your child. And I also understand the bittersweetness of these celebrations that you never expected to be notable events.

I see you trying to re-adjust your expectations while still keeping that glimmer of hope going in your soul.I see you trying to resists the urge to compare yourself to other parents.

And at the end of the day, I see you hiding your head in your hands to prevent people from seeing your tears. But above all, what I see is the love in your eyes when you look at your child. I see it. Believe me when I say that I know how hard it is when people around you don’t “get it.” I know it’s hard when you see your parent-friends doing all of these things you imagined doing with your own child.

And I know, too, that you feel guilt for the grief you feel toward your child’s disability. I know that sometimes, no matter how hard you try to focus on the positive, you can’t. You can’t because your heart is filled with worry and uncertainty. You worry that your child will never grow up to live an independent life. You feel defeated for not being able to help him despite all the time and energy you spend trying. And you wonder if he’s happy. If he loves you. If he sees you at all. So this is your reminder that your feelings don’t make you a bad parent, they make you human. A reminder that no matter how strong you are, you too are allowed to crumble under the pressure of the unplanned life you were given. This is your reminder that you’re not alone out there, never-ever, at all.

Community Voices

Rejection does not mean that you are not good enough

Transitional moments in our lives often revolve around rejection. We’re all meant to experience it at different points, some of us more often than others. The fear of rejection can put shivers down even the most confident person’s spine. I’ve experienced it both professionally and in relationships, and it always hurts. That is, the rejection itself hurts. What does, however, get easier is the way you bounce back from it and how you learn to let it change you in positive ways.

When I get rejected, I let myself feel sad for a few days. I allow myself a pity party, letting irrational thoughts flood my mind for a day or two. But then, I set them on fire. I remember that my worth is not measured by the number of rejections I’ve received. My worth does not depend on someone else’s approval.

If you’ve just been rejected, you have to remember that the person who rejected you only rejected one aspect of you. They rejected the shy girl they saw at the bar, the writer who didn’t fit their current needs, or the overqualified job candidate. They never got a chance to see all the layers that make you who you are today. They never got to see your depth, what moves you, what makes you smile, what puts tears down your face. They never saw past that one facet you presented.

You have to remember that in a world of billions, not everyone is compatible. You know what they say, you can be the yummiest peach in the world, but there’ll always be someone who just doesn’t like peaches. But there are many who do. This one rejection doesn’t define you, it doesn’t make you any less. You’re not losing out on anything because it was never meant to work out. Don’t chase after the things that aren’t for you because you’ll close yourself off to the things that’ll actually set your heart on fire.

And in the end, you know what’s worse than being rejected? Not knowing. Being the person who plays it safe, the person who’s still wondering because they never took a chance. So maybe you feel sad right now, or maybe you’re ashamed, but you have something special in the palm of your hands. You’re brave. You’re the one who tries, the one who takes risks. You’re the one who looks fear in the eye, and gives it a shot anyway. Those who don’t get rejected as much as you do may not have hurt as deeply, but they have to live with that dull pain of a lifetime of what-ifs.

Putting yourself out there is one of the hardest things to do in this world because so much value, internal and external, is placed on acceptance and success. But the only real failure is not trying. If you’re feeling sad about being rejected, you’ve done something that so many wished they had the bravery to do, and you should be proud of yourself. Damn proud.

Mental Health

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Eileen Lamb

A Reminder to Strong Women, It's OK to Not Be OK

Dear Strong Woman, I see the pain behind your smile. I know the tears you cry every night in the comfort of your bed. I know how difficult it is to get up in the morning and hide it all behind a smile. I know what goes on in this beautiful mind of yours. There are people who need you, and you can’t let them down. I see you putting yourself at the end of the line because you don’t want people to hurt like you do. I see you fighting your own demons to be there for them. Being strong isn’t really a choice, is it? You become it because of circumstances. You don’t show your pain because you heard that to be vulnerable is to be weak, that crying is a flaw and that you need to get back up as soon as you fall. Yet, you don’t. I’m here to tell you that it’s OK if you can’t. It’s OK. It takes time to unlearn these things —  you were trained to be someone you aren’t. Strength isn’t about being able to hold in your tears when you feel sad. Strength isn’t about keeping your feelings inside when they’re too intense. Strength isn’t about pretending that everything is OK when your soul is hurting. Strength is the opposite. Strength is allowing yourself to feel whatever it is that you need to feel in the moment. Strength is feeling deep when the world expects you to hide your sensitivity. Strength is finding the courage to speak up in a world that has been cruel to you. Strength is letting people in, no matter how many times you’ve been hurt before. Strength is being able to say, “I’m not OK right now. I need you.” Just remember, it’s OK to need someone. It’s OK to need a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen to you, a hand to hold. We all need someone to remind us that we’re not invincible — that we are not alone.

Community Voices

Losing The Friend You Thought Would Be In Your Life Forever

When you lose a friend, part of you dies a little. It hurts even more when the end is slow. It starts with them taking a bit longer to answer your texts. At first you don’t think much of it. Well, you do, but you tell yourself that it’s your anxiety talking. They’re probably just busy and have a lot on their plate. But it happens again. And then again. The daily phone calls? Gone. Not even weekly now. Months go by and things don’t get better. They’ve become a stranger, that one friend who knew your deepest secrets and whom you trusted and loved. They’re gone. Gone from your life, but not from your heart, and that’s why it hurts. You didn’t want that friendship to end. It wasn’t your choice.

Deep down you know people often grow away. Of course you know it. But with this friendship — this person — you thought it was different. You didn’t think anything could break that bond between you. Not even time. Especially not time. But it happened. There wasn’t a fight, nor a reason, but little by little you felt the distance. It was a slow death.When you lose the one friend you thought would be in your life forever, you have to grieve. You grieve the beginning of the relationship. You grieve what you used to be. You grieve the tears you cried together, the laughs you had, and the texts that never went unanswered. You miss it.

You may even feel silly for being so sad. After all, you didn’t live together, and you were never going to get married or have kids together, it wasn’t like that. But none of that matters. You loved them. You still do. Losing someone you love is a painful process no matter the circumstances.

I know you can’t help but wonder why life keeps throwing people at you who aren’t meant to stay. You wonder if it’s even worth investing in relationships if they’re all meant to expire. You wonder if the temporary happiness is worth the pain. You wonder if you should walk away before you inevitably suffer. But maybe relationships just aren’t meant to last. Maybe there’s beauty in its passing moment. Maybe life puts people in our path simply for the lessons they teach us and how they inspire us to change, to better ourselves, and to not commit the same mistakes again.You have to believe that this person crossed your path at one point in time because you both needed each other. So hold on to the good memories, even if it hurts. Hold them tight. Even though everything feels dark and lonely right now without your friend by your side, I want you to know that you’re not broken. You’ll find another special friendship. You will.

Mental Health

Social Anxiety

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Community Voices

To the friends who stay despite my anxiety

Anxiety has a way of ruining good things that happen to me. Even when I’m happy, it comes creeping on me like dark clouds over my sunny day. I convince myself that too much happiness is suspicious, and if I’m happy right now, it’s because something terrible is soon to happen.Anxiety is not rational. Anxiety is knowing all about the logic of the impossibility of something happening and still convincing yourself that there is a crack somewhere in that logic and that the 1-in-a-million chance of something bad happening will definitely happen to you.Anxiety also comes with an overthinking mind. It’s an intense mind that never stops thinking, so much it becomes a form of torture. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night sweating, thinking of the things I could have done better, like that one text a few months ago that maybe I should have worded slightly differently.

My Anxiety doesn’t only affect me, it affects the people around me too. Anxiety makes my relationships harder. I’m thankful for the friends in my life who stay. I want them to know that it means the world to me because I know I can be hard to love sometimes. I can be paranoid and too sensitive — too much, too me. If I see changes in a friend’s behavior, I come up with tons of hypothetical scenarios that would explain why they hate me right now, because if they didn’t answer my text yet, clearly they must hate me. I skip right past the logical explanation that they’re just busy or feeling down about something wholly unrelated to me.I convince myself that they’re mad, that I screwed up, that they’ve finally had enough of my overthinking mind. I live in constant fear of losing the people I love. I care so much that just knowing that there’s a possibility that good things could end is unbearable to me.

My anxiety is trying to protect me. It’s preparing me for the worst so I have a chance to grab a parachute to soften the fall. One of my downfalls, though, is that to prevent potential heartbreak, I distance myself from the people I love. It ends up affecting the relationships, even though in reality there was nothing to protect myself against with to begin with. My anxiety and I, we’ve gone through a lot together, and sometimes it’s difficult for us to believe that people can stay even when we’re not our best self. It’s difficult for us to believe that there are people who actually stay through the storms life throws at us. It feels like utopia to believe that forever friends do exist and that they can happen to us too. But forever friends exist, and for them I am thankful.I know my need for reassurance can come across as needy, and I feel the need to apologize for it. But I want my friends to know that this isn’t something I can control yet, and I hate this about myself too. I, better than anyone, know how incredibly annoying an overactive mind is. I live with it and, believe me, I wish I’d found the “off” button already. Above all, I want my friends to know that having them by my side is the most beautiful gift a girl like me, a girl with anxiety, could ask for. To the friends who stay when I don’t even love myself, thank you.

Eileen Lamb

When You're the Girl Who Overthinks

When you’re the girl who overthinks, everything becomes more complex. You analyze every little detail — every text, every glance, every change in demeanor. Like a detective trying to see behind the curtain, you have a hard time believing there’s no hidden meaning behind what you see. A one-word answer means they’re mad at you. No answer means they want nothing to do with you anymore. Your mind skips right past the logical explanation that maybe they’re having a hard day or they’re busy. No, it’s personal. ⁣ ⁣You spend hours typing and re-typing a two phrase answer, shaking as you hit “send,” and re-rereading your message over and over until finally they answer.⁣ You come off as needy, and you wish people understood that your heart, trust and feelings have been broken before, and you’re just trying to protect yourself. You prepare yourself for the worse in a vain attempt to cushion your soul because if you’re prepared for the pain, it hurts a little less. ⁣ It’s hard for you to believe that happiness can happen to you. You believe the universe has a way of balancing everything, so even when it’s all going well, you’re scared it’s going to get taken away.⁣ ⁣You constantly feel drained from the intensity of your mind that never stops throwing a tornado of thoughts at you. You wish there was an “off button,” but there’s not. You know it makes it harder for people to love you, so you’re thankful for the people who stay, even if they know you need a little more reassurance than most. They’ve seen you at your worst and they don’t run away. They won’t even mention that you’re telling them the same story for the third time today. They listen every time like it’s the first. They hug you quietly when you can’t express the messiness of your mind into coherent thoughts. They stay. In a world where people run away at the first sight of struggle, find the ones who stay. They’re the keepers that keep your heart safe.

Eileen Lamb

6 Misconceptions About Autism Debunked By an Autistic Adult

There’s no denying that autism is a complicated subject. The causes are still unknown and the autism community is divided due to many controversies. However, there are a few misconceptions that should not be argued about, even though they sometimes still are. 1. Autistic people lack empathy and are incapable of feelings. False. It’s a common misconception that people with autism aren’t capable of feelings and empathy. If anything, for me it’s the opposite — I feel too much. While it is rare for me to connect with people emotionally, when I do, I really do. I love with all I’ve got. I think a lot of autistic people don’t share our feelings in a way that’s obvious. If I try to express my feelings at a level that makes sense to other people, I feel incredibly overwhelmed myself. When emotions take me over, I become unable to communicate well. Many autistics will find their own way to communicate. For me, it’s by writing. 2. Autism is a disease. False. Autism is a neurological condition. You can’t cure autism. We are born autistic and always will be. Therapy can help us live better lives and learn skills, but it doesn’t take autism away. 3. Autism is visible. False. Unlike Down syndrome, autism doesn’t have any physical traits. On that note, telling someone they don’t look autistic may seem like a compliment, but it’s often not. It can feel dismissive, as if because our struggles aren’t visible, we can just “get our act together” and act like everybody else. Autism doesn’t have an on-off switch, and while I’m able to “pass” in many situations, it’s exhausting. People don’t realize how much work goes into looking “normal.” 4. Vaccines cause autism. False. They don’t. It’s science. Another study just came out in March 2019 (funded by anti-vaxxers looking for science to support their side), proving again that there is no link between autism and vaccines. 5. All autistic people have a “splinter skill.” False. This myth comes from cliché representations of autism in the media where most autistic characters are portrayed as having some kind of incredible splinter skill. The most popular example of this is the character Rain Man, who counts many toothpicks on the floor in a matter of seconds. In reality, very few of us autistics have those kinds of skills.I do have a few useless skills, like remembering dates and events from years ago. I can tell you what I was wearing on May 28th, 2003 and what I ate on that day. Sadly that skill doesn’t help me in any way when it comes to finding my keys or cell phone. 6. Autistic people do not want friends. False. I crave friendships and deep emotional connections. My lack of social skills and limited ability to express my feelings get in the way, but I want friends. I like people. Just like many, I also need to spend time alone, and tend to be head-in-the-clouds, but I love interacting with people who spark something in me. That said, as much as I cringe when people say the “wrong” thing because of common misconceptions, I still appreciate people making an effort to talk about it. Many of us autistic adults are happy to engage in discussions, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. I promise you, if we don’t want to talk, we’ll tell you! Here are some conversation openers: “What is it like for you?” “What can I do to help you?” or “Can I ask you questions?” Most importantly, remember to be kind and treat us like anyone else.

Community Voices

What it's like living with autism

Ah, autism. Such a complex subject. Ask 10 autistic people what it’s like to live with it and you’ll get 10 different answers — some might not even be able to answer the question at all. My son, Charlie, who’s autistic, can’t answer you. He doesn’t communicate like that.

Being autistic and raising an autistic child gives me a unique perspective on the subject of autism. I see both sides of the spectrum every day: I personally live with the struggle of a disability that’s often ignored because it’s not obvious, and I’m fighting each day to take care of my child whose differences are extreme and apparent. People on the autism spectrum all have different strengths and struggles, and the severity of those vary greatly. That’s why it’s called a spectrum.

Though I can’t tell you what autism feels like for everyone, I can tell you what living with autism is like for me. Before I was diagnosed, I’d always thought something was wrong with me. I felt disconnected from the world around me — misunderstood. It was as if I lived in a different dimension, being in the same room as other people but feeling like I didn’t belong. I still often feel this way, but knowing why I feel different helps me deal with the overwhelming emotions that come from that lonely feeling.

Autism comes with many challenges, my biggest ones having to do with social communication, sensory issues, and repetitive behaviors. For example, routine activities like going to the grocery store can turn into a type of torture for me. I wonder if neurotypical people notice how many annoying, intrusive noises there are in a grocery store. Carts rattling on the floor, the incessant chattering from all directions, children zipping by, the ongoing background music, and that damn bag of potato chips, crackling, crackling, crackling…

The constant bip bip bip of the cash registers sends me jolting. These bips aren’t predictable and don’t follow a pattern. Even though I try really hard to navigate the labyrinth of people and their carts (all while avoiding people’s gazes), I inevitably start bumping into things, spiraling the discomfort further. To me, being able to effortlessly navigate a grocery store seems like a superpower. How do they not feel incredibly overwhelmed? I envy them.

But the hardest part of having autism for me is the social aspect. We all struggle at one point or another with forming or maintaining a relationship, but for many autistic people like me, it’s an ongoing and severe issue. I struggle to find my place socially. I tend to be either so closed-off that people think I’m rude, or so outgoing and peppy that I’m a weirdo, oblivious to social norms. It’s hard for me to find a balance between the two.

Though I’ve learned the theory of how to behave socially thanks to experience, therapy and books, putting rules into practice is a different story. That’s when the overthinking comes in. Because so much work goes into social interactions, I have to ask myself these oh-so-important questions. Did I screw up? Did I talk too much? Maybe not enough? Was I wearing the right clothes? Was my text too needy? Too direct? Was I supposed to lie about that thing to make them happy? It was inappropriate to smile when Becky told her story, wasn’t it…? Was I supposed to furrow my brows instead? Did my facial expression match what I was thinking?

While autism affects my life in ways that sometimes get in the way of my happiness, it’s also a strength. I’ve had to fight my entire life to find my place, to understand why the world was more complicated to me than other people. It made me stronger.

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Community Voices

Let’s forget about the numbers and focus on what you can do

Charlie,

Today was one of those days. We got the results back from your PPCD speech assessment. They evaluated your ability to communicate. If your delays in speech and communication were significant enough, you’d be eligible to attend the special-needs classroom. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that you would qualify. Still it hit me kinda hard when the speech therapist called back with the results. You scored in the 1st and 2nd percentiles for the two speech and communication tests. The bottom of the scale. “The gap is quite severe”, she said.

You know what Charlie? Those tests are stupid. Albert Einstein said, “If you judge a fish by its inability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid”.

I wish they would have evaluated your amazing ability to sort objects by size and color! I wish they’d evaluate your creativity when playing with blocks and the shapes you make. I wish they would evaluate your ability to make high towers and be so delicate when doing so. I wish they would evaluate your great taste in music.

Your inability to communicate and speak doesn’t define you. Autism doesn’t define you. You are unique, and you can do so much more than they saw at first glance. Let’s just forget about the numbers and focus on what you can do. I have a feeling that one day you will show them – one day you will tell them what you can really do.

I love you,

Mom

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Community Voices

Parents of autistic children are my heroes

This is your reminder that you are a great parent. A little reminder that you’re worth it – that being overwhelmed means nothing other than you’re giving it your all and need some lovin’ too. Believe me, it doesn’t say anything negative about you, or your ability to parent your child. You’re doing just fine. To all the moms and dads out there trying their hardest for their kids, autistic or not, you are amazing, and I see you.

I see you trying to juggle work, drop-offs, pickups, and doctor appointments.

I see you trying your hardest to understand your child’s needs despite his lack of verbal communication.

I see you searching tirelessly for tips and tricks online to teach a nonverbal child sign language or AAC.

I see you jumping for joy at the smallest gain from your child. And I also understand the bittersweetness of these celebrations that you never expected to be notable events.

I see you trying to re-adjust your expectations while still keeping that glimmer of hope going in your soul.

I see you trying to resists the urge to compare yourself to other parents.

And at the end of the day, I see you hiding your head in your hands to prevent people from seeing your tears.

But above all, what I see is the love in your eyes when you look at your child. I see it. Believe me when I say that I know how hard it is when people around you don’t “get it.” I know it’s hard when you see your parent-friends doing all of these things you imagined doing with your own child. And I know, too, that you feel guilt for the #Grief you feel toward your child’s #Disability.

I know you wonder sometimes if maybe these internet strangers are right, if maybe you’re indeed a “martyr parent,” because truly you do sometimes struggle to see the light at the of the tunnel. I know that sometimes, no matter how hard you try to focus on the positive, you can’t. You can’t because your heart is filled with worry and uncertainty. You worry that your child will never grow up to live an independent life. You feel defeated for not being able to help him despite all the time and energy you spend trying. And you wonder, wonder if he’s happy. If he loves you. If he sees you at all.

So this is your reminder that your feelings don’t make you a bad parent, they make you human. A reminder that no matter how strong you are, you too are allowed to crumble under the pressure of the unplanned life you were given. This is your reminder that you’re not alone out there, never-ever, at all.

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