Kalina Jones

@kalinamarie1 | contributor
Kalina has a BA in Psychology from Cleveland State University and loves writing about psychology and mental health. As an autistic woman who also experiences anxiety and ROCD, she hopes that starting dialogues on The Mighty and elsewhere will make it easier for people to find common ground, accept differences, and create lives that work for them. Read more at her blog, Earthy Mind Juice.
Kalina Jones

My Autism Went Undiagnosed Because I'm a Woman

When I thought of autism, I always thought of a little boy crying on the floor. Of a nonverbal child. Or maybe one of those heartwarming stories where a mall Santa gets down on the ground for an autistic kid who couldn’t sit in his lap because of a meltdown. I thought of discussions of autism epidemics, possible causes, and hopeful “cures.” Of Sheldon Cooper, or the awkward nerdy guy in the college lounge whom everyone said had Asperger’s. And isn’t that what we think of when we think of autism? It was traditionally believed that four times more boys than girls are autistic, but researchers are starting to question the legitimacy of those numbers. They’re realizing that autism often looks different in women and girls than it does in boys, and that many mental health professionals have no idea what to look for because almost all research has exclusively focused on the male version. Because girls don’t look as expected, they were often seen as the anxious or overly-conscientious kids. When I finally showed up in the offices of professionals in my early 20s, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder with depression, OCD and social phobia. They told me I had so many things, but never that I was autistic. It was a spark of recognition at age 30 that led me to realize such a thing was even a possibility. Of all the things I’d thought of when I thought of autism, I’d never thought of someone like me. I had gotten autism totally wrong, and I realized almost everyone around me had too. We had bought into this idea of a modern epidemic to cure, never considering that being autistic might simply mean a different way of processing the world. That maybe being autistic wasn’t inherently worse than being non-autistic, only different. I see being autistic as a way of being and thinking that affects your social and emotional world, a kind of sensitivity. Some of us are more sensitive to sounds, to emotions, to lights. We are more wrapped up in our inner world than in the worlds of others. And we stim, or use different kinds of movement to express anxiety or happiness. We tend to see things a little more concretely, which is why I sometimes get hung up on taking language literally. But it’s also why I’m awesome at precise academic-style writing. In fact, researchers say autistic people tend to be great at systematizing and pattern recognition. We might struggle with executive function, which can make us seem a little disorganized and cause us to have trouble just “doing the thing” — though we’ll paradoxically be super anxious for weeks about the thing that would have taken two minutes to do. And then there are some common neurological quirks like trouble with facial recognition, spatial reasoning, and short-term memory recall. Things I felt really weird about for years before I realized they fit the spectrum. But still, living as autistic in a non-autistic world can be rough because the world isn’t designed for the strengths of autistic people. So we “mask,” what researchers call hiding autistic traits to better fit in. Girls are thought to be significantly better at masking than boys, another reason we blend in so well. The downside is that masking may bring some emotional trauma with it, since it’s essentially the act of spending significant effort hiding what comes naturally. Carefully monitoring my facial expression to ensure I looked comfortable to any critical outside observers? Frequently holding back emotions until I got to a bathroom or my car to begin sobbing? Pretending I understood jokes everyone laughed at? These were things I knew about. Knowing I’m autistic doesn’t change me; I’ve always been this way. But finding an autistic identity has shown me that I’m OK the way that I am. That kind of acceptance allows me to look for lifestyles and work and academic routes that are suited to me and make use of my strengths. And autism comes with plenty of strengths. I’m passionate, strong-willed, obsessed with detail and great at memorization. Knowing I’m autistic allows me to feel good about that, instead of wondering why I couldn’t just live the life everyone expected of me. Too many people think autism needs to be cured and defeated, when in reality, autistic people just need acceptance. It’s simple, but it requires moving beyond our stereotypes and caricatures and questioning the things we thought to be true. It requires the humility to listen closely to see if you have more to learn before stubbornly questioning someone who comes out to you as autistic. It requires more people like me saying I’m autistic so that someone like you might realize maybe you could be too. The bottom line? Being autistic is no tragedy. But not knowing you’re autistic and living in a world intent on judgment and exclusion very well may be.

Melanie Berman

Shamed for Taking Bipolar Disorder Medication

“I would never take medication.” It’s something I’ve heard a lot in my life. At age 20, I lost my mind overnight, but this isn’t really about that. It’s about what resulted in the following years. After this incident happened in college, I sought psychiatric help. I went through years of med trials, therapeutic interventions, shamanic depossessions, you name it. I tried over 20 different medications looking for something, anything, that would help me get my basic sense of mental functioning back. Since bipolar disorder is something that runs in my family, I was lucky to have some basic background knowledge of what treatment includes. What I was not lucky to have, however, was an unrelenting sense of societal stigma around everything I was doing to try and get better. “Have you tried prayer?” “Exercise?” “This diet?” “That diet?” “Have you tried focusing on your breath?” The answer is yes, yes and yes. And the answer is also no  — it did not make my bipolar disorder stable enough to live my life functionally. Wanna know the only thing that has allowed me to continue living my life? Medication. And yes, I do absolutely everything else therapeutic for myself as well. And I still often have meltdowns, med adjustments, moments of extreme hopelessness… but you know what — I can live. And many days I can feel deep gratitude for my life as well. After a friend of mine died by suicide in college, I know what it’s like to survive that kind of tragedy. So, naturally, I’m going to do whatever it takes to be here — even if it means medication. I’m a Reiki Master and a devoutly spiritual person. I’m studying holistic health in school. I go to women’s moon circles, sound healings and ecstatic dance. I have some amazing community in my life. I also encounter a lot of straight “ hippiecrites.” What is a hippiecrite, you ask? A hippiecrite is someone who preaches love and light, but in reality harshly judges others. Their spirituality is wrapped deeply in their ego, even though they will claim to have risen above the ego construct. Wanna know what a hippiecrite hates more than anything? Western medicine. I understand why. There are side effects, toxicity and a lot of corporate bullshit wrapped up in pharmaceutical companies. The majority of doctors do not know anything about nutrition and preventative modalities, and are quick to push medications on their patients. Many people end up on meds who do not benefit from them, and they actually cause harm. But what about those of us who do need them? We are then put into an even more highly stigmatized category. Now, we are not only struggling to go on with our lives in a healthy way, we are shamed for taking our medicine. Yes, it does not solve “the root cause,” but if that root cause is genuinely something in our brains, it might keep us going when nothing else does. I’m not suggesting that everyone who struggles with their mental health should go pop some pills. All I’m suggesting is that we stop being so black and white in our conversations around mental illness and medication. It’s case by case, brain by brain, person by person. Just because one person took ayahuasca in Peru and felt happier does not mean if I take ayahuasca in Peru I’ll stop being bipolar. Those of us who have severe mental health issues are fucking brave to keep on keeping on, and this level of stigma does not make our lives easier. Whatever circles you run in, keep this in mind next time you decide to start shaming Western medicine. I can guarantee someone in your circle is benefiting from that “poison you would never come near.” And I guarantee you’re making them feel like shit because you’re coming from a place of health privilege. Don’t be a hippiecrite, you’re better than that. Follow this journey on Bipolar Goddess.