Plato's Play-Doh

Play-Doh for the Mind

Tag: Autism

Enough

Enough Pic

The following poem was written by me back in 2012. I had been going through an extremely tough time for many years and just wanted to give up. Every day I took solace in a certain line from Edgar Allan Poe’s  The Pit and the Pendulum: “And then there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave.”

Perhaps I didn’t want to die, I just did not want to keep living.  However, I have always prided myself on the strength of my character, and I knew that better things were to come, whether they arrive in a day, a month, or a decade.  My time here on earth was far from over.

Still, as Poe’s quote stirred the machinations of my mind, helping me to picture a place without pain, so did writing poems.  It felt good to know that if I wanted to, I could end all my pain.  However I knew that I would never sit down at the table where this option lay.

 

Enough

 

Synapses, neurons, are vital to life

But these crucial facets are detrimental to mine

Ablaze all the time with thoughts that bind

My mind to the chair, with the sponge wet and primed

 

An explosion of thoughts, a cacophony of sorts

Render me helpless, as I crumble once more

Expletives are shouted to these notions I abhor

But they only grow stronger, for winds make the fire roar

 

These unrelenting ideas have started to persuade

My once innocent mind to believe what they say

I used to fight back, but now I just lay

And accept the torment that I have come to obey

 

I’ve waved the white flag, I have no more strength to persevere

I’ll go down with this ship, the water feels so sincere

I look down from this cliff, into the abyss I do not fear

For when I take this last step, my mind will be cleared

 

©Russell Lehmann 2014

Broken Souls

Broken Souls Pic

Molested by the utmost disgraceful thoughts. Subjugated by authority who thought they knew best. Disparaged by contemporaries. These are a few characteristics of a broken soul. Nay, perhaps these were just the characteristics of my broken soul, for one man’s problem is another man’s pleasure.

Regardless, broken souls are everywhere, although I have never been able to relate to one. However, I did see two movies this past year in which I saw myself in both of the main characters. Albeit they were somewhat fictional accounts, comfort and resonation swam through my blood in such a manner that my body was pulsated with the calming vibrations of the interconnection of the human race. For the first time in my life, I was able to fully and completely identify with another person’s struggles. Alas, I will never meet these people, for they were just actors acting out scripts in front of a camera. Nevertheless, I have to say, witnessing someone go through the same struggles I have dealt with felt good. REALLY good.

Might this intertwined feeling of mine, that of consolation and relief, be a result of instinctual selfishness? Who’s to say, that’s a discussion for another time. For now, follow me as I delve into the two characters that helped me feel not so quite alone.

The first character made me realize that we all have our routines, however some become empty burdens rather than a functional categorization of life. Melvin Udall sticks to the same exact schedule every day in order to not upset himself. Rather, in order to not aggravate his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He hates being touched by anyone, is afraid of germs and performs rituals in order to prevent any danger that might come his way. He frequents the same restaurant every day, eating the same breakfast at the same table and eagerly hoping to be served by the same waitress. If something unexpected happened during Melvin’s daily routine, than all hell would break loose. He would become increasingly agitated and uncomfortable, and lash out at others around him. Melvin Udall was, in essence, a broken soul.

Melvin was the first person, fictional or real, that I ever found myself relating to. I used to have the exact same routine every day, and if anything put my routine in jeopardy, I would have a mental breakdown. Growing up, I absolutely hated to be touched by people who I did not know, and I would wash my hands over and over and over until the water ran red with blood. My rituals included everything under the sun, from locking doors to flipping light switches to retracing my exact walking patterns to moving my jaw in precisely the same manner with every bite of food I took. If I was strong enough to deny myself permission to perform such rituals, my mind would become overwhelmed with disturbing thoughts, such as my parent’s being lit on fire and then dismembered. I could not, for the life of me, liberate myself of these thoughts. That is, unless I began to perform my self-degrading rituals again.

As I observed Melvin’s slow but eventual progression into recovery, I felt as though I was watching myself through the eyes of an individual who had also traipsed the wallowing depths of Hell. I felt exultant for Melvin, while feeling grateful and joyous that a certain stranger could relate to his own personal hardships. You see, I was this stranger, because not only did I find someone whose actions were the exact representation of my own, but I also found, inside myself, that lone observer that I have spent my entire life waiting for. That one onlooker who says “I see a piece of you in myself. A piece that has defied all odds. A piece that obliterates any obstacle in life. A piece that, although born flawed and defective, has turned into an astonishingly exquisite specimen.”

The second character offers a glimpse into how I conducted myself when I was a boy. Charlie Fineman’s soul was broken after his wife and daughters died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Charlie was once a sociable and successful dentist, however five years after his family died he is but a shell of his former self. He suffers from PTSD and is a withdrawn social outcast, all the while being judged due to the fact that his actions differ from the norm. When he does traverse the terrifying, carnivorous jungle of civilization he keeps to himself, hiding behind his unkempt hair while blaring his favorite music into his headphones. It is extremely difficult for him to communicate with others, and he takes solace in his house by playing video games in the dark. Charlie Fineman was an extremely promising being whose potential was being devoured by a broken soul.

Watching Charlie aimlessly toddle his way through life pierced my heart as if it was a pumpkin being carved by an overzealous child on a cold and rainy October night. I sobbed throughout the majority of the movie, tears streaming down my face and neck until they became one with the wrinkled shirt I was wearing. I realized that I used to be Charlie. I used to be a shell of my former self. I used to be victimized because of my odd behavior. I used to hide under my hoodie and blast music into my ears to drown out my terrorizing surroundings. I used to have a broken soul that ate up every last ounce of my sweet, innocent potential. Perhaps worst of all, unlike Charlie, I knew what kind of capability and aptitude was bestowed upon me, yet it was eclipsed by my unreserved fear of the horrors of the outside world. I had been beaten down and stepped on so many times in my young life that I was excruciatingly petrified of trusting and depending on anyone outside of my family, and the notion that you can make it through life in this world by yourself is an immense fallacy.

Melvin Udall and Charlie Fineman both redeem themselves at the end of their respected movies, which was yet another reason I could relate to them. I am becoming the man who I have always yearned to be: a thoughtful, honest being who is determined to accomplish his goals and who is strong enough to persevere through the darkest of hours. A loving, caring individual who is exceptionally understanding of others and their afflictions. A man who acquires his intellect through great erudition, and who takes tremendous pride in his intelligence, for he now knows that knowledge is the one thing that can be given to you, but can never be taken away.

I assume that by now you are quite curious as to what the titles of these movies might be. The first movie, starring Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall, is As Good as It Gets, while the second movie, starring Adam Sandler as Charlie Fineman, is titled Reign Over Me. I will always hold these two films in high regard, and I am exceptionally thankful that I stumbled onto both of them. Although my soul is no longer broken, from time to time I still wage war with my inner tribulations. At least now, however, I have two individuals to think of when somebody tells me that I am not alone in this fight.

Poem from the Past: Get Well

Get Well

Get Well pic

You have no friends

You have that special wish that you commend

You finally met the person of your dreams

But fuck the feeling it’s pretend

 

You were so excited; you were climbing the ladder of love

But then you fell down the rungs; you’re starting to think that there’s no one above

That watches over you; instead he watches you!

He torments you! Like a fucking flat tire your heart blew

 

You wish you could go back, back to when you were ten

Your were so popular; Yes, sir, you were the man

But that fuckin’ metal in your mouth didn’t give a damn

Blow your fucking brains out! In this life a chance you didn’t stand

 

But this is now; there’s no denying the last ten years have been pure hell

Robbed of a childhood, your heart pounded while your brain swelled

Your old friends walked the bridge over the pit where you just fell

But now I guess the time has come, to stop dwelling and get well

 

©Russell Lehmann 2014

Video: Unconquerable

I dug up this spoken word poem I made back in May of 2013.  It details the struggles I have had with what I call “intrusive thoughts”, that is, unwanted thoughts that I would not be able to stop thinking about.  If you enjoy this video, please share it so we can spread awareness about mental health, while also showing people that everyone has the power to defeat their inner demons.

 

Thanks,

Russell

 

Redefining the Isla Vista Shootings

I’m a fucking beast. I don’t like easy, I like hard. Not just hard, but excruciating. Painful, agonizing.  Do you know why? Because taking the hard route leaves you with scars that will forever be with you. Tiny memories of the lessons you learned when you were traveling through the deepest and darkest corners of Hell. The easy way out is for the weak. The easy way out is for people like Elliot Rodger.

After Elliot Rodger killed six college students and injured 13 others on the night of May 23, 2014, Alan Shifman, the lawyer for the Rodger family, said that Elliot had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism) at an early age. The family later stated that Elliot had never been diagnosed with Asperger’s, however they always believed that he was on the autism spectrum.

Two mass murderers in the last 1 ½ years have now been associated with some form of autism, and after watching Elliot Rodger’s YouTube video, I would have to agree with the assumption that he was on the spectrum.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Autism has absolutely nothing to do with a maniac going on a rampage. If it did, then let me tell you, I would be one of the most notorious mass murderers to ever walk this earth. But I am not. Why? Because autism does not define who someone is. It is merely a way of life. It gives you access to insights and perspectives unavailable to the vast majority of people. Having autism helps you in some areas of life, and hurts you in others. But with that hurt comes an opportunity to learn, an opportunity that most others don’t have the chance to obtain. Under certain circumstances, autism can be a beautiful gift. When you finally figure out how to live with the disorder, it can greatly enhance your life. It can be magical.

Circumstances. Circumstances are to blame for mass murders. I am not going to try and delve into Elliot Rodger’s past, because I have never met him, and for me to do that would be wrong. That is the (unfortunate) job for the talking heads on TV. I will say though, that hatred for women, along with the steel clasp of affluenza, seemed to play a major role in Elliot Rodger’s actions.

After I watched the video that Elliot posted online, I felt chills running down my spine. I experienced many of the things that he talked about. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 20-years-old, and I felt ignored by women. I was envious every time I saw a guy with a gorgeous girl, and I thought to myself that he doesn’t deserve her. Here I am, a great guy, and I am all alone, while all these sleazy guys are enjoying life with their beautiful women.

I was Elliot, but Elliot wasn’t me.

Throughout his video, Elliot kept complaining that life wasn’t fair. I used to complain about that too, until I realized that it was a fact, not just for me, but for every single person on this planet. Life is just not fair. I have learned to accept this, and by doing so, I feel blessed when things actually do go my way.

To be perfectly blunt, Elliot Rodger had a pathetic outlook on life. He stated multiple times how lonesome he was, and how he “had to rot in loneliness”. Up until recently, I had been suffering from loneliness throughout the majority of my life. As I stated in a previous post:

“Perhaps the most infuriating element of being lonely is that people don’t understand how truly devastating and detrimental it is. The pain that stems from it is excruciating. My soul, the very essence of who I am, frenetically writhes as it is cast aflame by the smoldering remains of what my life could have been, what my life should have been, and is stoked by what my life is.

I collapse on the floor and soak the carpet with my tears multiple times a week. I become so enraged that I have to keep myself from literally tearing down my house with my bare hands. LITERALLY. I oftentimes think about putting a bullet in my brain, and wonder at what sweet rest there must be in the grave. I pray every motherfucking day that I’ll meet someone who understands my pain, for I have never met a soul who can relate to me. I suppose this is what keeps my heart beating, because although my life has been absolute shit, I somehow believe that one day I will encounter somebody who can comprehend my fucked-up life. Somehow, someway, I believe.”

Elliot had a choice. He chose to rot in his loneliness. I have come to find that being alone for most of my life did me wonders. I didn’t choose to rot away, although it would have been quite easy to do so, but rather I chose to find out what I was made of. I became strong, and I was at my best in my darkest moments of solitude. I realized that being alone gave me the chance to think and to learn, so I pondered about relationships, life, death, everything under the sun, while I crammed my brain full of knowledge, for knowledge is the one thing that can be given to you, but never taken away. Instead of rotting in my loneliness, I blossomed.

In one of his videos, Elliot also stated that “All I’ve ever wanted was a girlfriend”. I know that feeling all too well. For the past ten years, having a girlfriend was all I could think about. I finally entered into a relationship with a woman for the first time when I was 22-years-old, but that relationship only lasted two months, and the woman ripped my heart out and crushed it with her bare hands.

I want to end this post by oiling your mind with some lucidity. Autism, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder and any other mental condition that you might now be afraid of due to the actions of those who are affected with such disorders, PLAY NO PART when it comes to rampages and/or shootings. These appalling actions boil down to one’s outlook on life, and the circumstances surrounding that outlook. Lack of family support, refusing to ask for help, and other similar variables are the largest reasons behind mass violence. It is inexcusable to have the aforementioned conditions be the sole scapegoat behind such atrocities. Just as every dog doesn’t attack their owner, every person with mental struggles isn’t “crazy”, “insane” or “psychotic”.

 

REMEMBERING THE VICTIMS

WEIHAN WANGWEIHAN WANG, 20-YEARS-OLD

CHENG YUAN HONGCHENG YUAN HONG, 20-YEARS-OLD

GEORGE CHENGEORGE CHEN, 19-YEARS-OLD

KATHERINE BREANN COOPERKATHERINE BREANN COOPER, 22-YEARS-OLD

CHRISTOPHER ROSS MICHAELS-MARTINEZCHRISTOPHER ROSS MICHAELS-MARTINEZ, 20-YEARS-OLD

VERONIKA ELIZABETH WEISSVERONIKA ELIZABETH WEISS, 19-YEARS-OLD

My Interview with Jacqueline Laurita

Image

 

Many people who are unfamiliar with the Real Housewives series believe that the women who make up the cast are conceited, selfish and spoiled. One woman, however, is anything but those unflattering adjectives. Her name is Jacqueline Laurita, and I would like to introduce her to those of you who are unfamiliar with her. To the mass that do know who she is, perhaps you will become even fonder of her after perusing this interview.

Jacqueline is a very strong-willed woman who has a magnificent outlook on life. A loving mother who is not afraid to back down from any challenge, she actually takes the time to learn about somebody before passing judgment, unlike many of us. Jacqueline is also very ambitious when it comes to her multiple careers, yet she somehow manages to always make time for her beautiful family.

Jacqueline’s son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism back in 2012 at the age of three, and in the years since Jacqueline has become a leading campaigner for increasing autism awareness. I asked her about views on autism, her goals for the future and how she grew into the amazing woman that she is today.

Russell Lehmann: You are revered for being a thoughtful, down-to-earth woman who loves to give back to the community and spread welfare. Where do these impressive principles and traits of yours stem from, and what have you learned from your experiences of helping those who are less fortunate than you?

Jacqueline Laurita: I think that my parents had something to do with that for sure. I was always encouraged to be honest, stay true to myself and to stay grounded. I think it also comes from my life experiences. I’ve been through a lot in my life and it has always been the support of others that has got me through the obstacles in my life. I want to be there to support others because I know how it feels. Others have been there for me. It’s a way for me to pay it forward.

You exited “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” after season five. What have you been doing with your time since?

I have been enjoying time with my family and focusing on Nicholas’s recovery, writing books on beauty and autism, which are both passions of mine. I help out my husband with his beverage company while also trying to get my beauty website launched (www.altruisticbeauty.com).
I have also been a very active advocate in the autism community by answering emails from families affected, attending autism related conferences, benefits, doing public speaking engagements and writing featured articles for magazines. I will continue to do that.

You have said that early intervention is the key to recovery. For the first half of my life I confounded doctors with my symptoms, until I was finally diagnosed with autism when I was 12. Your son Nicholas was diagnosed when he was three. You are a woman who emits vibes of positivity and optimism. Nicholas is almost five now, and so I pose this question to you:

If Nicholas wasn’t diagnosed for another seven or eight years, and you and your family were left in the dark with no idea as to how to help your son, what actions might you have taken, and do you think this hypothetical situation would have changed your bright and confident outlook on life?

I think that I would have taken each challenge as it came with the best of my ability. Regardless, I would have focused on enhancing Nicholas’s strengths and do my best to give him the tools he needed to get around whatever obstacle or challenge was in his way and to bring out the best in him. I’m all about focusing on the solutions rather than the problems. Otherwise, life can get too overwhelming.

With or without an actual diagnosis, the challenges would have eventually presented themselves and we would have had to address it and find a way to make progress by giving him the right tools he needed in order to thrive.

There is no doubt that the diagnosis definitely gave us more clarity and understanding to what we were dealing with, while also providing us with a better road map of what active steps we could take to help Nicholas, including knowing our legal rights. Regardless, I would continue to try to defy expectations. It’s never too late for anyone to learn and improve. Always believe things can get better, because they can. In coping with anything, it’s all about perception and keeping a positive attitude. Focus on the amazing “abilities” our children have and not so much on their “disabilities”. Everyone has special skills, and everyone has challenges.

Have a clear vision of what you want your future to look like. Believe you can manifest it. Make short and long-term goals while focusing and following through on them with tunnel vision and perseverance. Block out all the negative talk and choose positive thoughts and actions. Have gratitude. Continually try to defy expectations while focusing on the solutions rather than the problems when hitting any obstacle. This will help you achieve anything in life… if you believe it’s possible!

What lessons of life have you learned from having a first-hand experience with autism?

I have definitely learned patience and understanding and what’s important in life. I learned to still remember to make time for myself so that I don’t get too overwhelmed. Those small breaks help me to go back in and fight harder for my child. It’s also important to make special time with your spouse and other siblings that are not diagnosed. The experience has also taught me to be more accepting and understanding of others’ idiosyncrasies. It taught me to have gratitude and celebrate each and every accomplishment my child makes, and not take anything for granted, because I see first-hand how hard he works for those accomplishments.

I myself do not think that autism should ever be fully cured. I believe it is a gift that one must learn to live with. I couldn’t agree with you more when you say Nicholas doesn’t need to be fixed, because he isn’t broken. When did this philosophy of yours come into being and what do you think made you come to this conclusion?

I don’t see autism as being something bad or something to be ashamed of, and I never want my son to be ashamed of it either. It’s just one piece of who he is as a whole individual. He just has a different way of processing things. I know my son is brilliant and I have heard of many well-known successful people at the top of their fields who have either been suspected to have or have been diagnosed with autism. I know it’s a gift, I know my son is happy and I know he loves me. People with autism just learn and view the world differently. Different does not mean bad. It’s just different. When I say “recover” my child, I want him to recover all the skills he lost when he regressed and for him to continue to learn things that will help make his life a little easier in the future. I’m not trying to “fix” him or even make him “typical” but I am trying to give him all the tools I can provide for him to help him to become more independent. If I can do that for him and he is going to benefit from it, then I am going to keep fighting to give him what he needs. His quirkiness makes him unique and adorable and I wouldn’t want to change that for anything. He makes me smile every day. I think everyone is a little quirky. I know I am.

Autism definitely has an ugly side to it, but with that ugliness comes the opportunity to learn and grow in a very unique and special way. When times get tough and Nicholas is having a bad day, do you sometimes wish that Nicholas never had autism? Or would you rather live with the emotional wounds dealt out by the disorder, knowing that you have an ability to be much more insightful about life than the average person?

Don’t we ALL have an ugly side as well as the opportunity to learn and grow? Someone with an autism diagnosis is no different. Autism is not something that I ever wished my child would have, and it’s a different journey than the one I had expected, but it is still just as wonderful. I think it’s difficult for any parent to watch their child, typical or not, struggle with anything, so when Nicholas is struggling with something and is having a bad day, it breaks my heart.

Nicholas has struggles that my other children don’t have, but they each have their own unique struggles in life and have challenged me and themselves in different ways. I’ve hurt watching all of them struggle at one point or another. That’s a parent’s love. We all have struggles, they are just different struggles. You learn to adjust and cope. We all learn, grow and evolve. We all get frustrated with life, we all hurt at times and we all feel joy. Support from others is really important during these times.

I honestly love the journey that my son’s autism diagnosis has taken me on. I have learned so much and I have met so many wonderful, supportive people along the way. My son has brought me so much joy each and every day. All my kids are unique and I love them all.

What is your biggest stress reliever?

Venting to someone who “gets it”, then meditating while listening to positive affirmations. I like going into the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber to relax and walking outdoors when the weather is nice. Sex works, too. (Laughs)

What do you like to do for fun, and what kind of activities does your family enjoy doing together?

I enjoy our crazy family gatherings every Sunday because they are very entertaining and always a lot of fun. I enjoy date nights with my husband as well as with other couples. We enjoy good food. My kids enjoy watching movies together. We also enjoy hiking. In the summer we rent a beach house with many of our family members. We also do a lot of fun activities in the fall at local farms. Road trips anywhere are always fun.

What do you have your sights set on for the future?

I want to continue to raise autism awareness any way I can in hopes that I can help educate people to be more understanding and compassionate toward others with autism or other idiosyncrasies. Different doesn’t mean bad, it’s just different. Acceptance is so important. Everyone can learn from each other if you allow yourself to be open to it.
I want to make a difference in this world. I have a few things in mind that I’d like to accomplish. I’ll share those at a later date.

I also have several books I’d like to write. Two of them are being written and published right now.

I have a beauty website (www.altruisticbeauty.com) that I can’t wait to launch. It’s definitely taking a lot longer than I thought to get it up and running.

I want my family to stay healthy, happy and very connected with each other. Oh…and world peace.