Who Am I?

Autistic with Complex PTSD in a Global Pandemic

Posted: March 17th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Autism | No Comments »

As this crisis unfolds, I find my mind and body both feel in this somewhat eerie, staticky space. It’s a familiar feeling to me, though something I felt more frequently in the first half of my life than the latter half. I’m beginning to recognize some of the ways my autistic childhood experience intersected with my unreliable and often traumatic home experience to produce my particular defenses and coping mechanisms.

My childhood autistic experience was awful. At any moment, any interaction with any person, peer or adult, could go badly wrong up to and including verbal and physical assault. It wasn’t some group of bullies the way most people describe experiences of bullying. My friends sometimes abruptly turned on me. I’ve related some of those stories in the past. The first time I was placed among peers in a less structured context in kindergarten, it got so bad I had to be moved to a different school. And while some adults tried to be helpful, others were a nightmare. I guess they found me threatening in some way? I’m not sure. And that experience followed me everywhere we moved, and we moved frequently, and in every group I tried to join. I know now that I could not see and interpret the social cues that indicated things were beginning to go poorly. But to child me the world of other human beings felt wildly unpredictable and dangerous. It’s why I worked so hard to “fix” myself as I’ve described in other posts. It’s what drove and formed my will and determination.

That broader autistic experience merged with a home life that by any measure was wildly unpredictable and sometimes overtly abusive and neglectful. My earliest memories are deeply traumatic and that never really changed. Every time I began to feel like some sort of stability might be developing at home, the rug was pulled out from under me again. That’s how a child ends up with 9 out of the 10 adverse childhood experiences in the original ACEs study. They don’t happen all at once. That number represents an accumulation of trauma and adverse experiences over the course of an entire childhood.

In that light, I’m not surprised that a number of the symptoms I have managed, though not necessarily managed well, my whole life meet the criteria for complex PTSD. I never feel safe in no small part because my body and mind don’t know how to feel safe. I don’t even really try. I just try to keep my environment as managed as I can. And for me that often means trying to appease and calm the people around me. I need and desperately want connections to other people. Yet I struggle to maintain those connections. And people are also often the greatest source of fear for me.

My trauma therapist called me an empath the other day and it feels right, I guess. But I can’t even parse my own flood of feelings much of the time, much less everything I pick up from my environment. It often feels more like an undifferentiated wave or an inchoate mass than individual emotions. I sometimes handle it by dissociating from my body and even dissociating more or less completely. There’s a part of my mind that seems to be good at walking me through actions I have to take even when I’m not exactly present. It’s hard to describe, but I think part of it is because I never had the safety to fully dissociate even when what I was experiencing felt overwhelming.

All that combined to produce my particular ways of coping with the world. I’ve described elsewhere how, as I learned to feel and interpret my body in therapy, I recognized my default state was not calm. Rather it was more like what people often describe as anxious. As I’ve explored it more, I’m not sure that’s accurate. I think fear is a better word. My body is always somewhat afraid and that can quickly ramp up to terrified, usually when anger or similar emotions are directed at me or I have no idea what is happening with the people around me. I can tell things are ‘off’ but have no idea why or if it’s because of me.

And that, in turn, means my mental horizon is always pretty low. It’s why I struggle with questions about things I want to do, dreams I have, and plans for the future. I largely never developed those except in the vaguest of terms. My horizon starts with what I need to do today. Then raises some to keep track of the things that are coming in a week or month. Then I have some sense of demands beyond that point, but they are more tenuous and I don’t spend much time or mental resources on them beyond noting their existence. I place a great deal of emphasis and attention on what the people who depend on me need me to do.

And that means I don’t experience fear and anxiety the way many people seem to experience those emotions. I hardly ever catastrophize. That requires thinking about the future and I just don’t do that very much. I can spend a lot of mental energy on past interactions, but what I’m doing is trying to understand them so I know what went wrong and how I can repair it or at least avoid future recurrences.

And when a crisis does hit, my mental horizon narrows even further. Under duress, it can narrow as much as looking around, deciding what I need to do or can do right now in the moment, focusing my energy to do it, then looking around and figuring out what the next thing I need to do is. It’s why I cried during Anna’s song, “The Next Right Thing“, in Frozen 2. That song captures how my whole life has felt.

I think that’s why people have called me ‘good in a crisis’ or have commented how I seem to stay calm when everyone else is freaking out. The reality is I’m never truly ‘calm’ and ‘crisis mode’ is more or less my normal. It’s simply a matter of degree for me. I can be overwhelmed and when things break for me it’s not been pretty or pleasant. But up to that point, I seem focused and in control.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression it’s some sort of calm, Zen-like state. It’s not. Rather, I’ve lived every moment of my life waiting for the metaphorical “other shoe to drop” with all the hypervigilance, tension, and struggle that implies. It does mean I often process the shock when that unexpected shoe does drop faster than those around me and move directly to action.

Living in a state of constant high alert definitely impacts my relationships, my health, and my well-being. It’s likely why I have such low motility in my intestines, which led to my health crisis and almost death a few years ago. I tend toward silence when I have no idea what to say, which people often misinterpret. And living every day in survival mode is exhausting in ways I can’t describe. It’s why I haven’t really been attached to being alive since I was nine years old, at least on my own behalf. I learned to keep that under control and have many tools to manage it, including always keeping in the forefront of my mind how much others do still depend on me. But it adds to the pile of things I manage every day of my life.

Nevertheless, it does mean when a crisis of any size hits, I’m as mentally and emotionally prepared as anyone can be. I absorb all the information I can and my autistic brain systematizes it for me. Things that don’t fit stand out. Reliability has a certain mental feel to it for me. I’ve always appreciated the way my brain does that for me. I don’t know how I would get by without it. I figure out what action I can take right now. I do that and start figuring out the next action required. Rinse and repeat.

I suppose that’s helpful? But honestly, I think it would be nice to feel safe sometimes. I’m so very, very tired.


US Christian Church Responses to COVID-19

Posted: March 14th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | No Comments »

03/18/2020 Update: Yesterday, Austin and Travis County issued a revised order prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people.

http://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Order%20-%20Prohibition%20of%20Community%20Gatherings%20of%2010%20persons%20or%20more%20and%20closure%20of%20restaurants%20and%20bars%203.17.2020.pdf

With that requirement, all the Churches mentioned in my email that had not already ceased in person worship services did so and moved to streaming. That demonstrates how important government action is since that’s the only way to establish uniform community policies in a crisis.

I did want to note one thing in the implementation by First Baptist Church, Pflugerville that seemed a little concerning to me.

  • Ministers will be at the Church in the MPB Foyer on Sunday mornings from 9:15 am til 12Noon for anyone who wants to drive through to:
    •  have us pray with you 
    •  have a time for us to encourage you
    •  share with us about a need you have
    •  drop off your tithes and offerings

We don’t yet know if the virus can be transmitted when a person is asymptomatic, though evidence seems to indicate that’s a possibility. The above complies with the order, but if a minister has the virus and is capable of transmitting it, that means they become a source that can potentially infect everyone who drives through. Hopefully that won’t happen but it sort of jumped out at me. Of course, the order doesn’t prohibit people from working in the same office space or gathering in other ways as long as they aren’t in a single space in close proximity, so there are still many potential vectors available to spread the virus. At least there won’t be gatherings of tens or hundreds of people in a single space for the time being.

03/15/2020 Update: Saturday night, the Austin mayor and Travis County judge jointly issued an order banning all gatherings in a single space of 250 people of more. It recommends curtailing all gatherings of 125 people and makes other recommendations as well.

http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=337524

I received an email from First Baptist Church in Pflugerville that they had received the order and would be splitting their services into two different buildings to keep those groups each below 250 people. I gather other smaller groups will gather as usual. I spot checked a few other of the churches mentioned and they all indicated various ways of complying, though those that had not already canceled in person services were not planning to do so.

I think this situation illustrates how important an effective government is in situations like this. Only the government can institute actions across the population rather than the disjointed response by individuals and individual organizations. Of course, we really need coordinated response at the local, state, and federal level. A virus does not respect arbitrary geographic boundaries. Pflugerville is on the border of Williamson County. Our boundaries run into Round Rock to our north. Williamson County has no such ban in place as far as I can tell. And our federal response remains a complete disaster. It’s clear we can’t rely on individual groups, including religious groups, making the right decisions at the right time serving the public good.


I am struck by the varying responses by different Christian denominations in the US as we are in the early stages of the exponential curve that has been seen in every other country to date and which is about to explode here in our country.

I want to start with the responses by the Episcopal Church I attend here in Austin. They have sought my participation as a lay reader, on the adult Christian education planning team, leading some of the classes myself, and in other ways. They have made me feel welcome in every way I can imagine this past year even though I am not Episcopalian. They have offered prayers and support through my Dad’s most recent health challenges and my father-in-law’s death. I can feel the hypervigilant, traumatized autistic watchdog in my head convinced that I’m missing something and waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, but I have felt not just welcomed but embraced in a way that has been uncommon in my life.

St. John’s Episcopal Church

Here are the guidelines from last week.

Greetings,
In keeping with recommendations from Bishop Doyle, we will make the following accommodations during worship until further notice:


1. Continue to thoroughly wash your hands regularly.

2. For the Passing of the Peace, we will stay in place, and only verbally share the peace—please, no handshakes.

3. The altar party will take extra precautions with liquid gel soap.

4. Communion will be offered with the hosts and the common cup. There will be no intinction (dipping) either by communicants or chalice bearers. The full value of the sacrament is received whether the recipient receives both sacraments or just the bread.

5. Be sensitive to others, if you are not feeling well, stay at home.

6. The blessed water will not be available in the back of the nave.

I look forward to seeing all of you on Sunday, those that feel up to it! May God continue to guide and direct your lives. May the peace that passes all understanding be with you always.

Here is the revised guidance for tomorrow and the next Sunday moving forward that was just sent out today.

Greetings to the good people of St. John’s,

As you all know, we are living in a period of time right now that is a source of anxiety, concern, and lack of knowledge; not to mention, fear. We are walking through a Lenten season that is new territory, a wilderness in many ways, with the worldwide issue of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Bishop Andy Doyle sent out a letter around noon on Friday to the diocesan clergy and Standing Committee with his thoughts, prayers and recommendations for how we are to continue to pray, worship and be God’s servants in the midst of this virus. The Bishop so succinctly stated, “We are not attempting to stop the spread of the virus. We are attempting to slow the spread down to a low multiple so our health systems may be at their best and provide rooms and ventilators for those that need it.”

We learned these lessons in both China and Italy.

So, I am asking you, the vestry is asking you, and our Bishop is asking us to take the necessary precautions. What will that look like at St. John’s?

Sunday, March 15, we will have services at the regular times with the following modifications: no chalice, no wine, no music, no coffee hours, no adult education, no lunch, and no gathering of the youth in the afternoon. All services will be live streamed on Facebook, and will be available for replay after services. Information about connecting to these videos will be sent out later today.

Sunday, March 22, there will be one service at 10 a.m. in English via live streaming on Facebook; and a Spanish service at noon also via live streaming on Facebook.

The Bishop is not asking the clergy not to lead worship; the Bishop is asking all of you to stay home.

Bishop Doyle states in his letter, “It is my Godly counsel that we refrain from gathering for worship and in large groups at our churches during this time of Covid-19 outbreak – enabling us to slow the spread. I am asking all parishioners to worship with us from home for the next two weeks.”

Staying home provides the opportunity to worship in different ways. Again from Bishop Doyle’s letter: “Is it uncomfortable? Yes. Is it irregular? Yes. Is it new? Yes. But is it Christian? Yes. Is it missionary? Yes. Will it require our best efforts? Yes. Will we have to figure out new ways to worship, spread the Good News, and serve our neighbors? Yes.
How timely that our Lenten meditation booklet, “Living Well Through Lent 2020”, is based around the theme, Practicing Courage with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind. How appropriate, today’s reading is “When God Calls Us to Move out of our Comfort Zones”. The Bible verses with today’s meditation is, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

In response to the Bishop’s call for us to “stay home”, the church office will be closed beginning on Monday, March 16 until further notice. We will be working virtually from home. If you need to reach me, my cell number is nnn-nnn-nnnn. We will finish our Wednesday Lenten series at another time. All outside groups that hold meetings are being contacted that they will not be able to meet until further notice. Vestry meeting, March 16, will take place via Zoom from the church. Other meetings are being postponed or taking place via Zoom. The work and worship of the Church continues, it will just look different for a while.

May we hold in prayer all those around the world battling this virus, medical workers and each one of us—God’s beloved children. Your support and understanding are gratefully appreciated.

Ann

The Rev. Ann McLemore

Interim Rector

I happen to be on a list for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, probably because I’ve checked out some of their sermon series in the past. They have also moved to online services only. They are a megachurch with thousands of members and multiple campuses.

Church of the Resurrection Online Services

Although it’s my understanding most Orthodox Churches are continuing services for now, I did see the following from the Orthodox Church of America’s (OCA) Diocese of the South.

Beloved, along with diocesan administration, I have been closely monitoring the developing status of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past 48 hours it has become clear that if we do not slow the rate of infection through social distancing (i.e., self-imposed isolation) our healthcare system is likely to be overwhelmed by the number of cases. As we can see from the situation in Italy, this will result in a significantly greater number of deaths, due to lack of treatment, or rather the inability to effectively treat so great a number of those infected. Further, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests COVID-19 is an airborne contagion that cannot be contained simply by the reasonable hygienic measures with which we are all familiar (handwashing, disinfecting of surfaces, and the like).

In light of this, I am asking all parishes and missions in the Diocese of the South, in addition to the directives from the Statement of the Holy Synod, to respond in the following manner:

All parish and mission events and activities, including coffee fellowship, church school, and the rest, and all services other than the Sunday Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, the Vesperal Liturgy of the Great Feast of Annunciation, and the Presanctified Liturgies, are cancelled through March 29, beginning from today. At which point we will adjust this as the situation warrants.

Everyone in the parish or mission, other than the priest (and deacon), a reader, a server, and no more than two (2) chanters or singers (all of whom are physically strong and at low risk for COVID-19), should remain at home, even at the time of the Divine Liturgy. The holy body and precious blood of our Lord can never be a source of disease, it is after all for the healing of soul and body, but the COVID-19 virus can still be passed through the congregation. Out of love for our neighbor, we must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable by slowing the rate of infection not only in our parishes, but in the greatercommunity, and thereby allowing the hospitals and medical community to more adequately care for those most at risk. All who are “at risk” – the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, any who are actively sick or exhibiting signs of illness – should absolutely absent themselves from the services.

Priests are instructed to commemorate all of the faithful on the diskos at the proskomedia (as I presume is your practice, regardless).

If possible, the service should be webcast on the internet so that the faithful may participate in the prayers, which are themselves a source of grace and consolation. Every effort should be made to provide the faithful with the service texts.

The clergy are to either:

Include the OCA’s petition or prayer in your services, or add into the Great and Augmented Litanies the special petitions from the Molieben in Times of Pestilence (GB of N, vol. IV, pg. 93-94, and 111-112 respectively). In our prayers we should especially remember health-care workers. They are going the bear a heavy burden during this time of trial.

Offer the Molieben entirely following the Divine Liturgy.

Clergy are reminded that they have the primary responsibility of visiting the sick, but should take care not to expose the faithful and others to the virus.

This is not the season of Great Lent we anticipated, but it is nonetheless a fitting Lenten effort: focus on the greater good of our neighbors, recognizing that this initial response to this pandemic will work for the greater good of our faithful and our neighbors. Use this time of “social distancing” for prayer and to keep vigil “in one’s cell.”

Please continue to work through your dean and diocesan leadership to address any particular concerns not covered here, and I will let you know of further directives.

Wishing you strength for the weeks ahead, and assuring you of my prayers,

+ALEXANDER
Bishop of Dallas and the South

I want to note that all those churches are ones for whom Communion is a deeply central aspect of their worship. That’s probably least true of the Methodist Church, but only as a matter of degree. The Eucharistic celebration cannot be done online and it is certainly the center of worship in churches like the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Church. Foregoing it represents a significant sacrifice in those traditions among the faithful.

I wanted to contrast those announcements with the ones I’ve seen from the Baptist Church I attended for years and other local non-denomination evangelical churches I’ve attended or visited at different times. I’ll start with First Baptist Pflugerville from an email titled “NO CANCELLATION.”

Church family,

I know the Coronovirus is a big concern. And I know events and venues of all kinds are being cancelled all over the state, nation, and world. But for those of you who have been asking, WE ARE NOT GOING TO CANCEL CHURCH.

Let’s use our heads. Wash our hands frequently and use hand sanitizer just like we do at other times. Stop touching our faces. Perhaps stop shaking hands and hugging when we greet each other. (We can fist bump, elbow bump, ankle bump, or simply wave.) If we have to cough or sneeze, we should do so into our elbows. But let’s not stop worshipping our Lord together.

If you are not comfortable with coming, then by all means, stay at home. Otherwise, I will see you bright and early at 9:15 for Grow Groups and 10:45 for worship this Sunday!

Proud to be your pastor!

Bro. Steve

P.S. – We have no plans at this time to cancel “any” of our other church activities. If the situation changes, we will let you know.

Again, that appears to be representative of most, if not all, of the white evangelical churches in the area that I’ve interacted with in the past. Most have no mention of COVID-19 on their websites. A very large Austin Baptist Church does have a notice, but is still conducting all services and events in person.

Hyde Park Baptist Church Coronavirus page

In my own personal exploration, I could find just one such local evangelical church that has moved to online services only, Fellowship Church.

Fellowship Church Corona Virus

The US Roman Catholic Bishops have issued this statement. It’s general and they delegate responsibility for decisions about changing or suspending services to the local level.

USCCB Coronavirus Statement

Worship services are times where people regularly gather in close proximity to each other. As this virus moves through our naive (no immunity) population at the rates we have seen in every other country around the world, those gatherings will become major vectors. Moreover, given our complete societal level failure at testing here in the United States, we have little advance warning where the virus is moving. That means, in order to be effective at flattening the otherwise exponential growth curve of infection, distancing measures must be implemented before widespread infection occurs in an area.

I have no insight on ways we can improve our response to this pandemic. The uneven response may be unavoidable, especially given the lies and disinformation being spread at the highest levels of our government and the information that is being withheld or not even collected at all. But religious gatherings are a significant component of life for a great many in the United States, moreso than in some countries. I don’t know how other religious groups are responding, but Christianity collectively remains the largest single religion in the United States. And the indications above are not encouraging ones.

The links in this post will obviously become stale as time proceeds, but I wanted to include them for people to follow in the present moment. If anyone has thoughts or additional information, please share it in the comments.

Take care everyone. Grace and peace.