One of the things I like best about taking folks out Forest Bathing is getting to know my people. At the end of a recent experience, I asked Nate if he would write an article on his journey with mindfulness while living on the spectrum. Boy am I glad I did! Thank you, Nate, for sharing your story and building understanding. You’re the best! And readers, don’t forget to comment.
Disclaimer, my experiences are mine and should not be attributed to those also on the Autism Spectrum. While similarities can be found in many people on the spectrum, every individual’s experience is unique.
The world that we live in is a scary one, with unpredictability under every stone and sweaty brow. My name is Nate, and I am living on the Autism Spectrum. It’s a pleasure to ‘meet’ you! My mindfulness journey was born out of necessity, as mental health across every socioeconomic population was declining. Turns out that humans don’t do very well with a global pandemic and mandatory 24/7 stay-at-home orders, with an assumption that things would get better in a couple of months. A couple years later, society has for the most part, moved on and headed back into the office.
The stage I’ve set to represent that particular time seems quite bleak, that’s precisely why I gave mindfulness a shot. The ability to slow down in today’s fast paced world can seem like such a privilege, but please hear me out. Meditation in my mind was a serene and quiet time, where I was supposed to sit a certain way, think about nothing, and expected to feel great afterwards. Or at least I expected myself to feel great afterwards. Somehow, finding a comfy position just breathing with me, myself, and I seemed daunting, and slightly uninviting. How can I afford to waste time sitting here when I have xyz to do?
It only takes a few mindfulness sessions to have lasting effects, for me it was about the third time, and that’s not just because I have a thing for sets of 3. I noticed instances where I expected to not have a great time in an overstimulating sensory environment, I was able to take hold of my spiraling thoughts and prevent them from taking me down the drain with it, sparing myself from sensory overloads, and subsequent meltdowns. I’d realized I now have a tool in my day-to-day toolkit, which can be improved upon over time.
Obviously, you can’t practice mindfulness and then stop, expecting to reap the same benefits. Its practice requirements mimic riding a bicycle, given enough time without practice, you start to forget the skill, but it’s quite easy to get back into the saddle and know what you are doing. I’m quite far from representing the perfect human specimen. I’ve gone long stretches of time without mindfulness, however when I intend to be mindful, concentrating requires minimal effort. Mindfulness has become a staple in my life, right up there with making sure I get outside of the house more than once per day (I work remotely). I need that delicious sunlight as much as I need the peace from a quiet mind.
I can confidently say that I’ve changed dramatically in the last 2 years because of mindfulness. I had very little understanding, much less awareness of what was going on within my body and brain. I lack a great sense of what is going on in my body, a lack of proprioception. Stomach aches mean different things to other people, I found out, when I can sense pain in the general area of my torso, I have to physically poke around to discern what the culprit organ is. Others have informed me that this is indeed not the case for them, and instead, they can just “know” which organ is unhappy.
Another fun fact about me, which can be shared among those with the ‘tism’, is challenges reading social cues, which in my case lead to social anxiety. Instances of being misunderstood by others and then silently panicking about it later led me to being a social recluse for some time. Working from home was also a great and noteworthy contributor to my lack of social contact. Turns out not talking to any humans isn’t the best for your health. Practicing mindfulness, combined with CBT therapy, helped calm me down in situations where I previously felt the need to escape and hunker down for the incoming meltdown.
The mindfulness journey is worth it, and just like anything worth it, one needs to put in the time and work to see their return-on-investment. I’ve noticed the more I practice, the more comfortable I am existing in this world, at a slower pace, within my own lack of expectations for myself, and overall, at least 10% happier than 2 years ago. Society’s status quo calls for hustle, grit, and quite frankly an obscene amount of stress. This correlates nicely with the increasing number of people experiencing mental health issues, it’s no secret that using social media alone can provide negative mental consequences. If this trend continues into the future, I would expect an increase in demand for mindfulness, or at least the need. There are workplaces around the world that offer benefits including mindfulness resources, as well as time to practice during the day. Perhaps some day we will be privileged enough to see a decrease in people just existing, and instead an increase in people thriving.
Thanks for reading, and I hope my short story resonated with you!