Hobbies and Interests: Finding Your Passion(s) #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter H post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today I have another lighthearted topic for you. I am going to talk about finding your passions, your hobbies and interests.

I looked over my A to Z posts of last year a few days ago. I found that one of the major goals I set myself in my letter G post was to find a hobby other than blogging that I can do independently. I probably meant a craft, but I feel that other hobbies and interests can become a passion too.

Anything can really be a hobby. You also don’t need to stick to one or two hobbies for life. I mean, of course it can be problematic if you spend lots of money on a hobby that you don’t really like. For example, I spent probably over €1000 on card making supplies over the years, even though it never became a real passion. I probably have spent at least half of that on soaping supplies so far too, but at least I still like that hobby. I’m not great with it and never will be, but oh well.

You don’t need to be talented to find pleasure in a hobby. That being said, feeling you’re good at something and/or getting positive feedback from others, can help you stay motivated.

Anything can be a hobby. It doesn’t have to be art or crafts. It doesn’t have to be music or sports. These are all hobbies that you may enjoy more if you’re good at them. Reading, listening to music or watching movies can be hobbies too and they are things almost everyone can do.

Besides hobbies, your passions can also be interests. Again, anything goes. I have said before that I at one point had an unusual fascination for calendar calculation.

Most people do not find their passions in isolation. They strive to share their hobbies and interests with other people. No, that doesn’t just mean blogging or vlogging about them. (I know I’ve said that I do practically everything I do at least partly with the purpose of blogging about it.) It can also mean sharing with friends. Note that no passion is so weird there’s no-one out there who shares it or is interested in it at least. I mean, calendar calculation is a rather odd interest that no-one in my family or circle of friends shared, but I did enjoy surprising people with my ability. Besides, now, with the Internet, you can be sure to find people who do share your passion online.

Feel free to inspire me and share your passions in the comments.

#AutisticBliss Is…

A few days ago, I came across a discussion on Twitter with the hashtag of #AutisticBliss. I don’t follow many autistic bloggers, so I cannot be sure the conversation has been taken over to WordPress yet. Regardless, I wanted to write a blog post in contribution to the topic. Here are a few things I consider sincere bliss as an autistic person.

1. The sensory room at the day center. I mentioned this in my Twitter reply too. Back when I was trying to prepare for leaving the mental hospital in 2017, I asked my psychologist whether I could try out snoezelen® at the intellectual disability unit. She said I couldn’t, as it is only offered to people with severe intellectual disability. I’m so extremely grateful I ended up attending a day center for people with intellectual disability once kicked out of the hospital. Ever since, I’ve come to very much enjoy the sensory room.

2. My own sensory equipment in my room. When at my first day center after leaving the psych hospital, I discovered an online sensory equipment store while looking for birthday presents for myself. I currently own two lavender-filled, microwave-safe soft toys from that store, one in my room at the care facility and one in our house in Lobith. I also have a lot of soft toys that aren’t specifically sensory. I enjoy my exercise ball too, as well as my essential oil diffuser.

3. Being able to hyperfocus on my special interests. One of the main autistic characteristics I love about myself is my ability to perseverate. I love it when I’m in hyperfocus mode and actually have an interest I’m passionate about.

4. Being able to collect things, particularly if they’re cheap or free. For example, I have at least a dozen books of journaling prompts on my phone. Most were free either on Kindle or in Apple Books. Now that I am more money-conscious than I used to be, I no longer spend as much on my special interest du jour. However, I really love collecting free stuff.

5. Stimming. Especially if I’m happy. Stims were often so discouraged that I struggle to find ones I can engage in for fun, but when I can, that’s utter bliss.

6. Having found my tribe. I love being part of the autistic community. It helps me feel that I belong somewhere.

What surprising aspect of life do you find is utter bliss?

Writer’s Workshop: Collections

This week, one of the Writer’s Workshop prompts over at Mama’s Losin’ It is about things you collect. It definitely appealed to me, as at least as a child an teen, I used to collect a lot. Now I seem to collect things you can use and that I actually intended to use when buying them, but then I end up rarely using them. Does that count as collecting?

As a child, I, like most other children, had a large collection of stuffed animals. I also had a lot of Barbie dolls and such. In particular though, I had lots of PlayMobil® figures and stuff for them. When I was about eleven, I was even gifted a large box of PlayMobil® by someone on a garage sale. I had previously visited the garage sale and bought some of his stuff and by this time he probably wanted to get rid of it all so bad. That plus seeing how much I enjoyed it and came back each time to buy more stuff, probably convinced him to give it all to me. I however did play with it a lot until I was about fourteen. I particularly remember the games I played with some Native American-looking PlayMobil® figures whom I called Ingassa and Maranna. I had no idea at the time what were real Native American names (still don’t to be honest). I would always say these figures came from Costa Rica.

Later, I collected gemstones and crystals. I had some interest in their presumed healing properties, but mostly just liked looking at the colors and feeling their shapes. I had a lot of quartz crystals, including amethyst, rose quartz and citrine. I also loved calcites and had both the green and honey-colored ones. I at age twelve did a large research project on mineralogy. I however had no idea one of my stones was a form of asbestos. When I found out what it was while living on my own in 2007, I almost landed in crisis thinking I or one of my parents would develop cancer from it.

By the time I came to college age, I didn’t really collect anything anymore. I don’t even know where my crystals are, even though I know I had them at my student apartment. I can’t see the colors now anyway, although I at least used to have a file in which I wrote which one was which so may be able to experience some joy from them anyway.

When I was about 25 though, I developed an interest in crafting and started buying craft supplies. For some stupid reason, I started with card making, which is a pretty inaccessible craft for someone who is totally blind. I probably spent over €1000 on supplies before finally giving it up. Then came jewelry-making, polymer clay, rainbow loom and some others, all hard for someone with my disabilities. I finally settled on melt and pour soap making, although I haven’t done this since coming to the care facility. The good part is though, even if my soaps don’t turn out aesthetically well, I can still use them, so I don’t just collect soap stuff for the sake of it.

More recently, I started collecting all kinds of scented stuff. I have a large collection of essential oils at my husband’s and my home. I also have wax melts and of course the fragrance oils I use for soap making. I love those. Still, my diffuser is probably still packed from the move. I need to ask my husband where it is, so I can bring it to the facility.

When I collect something, I’m usually more interested in researching the stuff I collect than actually using it. I loved learning about lotion making when I first started soap making, but I rarely actually made any lotions. I also have a ton of books on aromatherapy (most thankfully free or through my Bookshare subscription), but rarely make any blends. Of course, the reason is partly that I cannot tell how many drops of a particular oil I put into the blend. I would love to ask my staff for some help with this, so that I can make diffuser blends or even massage oils. But first, I need to find my oils and my diffuser, as I don’t want this to end like my card making obsession, where I spend another €1000 (that this time I don’t have) before realizing this isn’t for me.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Unusual Interests: Calendar Calculation and More #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 21 in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I will be writing about my unusual interests. You see, like many autistic people, I tend to have interests that are intense and unusual in focus.

As a child, I was advanced for my age in math. When I was around six, my father taught me to do square and squareroot calculations. He used a set of squares (which were really computer chips) to teach me, laying three in one row and then squaring it to nine. I loved this.

When I was eight and the kids in my class were doing multiplication tables, this would be boring to me, as I had all tables from one to twelve memorized already. To make the activity useful for me anyway, I chose to start with the table of nineteen. Don’t ask me why I skipped thirteen to eighteen, but I did.

When I was a bit older still, I taught myself to do calendar calculation. Most people not familiar with autism I encounter have never even heard of that skill, which is a common savant skill in autistics. It involves calculating on what day a certain date falls. Usually, this skill is presumed to be memory-based, but I actually knew the rules for doing it. I also learned about the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1582 and took those ten days that were skipped into account when working with dates before then. I have a newspaper article from late 1999, which I still treasure, titled something like “the fight about time” in Dutch. It explained why the year 4000, unlike other centennial years divisible by 400, shouldn’t be a leap year. How fascinating!

Later, I developed other “unusual” special interests. For example, I used to draw maps when I was around ten or eleven. I always drew Italy, though I knew a lot about topography in general.

When I was in the psychiatric hospital and touring potential supported housing places, I had no idea about their location, except which trains and buses to use to get there. I wasn’t as good with topography anymore. I at one point had most bus routes in my province memorized from Wikipedia.

Soap: The Fun of Bath and Body Product Making #AtoZChallenge

The First Soap I Made

Welcome to day 19 in the #AtoZChallenge. I’m so excited to share today’s topic, as for today, I will be talking about a special interest of mine.

In the summer of 2016, I discovered soap making. An online friend of mine, who is also blind, had been doing it for years, but I hadn’t given it much thought. Then I decided to buy a starter kit. It contained melt and pour soap base, colorants, fragrance oils, a mold and other supplies you would need. I went about making my first soaps and they turned out okay. I need to say here that I’d tried a ton of other crafting hobbies before, including card making, polymer clay and jewelry making. Though my jewelry turned out okay’ish too, all my other craft projects turned out rubbish. I didn’t notice it at first, so I had some reservations re my soap making too.

The good thing about soap making, is that the result, even if it isn’t visually appealing, can be used. I have several soaps that were too bad for gifting, but I use them in my bathroom.

I cannot make soap completely independently (yet). I have tried, but then my kitchen became a huge mess. However, my soaps usually turn out pretty good if I get some help.

Besides soap, I’ve made body butters and lip balms. I like making those too, but they’re more work. I’ve also tried my hand at body lotions, but they never turned out good. I still would love to make those someday, as their visual appearance isn’t as important as with soaps.

The friend I mentioned above doesn’t use colorants in her soaps. I am still figuring out how to work this thing out, as white soaps don’t appeal as much to sighted people, but with colorants, you have to be careful to match the color and fragrance. I’ve made a few big mistakes in this respect, including a purple soap with coffee fragrance.

Four Skills I’m Pretty Good At #Write31Days

Welcome to day 15 in my #Write31Days challenge on personal growth. Today, I have another list post for you. One of Lisa Shea’s journaling prompts on self-esteem has us write about our skills. What things are you pretty good at? Here goes.

1. Writing. I’m by no means a bestselling author – I have only had one piece of writing published in a book so far. I also make a lot of typeos in my writing. Overall though I consider my writing to be pretty good.

I started writing at about eight-years-old, wanting to become a children’s fiction author once I’d grow up. Now my husband is one of my worst critics when it comes to my children’s fiction, saying my stories aren’t very imaginative to say the least. Then again, when he compliments me on my blog posts, I take it all the more to heart.

2. Calendar calculation. You didn’t know that’s a skill? It is! My husband can’t tell whether October has 30 or 31 day without looking at the calendar, so I’ve got to believe that calendar calculation is a skill. It refers to being able to tell what day a given date in the past or future falls on. I’m not nearly as good at it as I used to be some twenty years ago, but am still pretty good.

3. Researching topics of interest. When a topic captures my interest, I can research it for days on end and will quickly get to know a lot about it. As such, I know a lot about psychiatry – more than some so-called professionals would like me to know. The flip side si that I cannot convert all my knowledge into practice. For example, I know a lot about soap making, but after those first few attempts, I haven’t tried making soap on my own again.

4. Relating to other people in a unique way. Particularly to people with cognitive, intellectual or developmental disabilities. I consider myself pretty good at relating to my fellow clients at day activities. As such, I have been known to come up with some ideas for sensory activities.

What skills are you pretty good at?

Dear Autism Parents: On Unconditional Acceptance

I just read an essay in What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew and it touches home with me. In it, the author, Haley Moss, mainly describes how she feels parents need to ucnonditionally accept their autistic daughters. She particularly emphhasizes the need to support the girls’ special interests even if they’re not age-appropriate or girly. Boy, do I want to tell my parents this. It’s too late now, as I’m 32 and have half a lifetime of conditional love behind me already.

Moss herself too was encouraged to develop age- and gender-appropriate interests as a child. She recounts a fourth grade memory of being advised to trade her rare cards for Bratz dolls. I have no idea what they are, but I remember in fifth or sixth grade also being encouraged by my mother (in not so subtle ways) to trade my Barbie dolls for pop music CDs. After all, Barbie dolls may be girly but they’re not deemed appropirate for an eleven-year-old.

The negative effects of one such incident, like Moss experienced, can be undone by a greater occurrence of open acceptance of the autistic’s special interests. For example, Moss’ paretns eventually affirmed her interest in video games. In this respect, I felt generally okay about my interests in fifth and sixth grade, because, though my mother did not support my playing with Barbie dolls, my father did support my drawing maps.

As a general rule though, I have commonly felt only conditionally accepted by my parents. This is reflected in constant victim-blaming when I was bullied. They were at least somewhat consistent in that, in that at least my father spoke negatively about the intellectually disabled girl whom I bullied too. Of course, he set an example of ableism by doing this as much as my parents did by victim-blaming me.

When I went into college to major in applied psychology, I still got my parents’ reluctant approval. After all, though my major wasn’t that well-liked by them and my college wasn’t as prestigious as they had wanted for me, it still was college. Since having experienced my breakdown in 2007, it’s pretty clear my parents are not there for me anymore. That’s sad, but it’s true.

The saddest part about What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew is, unfortunately, that those parents who most need to hear the messages in it, will not read it. My parents don’t even think I’m autistic despite my having been officially diagnosed half a dozen times. Other parents may’ve gotten the diagnosis but choose to join the likes of Autism Speaks and shout “You are not like my child!” at every autistic adult trying to educate them about acceptance. That’s so sad. However, if some parents are helped by this blog post or by the book in showing unconditional acceptance to their children, that’s already good.