Author Archives: Brigid Rankowski

Choking on Words

There are many times we are victims of our emotions. As someone with mood disorders, I know first hand our bodies will occasionally act independently from our brains and mouths. Recently, I’ve been seriously struggling with my depression and crippling anxiety. My sleep pattern has been completely wrecked, I’ve been very unpredictably sad at random times, and my eating pattern is similar to The Very Hungry Caterpillar on Saturday when it eats everything in sight.
This past week, I’ve consciously stepped back from some things to get more control over myself. The biggest challenge for me has always been awareness and catching things before I get too overwhelmed or meltdown. My pattern for dealing with these bouts has gotten pretty defined into several steps.

Reflect- What has not been working for me?
            – What have I been wanting to do but have not actively made time to do?
            – How do I feel when I (insert activity here)

Remind- When are some times you have felt really happy?
            – What relationships matter to you?
            – When do you feel the most complete?

Resolve- What can I do today to make me happy?
             – What needs to change so I can avoid going into a mentally unhealthy place?
             – Make a clear plan to address the roadblocks.

At these times, it’s a struggle to clearly express myself. Words get muddled with letters drying up on my tongue. Fingers move over keys only to write words to sentences never thought of or half imagined. This explains part of the recent absence from this blog. The other part of my absence has been dealing with a lot of interpersonal issues and those things clouding my writing. Luckily, things are changing. Noticing my problems is the second most important step in changing them.

Accepting that things are a problem and resolving to change them is the most important step

This week I’ve been more in touch with my spirituality and this has helped me center myself by being in the present. I’ve been able to hang out with some wonderful people in person which allows me to be social in easy to handle environments. Planning for epic roadtrips and weddings has already begin which makes me very hopeful for the future.

My emotions will always come with me on these adventures as they can help to enhance the trips. However, wherever I go I’m going to be the one in the driver’s seat. My emotions can ride shotgun if they want and control the music, but not backseat driving is allowed.

Homemade Weighted Pads (with pictures)

I LOVE my weighted blanket. It was a gift to myself for my birthday last year and even though it was bought from a seller on Etsy, it was still expensive. The homemade option sometimes seems daunting and involving way more sewing skills than I have. Below, you will find a very simple set of instructions to make your own inexpensively.  Some of these ingredients, like dishcloths, can be purchased at dollar store or thrift store.

TIP: Make sure you like the feeling of the cloth if you are making this for yourself. Also of note, I used rice for this activity but dried beans also work.

I’ll post more on modifications after the activity.

You will need:

1 Dishcloth (I prefer 100% cotton)
Hot Glue gun and hot glue sticks
Bag of Rice
1 Bowl
1 Cup/scoop like tool to move rice

Instructions:

1. Plug in Hot Glue Gun in a safe location.

2. Lay the dishcloth on a flat and clean surface.
*Note* You will want to work close to where the glue gun is plugged in.

3. Carefully open bag of rice and pour into bowl.

4. Scoop rice onto dishcloth until you have the weight you want.

I ate most of my rice this week, so this is NOT the amount you want to use.

*Note* You will still need to be able to fold over the dishcloth so the sides meet so don’t overfill it.

5. Fold over the sides, either length wise or width wise, so they meet.

Rice is still in there!

6. Carefully seal the edges using the hot glue.

7. ENJOY!

A finished one (with a LOT more rice in it)!

Using a dishcloth is a simple way to make a lightweight pad. You can use it on any body part as a way to apply deep pressure. If you want to make some different ones or heavier ones, check out the modifications below.

Modifications:
If you want to make a heavier one using MUCH more rice than a standard dishcloth can hold, use a pillowcase! Reinforce the opening of the case by sealing the opening, folding the opening over and sealing the fold with hot glue. I prefer to put these inside a second pillowcase, with the seal facing inside, to add an even greater level of reinforcement.

Some people may want to add essential oils, such as lavender, to increase the relaxation effect of the pad. Add a small amount of the oil to the bowl of rice before you add rice to the bag.

I’m still working on seeing what other non-food items can be used to make these as I have an idea to use metal washers, but I haven’t done enough weight/price comparison to see if it is beneficial.

Resolve to Grow

If years have personal themes, 2015 was The Year of Healing.

2016 is shaping up to be The Year of Growth.

It’s only the 4th day of the year, but I’ve been working on things for awhile to set them into motion this week. The next few months will involve 2 different dance classes a week, 2 different circus classes a week, and a good amount of freelance work. THIS is what I’ve been working towards.

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When I perform, even if it’s only for a few moments there have been WEEKS of preparation leading up to that point. Ask any performer and they’d tell you the same. Hours of practice is what you see boiled down to the length of a song. Practice is fundamental to paving the way to success. We can’t expect to pick up a skill in one day and we can’t expect to run a company in one afternoon. I’ve seen people get discouraged when they do not instantly become proficient in an area. Be it public speaking, acting, cooking, or anything really, it takes TIME as well as drive.

The good news is we have time.
We have 24 hours every single day.

When I was very sick this fall, I’d sleep at least 12 hours a day. This didn’t even factor in eating, working, or doing human things like showering. Yet I continued to work, even a few minutes at a time, on improving my skills.

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My wish for you all in 2016 is to grow. I’ve seen many people reflect on how difficult 2015 was for them. Speaking from personal experience, don’t let things that happened to you affect your potential. You are better than the things that happened to you. Learn from them and grow in the direction YOU want, unhindered by others.

What have you been wanting to do for yourself? What limitations, either real or imagined, have you placed on achieving these things? What can you do today to move you in a forward direction?

The Longest Night

Last night we redesigned constellations and danced with fire.
We sat on the floor talking about our hopes and dreams and brighter tomorrows.
Our thoughts and hearts were filled with the hope of the new sun in the coming year.
Dreams are becoming reality.

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The universe has been kind to me and is helping put the pieces of my life together recently. It’s not nearly seeming as forced as my attempts were in the fall, before surgery, so it feels more organic without being forced. This blog is going to go through some transformation pretty soon, including a new URL, but it wasn’t the number 1 priority for the past few weeks which explains the silence. I do have some wonderful news to share about all the things in the works and what this means for me.

I’m already actively booking programming for 2016 focusing on various aspects of art and movement. A part of this involves my recent acceptance as part of the Maine Arts Commission’s  PK-12 Teaching Artists Roster. This means I’ll be available to create both after-school programming AND teach classes during the school day.

I’ll also be working the Flow Arts Institute to write articles about disability, health, and wellness related to the spinning arts in the upcoming year.

Rumors of a book (or two) have some weight are also in the works with some brilliant collaborators.

For those concerned about my health, despite multiple setbacks my doctors continue to note my recovery progress with the most recent milestone reached this week of laying on my stomach while on a solid surface.

My performance life is being revitalized with a few “Sparks” of creativity helping pull me out of a lull. Even with health issues, there have been new skills being worked on in a little wooden cabin in the woods of Maine. Some wonderful collaborations are in the works with the local performance community and possibly the entire New England art community.

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The winter solstice is the longest night of the year. It’s a time of reflection and optimism as we look at the growth of the past few seasons.  My solstice was celebrated with friends who have really helped me thrive in the past few years personally, professionally, and creatively. Next week will be more of a personal ‘year in review’ post, but for now I’ll leave you with the professional things to look forward to in my life.

Point and Click Social Life

When I was growing up, I played a series of computer games by a company called Purple Moon. These games were interactive social stories where the main character, Rocket, would have to navigate difficult social situations. If you made a mistake, there were options to go back and try to correct your actions. One thing I did learn, it was actually impossible in the game to make friends with everyone.

Honestly, there is no downplaying how important those games were to my development.
Now, I’m enjoying playing puzzle games and ones that are visually stunning (like Bioshock:Infinite).

I do however wish there were speech bubbles in my real life to select what to say at certain times. It’s continuing to be a combination of balancing act and detective work to figure out how to be my personal version of healthy. As some people know from personal experience, you may want to be social but not have the energy to put into the social activity. Last night I pushed myself a bit to hard after a week of physical exertion, sinus infection, and deadlines. I will say, even though I’m spending most the day in recovery mode, it was an amazing evening for a good cause.

Social skills are not my area of expertise because they are not formulaic. A friend of mine is working as a political canvasser and has a “hook” they say to try to people walking by to attract interest in signing the petitions. They see first hand the same line doesn’t work on everyone. Some people won’t respond to you, no matter how hard you try. To me, being authentic is more important than being well liked.  In life there is no “back” button, only the ability to make a different choice every second of our day.

To the Plane!

After a very rough recovery from surgery last month, I’m finally medically cleared and back on my feet (in a way). When you are stuck in bed with only your thoughts, a lot of random pieces can suddenly make sense. Things have a way of working out and it looks like things will be working out for me on a couple levels. Specific blog posts about that to come.

This week, I will be presenting at OCALI in Columbus Ohio. Thursday I will be presenting in two sessions.

Personal Perspective on Bullying: Awareness and Advocacy.
Thursday 8am-9:15am

We Are The Autistic Global Initiative Young Leaders
Thursday 2:45-4pm

I’ll be around the entire conference and would love to meet up with people. I am horrible at facial recognition, so please feel free to come up to me and introduce yourself.

I’ve also recently been on a bit of a hiatus since the Autism Society of America Conference due to health reasons, but I look forward to moving forward with projects. There are a few emails I still need to respond to about writing and presenting, but if you are interested in working with me in the future feel free to send me a message. I’m currently already planning workshops, presentations, and teaching sessions into the next year.

There are risks involved

I’ve been noticeably absent from this blog for a bit. A few months ago I started to be in pain and the pain only got worse. It’s prevented me from working, socializing, and at times just walking across my apartment to get myself water. This isn’t a “new” pain and the only course of action to remedy the situation is surgery.

I go in tomorrow morning for surgery.

For the past 2+ months, I’ve not been able to lead my life the way I want. Specifically, it’s prevented me from physical activities and requires me to spend enormous amounts of time hibernating in my bed under a hot water bottle. When your body fails you, it leaves you plenty of time to think. Thinking can be both a good thing and a negative thing. In general, it’s easy for me to get lost in my thoughts. When all I’m surrounded by is my thoughts, it’s really important to be kind to myself.

There are, of course, risks with surgery. Speaking honestly, there are a lot of risks with my life. Fire spinning comes with multiple risks. Fire breathing comes with even more. Even choosing to drive cross country in the winter by myself comes with risks. I’m fine with risks.

It’s been a tough few months with managing to keep my spirits up and trying my best to function. Some things, specifically career wise, have fallen to the sidelines. Prioritizing my health has not been easy, but it’s been necessary. If I want be be active and do the things I love for another 50+ years, I do need to make my health my #1 priority. I owe it to myself and to the people who care about me.

So tomorrow, if you have any spare thoughts I’d appreciate one being sent my way.

Transitions are rough

Historically speaking, Septembers have been rough for me. Moving from Summer to Fall has always signaled large transitions and I’m not the best at transitioning.

Yes, I literally teach a course in the subject.
No, I don’t like the actual act of transitioning.

There’s a blog post in the queue, but it was brought to my attention today is Suicide Awareness and Prevention day. That deserves a blog all on its own.

It was almost a year to the day where I was very very hopeless. Beaten down, no vision of the future, and feeling very depressed I wrote a note. At this point, I really thought no one would miss me. My so-called “friends” were treating me horribly based on my disability and this compounded my depression. There are times I wish not for my wiring to be different, but I wish for less difficulty with social interactions. I wish people would understand ME.

It was pretty much a perfect storm of trouble.

Luckily, there were people in my life who threw me a life preserver.

Last September, I chose homelessness over suicide and I’ve never regretted the choice.
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The biggest thing I’d like to tell younger Brigid is “people want to help you.” In those moments of darkness, it’s often difficult to see other people through our own fog. My concerns were of being a burden so it took people literally telling me, “you are worth being treated well” for me to understand they were being kind. Kindness was a foreign concept and one able to heal many wounds.

For those who struggle with depression and suicidal idealization, please know people want to help you. There are hot-lines staffed 24/7 so there are anonymous people to talk to and your friends, your true friends, will always be there for you.
Know you are worth the many conversations and reassurances.
Know you make the world a better place by your existance.
Understand the leaves will change and our situations will as well, hopefully for the better.
Know, you matter.

Lamps

I have to deal with a Lamp on a regular basis. Now, this is not really a lamp. Instead it is a person who I have the same amount of emotional connection to as I would to a lamp.

It’s a survival trait long since carried on since childhood.
I’ve getting very skilled at it.

Now Lamps generally exist in one place and sometimes they get in our way. Certain Lamps may emit a high pitch buzzing which you have to deal with, even though you wish the Lamp was silent like all other lamps. There is always going to be a Lamp around somewhere so it’s not worth upsetting yourself over their existence. Lamps do have a place in the world and are useful to some.

I point out Lamps to make it clear I am capable of emotional detachment. It’s just something I’ve always done and I know of others on the spectrum who are equally skilled at turning people into Lamps. Lamps are people who have had a direct negative impact on my mental and physical health. This is the golden rule for me to turn people into Lamps.

That being said, people don’t tend to understand it. I honestly don’t understand if other people just walk around the world the world with invisible bags of emotions weighing them down. Do people really continue to hold grudges from years ago based on perceived slights? Doesn’t that cause you to be more emotionally drained while never really affecting the other person in the slightest? How, and most importantly why, would you regulate your emotions to the point where you don’t even listen to your own emotional compass when interacting with someone who clearly disregards your well-being?

I don’t have the interest or energy to try to navigate those social/emotional obstacle courses.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”- Nelson Mandela

It genuinely confuses me when people invalidate my experiences by attributing my behaviors to some past emotional context. The ironic thing is this only ever happens when I provide solid facts which cannot be manipulated with emotions. Some facts, like rules, exist independently of an emotional context. Yes, the speed limit is still 35 MPH even when you are in a bad mood.

 Translation of very recent conversation;

Me, “Hey, it’s starting to rain.” (Calmly standing by as the skies open and buckets of water begin to drench everything not covered)
Them, “Why are you making this about your past emotional trauma?!” (As they stand out sopping wet in the rain.)
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Back from my adventures, it’s become glaringly obvious some people just don’t understand me. I have the emotional fortitude and skill, after months of hard work, to not live in the emotional past. The injustices and trauma from the past year have lost their fresh “sting” over the course of time. Part of it may be giving a presentation on Bullying at a national conference in front of a room full of both friends and strangers. Part of it is also just acknowledging life has its fair share of Lamps and we must do our best to navigate gracefully around all the power-cords.

I’m not (completely) coming back

Before this trip I’m on now, I’ve spent the past few months working 60+ hour weeks to keep my head above water and afford this month away from home.

I’m not going back to that.

There are literally not enough hours in the day to get all the work done as well as take care of myself and plan for my future. Certain things, like my health and projects I’ve wanted to do, were put on hold as I simply put one foot in front of the other. This trip was the light at the end of the tunnel and there is no way I plan to go back into the darkness.

I’ve been offered a few jobs that will allow me to work smarter, not harder. These opportunities are based on my skill set, experience in the autism field, and my passion of helping others. I’ll be able to continue living the life I have, but with “free time” and even *gasp* weekends off. Yes, the concept of a ‘day off’ is something that has eluded me for the past 2 years. I’m so happy that I’ll also be able to put time and energy into creating the movement based programing. Hey, I’ll actually have energy!

I realized the life I had been leading was nothing I could maintain after sleeping an average of 14 hours a day all last week. It also wasn’t making me fully happy. In many ways, I was going through the motions because it was easier than trying to change things in the midst of chaos. Colorado gave me the must needed distance to look at my priorities and how to achieve those.

The other thing that needs to change, which I was told about by my friends on multiple occasions, is I need to start valuing myself. I work really hard, I help others, and I do a bunch of really awesome things with my life. It takes energy to to these things and in some ways my humility of thinking “well, anyone would do what I do” has gotten me into trouble. It’s lead to people taking advantage of me and has put an unhealthy reliance on external validation.

It’s not about comparing my own personal achievements to those of anyone else, it’s that standing alone my life speaks volumes. For too many years people told me I can’t do things or things would never be possible for me. I’ve ingrained some of those thoughts and it’s time I realize I’ve proven them, and more importantly myself, wrong. I’m strong, powerful, and talented.

It’s time I remember who I am as I work towards the bright future.