Saturday, September 07, 2013

A feast of body and soul...

I am so bloody exhausted that I shall, for once, use an economy of words.  [Go ahead and snicker.]

This afternoon, my friend Marie came over for a visit, a cooking fest, and to spend the night since her husband is out of town at a wedding.  We feasted.  I was fed body and soul.

When she first arrived, we plowed right into making (and then eating) Grilled Eggplant with Balsamic Vinegar, Feta, and Grilled Baguette.  This is my second time making this wicked bit of delight, and while we still did not ultimately grill the bread, we did decide to toast it on broil.  This amazing dish is worlds better with the toasted bread.  Knowing how much Marie like to learn about cooking, I had her do the entire recipe herself.  The result was rather heavenly.

Afterwards, we spent copious amounts of time digesting and talking.

Knowing we were also going to be cooking my Raspberry Chipotle Baked Chicken and her Corn with Cheese and Lime (a recipe she hunted down after learning of my rather unexpected and inexplicable hankering or lime things), I had been rather reluctant to bring up the idea of making a dessert.  Marie, thankfully, already had some things in mind, so I rested in the GREEN chair perusing some recipes in which she was interested.

The bottom line is that her first desire was to try Peanut Butter and Nutella Cheesecake Bars, a recipe she spotted on a favorite cooking blog of hers.  Whilst everything else in the recipe was crying out for me to join her in choosing it for our dessert, I am not partial to Oreo cookies.  Not. At. All.  [UGH]  So, I suggested that were I making it I would automatically change the recipe to a graham cracker crust.  But I went on to look at some of the other recipes on the blog.  The thing is, Marie really wanted to try the bars and was willing to forego her own tastiness (give up the Oreo crust) so that I could have mine. Mid-way through our digesting and talking, I suddenly got the idea to make the dessert as if it were pizza!

You see, mostly, I simply prefer a cheese pizza.  So, over the years, I have become quite free in ordering half a cheese pizza for me and half whatever else my dining guest would like.  I realized that we could make half the crust Oreo and half graham cracker.

After absorbing this Great Culinary Dilemma Epiphany, Marie and I went to the store to fetch the missing ingredients ... and to pick up a few other items.  On the drive over, I asked if she would like to get a bottle of wine.  I rarely drink, but a bottle of wine is just not something a single person would polish off.  Marie was rather open to the idea.

Paul and Marie spent their vicarage in California, so she rather conveniently picked up some knowledge about grape.  This was rather timely because my beloved Fetzer was nowhere to be seen.  After quizzing me about my wine preferences, which are admittedly small, Marie said she thought I would like a savon blanc.  Since her preferred brand was not there, we literally chose the wine by name:  Cupcake.  A GREEN bottle was a close second, but I had picked most whimsical name as my criteria for choosing.  The wine was rather tasty, but it has a smell that is rather off-putting to me.  It made me want to try another brand to see if it was the vineyard or the grape that I found disconcerting.  I, of course, had no real problem drinking 3 glasses (smaller ones).

Whilst cooking the chicken, corn, and dessert, Marie and I danced about the kitchen, going from recipe to recipe, calling out orders to each other to tackle the next bit of instructions.  For the record, I had nothing to do with the corn other than to get out my ceramic corn dishes and then some corn holders ... and wish we had more than just two ears of corn.  Oh, my!  How I enjoyed my first example of grilled corn!

Marie and I talked long hours, cooked four tasty items, and had the most enjoyable, most normal day I have had in years!  One of the things we talked about was my next entry on the blog about sexual abuse, First Lesson on Trauma and the Brain.  In a way, Marie has been a large impetus behind why I wanted to write about this difficult subject for me.

You see, when I met her last summer when they were staying in the basement living space, Marie talked about her autism awareness work.  One of her points was that there are perfectly sound and logical reasons behind a lot of autistic and/or aspergers symptoms.  She want to help others learn—especially those who are teachers and caregivers for autistic children or those with asperger's—the whys and wherefores of those behaviors and symptoms, so that when a teacher or care giver is faced with them, he or she will 1) accept the child and 2) work to imagine what it must be like to walk in the child's shoes.

So many people, friends and family fail to study and learn about loved ones who have been sexually abused. Marie posited that if society would take the time to learn about Autism/Asperber's, then it truly would make for better lives for those who are struggling with these condition.  Their choices and behavior would shift from strange or weird to understandable.

For example, Autism Speaks has a packet for parents with newly diagnosed children: The 100 Day Kit.  I went through it for a friend and noted one particular piece with great interest:  Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew.

Four of them stand out to me.

My senses are out of sync. This means that ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches that you may not even notice can be downright painful for me. My environment often feels hostile. I may appear withdrawn or belligerent or mean to you, but I’m just trying to defend myself. Here’s why a simple trip to the grocery store may be agonizing for me.

My hearing may be hyperacute. Dozens of people jabber at once. The loudspeaker booms today’s special. Music blares from the sound system. Registers beep and cough, a coffee grinder chugs. The meat cutter screeches, babies wail, carts creak, the fluorescent lighting hums. My brain can’t filter all the input and I’m in overload!

My sense of smell may be highly sensitive. The fish at the meat counter isn’t quite fresh, the guy standing next to us hasn’t showered today, the deli is handing out sausage samples, the baby in line ahead of us has a poopy diaper, they’re mopping up pickles on aisle three with ammonia. I feel like throwing up.

And there’s so much hitting my eyes! The fluorescent light is not only too bright, it flickers. The space seems to be moving; the pulsating light bounces off everything and distorts what I am seeing. There are too many items for me to be able to focus (my brain may compensate with tunnel vision), swirling fans on the ceiling, so many bodies in constant motion. All this affects how I feel just standing there, and now I can’t even tell where my body is in space. 

Distinguish between won’t (I choose not to) and can’t (I am not able to).
It isn’t that I don’t listen to instructions. It’s that I can’t understand you. When you call to me from across the room, I hear “*&^%$#@, Jordan. #$%^*&^%amp;*.” Instead, come over to me, get my attention, and speak in plain words: “Jordan, put your book in your desk. It’s time to go to lunch.” This tells me what you want me to do and what is going to happen next. Now it’s much easier for me to comply.

Listen to all the ways I’m trying to communicate.
It’s hard for me to tell you what I need when I don’t have a way to describe my feelings. I may be hungry, frustrated, frightened, or confused but right now I can’t find those words. Be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation or other signs that tell you something is wrong. They’re there.

Or, you may hear me compensate for not having all the words I need by sounding like a little professor or movie star, rattling off words or whole scripts well beyond my developmental age. I’ve memorized these messages from the world around me because I know I am expected to speak when spoken to. They may come from books, television, or the speech of other people. Grown-ups call it echolalia. I may not understand the context or the terminology I’m using. I just know that it gets me off the hook for coming up with a reply.

Identify what triggers my meltdowns.
Meltdowns and blow-ups are more horrid for me than they are for you. They occur because one or more of my senses has gone into overload, or because I’ve been pushed past the limit of my social abilities. If you can figure out why my meltdowns occur, they can be prevented. Keep a log noting times, settings, people, and activities. A pattern may emerge.

Remember that everything I do is a form of communication. It tells you, when my words cannot, how I’m reacting to what is happening around me. My behavior may have a physical cause. Food allergies and sensitivities sleep problems and gastrointestinal problems can all affect my behavior. Look for signs, because I may not be able to tell you about these things.

These are things that people can learn, just like the steps of CPR or the Stages of Grief.  Understanding the heightened sensitivities, the internal chaos, the communication barriers, and triggers of any autistic person would go a long way toward leaning how to best serve your neighbor.

Think about an overly tired toddler.  When one gets that way, he or she may be too tired to sleep, but yet fractious from lack of rest.  So often have I heard about this.  Knowing it can happen, people are often more tolerant of a toddler having a meltdown because he or she is exhausted.  The toddler is not in charge of his body, nor can she communicate her needs to clearly and accurately.  This is the same with autistic children, yet often they are blamed for poor behavior that is not willfully-based, but rather part and parcel to the disorder.  In a way, the autistic child enmeshed in his behavior is in no more control than the child having a temporary.  And, yet, they are normal.

While we were talking, I explained the passages I chose for my First Lesson on Trauma and the brain. I found it freeing being able to talk about hard things.  I found it freeing to be treated as normal, rather than a walking disease or condition.

Such incredible mercy heaped upon me this day by my Good Shepherd, through His servant Marie!   Such mercy.

I am Yours, Lord. Save me!

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