Taking Back “Empowerment”

“Empowerment” is a word that actually has some ties to trauma for me. It’s been used as a buzzword and bastardized to the point where it’s a limitation rather than a true source of power.

I’ve been struggling with this a lot over the past couple of weeks. It didn’t help that a close friend of my husband’s died unexpectedly. Nothing hurts quite like seeing the person you love most in the world experiencing soul-crushing pain and not being able to do anything to help. All I could do was let my husband grieve, validate his grief, and remind him that I am here for whatever I can give.

So, empowerment.

What gives me power?

What is it that makes me feel like I can move mountains whenever I want to?

It’s being able to say, “Yes.”

Yes to taking rest when I need it.

Yes to helping people when it is within my abilities to do so.

Yes to knowing that I helped someone have a better day because I had the means, skills, or knowledge they needed.

Yes to being able to join communities and movements that are working to make the world a better place.

Yes to good results.

Yes to achievement, no matter what the size.

Yes to being good to myself without feeling guilt or shame.

Yes to being able to give my family good things and good experiences.

Yes to seeing that the world is not a zero-sum game, and we can all win.



Tears of Joy?

It was really difficult for me to think of a time when I had cried tears of joy. Most of the time that I cry when I’m happy, my tears are tears of relief rather than joy.

I did think of a time that I did cry tears of joy. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is my story.

My Cherry Blossom (not her real name, of course) and I are both autistic. I didn’t get a formal diagnosis until I was put through testing just as CB had been two years previously. It explained a lot about me, and it highlighted how every flavor of autism is different.

I didn’t know that CB was neurodivergent until she lost her words. She started saying simple words at around nine months, but by the time she was two years old, all of that was gone. She was mute, and she communicated by gesticulation and grunting, and by hitting or kicking me whenever she got frustrated.

After CB was diagnosed, a local organization helped us get copies of Signing Time and Baby Signing Time for free. It turned out that verbal speech and ASL use different neural pathways, so while CB was in speech therapy to relearn how to talk with her voice, we were able to learn some signs in ASL together so that she could be heard even without spoken words.

Things progressed, and as CB was able to use more spoken words, we used ASL less and less (which is sad, because it is a great language that should have more fluent speakers).

I remember the first time she called me Mama. It was unexpected, and it was beautiful.

I cried.

It may have been vain.

It might have been selfish.

I own it.

CB was my only child then, and I thought I would never have any other children back then.

I had wanted to be a mother all of my life, and to hear the word I didn’t know if I would ever hear again was miraculous, and I felt joy that she called me by my name again.

CB now talks a lot. She still has a lot of challenges, but she’s smart, and I believe in her. I believe that she will achieve anything she wants to achieve, even it takes her longer than other children.

CB relearned how to speak because she wanted to be able to speak, and I am proud of her for her hard work.

And I am selfishly joyful she calls me “Mom.”

I can live with that.


We interrupt this series of introspection for a change!

While I’ve been working on the exercises in Jenna Kutcher’s book, How Are You, Really, I was inspired to make a change. I’ve been waiting for all of my hair to turn gray so that I can experiment with bright, fun colors. I’ve tried using dyes meant for dark hair (my hair is naturally a dark variant of Titian that looks straight-up red in bright sunlight), but the results have been disappointing.

Due to some recent, unexpected, and heartbreaking losses in my circle of friends, I realized that life is way too short for me to wait for my hair to turn gray all over before I do what I want to do.

So I bleached out my hair using a bleach from Feria that was supposed to lighten my hair to platinum without damaging it. While my hair was not damaged by the bleach, it stunk to high heaven and fell somewhat short of the promised platinum. It was nearly there, but apparently my hair was considerably darker than I thought it was, and it took me back to having hair a color I hadn’t had in at least 30 years. I went from Titian to Venetian!

I wasn’t done, though. I didn’t want to be a bleach blonde–I wanted to be a peacock! To that end, I gave my hair a couple of days to recover from bleaching, then used Manic Panic Atomic Turquoise, carefully following the instructions. While I wasn’t impressed with the consistency of the product or how my hair felt after I rinsed it out, the color is pretty nice. My husband and my daughters love my new color, too, and that makes me feel even happier that I did this!

On the minus side, I’ll probably have to invest in a deep conditioning mask or two to return my hair to its previous softness and shine, but that’s not something unusual after bleaching and dyeing one’s hair. The part that perplexes me is that the bleaching process wasn’t what dried out my hair or made it dull!

As for future coloring, I’ll probably go back to using Overtone when I can afford it. It is more expensive, but the consistency is better, and it does a better job of moisturizing hair while it colors. I might give Strawberry Leopard and/or Arctic Fox a try, though. I have more options now that my hair is lighter.


What Makes Me Snort-Laugh?

It’s kind of difficult to explain precisely what causes me to laugh so hard that I snort, but I can tell you who is the usual source of laughter that strong: my husband. We have a very similar sense of humor, and we can get into a groove where we have each other absolutely rolling with laughter. Some of our best nights involve laughing together while we watch a show. We also stay connected during the day by sharing funny memes. I think being able to laugh together and laugh hard makes our bond even stronger than it would be otherwise.


I Got Rage Every Day On the Inside

The next question Jenna Kucher asks in How Are You, Really is “What fills you with rage?”

As it turns out, there are a lot of things that fill me with rage. The biggest one, though, is that we live in a world where labor has no value unless it actually brings in money instead of just saving money.

I get up early every day to make breakfast from scratch for my family. I also usually make lunch for our family, unless we’ve decided to get pizza. (We usually get enough of it to cover both lunch and supper.) Then I make snacks and supper for my family.

Up until I was able to get my teenager to learn how to use the washer and dryer, I was handling all of the laundry duties myself. When the clothes are dry, I sort them and put away all but my teenager’s clothes. (She’s very good about putting her own clothes away.)

I also take care of my children all day instead of putting them in daycare, which would cost us extra money. My toddler is having a hard time listening to her body, so we’re still working on potty training. Up until a month ago, our school district’s preschool wasn’t even free for local students, but now that it is, the prospective students have to be fully potty trained to be enrolled, and enrollment ended in June. My teenager is mostly less work, but she also has autism, so that presents separate challenges, such as how long it took to teach her to use the washer and dryer.

The bulk of housekeeping falls to me as well, as I am unable to work outside of our home due to my multiple disabilities, including being legally blind. This is fair, because my husband works full-time and earns an income to pay the bills. He does take care of the yard and sweeping and mopping or vacuuming the floors once a week, and he does a wonderful job. He also dusts places I can’t reach on my own. I take care of everything else from washing and putting away the dishes to scrubbing the toilet.

We are very much a team.

Additionally, I’m in charge of buying whatever we need and somehow making it all fit within our means. It’s getting harder and harder with inflation. I’m going without to make sure my husband and kids have what they need. I take fewer showers to keep the water bill down (and given that my medications make me very prone to heat stroke, I don’t get out much). I eat less than I normally do to ensure that they get as much food as they want (and I sometimes eat what they leave behind, if they haven’t spit in it or made it disgusting some other way). I’ve been doing what I can to cut down my consumption of soda and energy drinks so that they last longer, though I pretty much run on caffeine because I’m exhausted.

On top of that, I wake up whenever the kids wake in the middle of the night to ensure they don’t disturb anyone else. My toddler had a particularly rough patch recently, and it was a real battle to ensure she got all of the sleep she needs. A lot of times, I would end up sleeping with her, which was really hard on my back. But still, I had to get up early and take care of my duties.

I don’t get days off.

I don’t get sick days, although the family is patient with me when I take a little longer to get stuff done.

I do remind them to remind me when they need things like shampoo or deodorant or a particular pair of socks because I don’t have x-ray vision and don’t make a habit of checking their spaces. The only person who gets a pass is the toddler, because she doesn’t need much beyond a stack of pullups and wipes, a clean potty, clean clothes, food, snacks, milk, and a charged kindle. (Keeping her room cleaned up is a lost cause right now, but we’re working on it.)

These are the sacrifices I willingly make for my family.

This is the work I can do.


What Inspires Me?

The first question asked in the life inventory is, “What inspires you?”

My response was a big, fat, “I don’t know.”

And I didn’t.

There’s a lot about me that I still don’t know since I haven’t been able to take the time to think about any of it until now.

I needed to make the time to know.

I ended up breaking down the word “inspire” because the Miss America and Senate hopefuls’ answers came across as what they thought people wanted to hear rather than their truth.

My truth was found as I considered “inspire.” It comes from Latin and means “breathe in.”

Since breath is life, I realized that what inspires me is what gives me life. There are many things that I love that sap my energy daily. I love people, but I’m an introvert’s introvert, so I prefer to love them from a distance. I think that my autism contributes to me being overwhelmed by being around people, even people I love, because the constant barrage of sensory data (to borrow a movie title, it’s like “Everything Everywhere All At Once”) is overwhelming. It’s even worse if people expect eye contact, because it means that I’m being hit with the eyes’ microexpressions so fast that I literally cannot focus on what the person is saying, especially if I’m already stressed.

There are things that I do that I love to do, and there are people with whom I enjoy spending time, but they don’t breathe life into me. I give to the activities and to the people I love, freely, and after that, I need to recharge.

I don’t always get the time or space to recharge, though, and that’s when other emotions creep in, especially anger. It’s hard to control my emotions sometimes, and I end up expressing my anger in a way that is not helpful or productive.

But that’s a blog for another day.

What inspires me? What gives me life?

Nature, first of all. Being surrounded by greenery and the whisper of the wind in the trees, that brings me life.

Water is life, and it gives me life, too. This is why I hope to have a tub big enough to soak in, and maybe even a swimming pool big enough to float in someday. It’s nice to be weightless and give my joints a break.

Solitude that I choose also gives me life. Solitude is not the same as loneliness, because I choose it. I need the time away from others, away from electronics, away from distractions to just breathe and be and recenter myself.

The process of discovery is another thing that gives me life. I love being able to explore, whether it’s in a game or in real life. Having an adventure is a joy of life, and I wish I could have more adventures.

Sincere validation also breathes life into me. To be validated is a gift, whatever I am expressing. I need more of it. When I’m validated, I feel like I can do just about anything.

And there we are. I’m sure there’s more that breathes life into me if I think even deeper, but I’m certain that’s plenty without delving into minutiae.