Where My Paganism Has Led Me. 

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Image Credit: NASA

I started this blog while in the midst of completing my Dedicant Path work with ADF. Before joining ADF in 2015, I was an on-and-off again eclectic pagan with no formal practice, filling in the gaps with spiritually-empty agnosticism. Though my practice is now regular and structured, I am still in the process of tweaking it for the best fit. I don’t imagine this process will ever end, but perhaps the changes will become less frequent.

I have chosen a hard-polytheistic orthopraxy, but my beliefs about the divine remain agnostic. In the end, it matters not whether the gods I call on are independent beings, semi-independent beings, manifestations of my mind or archetypes. I use the language of hard polytheism regardless of which belief I am leaning more towards at any given time. Whatever the source of deity, it communicates with me and guides me along the path of self-improvement.

Upon beginning the Dedicant’s path, I was anxious to get to know all the deities of my new hearth culture (and a few from the Norse for good measure). My personal pantheon underwent several changes during the first two years until I finally felt at home with one that was more focused on celestial bodies (Sunne, Mona, Eorthe) than on anthropomorphic deities. Even the language I use to honor the sun and moon has become less anthropomorphic. I initially referred to the moon, for example, as Mona’s ward rather than as Mona himself. I wasn’t consciously aware of this development until I developed an interest in planet and star veneration outside the earth-moon-sun trio, and I realized I had already been on the path to astrolatry all along. Incidentally, I aspired to become an astrophysicist from the age of 12 through most of my 20s, but academic life eventually wore me out. Sometimes all the detours can cloud our senses from realizing the path we’ve been following all along.

My personal pantheon still includes Woden, Frigg, and my gatekeeper and first patron, Thunor. This too was an organic development for which I later understood significance. Woden and Frigg can be thought of as the archetypal God and Goddess, though I interact with them as if they are independent beings. Thunor is the one who led me onto my current path, who wards and opens the gates to the Otherworld, and whose hammer is the symbol of my faith. In other words, he symbolizes and grants access to my spirituality. It’s as if my non-theistic side worked on my behalf while I pursued hard polytheism. I am now left with a pantheon that could easily adapt to a non-theistic approach if it ever needed to.

My practice also includes veneration of nature spirits. Of all the otherworldly beings, nature spirits are the only that I’ve never struggled to believe in. I suppose this is because I am vehemently animist. The nature of deity is beyond my comprehension, but the various various manifestations of the same animistic essence that resides in us is easier to wrap my hand around. The universe is alive and worthy of veneration, from the smallest unit of matter to entire galaxies.

Last, but certainly not least, are the Ancestors. I am as agnostic about the afterlife as I am about deity, but I value the wisdom preserved in the memory of a life well-lived. I honor my ancestors by recalling their lives and leaving my mind open to contact should any part of them live on in another form. I sometimes like to believe that deity is nothing more or less than the spirits (merged, independent, or something in between) of the dead. And perhaps that the nature spirits, who can be fickle and seem to live outside of our human-constructed morality, are the spirits of non-human dead. Agnosticism doesn’t keep me from speculating. 

My current practice involves dedicating to a specific deity, spirit, or related group from my pantheon each month. Each year, I dedicate to a particular star and planet. For the astrolatry component, I study both the science and historical significance of the celestial body. From this knowledge and the magickal correspondences associated with the celestial body, I extract lessons that can be applied to my life. My dedication to the other beings takes a similar, but more personable approach. My motivation is always self-improvement and a well-developed sense of wonder. 

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My Year of Divine Consciousness

I celebrate the return of the sun on the third night of Yule; that being the night following the first day that was longer than the previous day. I prefer to “confirm” that the day’s are getting longer before I rejoice. In other words, I don’t count my eggs before they hatch, as the old saying goes.

Once I have borne witness to Sunne’s renewed strength, I ask her what her return heralds for the coming year. This is the first year in which I have practiced this method of yearly-omen taking, but I plan to maintain it as a tradition going forth. I take my monthly omens from Móna (the god of the moon), so it seems appropriate to take yearly omens from Sunne.

This year, it turns out, is the year of ᚩ (Ós). Ós is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the Elder-Futhark ᚨ (Ansuz).

OS (The God) is the creator of all language,
widom’s fountain and consolation of sages
and every man’s joy and trust.1

After receiving the rune omen, I proceeded to come up with a theme for 2018 that embodies the essence of it. In the past, I’ve let my yearly omen set a tone for the year and act as a lens through which I interpret various events, but I’ve never actively used it to set my intentions or resolutions.

I really like the idea of a New Year’s theme in place of a resolution, so I decided to go that route this year. It took me some time and contemplation to come up with a word or, rather, a noun phrase that worked. I considered “communication”, “divine inspiration”, and “awareness”, among others, but none of these really captures the entirety of Ós. I finally settled on “divine consciousness,” having also considered higher/heightened consciousness. “Consciousness” assumes awareness and “divine” assumes a higher state of it. “Divine consciousness” reminds me that the breath of divine inspiration flows through me and that I, though not a god myself, am the result of an unbroken chain going back to the divine source. Concequently, I have access not only to the guidance of the gods, but also to that of my ancestors. My focus this year will be on developing, accessing, and learning from this state consciousness.

Because this is a theme and not a resolution, I have no objective goal to meet. I imagine it would be difficult to objectify progress in heightened states of consciousness anyway. But the theme will inform my monthly intentions, interpretation of future omens, and over all spiritual journey this coming year.  It’s going to be an awesome year!

Footnotes:
1. From the Old English rune poem as translated by Alaric Albertson

My Morning Devotional

I never thought I would make it to the point where I write my own devotionals. But with all the druids participating in #prayeraday this month, I felt motivated try my hand at using my own words.

I begin my devotional as usual, lighting a candle as I say a Flames of Unity chant. The words I use for this are not the ones I find in most sources around the web. I first came across this chant on one of the ADF Facebook pages, but have not seen it written the same elsewhere.

I end all of my devotionals with closing words inspired by the Carmina Gadelica and as modified by Ozark Pagan Mamma:  “As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be, with the ebb, with the flow, blessed be.” I absolutely love this closing.

Without further ado, here is my current morning devotional:

*Light Candle*

Kindled from the great flame
Kept by prudent skill
Living on our common hearth
That these flames be one!

Earth Mother, as the light of dawn brings color to your horizon once more, I greet this new day in reverence of your power and beauty. I thank you for your support in this rite as in all things. Hail to you Great Mother!

By the fire of the gods,
May my spirit be kindled
That I might follow a virtuous path towards enlightenment.

By the deep waters of the Ancestors,
May my mind be asperged
That I might receive the wisdom of those who have gone before.

By the sacred tree of the cosmos,
May my body be rooted
That I might be as one with the spirits of land, sea, and sky. *

By Fire, Well, and Sacred tree,
I send my love, thanks, and devotion to the Kindreds Three!
May I navigate this day with Their guidance and be worthy of Their blessings.

Love and Peace to all beings!
As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be
With the ebb, with the flow,

Blessed be.

*at this point, I will ask via pendulum if any of the Kindreds have a message for me that day. I will then draw an omen (or omens) accordingly. I always take omen during major rites, but I think it is overkill to expect a message every single day. Asking if there is a message for me in advance helps to reduce the static that often accompanies daily omen-taking.

Feel free to use and modify this rite for personal use. Please give credit when sharing publicly.

The First Day of Autumn

Today is the day of the Autumn Equinox. The exact time of the astronomical event is 22:02 UTC (That’s 2:02pm Mountain Time for me). According to Google (and to my brother for whom Google is never wrong) this is the first day of Autumn. Although Google certainly has creepy mass mind-control powers, I don’t get the impression it has convinced most of the U.S. that this is the first day of Autumn. Popular culture seems to be in agreement that Autumn begins either on September 1st or after Labor Day at the very latest. Starbucks, another mass-mind control powerhouse (lol), delivers Autumn with the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte on the first of the month. The overlords of fashion dictate that we wear no white (read: Summer) clothing after Labor Day. Validating pop-culture Autumn are the dependable scientific minds of the Meteorological community, who, for ease of comparing seasons year-to-year, define Autumn as a static three month period neatly consuming the months of September, October, and November.

And then there’s me. A rebel among rebels, welcoming Autumn in August. My fellow Indo-European-based pagans should be with me on this, but it seems even among my own kind, I am not well supported. Undeterred, I continue to follow my own path. My logic blends phenology with ancient custom. The seasons are not as static as the ideological meteorologists would have them, but phenological seasons are a bummer to keep track of.

I, like the meteorologists, quite like a cut-and-dry static model for the seasons. As a pagan, however, I can’t help but notice that the seasons themselves don’t adhere to unequivocal models. They vary each year, but unlike the calendar dates of the solstices and equinoxes, phenological seasons cannot be calculated in advanced, nor can phenologists agree on an exact start date even after the season has begun. Way to be elusive Mother Nature! XD Even if we could pinpoint the exact first day of a season in a particular area, the date would be different in every region. Social species that we are, standard dates for celebration bring us together across long distances.

My first method of approach to seasonal reckoning was to stick with the ancient Celtic calendar (according to which seasons begin on the cross-quarter days) and back it up with the logic that, despite the weather, the longest days of the year should encompass Summer, the shortest, Winter. And yet, I couldn’t help but be distracted by both conflicting weather and conflicting opinions. What to do?

I decided to continue as I had been, welcoming in the seasons at the cross –quarters. At Hlæfmæst (Lammas), I call for Autumn. I bid it to hurry along because I have missed it so. Similarly, I may ask a particular season not to leave yet, because I am not ready. Not that I expect Mother Nature to adhere to my every whim, but the idea of it is in line with the way ancient pagans prayed for longer or shorter seasons per their agricultural needs.

As I welcome the onset of the phenological season, which may or may not begin right away, I consider the “official” start of a season to factor in the length of days as well as the cultural atmosphere. In August, Autumn themes begin to appear in the media, harvest decor creeps into shops around town, and people begin preparing for the onset of the full season. Autumn weather or not, the signs of Autumn appear in August, whether in the balancing length of days (which straddle the equinox) or in the cultural environment.

I may have been wrong to call August unequivocally Autumn in the past, but so too are others for calling it Summer. I witnessed Autumn begin while Summer continued. The cross-quarter months are liminal months. The secular world, too, acknowledges this liminality with Groundhog Day in February. If everyone is so confident that February fits squarely in Winter, then why the superstition concerning groundhogs and early Spring?

The cross-quarter months contain the endings ~and~ beginning of seasons. By all means, wish me a happy Autumn anytime in September, but don’t tell me that it didn’t begin in August or even that Summer is finally over now, as late as the equinox. My liminal-months model, while closer to Nature, still doesn’t box Her in.

Dedicant Oath-Rite Recap

I spoke my Dedicant’s Oath during my grove’s Harvest Home ritual. I completed my full year of High-Day attendance at Midsummer and had originally planned to give my oath during Lughnasadh. But as Lughnasadh approached, I realized I wasn’t going to have all of the required reading done in time. I decided to re-schedule my oath for Harvest Home. In hindsight, this was probably best. Although the Cross-Quarter High Day in August has always been one of my favorites, my grove always celebrates it as a Celtic Rite. Norse may not be my hearth-culture either, but most of the Norse gods are also my gods, so it was a better fit in the end. The patron of the rite was Tyr and the Gatekeeper, Heimdall.

Because I honor seven deities equally in my home practice rather than having a single patron, I gave separate offerings to each as well as to my ancestors and the nature spirits. I felt a little uncomfortable taking up so much time making these offerings. By the time I got around to speaking the oath itself, I felt like I had outstayed my welcome as the center of attention.

There was some confusion concerning when I would be giving the oath during the ritual. I got the impression that the officiant (who was not the senior druid this time) was not even aware that I would be doing my oath that day until I got there. This only increased my anxiety about taking up too much time. I ended up consuming all of eight minutes for my oath and its surrounding activities, which really isn’t all that long, but I felt like it was at the time.

I had all of the words for my praise offerings and the oath memorized. My anxiety about being the center of attention for so long was somewhat alleviated by the fact that I didn’t mess up my words. I brought a print-out of the text with me just in case, but I never needed to consult it. I had pre-planed the order I would give the offerings and the only mistake, if I can call it that, was that I switched the order of two of them. No one in the group could have known, but I picked up the offering for Frigg when I meant to pick up the one for Fréo. As I was about to speak my praise to Fréo, I noticed I had the wrong item in my hands. I froze up on the inside for what felt like a long time, but it wasn’t. To onlookers, everything ran smoothly. I hardly consider myself articulate on an average day, so some muse must have been with me that day to help all the words come out right.

I am especially happy that I have a recording of the whole affair, well most of it anyway. I probably would be writing a much more critical review of myself had I not the video to assess myself from a different perspective. All of the thoughts going through my head would be all I have to go on. I wouldn’t have known that my “very long time” was only 8 minutes. I wouldn’t have known that my words came out more confident-sounding than I perceived them at the time.

My husband was the camera man, as he had been at previous rituals since he, as an agnostic, doesn’t participate in the ritual itself. I always ask that he use my phone to take photos and to film. This time, he used his own phone, which had little space left on it for media. As a result, my post-oath omen-taking was cut off. When he first told me, I thought he missed more than just the omens. I was distraught and let it be known before apologizing to the group for inviting negative energy into the ritual.

I took omen after speaking my oath but before blessing the pendants I had acquired specifically for the purpose. I used my own handmade set of Anglo-Saxon runes to take omen and I asked the following questions:

  • Do the Kindreds accept my oath and sacrifices?
  • What do they offer in return?
  • What more do they ask of me?

The responses were Ger, Tir, and Yr respectively. Ger corresponds to the Elder Futhark Gera and Tir to Tiwaz. Yr is unique to the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. I took Ger to mean that my oath and sacrifices were accepted but also to be a reminder that my oath is a lifetime commitment. As Tyr was patron of the rite, I took his rune to indicate that the Kindreds offer me their support; that they are present in my life and listening. Amazingly enough, the omen taken by the officiant for the rite as a whole was also Tir/Tiwaz. Tyr was definitely with us that day. Yr indicates that the Kindreds ask me to continue my studies and perhaps specialize in a particular skill set. Yr represents the English longbow, mastery of which, at the time the rune-poem was written, was limited to a select few.

After taking omen, I asked the Kindreds to bless two Thunor’s hammer pendants, one in silver and one in bronze. I got two so that I can always wear one no matter the colors of my outfit. The pendants are modeled after the 6th century hammer found in Kent, England. Up to this point, I had been wearing a Norse Mjölnir, but I wanted something specific to my hearth culture for my oath.

As I wrap up this final essay for my DP documentation, I feel accomplished and amazed that I actually did it all, but I also feel the sweet sorrow that accompanies the completion of any chapter of one’s journey. I may pursue further studies within ADF, in fact, I am almost certain that I will. But not right away. For now, I am going to focus on my hearth practice as it is and appreciate what I have accomplished up to this point.

OATH RITE TEXT:                                                                                                                                           I stand here at the Sacred Center to make an Oath to the Kindreds that I hold most dear to my heart. Beloved Kindreds, hear my call and join me as I offer up these sacrifices and give my oath as an offering in your honor.

 Mighty Ancestors, you of my blood and you of my heart, accept this offering and my good will.

 Noble Ones, Fae of this place, accept this offering and my good will.

 Thunor, Middangeard’s protector, you who has been my guide long before I knew your name, accept my offering.

 Fréo, beautiful Lady, you who has taught me much about self-love and respect, accept my offering.

 Hela, Mistress of the Underworld, you who has motivated me to learn about my ancestors, accept my offering.

 Frige, Queen of Ésengeard, you who encourages me to be self-reliant, accept my offering.

 Móna, shimmering God of the Moon, you who has been there for me in my darkest hours, accept my offering.

 Hrethe, mysterious Lady, you who has taught me never to give up hope, no matter how grim the situation, accept my offering.

 Woden, wise All-Father, you who pushes me to face the hard truths for my own good, accept my offering.

 

 And now, before all in attendance here, I make my oath.

I oath: to keep the feasts and observances of Saxon Druidry, following the Wheel of the Year; to seek the Old Ways and adapt them to modern life; and to keep the memory of my ancestors alive in my heart.

 These things I swear by the well that flows in me, by the fire that shines in me, and by the tree that roots and crowns my soul. Before all the Powers here, I swear it, lest the three Worlds rise against me! Mighty Kindreds, accept my sacrifice and oath!

Omens:

Do the Kindreds accept my offerings? Ger                                                                              

What do they offer me in return? Tir

What more do the they ask of me? Yr

 Finally, I ask that the Powers gathered here bless these þunreslecg pendants as a symbol of my devotion and a reminder of the oath I have made today.

 Oath offerings:

Ancestors – tea

Noble Ones – oatmeal

Frige – home-baked brownie

Mona – Sambuca

Hrethe- ribbon bow in yellow and purple

Woden – rune

Thunor – beer

Freya – ribbon bow

Hela – rose from my rose bush

 

X-Rated Television – a Rant

The following is a hastily written rant initially intended for Facebook until it exceeded a paragraph. Please forgive the lack of structure/grammar/etc.

Why is X-rated television becoming mainstream and everyone is just like, yea cool, whatevs? And the fans of it mock the rest of us for being prudes or not progressive enough for the modern world. Like what the actual hell guys? Are you for real? This isn’t just a matter of nudity on television. Go ahead, support nudity. The whole free-the-nipple thing isn’t my cuppa – but to each their own.

I thought the argument going around these days in support of nudity was for the sake of de-sexulaizing– the human form. I’m pretty sure graphic sex  (especially of the non-vanilla variety) on television not otherwise marketed as porn isn’t helping to that end. Or are you the one who wants to tell me that sex is a part of life and I should accept that? Since when has it been a part of (typical) life to invite an audience into the bedroom? Sex has been a private activity through much of human history, albeit with some exception, but I think you get my point. Heck, even the exceptions have been semi-private. And come on guys, are you all are seriously cool sitting around with your families watching an extended graphic-butt-sex scene on American Gods? No one feels uncomfortable sharing that moment with the fam? I bet some of you shift around in your chairs amongst awkward silence and shifty glances around the room. Voyeuristically watching other people get it on is not a normal form of TV-dinner entertainment. There’s nothing natural about it. It’s creepy.

In forums where I notice people discussing these matters, people question why excessive violence is OK if porn isn’t? That’s like saying, well how come that guy got away with murder but I can’t get away with rape? Obviously “that guy” is also a problem. Pointing out a wrong to justify another wrong is so cliche stupid. The violence on television today far exceeds what used to be rated R and is unnecessarily gratuitous. If it’s going to be torture porn, it needs to be hanging out with the other freaky-graphic horror movies and not advertised as something else. So many times I think I find a good show to watch only to be traumatized by a grossly violent scene I didn’t know to expect – the kind of violence that I only ever saw in horror movies when I was younger.

It’s frustrating that every time I see a trailer for a new show, I need to wait for the parent’s guide to catch up enough to inform me about the context of the show. I shouldn’t have to do this. I am a child-free adult. I shouldn’t have to consult a parents guide to find out if the prime time fantasy or action-hero show I wish to watch is undercover horror or porn. In adult television, I expect violence. In a rated R show, I expect to see full frontal nudity, but I expect something along the lines of The Terminator or Titanic.

But what can I do but sit here and rant about it? And perhaps expect commentary of the unfriendly kind. It’s a bummer to be too liberal for the conservatives and too prudish for the liberals. No one likes me and I think the world is full of morons, so I guess that makes us even. Oh well.

ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #3

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2009. Print.

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Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan provides pagans new to the path with a brief introduction to the practices of modern Anglo-Saxon paganism. While the author, Alaric Albertsson, references ancient practices and history for context, his focus is on modern practice. He is careful to note that the information he presents reflects the practices of his own inhīred (a group of practicing Saxon pagans) and is neither universal, nor indicative of exactly what ancient pagans would have done. Topics covered include cosmology, deities, altar set-up, Holy Tides, ritual format, and mead-making. Although broad rather than deep, the material covered is just enough to get the aspiring Saxon pagan onto his or her feet with a living practice.

The most frequent criticism of this book is of its cursory nature. Indeed, no topic is covered in depth. Instead, the text (hopefully) whets the reader’s appetite for more, provided that Saxon paganism is the right path for them. Someone new to paganism, Saxon paganism, or both is not looking for a heavy coverage of lore and history.

The to-the-point manner of this text is most-likely why it is recommended reading for ADF’s Dedicant Path (DP) program. The DP program does not assume that new members come into it knowing what hearth culture is right for them. This book is intended for those who are initially drawn to or curious about Anglo-Saxon paganism and who would like to get started with active practice right away before delving in deeper.

I appreciate this book for what it is, but by they time I got around to reading it, I was already certain of and decently well-read in my hearth culture. I came into the DP considering Norse, Saxon, and Gaelic hearth cultures. I purchased this book right away along with several others and used it for reference occasionally, but found myself fully immersed in the world of the Saxon pagan long before I picked it up for a proper read-through. For this reason, I sometimes disagreed with Albertsson, but my biases in no way negate the merit of this text. My disagreements were not over matters of fact or “correct” methods. For example, I recognize Hrethe as a different deity than Hertha/Eorðe, while Albertsson introduces her as the as Hertha. Scholars do not agree on this matter, so either view is viable.

Although short on scholarly details, I highly recommend this book to any pagan wishing to get their feet wet with Saxon pagan practices. Lore and history is certainly important, but at the heart of any polytheistic religion is a relationship with the gods, ancestors, and nature spirits. This book will get you started with building such a relationship, while providing just enough detail to set it apart as uniquely Anglo-Saxon.

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #2

Clifton, Chas S. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2006. Print.

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Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America follows the rise of Wicca and other neopagan religions from their beginnings in the early 20th century to the present day, with especial focus on developments in the 1960s and 70s. While the story of Wicca itself is the driving force of the text, Author Chris Clifton could hardly ignore Wicca’s influence on and by other pagan religions, thus resulting in a well-researched comprehensive text chronicling the growth of many of the biggest Neopagan religions to take root in American soil during the 20th century.

This text takes a much needed comparative-studies approach to American pagan practices. Studies of pre-Christian, European pagan religions are necessarily comparative in nature, so too should be the studies of the neopagan religions inspired by them. There is an unfortunate tendency for followers of non-Wiccan pagan paths to distance themselves from Wicca as much as possible. It is this distance which Clifton successfully bridges by demonstrating how Wicca has touched, however indirectly, all American Pagans, from the “traditional” witches claiming a pre-Wiccan lineage to the reconstructionist Heathens who refuse to associate with the broader pagan umbrella, much less Wicca.

Although Clifton gives more attention to some (non-Wiccan) religions than others, with reconstructionist-based paths receiving the least of it, the over-all scope of the text is impressive for its size. Clifton, in fact, addresses this very issue in his introduction by means of a clever island analogy wherein he concludes that “to tell one story . . . is to tell many stories” (4). And hence, the story of Wicca becomes the story of American Paganism. Or rather, the story of a British mystery tradition which makes its way to American soil and evolves into the nature religion we recognize it as today.

I highly recommend this book to all Indo-European-based Neopagans, Wiccan and non-Wiccan alike. Don’t let preconceived notions or biases put you off. I, myself, came to this text with little enthusiasm. Had it not been recommended reading for my Dedicant Path studies, I may never have picked this book up on my own. I hope that my review can convince others not to pass this one by!

The Side of Me No One Knows

I was inspired to write this post after coming across a list of differences between empathy and clairsentience. Apparently traits of one are frequently mixed in with definitions of the other. I almost worried for a moment that I had it wrong, that I’m not an empath at all, only clairsentient. But no, it turns out I am both.

I am a full-time empath and a part time clairsentient. Regarding the latter, there are sometimes I am hyper aware of ~all the things~ to the point of creeping myself out, and other times I am completely tuned out. I don’t have a lot of control over when I am tuned in or out. It just happens.

As for the empath part – I’ve been struggling with this part of my identity for a long time. I grew up introverted and aloof with a history of terrible social etiquette, only to find out later that I have an ASD. I figured empathy was out of the question. People from all walks of my life have told me I lack in that department and I believed it.

As I’ve come into my own and gained increased self-awareness and understanding, I realized that empathy is not what I am lacking, despite having Aspergers. In fact, recent studies have shown that aspies are capable of intense levels of empathic ability. I internalize other’s emotions like nobody’s business. I am also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and have mirror touch synesthesia. I can feel you, I can understand you (though how I get to that understanding might be unconventional as they say INTJ empaths go about it a different way), but there’s no denying that I get it. What I don’t have is the (natural) ability to act on it. I lack the ability to sympathize and comfort. And as I back away from comforting someone, they hurt more and I feel it more. It’s a terrible thing. Some part of me deep inside screams and cries as the emotional tension amplifies, and yet on the outside, my face is stoic. I tell people to man or woman-up. stop whining. leave me alone. I ain’t your shoulder to cry on.

It didnt start out this way. Initially, I retreated without any additional dialog. I played the part of aloof well. But as I learned to accept my supposedly cold and non-empathetic persona, I turned it into a game to cope. I laughed it off. My silence became rude comments which became dry sarcasm. At least the end result doesn’t hurt people as much. They don’t take me seriously, nor do they expect anything from me. Or do they?

The strange thing is, I’ve had a surprising number of people, even some I dont know well, come to me in times of trouble. Why me? Don’t they know I will only make it worse? But they still come, they tell me their problems. I listen. I absorb the pain and leave them with hardly a few words in reply. And still, they return. It makes me immensely uncomfortable. I care, but I don’t know how to show it. All I can do is feel.

My Autism-Spectrum Diagnosis Story

I was nervous about getting my autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. What if I didn’t have an ASD at all? what then? But what if I do? Maybe I don’t want that. Maybe I just want to be normal, or at least to believe it. Is it really worth it? What will change in my life after I know?

It was a lot of money for a two-day long analysis. Is two days enough to really evaluate me? It was a LOT of money to spend on a half-assed diagnosis. But my psychologist had good reviews. She specializes in autism, including adults with autism. The latter is a difficult qualification to find. She must know a thing or two.

It would be a few years between first contacting the psychologist and actually going in for an evaluation. I was initially a 2 hour drive away and stressed at the prospect of all that driving plus a long time spent in the office. I finally made the appointment when I lived a little closer, but it was still nearly an hour drive and into the heart of downtown Denver. City driving gives me more anxiety than long distance driving.

But I had to know. I was tired of my assumed ASD being used against me by friends and family when convenient and brushed aside when not. If anyone was going to use it as a weapon, it better at least be a valid one. And then, maybe, I’d feel more confident defending myself because I knew what exactly I was defending.

I found it difficult to behave naturally during the evaluation. I was worried about any of my natural traits coming across as forced or deliberate, even though they weren’t. I didn’t want her to think I was trying one way or another. As a result, I was hyper aware of every little thing I did. By the second day I was worried that I tried so hard to not come across as autistic, that the results would be skewed the other way. But oh well. I trusted that she could see through all that. By the end, I had the impression she wasn’t going to diagnose me with an ASD. We spent so much time discussing traits I had that didn’t quite line up, more so than time spent discussing the ones that did. And yet, her final assessment was, yes, I am definitely on the spectrum. I have what would have been labeled Aspergers before it was lumped into the larger ASD diagnosis.

I felt relieved when it was over. I had the words on paper to serve as evidence of my feat. I was so proud of myself, I did it. I survived the city, and the unfamiliar environment. And I survived it twice! I am not good with multiple big events happening too close in proximity. I need a lot of down time between activities outside the home that aren’t part of my usual routine. But I was a real trooper this time.

After the novelty wore off, life went back to normal. Only, now when my ASD is used against me, I can’t reply with “you don’t know that.” But, hey, on the bright side (I thought), when people give me grief about not fitting in with standard social customs, my excuses won’t be taken so personally. Maybe this will improve my relationships, maybe now I can start making real friends. I can say I don’t feel up to going out for multiple invites in a row and it won’t be perceived as rude. Now I can decline hugs without hurting people’s feelings. Now I can say something makes me uncomfortable and people will take me seriously. Unfortunately, none of this is the case. Others only acknowledge my ASD when they can use it as an insult. Otherwise, it is the same invisible disability it was before my diagnosis.

—Please, don’t make that sound —Oh, OK sorry

—Don’t touch me there. —Ok

—this aesthetic makes me uncomfortable —*shrug*

Some time later:

—I said I don’t like that, please, don’t —OK

and later again:

—Why wont you listen!! Stop, please! —woah! Chill out! Jeez. Wait, you were being serious?? I didn’t know it was such a big deal…

Yes, it’s a big deal. These aren’t petty complaints or preferences. I get surges of adrenaline when I see or feel certain things. To make matters worse, I have mirror-touch synesthesia. I’m really not messing around when I say something bothers me. It really IS a big deal. Why won’t anyone take me seriously?

And yet, I know why. I don’t look like anything is wrong with me. I’m not physically handicapped, I don’t have the physical traits that show themselves in conjunction with other mental disorders, I don’t act particularly unusual in most settings. People expect that I can control my mind the way they expect people with depression to do the same. —Just get over it! Mind over matter…

I wish I could. Sometimes I can manage better than others. My spiritual practices have been helping immensely. Especially meditation and breathing techniques. I haven’t had a serious meltdown in several years. I have a pretty good idea of what I can handle and what I cannot, so I plan my days accordingly. But I don’t always have control over my surroundings. And I can’t just get over it.

My friends try to understand. But I don’t think they really do. I still hurt feelings. I know they are human and that theoretical understanding of my situation doesn’t change how my actions affect them. I wish it didn’t have to be like this. All I can do is spread awareness. Perhaps if enough of us share our experiences, the rest of the world will believe that they are indeed real.

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