LIFE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM: GREAT EXCITATIONS

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By Brian Lafferty

 

August 17, 2011 (San Diego) -- I’m sure many of you are wondering about the absence of columns. I feel it’s required of me to explain.

 

As I’ve mentioned previously, I lost my mother last November from aggressive and invasive breast cancer. It was so aggressive that doctors believed that by the time she discovered something was wrong it was already too late.

 

Her death hit me hard. I tried to go about my normal business writing film criticism and this column. It soon became increasingly difficult to balance my work and my grief.

 

Part of me wanted to continue writing. Soon another part of me said I needed a breather. At the end of June, the latter became the most sensible thing to do. I’ve received nothing but support and positive feedback since I launched this column. It makes me happy that there are a lot of people out there who enjoy reading it. I wanted to keep it going. But there are times when a person needs to stop, take stock of everything in his life, and regroup.

 

That is why I decided to take a vacation last month. And you know what? Taking this month-long vacation was the best thing I could have done for myself this year.

 

For one thing, I had a lot of time to grieve. I thought a lot about Mom. Up until this month, I kept remembering her when she was sick. Even though everything happened very quickly (she was diagnosed in September), seeing her every day took its toll on me after a while. This was a difficult time for me because I sensed that she was in some degree of pain. I felt helpless.

 

But that’s not how I remember her these days. Ever since my vacation, I now tend to remember her the way she was before. I recall with fondness the times when I was little, how I would sit on her lap and we’d hug for at least five minutes. When my birthday rolls around (she died the day before I turned 25) you can bet it’ll be spent remembering when she’d bake a nice homemade birthday cake, or when she’d take me to Disneyland or out to my favorite restaurants to celebrate.

 

That’s the Mom I remember now. It’s no longer a case of having to force myself to do it. It comes naturally.

 

Don’t get me wrong. My mind does sometimes drift back to the times when she was ill. But now when my mind has those inclinations (and there aren’t a lot of them), I can easily shift it to the positives.

 

Taking the month off also allowed me to think about my current situation, namely my health. I have been overweight for as long as I can remember. Ever since high school, I’ve made numerous efforts to lose weight. Even when I’ve had success, I’ve gained it back.

 

I recently made a list of lifestyle changes and since the beginning of this month, I’ve slowly applied them. I’m now in the habit of eating one to two servings of fruits and vegetables with every meal. I don’t have seconds. I keep my portion sizes normal. I’ve cut down immensely on sugars, salts, and high fructose corn syrup.

 

In addition, I’ve gotten back to running. In spring of last year I ran my first 5K (the Race for Autism, to be exact). After that I had trouble getting back into the habit. When Mom got sick, it totally threw me off.

 

Today I run three days a week. On days that I don’t run I power walk for about twenty to thirty minutes.

 

These are just some of the changes I’ve made and there are many more to come. It’s not being done all at once, though. Wholesale lifestyle changes are best made slowly and gradually. I have already gotten some of them to become habitual but there’s a lot more work to be done. I’m up to the challenge.

 

Most importantly, I feel great. I haven’t felt so good about myself, and about life in general, since Mom passed away. Every day I wake up with a lot of positive energy and feeling like a billion bucks. I get euphoric whenever I finish a run or walk. When I finish a healthy meal, I feel nothing but extremely good about myself.

 

I missed writing this column. As my vacation time was on its last legs, I was eager to get back to it. I now have a renewed zest for life.

 

Brian Lafferty is a young adult living with High-Functioning Autism. He graduated cum laude from California State University, Fullerton in 2009 and enjoys life on the Spectrum. Brian can be reached at brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.

Comments

H.E.A.L. Grief Study

I can certainly relate to Brian Lafferty's story, as I too have been recovering from the loss of my mother, who was my best friend, which was followed by the death of my brother. It was a very difficult time for me, but unlike Brian, I continued to try and write for East County Magazine. I actually thought that by writing, it would keep me busy and keep my mind off my grief. It really did'nt. What helped me the most was my participation in a "Complicated Grief Study" with UCSD and VA San Diego Healthcare System. I was really an emotional wreck after coming back from Chicago in January, having just attended the funeral of my brother. I would sometimes cry uncontrollably after listening to a particular song that we both used to listen to together. And, with my mother having died earlier, I felt so all alone and in despair. My mother and I shared so many great memories together. The people that I talked with in the Grief Study, Dr. Young and Katie, along with a psychiatrist, helped me tremendously.