Goals and Communication: Better Together

Dan and I have faced a complex set of challenges with regards to goals and communication within our relationship. Dan continues to adapt and recover after sustaining a traumatic brain injury. I am autistic. While I sometimes joke that we have one whole brain between us, it is true that we mutually benefit from each others’ unique perspective, problem-solving skills, and strengths.

For different reasons, we both experience difficulties with executive function, working memory, and communication. Some of the strategies I have created to help myself navigate daily life have also proved helpful for Dan. The habits, lists, and routines that conserve my mental energy also facilitate a predictable and secure environment. Dan, due to his condition, requires that I be flexible.

As a balanced and complementary pair, we both grow and thrive.

Dan and I each work independently with our own psychotherapists, and we participate in each other’s therapy as well. After receiving positive feedback from both therapists, I would like to share with you the creative solutions I developed for Dan and myself to use. One is to aid with achieving long-term goals. The others are to improve cognitive empathy and communication skills.

The Goal Puzzle

The first idea came in response to the process of Dan gradually regaining his independence and rebuilding his life. Starting over from almost nothing would be overwhelming for anyone. It is unimaginably complicated and emotionally taxing after a debilitating injury. While medical science made Dan’s physical recovery possible, returning to “normal” life is a gradual, often frustrating process.

While Dan was hospitalized, his family and friends — unsure if he would live — moved him out of his apartment. His belongings were then distributed amongst those same family and friends for storage. Dan woke from a medically-induced coma to discover that his previous home was gone. Any sense of constancy or stability was gone. His ability to care and provide for himself was gone.

Dan had to cope with nearly losing his life in more ways than one.

My heart ached for Dan after watching him psychologically struggle with the enormity of what lay ahead. One night, after we had retrieved his beloved record collection, I downloaded a blank puzzle template. I labelled the “pieces” of Dan’s life to be reassembled. I left a few blank pieces for him to fill in. One of those blanks eventually became “Married.” There are short- and long-term goals.

Dan and Jen's Goal Puzzle

The puzzle concept helps to break down and visualize the seemingly immense goal of “rebuild Dan’s life” into incremental, more managable steps. After having Dan colour in the “accomplished” pieces, I hung the puzzle on the refrigerator as a daily reminder of the progress he has made. Pieces continue to be coloured in, partially or completely, as Dan and I achieve our individual and joint goals.

This can be a powerful tool to improve motivation and resilience.

Think about it: What would you put on your puzzle?

Autism and Cognitive Empathy

The second idea is more specific to our circumstances, but it can be easily adapted to accommodate other situations. In order to help Dan and I understand our communication styles and needs, I purchased a pair of books related to both of our conditions. The books that I selected were written specifically to cultivate understanding in people who do not live with the conditions themselves.

For myself, I chose — and I highly recommend — Connecting With the Autism Spectrum by Casey “Remrov” Vernor. First, I read the book myself. Using a pencil and highlighter, I made notations where I felt the text was most applicable to me, and elaborated where I felt it was needed or warranted. After completing that process, I gave the book to Dan. By reading it, he gained valuable insight.

"Connecting With the Autism Spectrum" by Casey "Remrov" Vernor

Learning about autistic communication and sensory sensitivities helps Dan, for example, to not take it personally when I become confused or overstimulated by something in our environment. As a result, such occurrences can be prevented or remedied easily, without escalating into anxiety, conflict, or hurt feelings.

We are learning how to listen to, and speak with, each other in ways that minimize miscommunication and misunderstandings. Dan understands that my communication tends to be blunt. The words I choose do not always accurately reflect what I am attempting to say. Statements made to me should be clear, consistent, and direct. My innate mind-reading skills are incredibly poor.

I now utilize self-advocacy and self-directed questioning to circumvent my limitations in social interactions with neurotypical people. I will elaborate on my compensatory strategies in future posts. The projection of neurotypical thought processes onto neurodivergent individuals is one of many ways these mixed-interactions go wrong. Education and cognitive empathy are essential.

When we use different languages, translation is necessary.

Traumatic Brain Injury

For Dan, I chose The Traumatized Brain: A Family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory, and Behavior after Brain Injury by Vani Rao and Sandeep Vaishnavi. I asked him to read and notate the book for me, like I had done with mine.

"The Traumatized Brain: A Family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory, and Behavior after Brain Injury" by Vani Rao and Sandeep Vaishnavi

Learning about traumatic brain injury, and how it affects Dan, helps me remain patient and supportive while he continues to heal. Forgetfulness is not indicative of lack of caring or interest, but a result of injury and trauma. Fatigue is not a character flaw, but a result of living with disability. We all benefit most from support that makes us feel empowered, not dependent and indebted.

Dan and I hold each other accountable with compassion and tenderness.

Two additional books I found valuable, especially if you had limited or no experiences of healthy relationships while growing up: Mindful Relationship Habits: 25 Practices for Couples to Enhance Intimacy, Nurture Closeness, and Grow a Deeper Connection by Barrie Davenport and S. J. Scott, and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver.

Even if you are chronically single, these books can teach you to recognize the healthy and toxic traits in nearly any kind of relationship. That knowledge makes you a less likely target for abusive, dysfunctional, and exploitative relationships. If you are objectively self-aware enough, these books also provide a solid guideline for evaluating and nurturing your own behaviours.

I am a big fan of The Gottman Institute, generally.

Additional Communication Ideas

As part of ongoing efforts, I purchased a lined journal for Dan and myself to share. In the morning and evening, we each write a few lines in the journal. The short entries consist of whatever is on our mind at the time: what we are grateful for, what we are doing or plan to do, progress made toward our goals, things we might be struggling to communicate verbally, and so on. There are no rules.

Write when — and what — comes naturally. It should not be stressful.

Dan and Jen's Communication Journal

Using multiple ink colours makes the daily entries easier to follow.

Because we both contribute, reading and writing in the journal gives us a window into each other’s inner world on a day-to-day basis. Reviewing our older entries serves as a source of encouragement, mindfulness, and reassurance.

Over time, the journal serves as a reminder of what brought us together.

For this idea to be effective, however, it requires honest self-reflection and the willingness to be vulnerable. If these are areas that you struggle with, try writing privately for yourself. When you are ready to step outside of your comfort zone, share your daily journaling with your psychotherapist or a trusted friend.

Shared goals, successful teamwork, and meaningful relationships are among the richest experiences life has to offer. For those with disabilities and/or impairments they are, in my opinion, goals worth doing the hard work. Our world desperately needs authenticity, human connection, and the healing that comes with it.

Better communication and collaborative goals are an excellent place to begin.

I hope that what I have shared today helps you in your journey.

Jen Bateman and the Death of Jin Wicked

My name is Jen Bateman, and “Jin Wicked” is no more.

The process of liquidating inventory and paying off debt to terminate my company, Jin Wicked LLC, is almost complete. I am no longer using my “Jin Wicked” brand. I am no longer reprinting any intellectual property attributed to the name, except for the purpose of retrospective analysis and discussion.

The back-catalogue of “Jin Wicked” artwork, comics, and videos is permanently offline. Store inventory can be purchased until 14 May 2022. After that date, any unsold “Jin Wicked” items will be immediately donated or destroyed.

With this decision, I am living my life for myself.

"Flame" by Jin Wicked, 2016

Who was Jin Wicked?

“Jin Wicked” was created on a whim as a chat-room screen name, in the late 1990s era dot-com boom, after being told I had a wicked sense of humour. Over the years it became my identity — a DBA, a brand, and eventually, an LLC. Many people influenced the character and evolution of “Jin Wicked,” for good and for ill. Over time, my public persona became a stifling psychological burden. In 2017, I created a time-lapse music video comparing it to Frankenstein’s monster.

The first time I buckled under the weight of my own creation and my modest success, in the mid-2000s, I began a downward spiral of anxiety and depression that consumed a decade of my life. That spell finally broke with my “early mid-life crisis” in 2014. After working for five years to rebuild my independent career, and surpassing my previous high-water marks, I again found myself nearly suicidal by the end of 2020. But this time, instead of collapsing inward and disappearing, I confronted the traumas at my core. I figured out it was only “Jin Wicked” that needed to die. “Jin Wicked” is the cage I have been fighting to escape.

So, what happened? And why now, you are probably asking?

Financial Difficulties

At the beginning of 2019, due to external circumstances, I left the full-time, stable job I had been working at since I moved to Minnesota. Predictability and stability are extremely important, as an autistic person, to my ability to function and live independently. I worked as a home health aide for most of 2019, which left me in a state of debilitating burnout by 2020. I survived 2020 and 2021 by living off my dwindling emergency fund — and when that ran out, credit.

The recovery period before I could work full-time again, the struggle of finding another job compatible with my special needs, and other external circumstances, have left me on the verge of bankruptcy. I am doing everything I can think of to keep Dan and I fed and housed until we, hopefully, get his SSDI approved.

Liquidating the “Jin Wicked” inventory is reducing my business debt.

The Comic Book Community

Another problem for me has been the “comic book community.” While I have some dear friends within the industry, I was completely blindsided by the cliques, competitiveness, backstabbing, and out-of-control ego I have encountered. There is an undercurrent of bitterness, envy, and entitlement like nothing I have ever experienced. Comics! It’s just comic books! Some perspective is in order.

While things are changing, the comic book community and industry are still permeated by casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and hateful, exclusionary attitudes. I do not feel heard, seen, welcome, or safe.

I will continue to make comics — independently, on my terms.

Whatever it was that I needed to prove to myself by returning to comic conventions in 2015, I feel I accomplished it. While they can be fun, comic conventions are an incredible amount of preparation and work. They are often unprofitable. They involve travel, booth set-up and breakdown, hauling around boxes and totes, long days of over-stimulation, marathon sales pitches, poor food, and poorer sleep. I have been grabbed, groped, and propositioned.

All of this becomes harder to deal with and less appealing with age.

I have not missed tabling at shows since COVID-19 shut everything down.

I must credit the hostility and vindictiveness directed at me personally for draining the last bit of enthusiasm I had for “Jin Wicked.” If not for that, I might have remained fiscally solvent and stumbled along as “Jin Wicked” for a few more lacklustre years. Searching for new social circles led me to the love of my life.

Getting out of “comics” has been unequivocally good for me.

Too Much Baggage

The accumulation of unfinished past work, as well as people’s sentimental attachment to my past work, is undermining my ability to experiment and evolve as an artist. Knowing when to quit is an oft-overlooked, but essential element of success. Things end — that is life. Even good things. Even things you treasure and hold close to your heart. Entropy comes for us all. Best to embrace it.

My oldest work feels alien to me now. It is the product of a young adult with undiagnosed autism, arrested in childish behaviour and thought patterns. It is the product of a young adult desperate to feel heard, seen, loved, and understood. I cannot go back to that place. I do not ever want to go back to that place.

It is harmful for me to be trapped reliving my past and my traumas.

For my own mental health and well-being, I need to completely detach “Jin Wicked” from my creative work going forward. I want no remaining connection to anyone who may feel a claim, sense of entitlement, and/or ownership toward me, my work, and the progression of my career. My failures and successes are mine alone. Only I define who and what I am. Only I decide what is best for me.

I am not a proxy or a puppet for fulfilling others’ ambitions and desires.

I am not an artwork dispenser or a fix-it project — I am a person.

To the extent that it is possible, I want to enjoy the rest of my life as if the first forty years of it never happened. “Jin Wicked” is now synonymous with “pain” in my mind. It is a visceral association that I have no desire to rehabilitate.

“Jin Wicked” must die, so that I may live.

Autism and Disability Awareness

I am disabled. I am autistic. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Being autistic impacts every area of my life, but is most noticeable in communication and social skills. It makes me more vulnerable to abuse and trauma. Sensory issues require that I am particular about my living and work environment.

Now that I understand my disability, I am developing strategies to more easily navigate life without compromising my cohesion. But I cannot stop being autistic. Asking me to communicate and see the world like a neurotypical person is like asking a paraplegic to walk. It is not only impossible, it is horribly cruel.

Autistic people are traumatized once, and then re-traumatized again and again when neurotypical people refuse to accept the neurodivergent experience.

When an autistic person can handle no more abuse, frustration, stimulation, or trauma, they may act in ways that anger and confuse neurotypical people. This is wrongly blamed on autism — not the trauma. It is time to stop punishing autistic people for being autistic. Let us try not traumatizing autistic people, instead.

We all benefit from improved communication, empathy, and patience.

Going forward, I want to use my platform to help facilitate understanding for those living with autism and disability. Through my comics and blogging, I believe I have a unique opportunity to help improve the lives of people like me. Future projects will be created to serve this unified message and purpose.

I must be the person that I needed as a youth, but never had.

It Is Time to Move On

Readers of my previous blog might recall that a little over one year ago, I published a post about unpacking who and what “Jin Wicked” was in the wake of my autism diagnosis. As I learned more about autism, I came to understand that “Jin Wicked” was a complex form of camoflaging/masking that took on a life of its own. I would like to expound on this idea, after some time has passed.

Once I became aware of its function, I found myself with no desire to be “Jin Wicked” anymore. Those feelings quickly grew to revulsion. The problem, then, became deciding how I wanted to proceed with my creative work instead. I have never felt much connection to my birth name or my previous married name.

It was not until I met Dan, and changed my name — for the last time — after we married, that the circumstances felt right and the path appeared before me.

When I got divorced in 2015, I thoughtfully examined how, and why, I lost my inspiration and motivation. One of my hopes for a new partner was someone that I could have a business and creative relationship with, in addition to a romantic one. It is much more rewarding to share the toils and spoils of such work with another, and my passion to create is the most defining element of my life.

It is impossible, I think, for me to cultivate deep and enduring intimacy with someone unable to join me on that plane. Rather than be “Jin Wicked” …and Dan, I want to rebuild in a way that represents both of us as equal partners.

We are two halves of a team; greater than the sum of our parts.

The Eightfold Path

I have poured immense blood, sweat, and tears into finally achieving the acceptance, love, human connection, and understanding that I never felt while growing up. We are each given only so much time on this planet, and our world is burning. Now that I have my answers, and feel that I am where I belong, I intend to slow down and savour what time I have left. There is much beauty to be found in the mundane stillness and minute blessings of the day-to-day. All I require is authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability to be satisfied. It is that simple.

Over the last few years, I seem to have serendipitously learned the tenets of Buddhism on my own — forging an unconventional path of the Bodhisattva, and undergoing my own bizarrely-unique and somewhat literal ego death.

Having destroyed all that I once believed I was, the concepts of emptiness, śūnyatā, and non-self, anattā, feel quite comfortable and welcome to me. The practice of non-attachment releases us from the past and the future, and allows us to be fully actualized in the present. Non-attachment is the stepping stone to radical acceptance. In this way, we are released from the cyclic torment caused by unfulfilled expectations, unhealthy patterns, and other self-inflicted pain.

If nirvana is the state of freedom from desire and suffering, then I have achieved something like it for myself. Existence is infinitely absurd and permanence is an illusion; everything dies. Entropy comes for us all. Best to embrace it.

To wholly embrace emptiness is to become fearless.

"Veritas" by Jin Wicked, 2020

Who is Jen Bateman?

“All women appear in the form of women in just the same way as the elder (Shariputra) appears in the form of a woman. While they are not women in reality, they appear in the form of women. With this in mind, the Buddha said, ‘In all things, there is neither male nor female.'”

Then, the goddess released her magical power and each returned to his ordinary form. She then said to him,

“Reverend Shariputra, what have you done with your female form?”

Shariputra: I neither made it nor did I change it.

Goddess: Just so, all things are neither made nor changed, and that they are not made and not changed, that is the teaching of the Buddha.

– Except from the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra

My name is Jen Bateman. I am a sentient being; 42 years-old, genderless, an autobiographer. After a lifelong journey and thousands of hard-won lessons, my body, heart, goals, mind, and spirit are at last in alignment with one another. I am in touch with my tathāgata-garbha — or Buddha nature. My nirvana.

I am poor in money, but rich in love and mindfulness. As I shift into this next phase of my life, I hope that you will remain with me, and continue to find value in my work. I hope that by sharing my trials and triumphs with you, you may be moved to engage in your own self-exploration. There is nothing to lose.

Life is art, my friends. Live it creatively.

CATEGORY:

On Autism and Autonomy

In late 2020, after more than forty years of confusion, ostracization, struggle, and a lifelong search for answers, I figured out I am on the autism spectrum. I am also diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is too often part of the experience of being autistic. The modern world is a harsh place for the neurodivergent.

I do my best to be a good person and do what is right. Despite this, I have been called cruel things such as: asshole, crazy, psychotic, sociopathic, narcissistic, dishonest, lazy, selfish, rude, snappy, and even, yes — retarded.

Fortunately, for me, I can reflect upon these labels with amusement.

The cultivation of self-knowledge and a strong sense of identity removes the power of such labels. When you know who you are, you will not allow others to define you. Malignant and weak-minded people run from uncomfortable truths. They will attempt to destroy what they cannot either own or control.

Truth is the key that frees us from the prison of our past.

The truth is this: You are allowed to be different. You are not required to meet expectations that other people impose upon you. Someone is not automatically in the right because they are an authority figure, or present themselves as one. You are allowed to say, “No,” even when you feel something is expected of you.

If someone attempts to tell you who you are: run. Run, and never look back.

Your life is yours alone to live how you choose.

How did I get here?

Of particular interest to me is how my misdiagnosed and undiagnosed disabilities have impacted my schooling and employment history. It is possible that diagnosis and intervention in childhood could have steered me toward a more sustainable career path. Instead, my life has been punctuated by burnout and instability.

As a teenager, part of me unconsciously knew I was ill-suited for the college-to-desk-work career track. I come from a family of blue-collar labourers. My parents did me a disservice by not allowing me to take my high school’s auto shop class. I prefer working with my hands, and I enjoy machinery and problem-solving.

The intermingling of sexism (i.e. “that’s not for girls”) must also be mentioned. Having never felt “like a girl” in the first place, it requires forgiveness and careful mindfulness to avoid becoming bitter about the decisions made for me.

I believe I would have had a productive and satisfying life as a machinist, mechanic, or similar profession. When my “day job,” is tolerable, I have never minded concurrant traditional employment and self-employment. However, feeling it the “correct” thing to do, my parents forced me to enroll in my local community college. I was unable to attend my classes regularly, retain the material I was shown, and I dropped out after barely six weeks. I never returned.

My tumultuous employment history is made up of almost exclusively poorly-paying service jobs. I am a particularly bad fit for these jobs, which require me to camouflage my autistic traits and behave in ways that are extremely unnatural to me. The inevitable conclusion of prolonged masking for me is autistic burnout, chronic fatigue, recurrent severe depression, and suicidal ideation.

It is by creativity, luck, and resilience that I have survived.

What is autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how an individual on the spectrum relates to other people and interacts with the world. Though there are common traits, each autistic person’s specific abilities and disabilities are unique. Autism is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. There are controversial treatments available, but no cure.

Speaking for myself, I have significant difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, the ability to “read” people, over-stimulation and other sensory issues, repetitive behaviours, and executive function. This translates to problems being at my shifts on time, understanding what is expected of me, maintaining my focus, and interacting with customers, coworkers, and supervisors.

I typically last 1-2 years at full-time employment in these conditions before my mental health deteriorates and I enter a period of intense autistic burnout. I am part of an unfortunate group of people who are disabled, but not disabled enough for public assistance. With a little help, compassion, and minor accommodations, it is easily possible for someone like me to thrive. I want to work, after all.

I want to be able to do things for myself. Most adults want that.

Though diagnoses are increasing, it is my opinion that autism is historically under-diagnosed. It is my opinion that, like ADHD, autism is an uncommon but normal variation in human brain structure. The epidemic is the loss of non-service jobs, and alternative life paths, for people with atypical needs. The modern world was designed for a neurotypical brain, without time for other brains to adapt.

Instead of attempting to cure autism, especially in individuals with no cognitive impairments, we should be focusing on the positive characteristics and strengths of autism. Instead of autistic awareness, promote autistic acceptance.

Communicating directly and honestly benefits everyone.

Illustration of my autism in a "A Dollar Late and A Day Short" comic panel from 2015. Four years later, I will finally be diagnosed as autistic.

What is having autism like?

For me, it is living in a state of confusion, distraction, and over-stimulation. Nearly everything that a neurotypical person takes for granted as easy or simple requires conscious thought for me. Even the most basic activities of daily living have an additional layer of complexity and energy-sapping frustration.

My sensory issues are primarily auditory. My brain lacks the ability to filter through sounds in the way that a neurotypical brain does. In any environment, my brains “hears” all audio at once, and at equal priority. The buzzing of a light bulb is perceived to be just as important as, for example, what is being said to me by a supervisor. A friendly dinner date in a noisy room becomes work.

Imagine yourself standing in a batting cage, and being pelted with balls by several pitching machines. The balls assaulting you, in my case, are sound. That is my daily experience when I am outside my apartment shopping, socializing, and working. Some days I can handle it. Some days it is overwhelming.

Often I can hear electricity in items such as phone chargers.

Conversations, music, television, and any other form of verbal language are particularly distressing to me. Being exposed to multiple layers of these sounds at once is almost unbearable. If I cannot leave such an environment quickly, I will lose the ability to regulate myself, and eventually shut down entirely.

I spend a lot of time in what you may consider silence, but it is not. The sounds of clocks ticking, birds calling, distant conversations, cars, sirens, and the other signs of life are ever-present. I am fond of fans and white noise generators.

Imagine holding down a job while coping daily with fight-or-flight.

What about the social impairments?

I have auditory processing issues that make it more challenging for me to comprehend speech. In the rare instances that I watch movies or television, I prefer to have captions or subtitles turned on. Seeing and reading the words helps me follow the narrative. I do poorly with only verbal instructions.

I have mild echolalia and palilalia. Frequently, I repeat myself when speaking, which can be annoying for the listener. I restate things said to me, to ensure that I have understood the speaker correctly. This is usually misinterpreted as me not paying attention, or mocking the speaker. My tone of voice, when I cannot actively modulate it, tends to sound disinterested and flat, or child-like.

I have a powerful need for the world around me to make sense. If a person tells me to “stop being lazy” or “stop lying,” and I know I am not being lazy or lying, I am unlikely to alter my behaviour. Why would I, when it makes no sense?

Like many autistic people, I can be obliviously blunt, and too honest.

I tend to miss sarcasm and nuance in spoken language, and to take statements literally. Communication with me needs to be clear, direct, and explicit. Conflicting and contradictory information causes me incredible distress. Struggling to resolve my observed reality, and what I have been made or told to believe, has been the root of nearly all my dysfunctional behaviour in the past. Gaslighting.

I was conditioned from childhood, including through the use of intimidation and violence, to ignore my own anxieties, intuition, and needs, and to always do what I was “supposed” to do instead. That one bit of programming has brought me immeasurable misery and pain. I was programmed to accept abuse.

Now I know better.

What am I bad at?

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. – Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Though I am writing about autism, I believe this applies universally.

It may seem counterintuitive, but in my opinion, honestly assessing your weaknesses is more vital to success than honestly assessing your strengths. Taking inventory of your strengths is an exercise in gratification of the ego. On the other hand, regularly reevaluating your own flaws and weaknesses is not a practice most people are comfortable with. This is one area where my autistic ability to be more analytical, detached, and logical has benefitted me.

I prioritize achieving the goals I desire, arriving at the correct answers and conclusions, and understanding how things work. This means easily admitting when I am wrong, adapting my views to accommodate new information, and attempting to view situations in the most objective manner possible.

Lying to yourself may be comforting, but it is ultimately self-destructive.

My autistic diagnosis made it easier for me to understand my disabilities and where my weaknesses lie. This, in turn, made it easier for me to understand how and why I most often fail. Understanding failure is the key to not repeating it.

It is also important to distinguish between your “fixed” and your “soluble” weaknesses. I can, for example, lift weights to gain physical strength. That is a soluble weakness. I cannot, however, magically grow six inches taller to reach a high shelf. That is a fixed weakness that requires accommodation or a separate tool. (I know these are not actually weaknesses like I intend. I hope you will accept these examples for the purpose of a clear, simple explanation.)

Resolve your soluble weaknesses, and work around your fixed weaknesses.

How does this play out in the real world?

For most of 2019, I was employed as an aide in assisted living facilities for seniors. I spent the majority of that time in memory care housing, working with advanced dementia patients. More recently in late 2021, I was employed as a personal care assistant to a physically disabled person in their home.

I genuinely enjoy being helpful, and I am unbothered by job duties such as cleaning up bodily fluids and bowel movement. However, these are some of the worst possible jobs I could have. Here are some concrete reasons why:

– Clients are often confused, confusing, and argumentative.
– Clients are more susceptible to misinterpreting autistic communication.
– Difficult for autistic caregiver to correctly interpret clients’ communication.
– Difficult for autistic caregiver to “read minds” to determine clients’ needs.
– Instructions and order of activities are often illogical.
– Unpredictable and often unexplained task-switching is required.
– Breaks and meal times are loosely enforced or neglected entirely.
– Nature of the job makes it impossible to establish any kind of routine.
– Environments with music, noise, televisions, and talking are over-stimulating.
– Poor boundaries and mutual loneliness can make the job emotionally taxing.
– Autistic people can be naive and easily taken advantage of by employers.
– Autistic people are more likely to be targets of bullying and abuse.

After a year of caregiving in 2019, I burned out so deeply and thoroughly that I am still not fully recovered. When my most recent employment situation became unhealthy and untenable for me, I made the effort to understand why. I now know that service jobs strike at nearly all of my fixed weaknesses.

I can, to an extent, mask my autism. It is exhausting and unsustainable.

Illustration of my autism in a "A Dollar Late and A Day Short" comic panel from 2015. Four years later, I will finally be diagnosed as autistic.

What am I good at?

In November, I began the search for a new job. Based on my newly-acquired understanding of myself, I looked for jobs that would be most compatible with my strengths. I prioritized physical activity and repetitive tasks. I looked for jobs that could offer me the consistency, predictability, routine, and stability that I need. And I avoided jobs which centered on communication and social interaction.

My peak creativity and performance are achieved at the intersection of high physical fatigue and low mental fatigue. Burning off excess energy is essential to my sedentary creative work, and also restful, regenerative sleep. The more I am able to engage in the behaviours that feel natural to me, the lower my mental fatigue. Physical fatigue affects me little. Mental fatigue is debilitating.

“Natural” behaviours to me include sorting things and putting them into order, creating and organizing systems, pattern recognition, and problem-solving. I also need to feel comfortable enough to not continuously monitor and control my body language, tone of voice, words, etc. I need to feel safe enough to be myself.

Entry-level manufacturing or a warehouse position became my goal.

My new job is in a warehouse. My position, at its core, is extremely repetitive. Additionally, I have been given a large amount of autonomy to better organize and improve the efficiency of how my job is done. My supervisors have already noticed and complimented me on my improvements. I regularly log over 10k steps, lift and move objects, and do dozens of squats every shift.

My coworkers are mostly immigrants, who generally keep to themselves. Everyone is busy. Conversations are almost exclusively work-related. Expectations and goals are reasonable and well-defined.

I work the same hours, with the same breaks, on the same days.

Every week. Like clockwork.

So having autism means having the right job?

Maybe? Certainly, every job has its honeymoon phase, before the petty annoyances and grievances begin to set in. But I am confident that I have found the correct environment for me. The steady clacking and whirring of machinery is calming to me. The repetitive tasks that many would find mind-numbingly boring are similar to my self-soothing, stimming behaviours. No one cares or even notices how weird I am. No one cares if I hide away on my breaks.

My new employer asks about and makes accommodations for me. Small allowances can make an incredible difference in my mental health and quality of life. My new employer uses the correct pronouns when speaking to me. I do not have to defend or explain the traits of my autism, as if I choose to be autistic. Coworkers and supervisors are patient when I need things (re)explained.

I am no longer being accused of being a bad person, or being called undesirable things, because people can sense that I am different. It is validating to be treated like a whole person. It is good to feel safe enough to be authentic; to be myself. I feel appreciated, heard, and like my ideas and contributions have value. Because of that I feel accepted, and included, as well. I feel respected. I feel human.

At the end of each shift, I leave my job dirty and tired. I am also happy. And afterward, I return home able to enjoy the rest of my evening with my partner. As I adjust to the increase in physical activity, I am resuming my creative work. I am surrounded by supportive coworkers, family, and friends. My days and nights are filled with joy and love. I am poor. My life is not easy, but it is good.

In conclusion…

You cannot put a price on the value of knowing yourself.

I do not speak for all autistic people. I can write only about my own experiences. By doing so, perhaps others will consider new perspectives or gain insight.

The employment statistics for autistic adults are depressing. Many people with autism are truly unable to work. Or, like me, they may need a little help, but they are not disabled enough for public assistance. Additionally, there are an unknown number of undiagnosed autistic adults unemployed, underemployed, or barely hanging on. It is a depressing, discouraging, and invalidating place to be.

I am blessed to have carved a small niche for myself in the world.

My story is not inspirational. No one should have to live the life that I have.

For every “Jin Wicked” there are hundreds, if not thousands, of autistic adults who fall through the cracks. Everyone relishes a tale of triumph against the odds, but what about the rest? We are all deserving of dignity, regardless of our abilities and disabilities. We are all deserving of a life free from abuse and shame. And we are all deserving of the support needed to be live as independently as possible.

I am educating myself about resources such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the ADA. A public list is available of books that I find helpful. I am learning about my legal protections and rights as an autistic person. No longer will I tolerate blaming, shaming, and bullying behaviours toward me.

I am different, but autism does not make me any less human.

I will continue to speak out for both myself and others.

To me, that is the correct and right thing to do.

Note: This post originally appeared on my previous blog at JinWicked.com. It has been republished here for archival and informational/reference purposes.

CATEGORY:

Geminae Stellae Unitae

Dan and I were married in a small ceremony on 22 November 2021.

Dan and Jen Wedding

When I first entered my “early mid-life crisis” in late 2014 at age 34, all I knew was that something is not right, and that I desperately needed to figure out what. I began a years-long quest to understand who I am, what I am, and how I ended up in the condition that I did — deeply depressed, uninterested, unproductive, and nearly physically unrecognizable. For most of my life, I have struggled against the background noise of low-grade suicidal ideation, as well.

To recap: I got divorced, moved from Texas to Minnesota, and lost 70lbs.

As part of this quest, I reconnected with many people and lost places from my past in the search for answers. I needed, more than anything, to make sense of my life experiences and my memories. I sifted through the fragments, remnants, and in some cases, gaslighting, to uncover the truth. I carefully dissected all of my failed friendships and relationships, identifying the common elements.

In this way, over time, I was able to discern my own self-defeating cycles. That, combined with a growing awareness of what healthy friendships and relationships look like, enabled me to release the tremendous burden of undeserved guilt, self-blame, and shame that I had been carrying. A burden that was placed upon me by people invested in defining me, rather than allowing me to define myself.

I eventually found my answers, but they have come at substantial cost.

In early 2019, I was diagnosed with ADHD. In late 2020, I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. With this fresh perspective and knowledge, I was finally able to work through the abuse, mischaracterization, misinterpretation, ostracization, trauma, and other mistreatment I have endured since I was a child.

I have always had an overwhelming desire to be good, but being bombarded by mixed messages from people with their own agendas, popular media, and society, has often left me confused and unsure what the right thing to do actually is.

I am honest-to-a-fault in a world where sincerity is a handicap.

While well-camouflaged due to my intelligence and sheer stubbornness, I am severely socially impaired. I have speech processing difficulties, auditory sensory issues, touch sensory issues, mild face-blindness, a degree of mind-blindness that I have to consciously counter, and I tend to take statements literally. I often miss hyperbole and sarcasm. Consistently contradictory information or instructions will generate unbearable anxiety, and eventually cause me to meltdown or shutdown. Over-stimulation will rapidly cause me to shutdown. I stim when agitated. I rely heavily on mirroring and elaborate internal “programs” or “scripts” to navigate social situations. Until beginning ADHD medication, I also struggled with impulsiveness and extreme executive function impairments.

Once the mechanics of how my brain works became clear to me, I could finally explain to myself why I created “Jin Wicked” in the first place, more than twenty years ago. I could finally unravel the layers of deliberate training and learned behaviours I adopted in an effort to pass as, I know now, neurotypical.

Inside — I could finally hear, see, and be, my authentic self.

In January and February of 2021, I underwent hysterectomy and double-mastectomy surgeries. Following my double-mastectomy, for the first time in my life, I looked into a mirror and I recognized my own reflection. Shortly afterward, I came out as agender/non-binary. The ever-present suicidal ideation stopped. Freedom and peace, unlike any I had ever known, overwhelmed me.

By this past summer, I had the experience and tools to recognize and exorcise the remaining toxic friendships and relationships from my life. I began focusing my social energy on the people who had shown, through their actions, that they truly cared about and wanted the best for me. I instituted a personal zero-tolerance policy for red flag behaviours directed at me or others.

I had done the hard work. I knew myself. I felt whole.

The reward for this was my Holy Grail: a true soulmate-type connection.

Dan and Jen Wedding

On 26 July, I was experimenting with gouache paints at my friend Mat’s art studio, when he told me about a friend of his who had miraculously survived falling from a three-story apartment roof. Mat spoke highly of his friend, while regaling me with the details of his long and complicated recovery process. I had no idea who Mat’s friend was, but I was moved by Mat’s intense concern.

An hour, or perhaps two, later, I met Dan for the first time when he suddenly appeared in the studio and sat down near me. He was carrying a duffle bag, and for reasons unknown, began slowly showing me the contents of the bag, including an old pair of bowling shoes and a paperback copy of Dante’s Inferno. It was only when he brought out a pill box and started explaining the many medications he was taking, that I realized this was the friend Mat had been describing.

The beginnings of our strange chemistry were noticeable upon that initial meeting, but at that time I had far too much going on. About a month passed before, one night, I messaged Mat to ask how Dan was doing, and share that I had been thinking about that copy of Inferno. Someone suggested that we hang out together at the studio again, and on 1 September, the six-year anniversary of my move to the Twin Cities, I picked up Dan and we passed the day getting to know each other a little. We rapidly learned that we had a lot in common.

One of the first things Dan did that day was hand me the most recent of his combination journals and sketchbooks to read. I sat and slowly went through it, cover-to-cover. I recognized his journey, pain, and struggles were similar to my own. I remembered what I had needed to hear and receive, but did not, when I felt like all hope was lost and I had no reason to go on. I did my best to offer him unconditional acceptance and a sense of safety. I was able to finish healing my own wounds by being the person I needed then, and did not have, for him.

While Dan’s journaling is not public like my art, blogging, or comics, we both communicate and deal with things in extremely similar ways. We connected on a level that neither one of us had experienced before. Of all the men I have known, Dan was the only one brave enough to hand over his heart in a book, show me his authentic self without any reservations or regrets, and say, “I trust you.”

I learn by mirroring people. Dan’s genuine vulnerability unlocked my own.

Within a couple of weeks, we were nearly inseparable.

Dan and Jen Wedding

I adore Dan, and think he is the handsomest feller I ever saw.

This is the first relationship I have ever been in where everything has felt easy, good, and natural, instead of awkward, emotionally unavailable, like pulling teeth just to communicate/get anything done, being taken advantage of, or worse. Even the best of my past relationships were avoidant or destined to fail.

Dan is a musician that dabbles in the visual arts. I am a visual artist that dabbles in the musical arts. Our creative energies fit together as smoothly as we did.

Dan read my books almost immediately after I gave him copies, and he enjoyed them. He is interested in my work, not feigning interest to get close to me. He is actively interested in participating in my projects and doing collaborative work with me; something I specifically decided I wanted back in 2015.

Dan treats me like a whole person with my own hopes and desires; not arm candy, a fixer-upper project, his personal property, or a trophy to be fought over and bragged about. Dan treats me like an equal partner; not a status symbol to attach himself to, a meal ticket, or an accessory. Dan is not using me as a “second chance” at failed ambitions. Dan never tells me what to do.

Dan celebrates and supports my successes. He is not envious or jealous.

Dan is understanding of the fact that I am autistic, and he is mindful of my communication and sensory issues. He does not treat me cruelly, humiliate me, shame me, or attempt to convince me I am broken, sick, unwell, etc. when I act like an autistic person. He does not try to diagnose me or define who I am.

Dan does not make me feel like I have to camouflage or hide my autistic traits and act “normal,” which is exhausting and eventually leads to autistic burnout. He does not “punish” me for stimming, or self-soothing behaviours, like other people have in the past. He lets me be me. As a result, my anxiety levels with him have always been non-existent. Individuals who trigger my anxiety have become an automatic red flag. Healthy social interactions do not trigger my anxiety.

Dan listens to me, and puts in the effort to understand the intention or meaning behind my communication, instead of twisting my words to fit a biased — usually bitter, cynical, and negative — interpretation. Rather than assuming the worst and reacting with anger or indignation, he allows me to explain myself.

Dan makes sure I understand him correctly, and is always willing to help me when I am confused. Dan’s actions match his words; he is consistent. He never undermines my sense of stability by, for example, saying and promising nice things, and then denying them or acting passive-aggressively toward me.

Dan accepts who I am, and what I feel I need to do, without any judgement.

While our interests are not 100% the same — that would be boring — we are alike and compatible in all the ways that matter. Even our few disagreements or misunderstandings have been undramatic and resolved without any lasting hurt. We are both compassionate, inquisitive, easy-going, playful, “giving” types.

We have an uncanny amount of overlap in the kind of — mostly creative and sometimes outdoorsy — activities we both enjoy, and now share with each other. We do things together. We make things together. We learn things together. We draw and write notes for each other, now, in Dan’s sketchbook journals.

Dan has a large, loving family that has welcomed me with open arms. I was as instantly, unusually comfortable with them as I was with Dan. I know it cannot be easy watching Dan reclaim his independence following his accident, and I am humbled and honoured by the trust his parents are showing in me.

Dan and I are both committed, and doing the hard work, to grow and improve ourselves. Dan and I are both committed to the goal of thriving — together.

Whatever planet I am from, Dan is from at least the same solar system.

Sometimes, I confess, it is still difficult to see myself as worthy of this pure kindness, love, and peace. The roots of being browbeaten to feel defective and unlovable run deep. Teaching oneself how to distinguish and nurture a healthy relationship is a monumental task. But it gets easier. And it is worth it.

Dan and Jen Wedding

Days before she died of metastatic breast cancer in 2010, during her final hospital stay, and in one of her last moments of consciousness and lucidity, my mother tried to stand — clutching at me and desperately crying that she wanted to live to see my wedding day. It was extremely awkward, as I had no desire, nor plans, to be married at the time. I never wanted a “wedding” or its cookie-cutter “traditions.” I had no interest in any of the ceremony or the circus of it. (My first marriage, which did happen shortly afterward, was painfully utilitarian.) It was not until meeting Dan that I understood why this ritual matters to people.

When Dan suggested the night of 20 November that we elope the following Monday, my first thought was, “What took so long?” My second thought was, “The person for me is definitely the one crazy enough to suggest we elope after barely three months, when we almost immediately felt like an old married couple that has been together for ages. And then do it.” He was positively giddy.

We both did the “date your future spouse for years first,” and, well, neither of those worked out. By your early 40s, I feel, you know what you want — and you are entitled to act on it. Neither one of us has much to potentially lose, except time. Overwhelmingly, we have received almost nothing but support.

Dan and Jen Wedding

I, curiously, already had a dress, which was purchased by a weird compulsion earlier in the summer before I met Dan. Everything else came together in a little over a day. We were married at the “Chapel of Love” in the Mall of America, which is absolutely absurd, delightfully cheesy, and quite perfectly incongruous for two unrepentant weirdos — and broke, anti-consumerists — of our sort.

I wore my mother’s pearl necklace, and a choker made of tuxedo agate and river shell beads that I strung a few hours before our wedding to match it. I assembled my bouquet of silk sunflowers, red cabbage roses, and ivory ribbon. Sunflowers have been a symbol of hope and perseverance for me since moving to Minnesota, and red roses are a reference to the Rose from my favourite book, “The Little Prince,” in addition to being a symbol of love.

Being with Dan has felt like finally coming home to the place, and family, where I belong. I am exactly where I should be, and I could not ask for more.

Dan and Jen Wedding

Dan and I are both looking forward to a very, very uneventful and very, very quiet life of shared artistic and creative pursuits, baking and cooking, gardening, love, music, peace, and small adventures. We are currently navigating the steps necessary to get Dan’s vehicle back on the road safely, so that he can gradually ease back into working, when he is ready. We make an awesome team.

I cannot wait to begin building our life together.

Note: This post originally appeared on my previous blog at JinWicked.com. It has been republished here for archival and informational/reference purposes.

CATEGORY:

The Dead Will Rise

Greetings, friends! Rumours of the demise of “Jin Wicked” have been greatly exaggerated! I am navigating a period of transformation and transition as I enter the next phase of my life. In many ways, I feel as if my real life is just beginning. I am upgrading my studio for the return of my sidekick Trashy, along with new blogs and videos. As a result, I am taking a step back from social media and writing. Temporary withdrawal is a necessary part of my creative process.

I am continuing to read and learn about autism following my diagnosis in late 2020. I am still exploring the ways in which it has effected and shaped my life. Specifically, I want to better understand my strengths and weaknesses.

Above all, I want to hone my skills and live up to my potential.

Here is a quick look at some of the new art, crafts, and photos I have been working on! To see all of my work-in-progress, including new illustrations, as well as access my commission and sketch card waitlists, please consider subscribing to my Patreon for as little as $1 per month. Patreon makes my work possible. Subscribers also have access to patrons-only personal and project updates.

“Jin Wicked,” Dan Bateman, and Ben Cooper

I am pleased to announce my personal and professional partnership with Dan Bateman, pictured below. He has his own incredible and inspiring story to tell. I am looking forward to introducing him to you through my work over time. Dan is a musician first and foremost. Because of this, he brings a new dimension to my ongoing multimedia projects. You can listen to several of his albums here.

My relationship with Dan has renewed my own sense of drive, inspiration, and purpose. We are exploring the ways in which our work can be combined and interwoven in the future. The possibilities feel endless!

"Weird Like Me" Cartoon Sketch of Jin Wicked and Dan Bateman

“There [they] [go]. [Two] of God’s own prototypes. [Two] high-powered mutants of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” – Hunter S. Thompson, sorta.

Dan Bateman and Jin Wicked near Union Depot in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

In addition to my partnership with Dan, I have been collaborating more with my good friend, and Twin Cities-based photographer, Ben Cooper. Ben’s work focuses primarily on Minnesota landscapes and landmarks. Some of his most well-known images are breathtaking, starry night skies over Lake Superior’s North Shore.

Although it is not his usual fare, Ben works with me to create portraits that capture my vision of atmosphere, personality, and fashion.

What is next?

Now, what does the future have in store for “Jin Wicked?”

In the coming months and years, I have planned for release at least one hardcover art and illustration picture book, new webcomic collections in print, a poetry book featuring my floral illustrations and photography, and possibly a cook book with my favourite cookie recipes! I also anticipate more experimentation with music, video, and time-lapse as I continue to test my own limits.

Sour Cream Pumpkin Bundt Cake

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"Letter from The Great Pumpkin" by Jin Wicked

"Eye of Providence Pumpkin Head" by Jin Wicked

Poem No. 008 "Unified" by Jin Wicked

"Unbroken" by Jin Wicked

I am full of replenished energy, and bursting with ideas!

Note: This post originally appeared on my previous blog at JinWicked.com. It has been republished here for archival and informational/reference purposes.

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