Body Image: Still An Everyday Struggle

2004-06-04_dustin-cahs-graduationContinued from Body Image, Yes I struggled during childhood and adolescence.

As I entered adulthood, I became increasing aware of my body image. It was my senior year, PE was still adaptive, but was more active and required a shower near the end. This continued to be a challenge but couldn’t be helped as it is a state requirement. Nonetheless, I mustered the courage to trudge through this struggle among many others of body image like disclosing my weight at Cap & Gown Distribution where I was 256#. After graduation, I had the grand idea of going to a new, more expensive gym. This so I thought would be the new solution. However, it was an epic fail as I ate out continuously and spent my graduation savings to nothing. That fall, I would be accepted for an assessment period at the state vocational rehab institute 60 miles away. While square meals were provided, the snacks and other needs would need to be provided by myself.

This was a true test of independence. It was difficult to manage. Papa John’s visited the school weekly for $6 Pizzas, the dining hall food was subpar and the canteen was open several times a day. Nonetheless, I consistently visited the canteen and had a pizza, yes the whole thing, and nearly fell ill as a result. I got to stay an additional week and came home and had a transitional job landed through the support entity a few months later.

Easter, Age 20 (Weight was around 280#)

The next spring, I learned in a letter that I was accepted in a year-long diploma program of study. That May, I went back to the studies there and struggled continually with the canteen visits and pizza offers. I also learned takeout and how to utilize public transportation  with access to McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Domino’s a local Pizza Place, Subway and 2 Chinese Restaurants that were good. I didn’t really go for a few months due to financial constraints. A few months later this was relieved and I went hog wild with not a care in the world. I had no idea what I weighed. I began to incorporate soda, especially liters of Coca Cola and Dr. Pepper into my diet. After that Christmas, I became a little bit aware and followed the up and coming fads of that time. The Dr. Phil book, the 7 under 6 grams of fat stuff. The list goes on and on. I graduated the following spring. I came home to live, totally unaware of what my weight was. I had gained the so-called Freshman 15 and then some to over 20 pounds.

Another serious attempt was undertaken yet again where I would opt to purchase a one-year contract at the local gym, however I would not stick with it and result in not monitoring my calories and sticking to the sweets such as soda and the junk. I gave up the gym and in the fall of that year, I joined TOPS, short for Take Off Pounds Sensibly. I weighed in at 271# right before Thanksgiving. I was very well-liked at TOPS, however the food plan is up to you which can be  difficult at times. I continued the soda until recently and as a result gained 58 Pounds until October of 2019 when I was at my highest of 329. Waist sizes have increased to a 46″ and a T-Shirt Size, of 3XL to 4X, depending.

My Highest Weight (329#, 46″ Waist)

When I was at my highest on October 1, 2018. I realized that a initial photo of me in the same top needed to be taken before each weigh-in followed by a posting scheme on social media to garner support. As of this writing almost four months later, I have lost close to 15# from my highest weight at TOPS. During the last meeting we touched on the pros and cons on sugar and it was stated that aspartame is nothing but rat poison. This sickened me immediately as I drank over six liters of Coke Zero in just the past twenty-four hours alone. I got up and distracted the crowd by lifting the lid on the trash can and throwing the twenty-once bottle away. I no longer plan to drink any artificial sweetners and limiting true sugars. More will be coming in another post on my addiction and how bad it is and how I plan to overcome it.  Plans call for another charm at TOPS in seven weeks with 8 weeks no loss and to lose about 14 pounds in that time to have a weight around 300#.

Body Image, Yes I struggled during childhood and adolescence.

Recently, I was browsing many of the Autism groups of Facebook and came upon this BBC 3 clip on male body image. Many say individuals with autism don’t have this issue. However, I have to argue that for several points. This clip profiles men of all shapes, ethnicities, lifestyles and sizes. Some may have a eating disorder while other dudes may not. Nonetheless, I struggle day to day with this. Over the next paragraph, we will journey through  an almost 30 year history of my body images, and don’t worry there’s no graphic pictures, they’re clean, I promise.

Part I: The Ritalin and Misdiagnoses

1991_christmas_dustin-2By the time I entered first grade, I really didn’t know, but my parents knew something was not right mentally. They took me to a clinic at a regional hospital where I was prescribed the traditional drug of any kid in the 1990s with the ADHD label, Ritalin. This medicine made my very lethargic and not wanting to eat Throughout much of my elementary school years, I was forty pounds soaking wet. I wanted to eat, but I couldn’t, nor did I care if I did or not. I did not like a plethora of food choices. My main go to  was Hot Dogs, Mac & Cheese and the occasional McDonald’s.

First Day of Third Grade, the turning point

I recall this one time at my first elementary school where I wouldn’t eat the food and I went to throw it away. The paraprofessional halted me and gave it to the hungry kids in the lunchroom, I felt so ashamed. Family get togethers were yet another difficulty with the ADHD blending in and not wanting to eat. I don’t realize it to just now, but I am sure I stressed my family out. As for body image at this point, I didn’t want to gain weight, but my parents were gravely concerned for several years. The medicine was being used until the 3rd grade when learning in the mainstream environment became increasingly difficult.

Near the end of the Ritalin days, Easter in Sixth Grade

The behavior became so severe that it resulted in switching schools to an emotional support classroom, a smaller environment. With the new school being a huge change, the behaviors worn off and I began to receive my Ritalin from the pediatrician. Even with the adapted changes, eating and body image became a struggle that I wouldn’t eat certain foods. Now I realize years later that it could have been the sensory issues, however not yet having a official autism diagnosis, I thought these feelings were abnormal. I did family get togethers with little struggle, but didn’t eat as regularly as I should have for a growing child. Eventually, by the end of the elementary school years, I would end taking the Ritalin. However changes were necessary as I would begin the Junior High Years.

Part II: The “Official” Diagnosis and change in Meds

Fall of 7th Grade, About 100-110 pounds

As the transition began from Elementary School to Junior High was difficult to the point that in-home services were required. One of the first professionals that visited my home made 16 phone calls on my behalf and began the process of getting in a research study at a local university medical center where I performed a battery of tests and was given the official diagnosis. As such, I was referred to their clinic for medication management and was  prescribed two of the three meds I still take twenty years later. I continue to take a mood stabilizer and a ant-agressant to maintain my mood and help me sleep. A anti anxiety med, that a true period of transition over the next seven years until I found the current one.

Me in My Challenger League Uniform during my 7th Grade Summer, about 140#

With Junior High came physical education, which is a state mandated class in Pennsylvania. With that came the bullying and teasing, the locker room banter, the physical fitness tests, the dreaded “mile”. I had a pitiful veteran gym teacher and adaptive PE was not offered to me at my school as I was classified as too “advanced” None the less beginning the end of seventh grade, the weight became to come on due to the side effects of weight gain and increased appetite of the two meds. I hated my body, I was continued to be bullied and bantered throughout the seventh grade. I hated the part of growing out of new clothes, etc. I knew puberty had a part in this effect but I had negative feelings about myself to the point that additional services were needed and it became increasingly difficult to control my emotions physically and mentally. To not help, my Junior High was in the process of renovation over 7th Grade to the start of 8th Grade, and as a result, the construction made us attend classes in multiple buildings, the bantering continued to the point that I was glad the year was over.

Part III: The Hospitalization Experiences

Another successful day of Trout Season (Age 14, about 160#)

Beginning the following school term the school messed up my schedule placing me in total mainstreaming. This was increasingly difficult but could not be changed for several weeks, The bantering and Phys. Ed. issues continued, which made me eat and again struggle with body image. I didn’t feel complete. I couldn’t feel satisfied after a meal, the list goes on and on. None the less it got to the point that I acted out at home and required psychiatric hospitalization. This was my first time away from home ever without family.

As such, I learned new things and was released from the hospital a week later. The curricula at school was changed to a book study PE. However, the PE deal was renegicuated to include a modified PE. The school term ended badly, with me continuing to act out as well as the trauma from being restrained frequently. In addition, I began a regular weight lifting routine, thinking it would help. Decades later, I realized it would of helped if I would have ate better and managed better. But at this point I was just living day to day. Finally, I had a really bad episode that resulted me in returning to the same hospital just seven months after I left. I would not finish the school term successfully. I, along with family members continued to become increasingly concerned about my weight to a point. However, we were unsure if it was a part of puberty. We knew the meds had a part in this, but we thought it would play out with the semi-workout routine. This was the beginning of the struggle of the weight issues that I hold twenty years later.

Shortly after the second hospitalization, I came back and returned again and spent my 15th birthday in the inpatient unit. I got out one more time, only to return again after a very bad episode. I stayed longer this time, but I got out. I continued to live, but with a struggle, body image had a play in this I thought I wasn’t good enough to live, stuff like that. The time came when I lashed out in the university clinic where I was admitted to the university psych hospital. My parents gave a ultimatum. I was not to return to their residence until I was through a residential treatment facility, and due diligence, my mother aggressively fought the system’s idea of first having me placed in a place in New England, then a counter offer of a facility on the other side of the state. My mother successfully placed me in treatment 30 miles from my house.

A home visit for Christmas (About 185#)

While there was an abundance of activity that nine months I was placed, my parents wanted to level me out on my meds and give me a baseline. As such, the weight creped over the holidays. I did have an opportunity to attend a different public school that was totally opposite of the Junior High the year prior. It was a success, but it had nearly five times the students the Junior High had. Being a High School, it had a expansive food court, that included a salad bar, that I rarely visited, however I did visit the Ala carte line regularly. Near the point I completed my goals in residential, I got on the scale, just for kicks. I knew the pants size went up from a 36:” to when I was admitted to a 38″ and a weight of 187#. I was appalled.  I again knew that I had to make a change for the better. To my mother’s agreement , when I came home, in home services would need to occur for the transition to become successful. I agreed and came home. The next day, I went to the gym and weighed myself on the scale, I weighed 200 # I was ready for a change. Little did I know, I had to yet transition to yet another school in my home school district, but this would be completed easier. I still had days of which I would require to be restrained due to lashing out. Things seemed to not get better. I was groomed with unhealthy food choices like Chinese Buffets, Soda (caffeine free, but calorie), and weekly pizzas, sometimes twice a week.

Sophomore Summer when I was 16 (Approx. 225#)

I was associating with other peers, many of them younger in a wilderness setting. As the weight increased due to the increased usage of meds, as the psychiatrist didn’t want to “rock the boat,” the dosage continued. One Friday night at the gym, I was all alone in the locker room and I decided to have my own true weight session. Since May of that year, I gained 25 pounds. I was too ashamed to ask for guidance as I was lifting weights on a regular basis, however the continuance of the fatty foods would not help, nor did the continuance of meds, although I realize that it is a necessary element in my recovery. I knew that the weight had to be managed in some form. Many thought that going to they gym was helping. Ironically, it did not. In fact, I was increasingly stressed and experienced trauma from it and other social outings, that were increasingly difficult. However as Asperger’s was new and new territory and many professionals were unaware of the sensory issues.

Christmas at Age 16, 2 weeks after eye surgery and weighing around 230#

The body image issue continued over the holidays and into the summer of the following year into my 17th birthday. I felt extremely conscious of myself. Being in the Senior High offered me the opportunity to have adaptive PE. of which my Sophomore year the instructor was nearing retirement and resulted in playing computer games. I continued with the weekly dining out from Mexican Chinese to Buffets added with the calories sodas, it became increasingly difficult for me to pursue the dream that seemed to have no light at  the end of  the tunnel. I continued to be on the meds, which again, I knew I needed. That fall I “graduated” into a 40′ waist. I thought, this has got to stop. I had felt as puberty was over, but the weight was growing outward from this point forward. I had a hard time seeing the need for a change to be made, I, nor my family members wanted to be serious. about it.  I continued to workout on a regular basis until thanksgiving break my junior year as I joined the swim team as a statistician and the weight crept even more. I broke away from the events that caused trauma in my life, my life seemed to get better.

One of my senior portraits taken just after I turned 18. I weighed around 245# at the time.

That spring, I remember going to Macy’s to try on a pair of 40″ shorts, sadly, I couldn’t get them to zip nor button. I cried as I asked my mom for the next size. Also that year, a recruiter called me for the Selective Service a turned 18. They asked my height and weight. I was so embarrassed to state my weight over the phone of 243, yet again I was in torn to tears. Nonetheless, I began the senior pictures that summer as I looked delighted but it was only the beginning of the increasingly climb to adulthood.



Before Learning to Drive, A Learner’s Permit was required, a struggle best describes it

I wanted to write another blog post to follow up on my first report on getting my driver’s license last week. I thought I would be worth explaining the struggle to get the permit alone, as it was a difficult task and as I was excited to just have a driver’s license. This is because I was writing a newsletter article for the entity that I recieve employment services through. I will share that once it is published mid-February.

Think Long, Think Wrong

Once I began the recovery journey, have pondered over the last decade about obtaining a driver’s license. The same entity that I receive job supports through also provided driving instruction. In fact, I knew the gentleman assigned to the post, as he worked with me in my youth as my casemanager. I even got more stoked when a close acquantice through the agency got his license. When he got his, I was more stoked, to the point I would get the physical form requred for the permit filled out my my practiconier. However, soon after he graduated, I would learn that due to fiscal austerity the program would be discontinued in my area and if I wanted to pursue this, I would have to seek other options.

I knew that studying for my permit wouldn’t be hard, as I obsessed on traffic signs as  young child. It would just be learning manuvers, laws and other pertinent information, like teen driver and DUI laws, etc. Here in Pennsylvania, a Android App made this easier and I began in earnest for this, practicing occasionally.

Better Late than Never

As time went on I realized that taking the knowledge test became a necessity. Therefore, I had a close friend escort me to the local DMV. The DMV can be a very diffucult venue with someone on the spectrum, as in my area, it was undersized, crowded and overstimulating. Nonetheless, my wait was short and a proceeded to the proper destination when my number was called upon.

As I was seated, I had all necessary paperwork, all that would neeed to be administered would be a simple eye examination. Simple, I thought, because I was at the eye doctor less than a week prior, I would have no trouble. I was wrong! When I looked in the device, which was ancient, I read what was seen, and the proctor stated that I was blind in one eye. He then stated that I would have to have my eye doctor fill out a form for me to proceed and if I met the state law for vision requirements, I could take my knowledge test. He said that it would be up to them.

I was shocked, maybe because like many other individuals on the spectrum, I took this seriously. As I told my friend she was shocked, and would drive me home.  She instructed me to cover each eye and read road signs, etc. Could there be faulty equiment? I was very doubtful and was regresing some Meanwhile,  I went back to the eye doctor and had the state form filled out. But, I would be hesitant on going back to that DMV anyway.

Another County, Another World

As time neared, I had to muster the courage to visit a DMV, and as such, I had a week left on the physical form. So on Easter Saturday, my mom would escort me to the DMV in a neighboring county, as we are within a half hour drive of either and it was close to my sister’s house. I went early in the morning, being a Saturday, the center is usually attended by teens . As I went in a driver’s instructor said good luck and I went in, the first one for the day,

I handed all my paperwork to the proctor and she said because I had the form filled out by the eye doctor, she would not need to provide the eye examination and that I could take the knowledge test. She directs me to the computer, I put on the headphones and begin, I take  my time and narrow the answers, and answer the questions, of which when submitted return a correct response. In Pennsylvania, 15 out of the 18 randomly selected questions is required for approval. After answering the fifteenth question, I am directed to visit the proctor, where she tells me that I earned my learner’s permit and directs me to write a payment for the four year license, a standard in Pennsylvania

After I leave the center, I go to my sister’s house where she took this photo in her kitchen. Sadly,  I was not wearing the best of clothes, as I was wearing a thrift-shop shirt representing a neighboring school district that was a little snug. None the less, she makes the following photo. I later sharded it on my autism page that same day.

learner's permi

I have a permit, now I don’t want to learn.

With the permit, I had a year to take my exam. There was the option to extend it, however in psychotherapy, this was not a option. My mother offered to assist me in paying for lessons, but the buck stopped at her teaching her as she had difficulty in teaching my sister. The search began. One day, I was in a local convenence store where I seen a ad for a specialized driving school. I went home and did my research, the website, Facebook and Google reviews, etc. The number I knew was a cell phone exchange and I was hesitant in calling. Nonetheless, I mustered up the courage to call, the dreaded voicemail. I immedately hung up.

Not a few minutes later, he calls back. I explain my interest in taking driver’s lessons. He asks me a few simple questions, like how old I am, and have I ever drove a car. He then proceeds to ask if I have any disabilites. I feel open enough to elude to him that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. He then asks if I have a job. I state yes. He now instructs me to call my local Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) as they will assist me in paying for the lessons as it is a step to independence.  I call OVR the next day and they instruct me to go online to fill out a referral, of which my job support staff assist me in completing.

A few weeks go by and I hear no response from the OVR district office. Family and friends direct me to call the local office. and I did. The operator linked me to the assigned counselor and we talk for a bit and a meeting is needed to re-open my case. This would be the third time for such activity. I had attended their post secondary school over 14 years ago and the last time was nine years ago whwn the job supports assisted me in getting stuff I needed for my job when I needed it.

I go to the local field office on a Thursday and fill out the required forms to open my case. The counselor is overly friendly, I share my prior experiences with OVR and she states how the agency has chaged for the better. We close by her giving me a folder with informatioon.  The next steps are to develop an goal plan then proceed with a goal completion in January 2019,

It Gets Even Better

Four days later, I get a call from who would now be my apartment manager stating their was a opening here and would I like to move in beginning in August. I graciously accepted and would spend over a month, prepping and moving in.  (I will write articles o this later.) Within that transition, I did not change my contact information with OVR and the counselor called my house. Nonetheless, I called her right back and we set up a time to go over the goal plan, still keeping the same school I want and the target goal date of January 2019.

The next month, I get a purchase order from OVR in the mail and my instructor calls the next day. You could say the rest is history. We began instruction the following week. Again, read my prior post my learning to drive.



Driving and Asperger’s, Learning can be a challenge, but it was worth it!

When I got in that car three months ago, I didn’t think I could get it out of the parking lot. That day, I not only drove around the parking lot, but on the surrounding roads as well.

Eventually I would leave the parking lot more and beginning to drive from the parking lot where we practiced to my house, a mile away. Next would come to the point where I would be on country roads. This progressed to the point where I would go through several small towns.

Local Highways were the next step, the first time I was on an expressway, I drove from my house to the California Toll Plaza on the Mon-Fayette Expressway. After that, I blended country Roads, the expressways, including I-70 from Rostraver to New Stanton and the Roundabouts there.

One day, my lesson included the Tippecanoe Road, The Albany Tunnel and some new instances. Another lesson soon after that, I had to go back to that same area, and was well seasoned by that point.

The last part, the parallel parking and three point turn came sort of natural to me, it just took practice to blend in with the test. I only had one day notice that my instructor scheduled my test. Yes, I was anxious and I did worry, but I knew he wouldn’t had scheduled it if I wasn’t a safe driver.

Believe it or not, I was pretty calm during the test. My driving instructor watched me parallel park and said I did excellent. I made one minor error during the exam and now know how to fix it. Nonetheless, I feel comfortable driving on the road, and I have some seen some pretty irrational people on the road. I believe I can handle my emotions gracefully and without lashing out at other motorists

I cannot close this blog post without giving credit to my driving instructor. He is truly a godsend. I found his information on a bulletin board in the gas station. I called him, he told me to go through my local office of Vocational Rehabilitation as they would cover the cost of the training as it would be necessary for my job. After the referrals, the paperwork and setting up the lessons, we began. He provided constructive criticism, which helped me know what to do and he praised me when I did something right. He taught special education for over 35 years and opened his own School about 20 years ago as he saw a need for it. I don’t think I would be able to learn from anyone else. In the duration of learning the car was in the shop at least twice that I know of with issues, and I got worried that I would loss my skills. But, I didn’t. There was also a lapse of time where we ran out of time but we picked right up. I am immensly grateful for him.

I don’t know what the future holds for me yet. I continue to live it day by day. I know that having a driver’s license opens up more opportunities for me. I love the work that I do and would like to expand on that a little more, like getting involved with other advocacy groups of our agency such as NAMI and Gay-Straight Alliance. I would also like to continue my photographs alot more, by entering in other fairs in the area. However, this takes time and money to do.

When just stating that I got my license a few days ago, a Facebook friend posted this quote by Dr. Seuss, one of my favorite authors as a child. I am ready to set on my way!