“To the parents of children on the Spectrum, I implore you to focus on nurturing and supporting your child’s passions (even if they seem unusual, you never know if they may lead to a career) and embracing their individuality and eccentricity, rather than opting to work with a psychiatrist.”
by Morgan Giosa
I knew something was different about me – and that it wouldn’t be smooth sailing trying to get by in this world – for as long as I can recall. Never would I have guessed that in the now – at age 25 – I would get to a place in life where I was passionately and happily playing blues guitar with bands at open mic nights and in recording sessions, creating original instrumental music, painting in the abstract, capturing digital photographs of my favorite landscapes, producing an autobiographical documentary about autism and music/art for cable access TV in my home town, and working for paying clients and freelancers and companies in the field of web development when the opportunities present themselves.
Never did I believe my life would have purpose, given the nature of my past. Born into a dysfunctional and tumultuous family life and suffering from chronic asthma and having a few early brushes with death, by the age of five, I was already suffering intensely from depression and yearning to escape. I was diagnosed as autistic (Aspergers, at the time) around the age of 6, and my parents (who, to clarify, have become strong advocates of mine who try their best to support me, in spite of my strong disagreement with some choices made in regards to my healthcare) unfortunately put their trust into psychiatry and opted to medicate. To provide a bit of insight into their thought process, I battle intense anxiety and have a manic personality.
I have suspected I have a bipolar/schizophrenia spectrum condition in addition to being on the Spectrum. In my childhood home, with everyone fighting their own battles, this choice – unfortunate or not – was made without malicious intent. However, by the time I was on antipsychotic medicine, I was a wreck. I battled cognitive impairments and complete apathy from the medicine, in addition to social isolation and ridicule. Everyone thought I was “weird”, and I lived in solitude. My best childhood friends were Rocko, Filburt, and Heffer from my favorite cartoon series “Rocko’s Modern Life”.
Flash forward to high school (I promise: I’ll be getting from the lemons to the lemonade soon enough – bear with me) and I was – perhaps understandably – angry and rebellious, a bit of a loose cannon. I was in a fragile state of mind. Like many individuals on the Spectrum, I have an intense emotional center, but have experienced somewhat of a disconnect in social contexts and a difficulty externalizing emotions in a way deemed “normal” by neurotypical society. I believe that this struggle is intensified by my own personal demons. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school where I began pushing myself to befriend people and socialize much at all. I was always in my own head, thinking before feeling.
Today – in spite of all of the struggle I have described in vivid detail here – I am not one to harp on past negative experiences that much in day to day life. I have learned to live primarily in the present, even joking when thinking about my hardships that I was “Born Under a Bad Sign” (a reference to one of my favorite blues songs/albums by Albert King), but ultimately opting to focus on my passions and turn any thoughts about my past into fuel to focus on a pleasant today and an even better tomorrow.
I have worked with my psychiatrist (as of just this year) to drastically reduce my medication intake, and it seems that the second I rid my system of these unnecessary toxins, I found myself emotionally and creatively alive. Prior to being reborn free from the bind of psychiatry, I was struggling to play a single meaningful guitar note, but found myself awaken to an almost savant-like ability to play the improvised electric blues (though I would like to clarify that I do view music and art as a journey, one where the artist is always reaching for new heights, not one where there is a clear-cut end-goal that is easily attainable – in many ways, I am just beginning my own journey) and rather immediately found myself on stage at an open jam near Nashville, Tennessee, even receiving praise from the guitarist in the house band. I have begun taking abstract art classes and finding my own voice in the visual arts.
To put it simply, I have found a new confidence in myself which contradicts the intense feelings of pain and worthlessness I once knew so well. As such, the floodgates are opening and opportunities (even ambitious ones I have built for myself by taking the extra steps forward toward my goals) for exciting projects keep pouring in. I am doing contract work on a corporate-level web development project for a competitive hourly rate. I have plans to record my debut full length music album this winter with some of my closest musical mentors and peers. I’ve found myself with the confidence to apply for jobs (nothing full time has landed yet, but I did receive some enthusiastic responses to my applications). Things in the now could hardly be better.
In finding myself able to feel so intensely again, not every day is pretty. Some days I find myself a bit anxious and angry and even feeling worn out and down, and others, I feel intense joy. There are times when I find myself creatively uninspired, and others where I might find myself creating a near-masterpiece. My new perspective is that this is just a natural part of life for creative people, for those on the Spectrum and even for those who are considered neurotypical. However, some advice and perspective I would offer for anyone – particularly those feeling the sting of anxiety, depression, anger, or social isolation – is that a positive perspective in and of itself goes a long way. As much as it may seem or feel like a cliché, try to find a positive phrase to repeat in your head (example: “it’s going to get better”) and when the pain gets most intense and unbearable, try to repeat this saying, over and over again if needed.
I will be open and honest that I was suffering from suicidal thoughts for a period of my life. I started forcing myself to say a simple positive phrase in my head, repeatedly, when my pain was intensifying, and, whether it may seem cliché or not, having this coping mechanism may have saved my life. My initial reaction to a close friend who advised me that this change in perspective was an entrance onto the path of starting anew was, and I quote: “that is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard”. Trust me: I was wrong. In blues music, there is an expression I once heard applied to those struggling to play guitar solos, to “fake it ‘til you make it”. I was so reluctant, but now view this simple coping mechanism in the same light as I view that phrase. If life is giving you lemons – even lemons as intense as those it gave me – a path toward making sweet, delicious lemonade is trying to “force” a more positive perspective until it sticks and begins to feel real and no longer forced.
To the parents of children on the Spectrum, I implore you to focus on nurturing and supporting your child’s passions (even if they seem unusual, you never know if they may lead to a career) and embracing their individuality and eccentricity, rather than opting to work with a psychiatrist. A large part of what drew me to The Art of Autism’s message was that they seem to prefer embracing creativity and all that makes us unique rather than focusing on “curing” or “changing” autism. I can guarantee, from first-hand long term experience with them, that antipsychotic medicines – even if perhaps required in the most severe cases of mental illness – prevent an individual from feeling any passion or joy, which inhibits productivity in music and the arts or any field of a person’s choice. There is no “cure” for autism, nor should there be. Autism in and of itself is not a disease. However, activities and interests including (but not limited to) painting, drawing, music, and technology, can help those on the Spectrum to healthily channel their emotions into an employable area of skill, or if nothing else build social connections and social skills, and find an appropriate channel for their passion.
In conclusion, I believe – from the first-hand experience of overcoming a past that could only be described as horrible to find my way down a path where I have followed my passions and felt bliss and euphoria for the first time in 25 years in doing so – that the best therapy is often creativity. Be creative, and when life is giving you lemons, you’ll make the best lemonade you can!
Morgan Giosa is a 25-year old web developer, computer science student, and aspiring blues guitarist, photographer, and visual artist from Windsor, Connecticut. Though he struggled to find his artistic inclinations during childhood, Morgan was raised around music and the arts. His brother Alex is a professional musician and skilled visual artist. Many of Morgan’s friends are gigging musicians. As such, Morgan has found his own passion in blues guitar and the visual arts through this frequent exposure to creativity.
As a web developer by profession, Morgan has worked with with the content management framework Drupal for over 7 years to successfully deliver websites to local businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations. Morgan currently operates the website www.mgwebdesign.net to showcase certain accomplishments in this field. His personal art and music website is www.morgangiosa.com.
Header art work: Morgan Giosa