Friday, July 13, 2012

Problem Solving

In pondering over my life so much while writing this blog, I've come to realize more and more just how much I've grown over the past couple of years in particular.  While I've been pretty independent as far as my thought processes are concerned for several years now, it's only been relatively recently that I've been more able to translate that into reality by actually behaving more independently.  And I think that the real key change that happened somewhere is that I've been learning to think my way through problems a lot better.

It used to be that if I had a problem, especially a big one, and the most obvious solution wouldn't work for whatever reason, I would get stuck there and be unable to figure out what to do about it without getting help - help that I often couldn't get myself to ask for if someone didn't see the problem and offer to do it for me.  I'm actually not really sure why I had that problem in the first place, though I'm sure that both the Asperger's and the anxiety are factors.  What I do know is that I would, and sometimes still do, end up getting myself into a situation that would be really easy for someone else to figure out but for me is impossible.

But one of the things that my therapist has been helping me with is learning how to problem-solve without ending at that dead end.  She's done this by, whenever I complain about a problem that seems unsolvable, helping me work my way through it step by step.  A lot of it is actually learning to have confidence that I'll be able to figure it out from the moment I begin - the moment I start to get too anxious about the fact that I have a big problem and that my first idea or two won't work my ability to think drops to almost nothing.  Or sometimes I come up with a solution, but the process of finding that solution was so stressful that actually carrying it out seems overwhelming at that point.  But as I've learned to have confidence in my ability to find my way through a problem - which, given my I.Q. score, is plenty high enough that I ought to be laughing at the idea that I could fail - I'm finding it easier and easier to be able to brainstorm alternatives until I hit upon one that will work, even if the solution is to ask someone else for help.

And this has been a big enough deal for me that I still remember very clearly something that happened nearly two years ago, as it was one of the first times I managed to think my way through a pretty big, distressing problem without panicking and with far more finesse than usual:

I'd only had my bike for about two months at that point - it's a really nice street bike that I got to make it easier for me to get around since I can't drive.  I'd decided to go to the library and some stores in the middle of the city, which is quite a trek by bike unless you're in some sort of shape.  However, when I was most of the way there something came loose between the handlebars and front wheel - neither fell off, but the handlebars and front wheel turned independently from each other and that made riding the bike completely impossible.

It was at this point that I realized that not only was my bike unrideable, the little multi-tool kit that I got for the bike had never made its way onto the bike and was thus uselessly sitting back at home.  But then I realized that I'd remembered my cellphone, only to remember that my parents were out of town at the time and would therefore be unable to come rescue me.  It was about at this point that I wanted to give up, sit on the curb, and cry or something.  Yet perhaps because I knew that this was not a problem that I could just give up on, I forced myself to remain calm and ponder the situation further.

That's when I realized that, while I was still a ways away from where I'd been going, I could still push my bike the rest of the way there and that would be an improvement since I'd be in the middle of the city and would have more options than staying on the random residential street I was on.  And while I walked there, I remembered that not only did I also have my older brother's cellphone number, I also had enough money for bus fare in my purse and there's a bus stop near the library that could also take me home.  Both of those ideas were very stressful; the buses around here have a rack for bikes, but I've never used one before so that sounded really daunting yet I also didn't like the idea of leaving my really nice bike behind.  Asking my brother was also rather daunting since I didn't know if he'd be available and... well, it's complicated to explain, but long story short I have a really hard time asking that brother in particular for help.  But again, pressed by necessity and lack of other good options, I decided that calling my brother would be Plan A since it was somewhat less daunting than the bus, and riding the bus would be Plan B if he wasn't available.

So just because I was able to remain calm and think, I went from having a problem I couldn't handle, to having two solid solutions.  It was all very incredibly difficult to both think of and carry out, but I was extremely proud of myself for being able to do it.  As it turns out, my brother was able to come get me and my bike, so all was well.  And I like to remind myself of that incident as frequently as I can, especially when I've got a stressful problem, because it reminds me that the difference between being helpless and being capable can be as little as remaining calm and having a bit of persistence when I'm problem solving.

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