Using ASL

Clean Brains ASL ChartSometimes, I find myself unable to communicate or find words. For some reason, however, I can still use sign language. It might just be me, but in any event, I suggest it because you might find it useful as well. You can learn a few signs (such as the ones for medicine, emergency, hungry, thirsty, help, etc.) and teach them to people in your support network. That way, you can communicate without having to physically speak.

I’ve created a printable chart of the basic fingerspelling signs and the signs I feel are most helpful. You can print these papers and give them to friends and family as quick references. You can also buy the book The Perigee Visual Dictionary of Signing by Rod R. Butterworth. It’s the one that I personally find most useful (and believe me- I’ve seen a lot of them!).

Download Clean Brains ASL Chart

Download Clean Brains ASL Fingerspelling


Surprise Visitors

Have an emergency box for visitors. Don’t use the contents unless you absolutely must and, if so, replace them. It can be awkward and embarrassing when people drop by and you have to basically tell them, “Sorry, I have nothing to offer you.”


  • Samples of good quality tea, both normal and herbal. These can often be picked up at hospitals/hotels, etc. Or, when round at your parents’ or friends’ homes, comment that the tea they served was fantastic and ask if it would be ok to take two or three bags. If they are foil sealed, wonderful. If not, cover in foil or put in zip lock bag.
  • Smallest bottle possible of a decent instant coffee (Starbucks Via isn’t bad, and it looks fancy.)
  • Long life milk/unrefrigerated soy or nut milk.
  • Individual samples. You can generally get these for free at restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Individual packets are generally more shelf-stable so you won’t have to use/throw out a whole bottle of something. I try to find:


Sugar/Sweeteners/Honey Ketchup, Mayo, Mustard, Relish
Dipping Sauce (BBQ, Honey Mustard) Dairy Creamers
Salad Dressing Jams/Jellies/Marmalades/Syrups
Hot Sauce Soy Sauce


If you don’t want to take these for free, you can pick them up online as well.

  • A nice, clean set of dishes (so you don’t have to scramble to clean anything). You can also get a decent set of disposable dishes as  well.
  • A packet of decent cookies, crackers, or chips
  • Frozen finger food that can be heated within 15 minutes in your disposable oven tray and served up in a disposable bowl. French fries are good for this. If you need something fancier, the Archer Farms brand at Target has some decent frozen appetizers.
  • Another winner is to have a packet of corn tortilla chips, jar of salsa, and shredded cheese (stored in the freezer). Bang it all together on a large disposal plate pop in microwave and within three minutes – simple but delicious nachos. You can always add a tin of jalapeños or canned chili (I like Amy’s brand) for bulk.
  • Microwavable popcorn

That “Lived In” Aroma

When surprise visitors drop by, if you have put in place the “bin in every room” hack, then all it takes is about three minutes to collect and deposit all of them in the council bin. Your house may need vacuuming or dusting, but it won’t be littered with rubbish. Have some cheap but pleasant incense or aerosol/spray bottle essential oils to remove that “lived in” aroma within seconds.

Social Sidelines

I always seem to be dodging social events and invitations. I like to go out, but it’s not always feasible. While my closest friends and family know about my struggles and I’m honest with them, I don’t always want to share this information with acquaintances or strangers. For this reason, I have a mental list of polite declines for invitations. These are my best ones:

  • “I think I caught a bug. I don’t want to get you sick!” This also works with food poisoning. Anything with bodily fluids, really.
  • “My parents won’t let me go.” A great fallback if you’re young.
  • “I can’t find a babysitter.” Great if you have kids.
  • “Sorry, I already have plans.” It’s even better if you can get a friend on-board with it. My boyfriend usually doesn’t mind covering for me.
  • “I have an appointment, and it’s really hard to get an appointment at that place!”

The possibilities are endless.

Pro Tip: Don’t update social media or talk to other friends while you’re dodging the invite. It’s really easy for that information to get back to the person/people you’re trying to avoid. You don’t want to ruin a friendship.

The Cellphone Save

If you find yourself in an anxious group situation (such as a family get-together or meeting), set an alarm on your phone that will go off a minute after you set it. Make sure this alarm has the same sound as your ring tone. When the alarm rings, look at your phone and remark, “Sorry, guys, I have to take this.” This will allow you to leave the room for awhile to collect your thoughts. It also won’t draw the same concern as an extended bathroom break might.

If you have a psychiatric service dog, you can also train your dog to provide an out, too.

There’s Always a Way Out

When you enter a room, always look for a way out. Stare at it and lock it in your head. This way, you can quickly duck out in an emergency or if you need to catch your breath. There’s nothing worse than getting lost among a crowd of people when you’re having a panic attack.

Similarly, I try to avoid situations where there is no “out.” I tend to avoid boats, trains, busses, and airplanes. This isn’t always an option, but every little bit helps.

Looking for the Out

I also like to orient myself closest to the exit. For example, I try to sit right along the aisle at the movies or at the edge of a restaurant booth. If someone presses you as to why it’s important, tell them you have a small bladder. Everyone understand the sudden urgency of a bathroom break, and they also won’t want to get up too often. When all else fails, tell them you were sick earlier and that you want to be able to get out in case you have an urge to vomit. There are a thousand different excuses if you don’t feeling like sharing your anxieties.

Other tips for restaurant seat placement:

Just the Thing

If you happen to be shopping around and find something that you know someone in particular would like, buy it and save it for the next occasion. This way, gift-giving pressure (both emotional and financial) is dispersed and presents are more meaningful. If you can’t afford it or don’t have the space for it, take a picture of the item and attach that to their contact information on your phone.

Coughing as a Save

Sometimes, I’m in the middle of a conversation and find myself unable to speak correctly or think clearly. If I’m in this scenario, sometimes I force myself to cough. After several coughs, you can say, “Oh wow, there must be something in the air. I’ve been coughing all day! I can’t even remember what I was talking about.” This allows you to get a few minutes to collect your words or pass the conversation to a new person without creating an awkward situation. People are more likely to understand the disruption of a cough than the disruption of a thought disorder.