I’ve been working much more intensely at work, for the past month or so, and it’s taking a significant toll. My issues are really spiking — noise and light sensitivities pinging high, difficulties following conversations and remembering what people said to me just a few minutes before — and depression cropping up on top of it all.
I’m “all over the map” emotionally, and it’s exhausting. On top of that, I’m not really sleeping that well, and my body is not doing a great job of managing its temperature. Either I’m really hot, or I’m really cold. And my clothes hurt. My work clothes, especially. I’m off balance. I bump into things. I find bruises I can’t remember getting, and I find myself stimming more. The stimming is not a bad thing, just an added thing, which both soothes me and makes me feel more self-conscious. I’m also being more erratic and volatile at work, with frustrated outbursts and pantomimes about my exasperation. People have been entertained by my “antics”. But I really need to tone it down.
The worst thing about all this, is the mental toll it takes. Because I’m aware of it all. And that awareness takes up mental processing cycles. And I’m also aware of how it’s impacting me — pulling me down and making me less able at my job, at a time when I need to be lifted up and more able than ever. What I need most, is to recover from the long hours each day, get more rest, relaxation, exercise… and I’m not getting enough of any of them. I try. But it’s not working.
Which is making me even more obviously “autistic”. I mean, in the standard pop-culture sense — twitching, stammering, clumsy, going on at length about esoterica and minutiae that just annoys the crap out of people around me, avoiding social situations, not making eye contact, being very brusque and blunt, and saying things I regret… after I have some time to step away and realize what I’ve said. I’ve been plowing through my work, yes, being ultra-efficient. But it’s taken a toll. And I can feel myself sliding towards a shutdown/meltdown.
On top of it all, I have to drive my partner to an event this weekend — it’s a three-hour drive, followed by staying in someone else’s house, and being in unfamiliar circumstances, and being away from my usual routine. I’m also going to miss a day of work, which I can’t afford to miss. Even under the best conditions, that would be a test. But I’ve been wearing especially thin this week, and the best I can hope for is to not lose it, freak out, melt down around other people.
And once again, I come back to the idea that the whole concept and discussion about autism is confused. Deeply. I think non-autistic people — researchers, especially, and maybe parents and educators, too — confuse symptoms of hostile environmental conditions with the actual condition of autism, itself. They see us avoiding eye contact, being non-verbal, stimming, having trouble with lights and sounds and textures, and they think “That’s Autism!”
It’s not Autism. It’s an indicator that something is amiss. It’s a sign that our autistic systems are reacting to an over-taxing set of circumstances and trying to defend themselves from the inescapable onslaught.
Calling our extreme symptoms “Autism” is like calling separation from an abusive spouse “marriage”. In both cases, they’re symptoms of a logical, human, practical reaction to a really bad situation that we are trying with all our might to escape. In the case of autistic symptoms, we can’t escape. We can only adapt.
In fact, maybe a better analogy would be : demonstrating extreme autistic symptoms is like developing PTSD from marriage to an abusive spouse. The problem isn’t with the person exhibiting the symptoms. It’s with the situation they/we are stuck in. And as long as those circumstances persist, we’ll continue to struggle, continue to degrade, continue to suffer. And others will invariably be affected as well.
I’m no “more autistic” now than I was a couple of months ago. I’m no “more autistic” under these conditions, than I am under the best of circumstances. My symptoms are just spiking in the directions I most dread. This is not fun, but it’s understandable. It’s logical. It’s to be expected. Unless and until these circumstances get resolved, I’ll continue to be even more autistic than usual.
Like it or not.