Once a year, VoxVisual does the well-nigh impossible — she visits her overwhelming family and lives to tell the tale. Autistic since birth, she’s lived in a constant state of overwhelm for as long as she can remember.
“I’m not looking for pity,” she tells us, “but it’s not easy dealing with all the chaos — especially at holiday times. I have a large immediate and extended family, and they love to stir everything up. Yelling, singing, jumping around, talking about this-that-and-the-other-thing, switching subjects without warning… and never giving me a minute’s rest. It’s exhausting! And even though I love them and need to see my family at least once a year, I dread doing it — especially during the holidays.”
What to do? In someone else’s house, on someone else’s schedule, interacting with people she normally doesn’t interact with, how does she manage it?
“It’s taken me years,” VisualVox tells us, “but I’ve finally figured it out. Of course, it helps to have an autism diagnosis that tells me plainly that I can expect to have issues with these sorts of experiences. Knowing what I now know about autism, I can plan accordingly. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m preparing in advance for the onslaught. I’m rehearsing ahead of time. I love my family and want to have a good time with them, and I’m determined to find a way.”
September might seem like an early time to be thinking about the holidays — unless you’re the sort of person who gets all their presents-shopping done well in advance. But for VisualVox, it just makes sense.
“Practicing now — breaking up my daily routine a little bit — while there’s no pressure, is just the ticket for getting myself in shape. I think of the holidays as an athletic event (and it is physically and mentally challenging). I also think of the months ahead of time as my “training period”. I give myself little doses of change, of non-standard experiences, of intermittent overwhelm. Then I take some time to recover, think through the lessons, figure out what worked and what didn’t, and then have another ’round’ of challenge.”
If it sounds tiring, rest assured — it is. But it’s worth it.
Is it all work and no play, though? Not at all, according to V.
“Testing myself is only part of what I do — the other part is finding the things in my regular everyday life that I can ‘transfer’ to my family visit. For example, routine is very important to me. It’s essential. So, I repeat certain routines I have at home that make me feel comfortable and cared-for. My morning wake-up routine, for example. Every morning when I get up, I exercise before I do anything else. I ride an exercise bike. I lift some weights. And when I’ve worked up a sweat, my mind is clear and I can get on with my day. I typically have my breakfast right after that, and the day begins in earnest.
“When I visit my family, I make sure I have a good morning workout before I do anything else. And I also make sure I eat my breakfast immediately after my workout. That way, I have a good start that I know works for me — and it’s good for my family, too. Some people try to escape routine to relax and enjoy themselves. I’m the exact opposite. Routine itself helps me relax. Also, I used to be absolutely consumed by physical fitness and kinesthetics. I was fascinated by the human body, especially the muscular system. While some girls drew pictures of their favorite band’s logo, I drew pictures of the major muscle groups. Taking the time to lift a little weight actually makes me feel like I’m 16 again — and that’s always nice, especially when you’re surrounded by people who are constantly bemoaning ‘getting old’.”
Clearly, it’s different strokes for different folks. Routine is helpful?! It’s not boring? It’s actually enjoyable? How many folks groove on routine? Well, clearly at least one person does, and she revels in it.
So, this coming holiday season, prepare to be amazed as VisualVox, the #ActuallyAutistic woman makes her way through the obstacle course of the holidays with her routine intact, her nerves steady, and her family relationships sustained for yet another year!
Stay tuned for more reportage on #ActuallyAutisticAdventures! Discrete stimming that soothes the most jangled nerves… Getting safely up and down stairs despite extreme vertigo and sensory overwhelm… Tips on replying to people who talk a mile a minute in heavy accents… Feigning interest in boring stuff for people you love and care for… and more!