While research about aging and autism is lacking, what we do know is that during perimenopause women on the spectrum can see an increase in:
hypersensitivity (including achy joints and sensitivity to noise, temperature and pain)
foggy thinking, forgetfulness and other executive function challenges
difficulty with temperature regulation
decreased libido and vaginal dryness
food cravings or pica (craving inedible items such as chalk, paper or dirt)
nausea during menstruation
thinning hair in some areas, and thicker hair growth in others
Great! (Sarcasm) Just what we need. We already have a bunch of these issues with Autism, to start with — hypersensitivity (including achy joints and sensitivity to noise, temperature and pain), muscle aches, foggy thinking, forgetfulness and other executive function challenges, trouble sleeping, difficulty with temperature regulation, seizures, migraines, irritability, depression, anxiety — and then “Mother Nature” throws us another curve ball that can make everything spike even more.
Actually, the fact that there’s some overlap might work in our favor. If, that is, we’ve developed coping strategies to deal with these things. When you’ve already been dealing with hypersensitivity, muscle aches, foggy thinking, forgetfulness, irritability, depression, and anxiety, you have some tools you can use when menopause amps up the experience.
On the other hand, it can be incredibly disorienting, because — if you’re like me — you have your supports in place, you have your tips and tricks in place, and you come to rely on them to be, well, reliable.
But then, suddenly, they aren’t. And everything can get plunged into chaos — or at least, it feels that way. All the old expected results that you’ve come to rely on, as a result of doing things a certain way, are no longer predictable. And that’s about the worst thing you can do to an Autistic person — take away the predictability that they’ve invested countless hours in developing.
Same thing holds true for husbands/partners of Autistic women going through menopause — after so many years of acclimating and finding a balance, suddenly — wham! — everything gets up-ended, and the woman you knew and loved has morphed into something/someone … unexpected.
For anyone, it’s a challenging turn of events, but for Autistic folks and/or their partners, it’s a whole other flavor of woo-hoo.
woo . effing . hoo .
So, I’m gonna take my woo-hoo self off to bed. I had to work today (Saturday) when I should have been resting / reading / sleeping / hiking in the woods. I resent that. But at least I’m through menopause.
On my worst days, I give thanks for that.
Stay safe, everyone. It’s a jungle out there (and in here).
Oh, Lord, the inside of my head sounds ungrateful, right about now. A still, small voice has gradually been getting louder and louder… bitching and complaining about the lack of routine in my days, this past week and a half. And that voice is eager to get back to the familiar routine of the everyday.
I can’t remember the last time I had nearly two weeks off for the end-of-year holidays. I don’t think I ever have. So, in some respects, it’s been blissful. No structure to strangulate my creativity, no outside demands (other than Christmas shopping and the odd errand) to cramp my style. I’ve been able to get up when I wanted, go to sleep when I wanted, pretty much nap whenever I please, and so forth.
Yeah, in many respects, it’s been delightful.
To just let time drift, without having any deadlines, without having any requirements, without coming down to the wire on something… it’s been glorious. My everyday life is structured pretty much around deadlines, due-dates, timelines, and so fort. It all feels so contrived to me. I have a different relationship with time than a lot of people, but that actually makes me more productive. I get more done in a few hours than a lot of people do in a week. But still, I absolutely hate deadlines and standard-issue definitions of time.
Not having that holding me back has been wonderful.
But in other ways, it’s been pretty hard.
The combination of lack of routine, plus unusual activities produced a couple of meltdowns — one in a bookstore bathroom, the other at home. And a handful of commitments I said I’d do, haven’t “materialized”. I’m using that word to get myself off the proverbial hook, because the failing hasn’t been due to some amorphous outside influence — it’s been all me.
And my need to just withdraw and shut down for a week.
Oh, the holidays are funny things. Not ha-ha funny, but weird and absurd in ways that make me laugh, for some reason. I’d been so looking forward to having nearly 2 weeks to get some things done that I’d been putting off… but once I got into holiday mode, it was like I skipped over to a parallel universe, where precious few of my interests or activities intersected with my original plans.
Parallels by definition don’t intersect, so there I was, on my separate track, looking askance at my best-laid plans… feeling faintly guilty… but not too much.
More than anything, I just wanted to be what and where I was — a normally highly efficient individual… free at last.
Which is all very interesting to me, because few things give me more satisfaction than getting things done, creating, building, producing.
And yet, there’s that intense need to NOT do any of those things, every now and then.
It’s like there’s this dynamic back-and-forth between the DOING and not-doing, that balances out my life. And considering how much I’ve been doing for months, now, I really needed that time of not-doing, to reset.
Which makes me really look forward to getting back to my regular routine.
Yeah, as much as I enjoy floating in some amorphous cloud of whatever-ness (and I do!), there’s still a big part of me that just loves-loves-loves my productivity. My predictability. My ability to Get Things Done. I love surrounding myself with the results of my work, and I love the process of getting to those results. I love having my set sequence of steps I follow to a “t”, with so much expertise, I don’t even really need to think about the steps. I just do them. Because I do them every single day, and they’re very much a part of me. Some days, it feels like they are me.
So, in a way, getting back to my routine will be getting back to myself.
And that will be good — every bit as good as taking time away.
It’s all a balance, in the end, a continuously alternating back-and-forth between two extremes. I’m autistic. I know all about extremes. And I also know how to make the most of them.
And for today, and the next day, and the next day, I shall.
Did you enjoy this? Please consider becoming a patron at Patreon.
It’s been a pretty low-key week for me. I made the mistake of going on Twitter last Monday, and I got caught up in a roiling, churning mass of conflict that ended up in me muting a handful of people I used to follow, but who had become pretty aggressive and dismissive in their attitudes towards people like me.
Yeah, no thanks. I really don’t need to be told I don’t deserve full respect and consideration — not to mention the benefit of the doubt — by people who share my neurotype. To say I was disappointed, would be an understatement. I just couldn’t believe that people who base much of their online identity on measurable difficulties with socialization and communication and (ahem) empathy, would just say whatever came to mind without realizing that their self-proclaimed limitations were in full-swing… and act accordingly. And as for folks who know as a matter of fact that autistic people are intensely sensitive… but still press ahead with hurtful, exclusionary statements (which are obviously opinions) as though they were God’s Truth… I just can’t even…
The net effect was that I went underground. Not literally, though I wish I could have. I just pulled back. Stayed out of interactions on Twitter. Muted more people. Expanded my social filter settings to screen out the virtual screaming. And went about my life.
Things haven’t been all that great with me, over the past weeks. I’ve been through a number of upheavals at work and at home, and not getting to go to my nephew’s wedding in 3 weeks is really bothering me. There’s no way I can make the trip down to Baltimore in mid-August (August!), deal with the whole loud crowd of my family, the unfamiliarity of the situation, the social requirements, the logistics around travel and making sure my partner is okay while I’m away. She can’t make the trip, herself — mobility issues, not to mention the overwhelm for her, as well. It just all feels so overly demanding.
And then there’s the conflict around my nephew’s own spectrum-y self. He struggles with many of the things that I do, but I can never seem to get through to him. He seems to be afraid of me. And yeah, I have been a scary person in the past — especially when growing up. His mom (my sister) still has a ton of issues towards me. Old resentments, hatred, conflicts about any number of things I said, did, or simply was, while we were growing up. Her eldest two kids (who seem pretty spectrum-y to me) seem to have inherited a lot of those issues towards me. And they’re either standoffish towards me, or they take me to task.
Everybody in my family seems to enjoy taking me to task. They seem to think I do the “boneheaded” things I do on purpose. Not much tolerance or leeway there. But then… Aspies. With their black-and-white thinking. And God help you, if you stray outside their range of acceptable thought/behavior… which I constantly do. They still criticize me for not finishing college, even though they actually contributed to the issues that overloaded me and sent me into an agoraphobic tailspin for years after I had to leave university. As far as they’re concerned, I’m just lazy. Defiant.
All around me, it seems like people are just living their lives, getting on with things, living up to their potential. And the best I can manage is getting up each day, going to work, keeping up with my responsibilities, and being reasonably effective at the limited range of things I do. I looked into going back to school, a few months back, and it looked promising. Do-able. Even affordable (because my work offers tuition reimbursement). But when I thought honestly about it, the idea of being locked into a certain course, being forced to take courses at a pre-established pace, in a pre-established order… and not having any leeway in terms of taking a break or getting some space to regroup (once you start, you can’t stop for 2-1/2 years)… it just wasn’t possible. From one week to the next, I never know how I’m going to feel, and with all the real-world responsibilities on me — working full-time, caring for a dependent spouse, being a member of a town board, taking care of the house, helping with a variety of extra activities, and taking care of myself with my requisite activities that soothe and center me — there’s just no way I’d have the energy or the resources to add part-time school to the mix.
I will say, though, that it hasn’t been completely dismal for me. There have been some bright spots. I’ve been reading more, lately. Writing more, too. Studying and checking out (free) online courses I can take. For the sheer love of learning. At my own pace. I’ve got some new foci for my intense areas of specialization, and that’s good.
At least I have that.
Well, not “at least”… actually, it’s pretty awesome, these “new” interests, which are really rekindling of old interests. Anatomy. Lots of anatomy. Cellular, too. And biochemistry. For someone who never finished university (four years, but no degree), I know a sh*t-ton about this stuff. Autonomic nervous system. Nervous system in general. It might not do me much good, academically, but it sure comes in handy in everyday life. Just knowing the difference between fear and anxiety has been a huge help for me.
And that’s what it all comes down to. Helping myself. Because others can’t. I’m pretty much beyond help from others, as far as I’m concerned. My needs and difficulties don’t “synch” with others’ expectations of me. I’m slow where others are fast, and blazing fast where others are slow. So, color me out of place. Perpetually. I’m “sub-clinical” when I’m in decent shape. And when I’m struggling, I often feel like such a disappointment to others (who expect me to be “high functioning”) that they just punish me for showing my vulnerability.
Yeah, I’m pretty much beyond help, in terms of other PNT (predominant neurotype) people. The mainstream has no clue what to do with me, aside from blaming and shaming me. So, never mind them. Life’s too short to spend hassling over those folks. I can help myself. In some really significant and meaningful ways.
That’s what I’m dong, these days. Helping myself. Digging into the things I love with all my heart, without getting bent out of shape over not being able to do them more often (or professionally). I’m still not happy about not getting to do the things I really want to do… weddings, university courses, etc… and I shed my share of tears over them. But that shouldn’t stop me from doing — and loving — the things I can do… sequestering myself with my anatomy atlases and researching furiously online … at my own pace, on my own time, in my own way.
It’s not all good, but enough of it is, to make it well worth it.
I’m not going into the office today. Oh, no. Not today. It’s Monday. I’ll work, sure, but not in that damn’ office, in that damn’ cubicle, surrounded by those damn’ people. It’s much easier for me to do the sort of work I need to do, if I have peace and quiet and isolation. I’ve got some research to do. I can’t do that, with a steady stream of strangers stomping past my cubicle.
People ask me, sometimes, if I would ever disclose being autistic at work, so I can get accommodations. The answer is always “no”. I don’t expect my employer to offer me any accommodations, to be honest. The environment I work in is highly demanding, and they expect people to cover for themselves, not expect someone else to handle things for them. It’s a “tough luck” environment, where everybody — and I mean everybody — is expected to take care of themselves and not put additional strains on the existing infrastructure and overall team cohesiveness by expecting special treatment.
There’s a guy who’s missing an ear who simply puts a large bandage over one side of his head and goes about his regular business. The woman who worked in the cubicle before me died of lung cancer and refused to take time off while she was declining — until she was literally unable to work anymore. There are folks with significant physical disabilities walking the halls, and that’s just part of it. People show them consideration, but they don’t get a whole lot of special treatment. And autistic folks abound. We’re everywhere, at that place, but nobody actually ever mentions autism.
There aren’t a lot of official accommodations offered. I can’t get the fluorescent lights turned off over my cube, because that will short out the whole floor (according to Facilities). I don’t have a lot of control over the temperatures in the place. The scented diffuser in the restroom is non-negotiable. So, like everyone else, I have to fend for myself. Just like everyone else.
If you don’t like the noise in the space, you’re expected to put on noise-canceling headphones and concentrate harder. If you don’t like the temperature in the place, put on a sweater. Or wear something lighter. If you get overwhelmed by things, you’re expected to step away for a little while to unwind (a lot of people do that). If you have issues with sensory stuff, you’re expected to just roll with it, do what you need to do for yourself, and keep up. Just keep up. And when it all gets to be too much, you work from home. Like I’m doing today.
It might sound like a harsh environment (and in some ways it is), but the bottom line is, we’re all given the opportunity to manage our own situations…. Not throw the whole workplace into disarray because of a few unique requirements. We’re expected to be grown-up about things and arrange for what we need. Everybody’s got unique requirements, so rather than having the Overlords provide for your safety and comfort by official edict and codified guidelines, you’re afforded the right to determine your own conditions under the circumstances that everyone shares.
And I actually like that better than the formal accommodations thing. Because my needs change from day to day, and the help I need one day, might be “overkill” the next. This way, I just manage my own situation, and the work gets done.
So, today, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Managing my own situation.
I’ll make sure to get a nap this afternoon. I woke up tired, and I’ll be even more tired by this evening. I was out late last night, trying to see the aurora borealis in the northern sky. The plan didn’t work out. No northern lights were to be seen — just some brightness behind clouds in the distance. But it was fun to get out in the evening with my sweetie and just hang out.
The whole weekend was tiring, now that I think about it. I did a lot of non-standard hanging out. I wrote some pretty solid work both Saturday and Sunday mornings. On Saturday, I spent the afternoon visiting with a friend. Then on Sunday my partner and I went to see another friend compete in a dressage competition. Her horse is beautiful, and it was fun to get out to a different part of the world for a day. I was expecting a lot of moneyed people to be there, since dressage tends to be “high-end”. But there were just little groups of everyday people like me. And my partner got a chance to actually chat with other people, instead of being stuck with task-oriented me.
I know for a fact, I can be trying in those situations. I have a really hard time relaxing in public, especially when it’s a hot, bright, sunny day and I’m in a new and unfamiliar location. It’s just hard. So, it’s good for my partner to get to stop and chat with others, widen her world beyond my fretting about getting everything done in a specific order. Changes in routine can’t stop me from just living my life. Nor should they stop my partner from living her life, as well.
Yeah, it’s hard… so…? Everything worthwhile is hard for me. That just makes it worth more to me, when I manage to get it right.
But then, the exhaustion.
But then, the self-management. The self-accommodation.
I took naps, when I got home from both of my social outings. I just lay down in the bed and relaxed and slept. Then I did the usual — got up, made supper, ate supper.
Last night, I changed up my usual Sunday routine again, and we went out to see if the northern lights were going to show up as predicted.
They didn’t show up in the 90 minutes we were out there, and in the end, I got too tired and we had to come home. My partner was really disappointed. She’d wanted so much to see them with me. To share that experience. But the space weather didn’t comply. For me, it was good enough, just hanging out.
Now it’s Monday. I’m tired, but I’m happy.
And I’m going to take really good care of myself, today.
Heaven help me and Creator forgive me (I’m sure they will)… I’ve declined to attend my nephew’s wedding celebration in August. It’s the ultimate familial infraction, because this is the eldest son of my only biological sister… my first nephew… who acts and looks like a poster child for a Tony Attwood book. If there’s any wedding I “should” be attending, it’s his.
But I can’t. I just can’t. The recent 4-day trip to my in-laws laid me out with multiple meltdowns that trashed any semblance of self-esteem and confidence I had. Over a week later, I still haven’t recovered. It’s going to take weeks to get back to my regular self, my super-effective, balanced self. By the time I’m back, this next wedding will come ’round again. And then I’ll be laid out again — because my own extended biological family is even more kinetic and chaotic than my in-laws, and they are highly interactive. It’s just too much. All that sensory seeking drama … no, thank you.
So, I had to decline. Plus, I declined my other nephew’s wedding that’s happening this weekend, and if I’m not going to one’s, I’m not going to the others. It would be playing favorites, and I need to be an equal-opportunity offender.
Offender… whatever. I have to take care of myself and my little family. I just can’t put myself through it. And I’m not putting my partner through it again, either. There’s no way. I think she had an even harder time with my meltdowns, than I did (if that’s possible). And it’s going to take weeks, even months, for her to feel some sense of stability around me again.
I have to keep my priorities straight. So, yeah, I’ll suffer the displeasure and disapproval of my family. I’ll steel my nerves against their slings and arrows and guilt-inducing sighs… and I’ll keep to myself that weekend, as it should be.
I really love my nephew and his soon-to-be-wife. I’d love to be there. I just can’t deal with the melee. I look forward to spending time with them — away from the madding crowd. Far, far away from it.
At least I know I’m not alone. There are plenty of other autistic and highly sensitive people who get overwhelmed by this kind of stuff. And who have to opt out, because it’s just too much. The price is too high. The cost too dear. And the “return on the investment” is minimal.
… good feelings can be as overwhelming as the bad.
I can’t name my feelings. I don’t recognize them. Don’t know what they look like. … I like words that sound as they should feel.
… I want to experience life in neutral. Not feeling anything much. For me, the absence of sensation is better than experiencing anything too jarring, too unexpected, too new. I want to move through life with no sudden movements. Sameness is my anchor. I want each day to unfold quietly and predictably.
That pretty much says it all for me. Each word. Each line. I can relate.
Sameness is my anchor, too. And a wedding in August in an intensely humid mid-Atlantic state, surrounded by milling crowds of people… well, that rips up my mooring from the quiet cove where I’ve anchored and sends me adrift in a strong current that leads directly to a waterfall. Who knows where the waterfall will take me? I don’t want to find out.
And so, while everyone else in my family is flying / driving / taking the train in to these events, gathering in loud, tactile, bright throngs of milling relatives (many of whom I don’t recognize immediately, ’cause, well, face-blindness)… I’ll keep to myself, continue to nurse my wounds and get myself back on track. Keep myself away from the precipice of depression and despair. Get on with my life. Fish in my own little cove, while the rest of the world jumps in their inflatable raft and heads down the rapids.
This is gonna be “one of those days”. I worked out extra, yesterday, and now I can’t move without some sort of pain. But this is nothing new. I’ve been in pain for about 10 days, now. I pulled my “problem shoulder” two weekends ago, when we had all that snow and I was wrangling the snowblower. The muscles I pulled are pretty much only used when I wrestle with the snowblower — there’s a certain movement I do to pull it backwards and up out of a stuck place, and I did that a lot in the slush, a few weekends ago.
So, exercising that small subset of muscles in exactly that way is extraordinarily difficult. Next to impossible. So, I have to find ways around it.
Stretching helps. Not just stretching those injured muscles, but all the muscles around them. Main thing for me is to remember that the whole of my shoulder was pulled and pushed and tested, which means I’ve got a whole bunch of muscles that are shortening up, healing up, settling back into slightly different configurations after their whole woo-hoo! workout on the first of April.
Yeah. Pain. And on top of that, I’m not able to sleep properly, these days, when the pain wakes me up in the middle of the night, or it gets me up early… or it won’t even let me relax into it and get to sleep. Ugh. Sleep. What to do?
What to do, indeed? I’m not the kind of person who can sit and wallow in my misery indefinitely. Especially if I’m capable of finding a way through — which I am. No matter what, no matter how clunky, no matter how imprecise, I can always find a way through, if I look for it. And look for it, I must. Because I’m a grown-up. I’m a full-fledged adult with adult responsibilities, and I can’t just comfort myself with self-pity. That’s a drain for me, in and of itself.
So, what to do?
Problem #1: I can’t get to sleep, and I can’t stay asleep.
What might fix it: Completely physically exhausting myself, so I can’t help but sleep. I need to wear out my body, so it can’t help collapsing in exhaustion. One of my major conundrums is that I get mentally exhausted, and then I can’t sleep. But physical exhaustion? I’m rarely there.
Solution #1: Exercise extra, wear myself out, push my physical limits… and collapse at the end of the day.
Result #1: It worked. I went to bed before 10:00 pm last night, and I woke up at 6:00 am, for a whopping 8.25 hours! Woot.
Problem #2: I’m in discomfort and pain anytime I move.
What might fix it: Rest and recuperation. This stuff isn’t going to sort itself out without adequate support for healing. Also, focus on other things besides the pain. There’s plenty more in life to focus on, other than discomfort, so do that.
Solution #2: Eat right, drink plenty of water, get some light (light!) exercise today, and give it a few days for my muscles to heal up. Also, stretch regularly, more times during the day, to remind my body to loosen up. Literally. I also need to keep my mind engaged in things that uplift me, not allowing myself to drift into self-pity and dwelling on my discomfort. And I need to get to bed at a decent hour again, tonight.
Result #2: The proverbial jury is still out. Too soon to tell. But I’m hopeful.
It’s a process, of course, and it takes time to see if these things will really work for me. The first one did. This time, anyway. Sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s just a part of how things go with me. I can’t get twisted up over the whole thing.
I truly can’t.
It’s a beautiful day. Just gorgeous. And I’m going to make the best of it — all of it, whatever life may send my way.
Earlier today, there was a discussion on Twitter about shame, sadness, and biscuits.
The consensus was, it’s not always possible to overcome your sense of self-loathing and sadness, but in the meantime, you can at least have a biscuit. Creme filled ones seem favored. And chocolate. Always chocolate. Except for me… it triggers migraines with me, which is just not worth the fleeting sense of euphoria.
It might seem trivial, at first, as though having a biscuit is just postponing the horror (the horror…) of our earthly existence. But in fact, having a cookie can be just the thing to take me out of my funk and give me a different perspective.
If only because it gets my mind off my own suffering and – for however brief a moment – gets me to notice the taste and texture and actions involved in eating a cookie / biscuit.
And that’s not a bad thing. Because to tell you the truth, with my difficulty recognizing my emotions (let’s call it alexithymia), I can get incredibly down and depressed, all because I’m
A) hungry / angry / lonely / tired,
B) hypoglycemic — low blood sugar,
C) feeling sick to my stomach,
D) having a migraine,
E) recovering from a meltdown, or
F) any number of other things that deplete my mind and make my body feel bad.
All of it gets confused in my head, and I interpret some or all of the above as depression, despair, shame, despondency, hopelessness, etc., which isn’t accurate, at all.
Just the other night, I was in tears while talking to someone about what’s going on in my life, even though things were no worse than they usually are — they just felt that way, because I was so, so tired, my blood sugar was low, I was in a state of sensory overload, etc. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t despairing. My blood sugar was low, I was exhausted, and I had a few more hours of busy-ness ahead of me. Just overwhelmed, not depressed. And it passed. I’ve been on ups and downs all week,
It passes. Especially if I have a snack. Or read a magazine.
Let the record show, I am not saying others who experience depression and feelings of despair just need to have a snack, and it’ll all be okay. I don’t think that’s how things work. But for me, I know that when I’m struggling, just having a little something nice to pick me up, or getting my mind off my despair, really goes a long way in helping.
So, I need to remember that. Also, remember the alexithymia connection. And cut myself a break — know that I’ll feel down, now and then, and not let that derail me. My biochemistry (luckily) seems pretty good at rebounding, so long as I don’t convince myself that nothing will ever get better. With me, it usually does.
I just need to be properly equipped.
With snacks. And a magazine.
Did you enjoy this? Please consider becoming a patron at Patreon.
I have not had the energy to post much of anything, in the past week, as you can see. Nor have many people stopped by to read. And now that the election results have put someone in charge who openly mocked disabled people and incited his followers to violence, to be honest, I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to my moniker “Aspie Under Your Radar”.
I’ve been worried. Deeply, deeply worried, about the potential impact to myself and the world I live in — especially the most vulnerable. And I can’t help but find parallels between what’s happening here now, and what happened in Germany, back in in the 1930s.
I have a hard time believing we will sink to the depths of a Nazi 2.0 society, ourselves. But I also have a hard time believing we’ll escape that same fate.
Then again, part of me feels like we’ve actually always been in a borderline fascist society in these United States, and that these problems that are cropping up in plain view are really nothing new. In fact, it’s surprisingly similar to the world I grew up in. So, I already have experience dealing with it.
For days after the election, I was wreathed in the smoke and mirrors of political intrigue, dismay, depression, and a host of other deeply felt concerns… much of it fueled by Facebook, which is where I re-connected with a lot of my friends who are on the same wavelength as me. And I realize yet again, why I stay off Facebook — it took sucha toll on me. I was getting too caught up in the whirlwind of that shocker of a result. Plus, I wasn’t taking good care of myself. And I was spinning — wildly in circles — caught up in the spin-cycle of cultural dismay… all of which just knocked the stuffing out of me.
The worst and most taxing thing of all, has been the utter lack of logic to this whole political scene. The arguments for/against each candidate are steeped in bias and misinformation, and precious little reality – no matter how you slice it. Lack of nuance. Lack of sophistication. Lack of compassion – for anyone who doesn’t agree with you. All the platitudes and fear-mongering and one-dimensional picking of sides that just pushes away everyone else who doesn’t agree with all of your points. People usually have their own reasons for doing things, which you cannot begin to understand, because you’ve never lived their life.
There’s been no balanced discussion. There’s been no give-and-take, other than ideological Molotov cocktails lobbed over the barbed-wire mental barriers we’ve erected around ourselves.
THAT inability to see other sides is what got us into this situation. Not just one candidate. Not just one election. This divide, this oversimplification, this refusal to admit that others may have a point, combined with this lust for armed conflict, has been building for years and years. This is not new. It’s how we roll, in this country. We just have a Bigger And Badder case of it, right now. For some people, nothing has really changed. For others, they’re now forced to look at things that they’re accustomed to not considering. At all. Only time will tell, whether anything actually ever changes as a result of this. But I’m not holding my breath.
Instead, I’m taking action. I’m doing something constructive. I’m pouring my energy into positive things that are intended to deliberately help others. Because really, that’s the only thing that really matters to me, right now. Helping others who need help. No matter how they voted. Everybody’s got to manage their own corner of the universe and do what they can to make things better. I’m doing what I can.
The majority of people I hear talking about autism (from outside our community) seem to believe that autism is about being insensitive, non-empathetic, having no sense of others or the world around us, and being unable to relate. We’re “impermeable” to them — solid blocks of concrete that can’t let anything in.
We’re logical, because we don’t “get” the whole emotional thing. We make decisions with our heads, because our hearts are shriveled up, stunted, and like the Grinch, three sizes too small. We don’t have capacity for the “soft” sides of life, according to some — including leading researchers (who shall go unnamed, so I don’t give them any more visibility).
In a recent post, I proposed that our logic actually stems from the fact that, as autistic people, we are so sensitive — to physical sensations, as well as emotions and empathetic experiences — that we have to learn how to manage the flood of all that sensations that are constantly intruding on our experience… or else.
I know I’m not the only autistic individual who finds life a repeated assault on my senses, with my vision and hearing and sense of touch elevated… even while I tend to have very little sensation of balance and where my body is relation to the world around me, and other senses — like taste and smell and the feeling of striking something so hard I bruise — are subject to extreme variation.
On top of it all — what joy! (not) — the emotional floodgates unleash torrents of sensed experience that drag me from ecstatic highs to the deepest, darkest pits of extreme lows, sometimes in a matter of minutes. That’s how I know not to pay too-too close attention to my mood swings, and not to get too down by my depressive episodes. They pass. I know all too well, how quickly (and inexplicably) they pass. That knowledge has kept me alive, through all the times I wanted to end it all. I’m still here, because I hang onto that transience… and I hold out with curiosity.
That spiky autistic profile is not just about skills and abilities. It’s also about experience. Sensation. Permeability.
Yes, permeability. Being open to the world in unseen ways, being affected by it, impacted by it, shaped by it, in ways that no one else can see. That invisibility is partly because I’m stoic throughout. I’ve had to learn to be stoic, because a little girl who acts out, is a little girl who gets punished. Pushed and pulled — which is the equivalent of being beaten, when you have tactile sensitivities. Corporal punishment, doled out at the hands of people who probably had no idea how much they were really hurting me.
The whole world has no idea how much it’s hurting me — and so many others like us.
Second reason is because apparently non-autistic people can’t actually relate to anything that doesn’t have to do with their own personal experience. How strange, that they label us as the empathy-impaired sorts. Untrue. Untrue in the extreme. It’s the other way ’round. I feel everything. I sense everything. I participate in the cesspool of human emotions and experiences, without ever wanting to. I’m permeable. It all gets through. I only wish I were as non-empathic as I’m purported to be.
I have to protect myself. That much is so, so clear, after the past few weeks. It’s been a trying time, and I’m tired. I’m worn out. Depleted. Not only from the constant activity and the increase in social interactions (including a shit-ton of conference calls, reminding me yet again how much I hate talking on the phone). It’s been incredibly painful. But what to do? It can’t be helped. If I want to keep my job, I have to take hit after hit, and keep coming back for more. I have to put on my stoic face, remind myself it’s not forever, and step up… to get slammed. Knocked around. Exhausted, wiped out, drained… and then told I need to give more. Do more. Be more. Be like everyone. Be like normal people. Be a team player. Step up. Step up and take the hit. Everyone else is doing it, so get in line and take your daily medicine of pain. Just like everyone else.
Except I’m not just like everyone else.
I have to protect myself.
Protect myself from their inefficiencies that are making everything So . Much . Worse.
Guard myself against their bad behavior, their oversights, and especially against their emotional outbursts.
Deflect their emotional neediness, their grasping, cloying need for reassurance (especially with this fucking election going on).
Shield myself from their pettiness, their infighting which makes everything that much worse and prolongs the process of resolution.
Heaven help me, I need to be on constant guard. I’m tired. I’m over-extended. I’m a lot more permeable than usual.
And it’s not just the bad stuff I need to guard against. It’s also the “good” stuff. There are certain people around me who are drawn to me… they have that hungry look in their eye, longing for connection… and they don’t know how to do it without bringing sex into it. It’s a danger. They want to engage in that way. They’re looking to connect. And they want to do it in ways that damages their marriages – and could compromise mine. It happens with men. It happens with women. It happens with just about anyone I know who feels vulnerable and worn out, and looks to me to ease their pain… to fill up a part of them that gets so depleted by the ways they choose to live their lives.
I have to be careful, because the shared sense of connection can fell like I’m sharing it too, when I’m not. It’s easy for me to overlook that phenomenon. And a deep sense of shared connection (which I have by default) can escalate into something more than it ever should be. It’s happened before. I’ve gotten in trouble before. And now I know better. I also know that it’s the kind of thing that I need to guard against, because I’m aware. I’m a hell of a lot more aware than the non-autistic folks who are just oozing a need to connect… emanating their hunger for intimacy that they think can be satisfied by a romantic interlude.
That cannot happen. And as uncomfortable as it is for me, when I realize it, the best thing is to — yes — realize it. And nip it. Nip it in the bud. Keep things professional. Keep things distant. Boundaries, mate. Boundaries. Friendly, but not overly familiar. Keep it clean. Keep it clear. Because I can. And they can’t.
The onus for managing the dynamics between others and myself typically falls on me. The adult in the room is responsible for the behavior of the children, and neurotypical folks strike me — quite often — as children. Immature, prone to peer pressure, and sexually inexperienced — not so much with activity – though that’s often the case – but with their sexuality, in general. They don’t have a lot of inner monitoring or management skills, and so they’re more than a little impaired. To keep myself safe, and also keep things from turning into something that’s oh-so wrong, I have to “ride herd” on the dynamics… steer them in the directions I’m most comfortable with.
It sounds unfairly burdensome to me. It probably does to you, too. But what’s the alternative? To seize each “teachable moment” and evolve the neurotypicals around me, to better acquaint them with what’s really going on inside them, train them to notice when they’re being “emotionally incontinent”, and shepherd them along the path to self-enlightenment? Not gonna happen. Also, consider that when I’m in the thick of it, I’m over-taxed. And that means my processing time is slowed. And I stop being able to verbalize. I stopped verbalizing the other day, when I melted down over a particularly challenging series of events. Seizing teachable moments only works if you’re not prone to selective mutism.
So, I take things as they come. And I remind myself repeatedly that “It’s not me. It’s them,” when I’m feeling rushes of emotion and reaction that do not seem consistent with my own perspective. It happens. I’m permeable. I have to remember that, so I don’t lose myself in the sea of other people’s runny emotional muck. Because shutting myself down is not an option. If I do that, I lose my most reliable connection to the world around me — my orientation, my advantage.
If you want the highs, you have to manage that lows. If you’re going to be permeable (and we don’t always have a choice), you have to recognize the dangers, the risks, and learn to work with them.
Good grief, this has been a rough handful of weeks. I’m cycling through periods of feeling normal, feeling energized… and then feeling so wiped out and depleted and uninterested in anything. No motivation, no interest in motivation, no inclination (or seeming strength) to do more than the absolute minimum.
Oddly, I’ve been pretty productive at work, but I’ve been participating through a haze… not feeling much connection with any of it, at all. And I’m on the verge of tears, a lot of the time. When I go for my mid-day swim, I end up weeping in the pool. Fortunately, I’m usually the only one there. And I pull myself together and keep going.
Because I can. And I know this will pass. With me, it always does. With other people, it doesn’t. But with me, I manage. I just need to get through to the other side, without having this derail my entire life.
I’ve made a deal with myself: no matter how low I feel, I need to get moving and do at least a bare minimum of the things I need to do.
No matter how I feel.
I’ll just get on autopilot. I don’t need to feel anything. I don’t need to enjoy myself. I don’t need to connect with the work. I just need to get things done.
It’s bad enough, I feel this grey and diminished… but to have the rest of my life be impacted as a result… that’s even worse.
No. Not today. Not for the next few days. Not for the next weeks. Or months.