Editor’s Note: I’m including this submission because I think Alyssa’s perspective is interesting, and this piece has information that may be helpful for people to read. However, the wording often makes it seem like autistic (including aspies, of course) experiences are universal, which is not true. It’s important to remember that autistic people are not all the same and do not necessarily experience autistic things or anything else in the exact same ways, and that is okay.
Contributor Bio: I was diagnosed as an adult, and at first a big recalibration was required, but now, I see AS as a true gift. I would not give up my way of seeing for anything. I'm changing the label: ASD is not 'Autism Spectrum Disorder', but Autism Spectrum Difference. Let's celebrate our vision! Alyssa lives in Sydney Australia; would spend every waking moment drawing, painting, planting trees and reading, but makes a living by teaching little ones. Website http://www.alyssaaleksanian.com
Speed humps or Things you can’t avoid in built up areas
Ever been told you’re being unreasonable? Making a mountain out of a molehill? Been told you exaggerate or are oversensitive? Welcome to Aspie World. First stop: High Speed Emotions. We are the Lamborghinis of emotion: 300km per/hour in less than 3 seconds. Our world can turn on a dime. A good day can quickly turn bad - a comment or an action, even our own thoughts, may be all it takes to turn a day sour. Sour for an Aspie isn’t really relative. It is absolute, and will end in one of two emotional dead ends: the shut down or the melt down.
Responses to Speed Humps:
No. 1. The Shut Down
The best way to describe a shut down is a state of absolute isolation. The surrounding air becomes dense and frozen, suspended in time. You become paralysed in movement; thought becomes heavy, immoveable; all communication is cut dead. Gravity becomes a sadness swathed around your shoulders driving you into the ground. There seems no way out.
There have been many times in a relationship, when I sat in the midst of cast-off misunderstandings, with a thousand images swirling uncontrollably in my mind; yet I couldn’t speak any of it. The bridge between my thoughts and my mouth was broken. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to speak, I physically couldn’t.
One could use ‘sadness’ to describe this state, but this sadness goes deeper, right down to one’s very core. It can the beginning of the depressive state and is a frightening way to slide down the rabbit hole.
Some Aspies, usually men, can push their frustration outward and express themselves through a melt down. We women, often being a more reflective bunch, tend to direct the anger or sadness is inward leading to a shut down.
For an Aspie, these periods of being frozen, unable to speak may always happen; it comes with our own personal territory. But we must remember, we can lessen their frequency by being careful who we spend time with. If past experience says shut downs happen more frequently with certain people, do all you can to avoid those people. It may be a just throw-away comment or an ill-considered action to them, but to you it may mean damage and days of recovery. Why spend time with people that make you cry on the inside?
Responses to Speed Humps:
No. 2. The Melt Down
This is ‘the other’. In my mind it’s the opposite of the shut down. And it is an entirely different beast.
Have you ever feel so angry that your fists start to clench, your jaw stiffens and your blood start to boil? Waves of heat begin to pour over you and you feel the pressure build within? That is Oncoming Rage.
Your average NT can stop themselves here: a slammed door, a well-timed distraction or a kind word from someone can release the steam and the rage is averted. Someone with AS however, once on this path, finds it impossible to avoid. The pressure must be released. If not by physical means (crying, stomping, screaming, smashing) then it is usually directed within, on themselves.
It takes so much energy to have a meltdown; it’s like being forced to do a thousand commando rolls through a minefield. And the physical and mental black exhaustion can last for days.
Do you think any Aspie would choose to react in this way? We don’t have the luxury of choice. A build up of angst, worry and sadness eventually has to be expressed. And unfortunately if there is no other outlet, it is expressed outward: carpet bomb style.
Don’t be trigger happy: Watch for the Signs
At the end of an unhappy day, many an Aspie will tell you that they woke up that morning feeling A-OK. They had no idea the day was going to go pear-shaped.
But I’ve often wondered- is that really the case?
When I reflect honestly after a rotten day, I realise that there was some background static that could have lead to the day being emotionally charged. I may have been tired or unwell; I may have spent a few days mulling over someone’s inconsiderate action or just simply trying to figure out what the hell they meant when they said something. I may have despaired about violence on the news or worried how the homeless could possibly survive in the dead of winter.
The point is, there is always something; a platform that we build our day upon. If the foundations of our day are rocky or sad is it any wonder that the entire day is eventually coloured by it? As the saying goes: Like attracts like.
So what are the triggers to a shut down or melt down? Some Aspies will say they have definite triggers. Others aren’t so sure. I know that I have some definite triggers, but with other things- what bothers me one day may not bother me the next. But, again it is vital to understand that a lot depends on one’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Emotional or physically fragility means being more susceptible.
There are definite times when we know we shouldn’t react to what seems like insignificant, trivial details, but our emotional reactions can come in such a violent rush that it surprises even us.
I know it’s unreasonable to get terribly upset when I can’t find something at home where I’m sure I placed it earlier. I like to think I know precisely where everything is. It is my way of having some control over a chaotic world. But as I don’t live alone, things in my house get moved. I can slam and stomp if I can’t find a certain item of clothing I planned to wear; I can panic when I can’t find a certain book/object that I need.
It may seem ridiculous that temper can flare when it comes to things like this but it is easier to understand when you take the day’s previous ‘background’ events into account, an overloaded physical and emotional state and a genuine need to reduce the distressing chaos in the Aspie world.
With both shut downs and melt downs, its important to watch for the warning signs. Often someone with AS won’t know the triggers and either reaction can take them unawares. But if you have AS, you can become familiar with the precursors: you may feel the slight wobble, the turn in your stomach or feel yourself start to slide; whatever is your ‘beginning’, don’t hang around; nothing much can be gained from staying where you are. Remove yourself from the situation and find somewhere to release and recalibrate.
Don’t talk about it too soon
It is also important to remember that to try to engage emotionally with someone, shortly after having a shut down or a melt down (even if it was just a slight shade of one) can be problematic- both for you and the person you are with. A shut down or melt down is a rejection of the emotional because we are too sensitive. Having AS, we are too much of an emotional being to start with. To have you or your partner jump in and ‘talk about it’ too soon after the shut down/melt down can cause further overload, and you may find yourself sliding straight back in to dank hollowness.
For some NT’s it’s difficult not to ‘talk about it’. They want the misunderstanding ‘sorted’. They really want to help. A partner did this to me once. He was so keen to talk the misunderstanding through and clarify it for me, that he didn’t realise his words were like hammer beating on the inside of my skull. I remembered absolutely nothing of his conversation until he left and I ‘came to’, standing alone, some hours later in the quiet of my garden.
Time and space is vital to process the speed hump. Loved ones need to know that someone with AS needs this space too.
There is a point in lying down in, and examining our prickly reactions to all of this in detail, and this is it: Don’t suppress your real self.
Find ways to express it, positively, everyday in many small ways: paint pictures, dance in the kitchen, sing to the sunset, run around the block, bounce on a trampoline, write in a journal… whatever you need to do, because in the end, without expressing your true self, you will get too tired, fed up, burnt out and too cranky to hide anymore. The tide will change (as it always does), from hurt being held too deep within, to releasing it forcefully outward. And when it does there will always be sad damage for you and anyone else in your way.