I almost hesitated to even really write this. It seems kind of silly, overall. But, y’know, autism, and I struggle to see why it matters or why this is important to anyone.
But January I started a new promotion which is basically my dream job and super, amazingly exciting. And also takes up mental energy while I’m getting used to the new flow of things. In the land of an autistic brain, it also means that I struggle to exist more days than others and as such, I look at my drafts I have half written and can’t even figure out how to even add another word or make sentences happen.
Then the whole events of January 6th happened. That was frightening and disturbing, and the general lack of accountability for many people involved is still disturbing, but we don’t need to really press into that too much.
I can barely recall what happened to the rest of January after that?
I am in Texas, and last week was yet another failure of a government to properly look after and prepare for its people. I do not want to bring politics here beyond that statement: but people froze to death from not having power, I couldn’t sleep from worrying about providing basic needs to my daughter, and I still don’t have water that I don’t have to boil available in my home despite the fact that we are now five and a half days post thaw and nearly every other water utility provider nearby has removed the water boil notice. This was categorically a disaster.
My kid’s school has extensive water damage from burst pipes, they still aren’t letting kids back into the campus until next week at the earliest. There are other campuses in the district with extensive damage as well, and it looks like it is going to cost the district a hefty amount of money to fix this all (which they are hoping will be reimbursed by the state.)
Silver linings on the horizon! Little Miss has her sixth birthday this Friday. She is very excited because we will be making a dinosaur cake that I bought a pan for many moons ago and haven’t used yet, so she has been dying to use it.
I’d be lying if I said that the current state of the world didn’t make me want to shut down a little bit. It’s been hard.
I don’t want to get too political, that’s not what this space is for, but this entire situation has been strange and scary. The holidays were interesting at home, and then there was a bombing. That’s enough to make me want to shut down a little bit already.
And then it just.. got way worse?
Things seem a little bit scary and uncertain right now, it seems to be all anyone is talking about, and I had to tune out. I wasn’t able to keep my focus on anything important while I was thinking about insurrectionists and gallows and explosions.
So I took a step back. Focused back on the smaller things in my life that I actually have some power over. A small sense of normalcy is returning for me even though a chunk of myself is telling me that I’m just the cartoon ostrich sticking my head in the sand.
Do what you need to do to keep yourself together in trying times. We all need to do it. Take care of yourself.
There’d be a description, except it turns out that no one could figure out how to describe the club.
Humor aside, alexithymia is a fun little condition wherein an individual has difficulty identifying their own emotional state. There’s no diagnostic criteria within the DSM V as there are honestly quite limited studies done on it. It was coined in the 70s by a psychiatrist to try and explain why some patients basically have no story to tell for why they do things like self harm or who have severe struggles putting their feelings into words.
Despite there being no diagnostic criteria within the DSM-V, there are, some screeners that you can do to see if you might potentially have alexithymia. Feel free to hit it up here.
Autistic individuals may find this particularly interesting as while alexithymia may only be present in up to 8% of males and 2% of females, it looks like the percentages go way up with ASD. Various studies have found different numbers, but it looks like it about half of us have alexithymia.
It does kind of make some sense, no? Difficulty recognizing our own emotions at any given point in time might just make it more difficult to recognize emotions in others which can definitely impact social skills and so on, just kind of piling on to the lovely pile of things that comes with the whole package.
For me, on pretty much any given day, at any particular moment. If you ask me how I’m feeling, even if I’m really, really thinking about it and trying. I’m just going to be feeling “meh”. It’s just flat. There’s nothing really going on.
I get heart palpitations that I presume are anxiety related because they only come on during times that are logically high stress, but when the palpitations occur, I am not even aware that I feel any different than any other time.
I usually won’t even realize I’m stressed until I’m way passed the point of no return, so to speak. Easily irritated and wanting to rip my hair out and hide and cry? Yep, obviously I’m stressed. If only I had realized this earlier and could have taken a break.
As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at identifying some emotions. Mostly negative emotions. Have you ever noticed that there are only really focal classes and seminars and such on negative emotions? How to identify negative emotions and manage negative emotions? It’s recently been bugging me that there aren’t really similar things for telling the difference between joy and happiness and elation. What is the difference between these things?
Just like frustration and anger and rage are not all the same negative emotion, even though they are all on the “anger” spectrum, but I honestly have no idea what the difference between the scale of “happy” spectrum is.
There are a few ways to help improve the recognition of your own emotions, even for those of us who struggle: regular journaling, reading, therapy, etc.
Journaling out your thoughts and emotions each day is a great way, albeit it will feel really silly and actually be challenging when you start. Once you start trying to name out what you feel, it’ll help you learn to start identifying them more and more frequently.
Reading, well, of course. I’ve always been an avid reader. Doesn’t even need to be novels or anything, just other people’s stories, manga, or whatever else you can find. You will find that in pretty much all versions of a story out there, emotions are well documented and explained. The more versions you read and explanations behind them, the easier it will get to identify it within yourself.
Therapy is pretty much always a good one, a trained specialist working with you is an unbiased source who has all of the expertise and experience to make sure you don’t get led astray while working on it. They can also help you work through other problems at the same time. I’m super pro-therapy, provided that you can find a therapist that you mesh well with.
For me, personally, it’s been a mixture of a lot of self-reflection and reading to get a better idea of what makes me tick. Reading other people’s experiences. Reading fiction. Reading non-fiction. Reading a ton of stuff on reddit. Reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on pretty much anywhere. Thinking about how I reacted in various situations. Near-constant self-reflection (which is what journaling also touches on).
I’m still not fantastic at it, by any means. But, I will say that I am getting better.
Like pretty much everybody else in the current fun times that we are experiencing, the covid struggle has been both a blessing and a curse.
I am grateful to work for a fantastic company and I have been working remotely since March. Also, I’m introverted, so that helps a ton with the whole trapped in the house thing. I do have a husband and a smallish child though, so that does hinder the whole autistic introverted thing just a wee bit. I usually need an absolutely exorbitant amount of me-time. Kiddo usually wants an absolutely insane amount of momma time. And we are all pretty danged stressed by the current state of affairs in the world.
I started out pretty okay. I wasn’t particularly optimistic about this. I actually had no faith whatsoever that this would only be a few short weeks and then everything would go back to normal. In fact, I told all of my friends that this was going to be a long haul in early days. As soon as I realized that Italy was getting overrun and they had cases with no known travel, I highly suspected that we were pretty much done for here in the States. Travel was still a free for all here at that time. It was already game over and we didn’t even realize that the game had started without us.
So, overall, I started out pretty strong. I didn’t have a mad dash to buy a million rolls of toilet paper, I didn’t need to stock up on dried goods. I just finally actually did some home improvement projects I had been planning for, well, a while, and just never got around to because I could never find the mental energy to do them.
Put in some ceiling fans. Got my bar for my kitchen looking all spiffy. Kid hates virtual pre-k. Bribe her with chocolate to at least try and participate. I don’t pride myself at being the best parent with that, but hey, at least I did something.
Then summer hit. And everything kept lingering on. I think that we all know that this is when the Covid fatigue really start to hit us. It was beautiful outside, and the spread seemed to stop being so scary. I was walking my dog as much as I could, taking my kid outside. We went hiking.
I still hit an autistic burnout. I couldn’t handle anything. My brain was done. I was done. I couldn’t handle doing my job. I couldn’t handle existing. Couldn’t handle doing anything.
That was the roughest spot for me. I should have known it was going to happen. But, I didn’t want to use PTO to just, sit at my house. And some delusional part of me still hoped that by fall/winter we might be able to have some sense of normality.
It turns out that when I attempt to run entirely too many months in a row being super mom, rock star employee, a proper wife, take care of my pets, take care of my mental health, and finish my masters all while there’s something as small as a global pandemic and and some massive political unrest, I might kind of lose the ability to focus just a wee bit. Who’d’ve guessed?
So yeah, I hit the dreaded autistic burnout. I couldn’t function at all. I lost all social skills. Couldn’t make eye contact with a cactus. I had a phone interview during that time period and it was quite literally the worst interview I’ve ever had. Asked if there was anything I could clear up at the end and she was like “nope, I think it was okay, especially if you haven’t interviewed in a while and you’ve lost some skills”…
Ouch. Let me go get a band aid and some burn cream or something.
Since then, it has been a hard climb back up from that bottom. The time off from work helped a lot (again, very, very grateful that I work for a super understanding company with flexible benefits). I have had to make sure to take time to just relax. And to be totally honest, stim my poor little brain out.
Probably the best thing I did for myself in the fall is I upgraded my desk from a normal office desk to a sit/stand desk. I almost never sit or stand still. The normal office desk and chair station works, of course, but with the sit/stand I can get more comfortable in pretty much whatever position I want. Along with it I got a sit/stand wobble stool as well as a wobble board to stand on. Basically I have the ultimate fidget all day in whatever way you want desk now. It’s fantastic. Let’s me get all kinds of stimming behaviors out while I’m working.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that a lot of other stuff didn’t fall to the wayside as I’m struggling with the wreck of garbage that everything in these disastrous times have brought to us. I have a list as long as my leg of all of the things that I am behind on and need to get done. I find myself saying “I don’t have the mental energy to…” on so many things lately.
But, I have found, that I’m not the only one in this boat. My boat may look a little different than yours. Maybe yours is a little bit steadier, or maybe you’ve hit a couple more rocks and are struggling to stay afloat as well. Maybe you’ve seen some smoother seas lately. All I know is that it has been rough seas for so many people this year and that even those of us who have seemed to have it so much easier than others this year (myself included in this) have struggled to keep it together.
After the storm blows through, the greens of the plants always looks so much greener than they ever did before. In the eye of the hurricane there is quiet. We can and will persist, I wish all of us the best through what is hopefully the last bit of this long haul of this covidian nightmare.