I live in a bubble world of my own. I crave to connect with world out there; I desire for a soulmate who is the same and we will blow a bigger bubble to encompass our individual bubbles. When the bigger bubble is safe enough, we burst our bubbles to be one. Poetic, isn’t it?
Like my autism, seeking for professional help is nothing to be ashamed of. I have a lifelong history of anxiety issues, now we know, I am not just a stressful person, there is actually a reason for my anxiety, it is called ‘Apserger’s Syndrome’.
Anxiety can be built-up overtime, and in fact, anxiety can also be a coping mechanism. An undesired one, but it is the first alarm that your system is triggering to alert you to be mindful.
I am seeing a psychologist to better manage my foreseeable anxiety episodes. I am not setting myself up to it. Understand this (and avoid using normal logic to decipher or decode me), I have an invisible weird looking (ignore the irony, will you) antenna that picks up pattern sets, which I mentioned in my previous post. One of the reasons that I am still alive is my ‘wisdom’ to convert my eccentricity into an advantage to serve me. I live long enough to be able to predict what may trigger my anxiety episode.
My appointment was made soon after I returned from my winter vacation, in order to prepare for the new school term in my degree program. I am subjecting myself to new and unfamiliar things such as new campus, new classmates, new lecturers, and new routines. I will be nervous, and not because I am trying to make myself nervous; I know my reactions to too many new things in a short period of time. Awareness and vigilance kept me alive thus far.
Remember, I go out of the house with at least 75% of my glass full on a given normal day, I have 25% allowance for variables and stimulus such as offending smell, sound and temperature, and even unexpected changes. With all the new stuffs chucked in a day, I go out with 98% of my glass full, the slightest stimuli can trip the glass over, and it can get messy.
The new environment and people are sufficient to push my anxiety level to cross over the marking of ‘high’.
Rumination – Harms the NTs; Saves the Aspies
One of the first things that was discussed during the therapy session was ‘rumination’. In psychology context, rumination is black-marked as one of the ‘culprits’ whereby persistent contemplation that results in ‘brooding’ and ‘worrying’. I concur that it can harm the regular person who ruminates on things without a breakthrough.
My response was concise. Rationality is the result of my rumination. The only thing that is guarding (what’s left of) my sanity is rationale. Try to think outside the box, even if you don’t have that box. People on the spectrum, we feel more than you do, we don’t look like we feel so much, but believe me, we feel many times more. There is a very logical explanation, that is why the normal people tend to just lock us up in the mental ward more frivolously as compared to the NTs (I don’t have a statistic for this, but I may some day do a research on this). When we have a meltdown, we are potentially the most dangerous creature; when the NT has a breakdown, he or she just has a ‘moment’.
Just because you don’t understand our behaviours, doesn’t label us as dangerous. When we need to stim, such as rocking back and forth, we are not going to spring up and become the incredible hulk and start crushing people. Remember this, not all the crazy things are committed by people on the spectrum.
See, without that guarding rationality, our emotions are all over the places. Why? We feel afraid, hurt, in pain, nauseated and anxious because many of us have sensory integration problems. In addition, we don’t have the natural tool to understand why things are done to us. For example, if you are upset at me and do not explicitly tell me so, chances are, I will never know. Then, I feel hurt, and sad, because I don’t understand what did I do wrong. When I say ‘hurt’ and ‘sad’, try to imagine the emotion bloated into 10 times bigger than your understanding of ‘hurt’ and ‘sad’.
I can only keep them contained so that I don’t lose my mind, by trying to explain things through, and through in my head.
Desire for Knowledge
Part of the reasons why we NEED knowledge, is that it is the only thing that can help support the ability to rationalise. Over-analysing things is non-existent in our world, and we feel insulted when you dismiss our most respected rationality as ‘over-thinking’. This is when I have to remind you, rumination is what keeps most of us alive.
So, we start to read up, a lot. Then, between the lines, maybe we start to form some patterns that explain why people do what they do. I mentioned about the redundancy of ‘forgiveness‘, because I only need to make sense of the event and deed, I don’t need to forgive.
When Rationality Falls Apart
Our wall of rationale is made of sturdy steel, but even the strongest steel has its nemesis. When it falls apart, our emotions are left unguarded. This is when we go into meltdown and shutdown. Once the fence of rationale drops, we are exposed to constant stimulus that inflate our clouds of misplaced emotions. We find ourselves scrambling in the most pathetic state to grab a foothold.
Aspies with Broken Heart
I don’t know about other Aspies, I can only speak for myself, a broken heart means my glass is already overflowing before I could pack in the standard 95%.
Therefore, no person with ASD should try to navigate a stressful situation if his or her heart is broken. Actually, the same broken heart rule applies to the NT; I know it’s unfair when I try to say that it’s amplified when it’s on Aspies (but it’s true!). Using the same reasoning about rationality. We do that even with the matter of heart. We try to make sense of love by attempting to understand the constructs. But love is very abstract.
We do not do emotions very well. Even in love, we try to keep emotions together through understanding what it is. When NTs don’t understand why the relationship ends, they will eventually accept it as way of life. When Aspies suffer a heartbreak of unexplained breakup, they may never recover from it, because we don’t get over things that we cannot understand. We ruminate, remember?
Then, when it’s too much for us to handle. We bubble up ourselves again; so that the wall of rationality is being repaired and hopefully be functioning again.
Bubbling up ourselves may seem like a good solution, disney-ish even. Carefree and free of triggers. But, do you know what it’s like in the bubble?
I see everything moving around me, people laughing, running, living life. I may feel safer in the bubble, but remember this, I have feelings too, I have the primal instinct to want to connect with at least one person. Many of us end up having pet(s) for life, and nothing else. Because when that one person hurts us, we may never recover.
It can be a very lonely world, so don’t judge me harshly and assume that it is my choice to live in a bubble. My choice is predetermined in many aspects, against my will. I desire to know what it feels like to be unafraid around people.
I seem to have all the right tools to help me deal with the anxiety. The psychologist wondered how then is the therapy going to be helpful to me? I need a sounding board.
I may have many answers to many questions, many methods to deal with different situations; but I refuse to be complacent and conceited. The very second that we think we know everything and no one else can know better than us, we are on a slippery road straight to doomsday, sooner than later.
Once, I worked with a person who holds a PhD in Psychology. He loved talking to me about all his hyperactive thoughts about everything. It was as though there was a mega high speed processor in his head that churned out theories, assumptions and ideas unstoppably. Through our (mostly one-way) conversations, I recognised immediately the problem. He has earned the PhD in his early twenties. It is fair to say his acquired knowledge far exceeds his life experiences. If he had assumed his knowledge in the specific field to be most superior, who else can he seek help when he needs one?
However, if we don’t let our pseudo-superiority cloud our need for help, we will get the right help we need. He needed to get stuffs out of his head, and he was selective of who to share the information with. I wasn’t the most agreeable colleague, in fact, I was the opposing one; but I have always been blunt and factual. My comment will always be based on fact – that I assume to be at my best knowledge. That worked well with him.
Similarly, I know a lot, but I don’t know everything. The psychologist can provide me with the neutral grounds without conflicts so that I can throw all my cards on the table and gain better clarity. In addition, we have limitations – that is a prerequisite for being human – and we must allow someone to help look out for the blind spot so that we can deal with an underlying problem that we may never uncover; or could take too long to discover.
Be selective of who you choose to share your problems with. I have a few fabulous friends, we don’t meet much (once a year or a few years!), we don’t even phone each other, but these are the trusted friends whom I can share my aspie struggles with and know they will never judge me. I could go to them, but it will not be as effective. I have too many concerns. When I unload my problems on them, I feel responsible for the worries and burden I am passing to them; I worry they may not know how to deal with the information.
With a professional, there is no such conflict. He or she has resources to deal with the burnout and emotions that are passed on to them by his or her clients.
Do Whatever It Takes
I am medicated on days that I go out to attend classes. I don’t take the medication when I am out to run errands. See, I don’t want to just survive this unfitting world, I want to do whatever it takes to enjoy the journey too.
Autistic or not, I will only have very short time in the planet – I know, for some of us, it’s already too much, trust me, I struggle with that thought from time to time – and I want to make the best of it. I may not have another 25 or 30 years; my goal was to live a simple but loving life with a partner forever. I realised it is unrealistic because no one else truly believes in that; they just want to believe that such ideology is possible.
Information for Parents
We may think we are the people who know our children best and have their best interest at heart. It’s incontestably true; however true it may be, it doesn’t warrant that we will be the most effective person to help them. Don’t feel inadequate. Your child just needs different kind of help. Even if you are trained in counselling or equivalent, sometimes, help is more effective when given by a third neutral party.
Information for Partners
It can hurt very badly when your life partner is not opening up to you; or worse, shuts you out completely. Unlike children, adults have come a long way, and communication is always the way to go with people on the spectrum. Communication is only effective when the ASD partner(s) is not in the anxiety or meltdown mode, that is.
There is no fool-proof plan here. You may have countless of lengthy and in-depth conversations; when anxiety hits, we may be only left with one single soldier to guard our sanity, and the survival instinct kicks in to do just one thing to stay sane. That includes not talking to you.
There is no right way to manage a relationship with ASD partner. Ultimately, you are as important as the ASD partner. While you try to preserve his or her sanity, be mindful of yours too.
I will share more on the topic of Coping with Anxiety, with practical tools and steps (that work for me) to avoid a full blown anxiety attack, and to regulate your anxiety during an episode.