This morning, the alarm went off in my bedroom, loud and shrill, at exactly 7am. This may not strike you as all so very unusual but, for me, it really is. My husband is away at a conference and I was alone for once; and he’d forgotten to turn it off!
The alarm we have makes a tweeting sound “like a bird” only it really isn’t convincing. In fact, if I had a bird like that in my garden, I might think unkind things about wanting it to find another home…and I love all birds. This one was a poor replacement for the previous clock, which made proper bird sounds, with a choice of several species or a medley, and I really liked that one, could listen to its alarm for five minutes or more…only it developed a rhythmic swooshing sound with the sweep of the hand and, some nights, it vibrated; yes, even though it was battery operated (no mains electricals allowed in our bedroom…being electro sensitive). Subtle sounds get me like this; I can’t abhore a humming fridge or the fan on a computer but, at night, its even more painful. Even though I buried the old clock deep under the bed, there were nights when I would pick up on its rhythmic sounds and it subtle vibration and I would entrain to them, unable to get out of their groove, keeping me awake as though they were the most deafening of cacophonies. This newer clock is far quieter, having a digital face, but its bird alarm is awful, shrill, dogmatic…like an electrical rainforest creature in a territory war. I vowed, early on, never to have cause to hear it.
Still, most of the time, it doesn’t matter since my husband is so quick to turn it off. If I hear one beat of its sound, it’s a very rare day since he is usually awake before it goes off and reaches down to preempt it. So today was that rare day; in fact I don’t know if or when I ever heard it go off for the full wake-up call. Whats’s more, he had left it on the window ledge, some distance from the bed.
Now, being a natural night owl, I tend to go to bed much later than usual when he’s away, taking my opportunity, so it was gone 1am by the time I put down my book last night to switch off the light. No problem since there was no one else here, no school run like in the old days….yes, a busy afternoon ahead, but a pretty laid back morning. In fact, I was curious to see how long I would sleep-in without all the usual wake-up factors and another body in the bed beside me, which always keeps me sleeping lightly and needing the bathroom in the night. Perhaps I would just SLEEP instead of serial dozing after dawn, for once; and I was right, I slept right through the night, which is something I only ever do when alone.
So when the alarm went off, it was that very thing….an ALARM!…calling me back to myself with such abruptness I had to gather body parts from far and wide and restitch them onto me. If done too quickly, this can cause a tsunami of nerve pain to switch on; which is why my family have been taught to show consideration around me until I am “back in the building” of myself. Given this, I learned very long ago, in my fibromyalgia journey, that alarming alarms had to be let go of from our environment (hence our search for nature sounds and a diligent husband to switch it off). The rush of cortisol that would envelop me, if I was abruptly woken, could…and usually did….drop me into a level of pain so intense I could be floored with brain fog, neuralgia, hightened sensitivity and exhaustion for days; like I had crashed my plane on landing.
So, in hindsight, this alarm thing was such a nuisance today, since I need to feel well enough to meet one of my new friends in town later, as planned, and with driving and dog walking to be done as non-negotiable ingredients, my husband being away. I had no space for a crashing migraine that would blind me, or for the level of pain that prevents me from walking, concentrating or being able to cope with crowds. But these were my after-thoughts…
At the time it happened, what struck me most of all was this. Rather than think “Alarm! Damn! Must get to it to switch it off…” I must have spent a couple of minutes or more assuming I had landed in some strange new world, thinking this sound was an actual creature saying something and then…here’s the prize…scanning the sounds it was uttering for any relatable clue as to what it was trying to say to me. At some level, the noise it was making was only somewhat less diciperhable than the average human being would have been to my half-asleep head (and I know I have stared at family members with a similar dropped-jaw expression of non-compute before when woken); a reminder that spoken words are not always the most natual terrain of someome with Asperger’s…we have to work at it. Beneath the physical paralysis, at the level where my brain was working overtime to dicipher the situation, I seemed to take it all in my stride that I had landed in an alien world and was being confronted by one of the natives, with whom I needed to communicate in order to make my case.
Of course, what happened next was that I….slowly…got my head and my limbs together, somehow managed to stretch to the alarm on the window ledge then, failing to work out how to switch it off, dismantled the battery compartment before tipping back into bed for the next two hours of repair process. This repair phase was essential; I had to mitigate any damage by putting no extra stain on my body than was absolutely necessary in order to breathe and lie still, knowing the way I handled the aftermath was crucial to the kind of day I would then have (I also reached for my headphones to switch on soothing music whilst taking a hefty dose of CBD to stroke down my rattled nerves). Because, already, I could feel the familiar feeling of old….a strange, painful, spongy feeling in the head like my nerves had been flooded with a fast-spreading circuitry fire. Without exaggeration, I’ve described such excitotoxic episodes before as feeling like a mild stroke. Afterwards, it feels as though I have to seal of the affected area to prevent the fire spreading, so I have learned the ropes of going very still, very deep into my core and into the spaces where everything is neutral, until the crisis has passed. My brain neurology can feel odd, blunted, non-connecting and compromised for hours or days after an episode of sensory surprise like this. If it has spread, it can affect nerves in the rest of the body in ways that affect mobility and coordination. I always feel like something has been lost that may never be gained back after such an episode, which is a fearsome thing to experience in the midst of extreme brain fog and pain.
But, enough of that and rewind….what was with the reaction to the noise; the whole, familiar “oh no, I’ve landed in another new world to be fathomed” like I am Dr Who or Gulliver on his travels? Why oh why did that feeling feel so very familiar to me, the norm, the “usual” check-in with myself? Like I was consulting an inventory of features to see if I could identify where this place was that I had awoken to; for I deeply knew myself, it was the outside world that felt just so unfamiliar. It was like catching a glimpse of what goes on every day behind the curtain of my engine room; the pre-checks that likely go on just before my consicous mind is welcomed back into the control room yet all this recalibration done before hand, to smooth the way.
Is it because every day of my life has been somewhat like that as the neurodiverse individual on a planet of neurotypicals; forever the alien, having to learn a new language of words and behaviours from scratch every morning? Is it because putting on “my life” each day feels like buckling on a space suit to cope with the strange, unbreathable atmosphere of another world? Was this morning’s experience the reality-check of a life that has been so hard; its truth coming through as the first unchecked thought of my waking self in the morning after a night when (for once) I wasn’t always having to keep one foot on the ground because of there being another person breathing on the bed next to me, keeping me grounded? For once, I had completely flown away and, on coming back, my first oh-so honest thought was “what place is this?”
I know this is true since its not the first time I have had it, though it had been a while. It is all the more notable for being the first time its happened since I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, yes, but I know I have had this feeling many (many) times before, especially as a child, before I shooed it away as an inconvenience.
Wanting to “be normal”, I overrode it, choosing to become one of the natives in order to make my life easier. Yet, somewhere, not so very deep down and currently shouting at me, I had known all along that I was not from here in the same way as neurotypicals are. This fundamental difference is a clue to my endless exhaustion, the tremendous effort that everything feels like, the Groundhog Day quality of “here I am again” with each awakening (with or without an alarm going off). Each day, at some level, I have to brace myself yet again to live as a stranger in a strange land yet I haven’t given this realisation anything like enough thought in my life, or enough of my credit and gratitude, given how fundamental it is to my every experience. Its something that needs be felt into if you are an Aspie, in order to fully respect yourself for just how long you have been having to swim upstream against the flow; so you can appreciate the sheer tenacity and determination with which you try…and keep on trying….to fit in, speaking and receiving words and behaviours that don’t compute and yet always having to step forwards to meet others far more readily than they ever come to meet you. It’s a thankless task and now it’s time to thank yourself.
Glad to say, I pulled out all the stops to stitch myself back together again, as quickly as possible, this morning and I’m not feeling so very bad, if a little fragile and tired, but this wave of appreciation has helped in the reconciliation process. Its part and parcel of a myriad ways that I am starting to glean how knowing about my own Asperger’s is helping me cope because understanding how I am different, why I react so and why certain things deeply affect and bother me more than other people, makes me feel so much less alarmed by those differences now. With the explanation of Asperger’s on hand, there’s logic to it all, which reduces the feeling of abject panic because knowing I am wired differently is far simpler than having to assume things are going terribly, wildly and chaotically wrong for just me, for no apparent, or some sinister, reason beyond my understanding. If I go into a noisy, crowded place full of sensory triggers that no one else seems to notice, I can expect to feel all at sea and factor that in, even as I focus on what I am there to do, rather than catastrophising symptoms that flag up as though they are a sign of something that must be faced or fixed. Yes, my struggle is still there but I now know its a matter of perception, even avoidance if it gets too much for me, rather than some dire thing unfolding that nobody else has noticed and me Chicken Licken announcing the sky is falling in. It’s true, they don’t notice because their neurology is different, not better, than mine and this world is geared for them as the majority. They won’t relate to me, because they don’t experience what I do so why bash my head on the wall trying to tell them? In that sense, I am the alien visitor and I always will be.
Now I can get to know that and, like a knowing and curious visitor in a foreign clime, can put on my best tourist hat and go out to see the sights…at least for a little while, before retreating to my room, still scatching and shaking my head at how curious it all is.
It’s hard to explain but it does alter everything to know about this state of difference and its a positive thing I have read about in other Aspie bios; so I know its not just me. Its one of the reasons I believe so fervently that people (especially all those women who have slipped the diagnostic net when growing up) need to know about their Asperger’s traits rather than having to struggle on in the dark, drawing other more alarming conclusions as to why they arn’t coping as well as other people seem to do. It seems to me that I coped far better with this morning’s shock wakening than I woudl have done before because I quickly landed back into the remembrance of my Aspie traits, which then swiftly and logically explained why alarms and other such sensory challenges affect me so. In that sense, we Aspie’s are pretty straightforward: give us a logical reason for something and we just get on with the job and my job is to get on with my plans for the day….albeit a day that had an unexpected beginning!