“Losing it” is seldom good for an Aspie…but what is “it”? For me, this “it” has morphed somewhat over the years. It used to be my temper, I thought, or my cool, perhaps my appearance of normality in a world where I am a-typical yet wanted to fit in, or the dominance of my reason, which is the core thing I rely on. These days it’s broader then that and the group label is, I suppose, “control”.
The most likely thing to trigger this loss of control, I now realise, is high emotion which seems to blow me apart. I don’t even recognise the version of me that is left when such emotion blows me apart; like there is nothing left of the relatable sense of self and the calm impassive voice in my head that I rely on so utterly. I should know, since I had many such outbursts and episodes in my early adulthood. Looking back, they make me shudder as some of the very worst moments of of my life, like I was taken over…invaded by chaos. I drove past a vast new block of apartments that has just been built in my town the other day and I was so relieved that it had filled in the patch of grass where I had my almost weekly meltdown on the way home with my ex-husband, many years ago, being half way home when we walked back from nights-out with our gang of friends. Though I am normally one to shout-out for saving green spaces, I so welcomed its every trace having been removed, every grass blade obliterated, even all these years later. I hadn’t realised how subliminally painful that echo of a far less coherent “me” must have been each time I drove past there.
This “clean up and obliterate” urge is much like the work I have done on the inside to sure myself up into a degree of coherence that emotional outbreaks can be foreseen, rationalised, stepped around and avoided; which is how my second marriage is…we almost never raise voices or fall out and, at most, have the kind of misunderstandings where we wrong-foot each other’s vulnerabilities and then make things worse though all the self-blame we throw into the pyre. We have learned together how to be tender towards another’s feelings, modelling the almost emotionless marriage…except, when it comes to that good kind of emotion (nearer to sentiment and true love than the wild-dance that is emotion) that involves plenty of warmth, good humour, moral support and kindness, we have it in spade loads; only this requires few gushing displays, just the occasion vocalisation and the squeeze of a hand. It seems to serve us both well, for reasons which will become apparent. I intensely dislike all conflict and confrontation and, I’m glad to report, so does he.
Of course, I like to consider myself an emotional person in all the good, humanising, ways associated with the word…moved by music and joyful events, deeply upset by harm done to other beings, capable of being merry or hilarious when the moment is appropriate…but, my primary truth is, I mostly have to keep my emotions under strict lock and key or I will rue the day, so extreme is the fall-out of allowing them full rein. Because not only do the circumstances around me unravel into the kind of chaos I dread but my entire body goes into extreme lock-jaw levels of PAIN when I allow them such leeway.
And if this risks sounding defunct or as though I am robotic or inhuman than I would retort that the neurotypical addiction to the kind of emotions that have them weeping at fictitious plot lines on the TV or provoking and exaggerating domestic dramas, just to feel a range of emotions that seem to be desired and craved for their own self-entertainment (quite similar to how people binge on alcohol or sugar), feels disingenuous to me in a world where those same people eat animals with no regard for their suffering, as just one for instance of their global obtuseness. The perpetual gnashing of teeth and waling of most people about the typical sorts of things that make them so emotional suggests to me that this is just another favourite pastime, with lack of substance or conscious application, whereas when I feel, my problem is, I really FEEL…and that includes high emotion, if I allow this to get in under my wire. While I can feel and notice and do practical things I feel in control but, once emotion has got a hold of me, it can be the undoing of me; so I need these controls to even begin to hold myself together enough to cope with daily life. Without them, I suspect I would be medicated or suicidal and not the relatively together person that I am today, though I don’t know since I can’t even let myself get close to such a state.
I hasten to add, this minimisation of emotions in me has nothing to to do with feelings. I am not “unfeeling”, in fact I feel far too much. As part of my Asperger’s profile and as an INFJ personality type, with “extroverted feeling” as the most dominant of my outward looking traits, you could say, I navigate the world via my feelings, since they collect all my data about the world for me. Given this reliance on feelings, the last thing I need is a tsunami of emotions to throw me off my perch and muddy the water of my processing.
Emotions are something quite different to feelings and, in my experience, quite unreliable, having that erratic human component added to the mix. When I’m in a crowd, I feel lots of people having erratic emotions even though I don’t necessarily relate to those emotions and here lies the difference…Most of the time, if I am overwhelmed, its because I am feeling them having emotions rather than sharing in those same emotions (though this can be equally overwhelming or even more so, due to the discrepancy between my processing stance and theirs; like being in marketplace in a foreign country, trying to make head or tail of all the indecipherable shouting and arm waving going on). If I do get drawn into their emotional reactions then I can feel like I’m drowning as well as being overwhelmed by all the usual bombardment of sensations that my nervous system takes in.
I guess it comes down to a difference in interpretation since an emotion is the interpretation of a feeling (a belief system or perspective being attached to it; seeing it through a certain filter) and, being of a different operating system, I interpret feelings differently to someone that is neurotypical. It’s like reading the same book but reaching a different conclusion on its actual meaning or validity; like when a scriptwriter ruins your favourite novel in a new film interpretation that seems to pick out a whole other storyline. Most neurotypical “storylines” are pretty indecipherable to me; I can’t grasp their priorities or their methods when it comes to living life as they do, so I have to reply utterly on myself. To use my own operating system, I need absolute clarity so my senses can make my own interpretation of what I feel…and emotions throw that all awry.
This takes such control that it can be a very slightest thing that sets my emotion into motion (the relationship of those two words no mistake…) since it is like an energy bomb going off into such abrupt and sudden movement that my body, through not expecting it, takes as an extreme shock. That phrase they use a lot around autism…I seem to lack resilience or the ability to change tempo at short notice. And like any other movement in my physically challenged existence, power and unpredictability can turn these emotional blasts into such physical pain it would hardly be believed by someone who has never experienced it. Even long before I had what I regarded to be fibromyalgia (really, my inability to process all the incredible amount of sensory data that I seem to be party to…yes, too many feelings), I can well recall the pattern of how those almost weekly upsets in my previous marriage would lead to my body buckling in such high pain and over-sensitivity that, at times I just wanted to die in order to make it stop. After a long night of emotional tirades and not feeling heard, of being belittled for my differences and played to my ex’s bullying tune tune, there would be SUCH a physical reaction affecting every nerve ending that I might as well have taken an acid bath or downed strychnine. Its like I take “emotional pain” or “heart ache” to a whole other, highly-literal, level and perhaps this is an autistic trait since I have touched upon it in so much of my reading material.
Such a circumstance, rare though it is (and, thankfully, on a whole other scale to those of my earlier life) occurred last night between myself and my husband and its triviality is what gains my interest since the reaction was typically severe and quite out of proportion. The scenario was that he was careless, throwing away some particularly delicious food I had reserved for my dinner the next night when he is out. Our deal is that I cook and he clears up and he managed to flush away the delectable sauce that goes with the meal I prepared last night, without which it will be such a dry and boring offering the next time, but he claims not to have seen it there in the pan.
Now, a more trivial scenario there could not be and my reaction felt equally trivial as I delivered it; expressing my annoyance, my grief, at the ruination of my planned “easy meal” on a night when I didn’t, otherwise, need to spend time cooking and that was that, I was already over it in ten minutes. Yet I could sense the atmosphere in the room; could tell it could be cut with a knife for the next couple of hours as we set about doing our individual things. What I didn’t expect was for him to announce at the end of the evening, when we had planned “an early night” to relax before Monday, that his mood now felt completely flat…and then I saw how upset he was; he had worked himself into a stew. He said he was upset at having disappointed me and for messing up my plans, for creating more work yet, even for him, the sensitive husband, this was a bigger reaction than normal and it face-slapped me.
Of course, I immediately felt guilty; blamed my Asperger bluntness, could see in myself the tactless approach of my mother who was always nagging my father for one misdemeanour or another and, I admit, part of me felt horrified that this trivial thing had now been turned into an emotional “scene” that had to be addressed. I just wanted it to go away and for my Sunday evening to resume its calm and predictable routine.
Perhaps this is the difficulty when two Asperger’s live together; we can wind each other up in the same direction, which comes as a sobering reminder that we share some of the same weaknesses…but not so “same” that I always know how not to preempt his discomfort yet I still hold myself accountable for that when things go wrong. Aside from being the “male” presentation of its traits, thus far less familiar or relatable to me, my husband seems to have much milder traits than mine by far (or, is far better at covering them up) so, when these meltdowns happen in him, I am aways shocked and tend to feel more than a little but culpable, as though I have behaved towards him as others behave towards me…as though I don’t understand him fully. The effect is also to destabilise me as I (tend to forget how much I) rely on him for my own strength and sense of routine; and to help achieve parameters of predictable response and damage limitation in my world. When he goes all wobbly too, I feel as though we are both doomed and quite a bit of my own resolve can be destabilised, as though my foundations collapse.
The thing is, and I noticed this habit long before I discovered I had Asperger’s, he and I are each others most powerful support system…except for times when we drag each other down. On occasions when my emotions tumble over a cliff edge, especially if he feels at all to blame (and he’s so good at finding such “evidence”, even if its only to say he should have been able to predict or prevent my tumble…) he has the dreadful trait of joining me there. Just when I need someone to break my fall, he launches over the edge with me, his hand in mine, dragging us both down all the more quickly. Thankfully, he and I have got better at averting this double-tumble, largely through my ability to see it happening and shout it out before it takes a real hold but, occasionally (if we are both over-tired or there is some other circumstance destabilising us) it takes us unawares.
This, I noticed for one of the first times last night (since I am so much more aware now I have my diagnosis) leads to a wave of almost anger in me, towards him, though perhaps extreme irritation is a closer match. It’s like a feeling of disappointment or betrayal…why couldn’t he have been stronger, seen this coming, worked to avert it as I always do by stepping around such emotional danger zones, noticing where there is a weak patch and giving it extra leeway. I know this wave of hot emotion in me is unfair given how supportive he is but I observe it nonetheless and perhaps it is to do with many other times of feeling let down by others who didn’t see how crucial emotional stability is to me or how terribly vulnerable I am to its unpredictability and lack of rational substance; not just as a preference but as a base survival requirement. Yet, even to myself, it is only on having reached my diagnosis that I finally understand how important this rock-bed of emotional stability is to me so why should I expect him to grasp it as well as I now do, having done all my research and self-seeking on the Asperger’s topic?
I found myself thinking about my father….how angry I felt with him in my early teens when him and my mother were having some marriage troubles and I overheard many of their conversations. When he said he would leave her, I remember such an inferno of anger rise up in me then and it consumed the relationship we once had together, which never recovered. If I had had any circumspection at all, I would have known what he said was all talk…that he would and could never leave us as his sense of duty was far too strong, plus he had no practical ability to survive without my mother who took care of everything for him (plus they loved each other very much) but I see now how I took his words at face-value and oh-so literally, as a child with hidden Asperger’s would. These intense waves of heat rising in me, when the one male I have placed my trust in “lets me down”, can still consume me, I notice…and it was a profound connection to have made.
But yes irritation is closer to the mark of what I was feeling with my husband last night. Irritation at the silly trigger-event but mostly irritation at his over-reaction and inability to laugh it off, but then we all have those moments when humour escapes us and pathos sweeps in (I just don’t do very well with them; far too theatrical for me). The thing is, once my emotions fall into disarray, all my senses become irritated, overwrought and so highly sensitive that I am forced to retreat into some neutral space of my own creating until the storm of sensations have passed over.
Of course, I couldn’t sleep last night as a result of these intense feelings coursing through me and was having to use CBD every 30 minutes to try and allay the super-sensitivity and over-wrought thinking I could feel taking over. When I did sleep, I slept fitfully and with that feeling or intense burden on my back, waking crashed-out and in so much pain I didn’t know where to start with myself. Every vibration, every slightest noise hurt. Of course, the workshop next door chose today to omit some sort of wrong-pitch droning sound that forced me out of bed and to put in earplugs as I made my breakfast….but this only heightened my painful awareness of strange sounds inside my body so I took them out and turned to music to smooth my feathers down. Thank goodness for all the many soothing playlists I have put together for such occasions; preparation is everything in Asperger’s.
One of the strongest sensations today is of being “wiped out” and this always happens when I am anywhere near emotions. Just walking past a couple arguing at a bus stop can be enough to trigger me, leaving me as though cut off at the knees, staggering to where I can sit down to regroup. Even hilarity or great excitement can wipe the floor of me if left unbridled, as though all my energy reserves are used up for a week. So, though I made myself go on my usual walk today, it was as though I was wearing lead boots.
From the outset, I knew I had to avoid every “spiky” sensation, and that (for me) ranges from avoiding wrongly feeling (or coloured) clothes, especially with too many fasteners and seams, to resisting the habitual urge to make my favourite morning juice, which includes citrus and ginger (I love ginger but it is a spiky sensation, to both taste and smell, as is grapefruit, so best avoided at these times). It involves avoiding caffeine, which means no lovely green tea for me this morning. It involves steps to ensure the right choice of seating arrangement at all times, to keep uber warm including running my fruit in semi-hot water to avoid the shock of cold to my finger or teeth, to avoiding wrong discussion or thoughts. I newly appreciate how synesthesia has helped me navigate my Asperger’s world since to be able to quickly identify a multitude of touch, taste, colour, smell and visual cues as “spiky” all at once is a matter of survival at these times.
In fact, things are so severe that I have had to avoid discussion altogether today and only wanted to be alone, as quickly as possible….which meant my poor husband left for work looking as bereft as could be; no comforting speech possible from me, only a hug and brief instructions “don’t worry or ruminate”. Yet I’ve also learned, at painful cost, that to join him in his misery, his own self-blame, yes his personal over-reaction, is to double, triple or blow mine apart, until we nuke ourselves into such a state of oblivion that neither of us can help the other any longer. My best hope is to retreat and recover in my own way, retracing the footsteps of joy by groping my way to routines that involve art and music, gentleness and lack of imperative….and hopefully he will do the same with his work his lunchtime walk and his yoga. Eventually, he will refind his sense of humour and we will come back together as we were. These days, compared to “old days” we don’t seem to lose it for very long at all, and I’m so grateful for that.
I’m also in appreciation mode for, as I write this experience up, gaining all-new clarity through written words as ever I do, all I see here is how big-hearted and tender those with autism seem to be. We are so gentle and sensitive, with no desire whatsoever for confrontation, unpleasantness or the manipulation of others’ emotions. We want only what is best for them, and for us, all at the same time…that so-elusive win-win situation that could easily transform the world…and we see right through a paradigm that finds it necessary to manufacture artificial emotions, to excess, in order to distract from a world that is already reason enough to feel emotionally-unhinged, if only we were more truthful about it and what needs to be addressed. In a world where, had we more say-so, there would be, I suspect, far less reason to become so unhinged by our reality in the first place, since our way is gentle, truthful, practical and forward thinking.
Meanwhile, I tell myself, there is NOTHING that I have to do today, that cannot be cancelled in the name of this emergency repair; for this is all extremely time sensitive, as I know so well. One moment spent lingering in this emotional place can multiply into hours and days of reverberating pain, like an echo that loops around my nervous system, self-destroying my carefully constructed palace walls. As ever, I turn to my written words to process my way through. I also find solace in the new circumspection, gained through maturity, that hints to me that this “mess” is also a process, a detoxification, of old behaviours and wounds that needed to be seen more clearly in order to clean them OUT of my ever-more pristine, well-functioning world…and my Asperger’s self approves of that process mightily. In having “lost it” I also discover I have found it; which is one of the great and most powerful paradoxes of life, thus an instrument of evolution, and I can willingly bow to that!