When your autistic health is minutely synced to the (apparently discombobulated) seasons

“Well one of the things is, I’ve realised how powerful Nature is. When you live in a town, which I had done entirely until I came here, you don’t realise how powerflul it is, how in the Spring it erupts out of the ground and things grow really quickly and I was really taken aback by that because I really didn’t know”. (Maddy Prior, Folk on Foot when asked about things that altered for her after she moved to a rural location.)

In “good” ways and “bad”, and regardless of whether I live in the heart of a city or in a rural location, I’ve long noticed just how synced my body is to the seasons…more, I would say, than seems to be apparent in most people that I know. In fact, when I have spent more time in urban setting, it has sometimes felt as though the feeling of a changing season hits me all the harder, like it is banging on my door for attention. I have come to recognise it as another expression of my neurodiversity and, for all its pitfalls, I wouldn’t have it any other way (certainly wouldn’t want to go back to where I’m all but oblivious to the seasons, as I almost became when working in a large corporate office in a tower block for two years, right before my burnout…that really messed with my health).

Also, when I don’t pay attention to what my body is noticing, it shouts all the louder!

Nature is a great shouter. I was just listening to Maddy Prior talking on the podcast “Folk on Foot” this morning (I have a passion for folk music, some of the reasons being that it is so connected to the nature, the seasons and the land) when she came out with the quote above. Though I knew this already, the way that she said this arrested me as being just so appropriate to me and especially on this day.

Because, at last, the weather seems to be thinking about changed gear and I have been feeling it coming, now feel it explode like a messenger in all my cells this morning. Usually, this surge of spring, like a torrent of energy coming at me through a fire hose, is registered by my body at the end of Feb and in the first few days of March. It frequently gives me a rough few days or even a wobbly few weeks but then usually, by what I have come to think of as the halycion date of 12th March (which is really just an average of all the turn-around dates I have ever had) things get markedly better. Sometimes worse before better, but then really, really better in my health. All relative, of course, to the fact that ME never really goes away but I can enjoy far more better days than not for a few weeks from this time onwards and feelings of wellbeing multiply as some of the relentless pain and fatigue backs off.

As well as generally less cold temperatures and low pressure systems, which are a big struggle area for me, increased daylight for more energy and serotonin and the plus-point of longer days (since I am quite an evening person by choice) are a massive factor in my health and wellbeing. Also, being able to wear far less clothing, use less bedding (fabrics cause so many sensory issues for me, akin to a lot of autistic people), also feeling freer and lighter in my movements, even eating less heavy meals, all contribute towards lowering my sensory challenges in the warmer months.

This year, the seasons are late as we see in the unseasonably gloomy weather, the biting winds, the slow-opening plants but I have also FELT it in all my tissues and bones. Like a prolonged winter, though it is something worse than that, being a sort of no-man’s land of the seasons, I feel it through all my tissues and bones as a strain, an overstretching of what I am capable of handling, a sort of painful procrastination…and I know, all too well, how I hate to wait for what I want and get so frustrated with what should be inevitable, logical and yet which is withheld. Autism again!

Then, when the season switches, amplifies, does that firehose thing (its sometimes referred to as The Quickening for a reason; being when Nature downloads all-new codes to our bodies, ready for the burgeoning, accelerating, multiplying part of the year) I feel that too…oh how I feel it…and as I said, it can often mean discomfort and pain at first, because this is no mediocre sensation, no mere trickle or oh-so subtle extra quota of light. To me, its like a tsunami coming straight at me!

However, at least when I know roughly when to expect it, my body can sync ready to receive. A lifetime will do that to you…setting certain subliminal expectations at certain times of the year. I can even sense that certain aspects of my metabolism and other aspects of my “system” have already moved on with the seasons, yet still they wait for the Spring which, until now, has been a “no show”. I think this may be another reason for systemic breakdown and pain because, when the vehicle starts moving yet the doors aren’t yet shut or safety belts fastened, there is going to be a mishap. Transitions are tough when you are autistic and getting all your systems on board, together, can be a real challenge.

This year, and I suspect its by virtue of the fact that its late by a few weeks, the anticipatory feeling has built more than usual, like a powerhouse trying to bust through a locked door, and now it has come through to the other side it has over-stimulated my nervous system to a very high degree. Neuropathy and neuralgias are back with a vengeance, I am soooo over-sensitive, wired, yet fatigued from the energy overload (which translates as energy deficit….reminds me of a few other autistic traits…) that, as written about in my last post, I have had some really struggly weeks being tipped right off my health-management perch into deepest feeling of relapse, fatigue and pain. When I have them, my energy bursts fizzle out, like a damp firework…this is still where I feel stuck!

Just yesterday, I felt an uptick of better feelings and I almost didn’t dare to run with them and today the feeling is bigger still. However, the feeling of raw nerve-endings is also acute, the noise in my head so shrill, a sensation like the earth is cracking open and a force lifting me up off the ground and causing my cheeks to flush is quite tangible and there is the feeling of having no buffer, no “skin” to protect me from an acuity of feeling that is impossible to explain to anyone who doesn’t know it for themselves. How on earth do you explain such BIG feelings when everyone else carries on as per normal? Story of my highly sensitive, autistic life!

On the other hand, I feel a new quality and stability of energy starting to make itself at home in my system (as compared to how I feel for the darker months). This is what I am after, the thing that makes at least half the year more bearable (except in those darned heatwaves!). If I can try to turn on a few valves to modulate how quickly I allow it into the whole of my system (by not doing too much, not getting too excitable) I can try to drive it like a team of raging horses. I can even dare to start using some of this new energy in my system, like a premium fuel, in very small doses, somewhat like rationing how much sugar you put in your tea (not that I do…) and it hopefully won’t undo me for as long as it takes to acclimatise. Usually, I am on one of those wild horse’s backs by the end of March…this year, it may take until the start of May, hence my physical discombobulation. The lengthening days are telling me one thing, my nerve endings another.

Being late, this season (or, my reaction to it) feels all off-kilter, perhaps reason why I have had this unexpected ME crash for the last few weeks when my body, frankly, expected spring. Climate change is, surely, messing with my equilibrium just as much as it is confusing the birds in my garden, who don’t seem to know whether to gather sticks for nesting or line up at my window in search of high energy foods. I suspect it has added to the severity of my crash because my body does not know what to do with this change, preferring well-rehearsed outcomes, and has sent my autonomic system into meltdown. Like dancers that have got off on the wrong foot, it has all been a case of tripping over and banging into obstacles, for weeks.

These are all ways in which I see, all too clearly, how my autism underlies my chronic health status, since predictability and reliability are seldom found in the real world and not even (perhaps not especially) in nature. Last summer’s intense heat wave was equally discombobulating to my system, and then some. Then excitability, also part of my neurodiversity, gets so invested in reasons to be, well, excited such as an uptick in the weather and, before I know it, I am burned out again…if I don’t remember to pace. For years, I likely got this wrong….until I knew about (and really noticed) my neurodiversity and, even now, its a challenge to pay attention to guidelines when I feel carried away on a warm sunny day.

Even now, the spring is coming and going…and going more than coming…so this morning’s glorious sunshine has already been replaced by cloud and a chill-factor while I wrote this yet I’m told its due to warm up by the end of the week. If it does, I’m going to allow myself to be, gently, carried away by the new warmth in the sun and, without pushing too hard or overdoing it (the sun can, after all, be enjoyed without overexertion…), I plan to make the most of these first proper signs of spring and, like the birds, look forward to singing a different song for a few months once I have acclimatised.

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