Where did I go?

I went inside my head.

I temporarily “shut up shop” on social media about a week because all-the-things-everywhere became too much.

I needed some downtime, some time away from everything and everyone. I had noticed that everything I read made me cry, want to throw up or throw something, or a combination of all of that. I was hurting and staying connected to the world was exacerbating that hurt. I was overwhelmed and staying connected to the world was exacerbating that overwhelm.

Initially, I tried to limit my Facebook time, but that didn’t work because I was still feeling bombarded by all-the-things-everywhere so I had to take drastic action with myself, and I deactivated my account.

But, what contributed to the mess that I found myself in? How did it all snowball into that snarled bundle of emotions and overwhelm?

It wasn’t just one thing – it was everything. But there were certain things that contributed more than most, so I’ll unpack them here because my aim of this blog has always been to try and explain the strange meaning of being Autistic, and maybe unpacking some of the things will help people who aren’t autistic understand how seemingly unrelated things can contribute towards the feeling of being overwhelmed. Of course, this is simply my experience over the past few weeks and it’s probably not generalisable to anyone else, but here goes:

1. The release of Neurotribes
I haven’t read the book yet. It’s sitting on my shelf waiting for the hype to die down. I’ve tried to avoid reading reviews about the book because I want to be able to read it and form my own opinions. But from what I gather from the furor being expressed by some organisations and parents is that it says a few positive things about autism. Oh, the horror! (yeah, that was sarcasm) How can something positive about autism be allowed to go unchallenged? “We must have balance!” scream parents and organisations who make their money by dehumanising Autistic people. So, I have a few questions:

  • In a sea of negativity, does a singular positive thing unbalance the whole narrative?
  • Have we really lost perspective to the degree that we can no longer frame autism positively?
  • Why has it taken a non-autistic author saying positive things to cause this furor, and why haven’t people been paying attention to the words of Autistic writers?

I don’t have the answers to those questions. I don’t think there are answers to those questions, but I think people who have chosen to react negatively to the release of this book need to be asking themselves those questions.

Seeing the waves of negativity in response to the release of one book is overwhelming.

2. One of my posts has been viewed over 700 times
It’s this post, by the way. That’s a good thing, right?

It is a good thing, but it is unexpected and it means that I have increased responsibility to continue sharing my thoughts, and do so in a way that remains true to myself. When I started this blog, I didn’t really expect my words to resonate with so many people. Of course, that leads to the question of why I started this blog. I started writing because I wanted to unpack what being Autistic means for me. I started writing because I felt like I had something to say. I didn’t really expect for anyone to listen because for most of my life, no one has really listened to me. Overwhelmingly, people have chosen to speak over me, and insist that my opinions and thoughts don’t matter. Contrarily, people have also repeatedly told me that I’m opinionated and a know-it-all.

Having words of mine matter to people to the extent that it was shared and viewed that many times with positive support comments on those shares challenges my previously held paradigm that I don’t matter and that I can’t make a difference. It’s overwhelming. 

3. I have a uni assignment due
The deadline is looming. The amount of overwhelm that I was already feeling from the above stuff and more meant that words on a page were not making sense. I was reading the words, but I was just unable to attach meaning to them. It is an incredibly frustrating experience – made even more frustrating by the fact that I know that I know how to do that. I know that I know how to read something and comprehend what I am reading but I could not access that particular skillset no matter how hard I tried.

So, I stopped trying. I switched off everything and gave my brain some time to recover. Then, I relearned how to read and comprehend words again. That’s the thing about being Autistic that academic articles don’t seem to discuss: They don’t seem to address that we often have to relearn things that we have already learned. It’s not like relearning a skill that has been forgotten through disuse. It’s relearning a skill that you had perfected ages ago and have been using continuously ever since. I can’t count how many times I have had to relearn to read with comprehension. It happens a lot.

What’s interesting about losing that skill is that it is not a complete loss. I can still read. I can still read aloud to my son (or myself) but I just don’t understand what I’m reading. I don’t know whether neurotypical people ever have that experience. It’s not something that I’ve ever ask because asking means that I would have to admit that it is something that happens fairly frequently.

Happily, I am going to be able to hand in my assignment on time, but it was overwhelming for a while.

So, there you go: That’s where I’ve been. When the world becomes overwhelming, I have to retreat into my own head. I have to switch off from the distractions and the demands of the world because if I don’t, I will shutdown and if I shutdown, it takes me a lot longer to recover. It takes me a lot longer to get going again because I have to relearn almost everything. Taking proactive action when that feeling of overwhelm becomes overwhelming means that I don’t have to start from the beginning, and I can recover quicker.

This explanation may help people understand how you can’t reduce us to a generalised functioning level because all-the-things-everywhere impact on our day-to-day, hour-to-hour functioning.