Feelings

I think I feel too much. That is what autism is most like for me. Autism is feeling everything acutely all the time. I literally feel everything. I feel every object in a room. I feel sounds and smells and tastes. I feel words. I feel emotions. I can’t say I feel differently than you because I don’t know exactly how you feel. I have never been you. But I can say that I feel everything physically. And it is exhausting…

I was telling a friend today that I think I love too much. Love for me is overwhelming. It makes my whole body tingle. Love is a burst of energy that penetrates every fiber of my being. It feels like it literally changes my DNA so that I am now connected to a person in a way that they are made a part of me. I love hugs because it feels like the energy inside of me finds a place to belong. Like the love inside of me connects with the love inside of someone else, and for a moment, I feel whole.

Joy is like that too. Joy is like a spring inside of me. It makes me feel like every particle in me wants to jump up and down. This is why I flap and jump up and down and smile like crazy, because the joy in me has to have somewhere to go. When I am “flapping happy”, I feel like I am flying. It is like the joy inside of me has come out of my skin and when I jump or flap, I’m releasing that joy into the world. It feels like the joy springs from me and dances in the air, and when it lands, it becomes peaceful, like it is lying on the ground watching the clouds on a cool spring day.

Unfortunately, depression and darkness are also things I feel acutely. Depression is like millions of tiny weights hanging from each hair, each skin cell, weighing me down with an enormity that cannot be seen from outside. And if the weight wasn’t already enough, it feels like there is a black hole in my chest. Opposite to the feeling of joy wanting to come out of me, depression feels like it sucks everything into me. It is a constant sucking force that seems to suck all of the air and light out of a room, making it difficult to breathe and to see anything other than the darkness inside of me.

Fear, joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and every other emotion that ever lives inside of me all have their own physical feeling attached to them. Each one is so powerful and all-consuming that I can hardly do anything else because my body is overcome by the feeling of each emotion. I think that this is why I shut down sometimes, because constantly feeling everything wears me out. And after feeling so many strong emotions, sometimes it is simply painful. Pain for me is like an exploding of every emotion. It confuses me, and I don’t know what will come out. I feel like Cyclops from the X-men before he learns how to control his powers. Everything comes out and I don’t even see what I’m destroying until after it’s done.

Life Savers

Tonight I had a meeting for church that lasted two hours. After about the first hour, I started getting restless. After another 20 minutes, I felt like I was dying inside. I pulled out the little ziplock bag I had brought with sour gummy worms and munched on those to get through the rest of the meeting. By the time it was over, I just about flew out of the chapel. Those gummy worms were life savers in that meeting.

Having autism doesn’t mean that I can’t do everything I need to do or that I can’t do what everyone else does. It just means that some things are harder, and sometimes I need more life savers than the average person. Granted, there are some things that I really can’t do right now (maybe someday, but not right now), but in general, I can do the important things given enough help.

Sometimes I feel like I need too much help. I feel like I am constantly in need of someone to save me from myself, from how I feel. There are some people that have literally been life savers for me throughout the years. They have talked me through suicidal thoughts and urges. They have helped ground me in situations where I felt lost and didn’t know what to do.

We all need life savers at some point though. There is a point where we all break or when things become too much for us to handle. Life circumstances and events and our physical, mental, and emotional states, all come together to determine where our breaking point is and when we get there.

For me, autism feels like taking in too much of the world. I feel everything. Sitting in a room, I feel like I can feel the gravity of everything around me. I feel the chairs and the lights and the people and the curtains and the jackets and the sounds. And it’s a lot. It’s a lot to feel every object and every emotion and every noise. And in loud rooms with lots of people shifting in their seats or writing on paper or even just breathing, my breaking point gets extremely close. If I have eaten and I am in a good emotional state and I am not in pain, I can usually handle it fairly well. If one of those things is lacking, I break pretty easily.

I remember one particular night when I broke more than I ever had before. I was at a camp for young single adults, and we were in a devotional meeting. I had been stressed from helping a friend move, and my mom had broken her arm, and I was in a period of severe major depression, and I had worked all day and then sat in traffic to get there, and the microphone was extra loud, and single adults tend to chatter a lot, and I was not feeling well physically. All of that added up to far more than I could handle, and I broke. The only thing I could think about was that I had to get out of there. I had to get away. It didn’t matter how. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Luckily, I had a wonderful friend with me that night that understood and stayed with me and helped me get to a quiet place where I felt comfortable and could become okay again. I don’t know what would have happened that night without her.

I read about children and teenagers and adults with autism wandering off, and no one knows where they are. It is really not that we are trying to leave safety. We are trying to find safety. We are trying to get to a place where we can be okay again. Maybe if we had more life savers, we wouldn’t get to that point. Maybe if we could lighten some of our burdens, we wouldn’t reach our breaking point. There is not a one size fits all solution, but what I can say is that we need our life savers. I know I need mine, and I am so grateful for all of my life savers over the years. I don’t know where I would be without them.

It’s Okay to Be Different

It’s okay to be different. I have to keep reminding myself of that. As I sit rocking in my car before class, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a failure. As I feel the urge to bang my head against walls or hurt myself in other ways, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a bad person. As I flap my arms out of excitement or anxiety, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be different.

I don’t know why I feel these things, but I have to resist the thoughts asking what’s wrong with me. Maybe nothing is wrong, maybe I’m just different. And maybe it’s okay to be different.

Cleanliness and Sensory Meltdowns

I need cleanliness, at least in some form. Dirt, dust, small particles, grime, anything that feels grainy or slimy makes me feel uncomfortable. When I cook, I wash my hands every chance I get because I can’t stand the feeling of my hands being wet or dirty. The feel or sound of stepping on crumbs is literally painful. Even the smell of dust can cause sensory discomfort. I can’t relax when I see potential sensory problems. I know until I feel comfortable in my environment, I will be irritable and on edge.

Going back home was really hard for me. It probably seems like I’m always cleaning when I go visit my family. I sweep the house and wipe off the counters and do the dishes. The thing is, everyone expects me to participate and have fun, but all I feel is discomfort. I feel trapped by the dirtiness around me. Everything isn’t excessively dirty, but there are lots of little things that aren’t taken care of. I see dust everywhere and the floor needs to be swept and vacuumed before I can relax.

My family doesn’t understand it. They just see a jerk who gets upset with everyone for no reason. The truth is, I’m dying inside. I want to run away and breakdown in tears because I can’t handle the sensory pressures. It’s too much for me. I get anxious and feel like I’m suffocating. And I hate it. I hate myself. I hate that I yell at everyone and get overwhelmed. It also doesn’t help that I’m usually around more people and little kids so the sensory pressures are even more prevalent.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all of this is I don’t actually have to touch anything for it to be uncomfortable. Just the thought of touching it makes me anxious. That’s not to say I keep everything in my life immaculate, but things are clean. I don’t leave anything where I could step on it or touch it and get dirty. I keep things organized and avoid allowing things to pile up.

I worry about things not being clean. I worry about being too busy to clean. I worry that I will become a monster, a jerk, unbearable because I can’t handle the pressure. One of my biggest fears is exploding at someone I love because I’m stressed about my environment. And it happens more often than I want to admit.
I wish I could explain that it’s not the person. I don’t get angry with people. I get frustrated by situations and take out that frustration on people.

I wish I could tell them I love them and I’m sorry for how I’m acting because I know it’s ridiculous. I can sometimes explain this later if I can find the words, but during the situation I am an uncontrollable mess. I hate how I’m acting and who I am but I don’t always see a way to escape. And if there’s no escape, the only way to cope is to blow up or break down.

And I hate it and I hate myself, which only makes it worse because I know I’m ridiculous but it’s hard not to be. It’s hard to keep the pain inside instead, to feel my insides churn, my skin feels like it’s holding in a million tiny armies trying to march out of me and the pressure builds in my head until I get a headache and collapse from the strain of it all.

This is what a sensory meltdown feels like. You try so hard to handle everything that causes you pain until you can’t take the pain anymore. You try to act normal and like things don’t bother you, but they build just under the surface until the pain and discomfort is too much. You try to escape if you can, to find a place to let go where you won’t hurt anyone, but you can’t always escape. Sometimes people won’t let you or you can’t get out of the store fast enough or there’s no where to go.

And then you become someone you hate and that everyone else probably hates too, and you break because it will never be enough. You can never hold it all in. But you try again the next time and the next time, and you just pray that you can keep the monster inside yourself away from everyone else.

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Holiday Meltdowns

I love the holidays and spending time with my family, but sometimes holidays bring out the worst in me. Holidays are the perfect storm for a sensory overload. There’s an extraordinary amount of people around, which means more noise, messiness, and general sensory experiences.

Everyday noise is usually manageable because I have learned to cope with it. Sometimes it becomes stressful and I need to be alone for a while, but usually I can handle life pretty well despite all the noise. During the holidays though, I feel stressed all the time. There’s noise and people and lights and something going on all the time. I feel like I’m in a tornado of constant motion and the noise swirls around me suffocating me, agitating like a blender grinding ice.

This constant commotion of emotions and sensory overload has led to some meltdowns this holiday season. Unfortunately, my family has been the recipient of my inability to handle everything. Luckily, I have been better this year than in the past. Still, I have been frustrated by my meltdowns or explosions of emotions.

I just hope that people are understanding. I hope that if you have a family member or friend with autism or sensory issues, that you understand that the holidays are harder for us. We try to participate and be kind and hold ourselves together, but if we break or snap, please understand that it’s not you. I promise we’re trying. I promise I’m trying. It’s just a lot to handle with so much going on.