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.

Why I Break Down

I’m a pretty easy going person. If someone asks to do something at the last minute, I will usually say yes. The problem is that I don’t really have an accurate sense of time. I don’t think about how long things take, I just think about what I have planned for the day. And I don’t panic until what I have planned is getting to the point where I might not be able to do it. When my schedule fails is when my mind fails to process the situation. The world closes in and I want to disappear, and life becomes so overwhelming that I don’t know how to even start to deal with it again.

This is why I panic.

I remember in middle school when I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. We had an IEP and the adults in the room decided that I should be given more time to finish homework assignments as needed. I remember resenting this decision a little bit. After all, I was fully capable of doing everything my classmates were doing. Why should I be treated differently?

I now realize the reasoning. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. It’s that I panic. I don’t notice time going by until it’s too late. I don’t notice that I have worked on a tiny portion of my project until an hour before the assignment is due, and I haven’t even completed half of it.

The thing is, I get lost in the details. I get lost in the joy of creating, the beauty of being, the fun of doing. I get lost because I love it. I love life. I love learning. I love people. I love looking at the wheels of cars as they roll by and the shapes that make up buildings. I get lost in the little things that no one really notices. I get lost in simply being.

And it’s great. It’s wonderful. I love it and I love life. The problem is that you can’t do that kind of thing in this world. This world has demands and requirements and obligations. And as soon as I come out of being lost in the beauty, I get overwhelmed by the demands.

On the hard days, you might find me curled up in my car after work, trying to distract myself from all the noise and light and heat and pressure of the world. You might find me walking around with ear plugs in because it makes one less thing to deal with. You might find me rubbing my hands or arms in an attempt to relieve the tension inside of me.

No, it’s not that I can’t handle the world. It’s that other people don’t know the world. They don’t see the things I notice. They don’t experience sights and sounds like they are part of them. They don’t get lost in the beauty. It’s not that I can’t handle the world, it’s that no one can. No one can take it all in.

The thing is, most people don’t try. Most people filter it out automatically. They filter out what they feel is unnecessary to only focus on what they feel is important. But to me, to my mind, it is all important. And how do you handle the world when everything is important?

You get lost in it until it becomes so much that you break down.

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How Autism Contributes to Depression

I have been lonely for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know how to communicate with people that I wanted to spend time with them, and I didn’t know how to just go and talk to someone. Most of my conversations with my parents were on car rides because that was the only way I knew how to initiate a conversation, when I knew I would be with someone for a designated amount of time and they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go or anything else to do. One of my best friends was probably made because of that exact situation. I would give her rides from work and we would talk on the car ride. We would also talk at my desk when we finished our work and didn’t have anything else to do.

Thinking about it, I still don’t know how to initiate conversations with people outside of those parameters- a defined period of time, a setting where we are required to be in the same general area during that time, and a specific task or event that requires our focus on the moment. People are often surprised by how naturally I start and continue conversations in these situations, but they are just about the only situations where this is possible.

Here is where depression comes in. I used to think that my depression was a direct result of my loneliness. I felt that if I could make friends and be able to spend time with them, I would no longer be depressed. I have now realized that my depression is not just from loneliness. I am prone to thoughts of depression. I am vulnerable to thoughts of suicide and self hatred even when I am not lonely. However, my lack of communication skills always contributes to the severity of my depression.

I have two best friends. They are both completely amazing and I would do anything in the world for them. They help me through my depression on a daily basis. However, my need for their love and approval, and my lack of the adequate skills I need to interpret their actions and communicate my needs, often contributes to thoughts of suicide, depression, and self harm. One of my best friends has been my friend for about 7 years. I don’t worry about losing her because I know that she will always need me at least as much as I need her. I have a problem communicating my needs with her though. I do not know how to tell her that situations are too overwhelming for me and that I need an escape. The biggest issue I have with my other friend is that I do not know how to read her signals. I do not know how to tell if she enjoys being friends with me, or if she wants to talk or wants some space, or if I am too much for her at a particular moment or not enough at another moment.

This is where depression and autism entwine and run away with each other. Depression tells me that since I can’t read someone’s signals, that must mean that they think the worst of me. Autism tells me that I lack communication skills to remedy the situation so I might as well consign myself to a state of depression because this will never get better. Depression tells me that since I cannot adequately communicate, I am a worthless human being and no one would ever really want to be my friend unless I do amazing things for them all the time. And since I suffer with major depression, there are times when I cannot do anything for other people because I am struggling so much myself. And these thoughts all cycle in my head. Depression feeds off of lack of communication skills, which I don’t feel I can improve because autism makes communicating harder, and then depression feeds off of my hopelessness, which leads to increases thoughts of worthlessness, which leads to greater isolation and self doubt, which increases my desires to die, which deepens my depression.

I know that the only way to reconcile these thoughts is to untangle depression from autism, to look at each one separately and see how they contribute to each other. The only way to sort out my thoughts is by communicating them with people to find what is true and what is only a reality in my head because I’m looking at things through the lens of depression. It really is okay that I can’t be in crowds for very long without needing to have a break at some point. It is okay that I carry ear plugs around with me everywhere I go. It is okay that I’m not sure how to communicate my feelings and I stumble on my words when I try to speak without taking the time to construct the conversation in my head first. Depression wants me to see these things as unforgivable faults that can never be understood by others.

The truth is, that my friends already see it. They know that when I walk quickly through a crowd, it is not because I don’t want to walk with them. It is because I need a break from the sensory input that has been too much for me for longer than I was able to express. They know that I try to do more than I’m capable of because I care too much to let autism stop me from trying. They know that when I lash out at them, it is because I have been trying to stay calm on my own for too long and I finally reached my breaking point. But most of all, they know I love them more than I am capable of expressing. And that is the one thing that depression can’t touch. That love, that amazing, wonderful love that I have for them and they have for me, will always get me past the thoughts of depression and inadequacy. And I know that despite the autism, despite the depression, despite how hard things get, I will always have a reason to keep on trying and keep on living and keep on keeping on.

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.

Weather and Sensory Overload

It’s been raining and windy the last couple days. It’s not a big deal, but as someone with sensory issues, it can be overwhelming.

In addition to the weather, I have been in pain for the last couple weeks. When you’re in pain for so long, it becomes difficult to block out the sensory input as well as I usually do. The noise seems to exasperate the pain, and it becomes difficult to focus on being normal.

Last night, the wind seemed to howl outside my window with such intensity that I could hardly concentrate on anything else. I put some ear plugs in and tried to distract myself from the noise. The night before, the rain was so loud that I nearly had a meltdown. Eventually it stopped though and I was able to fall asleep.

Sometimes dealing with all this sensory input seems like a fulltime job. It’s a lot to handle, and I wonder how much I can take. It makes me grateful for when it’s easier though. I’m grateful for when the weather is nice, and I don’t have to worry about pain as much. We can’t always control our circumstances, but I always try to make the best of them.

 

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Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!

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Escape

I know I shouldn’t want to disappear when family visits, but I feel like I can’t handle it all right now. I feel like I’m on the verge of an autistic meltdown…

Everyone always thinks I do so well with all this… They just see me handling things. As much as I try to be strong, I sometimes wish people could see how hard it is.

I sometimes wish people could see that behind every walking quickly through a crowd is a need to get away from the noise, behind every “I’m tired” is a feeling of overwhelming anxiety that I’m trying to hold inside, behind every disappearance is a series of actions to try to get to an okay place again. I wish they knew how hard it is to try to act normal when everything in me is searching desperately for an escape. I wish they knew that as high functioning as I am, I can still be autistic.