I don’t mean to be self-indulgent but I feel this needs to be said. It’s something I keep not saying completely but it’s so huge.
As 7th April is my 3-year autismaversary and represents the culmination of 3 years of deep thought, realisation and listening to others who deserve a darned site more understanding, I need to say something apparently simple and maybe obvious but incredibly important:
When you’re autistic, you don’t have a choice about what bothers you.
Life blares at you and glares at you. Some things torment unbearably and create uncontrollable inner turmoil but you are told to “suck it up”, to “just don’t let it bother you”, that “it’ll soon pass” and other unhelpful crap. Or told to look at things from others’ perspectives when that’s all you’ve been doing all your whole bloody life long. More sympathetic people give you well-meaning hints about mindfulness, about coping, about letting go or about what works for them. Mostly about not being you.
But. A lot of autistic people instictively know how they will feel safer and less tormented. They will have a safe activity, a safe sound, a safe place that they will escape to or attempt to escape to. We effect habits to release ourselves often without knowing we are doing it.
My safe space is my mindfulness, is my coping, is my letting go. I’m clever enough to have worked this out, worked on it and solved many of my life’s coping problems, and gradually created a personalised fix for overload and anxious thoughts. It is what works perfectly for me and my inbuilt feeling of needing to escape, and it brings the greatest peace, joy and healing. It’s my pills, my alcohol, my sweet tea, my hug, my long hot bath, my counselling session, my night out with the girls, my retail therapy and my big long scream at the world all rolled into one. I know how to fix myself, I know how to keep going, I know how to find calm and peace and I am so so happy that I have found self-acceptance and a way to be me, safely and naturally.
But if my safe space and time in it is interrupted, I am distraught as if I am being denied oxygen. I literally breathe in short shallow breaths. My heart beats too fast in an attempt to cope. I am massively affected.
I don’t choose to be massively affected by having my safe space invaded, I don’t choose to be completely beside myself and panicky. I don’t have a choice. I need a safe space and I need peace. When it’s compromised I can’t cope. It’s like cutting off my oxygen. Really. This one’s not something to meditate through.
I’m not like everybody else. I am highly highly tuned to everything around me. I need somewhere where I can tune out from humans and society and tune into nature and wildlife. Autistics need their thing – whatever that is – that they can tune into like an empty engine being hooked up to fuel, like a dry desert lying in heavy rains. Like a starving baby being reunited with its mother. Each one of us is different and needs a different thing, but we need something that lets us out of the constraints of a non-autistic society.
It’s as important as air and water, and without this I suffer from Safe Space Famine and become agitated.
Something is giving me palpitations right now, it’s making me feel unsafe, invaded and rather rattled. There’s nothing I can do about it and no one I can complain to. I’m lost and alone and pacing and wondering if this will be the time I fall.
It’s the story of my life.
Coming down from a bad couple of hours one day this week, when everything began to feel more lucid again – in fact, perhaps the height of lucidity as everything fell back into place and the latest storm cleared – I explained being me to my husband:
‘It’s like having vertigo and having to spend your whole life always living on the edge of a cliff. Always terrified. I know where I will be safer and suffer less. I want to be safer and suffer less but I’m not allowed to move away from the edge and be calm.’
And while I see this as an abnormality in my brain if you like, I want to accept it and live with it. I’m not going to change so I need my environment to change. I need to be allowed to move away from the edge instead of fighting vertigo or learning new climbing techniques on top of everything else I battle and absorb and internalise. It’s as if I accept me but life around me doesn’t.
I said it might be difficult to understand if it’s not something you feel yourself but he said it explained very well what he saw me going through on a regular basis. I think he is beginning to see that getting away from the edge is the best and the fairest thing.
Of course he can’t completely understand. The kind of chronic anxiety, sensory onslaught and inability to filter things out that I suffer from is not easy for most people to really process. And the needs I have are not easy for most people to understand:
No sudden noises, no surprises, no practical jokes, no telephones ringing, no unexpected visitors, no unexpected noises or voices when I’m alone. No repetitive or constant noises that overwhelm or compete with other sounds.
No throwing me into situations I haven’t prepared for.
No invading my safe space.
Space invaders not welcome.
Autistic people need to be allowed to choose their safe thing, their survival technique, their way to live just as everyone else chooses not to live in a wind tunnel being pelted with rocks with heavy artillery noise firing around them all the time.
“Hey just get a stronger hair tie and wear a suit of armour and some ear defenders! Suck it up! Learn to live with it!”
No. Get the hell out of the wind tunnel.
Am I making any sense?