Just Make It Stop

We’ve all been somewhere we didn’t want to be. We’ve all been in situations we didn’t want to be in. In life, we have to ride certain situations out. But can I share a secret with you?

Even though I find ways to appear ok in times like that, I’m not. In times like that, my greatest strength becomes my biggest weakness. I am always analyzing possibilities. What can I do here? What can I do there? What can I get away with on this? Can I squeeze by on that?

When I run out of feasible options on something, I start doing this to other things. My brain analyzes and assesses things. Sometimes, it creates a vortex that I feel like I am getting sucked in to with no control.

I want it to stop. I can’t make it stop. It won’t stop. I present well to others. But I get both physically and mentally tired more quickly

Burnout

My posts came to a screeching halt there for a little bit.

“Oh no, he’s flaky!”

No. I was just hit by a figurative one-two punch. So before I tell my story, let me tell you a little about suffering burnout as an autistic person.

“Tim, everyone can hit a rough patch every now and then. You can get past this!”

Oh boy, the good ol’ “rub dirt in the wound” statement. I will tell you right now that autistic people encounter the same things as non-autistic people. But, they just don’t process things the same way. It’s a fact of life that doesn’t change.

For anyone, burnout happens whenever you are able to do self-care less and less, until you can’t do it at all. At some point, the dam overflows and you just can’t take it anymore. For most people, you can avoid this by watching a good TV show, having a good meal, or go out for an evening on the town. For autistic people, it may not be that easy. One of the toughest things is, for many autistic people, the ability to explain the burnout to someone else might have gone away. Since talking is a good therapy for anyone, you can see how that would throw a wrench in the works.

So for me, that burnout happened last month. After it was suggested to me to play hooky the next day, my good sense took leave and I did just that. It was good for me to live life on my terms for a day. Among all the possible fixes, that was the best relief valve available to me.

Unfortunately, flu came knocking at the door within a few days of that. I haven’t had a flu shot since public school. I also haven’t had the flu since public school. So it was a sock in the mouth to be hit with it.

I was the first person in the family to get it. I wasn’t the last.

I also was dealing with my web host not keeping my website up regularly. They were in Houston, and so I don’t know if their troubles had anything to do with the extreme weather suffered there, but I was done. So I had to shop for a new host, get things transferred, and make sure things were working.

In among all of this, I was still having problems with the effects of my burnout. I had lost the ability to put anything on paper. No blogs. No novel. Diminished social media posting. I just had nothing.

Patterns

Not every autistic person is Rain Man. Let’s just get that clear right now. That includes me. But there are some of us who are really in love with patterns. I believe my catch with patterns is what allows me to sit down and pour through spreadsheets and find the holes and trends. I love analysis, probably because I have a love of patterns.

But let’s get one thing right. Patterns aren’t always about numbers. Even when it involves numbers, it’s not about numbers.

My wife and I finally had enough of our phones that were four generations back. They were paid off. We were settled in to them. Had we known the trouble we were in for after the iOS upgrade, we probably wouldn’t have done it. But here’s the problem with that. Eventually, all those nice apps we love to use will eventually no longer be compatible with our phones. So we had a good deal available to replace the phones. But I had to change my phone number to do it.

Everyone said “finally, you can get a local number”. But of course we all know area codes don’t mean what they used to. Since that was the case, I was looking at the pattern of the number. Not the pattern of the numerals, but the physical pattern on the dialer. I picked my area code. Then the customer service rep showed me some available numbers. I was sitting there air dialing each number. There was one that felt correct, and I chose it.

Some people have said it was weird. In a nutshell it is, but it is me. But something I will tell you is that, for the first time ever, I don’t have to go checking every time I tell someone my new number. I just tell them.

It sometimes surprises me…

People who have known me for quite some time (mainly family) don’t always process some things that are problems for me. That’s ok. I still have problems understanding my problems and the source of them as well.

I help maintain some things in a call center environment. Yesterday, I had to spend about 90 minutes in that environment. About 20 minutes in, I was really starting to wish I had brought my earplugs with me. First, I noticed I was getting physically on edge. Second, I started realizing it was the noise. It wasn’t the volume (I’ve explained this effect before). It was the many voices talking about the same level. It was the lack of moving air. I remembered my earplugs for a visit to the store later in the day, but I was having trouble the rest of the evening after that.

It surprises me, still. So it’s ok that others still have issue understanding.

How can I help?

So yes, I’ve got my own issues. But don’t we all? They’re not the same slate of issues as anyone else I know. They are as unique as a fingerprint or a snowflake. But the question that has always been on my mind is “How can I help?”

Anyone who knows me in person knows I have talked about earning my way to being a licensed professional counselor. Those of us who are autistic can use someone that has walked in similar shoes to understand better what we’re going through. That is going to be a tall order though…yet I still plan to do it.

In the mean time, I want to help by providing education to the non-autistic population that we simply cannot just provide with individual efforts. So, I have started the process of creating a non-profit organization dedicated to telling the stories of people who are autistic. It’s not going to be built overnight, but it is an effort I believe in. It’s an effort that other autistic people have shown support for as well. There is a desire to have a collective voice not just for the autistic population, but by the autistic population as well.

I will post more about this effort as things are accomplished.

Autism with a side of…

I may be the first to tell you what I am about to tell you. Or maybe not. But it is important to know either way. Autism is a social disability. That means the disability exists because of constructs set out as “normal” within social circles.

However, further disability can and does exist in other forms. This is what is referred to as co-morbid conditions. It is not uncommon for an autistic person to have additional conditions that make up what people typically attribute to autism.

Today, I want to highlight three of these co-morbid conditions that I have, and how they can serve to exacerbate signs of autism.

OCD

First is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In part, NIMH defines OCD with the following information:

  • Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order
  • Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off
  • Some individuals with OCD also have a tic disorder. Motor tics are sudden, brief, repetitive movements, such as eye blinking and other eye movements, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and head or shoulder jerking

Perfect order for an autistic child is often observed as the categorical ordering of objects by shape, color, or size. In adults, this is more subtle and understated. I have certain things that must be certain ways to feed in to my functioning routines. If they are not, then that part of my routine is interrupted. I repeatedly apologize to my wife when we run in to issues effected by this. Most of the time, all I can say is “it’s gotta be this way to work.” I don’t usually have an explainable answer past that, and that aches that I don’t.

I do repeatedly check door locks and light switches in our home. There are two lights I leave on at all times, and all the doors are left locked to the maximum capability. On top of this, you can observe me checking pockets for my phone, wallet, and keys when leaving to go somewhere. 99% of the time, I have these things. I check for them anyway, because I am fearful of that 1% when I don’t have those things.

Stimming, or self-stimulating behavior, is something that happens with autistic people. This is physical movement that helps to calm the individual. It would not be uncommon for some stimming to be classified as a tic. One of my stims that people rarely notice is the flexing of the tendon at the front of my neck on my right hand side. By classic definition, it would also be a tic.

ADHD

Next is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In part, NIMH defines ADHD with the following information:

  • Overlook or miss details, make careless mistakes; Not following through on instructions and starting tasks but quickly lose focus and get easily sidetracked
  • Having problems sustaining attention; Being forgetful in daily activities.
  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Blurt out an answer before a question has been completed, finish other people’s sentences, or speak without waiting for a turn in conversation
  • Have trouble waiting his or her turn

Overlooking details is a big, giant struggle in life because I am so detail oriented. It’s painful when I miss a detail. This internal conflict is so big that I will seem to remember everything, only to miss one thing. I usually remember more than the average person, but the one thing I forget is the one thing everybody else is looking for me to remember. Being a perfectionist, this is probably the biggest thing I hate about how I handle myself.

Problems with forgetfulness or with sustaining attention loop back around in to the autistic difficulty with executive function. I can tell you ALL DAY what needs to be done where, for how long, and with what resources. When you expect me to be doing these things though, it is a struggle to follow through. The bad part where “normal” society comes in to play, I never have what would be considered a good reason for missing things.

Talking over people is a real struggle for me, both from a technical and social aspect. First, I realize that there is chaos found in talking over people. Second is something that always got me in trouble as a kid, and still does now sometimes. I’ve gotten accused of not listening and considering what a person has to say when I start talking before they’ve finished their point. It is a social faux pas. I get that. But very rarely have I ever changed my mind based on the few additional words due to be said had I not interrupted.

Ok, I realize I’m going off the rails in that last paragraph. What it boils down to is that I get accused of never taking the other person in to consideration most every time, no matter how I handle myself. The ADHD tendencies do not help matters. But what does matter is there is a hypocrisy. It may not be intentional, but it is there.

Anxiety

Next is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In part, NIMH defines GAD with the following information:

  • Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or having their minds go blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling the worry

I’ll be the first to say that anxiety is no joke. From what I know now, I very well had minor anxiety issues all the while growing up. It’s only been in the last month or two that I have really started to struggle with this. The thing about anxiety is that the symptoms can and will grow from societal issues of any type…ESPECIALLY if it already exists. Physically, anxiety is draining.

(My usual disclaimer: Most things I talk about in relation to Autism can be applied to other Autistic people out there. Please understand that anything past the generalizations describe only my experiences and may not describe the specific experiences of other Autistic people. As always, if you have any questions about what you’ve read, feel free to contact me.)

Are you normal?

Just what is normal?

I’m borrowing this premise from a prominent and outspoken advocate for the autistic community online. She does good work because she is also autistic, like I am.

 “Imagine if they way you act & think was determined a ‘mental disorder.’ Imagine if people looked upon you with pity and disgust because you don’t conform to their ideas of ‘normal.’ Imagine if people wanted to cure you of being yourself.”

Really. Are you normal? What is normal? Can anything be declared normal in this world? Unfortunately, that answer can only be yes in social connotations. You think you like labels? Many autistic people like labels that much more because it helps give order to our corner of the universe. This is order that many of us crave and need. But we are also hyper-aware that labels can be hazardous to perception of someones abilities.

Before you cast judgement, please be aware what that judgement means to them.

Merry Christmas!

Yes, I say Merry Christmas. It is what I celebrate at this time of year. But, here is a partial list of greetings I am happy to accept if you happen to celebrate one of them:

  1. Happy Holidays
  2. Happy Advent
  3. Happy Solstice
  4. Joyous Kwanzaa
  5. Happy Hanukkah
  6. Joyous Yuletide

I’m sure there could be others I am missing. If I am missing one you celebrate, please feel free to let me know. I just didn’t do extraneous research before writing this blog.

No, this blog isn’t about holiday tradition in the winter. That is, except for one tradition that seems to transcend all of these celebrations: the giving of gifts. We all see the craziness to get the last of the hot holiday gift left in stock. (That craziness is even immortalized in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Jingle All The Way.”) We see the craziness of delivery drivers working overtime because people have made order after order on Amazon.

While gift giving often straps the financial resources, let me be the first to offer my temporal resources.

I would be happy to spend my time with and for anyone who is autistic. Do you need some help with something? Do you need an ear? Do you need strategy to help with someone else understanding what it means for you to be autistic?

Especially when you hit adulthood, there are not people there to help. So I’d like to help any way I can. I am not a licensed therapist, so I can’t offer anything of the like. But I can offer a friendly ear who is travelling the same road. (In the future, I hope to study for and obtain my license to become a therapist.)

However you celebrate, celebrate well.

NOISE!!!

Every autistic person has at least one sense that can get overstimulated. They don’t all realize it, but that is one of the major hallmarks of the neuro type.

When I say overstimulated, I’m talking about too much information. Remember Johnny 5 from the movie Short Circuit?

Whenever an autistic person gets overstimulated, we need the opposite. We need less input. Frankly, the copious amounts of input we are getting are causing our own brain to short circuit. The reactions you see from us are the response of not being able to process the input. We just want it to stop.

These meltdowns can show up easier at times whenever we are already stressed about something. If there is no way to control the input, there is no way to control the meltdown.

(Once out of childhood, autistic people can also have gained a control on the emotional outbursts that make up the meltdown. So in cases like that, you will see an autistic person shut down from any interaction.)

It took awhile for me to understand where my overstimulation can happen, but now I do. It’s from noise. Not just any noise. Not just any loud noise.

Sometimes it is from a noise that is overly loud compared to everything else. When a noise like this happens not just once, but multiple times, it causes physical stress. A perfect example is a college football game I attended earlier this year. The PA system was turned up so loud that it was likely too loud for the far end of the stadium.

What sends me in the direction of shutdown or meltdown though is multiple sounds, all at the same volume level. I had this happen to me most recently at a restaurant in Denver. The noise of everyone in the restaurant talking was the same volume as the music was at the same volume as another source. What saved me from losing it that evening was focusing on the TV up ahead of me that had closed caption running. Forcing my attention on that closed caption kept me from a poor reaction that night (though I did still end up overly stressed at the end of the night).

All of this said, please be aware of anyone around you that may be getting overstimulated, whether by noise or some other means. It is likely they are not being difficult with you and the situation on purpose!When

That would be good for me, but…

For a few years, I seriously thought about entering the military. The structure and routine of being in the military was something attractive. I knew that would be an environment I would flourish in.

Why did I never go?

I will tell you the simple reason first. I couldn’t run the mile in fifth grade during the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge any faster than 14 minutes. Everyone else ran it in 8:30-9:30. I knew I hadn’t gotten any better at it by the time I hit high school. That didn’t give a lot of hope to get past boot camp. I had read that, even in the Air Force (which had a six week training period at the time), you would wash out if you failed the physical portion three times in a row.

What’s my other reason? I had no confidence I could finish boot camp. I just knew I would react poorly to the environment. I could never conjure more explanation then that. Now I can.

Boot camp, now known as Basic Military Instruction (or BMI), is a sensory overload experience.

I can hear current members and veterans alike saying “you bet it’s a sensory overload experience”. The thing is, that experience will illicit certain reactions and patterns of behavior when the soldier/marine/airman/midshipman must execute on a real scenario. But for those who are autistic, this is something that would backfire…

I always thought I would flourish if I could just get past boot camp. But for now, it’s just nostalgic reminiscing.