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Welcome to My Autism, Please Go Away

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How to explain what goes on inside my head, the way I think and experience the world?

 

Most of the time I am existing in a state of near-exhaustion. I know that everyone is tired, especially parents; and most especially, parents of children with special needs, because they often have disrupted sleep patterns.

 

I sleep just fine, which is to say, I could easily sleep for 14 hours a day. Normal daily encounters leave me drained. I don’t like talking on the phone, yet I do it all day at work. I feel tense when the phone rings because I don’t know what the person calling is going to want, and I don’t like not being prepared with an answer. If I have to talk to coworkers to gather information, that’s even more tiring. It’s not that I can’t talk to them, and sometimes I even enjoy it, it’s just that it demands so much energy. I’m hearing what they say, listening for the tone and trying to take in the body language.

 

My brain never stops working. I put great thought into the most mundane of tasks. Before I drive to the post office to drop something in the mailbox, I think about the drive there. I consider what I’m dropping off, whether I’ve addressed it properly and affixed the correct amount of postage. I think about where I will be driving afterward. All of the thinking and planning I put in leaves me fatigued before I’ve even started the car.

 

Getting together with friends is especially challenging. I enjoy being with friends, for the most part. But again, I have to think about where we are going, what I will eat at the restaurant, what I will wear, what we will talk about. I consider what questions I will ask my friends about their lives and families. How will I respond if they’ve had bad news recently? How will I reply if they ask my advice about something? My mind busies itself with all the possible conversation scenarios. And what about my life? What do I feel comfortable sharing with them, and what do I hold back? Do I tell them about the stress of having my mother live with us, or will I sound callous and uncaring? How much do I share about Connor without being disrespectful of his autonomy?

 

This is the reason I have few friends. There’s so much effort that goes into a relationship, I couldn’t possibly keep up with any more. My husband and I have known each other for so long that it’s a comfortable space, a place where I don’t have to think so much about everything I’m saying and doing. I envy others that feel that sense of ease throughout their day, without over-thinking and analyzing every encounter.

 

As I exited the bathroom stall at work today, I saw a coworker from another department at the sink. I felt the anxious knot tighten in my throat as I realized I would need to make small talk. I remind myself not to blurt out that my job makes me feel like a factory worker, but takes place at a desk with virtual paper instead of at a conveyor belt filled with parts of widgets to be assembled. I remember not to say that I feel like my soul is slowly being leached from my body every day. Saying those things would be “inappropriate.” Instead I ruminate over how we inquire how the other is doing, and always receive a reply of “fine” in return. It’s ironic to me that we consider those conversations to be “normal” when they’re built on white lies.

 

I try to focus in on her hair and her clothes. Maybe there’s something different there that I can use to pay her a compliment. I catch myself staring at her hair and immediately feel like my gaze lingered just a moment too long, and now I’m sure she’s thinking I’m really very strange.

 

As I dry my hands, I want to comment about how wasteful we all are when we know full well we’re destroying our planet and that global warming is a fact accepted by most of the world. To me, that seems much more pressing (and interesting) than a new pair of sandals. But I know better than to say that, because I will get that look I’ve seen before, where I’m being sized up behind the person’s eyes and they are judging me to be a weirdo.

 

Fine. Keep destroying the planet then, you’ll be sorry eventually.

 

“Cute sandals,” I say.

 

“Oh, thanks! I got them on sale at Macy’s,” she replies.

 

I fumble around internally for an appropriate response. “Oh, I LOVE Macy’s!” There. That should be okay.

 

And I leave the restroom, exhausted.

 

But it’s not just all the effort and thinking that goes into every conversation and task that leaves me forever on the verge of collapse. I don’t know if it’s like this for other people, because I’ve never asked. That would, of course, involve a complicated conversation that I’d rather not have. The other thing, for me, is that I have this…I don’t know…condition? where I sort of absorb other people’s feelings.

 

And how to explain that? If someone is angry, I can feel it inside. It rattles me and distracts me. It’s almost like the air around me is charged with the emotion they feel. The same goes for other emotions, such as sadness. I suppose I could say that it’s like I absorb those feelings like a sponge. I wrestle around with them inside me, fighting over control of my own emotions. But I always lose the fight, and my own feelings are wrested away from me as I’m forced to exist within the anger or confusion or embarrassment of someone else. And they don’t even know this is happening, that their feelings have taken me hostage. It’s not their fault, really, so why should I tell them?

 

I can’t help but think that none of what I’ve described even comes close to really conveying my internal processes. I just don’t have the ability to put into words the complexity of and relentlessness of my thoughts. But here’s what I do know: I would change it in a second if I could. To be a freer version of myself, without being bogged down by anxiety and worry would be sweet release. I would still be the same me, but a better, less exhausted me.

 

I would like that very much.

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About Flannery

Kid, husband, dogs, my mother, full-time job, maximum stress, minimal relaxation...sooner or later I had to vent. AND we moved from California to Texas. I could start a whole other blog about that.

32 responses »

  1. Oh wow. I am so sorry that you are experiencing it, but if you must, I am so very grateful that you had the ability to put this whole horrible boondoggle into words, and then had the guts to share it. In a word…YES!!!! to absolutely everything you have said here. I could give you no less than one hundred examples of how we are apparently sharing the same brain, but I’ll let it go at one. There is a woman at the bus stop. For no sane reason discernible to me or to anyone else, she despises me. Doesn’t confront, just won’t speak or acknowledge my existence, and refuses to tell me what I have done to provoke said behavior. It is so painful, especially when other people are there. Many people would simply stand there, put their kid on the bus, and go home. Case closed. Not me. I tried that, many times, and that weird ‘absorption’ thing you mention kept happening, twisting my gut into knots, and taking away all of my precious energy. So now I drive my son to school most days, even though he LOVES riding the bus, and I am so ashamed of that. But I can’t help it. I, also, have few friends, because don’t have the psychic energy & stamina required to be what is considered a *good friend*. Often I wish that I had more, or had done a better job sustaining so many I have had through the years, but the wishing is usually as far as it goes. But if I did have friends, I have a feeling you would be a great one. Thank you for making my day a little better by helping me realize that perhaps I am still a freak, but I am in good company.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! I would have had the same issue with bus lady. The only difference is that I would have had a compulsion to confront her in my blunt way, which would have (most likely) made things worse. But at least we know we’re not alone in this, right?

      Reply
  2. Are there really people out there who find this stuff easy and natural? I often wonder if I am just thinking there are because I feel like such an outsider.

    Reply
  3. Have you considered getting screened for depression? Because being tired, everything feeling overwhelming and generally being uncomfortable and miserable in your own skin could be depression (or seasonal anxiety disorder) or any number of things for which you can get treatment and feel better.

    Please take care of yourself.

    Reply
  4. Hugs!! I am so grateful that you can put at least some of your experience into words. I know that my daughter has similar sensations that she can’t describe. And it is wonderfully refreshing not to read someone say “And I wouldn’t change it for the world!”

    Reply
  5. Fellow freaks in good company: I get every single thing you said. You said it brilliantly! So tired of the exhausted state. In my mind I try to do things “for me” but there is never time. When there is a teeny clump of time, I don’t have it together enough to do one thing. Then I feel so bad about missing my opportunity or just knowing I’m not the same old me my family and friends use to know. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Reply
  6. Wow. You know, I could have written just about all of that. I am very, very similar. I also abhor being on the phone. And the anger from others. I can feel it in my gut, too. I feel it coursing through my veins. It makes me hot, and itchy, and my skin feels 2 sizes too small. Oh, I totally can identify with that.

    Thank you for talking about the exhaustion. It is so very true.

    Reply
  7. Boy, can I relate. I wish that het people constantly quesitoning my autismd iagnosis (including my t herapist0 would understand this. The sheer exhaustion of life with autism. I can appear quite socialbe and that’s why people say I may not be autistic. Other tiems, they say all my diffiuclties are due to my blindness, but they have no clue what goes on inside of me. I too would throw away the overload in a heartbeat if I could. I used to be one of these autistic advocates who said being autistic is not good and not bad, and literally I still believe this, but I must say i’ve drawn wearier and wearier of my experiences and less optimistic that the right support is available or could stop this exhaustion.

    Reply
  8. I really recognise that comment about absorbing feelings. i have that so bad it feels like I am mind reading. A therapist once told me this was impossible, that I am projecting my feeling onto them, that I feel judged because I am judgemental, but actually, the more evidence stack up for hyper empathy on the autism spectrum, I think that I’m just right, that I can feel what someone is feeling. I just wish I knew how to act on it better!

    Reply
  9. We should talk …I would rather talk about wasting water and hunger and population control feminism and education and the evil of religion at least intolerance and tolerance and the dilemma of it all…any time than doing small talk.

    Reply
  10. Holy smokes. This is amazing. YOU are amazing.

    Reply
  11. Thanks for sharing these insights. Very enlightening. I see parts of myself in what you write, especially this, which you said so eloquently:

    “And how to explain that? If someone is angry, I can feel it inside. It rattles me and distracts me. It’s almost like the air around me is charged with the emotion they feel. The same goes for other emotions, such as sadness. I suppose I could say that it’s like I absorb those feelings like a sponge. I wrestle around with them inside me, fighting over control of my own emotions. But I always lose the fight, and my own feelings are wrested away from me as I’m forced to exist within the anger or confusion or embarrassment of someone else. And they don’t even know this is happening, that their feelings have taken me hostage. It’s not their fault, really, so why should I tell them?”

    That is the reason I shy away from so much online controversy and rancor. It’s not that I don’t care or am not interested; it’s because I take on the mantle and it becomes debilitating.

    Reply
  12. At least on the outside you pull it off better than me. I wouldn’t have come up with the proper script “I LOOOVE Macy’s,” until a couple of hours after I had responded with “Oh, that’s nice.”

    Reply
  13. I can relate.sounds like me.

    Reply
  14. Oh my goodness. I don’t know if I would/could/should have a diagnosis on the spectrum or not. When I was a kid 30+ years ago it want even a thing. I just know that I have always felt different from everyone else, like I was on the outside looking in. I appreciate my observer status nite, but As a child/teen I was desperate to fit in. Now watching my AS son sand learning more every day I see more AS tendencies in myself. And this article could have completely described me! I’ve told my husband for years that I’m an empath like Commander Troi on Star Trek. I had no idea there were other’s out there who felt like this! Thank you for putting it into words 🙂

    Reply
  15. I have all the same feelings in social situations. I’ve always thought it is just social anxiety not necessarily autism. I’ve always wondered how other people feel in these situations. I love being around people but only if I feel comfortable with them. I get the whole feeling peoples emotions. If I get a bad feeling right off the bat with someone I can never open up or feel comfortable around them. Then I come off as stuck up or rude but its just I’m so uncomfortable I close up and never know quite what to say so I don’t say anything. Is this more than social anxiety. I’m an adult and have never been diagnosed but I also believe I have ADD. Sometimes wish it was ADHD so I’d get more done!

    Reply
  16. Wow! This is exactly my thought process! The phone thing YES! also feeling other peoples anger, embarrassment I even have to turn away or change the channel when ppl embarrass themselves on TV I can’t handle it…I have never read something so amazing! Thankyou for that 🙂 My daughter 5 has ASD and I always know how she is thinking or feeling in a situation I guess we have a very similar thought process and have wondered myself if I too am on the spectrum….

    Reply
  17. I was just ruminating upon how to express being a “sponge”. The sheer effort of getting through one day, having to be ready to defend myself from an onslaught of emotions from what I read, hear or even a simple exchange at the grocery store. Trying to weather the changes in people around me and SENSING when something is off…..so many people would rather talk about things of no importance or continue polite vapidness instead of being honest or thinking. I feel so vibrant when I connect with people, but most people just drain me. Thank you for sharing- I don’t feel so alone today.

    Reply
  18. Lauren Antanaitis

    Flannery, based on what you’ve said above, it sounds like you might be an Empath. [If you’ve never heard of this, you can Google it and find out what it means to be an Empath. Here’s a really good link on Empaths: http://www.drjudithorloff.com/Free-Articles/emotional-empath-EF.htm%5D

    I discovered last year that I am an Empath, and I can totally relate to your experiences of feeling/absorbing what others are feeling…and it is very exhausting. We don’t know how we take on other people’s emotions or energies – it just happens.

    As an Empath, I have to be careful NOT to absorb other people’s emotions, because then I’m left completely spent, down in the dumps, anxious, etc. I have a couple of family members who I call “emotional vampires”, because they just suck me dry emotionally if I let them (yet they don’t realize that they are doing it). I’ve had to learn that their issues are *their* issues, and that I don’t have to take on their pain/anxiety/problems/whatever.

    Being in a crowded mall or store is hard for me, because I can feel the energy of the people in there, and I wind up feeling exhausted when I leave. Crowded parties – same thing. I tend to gravitate towards solitude, because then I can protect my energy and not have someone else unwittingly “take” it from me.

    I believe that my 15 year old son, who has autism, is also an Empath. So he and are constantly feeling each others’ feelings/energies; it makes things quite interesting. There have been times when he has “read my mind” and would say something that I was just thinking!

    I enjoyed reading your blog today, and I look forward to future posts from you!

    Reply
  19. I wanted to tell you that I love you Flannery….

    Ok… that was inappropriate… but I think you get what I mean. Do you?

    But seriously, this post really speaks strongly to me. I also find “real” social interaction draining and have a classic case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. It’s why I prefer to write. I can delete words and make my emails and letters and everything *just perfect* before I hit that send button. As for the emotional thing — I get that too. Someone else’s bad mood has been known to ruin a good time for me on more than one occasion. I obsess on negative circumstances until I am able to set things right. No… I’m not autistic, but I think we definitely have a few quirks in common.

    So there. It’s not just you. But it IS just you who had the courage to write about this — and to share it with the world. That’s why I love you (well, that and the fact that you’re funny as hell). Thank you, Flannery.

    Reply
  20. I can completely relate – to all of it! Last year I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain and it was a huge eye opener for me. I knew I was an introvert but I didn’t realize so many parts of my experience of the world came from introversion – like frequent sensory overload and having a socially inappropriate impulse to delve into intimate conversations with people I don’t know well… which I don’t actually DO, but that blocked impulse leaves me feeling like I have nothing to say at all! I have from time to time wondered if I could be on the spectrum myself but I always used to think my empathic abilities precluded ASD. Now I know that’s not true – hmmm.

    Reply
  21. Elisa Larkin

    WOW! You have described me perfectly! I never knew anyone else who has dealt with both the anxiety of interactions and the complete absorption of others emotions. I have struggled since I was 7 with this and have always felt weird. I’ve never been at home, even in my own. I often wonder what escape would feel like, but it never comes.
    Thank you for putting it into words!

    Reply
  22. Hi wow I could feel every single thing you said. I am horrible with explaining stuff but I go threw the same exact every single day. Constantly saying sorry for my awkwardness odd things i say before i catch myself like crap you shouldnt have said that now everybody thinks your weird.i get so tired of trying to explain my extreme lack of energy. Nobody ever understands.just explaining something or repeating myself is just too much work when your energy is already gone. I have been diagnosed with ADHD and add my whole life. Thank you for writing that. You really made me feel like I’m not the only person that goes threw that stuff.

    Reply

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