Feminist Aspie

Turtle Mode: For when everything gets a bit much

It’s that time again when I remember I’m supposed to be blogging every week (Saturday nights are likely to be when blog posts happen, actually), so I thought I’d talk about shutdowns, basically because I had a pretty bad shutdown earlier this week so it’s all still fresh in my my mind.

I should probably discuss my experiences with meltdowns first, seeing as that tends to get talked about more often. This post, “Anatomy of a Meltdown” by Musings Of An Aspie, explains the feelings really well and also notes how the ways in which meltdowns manifest themselves can change over the years. When I was a kid, I got pretty aggressive (although thankfully I don’t think I’ve ever properly hurt anyone) but these days meltdowns mainly consist of crying and lots of it, which is something I never normally do. They’re now few and far between, too; I think I hit meltdown the day I came back to uni because we had issues finding my new room but other than that, my last full meltdown was back in August, the first time I tried to leave my ex, and the time before that was back in March 2012, in the middle of the school library due to a student-council-initiative-gone-wrong (it’s a long story). I guess as I grew up I just learned coping skills, to breathe, to stim, to control it, and if all else fails to just get out of there as fast as I can.

For me, especially over the last few years, shutdowns are much more common, and they feel almost exactly the same, bar the inevitable horrible crying headaches that follow a meltdown (or any crying for that matter; those headaches are just horrible, aren’t they?). As Musings of an Aspie puts it:

It feels like my whole body is thrumming, humming, singing, quivering. A rail just before the train arrives. A plucked string. A live wire throwing off electricity, charging the night air.

Thinking about it now, most shutdowns start with me being stuck in a noisy, crowded room (so party situations, then) and that was the case a few days ago, too. I don’t know how to explain it other than everything gradually got a bit much and then, as my friend put it, I went into full-on turtle mode.

turtle in shell

Well, I would have done this if I was actually a turtle with a shell I could hide in, but I’m not, so instead I just sat there and vaguely attempted to sing under my breath to try in vain to calm myself down.  Didn’t really work, because people kept pouring in, for ages and ages and ages. I remember telling said friend that I wanted to curl up into a tiny ball and not take up any space. That must have been roughly when the “thrumming” started, like every cell of my body was vibrating. Then there were introductions, there was quiet, there was calm, in theory I had a minute or so to regroup. It doesn’t really work like that, though; there were still people coming in, still, and there were still so many people around me, and as a mere human being I couldn’t just disappear and take up no space. After that, getting up and talking to people. Talking to people. Right. That wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t find the person I was looking for so I sort of wandered around aimlessly, staying around the edges of the room where it was less dense, resisting the urge to hide behind or under chairs, just about breathing, never mind anything else. I sort of knew that I needed out, I thought about how I could grab my phone and step outside for a few minutes and calm down and text my friend to let her know where I was/ask to be rescued, but I couldn’t just make that happen, I was too far gone.

Then I ran into someone I knew; I don’t think she knows I’m autistic unless she’s worked it out for herself, but I was visibly distressed, so she had to do a bit of guesswork:

“There’s a lot of people here tonight, isn’t there, is that stressful for you?”

You bet it was.

“It’s really warm in here, isn’t it, are you too warm?”

Probably, and to be fair that’s always a very good guess with me, but frankly at that point I was solely concerned with all those people.

And, finally, “Do you need to go out for a while?”

YES. YES I DID.  THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO DO. THAT’S IT.

Fantastic, problem solved, right? …Wrong. You see, my annoying habit of insisting I’m okay when I’m not okay even extends to when I am clearly, visibly, obviously several thousand miles away from “okay”. That, and I could barely make words happen at all. I could think all that stuff, but I couldn’t say it. The help I clearly needed was being handed to me on a plate, but even then, still, my body was having none of it, which is always massively frustrating for all parties involved. Instead, I froze, and panicked, and didn’t say a word, and then just continued wandering.

Eventually, to cut a long story short, I got out and was immediately distracted by something else, which on the one hand was really bad timing (as you can tell, my conversational skills weren’t exactly brilliant at this point) but on the other hand, at least it was a distraction, and a positive one at that. After that had happened, the event was almost over, so I left; my new room is much further out than my old one, which on this particular evening was a good thing because for a while I could just focus on putting one foot in front of the other without having to think about anything else. I got back to my room and even though the “danger” was over, everything was still on a go-slow. I slowly thought about getting into my pyjamas, then eventually did so, then slowly thought about making tea before deciding that was just more input I didn’t need, so I slowly got myself a glass of water instead, then sat on Tumblr for a bit, then got into bed, cocooned myself in the covers (deep pressure for the win), and attempted to explain all this to the person I was with via Facebook (hence “turtle mode”). I always forget how long it takes for the “thrumming” to stop, for my body to catch up with my brain and realise everything is okay.

I should probably just give people here some vague instructions as to what to do when this happens, because like I said, there were people doing everything right and I just couldn’t accept the offers of help. Basically, if it’s possible to get me out of there, get me out of there. I actually tend to be okay with touch for the most part, so if I need to be sort of guided feel free to do that, but obviously if I flinch that’s probably a sign you should stop. Once I’m out of there, I can probably take care of myself, breathe, stim, whatever. Maybe sit with me if you’re worried, don’t ask too many questions at first because you won’t get any helpful answers, let me process it all for a little while and then I can start telling you what’s wrong and we can do something about it. I guess for meltdowns (you will know if this happens, trust me, it’s really obvious!!), again you’d need to get me the heck out of there (although that might prove difficult), obviously I’m going to need tissues and water would be nice too (for the headaches) but other than that, once I’m out and I’m safe and I’m not having all that information thrown at me anymore, it’s best to leave me alone for a bit, let it happen, let me slowly calm myself down and then, finally, I might actually have the words to tell you what happened. Of course, everyone on the spectrum is different – it’s a spectrum – so please don’t take anything I say as a strict template to follow for other people.

So I guess shutdowns and meltdowns aren’t that different, internally. And not being able to ask for or even accept help is really not nice.

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On fitting the mould

Earlier today I was concerned that I’d planned to blog once a week, but that week had passed and I really needed to write a post about feminism. Turned out I needn’t have worried, because the good old cliché of “it came to me in the shower” just actually really happened in real life. See, tonight there’s a huge party (eeeeeeek!), so I shaved my legs, which I onky bother with when people might see them, and I realised I always feel guilty for doing so, because it’s an attempt at conforming with one of the ridiculous patriarchal beauty standards for women so I’m probably complicit in all that, right?

Then I realised how fucked up that line of thought is. From a young age, women are taught they have to “fit the mould” or face ridicule and rejection from others; then, when we attempt to fit the mould, we’re shamed for that too. Take all the jokes about women taking ages to get ready or that advert (I think it’s for Head & Shoulders, please correct me if I’m wrong) that begins with “Girls – why so many beauty products?”; erm, maybe it’s because most girls have to use so many beauty products just to look like what the media calls “normal”?! (Incidentally, I really like this song about the whole thing) It should be said that a great deal of this body policing can sometimes come from within feminism too, though; the idea that all women who wear make-up, wear sexually revealing clothing, shave, or do anything else the patriarchy expects us to do with our bodies are, therefore, complicit in these patriarchal expectations. So, if women don’t look 100% perfect all the time they are harassed and ridiculed, and if women even try to evade this they’re told they’re vain and silly and setting back feminism. In other words, women can’t win. For a change.

In addition, it’s important to consider that, well, women should be able to choose what they do with their own bodies, and some women actively choose to do all this stuff. HJ Street wrote a post about shaming women who wear revealing cosplay costumes a while back, and the same principles apply here. Yes, it should be noted that these choices aren’t made in a vacuum, but that’s not the fault of these women, it’s the fault of the culture surrounding them. That’s what should be criticised here.

If a woman chooses these things under her own free will, to shame her for this removes her bodily autonomy. If she only “chooses” these things under the constant pressure of patriarchal beauty standards, to shame her for this is victim-blaming.

Right, now to fix my hair…

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The good old days?

I suppose this is related to my previous post, which is why I’ve ended up running to the blog as soon as this topic came up in conversation.

So, I’m only 19, and the only time I can identify as “adult” without cringing is if it’s preceded by the word “autistic”!! Consequently, I’m no stranger to that recurring conversation from older adults about “the good old days” of their childhoods when everyone spent their entire lives outside, and you kids with your internet and smartphones don’t know a thing about making your own entertainment, do you?!

It’s occurred to me that by sitting on my phone blogging, I’m basically proving the point. However, the constant underlying message that technology is just BAD and makes ALL THESE KIDS SO UNSOCIABLE has always left a bad taste in my mouth. Because believe me, I tried playing outside with the other kids on my street, and would always end up just not fitting in (again, see my last post). At least video games and social networking sites provided an alternative. Personally, technology has made me more social, and I don’t know what I’d have done without it.

Like I said, though, I’m only 19, only barely an adult (*shudder*) myself, so I’d be really interested to hear from “proper” adults with autism and/or other disabilities, who grew up in the “good old days when kids played properly” or whatever else. What do you make of all this?

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When You’re Out, Loneliness, It Crawls Up In The Ground…

I’m trying to get back into blogging regularly, so the current plan is to blog about feminism one week then autism the next, or maybe increase that to one post from each category per week, I don’t know. Either way, that means I’m due to write an autism post, and there’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now. Except, well, I’m not really sure where to start. So instead I’ll begin by linking you to other relevant things.

  1. At the risk of shoehorning my special-interest-du-jour into my “serious” blog, Sleepsong by Bastille helped me recognise and at least vaguely attempt to describe the feeling I’m going to write about. Lyrics can be found here, that’s where the title (and entire structure of this post, as it turns out) came from, and I think it sums up the whole lonely-in-a-crowd thing quite well.
  2. There’s also this post by autistic blogger Alex Forshaw on obsessive relationships. The comments on that post are really worth reading too. I really recognised myself in that post and the subsequent comments. I’m also beginning to understand why my ex (who is also autistic) behaved in the way he did during the final months of our relationship; not that that excuses it, of course, but I can at least see the reasoning behind the possessiveness.

Anyway, time to attempt some words.

When you’re out, loneliness, it crawls up in the ground…

It’s, for want of a better phrase, the language barrier. I’ll miss most of the neurotypical body language, facial/vocal expressions and whatever else; likewise, I imagine most people don’t pick up on any of that stuff from me. It’s the rhetoric surrounding who’s to blame for the language barrier, because autistic body language is seen as weird and wrong and all the advice that gets thrown at you about how to make friends all boils down to “Have you tried not being autistic?”

It’s not just that, though. It’s also the memories from when I was younger and how horrible other people could be sometimes, often people who barely knew me, people whose names I never knew. It’s learning not to trust people straight away, if ever, because they’re probably either laughing at me behind my back or about to start laughing at me to my face. It’s learning to assume that if people are whispering or laughing near you, they’re whispering or laughing about you; to this day I even assume this about friends, because, well, you never know.

“It’s funny when she gets angry.”

It’s never quite being in sync, even when you realise that not all people are going to push you into meltdowns for fun, and some are actually really friendly and supportive, in fact that probably goes for the majority of people. That’s nice to think about, but it doesn’t really solve the problem.

It’s showing up, saying “hi” and barely saying another word.

It’s being the awkward third person walking behind the other two, unless there’s four people, in which case suddenly there’s room for three people in a line and I become the awkward fourth person.

It’s all the worrying about being clingy and possessive and jealous, all the actually being clingy and possessive and jealous. It’s bugging people with either far too many Facebook messages or one that’s far too long. It’s freaking out when that silly Facebook messenger “seen” thing is removed only by a completely unrelated message from someone else, and when that actually gets some sort of response.

It’s the feeling, probably unfounded but still there nonetheless, that I’m in the group but not actually in the group, just sort of tagging along for the ride. It’s the realisation that this sentence applies to basically any group of people I could ever have vaguely been considered a part of.

…It’s what you feel, but can’t articulate out loud.

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