Feminist Aspie

My Weird Heat Thing 101

on June 22, 2014

Yes, I know, I know, I know. I use this blog and its Twitter for whining about the weather all the time. But I’ve just read this by A Quiet Week, about her experiences with summer-onset depression, and it made me realise that I’ve never actually attempted to explain “my weird heat thing”; I really don’t think it’s that, the symptoms really don’t match up (as I said in the comment, its presentation far more closely resembles anxiety, and I don’t have any problems with light in its own right) but it’s definitely more than just “I’m autistic, and heat and humidity overload my senses just like sudden loud noises do”, too. Actually, I’d quite like it explained myself!

So. Let’s start from the beginning, with that sentence as the foundations; I’m autistic, and heat and humidity overloads my senses just like sudden loud noises do. Except more. And for longer. And it’s much more difficult to get away. And I have no idea when it’s going to end or, once it does, when it’s going to come back. And I don’t sleep very well, to boot. In short, heat and humidity overload my senses just like sudden loud noises do, but constantly. As you’d expect, this is exhausting and draining and generally not fun, so once I do feel better (generally after a cool shower), I’d very much like to avoid the cause of it.

So I do that – or I panic about it. Obsessively.

If I can help it, I sort of gravitate towards the shade as a force of habit; if the road is small and minor enough, I’ll cross for it. Think of it as one giant game of “the floor is lava”. If I can’t do that, it’s not necessarily the end of the world, but I’ll worry about it until I can. If I have to go out there at some point, but not at a specific time, I’ll put it off. The same applies to buildings/rooms that I know set me off, although they tend to fit more into “worry and procrastinate” than “avoid”. At the very least, if heat is present, it’s always a consideration. I also end up wearing and re-wearing, washing and re-washing, a fairly small section of my clothes, those which at some point were deemed loose enough and thin enough and breathable enough to not pose a risk. And, as my Twitter followers will know, I don’t ever bloody shut up about it. It takes over.

Then the guilt and self-consciousness and self-loathing start. Because, well, it’s only June. And you’re only in England. It can’t be that bad. I mean, it’s not like it’s actually made you feel ill. You shouldn’t have to psyche yourself up to go to the shop ten minutes from here because it looks really warm outside. You really over-react, because you’re as pathetic as usual. I guess I see it as a sign of weakness that, if it can’t be eliminated, should at least be vaguely hidden. And it’s only going to get worse. Quick, magically make yourself less pathetic before it gets even worse. There’s a lot of frustration about not being able to make the problem go away. I end up feeling trapped, and that makes me panic even more; I’ve also got a bit of a thing about being trapped and/or suffocation, so it’s probably that.

What’s more – and this is where things start getting really weird – that panic arises almost to the same level at the thought of other people being vaguely too warm. Even other people who I know couldn’t physically care any less and are therefore almost definitely fine. Maybe it’s because that means it really is “that bad”, but this also crops up when it’s not currently warm where I am, when I read or hear about it in another place, another time, fiction even. So many things can “set me off”; not in a way that’s at all debilitating, just a few minutes of “okay, I’ll pretend I don’t know that information and deny any feelings related to it” to “AAAAAAGH IT MADE ME THINK ABOUT THE THING AND I’M AWARE OF THE THING QUICK MAKE ME UNTHINK IT I CAN’T UNTHINK IT” followed by “WHY DID THAT FREAK YOU OUT, SILLY PATHETIC BRAIN”. For example, the weather-related bits of the World Cup coverage sometimes set me off. Festival sets sometimes set me off if it looks like a hot day. Other people’s posts about the weather sometimes set me off. Stuff about much more extreme weather elsewhere sometimes sets me off. A particularly Tumblr post during last year’s UK heatwave explaining that yes, America/Australia, it really is that bad because nobody’s used to it, set me off pretty badly; I should probably blacklist the topic, but I have no idea how people would tag it, and it’s really hypocritical of me considering I talk about it all the time. I’ve been set off by a fairly small part of a novel before, too, although that had the effect of making me read to the end of the chapter, so the character in question would be out of there and – in theory – I wouldn’t have to think about it any more. Again, this isn’t really major, but it’s confusing. If it’s just about my own hypersensitivity, which I know isn’t typical of most people, why do I get so obsessively concerned about everybody else?

Not really sure how to conclude this, other than “answers on a postcard please”. Sometimes it feels like it’s such a big deal and it’s inescapable, and other times it feels like a minor inconvenience that sometimes freaks me out a bit too much. At any rate, I guess this post will come in handy for linking to in future posts. Because believe me, this topic’s going to come up again… and again… and again…

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26 responses to “My Weird Heat Thing 101

  1. emeramchugh says:

    I’m not sure if I experience it as bad as you, but my god I am overheating in this weather. I’m just back from a 45 minute walk (wearing a summer dress and a light black jacket) and dear god I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS HUMIDITY. I remember last year’s heatwave almost made me physically ill one day, and I have no idea why. Damnit heat. #solidarity #hashtagsonwordpress

  2. Em says:

    I have the exact same issue. Only the heat has actually made me sick a few times, which make me freak out whenever it starts to get hot again, which sucks. BUT YAY(ish?) OTHER PEOPLE HAVE THE HEAT THING TOO!

    • I’ve had the “YAY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE THING” reaction so many times in the past couple of years for so many things since getting involved with reading autistic bloggers, so thanks 🙂 But that sounds horrible :/ Weather. It is awful.

  3. alexforshaw says:

    One thing that gets to me is the wide-spread assumption that hot, sunny weather is a positive thing, to be welcomed and celebrated. No. It. Is. Not. It’s uncomfortable, inescapable, energy-sapping and just generally unpleasant. Can’t wait for autumn! 🙂

    • YES. THAT. SO MUCH THAT. Especially “But you’ll moan when it’s cold and rainy and miserable!” – um… no. “Enjoying the sunshine?” sets me off too, although generally it’s hidden between an automatic “um, yeah, how are you, *changes subject*”. Thanks! 🙂

      • alexforshaw says:

        Mmm, rain. I can just imagine the cooling sensation of the water, the clouds reducing the brightness of the sun to comfortable levels, the joy of splashing through puddles… and RAINBOWS!! 🙂

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Absolutely. I have pretty much the same reactions as the OP, although I don’t have the worrying about other people thing, and EVERYONE assumes that the times of year when I’m in agony are times that are absolutely, unambiguously, wonderful, and something I should be celebrating.
      Even worse are the people from hotter countries who go “Hah, only [whatever the temperature is], you can’t REALLY be hot! Shut up until it’s [even hotter temperature], because I don’t believe your expressions of your own experience!”
      And they say it’s us aspies who have no empathy or theory of mind…

  4. Jay Avery says:

    Oh my god, it’s my weird heat thing! I relate very strongly to all of this. I get really panicky if I think too much about the fact that it’s only the beginning of summer and it’s probably going to get hotter and summer is going to keep happening every single year and there’s no escaping and… yeah. I also have major anxiety about being trapped in situations, which seems like the source of the feeling.

    Also: your paragraph about being triggered by *other* people being hot. Sounds a lot like specific-phobia-type triggers. Even a tangential reference to The Thing ends up knocking you into the obsessive thinking loops about how terrible and unavoidable The Thing is. The usual response to that kind of trigger is CBT-type stuff to calm your threat system and remind yourself that you aren’t in immediate danger and all that kind of stuff (which probably seems obvious but is nonetheless important). But that can be harder to do when your fear of The Thing is not *entirely* irrational (i.e., heat actually is a pretty unpleasant experience for you. Rather than being afraid of, say, spoons – which are not actually dangerous in any way). I don’t really have any advice on that front, just empathy/sympathy.

    • Thank you! Generally, I seem to be getting a relatively large number of comments on this post in just a few hours, which makes me feel soooooo much less massively hugely awfully weird and pathetic, so thanks for that, everyone! 🙂

      That first paragraph is literally my exact thought pattern, pretty much word for word. Actually, so is this whole thing. The whole conscious-rational-thinking thing sometimes helps, actually (and it’s just reminded me of a Welcome To Night Vale quote…) although like you say, there’s the danger of that slipping into “nope, this is actually really happening, good luck”.

      • Jay Avery says:

        I guess the best CBT approach would be reminding yourself that – even thought it *is* unpleasant – you can still cope with it and you will survive and it will end. But that’s even harder than just trying to reassure yourself that it won’t be as bad as you think. :S

  5. Alana says:

    Yes, I do not like the heat and the sun. Direct sunlight is not my friend. Humidity is awful. Where I lived in Southern California never got humid, but now that I’ve moved to the Midwest for school, there is constant humidity and it is awful. I would rather be cold than hot because it is so much easier to fix being cold. Just layers and layers of clothing. And I like wearing heavy clothing.

    • AND BLANKETS. SO MUCH COCOONING POTENTIAL. 😀

      Yeah, I think it’s just the general inescapability of it… My browser is telling me that’s not a word. It *should* be a word. 😛

  6. David Howell says:

    I get this, too, and even the hot spell breaking is just trading problems – because thunderstorms are an even more intensely uncomfortable sensory experience, alleviated only by their relative brevity. Flashing lights, loud noise, unpredictability… It’s a perfect storm, pun not intended. Whenever there’s thundery weather in the forecast, I’ll keep a browser tab on lightningmaps.org – a real time map of lightning strikes detected by a network of amateur weather stations with lightning detectors. (I also subscribe to email alerts from a station on the Isle of Wight – though that’s not as useful since I left Southampton, just now I got an alert and there’s a storm over France that looks like it’s worth tracking.)

    As for the heat itself, I’m sorry that even the references are so triggering for you! 😦 And heat is definitely hard to avoid. Cold, on the other hand, is wonderful to deal with – I’m already waiting for blanket season to come again…

    • Oh yes. Blankets. SO MANY BLANKETS. These comments have made me really appreciate how much I like blankets. 😛

      Sorry to hear the thunderstorms are so awful for you to. Generally I tend to like them because FINALLY I CAN BREATHE YAY; the noise is an issue, but one I can generally resolve by putting earphones in. We had a HUGE storm the other week, which was absolutely terrifying and woke me up at like 1.30am, and that just made me even more annoyed with myself because I couldn’t close the window over because nope-if-you-do-that-warm-might-happen, so then I felt guilty for being so scared of the noise, etc.

      • David Howell says:

        Don’t be. Night storms are the worst because of the flashes being more drastic. When the big thunderstorm that ended last July’s nightmare passed over me, it was night, and I was living in a newly built house with bright magnolia walls and flimsy swivel blinds – the room felt like it was strobing, and I so exhausted myself stimming that I couldn’t go into work that day.

        Headphones do help. The last storm to pass me directly was when I was at work, and I pushed the volume up, flapped, and sung loudly enough that a colleague told me to be quieter. She knew this was still better than the alternative, though!

  7. […] Evanier on not drinking and feminist aspie on not liking the heat. As a teetotal aspie who hates the heat, both of these ring true to me, and in both cases what I […]

  8. […] apologising, but it was really warm and my head tends to just fixate on that so I ended up writing about that instead, pushing the Pantene post back to the following week. In that time, a spate of high-profile rape […]

  9. […] summer issues are often dismissed as confidence or body image issues. But having said that, some other women […]

  10. jude314159 says:

    I don’t get the heat thing, because I like the sun (UK sun that is, I haven’t traveled much), but I know all about the misplaced empathy brain-weasels… http://letterstosweetpollyoliver.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/empathy-great-social-delusion.html

  11. paynepills says:

    When you think of heat in the U.S., think of how we all have air conditioned cars, and move from AC’ed houses to the cars to shops that have been chilled enough that I sometimes carry a sweater, even when the temperature is over 100 outside. We’ve beaten the heat here; don’t let us worry you.

  12. […] story), degree results, one of the worst meltdowns I’ve had in years (the same long story), the annual zombie apocalypse (…okay, so it was a heatwave), graduation, a close relative ending up in surgery […]

  13. […] I’m not really sure if this is an autistic thing or not, but recently I’ve found that when certain Big Scary Things happen, I can remain fairly calm and in control at the relevant time only to make myself anxious by ruminating on the situation after it’s over. I think I find these thoughts more difficult to keep a lid on than the at-the-time thoughts because my usual thought-balancing mantras don’t really apply – I already know it’s over, I already know I’m safe (because it’s over), I already know I can deal with it (because I just did) so what else am I supposed to say back to my anxious brain? The two main situations that come to mind for this habit are when my ex tries to contact me again (which hasn’t happened in months now) and the one I’m going to talk about today – yep, regular readers please feel free to roll your eyes, this is another heatwave post! (If you’re new to the blog and/or the heat thing, here’s a quick summary of why heatwaves are overloading and terrifying and The Worst). […]

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