Occasionally here, I have written a little about being autistic. I realise that in the previous two posts, ‘Being autistic in a museum’ and ‘Sensory feasts’, I talked about sensory overloads without actually describing what one is like. It isn’t a nice experience. Neither is a meltdown, a more severe version that results from being overloaded and stressed and lots of other bad things all at once. In one of my stories, I described it as being like ‘the world is very small, like the centre of my head is exploding and my skin is compacting. It’s like my thoughts are going like a news ticker taking up more and more room on the screen.’ Thankfully I don’t have them so much any more, mainly when I have been trying to do too much at once or are overstimulated. Meltdowns are even rarer, perhaps once or twice a year now, which is a lot easier and reflects how I have relaxed more and became a bit more confident.
In psychology, when backed into a corner or under stress, people are understood to have one of two reactions, flight or fight. I am a flight kind of person, in most things, really, but particularly in times of stress. I like smaller rooms and spaces and usually dim lights, none of this fluorescent lighting nonsense. Obviously you can’t choose when you feel overloaded or need a few minutes. The bathroom is a good, obvious place because you don’t need to make excuses. Plus I find putting cold water on my face and forehead helps. I remember being at a training course for my old job in an office block in Edinburgh and this being what I did. Or standing outside. There are some people who probably think I smoke. (I don’t – it’s rank.) I find some social situations, like being in restaurants and pubs, difficult because I get overstimulated with loud music, cutlery noises and trying to listen and process what people are doing and saying in whatever company I am in. I remember being at one do and standing outside. It was in a village called Gullane, just before Christmas. It was absolutely freezing, a very clear night, but that meant that I could see the stars, which was beautiful.
If on a day trip, I often find a park. I wrote in the post ‘Leaves’ recently about the Botanics in Edinburgh. When I felt overstimulated on Edinburgh day trips, I headed up to the Botanics and sorted my head out there. The calmer surroundings plus being outside just worked. Sometimes what works can be the unlikeliest things.
Explaining what being autistic is like is difficult. I remember going to see a National Theatre live showing of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is about a young guy with Asperger’s, and feeling that it captured what it’s like very well. But not entirely. The problem with autism, or one of its problems, is that each and every autistic person is different. There are symptoms and general similarities but each person is different. And so they should be. My issue at times has been knowing what to do in certain situations. I wish there was a manual, one book in one place that explained what to do. Autism books are many and manifold; there is no one book that can say everything. When I used to read a lot, to find answers and solutions, I ended up picking from different books in moderation. Now I don’t read as much. I read books and articles but out of interest, rather than necessity. I am better for it. Life has no manual but a wee bit help still doesn’t go amiss, though.
I have made peace with who I am. I don’t feel ashamed of who I am, on the contrary I am proud of who I am. I am lucky to have the brain I have. Sure there are things I would like to do better. But I am very much better off than many other people, who do not work or cannot communicate or do half of what I can do. I just think and live a little differently than most people. People don’t notice I’m autistic, unless I tell them. I blend in fairly well, which astounds me. The reason for that is because I have found strategies and ways through life or I just don’t think about it and get on with it.
I have written this blog since August and I like writing a lot. I find travelling and the rest of the world more interesting than I find myself. That is why I haven’t written so much about being autistic. The ‘Being autistic in museums’ post was inspired by reading an article somewhere else. I wouldn’t have written about it otherwise. If people are interested by what I write, that is great. If it helps anyone then wonderful. That is why this will be one of an occasional series of posts on being an autistic day tripper. The next will be published tomorrow night, since it’s just a short one, and another in a week or two. Then they will follow as and when the mood takes me, much as my day trips themselves.
A good autistic quote I found recently was from Temple Grandin, autism activist and academic. She said “It is never too late to expand the mind of a person on the autism spectrum.” (from https://twitter.com/LebowitzMarci/status/679692957872709632?s=03). Another was from Jen Leavesley on Twitter, which I also saw recently: “But the #anxiety in #autism for me is neither disordered nor constant. It is situational only!” (https://twitter.com/leoniedelt/status/662740307646152705?s=03). I am very lucky that my mind gets expanded each and every day in life, with new things going on and life being busy. That’s why I write about it here!