Friday, May 31, 2013

The Great Defeater

Of everything I've written and haven't written there is one challenge that, at least for me having Asperger's, is above all others. This is something everyone has whether they are on the autism spectrum or not, but for those of us that are on the autism spectrum this one thing can create problems that can cause issues across the board.

Writing about this topic started when I saw the review from yesterday's post. I've gotten away, I feel, from writing about what's going on internally and this "Great Defeater" as I'm calling it is something that, from the outside, can not be seen and perhaps can't be understood as well. This great defeater has a word and it is known as anxiety.

Why is anxiety is so bad? It's something everyone has, right? So if so, why does it seem to be overpowering for us with Asperger's? I can't explain what it is like to be normal and have anxiety, but the way it wreaks havoc with my brain is something that, unless you are on the autism spectrum, I'm not sure you can truly appreciate the challenge of it.

There are so many examples in my life that anxiety played a major impact in the events of my life. I may share some examples, but first let me explain what it feels like. So often, when something isn't known or things don't go according to plan anxiety starts to creep in. Why does this do? My body and sense are overly-sensitive and I am hyper-sensitive to my surroundings. This is something that can't be turned off. How can I compare this to something that anyone could appreciate? Think of it this way; let's say there is a door that leads into a room that has no light. You are at the door frame wondering if you should go in as you do need to cross whatever room is within the darkness to reach the other side. There's a guy near the door that informs you that, "the dark room will create some pain." Okay, that's fine, but how much pain is "some"? Also, within the darkness you hear some screams, and some sounds that sound like an animal but you are fully confident. Yet, at the same time, there is a laughter that is out of place. What would be going through your mind at this point in time?

This is the essence of anxiety, at least for myself, living life on the autism spectrum. This dark room I mentioned has no concrete information on what is in it and whether or not it will or will not be bad; the only thing to go by is some passerby that says it may hurt and all the sounds going on within which means the imagination is the only thing that can fill in the blanks and a lot of us on the spectrum, despite not being the best at imaginative play, can have a vivid imagination.

It is amazing how fast I can go from all's well to red alert. A good example is this; at least once a month I'll hear a car accelerate hard from a stop sign. The sound of the rapidly accelerating engine is often, at first, not able to be distinguished. This sound often times sounds just like the start of a civil defense siren. My brain works so fast that I instantly begin to wonder how bad of a situation is about to unfold. An attack? A tornado? Something worse? My body instantly goes into a hyper-defensive state and I'm prepared for anything. A few seconds later the engine becomes distinguishable and I realize there is no crisis happening, but my body remains tense for some time thereafter.

I'm calling anxiety "The Great Defeater" because I'm beginning to believe this is near the top, if not the top, of the list of things that causes the greatest struggles day in and day out. Imagine having every change in the environment creating a panic like I mention with the simple sound of a car screeching away from a stop sign.

This also wears on me socially; anytime someone has a tone that has a hint of aggressiveness, passive aggressiveness, or any other emotion that I am not expecting I instantly go into a state of panic as I try to analyze why this person is mad, how mad they are, and how much it's going to hurt me. Once again, this isn't a choice by myself.

Another aspect of this is that the more negative experiences that happen the more and more vigilant I will become. This is only natural as this would happen to everyone, right? I mean, if there were a light and every time you touched it you got shocked you would get more and more timid each time you had to touch it. So too is the way my brain works, but since often times I can't see that proverbial lamp I have to be prepared for it. Perhaps this level of anxiety I and others on the autism spectrum experience is our way our systems compensate for our inability to see things coming socially. I think this makes sense, right? I hope. Where most people can see danger coming I can't so therefore my body over compensates by fearing more things than it should and also fearing them with a greater fear than seems needed. This leads to something I hear all too often from those on the spectrum when they tell me, "I just hate it when my parents tell me, 'don't worry about it' because it's all I can do." For those of us that have fears, or phobias if you prefer, they tend to be amplified. To tell us to "not worry about" is like telling a fire to not be hot. While to the normal brain the fear, anxiety, or whatever else you'd like to call it may seem irrational to us it is perfectly rational and makes perfect sense.

So why is this the "The Great Defeater"? Living with this day in day out may, and I say may because, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" so living with this day after day may make a person withdraw; one would withdraw to an environment where fear isn't going to control them. The work place is a place we struggle and often times it's fear and anxiety that gets in the way and it is this fact that is the inspiration to calling this the great defeater. I've been there, I've lived this and it ruled my life. And on top of all this, and there has been a lot, hasn't there, and on top of all this we may seem perfectly comfortable on the outside. You can have no idea just how difficult routine events in life can be for us because of this reactionary anxiety. You can have no idea at all, but after this post I hope you have a better understanding.

1 comment:

  1. Anxiety can be a lot of autistic people's enemy when they are trying to engage in activities that they might like to do (whether it's necessary or optional). As I have heard from my peers, autistic people's anxiety levels can be much higher than the anxiety levels of people without autism in general.

    That said, acknowledging anxiety is affecting us autistic people is only half the battle. The other is half is how to defeat that time and time again. The more times we defeat the anxiety we may have, the more times anxiety might realize it can't win. The question is... how?

    1. We have to know our triggers. If we know our triggers, then we know whether we can control these triggers or not.

    2. I know it may sound counterintuitive... but we need friends. I am not talking about acquaintances. I am talking about close friends who are also great socially. When approaching a social situation that might be anxiety provoking, going over what might or might not be acceptable to say or do socially can help a great deal, especially since we are doing this when we are calm.

    3. Set some achievable goals in anxiety provoking situations. It might be how long you stay at a social outing. It might be how many people you talk to in a social outing. Nonetheless, you got to keep giving yourself "just right" challenges, as the objective is to at least match, if not perform better than the previous anxiety provoking situation that is similar in nature. Slowly but surely, the anxiety won't be as crippling.

    My intent here is not to dismiss how crippling anxiety can be for autistic people. Rather, it is important for autistic people to realize that it is possible for them to manage their levels of anxiety to a "tolerable level" that minimizes the levels of interference to their participation in preferred/necessary activities.