The Train Wreck Hypothesis

It’s funny how things affect people like us (people of the Autism spectrum) as opposed to a neurotypical brain. I can’t speak for everyone with HFA (higher functioning autism) or Asperger’s Syndrome because, as I said before,it’s a spectrum and we are all different. To quote Dr Stephen Shore “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,”

I had a telephone conversation on Wednesday night, which brought up a very personal subject from my childhood that I’ve struggled to cope with for quite a number of years (I’m in my 40’s) and only told this person about it maybe 7 years ago. I have fortunately over the last few years, with the help, love and support of my wife and rock, Mrs Bob, and lots of months of  therapy, managed to get to a place where the past no longer haunts my present and I could really start to move forward with life. Alongside that, it’s only been the last 3 years that I have (again, thanks to Mrs Bob who first suspected it) had a diagnosis of Asperger’s. I had been passed around with various mental health diagnoses and I must admit that when I got diagnosed, my eyes leaked (like crying without the emotion) and I felt free – like everything I had struggled to understand and reason with finally made sense. I’m sorry, I digress.  The phone call left me feeling very off kilter, and I struggled all of that evening and the next day to get a handle on things.

It was only last night, when I was having a very difficult tI’ve, that it really started to hit me.  I say difficult but I was reading people and situations wrong –  I asked a friend if they wanted a drink, he said what he wanted, followed by “only joking”. I really want to explain when they said did I not get that they were joking, that in order to get a joke I have to be able to read facial expressions, body language and verbal queues (all of which I struggle with) or maybe the joke wasn’t funny.

I continued to misread other people and started stimming (self-stimulatory behaviour, in my case, rubbing fingers together rapidly), is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects, and is prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorders.) Fortunately for me it’s just a twitching finger so not very noticeable to the public. This then lead onto what I can only describe as a meltdown. I began to feel almost like I was on auto-pilot.. I was there in my body but had no feeling – almost like watching a character in one of my video games. This then led onto a very intense feeling of anxiety and becoming very aware of my breathing. I began to stutter and it all began to snowball rapidly. This is not good when you aren’t at home. I somehow got hone but I don’t remember much.

When I got home it all spilled over – I couldn’t put things together in my head, I was still stuttering and my breathing was still a big problem. It was only when I talked with Mrs Bob and was able to work through the feelings and anxiety with her. It was all down to the phone call the previous evening and that terrible comment.  It took several hours, into the early hours of the morning, to get me back near an even keel.

You see ,a neurotypical person may shout, cry, get angry etc at the time of the upsetting event, whereas my Aspie brain for all it’s amazing skills and processing power can’t handle the emotional response as quickly. This means that up to a day later, after having a milder reaction for that time, my head goes “that stuff from the other day?  Here’s the emotional response”. But unlike an NT brain, when the response is delivered, it’s almost like a freight train hitting a smart car – leaving nothing but pieces strewn across the landscape inside my cranium. I’m still sorting through it all now, almost two days later.

So spare a thought for us on the spectrum. We may be smart, but when it comes to this emotional stuff, it’s like you trying to understand eleven dimensional string theory.

Stay Safe X

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