Intense emotions and advice for comforting people with ASD.

The way in which my Asperger’s probably affects me the most is through the way in which I experience emotions so intensely, and for longer periods than neurotypicals appear to. Ever since I was a child, I’ve often struggled to get out of a sad mood once something has upset me, and this has meant that often attempts to make me feel better quickly have not been effective. So I thought I’d give a bit of an explanation of this, and some advice for those who are looking for better ways to offer comfort and reassurance.

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Feeling the Mask Slip – an autistic perspective on Overstimulation

You’re probably wondering what snakes have to do with overstimulation and autism. Well, let me give you a little analogy to help explain what overstimulation feels like, and why for me, as someone who is hypersensitive to sound, maintaining a ‘normal’ face in conversation is sometimes difficult.

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Asperger’s and COVID-19.

The pandemic has been a turbulent time for all of us, so I wanted to talk a little bit about my experience of being on the spectrum during lockdown and how COVID has affected me as an aspie. 

Before the first lockdown, I was in quite a bit of denial about what the pandemic was going to entail. I don’t follow the news, so the first I heard about COVID was from school gossip. When my peers expressed the sentiment that the school would close due to the pandemic, I dismissed it out of hand. The school, close? That was unthinkable. School was foundational to my routines. In my mind, it was impossible that it should close…

And then we all know what happened. 

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Asperger’s and Birthdays – an autistic perspective

Birthdays can be a difficult time for people with aspergers. Both our own birthdays, as well as the birthdays of other people pose challenges, most of which are tied in with our difficulty in understanding neurotypical social nuances, but which also come from the neurotypical perception of our own behaviours.

Because autistic brains have difficulty picking up on social cues, it can be difficult for aspies to decode the hints you drop about what presents you want, even more so because we can find it difficult to put ourselves into the perspective of other people, especially neurotypical people. The message here then is that it’s generally best to be upfront with an aspie if you expect to receive a present from them – it makes our lives easier, and you’re more likely to receive a present which you actually want!

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Retrospective on The Guilt Complex

I posted The Guilt Complex in 2018. Here we are now in 2021, and I believe that with my few years more experience of living and existing and all that nonsense, I’ve come to have a bit more insight about my own emotions.

First of all, for anyone who looked at that post and felt that they experienced a similar thing – let me tell you right now: it gets better. I don’t know how, I don’t know exactly why, but let’s just say that maturity seems to be this intangible thing where one day you realise that actually your worth doesn’t depend on your always being in the right.

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Eye Contact

Why do you find it hard to make eye contact?

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It just feels wrong. I wouldn’t say that it scares me, because it’s nothing like that, it just doesn’t feel quite right and makes me uncomfortable. Most of the time I don’t even realise that I’m not looking at people’s eyes until either I think about it or until they comment on it. What I’ve noticed some aspies, (Chris Packham for instance) and myself doing, is that sometimes we consciously make an effort to maintain eye contact. We hold it for a few seconds, really trying to do it, then our eyes drop again, and we go back to looking around. In Chris Packham’s case, I watched him on TV, and watched the way his eyes moved. What I feel when I’m in conversation, is just that there are so many things happening at once, it’s like I’m supposed to listen to what the person is saying, look at what their hands are doing, look at what their body is doing, look at what their eyebrows and facial expression is saying, work out whether they’re speaking metaphorically, with sarcasm or perhaps they’re teasing me, then I have to analyse it all and figure it out all whilst even more things are going on in the room around me that are far more interesting! And it all happens so fast! When I say this, I of course mean no offence. I am not saying that people are boring or anything like that, but what tends to happen is my brain moves way to quickly and before I know it my focus has moved on to a whole new subject. It’s way too much for my brain to comprehend, and so I just try to focus on one thing at a time, which often isn’t the words that are coming out of their mouth. This tends to give the impression that I’m not listening, or that I don’t care what’s someone is saying. I’ve heard some aspie bloggers saying that the reason they don’t like looking into people’s eyes is because they feel like they’re being judged, and that it feels eerie to be looking at someone’s eyes and not being able to tell what their mind is thinking. I don’t like being judged, (after all, who does?) but looking at people’s eyes doesn’t always make me feel that way, it’s just that indescribable discomfort. They also said that they have no trouble looking at people’s eyes when they are on TV, I find that I don’t have any trouble with that either. They said it was because the eyes they see aren’t ‘real’. The eyes on the TV can’t see me, and therefore can’t judge me, and they aren’t looking at me directly, just the camera. That fact makes me feel better, so I have tried to make eye contact with TV characters, and actually see how their eyes and faces move in detail, but I still don’t understand how neurotypicals can read each other so easily, when faces move so fast and the hints are always so subtle. The solutions me and my parents came up with is that when in public and I have to speak to someone (for example if I’m ordering food at a restaurant) I will try to look at their eyebrows or nose, then at least I’m looking at their face, even if I am just making eye contact with their eyebrows. If I don’t like that strategy, I try to find out what colour their eyes are, although sometimes what can happen is I’ll be so focused on looking at them, that I’ll forget what I’m supposed to say. It becomes natural after a while to just give people’s faces a quick glance when I’m talking. I guess it just comes with practice. It also helps to have a clear idea of what you want to say (in my case what I want to order) and also have a few answers prepared in case they say something else as well. Sometimes, this doesn’t always work, so I’ll occasionally just look to my mum for help. It helps to have someone who, if you get in trouble, they can jump in and save you!

The Anxiety…

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Where do I begin? Anxiety is a very troublesome emotion, but is one that varies hugely depending on the individual. For me, anxiety is usually a growing sensation of being on edge, but can also be a feeling of detachment, and surrealism, which in turn creates panic.

The latter sensation often occurs when my routine is interrupted. For example, recently my school was closed due to the snow. As much as I was relieved and happy to get a day off and have fun in the snow, for the rest of the day, I felt quite disconnected – like things weren’t real. This wasn’t a pleasant experience, and it also led to a lack of focus on my part, as I felt like I almost couldn’t remember what day it was because nothing was fitting with the routine. The feeling of detachment also made me panic – it reminded me all too much of a similar feeling I get when I’m dreaming a nightmare but I can’t control it.

The former, however – the sensation of being on edge – I most commonly feel when I am surrounded by lots of people. It’s just your classic feeling of nervousness, and any person who is shy or introverted will have likely experienced it. When I get anxious, a lot of the telltale signs appear: walking on tiptoes, looking down, fidgeting and also that subtle stiffness when I move.

In situations like the one directly above, there isn’t always necessarily a solution. I tend to either seek out a distraction (e.g headphones, reading or even chatting with close friends or family if they are present), or to make a game out of it; pretending I’m on a mission to infiltrate a building or street and I have to act natural in order to remain undetected. It’s a little childish, I’ll admit, and I don’t use that strategy often, but thinking of it that way can sometimes help calm me down, because it’s a challenge to solve that I can think about in the same way as a puzzle, rather than dwelling on how many people there are and panicking about what to do if they approach me.

Anxiety, as I have mentioned before, is yellow in my eyes, and when I experience it, I often find it causes my mind to race, and the music track going round in my head almost always speeds up. In previous posts, I said it felt like the floor had dropped out from beneath me. That is partly true, but that is more when I am worried I have done something wrong, rather than just being nervous. So in a way, to me, anxiety has three meanings.

The Guilt Complex

Guilt-Cake-is-yummy

As an aspie, I have a really strong sense about right and wrong, which is sort of strange considering that I know that good and bad are relative terms created by humans to label themselves and encourage behaviour that is beneficial to an individual or society, and discourage that which isn’t. Sorry, I’m rambling. But the thing is, with my good conscience, also comes a ton of guilt if I ever do anything ‘bad’. If I ever do anything wrong, I will obsess about it for weeks, even months and if it’s particularly bad, I will still wince over it years later. The following days after an incident where I get in trouble, it feels like my stomach has been cut out, and there’s just a hole left. A hole that is continually growing and threatening to consume me. I know that may sound dramatic, but that is honestly how it feels. After a while it deadens, until the only time it really hurts is when I remember and get dragged into that depressing memory. I’ll end up thinking about it, usually late at night when I can’t sleep, and the hole through my stomach will start growing again, but then I can’t stop thinking about it. I recall a long time ago, where I listened to a parody version of a song that was often on the radio. However, the parody that I listened to contained swearing – nothing terrible, but still – but my younger self didn’t recognise it as such. Oblivious to the obscene profanity, I quoted the song lyrics to my mum – with my grandparents present as well. My mum, ever the kind one, quietly took me aside and informed me that the words I was singing weren’t allowed. Even though I hadn’t been aware of what I was doing, I still felt tremendously guilty, and this did result in tears. The worst part was, the song that I had listened to the parody of was very popular, and so was played on the radio frequently. Every time the song came on, I would be reminded of my accidental swearing, and that guilty feeling would open up. It still makes me cringe a little when I hear it now, although I do agree it is a good song.

Guilt is probably the worst emotion for me. It’s the one that hurts the most. If I had to associate the emotion with a colour, I would say I’ve always thought of guilt as a green, sometimes brownish yellow colour. I can offer no explanation as to why; that’s just how I think. And to reiterate myself, the emotion just feels like a hole in my stomach, although it often is accompanied by anxiety. Anxiety is a somewhat similar sensation, a gaping, pulling feeling as if something is missing; it feels like the floor has dropped out from under me, and I’m just falling. Anxiety is definitely an electric yellow, and that’s why I often associate guilt as such, because the two are paired.

As far as I am aware, there is no alleviation for guilt other than time or reassurance. If you have any coping , I’d welcome some comments!