I am quite happy to admit, anxiety sucks, my anxiety sucks. I have no experience of anxiety without autism, but as someone who is autistic, I intimately understand anxiety in the context of autism. Having said that, I rarely admit I have anxiety, not out of shame or fear, but out of denial and a lack of interoceptive awareness of anxiety.
What this means is I do not notice anxiety building and I may not even be aware that I am anxious. It is only when I haven’t slept properly for more than three days and/or my repetitive thinking is completely focused on one or two things that it will slowly dawn on me that I am anxious about that one or two things.
When you can’t sense anxiety building, you can’t address it in it’s infancy. Instead you can only respond to the tempestuous teenager of anxiety, a full on emotion that has all the logic and manageability of teen hormones. Even then I may not be able to tell the difference between stress and anxiety. In both, thoughts go round and round in ever deeper cycles of analysis.
In a moment of realization that deeper cycles are still merely repetitions with no value or help, I reached out to a friend to talk through the issues. Which, unlike many of the issues over my life that have provoked anxiety, are not so trivial that there were not worthy of any more thought. These were vaguely big issues, worthy of in-depth conversation that, with both parties being autistic, wound a path of logic and analysis.
In the end, I was reminded of something that I have taught kids over all my years in education. “It is ok if you don’t know, it’s ok to not be sure. It’s ok to just try something. You won’t know if something is right (or not) for you, unless you actually try it.” Take eggplant, hated it for years, such a horrible texture, with the skin and the inside touching but completely different. Then one day, I tried it when it was barbecued, yum!
Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, some things should never be tried. Ones that may hurt you or someone else or the environment. I can’t claim that eating eggplant could hurt someone else or the environment. It has physically and emotionally hurt me in the past though!
When we are hard on ourselves, expecting perfection in our behaviour and reactions. When we think that we are grownups who shouldn’t still be stumbling through life, learning skills, consolidating knowledge, we do ourselves a disservice. We need to to be as kind to ourselves as we are to our friends, family, pets, garden etc. Jane taught me that apologizing to children was a valid and valuable skill, one that I had not understood. Much as in the same way my flatmate (house share friend) many years ago taught me to respect people in customer service and to not take my frustrations out on them when a service was problematic.
So, today I think I learnt, apologizing to yourself has a place. That it is kind to be gentle when things are out of your control, when you don’t know what to do. It isn’t necessary to be self-critical and expect perfection, or even expect yourself to know what to do. Together people are stronger than alone. Together does not mean partners or spouses, it means people who have formed social or emotional connections that are respectful, caring and kind.
Reach out to your together people when you need and when they might need. Thank you to everyone who is a part of my together, including those who are no longer with us. Arohanui Mike, Grace, Granny G, Granny and Grandad and Jane.