Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One of My Turns

This is actually the post I wanted to come back on, but it would have been inappropriate to post it last week, because it would have undermined the point of autism positivity, and it would have seemed like it was criticizing an event that I actually really appreciate and find value in. So, last week I put this aside and I focused on thinking bigger than my recent problems. It helped a lot. It gave me perspective, and it led to the revision of this post.

That being said, let's talk about bad days. Specifically, let's talk about what happens when there's a long chain of bad days.

My April was busy, but it wasn't the busiest I've ever been. And it was stressful, but it wasn't stressful because my students were particularly troublesome. In fact, the students I just finished up with were one of my best groups yet.

There were a lot of good things to come out of last month, too. I made a few really big deals that made me good money. I got out from under my credit card debt, bought a new suit, and traded up for a better, bigger, all-wheel-drive car. This isn't a complaint about any of that.

This is a post to show that despite all of that good stuff, and despite my conviction that my being neurodivergent is a good thing, there are still just bad days. Sometimes a lot of them. Sometimes in a row.

What happened was this--I got too busy to take a break. You see, normally I work consistently 5 or 6 days per week, and I try to work 8-10 hours per day, at most. If given the choice between a 12 hour day and working Saturday, I know it's in my best interest to work Saturday. Partially, this is to avoid the kind of eyestrain that leads to a long-term problem. Partially, it's to allow myself to "come down" socially. The day I take off, I try to take off. I don't check my email, I avoid family gatherings if I can, and Liz even backs off and tries not to talk to me too much so that I can hit my reset button.

April didn't allow for that. Between talking to loan agents, talking to salesmen, talking to students, and trying to keep up with my social media and writing contacts, it felt like all I could do was force myself to communicate all the time. Even when I was alone, I was grading, which meant I was formulating feedback to my students carefully and weighing their likely reactions against what they needed to hear in order to improve their writing. It was all socialization, all the time. After the first week, it started to bleed into my senses. You see, when I'm emotionally exhausted, I'm also at my most synesthetic.

The result was not pretty. Vertigo, headaches, bodyaches, dizziness, nausea, the sense that everything was getting louder and then quieter... all of it started to clash together. I couldn't pull the plug, though. I had to push through it, no matter how tired I was or how much I was about to tailspin out.

I have not hurt myself in several years now, but this last month I came close. It was disconcerting, because I wasn't depressed and I wasn't unhappy. I could see that there were several really good things happening in my life, but I just couldn't enjoy them. And then I had these urges, which I thought I had put behind me, to punch the walls or the posts on my deck. Or to bash my head against the door. Or to scratch. And scratch. And scratch.

You see, I don't hurt myself because I dislike myself. I don't hurt myself for attention. Nor do I do it because I despair, because I'm depressed, or because I want to feel pain. I do it because sometimes, everything I'm seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling is so intense. It starts to bleed together, and then I can't tell if I'm upset because someone's cologne is too strong and that's making the room seem too bright, or if the bright lights are making me upset and that's just making me more aware of the smells, or...

You get the idea.

When that happens, sometimes I just need one sensation. A focal point. Something that is so strong, it drowns out everything else. The impact of my head on a security door, or my fist on a fence post, creates a kind of quiet. It collapses the universe into one feeling, and it leaves me alone to experience that feeling without worrying about what I have to do next, without hearing and seeing and smelling the chaos, without anything. It's a moment of pure being.

And that's why it's so dangerous. And why I worked so hard to overcome the tendency to do those things.

So, understandably, when those urges started to come up again, I had to step away from some things. Even though I was enjoying them. Even though I knew they would be positive. I just needed to recharge, to wait for the turn to pass, and to put what energy I had into making sense of the chaos around me before I got so overwhelmed by it that I lost control again.

That turn has passed, but now I know something very important--that it can come back. That three or four years of not having to face it does not mean I'm "over" it. And that I can have one of my turns any time, even when things are good.