Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Sample Day in the Life of an Aspie and the Ever-present Risk of Meltdown

I have decided to let my guard down a little and share with all interested parties what it's like to move through a typical day with Asperger's Syndrome. This is strictly my experience, but I think might give a general idea how someone with AS might navigate his or her own day, every day.

As I describe this sample day, it is important to understand an Aspie's tendency to have frequent sensory overload. It is common for someone with AS to experience things with our senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell) in an exaggerated way. Aspies tend to have issues with texture, the way clothing fits, smells, light, etc. because we have a heightened sensory experience.

My days always start the night before. Before I am even considering sleep, mental notes about the next day's schedule and needs are running quickly through my head over and over again. Because I think in pictures, this actually becomes rather intense as my other senses are being used, including sight and hearing. I actually see a physical list in my head on legal sized paper scrolling up and then repeating very quickly. While the list is doing this, I also see flashes of different colored lights (quite similar, actually, to a traffic stop at night) behind the list and I am trying to make sure I have everything I need on the list, adding and modifying as I go. A very tiresome experience.

Many Aspies also have trouble sleeping; we cannot turn off our brain very easily. Sometimes this has benefits as we might solve a problem we've been mentally working on, but the bottom line is that we are missing out on sleep. I have taught myself, over the course of about a year, how to at least "turn the volume down" on my brain, allowing me to finally drift off to sleep. Recently, because of some major life changes, I have resorted to taking melatonin, a naturally occurring compound the body makes, in order to help regulate my sleep-wake patterns. The fun part for me is that it typically exaggerates my dreams which I usually find humor in.

As I wake up in the morning, I am possibly already leaning towards defeat for the day, overwhelmed by not just the list of things I have to do, but the way in which it is experienced, as well as the stress of frequent poor sleep. Now starts the "fun" stuff. My heightened sense of touch is already driving me to the shower to wash sleep and yesterday from my body. It is imperative to have proper soaps that wash off properly and smell appropriately or else I am already asking for trouble. I, personally, prefer to have a "squeaky clean" feeling after a shower, where the sliminess and soapy feeling are washed off and I am left with wonderfully clean skin. But there is also the issue of having dry skin or the need to lotion which leaves me feeling "layered" already.

Now it's time to dress. The issues for me are usually either ill-fitting (or ill-FEELING) clothes or clothing smell. Ask anyone that REALLY knows me and they can tell you exactly how I wash my clothes. Gain detergent, Downy liquid fabric softener, AND Bounce dryer sheets. These are all critical in the way my clothes feel and, especially, smell. If one day the collar on a shirt doesn't feel right, a shirt won't tuck properly, or I can SMELL my clothes (not the way I like), I am straddling that line of sensory overload and stress and might feel like rearranging holes in my clothes or just not wearing clothes at all. It literally can bring me to the verge of tears.

Over the years I have learned how to stay fairly flexible, as most Aspies like to stay on a rigid schedule, so the middle of my days can go fairly smooth or be adequately managed by me. What really can cause trouble for me is a major change in schedule, an unforeseen task or event that someone else forces upon me. The picture in my head as I consider this new event is one where MY schedule gets kicked into oblivion and all I can see is an off-white emptiness with a tint of Southern California smog. I cannot see how to rearrange things or make things work so I can fit this new item into my schedule but still stay on task in MY world. Some have characterized this as me having an "all-or-nothing" mentality. And my attitude toward this new event or task may SEEM like I feel put-upon or angry, but I am actually most of the time glad to help, but stressed at how it affects my to-do list and not knowing what to do with it. This is common for Aspies to get frustrated at unscheduled events.

On the ride home from work, I might get stuck in traffic or my perception is that I LITERALLY can't get home fast enough and not only am I getting frustrated at all this, but I can feel my boxerbriefs starting to mess with me, too. It's true, the entire world, even inanimate objects, are out to get Aspies (sarcasm). But, while I make light of that, it truly does feel sometimes like I can't catch a break, from people I interact with, to commuters, to clothing and smells.

By the time I get home, it sometimes feels CRITICAL that all goes smoothly or I will just truly lose my mind, sit in a corner, and spend the evening rocking and crying. Knowing what I will have for dinner, having all the ingredients, and everything working out is important. Then, as immature as it sounds (yet, I think we ALL feel like this), I just want to do what I want to do! Spills, typical AS physical clumsiness, real life problems like a toilet that needs to be plunged, all can get me right over the edge of holding myself all together.

In this, you can see, hopefully, many possible offramps from a good day leading to a meltdown. I would understand any neurotypical person to mock or say "we all deal with that stuff, suck it up." But it's important for me to convey to you that someone with Asperger's Syndrome experiences life differently than most people. It's just the way our brains are wired. With that in mind, please understand that for someone with AS that seems to be flying off the handle, we don't WANT to be dramatic or seem pouty or angry. We just experience it differently, respond differently, and maybe just need some reassurance from someone that we are validated feeling the way we do. And if we do have a meltdown, have patience... maybe even consider that our rigidity or heightened senses makes us perfectionists and creative.

1 comment:

  1. Oh soooo insightful BD! I'm sharing this with my clients who's children have AS or diagnosed to be on the ASD. You have beautifully captured in wiriting what sooooo many others need and want to know. Thank you.