Rarely do I meet someone on the spectrum who does not also experience anxiety. Some of us are better at hiding it underneath a cool “I got this” exterior, but if you know what you’re looking for, it’s there.
For me, “anxiety” seems to be an umbrella term. There are several different types, each one of which is different. Each type has its own unique effects on me, although there’s a lot of overlap, too. I’ve even identified a “good” or “happy” type of anxiety.
First, I’ll start with familiar ground: the “bad” anxiety. This, too, is somewhat of an umbrella term, because there are varying degrees (and of course, varying effects).
An example of mild-to-moderate anxiety for me would be when I’m meeting with clientele (in my healthcare office setting) whom I’m not sure how they’re doing. Maybe I haven’t seen them in while and their current status is a “wild card”. Or maybe during their last visit, we outlined a strategy to resolve a setback, complication, or temporary stall in their progress.
During this type of anxiety, I start to talk a little faster, become a little more forgetful, and I may be hurrying to prepare for the meeting, never feeling that I have enough time. I feel the adrenaline “rush”, which in my case, is not necessarily a positive sensation that I seek out or get hooked on. (I only like the mild adrenaline rush that occurs in a controlled setting, and even then, I don’t seek it out often.) And “bonus”: during my temporary, pharmaceutically-induced menopause stint, I would get hot flashes, even before I realized I was under stress. So that’s something I can “look forward to” when the real biological menopause hits.
I notice more moderate anxiety when I have to drive, and the degree of said anxiety increases in proportion to the amount of traffic, the intensity of the particular “vibe” on the road, or the aggression/rudeness/stupidity that I have to deal with (and defend against). Another example would be when I’m dealing with health issues, such as worry about dental problems, skin problems, weight gain, ringing in my ears, or anything else having to do with the two (am I up to three now?) autoimmune disorders I’ve developed.
During these times, I may get irritable (the degree of which also varies by the intensity of the factors above), and my hands may get sweaty. They’ve gotten so sweaty before that they’ve almost slipped off the steering wheel. My muscles may also tighten up, especially in the shoulders, neck, forearms, and hands.
For a few months, I used to have to drive for 5-6 hours at a time, through varying degrees of traffic, some of which got really crazy. I had to make this trip every couple of days, and I loathed it. I remember waking up in the morning after a few weeks of this, unable to straighten out my fingers; they were “stuck” in a claw-like position. In the case of the health-related anxiety, I may also become more clumsy, and if it gets bad enough, I feel like everything is wrong, nothing is right, and I may experience depression.
More severe anxiety occurs when I’m scheduled to meet with more difficult clientele (the kind that put up a fight, not letting me help them; the kind with “a problem for every solution”; the kind with no respect or civility, who like to argue…you get the idea).
This type of anxiety might produce any one or combination of the effects already mentioned, and those effects will likely be more amplified, often severe enough for other people to start noticing.
The severest of anxiety levels, however, is another animal. Like some of you, I’ve been in fear for–literally–my survival. It came on quickly, but not exactly overnight, when we were first starting our practice. It didn’t just “switch on” by itself, however–it had “help”. It was primed very strongly by my parents’ near-fatal car wreck (see this post for (non-gory) details, written freshly from the Saskatoon, Canada motel near the hospital to where they’d been transported).
This anxiety type is like an attack. There are two “flavors”. The first is related to anxiety involving the practice. During these bouts, I get very cold, curl up into a little ball (fetal position), or I might rock back and forth, clutching my knees, and staring up, staring down, or simply staring into space. Or, I’m frozen. Rather than chattering incessantly, I’ll go straight-up mute. I’ll feel very vulnerable and protective/defensive. Sleep is out of the question. Eating is up for debate. I might have a histamine attack. If the situation is prolonged, it might penetrate any precious sleep I get, and I might wake up in the middle of the night, paralyzed with fear, unable to move.
The second flavor, relating to my parents’ horrific wreck, took a while to figure out. It’s not as common, but it lurks just beneath the placid surface, waiting for a time in which I’m susceptible.
The next time I set foot in a hospital after Mom and Dad’s wreck was three years later. This time, it was for my own much-needed surgery. There was certainly anxiety surrounding the procedure, but it was pretty routine (or so I thought lol). Walking down that hall toward the pre-op area, I started to cry. Nonononono, I thought to myself. Not now. Not here. Please.
But I knew it was unhealthy and unwise to keep emotions bottled up and stuff them down, so I let the tears flow, as quietly as I could, hoping and praying that no one else would notice, stepping up my walking speed just enough to stay ahead of the pack, so that no one would see me and start asking questions. They wouldn’t get why I was crying. Hell, I didn’t know why I was crying. I mean, I did (instantly), but I also didn’t. I knew that I was remembering–and reliving–my parents’ wreck.
What I did not know was that I was having a flashback.
Yes, folks, I’ve also been diagnosed with PTSD (see this post about the flashback and subsequent diagnosis).
And PTSD attacks. It doesn’t care where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with, or whether or not it’s a convenient time. And it brings its own terror, terror that is strong enough to run over and overshadow any anxiety (or any other emotion) I’d been feeling before. It gives no warning. It has no mercy. Thank goodness it’s rare. And I hope it stays that way.
Now, let’s switch gears (take your time–I know I need to take mine). 🙂
There’s a “happy” anxiety, which is like an extreme excitement. I can only describe it as “mind-blown”. It happens when I stumble across new information relating to my special interests (or anything else that’s cool involving my special interests!), or when I solve a mysterious patient case.
Examples include biochemical pathways, the answer to a patient puzzle, or maybe a new (at least to me), awesome song (since music is another special interest), something so stellar and amazing that I want to get up and cheer, squeal (if only my contralto voice would go that high, which it doesn’t), or otherwise whoop and holler in elation. I literally get so excited that I have to get up, push away from the computer, go outside, and take a break, letting it all sink in.
And last but not least, there’s the “mixed” type. This usually happens when I’m on a roll “panning for gold” (informational “gold nuggets”) and I’m finding them left and right, but I have to stop what I’m doing because it’s time to go. Or because I’m hungry. Or because I have to pee. Or because my partner wants to get home. Or because I better get some sleep. Et cetra… I want to keep going but I can’t, for some reason that’s unrelated to the activity itself. It feels like being held back, held in restraint. I’m excited, but also feeling frustrated or limited.
Yes, #AspieProblems indeed 🙂