While wading through my journey that is Self-Discovery with an Aspie Twist, I’ve come across dozens of terms and had a nearly-equal number of “light bulb moments”, during which I’m suddenly able to reframe my idiosyncrasies in a new–and legitimate–light. Pieces come together, things start making sense, and confusion gives way to serenity. (Oh, so you mean that meltdowns aren’t a character flaw-based tantrum? Gotcha!)
But to be honest, I’m still trying to grasp the concept of a shutdown. I’ve come across the term/topic a lot in my exploration, and they certainly seem to be a common phenomenon. Since they’re an Asperger’s trait, I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced them. But I’m not exactly sure (yet) how to identify one. I’m still trying to figure it out.
I’ll explore a couple of scenarios and my reactions to them. Would any of these be examples of a shutdown?
I’ve had days with a challenging or rude person (especially in my office; it’s quite rare, but when it happens, it shakes me to the core). The people who give off a caustic vibe, or they’re rude or pretentious, or they belittle me (whether blatantly or more subtly), the ones I can’t please no matter how hard I try, because they never seem to be happy…with anything. Or they’ve given up before they tried.
After an encounter like that, even if the actual contact was brief, I feel mentally frozen. Not in the paralytic sense, but more in the numbed-with-Novocaine sense.
And the emotional/mental un-balancing begins: on one hand, my brain shuts down, and I feel a strong need to spend a lot of time away from everyone. I withdraw, walking in the trees, craving some one-to-one time with nature. On the other hand, my brain refuses to stop, and it continues to rehash the entire ordeal, sometimes for hours. During this time, I can’t get much else done. My motivation simply evaporates. This has lasted for up to two days, and then gradually lifts, over a period of a few hours.
Is that an example of a shutdown?
Consider a second, more emotional scenario: dealing acutely with severe grief. When a loved one (especially a fur-kid) passes away, I often go into a blank and desperate state in which I can’t function much at all. It’s all I can do to get through tasks that I absolutely have to do, and nothing beyond that gets done. Everything’s on hold until further notice. Interacting with people takes even more energy than normal, and it’s one of the few times in which I feel an overwhelming fatigue that threatens to suck me into the ground and an urge to sleep that simply will not be ignored. This has lasted for days to weeks; the recovery process is usually more gradual and can take longer.
Is that a shutdown?
Or, consider a simpler, more cognition-based scenario: I’ve worked a “marathon” day, pushing myself past my cognitive and energy limits, knowing that I had reached those limits a few hours ago, but pushing on ahead through the task anyway, determined to get it done, until I got it done. My brain “flatlines” to the point where I can barely point-and-grunt. Every step is taxing, taking everything I have, and the only thought I’m capable of is to strategize the quickest and shortest route to the couch. There’s no emotion involved here, just plain good ol’ exhaustion (to the point where 100% of my concentration can be devoted–literally–to the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other). This generally only lasts for that evening and possibly a little bit into the next day. The dissipation and recovery are much faster.
Would that be considered a type of shutdown?
In all of these situations, my motivation dips, as does my ability to think clearly. The world sometimes feels distorted. Sometimes it feels like I’m in a tunnel, where the surroundings are fuzzy. My memory will also lose its mojo. There is no “snapping out of it”, either; the only remedy is a recharge, and probably to lean more on my partner for help, unless I’m in even greater need of Alone Time (which will probably dominate).
Is it possible that the concept of a shutdown is an umbrella term, with different types or manifestations, and that any or all three of these may fit the bill? Or is a shutdown a very specific type of event, in which only one (or none) of these apply? Or is the true meaning of a shutdown somewhere in between, where any one of these may fit the definition, but maybe one scenario fits better than another/others?
I’m sure I’ll find my answers and clarity in due time. For now, I have to touch base with another concept that can sometimes be foreign to me: patience 🙂