I was all set to write a nice, comprehensive, academic post about the autism spectrum and anxiety. I was going to get into how we’re likely more prone to anxiety (on average) relative to the rest of the population. I was going to go into my knowledge/theories about the various causes (neurological/sensory, conflict, insecurity, social situations, bullying, criticism, abuse…). I was going to cover the variety of environments in which it occurs (home, school, work, social settings like family gatherings and public places, etc). I was going to list the symptoms and other phenomena. I was going to pin the blame on triggers and accumulation of stressors. And of course, I was going to outline various self-checking that Aspie/autistic people could do for themselves.
And I might still do that, in a separate post.
But not today.
Because although such a post might be informative, a strictly academic discussion doesn’t make it REAL.
And anxiety, by its very nature, is very REAL.
Some people will never understand. Some people tell us to “chill out” or not to be “so sensitive” or not to “worry so much”.
We know that already. Our prefrontal cortex knows that we’re not in any immediate danger.
But our limbic system is more powerful. It’s an older system (in terms of evolution), and therefore, it has seniority. This applies especially to stressful conditions; Aspie/autistic people are recognized to have chronically elevated stress responses (known as “generalized anxiety”). In The Battle Of The Brain Lobes, the limbic system wins.
OK, I’m getting “academic” again. Sorry, primary/”special” interest info-dump. Suffice to say that our nervous system’s “normal resting state” is already more “amped up” than that of the rest of the world.
Then, along comes Life. Life is a “package deal” of light and darkness, joy and pain, calm and stress. Stress is the last thing we need. Under stress, our limbic “lizard brain” redlines.
What does this look like (for REAL)?
I’ll tell you what it’s like.
It envelops you. It consumes you. You imagine the worst (and sometimes, unfortunately, you’re right).
- Whenever you hear a siren, you find yourself planning how you’re going to handle the loss of your parents, friends, other family members, or even your children.
- Every memo from work is a potential job termination.
- Every phone call might be a family emergency, a complaint from disgruntled clientele, or some other catastrophe.
- Every envelope in the mail could be a devastating, bank-breaking bill, that ends you up in bankruptcy.
- Every honking horn while you’re walking on the side of the road seems directed at you. Every car on the road is a potential catastrophic accident. (So is every stoplight, stop sign, or other intersection, every business driveway/inlet, every free way interchange, blind curve, and every time you have to change lanes.)
- Leaving the house for the day, you feel a sense of shortcoming; you’re sure you forgot something. You may feel an impending sense of doom or dread on your way to work, and this feeling may be intense enough to increase your heart rate or produce a physical sensation in your low back or upper legs, or maybe a strange taste in your mouth; you’re sure you’re walking into a shitstorm at work, even if everything was fine when you left the office yesterday.
- Leaving work for the day, you feel another sense of shortcoming; you’re sure you forgot to do something.
- You can’t enjoy downtime, free time, or other time off because you feel a nagging sense, telling you there’s something important you’re forgetting to do or prepare for.
- Behind any parked car, bush, tree, fence, dumpster, or other blind spot, could be an attacker, with eyes locked on you, crouching in wait for the perfect opportunity to pounce.
- Unlocking your car, you stand back from it a few feet, lest anyone be hiding underneath with a switchblade destined for your ankle.
- Every stranger on the street who approaches you is sure to be a murderer, kidnapper, or scammer.
- Every time someone calls your name, it means you’re in trouble.
- Every minute that goes by when you’re waiting for someone, the odds that they’ve stood you up begin to mount.
- Every drop in your Facebook friend count, Twitter followers, or other broken/lost social media connection means the potential loss of a friend or that you offended someone.
- Every new friend is a potential bully, con artist, user, pot-stirrer, or energy-drainer. (Not that I feel that way about anyone in our “tribe”. 🙂 )
- Every aircraft takeoff or landing is a potential crash. Every time you fly is another potential delay. And every delay is a potential cancellation.
- Every doctor’s appointment or lab test is a chance to hear devastating news.
- Every laptop screen flicker is a potential computer crash. Every software update and computer restart is a potential disaster, resulting in the loss of your files.
- Sleep, of course, is optional. Your body screams for it, but your brain folds its arms across its chest and says No.
You live your life knowing that if chances of something bad happening are only 1 in 100, you’ll be the one it’ll happen to.
EVERYTHING is a potential threat.
EVERYTHING is a potential catastrophe.
EVERYTHING is a potential disaster.
You can finally–and only–rest once you’re home for the day, after business hours are over and the mail has come and been reviewed. You sign with relief; no news is good news.
But even then, you’re not entirely in the clear.
There’s always the chance of a nightmare…