Thursday 1 March 2018
I want to talk about something important.
We hear a lot about 'behaviour', as if what happens to us during overload is a bad attitude.
Let me talk you through a shutdown that happened to me this week.
It had been quite a few weeks for me. I'd tried a lot of new things. New venture to a different country with lovely friends. New venture to a series of lectures in a new location. Wonderful. New venture to a part of London I'd never visited before, to be a panel speaker at a conference.
News that a close friend had died.
News that an Uncle had died.
News that my partner's operation hadn't gone to plan.
And then, news that a place of faith had done something that would make it near-impossible for me to be there. A thing that meant so much to me, to give me a chance to find peace and healing.
I had reached, 'can't'. The social imponderabilities had reached such a level that I could no longer function.
The whole world starts to slow down. Become unprocessable. The picture at the top shows how it starts to look. Too bright, too loud, too dazzling, too blinding, too deafening.
I can no longer process sound and voice. The pain starts. Pain isn't quite the right word for it. I'm entering a brain event. The social centre of my brain can no longer handle the load and is now electrocuting itself. I lose the ability to work out who's who, what they want...and to make sense of any social situation during that episode. If I don't rest, the episode can go on for hours. I lose the ability to speak coherently, and if it's really bad, write coherently. I can lose the ability to move.
It is terrifying to experience, a brain electrical storm. Utterly terrifying. A literal, real brain event, not a choice.
Afterwards, exhaustion. Days to recover from a bad one.
As someone who has to keep functioning on some level as a carer and as a business owner, I do all in my power to avoid these events. Forward planning, careful rehearsal, advance information. Learning about people around me so that I can avoid social eek. Avoiding people who are shouty and nasty, or ostracising and excluding. Anything that could give that brain circuit too big an 'ask'. Avoiding sensory overload. Flickering lighting, deafening sudden noise, overwhelming chatter.
I can go for weeks without shutdown, as an adult, if allowed to.
Sometimes, I'm pushed into one.
I will do all in my power to avoid one.
It is not a question of having a 'bad attitude' to certain people and needing to forgive them.
Some people cause shutdowns, and are not safe for me to be near.
People who tell untruths about sensory and social hazards, for example.
Shutdowns are a hidden majority of autistic experience. We hear about meltdowns, where behaviour looks angry. But shutdowns -little is ever said,
We need people to know.