I have heard it said that some Autistics have an ability to feel so much empathy that they can feel extreme pain if someone else around them is in pain. This of course flies in the face of what many still believe about Autistics. I have always felt the pain of the others around me.
Lately, that pain has reached a level that has become untenable for me. When I shut down, or get Autistic Burnout as it is known, my brain literally hurts. It is hard to describe, but I am not talking of the same kind of pain that you would get with a headache. It is like I can feel my brain firing off so much that it feels like my brain is turning to grey matter mush. I have no other way of describing it, but it is a horrible feeling.
Yesterday, I struggled all day. I tried to distract myself with various things that I know can work – crafting, watching TV, reading an actual book, being outside for a bit – but nothing was working. I knew what was causing the mushy brain scenario, but I felt powerless to do anything about it.
With covid-19 restrictions, and in shutdown here in Melbourne, I turn to social media to help me feel less isolated. Only there is a problem. Social media is like being in the middle of one god almighty battle ground. Everywhere you look there are images and posts of people clashing over their rights, fighting for and against various politicians, screaming that their opinion is more valid than anyone else’s, filled with bots who make the world seem so much worse than it is except it is really difficult to know who is a bot and who isn’t; and the noise, virtual as it may be, is unbearable.
When I lament about this, the standard reply is simply to remove myself from the internet. There are two things that are a problem with this response:
- I’m in lock down. I cannot go out except for a walk. Social media is my only connection to the outside world.
- By telling me to remove myself, it’s essentially asking me to succumb to the bullies on the internet who would force decent people off so that their messaging is the only thing that is heard (which is what it truly feels like) and it doesn’t hold the bullies accountable at all.
Last night, it had got to fever pitch in my brain. I was in so much pain. I felt the pain of Mother Earth, and all her people in it who just want to get on with their lives, not hurting anyone else, or her. I was caught up in that fear cycle of hating those in power like the PMs of the UK, US and Australia who work hard to dismantle social structures and build systems that make the powerful even more so, continuing to suck the very life out of the planet we desperately need. I kept hearing the screams of people, seemingly the globe over, all at war with each other. Once peaceful nations, now internally divided, literally killing each other in the process, all the while Earth straining, trying desperately to save us from ourselves. Last night, I lay in the foetal position in bed whilst Dave rubbed my back as I sobbed. The pain had become too great.
This is how my Autism is for me. A deep rooted explosion of emotion and empathy can grip me to the point of shutdown.
My sleep was fitful last night. As I slept, I was caught in a place of shallow sleep where I could feel my brain firing off, over stimulated, full of fear. I woke up, unrested, tired, a sense of hopelessness hanging over me like a huge cloud of pollution filled unbreathable air. I sobbed some more.
I knew I had to claw my way out of this place of desperate despair. I needed to look for hope.
When I was scrolling through some YouTube videos, I came across a film called 2040. Made by Australian film maker, Damon Gameau, the first thing that struck me is the positivity of the trailer. This was about looking for what positive things are happening right now in the world to make our world a better, healthier, more sustainable place to live. I was intrigued, and desperate. Could this be an antidote to the grey matter mush I am currently experiencing?
After my shower, I looked for the movie on my various streaming channels. I found it on Foxtel and on YouTube movies. I don’t have Foxtel movies, so paid the money to rent it.
It was exactly what I needed.
To see so many people working on making our world a better, safer, healthier space was soothing to say the least. And inspiring. I fired up my iPad and started taking notes. I made notes of all the guests, of their work resolving to follow the positive trail they were leaving in their wake.
I liked the 2040: Regeneration Facebook page, and joined the Facebook Group, which insists on only positive solutions being offered, no doomsday stuff allowed. Oh hallelujah, I could feel my brain calming down already.
One of the endearing things about the movie is the collection of children and their wish for the earth and humanity. Below is my favourite quote by one of the little girls. It perfectly encapsulates how I feel about this planet we call home. As custodians of Mother Earth, I wish to goodness, we had been bestowed an inherent instinct to protect her.
Later, Dave and I were chatting in the kitchen. We bought our house three years ago. When we bought it, it was a cold 35 year old brick house on an acre of land with not one plant or tree. I mentioned how I need to focus on the positivity in humanity to lessen the anxiety I am feeling about the state of the world. Being in lockdown, I need to be doing something constructive, and with purpose. We chatted about the work we have already done in the garden since we arrived – planting a hedge with 120 Lilly Pillies and 19 other trees and our plans for solar which is hopefully going in next year. I want to start a vegetable garden and also dedicate some part of the garden to an orchard and small meadow to encourage bees and other insects. We chatted about our waste processes and how much work we need to do around that. Greenies we aren’t, but our ability to improve is not lost on us.
As we spoke, I could feel the synapses in my brain starting to relax a little. The sense of darkness and abject hopelessness of last night was starting to clear and there, on the distant horizon, was a tiny shard of light. I could feel myself being pulled towards it. The relief was enormous.
It is incredible to think that a serendipitous flip through YouTube could be so instrumental in altering the trajectory of mental thinking today, and I am certainly not declaring this as a new purpose that will drive me forever more, I am too long in the tooth for that, too familiar with my start-stop tendencies. I am declaring, however, that I knew I needed to stop the firing of fear in my brain to survive today. I acknowledged my need to stay connected but to also uncouple from the negativity out there and all the noise. By doing so, I allowed myself to be open to hope.
To further the goal of Project Hope (that’s what I am calling it), I am going to see where this path takes me. Being Autistic, it may mean not far. I tend to suffer from massive overwhelm when the project seems too large. I can, however take it one day at a time, one little project at a time, remembering that from little things, big things grow. If I can reduce the noise and the explosions in my brain whilst doing something positive for Mother Earth, that can only be a good thing, right?
Until next time,