I’m sorry…

Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean I don’t still have to do the processing.

I know you’re sorry you’re late. You’ve broken a small social contract, and sorry should be enough to mend it, but it’s not the social contract that is troubling me.

You’re sorry you didn’t let me know that plans had changed. You could have, but you didn’t. The sorry should fix any upset caused by your actions, but it’s not the upset that is troubling me.

You’re sorry that you turned up with a couple of extra people, you hope that’s ok, a sorry and a packet of biscuits should cover any change to catering needs, but it’s not the catering issues that are troubling me.

My life is built of stories.

There’s the long story about where I came from, where I’ve been, where I want to go.

There’s the more immediate story of what has happened recently, what will happen soon, fixed plans and moveable plans.

There’s this week’s story of who will be where when.

Then there are today’s stories. The story of what is about to happen.

The more today’s stories are familiar, the less detail needs to go into the telling of them. The more of a story I can create before an event, the less processing needs to be done during it, so I can concentrate on what is happening, I can enjoy the moment. I can live in the now, knowing that my story is slowly unraveling just as it was supposed to.

I can rewrite my story, given the time to do so, but if things change whilst I’m in the middle of it, then I lose its thread. The ends start to fray, I can’t stay on top of which thing will now happen when, the variables begin, tendrils flail, and I’m lost. The moment is lost to me as my brain goes into overdrive. I lose the now.

With the loss of the moment, goes the loss of the future. As my processing amps up to compensate for the loss of the narrative, I am borrowing energy from tomorrow. I’m stealing time from me. I’m spending what I don’t have.

When the story changes with no warning, I lose myself. If you look carefully, I won’t be looking engaged anymore, I’ll be responding with stock-phrases (if at all), my expression may be blank or sullen or in some way false.

That’s me taking the processing I normally apply to projecting feelings and body-language, and putting it towards finding the story.

Picture Scotty on Star Trek shouting, “I’m Givin’ Her All She’s Got, Captain!” as all my brain power is being redirected to essential functions.

I wish sorry taped over those things. I wish it was the social contract that was the problem. I really do. Being a bit miffed can be dealt with so easily.

I’m not miffed. I’m not cross. Believe me, any anger I have will mostly be focused on me and my inability to change gears the way everyone else does.

But that anger is useless. It leads to guilt and isolation. I’m learning not to feed that anger anymore.

For now I have to file that sorry away. I’ll deal with the feelings of miffedness later, because for now my brain doesn’t work. I’ve overheated it. I’ve made too many demands, and now everything is so very far away. I’m lying at the bottom of a pool of cotton wool, everything is slow and silent. I’ll talk in short bursts and then nothing.

In a few days, when I’ve replenished and rested, I’ll have a look at the sorry, and I’ll agree that it covers the breaking of the social contract, and I’ll be a little miffed and then I’ll get over it.

Sometimes changes are inevitable; emergencies, traffic, unexpected hippopotamus. The consequence to me will be the same. It’s unavoidable. It’s no one’s fault that this is how my brain works. Sometimes I will have to feel like this because that is how life is.

But if it’s not unavoidable, if you know beforehand that change is happening, if you have any inkling that there may be an alternate ending to the story that you haven’t told me, a quick text can make all the difference. It means not losing days of my time. It means the world to me.

30 thoughts on “I’m sorry…

  1. Spot on Rhi. I struggle with changes to the narrative all the time and my son more so. He is like the Flying Scotsman full steam a head, until someone says all change and then he derails or takes days to turn round. I’m my own worst enemy with such fixed ideas that any small difference can throw me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sounds so familiar. Train is a brilliant analogy. I imagine most people are cars or bikes, but we are trains, we lay tracks and if they can’t be followed we crash.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aww..not sure…all i really know is it is the difference between a void (like a dark abyss) and clarity and solidity. Perhaps for me these are feelings/sensations with images attached and when the image is taken away I go back to the sense of void. All I really know is that it makes me incredibly anxious when it happens. It’s a lovely post and has made me want to understand myself more in this respect. xx

        Liked by 2 people

  2. As a person who has been on both sides of this (making plans with a friend and they never call or show and then suddenly appear a month later; and my chronic lateness), I have found a few things that help me. 1) if I’m going to be late, or I’m changing anything on the schedule I immediately contact the other person. 2) when I make plans with people, I build in automatic alternates. It works 99% of the time, just not with the friend I mentioned above. She’s a force that has no explanation. She makes detailed plans to get together on Sat, then without any warning, she just doesn’t show up. Then, anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months later, she does, with the handy (and annoying) explanation that we had plans for a Saturday, we didn’t specify WHICH Saturday, and it’s Saturday now, so get over it. Yes, my initial instinct is to shake her, but she usually shows up with 10 people I have never met in my life and it becomes a group thing when it was supposed to be a girls lunch or something.

    Anyway, I have found that your daily stories should be more fluid. Much like writing an actual story, you have to allow for new ideas, new situations, new outcomes. I KNOW it’s impossible to do that to its fullest capacity, but there are shortcuts. Whatever story your writing for the day, always take into consideration as another factor in the story that there will be a hippopotamus. Think hard about the top 5 things that throw off your daily story, then work them into your story. Then, take a look at who you’re getting together with and add their special mix of hippo into it.

    Try to realize that the long story of your past is a beautifully leather bound book filled with character development and backstory, with glowing illustrations. Your “today” story is less set in stone and more of a “create your own ending” kind of story.

    It’s hard, I know this. And it can throw you off for days. But if you try to account for the more general ones, you won’t be derailed because someone came a few minutes late. You’ll be able to be miffed in the moment rather than dwelling on it for days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. You see, no matter how lovely and amazing that friend was, they would never be compatible with me. The amount of damage that would do each and every time, would eat into my life too significantly.

      You’re right that it’s relatively easy to write in small adjustments to a story, but when you have a brain that needs to consider every permutation of each possible change, it does make those who are less reliable a lot more mental work!

      Whatever extra processing needs to be done beforehand, eats into later enjoyment as I have less energy to play with. It’s all a careful balance.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s not that hard to write them in. This is something I’ve done for years: you’re getting together with a friend for coffee at 2 pm. In your story, you write “between 2 and 2:30”. Anything after that is worth a freak out. So that way, you don’t have to account for every minute, you give yourself a general block of 30 mins. And to help you do it, bring a book with you. So your story will be less anxiety and more pleasure. Same plans as above, but now your story is coffee shop at 2 pm and read until they come. That sort of thing. Design your story to make you happy no matter what, and that will make other people’s shortcomings a lot easier to handle. No one should have the power to exhaust you before you ever even get to go out. And you can’t expect people to always be as specific as you want them to be. So learn how to alter your stories to account for all possible variables with the least amount of effort for you. Instead of strict rules, i.e., coffee shop at 2 to meet friend. If late, read for 10 minutes and then look around. If not there read again for 10 minutes. Then look around and get anxious. Read more. Simplify it. Ie, coffee shop at 2 pm. Get table. Text friend where table is. Read until they come. Less stress and less fatigue overall.

        As for my friend, I’ve known her since we were 2. So that lends some leeway, although she’s not always that flaky or I wouldn’t still be friends with her. However, it helps that once I write my story I’ll stick to it. Like we have plans to go out together and she totally flakes. I will still go out. That’s part of my story. I just may invite someone else, or go out alone. It’s your story. If you write it in too much detail, it will exhaust you. If you simplify the writing you’ll have a better time. Words have power. Too many specific words will lock you into a specific way that your day has to pan out. More generic wording will help with that. Like going to work. It’s in your story and it’s probably pretty specific, but you allow for changes to happen or unexpected things to arise. See what I mean?


        1. I completely see what you mean, but I don’t think you understand just how hard extra processing can be. I already have all my coping mechanisms optimised for expected variables. This article is really about what other people can do to make life easier.

          I’ll give an example of three friends:-

          Friend A is often late, I know this, but I also know that they always text me in plenty of time to let me know if plans change. I expect a certain amount of variation with friend A, so have to put a bit more effort in to processing, but I know they will always give me warning.

          Friend B is completely reliable. Is always there within 15 minutes of when they say they will be (15 minutes is an acceptable lateness for me). Doesn’t change plans last minute unless for emergencies. Friend B doesn’t need me to do much extra processing beyond a normal day’s.

          Friend C is always late, but I never know how late they will be. They often want to change plans last minute without telling me beforehand. They don’t message me to tell me of lateness or changes.

          On a good day, when I’m not tired and everything is working at peek performance, I can see any one of them. The down time required for friend A will maybe be a day of exhaustion. For friend B, it may just be an hour or two. For friend C it could be 2-5 days. I cannot control the downtime I will need to process everything afterwards. That will be based on how demanding the changes were (in this instance).

          On a bad day, I will not be able to cope with friend C no matter how much anticipating I can do. They will send me in to meltdown or shutdown.

          On a really bad day I might even struggle with friend A.

          Which means at the times that maybe I will really need a friend, being around them will cost me more than it gives me.

          Being friend C is a choice. Friend C could easily be friend A if they just let me know as change happens. They could even be friend B if they actively made the effort.

          If you’re always putting the emphasis on getting the autistic person to bend, then we will break. My resources are not limitless.

          You say “it’s not hard to write them in”, but it is. It wouldn’t be hard if that was all you had to write in, but if you’re already spending an hour every morning (as I do) planning your day, then the more you pile on top of that, the harder it is. I cannot simplify the writing. My brain does not work like that. It needs the pattern and the detail.

          In my scenario, I would only see friend C relatively rarely because of the amount of time they would take away from me. They would have to give me a lot of joy to counteract the downtime they would take.

          But actually there are many people in this world who are As and Bs. When it comes to friendships it’s important to find compatibility. There will be plenty of people who love being friends with Cs, but I can’t be. It steals days of my time, and for what? Because they couldn’t send a text? My time is too precious to spend it on people who don’t consider my needs as important (and they are needs, not wants).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. All of what you said is perfectly fair. I was referring to friend A & B types. Friend C is the kind that drives me nuts too. There is an option though. Text them the morning you are supposed to get together to confirm your plans. If they don’t respond by X amount of time, you initiate the cancel/reschedule and take time for you. After a few times, they’ll either get it, or you’ll make the decision it’s not worth it. Friend C sounds like the friend I explained and I can tell you it’s draining on me and I don’t suffer the same as you do. Although when I worked with Autistic individuals, it was part of my job to help them bend a little without a breakdown and to help them through it if they had one. Simplifying the writing really isn’t as difficult as you think it is. That’s one of the things I dealt with at my old job. I would work with them to use less specific wording. They would make a schedule and expect it to be followed to the exact letter, the problem is it can’t always be that way. Instead of having three meltdowns (I was the one staff for three individuals), I had to teach them to be somewhat more accommodating. They expected to leave for the job site at 9:30, but one of their co-workers would have a full meltdown because they didn’t want to go to work and it wasn’t part of their plan. You can’t leave while one is melting down, and the other had to accept that despite what they wanted for the day, their co-workers wanted to work. That’s just one example. I worked in residential and professional areas for them. But some elasticity for Autism is imperative or else it becomes overwhelming for them, their co-workers, and me. It’s a compromise. In the above example, the hard rule and the soft rule were primary. Soft rule: we will leave for work between 9:30 and 10. Hard rule: we WILL go to work. Does that make sense? I can try to help you too if you’d like me to.


            1. No thank you.

              Simplifying the writing can help with anxiety beforehand, but it increases the extra processing to be done both during and afterwards. Suggesting this is easy, when it really isn’t, is not helpful. There is an enormous difference between things being easy, coping (but it not being easy) and meltdown.

              Coping mechanisms need to be tailored to an individual’s needs. I have excellent coping mechanisms and great boundaries with my friends. These things are really important to me, but it would be really disingenuous to present them as “easy”.

              This article is very much about what those around the autistic individual can do to help, and to explain what is going on behind the scenes when things go wrong. It’s not a request for help.


              1. I am sorry. I did not mean to be disingenuous. When I say “easy” I do not mean easy as you thought. I realize that it is NOT easy. It takes a lot of time, energy, and stress to get to the point of it being easier (the way you thought I meant it).

                Ok. I see my problem, and I apologize for it. My language is not as specific as it should be, allowing for my words to not represent what I am trying to convey. For that, I apologize. I am in the habit of speaking less specifically to those I know, and those I worked with had limited verbal ability. As a result, I am only partially making myself clear.

                1) my offer to help was not meant to be anything other than an offer to listen, and anything more than that would be solely based on a question from you. I was not offering to rewrite your life and thinking.
                2) I did not read anything you wrote as a request for help. I was merely trying to offer myself as a friend, though I realize it came across differently in print.
                3) “easy” was not my intended meaning. I meant something more like “simple” if that makes sense. If you simplify the wording in the plan it will account for a lot more ground.
                4) if I in any way implied that your issues in this regard is not serious, or is in some way much easier to deal with than you think it is, I am truly sorry. I never intended for that to be what I said. I am not Autistic, but I do understand how hard it can be to avoid a meltdown. Yes, some of that understanding came from working with Autistic individuals, but most of it comes from being Bipolar myself. I have had some…volatile reactions to people rewriting my scripts, and I have been on the receiving end of meltdowns.
                5) coping mechanisms absolutely have to be tailored to the individual. I never said otherwise. I am just a strong believer that the same coping mechanism can be employed for everyone. Let me try to be specific. Everyone writes out their story for the day in their own way, and everyone gets extremely agitated when that story is altered by someone else. Therefore, everyone should try to write their stories in a way that’s more adaptable to change. Traffic happens. That stupid red-light that keeps you waiting for 15 minutes happens. That train that cuts off traffic 15 minutes early for 25 minutes happens. You’re mother calling and screaming at you for 45 minutes about the nerve of her sister happens (even if you tell her you weren’t there and won’t get involved). It all happens, and everyone hates it. Everyone must write their daily story to account for such miseries. The concept is the same for every person alive. The specifics are 100% personalized. But the principle is the same. And that was what I was trying to convey. Simply the concept, not the specifics to you. I can’t create a coping mechanism for you, I can merely point out the general universal concept to you and hope that you find a way to make it work for you.
                6) If at any time in the future you read my words and think that I am being unfair or blasรฉ, please understand that I am not. I am merely trying to convey a thought. I have a tendency to be verbose and I tend to think and write in concepts. If you will please do me the favor of understanding this, I will endeavor to write with more specificity to reduce any future confusion.

                Again, I am sorry. I did not intend to make you feel any way other than supported. I just wanted to try to suggest a way that would make your days a little easier for you, but I realize now that my attempt was ill-conceived. The idea was one of generalization, but the way I wrote it lacked specifics and therefore made it sound as though I thought things could be easy. I do not. I believe they can be suffered with less anxiety. Again, I am sorry.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Thank you for your apology.

                  Many late diagnosed autistics have spent a lifetime being told that certain things are easy and being treated as stupid or lazy for finding them hard. That’s why I think it’s so important that for anyone reading this, they know that it IS hard, what they’re feeling is real, but there are techniques that can help. That validation is vital. It’s even more important than the coping technique.

                  Thank you for clarifying your position. I know you’re coming from a good place.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I am. I am sorry that I was not clear in that.
                    Please realize that at no point have I ever thought your situation was easy. Nor have I ever thought you were stupid or lazy. Actually, from reading your posts, I have found all all three to be extremely false. I believe in what you are doing, and wish I were strong enough to do the same on my blog about suffering from BP.
                    Anyway, I want you to understand this: my attempt to communicate a coping mechanism for you was due to my desire to let you know that I hear you, that I realize it is difficult for you, and I understand that it can be crippling for you at times. I never meant to say anything that could be construed as anything other than validation.
                    Believe me, I understand how vital validation can be. I have many of the same issues you have discussed, although they are different from yours in some ways. And validation means a great deal to me as well. I am what I am. On bad days, being dismissed as not having taken my meds (when I did), or being dismissed as someone who is being lazy and hiding behind a label drives me crazy. So I understand. And I hear you.

                    Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your blog. And thank you for understanding me and my journey, even if you aren’t able to fully.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Absolutely. We each have our own journeys. It’s very unfair when people don’t understand, or misinterpret things. Having BP must be really hard. It’s definitely a hugely misunderstood condition too.

                      The more we all try to understand each other and accept each other’s strengths and problems, the better the world will be ๐Ÿ™‚

                      Miscommunications often lead to better communication in the future!

                      Liked by 1 person

  3. I commented on Twitter, but thought I’d also leave a more-permanent comment here ๐Ÿ™‚

    Brilliant post! Very insightful and eloquently stated. I’ve felt like this but never understood why, never could put it into words as intelligent as these. I’ve run appointment-based practices for 12 years and it always threw me for a loop when someone would cancel, especially on short notice. Never knew why it disrupted me so. Now I know why! ๐Ÿ˜Š. Because it was too much to process too quickly. Because now the story had to be rewritten, and much more of a story than I had been conscious of. Thank you for shedding that much-needed illumination! โค๏ธ

    PS: I love your use of the word “tendrils” ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, Rhi, again you’ve illuminated a concept I realuze I didn’t really understand. Yes, structure, predictability, etc., are critical for some folks, but this examole goes way beyond “because it throws them off”. Your gift of conveying the way you feel /think/process is priceless!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I totally understand where you’re coming from (I have autism too in the aspergers range), but I also find myself saying sorry a lot. Sorry I didn’t do the dishes, Sorry I’m 2 minutes late, Sorry I forgot to get something at the shops, I’m sorry I’m so anxious. But what I have trouble understanding is that for most (neurotypical) people are happy with a simple sorry and will move on and won’t expect anything more of me. I on the other hand will continue to worry “Are they really okay now?, Are they only just saying they accept my apology because they’re being polite?, I can see that they’re still hurt/annoyed/upset, what I did wasn’t enough there must be something more I can do?” etc. Sometimes (actually quite often) I just end up saying sorry again (often this happens with my parents) and then they get more annoyed and say “Will you stop saying sorry!”
    Anyway I don’t quite know where I was going with this, but yeah I enjoyed reading your post, in fact I like reading all your posts because I feel I can understand and relate. Sometimes when you experience the world differently like we do it can sometimes be very isolating, so thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve certainly been a constant “sorry” sayer in the past. I wonder if it’s because we aren’t as good at reading emotion, we then look for confirmation that the sorry has been accepted, and when we don’t see it, we automatically repeat? I don’t know.

      I find the social patterns we slip into fascinating. Especially when it’s a mix of social convention and social reactions. How we react, and analyse and over analyse, and how they react, by just moving past it. Both can be useful, both are very different.

      Now I’m rambling!

      Thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry is derived from sorrow. Wherein the earlier ages, people expressed their sorrow toward something that they did which affected you. Today, this short text has become akin to a bandaid. A loophole that one can use to get away with too many things. The sentiment is truly lost. Nicely expressed. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

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