The last couple of days have been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I am a hive of activity and then a still, mountain lake. I’m either overachieving or motionless, really happy or distraught.
In the past few years when I’ve been like this it’s always been pointed out to me, but due to too much going on all at once, this time I had to notice it myself and I’ll admit it took longer than I would have liked.
There is change on the horizon; good change, but change nonetheless, and it has started to prickle my skin and demand attention.
Change is never easy – that doesn’t change. I have myriad coping mechanisms and they help, but that doesn’t mean I am unaffected. I can plan and map and script to my heart’s content but there is still a storm coming over the hill, and whilst it’s much better to walk through the rain in a coat with an umbrella, I still have to walk through the rain.
The more information I have the better – just like if I know what kind of storm it is I can wear the right things. Too windy? I’ll leave the umbrella at home and wear more waterproofs. Muddy? I’ll get out my boots. The more information I have, the less the change will affect me when I pass through it – but I still have to pass through it.
Sometimes my reaction to it looks like happiness from the outside; I’m bursting with energy and engaging with things enthusiastically. But those bursts are followed by mini-burnouts in a cycle of discomfort that is hard to pin down. I tell myself I’m just tired because I’m doing so much and there can’t be anything wrong because look at all the things I’m doing so enthusiastically!
And that’s how I fool myself into not quite recognising that I’m cycling from one thing to the other. Then I feel foolish for not having realised what’s happening when I hit a low point in the cycle. Then the energy returns and I feel invincible, but in those moments I begin to see how I’m burning through my reserves too quickly, and I’m going to need that energy when the change arrives. It’s there to help me prepare but I’m too busy wasting it trying not to think about the all-encompassing change that is soon to hit me.
Now imagine facing all that without the knowledge that you’re autistic. Imagine going through those feelings and not being able to pinpoint change as the trigger. Imagine feeling like your emotions and energy levels are fluctuating for no obvious reason and fearing who you are and how you work.
I know that this will pass and I will now use the energy to plan and the low points to rest and recuperate. I won’t barrel on regardless like a Catherine Wheel spinning out of control and end up in a proper burnout. I will conserve what I can and be productive.
Even more importantly, I will be kind to myself. I won’t rant and rave at my natural responses to things, I will use my coping mechanisms rather than plunge down into an abyss of fear that I am lost forever because I don’t understand what is happening.
Change is hard for autistic people, but my lord it can be soul destroying for autistic people who don’t know they are autistic.
This is why we need to know. We need to be able to prepare for the storm and work with ourselves.
I’m 41 and it was only six years ago that I found out who I am and how I work. There’s an A.A. Milne poem that I learnt as a child that sometimes gets stuck in my head:
Now We Are Six
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
I think I will be six now forever and ever. I think I will cradle my self-knowledge as the powerful tool it is, forever and ever.
Change is on the horizon but I have picked up my boots and my hat, I’m clambering into my coat, and I will face the storm, head held high.
I might even jump in some puddles.