When I Can’t #Autism

I’m sitting here listening to “For The First Time in Forever (Reprise)” from Disney’s Frozen and drawing parallels to my own emotions.

I had spoken to a friend recently about this song and how strongly this song affected me when I listen to it for more than one reason.

You see…music affects me in a way that I am not sure people understand. Just like how sitcoms help me understand social interactions, music always makes me reflect and analyze it over and over again like a broken record.

This song makes me think of what it feels like when I begin to perseverate about how I “can’t do anything right” and cannot get out of that mindset for a period of time. Only, no advice or encouragement will fix it or help 99% of the time in these moments. It means my mind has gone into complete meltdown mode.

It is usually triggered when someone has given me advice on friendships that my brain simply cannot compute. It’s like someone pulls a switch and my brain starts shutting down and I become anxious beyond words and extremely emotional and suddenly feel physical pain that is so extreme that I cannot even put words to it.

Although, unlike in that song, I am absolutely no threat to anyone’s safety during these moments- (this isn’t anger, but fear instead) the intensity of that downward spiral is the same. It is the worst feeling in the world and feels so intense.

When I was a teenager there were times where this translated into me falling to the floor, unable to speak properly, unable to move, sobbing so hard that it would probably frighten anyone who saw it. Luckily, I was often alone during those moments where it physically affected me to that level and luckily these moments are very rare now but it does happen on a less intense level physically even though the physical pain and and intense uncontrollable sobbing do still happen.

This song perfectly captures what my brain sounds like in those moments, especially the very last line of the song. I haven’t found a song that captures that feeling before and it actually helps me to listen to it because it helps me understand what it might sound like to someone else that I may be pushing away in those moments.

I don’t want to sound like I am implying that Autism is a curse because it’s not. But to be honest, in those moments, it is the saddest world I fall into. I try to be uplifting in how I portray Autism, but I wanted to give you some insight into how I have come to internalize these meltdowns to the best of my ability. Yes I can speak and I can write but sometimes Autism Spectrum Disorder can leave me feeling paralyzed mentally and physically as well.

Thankfully these times usually last a short time. It’s like a panic attack (I’ve had those too and they feel different) on full throttle times five million because it’s not so much panic but moments of absolute intense despair.

What’s amazing though is that some of my deepest and best poetry comes from those moments. It is like my brain is able to paint with words like no other time. Those physically draining times brings out this incredibly vulnerable artist in me if I can grab a pen and just start writing.

You might think that it’s nonsense that I am not sure if I am grateful that these are not as common for me because usually when it’s over – I feel the most amazing sense of peace because I feel like as I have aged I have found a way to internalize these feelings to the point that I just there in pain and stare. It feels better when there is a release. For me, feeling peaceful is a rarity so there is a silver lining.

But guess what I have found? If I put on songs like this and I belt it out when I am alone and I sing it for about 1-2 hours, my body seems to find a similar release.

Who knows, maybe it’s my cortisol regulating but singing is now a huge release for me but it cannot just be this happy little singing moment. It usually has to be in a dark room with my headphones on full blast and me singing the song with my eyes closed (usually a song from Broadway’s Wicked these days) with everything I have in me to the point that I don’t care how I sound and I will know when I am ready to stop.

It is the ONLY time when loud sounds work in my favor. In fact, I know when it’s time to stop because the volume of the music will suddenly become way way way way too loud and I’ll rip the headphones out because it will be agitating beyond belief if I don’t right away. It’s my cue that my body is relaxing as odd as it sounds.

If none of this makes sense to you – look up the song and I hope it will.

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About Gretchen Leary

I am 30 years old, I live in the Boston area, and I am writing from the perspective of an individual with Asperger's Syndrome.
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3 Responses to When I Can’t #Autism

  1. This is an excellent article Gretchen and one which gives great insights into Aspergers. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  2. K says:

    I’m in the middle of struggling to find a diagnosis. I’ve been told I am on the spectrum.. I was told I did not have anxiety disorder which I’d been diagnosed with at a younger age, but no formal diagnosis yet as I have to wait to see a specialist. But I’m not certain what that means for me. I’m 25 years old and a little surprised that it could come about now but then I never had anyone look into it with me as a child.

    If I was not so emotionally locked down, I would probably have tears in my eyes right now reading this, in a good way. I relate to this post entirely so much that I can hardly believe anyone else has experienced this. I have moments when I feel like something just clenches my heart and lungs and I can’t move, not sure if I’m going to cry or yell or laugh, just utter chaos internally. I don’t have a hard time empathizing with emotions, but I can’t manage to understand social situations or feel comfortable in them and that has been a hindrance to my entire life. I find people getting upset, annoyed, angry, with me and can’t figure out why. Sometimes… well often, things bother me that others don’t understand like sounds, feelings, lighting, social situations… I’m starting to realize these are common things for people on the spectrum and I feel so much less alone. It’s hard for me to explain to people that yes I am introverted but that doesn’t mean I am not lonely. It’s very difficult. A lot of people do not realize I am “different than average” which is both good and bad.

    I used to have meltdowns as a child (and a smattering as an adult, I must admit) but now I internalize them as well and my health is very bad physically with chronic migraines. I think it’s related.

    I have the same thing with music. Sometimes the headphones overwhelm me, and sometimes they patch me together when the world outside is too much. Singing and writing help me so much. There’s just so much in there that needs to get out. 🙂 I think sometimes struggling can create the most beautiful art. Thank you so so so much for sharing your story. I am definitely going to be following your blog!

    • Wow! Thank-you for responding and so deeply. It is so hard when all of those emotions are tangled together in a mess. What I find that helps me is to start moving. Literally moving around. Wiggle my toes or go for a walk. It seems to help me offset some of the internal chaos at times. That and drinking a glass of really cold water. I’m not sure if it will help you but I always seem to seek out water (seems to be a common ASD thing) I was misdiagnosed multiple times before they realized it was ASD. Females are commonly overlooked with this…hang in there. If you ever need a friend, you’ve got one. 🙂

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