Tag Archives: anxiety

“Everyone feels that way”

This is one of those seemingly small things that really irritates me. It’s such a natural response for a lot of people when someone talks about something difficult, but it absolutely always makes me feel worse.

It’s never true. I mean yeah, a lot of things are pretty common among a lot of people. But nothing is completely universal to everyone. So it’s always an oversimplification and an exaggeration.

It probably means you don’t understand. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to someone talk about an experience and said (or thought), “everyone feels that way”. If I ever do think that, I always assume that I’ve misunderstood, and that generally turns out to be true. If something seems like it’s universal, that’s probably because you haven’t got all the detail. Even a seemingly ‘common’ thought, like “I’m not very attractive”, is always way more complicated than it seems. At its simplest, it might be true that a lot of people think things along those lines. But when you get down to what’s underneath that thought and what it really means, it’s always unique to any person. So dismissing it as “everyone feels that way”, is really just saying “I don’t care enough to understand the full extent of what you are talking about”.

It doesn’t make me feel any better. This is probably something that varies between individuals. Maybe for some people, knowing a problem is common actually does make them feel better. But that doesn’t work for me. If I have a problem, I want solutions or nothing. And telling me that other people have the same problem does not count as a solution.

It makes me feel weak and broken. This is really the big one. Telling me that “everyone feels that way” has the subtext of “and everyone else handles it better than you”. That might not be the intention, but it’s the way my brain interprets it as the most logical meaning. If I’m talking about something fairly everyday that causes me crippling anxiety, and you tell me that everyone gets anxious about it – the implication is that everyone else gets anxious and does it anyway. And I don’t want to, or I can’t, and that means that I’m weaker than everyone else.

It’s a way of one-upping other people’s problems. It’s great to offer advice based on a similar experience. But when that turns into “my problems are worse than yours”, it gets unhelpful and annoying really fast.

Maybe this is all just one of those mysterious autistic-NT communication barriers. It’s hard for me to imagine being the type of person that finds this helpful, but maybe most NT people do. Otherwise, they wouldn’t say it all the time, right?

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Decisions

People often tell me I’m a very decisive person. My parents say that when I was a kid, I would carefully choose the toy I wanted to buy, and then that was it – decision made. No further questioning or deliberating, and I would never change my mind.

I’m still much the same now. I sometimes take a long time to make a decision – especially if it’s something very important, but also for seemingly small and insignificant things. I take great care to weigh out pros and cons and work out the logical reasoning to make the right choice. But once I’ve made the decision, it’s final. The other possibilities get deleted from my thoughts and are no longer up for consideration. I never wonder whether I should have made a different choice, or what might have changed if I’d decided differently.

I think this could be something to do with imagination. I have trouble making decisions because I can’t imagine the outcomes very well. I can’t just ‘intuitively’ know what I want or what is best, I have to use logic to work things out. But that means that once the decision is made, I still can’t really imagine the alternative outcomes. Obviously I can think “If I’d chosen to cook pasta then I would be eating that instead of noodles right now”, or “If I had applied to Bath University then I would be searching for accommodation in a different city”.

But beyond that, I can’t really imagine myself in the alternative situation. That means there’s no real way for me to imagine how the present or future would be different if I made a different choice in the past. There’s nothing to regret, so I can’t really worry about it.

Unfortunately this doesn’t translate into being free from anxiety. The fact it’s hard for me to imagine myself in future situations means I worry about them more. I try to plan and prepare for all eventualities, but I can’t actually put myself in the future in my ‘mind’s eye’, so I never feel like my preparation is sufficient.

Edges

I think that the edges of myself are not very well-defined. It doesn’t take much for me to lose track of where those edges are.

Other people’s edges are much bolder, so they overwrite mine when they’re too close. Socialising is when I can’t be sure which edges are mine and which are other people’s. Sometimes it’s nice, more often it’s scary.

Strong sensory input is dazzling and makes the edges too dim to be seen. Sensory overload is when the edges become completely invisible and all I can do is hope that they are in the last place I saw them.

Anxiety is when the edges seem to be shrinking in and cutting off the important bits of me, so that I can’t defend myself or block anything bad from getting in.

Meltdown is when the edges are gone completely. They shrink so much that they disappear, and everything becomes a part of me and I can’t escape.

Contentment is when I find something that perfectly fits the shape of my edges, and I can hold it against myself and it becomes – not a shield, not armour – but perfectly fitting clothing. Something that does the job of reminding me where the edges are, so I don’t have to keep focusing on them.

Joy is when my edges swell and grow and envelop everything I care about and it all becomes a part of me and everything is right.

Meltdowns and panic attacks

I realised after my latest post that I didn’t really explain how I learnt that my ‘panic attacks’ were meltdowns all along.

I spent so long researching meltdowns and trying to figure out if I experienced them or not. But it was only when I did more research into panic attacks that I realised my assumption had been wrong from the start. My first ‘panic attacks’ were when I was pretty young, so I just trusted the people around me when they told me that’s what they were. There was no reason to question it, because anxiety was the predominant emotion.

But one thing I came across when I was learning about panic attacks recently was “sudden onset”. Mine almost never started suddenly. Instead, they came after a gradual increase in stress and anxiety, as a result of various (mostly external) factors. That’s when I realised the description of meltdowns was a better fit: because it took into account the way that seemingly unrelated input could contribute to the overload.

The most confusing part is that emotion itself can add to overload. Which means that anxiety can push me towards a meltdown, but when I meltdown it’s expressed through anxiety! So it’s a strange sort of feedback loop, a bit like the kind that happens in a panic attack, but a bit different.