On the spectrum

Yesterday we were paddling in the local bay. My daughters, my brother and his daughter. We were splashing in the shallows, looking for fish and all playing happily. Suddenly a shriek came from my niece “Too much grass!!” she wailed as she ran to the shore, none of us had really noticed, but there were bits of seaweed floating around and somehow it had pushed her into meltdown.

I’ve begun to realise in life, when we talk about people being on the “spectrum”, we forget we are all sitting in varying places on the spectrum of behaviour and attitude. The spectrum may be a recent term to categorise Aspergers or Autism but we really all exhibit a diverse range of behaviour according to how we feel at the time, and how we are travelling in life, at any given moment. We all fall in different places on the wheel. There is an emotional spectrum, a tolerance spectrum, a compassionate spectrum, an intelligence spectrum, a sexuality or gender spectrum, a sensitivity spectrum and a mental health one. When we talk about someone who is on the spectrum, or use this label in a derogatory way, we choose not to acknowledge similar behaviours in ourselves. Our little OCD picture straightening, carpet straightening, lining everything up neatly, colour coded. There are just a few of the ways I cope when things are becoming out of control in my life.

Can I understand when things get so out of control in my life that the anxiety begins to tip into anger, rage, meltdown? Yes. I sense it’s creeping arrival. I begin waking at night, thinking too much, I start to binge on TV shows, shouting at my kids, giving my husband the “like I give two shits” look, eating too much food, clothes shopping. I feel it coming. I understand rage. I’ve had it in the car, at work, at my children and my husband. I rage in my mind at inanimate objects. Sometimes I suppress this, sometimes not. If no-one is in the car with me, I can get quite creative with language. Sometimes I keep it simple, with a mid digit salute. After a few days I realise the dark shadow is here and I go to the gym, I go to the bay. I turn off the TV and play with my girls, I cook brown rice, cut back on the coffee and drink water. I meditate. Before I used to drink. It’s now been two and a half years. I recognise the signs.

My dial on the cleanliness spectrum is set differently to my husbands. I wait until the shower gets slippery with mould and kind of transforms to gorillas in the mist complete with frog calls and bird song until I get out the bleach. Weirdly enough my kitchen needs to be spotless. I vacillate. He needs the dishwasher packed a certain way, but happily leaves trails of coins and clothes around the house, like he has decided to shed his worldly goods and become a monk. I think the only reason I have not found him swathed in robes in the lotus position in the garden is that he spends a lot of time re-stacking the dishwasher.

Friends of mine will recall the night we walked the entire length of King St, Newtown looking for a restaurant with the right ambiance. On the sensory spectrum I am tightly strung. My dial is set to high. I can’t manage bright lights, loud music, too many people, Westfield throws me into overload. I sometimes need to find the safety of a bathroom, the darkness of 8 street or a change room to regroup. My daughter has the same sensitivity to noise and light and clothing labels being too scratchy. We cut them off. She is very in tune with her emotions. She also knows I cry at the sight of other tears. Two nights ago, at the most cripplingly sad part of Wonder, she heard me take a breath and forget to breathe out, and her little bony hand found mine in the dark. We share the same place on the sensitivity spectrum.

I don’t seek to imply that Autism, or Aspergers, is not significant, or to lessen the impact it has on individuals and families. I want to actually be more inclusive and speculate that where you may sit in your life now, I may have been there or might go there, we are all in this together. We are all having a human experience at varying degrees of intensity. We all benefit from hearing one another’s story. I understand when my friend says she would love to have another Down Syndrome child, because her son has brought so much joy to their lives. Who gets to dictate what is normal anyway? We are all in some ways, normal and abnormal depending on who you ask, what day it is, for some, how the planets are lining up, or the stress in our lives.

My behaviour is dependent on hormones as well as environmental factors which produce stress. If I am all at one with life, have been to yoga, eating and sleeping well and been to the gym, chances are  I’m sitting in a safe place on my spectrum. A happy place.  I can walk past a wet towel on the bed or floor. I may even serenely pick it up. If things are out with me, I can hit overdrive very fast about a towel being anywhere else other than where it should be, which is on a freaking towel rack in the bathroom. On the irritability spectrum, I am also pegged at high. I understand why my husband chose a career with the option of regular travel.

Teetering out of control and heading towards meltdown depends on how safe we feel, how supported, how stressed, if our hormones or medication are balanced, if we are in pain, or if we have experienced interrupted sleep or illness. We all change our place in the wheel depending on what’s going on in our lives. That’s why the message in Wonder hit home. Choose kind. You never know where people are at.

This is a revised version of a blog I wrote a few days ago, only with less Stevie Nicks.

I’m mostly blogging on my website blog link now. You can find that here. https://www.rachelwilkinson.com.au/blog/

I also post to my facebook page, rachelwilkinsoncounselling and tweet on occasion. My handle is @3ducks1.


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