It’s a glorious sunny 74 degrees outside, with little humidity. Isn’t Fall great? God is His wisdom provided for us here in the south a break from the relentless heat, and from summer’s air feeling like hot, wet cotton. Leaves swirling and cool air make me want to bake.
This weekend I’ll be baking oatmeal-raisin cookies (vegan, with only banana holding them together), cream of mushroom soup, baked potatoes, field pea salad with quinoa and cukes, roasted chick peas, and crispy baked eggplant rounds. Mmm.
I had a very good week at work, which is in an elementary school. It was pleasant, there was nothing frustrating or distracting, the kids were very cute, and all the people I interacted with were very nice and helpful and professional. Which makes what happened Friday afternoon and evening perplexing, but instructive.
Usually I come home on Friday overloaded with the week’s accumulated sensory stimuli. The accumulated stimuli are like leaves blown against a wire fence. By Friday, I’m exhausted.
But often I don’t know how exhausted. I can’t see the leaves. Often I don’t even know they are there, never mind how many of them.
Yesterday it was another glorious fall day, so after I got done with work, I left school and decided to zip up to my favorite store 7 miles up the road. I had borrowed some plastic tubs I wanted to return. It is a nice ride, with two long, high swooping hills, little traffic, and a straight road. It was nice. I dropped off the tubs and had a pleasant short chat with the proprietor. I browsed some CDs and bought 2 for $1 each- Westminster Choir singing hymns and English songs from 1870s. LOL.
Anyway, I popped them into the car CD player for the ride home. Since it was so nice out I decided to take the long way home and stop at Kroger for kitty litter, which I was in dire need of. When I got there, I decided to do a mini-shopping for fruit and veggies, which I was also out of. I could stop in again after church on Sunday for proteins for the coming week to complete my grocery larder.
I had a nice time shopping there, the store is clean and organized and not too bright. The wealth of fruit and vegetables from which to select always delights me. I didn’t take too long, but I felt my energy flagging and checked out shortly after grabbing some milk. I still had the drive home, lugging in the heavy items from the car, and putting them away before I could finally settle down for the evening.
When I got home I did all the above, and also cleaned the kitty litter pan and fed the cats. As I sat down with a glass of water, I realized I had overdone it.
My entire body was throbbing. My legs were shaking. When I get overstimulated my skin throbs, my muscles throb, even my organs seem to throb. I could feel my blood coursing through my veins, and it felt like it wasn’t blood, but poison. I felt sick, but not symptomatic regular sick like nausea or fever or having a cold. A poisonous sickly sick like I’d been turned inside out with exposed skin raw and then dipped in a vat of toxic chemicals. I sat numbly like a zombie, without energy even to work the mousepad. I stared at things in the apartment as if trying to untangle what they were.
I sat in front of the computer, wanting to read my Bible, but could not. I wanted to do this week’s lesson on Biblical Doctrine, but I could not. I wanted to just do something mindless like watch cat youtube videos, but I could not. I literally could not. My thoughts, usually zooming along its smooth pathways like a night time lapse of streaks of light as cars go down the road, were instead like a swarm of gnats I couldn’t follow and vainly tried to catch. I was completely numb but also in physical pain, and all I wanted to do was curl up with a soft blankie over my head.
Why was this so? I had a good week. I was not stressed. I had no conflicts, no surprises, no unexpected trauma or even minimal drama. Since I am not self-aware, I looked it up.
It’s called autistic shutdown.
A shutdown is basically an episode where the brain briefly stops processing and making sense of information in response to stress or sensory overload. The lights are on, but nobody’s home. Source
I found the following description of the autistic brain and its thoughts which is exactly like mine. It’s from The Everyday Aspie, the essay is “From the Inside Out”
My brain, like all autistics’ brains, seeks connections through patterns. It is on super drive all day long. It solves, reasons, rearranges, deciphers, and concludes. Every move I make is an effort, an action I am noticing, and behind that action multiple scaffolding thoughts. Where in an average person might think about six things in relation to a feasible outcome, I am thinking of sixty. What one throws out as a die with six sides, I throw out as ten dice with six sides. What commonly goes unnoticed by others, is a heavy blink to me with multiple facets, some hidden, some upright, some tossed off the table.
The questions of how many steps to take, which room to enter first, which task to accomplish next, which word choice to use, how long to linger on one topic, are not just familiarities, they are essential elements of my existence. And behind those questions, evidence gathered in the past, visual flashes of what has been and what could be. In many moments, I am a bystander set within a machine, carried where it leads, with no steering wheel or access to controls—an entity within a larger calculating entity. And this entity is deciphering the feasible best route to everything, including my thinking process.
As my mind works, nothing is disqualified from being factored into an outcome. Even my toothpaste brand, how much paste I squeeze out, and the flow of the water from the faucet, are scoped out and theorized, and then neatly tucked into a web of accumulated data. My thoughts gathered, molded, and placed into a previously opened drawer, a unit only to be reopened and reassembled during a later point of time. I am essentially a vast storage house with feelings.
This is why we crave familiar routines. If it’s familiar, it doesn’t have to be theorized, tested, and decided. Or at least not as much. It’s less stressful and less mentally taxing.
It’s funny what she said about the toothpaste. Just the day before I was wondering about this with myself. Now I know. She described her own shutdown this way and mine mirror hers to a great extent. The normal thinking process just…stops.
–I am unaware that I am in shutdown at the starting stage. Usually a part of me knows, but the most of me feels confused and off-balance. At this point I can do nothing but be. I have not an ounce of energy or thought process left to help myself or anyone else. I am literally a computer unplugged. (non-responsive, unaware of surroundings, lost somewhere)
–I might be unable to form complete thoughts or talk aloud.
–I spend the majority of time alone, in isolation and away from people. However, I could be sitting in the same room as someone else, but be lost in my mind.
–As a result of little to no energy whatsoever, I skip showers, don’t brush my hair, stay in my pajamas, don’t eat. (This is different than depression. I am too tired to do anything, even if a part of me wants to.)
–I finally feel like I can breathe and not think.
–I curl up into a ball and sleep.
source Everyday Aspie
I pushed myself until I could not handle staying up anymore and went to the bedroom and huddled under a blanket at 7:00. I slept until 9:30.
After I got up I still felt terrible until I finally went to bed at 11:00, slept fitfully, woke up at dawn, and have been a zombie all day. I have not listened to music or sermons, or watched TV. I haven’t even cooked or read, or even blogged. It’s 6:30pm the next day and I finally feel like I’m “coming to.” I am drinking some good, organic tea, took a long hot shower to relax, and had a good nap earlier. These are all helpful. Now I’ll write The End Time blog for the day and then maybe later I’ll either read or watch a movie.
The shutdown that happened to me was perplexing, but now I know about shutdowns. It was instructive because now I know that no matter how seemingly good I feel, by Friday afternoon I’m not, so don’t go anywhere except straight home. I also now know that my tiredness and desire for solitude especially on Fridays are a need and not a character flaw, weakness, or laziness.
I’ll research shutdowns some more, especially what happens to the brain and body during one.
Sunday I’ll cook.
It’s been an eventful week.