November 1, 2022

Autism barrier

By rosieweldon

Sometimes my autistic mind can run straight into a wall, and there is nothing I can do to get past it. This results in my mind gaining frustration as it repeatedly hits against the wall.

This happened to me yesterday. Over something as simple as getting pizza.

I had gone shopping with my partner and chosen these very cute little mini pizzas for the children to eat that night. Once they were done, she called up to me, while I was working, to say there was enough if I wanted one. I very excitedly made my way down to get the cute little pizza.

Except when I entered the kitchen my mind smashed into a wall. The pizzas were in the middle of the table and the children sat around them. I hate taking food off a shared space. If I am going to then I need to clearly know how many is for each person and essentially know my allotted amount. One of the children asked for something so I handled that. Then looked from my partner who was juggling feeding the children and getting ready for Halloween, to the plate of pizzas that I couldn’t navigate on my own. I backed away and walked back upstairs.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t particularly fussed about the pizza. As cute as they were, it wasn’t the end of the world not to have one. But my autistic mind had planned to go down and get one. I had seen it laid out in my mind and locked it in as the next step in my evening. I still had work to do, I would go and get the little pizza, come back to my desk and eat it while I worked. Missing out on food wasn’t an issue, but not completing a planned task began to bash at the inside of my mind.

I needed to get the pizza. Because that is what I planned to do. But I could not get the pizza. Would my partner realise I didn’t get the pizza? Would she be annoyed at me? While she was juggling a hundred things, I couldn’t just get my own pizza off the table. I knew she would want me to ask her for help. But I could not do that. My mind was now caught between the thought of needing pizza and being unable to get pizza.

I started crying. I hated that I was crying. I didn’t even care about the pizza. In a few minutes I had gone from completely fine, to this thought smashing around the insides of my mind, building in frustration and making me cry.  

A few minutes later I decided to seek help from my partner. Mainly because I didn’t want it to escalate. I didn’t want this stupid pizza thing to ruin our night. I walked downstairs to see my partner sat at the table. She looked at me and it took all of a split second for her to register the autism block on my face. She asked if I was okay. I just stared at her.

She walked to me, and I put my head on her and cried. She asked what was wrong, but I could not talk. I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating that must be for her. To see me upset yet have no idea what is wrong. It is of course extremely frustrating for me to have this stupidly small issue, that I know she could solve, but be unable to communicate it to her. She asked if I was okay, and I just shook my head. She knew I wouldn’t be able to explain so instead she ruled some things out. Is it work? I shook my head. Has something happened? I nodded. Do you want to text me? I shook my head. I didn’t want to relive the barrier.

We stayed like that for a minute or so, just me against her trying to calm down. She asked if I still had work to do, and I nodded. I reluctantly walked away from her and back to my desk.

She followed me upstairs and asked if something had happened that I didn’t expect. I nodded. Change was the ultimate culprit to my mind attacking itself. I told her it was something stupid and my mind was hurting. She held me and said I could tell her later.

I managed to calm down, with her help, and get back to work. 20 or so minutes later she called up the stairs and asked if I wanted more pizza. I smiled to myself. There was no escaping this bloody pizza.

When she appeared back in my room to check my answer, she registered the look on my face. She asked if the pizza was connected to my situation. I explained I hadn’t had any pizza yet.

Not missing a beat, she said that was fine and there was plenty left, she would get me some.

This is just an example of one very simple, yet for me distressing, occasion that my mind suddenly attacks itself. A change in a planned action, wreaks havoc on us. It gets caught and hits against our mind. It’s exhausting, it’s painful.

I couldn’t have cared less about the practicality of eating the pizza. I imagine there would be scenarios where people would focus on that part of the situation. It was the change that threw me. It was walking into the kitchen expecting a plate with my pizza on, and instead getting a plate with shared pizza on, that set off a sequence of events I could not control.

The smallest of things can cause us mental pain. We are not being dramatic. We are not making a big deal out of it. We are trying to navigate a world that causes our own mind to launch attacks on itself and refuse to accept a situation in front of it.

I could not fault my partners response for a second. She put aside her need to know what had happened, her want to solve the problem, and gave me exactly what I needed – reassurance and a calm presence. In a moment when my mind was losing control, she steadied me.

A lot of the time we don’t need our problems solved – we just need compassion and patience.

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