Tears of an autist:
🎶 Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low… 🎶
One thing that has become acutely obvious to me in regards to being autistic, is the fact that I find it very hard to actually cry. I am so trapped inside my head with my thoughts that I find it hard to let any emotions out. Give me a hug and I may respond in a cold and rigid fashion, but inside I am feeling anything but that. On the surface I struggle with a sense of numbness yet there is an explosion inside which I can best try to describe as being like a real NZ flat white coffee.
My autism is the silky froth on top, constant and without flawed complexion. This froth suppresses my hidden emotions, creating a layer of separation between them and the thoughts in my head. Underneath is the coffee, a far larger portion that is filled with all sorts of taste explosions. I can sense that there is more under the froth but can’t get to it. I believe the assumption that autistic people feel less emotion is flat out wrong. I feel the emotions but I can’t put words to them as this froth wont allow my emotions out. It separates me from experiencing the richness of the explosions happening underneath and this brings frustration to both myself and those with whom I interact.
I have written previously about how I do my best to access these emotions through running but sometimes I can get so stuck in my prison that I am unable to see or break the invisible shackles that bind me. At the end of summer 2017 this became apparent again after a chain of events that were beyond my control.
I had spent most of 2017 reflecting on my journey with autism and writing blogs for redbeardrunning.com. My running was going well and I was really proud of where I had gotten myself to both mentally and physically. I had planned to compete in a local race come the end of September, where I would allow myself to leave the midpack runners and try to get on the podium. My plan began to unravel early September when I nearly lost someone very close to me. At the time, I thought I did exceptionally well mentally dealing with the stress that came with the unfolding crisis. However, this was far from reality. Whether you have autism or not, dealing with this kind of event is traumatic for anyone and there is always a time of processing needed. I started to get more and more withdrawn into the numbness, it was subtle and I barely noticed it consuming me. Looking back I can see that all the warning signs were there - I should never have taken on the challenge of the race. Hindsight however is just that…hindsight.
The race was a 40km trail run with plenty of sand-dunes and climb. I took off flying and did really well holding 2nd spot, but once I got to the 25km mark the unconsciously bottled stress from the events of the previous weeks started pushing to the surface and it was a struggle not to become overwhelmed. At the 35km mark tunnel vision started and I made a navigation error. Upon realising this my heart rate increased and I have no recollection of the 3km that followed. When I came to, my body gave in to the lactic acid and I stumbled to the finish line watching my podium position disappear. I was left broken and constantly questioning why? Why couldn’t my hard work be recognised for once, instead of feeling like it was being taken from me due to being out of touch with what was really going on inside?
What I experienced is an extreme example of how I feel the pattern of things go in my life due to this gap between the numbness and emotion underneath. I take on a challenge that I feel I can achieve, but something always pops up and pulls it out from under me. From the simple things like going to the shops yet having to leave sweating due to all the stimulation, to the big things like holding down a job. I constantly miss the cues hinting at my core emotions and end up physically paying the price.
I have learnt over time that the best way to be able to overcome this disability is to have people and professionals around me who understand and are willing to take their time to help me break through the froth and dig deeper into the richness beneath. A week after the race I had barely slept and I was at breaking point. After running to work, I sat on the couch frustrated and alone. No longer able to keep it all together, I found myself sending my brother a message… ‘Bro, I don’t feel too good’. That was all that I needed to say. The numbness parted slightly and the tears began to flow; it was time to drink a flat white.