Continued from Improving Physical and Emotional Environment I
Since I have been able to accept, process, and work through healing from some of my past abuse I have been able to explain to David how words, actions, and behaviors affect me. Before, I was unable to gather words to speak to him. Part of that has to do with his personality, but it also has to do with my inability to know or share what I am feeling or why. This bit of information helped me to understand how much Daniel was feeling unsafe in his environment. Like many things, I had an understanding, but it had not truly registered. Daniel has been unable to communicate his sensory struggles, feelings, triggers, people, and situations that cause him to feel unsafe. He did not feel emotionally safe in his environment for a long time because it has been and still is difficult for him to understand his emotions, our emotions, or reasons for people’s actions.
But the greatest obstacle has been his physical environment.
I am at an advantage in the sense that I have more experience with emotion and time interacting, observing, and analyzing to create some sort of conclusions about what people are doing and why. He does not have that what other people take for granted such being able to read body language, tone, expressions on faces and applying that to a situation or emotion does not come easily for us. I have practice and I still get confused. He has relied heavily on his physical environment to be a safe place, however; he is extremely sensory sensitive and is dependent upon his routines to bring peace. He can understand his environment and he expects it to be reliable. If it is too stressful of an environment he cannot function. In other houses we have lived in the sensory aspect was too overwhelming which, caused him to be in a constant state of anxiety and “fight or flight” mode.
This hinders anyone’s ability to process information.
It can enhance triggers, sensory sensitivities, induce irrational thinking, feed anxiety and create unrealistic fears. He looked to me to be his stability, his filter, his voice and many times I could figure it out, but not always and my fears, frustrations; exasperation at times did not help. He had looked to me for his nine years on this planet and I have done my best, but some days I have no understanding for him or myself. In order to help with that my mindset changed from feeling like a failure or wrong, to accepting that sometimes the only way to help is to sit in silence bringing as much comfort as possible. That helped change both our physical and emotional environment – acceptance often does.
Last year, when I got to my breaking point and knew that I needed help I realized what an accosting environment we were in.
I blamed a lot of it on the house we were in; which is not too far off, but it was not the only reason. Around March, something in me changed and I was no longer going to allow myself to fall into the negative loops. I did seek help from my therapist she confirmed that my environment was “unsafe” and that I had to make changes in order to function in a healthy way. I decided that I could no longer allow my environment to feel unsafe – it was destroying me mentally and physically. I finally, came to the conclusion that I had to take control and create a peaceful environment for the kids and myself, as much as I could in the house that we were in. Part of my hindrance was feeling that I was not and could not be in control. Depression, anxiety, and continued PTSD episodes kept me in a state of fear – I could not think straight.
This is where I would like for people to take a moment and ponder, what I am describing is not uncommon for Autistics.
We can live in a constant state of fear, anxiety, depression, PTSD, heartbreak, trauma’s, etc … and still look as if nothing is wrong. We have learned to adapt, maybe not in the best of ways, but we have found ways to cope and survive in unsafe environments and we still accomplish a great deal of things. I want to express that because in my case people tend to think that since I am not showing certain emotions or talking about them that I am fine. They look at me and think that I have no problems, worries, or struggles while I sit and whither in excruciating isolation, fears, anxieties, and pain silently before their eyes. If I do not feel safe I cannot talk or show my emotions – I shutdown.
I would venture to say that many people can empathize with what I just wrote, Autistic or not …
Much of my ability to change came from applying mindfulness each day and getting out to exercise. Some days I was swallowed up in fears and anxieties, but over time I have been able to take control by reminding myself to “stay in the present”. I try to do this daily so my mind will not wander into the past or the future looping into anxiety. It has helped me a great deal, but I will always struggle with my looping, persevering, and yes, at times fixated mind. Because I changed my thinking from fretting about what I felt I could not do to looking at what I could do in the now - it helped me to help myself. By doing so, I understood the importance of creating that for everyone in our household. However, during that time Daniel and I were the only two who did not have “safe” places to retreat to hence, no matter how much I tried we never felt safe.
It was a difficult task, but I worked with what I had.
Since moving into our new home Daniel is the happiest and calmest that I have ever seen him. He has never transitioned from a move like this and I am amazed at how much his verbal communication and social interactions have increased in only a few weeks. I am not really amazed; I knew that the other house was a sensory nightmare. It was also, a financial and physical nightmare because we never knew what was going to break or when someone would just show up. Every time we have moved I have analyzed Daniel’s behaviors comparing our previous house with our current one. In all circumstances, Daniel has shown the greatest amount of progress with less moments of regression in areas when we are in homes that have carpet, lanolin floors, solid muted colors painted on the walls, and very little decorations.
My apartments were all very minimal in color and flare – simple, solid colors and not much on the walls. It brought me peace. This home seems to be a perfect mixture of simplicity and absorption of acoustics. There are not many unexpected random noises. The windows are not too big causing constant distraction and buzz. Another noticeable factor is that this is the first house where we are nowhere near power lines. The vibrations from those even affect David. In our physical environment I have had to adjust and accept that I indeed do not like stuff or colors on my walls. I like everything very minimal. If I do not have that my brain feels constant static. That feeling keeps me in “flight or flight” mode – it fuels my anxiety.
My mom is an Aspie and she is the opposite, she feels calmer with a load of colors and a decorated home.
I appreciate that about others, but I cannot live in it. We are finally at a place where our lives have some emotional stability. It has manifested a more balanced environment. I asked David a couple of years ago if he would just “be my friend” I have another post that I am writing to share about that, but the main point is that I do not feel safe emotionally in a romantic relationship. By him agreeing to us being able to get to know each other as friends it has allowed me to be more open with him and for our relationship to develop naturally as two people being friends. We got married within a few months of meeting we did not have time to really get to know one another and I never felt safe.
It has helped me to feel safe enough to explore and accept myself more.
We have discussed it quite a bit and have concluded that we cannot compromise on our living conditions ever again. The homes in which Daniel was constantly overwhelmed, raging with anxiety/fears, compounded sleep issues, causing aggressive behaviors and inability to communicate had certain things in common. Now we know some of these important factors and we will go to great lengths to ensure that all of us have a safe emotional and physical environment. By understanding and accepting how much our environment was causing us stress we were able to make the changes needed to improve our physical and emotional environment. This is not always an easy task; it will be something that we have to work at for the rest of our lives. Environment has the ability to help someone achieve their utmost potential or cause their talents, identity, and personhood to crumble. It is valid and a very important part of a person’s life.
By gaining this perspective I have been able to find even more positive things about Autism and how we can achieve great potential in the right environments.
More things I read. (In case you are new reading my blog, WELCOME! also, I do share quite a bit of things that I read. I may not agree with everything, but I find good information from all different perspectives. My sharing does not always mean an endorsement. I share as kind of a resource guide.)
- Environment and surroundings: introduction
- What Impact Does the Environment Have on Us?
- How Emotions Affect Learning
- Emotions and the Brain: Fear
- Dr. David Roth – Autism, PTSD, & Emotional Environment Regulation (I do not know anything about the organization being promoted that this video was created for, but there was many insights that I thought could help people so I am sharing it.)
- BRAIN FUNCTION
- How Fear Works