Most of us are aware that our environment can have a huge impact on how we feel, respond, and communicate. I know this, but many times I tend to forget. In the past, I was not so aware and it caused serious confusion. It was confusing, frustrating, and at times frightening as my body, emotions, and certain responses manifested from me when I had no idea what was causing it. Now I have an understanding of my own challenges such as, sensory processing disorder, synesthesia, executive functioning disorder, anxiety, depression, PTSD, social confusion, and learning about how my brain processes. (I can keep listing, but I will stop there.) My brain consumes all sorts of information, details, and emotions with the inability to discern what is important and what is not.
Everything is important!!
This does not include all of the underlined or things hidden to my conscious that my mind is processing. It collects everything thinking it’s all very important. So it files it away until a sensory, emotional, or PTSD trigger causes it to manifest. I have witnessed similar things happen to my kids, especially with Daniel. Because of his developmental delays, his ability to understand and process his physical and emotional environment can be even more confusing, frustrating, and frightening. I am still learning how much my environment affects me. With new understanding, I have been making changes to improve my quality of life – by doing this, I have gained much more self-acceptance and understanding. This allows me to communicate better.
It can still take some time for me to understand and find the words to explain to someone how I am affected or feeling.
I have been able to discern many of Daniel, Ariel, and Joshua’s challenges. I find it easier to observe and discern what children are feeling, I have always been able to do that. I also feel connected to my kids so that makes it easier for me to “read” them. For most of my life, I have been disconnected from myself. For Autistics, the world can feel “unsafe” as there are so many unexpected things. For instance, our world can be accosted by sound, a voice, an inability to recall direction, unfamiliar surroundings, faces…all of what feels like chaos can ensue “fight or flight” responses. I have come to realize that most of my life has been spent in “survival mode.” I had to stay disconnected from myself to protect myself.
If our environment is not safe, we are in constant defense mode.
Our homes should be our safe place but it is not always the case. After reading from many other Autistics, I believe that we are resilient and find ways to help ourselves in the midst of what feels like constant battlegrounds. In hindsight, I realize that when I did not feel safe in my environment, my OCD traits manifested and my routines were unable to be changed. My anxiety levels became heightened, depression overwhelming, and my special interests became obsessive to the point of becoming all consuming. When I lived on my own, I was able to have the safety of solitude and no one else’s energy or challenges disrupted my downtime. When I am able to have downtime, solitude, and a safe place, it is not has debilitating when my routine is disrupted.
I am not going to say it does not cause me problems, it does; however, I can regain my balance sooner if I know I am not surrounded by “threat.”
A safe place for me means an environment that is familiar, steady, comfortable, trustworthy, reliant, accepting, nonjudgmental, peaceful, and quiet. When I was a kid, I would surround myself with my stuffed animals while listening to music or audio books. Physical surroundings play a huge part in how I am able to process information. Not only do my basic five senses get overwhelmed easily, but my emotional sense is so heavily connected to them and my memory that I can relive past experiences of social, emotional, and physical situations with a familiar smell, a light fixture that I have seen before, or a song.
I have a feeling that many Autistics share in this as well.
This emotional sense can cause me to feel another person’s “energy” (I am not sure what else to call it), but I can walk into a room and be consumed with all sorts of emotions from the people in there. I also absorb the emotions of people while reading their words. This causes me confusion, jumbles my brain, and makes it even more difficult to interpret what people are communicating verbally and nonverbally. This is why I am so protective of my environment – for my sake and for my kids. They too feel these same effects. All of them are highly sensitive to emotion and their physical environment. There comes a point where they must be exposed to different things, just like me. We cannot be completely shut-in and we are not. To ensure that we can go and experience this world, I try to keep our home as safe and calming as possible.
The major component in creating a safe physical environment has been dealing with the emotional environment first.
Just as many people, David and I have been under a tremendous amount of emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual stress throughout our entire marriage. Little did we know that even before our marriage we had accumulated layer upon layer of stresses/stressors. They were all sorts of dynamics, faulty thinking/perceptions, ideals, fears, etc … that were unknown, not understood, and/or never dealt with. Yet, they creep up whenever trauma or stress arise. This is not uncommon among many people. The difference is that most people do not loop, analyze, fixate, internalize, meltdown/shutdown, or go into utter panic because they cannot make sense of another person’s behavior.
I am describing myself with all that.
David has his own moments, though he simply manifests them differently. It would seem that based upon several things I have read from Alltistic woman who are married to Aspergers men, his attitude and behaviors are very much in line with characteristics described by them, making it seem as if he is indeed somewhere on the spectrum. In his own unique way with common traits, we say that we are “Opposite Aspies.” We tend to have a commonality when it comes to an analytical way of looking at things; however, we are very different in how we process emotional thoughts and conceptual thinking. We had very different lives growing up and very different experiences. His world confused the heck out of me and he assumed he understood mine. There are many factors as to why our home environment was emotionally unbalanced – I am not going to go into the details in this post.
In a tight little nugget, we can say much of it is about communication.
For several months, we have found ways to communicate that help us to understand the other person’s challenges or reactions…maybe not always, though that’s true of any relationship. The lack of understanding or inability to communicate adds a huge amount of stress. It makes me feel like a failure and upsets me because I feel forced to be mean and speak directly, which can be hurtful. However, from my perspective his way of communication can be hard, invaliding, and insensitive – although, he could say the same of me. This is where the needs of each person’s emotional environment needs to be taken into account. In a relationship, there needs to be compromise, but how do you find compromise if one is nonverbal or loses their words?
How do you find compromise when one person works through their process through talking and the other needs quiet and to be alone?
How do you have compromise when a person cannot discern what they are feeling or why they are feeling something? How do you create a “safe” emotional environment when communication is distorted through inability to understand one another? I have no answer other than David and I are willing participants in learning how to find compromise and create a safe environment for all of us. It’s taking a lot of work, but we are willing to do that for our kids and each other. The stress and anxiety of being misunderstood or forced to speak when I’m not ready makes my emotional and physical environment unsafe. This has been my life – a constant state of feeling unsafe. I found ways to cope, mask, hide, escape, but they only lasted so long before my inevitable breakdown or my other tried and true means of coping: creating a world of seclusion to protect myself.
Thankfully, throughout the last few months I have been able to explain to David how I have felt unsafe.
Continued Improving Physical and Emotional Environment II …
Sharing some reads … I feel that my inability to regulate emotions comes from multiple sources: Aspergers, SPD, Synesthesia, which has been influenced by abuse, PTSD. I am sure many things connect, collide, and get all jumbled causing some issues in that area for me.
- I do not like the title of this one, but it was a good read. 10 Disadvantages to Synesthesia
- How Synesthesia Works
- Synaesthesia and Learning A Differentiated: View of Synaesthetic Perceptional Awareness
- A case of colour-emotion synaesthesia?
- Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids
- Emotional Regulation: Sensory Processing Disorder