Friday, 6 July 2012


"It's hard to watch someone you love having a shut-down."

I love reading chapters that start off with a quotation, then explain the story behind it (providing they're written well, that is). Most of my attempts at story-writing (to date I've only finished one story, not including a 9-page story that I wrote when I was 6 about a cat called Colina) have a couple of chapters where a character says something, and the next paragraph or two sum up what led to that statement. This has gone off on a tangent somewhat, I'll get back to my original point.

I was at a buffet with my mum last week, and after finishing dessert I said that I was tempted to get seconds. She started to warn me about eating too much dessert: given that I've recently come off a strict diet regime and still have issues with food (I wonder if I'll ever feel fully in control of what I eat), I took this quite personally. A passing waiter said in Spanish that I could go up for more: Mum translated this for me, even though I understood enough Spanish to know what he said. The combination of feeling hurt about having someone try to control my eating for me and having someone assume that I didn't understand a basic Spanish phrase (this was my thinking at the time, likely this isn't justified by her standards) led to me having a shut-down there and then.

Before I go into talking about my shut-downs, I'd like to point out that I've been told for most of my life that I take things too personally. I'm sure I do by other people's standards, but I don't see how I can help feeling offended by something that hits a raw nerve, even if rationally I can tell myself that there was no malicious intent behind a statement.

It's a bit hard to describe what a shut-down is like. To me, it feels that the world slows down: I become far more aware of my own presence, and the presence of others. Stimuli such as lights and sounds become a lot more intense: if I'm talking to someone and a shut-down happens, my attention is still on them, but other people and objects become just as intense and demanding of attention. Trying to focus on just one thing, namely the person I'm talking to or the task I'm doing, is a lot more difficult with all the extra stimuli taking up my attention. Words that people say to me are taken more personally than they otherwise would be. My thoughts get jumbled since I'm taking in so much information while trying to attend to a task or conversation at the same time. Since the world feels slowed down at that moment, it feels like I'm stuck and can't progress out of that phase.

My behaviour during them has varied over time: my instinctive response would be to indulge in Aspie behaviour like rocking or covering my eyes and ears to block out the world until it's over. I'm tempted to cry or shout to get out my frustration. I want to run away to somewhere away from people, to be alone in a place with few stimuli to take my attention. Since none of these are really appropriate when I'm in a place with people - I often have enough control to not let these instinctive behaviours occur - I go into what my mum calls 'Soldier mode'. My answers and movements become robotic: I either say nothing at all, or my responses are short and snappy, and can be hurtful since I can't really think them out beforehand. Sometimes I can give longer responses which make little sense and I often end up contradicting myself. My body gets tense and I can grip things quite tightly. My voice becomes a monotone. I don't feel that I'm in full control over what I do and say: my 'Soldier' behaviour seems to me (in hindsight) like a defence mechanism, to stop myself from escaping or indulging in Aspie behaviour, while trying to block out the intense stimuli and trying to not show the hurt that a comment has (almost always unintentionally) made me feel.

My shut-downs can last for a fair while: sometimes it's an hour or two (sometimes up to half a day) before I realise that my thoughts are my own again. Things that can help me to come out of them are being on my own, and focusing on just one thing such as reading a book or fixating on a wallpaper pattern. I don't always remember exactly what I say and do just before and during shut-downs, it feels like I'm conscious but not fully aware. I resolve to try harder next time to not let a comment get to me so much, then feel worse for being so sensitive. Usually at this point I apologise to Mum, who's often the one present when a shut-down occurs: she says that after I have a shut-down she feels that she has to walk on eggshells so as to not upset me, which makes me feel worse.

I can see why it hurts her when I have shut-downs. But it hurts me too: it's not as though I'd willingly put myself through them.

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