Caught in the middle…
Currently sitting amidst the cacophony of noise at a local café, surrounded by people having conversations. A bunch of people just enjoying their morning. Two friends sharing a conversation over custard tarts and a latté, two mothers conversing and passing judgement about the pros and cons of another friends choice of dog for a pet. Two young teens meet to celebrate and share breakfast together and pass gifts to each other.
I am caught in the middle of the cacophony of all this. It’s an autism thing. It’s a thing where virtually every word spoken at all the surrounding tables all enter my consciousness and assault my sensory system. What I am seemingly unable to manage is the filtering of all these conversations. Instead of just being a sense of background noise, which I can focus out and concentrate on the important thread of noise to which I am interested in, I am instead bound into every word, every buzz, every beep and shudder forcing its way into my awareness and considered.
Exhausting, is the reality of having to take into conscious consideration every sound and then make an assessment of its relevance and application to the actual situation or conversation I am engaged in. This is true even now as I sit at a table on my own typing these words, where in reality all those sounds and words are actually quite irrelevant to the task I am engaged in at this moment of writing this blog post.
The Cacophony Persists…
And so the noise continues, the effort to maintain focus must be continually employed. It is just one of those factor of life things for me. It is just a reality of how it is to live. If I want to indulge in my pleasure of a café coffee then I am must endure the environment in which that pleasure exists.
The cacophony persists, I enjoy my coffee experience and concurrently experience a level of overwhelm, a level that is unpredictable and therefore impossible to adequately prepare for. Because every time I walk into a coffee shop the ambience will be different. The number of people present, the volume of conversations and associated noises will be different. Even in the same space, at the same time, on the same day of each week.
It’s just the way it is…
Yes it is just the way it is. It is life as an actually autistic person. Living life is lived within the context of an ever-present awareness of the presences and impact of the sensory environment.
Overwhelm of my sensory system is a fact of life. It is an ever-present reality. It can’t be ignored, it can’t be dispensed with. It just is.
There is not a question of if I will experience overwhelm, it is a question of how much overwhelm I will experience in a given situation and, of course, how I am able to deal with that overwhelm. The result of this is a hyper-vigilance that is always active. Considerations of exit plans, coping strategies, communicating to others are always there.
Is it worth it?
Perhaps the most pertinent question I encounter over and again as I negotiate life is, is it worth it? Is it worth the overwhelm to do this? The question manifests itself in many different variances of is it worth it. It has many factors to be considered that have to do with myself and those I love. Sometimes it’s worth it just to make those I love happy. Even if it risks a meltdown.
As I reflect on this at this moment, I think what I really want to say, is, be prepared:
Know that you will experience overwhelm.
Know that it will be unpredictable.
Learn your own triggers.
Have an exit strategy.
Plan for communication difficulties.
Communicate your rising levels of overwhelm before it’s too late.
If all else fails be prepared to just pick up your shit and get the hell out of there.