Triggers and Anxiety

I’ve decided that today I’m going to talk about something in “Thinking in Pictures” that I found SUPER validating and cool.  But first, I’m going to tell a couple of stories about things that really frustrated me.

A few years before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s I did some looking around for treatment for my anxiety.  Many places turned me away because I was honest about how I suspected that I was an aspie, and they did not have any experience with aspies.  Eventually, though, I found a place that thought it didn’t really matter, so I went in for an initial screening.

The initial paperwork I had to fill out definitely showed that I had a lot of anxiety, so we talked a lot about that.  At one point, she wanted to know what I was afraid of – like, am I afraid of being humiliated in public or something.  I replied that it was sometimes like that, but also sometimes I just felt anxiety without really being afraid OF something.  She replied that I had to be afraid of Something.  Eventually I told her that I was afraid of messing up, looking like an idiot, or pissing people off.  All of which are true, but are not the whole story.  I wish I hadn’t felt so flustered and had included that sometimes I’m just afraid of crowds, or new things, or I feel an anxiety reaction to too much sensory stimulation.  Sadly, I really felt like she would not have accepted those kinds of answers.  Also, the answers I did give her, about being afraid of messing up or pissing people off, are not irrational fears.  I have a history of doing the wrong thing and pissing people off.  I have Asperger’s.  I try my very best and keep on learning, but I do sometimes mess up.

In retrospect, I think the places that turned me away were correct to do so, and the person that thought she could treat my anxiety as something separate and apart from possible Asperger’s was incorrect.  Treating anxiety in people on the autism spectrum is a very different thing than treating neurotypicals, and I am definitely getting more out of having a therapist who is aware of this.

Ok, now another story.  This one about triggers.  Sometimes I have meltdowns or shutdowns.  Sometimes I have panic attacks.  Sometimes I am overwhelmed and I just cannot cope.  Sometimes my triggers are based on some form of past trauma, but usually my triggers are neurological.  Too much noise, too many people, needing to process too many things at once, that sort of thing.

Well anyway, again before I got my diagnosis, I was participating in an online discussion about triggers and dealing with triggers.  The talk was revolving completely around triggers that come from trauma, so I asked if talking about other sorts of triggers was welcome.  Instead of being told yes or no (either of which would have been acceptable), I was faced with disbelief that such a thing could exist.  Instead of anyone asking me for clarification or elaboration (which also would have been acceptable) I was informed that I must be wrong, and asked if I really understood what a trigger was or what trauma was.  Because apparently, the real answer simply had to be that I didn’t know what I was talking about, rather than that sometimes triggers aren’t based on trauma.  That response was not at all acceptable.

Both of these instances were very irritating and really felt like the people involved were trying to deny the existence of my reality, and by extension, me.  It’s true that I am not typical, but I am still here.

So when I started reading chapter six of “Thinking in Pictures,” “Believer in Biochemisty” I felt incredibly validated.  Basically, Grandin wrote about how she has had lots of problems with anxiety and panic attacks, but they had no ultimate psychiatric cause.  They were, as she put it, biochemical in nature.  Here are a few choice quotations that I found particularly helpful to read:

“For the next twenty years I tried to find psychological reasons for the panic attacks. I now realize that because of the autism, my nervous system was in a state of hypervigilance. Any minor disturbance could cause an intense reaction.”

“[…] even minor stresses triggered colitis or panic.”

“I thought that if I faced my fears, the panic attacks would go away.”

“I remember one horrible day when I came home sweating and in a total state of fear for absolutely no reason.”

She was afraid without being afraid OF anything.  She would get triggered, but the triggers had no root traumatic cause to be faced or overcome.  It IS possible to be like this.  Now, I really gather that her anxiety was far worse than mine ever was, but it was still validating to know that there are other people out there who are like this.

It also brought me one step closer to considering the possibility of meds at some point to help deal with my anxiety.  I still want to try other methods first, though.

Anyway.  While I do not like or agree with everything in this book, that section alone has made the read well worth it for me.

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