Tag Archives: coping mechanism

How do I handle change?

Short answer: not very well.

Ok, ok, that’s no good for a blog post. This is actually a really old idea on my possible blog topics list. Sufficiently old that I actually don’t remember what inspired the idea. Probably a facebook comment I saw somewhere, or maybe a comment on a blog or article I read. In any case, someone was asking about autistic people and handling change.

Now, not to be a stereotype or anything, but I really don’t like change. Sameness is happiness. Ok, it’s not that simple, but still. I like predictability, I like routines, I like knowing what’s happening. Not that I’m alone in this. I mean, it’s pretty much a cliche that if a website changes its layout, everyone will immediately hollar and complain about how horrible the change is and how much better it was before, even if it turns out that the change was for the better. I really suspect that no one likes change.

However, difficulty handling change does seem to be considered an “autistic thing.” Honestly, given that I think it’s an “everyone thing” I suspect that it’s less about change specifically, and more about other things on the autism spectrum. Maybe sensory stuff, maybe differences in how we express displeasure or stress, and honestly, maybe we really do have a harder time with change than NTs. I wouldn’t know, since I would need to experience the world as a NT in order to compare and actually see if there are substantial differences.

Anyway.

I do have a hard time with change, and yeah, it’s a thing for everyone, to a greater or lesser degree. So the question was about how we make it easier (it may have been directed at other parents, because lots of parents don’t seem to direct their autism questions to, you know, autistic people, but that’s another rant entirely and it doesn’t really matter for the substance of this post). In that vein, what do I do to deal with change? I don’t feel like I know enough about this to officially make it part of my How Do I Adult series, but here are some things kinda in that vein.

A big thing is that I really try to avoid being surprised by change. People who know me generally know to give me a heads up if a change is coming up so that I have time to adjust. A while back I changed riding instructors. My original instructor let me know several months in advance that at a certain point she wasn’t going to be able to teach me anymore so I had lots of time to get used to the idea. Changes to my routine are always thought out in advance and usually discussed with Nee, even if they don’t actually impact him in any way. I do the same thing with changes in plans.

Speaking of plans (this is kind of related to this topic) – I don’t do spontaneous. It’s just too stressful. I know that “normal” people seem to think that spontaneous socialization = better socialization, but this just isn’t the case for me. With a lot of personal work over a long period of time (we’re talking years here), I’ve managed to whittle down the amount of advance time I need to be comfortable with a socialization plan to be only three days. Still, I prefer more advance notice if I can get it.

Changes to previously laid plans also generally call for advance notice if possible. The theme here is giving me time to adjust. I just need processing time.

That said, sometimes shit happens and advance notice just isn’t going to happen. Plans get cancelled, weather happens, people or animals get sick. What then?

Well, I have a few things I do to make this easier on me. A BIG one is to remove myself from the situation that is stressing me. I mean, if a plan is cancelled I can’t suddenly make it happen. But if I find myself somewhere I didn’t expect to be, allowing myself to leave, even if it’s just to go outside by myself to breathe, is huge. Part of this is that I cannot handle feeling trapped (seriously. cannot), and part of this is that if I’m in an unexpected situation I might not be processing everything very well and I just need a time-out to let my brain catch up.

Another, more recent, this is to let myself be grumpy. Now, this one is much more viable now that I am on the antidepressant and random negative feels are much less likely to trigger a horrible crash and depression episode. So now I can just let myself be grumpy about, say, riding being cancelled because of extreme cold.

Before the meds, grumpiness had to be handled much more carefully because as mentioned, there was a not-insignificant risk that it would trigger a nasty crash. However, I can’t force myself to cheer up, nor can I force feelings I don’t want to go away. So mostly I tried to keep an equilibrium (breathe… breathe… breathe…) and brace myself against any icky feelings that came from plans being changed.

I also try to structure my life to maximize my ability to handle changes or the unexpected. I have a certain level of regular, weekly routine that I always follow. If that routine gets messed up for some reason, I get REALLY stressed. However, if I can keep to that basic routine, I have a lot of room around it for various things. I mean, ok, not impromptu socializing, but I can handle short-term decisions to, say, go grocery shopping or do other low-level evening things with Nee. A big thing, though, is that having a certain amount of my weeks always look the same makes it easier to have other parts of my weeks not look the same. Maybe THIS saturday I plan to visit a friend, and THAT saturday I go to a religious function, and THIS wednesday I plan to go to a movie. These week-to-week changes, even planned in advance, are largely possible because of the predictability I keep in my life.

I have no idea if any of this will help anyone else, and I think I got a little rambly, but there it is. Change. Change is serious business. Srsly.

 

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“Just Feel”

Time for more on journeys in chemically-induced emotional changes!

Several weeks ago I was talking to my psychiatrist about how it’s actually the negative feelings that I’m having trouble adjusting to. I mean, they’re better. Lots better. Tons better. Holy CRAP better. They are also, however, different, in a fairly fundamental way. I find it throws me a bit for a loop.

My metaphor for my strong emotional states tended to be either a river or a sea. Basically, a raging torrent of water threatening to carry me away or drown me, or both. These emotional states were dangerous to me on a number of levels, and I had to be careful.

So my coping methods were largely about staying above them, or staying grounded, and creating barriers between myself and my depression or my fear so that I could stay sane and at least partially functional.

Letting those barriers down so that I could just feel what I was feeling was always a risky proposition. If things were bad, it meant losing at least a day in overwhelming feels, and simply accepting that until it passed I would not be able to function beyond the very basics of survival, and even those were really difficult. As such, “just feel” was not a thing I did very often. It was very low on my coping method list (probably just one or two items above self injury, actually), and even when I did use it, I usually tried it in mitigated forms first. To extend my metaphor (my emotional metaphor got really quite involved), I did a lot of “riding the wave.” Tread water, keep my head up, wait until it passes but don’t let myself drown.

Now, though, it’s all different. I don’t seem to have that depression river anymore. Now it’s more like a fog, and it’s so different that it’s really quite confusing. The river was dangerous. When it flooded its banks and tried to wash me away, I had to be careful. However, the river also had direction. I knew where it was going and where I would end up if it swallowed me. I also knew that if I could get to high ground and wait it out, things would be really rough but ultimately I’d be ok.

The fog is different. I can’t make a barrier between myself and my feelings anymore. It’s also no longer threatening to wash me away. It’s just sorta… there, and I find myself wondering what the heck to do with it when it shows up. The things that used to be high on my list – barriers, higher ground, cling to something solid, ride the wave – all no longer apply. My psychiatrist reminded me of the “just feel” option, and I was actually a little amused. The option that had always been dangerous and scary and better avoided if possible is suddenly supposed to be at the top of my list. So basically, this is yet another type of change that I totally didn’t anticipate – the nature of some of my emotions have changed, and the basics of how I should deal with them have changed as well.

Here’s hoping I get used to this “just feel” thing being a primary, go-to technique.

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Holidays

I am currently throwing this together on Christmas Eve, with the intention of posting after Christmas. Tomorrow I will be celebrating the holiday with Nee’s family, as I’ve done for nearly 10 years now.

In many ways I am fortunate. I will be spending the holiday with a group of friendly, accepting people who demand nothing of me (nor I of them), who get together simply because it’s pleasant. My meds are making this the easiest December I can remember, which means I will finally get to experience a Christmas without clouds of depression looming directly over my head. I am pleased with this. I find myself actually looking forward to it.

However, even with all of this luck, a holiday means stress for me. It means being around a group of people, and no matter how lovely, a group is still a group. There will be people and noise and lights and a dog and various other things impacting my senses. Additionally, it’s going to screw up my routines. Holidays that happens in the middle of the week always do that, and it’s always a stressor, no matter how good the holiday otherwise is. I depend on my routines, and it’s tough on me when they are disrupted.

So I have a few coping plans for tomorrow.

1. Crafts. My crocheting is a wonderfully socially-acceptable means of stimming, and I always use it at the holidays. And frequently at any group gathering I happen to be at. Sometimes I color.

2. Hiding places. Any time I’m going somewhere and I’m going to be in a group of people, I make sure that I have somewhere I can go hide. And in this case, “hide” means “be alone.” Sometimes it takes the form of a bathroom, sometimes a spare bedroom, once it was a little meditation nook, sometimes it’s just outside. Point is, I always make sure I have somewhere to hide. If there is nowhere to hide, I don’t go.

3. Escape routes. Feeling trapped can make even the most pleasant occasion incredibly stressful. I always give myself permission to duck out if I have to, or even leave outright if it’s just too much. This is more difficult if I am dependent on someone else for a ride, but even then I can usually at least find an outside hiding spot and just hang out alone until my ride is ready to leave.

What sort of strategies do you have to help deal with groups, disruptions in routines, or other such difficulties?

Also, if you celebrated a holiday recently, I hope it was enjoyable for you. ^_^

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Filed under personal, social skills