Posted in Self-Care

Holiday Meltdown: Withdrawal as Self-Preservation

Here’s last year’s Thanksgiving melt-down.  If any of you are feeling like I did last year, I hope it helps someone to feel like you’re not alone.  If you’ve read the blog recently, you know I’ve made some progress on these points, but I left this post untouched to point out the sheer and utter MESS I was in last year, this time, due to anxiety.

I usually work over Thanksgiving.  The beauty of having a job in the standardized testing industry where you primarily work in tests for the college-bound is that it’s generally predictable: in the fall, it’s busy.  You work Thanksgiving, the whole weekend, and you may or may not work Christmas.  The rush begins between August and September sometime and ends sometime in December.

This schedule means I don’t have to do holiday stuff except on my own terms.  We live in a culture in the U.S. where work drives everything, so if you have to work, you work.

So when my aunt decided to host Thanksgiving, I declined for all of us.  My husband and son can sometimes do Thanksgiving alone at my parents’ or my sister’s house since they feel somewhat comfortable there.  My parents’ house is so easy I usually just bring the laptop and work.  But not my aunt’s house.  My mother kept pestering about maybe we could just have my husband and son go over and I can work, but they wouldn’t and honestly, I didn’t want to and since I had the work excuse, I didn’t have to.

Then they cancelled work.

This year, we finished the administration before Thanksgiving and I had Thanksgiving and the day after off.  This never happens.

I ended up lying and keeping us safe from having to go.  I feel bad because I usually don’t mind holiday stuff, but I’m so low on spoons right now due to working the new job, having the writing teacher causing me grief, and other such fun, I just needed the time away from lots of other people.

I was having a great time playing Rift and watching old tv shows.  I was tired since I’d gotten up at 4 to write, which sometimes happens, so I was in bed for a nap by 1.  Of course, this was when my parents called.  No one answered.  Shortly after that, I was melting down.

Here’s what happened and what I’m learning from it.

I looked up the symptoms for anxiety.  I was like…I have these all the time.  This is called normal.  So I looked up anxiety in Autistics and it’s all like yeah, Autistics get it a lot.  Not helpful.

So, for me, anxiety is normal.  That’s not putting me over the edge.

I started thinking.  What was bothering me?

Then it hit me.  I have no real identity.

I’d recently read a blog by another Autistic blogger, Beth about being nice: and it was messing in the back of my mind.  A lot of my identity is tied into social rules that we are all told since childhood, but only the neurotypicals (and those among us who are particularly contrary) actually follow.  Here are some of my rules:

1.  Nice people are polite.  I thank people so profusely for everything, I think they think I’m a little not-okay.  I think there’s a limit into how much you should be thanking people, but sometimes I feel so grateful to be acknowledged that I really am that thankful.  I think some of this is Autism, but a lot of it is the life of the fat person.  People run in front of you (even if you’re going faster than they are) and all kinds of other stuff.  There are times I literally believe that I am invisible.  So, yeah, when people seem to pay attention to me, even if they’re paid to do so, I’m so grateful it’s ridiculous.

2. Nice people are religiousI know this is controversial for a lot of you who have already gone off the religion train, but honestly, I believe very strongly in theoretical Catholicism.  You know, the rules, organization, the things that Pope Francis and the Bishops talk about all the time.  That stuff?  But then I have to be in a parish life with lay people who are not welcoming to Disabled people even though Pope Francis says they have to be.  They don’t wanna, so they don’t.  We’re in the middle of this annulment (my husband was married before) and it’s like we don’t exist.  No one ever checks in with us to see if we’re doing okay and to invite us back to church more often.  Honestly, no one gives a damn.  If the rule is that nice people are religious, then what is that?

3. Nice people become teachersTeaching is a vocation and calling, but it’s also where people go when they don’t know what else to do with their lives.  Teachers have been some of my strongest supporters and biggest bullies.  They have enabled a lot of the bullying that has gone on against me, from K-12, and outwardly caused it, and yet I went into teaching anyway because I believed in making things better, particularly for kids like me.  But because I’m so socially-inappropriate, I can only teach at small, religious schools.  In other schools, I found myself being excluded.  In a small school, well, being a small staff, we can get along.  But should I have to take the lowest-paying full-time teaching job in the area to fit in?

4. Education is power. This is such everlasting bullshit it isn’t even funny.  I have tons of degrees, but can’t get jobs with any power because I’m a freak.  Getting more degrees doesn’t get me into the big game, nor does it help me do anything but remain forever in debt.  But schools and universities, together, are the #1 employer of any state (check on it…you’ll be surprised) so we have to keep people busy or the economy of each state will be crushed.  I know this because I’ve researched enough to know it, and yet I still manage to do another degree program.  At this point, I can’t stop and I’ll never pay it all back.  I may have to stay in programs until I die.  How exciting!

If you’re a neurotypical reading this, you’re probably thinking that these rules are actually true, though.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.  Regardless, you neurotypicals know when you’ve done enough of whatever it isLike how polite is polite enough?  How much education is really enough?  (Etc.)  We say something, and we do something else (thus my points under religion and teaching).

So, I realized I have no idea who I am and what I want to do with my life because all of my things I do are tied into rules that I’ve acquired that are actually neurotypical fakerules for which I don’t know the special code to do enough, but not too much.

After a long conversation with my husband, I’m coming to the conclusion, that I’m starting to become: 1) a Catholic who doesn’t want to go to church anymore, since I know when I’m not wanted and  2) not a teacher, but I’ll miss the kids since they don’t actually try to mess with me the way adults do, but don’t realize they’re doing it.

But if I give those things up, I don’t know who I am or what I should be doing.

I’ve given up teaching before and I keep going back to it.  Is it because it’s my calling, or because it’s all I can do?

I felt like this when I quit teaching the first time.  My identity was tied up with teaching so much that I didn’t know who I was without it.  The advice I got then was to go back to where I last felt comfortable, and to go from there.  I did that, even down to returning to my undergraduate institution to focus on writing.  But I’m cycling the same cycle: teaching and classes, because I can DO that, if nothing else.

Same cycle, starting up again, with no real resolution.

Shortly before going back to teaching, I was going to focus on writing.  But the rules say you don’t write.  You get a day job and you write on the side.  So I got another one, to go with my job that pays unevenly.  I did this before going into classes with a teacher who turns out to be ableist, racist, and authoritarian, in a field where being authoritarian is unusual, so working on the racism and ableism is going to be a rough road.  I did all this the year Donald Trump was elected president, and many of my fellow Catholics said they had to vote for him because he’s “Pro-Life” (even *I* know he’s not, and I’m easy to fool).  I did all this the year I realized that I was Autistic.

In January, it’ll be one year into my new life as an Autistic, fat, white, heterosexual, Catholic, American woman.

It’s just one more part of my identity, but the one that makes me question so many other areas of my life.

I’ve noticed that the more junk is piled up around me in a messy format, the worse my life is at the moment.  I’m shit at executive function and I’m a piler, not a filer, but when it goes absolutely ridiculously bad, like can’t see the surface of the tables I try to work at bad, it’s all about to come undone.  I just cleaned a layer off the table today, and this is what I have now:



[Image: There’s a table underneath papers, a teapot, a water bottle, and a bunch of other junk; the bookshelves behind the table are piled high with books, yet there are gaps on the shelves.]

This is after some attention was given to it.

I suspect this meltdown was a long time coming.

At least my classes will be done soon.  If I can get through my revision work for the end of semester, that’ll be one thing.  If I can get through about 3 1/2 weeks after that, it’ll be Christmas break.  Small steps.

But for now, even though new responses loaded and I had work today and tomorrow, I took the rest of the weekend off from my standardized testing work.  I’m needed elsewhere.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a young child.  Writing doesn’t box you in like academia does, and it allows you to play the what-if games in your head all you want.  It allows weird schedules.  I know I need a day job, and I get that, but maybe the problem is that I keep going back to teaching as if it’s the full-time plan instead of a way to support my writing.  The stress has made me question my religious beliefs and my purpose in life.  I’m worried about burnout.  Being unable to speak a few weeks ago, questioning everything in my life this week and getting unusually stressed out about Thanksgiving this year have made me recognize there’s living with anxiety as a normal thing (which I do, and I think most of us Autistics do), but there’s high-gear anxiety that is so bad you actually notice it.  When we notice it, it’s teetering on the brink of at LEAST a major meltdown (which I had) or even burnout, when I may find myself unable to function on the level I can now for a longer period of time.

I need to declutter myself and start strategizing.  I need to learn what parts of what I’m doing now I actually want to do and which things I do because I’m nice.

I need to kick niceness out.

The neurotypicals know how to do it, so maybe I need to learn how to do the same.

But in the meantime, well, I think about Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, the devotion that says that Mary will take care of our problems.

These are not unsurmountable.  This all will pass.

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