The Shutdown Experience
As I write this I am coming out of a partial shutdown from this morning. (about 3 hours ago actually) Interestingly this little event happened to me as I walked into my therapist’s office for “Social Skills Training”…. Except it did not happen exactly at that time. There was actually a long lead time into this and several factors all played. But I remember the exact trigger for the rapid decline of my abilities was the light from the lamp on the table near the door hitting me in the eye as I walked through the door. Then the subsequent noise that it made as well as the pain it sent soaring through my body triggered several events that can be called a partial shutdown. Let’s start at the beginning….
My psychologist asked me last week if I could change my time of sessions. Besides being a change in my routine, this change also put me at risk of having to be in traffic before my sessions. I have avoided the 10:00AM or earlier time slot for this reason until this time but decided we could try it to see if it really was a big deal. I figured that I have sat in traffic before and can handle traffic in most other events. After our last session the Doctor and I also talked about changing our relationship and/or session format. We left things a bit in the air and he said he would settle his intent for this session with me in email prior to the session this morning. That never happened.
So there I sat in my car ready to make this session. I was dealing with a new time, more traffic and the anxiety of not knowing what to expect when I got there. This does not even mention that being in psychologist’s office in general is really hard for me. I still get anxious around this group of people as I try to navigate communications with them and my place in their world.
When I get up in this AM I instantly feel stress over the meeting I have to miss to make this session at this new time. Additionally I get 2 emails that are very “heavy” from friends/family that I note will require thoughtful replies on my part. I look at my facebook page and it is exploding with stuff I have to weigh in on as well. I check my work tasks for the day and note that I am buried. I put that all aside and jump in my car for the hour plus commute to this session.
All is well until I am about 7 miles from his office. There apparently was an accident just outside the tunnel and so traffic was very bad. I sat in traffic that moved from 0-2 mph for 30 minutes and I watched the clock as I became late for my appointment. The noise of the brakes squeaking got louder and louder. The truck next to me backfired; the exhaust smells became heavy as does the smell of the city. I am trapped in this line of cars and cannot turn back. I feel anger welling in me and I scream silently about how stupid this all is. I curse the Doctor and his sessions and I curse my ASD. As I am screaming in my head, the noises, sights and smells assault me and mock me even more.
Finally, I make it to his office at 15 minutes past the hour. I ascend the 10 flights via elevator (I hate elevators) since I did not have time to do the stairs. I again feel trapped. I ring the bell in the waiting room and pace madly in the hallway waiting for him to show up. When he shows, I am incapable of any sort of pleasantries and my language was gone (though I did not know it at that time). I storm past him ready to explode. As I enter his office the light from the little lamp on the table next to the door hits me in the eyes and I see a flash (like photography) and hear a loud pop (like backfire) and that is when I could no longer process visually. I saw nothing but purple and black and tan pieces of data. I threw down my bag and sat in the chair. I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to tell him how stupid he was but I knew it was irrational so I suppressed it all. I tried to think of how to speak in a polite way but all I saw where thousands of pictures and sounds and smells. The room would not up level, so I could not see the room. He said something to me but I did not comprehend.
At that point I began to panic and fight this thing that was happening. I saw myself being lifted in a bubble as all the data came at me as if through water. Sounds, sights all warbled. He spoke again but I did not comprehend. As I fought to come back to the room and to the session I was assaulted by the sounds of the traffic outside. The little lights in the office burned my skin and my eyes. I wanted to tell him to shut them off but I had no language. I mouthed the words, I typed them with an invisible keyboard and I wrote them in the air. I saw my Father after his stroke. He was mouthing words in an attempt to speak but he could not. I was doing the same. That part of my brain was essentially useless to me as it was to him after his stroke. Panic kept creeping into my systems and I kept being lifted from the office. I fought hard to get out of the bubble. I took many deep breaths with hands over my ears and opened my eyes. I could now see the office except the colors were all messed up. Everything was brown and black patches sort of like the digital camouflage. More fighting was needed. I stimmed by bouncing my legs, I held my ears, I rocked and I prayed to please just let me come back and to be okay and functional.
He did not recognize what was going on but sat quietly by for a long while. I wished for him to vanish as his breath took mine away. I could not believe that I was crashing this hard in front of someone. I had never done this before to this extent or this visibly. I simply had no control over this. He saw that I was working on language, but he did not get that I could not speak. He requested that I tell him what I am mouthing under my breath. (duh…) This shut me down again for awhile. Finally, I was able to look up and piece together the room visibly but still could not speak. I pointed to the white board and he set it up. I wrote the words,
Shutting down cannot speak
Traffic = bad
Everything hurts me
This was stupid
He then comprehended that I was compromised in my autistic sort of way. He apologized for asking me to come in at a different time and said we will not attempt to do that again. He also wrote on the board that he was sorry that I was in pain. For some reason that angered me, though I know it was well intended. I did not wish for his pity in that moment, only his understanding. I wrote for him to turn off the lamps. (They were still hurting me) He did.
Finally I grabbed my laptop and typed out a message to him asking if we could reschedule. I knew that if he and I tried to communicate with me in this compromised state that I would hurt him. All I wanted to do was to hurt him and I knew that was wrong. He agreed and he also agreed that he would FOR SURE tell me what to expect BEFORE my next session.
Lesson for me today is that this work that I do in session is a stressor and more real than I had realized. It can very easily cause me system failure. I realize that if I want to continue these sessions that he and I will have to play a very careful game of managing routine, control and my needs as a person affected by ASD. I mean, why would either of us assume that it was okay to make all those changes for one of my sessions? What part of “I’m autistic” does he not understand?
Interesting stuff all around and my first ever actual partial shutdown in front of anyone is now behind me. My day at work is nearly shot as I have been 100% mute, hiding in a dark room and not able to call into any meetings either since that event. Hopefully I can recover before the evening to get some of my key tasks done so that I can catch up from this less than stellar day. That way I can relax into the weekend…
Tell me again how this ASD thing is a “gift”?