Trigger Warnings: expletives, ableist language
This morning, I had a lot of decisions to make–to go to the gym (the right decision), or to stay home (the lazy decision); to get breakfast from Nob Hill (the cheaper option) or Whole Foods (the better option); to bring my change of clothes with me to the Aquarium and change before leaving (the comfortable choice), or to keep them in the car and change when I got to my final destination (the more comfortable choice).
I was also feeling really antsy. Two days ago, a coworker had made the assertion that Estonia was in Eastern Europe, which, according to the EU, the UN, EuroVoc and nearly every reputable source, it is not. I told him it was a Northern European country, and he said I was wrong, and that he didn’t care. So I drew him a map of Europe and it’s political boundaries during a quiet few moments to show him that Estonia was not in fact in Eastern Europe, whose boundary is considered Russia, Belarus and Poland to the North. He didn’t care, and still maintained it’s in Eastern Europe. That really bugged me. And still does.
I was also thrown off by a power outage that began around 6:43 (at least, that’s when my computer’s internet failed) this morning, and was still feeling a bit stimulated after a family party last night.
So, on the way to the gym in the morning, in between belting out Alanis Morissette (LOL), I talked to myself. A lot. And I worked through some of the decisions. And I explained again my frustration that my coworker refused to listen about something on which he was clearly wrong.* As well as my frustration that the power had to fail at 6:43. And then I did some soothing self-talk to help myself get in a good mindset after the stress from last night and this morning and two days ago.
Thinking out loud can be something super helpful, even powerful, for many Autistics and me. It’s calming. It helps some of us deal with anxiety constructively. When speaking aloud perseveratively, it eases the tension that I and some others feel when those around us do or say something incorrect, and it’s not social acceptable recognize or explain their error. And it can also serve as the vector for which I and some others are most comfortable when thinking in words.
For example, when I was a kid and I was told to think about something silently and come back with a response, it was almost impossible for me to do so. I would try to think of something constructively, but I couldn’t. It was like my mind went blank. And then I would be called on to respond. The first few seconds I would falter…but once I had uttered a few words, I was right on track, and I could process a logical answer.
As I’ve gotten older, I’m able to think in words in my head much better than when I was a kid, but nonetheless, there are times when I need to speak aloud to myself. Nothing else will quell the anguish or overload I’m feeling. Sometimes I’m in the car this morning, or my bedroom, and it’s no one will know or be bothered.
But other times, I’m in public, say walking on the recreational path to my car after work, and I’m perseverating on the elderly women who got mad at me because I refused her free entry into the Aquarium with her grandchild on her deceased-of-two-year’s aunt’s more-than-a-year-long-expired-membership-card.
Work can be difficult, especially when I have to listen to someone tell me absolute bullshit, and still smile, be respectful, and take the blame for erroneous things they did, do, or continue to do, despite my and others’ reminders not to. That’s a sentiment that nearly all of my coworkers share with me from time to time. But whereas they (neurotypical by assumption) can brush the feelings off or ignore them, I can’t, at least not easily.
Speaking my frustrations aloud takes the pressure in my head away, or at least lessens it. And on the bike trail for the past few months, whenever people weren’t around, I would speak to myself, working through the emotions I was feeling and their causes. It helped a lot. But as soon as I saw people, I’d shut up. I didn’t want them to see me speak to myself.
I’ve learned over the years that talking to myself is Not Allowed. And not just in English. Talking to myself in Trianese (my 3 year old language), Gaeillans (my 11-16 year old language), Latin, Ancient Greek, Spanish and Portuguese was also Not Allowed. I found this out because my family told me multiple times for each that it bugged the fuck out of them, that it was weird, and that I needed to stop, on top of the fact that they hated that I was speaking in a language they couldn’t understand.
I still feel ashamed when I feel the urge to process words aloud. But I’m trying to work through it. Last night after a very busy day at work, I started speaking aloud. The trail was crowded with people, but I didn’t pay attention to their stares. Sometimes I spoke in English, other times in Portuguese, but in both I decompressed from the day’s stress, soothed myself, and congratulated myself for eating a good lunch.
Yes, I felt uncomfortable having people stare at me, but I also felt so much relieved being able handle the world around me in the way that felt most comfortable, and worked most effectively for me.
❤ Piija Suoynna Riistia (The blog alter ego I’ve settled on!)
Autistic Ally Tip: Try and let Autistics speak allow if they need to. And if you want them to stop, try and understand why–is it because you need silence (in which case, try and frame it as you need silence, not that you need them to shut up), or is it because you find it a bit ‘crazy’ or ‘weird’?
*I would have enjoyed if he had a well-structured argument to defend his assertion. The CIA world fact book, for example, lists Estonia in Eastern Europe (it’s the only reputable source to do so). Now, I have serious issues with their classification of Eastern Europe–it doesn’t include many countries conventionally included. But he could have argued that its history with Russia warranted a Eastern European labeling.