Emotional dis-regulation, it’s hardly a snazzy blog title is it? I didn’t really know what it was until it was described to me last year. I recognised that at times I get overwhelmed, but never had a name for it. Often I respond to feelings without really knowing what is going on, I find it hard to name or recognise feelings at times. For example, yesterday I was having a terrible day, I couldn’t get out of the house for a walk, which was what I really wanted to do, instead choosing to distract myself with other things around the house which didn’t help my feelings of impending doom and anxiety. When I finally did push myself out of the house I gave myself space to think and realised that I was feeling anxious about my return to work on Monday, I just couldn’t recognise it in the moment. Mental Health professionals love to ask the question ‘ what do you think the trigger was?’ I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this question. I often feel that if I could find that ‘golden ticket’ life might be a bit more straightforward, at least I’d be able to answer their question. Sometimes the ticket is obvious, but at other times it comes without warning or explanation.
I recently had an evening where I was overwhelmed by emotions, I won’t go into what happened, but I felt so upset afterwards I couldn’t express what was wrong or eat and drink. I ended up in hospital with dehydration and low blood sugar, it took me 5 days to eat or drink anything. I did escape from this emotional black hole, I am not sure how or why. In the moment I’d given up, I didn’t want to keep trying or keep going. I felt horribly guilty being in hospital, others there had no choice in their health problems, I was making mine. This wasn’t enough to change how I felt though, as with what usually happens at the point I started to drink water the storm had suddenly passed, the sky was clearing and I wanted to try. As if someone had flicked a switched and everything had shifted. I’ll never forget the kindness of the medical staff, they knew I was autistic and dealt with things in such a patient and helpful way despite being incredibly busy, what a different experience to a psychiatric ward.
People say to distract yourself when you feel you can’t deal with your emotions. This is a great technique if you have control. I often take solace (pleasure being too strong a word) in walking in the woods – observing what is around me, the different earthy smell of the woodland to the contrasting sweet scent of the meadow. Yesterday I sat by a lake observing a teenaged coot and it’s mother hoovering up the weed, the last time I’d seen them the young coot was so small it would have looked large sat on my hand. There was no storm going on, so I could sit and absorb the moment. Prior to ending up in hospital the other week I could not absorb the moment, the emotions took control and distraction was impossible. I love to read, but when my mind is going 110 miles an hour reading feels like the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.
I recently started attending a post diagnostic autism group for adults, 6 sessions with other people recently diagnosed and 3 members of staff. One of the people delivering the group is also autistic and I am finding their insights and problem solving suggestions hugely helpful. Often they are simple solutions I’ve just not been able to conjure up myself, having someone else’s perspective that understands how things are feels really helpful and I wonder why more services don’t use this as part of therapy. When talking about ‘meltdowns’ this week I described how if I feel overwhelmed I will cry, this has been the case since I was old enough to communicate. People have accused me of ‘turning on the tears’ to get attention in the past or mistakenly thought I was really sad. This is not the case, often it’s where I feel like I have lost control of a situation, or if I am confused or feel misunderstood. I cried a lot when I started my new job last year as I was just too overwhelmed by the people, the new faces, new building. It’s something I really wish I could switch off about myself, as someone working in a professional environment it’s not the impression I want people to have of me, especially where I feel so competent when I know what I am doing and what is expected of me. When I have got upset it also takes a while to then correctly explain what the problem is, if I am even able to do this. Sometimes I try so hard to suppress crying it then all comes out in one huge unregulated mess at home.
I was talking to a friend last week about how much I like things which make me feel enveloped or to feel the emotion of others from afar, through music/media. I like to be battered in a storm -when it’s windy in every day life it makes me feel happy as I can imagine I am getting battered on a mountain. I like nothing more to be out in a snow storm struggling against the elements, fighting against the sea to tackle a difficult wave, being mentally and physically challenged in a cave. I like sad/emotive music, true life stories in books/film/documentary and soap operas which have challenging story lines, not because I want to wallow, but because I want to fill myself with feelings which aren’t mine.
I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of others on this subject, whatever your experiences or diagnosis is and how you regulate or work on these.