My living on the Spectrum includes hearing some things more loudly, tasting some things differently, smelling some things more strongly, and feeling some things more strongly.
It was supposed to be an ordinary afternoon assignment subbing for a teacher’s aide in a special education pre-school class. It turned into an unordinary day with a few sentences. It is easy to remember the date because it was Friday, the 13th. I’m not superstitious or anything, but that Friday, the 13th, will go down as memorable because I spent the afternoon in meltdown country while trying to pretend I wasn’t in one.
While I was watching three of the seven students in the play section, I was told to put something away. I wasn’t yelled at, but it took me back in my mind to 1st grade when the teacher had me stand in a corner. I imagine to a neurotypical, it would have been no big deal. Something that fell off one’s back. I so wish it could have been that way for me, but living on the Spectrum includes feeling things strongly.
I felt a thrust of panic shoot through me landing in the pit of my stomach. I can’t begin to guess how many times I’ve lived through similar experiences and it’s just as painful as it was when I was a child. I immediately responded in a socially acceptable way without showing any sign of my panic button going off. I didn’t want anyone to know I was falling in meltdown country. I had a job to do and had to keep what was going on in my inner being a secret somehow.
Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to assist one of the students who was severely autistic. Try to imagine this picture: A 58-year-old woman with autism trying to calm down a 5-year-old child with autism while she is fighting back tears as she is melting down inside. It is sort of like the blind helping the blind.
The thinking part of my brain was telling me, “All you need to do from now on is… It is no big deal, stop thinking about it, etc.” That was logic talking and there’s nothing logical about my hypersensitivity. There were no shortcuts. I had to weather through all the stages of fear, shame, guilt, and anger before I would ever feel any peace about it.
Then, it came time for gym class. The activity was video dances and the lights were out while the kids danced. Thanks to the lights being out, I was relieved of having to fight back the tears. I let them stream down my face. I wanted so much to retreat to a corner, rock myself silly, and cry my heart out.
One thing that replayed over in my mind was the school day would end and I could make my escape back to my safe place at home. I had been looking forward to the weekend but I knew a cloud would hang over it by reliving the afternoon episode of my Friday, the 13th.
The tears had dried up by the next morning but there was anger brewing. I went to the tennis range and hit the ball against the wall. My game of tennis was off because I took my frustration out on the ball. I was whacking that ball as if I was hitting what brought on my meltdown. If the ball could have talked, it might have said, “Hey, I didn’t do anything!!!”
Prayer without ceasing was a constant as I weathered the turbulence. The Lord’s Spirit spoke to my heart that it will pass and I knew it would. A verse that came to mind was:
2 Samuel 22:29
You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.
I didn’t lose my sense of humor. No meltdown has ever taken that; at least, not yet. I chuckled at my thought that come the next Friday the 13th, I should spend it in hibernation.
I’m one of those on the Spectrum who takes a long time to get over even a small slight. I predict I will have a conversation a decade from now if I should live so long in the shower about what I might have done or said differently on that Friday the 13th.