(Before I get into the details of the post, if you haven’t read it already – or if you read it before Jan. 09/13 – I would greatly appreciate you reading all the way through my First Post. Then feel free to come back. Thank you.)
Originally, this post was going to be about my diagnosis, and how it felt to finally have that official medical validation that said, “Yes, I have Asperger’s. Yes, I am on the autistic spectrum.”
But then I read The Third Glance’s article about how she survived jury duty, and in my response, I found myself explaining about why I wouldn’t make a good candidate for jury duty. I don’t have as much trouble processing audial/verbal input as she does, though I know I’d end up exhausted at the end of each day. No, my reason was both much more and much less complex, in some ways.
I can’t make decisions.
Oh, I’m not talking about decisions like, “What shall I wear today?” (though that can be difficult in other ways – what’s the socially correct clothing to wear in the situation I’m going to be in today, and do I really care?) or, “What shall I have for dinner tonight?” Notice the “I”.
If I have to make a decision that affects more than just me (and / or my cats, who in the ways that matter to this, are almost like extensions of myself) – I have an enormous amount of difficulty doing so. A question of, “So what are we having for dinner tonight?”, if I haven’t already planned out a menu, leaves me doing pretty much the only thing that comes to mind in that situation: asking back, “What would you like for dinner tonight?” Or, “What coffee shop shall we go to today?” – gets a response of, “Where would you like to go?”
I can imagine, for anyone (NT or ASD), having the questions turned around on you can be irritating. But unless I’m forced to, I just can’t make that decision!
And by “forced”, I do not mean “pressured”. I mean… encouraged, I guess. Being told something like, “It’s your choice today,” or “You know that’s your job,” etc. It’s still horrendously unpleasant, but that… is sort of like permission, like saying, “Okay, it doesn’t matter if I don’t like what you decide, I won’t get angry with you.” Thinking about it – and I’ve found over the past few days that I’m getting new insights into myself even as I write responses to people, so I shouldn’t be surprised that ones happen when I’m writing out my own posts – yes, I think that’s exactly the process my subconscious goes through. “Okay, it doesn’t matter if where we go / what you make / etc. is ‘inappropriate’, it’s still all right.”
Then… there’s the matter of being pressured. Of being pushed or hurried into making a decision. Of being told, “Are you coming or not? Make up your mind!”
And I freeze.
Freezing isn’t exactly a meltdown. A meltdown is where things are so chaotic and messed up that we can’t process them, so we have to scream or cry it out. Freezing is where we get stuck on something – a mental block, or a decision, or something requiring some sort of action – that we can’t move past. The results can be alike – I often end up teary when I freeze, and I lose language just like I do in a meltdown – I can still understand, but I can’t express; but the causes are different.
In a case like the above, I just can’t go forward, in any direction. There’s no safety net waiting for me, no one to make the decision for me, and I can’t make the decision for myself. That’s why I describe it as a freeze.
I don’t think my parents understand this. Not because I haven’t tried to tell them – unfortunately, usually only when I’m in the middle of one of these situations, and the only script I have to fall back on is the words, “I can’t make decisions,” – which doesn’t exactly communicate the details and what is actually going on inside my head. And there’s a chasm-gap between the communications of NTs and ASDs that makes it hard to transmit a message to the other side and have it understood in the way you meant it.
(Have you ever played the game “Telephone”? One person comes up with a phrase, whispers it to the person next to him, and on it goes throughout the group. The last person repeats what he heard out loud. And it’s generally quite different from the original message. That’s a lot of what trying to communicate between ASD and NT seems like to me. One says the original message, the other gets the end message. Doesn’t matter which end is which – the communication gap is there.)
But the responsibility is partially mine. Before this, I’ve never thought of writing it out to give to them – and I always communicate much better (on both sides of the divide) in writing, rather than verbally. So Mom, Dad, I apologize. Next issue, I’ll try to remember that writing does better (and, as mentioned above, can perhaps give me more insight into what I’m actually trying to communicate about).
But, onto at least part of the reason I’ve always had so much trouble making decisions – especially when there have been pros and cons to either side. I don’t know why – maybe because I read so many books that emphasized the shades of grey in the world, maybe because someone once told me to weigh out the pros and cons before making a decision – it was probably subconscious; but I have a habit of seeing both sides of an equation. Or all sides. And if there are pros on each side… I can’t choose. I can’t weigh one against another and come out with an answer that makes sense, either to me or in the neurotypical world. I just… can’t.
And describing that in my response to the post about jury duty referenced above, made me remember another post, this one by Aspects of Asperger’s – I just assumed she was lazy. About 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the post, AoA explains about how our brains have trouble prioritizing things. They can’t pick out what’s important from what’s not important – which may be part of the reason our sensory filters can be so damaged. They also have trouble with sequencing, which is often linked to prioritizing.
And that’s a big part of the answer. I can’t prioritize enough to understand how much weight to give to one side of the argument, and how much weight to give to the other(s). How do I juggle wanting to see relatives with needing to curl up in a dark room and relax – or with wanting to read some of my favourite stories again? How do I decide which coffee shop would work better?
The approval counts as well, of course. I’ve sought approval all my life – and found a fair bit of it through my writing. But I think the beginning of it was the prioritization.
So. I’ve managed to get this all out, and without needing to go through too many tissues. Yay me!
Now I’m going to curl up, cuddle my cat, turn out the lights, and go to sleep. I need it.
[Edit: Jan. 09/13]
Thanks, Mom, for reading this. I do appreciate it – and everything you do for me.
For those of you who aren’t my mother who are reading this, we’re now going to sit down every Sunday after breakfast, and work out a menu for the week (the meals she’s going to make, and the ones I’m going to make – we share the duties, so I get used to cooking dinner). This will relieve a lot of the pressure I sometimes feel, and it will also make it easier to shop for groceries. Not to mention: Another life skill for my (currently) semi-poor “portfolio”.
And I will remember that it is easier to communicate when I feel a gap if I write it out.
Hi! Well, as promised I stopped by your place and read through your blog while I walked on the treadmill. Now that I am back at my computer and can type (not so good at typing while walking!) I wanted to come back to this post. When I read that you and your mom are going to sit down and do a weekly menu I was like, “YES!” I started doing that a decade ago and it was so very helpful when the kids were younger because we sat at the dinner table and made the menu together with everyone’s input AND I then put the completed menu on the refrigerator so everyone knew what we were having and I got none of the “What are we having for dinner? Ewww, I don’t like that!” routine. Moreover, doing the menu did help with the grocery shopping because the menu drove the grocery list. But you know, the most important thing that came from this and what compelled me to write was by taking 10 minutes to do the menu I didn’t have to make any decisions the week rest of the week about cooking I simply executed the decisions that were already made and posted on the menu. This is HUGE! My son Ted does this now with his meal planning. We grocery shop together on Sunday and he gets pretty much the same food each week and he cooks it and eats it in the same order. Less thinking. We recently applied this same thinking to keeping his room organized as I read you are now doing also. We went through and got rid of anything he doesn’t use. Some things he wanted to keep for sentimental reasons so we boxed them up and put them in the attic. Out of sight and out of the way. We paired down his wardrobe to just essentials. More clothes just means more mess and more thinking about what to wear. Instead he has a few basics and wears them until they wear out. In high school he wore the same thing every single day- jeans, a white shirt and his grey hoodie. So we bought a couple pair of jeans and a ton of white t shirts. That way he never had to think about what to wear to school. Fashionable? Not so much. But easy? You betcha! Your post just made me think about simplifying and removing decisions when we can so that decisions can be saved for those things we don’t have control over. I know it helps me and I know it helps Ted. Sounds like you are on the right track too! 🙂