autism and emotions

I’ve been thinking about the way in which I process emotions and how that might differ from a neurotypical (non autistic) person. I believe that because I’m autistic I have as much difficulty identifying and processing my own emotions as I do other people’s.

I find experiencing strong emotions overwhelming and frightening. When I have a feeling my first instinct is to run away. Running away can take several forms, it may be that I choose to numb the emotion by smoking, or avoid the emotion by being busy and surrounded by people. In some cases I will literally run away, I have been known to leave my family and run in the opposite direction as fast as I can.

All of these reactions occur because I’m frightened of experiencing the sensations associated with emotions. I do not think ‘ah this is sadness, perhaps I am sad because….what I will do is…’. It’s much more fight or flight.

I experience emotions with all my senses. A deep feeling inside me, an unsettled sensation. My thoughts become more chaotic and race around my head. The light in the room takes on a different quality and sounds become alive and frighten me. But I cannot say that I feel X, Y or Z, only that I feel something and I don’t like it.

I feel out of control and I like to feel in control because sometimes that feels like all I have keeping me from floating away.

Positive emotions make me hyper stimulated. I can’t stop talking, moving and participating. They are fun at first but in time they become too much, I need to settle and I can’t. I’m aware that I’m annoying people but I can’t cease. I race on and on until I am physically exhausted by it.

This is my normal. I’ve always assumed that everyone else experiences emotions the same way and wondered how they seem to deal with them so much more calmly. I felt like a failure because I wan unable to do so.

So what’s the solution? I don’t want to spend my whole life blown about by the wind of my emotional state. Running from the sensations until they overwhelm me completely and I melt down.

I think that I need to pause. To allow myself extra processing time to identify the emotion and figure out the best way to handle it. Yesterday I had opportunity to try this technique and though the results where not perfect they felt like a step in the right direction.

In the morning I had to deal with a difficult situation. I came home and cried for several hours, initially I followed my usual instinct and I avoided, I visited a friend and I smoked. Then I came home and decided to change the pattern. So I found a yoga session on You Tube aimed at people feeling stressed and upset.

After I’d done the yoga I felt calmer and more able to sit with my feelings. I adjusted my schedule to allow myself to cope with them and I managed to get through the day without meltdown, nor reactionary behaviour like arguing with my husband or becoming irritable with my children.

This gave me hope. Next time I would like to go straight to the yoga or whatever is needed and move forward having identified how I’m feeling and what I can do that will be most helpful in that moment.

I think it will probably always be difficult for me to identify my emotions and they may always feel a little overwhelming. However if I can learn to sit tight with them and make good choices for dealing with them then I will feel like I’m coping better with my autism.

How do you experience emotions, whether autistic or not? Please share in the comments so that I can understand these experiences more.