Well, readers, this last week in Missoula has been hell for me. I know I am supposed to be excited about moving, seeing Harry Potter, and beginning a new life in Victoria, but a few things have gotten in the way of me being able to enjoy this anticipation. Compressing the story: my home life went to pot owing to dealing with a housemate mentally and physically imploding due to drug abuse. Things are better now, but for the past three weeks, I’ve been quashing any desire I had to express my true feelings so that I could maintain some semblance of normalcy, and ensure that my other housemate knew she could depend on me during this difficult time, and the housemate with the mental health issues didn’t feel overwhelmed by knowing that he was upsetting me.
All of that is over now, but I have been having difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and I’ve been feeling very ill and losing my grip on my mental health. I couldn’t do any of the things I normally turn to in order to keep my health in check, like walking, stimming, or reading. I felt like my feet were made out of lead, and I found myself reading the same sentence over and over again when I tried to read a book, even an old favourite. Tonight, it kind of exploded out of me like a volcano, and I ended up vomiting into the toilet. I had a fever, my skin was breaking out in scaly red patches, and my stomach was so explosive and disorderly I thought that I had food poisoning. I could feel a panic attack coming on, so I dug into my emergency stash of anti-anxiety medication, which I have mercifully not needed for two years until now, and calmed down. I put a cool towel on my head, drank about five glasses of water, and turned on every fan in the house so I could cool down. Right now, I really wish I could fill an entire bathtub with ice water and anti-itching products, and soak myself in it.
This got me thinking, now that my head is in the right place again, about how we talk about anxiety in autistic women. It’s often said that we “internalize” the pain and anxiety, making for a more difficult diagnosis. I know it certainly applies to me, I can feel the boulders on my back when I’m under stress, but I don’t often express it: I have a great fear of crying in public, and I’m embarrassed when I have a public meltdown. I want to be comforting and assuring, stoic and full of courage, and save my tears and pain for private. But this obviously doesn’t work better for me in the long run. If tears don’t give it away, then red patches of skin and panic attacks surely will!
Why do we teach people that negative feelings are to be quelled and hidden? Why must we live in fear of expressing that side of our emotional spectra? For autistic people, this is dangerous. Contrary to popular belief, we do feel the full deck of human emotions and feelings, but we need to learn how to manage them in healthy ways, so we don’t end up having to experience what I did, and end up turning away from them until they overpower us.
I’m not going to internalize my anxieties, my anger, my fear, my sadness any longer. I’m going to become one of those fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves when I need to be, and the only emotions I hope to internalize from now on are introspect, serenity, and self-realization. There’s a place for all emotions in my mind, but some need to be exorcised and given an escape more than others.