Accepting Emotional Regulation

My Feelings

Last year, I discovered Asperger’s syndrome and emotional regulation were connected. For many on the autism spectrum, emotions come in three flavors: happy, depressed, and anxious. Typical people detect a broad, nuanced range of emotion, whereas some autistic individuals possess emotional dials that click on grooves set at too happy, too anxious, or too depressed.

Happiness

My good moods have never been manic, but they are disproportionate. I’m rarely a little jolly; I’m full-on yahoo happy.  My tipping point for bliss is low. A new set of watercolors evokes a shout and a jig, which I try not to perform in front of the craft store staff.   Even when I eat, I am not normal. I am jazzed because these nachos are delicious!!!

My proclivity for cheer is a blessing. Despite other dysregulated emotions, I am grateful to bob in a mirthful sea.

Depression

Opposing happiness is depression. I equate depression with being tired. Not tired in an I-need-to-sleep way, but tired in an I-need-to-be-alone way.

This weariness is a murky, heavy sensation. Like a thick toxic gas, it engorges the limbs and stifles the mind. For me, this miserable state is indistinguishable from all other negative emotions.

In fact, I experience illness, tiredness, boredom, and depression exactly the same.   I only differentiate these conditions by how they respond to various interventions:

  • Illness responds to rest.
  • Tiredness responds to tea.
  • Boredom responds to art.
  • Depression responds to activity.

Each time fatigue grips me, the Cure List brings relief. It may be cumbersome, but the strategy helps me more than any diet, therapy, supplement, or medication. I advocate a list strategy for all who struggle with “big chunk” emotions.

Anxiety

My Anxieties

While I cannot differentiate negative emotions, I can categorize a thousand types of anxiety. Perhaps my experience of happiness and depression are crude because my mental wiring is bound up with endless gradations of anxiety. Every miniscule discomfort and nagging worry enjoys its own specific register.  The unease of an unlocked door differs from the fretfulness of unsanitized hands.

Likewise, not recognizing someone I should know prickles my skin in a different way than missing an obvious joke.

My son, however, cannot discern anxiety from anger.  To him, all anxiety feels like anger.   I wonder how many “anger management” classes host similarly wired individuals.

Accept Autism

Self-Acceptance

Literature concerning self-acceptance tends to ignore the greater issue of societal acceptance. A person who experiences emotions differently than the majority can feel isolated, especially when pressure is put on them to conform.  Emotions are our deepest, most personal gifts and the last place anyone should meddle.

I encourage spectrumites struggling with emotional regulation to pursue strategies to boost their quality of life. Keep a mood journal and look for “big block” patterns—that’s how I recognized that I experience negative states as tired and positive states as “really happy.”

Experiment with what helps regulation and document the activities that enhance wellness the most. After I’ve drank my tea, I kick-start a sluggish brain with some organizing (or spinning!). It pulls me out of a depressed day I would have confused with a sick day. And when I’m sick—Netflix!

I love floating through life with extra happiness.  I channel the mental zing anxiety gives me into worthy tasks. I still struggle with negative states but my tools work well. I accept myself.

We each can be our own master, our own specialist, notebooks and calculator in hand. Even when our brains muddle over feelings we can use our strengths as data gathers and pattern recognition experts to craft our own wellness. Meet life’s persistent challenges with confidence by mastering the strategies that work best for you.

The Mystery of the Thinning Hair

Countessa with Squid by Omar Rayyan
Countessa with Squid by Omar Rayyan.

Ah, to possess tentacle hair!

With my luck, one side would still be limp and scraggly. Could I comb my tentacles over to one side to cover up? No. This is my latest strategy, however.

I part my hair to the side. I’ve worn it that way for years. When my bangs misadjust themselves, a toss of my head rearranges them. What people who don’t live with me miss, is that I toss my head interminably throughout the day.

The frequency and intensity of head tossing is directly related to two things—anxiety of course, and the length of my bangs.  To keep my head tossing muscles from becoming too prominent and glossy, I schedule bimestral hair appointments.

Our family stylist, Kira, is a blessing. She has a brother with Asperger’s, so she is very sensitive to Tyoma and me.  She entertains and soothes Tyoma with the flair of a favorite aunt.  On a particularly twitchy morning, she hauled out the big book of hair colors for me to peruse. She knew I would savor the nylon expanse of color.

I feel so comfortable with Kira, I shared my worry over the problematic right side of my head.

My hair has a fine, European texture.  One woman told me I had “Disney Princess” hair. This is the most laughable thing I ever heard.  My hair is soft and silky—but it is distributed in a bizarre manner.

The back of my head is a tropical tangle and the left side is modestly dense. The right side, however, is thinning badly. It isn’t quite Yoda-ish, but at the rate my hair is thinning, I am concerned.

Kira suggested I might be doing something specific to thin my hair. Do I sleep always on the same side? No.  Do I twist or tug at my hair? No.

Trichotillomaniacs pepper our family, so I took note. I might pursue a pimple with lusty gusto, but I don’t pull out my hair. We decide to style my hair parted to the left to normalize my appearance.

As she finishes my ‘do, she encouraged me. “It will occur to you, Lori. One moment you will be doing something…” She paused and tipped her head to the side. Dramatically she swooped her fingers through her hair. “And you will realize what is thinning your hair.”

In an instant, I realized– that is what I do!  I am a compulsive hair-raker.  I must rake my hands through the right side of my hair three dozen times a day. I never connected my quirk with hair loss. I don’t fuss with the left side because I am right-handed. I would not reach across my field of vision.

Kira solved a grand mystery. I’ve had periodic thinning for years. Under stress, I rake manically. Raking is a tic of sorts, a nervous re-adjustment.

Why would anybody rake their hair into such a state? Well, you would pull up a pair of sinking baggy pants. You notice the sensation, and hike up your trousers. If the sensation is too annoying, you get a new pants or a belt. I am stuck with my scalp, so I might consider a headband.

Ha.  I reckon I’d wind up with a little bald ring circumnavigating my head, so perhaps not.

Heaven help me, I might need to use some self-control!

Portrait is “Countessa with Squid” by the incredible Omar Rayyan.

A Birthday Wish

mombday

Six hours of labor and here it is. Yet, it is not enough. I could make a thousand adjustments to render my mother’s birthday picture perfect. Yet, it is not enough.

I remember the final project for my eighth grade Home Economics class. We had to sew a novelty pillow. I chose the roller-skate pattern, since I fancied myself a skater on par with Olivia Newton John (Xanadu!).

Mom took me to Surplus City, the biggest fabric store in town.   The silent warehouse smelled of cotton and dust.  Expanses of colors, patterns and textures called for long and deliberate perusal.  Mom understood this would be a good start to a difficult project.

We spent an eternity at the store searching through bolts and bins. I chose a soft white flannel with bright red polka-dots. Mom wisely purchased double the fabric. This came in handy after my first pillow turned out puckered and misshapen.

Each iteration found a new way to be disagreeable and un-roller skate like. I complained about the noise in the school sewing room. The other girls were too chatty and I could not concentrate.  I never got to use the same machine twice.  Mom suggested I take my project home to work on.

Even at home I had trouble. I tried so hard, but by brain seemed unable to communicate with my hands.  My pillow contrasted poorly with the plump and pretty model roller skate.

Anxious and overwrought, I didn’t sleep the night before my pillow was due. Mom let me take the day off of school to rework my project. Even with her help, my roller skate drooped unevenly.  We lamented that home economics was a mandatory class for girls. We further lamented that we were not a family of sewers.

Later, we laughed when the teacher barely glanced at my project and gave me an “A.” The teacher appreciated my frustration.  She said, “The roller skate is the hardest one. Next year, we will take it off the project list.” Next year, girls could take shop, too.

Late in the eve of my mother’s birthday, I found myself maniacally toiling over her birthday greeting. I stopped and asked myself if the perfect application of light and shadow mattered so much. My mom does not grade me, she knows I love her.

I still feel the need to craft Mom some perfect thing. I need to express my gratitude for her never-ending patience and wisdom. But Mom, like the teacher, will see the love behind the work and accept me, imperfect me.

I love you Mom, Happy Birthday.

Digital elements by Dawn Inkskip.