Sobbing breakdowns, or the narrow averting of them, aren’t just something that happens on a bad day. This is one of the things I’m not sure people understand about the autistic brain.
Today at my nonprofit project, since the weather was nice and we had enough people on hand, we had our first visiting hours since relocating in late December. The first public visitors, in fact, that the goats have had for two months or so, since we’d closed up shop before the move in order to focus our weekends on doing the necessary work.
We spent the morning filling in what we think are old, sunken-in gopher holes to rid the field of trip hazards, and afterward, while some volunteers worked on finishing the smaller of the two shelters, I spent most of the day staffing the gate, greeting people, letting them know they could come in, and doing some version of my rules patter.
Over the course of four hours or so, we had a steady stream of visitors, but not too many at any one time, and there were no hassles to deal with or warnings to give out. Everyone behaved themselves, enjoyed themselves, and everything about the day went smoothly.
Nonetheless, on the way back home, just a few minutes into having stopped to run a grocery errand, I had something of an executive functioning crash and found myself toward the back of the store, unable to make a decision about which way to move, or what I needed to do next. It didn’t last long, but it happened, and when that happens in public it’s at least a tiny bit terrifying.
By the time I actually made it home, while the sobbing breakdown didn’t come, I could feel it, hovering around the edges. I guess considering its options?
An outside observer would look at the day, look at how it went, see the crisp, sunny winter day, the work getting done without struggle or strife, the people enjoying getting to visit inside with the goats, and probably not understand getting to the end and having one’s brain seize up, and one’s emotional state threaten to crumble.
But that’s what the autistic brain is like. Not all the time. Not every day. But, yes, even on some of the good days. Even with a routine script of sorts that you use when having to be socially performative with people, even if you’re talking to them about something that means something to you personally, all those moments, together with the finishing up the backfill around the yard hydrant and carting buckets of dirt around, they can be too much.
Even when no single part of it all, nor even the entire thing taken as a whole, is, per se, “bad”.
You can maybe start to see why I’m still in a year-long autistic burnout that flared up when I tried to go back to steady, daily paid employment last year. Why I’ve not yet tried again. Why I’m flailing impotently at Social Security to give me something to hold onto while I try to find out if I even can.
Yes, today was a good day. But the way my brain is wired doesn’t always care about good or bad. Sometimes it just cares about impact.
But imagine what the bad days are like.