Saturday, November 5, 2016

"Ain't Nothing Gonna Break My Stride" or At Least not Long Term Anyway...Mutism, Resilience, Autistic Shutdown and a Story of Thievery.

Life is rich with complexities, contradictions, dark and light. And we have got to keep on moving until we simply can't anymore. Unfortunately, some people are unlucky enough to be constantly knocked down. While we have had our share of issues, I consider our life lovely in general and am grateful for the luck of our draw.

But a couple days ago my stride broke. I had a momentary lapse of momentum and positive outlook. In complete honesty- I broke. I didn't speak for an entire afternoon. I went mute.

Plenty of stresses were leading up to that moment. Some were handled efficiently and effectively ( I am a 'J' type after all,) while others, wellllllllll they were brushed under a rug until I could problem solve. And those became carpet monsters.

Someone in my immediate circles had been on a drug that had helped for awhile but was causing severe outbursts. I finally figured out, after months of wondering why I had a Jekyll and Hyde on my hands, that most of it was medication induced. Five glorious days after quitting that enhancer, our days became more manageable. And then our truck was stolen with all of our business tools inside.

To be honest, the truck was a piece of junk and the suckers who stole it laughably had to abandon it close to home. But we had co workers tools and my husband's construction gear stowed inside. Our tools were insured but because most of our recent receipts were in the stolen console, we did not have proof of ownership, thus we were not going to be insured even though we have paid through the nose to protect our business...and that fact caused it's share of stress. Note to all business people- don't just keep receipts- have well documented pictures because those are also accepted. For a day I thought we would have to go into debt again, after we worked our butts off to be out of large debt, simply because we were an innocent victim of crime. We were ready to take out loans (which goes against all we have worked towards) and we had to pay for a new licence plate in case the criminals used ours and we had to be responsible to get our truck back to town at whatever cost.

I have always been delighted at thievery capers on TV. I find them fascinating and fun. However, being a victim enabled a completely different perspective. It's not just the infringement of privacy and the invasion of our false sense of security that affects, but also the tedious details that come AFTER a crime. The phone calls from police, statements, waivers, insurance policy, red tape....we found out the system is really not working for most victims. In fact, it's failing abominably. Crime really does not pay...for the victim. But the criminals? If not caught, they get to wreak havoc and ruin small, normal lives. I used to think that white collar crimes were no biggie. I mean, it could be worse, but after our very tiny incident I realized that on a larger scale, it really is life and death in a deeper way. There are worse crimes, but stolen property does affect the psyche more than I previously thought. Stuff is not easy to recover. It's stressful and that trite statement of "it's just least it's not a life" is not FULL enough. Yup, it is just stuff. But stuff that contributes to a life. Stuff that is part OF a life. Sure, it's awesome no one was endangered as that is a FAR greater loss, but a loss is a loss is a loss. Just because it's inanimate does not mean that it does not have effects on the animate.

Our story had a happy ending but I feel for those who are innocent victims of crime. Because usually it's the victim who ends up paying. Insurance is a joke in most cases and the pains that it requires on an already stressed home is ridiculous. Happily, the police recovered ALL of our stolen property less than 24 hours later which is amazing. Our truck is waiting to go to the junker because they stripped the battery, console, and every important part before leaving it where it was...but the tools were stashed in another stolen vehicle so we have all of them back. Even with insurance, it would have only covered the depreciated value of the tools sans GST and priced according to year bought. But tools to a trade are like friends. If well taken care of, it does not matter how old they are, they are quality items used daily, akin to body parts. The value of them would not have come close to what the payout price would have been. It would have cost us more than we could afford, especially considering we had other employee's tools in the truck. I'm thankful for the recovery efforts of our police force.

What put me over the edge was the fact that for three hours prior to our vehicle being stolen the police were out with watch/scent dogs and search lights in our area, but 45 minutes after they gave up, and five minutes after we went to bed, our truck took off, which means our house was watched.  That fact felt violating on it's own.

So I stopped talking. Completely for a full afternoon. My youngest asked if he would have to learn sign language. I smiled and shook my head but could not explain in words. My daughter was strangely in tune with my non vocal language. She knew everything I was communicating through out the day and kept the house running, stuck to my side even though she was also fighting a cold. My middle child kept saying phrases like, "I don't get can talk but you just choose not to or you will never talk again? What exactly is going on?" It was cute but even then I had no words. They were gone. Poofed out of my brain. So my daughter placated with, "No no she will talk again. Sometimes this happens...don't you remember? But not often and not usually this long. She will be fine. Besides she is talking...just not with words." Seriously, how did I get so lucky with my kids?

For months previous to this incident, I had my hands full dealing with various grieving individuals, a chemical induced Jekyll and Hyde, rage on innocents, and barely keeping my health and family together. Allow me to state, that between these stressful times we had a healthy quota of beautiful, lovely, and wonderful moments. It wasn't all bad. But I WAS juggling and it was only a matter of time before I broke. It was coming for over a year. I tend to break over smaller things when I do break. I was the camel. The tools were the straw.

I was watching the way the light played off of my perfume bottles. For over an hour. An empty screen sitting in front of me. I couldn't type, listen to music or do ANYTHING. For a moment I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn't I seem to speak? What nonsense was this? Many friends kept checking in and I could not speak to any of them. My autistic friend asked what she could do, and in a moment of clarity I realized what was happening. Autistics can be prone to mutism at times. It's called shutdown. I was in shutdown mode. So I asked her to write me up a paragraph I could give to others and she came back with this:

"Sometimes when autistic people experience a large amount of stress, they experience shutdowns. Shutdowns are stress responses resulting from a severely overloaded nervous system. Shutdowns often result in unresponsiveness, sluggishness, and inability to speak and use words. It often also causes intense sleepiness. This is because the brain is trying to "reboot" itself after having too much to deal with. Trying to pressure an autistic person to speak or respond when they feel incapable of doing so only increases the stress on the brain. Typically, the best response is giving them space and letting them recover in a dark room."

I realized I have had shutdown before. Usually due to illness or sensory overload. My husband knows when I am really sick because I fall absolutely silent. I also get smaller versions of it when too many people are in my life or at group functions. Even too many people texting or phoning. I won't answer or I will keep it to smiling faces emojis because I can not handle a lot of people and voices. But there have been a few moments in life when stressful circumstances also brought on shutdown. My miscarriage was one. When I started to recover from that loss I listened to Daniel Powder "Bad Day" song on repeat over and over and over again while driving around with my toddlers in the back seat because that was all I could do in recovery mode.
As the author puts in the link above shutdown IS resilience ( I will highlight a few parts of her post below):

"What Shutdown IS NOT:
*A sign that I have had an easy life... my shutdowns do not make me ‘sheltered’a sign that I need to learn more ‘techniques’ or ‘cant handle stress’– a suggestion I often find quite offensive as I am one of the most skilled people I know at using the tools, techniques and resources at my disposal. My life is stressful not because I ‘can’t handle it’ but because I was born with a sensitive system into an period of history and location where sensory and social input are extremely noisy and demanding. I am probably better at handling stress than most people without my neurology, because I do it every single day to a very high standard.

*Post-traumatic dissociation – this happens to me too, but is different in quality (is often accompanied by self-harming thoughts, and is more of a panic-stricken freeze than an exhausted shut down) a sign that I am autistic, and that life is sometimes just overwhelming and difficult for me.

What Shutdown IS:
When I shutdown, this is my brain enforcing a break, catching me up, giving me time out, or whatever. It also signals that I might need help from others. a coping technique in itself. If I didn’t shut down my body would continue being hyper-stimulated and the results would not be good.

*It is a natural coping technique...

*A sign that I am connected to my body enough to know that enough is enough... especially when I am able to predict a shutdown coming on before it has hit by taking notice of the bodily signs (this is a skill I am building and means I am more often able to get into a safe place — but it doesn’t stop it actually happening)." (taken from HERE.)

I loved the point about Autistics handling stress better than most. I am an expert at stress. It may not seem like it, but because of my neurology I deal with high levels, even IN my home, on a daily basis. Thus, I am fairly resilient. In fact, my closest friends and family know that when I break- I fully crack, but that my repairs begin the moment the break has happened. In other words, I bounce back. I find my stride quite fast even when devastated. I am stubborn and hard shelled. I am also sensitive with a gooey centre. Both at once. And nothing pisses me off more when someone undermines my coping strategies or wisdom, assuming I do not have the coping skills that I have worked my butt off to have in my arsenal. ha ha. Anyway, life is still life. WE are the sum of our parts and choices. Some we ask for, some we naturally can't shake. I am Autistic which is both beauty and struggle. Thus, I WILL shutdown for the sanity of my mind on occasion.

I finally spoke late that evening. My husband smiled and said, "Ah my love I missed the sound of your voice." I think I scared him a bit. But, the shutdown mutism episode enabled my brain to heal from months of abuse. It wasn't about the truck. Being a victim when I was already a victim of chemical induced rage out of the blue and then having a stranger sweep in on the scene to make me a victim again, triggered the shutdown. It wasn't a choice. It was how my brain deals. I easily moved on after that and of course it helped to have our tools recovered a few hours later. By "easily moved on" I mean that I realized I can lose it all but still be ME. I gained a bit of perspective. I made a plan I could handle. I tracked down needed supports. A day later I wondered what song was going to get me through this time...and suddenly the lyrics started running through my mind, "Ain't nothing gonna break my stride, nobody gonna slow me down. Oh no. I got to keep on movin' "

I will break. I have broken. It's untrue that nothing will break my stride...but my hope is that I will eventually keep on moving until the day I move onward past life itself.

Resilience doesn't mean there isn't a break or lack of difficulty. Often resilience shows up AFTER difficulties. Springing back into shape takes practice, determination, and perspective. It can happen quickly but it's from a deeper source of soul exercise and brain wiring.

I am thankful for my support system and for the geographic location of which I luckily was born into. For my privilege that is a huge part of my ease and for environment and freedom of choice. With all of those factors gone, life would be infinitely tougher and I feel for those who had a different luck of the draw. I feel for those who suffer innocently because of location, or lack of privilege. My hope is that their inner resilience gives them their inner freedom. For myself, I hope that resilience continues to serve my life. That when my stride breaks I can gather myself in silence to walk once more. I also hope that mutism episodes and shutdown become understood and even accepted one day.

"Hey Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better
Hey Jude, don't be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better
And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder...."- Paul McCartney, The Beatles.


S said...

I have had past episodes of shutdowns. At that time, I did not know what a shutdown was and was very confused with my feelings. But now, I see shutdown and mutism under a different light. Shutdowns are important and often necessary ( although they happen automatically and we cannot control it ) because it is our "way" to deal with the world. by shutting down, we save our energy and cut off from too much external and confusing stimuli. This is what I believe. Although shutdowns are not comfortable but we do need a silent space and silence is better than too much information /reaction. It helps us to think and act in better ways,if not in the present situation but later on. When I become sick or ill, I shutdown. It is indeed very uncomfortable, but we need a processing time to come in terms with the events and the processing time of a highly sensitive person is longer than others and shutdowns provide us with that much required and much extended time lag.
Reading, reflection, analysis, information or music does not help at that time. But solitude and silence helps. I have also noticed that during shutdowns, being with nature ( watching the plants )in complete silence or sunlight helps.
Hope you are feeling better now.

Kmarie said...

S: Yes it IS confusing if you don't know what happens. They are important eh? Silence is also sometimes the best answer. Yes processing time prolonged is so important.

I agree...almost everything needs to be silent for awhile and then I no longer feel as sick.
Thank you. Since they found two lumps in my thyroid at least I have some answers...but also a lot more frightening questions...when it rains...

Ashe said...

My stomach knots up on your behalf. Can't say I think fondly of thieves. The con, rogue, and trickster is a lot of fun in books, movies, and games, but a real menace in reality. I'm glad your story had a happy ending.

Mutism is quite frustrating. It's like somebody pulled the wire from your tongue and won't plug it back in for a while. Or your tongue turns to stone and it takes a while to soften back up again. I hope it's a very long time away, if ever, that you go mute again.