One of the more frustrating parts of "flying under the radar" long enough to reach adulthood before your difficulties become apparent enough for others to see them is the arsenal of maladaptive or faulty coping skills built throughout your youth. Quite often, you can sense they are not particularly helpful, or outright damaging in some cases, but after spending your life depending upon them, they are almost instinctive.
For those of us for whom everyday life can become overwhelming quickly on a bad day, we can fall into these poor coping skills before we even notice stress mounting. And let me tell you, that is an extremely frustrating place to be.
Stories, mythology and fairy tales in particular, have been a consistent special interest of mine as long as I can remember. At first, I listened or watched, as many children do before learning to read. When I had the ability, I would watch a movie or show again and again until I could quote every line by every character.
My understanding of the world, emotions, and how people interacted and thought was informed through this. I understood family members and friends by relating them to characters, using the way those characters reacted to predict how the people around me would respond. I used those characters and interactions I'd watched ad nauseam to cobble together the scripts and the mask I used to navigate the world.
Once I mastered reading, chapter books and novels became constant companions. In them I found a way to escape the sensory nightmare that was the school bus outside of staring out the window and disassociating throughout the trip. I found hundreds of new characters to fuel my imagination and build understanding, and novels went further into their mindset and thought patterns than movies and shows ever could, bettering my understanding of emotion and social interaction.
Unfortunately, this newfound joy and source of information came at a price.
You may have noticed a particular word mentioned earlier that while common is also often a red flag: disassociating.
Throughout my life I simply thought I was highly imaginative. When I would imagine, the world around me would become dampened. I described it as "crawling into my head for a while." When I had little time for daydreaming, my experience was similar to what others describe. I'd just be thinking of something while still conscious of the world around me. Yet, the longer I had or the "louder" my surroundings, the further back I would pull. Sometimes I'd see what I was imagining like a film overlaying whatever was in front of me. Others, I'd become so focused on my inner world and its happenings, everything would blur and run together to the point it took quite a bit of shaking to realize someone wanted my attention.
It has only been in the past couple of years I realized this was not exactly normal or healthy.
Reading, and later writing, both helped and hindered. It provided a kind of artificial filter I could use to dampen out anxiety inducing or painful sensory input without necessitating a full disconnect from my senses. But it also sparked new tangents that lured me back into this head-space where nothing existed but my creations and me. At first, it most where similar to self-insert fan fictions where I either created new stories with the characters that struck my interest or went down thousands of alternate paths of how the story might have gone if this one thing or another happened differently.
I occasionally lost whole weekends or summer days either within the pages of a book or inside any number of inner worlds based on a favored story of the time or my own patchwork creations. Aside from concern over the apparent weight I was packing on in upper elementary and middle school, which turned out to merely be an odd growth spurt, my family was thrilled. This weird child who had such a difficult time learning how to read and couldn't spell her way out of a paper bag was reading, and her spelling and grammar were improving. Yet, my ability to cope with the world around me was withering without notice because I instinctively hid the difference to be accepted.
It was a pattern no one put together until C. L. and I had been married for a few years. After a while, he could tell when things were starting to get bad in my head by how much time I spent reading and how I reacted at being asked to stop.
Hitting burnout, even the early stages of it late in 2018, started putting things in perspective.
It's funny how you cannot always realize you are beginning to disassociate until something happens. As things began getting worse, it became a small miracle I never got involved in a serious traffic accident. I reacted to the wrong traffic light and pulled into traffic thirty seconds early one morning on the way to work. Another day I completely forgot which light meant stop and which meant go, nearly causing me to run a red light out of confusion. And I lost count of the times I overreacted to someone approaching an intersection faster than expected and nearly put my car in a ditch.
When I was home, I'd immerse myself in stories again, particularly written ones in a desperate attempt to rejuvenate myself for work again the next day. I began to have difficulty sleeping because of the desire to continue reading, and my temper would fair anytime I was called away from it.
I'm not proud of these things. In fact, this has been a near constant source of self-hatred over the last few years. Yet, I keep getting pulled into these bad coping mechanisms because they are so ingrained in who I am. I'm attempting to learn better ones. Healthier ones. But it is a slow process, and I almost need them to continue creating.
I suppose it's not exactly a secret disassociating has been the backbone of my creative process almost from the start. I rely on it less now than when I was in high school and even college when I would escape into whole other lives, sometimes simpler ones, sometimes not, somewhere or another on Yekara when pressures and stresses became too much. It's rare I pull so far "back" these days. Being responsible for two children and a dog doesn't exactly allow for disconnecting from one's senses, after all, but that cursory layer... That's another story.
It begs the question, is this progress?
I can't tell.
A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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