relentlessly unpredictable

Not all the features of atypical human operating systems are bugs. By autistic standards, the “normal” brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail and routine. Thus people on the spectrum experience the neurotypical world as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud, and full of people who have little respect for personal space.
~ Steve Silberman
(NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism & The Future of Neurodiversity)

A major source of anxiety for me is any sudden change of plans. Over the years I’ve learned from observation that other people don’t see these as the catastrophes I experience and have at times concluded that there is something terribly wrong with me. Or then I think something is wrong with others, that they’re rude not to stick to a plan. I’ve spent countless hours giving myself pep talks about learning to be flexible and learning to go with the flow. When a change of plans pops into my day I have a hard time telling if it is a reasonable response to an unanticipated development or if it is just someone else’s whim. It doesn’t matter. Either way, I force myself to accept the change and exhaust myself repressing the panic I feel, trying to be “normal.”

[Lewis] Carroll’s transitions from chapter to chapter are abrupt and unexpected. Alice is rushed from one scene to the next without any opportunity to stop and process what she has just experienced, or to prepare herself mentally for what’s to come. This kind of abrupt time change, without transition, is similar to how a day at school feels to a child with AS. There is no flashback, no foreshadowing: since there is only the immediate moment, shifts in time and place are disconcerting and stressful. Carroll captures this feeling of urgency and panic very well.
~ Julie Brown
(Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing)

“Alice Meets the White Rabbit” by Margaret Winifred Tarrant

I have a very poor sense of time and an “unreasonable” fear of being late. When I know I have an appointment I rush around checking the clock all day, much like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and cannot manage to do anything else. It seems like such a waste of time, but I cannot help it. Inevitably I leave the house too early. I watch in wonder and awe as others effortlessly multi-task and juggle appointments and chores in the course of a day. But to me it’s too overwhelming and confusing!

When surprised by the doorbell or the phone ringing I experience an adrenaline rush. I’ve worked hard over the years to not startle or gasp when that happens. Similarly, it is difficult to keep myself together when hearing a horn or a siren while out driving. On the other hand, I love the soothing sounds of foghorns and buoy bells, one of the comforts of living by the sea.

It’s interesting to me that I accept other sorts of change with far more grace, the change of seasons, the stages of life, evolution, or lifestyle changes. Knowing that nothing stays the same or lasts forever makes it easy for me to do things like let go of clutter or keepsakes and accept that children grow up and move away. Perhaps because these changes are more predictable and expected.

8 thoughts on “relentlessly unpredictable”

  1. Those are some conscious efforts you must go through to be at ease with the quick changes with in a moment of everyday activities. While the seasons are gradual in their changes yet changes you can see when observing it daily.

    1. It’s been kind of eye-opening for me to finally understand just how much effort I’ve had to put into coping with continual shifts in time and place over the years. Thanks for pointing out that seasons change gradually! No wonder I love that!

  2. Do you find life easier since your diagnosis ? Understanding why you are as you are ?

    Let’s face it, there is no such thing as “normal”. We are each different and approaching life through the lens of our own “reality”.

    I’d probably be too loud and scattered for your liking … sometimes I’m too loud and scattered for my own liking … lol

    1. Yes, yes, yes, Sybil! Life is so much easier these days! The more I learn about autism the more everything in my life makes sense to me. But I don’t see it as a diagnosis, I see it as an identification. We humans tend to think of anything different as something abnormal. But saying autism is an illness is like saying blue eyes are an illness and brown eyes are normal. Some brains are just different and I am really enjoying learning about how my brain works! And reading books written by others who experience the world in a similar way has made me feel less crazy and awkward. 🙂

      I do wonder what it would be like to meet you in person? I know many loud and scattered people and it’s fun to be with them, one at a time. Believe it or not, I’d rather spend time with one or two vivacious people than with a room full of quiet people. For me, it’s the number of people around me that shuts me down because I can only focus on a few people at a time. More than that triggers a sensory overload and is overwhelming.

      1. You are so right about knowing ourselves through “identification”. Realizing at age 67 that my visual memory was so very different (and lacking) compared to the “norm” has been both helpful and upsetting. Now I realize that others can see pictures in their mind of their loved ones and conjure up memories makes me rather sad …

        1. I remember you mentioning your lack of visual memory before. It’s so hard for me to imagine it because I think in pictures. Although I love to read, I read very slowly because the words mean nothing to me until I translate them into pictures. I do understand how you would find not being able to see your loved ones in your memory terribly upsetting. Thank goodness for photographs!

  3. The reason you accept nature’s changes with ease is because you’re part of nature. Whereas changes that are brought on by appointments and other person-made things, are not. I read your much earlier post (didn’t comment as I wanted to think about it more, and then didn’t get around to commenting at all – sorry!) where you said you’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s and reading the long list of your symptoms, I kept thinking “me, too. Me, too. Me, too.” And yet, I don’t have Asperger’s. What I do have, and always have had, is anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and much else. When I was a child I was labelled ‘hypersensitive’ and when a bit older I was labelled ‘hysterical’ and ‘heurotic’. All of which were actually correct though I’d have preferred not to have had those labels stuck on me as it made me think that I was alone in those feelings and emotions and their resulting reactions. But over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m NOT alone and that even some of the most apparently stable and ‘normal’ people, are not.
    Here’s the thing: so-called ‘normal’ people are just better than us at hiding their problems. I think that’s what it is, anyway.

    1. You are so wise, Val. I do feel like a child of nature. It’s only recently I’ve realized that one reason I don’t like to travel is that most people travel to see human cultures rather than the natural world. I recently met someone who went to the Galápagos Islands to spend time with the tortoises. I was in awe looking at her vacation photos! Not one building! Up until recently I had no idea that kind of travel was even possible and I had certainly never met anyone who had taken that kind of a vacation.

      Our world could do with fewer labels and more inclusiveness. I always tried to teach my children that different is not better or worse, just different. Most of the time I embrace the concept of non-duality. There is so much we don’t understand yet about the brain. I’d say one of the best things for me about knowing about autism is that I have been able to stop blaming myself for not trying hard enough to be “normal” and to stop blaming other people for not helping me out socially. I’m OK the way I am. No need for improvement any longer.

      “Nature isn’t dualistic. It isn’t merely a collection of separate parts. It doesn’t throw anything away. It recycles everything. And it doesn’t operate out of a desire to improve things. While we fixate on the parts, nature acts out of the Whole.”
      ~ Steve Hagen

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