I thought I was going to be able to write a positive post today.
One about how I was managing to still get out and about; still enjoying things whilst controlling the impact that my autism has on me.
And for most of the day, that seemed to be the case.
I’d planned the day so carefully.
I was going to drive out to a National Trust place about an hour from where I live, arriving there early so I didn’t have the stress of trying to find a parking space. Then I’d have a coffee while it was quiet and before the main house opened, into the house as it was opening – so again, avoiding a lot of the crowds – and then a walk around the grounds.
The first part of the day went according to plan.
I was slightly fazed by the grandparents allowing their toddler grandson to climb on a wooden table and stomp his feet. Meaning that I had to finish my coffee rather more quickly than I would have liked, as I simply couldn’t stand the noise any longer.
I was also a bit overwhelmed by one of the galleries in the house – dark paint, lots of paintings of people’s faces and marble sculptures at different heights. But that was OK, too – no-one was making me stay.
On the walk around the park, I mentally composed a rather different post. It was going to be about how my strategies had worked despite these challenges.
And the walk was lovely. I’m glad I went, if only for that.
But then I made a fundamental mistake.
Things had been going well. My strategies had been holding.
I’d forgotten to bring lunch.
I thought I could cope with the busy café. The queue and the noise were manageable. But then a couple of things happened. I couldn’t find anywhere to sit – everyone else seemed to be in groups and were reserving tables as soon as they became free. So I started getting anxious that I would have to sit on the floor to eat. Then someone spoke to me – and I couldn’t place where I knew her from, or what her name was. Which I always find stressful. But a volunteer helped me find somewhere to sit when the food came, so I thought it would be OK; I could just eat quickly and leave.
So I tried to calm myself down.
But I wasn’t given space to use my strategies. People kept interrupting me; asking if they could use the table as well.
They weren’t being unreasonable in asking. I know that.
But I couldn’t deal with conversations. I couldn’t process what they were saying. I panicked.
I ran. Just about having the presence of mind to gather up my belongings.
Couldn’t get out the way I came in; children obstructing the exit, laughing at me.
Ran into the village. No idea where I was or where I was going. Couldn’t see. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t think.
Recovered eventually, as I always do. Found my way back to the car park. Sat there for a while, calming myself down so I was in a fit state to make the drive back – I won’t consciously put other people at risk.
And back home, the forensic examination starts:
What could I have done differently?
Was I just seeking attention?
Well, at least I can say that the answer to the last question is a definite ‘no’, despite what some people have told me!
And I know what happened: I tried to do something that would have been difficult for me even on a really good day and, when it didn’t work, I wasn’t able to get the time and space I needed for my strategies to kick in. On a different day, it might have been fine. If no-one had spoken to me, it would have been fine.
So, what could I have done differently? And, more importantly, what could I do differently next time? To draw on today’s experiences so I don’t put myself in that position again.
I could have realised that a week and a half after a suicide attempt wasn’t the time to try pushing my boundaries, however much I may think I’ve recovered. I’m still more emotionally fragile than I’m prepared to admit.
I could have anticipated that a single person on a 4-person table wasn’t going to stay undisturbed for long, and come up with a simple script in response to the obvious question.
I could have bought sandwiches rather than a hot meal and eaten outside (actually, I couldn’t today – I did consider that at the time, but there wasn’t anything that worked with my food issues. But in the future there might be.)
That’s all great for next time. For now, I’m just trying not to be too hard on myself.
I’m not succeeding very well.