When I was planning this trip, I thought I was psychologically prepared for the higher-than-usual amount of change and uncertainty that accompanies a vacation to a new locale and involves a group of family members, two of which are capable teenagers but remain under our supervisory capacity. I had been making these assumptions based on a line of thinking that included having gone to the beach almost every year of my life. Not this beach, but beach is beach, right? I’d managed solo beach trips to novel beaches (pre-pandemic, of course) before with no trouble at all. How different could it be?
While I’m making a list of unfounded assumptions, I will add that I had been laboring under the delusion that my meltdowns were now predictable, manageable, and in many cases, even avoidable. I had even gone so far as to assume (laughably so, in retrospect) that this phenomenon was pandemic- and location-resistant. That the pandemic might have been unusually taxing, or that such management was predicated on my ability to manage my surroundings and was buttressed by psychological and, when necessary, physical support from Captain Ape, never entered my mind.
And then, last night, the third night in a row where our dinner plans ended in a partial or complete cluster, well, that delusion went down like a sand castle at high tide. The presences of my sister, my niece, and my niece’s boyfriend were all irrelevant. I walked into the apartment with food that I’d had to drive thirty-plus miles and 45 minutes out of my way and back to get, dropped it on the counter, and promptly lost my s***.
Screaming, cussing, and door slamming were soon followed by being crumpled in a ball on the bedroom floor sobbing. After a several minutes of this, I sent my sister out to eat dinner with the kids. I did not, could not, leave the bedroom for almost two hours. It took over a half an hour before I could even stop sobbing, and a long bath and a phone call with an autism-sympathetic friend to get myself pulled back together enough to be able to finally leave the bedroom and eat some of the food I’d gone to such lengths to get.
Now having been thoroughly humiliated in front of my far too wise and accepting niece, who appeared to take the entire incident in stride, and her boyfriend, a wonderful young man who may or may not have ever witnessed an otherwise capable adult disintegrate so completely, I have decided not to go down to the beach with everyone else today. My relief when they left the unit was palpable, but I am still barely holding myself together.
The stress of the last four months, coupled with what should have been completely expected snafus that always accompany a hastily planned vacation to a new place, have shredded my self-possession seemingly beyond repair. It is now halfway through the following day I am not much better.
I can’t stop crying. I miss my apartment, my cats, and my significant other terribly. It is beautiful here and now I wish I were back home where I could crawl into Captain Ape and he would hold me tightly enough to keep me from flying into pieces, which is how I feel right now, as though all my pieces are scattered everywhere and I don’t have the energy to go and get them all, never mind try to put them back together.
All this time, during the pandemic, the trip here, being here, I’ve been expending more and more mental energy to hold myself together, not realizing that the cost of such efforts had been increasing exponentially. Last night, the tank abruptly ran dry. And my erroneous assumption that I possessed strong enough faculties to conduct myself like an NT even in the most stressful of situations disintegrated right along with me.
This failure now looks utterly predictable and I am bouncing back and forth between berating myself for having the meltdown in front of the teenagers and berating myself for not seeing it coming. I could have leaned on my sister more and I didn’t. I saw myself running low and pretended that running low was not inevitably followed by running out. I figured I just needed to hang on through whatever happened and I would be OK.
But hanging on takes energy, and I didn’t have it. I forgot that I have to spend it hiding my autistic tendencies (interpreted as rudeness by NTs) from my niece and her companion even though they know me well. I forgot that I have spend more of it interacting with NTs to get things done. I forgot that being someplace that wasn’t familiar, no matter how pleasant, would be an additional drain.
As such, I forgot to build in opportunities to refuel. I decided, as I have so many times before, and always to my detriment, that I could function just as well here as I did at home. That I could be just as resilient as my non-autistic sister.
Fail, fail, and epic fail.
And that’s what I feel like. I feel like an epic failure. I should have known better, I do know better, and yet I managed to fail myself at every possible level. As I sit here trying to weave back together something amounting to a functional level of self-esteem, I find myself too humiliated and too ill-equipped to do so. I need to be alone and I need to be held very very tightly, a logistically problematic situation, to say the least.
My sister, a licensed social worker, just walked back into the unit to get some lunch and found me in this state. She took one look at me and, ahem, strongly suggested I take some of my anti-anxiety medication, something I have refused to do in the past. I don’t like benzos. I don’t trust myself to know when I need them–or more accurately, when I don’t need them, so my solution up to this point has been to ignore them completely, a solution that, in retrospect, now appears, ahem, misguided.
She was expecting pushback and had already launched into her pitch when I said yes. In the first self-care prioritizing decision I have made in I don’t know how long, I agreed with her assessment that I needed some help digging out of this rut I had worn myself into in less than a day. She was right; I wasn’t going to be able to calm down without help. I took the pill with the dregs of coffee remaining in this morning’s mug.
About a half hour later I was able to eat, change out of my pajamas, and head out to a discount store to pick up some necessities we had forgotten to pack. On my way up front to pay, I passed a display offering low-priced weighted blankets. I pushed my cart back and forth around the display three or four times trying to decide if it was worth the expense.
Finally, I slid it off the shelf and into my cart. Self-care decision number two. Hopefully I can keep this going for the rest of the trip.