When It Seems Like the End of the World (for me and my peers, at least!).
(I will explain why there is a photograph of my apartment laundry card in a little while. But let me first give you some background information leading up to the random, banal photograph!)
We have heard of the expression, “Do not sweat the small stuff.” It is a fact that individuals on the autism spectrum often do sweat the small stuff to the extent that it becomes a full-blown meltdown/crisis. I looked up an old news story about a teenager on the very challenging end of the autism spectrum who lost his sunglasses at the Promenade Mall in Thornhill, which is a suburb of Toronto, Canada. For many young adults, this would just be a minor inconvenience but for 15-year-old Cliff it was an unrelenting state of panic that attracted bystanders to view the scene. Cliff was cursing and becoming aggressive as though it were the end of the world! A security guard named, Ana Abreu was hailed as a hero for remaining professional, calming the teenager, and reassuring Cliff’s mother, Laura Kirby McIntosh that she is a good mother doing the best that she can. I do not know if Cliff ever found the sunglasses, but hopefully over time the meltdowns over life’s inconveiences would have subsided thanks to the support of his family and Good Samaritans such as Ana Abreu who did not make the situation worse by falsely assuming that Cliff were merely a spoiled brat that did not understand many people with worse lives would gladly trade the loss of sunglasses as their biggest problem of the day. The story may be found on the link:
The main thing one must understand is that for individuals on the autism spectrum such little inconveniences are indeed the end of the entire world or that is how it seems in the moment. In some ways, I have changed and other ways things are exactly the same. I have evolved...only not. Fortunately, I am happy to let you know that I have accepted that fact that an autism diagnosis is not going to protect me from consequences of having a volatile day in the workplace. Most people understand my phobia of unnecessary waste and how it is a really big deal if someone forces Styrofoam upon me without permission, and I become an unwilling participant in the pollution of our planet. At a company picnic a few weeks ago I took a deep breath while trying to explain to the vendor handing out the pulled pork sandwiches that I brought my own reusable plate with me to avoid having to use disposable products. When he finally understood, the vendor took the sandwich from the paper plate and then threw the paper plate in the garbage. I politely explained to him that the reason for having the reusable plate is so that does not happen! Inside I felt like exploding and crying out, “What is wrong with you?! Didn’t we just have a conversation a few seconds ago about this and how I have my personal plate to avoid the slaughter of precious trees and paper plates being thrown in the garbage?” This is how I felt inside because for me this was a huge deal! I am beyond frustrated that people usually do not listen to me about such things such as plastic straws. But at the same time, I am proud of myself for controlling myself and not reacting in the way that I want. The only time I will get a little bit firm is when the same place keeps ignoring my requests again and again. I wrote a letter to my local Starbucks in Albany explaining how unbearable it is to have nobody listen to my “for here” request nearly every time and in my personal life I have the right to make environmentally-friendly choices. These little things in life can become “little crisis” for me and my peers.
It is all about having tolerance for those with more severe cases of autism and figuring out how to deescalate the situation without publicly shaming them while standing on our pedestals. For people like myself who are blessed with less severe cases and desperately want to be part of the professional world, it is all about how we outwardly react. If someone with Asperger’s syndrome or another case of high-functioning autism throws a piece of furniture in an office setting while threatening to kill someone (even if we do not mean it) things are not going to end well for us. In my personal life, I struggle with plenty of issues ranging from being traumatized by a job loss back in 2006 to persistent bitterness about unfair stalking allegations back in the days when I would clumsily try to initiate social interactions with the ladies.
The other day I had a minor crisis in my apartment for about an hour due to the fact that I was unable to find the laundry card that had been a material staple within my apartment over four years. I always keep it in the same place and could not imagine where it had gone. Did it suddenly develop anthropomorphic features and literally walk out of my life? For most people this would have been a tiny blip of nothing throughout the day. But for me it was a very big deal as I tore through the apartment wondering, “Where the hell could it be? Did I give it a new hiding place and completely forgot about it? How could it possibly have disappeared?” My fear of plastic waste also did not help make the situation easier. There was sweat pouring down my face and frustration for being so scatter-brained that I could not keep track of a simple piece of plastic.
Eventually, there was a state of sensibility and realization that the better part of the evening was being depleted worrying about a piece of plastic that was probably worth five cents in value. The card that may or may not be lost forever only had about five to ten dollars worth of cash left on it, and the time that it took to find it was worth much more. It occurred that I still had a spare laundry card and there was time to replenish its value by walking to the rental office before it was locked for the night. (When my former significant other, Alison moved away I kept her laundry card that I had put stickers on to distinguish it from my own. I held onto it in case this very problem occurred.) The rental office would most likely give me a new, spare card and am sure they had tons of cards to give out like confetti. Sure enough, I received a new card the following day and the meltdown seemed kind of silly.
I do not know if such bad days or nights will ever stop happening, and I doubt things will ever be close to perfect. But I am still very proud of myself for being able to work through these issues in private while managing to become someone better in the adult world while being confronted with triggers like Styrofoam. Maybe my struggles will get easier in the next few years to the point where they are practically perfect. But in the meantime...they are much closer to perfect than they have ever been in the past. For now...this is certainly good enough.