5 Things That Help Me Cope With Too Much Change as an Autistic Person
After a stressful and hectic few weeks of planning a house move, having to work, actually moving and trying to settle into a brand new area away from my family and friends, I’ve hit a low, and it’s a big one.
Too much change all at once was never going to be a good thing for me, and, initially as with making the decision to move I thought I’d coped with everything reasonably well. It turns out I haven’t, my mood has suddenly dropped — and I’ve gone from feeling OK about everything to “What the hell have I done?”
There have been a couple of flies in the veritable ointment that have compounded the situation — on moving to our new house we discovered we had horrible, noisy neighbors who liked throwing drunken all-night parties with extremely loud music. The authorities haven’t really helped much, though our landlady has been wonderful. Then two days ago I found out my partner will likely be spending most of the summer away from home — or at least, he’ll be away more than he’s here. That’s the nature of his job and I knew what I was signing up for when we got together, but I think that news, compounded with the problems we’d had with the neighbors, finally tipped me over. On Thursday night I cried myself to sleep, and I have felt unwell since then. It had to hit me sooner or later, and now it’s here, and I’ve got to try and ride it out.
Practically, there’s little I can do. We’ve just enrolled at the doctor’s surgery in town and I have my new patient health check this week. Making sure I go to that and speaking to the nurse to tell her how I feel will be the first step. After that, I’m not sure. I’m hoping I start to pick up and feel better sooner rather than later.
If you’re in the same situation as me and you’re coping with too much change as an autistic person, what can you do to help yourself? Here are a few ideas — it’s not an exhaustive list, but merely a guideline I try and stick to.
1. Create a routine that steadies you — and stick to it. If you find yourself in a period of flux, with little you can do to stop the change, find a period of time each day in which you can create some “routine space,” an anchor you can stick to and have as your safe time. This might help ground you, make you feel calmer and make you feel there’s something steady to cling to.
2. Regular food/regular hydration. I find the first thing to be affected is my appetite, but sticking to regular meal times and keeping hydrated in between helps a lot. Even if I can’t eat much, setting the time aside, usually at the same points every day, again gives me a steadying anchor and means I can at least keep myself fed and watered. I’m also very keen on trying to plan meal times and make sure that although my diet is as varied as possible, I stick to the same types of meals, so I don’t get too overwhelmed with food changes.
3. It’s OK to have alone time. For people with autism, alone time can be absolutely essential and our way of saying “enough is enough” and we need to recharge. Recognize and accept this, and know that it’s perfectly fine to say you want to be alone, to sit quietly, to lie still in bed, or to shut the curtains and sit in darkness to help you recharge. Don’t feel guilty for this and don’t feel the need to justify it either. In times of flux and repeated change, the desire for alone time might increase, especially if you are tired or overstimulated. Your loved ones must try to accept this.
4. Stim, stim, stim. Stimming tools become even more important at a time like this, so make sure whatever yours is, you have access to it, or you can safely carry out your stimming behaviors in a safe place of your choosing. For me, it’s finger tapping to music, it’s running my fingers through my hair and scalp and also using Olbas Oil to inhale as it helps clear my head and calm me.
5. Be kind to yourself and engage in good self-care routines. Autism means our brains are wired totally differently. We don’t see the world in the way other people do. Therefore when things don’t go the way we expect, or there are unexpected curveballs thrown our way, it can lead to all manner of problems. We’re not at fault for this and not to blame. Be kind to your mind — this is the way you’re wired and it won’t change. Accept the bumps in the road, try to create as many safe routines and anchoring points in the day as you can. Think about pleasant ways to treat yourself, such as sitting with a favorite book, DVD, or album to listen to. A small glass of wine, a bar of your favorite chocolate, or other snack treat. A warm bath and hair treatment or face mask. A computer game to escape into — something “happy” to look forward to.
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