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When Autism Feels Like Having a 'Volcano Heart'


I first heard the phrase “volcano heart” at random; it is the title of a fan-mixed song online that builds up its emotion slowly and then “erupts.” That song and its title stuck with me for years as perhaps the easiest way to explain what it’s like to live with emotion apparently taking such a back-seat role.

I took a personality test last week, and it turns out around 95 percent of my decisions are logical, compared to 5 percent emotional. It surprised me, but it does feel like that sometimes. I make countless choices by thinking them through with no interest in their emotional significance, asking only occasionally, “How do I really feel?” This is not borne out of an innate lack of interest in emotion. Rather, the speed at which I make rational decisions is necessary when dealing with the huge sensory input of my autistic mind. This demands my mental focus almost all the time, otherwise it simply overwhelms me.

It is a complicated issue, and not one that can be covered in a single analogy. But a “volcano heart” comes close to accurately showing what it’s like. As long as there is activity, a volcanic eruption is inevitable — the pressure building up beneath has to make it to the surface sometime.

Though I am always feeling, with very little chance to express that on the surface, it remains internal. The more feelings build up with no way of being let out, the more the pressure builds. With no way out, the uncontrolled release of that stress is unavoidable. This is a more recent issue I’ve faced with autism.

Since changing the amount I let emotions drive me isn’t an option, the question becomes “What can I do about it?” I need to let my emotions out so the pressure doesn’t get too high, so it doesn’t need to happen the hard way. Those moments of just feeling are far more precious to me than they are for many people, and there’s something everyone can learn from that.

Despite the problems having such a “volcano heart” causes, it doesn’t change the fact I have choices that need to be made precisely and without confusion. There will always come a time when we need volcano hearts. After all, like all mountains, volcanoes can weather even the strongest of storms.

Getty image by Francois Boudrias.