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When Autism and Anxiety Leave Me Constantly Wondering, 'What If?'

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Do you remember the scene from “Avengers: Infinity War” when Doctor Strange looks at every possible outcome?

That is what my life is like. There is just a constant string of anxious thought, worrying about every possible consequence of an action, or inaction.

The National Autistic Society website says:

“A recent National Autistic Society survey found 47% of autistic people fall into the severe anxiety category based on GAD diagnostic criteria.”

The article says that although anxiety is not a diagnostic criterion for autism spectrum disorder, it is very common. I refer to it as the Sword of Damocles syndrome. I’m constantly thinking something bad is going to happen, so I have to think out every possible scenario, and if it involves interaction with others, I’m also rehearsing what I am going to say in response to each situation. This is partly based on being quite an introverted person who cannot talk at length. I am always thinking about what to say next.

To give you an example: I can be 99.9% sure I’ve turned the stove off, but I’ve gone out and that tiny 0.1% chance is weighing on me. What if it starts a fire? What if that fire leads to other houses? What if someone dies? What if I get sent to prison? And so on.

It’s a bit like the narrative in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” where Raskolnikov commits a murder and the paranoia and worry that consumes him. Of course, the difference here is that I have not committed a crime, but I go through that same thought process.

And it happens in all parts of my life. I worry if someone has misinterpreted me, or that I have said something inappropriate, and it consumes me. It’s also the need for certainty, which is common with autism. For example, I may worry I’m doing a bad job and that I will become unemployed. My worry felt significantly justified when I was targeted for redundancy in a previous job. So then the “what if” fires off in several directions. What I will do if I become homeless because I can’t find another job?

I’ve tried numerous relaxation techniques and diversion techniques, but find it very difficult to turn my mind off. My diagnosis last year of ASD has made me understand a bit more as to why I am prone to constant anxiety, but as yet the only brief respite I can find is immersing myself in music. The journey continues to find a calmer life.

Getty image by Memedozaslan.

Originally published: April 21, 2022
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