Personal stories about autism.  If you would like to see your musings on this page, please email Mary-Minn at  

Keeping it under control

Checking in with myself is often too late to recognize that enough has become too much. My friends sense my distress way before I do and try to break everything down for me but I am too ashamed, so desperate for my brain to work fluently like theirs. I have misplaced my ability to track down the steps leading to a simple action. The harder I try, the more befuddled I become. I don’t want to be in this state, even less be seen in it. I am embarrassed and disappointed by my failure to cope. I fear that my friends, having now witnessed this part of me--or, worse yet witnessed it numerous times already--will (finally) give up on me for being so high-maintenance. I self-recriminate and apologize for being the way I am, which only makes it harder for me and everyone else to recover.  
When there has been room in my brain for a while for all that is going on, it’s hard for me to recognize, or believe, that it’s eggshells starting to fall apart around me, yet again. The first time people see me disintegrating like this, they do a double take. What’s a nice girl like me doing in a state like this? That’s when I need to disclose that I am autistic. Will they be able to look beyond my breakdown? 

I need to summon up the graciousness to ask for what I need in a way that appreciatively welcomes their gift of insight rather than pushing them away with my irritability if they don’t happen to have an answer to the question or a solution to the urgency that is compelling me at the moment. The assumption is that I can articulate what my question is and why the urgency, which is not always the case. 

Once the déja vu of my breakdown registers with me, there’s only room to beat a hasty retreat, which I don’t always recognize. I think that if only I soldier on, I’ll be awarded for my perseverance. Preferring an action-oriented approach, I choose fight over flight. Never mind that persevering in this state will only lead to diminishing returns and sabotage my well-being. It’s usually too late to recover my equilibrium unless I take a break. 

The more my friends urge me to take a break, the more impatient I become. That will just prolong the misery. Whatever it is will be awaiting me impatiently when I get back. The only way to get it behind me is to see it through. My fear of things left undone fosters a stifling perfectionism, lest I need to revisit it and field questions for which I have no answer. The mental block and frustration from trying to force my way through is keeping me stuck in a miasma of self-hatred.

Even if I do get it that I need to take a break, a perverse part of me refuses. I’ve really messed up this time and am inflicting a teachable moment on myself for putting me through all this. Why does this have to happen to me, of all people?

Meantime my feelings are too strong to make sense of any of it—just that I need to escape somehow. I have no sensible choice but to cancel everything and swaddle myself in soft solitude and creature comforts and cut myself some slack for taking care of myself. I’ll recover if I clear out my schedule--take a burly nap, go for a bike ride, read, make a cherry pie. 

My mind in control and my mind in collapse are dreams that pass through the night, leaving only a vague but persistent atmosphere of fading memory. I don’t think I’ll ever make my way out of it when things have gone awry and amiss, even though I’ve managed to scrabble my way to the other side every other time I’ve fallen into this tunnel. I forget about the bad times when I am at ease and things are flowing effortlessly. I guess it’s my brain’s way of letting me enjoy the good times. 

I live on a teeter-totter of precarious balance. On one side is a kid who wheedles me to stay up all night and do everything and get together with all my friends. Meantime, my gentle husband and friends are on the other end, gently urging me to take it easy. The kid slams his side down, jolting my friends and family on the other end. I am torn in half by contradiction, craving the stimulation of the big city while yearning for the big open prairie of quiet and solitude. 


Mary-Minn Sirag
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