Helpful hint: It won’t work without work.
So, let’s diablogue
Christina: This morning I woke up and thought we should talk about the very real thing that’s happening right now. Visceral. Personal. We’re working it out. So we should do it here. (Pause as Ken reads what I wrote.)
Wow, that’s taking a long time to read!
Ken: Right now, it’s taking all I have got to not think about the list of things on my mind that I just wrote out. I have to read your start to this blog entry three or four times to force it in.
Christina: OK. We’ll go slowly. Yesterday I made—with considerable effort—a big pot of homemade soup. Winter is coming, time to hunker down, time for soup. And I wanted healthy food around for the next few days. Then I had to go out for the evening—a girls’ night— and I asked: “Please could you find containers and put the soup away so we don’t get food poisoning!?” And you sighed. Looked annoyed. And that hurt.
Ken: On the drive to the girls’ night, you talked to me about it and explained what my reaction did to you, how it made you feel. As usual, due to my need for processing, there is a delay in setting things right. Especially at this time.
Christina: Yup. I got out of the car upset. But I know about these delays. I knew you’d need time to understand… and then we’d talk further about it.
Ken: I forced my mental cacophony to the side and wedged in some processing capacity to deal with this, as I sensed the immediacy. Shortly after dropping you off, I texted you and apologized.
Christina: I got the text and appreciated it. It’s normal for husbands to be a bit thick about noticing things, about appreciating small acts. But this incident has some different causes, Aspie roots. Once again, what things look like on the surface needed to be re-interpreted through the autism lens—to be fair.
Ken: What is happening is that I am reaching my capacity and becoming overloaded and overwhelmed. I am imminently facing a cascade failure. And it is starting to cause collateral damage and negative repercussions on my external surroundings and relationships. I believe that this is a result of a common Aspie trait: challenges with executive functioning. Prioritizing. I am often told, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” For me there is no small stuff or big stuff, just a lot of stuff.
Christina: Yes. 20 minutes ago, you pulled out a blank sheet of paper and scratched out a long list of things on your mind right now. It’s mammoth. Things with work scheduling, a dripping faucet, trip plans, family worries, money issues, and fixing home computers. And you scribbled notes on physical problems between the items; they’re all related and making everything worse. You’re not sleeping or eating properly and having stomach problems.
Ken: Correct. An abundance of things.
Christina: No wonder you’ve been having serial headaches the last couple of weeks. And I know you’ve been stuffing all those worries out of concern for me. My life has been exceptionally busy and stressful with school start-up—teaching two new courses, family issues, a collaborative play revving back up, the film project starting, a final course presentation, worrying about finishing my PhD., helping friends, social engagements…it’s crazy. And you always want to protect me from further worries—from what you consider to be “your problems.”
Ken: Correct. However, I believe that “crazy” to describe your life right now is an extreme understatement. As a man and your husband, my core tells me that I am supposed to be your support system, not a system of burden or burdens… but I am so tight right now that I am in physical pain. This occurs intermittently in life when things accumulate and I have nowhere to offload. The following link—which we recently discovered— has helped me to better understand what is going on, what to do about this, how to explain it, and how to ask for assistance: The Constant Demand, and what they DON’T SEE!
Christina: That’s a great explanation from another adult Aspie website. I want to actually copy a piece of it here now:
“They don’t see the tears. They don’t see the meltdowns. They don’t see the panic attacks. They don’t see the bolting up in bed at night soaked in sweat, head reeling with all the things that are not done, and they don’t see that this ONE thing that you are doing so awesomely is the ONLY thing that you do because it takes every single thing that you have within you to do it! They don’t see the costs…”
Not seeing what’s really going on with you is a constant risk to our relationship. And it’s reciprocal, of course—you also often don’t really see what’s going on with me. How can we? We have different wiring on TOP of the ordinary male-female evolutionary differences.
Ken: A very accurate, astute, and true assessment.
Christina: I know that feelings and emotions cause physical repercussions in you. Headaches that can turn into migraines, stumbling and tripping, inability to think straight. I often feel badly that I don’t immediately connect some of these symptoms to their root causes. I should know better by now. I’m still working on it. But at least I can head off most of my initial reactions, take some deep breaths, and talk with you—quietly explain what’s going on from my vantage point. That’s been my journey, to get to that point where I don’t commit a knee-jerk unkindness by forgetting that you and I are different; what things look like on the surface is usually NOT what’s happening, for both of us….
Ken: A knee-jerk unkindness is too often my reaction, and I would do well to emulate your example.
Christina: ….and so we stopped this incident pretty quickly—once you divulged it to me; we brought it to a happy ending over breakfast at Uncle Albert’s.
Ken: Affirmative. I showed you the list.
Christina: And I took it and started circling and categorizing the items: High, medium, and low priority. And I wrote a few ideas under each one about how we could handle it or why it can wait.
Ken: You did what I cannot do. And everything changed.
Christina: So, it’s better.
Ken: Absolutely. It may seem like an easy task, to create lists, to create a map to navigate by. However, to reiterate— for me there is no small stuff or big stuff, just a lot of stuff. So, I do not know where to start. This is your great gift to me: you know where to start. I am so grateful to have you and your skill set in my life. Life would be extremely difficult without you and them. Thank you.
Christina: I’m glad. And that was really a pretty easy fix. The key was for me to NOT assume that unkind response of yours was intentionally rude, callous, or a covert comment that my soup-making wasn’t valued.
Ken: It was none of that. It is constant fear of failure as a man and a husband. After all it is a very short journey from husband hasben (has been).
Christina: No. You were simply cognitively and emotionally overloaded, near the shut-down stage, from a burgeoning internal ‘to do’ list of what you felt as equal-priority things that you didn’t talk about in order to protect me.
Ken: Correct, unfortunately.
Christina: I’m glad we worked it out. And thanks for putting the soup away, after all!
Ken: You are welcome and it was absolutely delicious as always by the way.
Next Post: ~ To use or not to use Autism as a plot device?
2 thoughts on ““Small Stuff to Big Stuff… and Back Again.””
“Characters with autism are increasingly finding prominence in film and television, most recently in the new TV network offering The Good Doctor and Atypical, which debuted in August on the streaming service Netflix”, writes the Globe and Mail correspondent. The Good Doctor is about a newly minted pediatric surgeon with autism. Maybe you two scholars want to have a look see.
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Great work you two.
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