The deep, dark well of empathy & autism
Emotion is risky. It’s all encompassing, overwhelming, consuming.
Autistics have such a greater, deeper intensity of emotional range that many of us will avoid it in any way that we can.
Keeping ourselves busy, going to ‘happy places’ in our mind, drinking, drugging, eating, gambling..many forms of addiction.
Emotion for us is not just a ‘feeling’ or a sensation exclusively contained within an incident or within our mind.
It is a full body, mind and spirit assault on our entire being.
Happiness, sadness, anger..all of it.
There is much written about our emotional dysregulation. Particularly in children.
Our tantrums. Our rage episodes. Our depression. Our anxiety. Our mental illness.
Yet there are such deep and problematic misunderstandings attached to these issues.
It’s true, we do come with varying characteristics that are expressions of our diverse brains and they ways in which they cope.
But what is missed, is that we are deep feelers, deep thinkers, we are completely immersed in emotion.
As an autistic, I fear dipping my toes into the well of sadness, of grief.
That well can be a deep, dark, place to toy with.
And I, with my neurodiverse wiring, have no defence against the way in which I experience it.
My levels of empathy, of compassion and understanding are all gifts.
They are also my greatest challenges.
When another human being is affected by pain in any capacity, unless I actively seek to avoid engaging or empathising with them, I experience it too.
My mind takes me on a choiceless journey of analysis.
What must they feel? What must they think? Are they supported? Are they nourished? What do they need? What is the depth of their emotion? What can I do? How can I fix this for them? What will their life look like now? How will they spend their days? Will they be lonely? Will they have the energy to care for themselves?
The analysis is endless.
And it moves forward, onto others connected to the person in pain.
Their family, their children, their friends, how will they be affected? How can I help?
That compassion and empathy becomes a real, lived experience.
It spirals downward, outward, upward, in all directions, analysing the outer layers of the cause of the pain.
Other people, the world, the cosmos.
It covers us like a heavy, dark blanket.
That well, that deep, dark well of emotion doesn’t have an end in sight. I cannot see the bottom, therefore I cannot predict how long my empathy and analysis, my resulting suffering will continue on.
In the autistic, where our brain takes longer to process such intensity, our body then kicks into overdrive.
There is often a misunderstanding between the two.
The body seeks to bring us back into equilibrium. Emotional regulation.
Stimming, eating, drinking, sleeping, adrenalised movement, insomnia, anxiety, the possibilities are endless.
Our body seeks to keep us alive. Survival.
We are then faced with the task of managing or surviving our panicked, dysregulated bodies that are desperate to align with our brains.
The world is aware that autistics struggle to regulate ourselves emotionally.
The world is aware that we melt down, tantrum, rage, depress.
The world is aware that we avoid and isolate.
It is self preservation.
When we are affected by the emotions and experiences of others, we take them on as our own..they become our own.
We then take them home to our families, our children, our daily lives.
In children on the autism spectrum, sometimes up until adulthood and still long into it, we tend to express outwardly two emotions.
Happiness/contentment or anger.
Everything in between is still within us.
Churning over, ruminating, processing.
But we are often so overwhelmed that we struggle to identify the emotions in between anger and happiness and this can result in an expression of anger.
We feel. We feel so deeply.
Where others say “I’m sad”, I want you to know that as an autistic person, “I am consumed”.
We listen, all the time to conversations, we read, all the time, research about us that is misinformed, hurtful, denigrating, ableist, inaccurate.
Where others have harmed us with their ignorance, opinions, bullying, misunderstanding, we accept their lack of understanding, their lack of education, their lack of information.
This is one of our most foundational and powerful expressions of empathy from the autistic community.
Non autistic observation of autistics is dangerous.
It is a simplified comparison of the non autistic expression of being human.
Our brains operate differently, as do our bodies.
They operate in the ways in which they are created to operate-our normal.
We do feel empathy. We do feel emotion. We feel it all with such an intensity that avoiding it is often the safest option for us.