I want to talk about shutting down, turning off, zoning out, being absent...all things aspies know about (and love, by the way, don't believe it if they say they don't).
Every aspie is able to zone out, often so completely and utterly you think, where did that aspie of mine go? Didn't I leave one here a minute ago? Am I alone? Oh no, wait, that lump leaning lovingly against the computer screen, that's where I left it. This thought or feeling can cross your mind even when the great lump of aspie is stood in front of you, blocking out the light, supposedly listening to the very important thing you have to tell them.
We covered the subject of not listening properly in an earlier post but that was for when your aspie was only briefly disconnected. I'm talking about a total disconnect, the sort of shut down, however short, that means all-out war could descend on your house and you'd have to sling your beloved over your shoulder to get them out as it would be quicker than gaining their attention, keeping their attention, speaking while still keeping their attention, making sure it has gone in and stayed in and then asking them to relay it back to you without them losing their temper.
I don't experience this shutdown as often as I used to. Being a busy mother, daughter, pet-keeper and working girl, I have to be partially plugged in for most of the time. And, let's face it, if I did zone out, I wouldn't know, would I? But I can still zone out enough, for different reasons, to make life exciting.
For now, though, I want to travel back in time, to show how all-encompassing this shutdown can be. Let me be clear - I was probably an odd child but I still managed school (by the skin of my teeth), I made friends (the sort who like odd friends) and I would be classed now as high-functioning and gifted. So, I was made for surviving but not always for life as we know it.
One day, I went to play with my friend after school. For a change we went to her grandparents' house in a local village. Now, without naming names, this is the kind of village where the mist descends when everywhere else is in sunshine and where you most certainly have to be local to be accepted. My friend counted as local as she spent so much time there; I did not.
We met up with some children she knew in the school yard. The girls I met were quite friendly and we were having a nice time. Then a boy came who they all knew and weren't pleased to see. They looked at me, worried, then back at him. He liked to cause trouble you see.
Now, to be honest, by the time he showed up, I had already been losing interest in what was going on. When he arrived, the conversation changed. I lost the final bit of interest and away I went. I have no idea where. As I was about 9 it probably involved ponies. or Doctor Who, or the Tomorrow People. Wherever it was, I was happy and stayed there for some time. I was engrossed, the inner world had me good and proper and I had no idea where I was or who I was with.
For some reason, I drifted back to the mortal plane and found myself in the centre of a shocked silence. The boy was looking triumphantly at me, my friend looked like she was waiting for me to cry and her two friends were horrified. These were tough cookies so I knew something must be up for them to be so affected.
I looked around at them, taking in the strained faces and the gleeful bully-boy.
'What?' I asked, mystified. The last time I checked in, no one was even talking to me.
'Are you okay?' One of the tough cookie girls asked, a hand on my arm and her face sympathetic.
'Yes...' I answered, giving her a little smile.
'She's hiding it well, she must be really upset,' someone else said.
'Upset about what?' I was starting to worry; had something happened?
It turns out the nasty boy had said something so bad they chased him off and escorted me back to my friend's grandparents' house, all the while praising me for being so brave and saying I didn't have to pretend, that it was okay to be upset.
When I was finally alone with my friend, I managed to convince her that I hadn't heard any of it and was completely innocent. But I was so curious! What a reaction! What had I missed?
She believed me when I told her I didn't know and, being the most down-to-earth friend I've ever had, she wouldn't tell me. No amount of persuasion would bring it out. She said if I didn't know then there was no need to tell me, I would only get upset.
To this day, I have no idea what was said, I just know that being an aspie who was bored at the time, with an inner-life strong enough to draw me in and hold me close, I was saved from something that would probably have been bad enough to haunt me to this day. The atmosphere was so strong when I came back, the faces are what I remember, even though I couldn't tell you who the girls were. It was a dreadful thing and I was saved from it.
Other things have happened since, other pieces of life's cruelty have not been swept away by my ability to leave and return. Those cruelties have stayed with me and cut deeply for a very long time afterwards. I often think how grateful I am that I was spared that one, the words of a bully which would have cut me deep enough to bring forward the sympathy of strong, tough girls and to make my faithful friend keep it to herself for as long as I knew her.
Dear reader, I offer no solutions for the closing off from the 'real' world. I accept this retreat as a blessed thing. It is truly wonderful to be able to escape such a complex, confusing, noisy and intimidating place as the world we aspies have to inhabit every day. Even a partial shutdown is enough to carry you through and make life bearable again.
I realise how it can seem from the outside. You know the ears work, the tongue works, the body works when it chooses to move; and yet it does not speak, will not listen, makes no sign to have heard you. I can imagine you feel alone too and left out, and probably hurt. I'm so sorry for it, we don't mean to hurt you. If we can imagine that you feel the same hurt as we do, then we would try not to do it. I'm not sure we would succeed though.
Please take comfort from the fact that, if we did succeed and could stay in this world, with you, on a more permanent basis, we would not be the same beloved. We would be sadder and more stressed, the world would be an even harsher place and, with time, you would seem part of that harshness for making us be there all the time.
It's okay, we're still here. We can be so frustrating when you need us to be present, but don't worry. What you lose for those moments is regained in the peace we feel while we're away, because it's that peace which gives us the strength to be more fully ourselves when we are here.
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