I’m cycling along and my brain is running complex way finding and human tracking algorithms to find the best paths through crowds. It’s like one of those scenes from a spy film where they’re using face tracking technology to find the bad guy in a busy train station. My brain CPU is running over time because of the need for social distancing. I’m aware that I’m breathing heavily while I’m on the bike so I could be unwittingly spreading a virus. I’m wearing a mask and trying to maintain my distance. On top of that my brain is worrying about social etiquette. If I take this course of action to avoid someone what is their logical response? Humans are not logical though. I need to plan. For every person I pass I mentally act out a play in an attempt to pre-empt a complex interaction. After a 20 minute bike ride I’m mentally exhausted. If you use your phone a lot you need to charge it up again. This bike ride was meant to be my way of charging up for the day ahead but I’ve gone from 20% to 0% battery and I’m drained. I miss going for a run in the rain when it was just me and the view. People complicate my life.
While cycling my mind wanders and goes spelunking in a catastrophising cavern of despair. Why? Why not. #TreatYoSelf. Of course there’s a problematic pandemic coating to it but at its core this is what I’m doing on any given day. The pandemic has simply turned things up a notch. I consider this training in the same way someone might do weighted training. I’ll be better prepared for when life goes back to a non-pandemic state.
I stop and look out to sea. It’s such a clear day I can see the Isle of Man on the horizon. I start to cry. No, not because I can see the Isle of Man. Sorry Isle. I’m sure you’re nice and all but there are other things on my mind causing me to cry. I’m crying because this isn’t just training for me. The 20 minute bike ride of mental chaos and play acting is constant. When the pandemic ends I’m still doing this.
I’m not judging people. I’m trying to understand, analyse and respond correctly. A cliched view of autistic people is that we’re a bit robotic. A bit like Data or Spock from Star Trek. Go watch any moment where Doctor McCoy and Spock are talking and you’ll see the Neurotypical response to autistic people. It’s not pretty in all honesty. Spock is only doing what he has determined to be a logical course of action. Is it the “right” course of action? McCoy would argue that it might not be but Spock doesn’t have the information to make those sort of determinations so he relies on logic and data. That’s me. I’m trying to account for all these variables and make the best decision available to me. Sometimes that means I should jump off my bike and roll down a cliff because the path is narrow and there isn’t enough space to be 2 meters apart. In those scenarios I defy logic and tense up instead. Which leads me back to tears.
At 42 I have a better understanding of my issues than I did 10 years ago when I first started to look into depression. I am better equipped to tackle problems like catastrophising, social anxiety and negative thoughts. Mentally I am ok, most days, with being autistic. I have accepted that because it explains why I’ve felt different all my life and I love being different. I’m ok with all that. That said, there are times when I think “40+ more years of this? … Seriously?” There is no cure for what ails me because autism does not ail me. It makes me see and act differently and in a world that is 99% neurotypical. It is a complicated space to exist. Sometimes it is just too much. The thought of decades more anguish is just too much.
“Breathe.” I tell myself to breathe. I’m desperately trying mindfulness exercises. “It’s ok. That’s a thought. Put it over there and get back to enjoying the bike ride.” I try to but there are people everywhere. All I want to do is ride around listening to my cycling playlist and tapping to the beat on my handlebars. It is entirely possible that this is my way of stimming. If you’re not aware of what stimming is it’s where an autistic person tries to stimulate their brain in ways they control like rocking back and forth, tapping something, flapping their arms or making noises. Maybe I am stimming by tapping to the beat? Whatever I’m doing it isn’t working.
By the time I’m nearly home I’m frustrated that such a lovely morning has been ruined by increased complexity. If only people weren’t around I’d be fine. My brain goes into catastrophising mode again and tells me I shouldn’t be around people. That’s obviously the answer. I should sit in my office and go back to doing programming instead of photography. The office is a safe controlled environment where I can be content. I can work without these complex thoughts. But I really do love cycling, open water swimming and, when my plantar fasciitis has healed, running. I’m trying to tell my brain all that when I see someone I know. “Oh fudge! I have to interact! Just be human.”
They’re a good distance away so I wave. They wave. “Huh.” It makes me happy. I see someone else I know. We both wave. It genuinely feels good. Them being far away means I don’t have to fully interact. A wave works. No time to plan a quick play in my head about how best to interact with them. A simple wave and away I go. All that thinking and worrying I’ve been doing on the bike ride and all I needed was a simple wave.
I turn up the music and cycle off tapping the handlebars to the beats of the Chemical Brothers.
I feel fine.
2 days later and I’m unable to get out of bed due to depression. Life is a rollercoaster and I don’t like rollercoasters. Shut-up Ronan. sigh
- Anxiety & Autism
- How I evolved during the lockdown
- The Autistica Podcast brings you the latest discussions around autism research.
- Autistic Burnout – from the perspective of an Austistic adult
- Autistic Fatigue
- Autistic Burnout and Aging
- 5 Autistic Burnout Recovery Tips You Need To Learn Now
- Trying to Predict the Future: Trajectories in Autism
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