Meltdowns

I’m sorry for my long absence. In the first little bit of the year, I’ve had an extremely rough time.
I’ve had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. I cut off all contact with my dad. I can’t explain in a single blog post why that was necessary; I’d have to tell you my entire life story. After a lot of thought and analysis, I realized that I simply can’t be mentally and emotionally healthy while having a relationship with him. Since then, I’ve been mostly recovering and trying to keep up my schoolwork as well as I can. I’ve had little energy for anything else, thus the lack of activity here.

I started this post a few days after the first meltdown. I couldn’t finish it then, so I’m coming back to it now.


Meltdown 1

Boyfriend and I come home after a terrible visit with my dad. After being picked apart, disrespected, mocked, invalidated, and made to feel like a worthless mess, I stand up and demand to be taken home. My dad drives us home in silence while I internalize all of the messages I’ve received, both explicitly and implicitly, that I’m a useless and ungrateful failure.

We get home.

I sit down, in silence.

Then I start telling boyfriend what I think. I’m a failure. I’ll never amount to anything. I’m not really autistic, I’m just a lazy girl who doesn’t want to be responsible. I’m a liar and a fake, and I’ve been fooling us both all along. You deserve someone better, and you should leave me before I ruin your life. We’re going to be poor because I’m useless. None of the things I’m feeling are real.

He counters. Calmly, he uses logic to refute my statements. You couldn’t possibly fool me so completely – you’d have to be a genius at acting. We’re not going to be poor, because I can work and you’re going to college and you’re good at what you do. Besides, we don’t need a lot of money. You’re amazing and you’re exactly what I want and need. You really are autistic, and your thoughts and feelings are real. I can see it. There’s no way you could pretend to be autistic this well. You’re a good person, and we’re going to have a good and happy life.

I sob uncontrollably. Sobs that feel like being turned inside out.

He holds me with firm, even pressure. I begin to quiet. But I’m still very conflicted. I ask again. Am I a failure? Am I really autistic? He answers all the questions I can think of, with his calm and patient logic. He tells me how much he loves me and that he thinks I’m amazing.

I feel a bit lighter. I squeak and bounce. This feels good. I do it more. I squeak and bounce and flap around the house. Then, I sit in my office chair with my knees up to my chest and rock back and forth. “I’m a (my name) ball”, I say. Then I say it again, and again. I sing it in various tunes for a time, while rocking and twirling my hair. Boyfriend encourages my stimming.

I start to want to talk about what happened again. I want to process it. I try to ask boyfriend what he is thinking, but the words won’t come out. They’re in my head, neatly ordered in their sentence, but when I try to speak them, all that comes out is “think think”. I can’t make my voice do the inflection that indicates a question. I pull up a google doc, and write that I can’t talk and need to type instead. He asks if he should type as well, and I type that it’s okay if he just talks. We carry on a conversation like that for quite awhile, trying to make sense of what happened and trying to regain my grip over my own reality. It’s hard, and I have to fight for it, but I begin to be able to think rationally again.

Eventually, I just start talking. I don’t really think about it; it just happens. My boyfriend asked me something, and a word popped out of my mouth. I’m not totally okay yet, but I’m beginning to feel like me again. I keep stimming all night and end up calm enough to sleep.

 

Meltdown 2

Only days after the first meltdown, boyfriend and I are awoken at 8 in the morning by an unceremonious knock at the door. It’s Friday, and our day off. Boyfriend scrambles out of bed to get the door, and we find out that our landlord decided to install all new windows in our apartment that day. Yes, without sufficient notice and in the middle of winter.

At first I start panicking. I hyperventilate and pace around the apartment while waiting for the workers to arrive and begin the installation.

They arrive, and I run into the office to hide. I feel numb at this point, and sink into myself.

Then the noises start. I don’t know or care what they’re doing; all I’m aware of are the painful noises bursting into my head and invading my consciousness. The cold slowly creeps in, and soon our entire apartment is freezing.

They begin working on the office window. I run to the bedroom, only to find a gaping hole and searing bright light.

I try to go back to the living room, but it’s not safe either. It’s filled with strange men and pounding noises and vicious light. Our furniture is moved and the room is unfamiliar. There is no safe place.

I freeze in the hallway. I am a scared animal with nowhere to run.

My eyes dart everywhere, avoiding the light and looking for a place to hide. I feel the workers looking at me, and am dimly aware that they probably think I’m crazy. But I can’t look at them, or even acknowledge them.

I realize then that our kitchen has no windows.

I dart through the hostile living room to get to the kitchen. I might’ve nearly run into someone, but I’m not sure. I couldn’t process what was going on around me.

In the kitchen, I sit in a ball on the floor with my knees pulled tightly to my chest. I plug my ears, close my eyes, put my head down, and rock back and forth. After a little while, my boyfriend finds me and brings me a blanket (which I promptly put over my head) and ear plugs. He sits down with me. We stay like that for awhile, I don’t know how long.

Finally, the job is done and the workers are leaving. I’m cold, disoriented, angry, and sad. I begin to realize I’m hungry too. My boyfriend and I decide that the best thing to do was to get our environment back to normal, and then eat our normal breakfast. We did, and then we were mostly okay.

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On Food, Sensory Issues, and Social Pressure

If one really thinks about it, food is a pretty intense multi-sensory experience. When you eat, you’re experiencing and responding to a variety of tastes, smells, textures, consistencies, and temperatures. You’re also looking at it, and experiencing it’s color, shape, and visual texture. Then, you’re interacting with the food; touching it, scooping it, or cutting it, and then chewing it. And afterwards, there’s the feeling of having eaten; the body feels different when it’s full. That’s a lot of sensory input all packed into one experience. For someone who processes their senses differently, foods that are considered normal or even delicious can be unbearable.

These are some of the major things that I simply cannot eat, and why. Hopefully this list will shed some light on what it’s like to have food-related sensory issues.

  • Beef. Especially ground beef or steak. It’s the texture here that’s the problem; ground beef is crumbly and steak is chewy. Despite really trying to enjoy steak many times (my parents made a fuss over it), I will gag if I attempt to eat it. I also can’t proficiently use a knife and fork to cut food, so things like steak are a struggle to deal with.

  • Potatoes. This includes french fries, mashed, baked – any potato. This one is again texture-based. Potatoes have a grainy, mushy texture that I just can’t stand. They also make me feel too heavy after eating them.

  • Corn. With this one, it’s the smell and the taste. Both seem sickly sweet to me. If someone even opens a can of corn in the same room as me, I will have to bolt before I get nauseous. So, considering the above entries as well, shepherd’s pie is a nightmare in a casserole dish to me.

  • Certain cooked vegetables. Specifically: carrots, peas, broccoli, green beans, and cauliflower. All of these have a common mushy-grainy texture that is very repulsive to me. I also really dislike the tastes of these. I could not make myself eat any of these.

  • Cake. Particularly the North-American, frosting covered kind. It’s just way too sweet, and sweet things make me sick.

  • Very rich foods. This includes butter, heavy cream, non-skim milk, pudding, non-light cream cheese, and probably others that I’m forgetting. But you get the picture. I’ve a very low tolerance for fat content in my food, and all of these will make me feel sick and heavy. Oddly enough, I love cheese.

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I can’t stand these; I can’t even bite one without cringing. They’re too squishy and mushy, and the consistencies clash. They’re also weirdly sweet and moist. Yeah, I just can’t.

  • Carbonated drinks. I simply can’t handle the bubbles. They make me feel sick to my stomach. I could not get through a can of Coke without feeling very, very ill. Even sparkling water is too much.


Social Pressures

While the sensory issues surrounding food were bothersome, confusing, and sometimes downright appalling, the social pressures were worse.

As you can see from the above list, many of the foods I can’t handle are common North-American fare. In my childhood, I was considered a notoriously picky eater, and this was a problem. This led me to make myself eat certain things that I could tolerate with some effort but really didn’t enjoy (like ground beef and potatoes); it was a form of passing. Eating those foods meant I was behaving myself and not being “difficult”. I learned that my likes and dislikes were wrong, and that if a family member says a food is good, then it is. With some foods though, no amount of self-control could make me eat them. I remember once being told that I had to sit at the table after dinner until I ate my broccoli. I’m not sure how long I sat there, but eventually bedtime came and I still hadn’t even touched the broccoli. My parents let the broccoli thing go after that.

I want to say here that I do realize that parents are often concerned about their child’s nutrition. I think for my Mom, that was the main issue. And she did help me find things, like fruit and chicken, that are nutritious and enjoyable for me. For my Dad, however, it was more than that. He made me feel that my food preferences were a problem and that I was inconveniencing others. For example, he used to get upset with me for not liking birthday cake. It was a celebration, and I had to participate in eating the cake or I was ruining other people’s fun. How other people’s enjoyment of an event was dependant on whether or not I ate cake is completely beyond me. And birthday cake is not nutritious.

When I became a teenager, I decided I wasn’t going to force myself to eat certain foods. If it was a struggle just to get something down, I refused to eat it. Beef, potatoes, milk, and butter went out the window (not literally, though that might’ve been fun). This caused my Dad to tell me that “One of these days you’re going to have to start eating normal food”. Of course, “normal” was the aforementioned foods that he really liked and I didn’t. There are other “normal” foods that I like, but never got the chance to try because the menu was largely determined by my Dad’s preferences. So during that time I basically had microwaveable pasta or bagels for dinner. If there was salad, I’d eat that. I wasn’t allowed to get in anyone’s way and make something different for myself. At family gatherings, I was thankfully allowed to bring my own food (usually just more microwave dinners), but I was then made to feel bad about it. I had to profusely apologize to my grandmother (who often did the cooking for family events), and I felt like I was bothersome and pushing my luck. From my perspective, my Dad and relatives had an air of “you’re getting more accommodations that you deserve”. Sometimes, even what I chose would be criticized for not being special enough for the event. Again, apparently me eating a bagel at Thanksgiving was somehow taking away from other people’s turkey.

I also had social pressures from peers surrounding food. Elementary school classmates would tease me for not liking cake, ketchup, french fries, or candy. Even in my 20s, I’ve been ridiculed for not liking fries. When I was in art school (more on that in another post), an acquaintance had fries and offered me one. I declined, saying “No thanks, I don’t like fries”. Then, no fewer than five people who were in the room (some of whom I’d barely spoken to) turned to me and exclaimed things like “What!? You don’t like fries?” and “Who doesn’t like fries?” and “What’s wrong with you?”. No, I don’t like fries, and who the fuck even cares?

Over my food preferences, I’ve been called weird, strange, unnatural, wrong, difficult, attention-seeking, a problem, and “just trying to be different”.

 

I’m Not Picky

Yep, that’s right, I’m not actually picky. The number of foods I like far outnumbers the ones I dislike, and my boyfriend and I never bump up against any pickiness.

Since I’ve been living independently with my boyfriend, I’ve discovered that there are actually quite a lot of things I like. I love most Asian foods, including curry, sushi, noodle dishes, soups, chicken dishes, and fried rice. I also like fish (as long as it’s not battered), chicken, tofu, shrimp, almond milk, avocados, pasta, and most Mexican dishes. On the vegetable front, I like bell peppers, spinach, cabbage, cooked onions, zucchini, butternut squash, tomatoes, and bean sprouts. I’ve also discovered that I like the light or low-fat versions of things that I thought I disliked, like peanut butter and sour cream. I just never had the chance to try many of these things growing up. I’ve found that if I stick to things that are spicy, citrusy, crispy, crunchy, springy, light, and are integrated dishes, there are many things I like. A lot of the foods I like have directly opposing characteristics to the foods I dislike (compare mushy steamed carrots on the side to crispy red peppers sauteed in an Asian noodle dish). That’s not a coincidence.

Cooking my own food with my boyfriend has really helped too. That way, we can control exactly what’s in it. And cooking is surprisingly fun. We’ve found many really good and really easy recipes, and we have a Pinterest board displaying them all visually (don’t worry, we haven’t got any “cauliflower pizza crust”, or “pasta made with zucchini strips” – just yummy, easy to make things). We also plan out all of our dinners for the week on Monday, which has the double benefit of keeping us calm, and avoiding two hour long “what do you want for dinner?” conversations. We’ve been told we’re rigid about food, but the way we do it really works for us. Now, I enjoy food much more than ever, I don’t feel like my preferences are wrong or bothersome, and I actually have a much healthier diet.

Basically, food is a very personal thing, and individual preferences should be respected. No one should be made to feel inadequate, defective, or problematic simply for not being able or willing to eat certain foods. If it’s a sensory issue, chances are the person can’t just “learn to like it”.