Monday, January 28, 2013

Safe

I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed lately. I’m not sure why, but things have been pressing down on me and it’s been tough to get stuff done and operate at a hundred percent.

I don’t know that I’ve been exceptionally busy or had an exceptional number of demands on me, but things have felt exhausting.

A few weeks ago I started seeing a new therapist. My first session was at 7pm on a night that I had been busy all day. I had driven in and out of DC. I hadn’t been alone all day long. I’d rushed from one place to another. I’d been through an emotional therapy session earlier that afternoon with the family therapist that my kids see. It wasn’t a bad day, but I hadn’t had any down time.

By the time I headed out for the appointment, I was wrecked. Not five minutes into the session, the therapist said something about his office being a safe place and I burst into tears.

Even less than a year ago, I would have called myself an idiot and then felt stupid for crying the first time I met this guy. That particular night, I was able to recognize why I started bawling. First of all, I’m kind of an idiot. That’s okay. But mostly I realized that my day had just been too much and I had been pushed past my limit. And when he said I was safe? That means a lot to me.

When people ask me what my autism diagnosis does for me, this is one of them: It gives me the self-knowledge to understand why I react to things the way I do and it allows me to go easy on myself for those reactions. If I were smarter, my diagnosis would probably make me realize I should schedule my days so I don’t end up in meltdown mode at 7 pm.

It has also made me think about what I consider to be safe—and how much I value those things. When I talk here about safety, I’m not referring so much to physical safety, but mental safety. Safe means a place I can be myself. Safe means a place where I can make a mistake and it’s okay. Safe means a place where I don’t have to be ON. Safe means a place where I don’t have to hide parts of myself. Safe is where there are no unexpected, unreasonable attacks—interpersonal, sensory, what have you.

Hopefully safe places stay safe. There is nothing worse than a safe place that suddenly becomes unsafe.

Safe can be a person; safe can be a place; safe can be a situation or a moment. Unsafe can also be a person, place, or situation; unsafe can be an email account that gets unkind messages; unsafe can be a ringing telephone, or an event where I don’t know what to expect, even with friendly people in attendance.

There are people I absolutely love, but who aren’t safe. There are also people that I feel safe around that I am not particularly close to.

Unsafe places are not necessarily to be avoided. They just require a lot more effort on my part. Sometimes unsafe places are to be avoided and that is when they edge into where those unexpected, unreasonable attacks appear.

There can be safe places online as well. This blog has been such an amazing safe place for me and I want to thank all of you for that. I am constantly amazed by how supportive you are, and I appreciate that so much. Even when people have disagreed with me, this space has never become unsafe. I think that’s awesome.

I wrote a lot of this post a long time ago, after that evening with the therapist, but I didn’t publish it because it felt too…well, too unsafe. I decided to put it into the world after a space that wasn’t safe exactly, but was at least neutral, become decidedly unsafe. It’s nothing I won’t get over. I’ll build another wall and put up more defenses and I will be more cautious in trusting that type of space again.

I spend a lot of time worrying about doing and saying the right thing. Frankly, even admitting that I worry about that seems like the wrong thing to say. (I think the right thing is supposed to be, “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me.”) I rehearse things I am considering saying or writing before I utter them and I run over conversations in my head after I have them. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

It’s okay though because I am lucky to have several enduring safe spaces in my life, including some stellar friends and my home, which is almost always entirely safe. I think my safe people know who they are and how much I appreciate them. That’s why I’m publishing this post now. For those people—and for you. I want you to know that I appreciate you too—that you have given me this place that we share. Thank you.

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