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.

32 thoughts on “Safe

  1. This is a terrific post. The whole concept of safe/unsafe resonates with me. Thank you for putting this out there..I know I feel very similarly.

  2. Oh my. A big hearty hell yes to everything, fellow bricklayer. Thank you for being a whole world of safe for me.

  3. That’s one of the most important things we can give our kids–the ability to recognize when someone or something is safe or not. Good for you, and glad that you have many safe places. My friendship with you is one of MY safe places, and I’ll always be grateful for you.

  4. I just had a similar conversation with someone this week, using slightly different terminology, but I so understand what you are saying. For what it’s worth, you come off to the world like you are a smooth operator – even though it may feel awkward and disjointed inside sometimes. (Maybe we all have some of that – I know I do.) To me, you are wise and kind. Wishing you lots of safe places in your day.

  5. Completely absolutely yes.
    And the line “I know I shouldn’t care what others think” hits me so hard. I rehearse it too. And it never sticks. Except in the places where I feel the safest and around the people that I feel the safest.
    That includes you.
    Thank you for giving words to this and for hitting publish.

  6. I love this post, and YOU so very much. You are so incredibly brave, even though you probably don’t agree. You give me strength and hope and I’m forever grateful to you for that.

  7. I love this post! It hits home with me. I love my safe places and people. It’s hard to force myself back into places that suddenly become unsafe or around people that feel unsafe. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I am so very happy that you shared this here. Thank you for trusting your readers.
    I am with you on the preparing what to say/write. I always rehearse telephone calls in my head before I make them, for example.

  9. This reminds me how much I want to be a safe person for my kids, as I’m sure you are for yours. When I’m trying to get them to stretch themselves or try something (or stop tattling for the thousandth time) I have to ALWAYS remember to be respectful and keep them safe. Thank you!

  10. Excellent post that really hit home for me. Thank you.

    Also? I refuse to accept that other people don’t rehearse everything they say before they say it. Especially writers. Everything’s a draft for me! I always get it wrong the first time!

  11. “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.”

    Stimey, Girl, you are NEVER alone. We are far more alike than we are not. And I thank you for YOUR safe space that you share. Love you so much and when I am replaying my own words a thousand times over in my head, when I stim on my own four sentences of writing for hours and accomplish nothing else in an entire day, I KNOW that I am ok. I am me. I am safe.

    Love you,

  12. You are our safe place – so thank you for creating it! You make it so that we can explore our own feelings/thoughts along with our kids’ actions. You tell us it’s ok that we have feelings about our kids that aren’t always pleasant, but also that our kids are OK. (If you catch my thought)…. No one ever admits that people play and replay conversation – I’m glad I’m not the only one. YOU ARE AWESOME!

  13. Hi! So, great post, and hope you are feeling less overwhelmed right now.
    On that note, pls disregard my question [in e-mail] about Curricula 2.0. That was just me thinking as to how I’d explain it to ESOL learners. Cause I’m a new ESOL volunteer. Fun… and yet very challenging.
    Who operates at 100%?
    Anyway, thank you for your blog, which is a very cool and safe virtual place.
    Karen G

  14. from Alysia: “And the line “I know I shouldn’t care what others think” hits me so hard. I rehearse it too. And it never sticks. Except in the places where I feel the safest and around the people that I feel the safest.”

    Also, one person I know who REALLY doesn’t care what other people think is a big jerk. And she’s mean.

    I rarely rehearse what I’m going to say before I say it, and let me assure you, that is NOT the way to go. Just this past Sunday I said not one, but TWO inappropriate things because I just said whatever came in to my head, and then I was embarrassed, and then thought several times that day what someone near me must have thought about me and should I e-mail her and tell her I’m really not like that.

    I’m thinking that rehearsing what I’m going to say sounds like a pretty darn good plan right now.

    Also, sometimes I used to just bust in to my therapist’s office and burst in to tears, because I felt like I could breathe in there. I understand that feeling. Just thinking about her office right now makes me feel calm.

  15. Pingback: I Have Several Things To Tell You…

  16. I have so many thoughts right now. Maybe I will just drive to your house and we can talk about this face to face.

  17. I think I’m honest enough to say “I care what other people say about me” while wishing that I didn’t. Then I think other people pretty much also care what other people say about them but lie and say “I don’t care what other people say about me.”

    I think you’re doing it right. I think admitting about the worry is right. I think being honest with yourself and others is right. But maybe not as safe.

    • Jim’s words are wise. Putting yourself out there, admitting vulnerability places you at risk. I think it’s worth the risk, and when people intrude in your safe spaces and show that they are not safe people, it’s at least a consolation that you know that about them.

      I worry a lot and get overloaded quickly, so can relate to your post. I’m learning that it’s okay to program those breaks–naps to refresh and go back out and tackle the world are mandatory, and it’s also okay to jettison those places, spaces, and people who are not safe or healthy.

  18. I’ve been a poor citizen of the blog world, and it got out of hand in my reader because I wanted to read and comment and then I just, well, ran out of steam. So round about – also, rambling – way of saying – I’m glad to know you, and here’s a (hug).

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