How (Not) to Disappear

Disappearing is a word that is used, primarily by my local circle of friends, to describe when one of us stops communicating for a while and stops visiting social media either mostly or completely. We’ve all done it from time to time, some more than others and each to varying degrees.

So what does this disappearing look like from the outside?

It can be worrying when a friend just stops responding and disappears from social media for days or weeks or months on end.

It can appear flaky.

It can even feel personal, like maybe they’re avoiding us because for some reason they’ve decided they hate us ([sarcasm] thanks, anxiety [/sarcasm]).

But it’s not flaky and it’s not personal when someone in our group disappears like this.

We are all Autistic adults. Autistic parents, no less! We live under a lot of stress with these miniature people depending on us for survival. We have to do other adulty things too, like drive places and pay bills and make phone calls and appointments and get our children out of the house sometimes (because otherwise they get bored and start fighting all the time), but leaving the house is hard because of executive functioning struggles, etc etc etc.

So. We disappear.

Being in the middle of disappearing myself right now, I suspect that this is a type of shutdown.

How does disappearing feel (to me) on the inside?

Well, to start off, it feels really shitty. I have words (obviously, here I sit typing out a blog post like it’s no big thing), but when I just think about directly corresponding with someone about anything even potentially important there’s so much anxiety that I go do something else.

For some reason, general words like these ones I’m typing currently aren’t terribly affected, even when talking about the same topic I’m fully unable to communicate directly to anyone else.

I can sort of communicate with a few very close and essential people but if any of those very few people sent or told me something unexpected, I’m not sure I’d be able to cope with responding to that either.

But my (TW: self-deprecating) brain is all: “Hey, yo, you’re writing a whole blog post while you have months-old messages from people you care about that you haven’t responded to yet. What a piece of shit friend you are.”

So, it feels shitty. 

It also feels overwhelming. All these people wanting all these personalized words from me, which usually isn’t a problem, but right now it feels pretty insurmountable. Unattainable. Impossible. Depressing.

So why does this disappearing happen (for me)?

Being overwhelmed and tired are usually the culprits for me.

At the moment, I’m coming out of nearly three (!!!) pretty intense months. Not intense in bad ways, mostly it was amazing, but intense nonetheless. Since I’m not great about recognizing when I’m doing too much, I probably did too much. I don’t regret it, but even the best of overwhelming times have fallout.

It’s also very likely that a lot of this is compounded by feelings popping up from my horribly miscommunicated phone call a while ago. Feelings that I mostly can’t ID yet at all, which add another layer of uncertainty and stress.

Miscommunications are bad for me to begin with. They affect me pretty severely. Being misunderstood, unable to effectively communicate my intentions and meanings, creates a panicky response, similar to the PTSD responses I experienced after one of my children’s births.

I guess it makes sense that could affect future communication attempts for a while.

And time has been weird lately. I know that time is passing, I’m present in my life, days aren’t missing or anything; but they’ve just been kind of sliding by, unnoticed by me and suddenly it’s been months since I’ve replied to people.

How not to disappear?

I’ve been asked this before. And I don’t have a good answer for it really, aside from pointing out that the answer will probably be different for every person and possibly every situation or root cause.

But disappearing can be restorative and necessary. The problems mainly come in when important things are missed and/or when important (to us) people feel ignored.

So maybe “not disappearing” shouldn’t be the question in the first place. Maybe the question should really be:

How to disappear without missing important things and hurting those we care about?

And again, the answer will depend greatly on the circumstances and people involved. I doubt it’s possible to fully achieve this goal because there will always be unexpected things that happen and prevent even the best of plans from working.

What’s helped in my own life is to regularly take several days to respond to most people so their expectations stay nice and low and I stay not too overwhelmed by messages and texts.

I also try very hard to say “no” to people when I’m unsure. If I’m unsure about doing something then a “no” gets me more time to think before committing. A “yes” on the other hand, would potentially get me in a situation that I couldn’t handle. I can always say “yes” later if the thing still needs doing and I know I can handle it after giving it more careful thought.

Now those things only get me so far and sometimes I end up disappearing at times that aren’t so convenient or very okay.

But it has to be okay.

Spending a shutdown upset with myself for not being able to do what I can’t do isn’t helpful either. I’m doing all I can and that has to be enough. When I can do more then I will.

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