It occurred to me today that my communication abilities are a bit like a panel of fuses or breakers in a house. I only have the most basic understanding of electrical stuff, but it seems to make sense to me based on what I know.
When I get overloaded in one area, it will become nonfunctional for a while as though the breaker has tripped or fuse has blown. This is not super common because I try to avoid overload when possible by moderating how much I do in one area or another, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. As with a fuse blowing suddenly, I can’t see it coming or that it’s getting bad until it’s blown. Thus I can’t even warn people (or myself) ahead of time.
The most frustrating thing about my communication being down in one area is that it’s not usually broken in all areas. So I can still talk to people about, say, autism resources but may be utterly incapable of responding to other sorts of inquiries.
When a fuse gets blown, I often can’t even read other sorts of inquiries in the first place no matter how simple they might be. That’s when I let texts and messages just pile up. I haven’t been able to consistently check my emails since November of 2016 and I’m getting close to having 10k unread emails now. I recently had over 350 unread text messages. It can get really bad, really quickly.
The ease with which I can sometimes still communicate in some areas while another area is totally offline makes me feel and look a bit like a flaky faker, but when this happens, the words just go away. Writing this, right now, is a struggle too. I’m not sure how much of my meaning is really coming across because my general comprehension is down a bit at the moment as well.
Every word is a fight. Words are in my mind still, but I can’t quite grasp them and pin them down on paper or screen. It takes immense effort.
I am thankful I can still communicate in other areas. To others I’m sure it looks bad when I can’t respond to them but can still share an article or like things on social media. However, those things are very different for me. One requires words and the other is just posting a link. Reading is still fine usually even when writing or talking aren’t. It was always my refuge when I was little so I tend not to lose reading as comfort at least.
Of course, reading articles online often leads to me wanting to share them, which reinforces the idea that maybe I’m faking when I don’t communicate in other ways.
Another analogy I like for this sort of thing is Cynthia Kim’s rolling blackout or brownout. Here’s an excerpt from her post about it:
Imagine a hot summer day in a city. Everyone turns on their fans and air conditioners to beat the afternoon heat, exceeding the ability of the power grid to supply power to all of the homes and businesses in the city. To cope, the electric company might implement a brownout–an intentional reduction of power to each building–or a series of rolling blackouts in which some locations get full power while others get none.
The autistic brain seems to work much the same way when faced with excess demands on resources. There are days or weeks or months when the demands of life are too great and our brains decide to implement a brownout or a rolling blackout. Some coping skills or abilities are temporarily taken offline or run at reduced efficiency.
But to me that analogy is better suited for when most or all of my functioning significantly becomes worse, not when just one thing or another goes offline while others are working. It’s not my entire house that’s been plunged into temporary darkness, but rather just the kitchen or living room are dark. The rest of my house may even be extra brightly lit. Or maybe only one room is still lit. One tiny room with twinkle lights and a salt lamp because I can’t handle much more light than that right now anyhow.
And maybe some people have circuit breakers that can just be flipped back on once they realize something has been tripped, but I have fuses that need to be replaced with the correct type.
In my analogy I have to figure out how to get a new fuse, which fuse I need, and how to replace it once I’ve found it. All of that takes time and right now I can’t even get to the fuse box to check and see which one(s) blew.