THIS IS A RAMBLE. For a shorter, more ‘reader friendly’ version, go here To see my brain in action . . . Read on. (There are some comma errors in this. Apologies!)
I had planned on working from home today. In fact, I likely “should” be doing that right now. However, I make my own hours, and nothing is urgent—thusly, I am fine to steer off the previously chosen path.
I have an arduous time switching my internal gears, once the folks inside my head, Sir Brain (the main dude) and LV (little voice in my head), decide that what we have planned IS what we WILL do. Still, I am learning to take the wheel and navigate away from my well meaning intentions, but generally speaking dictatorial mind. I am fighting LV as we speak because she is adamantly insisting that if we aren’t going to do make-money type of work than we ought to at minimum finish up the last draft of our manuscript. Again, I am ignoring her. Sometimes I feel akin to John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind, in the manner in which I have to ignore a loud telling-part of myself. Be that as it may, that is essentially what I have to do in order to not push myself over the limit into the realm of exhaustion, in regard to focusing on achieving and surpassing my own self-imposed deadlines and plans.
My mind likes to plan. It’s that simple. And it’s that complex. Simple in the way in which the whole bundle of how I act, respond, and even feel is in some way or another orbiting around the planet of schematics. Perpetually, spinning, I am, in the universe of must organize and establish sanctions, sections, and orderly structure to survive. Innately, with enough self-pondering to last a half-dozen lifetimes, I recognize and understand (with 99.99% certainty) that I am wired to take information in and push it back out in new form. Everyone who has a functioning brain does this to some degree; yet I tend to out perform most, in my need to sort something out in order to BREATHE.
This way of thinking, this sorting, resorting, categorizing fashion I garb every millisecond of my day, is excruciatingly exhaustive—still it is what it is. Undoubtedly, my brain (Sir Brain the magnificent) comes in handy, and so does LV. Without them, I likely wouldn’t be able to write prolifically and follow through on assigned tasks with utmost efficiency. I am a superhero in certain lights. I mean to say, I can accomplish great feats with what seems to be a lot less effort than most people. Sometimes what I do (that is seen as exceptional) is plainly just me being me—nothing fancy—nothing extra. In some ways, I can only breathe and produce “stuff.” In that there is some definite benefit and freedom.
The reason I am pushing my wooden cart past the agenda of Sir Brain and LV—effectively bypassing their wishes, in effort to serve another driving force—is because I have this ongoing adrenaline-squirting ache inside to understand a concept. That concept being: boundaries.
Some of you know I recently underwent a painful divorce. Fortunately, my former husband and I are still friends and still co-parent in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, after almost twenty years of being with one (for the most part unchanging) person, I am finding myself in a newer relationship with a whole bunch of unfamiliar new unknowns. We’ve been together awhile now, but with my way of seeing the world each new unknown feels like I am that proverbial lioness with a sliver in her paw. Ouch!
I search for remedies daily to navigate the unknowns and even the knowns—for even the familiar has a tendency to sprout up and appear transformed. What yesterday, or even last hour, seemed comfortable and almost easy, has a way of morphing into an unidentifiable form. Somewhat like a chunk of clay taken on the appearance of whatever glances it way. I guess I could further concur the familiar to me is like electrons—how they seem to disappear and show up somewhere else and even interact with the observer at some unknown level. That’s what it’s like, indeed.
In summary, I’ve got this sprouting up familiar that is shape shifting and I’ve got the unfamiliar that is just plain scary. Think deep, dark lake where you know the Loch Ness Monster is hiding or the same ocean waters where your friend described a shark that took a deadly chunk out of his friend; a shark that stretched out the length of the span from your living room to dining area (true story), from his surfboard to his buddies surfboard, one side the head, one side the tail. That’s the type of biting trepidation that the unknown brings.
And so here I sit: in this established unknown and in this field of unidentifiable sprouting knowns. Little old me, in this field contemplating the HUGE idea of BOUNDARIES. What they mean, what they do, what their absence does, how they affect me, my life, my sense of being in this world. It’s not a new subject by any means. Boundaries, the way in which I set limits (my own type of rubbery, stretchy, black protection suit from the world) have always been important in creating an outer haven of safety and an inner haven of sanctuary. Problem is, as hard as I try, I can’t seem to wrap my personified brain around the concept of setting limits. I’ve thought about this dilemma subconsciously, on those back burners some of us have going, for a good few years now, from the time before my divorce to this very ticking-second moment. Inside somewhere, with the help of my rapid-firing synapses, I’ve come to some conclusions, I think.
One suggestion, in regards to the starting point of setting boundaries, is to ensure you are implementing self-care. No stranger to the self-help era back in the 90s and no spring chicken when it comes to relationships and particulars that are likely better to avoid, (e.g., relying on another for happiness, adapting codependent ways, low self-esteem, lack of gumption to work on self, fears of not good enough and abandonment, trying to change others, passive-aggressive behavior, stuffing, and so forth), I’d say I am pretty well-rounded in the area of knowing an abundance about taking care of myself and implementing best practices for overall wellness. I’m like an overstuffed tabby cat; in fact, when it comes to data ingested about self-care, I resemble my long ago pet cat, who, knowing the canary was let loose flapping in the kitchen, took it upon himself (thank you Patches) to dive down the second story laundry shoot into the laundry room (adjacent to the kitchen) and cross the ground floor threshold into the canary fly zone. One gulp! And there he lounged on his back for two days with a lump in his tummy the size of poor little Jeremy. That’s me, when it comes to knowing the general overview of how to take care of me: some overfed dive-bombing feline.
With that said, I still struggle with the concept of boundaries. Yes, I’ve read the books, seen the video streams, heard the friends’ take on building up those self-protection walls; even so, I don’t truly understand them. And that’s a huge dilemma in my newer relationship with my Aspie partner. Not only because it’s new, a romantic relationship, and because ultimately he is a man (a standalone fact that confuses me in general), but because he is wired somewhat like me (autistic), and as a result, what I sometimes don’t understand too well, neither does he!
In quickly skimming literature on boundaries (again), I might be getting a bit closer to understanding how they sort of work. Just a smidgen. Only, there are definite rules and suggestions and advice concerning establishing and following through with limits that present a challenge to someone on the autism spectrum—at least this someone and this someone’s partner.
First off, there is this general agreement that to initially understand and incorporate boundaries we, as individuals, ought to honestly look at ourselves and understand what it is we want. The problem with this line of reasoning is honestly I don’t know what I frickin’ want. I mean I know the basics, but, like everything else in my life, if I look too long or too often, I get trapped in the muck and goo of what is the concept of want and what is the difference between want and need; and how do I determine what is most important and least important? And what is ultimately self-centered and selfish and what is not—if anything? And when am I expecting too much from others and life? And what if I am satisfied and don’t want for want?
That’s just the start, kind of like the first lap of one hundred in a race going nowhere. Next comes the taking of inventory of my own feelings, of recognizing my feelings, acknowledging my feelings, and basing my boundaries on my emotions. “What the heck?” LV screams. This is definitely one of those tips not formulated with the autistic individual at heart. To begin with, feelings are extremely confusing. I could write a novel on feelings, with each chapter being a new ever-changing and transforming emotion. It would be like a Transformer movie—literally. Emotions aren’t logical; I have them, that’s for certain, a plentiful amount. But dang if they don’t jump out and surprise me time and again. As it is, I don’t know what to expect from them (emotions) nor what to do with them most of the time. Particularly, the toddlers, those extremes of anger, disappointment, let down, and the like—they cause a confusion-jungle in my body, in every single cell! Sometimes it takes days for me to process (through self-expression, hibernating, and deliberating in my brain through rapid waterslide-like tunnels) before I can identify what (emotion) happened. For me, trying to base boundaries on my emotions is like trying to base them on little green people who just beamed down. Because that’s how my feelings appear to me: little aliens hiding behind the couch and shouting, “surprise,”at random intervals.
And thusly, I have established self-inventory and reflecting on emotions can be troublesome, to say the least, when considering boundaries. (<I like that sentence; it’s an effective transition. Don’t you think?) As I was saying, boundary making occurs in some factory I just don’t have the key to, and if I had the key, I don’t think I could stand the sensory overload inside the building. So there’s that . . . Another suggestion in excavating boundaries is to recognize what causes stress! Bahahahaha! Okay, so let’s just say when you are autistic what causes anxiety is equivalent to the luggage hosted by a large passenger plane. And let’s leave it at that. Moving on.
Next on the what-to-do list: check in with yourself; get in touch with yourself; figure out when someone has triggered you. Okay . . . if you are autistic, maybe you are laughing because for the most part, as a general overall “species,” what I have found in my correspondence with over 10,000 Aspies is that typically we know ourselves pretty damn well; the challenge and dilemma is not trying to figure out who I am but who someone else is. I understand my brain more so than any “professional” I’ve come across. What it comes down to is I do check in with myself—more than most. I just can’t seem to find the boarding pass to other people.
Another idea for boundaries? Yep. How about listing what you won’t tolerate and/or what is unacceptable and acceptable? What about deciding the boundary ahead of time and writing it down? Hmmmmm. This is a tough one because being who I be I have a natural high tolerance level to life in general. Why? Because every day I have to tolerate about one hundred things in the span of, let’s say, the first hour of waking up. I am on sensory- and thought-overload. I just am. I am. I am. I am. Thusly, making the leap about what I shouldn’t tolerate to what I can tolerate, and what is extremely beyond the limits of what I should tolerate becomes very confusing. In truth, as silly as it sounds, I tolerated the bad breath, the hairy mole, the sticky residue on the kitchen floor, that last fart, the unexpected call, the weird stinging sensation in my spine, and on and on. That’s a lot. I can tolerate a lot. I am not sure what I cannot tolerate because I spend so much time tolerating. Of course there are the specifics—the extremes. I am good with extremes, at least in recognizing them. For the most part I understand extremes, such as being physically beaten. That won’t do in my life. But that’s something I can see. It’s concrete. I can visualize it. It’s a definite marker. Pinned and done. The rest, the subtle stuff, the toilet seat up, or the more severe stuff (I guess), such as not following through with you word. That stuff, the things I cannot visualize or concretely almost touch, I don’t get. I don’t know when enough is enough, unless it literally slaps me in the face. And I don’t know the difference between complaining and setting boundaries.
One other idea in assisting in setting boundaries is to recognize and establish your core values. I’ve got a few: love, serve, forgive. And I’d likely add to that clan, work on letting go of fear and understand most people are doing the best they can. Those are my core values. I’m not sure what I am supposed to do with these five things, beyond practice them. I don’t understand how they could be bricks for my imaginary wall of boundaries. I, at heart, don’t believe most people “suck” or “are mean” or “are terrible,” at least not on purpose. I tend to think, pending serious mental incapacities to be a “good” person, that most people try their best with what they’ve been dealt. From this line of core values, I find it hard to then pull out what I should say to set boundaries. I suppose I already say, “I love your effort, but please can you do this . . . to assist me.” I sometimes wonder if being nice is a curse with boundaries, though. Would it be more effective to say, “Get off your ass, and help me!” I don’t know.
In reading through the boundary tips, it’s advisable to recognize when someone has stepped over your boundaries. This is a dilemma that circles back to not consistently understanding my emotions, not knowing what is substantially causing more stress than something else. In other words it’s difficult to identify what I cannot tolerate over the masses of all the little troublesome tots. I cannot readily recognize when someone has overstepped a boundary. I don’t think this is because I am too accepting, or too loving, or too of anything. The fact remains that there is something about the way my mind functions that makes it challenging to spot someone overstepping my limits. It’s my blind spot.
I have this way of reasoning and justifying and finding cause for almost anything (another’s words or action). I don’t know how to turn that reasoning machine off long enough to step back and refer to the nonexistent rulebook of boundaries as a reference guide in inferring what I should say or do to enforce a limit that I am not sure if I set.
In the end, in thinking on boundaries, for this Aspie, it comes down to learning how to ask what I need with honesty and good intention. It comes down to moving in this world with integrity through the act of not only being authentic but safe-guarding my mind, heart, spirit, and physical body. There is no doubt I long to protect my integrity, to take care of myself, to limit my exposure to harms way. Problem is, that much like the hidden, unspoken rules of social interaction, boundary setting remains an elusive abstraction, somewhat of an invisible tooth extracted and implanted in my mouth—with no concreteness, no representation, no realness—that I am nonetheless supposed to utilize.
Sam Craft’s book Everyday Aspergers is coming this summer! Stay tuned for more information by joining our Facebook clan or following this blog! Much love and light to you. x Sam