Suzanna shares her own personal experience with the shared loneliness of autistic emotional unavailability in the hope that she can heal a little more, and that others with this shared experience don’t feel so alone.
Today’s post I wish to dive right into is the shared loneliness of autistic emotional unavailability from my own personal experience. It seems emotional unavailability is when a person shuts down or numbs their emotions in order to deal with life and is not often spoken about in the wider autistic and neurodiverse sense. I hope to share my story today with the intent that I can heal a little more, and that others with a shared experience don’t feel so alone.
It seems that emotional unavailability is not solely an autistic experience, since in many cases it seems to stem from trauma; emotional, physical, or other types. Yet, what I know about my lived experience of emotional unavailability is the negative traits of autism do make it easier for me to slip into a state of emotional unavailability. It is an extremely overwhelming circumstance to be in, as most of the time it’s as easy to slip into it by saying that morning, ‘do I want to flick the switch off my emotions today, or should I feel them?’
Of course, it will be difficult to discuss the experience in a lot of detail; the negatives, positives, the myths, nevertheless the following list of strategies might help the most.
Do an activity that is a happy trigger. To illustrate, bubble tea is a great joy in my small list of ‘guilty pleasures’. Bubble tea is a sensory-grounding experience because I need to use all five senses automatically, highlighting it as a calming experience especially if the flavour is one I like; this often makes me return to my emotions healthily.
If you’re having a hard time dealing with emotions, it’s okay to get help. For example, often numbing down my emotions either partially or fully leads to an emotional outburst later because all emotions have to come out at some point. Having an emotional outburst in my experience is typically in the form of an autistic meltdown or tantrum, and there’s a big difference between the two. I am very stubborn and hate getting help because I like to do things myself, in actuality I like having full control over a situation. However, calling a friend to talk out emotions, or going to my GROW 12-step program, either the full group or just a text is helpful. Either way, I get strategies where I choose the ones I like best and use them, which gives me a sense of autonomy and empowerment over myself. As well, my feelings and experiences are validated and normalised which also gives me a sense of support and the continuity of informal care meaning I would be likely to use the support again.
Remember you are worthy of feeling emotions, of connecting to yourself and others. A lot of the time I use affirming oracle cards daily likened to affirmation cards. These help as I am naturally a spiritual person; having positive reminders that set my day and give me a healthy message are important because there is an underlying truth. For example, one of the cards I read lately said ‘Advocacy’, very much for that day I focused on how I could be a better self-advocate.
Get immediate help if you’re feeling your emotional unavailability is a hidden deep form of depression. For instance, my then-therapist said many years of emotional unavailability could be very linked to depression if I do not help myself and get appropriate support. Sometimes, my ‘skill’ of emotional unavailability is very powerful and I can turn off all emotions with a tap in as little as a few seconds. Then, I would feel fine, like I have solved many of my most-pressing issues, which is false. It’s moments like these that can often lead to more severe emotional challenges such as suicidal ideation or having a negative coping mechanism, like sleeping for a long time. What helps is having a plan, therefore using a crisis mental health support works. I use a combination of different supports if the situation is dire, but I will focus on a favourite here. Using SP CARE Connect Warmline assists me because I can talk to someone with a lived experience, so my experience feels validated and real. Then problem solving with the peer support work volunteer is useful because often the strategies do work thus having that kind of rare and real support is truthfully a lifesaver.