I could feel the pressure building as I worked my way through 700+ emails after returning from four weeks of leave. Experience should have taught me that this would not be a simple task.
Maybe working from home has made me a bit blase. In my mind I would just saunter into the front room with my morning coffee before casually flicking through emails. But it’s work and it reaches into my private space in a way that was inconceivable before March 2020.
There was already too much going on in my head as I finished my leave. I’d spent too long on an assignment for a freelance writing course. My brain was foggy with confusion and doubt about my writing efforts and the direction I was taking them. Add to this the self-recrimination from not having achieved the mythical list of tasks I’d set myself for these weeks.
Sometimes life is just too much. And growing into my identity as an autistic person has been an exercise in discovering the many different ways it can be too much. I know when it is too much because I am stopped in my tracks by the pain of feeling that I am not enough.
The 700+emails were a portal into a world that has been my work environment for the last 16 years. There is so much that comes with that: as well nuts and bolts of my job and where I need to pick it up, there’s the crushing weight of celebrations, achievements and alliances of colleagues organisation-wide.
The prospect of an impromptu meeting was probably enough to send me plunging into chaos. I now realise that this feeling of powerlessness is my cue to stop and repair.
So I stepped into the bedroom. I lay down on the bed and I breathed deeply. This is something I couldn’t do in the office. For a few moments nothing else existed. There was just four walls and the bland quiet contained by them.
By the time I made my way back to the computer about an hour later, the garish excesses of the morning had fallen away. There was enough space in my head to summon the focus I needed to get on with things. The storm had passed.
What I thought of as simply ‘not coping’ can now be explained in many shades of overload. This morning it was mental overload brought on by an onslaught of information and demands. Plenty of times I’ve experienced sensory overload from my immediate environment. In some ways that’s easier to identify and address. More insidious and persistent is emotional overload that I’ve experienced in darker days.
I’m becoming more aware of the way I interact with the world and what ‘too much’ feels like. I’m also learning that removing myself from it temporarily isn’t not coping, it’s actually the smart way to function in a demanding world.