Factoring in the Physical – what makes #autistic #Stoicism different

wires catching on fire on a bare floor

It’s not enough to get your thoughts in order. The body also has a say.

So, I’m back from a four-day graduation celebration / reunion marathon with my in-laws. These are folks who speak quickly in accents I don’t immediately understand, which can be challenging — especially when I’m tired. The whole “shindig” took place in a major metropolitan area where the traffic is heavy and unpredictable. I almost got hit a couple of times by people who were driving faster than they were watching. That seemed to be the overriding theme of the whole long weekend. People moving too fast. Not paying attention. Endangering others with their excesses.

The airport arrival, rental car pick-up, a crowded and loud graduation, four group meals, and the rental car / airport return were one extended experience in general melee. Chaos. Unrecognized patterns. A way of life that’s diametrically opposed to my own, with no space left for someone like me. No space at all. Because people like me are somehow … “wrong” to be the way we are. Overriding hyperdominance of mainstream neurotypicality. Hypermasculinity. Hyperfemininity. Hyperactivity. All around.

And for someone as sensitive as I am, that’s no fun at all.

On the bright side, this sort of condensed slog through the dross of that brand of mainstream life isn’t going to happen again, anytime soon. That’s something to be grateful for. Actually, things could have gone much worse than they did.

I got to put my Stoicism to good use during the whole trip. I did a bit of reading of Stoic writers, to get myself settled. I put the principles to good use. I kept it together, more or less, the whole time. Actually, I did better than keeping it together. I was engaged. I was interactive. I was socially appropriate. I conversed. I supported. I struck up conversations with strangers and family alike. I listened to the litanies of complaints about people who weren’t in the room. And I offered what input and perspective I could, to round out the overriding tone of criticism and negativity.

And I handled the ups and downs (mostly) like a trooper. We had to leave no later than 5:30 a.m. to make our flight. I got us up and out the door in time. The flight out was delayed. Okay. I hung in there. My partner needed additional help getting around; I made sure she got the assistance she needed. The car rental took an hour just to get through the line, and then I had to wait another 20 minutes for my car to be available. Then they parked it in the wrong spot, so I didn’t find it for another 30 minutes. Traffic was intense, driving through the central artery at rush hour. Almost got hit a couple of times. (I think I mentioned that.) Got to the hotel 2 hours later than expected, due to all the delays. Didn’t have time to take that much-needed nap. Getting to the graduation that evening was a truncated version of the hero’s journey, and the night ended late – around midnight – because my in-laws wanted to “hang out” and talk about the most vacuous sh*t you can imagine, while eating food that I (and my partner) should not eat.

And that was just the first day.

The 2nd day, I at least got a break in the morning, because the rest of the family wasn’t arriving till later that day. I had the morning to myself, to read and think and write a little bit. And I got a short nap. Not nearly enough, though. Plus, the anticipation of them arriving – mentally preparing myself for the impending onslaught of their indignation and outrage – kept me on edge. I wasn’t wrong to anticipate that. The first words they said as they came through the door of the hotel suite were bitter complaints and acrimony about the relatives who had given us the occasion to deal with all that… stuff.

A big graduation gathering in an unfamiliar place with lots of (drinking…. and drunk) strangers who talked fast with accents I couldn’t understand… Followed by a day of confusion and lack of communication and no clarity at all, replete with two group meals in loud, noisy, chaotic restaurants. Six conversations going on at the same time at the table, at any given moment… not to mention all the sounds and conversations I could hear around me in the respective rooms… The day culminated in a drinking-induced accident where the 3-1/2 year old darling of the family was dropped on her head by an uncle who was playing with her after having a few drinks.

We got out of there on Day 4, leaving 30 minutes later than planned, “hauling ass” down the road on the Sunday before Memorial Day, when all the cops were out, looking for holiday travelers to top off their speeding ticket quotas… finding a gas station off a remote exit, getting to the car rental place, handing over the car and then getting a ride to the terminal from the car rental folks… Checking in with a very, very friendly agent (who also spoke with a very heavy accent and was hard to understand)… and then having to schlepp on a shuttle train to a terminal several stops away.

Ironically, just when things were going right, is when I lost it. A few small bumps in the road, on the very last leg of the journey reduced me to tears. And all the while, I was telling myself to chill… keep cool… it was going to be over soon… this was good training… I told myself this was my Askesis for the weekend – the week – the month – hell, the year. I reminded myself of all the right things… all the most Stoic things I could think of. I quieted my mind. I cultivated a “Bring It On” attitude. I was perky, up-beat, pro-active, can-do.

But in the end, I still melted down. I lost it on a relatively mild scale, when I was in the airport terminal — withdrew to a bathroom stall and wept quietly for 15 minutes or so — then got myself together. We made the final flight and drive home in good shape, which was a blessing. And I thought my collapse was over — a more dramatic one averted. But yesterday, while I was resting, recuperating, I melted down in a far grander scale. Full-on nuclear reaction to something my partner said that was unkind and aggressive, but certainly not on the level with which I reacted.

I hate when that happens. Especially because it’s not supposed to. Not with me. Not with my Stoic approach to life. Not with my practical philosophy that I put into action on a daily basis. I’m capable of better, I know. But it all fell apart yesterday. For real. For very, very real.

It’s not often I melt down like I did, yesterday. And I hate watching myself do it. The sense of sliding down into that pit of despair and self-loathing, watching and listening to myself say things I both mean and don’t mean, gripping the proverbial reins of my out-of-control system, so I don’t drive myself (and everyone around me) off a proverbial cliff. Praying (because that’s all I can do, despite being a borderline atheist) that I don’t do the kind of damage I know I could, if the meltdown took me over completely.

And the aftermath… the aftermath… That sick, sinking feeling where everything feels like it’s been marinated in manure… stinking and sticky and pathetic. That feeling that, if I were to be told I had just a week left to live, I wouldn’t care at all — I’d be relieved, in fact. I don’t get pro-actively suicidal at those moments, but I really don’t care if I live or die. I just don’t care. Nothing matters. Nothing is worth it. All I can sense is my uselessness, the utter pointlessness of my existence, which seems little more than a source of pain to myself and others around me.

I know logically that it’s not true. I talk myself through the objective facts that I’m loved, that I’m cared-about, that people want me in their lives. But the sense of it all… that awareness is simply not palpable. I can’t feel it. Can’t sense it. It doesn’t exist in my experience. Only the anguish, the biochemical dross, the aching, gnawing regret.

Only that.

And the day after — following a whole afternoon and early evening of taking to the bed to sleep and read and recover — I still have that hangover. Still have that nagging sense of uselessness, of failure. I’m a Stoic, committed, determined, well-practiced. And yet… this.


Which inclines me to believe that while the mind is all very well and good, when it comes to thinking your way through life… the body still has to be reckoned with. The Autistic body. The physical vehicle, so excruciatingly finely tuned to each and every sensation, each and every input, each and every indicator of joy and pain and alert and ecstasy… that still must be acknowledged, factored in, respected for what it is.

As much as I’d love to believe that a well-trained mind can overcome adversity (and mine does, under most circumstances), the fact of the body can’t be overlooked. Or underestimated. Our biochemistry has sway. Our neurology has a say in how things develop. And defaulting to the mind — and mind only — under circumstances like the ones of my past week, can be a recipe for autistic disaster.

I realize that this is the conundrum I’ve been up against for the past 19 years, since I first realized that I was on the autism spectrum. Taking a mind-only approach to things, treating my life as though it can be thought into shape, steered down the right paths exclusively by habits of mind and applications of philosophy. Yes, those things can work. And they do often prove effective. But if I’m going to be 100% honest about my situation, I have to accommodate my body… my biochemistry… my neurology… my individual autistic corporeal makeup in everything I do.

I have to accommodated the body, as well as train the mind. It doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me vulnerable. If anything, that realization gives me an advantage. When I use the autistic brain I was given to work with the autistic body I’m in, things have a way of sorting themselves out.

But when I go the mind-only route… yeah, that’s when things get needlessly “eventful”.

I still have a long way to go, before I’m on firm footing again. But I’m getting there. At least I’m aware.

And determined to do something productive with it.

4 thoughts on “Factoring in the Physical – what makes #autistic #Stoicism different

  1. Reblogged this on Aspie Under Your Radar and commented:

    There’s much more to say about this. And I intend to. I’m coming to believe that much of the drama and contention around autism has its actual roots in western mainstream society’s (pathological) fear of the physical realities of life — especially those which resist the override of the mind.

    According to our western you-can-do-it-if-you-try mythology, the right frame of mind, the right attitude, the right motivation, the right philosophy, can (and will) assert primacy over every single one of the uncomfortable physical realities that threaten our very existence. That existence can be social or individual, economic or biological. But in any case, no physiologically based challenge should — or can — resist the glorious primacy of our mentality.

    But what if there’s more to that? What if the body is every bit as central to our thought-and-reality-creation process, as the mind? What if the body in fact overrides the mind at times? What if there are circumstances under which the mind simply CANNOT assert its primacy, because the body has the proverbial upper hand?

    This question, I believe, lies at the heart of our current conflict about autism, Aspergers, neurodivergence.

    Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. But I do think I’m right about this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Once an associate of mine wanted me to meet some people she knew. The train ride ended up being longer than expected, and then we had to take another bus, something I didn’t plan on. Then we walked straight ahead and unexpectedly turned right, then left. And then I had to meet new people…

    Instead of a meltdown, I went into a shutdown model and stared straight into space. Couldn’t talk or move. The new person I met talked to me and held out his hand, but I couldn’t answer or move. Luckily it only lasted a few minutes. Rather embarrassing. Fortunately this only happens every once in a great while, maybe because I take precaution not to change my routine, and if I do, to know what and when going to happen beforehand.

    Meltdown are terrifying, and shutdown aren’t as bad. You just go numb and not know where you are, how you got there, and what you should do. You just freeze. Both are situations I’d rather avoid because they’re simply traumatic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As I’m reading, and wondering, “What could possibly be so important that you have to take multiple forms of transportation and walk down a winding path to actually meet somebody?” Seems excessive to me.

    Sorry you had that experience. It’s happened to me more than a few times, as well. Not much fun, when it does happen.


  4. Pingback: Resources on Stoicism and Autism – Modern Stoicism

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