5. My inner Chihuahua
Updated: Jul 21, 2019
When I think of a chihuahua, I always picture a ball of fur shaking on all fours. Chihuahua's or chihuahueño, as these Mexican little dogs are called, are not only known for their good company but also for their nervous tendencies. A poorly socialised chihuahua will tip toe about, not knowing what to do with himself, standing in the corner looking at the scenes of life, frightened by everything that is too bright, too loud, too flavourful or too touchy.
I can so relate to the chihuahua. This dog is the representation of my nervous system. And Jeez, that's sounds odd.
Fight, Flight, Freeze or Chihuahua
More and more research is connecting autism not only to differences in brain structures, but also to a little something called 'Dysautonomia'.
Okay, let's do that again, for those like me, with echolalia out there and who just love to play with words: 'Dys-au-tono-mia' or 'dysauto-nomia' or perhaps 'dis-auto-nomia', oh, I could go on for a while.
Okay, let's keep focused here. Dysautonomia stands for basically a malfunction in the Automatic Nerve System (ANS). The symptoms of this biological fuck up can include anxiety, irritable bowl syndrome, low blood pressure, brain fog, chronic fatigue and insomnia. So yeah, you're screwed.
Now, managing dysautonomia can be challenging for allistic people, let alone people with autism. Imagine these situations:
Going for a haircut
Waiting in the waiting room
A stranger who starts speaking to you
Not quite remembering a face
Loosing your direction
A sudden change of plans
Being in a Crowd
Picking kids up from school
Making a deadline
A dentist appointment
A car honking -
The bus being too late -
Having to go for groceries
A dog barking as you pass by
Having to show up in a new place/situation
Working in an office
Going to a concert or festival
Nothing special right? Shame shit, different day. Some of these things occur on a daily basis, others occur weekly... Well, the point is, they're frequent and a part of normal life. However, for people with autism, like myself, these situations above are AN ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE!
Do you think I am exaggerating?! REALLY?!
Well, yeah.... maybe a little....
My point is that one of these situations alone would be enough to get my heart rate up and my blood pumping. A few of these situations combined during the day, and we have a recipe for a possible meltdown.
When your nerve(ous) system is easily triggered - as it is with most autistics - and it doesn't restore as easily as it does with regular people due to dysautonomia (God, I love this word!), you may find yourself in an endless cycle of being over-aroused. The chihuahua state, as I like to call it. You make look like you've got it all figured out on the outside, but inside, you can feel this ball of aimless energy trying to take over. Even chihuahua's have their limit, though.
Overexert your inner chihuahua, and you'll wind up with the basic human fight, flight or freeze responses.
Thinking about that. Have you ever seen the Disney film 'Frozen'?
(I'm sorry, my ADD is kicking in again but let's not fight it and see where it takes us.)
I know 'Frozen' is a movie for kids, but think about the hidden message here. Elsa, the main character, who was afraid of her own strength and capabilities, fought her whole life to keep her powers and her true self hidden. She struggled to keep everything within and when that didn't work, she tried to flee the castle of Arendelle. When people tried to stop her, she ended up freezing the whole damn place and fell back to a state of isolation.
So, Elsa starts by fighting, resulting in her fleeing away and eventually freezing everything, the three basic human responses to things that are terrifying - Thank you ADD. They can interject with one and other but the basic message is "I cannot deal with this situation right now, I need to get out of here."
Without dysautonomia, your body would usually recover quite quickly after a fight/flight/freeze response. Cortisol levels would drop, your heart rate returns to normal and your immune system is boosted again. How f*ing wonderful.
But, if you do have dysautonomia, like many people with autism, you might get caught in a little something called a "freeze loop", a terminology invented by the lovely people of Asperger Experts. A freeze loop basically comes down to an inability or lesser ability to recover from a state of (over) arousal.
After the state of freezing, comes the state of unfreezing and feeling. Feeling does not only encompass the feelings of emotions, which is often difficult and overwhelming on its own, it can also encompass the feeling of bodily sensory input. Let's say, for example, your heart pounding in your chest, or the feeling of dizziness or cramps or being short of breath. All these different types of input, thanks to dysautonomia, can send the brain back in overdrive and back into a state of panic, dispair and freeze responses.
Freeze loops can last for months!
The freeze loops I have experienced so far, have lasted somewhere from a few hours to perhaps a week and a half. They have been common in some periods in my life but can also be absent when life flurries by predictably and peacefully. However, there are people out there that can be stuck in freeze loops for months or years, and some that can never get out and have to live with it as best they can.
If anything, let this blog inspire you to have the upmost respect for people who have had to live inside an almost constant freeze loop. Yelling at them, shaming them, bashing them, only adds to the problem. They need a healthy way to vent, a safe place to be emotional, people who understand, respect and support them and appreciate their efforts for trying to live with this state of affairs rather than just give up. I write these blogs not only as a therapeutic way for myself to categorise all the information inside my head, but also to inform people and help them understand either themselves, or others around them.
We don't need another box to be put in, nor another cross to be nailed to. We need to be seen for the effort we make. However trivial to you, it can be tremendous for us.