Recovery is vastly different for me to the way it is for Rose. I remember things they don’t, there’s experiences I know only the story of that they carry the memory of in their body, where they are struggling for a sense of agency I’ve been drowning under the responsibilities of home, work, parenting, and caring. At the point where it looked like Rose was going to die, I stepped back from work and our community rallied around me. Offers of support came in and I withdrew into tongue tied silence. As the communication gulf widened, I started writing here again.
I don’t understand autism or adhd. I’m still undoing all the cultural litter of misconceptions and outdated ideas about it, trying to get a clearer handle on what they are, and what they are for me. Somewhere this year they went from an exciting revelation to a horrifying reassessment of my identity, capacity, and place in the world. They call into question so many things I thought I knew about myself. And they provide another explanation for the confusing mix of things I find easy and things I find impossible.
People send me messages asking simple questions and offering supports. I sit looking at them with a head full of white noise and a stone when my tongue used to be. I recall parts of my diagnostic report that discuss communication challenges, difficulties with scheduling and making decisions. I keep trying to move my life away from these skills I lack being so fundamental and essential to my day to day existence. Crisis brings them all back to the center.
The blog is reassessed through this new lens, as a workaround for my strange communication style. Eloquence and honesty here substiting my incapacity to find the right amount and timing for honest sharing in person. People keep asking me how I am, I flounder and test out different levels of openness or bypassing the question altogether, come and answer it here instead. I’m good at communicating. I’m terrible at communicating. [“Everything anyone has ever thought is true.” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K Dick]
People offer help, ask what we need. I can’t answer. I am numb. I don’t know. When I do know, the effort to message person after person looking for someone who can help, and being reassuring to all the people who can’t and feel bad is exhausting. My own feelings are exhausting. A friend tells me all their free and busy times for the next week, but I don’t know what day it is now, and I can’t track any of it. People try to plan days ahead but the situation is so unstable nothing lasts and I’m constantly weaving and unweaving plans. Another tells me the reasons they are booked up and can’t help and to me in that moment, fearing that day Rose is dying, they seem trivial and I’m incandescent with rage, holding my mouth shut against exploding my safe places and destroying my precious relationships. Unspoken, the anger numbs me further, creates distance, but right now I lack the capacity to own my feelings without venting them. Poppy needs me to not be scary, not scary sad, not scary angry, not a seething mass of skinless triggered distress, so I freeze. I sit very still. I talk in a soft and slow voice. I layer thick frost over self. Then I try to thaw slowly in safe places.
I ask a friend for help coordinating. She steps in and plays the role I’m so familiar with: the building of safety and persistent enquiry until she understands the shape of my needs. I’m clearer about what I don’t want, what’s helpful is the negative space left when we eliminate all the things that evoke visceral distress. The offers of help are rerouted out of my inbox into hers, she corrals, explains, thanks, apologises, tends the relationships with the sensitivity my terror requires and my exhaustion precludes. We add another friend to reduce the workload. They message in regularly with ridiculous caveats: would this be helpful? Don’t answer if it’s stressful right now. When you feel up to it would you mind letting me know if this plan sounds good? I hate needing this level of kid glove handling, but it works. Slowly we build the plans and reply.
People offering food I can’t eat are redirected towards buying things I can. Poppy and I are doing samefood and struggling to keep regular meals. I can’t eat, or I eat and feel sick, or I throw up. Unfamiliar food is overwhelming. The guilt of not being able to eat gifts is overwhelming. Familiar things are safer. I’m embarrassed, but at least I know now what this is. I have words for it, even if they’re terms like samefood no one outside the autism community understands.
Offers of caring for Poppy are rebuffed gently, because we now know she will regress if left with people she doesn’t know very well. 2020 has been a training ground for what helps Poppy cope when Rose is unavailable. After the hell of my earlier mistakes, I’m glad to have a clear understanding of what she needs and to be able to stick to what I know works. Friends visit to take her out then change plans and sit at the table for 3 hours playing play dough because being away from me is too much for her some days.
I accept the help and tolerate the fear of judgement, the sense of unworthiness, the survivor guilt, things being done differently to how I do them. Someone comes to help with housework, so the day before I clean the toilet, bathroom sink, and fold 7 loads of washing instead of napping like I actually needed. It’s stunningly difficult and deeply exasperating. Despite my chronic agitation, it works. My depression lessens. There’s things to eat. Poppy is still thriving. Community folds around us, and we find workarounds for the warm boundaries and communication needed to translate the good intentions into helpful action, far beyond my capacity to do so. It takes work to transmute goodwill and effort into such elegant outcomes.
I’m reminded how essential feeling safe is to accepting help, something I know intimately in caring and in my disability support work, but struggle to find for myself. Many hands hold the pain and it becomes bearable. Many hands hold the tasks and my own inadequacy eases, the connections are strong while my capacity is broken and starting to heal. This is the heart of the work I’ve been doing, and having such an intense experience of needing support myself is both humbling and helpful. When I’m trying to create resources for someone who is freezing, unable to articulate their needs, afraid, guilty, lost: we start with safety and connection. We build everything from relationship. I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t experienced it.
One thought on “Letting people help”
Hi Sarah Listening to your passion and open confusion in your words bought back memories of a someone with questions, confusion and a mass of curiosity about who they were. You had lived with the various aspects of who you were but there were questions. Sarah we seemed so different but boundaries blur. I hear your struggle, your pain. A pain that goes far deeper than one could ever imagine. Each time a clue is found , a page turned , an answer found the questions multiply. Sarah if you ever want to just talk l have ears. I know I’ve not exactly walked your walk but I carry the label of schizophrenic, I m being treated for DID by my psychologist but my psychiatrist and GP just ignore this part of me. I live with severe levels of comorbidity including a life threatening respiratory condition that puts me in the respiratory icu emergency more often than I would like. I’ve been on the respirator once and they did not think they would get the tube out. I’ve