I’ve always been happiest, as far back as I can remember, whenever I’ve been safely cocooned inside my “own” bubble. As a child I would spend hours and hours and hours in my bedroom, shut away from the outside world. I would spend my time in their watching my own TV programmes, writing stories, books and articles and creating make-believe fantasy worlds through my writing where I was “normal” and where I “fitted in” with others.
I’m not sure if my parents or family thought there was anything odd about this behaviour, but as a child I had hardly any friends and I was in my element when I could be left to my own devices in my own “autistic world”. I had no idea of course that I was autistic back then, and I didn’t think to question it myself. All that mattered to me was that I was away from people who I found to be cruel, hurtful and difficult to get on with.
The bubble I created for myself was one of writing, listening to the rock band Queen, being obsessed with Freddie Mercury, listening to heavy metal music, watching 80’s American soap operas such as “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest”, watching sci-fi series such as “Star Trek”, “Babylon 5” and “Dr Who” and indulging in my interest of all things to do with nuclear war following seeing the film “Threads” when I was 15 years old. Nothing else mattered and I was obsessed with all these things. I developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of these things, especially of Freddie Mercury, Queen and everything to do with nuclear war. I could have appeared on “Mastermind” with the knowledge I collected.
I remember being able to freely indulge in my stims and feeling completely safe in the world that I created for myself within the four walls of my bedroom. To this day that feeling is still there, as my house is my “safe” place, and going outside of it takes a lot of mental and physical willpower for me to do. It will often take me days to recover from a trip out sometimes.
Conversely, I feel completely unsafe in unfamiliar situations. If I go to anything I have never been to before it takes a lot of willpower for me to turn up, talk to people and be social while I am there. The bubble is always there to protect me, it is the only way I can handle walking out of the house, driving and entering into situations that make me feel uncomfortable.
I will do the food shopping on a Saturday morning very early because it is quiet in the supermarket and I am able to stay within the bubble of my comfort zone. I have tried ordering my food shopping online, but I would get frustrated with some of the substitutions that I received if something I ordered wasn’t in stock. I also prefer being able to choose the fruit, veg and items on my shopping list myself, as I feel more in control of the quality of them. I can’t trust another person to do that. If I must go shopping for food at any other time - I hate it. My husband takes our dog for a walk every Saturday morning, and I go first to Tesco’s to get a handful of branded things that we have, and then to Aldi. I leave the house by 7.30am and I am back by 8.30am – done and dusted.
I realised I love Aldi so much not just because of the value for money that their products give, but also because of the way every Aldi store is laid out. There are no differences, each aisle and the products in it are the same and week after week I know exactly where to find the things I want. I hate it when Tesco’s move things or alter the layout of their stores, and just two weeks ago I had an internal autistic meltdown when they moved the meat aisles due to installing new fridges and freezers, meaning I couldn’t find the fresh beef meatballs I always buy from here. For an autistic person who likes everything to be in a specific order, on a specific shelf and laid out in a specific way it is a dream shop.
I always must withdraw into myself to cope with the outside world. I try not to look too far ahead, my mind is always on a myriad of other things that I must do, my to do list, my shopping list or whatever it is I am heading to do at that moment. It takes a lot for me to pull out of my bubble and interact with other people, but the “masking” I have got so good at doing really does come into its own at those moments.
One thing I have learnt is that every autistic person is different. Autism is a spectrum, and what I experience as an autistic person may not be the same as what another autistic person experiences. Most of the time we just need support in those situations that we don’t like. Once we get to overload, meltdown or shutdown points, it is often past the point of being able to support us – nothing will work. So if you see someone struggling, and you know they are #ActuallyAutistic, reach out and help them. Ask to hold their hand, but only if they are not touch adverse. By learning what things can help us the most, you can and will become part of our world, and our bubbles.
It takes a lot for me to let someone into my “bubble” and my world, so if I do this – know that it is one of the most highest compliments I can ever give you. I am different, not difficult. I am in my own autistic world.
Do you have a personal experience, story or insights linked to Neurodiversity which you would like to share? If so, please get in touch.