Kinda gave this one away in the title. If you’re familiar with the ADHD/autism spectrum (which I wholeheartedly believe I’m on at this point), you may have heard the term emotional dysregulation. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a phenomenon where ones emotional reactions can be all or nothing in terms of intensity, and sometimes the emotions we feel don’t always seem to be appropriate or proportionate to a scenario.
Whatever stops and safeties a neurotypical brain has to prevent emotions always getting dialed to 0 or 11, we just don’t have. Here’s what that feels like to me.
There are days where I’m okay. Days where I feel I can pass as average. I can smile when I’m supposed to, laugh along with everyone else without wondering why, show sympathy and empathy in appropriate measures. And then there are days where I have to think through and plan my emotional responses because they come out all jumbled, or everything is irritating or something as simple as spilling a drink can make me irrationally angry or frustrated. But the 11s for me are easier to deal with than my 0 days. At least if I feel too much at once I have ways that can get channeled. At least if I have a panic attack, recovering from it helps me process.
My 0 days are when I feel I’m a well and truly broken individual. That’s not a cry for comforting by the way, I mean it in a very literal sense of just feeling like I don’t function the way I should. I use that term because feeling that way is fairly consistent for people dealing with this issue and I feel like it would be disingenuous to call it anything else just to sugar coat my own personal experience with my mental health. There is no cure for apathy. There’s no way to bleed apathy off. It sits there, forces me to wallow in it like there’s been a power outage at my local emotional power plant and I don’t get a choice in when the lights behind my eyes are going to come back on. These are the days when I can barely respond to people with more than a shrug or muttered sentences. These are days where I feel so little that I don’t even have cravings for food I enjoy.
To borrow a term from Bleach, apathy is a spiritual pressure. It makes gravity feel heavier, crushes the air out of my lungs and grinds whatever emotional responses I had stored up into nothing.
And, in its wake, it leaves behind feelings that aren’t great. It makes me feel like a selfish and terrible friend/partner/child/sibling because I’m incapable of showing care or love in my usual ways, and on any given day the idea of comforting someone is a coin flip of whether what I say will actually help. And I wish it wasn’t. There are… More times in my life than I can count where someone I loved clearly needed some kind of comfort and no matter how hard I tried I could not force my brain to call forth the emotions I needed to be there for them in the way they needed. Even when it should have been obvious and straightforward.
It’s pretty clear I need some kind of help to manage this. It’s monumental and gotten worse because of the pandemic. But the truth is, deep down, I’m a bit scared a doctor will turn me away, and absolutely terrified that they’ll tell me I am right. I’m scared that getting help and medication means that, in some ways, those little whispers in the back of my head telling me I’m broken are right. And that’s never an easy fear to work through.
Kudos to anyone that’s read this far. That couldn’t have been easy. You might have a friend that you now notice shuts down in social scenarios or gets frustrated when they can’t help solve a problem or make you feel better. Or maybe parts of this resonated with you and you’re wondering what you can do about it. The truth is, the only trick I have on my own is finding things that I know can force me to feel specific ways. Things that bring up intense positive emotion so that when I come back out of an apathetic state, I’m jumping to a happy 11 instead of one that causes me to lash out.
Music is a big one. Soundtrack your life, as often as you can. Use it to change your mood as you can. Clock the films and anime and shows that help too. Have easy to make foods you love ready, find textures for blankets and clothing that makes you feel good. Anything easily accessible, minimal effort and highly emotionally fulfilling for you. Find outlets for your 11s that can direct you to a good emotional state when you’re bouncing back from a 0. None of this will fully help and no one trick will work 100% of the time. But, hopefully if this resonates with you in some way, some of these broad tips might give you some management tools that can help in the day to day.
Most of all, try to be patient with yourself. Anyone out there who knows someone on the spectrum or might have suspicions based on this, show more patience than you would otherwise. Our brains, our emotions, don’t even follow the instructions we try to give them, so any asks you have of us or rules you expect us to play by are likely to get muddled or lost completely on our 0 days.