Let’s Be Practical

It all started with a Buzzfeed quiz: Eat Your Way Through Europe and We’ll Reveal Your Dream City! I got Barcelona, and while I was reading through the blurb describing warm oceans and sea breezes I thought to myself “you know, I’d love to see Barcelona some day.”

But let’s be practical, I probably won’t.

I think the most heartbreaking part of being diagnosed as an adult is that I often still think that I am neurotypical. And since I’ve spent 28 years being bombarded by the idea that I can do anything I want, I see no reason why I can’t. As long as I Try hard enough.

I think we all know though, that autism doesn’t work like that. Now I’m not implying that we shouldn’t try! Yoda said “do or do not, there is no try”, and I disagree with the little green bastard because I think “try” is not a placeholder for “do”, I think trying is an action in its own right.

And because of this, I subscribe to the school of Realistic Trying. To me, this means that I’m never going to stop pushing forward and doing things, but I’m going to be realistic about how I go about it. Let’s take Barcelona. Barcelona is in Europe. In Spain. I live in St. Louis, which is 4644 miles away, smack dab in the center of the United States. And thanks to the myth of Trying Hard, a large part of my brain still thinks that traveling that far is doable.

Let’s make a quick list of barriers to travel:

  1. I have a routine, and if it is not followed, it will eventually lead to a meltdown.
  2. I can’t deal with unpredictability, and traveling to a new continent is full of them.
  3. I am a picky eater, and my precariously balanced diet depends on me being able to eat safe foods.
  4. I get overwhelmed by people. I’m pretty sure a transatlantic flight would be the end of me.
  5. Sensory Overload. Enough said.

Yet my brain tells me that I Can Do Anything, and my common sense can’t shut it up. My brain tells me to Follow My Dreams. Common sense suggests maybe finding a more realistic dream, but this is quickly shut down. I Can Do Anything, my brain proclaims.

I can’t do anything.

I can do some things, and that list is always growing. This is what I need to focus on because I logically know that I can’t just push through a meltdown with the power of Trying. What I can do, and what I need to do, is to get to know myself better. Find out where I can make little adjustments without compromising my mental health.

So on days when I try something new, I keep my schedule as close to normal as possible, even if I’m not at home. I talk myself through things that might be unpredictable, so I can be ready for them. I pack myself just-in-case food, and I know where the bathrooms are- just in case I need a break. And for the sensory worries? I never leave home without earplugs, stim toys, and distractions.

I wish my brain thought those little adjustments were a success, but I think we all know by now that it doesn’t. Because my dreams didn’t come true, it tells me, I must not have tried hard enough. Who cares about small victories? I’m not lying on a beach* in Barcelona, so I’ve failed.

Let’s all give a rousing Shut Up to my brain, because yeah, maybe I haven’t made it to Europe yet. Maybe I never will. But hey, let’s be realistic, I’ve got Nashville and Chicago, and Kansas City, all a hop, skip, and a jump away, so let the road trips begin!

*I would never do this anyway. Wet sand is sensory hell for me.