In a comment on my last post, Aspergirl Maybe linked a very useful letter, written from the perspective of a child with autism to family he is going to be visiting, that I’d like to share here:
My response to her very thoughtful suggestion relates to an upcoming trip of mine to a family wedding, and it grew into a blog post of its own:
I think this type of letter could probably provide some enlightenment for some of my family members and even friends about specific issues relating to our situation, although I think they will be the ones who already listen and respect my needs and those of my family. They are also the ones with attention spans long enough to read a carefully worded letter. I do feel like it’s time to start sharing at least a bit more with them.
There are some other family members who don’t generally give the impression of hearing me no matter what the subject matter. They appear not to listen or read past the first few words I try to share, and I feel flustered enough around them that I know I take a lot of words to get across what I am actually trying to say. I also don’t know how to deal with these people when they dismiss the things I do say because they believe they know better (on what basis remains unclear) and try to push me into making the decisions that they think are best. I’m fine with making my own decisions and am not really looking for their input, but they give indications that peaceful relations are dependent upon my going along with what they think. They often come across to me, and I believe sometimes to others as, well, “pushy”. I don’t really know a nicer, clearer way to say it. Nothing I say seems to make much difference, simply because they aren’t actually hearing anything I’m saying or are only taking in enough to facilitate them dismissing what I say, unless, of course, I happen to agree with them.
Most family members just seem to know how these individuals are and to not be too bothered by them, although occasional scenes arise when strong tempers are involved. These individuals are always kind to my kids, but they interfere with my parenting and me doing what I need to do for our particular needs, and that’s not OK with me. The way they see it, they are just trying to help or to make things more fun, and it feels like they would take offense at any suggestion otherwise, because they also come across as very defensive. I know there are lots of people like this in the world, but I don’t choose people with these personality types as friends. I only have these few in my life because I’m related to them, and they are close to others who are close to me. When I try to communicate my needs with these people and they don’t listen, I become very confused and frustrated, probably greatly out of proportion to anything that anyone else would find the situation itself warrants.
I’ve run into some major difficulty fairly recently with trying to communicate with a particular couple of family members through writing. Almost everything I said was misinterpreted, and trying to explain myself just seemed to make things even worse. Even my attempts at apology and taking responsibility for the communication difficulties (this was probably not the best time to bring up the whole issue of thinking I might be an Aspergirl) were called irrational and passive-aggressive, which I found very hurtful. It soon became clear to me that the only way to calm things down was going to be for me to just say everything was all my fault and to ask forgiveness without looking for anything in return. It was really the only move I felt I had left. It did the trick, and they calmed down and now appear to have decided we’re all fine again, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve been working on my own forgiveness issues with regard to them, and I’ve let go of most of my anger, but I’m left with some serious trust issues.
Part of the problem for me in having to travel to see family is that I have issues with the travel itself – joint pain, car sickness, separation anxiety from sources of comfort, and a kind of situational claustrophobia that comes from being cooped up in a car with four guys. And that’s when everyone is getting along, which becomes less likely the longer the trip continues. These difficulties leave me feeling very much out of sorts when I first arrive someplace and for a long while afterward. I’m not exactly at my best for dealing with challenging personalities at that point.
Another thing that’s a problem for me in traveling is my concerns about sleeping arrangements and how we will deal with sleeplessness in myself or other family members. To sleep sitting up in a car just doesn’t happen for me. (I once spent the night lying on the floor of a school bus on an overnight trip, because I was the only one who couldn’t get to sleep in a seat. Yes, it was as gross as you’d imagine, but I was so tired that it no longer mattered.) My kids only sleep in the car if they’re really exhausted and we’re driving at night. Being able to sleep wherever we’re staying really does matter. Sleep problems are an issue with all of us at some point or other, but here at home we always have other rooms available and can move around. Usually it’s just one of us having difficulties, but some nights it kind of turns into a night-time version of musical chairs, and it’s interesting to see who ends up where by morning. 🙂 I know for many people, they just need a place to lie down and stretch out and they’re good. We’re usually more high maintenance. Hubby doesn’t always get this part, because he can usually fall asleep anytime and anywhere, although staying asleep is sometimes another matter, and he’s often up in the middle of the night or very early morning doing computer stuff here.
When we stay away from home, things can become more difficult, because the extra rooms are usually occupied by sleeping people who would probably prefer to remain asleep. Also, when we’re visiting with family, everyone wants to stay up late and has a hard time winding down to go to bed. Then during waking hours, the ones who didn’t get enough sleep and couldn’t do anything about it end up cranky and short-tempered. The upside is that sometimes we’re exhausted enough from staying up to go right to sleep, but that’s not always the case. For myself, I rarely get a decent night of sleep away from home, partly because I end up having to sleep close to family members, some of whom make enough noise that I can only manage a few hours of sleep even with earplugs. I also end up dealing with whichever of my children is either having sleeping issues or just can’t get themselves settled down to let the others sleep, and that cuts into my own sleep time, as well. None of this tends to bring out the best in me, but I can usually get by for a while with people whose company I enjoy.
What to do about it all :
Having already had some unpleasant experiences that were difficult for me to understand, now when I’m with certain people, I tend to feel anxious or threatened. My fight or flight response kicks in, and it’s hard to communicate effectively in that condition. Difficulties associated with travel make it worse. I’ve already had some discussion with a couple of people I trust about options to help with sleeping arrangements and with having some space to ourselves when we need to regroup. In terms of practical preparations, we’ll do what we can. For personal preparation, my main goal at this point is to build myself up enough before I go that I can be firm about my own decisions without becoming angry or defensive in the process. That last bit is the tricky part. The one thing I don’t want to do is to make a challenging situation even worse. I’m hoping that continuing to process my thoughts and feelings through writing will help to facilitate my self-assurance and peace of mind. (And if anyone here wants to kick in any suggestions, I’m definitely willing to listen. :)) I’m also working my way through some Zen literature that has helped me with difficult feelings in the past.
I think I may have to work on maintaining those qualities of peace and feeling secure within myself in the presence of some stronger personalities before I can be calm enough to communicate effectively with them. I think it’s at least worth some time and effort on my part trying to improve these relationships and the effect they have on me and my family. Honestly, I’d really like to get to the point that all of this stuff can be in the background, and we can relax and enjoy what should be a very special day for two very special people.