Literally Speaking

Over the last years, I’ve realized that I communicate and interpret things more literally than what a lot of people do. As long as I communicate with other people who do the same it works just fine, but communication with the rest of the world is a tiresome project. It causes both stress and a lot of practical problems, and in this post I’m going to explain what it means.

Stress

As an autistic person who also is chronically ill and suffers from a lot of brainfog, I need predictability for a number of reasons. I need to know what’s happening in advance to be able to plan what to spend my energy on, I need to have time to prepare and I need time to adjust my focus. When I interact with somebody who doesn’t make as literal interpretations as I do, I never know what to expect. If we make an agreement about something, I can often assume that we haven’t understood each other but no matter how hard I try to predict what the other person will do or expect, I fail most of the times. This means that I spend energy, way too much energy, on trying to figure out how people interpret what I communicate. I don’t have a lot of energy because I have a disease that literally means that my cells can’t produce as much energy as they can in a healthy person (ME – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). To this, the lack of predictability causes stress and on top of that, misunderstanding tend to lead to people being angry or disappointed, or pushing me into something that will worsen my condition.

To conclude, interacting with people with a less literal interpretation causes me stress because it consumes energy, I don’t get necessarily predictability and I have to deal with other people’s anger and disappointment.

Practical problems

Practical problems occur mainly because I’m very inflexible due to my lack of health and energy, and because I have a hard time shifting focus. I have to prepare immensely for every single little task, and when somebody suddenly expects something from me that I haven’t prepared for, I can’t adapt as quickly as expected. At least not without worsening my symptoms.

This becomes very obvious in situations where somebody is helping me with something, because when I ask someone to help me I mean that I need help with exactly what I asked for. Nothing more, nothing else. For some reason a lot of people think that they can do way more, or help me in a different way than what I asked for. For instance, let’s say that I ask someone to buy me a bottle of milk. The person says yes but comes home with three bags full of groceries. The person expects me to be grateful, and when I explain that I don’t have room to store all those groceries, the helping person will be disappointed. The person has just caused me a practical problem that I probably don’t have spoons to deal with, and on top of that I have to spend my precious energy on explaining why and deal with the other person’s feelings.

On top of causing me all this stress and practical problems, doing a lot more or something different than what I asked for seems to me like thinking that you know my needs better than I do. I lose my autonomy and have to spend energy that I don’t really have on dealing with practical problems and stress.

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