The jeans and the patch in the t-shirt itch. Hair feels electric. My whole being feels like a great itchy discomfort. The humming noise of the bus threatens to burst my eardrums. The air is so stuffy. All scents seem amplified. Damp wool, breaths, rubber, perfume. A wall that pushes me into a corner.
The memory of Friday’s disco goes on endless repeat in my head. The guy I’m in love with who chose another girl and tap danced right in front of my eyes. The lump in the throat. A funny feeling of having been cheated without understanding how and why. The music that rang in the ears and everyone talking around. The body that screamed escape but was forced to stay. How I pretended to be interested in terms like mini, midi and long skirt.
The memory is mixed with all the impressions from this morning. My family’s sounds and smells they give off just by existing. Sounds of sticky feet against plastic mats. Scent of eggs, hairspray and dads aftershave. The heat steam from a curling iron. I hate the feeling inside me, just wanting them all to disappear and leave me alone and in peace.
Once at school, I am greeted by a sea of stares. They feel like laser beams. I have no shield. Even though it should be impossible, since there are so many voices, I still make out nuances, whispers, giggles. It’s like I have an extremely sharp camera in my head that insists on documenting every detail even though all I want to do is curl up in a little ball and scream. (Although that, to be honest, is an after-the-fact construction by the adult who writes this text.) Now and then I can’t think like that, I’m busy with all the impressions.
“You have a real Colgate smile”, Grandma says, “that will get you far.” So I smile. The body tenses like a shield. In the classroom; clearing of throats, sneezing, chairs being moved and people coughing and breathing loudly. Pencils scrape, erasers squeak. I look around. Don’t understand why no one reacts. All sounds are amplified. As if someone turned up the volume.
It’s an English test. I steel myself. Biting my cheek and doing my best to shut out all sounds. Squinting through bright fluorescent lights that make the eyes water and translate the Swedish words into English. The test is corrected there and then on the spot and I I score 100%.
The next day I can’t get out of bed. I feel sick. But I’m not sick. Not physically. No fever. No sore throat. It’s inside me. Like a chafing and an endless fatigue that makes me barely able to move. I just know that if everything doesn’t just go black and quiet soon, something inside is going to explode.
What I don’t understand then, is that everything already had exploded. Several times. All the time. That the explosion was inside me. An implosion. That the fatigue I experienced was a result of everything being too much for too long. That all impressions, demands and my constant attempt to fit in had itś price. That Colgate smile, as grandma called it, together with the unbroken facade made me periodically end up in autistic burnout not understanding why. No one understood. Since no one knew I was autistic.
But that’s how it is. When things are too much for too long, it doesn’t work anymore. Thatś the case for all people, autistic or allistic. But for autistic people, just existing in a neurotypical world is too much to begin with. Itś like you start off with minus fifty points in a game where everyone else starts at zero. Then add the extra layer of navigating and trying to perform with everyday life as well and you get the perfect formula for a burnout.
If you want to hear other autistics experiences of this you find it here where I first posted this text https://www.instagram.com/p/CiW8XH1M6J8/
Thank you for reading.