“To be is to control...From birth to death we are engaged in an ongoing process of control” T. Carey
Having a sense of control is something that human beings want at different levels. One of the key things that makes us feel safe. In terms of safety, for continuing existence. Most people (to differing degrees) want a level of control over some areas of their life. If we are talking in gruesome terms, one of the ways of torturing people is messing around with that. Interrogation techniques, continually moving them or flickering the lights on and off. This puts people in a perpetual state of not feeling like they are in control. It can make people feel anxious.
To different degrees,
Human beings want control.
Working from home (and in an office) entrenches me into certain routines and rituals.
JR: Good Noon, hope the second coffee got over by now
In relationships, there are moments (especially during cohabitation) that cause friction. Areas of control clash or conflict with one another. There is a desire to have a sense of order when chaos is happening.
For autistic and neurodiverse people, having a sense of control is important and more talked about. This links to the idea that autism can be considered can involve a disorder of prediction. "Disorder of prediction" is a theory, the idea that human beings are constantly looking at the world around them, collating evidence and using that predict what will happen next. Absorbing what is happening, creating patterns and trying to figure out and predict what will happen based on changes in environment etc. The differences in autism can be linked to difficulties in the predictive / cognitive process. There is an overarching theory that autism and neurodiversity can result in the difference in the prediction and manifestation of events. One aspect would be difficulties in generalising information. Learning something in one situation and not necessarily feeling able to apply it in another situation.
3 different theories of prediction:
The more difficult that it is to identify patterns, the more difficult that it is to predict events.
Ideas of control. The example of my grandfather deliberately selling his house to put himself at a financial loss. Could this be interpreted as a way of staying in control? That by bringing about the "inevitable", he was putting eventuality on his terms? Seeing it as something that would happen anyway?
Sometimes, I find myself inadvertently predicting the future. Yet feeling powerless to be able to do anything about it. People might feel jealous or envious of my ability to "predict the future". They might view it as a means of being "in control". But the reality is that it can feel like the opposite. It is not something that I feel easily able to control. Multiple times, I have found myself in situations where I think that something is going to happen or unfold in a certain way. Yet I feel powerless to do anything about it, because I have no proof. And I am surrounded by neurotypical people who are enforcing a "toxic positivity" on a situation without knowing the outcome. When the situation turns out negative, I end up beating myself up for being "won over" by the ephemeral words and intentions of other people and not doing something to prevent a negative outcome. This feeling is disempowering. I find myself fighting against myself. To put it in mundane terms, it sucks being Cassandra!
There is an idea of "toxic positivity". I like this term.
For me, it means 2 things:
The results? Not stopping to talk or engage with why it has not worked out well. Happily carrying on, blundering and bumbling through life. Without a care in the world. Not learning from the experience. Making the same mistakes over and over again. Abdicating responsibility. Negating accountability. Not following through or pausing to reflect. An avoidance mentality. All of the behaviours that I associate with what I call "flag waving" and "future faking". The disempowering ideal of leaving it to fate and believing that things will work out miraculously without one having to try. The residual feeling of looking back on a situation as if it were uttered by a different person (even though it is the same person) in a different lifetime. Thinking "what was that all about?" Something that goes against pragmatism and realism. The seeds that neurotypical people have planted in me that led to such a dreadful mental breakdown in 2019. Refusing to take action.
This "things are going to be fine" ideology. Society is plagued by people who impose that without putting in the practical measures of safeguarding that possibility.
For me personally, there is a lot to be said for defining one's own reality. Something that has helped me is to focus more on how I respond to a situation rather than the situation itself. It does not mean that I stop talking about the situation at hand.
I am shifting the focus to:
This way, I am not engaging instantaneously. I am giving myself a moment to pause for reflection. I am not acting impulsively. There is not one set way of interpreting situation. One person's intention can mean something completely different. And who is to define the meaning of that intention? The person saying or doing? Or the person listening and responding?
It is the philosophy of:
If I am choosing how I listen, it puts the control and power back on to me. It has helped me in certain situations. It has enabled me to navigate around my own fears and insecurities.
Like the example of Miz. How I chose to respond to it. I made a conscious decision to not control her actions. Instead, to focus on my response, i.e., not to let myself think that she was deliberately ignoring me. I was tempted to say "well, you might have simply said no". But (apart from inciting anger) that might have been an admission that this is the message that I was drawing from her ambiguous behaviour. In doing so, I might have allowed the ignoring to happen. I made the conscious decision to control my own actions regardless of what she was not doing (responding). I came out stronger for it. Effectively, I did not let her ignore me.
Increasingly, I realise that I am triggered more by my response to something than the thing that is happening to me. By practising mindfulness, I am able to slow down, stop and not act on instinct. It is comforting to know that we retain our own sense of control over our perception of the world.
Last week, I was reading a conversation that I had with RV 9 years ago (April 2012). In which I self-subjugated no less than 4x within 4 consecutive sentences. Back then, I felt insecure and "out of control". Automatically, I demoted myself to a lower level out of a belief that this was somehow inevitable. Not unlike my grandparent's tendency to put myself at a disadvantage from the word "go". Another thing, I remember that he used to feign being asleep so that he could experience a "rude awakening". I do that, too.
[15:54, 29/03/2021] Rory Duffy: Hey JW how's it going? I am a bit confused. I signed up to the M&M Saturday 10th April, did the event listing change to today? Hope you are well 😊
Yesterday, I was confused because I had signed up to a social on 10th April and the date changed to yesterday. I messaged the group organiser asking what was going on. She did not respond. I messaged one of the WhatsApp group members to find out who was hosting. She said that no-one was hosting.
[15:53, 29/03/2021] Anna: Check out this Meetup with [group]
I was beginning to think that no-one would show up. Anyway, I decided to take the risk. The intention was to arrive at the agreed time and place, post a message on the group to say that I was there in order to engineer a situation of being "stood up" by the group. Crazy when I think about it. But certainly a form of control. In which I might be deliberately self-subjugating (playing the Eternal Victim / sacrificial lamb card). To "show everyone up" and assert control by "bringing about" a perceived inevitable. With the ulterior motive to send a message that the group might be "anarchic". And, by extension, might be better off under my management. If I "play out" my line of thinking somewhat extremely.
This is a classic example of me trying to assert control over an ambiguous situation. In the end, a dozen or so people turned up anyway. We had a wonderful time. Before I set out, I asked myself "am I doing this for the right reasons?"
I concluded that if no-one turned up:
I guess that these prospects helped me feel more secure about the uncertainty of the situation. It was a healthy process to put myself through. Practise having that dialogue with myself. It is a positive process to edge myself slightly out of my comfort zone. It was a completely spontaneous decision to attend. Indeed, I had signed up for the 10th April and I was not expecting to go yesterday. But I thought, well, why not? If the goalposts have changed, why not practise "riding the wave" and finding a means of control within myself in the face of seeming chaos?
One of the difficulties of society is people finding themselves caught up in the illusion of "social lies".
Yesterday, at the social gathering, someone said "no-one checks if you RSVP to the event or when / where the event is happening. Clearly. The idea of the group is that you post on there "hey, I am in a park on my own" and people simply rock up".
In principle, it is a lovely thought. But I am cynical. Have I been in that situation before?
Existentialism is about creating your own meaning, deciding your own response and defining your own existence.
Death is the ultimate thing that we have no control over. The concept of death as a natural cycle, as one of the certainties in life that is predictable. It might be easier for autistic people to talk about death. And people who suffer from depression. I have talked about suicidal ideation. How quick people are to either judge someone for having suicidal thoughts, immediately dismiss suicide as a "viable" option or disengage from talking about it altogether. For someone who is experiencing those thoughts, these approaches can be damaging and devastating (and potentially make people more likely to go through with it). Suicide might also tie in with this idea of control. If we talk about our extension of the "sacrificial lamb" ideology as discussed above. At an extreme level. Some people might see it as the only option. They might think that death is out of their own control. Why not bring it back under their control? It is important to engage with the topic and explore the rationale and reasons behind those complex layers of thinking.
When I experienced depression, 2 things happened:
In my darkest hours, the prospect of imminent death was a source of comfort for me above all else. Enveloping myself in the warm shroud of thinking that there was no more height from which to fall. The suicidal ideation became a "shell" or form of protection from the world. Death became a comfort because it became something that was predictable.
Back on the topic of autism, there is a sensory aspect to life perception. Different environments and contexts can feel new and intense. Control and routine go hand-in-hand. Especially for autistic and neurodiverse people. They feel good. Sometimes, it feels nice doing things in a certain way. It feels calming and pleasing. The opposite is also true. When things change, it can feel stressful.
My manager constantly says that I work in a specific way. The way in which I align everything to a grid of 1 inch subdivided by 8. Or right justify number fields. Or my surplus use of brackets in coding. She says that she will not change that. If it works for me. If it helps me to the job to the best of my ability. No-one will argue or stop me from doing that. My current role is in a much more hospitable environment to my previous role at DT where I was discouraged from the natural ways in which I worked. Yes, a lot of the stuff that I do out of habit might outwardly seem "superfluous". Like aligning a new field to the grid and ensuring that it is right-justified, exactly 1.25 inches wide and 1 gutter apart from the adjacent field. Or building a new layout from scratch because the existing layout is giving me "epilepsy". However, it gives me a clarity of perspective which enables me to notice a "weirdness" amongst the order. As my Facebook strapline says:
My role in life is to bring about order from chaos
What does this mean? Routines and rituals are important to me. They make me feel safe. Change is more difficult. Unstructured periods are more difficult.
How do I feel about coming out of lockdown? I am living life "on tip toes". Yesterday, I attended a social. Part of the reason why I wanted to attend was because this was the first social gathering that the group had organised since late last year. I wanted to ensure that I was there. I know that I have a slower social processing than most (as a result of my autistic tendencies) and my main concern is not wanting to feel "left behind". By giving myself a "head start" and a running jump at practising my somewhat depreciated social skills while we are still in March, I am putting myself in at an early advantage for the summer when the picnics might be happening. Win Win. It enables me to feel more in control. In exactly the same way as arriving early to a meeting. Or arriving early at work.
This morning, I arrived into the office at 07:35. Normally, people are not encouraged to arrive earlier than 08:00. Perhaps acting as a key holder and having the responsibility of opening up of the building enables me to feel more in control? Immediately, I heard a ringing sound (not the ringing of alarm bells in my head). I discovered a flood. Oh dear. Immediately, I reported it to the ops manager. I delineated my experience of having found the floor in that state as a way of "putting myself on the front foot" / clearing my conscience. 😇
Control (especially self-control) plays a big part in my life. On my lunch break, I was discussing with my colleague how my target was to reach my goal of 125g protein each day whilst not exceeding my 1,424kcal daily deficit. I had burned X numbers of calories through exercise which inadvertently increased my protein goal. I decided that since I had walked and cycled into work, I had earned that kale, broccoli and pea medley to have with my plant burgers. I calculated that this would bring me up to my target. Micro-managing my diet and nutrients enables me to keep my hands lightly placed on the dashboard.
Control. I must have a plan. What about taking life as it comes? No. Sometimes I do not have a choice! That is the aspect with which I struggle. Giving myself back that choice when "shit hits the fan".
My danger, especially with my ASD and OCD: sometimes, I trip into becoming over-controlling. Particularly of myself. Via projection, imposing my high standards on the outside world. Feeling frustrated when other people and situations do not match up to my standards. Especially if I feel that it is in a responsibility that I might feel able to do better than the person who is in that position of responsibility. Such as my moral standards when it comes to managing a social group. I would never dream of not responding to one of the group members who wanted to come but was confused about why the event date and time had suddenly changed. This is not a judgement of myself or of her but something to be aware of. At the end of the day, I cannot control how someone else runs their social group! I know that I would never run a social group with such a lack of communication. Then again, I might not be so fortunate to have a social group that is popular enough that it seems to "run itself". It is an arbitrary comparison.
My ability to focus in on detail and cultivate a realistic, pragmatic view of the world away from "toxic positivity". My perception of what might be useful or real in the long-term. These are not shared by many. However, I have a tendency to slip into a mode of automatically thinking the worst (either of myself or others). By default. It becomes a Self Fulfilling Prophecy. I must learn to differentiate between the tenses of the "could" and "should". Recognise the distinctions between my thoughts and what is actually happening. Or make a conscious choice between the two. It is a behavioural temperament that it difficult to pinpoint or escape. Back in 2019, I self-referred for CBT / DBT. Although I ended up on a perpetual waiting list, I might have possibly ended up giving myself that therapy anyway. Simply by studying and analysing my thoughts, words and actions. Identifying those points whereby those things diverged from and were no longer serviceable to my deeper interests and desires. How I might have ended up blaming myself or landing up in a cycle of Self Harm and Self Subjugation.
For example, I might have a tendency to start cleaning obsessively. A way of cleansing the outer world in order to purge my inner being. My constant struggle to make things neat and tidy or have things in a certain way becomes an unhealthy obsession. It is worth knowing where my weak points lie. More importantly, it is worth knowing how to manage and accommodate those struggles. There are certain activities where I become more controlling. I drive myself into a spiral. I catch myself in a super control cycle. Whereby I am doubting my own ability to undertake a task because the way in which it is presented to me is haphazard, fluid, random and completely out of control. I start panicking. It is worth noticing where it is hard to keep that "even keel" or maintain that balance when the controlling becomes too much. This resonates with me. My family might think "do we know someone like this?" 😅
On some occasions, I have felt unable to manage a project because there are more details that I want to control than I am able to control. It becomes overwhelming. I end up giving up. I find myself in a state of super control. It is too much. I am unable to cope. I am unable to manage. I abandon the whole project. I hand it back to whoever presented me with the project. Let them do the thinking for a while. While this "washing my hands and absolving myself of ownership and responsibility" is a useful mechanism of preserving my mental sanity, people have sometimes interpreted it as a lack of caring. This is not my intention. It is quite the opposite! I care too much that engaging with it is painful. Thus, I have been forced to find new ways of wording my intentions. Such as: "I cannot possibly give this project the attention and care that it deserves unless you can put it in writing for me". Or "this is so important, and I want to ensure that I give 100%, would you mind please sending me an email?" This process of putting my OCD into words is positive and constructive.
In relationships (both personal and professional), many autistic people end up doing all of the organising. Otherwise, nothing gets done. At university, the guys said "let us form a band!" Yeah, sure. Had I been through this already? I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and be the most positive version of myself. Guess what? When it came down to it, who ended up doing all of the transcribing, arranging, composing, printing and organising of rehearsals? Me. The process of cataloguing our musical repertoire came naturally to me. I bought matching ring binders. I devised a Logic scoring system of ledger lining and note sizing depending on the material at hand (which I still use to this date). The list carried on. I ended up placing a heavy burden on myself. This led to frustration when the other band members were not putting in the work or giving the project the attention that it deserved. Thus, what was originally a "joint effort" landed on my shoulders and became my problem, not theirs. Simply out of the fact that they were not proactive enough to do the work. Or they felt less inclined to turn up on time because I was the one doing all of the organising. I have managed to overcome that by rejecting the fallible notion of a "joint effort" and ensuring that I carry out any musical project off my own steam. I do it for my own reasons and pleasure. I pay myself more than the musicians who simply learn the repertoire, show up, perform and go home. That way, it enables me to preserve my energy, manage my own expectations and keep the project going for longer.
At the end of the session, we opened up into general discussion for future topics. Some good ones include "Labels" and a "Black & White" approach. These are both pertinent topics for me.
A discussion arose about the "Nature Versus Nurture" debate. This pertains to the above-discussed notions of control in the sense that identity formation is invariably a combination of both. I have discussed my family background but I have also discussed the events in my life that have made me myself. To divide (nature from nurture) plays into the human notion of putting things into boxes.
On some days, I might see my OCD as a charming, endearing aspect of my personality. On other days, I might see it as more of a problem. This is all relative. It is dependent on my mood. How I am feeling about myself on a particular day. Something might happen in life that leads me to question my views. They might force me to re-write my cognitive backstory. That is OK. Cultivating a healthy relationship with myself is a process. It takes time. It will not happen overnight. There will be good days and bad days.
Once again, I come back to mindfulness as a useful tool. Realising that my thoughts are only thoughts. The other day, I was running along. I experienced an intrusive thought about some stupid thing that I might do at a picnic where I go crazy and lose control of myself. This ties into something that we were discussing during the session regarding alcohol, or any toxic substance, or any addiction for that matter (video gaming being a frequent one among people in the group). When I experienced the intrusive thought, I laughed to myself and wondered where that came from. This is healthy. It showed that I am able to master my thoughts and perceive them as mere thoughts rather than as something happening in the outside world. 8 years earlier, I might have freaked out, worried this was going to happen and brought it about by thinking it into existence. I still do that but to a lesser degree than I did in the past. This is hugely positive.
On the topic of video games, we discussed Tetris and how it links into our notions of control. We related to the anxiety-provoking feelings of the stack climbing higher, the blocks falling faster and the music speeding up. When I was 5 years old, I spent my first ever break time marching up and down the school playing field singing the theme tune to Tetris. Why? Because I was suddenly given all of this "free time". I did not know what to do with myself. I did not understand how to play or interact with the other children. I completely shut down. I started singing Tetris over and over again while marching up and down in straight lines. Perhaps this was an early indication of my need for control over the seeming chaos of the temporal-physical world? I can only empathise with my "inner child". Living next to a primary school in Vauxhall and hearing children running around and screaming like wildfire. It is no wonder that I might have felt encroached and petrified at the age of five. Not to mention sensory overload. Birthday parties were torture. The most traumatic aspect was the balloons popping. At several points throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was presented with the opportunity of going "paint balling". Suffice to say, I turned them all down. I am proud of that! It sounds like my idea of Hell. I could not attend firework shows until I was at least an adult. All of that banging and bright light. I could not cope with it. I used to spend those evenings buried in my earmuffs. I could not attend rock concerts. And even freaked out (as a toddler) when we went to the theatre to see Postman Pat.
My care coordinator at the Lambeth Short Term Service gave me the useful insight of identifying which parts of my personality are "doing the talking". She used to say "that is your depression talking" or "that is your social anxiety talking." The therapist at St Luke's Therapy Centre practised a similar technique by describing certain things that I said as "the ASD coming into play". Recently, I have found it a useful process to go over the events in my life and annotate "this was my depression talking" or "this was my projection talking". There is a deeper "ownership" question of how much I accept these behaviours as aspects of myself or aspects as separate from myself - as happening to myself. Taking ownership or making the choice over certain aspects of behaviour. Claiming ownership of certain strands of personality / behaviour. All of the things that make me myself.
Existentialism is about defining myself as the sum total of my actions, my reactions. In terms of how I choose to experience, interpret and respond to the outer world and realise it within myself. What conclusions I might draw? Deciding whether or not to take ownership over certain aspects of personality. Attributing behaviours and modes of thought to certain things like the autism, social anxiety or however I choose to identify. To work through it is an ongoing process. I cannot completely pick it apart. That is OK. It is difficult to figure out all of this stuff. To decide what I would like to claim and take responsibility for.
Rory spent the first few years of his life in an ice cave, carving out his palace of wonder. He's a bit of a love doll, but he who melts the ice shall have their reward.
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I have been recommended to acknowledge and process all that I have been though, where it all started from how it has affected me.