A Safe Place

17 Sep
September 17, 2013

Each of us has one I would think. A place we can go and be alone; to think, to decompress. For some of us, however, it is a necessity that helps calm over-stimulated systems and makes sense of confusing situations. In the devastating wake of stories of violence against Autistic children, I have been thinking even more of safety. Not mine…

Theirs.

This post touches on a piece my friend, Ariane Zurcher wrote:  On the Topic of Violence. Please read Ariane’s post before you continue – this will make so much more sense if you do.

I’ll wait…

As you read, Ariane has been reaching out, asking for possible solutions for people in the instance an Autistic person becomes aggressive or violent towards him/herself (self-injurious) or towards others. In her latest piece, she shares the information she learned in communications from both Autistics (kudos, Ariane, for asking the people who are actually experiencing the episodes) as well as non-Autistics. One of the biggest responses:

A Safe Place.

I was reading Ariane’s post and thinking: “Well of course! Everyone knows that!” (Don’t they?) That question brought a flood of memories rushing back. Me trying to get away from people (family, friends) as they followed me about asking: “What is wrong? What did I do? Are you mad??” And me, bottled rage waiting to burst, clinching my fists and trying to get as far away from them as possible. Then a sinking feeling came upon me: There are many who don’t actually know about

the Safe Place.

I will talk to you today from my perspective as an Autistic person who does not experience episodes of violence against others, but who has experienced self-injurious behavior. I will speak to you today about my safe place and how it is integral to my being able to calm myself during extreme episodes of anger.

Self-Control

I have lived with a great deal of anger and frustration my entire life, and still do. I generally keep the anger portion to myself because it’s not a pretty thing. As a matter of fact it’s rather ugly and closely resembles rage. Fortunately I have a great deal of self-control to combat it and have never physically acted out in anger towards anyone (aside from my older brother when we were kids – that stopped around age 9). So when I talk to you about my safe place you will understand it is a place I choose to go, and not a place I need to be asked or encouraged to go for my own safety or for that of others.

So, You want to know about my safe place?

Good. But first you might ask: “Why do you need a safe place if you’re not going to hurt yourself or anyone else?” At which point I will assure you that I need my safe place because I’m furious and someone is going to

hurt me.

This may seem a bit confusing so I’m going to simplify. It comes down to the different ways people can view interactions. What hurts me may not cause someone else to bat an eye. What hurts others may not earn a second glance from me.

For instance, if I’m in a state of upset:

Words from someone (“it’s okay”), ‘soothing’ touches (hugging me, rubbing my arms, holding my hand), sympathetic stares (trying to look into my eyes)…

Hurt me.

Suggestions (calm down), directions (sit down, lie down), advice (relax)…

Hurt me.

All of these things intensify the feelings I’m already experiencing. Feelings that are running into one another and not allowing me a moment to process:

AngerFrustrationEmbarrassmentAnxietyExhilerationFearConfusion

NOTE:  For a moment, I’m going to use you (familiar) because I want you to feel a part of this. Obviously I’m not addressing you personally, but I want it to seem as if you’re in this with me.

It all boils down to the fact that you and I perceive things so very differently. I hear your concern and believe you are acting out of kindness. But your concern is controlling. It doesn’t allow me to do what I want to do. This is what I feel when I’m angry:

Your compassionate words to question or ensure my wellbeing… Attack my ears in a patronizing manner and with the equivalence of nails screeching down a chalkboard.

I’m agitated

You follow at my heels to make sure I’m all right…  You’re stalking me and I’m desperate to be away from you.

I’m frustrated

You’ve followed me into a room that I can’t exit. You see I’ve stopped and are under the impression we can talk…  I can’t talk now, it’s too difficult to try and form the words that will convey my fury much less coherent thoughts to share my feelings. And more importantly, I don’t want to.

I’m trapped

You look into my eyes to convey your feelings and relate to mine…  Your eyes bore into me. Through me. And I know you can see everything I’m thinking and feeling, things you have no right to. Private thoughts I don’t want you to know and haven’t given you the permission to see.

I’m humiliated

You reach out to touch me. To hold me…  Your touch is like sandpaper on sunburned skin and your hold is restraining. You’re bigger than me. It’s suffocating and scary.

I’m intimidated

 

All of these things equate to powerlessness and a lack of control over my situation.

YOU are in control.

In the scenario above, I wasn’t allowed a moment to gain control over myself much less an understanding of the situation. You took control and handled the situation in the way you wanted. Do you see how differently we view what happened? You were in control of what I heard, where I went and even gave yourself permission to touch me.

Because these are the things that make YOU feel better.

* And to compound the pressure and anxiety, everything I described to you doesn’t include the sensory overload I was experiencing which multiplied at your uninvited intrusion. I talked about my sensory issues here.

 

My Safe Place

…is any place over which I have complete control. And complete control does not allow for another person because human beings can be unpredictable, uncontrollable creatures. Because I don’t always know what I require I must have the time, space and opportunity to discover what my needs are in a given situation. And I need to do this on my own.

A Few Safe Place requirements:

  • Privacy
  • Music (w/earphones)
  • Sunlight is preferred or low light (no fluorescence)
  • Space (I need to be able to move)
  • Your absence

Other than that, my needs may change. But if you smother me with your attention; if I feel your care and concern bleeding all over me and seeping into my skin, I won’t be able to concentrate on what it is that I need, and my mood will escalate. I talked about that here.

There are as many different solutions as there are scenarios. What I just shared with you is my solution of choice. Please keep in mind what works for one may not work for others. And I don’t expect everyone to read this post and get it right away, or that it will even make sense. I understand it is difficult for people to accept differing neurologies.

(but that’s why we advocate).

I hope you’ll at least think about what I’ve said.  No matter our differences, or whether or not we truly get each other, it’s about accepting one another as individuals. Realizing that we have different wants and needs. We all deserve the courtesy of being allowed to come to terms with our feelings and emotions in our own way. We all deserve

  A    S A F E    P L A C E

 

 

25 replies
  1. bjforshaw says:

    This is exactly how it feels for me. If I’m experiencing more sensation or emotion than I can handle — overloading — I have to run away into another room. I get followed; I can’t escape. I have to force my way past to get away. And all I can feel is the fear of being trapped and the desire to escape; the desire for safety. The other person won’t stop talking and my hands are over my ears and I’m repeating “Get away, get away, get away…”. All the time my stress is building and I’m getting closer to losing control and entering a meltdown. All I want is somewhere quiet where I can lock myself in, feel safe and sit, rock, stim — whatever it takes to slowly calm myself in the certain knowledge that nobody can get to me; nobody can hurt me.

    I wish I could explain it as clearly as you have here.

    Reply
    • srsalas says:

      You did just explain it as clearly as i did!! What a feeling, right? And not many NTs get it – how could they? It’s why we write, you know? So people can understand :)

      Reply
      • bjforshaw says:

        “What a feeling” is right! Not a pleasant one by any stretch of the imagination. I’m glad you found it clear: I guess I find my own writing disappointing: the words are but a superficial impression of the richness of the images in my mind. Probably an unavoidable drawback of thinking visually but having to translate the pictures into text to share my thoughts.

        Reply
        • srsalas says:

          That’s your perception – I, however, think you write very clearly! I told you that first post of yours I read was as if I wrote it!! Maybe because you think in pictures you don’t see the power in your own words?? Well, I see it – and so does everyone else who reads you.

          Reply
        • autisticook says:

          I agree. I think you’re a very visual writer, you choose the words that conjure up the clearest images, even though it’s still a translation/approximation. Some people are very abstract writers and I always have trouble understanding that. Not so with you.

          Reply
  2. dahlia says:

    here i found closure to questions haunted me from years a safe place , yes you understand well how it is. its maybe different to me in some ways I actually learned to overcome & cope in many situations but generally its true .

    Reply
    • srsalas says:

      I’m so glad this meant something to you!! You and I have areas where we are the same, and some where we are different. But at the end of it, we ‘get’ each other, don’t we Dahlia <3

      Reply
  3. Natalia Erehnah says:

    Thank you for another great post. By listening (reading) I am learning — about you, how my children might perceive some of my actions, and myself.

    ~~~

    “Because these are the things that make YOU feel better.”

    Do you mean that NTs “feel better” if someone were to offer “comfort” by those actions, or that doing those things makes us (parents, spouses, support people) feel better in that moment?

    I have done hugged and patted and offered suggestions (I’m great at offering suggestions ), but I have done those things because I thought that’s what a kind and thoughtful person was *supposed to do* to offer support and comfort.

    Such an interesting journey, discovering ourselves and the people around us.

    Reply
    • srsalas says:

      “Because these are the things that make YOU feel better.” — I meant both and am ecstatic you saw it! From my experience, NTs look to soothe and comfort each other. They (the ones I know) tend to want to talk things through and settle arguments; smooth things over so everyone is ‘all better.’ That is the type of comfort they would like if they were upset and at the same time it is the type of comfort they like to offer to the person who is upset. So it makes them feel better to give and receive that type of comforting.

      And yes, I know what you mean: “I thought that’s what a kind and thoughtful person was *supposed to do* to offer support and comfort.” That’s why I do those things, too! And yes, it is a very interesting journey ;)

      Reply
  4. autisticook says:

    Thanks for writing this! It’s such a good description of what it can feel like, even when it’s done with the best of intentions.

    Reply
    • srsalas says:

      Thanks for commenting! It seems ‘the best intentions’ of others can be our undoing, doesn’t it??

      Reply
    • srsalas says:

      I’m going to comment to you here because for some ridiculously annoying reason, you’re blog won’t let me follow via email or comment on posts (I’ve tried a few times)! I’m sure it’s a screw up on my end, maybe I should keep trying??

      Anyway. I absolutely love your blog, your posts are great – may I add it to my BlogRoll?

      Reply
      • autisticook says:

        Of course you can add me! I don’t know what might be causing the bug, do you have problems with other WordPress hosted blogs as well?

        Reply
        • srsalas says:

          no, which is why I don’t get it. It wouldn’t let me subscribe by email – it kept telling me my address was wrong (i re-typed it several times, so I know it wasn’t). Then when i wrote a comment and hit publish it wouldn’t post my comment… Oh well, I’ll add you to my BlogRoll and do my best to remember to check you often. btw… are you on Twitter?

          Reply
  5. Kelly @Onequartermama says:

    I think I actually commented on Ariane’s blog about how horrific the feeling is, but I’m not sure I can describe it any better than you did. I remember my mom trying to hug me and how sick it made me feel when I was upset. I try to make sure I don’t do that to my son – sometimes he needs a tight hug during that time and sometimes he doesn’t. I have to advocate for him on his behalf right now because NTs will see him upset and run to crowd him. *I* know he needs to be left alone and to others, that looks “heartless,” as if I don’t care. No, I really DO care, that’s why I’m letting him have his space. Otherwise you get that horrible feeling inside your body, that I can’t really explain other than extreme agitation and disgust.

    Reply
    • srsalas says:

      Hi Kelly, glad to connect here, too.

      I do presentations at times and I know what you mean. When I explain these feelings and how I react to my kids when they’re upset (back off and leave them alone) parents look shocked. I do very open presentations, so it’s more of an exchange – and one parent always says something like: “Oh, I could never do that. It goes against the fiber of my being.” Because as you said, it looks ‘heartless.’ But you get it – which is awesome for your son! I’m happy to say that usually by the end of the presentation the parent seems to get it, too, slightly anyway. ;)

      It’s not like we back off unless that’s what the kids want – and that’s what it’s all about. My 2 oldest are Autistic (not sure about youngest yet), and they hate to be near people when they’re upset. If/When they’re ready, they come to me… no pressure!!

      Anyway, thanks for commenting and really glad to ‘meet’ you!

      Reply
  6. Coyotetooth says:

    Awooooooooooo! You know it too!

    Reply
  7. Coyotetooth says:

    Oops, I left some tracks . . . Must remember to tip toe through without leaving a trace ; )

    Reply
  8. Steve Borgman says:

    Renee, thank you so very much for writing this article. My son and you would get along just fine. When he gets home from a long day at school, he goes straight to his room and closes the door. I’ve learned not to ask questions or make too much noise, so as to honor his need for quiet and space. But it’s taken me a while, I confess :(, to learn how much he needs it. Gratefully, he is forgiving, and I work to change :)

    Reply
    • srsalas says:

      Aw, Steve, sounds to me like you’re doing great! ;) And I know how hard it is to understand (probably just as hard it is for me to understand that when someone is upset they are actually looking for me to go to them, interrupt their privacy, invade their personal space and soothe them… Yikes!!). I think the most important thing is how much love and respect you are showing your son by accepting what he needs, even though it runs opposite to your way of thinking. That’s a difficult spot for anyone to be in. I love that I see you around Twitter engaging autistics. Even though I’m autistic, I have learned the most important and most meaningful information from other autistics (the real experts on autism). I’m so glad they’re around, aren’t you??

      And btw… thanks for sharing and commenting, I really appreciate it! See you around Twitter :)

      Reply

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