An Autistic Percpective
Angel Marie Russell
I have been sharing about alexithymia because I have it. Some of the articles about it online can be triggering because they again try to say we lack empathy. I disagree. I can’t explain my emotions with words or readily recognize them but I can empathize when someone tells me what they are feeling. Research fails when it is purely pathological, observational, and does not include the person’s lived experience.
Alexithymia is a real experience for me. My heart is racing. I ask myself why. I cant readily answer unless I look at the circumstances surrounding me. If I have just received a gift then I can logically perceive my heart racing must mean excitement, not anger or fear. Until I learned about alexithymia I had no real way to understand what I was feeling. It, in part, caused a lot of depression, emptiness and even isolation. I learned how to help myself by reading book called “Marriage and Lasting Relationships with Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): Successful Strategies for Couples Or Counselors.” It had a chart that listed an event and the reaction to the event. It helped me start to trace what I was reacting too and what the feelings in my body meant.
I am also a survivor of domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect. This compounds my ability to process emotions I believe. I think it makes it even harder for me to process what I am feeling because my childhood was full of fear. I was not diagnosed until 35 autistic so I did not know why I was always afraid. Loud sounds, people laughing and me not knowing why, lights, commotion, unexpected emotional reactions in others, not knowing why I was different, and being attacked all left me in fear and a resultant PTSD.
Now that I know about alexithymia I can trace where I am reacting physically or not. I can use logic to help me find my feelings and my body’s reaction to events. When you are a survivor of abuse your body isnt always safe, so physical reactions without any clear understanding of why can lead to more anxiety, dread, depression, and even suicidal ideation. Knowing why gave me power. Knowing how gave me healing. Practice and patience on my part gave me a path towards better mental health and emotional awareness.
I still cant verbalize all that I feel. As many have said we autistic people dont have a neutral setting. I feel all my feelings all the way when I do feel them. I can readily recognize fear, excitement (although I get those two confused), sadness, and love. I cannot readily recognize, anger, or any subtle emotion. I can feel wholly empty. And that feeling is depression and grief that has lasted for years. I struggle to move through my emotions and process them the way other people do. It takes me a lot longer to recognize what I am feeling, why I am feeling it, what to do about it, and how to move forward. I have to take active steps to achieve that movement.
I believe in the mind, body, spirit connection. I used that connection to help me move emotions. Acupuncture and Zero Balancing taught me about the movement of energy in the body, the pathways that help us release. I did a lot of acupuncture and studied Zero Balancing to help me understand these pathways. I learned Tai Chi and grounding stances to help me ground when I feel overwhelmed. I dance after a hard day. I sit with myself and think hard on what it is I am feeling and why, and I give myself a lot of friendly affirmations and love to help me feel at ease being different. I feed my soul by being creative, going into nature, and doing what I love. Now that I know I am autistic I allow myself to stim when I need to. I allow my body to move because trauma taught me to be still, invisible, unheard, and easily molded. I was told who I was and what I felt and it came from people who abused me. They were horribly wrong about me. I did go to therapy for 8 years to recover from trauma and in therapy I did learn about emotional processing and empowerment, but I did struggle to verbalize my feelings and my sensory triggers because I didn’t know I was autistic too. I was only diagnosed with PTSD, and before that Manic Depression. Now that I know I am autistic and I understand more about alexithymia, movement, and self compassion, I have made tremendous strides in self care, love, and in my relationships.
Alexithymia does not immediately mean a person lacks empathy. That is absolutely a falsehood. The research is still new in this subject so I can see how many of us can be misunderstood. We alexithemics are not people who lack the ability to care for others. We merely process emotion differently just as we hear and see differently. We are different not broken versions of human. If research and autism organizations gave a seat at the table perhaps they would see that more readily. If you are alexithymic do not despair that you can’t express or find your feelings. There are ways to get there. There are compassionate people willing to hold space for us to process at our pace. And if those around you are harming you please find your boundaries and leave abuse. Do not let other people tell you where your truth lies. Do not let other people tell you what you are feeling. Take the time you need to figure it out for yourself. Ask for that time. It is okay to take up space. You are here and worthy just as you are.