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Separate, detach and escape

I remember watching a TV programme when I was younger. One of the characters was having a bad day and had decided to stay under a blanket until they could face coming out. This was hilarity indeed and much of the episode was spent gaining laughs at the expense of the peculiar and stubborn person under the blanket, who if I remember it right, only showed their face near the end of the show.

Various attempts were made to bring them out. Talking, pretending sympathy, poking them, taunting them, laughing and, finally, trying to whip the blanket away from them. All of this was played for laughs and the blanket-hider was shown to be unreasonable and completely over-reacting. Everyone else was reasonable, even when they were goading their friend. They knew the person was having a bad time, but you can't make anything better by staying under a blanket, can you?

I remember watching it and thinking how nice and dark it would be under that blanket. How you could probably ignore the people outside it, even if they were laughing and shouting, because your safe place would still be safe. The only time I was really perturbed was when they wanted to take the blanket away from him - that I didn't like.

He does emerge, of course. He comes out, blinking and bleary-eyed, looking down in the mouth but more or less back to normal. Life continues, jokes move on, he is okay again.

Like I've said before, things I watch on TV or in the movies, stay with me in a way real life doesn't. The image of hiding under a blanket was tucked away in a soft corner of my mind and would come back out many times as the years passed. I often thought of sitting in my bed, the blanket over my head.

A bit like when you're a child and you build a den out of sheets and blankets. It doesn't matter where it is, in the garden or the middle of the living room: once you're inside, it's a safe place, shut off from the real world and it's all yours.

The implicit rules of any den are that it belongs to the person who built it, others can only enter with permission and the child who pulls it apart is often a complete rogue in the making and will come to no good.

That is the blanket, then. A re-branding of the childhood den, a place to revert to, a safe place no one can enter without permission. Somewhere you can be alone if you need to be, the outside world kept at bay, not by a thin layer of material, but by the inviable force which surrounds any imaginary barrier. It is safe because you feel it is.

So, what do you do when you're not a child anymore and you don't have the option to physically hide under a blanket? What happens if you need to be in the safe place and you're somewhere completely open and public? This is where it all depends on your coping mechanisms.

As adults, we are usually able to behave in a certain way. We may feel like screaming in the middle of the supermarket, but we rarely do. We may feel like running out of there, pushing aside trollies and ripping tins off the shelves as we go. We rarely do that either. Sometimes we do end up shouting, or making explosive noises which we didn't realise were on their way out until - pop! - there they were.

No, unfortunately, as adults, most of us have learned to obey the rules of civilised society. It may be better for our mental and emotional health to run screaming from the store. And I'm certain it would be good for us to fling things off the shelves on the way past - I have always wanted to do that! But we're not allowed.

What we do, instead, is leave as soon as possible. Sometimes we'll feel better by the time we can leave, the moment will have passed and we are sane human beings again. Sometimes you have a full day of responsibilities ahead of you that just cannot be ignored. There's no screaming and running from those either.

So, you plod on. And on, and on. You do this and that and cope with this and that, and all the while you are still partly in that moment, in the middle of the store, where your mind said Leave Now and you ignored it.

Eventually, you will reach a quieter part of the day. Home at last, feet up, kettle on, worries and stresses shelved once more. Except, they're not. You might feel better to be home and away from everything, but your worries and stresses follow you. Remember, you still didn't get to scream and run, did you? That means you have unfinished business.

That evening you may feel a little stressed or angry about nothing in particular. You might think to yourself, I'm glad to see the back of today. You can probably do whatever else you needed to do before going to bed.

That night, there's a good chance you'll sleep. It might not be a night of lying in your bed, glaring at the mental image of yourself. In the morning, though, you'll be exhausted. That's because you still have that unfinished business hanging over you and it is exhausting, holding up all that weight by yourself.

This is one of those moments where the safe and secure blanket idea comes into play. Today you may have as many stresses and responsibilities as yesterday. You still have to face them and you tell yourself it will be okay, you've had some rest in between. Today is a new day, you say to yourself.

This is another point where it all comes down to your coping mechanisms: some people will get up and do it all again, others will hear the creaking of the Off switch and stay where they are.

Fast forward for the people who managed to get out of bed and go through it again. Fast forward another evening trying to convince themselves it's all fine. And you're still back to another morning, feeling like the World is not outside, but inside, beating down the door of your bedroom, hungry eyes searching for you, even before you wake.

There comes a point where your unfinished business comes to roost, settling on you with a weight you didn't expect and cannot cope with. There is a stage for all of us, aspie or not, where it simply doesn't matter what other things you have to do: you must not do it today.

Physically, mentally, emotionally, this is a blanket day. This is a time when it wouldn't matter if your room was full of people who loved you, coaxing you out; you wouldn't come. This is a tight, no-manoeuvre predicament and there is only one way to deal with it.

That's because, sooner or later, those moments when you feel like screaming and running away, they come back and in full force. You need to step back and step out, stay at home or go out - do whatever it is that makes you feel safe.

Take your blanket moment, push everything else to one side. Be like the character in the TV show and ignore what anyone says or does to persuade you you're being unreasonable, irrational, irresponsible. You may disappoint others, let them down, upset them or even anger them. Sorry people, this is not about you, this is about someone with aspergers who, if they don't have their time out, will not be the same person tomorrow that they were yesterday.

Take it and hold it tight, your hour or day of a safe place. Make it count. If you stay at home, unplug the phone and do whatever you like, as long as it doesn't cause you stress. If you go out, enjoy the open freedom, the feeling of being able to get away and escape.

Bottle it, my friend and keep it in its own safe place, inside you, for the next time you feel stressed and can't do anything about it. Picture it, remember it, have it ready in your mind and touch it gently when you need comfort. Visualise these moments of being apart and separate from everything that bothers you.

This is my way of coping in the sad times when I wouldn't need a grappling hook to scale tall buildings, or when it means nothing to me how the other person thinks or feels, I only need to push them aside and get away. Within me I try to keep the treasured moments, stored up like wood for winter, where I have been able to choose freedom and its' deep, calming breaths.

And at the other end of that safe time, with your real or imaginary blanket, you'll also be like the TV character when you emerge: you will be bleary-eyed and confused, because you were so apart from the world and so within your own space, you forgot for a moment how confusing it could all be. It may take a little time to get back into the swing of things and be able to go through the supermarket without needing to scream.

You will get back into it. I promise that, as long as you can take yourself to your safe place and time when you need to be there, you will be able to come back and cope with life again. Maybe not so well as you would like, though, because needing to be safe in such a strong and definite way is a sure sign something is not right with your life. If you need to escape to the point of being unable to function without it, look again at what led up to it and see what you can change.

Whatever you do, don't reach the stage where the blanket moment envelopes you unawares, and you collapse from the pressure of not having saved yourself sooner. What you need to do is find some balance between this total collapse and running out of the shop, screaming your head off.

However, if I do hear the sound of footsteps hurtling towards me and the sound of a long, joyous scream bouncing off the aisles, I won't be afraid. I'll know it's just you, on your way into the sunshine. just please, try not to toss me into the apples on your way past.


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