Okay, I'm going to mention the 'P' word again...yes, Pressure. Also, Stress and Responsibility, as I've come to realise those two party-poopers are just the bodyguards for Pressure, who is always the main problem.
Now, for those of you who have mulled this one over, usually late at night or at one of those awkward moments when you have a sudden epiphany in a crowded place, yes, I realise that you can also argue that pressure is secondary to stress and responsibility; that it's better to say pressure is the feeling you get when the other two are dancing up and down on your head.
That's the way I thought of it too, and there is some truth in it. Rather like a woven blanket, it can be hard to see where one thread ends and another begins. Is it even worth trying to separate them, as they're so closely bound together? I believe it is and I'll tell you why.
I've spent many years trying to face up to responsibility and struggling to recognise stress when it was affecting me. Stress can be so tenuous and misleading that you tend to think it's just life having a kick at you, not that it's a thing which exists by itself. Isn't it logical to say that stress is always caused by something? I used to follow that thought to a place where I could blame myself for not bearing up under life's responsibilities and so making myself stressed, just because I couldn't cope.
Responsibilities, those creatures other people seem to take in their stride, have always reared and bit for me. Give me a sour dog or a scary pony any day over a mean-spirited, uncompromising, aggressive responsibility. I've tried the various ways to cope with them, for without responsibility you may as well give up all hope of living a normal life. There is always something that you need to be responsible for, even if it's just making sure you eat every day or pay the water bill.
Stress, when I could see it, was a horrible, sneaky feeling that I never saw right in front of me. Many times it has been up to other people to ask me if I'm stressed, or to tell me I am, then prove it by giving me examples of things I've done or said that show it. I really appreciate that kind of approach because I've never been able to get a good look at stress or recognise it for what it was. I've become afraid of it, like it's a very patient assassin, willing to bide its time while I go on, oblivious, trying to deal with everything.
I now have a great way of finding out if I'm stressed, though I certainly wouldn't recommend it. I suffer from what I fondly call my Victorian throat. No, I don't have an overwhelming need to wear high lace collars, or tie ribbons around my neck. It's that feeling you get when it's like you have something stuck in your throat, making it a little difficult to swallow. The Victorians called it globus hystericus, linking it to a nervous disposition. Nowadays it is recognised as having physical causes separate from any emotional or psychological ones, but I'm an old-fashioned girl and mine is caused by anxiety.
The above is a long-winded way of explaining that stress is much less able to creep up on me these days because I now have my Victorian throat to warn me. I will be having what I think of as a mostly normal day and then, ba-boo! there it is, that familiar clogged feeling in the throat. I'll think, 'Oh, am I stressed then?' Invariably, no matter how surprised I am, if I pick my way back through the events of that day or the one before, I can see where things have become difficult and understand why I might be stressed. So, useful but annoying.
Now, back to pressure: why do I think it's the main man, the one that stress and responsibility protect? Simply put, pressure is the root of all stress, because without a feeling of pressure, caused by outside influences or inner emotions, there would be no stress. If we were able to float through life, letting all worries wash over us, we would feel no pressure to behave a certain way or feel this instead of that; so, we would feel no stress either.
As for responsibility, yes, this one does exist outside of stress or pressure. Responsibilities are independent of many things in life, but, they still exist to protect pressure. In fact, you could almost say they are the children of pressure, because if we had nothing to do, nothing to be responsible for, then there would be no pressure in the first place.
Pressure can be viewed as drive, ambition, hope, aspiration, the need for change or to prove oneself. All of these thoughts, feelings and ideas are accompanied by pressure, as without it, each one of them is like a will o' the wisp, floating off into the trees, untouched and never properly seen.
It would be true to say that some form of pressure is at the very root of all human existence. We need to survive, we push ourselves to do what we must to make that happen. Move on to the more complex, modern world and this need to survive is blended and distorted by all the other needs jostling for attention. Some are more essential than others, but they are all caused by that inner drive to become more than a piece of some yucky, primeval pond-scum floating across the face of early Earth.
Yes, there's the truth of it, readers: to be melodramatic about it, without pressure, we would be nothing. We would vegetate and wither, there would be no point to us.
Unfortunately, aspies have developed a finely-tuned sense for pressure and are more affected by it than the other evolved pond-scum (apologies to anyone who imagined themselves sprouting from an early flower). Aspies may not be able to recognise stress when it walks in the room, but they can sense pressure entering the country at the nearest port.
It's as if there is some kind of booby-trapped defence system at work, one that is set up just for pressure and is able to ignore all the others. Perhaps aspies recognise pressure as that instigator of so many other problems, so always make sure they know when it's coming?
Stress can float in, cause havoc and leave the aspie reeling or punching the carpet and screaming. Responsibilities can give the aspie super-powers and, where you thought you had an aspie, you actually have some anime-style blur of colour as the aspie zooms off into the distance.
Pressure, on the other hand, sets off every early-warning system in the aspie's arsenal. They don't need super powers to see it coming - pressure-detection is the super power. They can feel it as it moves across the land, they can hear it's grey, monotone timbre as it whispers to itself, they can see the edge of the toe as it creeps up to the door.
All of this, all of it, readers, is terrifying. There may be early-warning systems, there may be super powers of detection, but there is nowhere to hide! Nothing can be done in the face of pressure, there is no escape. Panic ensues, utter panic and life falls apart, again.
And this is why we avoid pressure at all costs. What we want to avoid is that feeling of panic and helplessness, in the face of pressure which by-passed all our systems and came right into the room with us. We remember the feeling of fear and the knowledge we were powerless and we'll do just about anything to avoid feeling like that again.
This is why pressure is the main problem. Readers, forget stress and responsibility, they are not where you should be looking. Stretch your neck to see past them and you'll just be able to make out a grey figure in the distance. Is it moving closer? It's almost impossible to tell. Like the moving hands of a clock, it comes, slowly, methodically, drawing near. But then, when least wanted, it can cover any distance and be right by your side.
I can't offer a solution to this as there really isn't one. I offer it as some explanation as to why the aspie mind abhors pressure above all things - and why all things come to be about pressure. I also offer it as some solace to the best beloveds who have to pick up the pieces after pressure comes calling. It may have seemed incomprehensible that your aspie should have had such a reaction to the x, y or z of life when it was all fine in the end and nothing happened. Here we have the reason why: this time it was fine, maybe last time it was too, but some times it isn't fine and pressure is there before we know it, making it all go so wrong.
Readers, chin up and carry on in the face of this constant threat. You know you forget all about pressure for long stretches at a time. You know that when pressure is near it seems as if it's always been there and always will be. The truth of life falls somewhere in between and life must be lived, after all.
We cannot bow to pressure more than necessary. All we can do is look out for the appearance of the bodyguards and listen to our early-warning systems, so we know when pressure is close by.
To aspies and non-aspies, I would give you one final piece of advice: listen to those feelings and take no notice of what should be. If pressure is felt then it will cause a reaction - there's no point explaining it away and expecting everything to be all right. A feeling is real and the reaction is real. Just hold on and help it to pass, without judgement or criticism.
And to pressure: I know you now and you'll not get near me without a fight, because I have bodyguards of my own. The grey, monotone, relentless feelings will always be defeated by understanding and loving yourself. I promise.
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