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Fear of the future

Or in other words, the inability to see past your nose end. This is a big one for me, a close relation of my need to live in the past and zoom, panicked, through the present. The future can be terrifying to all of us, but to an aspie it really is an unknowable country.

I've always liked the past, be it mine or other people's. I like history as a subject, especially social history. What could be more interesting than finding out what your long-lost ancestors had as their daily routine? The minutiae of everyday life is far more interesting to me than the endless battles humanity has waged for the sake of whatever concern gave them the excuse at the time.

My own history, my past as I know it and look at it from the vantage point of the present, is also fascinating. With aspergers, your own personality and motivations can be as much a mystery to you as those of other people so looking backwards is a good way to understand yourself more. With each year that passes, I feel I gain more depth of understanding of my past self and I try to make that count in the present.

This part doesn't always work. It's very hard to be so in control of your own actions that you can at once look at the past, learn from it, use it to inform th present and, on top of all that, stop yourself hurling life off the cliff again. It would be easier if emotions weren't so involved, but with them we can only ever be partly in control and so partly wise as well.

A good example of this focussing on the past may be an argument you had with someone the week before. You can distinctly remember everything that was said and are confident you haven't added anything or imagined parts of it as it's so recent. What you find impossible to decipher is why you had the argument in the first place.

It may take the full week, or it may only take sharing it with someone who knows you well, for you to figure out the secret. Going over the 'facts' such as the conversation itself, reveals only some of the puzzle. The rest is either non-verbal, historical problems with the person or even something entirely outside your knowledge.

I've found myself doing this. I look at the words: all okay. I look at the way we've been with each other in the past: some rocky times but all okay at the moment. I consider the problem being with them and not me, but come up blank there.

It's not that I don't know it might be their problem, it's simply that I feel it is probably mine as it has been so many times before. And how often have you asked the person themselves for clarification, only to get a non-committal or brusque reply, which tells you they don't want to talk about it and confirms it most likely was your fault?

By discussing it with someone else, you discover that it was you, though not in the way you expected. Your friend reminds you that bringing up the person's past indiscretions may have been relevant to the conversation but that this made them agitated and defensive, which then caused them to take offence at everything else you said after.

Hmm, so in this case, the aspie strikes again, brought down once more by the lance of logic, wielded with good grace and even better intentions but without any thought for the bigger picture.

You see how past problems can be ironed out, or at least de-mystified, by examination and a little bit of help? In a similar way, a problem right here and now, in the present, which threatens you with panic or meltdown, can also be resolved by a moment's proper calm or a friendly hand on the shoulder (metaphorically, as the last thing you want to do to an aspie in meltdown is grab them by the shoulder).

The present panic can recede and the day clears again. The moment has passed and the aspie continues on their way, none the worse.

No, readers, it's the future that causes more problems than the past or the present, even though it isn't here yet.

You would think, if you were a non-aspie, or a well-meaning best beloved, that the same techniques which work for the past and present, might work for the future. Speaking of logic, is it not logical to think that by explaining and de-mystifying something, you make it all right?

If the aspie is quaking at the thought of a return to work, knowing it will all go wrong, knowing that quirky feeling they had when they went for the interview is a warning that it is a bad place to be, that the people will be mean or devious or just too loud, that the dress code will never work because they don't suit blue...

If all of this is taking place, even on a small scale, can it not be assuaged by the gentle words, reminding the aspie of all the good things they have to look forward to, that it doesn't matter if they don't suit blue, there will be others who don't suit it, that it's only for three hours a day, that it will all be fine because no one will expect them to know everything when they first start.

Planning ahead, de-constructing the worries, is a very, very important part of aspergers. Being able to do this keeps me as sane as I'm ever going to be, to imagine what might happen and plan for it. If I start to panic, then I feel I haven't been able to plan enough or, so much worse, there is nothing I can do to make it better.

By the time I have started panicking, I've already tried planning and working things out. I've passed the stage of using my own coping mechanisms and am unwilling to consider yours. After all, I know yours don't work for me because we've tried them before and they seem like empty words. I can't feel them, like I can feel mine.

When I plan my first day at work, in the hated blue, I imagine myself walking through the doors and visualise where I will go from there. I worry I won't know which way to go so I visualise someone showing me the right door and the right place to be. I visualise all of this, so that I will be able to walk through the door in the first place.

If I am thrown by worry and imagine too many scenarios, or I have the horrible muddy feeling that tells me, no matter what, it's all going to go wrong, then my visualisation will only work so far because I feel, very strongly, that there is something else which will go wrong and as I can't visualise me coping with it, then I'm not going to be able to cope with it! That is logic.

This logic of the aspie, which brings you to a certain point, then leaves you in a primeval fear of the unknown, is what makes future planning so very difficult. The scenarios and potential experiences may be different, but the response is the same.

It is ahead and it is frightening. If I can't find a way out of the fear, be it real or imagined fear (they become the same thing), then I will not do it. It won't matter what you say or do or try, I am steadfast. If you won't protect me from this fear then I'll have to protect myself and that's all there is to it.

Oh dear, I feel I've explained this so well that I now even feel annoyed with myself. How on earth does anyone put up with us? Our one step forward often becomes a scamper step back and a quick hide behind the sofa.

I should point out that we aspies are very brave, you know. We feel this fear every day, in some way, large or small. It's very often there when you think we're relaxed. You have to be alert always if you know you're in danger and aspies do feel there is constant danger of some kind, lurking round the corner.

So, a fear of the future, the big unknown and therefore the big danger, is bound to make life complicated. This is where lovely routines come in because they're so familiar you don't have to visualise them anymore; they have become a part of you.

It is not hopeless, by any means. As I've said, we're very brave and we will try harder than you expect, even if it doesn't seem very hard from your point of view. It has to be at our own pace, though, and slow enough so that the future doesn't rush at us, too quickly to see it coming and full of sharp things and noise.

Reassurance is key, as is good old patience. We may not listen to your words of comfort - sorry! - but we do listen to the tone and the implicit message that you are there, will always be there, that you love us even when we're hiding behind the sofa, screaming at you.

And sometimes, when the future comes around and happens and wasn't full of sharp things and noise, you can use that as an example to us of how it was all fine in the end and we can do it the next time. Then, visualisation is our friend because we have faced the thing and can imagine facing it again and doing it safely.

So, eventually, we may do the new things and be braver than we thought we could be. Sometimes we won't and you'll tear out what little hair you have left trying to get us there. Don't worry, we'll love you even if you're bald (and will ask you if you knew you were bald?) and we'll carry on being as aggravating as before, but still ourselves.

In the end, aspies know as well as anyone that the future comes no matter what you do. The trick is in feeling you are ready for it, in small ways, so that it doesn't become too big to cope with. We also know that sometimes the future is massive and can never be coped with, even though we have to. That knowledge underlies everything so be patient with us because as you're looking ahead to the small thing we have to do and wondering why we can't do it, we see the very large thing hiding behind it, asking us to face it.

Sometimes we can, but please be patient if we can't.


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