How Do You Feel?

Part One of Rational Thoughts on Irrational Processes

I’m determined to get this blog post up today.

It’s been three weeks since my job ended and I’m not getting anything done. I have three blog posts, not including this one, about 75% complete but that I haven’t had the mental focus to finish. My job was scheduled to wrap up the week of the virus shutdown anyway, so that wasn’t a surprise. While it’s been disorienting it isn’t the major issue. The main deal is something else. This is frustrating and disappointing.

The question of feelings and emotions comes up a lot with ASD. Sometimes reading other people’s. Sometimes people reading yours. Sometimes you reading your own. Sometimes managing them.

The thing is, I just don’t feel like it. I don’t really feel like doing anything. Is that valid?

How do we deal with emotions anyway? This is intuitive for most people and learned as part of growing up. But what if you have to make rational decisions about feelings? Are they any use or just weaknesses and distractions? I grew up in an emotionally sparse environment where many of mine were ignored, misunderstood or invalidated, so I find myself asking. Obviously you can’t totally indulge your feelings or you’ll never get anything done. Yet, it seems like they should mean something. What?

Feelings, most basically, are part of our system of self management, self regulation and self defense. It’s not a coincidence that we talk about emotional feeling in the same language as physical feeling. There are some of the same processes (and experiences) of avoiding pain and harm, maintaining health, settings boundaries and recognizing our limits. The problem for us is we are often taught to ignore these feelings and push ahead regardless, to try to function, to try to fit in.

A complexity of ASD is operating in conventional society often requires high stress loads and forcing ourselves to do things we feel uncomfortable with. If this becomes a habit we get used to ignoring our feelings, enduring negative situations and wearing ourselves down. Of course it’s necessary for everybody to deal with some stress to be able to accomplish things. This works for the average person in the average situation, most of the time. For us it is a bit more tricky, since these situations are not designed for us. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a necessary difficult situation, and one that’s just bad and should be avoided. We get used to pushing ourselves until we burn out or melt down.

Feelings also play a role in social management, which can become convoluted for us. We learn to accept social awkwardness and push ahead in situations where we don’t feel comfortable. In fact, we feel responsible for making social situations work, even if they are awkward or disturbing or painful for us. We don’t withdraw. We don’t assert or defend ourselves, regardless of how we feel. So we may be taken advantage of, leave ourselves open to manipulation, take on excessive responsibility, or just not get out of bad situations.

In terms of problem solving, feelings are a tool for dealing with situations where there is insufficient information for a rational decision. Honestly, this can be quite often. Life is full of situations where you will never have sufficient information to calculate a logical course of action. Feelings can be useful in situations that require quick decisions or rapid action. And in some cases a rational response isn’t practical or expected. Sometimes there is no “right answer”.

Feelings also tell us what is important to us. If you don’t feel anything, ignore or repress your feelings, or don’t act on them, what kind of life do you have? What kind of decisions do you make? What kind of world do you create around you? When I was younger I found myself in circumstances where there was nothing in my life that I cared about, even though I thought I had made all the right decisions. It’s not a good place to be.

So all these things are useful or necessary, and perhaps can not be dealt with effectively via rational means. Or the rational version is much more difficult.

It benefits us to engage our feelings, because they are telling us something. Maybe I don’t want to do anything today because I’m worn out and genuinely need a break. (Possibly a long break!) What if physically, neurologically, something is going in my brain that I am correctly recognizing as not operating at full capacity? I am likely to make errors and poor decisions today. Maybe it’s a good day to do nothing? The feeling represents something real. Sure, it’s “in your head”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Recognizing our feelings, understanding them and acting on them gets complex because the culture around us is not designed for us. And the people around us may not read our emotions correctly or understand them. Even if those people care, they might not be helping. And they may not be responding, reflecting our emotions back to us to help us understand ourselves. We miss out on that emotional education, that emotional instruction manual.

The devil is in the details. You can’t feel everything but you can’t feel nothing. You have to find a middle ground. If I don’t feel like doing anything today, that’s fine. But if I don’t do anything tomorrow, and the next day, and this week, and this month… that becomes a different story.

But at least I frustrated myself enough today that I felt like getting this post done. And did!


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