This post is in the Executive function category

"Burden" from The Tempest, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre. © S. Woods 2009

"Burden" from The Tempest, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre. © S. Woods 2009

Dear Reader

Not so long ago I found myself struggling to deal with my overcrowded life and frustrated with an apparent inability to plan, communicate and “read the vibe” of the people I was working with. On paper my life was not that full – study, part time teaching and working on the soundtrack for the “Donkey in Lahore” documentary plus family time. However, my difficulties in planning and time management, prioritising and recognising anxiety and stress in the moment were beginning to impact on my day to day functioning. Below is an extract from my blog at the time.

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I’m really fucking angry and depressed.

Spent the whole day trying to work with Director, and a Vocalist on this damn soundtrack.  Now he’s gone home, I really feel like the Director should just leave me alone to get on with the job and accept whatever music I give him.  The schedule is impossible if he wants to be constantly present and to approve every note.  He is very attached to his temp music, much of which is vocal and chosen for its lyric content, (not to mention that it’s in Hindi and Urdu) so it becomes impossible to move him sideways.  Talk about rigid thinking – probably both of us!

Vocalist is competent but not very confident, so the session went far too long.  I was happy to stop earlier and live with the takes over the weekend, then maybe do another session on Monday, as Vocalist was repeating the same “not quite right” phrasing / expression over and over rather than trying a different tack. Im guessing he was frustrated too, but he didn’t show it.  Consequently I called home, at about the time I said I would be already there, to say I was leaving in 30 minutes, which I did – but then, no bus.  I got so worked up trying to decide whether to wait for the next direct bus or take another route. I wonder why I put myself through this shit.

I just want everything to go away now.  I feel like I can’t cope with doing this, every hour feels like lost time, there is no way it can all be done and I will hate the weekend doing family things because it is time I should be working.  I’m feeling very emotionally fragile, like I want to just cry and let that feeling wash over me. And I want to sleep now – I know this feeling, its a stress reaction. Shut down. Deny everything.

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My Psych explains that Executive Function is the brain’s Fat Controller in a sense. Normal functioning would not allow the collection of events and feelings noted above to get to the stage they did at that time and at many others. Worry, anxiety and stress are such constant factors of the Aspie life that recognising their presence is difficult until it gets out of hand. It really pisses me off and makes me angry when this occurs around my music and impacts on my enjoyment of my music, because that is usually my haven.

Many cognitive behaviour therapists use stress scales or “emotion thermometers” (Mayer, 2009, p. 338) to help people identify their feelings and define if they are appropriate, and it is fairly typical for people with ASD to have “all or nothing” emotional responses (Myles, 2003). In fact it is a reduced range of emotion, that tends towards the higher average levels – coupled with an lack of ability to recognise internal emotion. They will rate themselves as a “3” on a stress scale, and suddenly they are at “10”. My psychologist suggests that my understanding of “5” or average, is more like most people’s “7” – constantly elevated and close to boiling over.

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Emotion Thermometer © C.Webber 2010

"Emotion Thermometer" © C.Webber 2010

Psych: “OK, you were running ten minutes late for your appointment, rate your current stress level on a scale of 1-10”

Me: “9 – I hate being late”

Psych: “And what would it be if you got here and the building was on fire”

Me: “10 obviously…”

Psych: “And what was your stress level all day while teaching?”

Me: “3 … No, higher, shit, I don’t know – I’ve been on the go all day”

Psych: “Not 3.  3 would be more like sitting under a tree with a nice cup of coffee…”

Me: “Hm, so maybe teaching is 5 and late is 8? But I don’t think I ever get down to a 3 then …”

Psych: “No wonder you say you never feel rested …”

The emotion thermometer would be reading abnormally high in both these situations.  Executive Function is not appropriately controlling and prioritising the stress reactions.

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