An exploration of the poetry of

Desperately seeking solitude

Many months ago, I started to take a daily rest on the advice of my acupuncturist. She said that I was really exhausted and I needed to lay down with a warm mask over my eyes and take a rest every day, ideally for 40 minutes. I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with this rest. At first, I was angry about it. Why did I have to stop what I was doing to rest? I wanted to just be like a ‘normal person’ and only rest at the end of the day. I wanted to be able to do more each day, and this rest was getting in the way.

Over time, and certainly with the autism diagnosis, I have been much more appreciative of my daily rest. Especially when I ditched the idea of preparing a warm mask (I don’t have a microwave so it was a bit of work and required lead time). What started as an imposition has become a ritual that I look forward to each day.

Of course there are days when I just don’t have the chance to have a rest, but most days I do. Now that I know I’m autistic it makes a lot of sense to me why I need this rest. I get really overdone being around people, and I live with three other people who often want or need something from me, or are making noise, or bouncing around. And even if I spend the morning alone, I am usually overstimulated just from managing work, housework, and general duties of life. My rest provides an opportunity to take a break from the sensory stimulation of everyday life, and a chance to relax my mind and body so that I can manage making dinner and getting through the rest of the evening without turning into an impatient, aggravated, angry person.

Restless rest

For a long time, I was able to use guided relaxation during my rest to really zone out. I wouldn’t always fall asleep, but I would at least feel very relaxed, and when I got up I felt ready to face the rest of the day.

But for the last few weeks I have not been getting a restful rest. I have been getting restless during my rest time. In fact, today during my rest time I was writing this post in my head. I was thinking about a million different things. While this often happens at the start of the session, I am usually drifting away into relaxation within 10 or 15 minutes.

My body was not relaxed either. My legs and feet were fidgety. The rest of my body didn’t want to move. I was too tired to get up and write, so I did get my forty minutes of rest in before I did a few chores and sat down with the computer to work on this post. It’s really annoying to have such a busy mind, but such an exhausted one at the same time. If I could have written first, would I have been able to rest? I did try to get myself up to do just that, but I couldn’t so I guess it’s a moot point.

Why can’t I relax?

One of my personality traits is a need to know why. So of course I start wondering why I can’t relax all of a sudden. I start with the questions about medication. Is my dose wrong? Am I on the wrong meds altogether? Is it the new addition of progesterone? And then I start to think over the last little while, and how things have been around my home and in my head and think that there’s a link between doing more and being more restless.

The fact is that I’ve been overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel like all time is now – like everything that is on my to-do list has to be done right this minute. I started writing lists because keeping everything up in my head made it seem like I had more to do than I have to do. And although writing lists usually helps, it’s not helping right now. The list is too long, for one. It seems like it is constantly growing. Having neurodivergent kids means lots of appointments, medications, extra school communication, and extra everything to keep track of. Being self-employed means a lot of administrative work on top of client work. Being a dual citizen means that I have tax obligations in two countries to take care of. And I’ve taken on more work again now that people are back to work and kids are back in school.

I want to be able to do more work. I want to contribute to our household income more. And my husband has taken on more side projects which has meant that he hasn’t been as present with me, and his state of mind is more scattered so he’s been providing me with less calming co-regulation. Not that it’s his job to be that presence for me, but I must acknowledge how his moods impact me, and I suppose in this household with many sensitive souls, we all tend to pick up on each other’s moods and as the mother, I tend to carry the emotional load of my children to a degree.

My younger daughter has been coming to terms with her own autism diagnosis, as well as going back to school and she is literally bouncing on an exercise ball throughout the house quite often when she is home which really grates on my senses. It’s noisy, and it’s too much motion for me but I am trying to balance my needs against hers.

Also, for about two months, she’s gone through a sleep issue where she’s wanted me to lay with her until she falls asleep every night, and while she’s falling asleep she’s tossing and turning and bouncing on the mattress which is also difficult for me to handle. When people mention sensory issues, they never seem to mention how much stress the movement of people around you can cause, but that’s a really big issue for me. Her constant frenzied movement can really drain me.

Anyway, back to the sleep thing – I was sneaking out of a 9 year old’s room like I used to have to do for a baby or toddler! Why was I doing this? Partly because I wanted to help her when she was feeling anxious. And partly because the meltdown or fighting that would occur if I left was more than I could handle. But two nights ago, I finally tipped to the side of staying in the room being harder on me than the prospect of a fight or meltdown. I told her that I would read to her, then she could read by herself for a bit, and then I would tuck her in and stay upstairs with her but I would be in my room until she fell asleep. So far that’s working, and hopefully soon I can make the next step of being able to go downstairs, or to do whatever I want after I tuck her in. That said, after I come down, it’s time for her sister to have her needs for connection met. It’s just that I can get to bed earlier perhaps. I’m tired just writing about it!

On top of all of that, I finally stepped on the scale and in the five months since I started taking the SNRI and stopped being afraid of eating everything, I gained 19 kilograms, so I have been much more mindful with my eating – which also means not turning to food for comfort or dopamine or the alleviation of stress.

Some things feel like they can’t wait

Regardless of all of that chaos, I have decided that now is the time to work on some significant trauma with my doctor. I mentioned it to him a while back. Maybe even before Christmas, but I wanted to wait until he had time to see me weekly before we got stuck into these issues. In the lead up to the weekly appointments being on the calendar I began to get really anxious, as played out in medical anxiety. And when I would go inside myself to ask what the anxiety was about I knew it was about these traumas that I cannot confront on my own. Clearly, I could have gone into my appointment on Monday and talked about a million other things, but I knew that if I didn’t start to talk about this, I was only going to stay stuck in the cycle of medical anxiety.

Unfortunately, I am not always the greatest at planning things out. After a crazy week of emotions including back to school chaos, I spent the weekend tackling a massive to-do list. Sunday was particularly full on. And then Monday went like this: Get the kids ready for school including making breakfast and lunches. Get laundry going. Unpack dishwasher. Go grocery shopping. Put groceries away. Realise the kids left the door of the freezer in the garage open all night and thawed hundreds of dollars of meats that I had been setting aside in case I can’t get the groceries I need to stick to our usual meal plans. Nearly cry. Quickly down a protein shake. Go to my appointment where I talked about traumas. Go directly from there to the post office. Come home. Kids arrive home soon thereafter so there’s after school chaos including feeding kids, getting them to unpack their bags, etc. Do a bit of work. Try to have a rest but it’s a restless rest. Bring in laundry, fold, put away. Make dinner. Clean up after dinner. Break a plate. Clean that up. Empty the freezer, and try to clean out all the frost. Give up for the time being. Have a shower. Then it’s time to hang out with the girls; dessert and an episode of a TV show. Deal with the girls fighting over the best seat on the couch. Deal with my younger daughter bouncing around on her exercise ball during the show. Deal with both girls getting up multiple times and speaking over the show all while insisting that what they really want to do is watch the show. Then it’s reading to my younger daughter, and then I went to my room I worked on a blog post. Then tucked her in. Then I went back downstairs and watched my other daughter’s preferred show and then got out her pills and her hot water bottle and went up to bed.

I wish I didn’t need to be alone sometimes, but I do

My husband came up to see me and I just didn’t even want to make eye contact. I wanted to be left alone. And I don’t like when I have nothing left. I mean, not even wanting to speak or be spoken to. He thought he had done something to upset me. At least we communicate a lot (it hasn’t always been great, but we’ve learned a lot over nearly 20 years). So we had the discussion and he understood that I needed to be left alone, and I assured him that it wasn’t personal. And I unwind by looking at funny memes, and finally turn off the lights to go to sleep. Apparently the nine year old came in at 1am but my husband woke up before I did so when she needed someone to lay with her, he spent 45 minutes in her room before coming back to our bed.

After such a big day in therapy, I had very little ability to recover from what I had been through, and was looking forward to the chance to have a less hectic day today. And I didn’t have to go out, aside from picking my daughter up from school.

I had hoped that today was going to be a day of solitude. I knew I had some client work to do, but was really hoping to get time to write. Not just blog, but to journal about my therapy session. My husband was pretty busy with clients out of the house today, so that would give me more solitude.

But I forgot my nine year old daughter had a telehealth appointment so she wasn’t going to school. She does better on a four day week than a five day week, so I had told her she could decide whether to go to school after the appointment and she chose to stay home. But by lunchtime she was bored and needed attention. So it was frustrating that the day did not go how I had it in my head. And it’s not surprising that this afternoon’s rest was another instance of a restless rest.

I really want to spend more time writing. More time alone. But my life just isn’t set up that way. Sometimes I fantasize about going away for a couple of weeks just to feel caught up with myself. Solitude is how I connect with myself. How I recharge. How I find the space for creativity. Poems often come to me so easily if I give myself some solitude. And even when my rest is a restful rest, it’s not enough. I need more alone time that isn’t so prescribed in addition to the eyes closed, guided relaxation time. Maybe my needs are changing and that’s not going to work for me anymore. But I feel so revved up and wound up and overdone that I don’t think dropping that is the right thing to do.

I think that I am going to have to be more realistic about my time again. While I want to be able to do more things, I have a tendency to over-do until the point of breakdown, shutdown or meltdown. And then I can’t do a fucking thing.

What will I do differently?

I grew up believing that your value is based on what you do. That you have to work hard to be worthy. If you’ve ever heard of a blue collar, midwestern American work ethic, that’s the belief system I was raised in. Add to that the people pleasing I learned from living in abusive situations, and from being raised in systems of conditional love, and it has been a recipe for disaster. I want to break out of those patterns. I want to break those cycles. I want to be a better example for my children.

So how will tomorrow be different? Hopefully both kids will be at school, for one. I don’t have any appointments. My husband will be out of the house from 11:15. After the kids go to school, I am going to determine what has to be done this week from my to-do list, and plot out what days I will do each thing. I will prioritise some time at the start of the day for doing what I want or need to do for myself – to work on my website or to write, or to just listen to music in my bedroom by myself and see what happens. I am going to postpone client work and doing stuff for everyone else around my house until later in the day. Yeah, I’m not thrilled that I won’t be able to do all of the things I think I should be able to do, but I can see where I am headed if I don’t slow down.