I read a bog the other day by someone with alexithymia. Who described being asked in childhood ‘how do you feel?’ And having no way of being able to respond beyond ‘I don’t know’.
If you asked me now, or anytime, ‘how do you feel?’ I’d be the same. I’d need at least a little time to think, reflect, process before I could fashion an answer. And that answer might not be entirely right. It would be as near as I can manage, but not maybe entirely true.
I have spent a lot of my life thinking that I didn’t feel. Or that all I was capable of were selfish emotions, emotions related to me. I have worried that this made me a psychopath or a sociopath. I have mentally prodded myself (with quite a lot of viciousness) to see if I can force some kind of feeling out. Think about that person. Think of them. Right, now think how would you feel if they died? Well? HOW WOULD YOU FEEL? Even that vicious prodding might not dredge up much. Not least because you know, the anxiety that prompted the vicious prodding would be wiping out anything else and also because no matter what it dredged I didn’t stand a chance of dealing with it because I couldn’t do something as simple as name it.
I had utterly debilitating anxiety for actual years without knowing I had it. Honestly. It took eight sessions of CBT to identify it, then at least six month’s reflection on that to name it. It took, in my last job, three months of driving to work repeating ‘calm, still, calm, still’ whilst feeling panicked and nauseous before I went ‘oh, maybe this is making you anxious’.
Like so many things with autism, it’s something so much easier to deal with once it’s been recognised. I can connect things better now. Panicking hysteria? Oh, that’ll be the impending deadline. Wash of wellbeing? Well, that might possibly be because you do actually love your cat/your boyfriend (I’m pretty convinced I love both, though nothing I have ever felt has been recognisable from other people’s descriptions of love).
One of the really tricky things for me with this alexithymia thing though, is the risk of feeling a huge amount of something. Then not being able to recognise or categorise. Then panicking. Then drinking. Or even not even trying the recognise or categorise thing, just heading straight to the vodka. Vodka has always been my painkiller/wipe me out of choice.