Putting out Fires

Can I stop living life on “stampede” mode?

This has been on my mind for a long while, but I have struggled with how to present the idea so that it makes sense to others. The metaphorical idea behind the phrase “putting out fires” is supposed to give one an impression of somebody running from urgent crisis to urgent crisis without cease.

I believe the anxiety level in my life from childhood on caused me to live my life like this. I was so ill equipped to sort what was important from what was not, and so poorly understood what things in life were truly significant as opposed to what things were “just small details” with less importance.
I had nobody to explain these things, it was just “understood” by others in a way that was never clear to me for most of my life.

I learned early in my childhood to be hyper-vigilant in responding to demands and requests of others, and was very fearful to ignore or refuse these demands, commands, requests, directives, etc. regardless of who was making them. This was probably mostly due to my autism and my continual misunderstanding of the world, other people, and my place among all of it.
I was constantly fearful of displeasing any person, of doing the wrong thing, of being punished for making mistakes of any kind.

I believe I went from urgent situation to urgent situation “trying to prevent disaster” every day of my life in one way or another. Anxiety was always with me, to the point of pounding pulse, chest pains, shaking uncontrollably, losing my breath, having a huge ‘startle’ reflex, and many other anxiety responses for most of my life.

Looking back, I rarely spent time in wondering why this was so, or questioning anything about my life. I was too caught up in pleasing parents and siblings, employers, spouse, making sure my children and pets/ livestock etc were cared for, while juggling jobs and attempting to follow my intense interests surrounding animal welfare and horses in particular. I had no idea that my experience was any different from other people’s. Nobody knew!

Dysfunctional relationships with family and co workers kept me from sorting specifics, when I tried to understand why things happened certain ways, I was always told it was all my fault but I never understood how that was so.
I was perpetually bullied, intimidated, mocked, scorned, used, abused, punished, shamed, at home, at school, at church, in other social groups, and in individual interactions with others, and never understood why. I tell people I lived my life in fear, and this is so. I was afraid of everything, and afraid I would not be able to deal with any situation or make the right decision, do the right thing. Experience had proved over and over how inept, thoughtless, careless, etc I was, and every misjudged act, deed, expression, or interaction proved over and over the justification for my need to worry and to fear.

It was not until I was retired and my kids were grown and moved to homes of their own that I had enough time to do a bit of reflection and trying to sort out the “why” questions of my life.
I finally had time to do research on the internet, I finally had time to spend thinking about so many painful things from the past.

I was not able to sort it out on my own. I had to learn more about autism once I suspected it could be present in my life. Finding out about my autism gave me the tools and the understanding to see things in a different perspective and to understand what had happened all those years when I did not know I was autistic ( and neither did anybody else).

I was treated for anxiety and depression most of my adult life. Suicidal attempts and suicidal thinking mostly left me after I learned healthier and more self assertive behavior through counseling, but I still did not have the perspective I needed to understand how I affected others in my autistic ways. I spent all my time trying not to anger others, to do the right things to try to please them, and always falling far short of whatever was needed to keep anger and discord, punishment and bullying at bay.
I suspect that many others who never knew of their autism had similar experiences. Probably many others can’t even imagine what I am referring to here.

Autism and life experiences vary with each person’s neurology and circumstances in our lives.

I wonder how I can reach others who feel as if they are living life “putting out fires” and to help them find the tools they need to start living lives for themselves and not simply to avoid the displeasure or anger of others?

No ideas. I blog, hoping it sounds familiar and helps somebody take a step or two toward self understanding and self forgiveness. This is just one more attempt at sorting autistic experiences of the past and hoping to make enough sense to help others find themselves too.

Have you experienced the feeling of living your life simply “putting out fires”? Have you lived your life in fear?

2 thoughts on “Putting out Fires

  1. Your thoughtful post brought to mind a powerful insight from Chris Bonnello of Autistic Not Weird. Anxiety is something that is *done* to Autistic people. It is not naturally a part of Autism itself. I certainly feel the truth of that. I’m a Gen-Xer and went through a lot of bullying at school (and from my mother, more due to her schizophrenia… but I was lucky to have my Aspie father as a safe harbor). It sounds like you went through *extremely* intense bullying. I hate that any of this was done to us (general us, Autistic people). It is unjust, and truly I hope the world is shifting towards something better, the sometimes chaotic appearances to the contrary. I have found some of the Autistic Not Weird articles very helpful and illuminating.

    Liked by 3 people

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