August 24, 2020

Looking through notes from a few years ago, I’m amazed by how much my ideas have shifted – especially on the topic of bravery.

I used to spend a lot of energy attempting to be brave in uncomfortable situations, to push through anxiety, to do hard things. I saw that as a kind of self-empowerment, and I collected many songs, images, and phrases to remind myself of it.

I’m now inclined to think that focusing too much on bravery can obscure unmet needs.

Autistic fear is never irrational, so I’ve been learning to approach it with more curiosity: “Why do I feel this way, and what changes could I make to feel better?”

  • If the root cause is sensory overload, then I consider ways to muffle sensory input.
  • If the root cause is information overload, then I make a list of all the knowns and unknowns.
  • If the root cause is social expectations, then I try to explain my differences ahead of time.
  • If the root cause is unpredictability, then I research and ask questions to mentally prepare.

Mitigation has become my first step, so that less bravery is required. Nevertheless, some amount of bravery will always be needed. So, is it worth putting myself in challenging situations to build inner strength?

Two years ago, I would have given an unqualified yes. However, I now recognize that there’s a difference between “stretching my comfort zone” and ripping it open.

Challenges need to be big enough to develop new skills, but small enough to keep my brain in a state where it’s able to grow – not freezing up or melting down. And if I’m not ready for something today, I might be another day.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.