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Five things that help me handle change

Change is hard. There is no getting around it.

Autistic brains are, amongst other things, hard-wired for structure and order. Unfortunately, the world rarely conforms to this…(rude)

After my diagnosis, I saw more clearly how this was impacting my day-to-day. For example:

  • During any kind of big life change (e.g. moving house, even going on holiday) I would be at maybe 10% brain capacity for at least a week or two on either side. More meltdowns, more overwhelm, much more exhaustion.

  • Sometimes, if someone changed a meeting or a phone call last minute, I would feel really angry at them. I couldn’t understand why they had not foreseen and planned around whatever had caused the change. (In hindsight, this is because most people don’t use up most of their brainpower going over and over their plans and backup plans…)

  • If someone suggested a last-minute plan to me, I would always want to say no. No matter how great it sounded.

  • When living with a partner, I could easily end up in a meltdown when they wanted to change something arbitrary. Like when to go out for a walk on a completely plan-free day, or which TV show to watch.

So, what to do? Knowing what to expect is extremely important for me. But people are unpredictable, things do come up, and plans do sometimes (unfortunately) need to change.

Here are five things that help me handle the unknown…

Thing 1: Budgeting for the impact of expected changes

Understanding why change is so hard gives me a choice. If I know there is a change coming up (location, new people, whatever) then I can choose to budget for that. I can give myself more downtime, do a bit less socialising, or take some time off. I try and take a few days off between a holiday or a house move and returning to work, for example. That gives me space to rest and adjust.

Thing 2: Giving myself time to adjust to unexpected changes

Again, understanding why this is so difficult offers me a choice. I can be more understanding and compassionate towards myself when a change happens. In the moment when I discover something is going to change, completely out of my control… it’s like the bottom has fallen out of the world. Even for tiny changes, there is a sudden and overwhelming feeling of anxiety that immediately follows. When I try to ignore this, it will take up a chunk of brain space for hours, even days, just whirring around in the background while I try and make sense of it. So now, when a change happens, I let myself stop. And breath. I sit and re-work my plans with this new information. And run that through my mind a few times until it feels ok again. The feeling passes much quicker if I give it some space to play out.

Thing 3: Leaving a gap before I respond to a new suggestion

Whenever someone makes a new suggestion, especially a last-minute one, my automatic answer is “no”. I know now that this is just because I have not had time to adjust to the change. So I give myself time to sit with the choices. Then make a decision once the anxiety has died down and the options feel clearer.

Thing 4: Refusing to change (sometimes)

Sometimes, people will suggest a change that is convenient but not 100% necessary for them. My natural inclination before has always been to “people please” and agree unless there is a very practical reason not to. But now I try and weigh in the impact of the change on me too before deciding what to do. Sometimes it’s fine, but when I need to, I can refuse to shift from Plan A.

Thing 5: Reducing the chance of something unexpected happening

I’ve talked about this more here, but one way I handle change is to minimise its chances(!) By planning anything that can be planned (e.g. requesting a hotel’s menu beforehand if it’s not on their website, looking at street view for walking routes and alternative travel options) I can take away some uncertainty. This absolutely does help me, but it is only one part of the picture. Things will still change, so it needs to go hand-in-hand with all the understanding and self-compassion above.

Lauren x


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