This evening I would like to discuss decision making, and how it affects those with anxiety, and autism. Now, there are countless research reports on how anxiety physically affects the brain’s ability to make decisions, it has something to do with the Prefrontal Cortex (When I have time and can get my hands on some resources from the library at uni I will probably study that some more), however, what I would like to discuss is what goes through our heads, or, at least, my head, when a decision is suddenly thrown at me, no matter how big, or small that decision may be.
I’m going to try and write it in stages, so that it might make a bit more sense.
Stage One: The Decision
Now, this can happen anywhere. Decisions, and questions are everywhere, and nobody really thinks twice about it before suddenly there is a question thrown in your face. It can be as simple as ‘what do you want to eat?’, or ‘what’s your favourite movie?’, or as complex as ‘do you want to go out tonight?’ (a very complex question in my opinion), I will still react the same.
Step Two: Confusion
Let’s say you asked me what my favourite movie is, first of all I have to process that you have actually asked me a question, and that I have to find an answer. Depending on the location, and the situation, this can take up to a couple of seconds, so I can sometimes stand there looking like an idiot until I have processed that you are staring at me and expecting an answer, and then comes:
Step Three: Panic
My thought process at this point goes something along the lines of ‘fuckfuckfuck okay movies what movies do I know WHY CAN I NOT THINK OF ANY MOVIES okay I have to think of something, what movie did you watch yesterday? No you can’t say that it’s stupid they’ll judge you. Can you not think of an actual good movie come on it is not that difficult. Okay. Genres, let’s go superheroes. But what if you say one that they hate and then you have to justify why you like it so that they won’t hate you fuck have they said anything about their favourite movie before we can just use that…’
This all goes on in the space of about 0.5 seconds, and so it’s kind of hard to grasp anything that is even going on in my head, and by this point stage four has already ensued.
Stage Four: Pressure
By this point your friend/family member/whoever is now saying stuff along the lines of “Just name one!” and “It’s not that difficult.” and “We don’t have all day!” YES I KNOW! I know we don’t have all day. And I know it shouldn’t be that difficult to pick a favourite movie, and in any other situation I could probably give you an entire list, however the moment you asked me that question all options and logical brain functioning just left me and I am kinda floundering right now and you telling me to hurry up, and that it’s not hard is just making it even more difficult.
Stage Five: Humour
This stage might just be personal to me, however, if I feel trapped I will often turn to humour to try and back out of having to make a decision. I’ll start making sarcastic comments in an attempt to distract the other person and get them to say something first so I can theoretically follow up with ‘omg I love that movie!!!’ and then all will be right with the world, however, that rarely happens.
Stage Five (Alternative): Crying
Depending on the day, and the situation, and my emotional state, if someone starts pressuring me I might just break down in tears. Which then just makes me feel stupid because why the hell am I crying over choosing a favourite movie?
Stage Six: Frustration
This is for both parties. They are getting frustrated because, to them, I just look like I’m being purposefully awkward, and they’re getting annoyed because, to them, it is a simple question, and I am being an idiot. I, on the other hand, am getting frustrated at myself because I feel stupid for not being able to answer a simple question, and I feel awful for making them get frustrated, and I hate myself because I end up doing this every damn time, and I would love to just sink into the ground and have never existed.
Stage Seven: Shutdown
This can happen two ways:
One: You kept nagging and I just stopped being able to deal with it, and so I just look down and stop talking, at which point you give up and leave, and I am left feeling like a failure of a human being.
Two: You have given up already and changed the topic, and I still end up feeling like a failure of a human being.
Step Seven (Alternative): Panic Attack
This tends to come if I reacted by crying in step five, although it can happen either way. If I am feeling particularly overwhelmed I start to freak out and panic, and the fact that it’s over such a stupid thing makes it even worse.
Now, I am not trying to say that all this is anybody’s fault. It is not your fault that I reacted that way to you asking me a question, and it is not my fault either.
However I do ask you not to lose your patience with me. If I look like I’m struggling to answer something, you can give me nudges in the direction of an answer, such as “What was that movie you were watching the other day?”, or “Do you like action movies?”. Just narrowing down my options helps a lot. Or if you are feeling particularly kind, and want to give us the day off, casually stating what your favourite movie is helps, especially if you know that we like it as well. Maybe it’s not our favourite, but at that particular moment in time it becomes as such.
Please just don’t dismiss our struggle. We’re not doing any of it to annoy you, or to be awkward. In that moment, for us, the struggle of that simple question is very real, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.
Thank you for reading, and feel free to share with anyone you think might need help understanding.
Good day and good luck to you,