I've long referred to the process of writing songs and other creative acts to be driven by the concept of an "emotional landscape". You could also call it your "inner landscape". It's the world of impressions, feelings, experiences, and images that coalesce around a particular topic, a person, something that happened, a place, a feeling. When I invest in this landscape, when I actively notice what is there, and keep adding little points like stars or perhaps like the underground part of a mushroom (the mushrooms are the flowers!), then you have a world to write about. Many people struggle with not being able to finish songs, or other works of art. But if you take the time to dreamily build this inner landscape, with a curious, rather than rigid, approach, you will find the material to finish your work. There is a richness there, a whole world to write.
Sometimes the world doesn't need much cultivation. Sometimes the feeling is so big, so intense, that it just wells up out of you in a single shot. Sometimes feelings arrive as big as planets, oceans, fully formed and straining at the bounds of your heart, your body, until you finally give yourself some relief by pouring it out into creation.
For awhile I tried to teach obsession, and big feelings, this kind of dog-on-a-bone concentration I apply when I engage in creation. Learning a song, writing a song. Other kinds of creating. Educational worlds. Landscapes of learning.
But at some point I realized- wait, maybe I shouldn't be trying to teach this, and maybe it can't be taught.
Maybe this is a unique way that I am wired. Maybe it's not right to try to share my blessing and curse with others. Because of course, when big feelings EXPLODE out of you at rocket speed, well- it's great for art. Not so good for personal and professional relationships. Once I got old enough to start sharing my thoughts and feelings more freely, and not only in song as I once did (unless I was crying to my mother!), I learned that being a person who expresses big feelings without a filter is not seen as a desirable, or even acceptable, quality by most of the population.
And it's true. My emotions are unstable, they swing wildly. I've burned a lot of bridges along the way when they erupted out of me. I also wrote hundreds of songs, probably thousands of pages in journals, and experienced the incredible reward of finding those who resonate with what comes from the deepest reaches of my heart.
Thankfully, I had friends who not only understood, but related. And one friend in particular told me- "you know, I discovered after many many years of misdiagnosed mental health issues that I am actually on the Autism Spectrum. I'm pretty sure that you are, too".
And then I met another friend who had also been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, and as he shared with me what he'd learned about how it affected him, more and more peices began to click into place.
For my entire young adult and adult life, I knew something was different about me, and I knew that the scope and breadth of my feelings didn't really match up to "reality" the way that broader society experiences it. My feelings were so big in proportion to sometimes very small events, or interactions. And if the event itself was big, then I would swing so high up over the moon in my feelings that then I would crash land to the ground, and shut down completely for days, weeks. One time, even months.
It didn't chart with symptoms of clinical depression, or other conditions I looked up. But the more I learn about ASD, the more it clicks with patterns I can remember being in all the way back to my first memories.
Apparently, it's very complicated to receive a diagnosis. So a lot of us self-diagnose. Which is where I am at in the process. It still feels hard to write about, to articulate, to share- because it's kind of overwhelming. I know my brain works in ways that others can't relate to or understand. And that's hard to accept. But I know I need to start talking about this part of my experience openly, for myself and my community.
As I begin to practice doing that, I found the work of a woman who is further along on the journey who articulated exactly how it feels when I really struggle, when the feelings get so big I end up going all the way over the moon and crashing back down to earth with a huge bang. For now, I'd like to share her words with you. As always, I welcome any stories you'd like to share with me. You can email me at alisonsowls at gmail, or post in the comments. If you've read this far, thank you! If you want to learn more, please check out Maria's work explaining autistic shut-downs and melt-downs in adults, her story, autistic difficulty with executive function, and an article from spectrum news about autistic burn-out. Thanks to these authors for articulating this experience. And again- thank you! See you out there on the music highway of the mind.