What is alexithymia?
Have you ever been at a loss for explaining yourself? Or you just can’t put your actual feelings into words? Like you know there something wrong, and sometimes you might even know what to do, but the actual words aren’t readily available to describe how you feel. This is called alexithymia. Alexithymia itself is not a condition, but a symptom. A symptom that can sometimes wreck havoc on the patient experiencing the loss of words. I myself suffer from this, though as I’ve aged my “feelings” are more recognizable to me. Here’s an excerpt from my journal from two days ago:
I don’t feel so well. I’ve had a rough few days. I’ve had a lot of feelings and I’ve been emotional, which adds to sensory problems I have. I react aggressively.
Ugh. I can’t think. I can’t think straight right now. I want to write something explanatory, something worth a write but right now I don’t have any words. I want to express myself, but… I can’t even bring myself to asking how. I think there are so many ways but I don’t know how I feel about any of them. Writing feels good, but all I’m doing is explaining what’s happening in my head right now and not explaining any of the anxiety-
Anxiety. But from what?
Maybe painting might help. I’m looking at the file room painting I started a few days ago. The file room is where I keep my memories. I have a series that I’m starting about places in my mind. I don’t think I want to paint right now though.
Maybe sing? No, this is enjoyable, right now we’re watching Deadpool and my husband is drawing Maggie.
It took me 200 words to figure out I had anxiety, and then I didn’t even know why. I was sitting on the couch with my husband watching a favorite movie of ours and I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. I didn’t want to take it out on my husband, so I attempted to find a way to channel my anxiety into something constructive, but that isn’t the point.
What does alexithymia look like?
Alexithymia can present itself as physical pain/distress, such as high blood pressure, joint pain, and chest pain. Clinically, it is thought to influence behavior, treatment process and outcomes due to the lack of patient recognition of emotions. There is only one study that suggests that alexithymia can be reduced over time with group therapy, guidance on recognition and communication of feelings.
How to help
If someone you know is experiencing this, it’s important that they are met with compassion and assistance. Alexithymia can lead to identity crisis, as having feelings but being unable to express or explain them can often cause the person to remain silent, and their pain and anguish ignored. If they finally reach the point where they are acting out behaviorally, it’s important to get the help of a mental health professional who might be able to assist with why the your friend or family member is suddenly acting irrational.
Wrongplanet is a great resource for people with autism and their families to come together and talk about the positive aspects of autism, and get advice and resources for the negative side of autism. A little acceptance can go a long way.
What to do when you can’t express yourself verbally
If you think you might be experiencing this, there are a couple of online tests that you can take to help you. Separate yourself from any outside stressors (environmental, conversational, etc.) so you can think clearly. This is an important tool to figuring out your feelings. Participating in a favorite hobby or relaxation techniques have also been found to help. Once you start to realize patterns within yourself (“I get like this every time xyz happens”), then you’ll be more able to express yourself in moments where you feel “like this”, and when “xyz happens”, you’ll be more in line with yourself to better explain your end of the situation.
In my marriage, we have breaks in heated discussion. This is because the more emotional I am, the less sense I make when I speak. When I start to feel like nothing we’re saying is making sense to me, I tell my husband I need a break. It also helps to dull down lights, sounds, smells and to wear comfortable clothing. Sensory needs must always be considered. After I have calmed down, I can coherently discuss compromises and solutions to various issues.
I have found that painting, writing, singing, and dancing help me to make me feel better, or at least help me find what I’m trying to say. However, if you’re experiencing alexithymia you may be in the “rumble stage” of a meltdown, and it’s important for you to make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed by trying to figure out what your emotions are. If someone you know or love is pushing you past your mental limits in an attempt to figure out why you’re having a problem, it’s because they don’t understand this symptom. Due to the complex solution of their problem is needing more words and your problem is too many words, it’s important for both parties to realize that respect for both needs has to be met delicately.
Alexithymia is a complicated, yet minimally studied symptom of ASD, schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, and other mental health disorders. It’s important for the mental welfare of the patient that their needs to be respected. Just because someone can’t put their feelings into words doesn’t mean their feelings don’t exist, and it’s better for all parties involved for either understanding or outside intervention.
Here are some free hotlines for counselling in a crisis, but please dial 911 for emergencies:
Autism Research Institute: 866-366-3361
American Autism Association: 877-654-GIVE
Autism Speaks Crisis Response Line*: 888-288-4762
*I know, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have good resources