PDA characteristic number one: resisting and avoiding the ordinary demands of life.
This seems to be the crux of PDA, avoiding or resisting demands in order to avoid or reduce anxiety. Anxiety can be a horrible thing to feel, for me this most commonly manifests as a sick feeling in my stomach. Usually I can quash this feeling, either by removing the thing causing the feeling (a demand) or by focusing on something else and completely ignoring the feeling and what is causing it. If the anxiety becomes worse I can feel sick to a point where I refuse to eat (because how can you eat when you’re feeling sick?), my hands can shake, I start to stutter and/or stumble over my words, I can become mute, I can become really irritable or angry, I have an almost irresistible urge to attack whatever or whoever is near me or causing the anxiety and at worst I may carry out those impulses (known as a panic attack or meltdown and happens rarely). That’s a long list.
Of course most of this is internalised. People might notice the hands shaking, stuttering and stumbling over words and the mute or occasional angry outburst, but most of the anxiety is hidden away inside where no one can see. This is why PDA is known as a hidden disability. It’s not noticeable like a wheelchair, it’s hidden away except in the most anxious of circumstances (and then I just look crazy or mad).
So what demands cause anxiety?
For me this is usually anything that someone tells me to do, especially if I don’t like the person or what they want of me. It also depends on my anxiety level at that specific moment in time, the higher my anxiety the more strongly I will resist. I am usually okay if someone asks me to do something (nicely) though I still feel anxiety it is reduced because I can see it as a choice rather than an instruction. There are demands that I place on myself which cause anxiety too, it seems there’s little distinction between someone else instructing me to do something and myself instructing. This means that it’s very difficult to force myself to do something, even something that I really want.
Expectations can cause anxiety because they are still demands even though they don’t come from any certain person. Things like having a tidy house or joining in conversations. One of the worst anxiety producing expectations for me is the expectation to perform a certain way socially without knowing exactly how or when. For example, sitting on a full bus is horrible because I feel like I might have to give up my seat at any time for someone who needs it more. The relief I feel when I finally get off the bus!
The next post will contain a list of some things which can cause anxiety for me.
How do I avoid/resist these demands?
This can range from outright refusal to manipulation (of people and the situation), ignoring the demand to procrastination and negotiation. A lot of the time I will agree to do something that a person has asked me to do then I will either forget or think of some way to get out of having to do it. I can quickly come up with excuses or reasons for why I cannot do the request or why it should be changed/delayed until a time when I can cope with the demand. Demands I have placed upon myself usually are met with outright refusal, I will stubbornly refuse to do things I feel I need or want to do that may cause anxiety. The exceptions to this are demands included in my routine or things I have said to others I’d do so I feel like I’d be letting them down by not complying (that would cause more anxiety). I spent years going through college even though I hated it because I couldn’t stomach having to quit and explain to the tutors why I wanted to quit. It was more anxiety producing to have that conversation than it was to force myself to get up and go into college everyday.
I regularly say to myself (and others) that I would do it tomorrow. Tomorrow would turn into next week which would turn into next month, etc. Procrastination is a good way to defer a demand until I’m better fit to deal with it but if the procrastination gets out of hand then people can be waiting for a long time for me to do something I’m not likely to ever do. I also suggest to others to postpone things they want to do, especially if my anxiety means I feel the need to supervise what they are doing. Controlling the people around me helps alleviate my anxiety because if I know what they are doing and when then I am better able to deal with it. One of the worst things is when someone suddenly suggests we do something that wasn’t planned and I haven’t had time to process it and go through what exactly is going to happen and how.
I have noticed that if someone were to push me to perform a demand I am trying to avoid then I tend to shutdown. I am unable to talk or move as I simply don’t know what to do or how to solve the situation. I can’t reduce my anxiety as the person is pushing and therefore escalating my anxiety. It’s like I am trapped. If I am pushed even further than this I end up having a panic attack which will involve either me hyperventilating and rocking, this causes my mind to go blank, or I lash out, verbally or physically, either at the person pushing, my environment or myself (or a combination of all three). This is a last-ditch resort of my brain and body attempting to get rid of the anxiety and at this point I have usually lost control and just want the whole situation to stop. It is extremely distressing and leaves my mind black and my body exhausted. At that point you really have to wonder whether the demand is really worth it. Of course the person demanding might not understand what is happening and this is why others see people with PDA as ‘bad’, ‘naughty’ ‘spoilt’ and ‘controlling’.
Trust me when I say I don’t want to be or act like this. I wish I had the ability to not care about what people want me to do like most typical people but my brain isn’t wired that way. Anxiety is a hellish thing to have and if a person feels anxiety so strongly that they cannot cope in most situations then forcing them to comply in order to get them to ‘act normal’ and ‘behave’ is damaging to the person at an emotional and intellectual level. This doesn’t mean, though, that a person with PDA should avoid all demands. The person needs to learn to cope at some level, at least enough to have a happy life, but there are a lot of demands that are simply not that important it is worth hurting the person, even if you cannot see the damage being caused.