Wednesday morning I cooked a fry up: steak, eggs, hash brown, tomato. While it might not meet the current standards of Australia’s dietary guidelines, it was delicious. Except for the tomato.
From the moment I took hold of the large red rock, I suspected we might be in trouble. Not only was it a solid fruit, and weighty, but I had to lean on the knife to quarter it.
I cooked it slowly, turning it regularly, hoping that 15 minutes in the pan would soften it enough to make it palatable. It did look all right, but the moment I cut off a bit and popped it in my mouth, I knew my efforts had been futile.
It was so gritty in my mouth – floury or ‘mealy’, like cornflour mixed with water – that I wanted to spit it out on my plate, only my wife was already watching me. I’d been going on about the tomato, you see. Since the moment I began preparing breakfast.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me (somewhat emaciated as I am) but I love food. I’m the cook in our house and for two small people in stature, my wife and I do eat well. But my tingling Spidey sense (the phrase I’ve given to my innate sense of foreboding) was right yet again, this time about the tomato. And I can’t stand it when my Spidey sense is right.
Sensory processing issues
My Autism assessment is filled with comments that relate to my ‘sensory issues’. These include touch, texture, sound, and smell. (There may be others I haven’t thought of here, but those are the ones in the report.)
Not all sensory differences for Autistic people are negative – often I experience an almost exalted state when listening to music, for example – but those that are can cause extreme levels of distress and discomfort.
One of my own biggest issues is that I’m hyper-aware, of my surroundings, of everything really, and, again, this can be both gloriously positive and unbearably negative.
So it was with that tomato. The second I picked it up, I began to dysregulate. Negativity washed over me (the Spidey sense) and no matter how much I’d been looking forward to cooking breakfast (and eating it), I stood at the stovetop stewing over a piece of fruit I knew I should have chucked in the bin.
The effect of sensory differences on mood
The way sensory differences impact each Autistic person differs – so too does their response to such differences. Too much sensory information, or being over- or under-sensitive to various sensations can cause stress, anxiety, and even physical pain, resulting in withdrawal, distressed behaviour, meltdowns, or complete shutdown.
On Wednesday morning, after I bit into that inedible tomato, and chewed it, and felt its revolting texture and taste in my mouth, I was teetering somewhere between distress and meltdown – but trying like crazy (and failing) to fight it.
The steak was delicious, tender, full of flavour, the egg silky, not at all greasy, the yolk obliterated just how I like it, the hash brown all golden crispy potato goodness. But that tiny piece of tomato was all I could talk about.
As I said, it started when I first took it from the refrigerator: “This thing’s like a rock, I don’t know if it’s going to be any good. I’ll do what I can but I don’t know if it’ll make any difference. I want you to be prepared that this tomato might not be edible, okay?”
And continued, with little letup, until now: “Oh, that’s disgusting! I can’t eat that. Did you eat yours? Oh, that’s the worst tomato I’ve had in years. In years! Do we have more of those? Did you choose that or did we get that one with the delivery? I can’t eat any more of that, no, no more. Oh, that bit looks all right, let me try that bit. Nope, that’s horrible, too. The whole thing’s horrible! How did you eat that much of it? I’ve had two tiny bites. That’s really disappointing. Really, really disappointing.”
At this point, my wife couldn’t take any more (rightly so!) of my ranting and asked me to stop talking about the tomato and enjoy the rest of the breakfast.
Which I did, eventually.
But first, I spent some time feeling affronted, dysregulated as I was, my wheels spinning, my mind unable to latch hold of any rational thought. I questioned my wife about what I was doing wrong, pleading my ignorance, blaming the tomato and the people who had grown it.
And then, again eventually, I apologised for my behaviour.
But after breakfast, I came right downstairs and started working on this blog post.
This is the way it goes when you’re Autistic – round, and around, and around. It’s exhausting and in hindsight seems completely avoidable. Until the next time something triggers you and it all starts up again.
I think now, finally, I am over it – the tomato that ruined Wednesday.
I think I am.
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