Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Things I Don't Understand - Number Eleven - Change

I don’t understand change.

Don’t get me wrong here. Change as a means of improvement, I’m fine with. Without it, we wouldn’t have things like safer cars, improved rights for minorities, better health care, and the Internet. And yes, it does bring undesirable things too, but I can understand the roots of those, even if I don’t like them much.

I can also understand change as variety, something to spice up life, because every day being the same can be totally, mind-numbingly, boring. I can cope with this kind of change, as long as it doesn’t happen too much, too often, and I can go back to my ‘normal’ afterwards.

But change simply for change’s sake, that’s the one I don’t understand.

Take for instance when supermarkets switch items round in their aisles, so that what was once in Aisle Seven, is now who knows where, because for sure you don’t. Or when manufacturers change the packaging of their products, so you can’t even recognise them. Or worst of all, they actually stop making your favourite of some product, for no reason at all that you can figure out.

Then there are things like the fashion industry, which constantly changes its ‘look’, so that even if you do find a style that fits and you look not-too-bad in, next year it’ll be gone, and something uncomfortable and unflattering will take its place. Not to mention that they use crappy fabrics, and charge outrageous prices, and that some of their designs would make you a laughing stock if you actually wore them in the street. And don’t get me even started on POCKETS. We’re conned into thinking this absurdity is good, people make movies, TV programs and even write books about it, it’s become normalised, and largely unquestioned.

A lot of it seems to be about money – if this product isn’t making them a squillion of profits, they toss it and make something else. Never mind if lots of people are quite happy with the existing one. Or supermarkets, department stores, etc, will rearrange their floors because they want to put more ‘high-value’ (ie, more profitable) stuff where people will see it and impulse buy. And fashion, of course, is definitely about money, especially at women’s expense, as we’re the ones being the most badly conned (or forced, for lack of alternatives) into buying their products.  The ethos seems to be ‘make people buy more, make more money, make more money, make more money...’ We’re all in thrall to the Great God Profit.

Politicians seem fond of this kind of change too. Maybe they just like to be seen to be ‘doing something’, even if it’s endless tinkering what should be left alone. We in New Zealand have seen a fair bit of this over the past few decades, especially in regards to things like our health and education systems. Politicians wanted to ‘leave their stamp’ on the country, and they have, not always to good effect.

My feeling is always, why can’t people leave well enough alone? If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is my philosophy. This constant change-for-change’s-sake seems to be very much a modern thing, a function of late-stage capitalism perhaps. We now have ‘planned obsolescence’ rather than quality, ‘trends’ rather than a search for perfection, ‘the latest gadget’ rather than the best tool for the job. Change has stopped being about improvement or variety, and become an end in itself, an out-of-control spiral, meant only to further enrich those who have way too much already. This is a big part of what makes the world seem to get crazier every year.

Political analysis aside, I’m sure many NTs feel bugged by much of the above too. But the autistic reaction to this sort of change goes beyond irritation. It can mean very real distress. The world to us is a chaotic place, and we rely on a lot of little things to provide anchors or islands of calm in the swirling mess. If the tinned tomatoes aren’t in Aisle Seven, if our favourite shampoo is discontinued, if we can’t find clothes we like, it feels like the bottom has dropped out of our world. Our anchors are gone, and we’re drifting out to sea in a storm. Our little islands have disappeared, and we’re free-falling into the abyss.

When this happens, our thinking can spiral into what I call catastrophising, where one little thing triggers a chain of thoughts that invariably end in a disaster scenario. No tinned tomatoes – we can’t eat tonight, we’ll go hungry, we’ll starve, be found dead on our kitchen floor. No shampoo – we’ll have to use something that induces sensory overload and meltdowns, or we’ll never be able to wash our hair again, will end up dirty and smelly, lose our jobs, become homeless... No new clothes – we’ll end up dressed in rags or butt-naked, unable to set foot outside our front door, our lives falling apart… You get the picture. Sometimes, we’re able to find a solution, or others help us find one, but we go through the emotional wringer on the way to it.

I’m not saying that the world has to be organised around us. I am saying that other people need to understand that if we get upset about some ‘little thing’ having changed, we’re not ‘making a fuss about nothing’. It’s very real, and very horrible. This world is hard enough for autistics. Please, don’t make it worse.

So yeah, I don’t understand change for change’s sake. And I think I’m not alone.

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