“Safe Mode” is a concept I used to describe shutting down all non-essential activities and plans in order to focus on survival. This is akin to a tortoise hiding in its shell when it encounters danger. When we feel overwhelmed and besieged by the the events happening around us, we isolate ourselves from the world as much as possible.
Like most autistics, I was constantly in safe mode for as long as I can remember. Most of the world did not make sense to me, but those parts that made sense conveyed to me that:
- The World is Meaningless: Our only goal is to try to avoid pain and suffering.
- Life is Evil: The world is out to get us and make us suffer in its quest for the survival of the fittest.
- Life is Fake: Everyone rejects the truth and tries to make us fake like them too.
- Life is Ugly: Humanity continues to wreck Planet Earth; the best we can do is hide.
Reading about human history and having a very superficial understanding of Buddhism only reinforced my beliefs. Experiences of bullying, social rejection and being ordered to do unpleasant things kept confirming my beliefs. I saw no redeeming value for Humanity and I do not wish to consider myself as a member of the human species. I wished to escape from Planet Earth and return to wherever I came from.
Many people do not think that the inner world is important; they focus instead on the tangible and material outer world. The chronic fatigue and sensory issues experienced by autistics are dismissed as irrelevant, emotions as irrational, dreams as unrealistic, and spiritual experiences as hallucinations. The reluctance to change is often seen as a lack of willpower or a mental defect.
For the autistic, whose inner world can be experienced as more “real” than the outer world, this is a recipe for disaster. Without real friends, I had only myself. Without knowing what to do with my emotions, I had only logic. Without senses that I can trust, I had only imagination. Without a body that I identified as my own, I had no reality to belong to. And some people wonder, why I do I always seem to be in a world of my own.
Autistics trapped in safe mode spend all their effort and energy just trying to survive, with little left over for other matters like personal hygiene and finding meaningful employment. Until the root causes are addressed, efforts to get the autistics to change their lives usually lead to only frustration and unhappiness.
Explaining the situation using logic does not help; I had my own system of logic which excludes competing logic from trying to elbow their way in. My mind was also already overly reliant on logic, and more logic will only make me unbalanced. Fortunately, I was not prescribed psychiatric medication. These will only treat the outer syndromes and create dependency while doing nothing to address the fundamental issues.
Eventually I found my own way. What I needed was not physical, mental, emotional or behavioral – it was spiritual. I needed to grasp the meaning of Life and the Purpose of my existence.