Asperger’s / autistic people feel, too

(Possible Trigger Alert for people who are especially sensitive to animal or human suffering; although there are no vivid descriptions of anything particularly graphic, there are brief and vague mentions in passing of tough subjects/concepts.)

Emotions, for those of us on the spectrum, can be complex and difficult to pin down.  We often guard them carefully.

But they’re there, just the same.

Some examples…

…I’m filled to the brim with joy when I cuddle with one of the cats and I listen to them purr.  Sometimes this brings tears to my eyes.  My love for them is so intense that it can’t be explained.

…Someone I don’t even know in person posted about her elderly kitty’s passing away on Facebook.  I began to cry instantly, shedding real tears that dropped onto the screen of my smartphone.

…I have to literally change the channel when a fundraising commercial for animals or wounded veterans comes on.

…No matter how much I tried to rationalize the potential silver-lining positive results of animal dissection, I simply could not bring myself to do so in premed.  I am one of the few doctors who has never dissected a domestic animal (starfish and frogs notwithstanding).

…I cheer with elation alongside my clientele when they make progress or tell me they’re pregnant.

…I am saddened to the core when someone in my practice leaves my care prematurely; sometimes I feel that I tend to care more about someone’s health and progress than they do.

…One patient invited me to her husband’s funeral.  I had not known the man, only his wife (my patient).  I had not been working with her all that long.  I cried anyway, pretty hard, several times.  The first time was when I was simply pulling into the parking lot of the funeral location.

…When my “brother” died, I found myself in too much shock to cry right away.  But after I’d had a chance to process it all, I wrote him song lyrics/poetry that I read at his funeral and I could not get through it before breaking down in tears.  I pushed on, continuing to read with a broken voice, and I never fully lost my composure, but it was difficult.  The only way I could truly express what I felt to him and about his passing away was to write it.

…On this year’s Mother’s and Father’s days, when I wrote those two dedication blog posts (on this blog; the one for my mother can be found here and the one for my father can be found here), I cried then, too.  It was hard to determine what I was feeling when I broke down, but it felt like a release, so I’m guessing it was a combination of admiration and gratitude for them, empathy for their own suffering and hardship, and liberation and healing of the suffering and past pain for us all.

…When I’ve read blog posts written by other Aspies and experienced those “light bulb” moments during which much relief and validation washed over me, I cried again.  Here, too, it’s often hard to figure out the emotion tethered to the tears, but I think it was another combination of liberation, validation, healing, and the sheer significance of the various realizations.

So yes, we cry.  We cry out of happiness.  We cry out of gratitude.  We cry in grief.  We cry in pain.  We cry out of relief.  We cry in liberation.  We cry in sheer joy.  We cry during long-overdue healing.

We become elated.  We get excited.  Sometimes we want to jump around and flap our hands.

We grieve.  We hurt.  We long for and deeply miss loved ones.

We feel everything anyone else feels.  Our feelings can become so intense that they may frighten us.  They can become so complex that they confuse us.

When we see or hear of another’s emotion, we may appear not to respond or be concerned.

Often, we’re under-responding (or not responding) (outwardly) for several reasons:

  • We might still be processing; please be patient.  The reality and significance will hit us soon enough.
  • We may be feeling the other’s emotion so intensely that we’re overwhelmed and we can freeze or inwardly shut down.
  • If it involves suffering, we’re often very uncomfortable and want to end the suffering as soon as possible.  That explains why many of us are conscious of being “fixers”.
  • We’re feeling awkward, not sure how to respond.  Trying to avoid saying the wrong thing or sounding cliche, we may need to take extra time to form a socially-acceptable response.
  • We may also be feeling the emotion so intensely that words seem to fall short, a completely inadequate method of expression that fails to convey all of the multidimensional aspects of the gravity of the situation and what we’re feeling.
  • We could be feeling the emotion so intensely AND we’re feeling awkward because our natural inclination may be to immediately burst out physically, vocally, etc, and we’re self-conscious enough to pull back and hold things in until we can collect ourselves.

But yes, we feel, and very deeply.  We may appear detached.  But, don’t be fooled.

We’re capable of experiencing the entire emotional spectrum.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 10.16.37 AM

We’re there, standing beside you, mentally holding your hand (in joy or in sorrow), even if we don’t know what to say (or do).

WHY do our emotions run so deep?  I’m not exactly sure, but I have a few possible working theories.

  • The first is, our ultra-processing, hyper-active minds “tune in” and “lock on” to multiple aspects and a lot of depth at once.
  • The second is, we internalize quite a bit of our entire lives.  Our internal world can reach uber-vivid intensity, and if it doesn’t get expressed outwardly, it gets directed inwardly.
  • The third is, in social situations, we’re perfectionists at heart and we want to be accurate and appropriate.  We want to do and say everything “right”.  In these social situations, we’re also keenly aware that we don’t usually communicate with or relate to others in the usual way, so we may feel safer the less we say or the more conservative we act, for fear of saying or doing something that gets misinterpreted.  Lord knows we don’t want to cause any additional suffering for anyone, add to anyone’s pain, or elicit any unexpected reaction/response that causes or adds to our own discomfort or awkwardness (either of which can happen in either good or bad situations).
  • The fourth is, in situations involving suffering, we’ve usually suffered a lot ourselves.  We may not have been able to express this suffering to others, or maybe we couldn’t find someone who was willing to listen or who could truly understand the magnitude.  Basically, we’ve been there.  The same can indeed apply to joy, too; we may have been overjoyed at an award we received, or an accomplishment we achieved, or a creation/invention, or a discovery, etc.  But it can be tough to find someone in our lives who can truly share that joy and feel it like we do.  Any time we hear of another’s joy or sorrow, this can bring back our own memories and emotions to the conscious surface and reignite those associated feelings.

We might not appear fazed by anything.  It might look like we’re unaffected, unscathed.  We might appear cold, aloof, heartless, emotionless, or detached.

Again, don’t be fooled.  As I was taught very young, “there’s more than meets the eye”.

***

(Image Credit: “Rainbow Eye” by Kizuna-Chan)

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