To be honest (is there any other way to be?), I struggled to find the right title for this post. When I wrote the first notes–then just a vague outline–of this idea about two months ago, I had originally used “The emotional cycles of the healing process” for the header. That wouldn’t have been a bad title, but it lacked a reference to Asperger’s, which is the entire driving force behind this post, not to mention the blog itself.
The other issue with the title is that the word “cycles” wouldn’t have been completely accurate. Although some of the emotions fade away only to resurface later, some of those emotions have abated without reappearance.
The thoughts and emotions are more like a milieu or potpourri, and I considered using them in the title, but those words are a bit too soft and benign; they’re not always fit to describe what can at times be an intense and stormy journey. So, scratch that.
Truthfully, what I feel is not always a “torrent”, either. But, sometimes it can feel like that. It’s important to understand, too, that although the word “torrent” has a predominantly negative or undesirable connotation, that’s not always the case here. The “torrent” I feel could actually be one of a positive or desirable feeling.
I’ll explain everything…
It has only been four months and two weeks since I realized I fit, almost to the letter, the definition of Asperger’s. As some of you know, the earliest stirrings of this realization began faintly and slowly, like a figure on the horizon only barely coming into view, so faint that it’s difficult to determine whether the figure is human or a tree.
And then, suddenly, it felt like someone pressed an ultra-rapid zoom button on a camera and what had been a tiny speck floating in the horizon’s mirage was suddenly crystal clear, 3D and HD, in front of me, so close to me that I could reach out and touch it. Boom, just like that.
That moment marked a line drawn in the sand, an irrevocable event that would forever separate my then/pre-life to my now/post-life.
It was a shock to the system. I’d been given a master key, an instruction manual with the decryption code, a sort of “congratulations; here’s the dictionary to your life.”
When you’re almost 39 (next month!), this sets off a chain reaction of emotions that swirl, frolic, fight, overlap, intertwine, mingle, reshape, reshuffle, and generally kick things up.
I’ll describe these as best I can. (Fine print: this is how I personally experienced my own discovery; I’m only one Aspie, and the experience of another may be completely different.)
Initially, there was shock. Holy shit, I thought to myself. Could it be? Is this real? It never crossed my mind! Ever. I’d been oblivious.
That was quickly replaced with suspicion. Am I being hypochondriac? Am I One Of Those People (this especially happens to women) who look at a list of traits and start freaking out, or crying, swearing up and down that they have a particular disorder, convinced they’re doomed to the worst outcome? (Some people do over-imagine and over-inflate, and often end up panicking and sinking into depression for no reason.) I had to run myself through this hypochondria self-check because I didn’t want to be That Person.
Seeing the splintered pieces come together so instantly to create a clear picture made me suspicious, assuming I’d missed something (“as usual”). This catch-all explanation that accounted for each and every quirk I’d ever had seemed to be a bit too convenient, too easy, too simple. And, let’s face it: nothing in my life had ever made that much sense, and certainly not so quickly, so inclusively, and so conclusively. Nothing in my life had ever been that easily explained.
Cautiously, I raced forward (that seems contradictory, but yes, it’s possible). I was excited and fascinated. As much research and investigative prowess as I have, and as quickly as that information came flooding in, it wasn’t fast enough. There was indeed a sense of urgency. I would keep learning. I would not stop. I would not rest until the voracious hunger was satiated.
I did my best to keep an objective and open mind while I devoured clouds of information in layers and stages, starting with the basics and advancing to more complex concepts along the way. What I read, eerily mirrored back to me everything that I’d been feeling, and as I continued reading, even benign and painful memories I had temporarily forgotten, began to resurface. I felt their sheer significance emerge, almost like a Big Bang occurring within my core. It would not be stopped.
It could be described in geological terms fairly well; the surface cracked, a fissure opened, and emotional magma rose up through it, at times shooting out streams (of tears and feelings) that shot miles high, and at other times oozing out and pouring down the pathway of least resistance. There was an equal amount of disruption and rumbling down below as well.
The cataclysm combined a magnetic mixture of liberation, freedom, and immense relief, frequently coupled with monumental amounts of pain, longing, and anguish. I also felt a sense of validation so strong it reached inside me, grabbed me, and shook me…
All. This. Time….
…I had simply been doing what my instincts told me to do. I had been listening to my gut feelings. I had been trying to observe my limitations while encouraging my strengths, both of which I knew were there, but had never been explicitly teased out. I had been instinctively doing this all along. And it wasn’t because I was “anal retentive”, had “anger issues”, or was “hard to get along with” or “just being difficult”. I was merely operating in perfect compatibility with how my nervous system was built to run. Ha!
Immediately came liberation, freedom, and relief, streaming down on me like clean, clear, pure water in what was otherwise a desert. I could also describe it as the first rays of very-welcome sunlight, touching my face and filling my spirit, after having trudged through weeks or months of dreary, gray, misty overcast. A cleansing and brightening had been born.
The suspicion, the race to find information, and the caution against hypochondria have lightened significantly, as has much of the eeriness of having my life be reflected back to me in the words of so many others. Of these, only the suspicion has dissipated completely; there are still remnant wisps of the others that hang out and whisper to me every so often.
What’s left now is indeed half-potpourri, half-torrent. I’m gradually becoming more comfortable in my own skin, and for the first time, there may be some hope of achieving at least some peace of mind. I’m finally becoming more familiar with–and adept at–the concept and cultivation of self-compassion: in short, I’ve begun to forgive myself, in a wavy process that waxes and wanes, but is nevertheless well underway. I’m becoming much better at not beating myself up for characteristics I can’t change or control and shortcomings I can’t yet hurdle. I’m beginning to actively give myself permission to recognize and attend to my own needs, even if they’re not the same as everyone else’s.
I give myself permission to say no.
I give myself permission to micromanage my schedule at work.
I give myself permission to go off and contemplate alone.
I give myself permission to listen to or watch a particularly-appropriate song or music video a few times in a row.
I give myself permission to give in, permission to let the thoughts, feelings, and memories wash over me, and permission to smile, stare, laugh, or cry.
And I give myself permission to take as much time as I need, to recover from everything afterward.
And that (all of it) is no longer up for debate.
There is some pain, sadness, grief, and sorrow. It’s hard to say which emotion matches up with each cause, but I think all four of those emotions arise from the desertion of my childhood “self” (personality, preferences, etc), and the denial of that true self in favor of becoming someone I wasn’t.
The grief and sorrow also come from consideration of what could have been. I realize hindsight is 20/20, and I knew that there simply was no concept of Asperger’s in those days, during the time when I needed it the most and all that.
But sometimes it still stings a little…OK, sometimes it stings a lot. If we would (or could) have known, I might have been able to attend a better-suited, smaller-sized, scholastically-appropriate school, or perhaps a “gifted”, more stimulatory, and more strictly-run school. Or, perhaps we might have been able to fight harder to make homeschooling a possibility.
There have also been sudden storms of resentment and hostility. Sometimes this was (is) directed at my family, for putting me on the medication, when all I needed was a more compatible environment and, (please pardon my french) again, to be left the fuck alone.
I realize that it’s natural to feel singled out as a kid anytime you get in trouble, but some kids truly are singled out over their siblings. Some kids truly are picked on (even by their own parents) more than the others. Some parents just “have it in” for one particular kid. I was one of those kids. My father was the angry one, my mom was the co-dependent one, but I was the medicated one, as though somehow the problem resided with me and it was I who needed the fixing.
There are also pangs of resentment toward my partner and subordinate (!) coworkers, for passing judgment where it was not warranted, deserved, or appropriate. For backstabbing gossip, of which I was the subject, creating yet more secrets about me, but kept from me, that everyone else knew (and shared and propagated)–except me. I was made to feel like more of an outsider, and this was coming from my marriage and business partner and a subordinate whose paycheck was derived from income that was half mine! These feelings can sometimes rise up without warning.
There’s also utter disgust with various aspects of “the rest of the world”, where the vast majority of the population seems to be less intelligent than I am, but acts as though they’re moreso; a world where everything is too loud, too bright, too rough, and too bold; a world where everyone is oblivious, obnoxious, immature, and in-your-face; a world that values, prizes, and applauds characteristics that just so happen to be the exact opposite of my own.
There’s now an emerging self-confidence. Currently, it’s new, fresh, and raw, and perhaps still tinged with that “resentment/hostility thing” I just mentioned, because I have now reached the point where, as a general rule, I’m going to be who I’m going to be, and if someone doesn’t like it, they can pound sand.
Wanna criticize me? Kiss my ass.
Wanna argue with me in my office? There’s the door.
Can’t resist the temptation to gossip about me? You’re fired.
You don’t like how I do things? Go find another (friend, doctor, neighbor, etc).
I’m not doing something good enough? Fine; let’s see you do it.
It might sound harsh, petty, and childish now, but I’m giving myself permission to at least think these thoughts, and only when absolutely needed, to say them out loud. (I haven’t had to do so yet; I’ll keep my fingers crossed in hopes that I’ll never have to.) I’m sure the hostile flavor won’t be there forever. It’ll fade, too.
There’s also more of a positive self-confidence; despite the snarky impression I probably gave above, the positive, healthier version is actually the default one, because I’m still rather conflict-averse, and I spend most of my time in my professional life, where snark is not exactly a career-builder.
I also have at least minimal-to-moderate inhibition/self-control. This positive self-confidence helps me shine in the office, where I already know that practically every meeting will be somewhat socially awkward (I don’t think that’s ever going to go away), but realizing my Asperger’s type has almost had the effect of granting me permission to just be me and stop trying so hard to be “normal”. Since I now know that I’ll never operate like everyone else, the pressure to try has been released.
From the beginning, there has been an increased openness of expression with my partner. My thought was, “I need to share this with you; you simply need to be aware.” The same applied to my closest family, friends, and (new) coworkers. I was (and am) grateful that most of them generally obliged me and at least attempted to keep up with me, without trying to detract from or derail me.
While exploring the vast subject that is Asperger’s/the autism spectrum, I’ve learned how to reframe my life in greater-informed terminology and this has helped me (immensely!) to explain what might be going on, what I’m thinking or feeling, and what I might need. And I no longer judge myself, criticize myself for having those needs, nor do I feel the need to preface a “request” for those needs with an aura of meek and sheepish apology.
A sense of intertwined resolution and acceptance has gradually built throughout this process, for I began to understand early on that this stubborn set of quirks and traits I’ve been carrying around with me, unable to shed or push past, will ultimately be lifelong.
There has also been something else…
…a growing thunder of hoofbeats on the horizon….
…those of wild mustangs….mustangs just like me….
…who don’t fit in with the “regular” horses….
…who won’t be caught…who won’t be tamed….who won’t be harnessed.
Just. Like. Me.
And you’re racing toward me, to greet me, and not just accept but embrace me into the pack.
For the first time in my life, I feel the greatest emotion of all, the one sure to spring tears into my eyes, the one sure to wash over me with the strongest surge…
…and bathe me in warmth…
I’ve waited almost 39 years to feel it…
Acceptance. Of me, for me.
For all of me (you know me better than you may think).
And with that, comes a companion feeling of gratitude. ❤