I wasn’t going to blog today; it’s Monday and I’m at the office, and there’s work to be done, a to-do list which nags at me internally.
But the creative muse operates on a different timeclock; she doesn’t care what you’re doing at the time. When she taps you on the shoulder, you listen. Because her timing, as always, is perfect, since she is “tuned in” if you will, to the universe-at-large. And she knows that somewhere, somehow, someone might need this right now.
And so it is.
Willingly, gladly, I will write it.
To be exceptionally clear, I do not hold the belief that Asperger’s/autism is a bad thing. It is not something that needs to be (or even should be) “hidden”. It also doesn’t need to be “coped with”. I don’t perceive it as a defect of any kind at all.
At least, not in itself. We are just fine the way we are. We don’t need to change who we are.
And yet, we do exactly that. Because the tricky part of our neurotype is how it’s perceived, (mis)understood, and responded to by the rest of the world.
We usually arrive at the decision to alter ourselves to fit society-at-large and resemble the people around us, and we arrive at this decision internally and independently. We might even try to change ourselves at our very core, right down to our preferences, clothing styles, activities, speech patterns, and/or behavior.
By and large, we’re not trying to deceive anyone. We’re merely attempting to be accepted. We feel the pressure–of our peers, our parents, and the authority figures in our lives, whether we’re personally connected with them or they’re members of a more global, mass ideal (such as political parties, news media, advocacy movements, celebrities, other public figures, or other role models, etc).
I think this phenomenon arises out of a combination of potential confusion or insecurity about where we belong in the world and the pain that results from feeling different, alienated, left out, ridiculed, or misinterpreted badly. We’re not necessarily coping with our Asperger’s/autism; we may not even be coping as much with the neurotypicality of the rest of the world; we’re probably coping with how the different neurotypes interact (or, often, collide). The human condition is wired for pain avoidance as a primary priority, which usually dictates that in situations like these, something has to change. Since our (Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome) neurotype is vastly outnumbered by theirs, we get the message (either from others or ourselves) that it is we who have to do the changing.
Not everybody on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum experiences this, but based on what I’ve read and heard from others, most of us have. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for myself, and I can unequivocally say: “me too.”
Yes, I’m still in the process of reflecting back on my life. After 38 1/2 years without so much as a remote inkling that I might be on the spectrum, of never–even for a split-second–wondering “might I be autistic/an Aspie?”, the mirror was held up to my face. And I saw it: a quintessential, prototypical Aspie/autistic person looked back at me. Never in a million years (OK–almost four decades) had I seen a curveball like that coming.
And as my partner, a former 9-1-1 dispatcher, has been telling me for almost 18 years (usually within the context of keeping my eyes open for traffic-dedicated police officers lurking and hidden in well-known speed traps), “it’s the one you don’t see that gets you.”
Except that we’re not talking about citation-antsy cops here; we’re talking about brain wiring–brain wiring that influences every aspect of a person’s life. Brain wiring that influences the very essence of who a person is.
And ever since that discovery, about eight and a half months ago, here I am, still reviewing, still reflecting, still making sense of it all.
And it turns out that practically everything I’ve ever done in social situations…was all in a (desperate) attempt to fit in, to minimize the glaring differences between others and myself.
Like many Aspie girls, I mimicked other girls. Their clothing styles. Their handwriting. Their trendy catch-phrases. Even their cattiness. Later on, I abandoned all of that and I simply hung out with the few good friends I had; after all, simply hanging out with just one other person made me look less “weird” and made me feel less alone. Eventually, I met my partner online, just before it became not-taboo to do so. For the first few years, I simply answered the “how did you meet?” with a vague “through a mutual friend”. I was indeed telling the truth; the internet was our mutual friend.
Throughout my life, I have escaped into creativity. Music, painting, writing…all had their dominant periods in my life; none have completely dropped out. Although I haven’t done much with music in the past few years and I haven’t dabbled in painting since long before that, I don’t plan to permanently abandon any of them. I do plan to pick each back up in turn, when I can–when I have the energy.
In my younger years, you could also find me tethered to my Walkman (remember those? Some had just a radio, others had just a tape-deck, and some had both; mine was the latter–I needed both). My mother would half-jokingly refer to it as my “life support system”. The headphones were always on; the volume was always up. I had different tapes for different moods.
Later, my “coping” (survival) efforts and skills shifted to the more adult-oriented.
I choose my (few, good, trusted) friends carefully, picking people who are already a lot like me (introverted, brainy, and usually older). My friends are more than skin-deep and they don’t go in much for bullshit. All of them are harmless, with pleasant “vibes”, and free of drama.
In the rare event that I meet new people (eeek!), I find these folks online (MeetUp), and choose only small groups that sound like me (intellectuals, introverts) or are built around a common interest (board/card games, book clubs, etc), where conversation is either not very necessary, or is easy to script and not likely to cause stress by being too open-ended.
I turned a “special interest” (or primary topic of particular interest) into a slow-paced, highly-specialized career, and founded our own business entity so that I could create my own job, control my own environment, and work at my pace and on my terms, without anyone else (other than clientele, regulatory entities, etc) to answer to.
I plan my work schedule carefully. I scrutinize all incoming clientele just as carefully, hand-selecting those I’m comfortable working with and delegating the rest to the other professionals in our office. I also planned my job description carefully, according to my strengths and what I felt comfortable doing, and delegated the rest of the tasks to other people as well.
Even now, I still “stim”. I just do it under my conference table at the office. And I plan plenty of time by myself.
In personal life, my partner is my support system; he does practically everything that requires talking on the phone. He places internet orders and sets up accounts. He runs into the grocery store while I wait in the truck and “hang out” by myself. He also orders and picks up my lunch. He helps me clean and organize. I lean on him for a second opinion, or how say something using the right words, or how to approach a situation in the right way, or when I’m trying to sort through my thoughts and/or feelings.
These days, I’m no longer trying to change who I am to fit someone else’s ideal or to blend in with the mainstream society-at-large. I’m simply paving my own way, operating according to my own needs and preferences, within society’s parameters. I work, form half of a partnership, help keep a household with two cats, and maintain healthy relationships with a few close family members and a few close friends, as well as many new friends met online over the past few months (!). To any outsider, I look like anyone else.
The important part is that although I look like anyone else, I’m doing it MY way. I created my own job; I select my friends; I decide what I’m going to do, I chose an unusual partner, and I accept (and welcome) the results of all of these activities and choices.
I may not be completely “obvious” to the casual observer…but I’m not “hiding” anymore, either. Loosening The Mask has become my new “coping” (survival) skill. 🙂
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(Image Credit: Mario Nevado Sanchez)