Usually, I don’t feel empty–at least, not when others would expect me to. I don’t feel empty when I’m alone, for example. I don’t tend to feel empty when I’m not doing anything except staring into space and thinking.
My Asperger’s/autism seems to protect me from feeling lonely or empty when I’m “supposed to”–that is, during times when “everyone else” would.
Sometimes, however, emptiness creeps in, like an unwanted houseguest. It intrudes when one might least expect it, times when there’s no “logical” reason for it.
It surprises me sometimes. It strikes at interesting times.
I’ve been working on trying to identify the source(s). Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…
When I feel empty…
Sometimes it comes from feeling insignificant. When I feel my voice has been steamrolled over, drowned out in the din of extroverts, overridden by someone else’s value system. What I would like or want and what I appreciate are left in a roadway, flattened and abandoned.
Sometimes it comes from being around too many people. The commotion and activity create a buzzing hubbub that deviate further and further from my natural state of being and my comfort zone, turning up the volume on the message that the world is tuned to the keys of others.
Sometimes it’s because I’m grieving, missing loved ones.
Sometimes it comes from expecting more affection or contact/interaction with my loved ones than they have time for or are capable of giving at that moment.
Sometimes it comes from feeling put off or ignored, such as when people stare at the TV or act impatient when I’m trying to talk to them/tell them something.
Sometimes it arises out of a sense of failure to interact or integrate. Sometimes it comes from a sense of not belonging, when to belong would have been desired.
Sometimes it comes from a failure to be recognized.
Sometimes it comes from not being appreciated. This arises a lot during times when I’ve done a great job on a bunch of housework, or perhaps I’ve gone not only the extra mile but probably several extra miles at work, only to be met with a “meh” attitude of indifference, or worse, a sense of entitlement.
Sometimes it happens when I’ve done my best and it still doesn’t feel like enough.
Sometimes it develops when I don’t feel understood or taken seriously. Sometimes it happens when I feel I’ve been met with skepticism or doubt.
Sometimes it creeps up when I think I’ve thought of an awesome idea (a phenomenon that itself feels uncommon, as though for once I’m in sync with my brain and I’ve even found the right words to express the idea to someone else!), or maybe when I find something neat and share it on social media…only to be met with an Acknowledgment Drought.
These all might seem to have a common theme, and I’m sure they do, but each one also has a slightly different flavor.
To be clear, I’m not the kind of person who craves constant attention or recognition for everything. In fact, that might creep me out a little, especially at work. I don’t mind hanging out in the shadows much of the time.
As I mentioned, I’m perfectly happy hanging out with myself a lot. I’m kind of used to it.
I only desire recognition or appreciation or the feeling of otherwise not feeling lonely or insignificant when it really counts. A revolutionary idea at the office, an extra mile traveled for someone, an extra effort given over and above the average.
And I realize that there are certain environments that vibrate to a frequency signature that is incompatible with mine. That happens and I can’t always change the circumstances, and it’s not like I can’t keep up a charade for a while. But the energy debt piles up, requiring a longer and more intense recharge period afterward.
I also realize that none of what I’ve said so far is exclusive to myself, or even the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. This is one of those situations where everybody is like that sometimes.
I’m also not going to say that I experience these things more strongly or that I have it “worse” in this area because I’m on the spectrum, because I don’t know. I’ve never walked in neurotypical shoes, and some neurotypical people are pretty shy and sensitive, too. I don’t claim to have a monopoly on anything.
I do think, however, that being autistic/an Aspie might color the experience differently. Or it might boost the intensity of some aspects of the emptiness issue and mute or soften others. Or it might monkey with the time or place. It might also alter my tool set, changing what’s available and how well–and how often–each tool works.
I’ve come up with a few of these tools (or strategies) over the years that have helped me alleviate emptiness at one time or another.
- I can watch House MD (I have the DVD box set); for some reason, the action and interaction on that show makes me feel like I’m right there with them, without the pressure of having to think on the spur of the moment or the dread over the inevitable committing of a social faux pas.
- I can pet the kitties, who purr, nuzzle, and snuggle, as though I’m super-important in their world.
- I can blog! Or maybe journal.
- I can hang out on WordPress! Especially reading other people’s blogs.
- I can go outside and connect with nature, which for me represents the greater universe at large. Kind of like “if mortal humans won’t connect with me, then the universe will.” If humans won’t complete the connection I’m trying to establish, then maybe I can connect up, over, and above them with the universe itself. Almost like not getting a satisfactory outcome from an immediate supervisor, and working up the chain of command to (finally) be heard by those above their head.
- I can read a non-fiction book and boost my knowledge of facts, figures, and connected dots, or I can read a fictional story and escape into the world of the characters.
- I can talk with my mom, a good friend, my sister, or my partner. Sometimes for hours at a time!
- I can look at really neat abstract digital art. As fun as this can be, though, it only works sometimes. I have to be careful what I look at. The same applies to listening to music or watching TV.
In fact, none of these work for me every time. It’s a matter of matching the activity up with the type and source of the emptiness in a way that can complement it and negate it. Artists or color enthusiasts might picture this on a color wheel; the emptiness lies in one place on that wheel, and different antidotal strategies lie on different parts of the wheel, each in their own place. My job is to identify what symbolic “color” my emptiness has taken on this time and determine which color of strategy will oppose it and dilute it best. Life is a landscape of trial and error.
The emptiness never lasts for very long. It visits often enough, though, that I could probably issue it a Frequent Flyer card. 🙂