Growing up, I heard the word “weird” frequently. So frequently, in fact, that I used its finger to point at myself. Get myself before they get me. If I beat them to the heckling, then I would be immune, right?
“Weird” was one of the only descriptors, in my defense. At least, it was the simplest one. Common in everyday vernacular, learned at an early age, easy to remember, a single syllable. It left much to the imagination. Different people conjure up different images in response to hearing it. And, it’s an all-encompassing umbrella term.
But there’s more to the story, of course. (Isn’t there always?)
On the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, the divide between the Seen and the Unseen is greater than that for most. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, although it can cause misunderstandings. “She can’t be autistic!”, goes the classic example. “She’s too [X]” or “she’s not [Y] enough”.
That’s the Seen vs Unseen Divide at work. I’d say we’ve all seen it, but knowing my luck, there’ll be an outlier who hasn’t, so I’ll refrain. 😉
What you see: the breathlessly whispered “hi”s while briskly passing strangers on the stairs and pasting on a smile. (Damn, I’m a good actress.)
What you don’t see: the internal (and sometimes external) sigh of relief when I’m finished encountering people. The mask, what’s left of it, gets kicked off and tossed aside like the uncomfortable shoes you’d wear only to someone’s wedding.
What you see: the strange comment, the moment of overshare, the one whose eyes dart away while trying to string words together in syntax-ical ways.
What you don’t see: the tightrope walk involved in trying to play this human dance and these human games during which we sniff each other’s behinds. The breaking down of the social interaction unit into infinitesimal parts.
What you see is the careful and deliberate choice of food and a seeming unwillingness to try anything outside of the comfort zone.
What you don’t see is the overactive nerve endings in hyperactive tastebuds that preclude me from eating much else.
What you see is the mysterious disappearances from the apartment just before dinner time.
What you don’t see is the internal, flinch-inducing shockwave that involuntarily results from each bang of a cupboard door or crash of dishes in the sink or metal-on-metal of the spatula against the frying pan during cooking, that necessitate my escape.
What you see is the socially awkward stammer, the real-time revision of spoken words, the need to cover every detail, connect every dot.
What you don’t see is the Internal Critic tirelessly looking over my shoulder, scrutinizing my every word and movement.
Sometimes, what you see is a flat, blunt statement. A lack of social graces, a failed verbal filter. I don’t always have one. My ability to filter and refine my words before they leave my lips is directly proportional to the amount of energy I have, which runs thinner the more my anxiety ramps up.
At times like these, my raw, unadulterated thoughts stream through from my brain and out of my mouth like a sieve. People recoil in response. Not in horror, but simply because people just don’t say things like that. Hell, they may not even admit that they think or feel them–not even to themselves.
It took me a long time to see for myself the reality of the divide between what was happening inside and what I projected to the world. What I faced from others served as a bundle of signals that told me that my instincts and my natural way of being were somehow wrong. I had no way of expressing or explaining myself, no appeals process through which to plead my case and petition for a stay of execution.
No, really–that’s what it felt like sometimes.
Imagine, then, the day on which I found a single word (well, OK–two words) that explained everything.
And I mean everything.
No longer am I being “picky”, “difficult”, or “hypersensitive” by my own volition. I had vocabulary that had already been established by someone else, because it had happened to someone else. Many someone elses, in fact. “Sensory sensitivity/overload” is a Thing.
I now know that it’s OK to escape an overwhelming environment. I have confirmation that the world operates on a different frequency than I do. My need for routine has been justified, and I can politely ignore those who urge me to “get out more” and “make new friends”, because I know now that my craving for solitude is real, and it serves a constructive purpose.
I knew all of this before; I just hadn’t known that I was correct. I had no clue how correct I was. My instincts were screaming at me, and even though society told me to ignore them because what was “healthy” for most went against what I craved for myself, there’s a part of me that continued to listen and nonchalantly pursue that which I needed.
There comes a point in time when it can be good to stop caring (as much) about what other people think. That part was difficult for me, because it ran counter to what I was told was the Acceptable Way. I knew that a failure to conform was, possibly, to invite more criticism. What the hell–do it anyway.
Life, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
The moment I woke up to my true nature and reached out to accept it with both arms, the world began to wake up around me, with me, slowly beginning to embrace the fact that Autism Is Not a Bad Thing.
Slowly but surely. I’m carving my place in the world. Because there’s room for us all and dammit, I belong here, too. 🙂
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