One-(wo)man army

Last year was what I felt as a year of “Firsts”.  My “first” airplane flight, my “first” conference, my “first” foray into the jungle that is the mall, my “first” high school reunion, my “first” holiday family get-together…

…as a known Aspergian/autistic adult.

My Aspergian/autistic self-discovery drew a line in the sand.  On one side, there was my “pre-spectrum” (or knowledge there of) life, and on the other, my “post-spectrum” (discovery) life.

The line was heavily skewed.  It’s going to take a lot of chronological water under the bridge to balance out 38.5 years of not knowing.

My discovery slammed shut a long chapter of my life…and opened another.  Seagulls, rainbows (almost) everywhere.

This year, then, would be a year of “Seconds”, except that Seconds aren’t nearly as pivotal or memorable as the Firsts.  People remember their first county fair, their first train ride (trains!!), their first time meeting someone.  First-times tend to make a stronger imprint in the human mind.  That’s the point at which new connections are made as new information is processed.  This doesn’t happen quite so much the second time around.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.  It’s just an observation.

That also doesn’t necessarily mean that subsequent years and events are any less important than their predecessors.

Nor does it mean that there isn’t more room for more Firsts.

This year will be one of them, for I’ve made the conscious decision not to visit much of my extended family this year.  I’ll be traveling, yes, and even to the same place, but my itinerary once I get there will be shaped slightly differently.

I can only call it a self-care measure.  Because, you see, I’ve never felt too much in common with my extended family.  They’re good people, but they’re boisterous and loud and ignorant and much too into American football (snooze).  It’s hard to believe we come from the same genetic pool, for they can tolerate pretty much everything I can’t and vice versa.

There’s also so many of them.  The upshot of this is that I don’t get called on to talk much; they have a natural knack for spreading the conversation around, a trait I have only seen in neurotypical people, although not universal throughout neurotypical people.  There are way too many bodies in one space for my tastes.

I read this wonderful and thought-provoking post, one of those posts that never loses its charm and never expires nor shows any wrinkles, no matter how much it advances with age.  And I got to thinking: once again, me too.

The post explains how, in a family that belongs to one (or several) minority group(s), the traits that sort that family into that group are shared, with the other members of the family.  This post advocates that that is not true for people in the LGBT+ community; the LGBT+ person is a “minority of one”, usually standing alone as the only person in their family of their orientation.

In such a situation, no one else understands.  The LGBT+ person may have varying degrees of support from different family members, but in truth, they are alone in their firsthand understanding.  Different people of different orientations view the world through their own lenses.  It’s nobody’s fault; one’s own lens is all anybody has.

And I got to thinking…

Many (most?) people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum find myself/ourselves in the same situation.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ll speak in the first person from here.

I know that I have always found myself in the same situation.  Nobody in my family has ever been diagnosed as being on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, and I’m pretty sure that my father, my sister, and maybe a second cousin (on my father’s side) are likely the only other people in my family who might fit the diagnostic criteria.

Thus, my minority status, that of my neurological orientation, isn’t shared widely with my relatives, either.  Since the other three “suspects” are undiagnosed and largely unknown (although my mother and I have had some conspiratorial conversations about my father, and my sister and I have had direct conversations about the idea that she might be an Aspie, too, a theory that she does not resist at all), and of the four of us “suspects”, I’ve been the one to show the Asperger’s/autistic traits the most strongly, I was The One Who Was Strange.

As much as I wanted “tribal” acceptance, I found myself resigning into the background.  The empty chill and vacuum created where strong family ties should form as a result of a full/complete acceptance of Who I Am was not as uncomfortable as the attention paid to my differences and the behaviors and desires I could not explain.  I didn’t mind the lack of depth of the bond as much as I minded attention called to me against my will, as my differences might be put on momentarily display for ridicule and snark.

This all may sound very negative, but in truth, it isn’t like that at every get-together, nor is everyone in my extended family like that, nor are those who are like that, like that all of the time.

The recipe for the creation of disaster, however, is simple: too many extroverted people, concentrated together in one spot, people whose intentions are tricky to decipher, a couple of whom might be feeling particularly stabby or bold, and their precious few inhibitions dissolved with the free-and-early flow of alcohol.  Add to that any particular reason why my skin might run thinner: stress, depression, anxiety, and so on.

Even the seemingly benign questions are too complex to answer.  The harmless, innocuous “What have you been up to?” opens a can of worms I’m not sure I could clean up after.  Even a conversation about mundane, routine topics could reveal a rabbit hole neither of us is prepared to explore.  They’re only after a brief synopsis that I’m incapable of giving; if I start down that road, I’m traveling all the way till the end.

Thanks, but no-thanks.  This year, I’ve signed the virtual opt-out form and made other plans.

These same people can often be a lot of fun.  We do love each other and they have great senses of humor, when used wisely.  They can make excellent event hosts and they’re capable of being reasonable.  The question becomes, are the risks always worth the payoff?  Sometimes they are (little risk, greater payoff), and sometimes not (the quantities of the variables reversed).  There is always risk involved.  Of course, that’s true for practically any factor of life, but when it comes to relationships, especially with those whose ties I didn’t voluntarily choose, some of us know all-too-vividly just how high those risks can get.  And how the effects of a misspoken word or misinterpreted quip can linger inside, on relentless auto-repeat, for years.

I’ve decided that it’s not them, it’s me.  Well, it is partly them, but it’s also my own (sometimes-lack-of) ability to handle interacting with them, and that many of them at once.  I’ve decided that this year, I’m just not up to it.  That might sound a little on the thin-skinned side, a characteristic I’ve always tried to change.

My life has taught me that it should be taken one day at a time.  When yearly events are involved, that axiom becomes “one year at a time”.  I feel comfortable about my decision this year.  There are no bitter feelings; it’s more of an experiment on myself as the lone subject.  And who knows; maybe next year I’ll feel a bit stronger and more resilient, and I’ll crave their company more than I fear the encountering of a social landmine.  But to make it that far, to next year, I need to get through this one first.  🙂

***

(Image Credit: t1na)

 

 

 

 

 

52 Comments

  1. ““One year at a time” I agree with this statement Laina – l am now, nearly ten years on from my diagnosis and 9 years out of ‘Oh my the grass is greener this side of the DX!” Excellent post as usual. Well done. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds familiar… I’m not traveling to family this year, either. In fact, I’m doing *none*, just like last year. I miss my folks and the nieces and nephews (siblings, not so much, since they sorta kinda still hate / fear me for being the overbearing Big Sister, all those years ago). And life is a whole lot easier, when you don’t have to deal with all… that.

    Enjoy your right-sized holidays 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “Right-sized holidays” – I love that! What a perfect term 🙂 I feel kinda like I’m applying a “minimalist” philosophy/approach to what I’m doing this year. Simplicity, a set of factors and decisions and potential challenges that I don’t have to “bother” with this year 😉 I was hoping you’d add your voice to this one, and I really appreciate that you did! Thank you ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You know, this is one post where I have to say “it’s different for me”. First of all, the realisation that I might be on the spectrum did not feel like a watershed. It happened so gradually, and I’m not at the end of my journey yet either, but for me there is no clear division into “before” and “after”, nor is there a strong drive to recast the past fortysomething years in a much different light. A bit different, yes, but it’s all shades of grey to me.
    Second, I’m lucky in that big family gatherings aren’t a thing for us. Christmas and New Year has always been a quiet, nuclear family only affair. My extended family is not that large anyway, and we are not in the habit of visiting each other at this time of year. So no stress for me from that corner!
    Third: only one member of my family, a second cousin, has been diagnosed with Aspergers. I suspect myself, and so, now, does my sister. However, I see quite a few of the traits in other family members. I think I probably have more of them, and more pronounced, than others, but there are definitely similarities. Within my family, I never stood out as the one who’s completely different from the rest. Again, my circumstances mean I have it easy!
    Enjoy Christmas your way!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s pretty cool! I really like your viewpoint and hearing about your experience 😊💖. I think a slower realization might have been easier for me, just because of all the processing I’m still doing lol 😉. Lots of recasting and reframing 💚💙

      Your family sounds really cool! Relatively less stressful to hang out with 👍🏼. Quiet helps! (Mine are *loud* lol) 😂💜💜. I hope you enjoy your Christmas too! 🌟🌟

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t have much extended family. Actually I have a lot, but I hardly ever see them, so I really think only of my uncle, aunt, and five first cousins plus one of my Mum’s cousins and her kids and their families as those are the only ones I see.

    With me, I don’t think autistic vs allistic is really the issue, maybe because I’m borderline and with me my mental health issues are much stronger and more visible. Also there are a lot of mental health issues and developmental disorders in the family, either diagnosed or at a sub-diagnostic level. I guess we’re all a bit crazy! With me the problem is much more being around boisterous extroverts for prolonged periods rather than allistics per se. My uncle and his family live abroad, so when we see them we see them a lot to maximise the time, usually them staying with us or vice versa, which can be difficult – I can manage short bursts, but not longer periods. In recent years, we’ve tended to stay elsewhere and just visit during the days, not specifically for my benefit, but it does help me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s an awesome strategy! 👍🏼👍🏼. Yep, I do the same thing. When attending family events, I often stay with friends in the area instead of the motel room with my parents. Even at 40, I’m finding that I have to assert my independence pretty actively; otherwise they try to take it away 😳. And yeah, it helps with the relationship aspect, too 👍🏼👍🏼. I’m so glad it helps you! 👏🏼👏🏼❤️💓

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve only been with my extended family during the holidays for one year in my remembrance, and it was interesting. I get along very well with a couple of them, but the rest…It’s that feeling of not knowing how to engage. So I mostly sat and watched (I felt like burying myself in my tablet would have been rude)…The older members were actually much easier to interact with because they would take the initiative. The younger ones would often spend the majority of their time nose to the phone screen (why come??) while their wild children tore up the place.

    It is something how everything is new again! Suddenly paying attention and seeing how things affect you, and then making adjustments to improve it all…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amen, luv!! To your whole comment 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. Your words echo mine almost completely 😁💗. No clue how to engage here, either! It’s like, how do people just know what to say?? 😉. I get along best with my grandma and my dad’s younger brother (who’s now almost 60, although young for 60 and *really* sharp!). I wonder what family gatherings will be like for the future generations (collective societally speaking), once the young ones who are glued to their devices get older, along with the children they didn’t pay much attention to 😳💜💜 Yes, I definitely felt like you described in your last couple sentences! 😁. Everything old was new again 💚💙💜

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have to wonder about the future too. The older generations have both the initiative to pursue relationships plus they have always known each other. It’s hard to know each other if you stick to a digital device during every meeting. One of the things we’ve talked about in my family is that I am the only younger one who has any interest in knowing about our genealogy and past family members. If it weren’t for me, all of this knowledge would be lost or hard to find. It’s sad! (I went down a rabbit trail there.) Oh, the ones I get along best with are in their 50s and 70s. haha

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Absolutely! The older generation (40+?) has at least some inkling of the Art of Conversation. Personal relationships were much more central to being, back then. These days? I don’t know. I do know that all the “young’uns” aren’t all like that, but the writing is on the wall and I read it more clearly with the passing of time. I’m a lot like you – one of my best friends is 76. Another, 52. Another is my age (40) but was raised “old school”, like I was 😁. I’m friends with a lot of younger people too (who rock!) (18-37) and practically all my friends who are younger than I am are Aspie/autistic 👍🏼😁😂💓🌺💓

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m 34, but I spent most of my time around adults, homeschoolers, or alone. I think the state of politics and other issues as the younger people have become more involved says a lot about the decline of conversation. But that is another subject entirely that I’m still figuring out. 😥

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Ooooh, I like the connection you’ve made! Relieved to know I’m not the only one. Our society (especially American; I can’t speak for the rest of the world on this one) has become so ultra-polarized, and our political candidates and topics certainly reflect that polarization. And I think you’re spot-on; I wouldn’t doubt that a big chunk of that polarization has been borne of a lack of personal communication; it’s easy to flame, fire, and forget via email or in an online discussion forum or on social media. It’s easy to troll and attempt to destroy someone when they can’t hear you cry or cuss them out in response. I wonder if our (collective, general) over-reliance on handheld devices is potentially contributing to a human landscape of extremism and/or something akin to a de facto acquired sociopathy (or at least a behavior pattern thereof)? 😳💞💞

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Technology is dehumanizing by default since it strips away all but the text. Even if it is video, we have become so accustomed to watching fictional shows that it isn’t a far stretch to say video doesn’t escape the dehumanizing aspect. Like you said, it’s easy to say all kinds of crap when you don’t have to deal with the human on the other side. (I have seen people go so far as to say those online are not real, so they don’t matter. What are they then? 🤔) Also I don’t think people are taught to “give the benefit of the doubt” anymore, or to believe the other person desires the best for everyone (even if we disagree on what that is). On top of that, everything is politicized. Every company has their pet causes and constantly pushes their base in a certain direction. It’s constant agitation. There are so many layers to all of this. It really worries me where it will all lead eventually.

                Liked by 1 person

      2. (oh, I wanted to make sure you received the invite I sent since I made my blog private? Just wanting to make sure it didn’t get lost/I’m not nagging, I know you are busy!)

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I don’t trust that websites or programs actually do what I tell them to half the time, so I verify. Hehe oh that’s right, you got snow! It has been yucky cold and rainy here, but that’s better than no power. 😱

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yep, first snowfall in 30+ years (!!). Our 2.5 inches was a big deal here, made national news, I guess 😂😂. I like your verification approach! Very wise 👏🏼👏🏼. I don’t trust websites or programs either. They don’t always work as advertised 😉💓🌺

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Family events aren’t for me either… They are all wonderful people and what not, but I’d rather not… Feel more at home away from every one.. I also don’t like the forced conversations either… For some reason no one wants to talk about what my main character is going to do next or the reasons why Spider-Gwen is a great comic… So I can relate to what you are saying… I’ve found family events much easier since my daughter was born.. I just avoid most conversations, and go hang out with her and her cousin… It is going to be really hard when she becomes too “cool” for me… Have a great holiday…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that sounds heavenly! Hanging out with your daughter and her cousin, just the three of you – yeah! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. Don’t worry girl, those “too cool for parents” years are short-lived, if they even arrive at all 😘. I would totally hang out with y’all! I would be riveted by your main character and Spider-Gwen stories!! 😁👍🏼😘❤️💗

      Like

  7. This is my year of firsts but I am only partially “out” as Autistic and that’s to my wife’s family. Now that I start thinking about it, this is a complicated issue so I may need to explore this further. I like the “right-sized holiday” idea. I find it easiest to be with my children I guess because they have never known anything different. When staying away, I am lucky to be able to use the “tired – need a lie down” reason after my liver transplant so nobody needs to know it may be an autistic escape moment, though getting some exercise or taking the dog for a walk are other options I deploy. My ideal Christmas is either going skiing with the kids or going somewhere warm with a pool and good food. There you go, rythmic exercise is a must :-).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love it! What a wonderful strategy – nobody (in their right mind) would argue with “tired, need to lie down” 👍🏼👍🏼. Almost everyone could empathize with that 😁. And it’s not far from the truth, either! At least, the way I experience it 😉. I love your ideal Christmas! 🤗🎊🎉☃. I also admire your strategy of being partially out; I’m the same way 💜. I came out in “onion rings” – first to my husband and 2 closest friends, then to my parents and office assistant, then to other friends in stages, and then even to a very select few of my patrons at work. I’m not completely out to all of them yet, and it will probably be a long time before I am, because even though I’m more than ready to just get it on the table already, general society probably isn’t ready to take that in stride yet. But hopefully in the next few years…?

      I hope your “first” Christmas goes wonderfully! Take care of You 😘💖🌟💖

      Liked by 1 person

  8. So glad to hear that you are putting you first.
    A get together should be out of want, not out
    of obligation in my book. Seeing someone
    one time a year for the sake of it doesn’t make
    sense to me. I am in the same boat as you
    when it comes to Football. Football is not
    bonding time. Watching people giving each
    other brain damage is in no way pleasurable.

    The holidays are about being comfortable,
    relaxing, and spending time with (or without)
    the people of your choosing. No shame in
    opting for the quieter, cozy option.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes!! Amen, my lovely 😘😘. You’re so right about the brain damage, too! Have you seen the research lately? They’re doing a lot of it on this very phenomenon 😳👍🏼. I love your description of, and approach to, the holidays 👏🏼👏🏼. Thank you so much for your encouraging words! 😘💚💙💜💗

      Like

  9. Having just survived our most busy week here (Art Week)
    which in itself is a form of overload, going to numerous
    art fairs across the city, viewing 1,000s of different artworks
    (which I love doing) but at a point there is a threshold of what
    the brain can process (as we know so well) add on top of that
    the social interactions with complete strangers it is a lot. At
    least we are talking about a shared love and language (Art)
    but exhausting none the less. It is so nice to be back in my
    cocoon, and catching up with your musing. As you know so
    often your thoughts are right on the mark, and leave me
    quite speechless. What else is there to say when someone
    has already articulated the thoughts much more eloquently
    than I could dream of? A lot of time there is a warm fuzzy
    feeling because someone else “gets it” and that in a way
    is the family aspect you are referring to, that the neurotribe
    speaking your language, there becomes an effortlessness,
    a comfortability, and an overwhelming sense of ease.

    If this was the state we could experience and enjoy on a
    regular basis, we would not have to feel the anxiety and
    alienation so much. Yes it will still be there, but the extent
    and duration would be diminished. I see that time and
    place becoming much more possible, sooner rather than
    later. The Silent Wave is not only a safe space, but a
    hangout, a profound educational environment, and a gift.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my lovely! Your words brought me the biggest smile today! 🤗🤗. I can relate to everything you said! Especially the part about reading something that mirrors my thoughts and experiences, and I’m all “WOW!! I want to chime in but it’s been said so perfectly already, there’s little else to say, except maybe to add Me Too! Or Same Here!” Lol yes I know that feeling 😘😘. I’m so grateful for people like you and my other lovelies, I really do feel like y’all are a Soul Family of mine 💖💜💖. Wow, that recent Art event sounds wonderful! And also potentially quite fatiguing 🌷. Do take care of You, dear one 😘❤️. I love your hangout description! It’s so accurate; I feel like this blog and several others are like awesome Happy Hour meeting grounds 😘😍✨💕☮💟☯

      Liked by 1 person

  10. step by step, you are strong enough to keep going. You are strong enough to realise that actually you should bot fight who you are, but embrace your individuality. For you are YOU

    Liked by 1 person

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