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)