Extroversion takes energy the one woman show I perform cannot be dropped in front of another No one knows the immense effort it takes to make conversation and answer phone calls to smile and be presentable and friendly For once I'd just like recognition for all the inner work I'm doing to fit the mold society expects of me It's hard to accept I must spend my limited mental resources on tasks other people do on autopilot Never knowing if my performance is enough wondering if little slip ups have gone unnoticed and made me look arrogant, careless, and rude It can take hours or even days to return to a sense of internal equilibrium after an interaction an animal trembling and pacing from stress Violently shaking off the charged emotional energy is generally frowned upon by polite society so I choke it down and hold it in People say "be yourself" but I've always known that didn't include me when I speak a different language entirely Misinterpretation and misunderstanding my wires are tangled and connected in ways that do not translate I've always felt like an alien endangered by my innocent inability to blend in envious of how others make it look so easy
Opening myself up to others has never been one of my strong suits. Yet I know from experience, and many things I’ve read, that vulnerability is necessary in order to achieve true intimacy. This is exactly where my dilemma lies. I was fascinated by the realization I happened to stumble upon the other day surrounding this idea and how it has influenced my own life.
Sometimes I end up resenting and pushing away the people I most admire. I become frustrated by how much better I think they are than me. I paint this picture in my head of someone on a pedestal. So far above my strange little eccentricities and flaws that they could never possibly understand me. At first I feel embarrassed and unworthy of their attention and/or affection. I think to myself: well if they knew who I really was they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Whether that’s really true or not, that thought eventually turns angry and I think: oh, fuck them then. I don’t need them anyway. I grow tired of pretending to be someone I’m not to maintain their approval. (Whether I even need to do so or not, remains unknown.) I either retreat myself or begin to push them away. This seems like a better option than what I view as the only other: that I am seen for who I really am and rejected.
I was running this problem over in my head the other day, when I began to wonder how I have any intimate relationships at all. I mean, of course there are plenty of people that I am able to be vulnerable with, people that I feel safe showing myself too. So what’s different about those relationships? I discovered that there are really only two ways I’ve been able to get close to someone in the past.
One way is when a person gets to know me before I decide I really give a damn about them or what they think of me. This happened more often when I was in high school and college. My first boyfriend knew all of my dirty little secrets before I fell in love with him or even became close friends with him just because we had classes together. In these instances, the fact that this casual acquaintance does not reject me for what they discover is extremely endearing to me. I begin to like them more because they’ve seen who I am and have not turned away, or perhaps even like me better for it. It feels so good to be seen. And I feel that they must be an exceptionally kind and compassionate person if they could still like me after truly seeing me.
The other way is when the other person is very outgoing and open. If they pour their heart out to me, I am usually so touched by their vulnerability and trust that I feel safe enough to offer my own. The closest people in my life have historically been extremely extroverted. Their bravery gives me the courage to open up. They also tend to ask me lots of probing questions, which I actually enjoy. Some people might find that rude, but I love nothing more than having someone ask me about myself or my experiences. I’m far too self-conscious to offer up that information willingly. So unless I’m directly asked, a lot of my life remains unknown to even my friends. Even if I desperately want them to know. I just feel too embarrassed to offer up unsolicited information about myself because I think no one would care.
So having noticed this pattern, how can I get close to someone who does not fall into either of these two categories? I am genuinely at a loss on that one. Not only am I too afraid to let this person find out too much about me and my past, they also don’t ask about it at all. Even if I wanted to tell them, I would have no idea how to bring it up besides just blurting it out randomly. And I don’t think that would be helpful even if I could muster up the courage to do it.
I’m not sure where this fear of being seen began. I cannot even remember a time where I was rejected for showing someone who I truly am. I’ve always been accepted and shown compassion. And each time this simple act of decency and kindness has touched me deeply. Each time I can hardly believe it, can hardly accept it, and feel certain that I don’t deserve it. Even though I know that I only end up liking someone more after they’ve shown me their flaws. I don’t love them despite these imperfections. I love them more because of their imperfections and the fact that they trusted me enough to share them with me.
I can’t seem to let go of this belief that I am not worthy of anyone else’s love until I am perfect. But that is obviously ridiculous. People don’t want someone who is “perfect.” (I certainly don’t.) People like other real, imperfect people far more. Consider the popularity of the anti-hero. Everyone loves a deeply troubled TV or movie character with redeeming qualities more than one who is infallible. Because no one is perfect. We see ourselves in the revealed shortcomings of others and we love them for it, as we can only hope others will love us for ours.
I am not being fair to myself or the people I hold dear by withholding and hiding these imperfect parts of myself. It’s not fair for me to breed resentment towards someone for my perception that they could never accept or understand me. Especially when I refuse to even give them the chance. I know deep down that I don’t have to be afraid. Certainly some people will reject me, but so many more have already embraced me and my flaws. Not only that, but by hiding myself away for fear of judgement, I am sending myself the message that I am not enough as I am, that I am unworthy of being seen and loved. And that’s not what I believe, not really. What I really believe is best summed up in the words of my favorite poet:
No matter how insignificant I may be, I believe I deserve to be loved.Federico Garcia Lorca
I’ve been reading a book about the gut microbiome that has led me to some very interesting realizations. In this book, the author talks about the possible connection between different gut microbiomes and mental health diagnosis, including autism. I’ve yet to really reach the part that explains the interaction between the two, but just the idea that there might be some interaction got me thinking. This book also discusses the physiology behind our “gut” instincts. Apparently that is more that just a turn of phrase. We really do receive physical signals from our guts that effect our decision making process. Or at least… some of us do.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to look up if there was any correlation between autism and lowered levels of intuition. I was excited to discover that indeed there is! I found many different research articles pointing out this interesting phenomenon. One of which stated: The ASD group produced less intuitive responses, and the degree of ASD-like traits showed a negative correlation with intuitive responses and positive correlation with reflective responses on the CRT. Together, these results are consistent with ASD being associated with reduced intuitive reasoning and greater deductive reasoning.
I was honestly thrilled and relieved to finally have an explanation for my apparent lack of intuition. All my life, the idea of “following your gut” or “trusting your intuition” didn’t make much sense to me. I never quite understood what people were talking about when I heard things like this. Yet it is such a common part of our language, that I kind of just let it go and assumed it was just something people said. One of those things that didn’t really mean anything specific, but had more of a personal interpretation that would mean something slightly different for everyone.
Then in recent years as I got more involved with spiritual practices like yoga, there was that idea of intuition again. Now it seemed to be something more real and tangible that I just wasn’t taping into. I couldn’t understand why I was not receiving any of these gut signals. I honestly can’t recall a single time in my life when I made a “gut decision” on anything. Even then I would hear things insinuating that meant I just wasn’t trusting my intuition. But that never fit me either. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust myself. There was nothing to trust or distrust. It has always been radio silence from my gut. The voice of my intuition has never spoken to me, so how could I learn to trust it?
Understanding that gut instincts and intuition are real things and I simply don’t have them, has changed my entire perception of the world and the way others make decisions. It finally makes sense why many of the people I meet in life make so many decisions that I cannot fathom. They are using an entirely different mechanism than I am. Now I see that while all of my decision are very calculated and logical, because I am solely using my deductive reasoning skills, others have another source of input that is completely alien to me. It makes much more sense now how and why someone could make a decision that, to me, seems utterly nonsensical. They are factoring in information from both their brains and their guts, whereas my brain has always been all I have to go off of.
Not only is this new insight absolutely fascinating to me, it is also rather comforting. Sure, I’m a bit disappointed to know I may never understand this experience, it’s reassuring that it isn’t because I’m not trying hard enough or because I am cut off from myself. People often ask me why I would even want to seek out an autism diagnosis, and this is a perfect example of why. There are so many aspects of myself that I have lived most of my life feeling bad about. I can’t even remember a time where that little voice inside my head wasn’t asking, “what’s wrong with me?” or “why can’t I just be normal?” Understanding the role autism plays in my personality and mental traits, is reassurance that my differences are not personal failings. I don’t have to keep struggling and trying to be like everyone else. I’m not like everyone else. But I am also not alone. There are so many other people out there like me who have the same difficulties. It’s such a comfort to know that there is nothing “wrong” with me. I’m just running on a different operating system. And that’s okay.
At my office, autism has been on our minds a lot since the release of Love on the Spectrum, Season 2. My friend and I can’t stop discussing it and how much we genuinely love the people on the show. However, it is somewhat hard for me to discuss from a neutral position. If you’ve read a lot of my posts, you may already know that I believe I am on the spectrum. I’ve mentioned this to my work friend, but he seemed to shrug it off as if I was mistaken. I’m one of the many people that are just starting to be diagnosed later in life who “don’t look autistic.” My friend sees the way I behave and how well I manage interactions and daily responsibilities and assumes I couldn’t possibly be autistic.
But that’s part of the problem. It’s why so many people like me go undiagnosed for so long. Autism Spectrum Disorders are just that. They’re on a spectrum. Many people with high functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s, are able to fly under the radar for most, if not all of their lives, especially when these individuals happen to be women. People assume we function just the same as everyone else, but no one can see or hear what goes on inside my head. Even though I am able to appear “normal,” no one knows what immense effort that takes. How much time and energy I have to invest in learning the correct social etiquette for different situations, how awkward and anxious I can be when caught off guard or placed in an unfamiliar social environment. The only reason I am able to mask my struggles so well is because I am also extremely intelligent. Even though I don’t have the natural intuition for social cues, I have worked tirelessly to teach myself throughout my life.
Autism is still a fairly new disorder, and I have faith that we will be able to understand it better as time goes on. We have already made a lot of progress. However, I find it frustrating, given my experience with autism, that it is used as an explanation for a lot of the struggles for people who are autistic and low-functioning. In my opinion, their autism isn’t necessarily what is making it so difficult for them to function in society. It plays a part, but I think there are a lot of cooccurring disorders that are also playing a role, as well as the difficulties faced by those with general intellectual disabilities and low intelligence. If you have an IQ below 70 you are going to have a lot of struggles, regardless of whether you’re autistic or not. I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to pin it all on autism, especially given that there are so many people that function so much better with the same disorder.
I think this misunderstanding and/or misdiagnosis does a lot of damage to the general public’s understanding of autism. My friend at work actually mentioned a potential “cure” for autism. I know he meant well, but I was still slightly offended. I don’t want my autism to be “cured.” I value my differences. Autism is an important part of who I am as a person. Would I be an atheist or a vegan if not for my autism allowing me to disregard social norms and societal expectations? I can’t say for sure, but I have to think it’s at least a possibility. It seems like a lot of the vegans I follow online sooner or later come out with an autism diagnosis. Of course correlation (especially anecdotal) doesn’t prove causation, but it’s an interesting theory I’ve been mulling over for awhile now.
I’ve heard a few autistic individuals refer to it as a superpower and I am inclined to agree with that description. They are certainly drawbacks and I often wish that I could “just be normal,” but if I had the choice, I doubt I would change myself to fit in better in the world. Society sees autism as a tragedy. How sad it must be to not understand these treasured social norms. But for those of us living with autism, we could care less about your social norms. You’re perplexed why we don’t understand, and we’re perplexed why you think they make sense.
I love myself for exactly who I am, autism and all. And I hope that the day comes where I can afford to be formally diagnosed. I also hope the day comes when I won’t have to fear disclosing my autism to others. I am simultaneously fearful that they will think there is something wrong with me, or that they may think I’m not really autistic. I am very selective with who I confide in about this conclusion I’ve come to. I haven’t even told my boyfriend about it. Honestly whenever I do get tested I think he should be as well. His older brother is definitely autistic, although undiagnosed, and autism does have a genetic component. God only knows if I’ll ever discuss this with him though for fear of offending him. I am equally fearful that he will look at me differently when I disclose my own autism.
The increasing number of people being diagnosed with autism and the sheer amount of it I see in my own life, leads me to believe that it is a valuable part of human evolution. And it’s nothing new. It’s just starting to be more understood and recognized. Autistic people are important. Our contributions are important. Our perspectives are important. I’m sure plenty of the eccentric, brilliant people that have made important contributions in the past would have been diagnosed as autistic if they were alive today. There is no “cure.” And there doesn’t need to be. I don’t think of it as a disorder at all. It’s just how some people are, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.
What is grief, but love persevering.Unknown
I’m still working my way through Les Miserables. As I near the end, I feel confident in saying it has become my new favorite book. I am going to be very sad once I’ve finished it. There are so many beautifully worded commentaries on the human condition. Things we all know well, but put in a way that reminds us of the mystery and beauty of being alive in this world. The last thing I read that really struck me was about love.
I believe it was called the great paradox of human existence or something to that effect. It has the potential to save, to transcend, while equally having the power to destroy and condemn. What a cruel world where we must have the very thing that may ruin us. There are so many contradictions in this life. Our challenge seems to be to let our love be stronger than our fear. A difficult task.
I am constantly being confronted with things that confound my black and white thinking mind. How am I to devote myself whole heartedly to a love that I can’t be sure of? How am I to hold onto this love inside while also letting go of the pain? It seems like I used to feel everything all at once, so sharply, and now I feel nothing at all most days. Neither is ideal. But I don’t know how to negotiate a happy middle ground.
I read something the other day about it being possible to still love someone, but to also let them go. For me this feels impossible. Which is what leaves me in a difficult position. I desperately want to keep my happy memories and the love I have in my heart. But I also want to be able to let go and move on. How do I do both? If I focus on letting go, my heart closes. I feel hatred and betrayal and disgust. If I try to push these feelings aside and recall more tender emotions on the subject, it once again becomes too painful to let go. I feel myself clinging desperately onto some chance of reconciliation.
It’s always been much easier for me to forget someone if I have a reason to hate them. However, this hatred tends to also taint all of the nice memories I’ve made with them. Is it really possible to have both? To cherish the memories while also accepting there will be no more? Maybe it is something that I’ll be able to master someday with more practice. Maybe it just gets easier with time.
The other day at work I had the pleasure of meeting a very lovely, interesting, intelligent young girl. As you may already know, I work at a child advocacy center. At centers like ours children come to disclose physical, sexual, or other types of abuse. After their interview, I spend time with the child in the waiting room while my team members talk with the parents. Even though normally this is one of the highlights of my job, I still get very anxious about being left alone with anyone, let alone a child. I consider myself to be a very awkward person and am not very good at making small talk with the teenagers. It’s usually easier for me when it’s a toddler or a child that just wants to play while we wait.
Some days end up being extra special though. There are certain older kids that I have an immediate connection with. We seem to have a lot in common and find a lot of interesting things to talk about. This is always an extremely pleasant experience for me. I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet so many awesome kids and have a positive impact on their lives.
The only problem is I’ve noticed that even excited energy is very similar to being anxious to me. Even though I was really enjoying my conversation with this girl, I still felt somewhat panicked. I felt the urge to run, to escape. I found myself hoping that my coworkers would hurry up so that this girl could go home sooner. I’ve noticed feeling this way when I’m happy and excited many times before, but I have absolutely no idea what I can do about it. I feel compelled to avoid not only negative situations that make me anxious, but positive ones that excite me too much as well.
Even after the family had left, I found myself overwhelmed with excited energy. As a child I used to shake or flap my hands/ arms when I was really happy. When I’m alone, I still can’t resist the urge to flail my hands rapidly at my sides in an attempt to disperse or use up some of this energy that has no where to go. I know this is often something people on the autistic spectrum do, which is one of the many reasons I think I’m autistic. I would love to talk to a specialist or another person on the spectrum to see if they are doing these types of actions for similar reasons. Maybe I’ll look into finding some books about autism from people that live with it themselves. I’m sure there are plenty interesting books like that out there.
Physiologically I think that anxiousness and excitement are pretty similar. This may be the reason that sometimes my mind can struggle to differentiate between the two. Whatever the reason though, I want to find a way to manage this phenomenon. Strangely it doesn’t seem to have the same effect if I am excited about a solitary activity. It is only social excitement that tends me make me feel panicked. Perhaps I am just afraid of embarrassing myself or worried that I’ll somehow mess things up and lose this person’s approval. Maybe it’s just scary to feel seen by someone. Or perhaps it’s that unconscious belief that I am unworthy of positive attention, that by making this person like me I have somehow tricked them into believing I’m someone I’m not, that if I accidentally reveal my true self they will be angry or upset.
I’m probably just thinking too much into things again. In the end, the real problem is not the feeling, it’s my concern and distressed reaction to the feeling. I just need to reassure myself that I am worthy of positive attention and friendship. It is normal for someone to like me and for me to like them. And if for some reason they should change how they feel towards me, well that’s okay too. Maybe my mantra for today will be: It’s okay to feel excited.