So as a result of having a spanking new label of ‘Aspie’ and thus carte blanche to go all weird on your ass, I have been thinking about the ASD thing, in a bid to understand myself a little bit more. It’s a funny thing; after years of knowing/not knowing, but wanting to know, now that I know, I keep having the feeling that I don’t want to know any more.
For a short while I felt relief. As I replayed forty years worth of social mishaps, I began to think that I might just be able to get around to cutting myself some slack. One of my Apsie traits is the inability to let anything go – ever. I spend much of my time ruminating and replaying social interactions, looking for things I have missed, social faux pas, sarcasm, other people’s intentions that I didn’t pick up on. The list is endless. It never stops. Being an Aspie is a full time job. The pay is whack and the boss is a nobhead, but there are worse jobs out there fa shure.
There is no time limit on ruminations; on mental replays. Nothing is ever forgotten. For example, during my morning shower, I re-enacted a conversation that I’d had just the day before; both parts. Only then, as I heard the words without the anxiety, did I stumble upon the true intention of the other person. I missed it at the time. I felt like an idiot covered in suds; the embarrassment and frustration at that belated moment enveloped me like a blanket-of-idiocy. I could feel it. I can feel it now.
I tend to blurt out noises when this happens, a bit like an angry ghost. I am trying to distract myself away from the intensity of the feeling. The noise is involuntary. The feeling is overwhelming.
As I tried to process all of this and work out how, if possible, I could put things right, a vintage social balls up from over twenty years ago popped in to my head. Then I was lost in that conversation.
I could see the other person’s face from all that time ago. I could picture their bewilderment, the tears in their eyes. I could feel the slap to my face. I could feel that shame. I didn’t know what I had done? I have a million of these social catastrophes. I know my lack of understanding has truly upset people.
Another angry ghost calls out. The neighbours must think our bathroom is haunted.
Replays never leave me. The endless search for my own inadequacy is all I have ever known. It’s like a macabre forty year long treasure hunt. Nob marks the spot. I’m digging for hidden displeasure.
Running alongside the replays, is the ASD cinema of future releases. A 24-hr non-stop screening for one. You see, I have a penchant for acting out conversations that might happen too. Imagining myself in social situations that may occur and acting out what might take place. What the other person might say. What they might do. And thus, how I might respond in a socially appropriate way, so as not to offend or look like a blithering doofus?
In my head I’m a bit of a leading man.
Another one of my Aspie traits, is the need for routine and consistency and absolute absolutes. To know what is going to happen and when. The fear of uncertainty, coupled with the uncertainty of other people, causes me anxiety.
So wherever possible, I try to work out what’s what. To plan. To prepare. Inside and out. Back to back. Upside down. Every which way. Because if I know what’s coming, I can prepare. If I can prepare, I can think everything through and practise mentally. If I can practise mentally, I might just get away with it.
In my youth (and still a bit now) I would memorise the words and mannerisms of those on TV or films that appealed to me. Pausing, rewinding, watching, studying, preparing. Constantly compiling a mental compendium of responses to use, if and when the situation presented itself. You can never be too prepared. Nowadays, I have imbued so much through observation and rehearsal, that it has become intrinsic.
Then there is the actual conversation. Hold on to your hats ladies…
When you engage me (particularly if out of the blue) I can often go in to fight or flight mode. But I can’t flight, because I run like a girl (another Aspie hand me down), so I fight.
I start to scan you, your face, your body, looking for signs. What can I determine from you? What can I work out? Whilst I am scanning your body, I am also mentally scanning my body. Am I sitting right, is my posture okay, is my facial expression appropriate, am I staring or not looking enough, what are my hands doing, am I smiling or looking serious?
As I am thinking of all these things I am making adjustments to fit what I assume is the appropriate response.
I am also trying desperately to listen. Often I takes me a while to ‘place’ the conversation, to ascertain the context; the meaning. It can take me a terrifying while before I am on the same page as you. As I frantically try to catch-up, I am making what I think are appropriate responses based on your physical reactions – a nod, a smile, a tut, a shake of the head. All whilst trying to listen, ignore all other environmental noises and things in my eye-line, and work out just WHAT YOU ARE JIBBERING ON ABOUT?
I look like a real boy Giuseppe.
I have had whole conversations with people and had no real clue what we were talking about. I’ve been too far in to just confess, so just acted through it. I churned out some pre-rehearsed tits and teeth. I hid the chaos in my brain with a wry smile, a twinkle in the eye, some well placed but meaningless words, and a confident body posture. Saying and doing just enough to feign interest and understanding, but not so much as to reveal befuddlement and panic.
Now THAT is seat of your pants stuff, trust me. Real acting without a safety net.
Usually though I can connect enough dots and get up-to-speed and lower my blood pressure. The rest of the conversation is still hard (super hard) but at least I have a fighting chance. I am still reading you, scanning you, adjusting as a result of you, but it’s all cognitive, not intuitive. That’s the issue. The panic is now just anxiety. Anxiety is my bedfellow. I can cope with anxiety.
All I have to worry about now is the art of conversation. SUPER. What to say when it’s my turn. When is it my turn? It’s my turn NOW? Oh Bugger it…….
Sometimes I get to the end of my sentence and I feel like I’ve just performed the verbal equivalent of touching your boobs as I reached for my coffee. Then the anxiety kicks in. I contort parts of me that you can’t see. Trying to create a physical pain to lessen the emotional overwhelm. I double my efforts to hide the panic. I steely my gaze. I front it out. You will not see me if I can help it.
Sometimes I can be half way through a sentence with no clue as to where I am going with it. Words are just spilling out of me because I know I am supposed to talk; so I talk. But then, out of the blue, I get to the end of a sentence and surprise even myself with the complexity of it. How did THAT happen? I don’t know who spoke those words or where that knowledge or explanation came from?
When you start to talk to me about something with a structure, a purpose, a problem, an idea, searching for a solution; something awakens.
Or, more accurately, when I start to talk to you….
When I am focussed on one topic and there is definable road ahead. When I am trying to solve something, or work something out. I get lost in the ‘purpose’ and forget the ‘social’.
When I need to impart information, or retain information. When I need to teach you something, or test something out. When I need to mend something. When I need you to explain something to me. A straight line appears in my head. I can’t see it, but I can feel it. I must follow it. It makes ‘sense’. It will get me there….
You’re in my backyard now Bubba.
In these instances, I will often begin to repeat myself, saying words, or parts of a sentence, or the whole sentence again. I am replaying them to determine their value in the moment. I am re-testing them to make sure they fit on the straight line. I am also finding comfort saying the words again, because I like repetition.
I start to talk to fast. My mouth can’t keep up with the brain flow. This is a sign that I am leaving the ‘social’ behind and existing purely on the straight line. I am getting closer to being me. I am worrying less about what you think. So I go all verbose on your ass.
I’m a bugger for interrupting at this stage too. I need to get it all out before I am back in the dark again. I need to get as far down the straight line as I can, before you interrupt and I loose sight. Before I reconnect to the anxiety. I have not mastered the art of this yet. When everything clicks I am difficult to stop. I can’t slow down. I’m a bit of a special needs juggernaut. I’ll learn how, but for now, I am sorry for talking over you.
I just want to share all the information I have, it is not often I feel like this, so I’ll be buggered if I am going to hang around while your ambling neuro-typical brain finds my straight line.
Sometimes, when I am walking the line, I get cranky and forget my social niceties *red face*. I am so focussed on the straight line in my head, and so frustrated that you can’t see it, that my only purpose in life, at that specific moment, is for you to either see the ******* straight line or GET OUT OF MY WAY.
I can remember a Manager when I was a 16 year old bank clerk telling me during a performance review that I was ‘too matter of fact’. Yes I gave people the information they needed, and yes I was correct, but I had to learn to dress up what I was saying, otherwise it was rude.
I started to explore the concept of adding COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY words to the beginning and end of the information I was giving. This seemed to make people happier.
I am genuinely very sorry if I have ever upset you when I forgot to dress up. There are a lot of you out there.
I am working hard at this. All my life people have told me ‘it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it’, I still no have no idea what this means.
Whenever I am not on the straight line, I am looking for the straight line. I am endlessly searching for the straight line. Your lack of clarity (as I perceive it) pulls me away from the straight line. Social interaction pulls me away from the straight line.
Asperger Syndrome is all about significant impairments in: Social Communication, Social Interaction and Social Imagination. It’s called the Triad of Impairments. I am impaired, I am beginning to come to terms with that.
‘Social’ means other people. Any other person. No-one is exempt sadly. Just think about. Don’t just think of ‘social’ as just going down the pub or watnot. Oft I stand in front of my nearest and dearest and can do nothing other than look blankly. I am befuddled by them. I fail them in many ways on a daily basis because I find interacting with ‘other people’ hard. They need something that I can’t give them. I am working hard on this, but it causes me daily pain.
I truly do spend my life trying not to upset you, despite often upsetting you. I try hard to fit in with you, but often stand out. I have spent years making myself a spectacle. Making a show of myself. I have been in-charge of being weird. If I say it first, it will lessen the impact when you say it. That’s the theory anyway.
But, I am putting you on notice lovely people. I’m not hiding any more. There is a lot to being an Aspie. I’m not letting the fear win, despite being terrified. I’m going to have to play to my strengths and accept my weaknesses. You are going to have to accept my weaknesses. My weaknesses are me.
I am fixing to just be me. Little by little. I am fixing to fix it. I feel like I have been living with one hand tied behind my back.
I’ve just untied it. Innit.
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