Finding Your Voice

I have a hard time talking. I mean, I can speak. I just have a hard time finding the words and putting them in sentences when I am speaking. I have heard a lot about assistive technology for communication. I don’t need a device to communicate my needs, but I can relate to the feeling of helplessness with communication. I have needed to find my voice many times over my lifetime.

I found that voice in writing. Most of my good friends have been made through letters or texts. I need to write like I need to breathe. I am a very social person, but I struggle with spending time with people because I don’t know how to talk to them. But when I write, I can say everything I need.

I used to get embarrassed by my need to write things down to communicate. I know it is a different way of communicating than most people use these days, and I felt awkward and alone. People just don’t write letters very often anymore. People don’t write messages to put on the wall for people to see. And if they do, it’s usually something cute or important. My messages were just about telling someone how I felt or what I needed. It was the only way I knew how to tell people what was going on with me.

I have become more comfortable with how I communicate now. I know it is different, but I am different, and surprisingly, people understand that. So I encourage you to find your voice if you have trouble communicating your needs to others. Find a way to tell people about you and what you need. And remember that it’s okay to be different. The ones that matter most will understand and love you for it.

 

For the Love of Autism

I love looking at pictures of best friends. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some look alike and some couldn’t be more different. But the amazing thing is that somehow, someway, two people saw the best in each other and decided it was worth sticking around for.

I’m so grateful for my best friends over the years. My first best friend in kindergarten didn’t last long, but she gave me something to aspire to. My next best friend in middle school really didn’t need me. She was more popular than I could ever hope to be, but I loved her because she saw me for who I was. She saw the good in me.

In college, I felt like I made my first real best friends. The kind that wanted to spend time with me simply because they enjoyed my presence. Unfortunately, with all of these best friends from elementary school to college, situations change and I didn’t know how to keep a friendship outside of situational happenstance.

At 20 years old, I made my first friendship that really lasted outside of school or work or church. She’s been my best friend for about the last 7 years.

Last year, I made another friendship. I didn’t really think that it could get better than it was. I didn’t think that God would send me another friend because having one best friend was all that I ever hoped or dreamed of. But I am so grateful for our friendship. This past year was one of the hardest and best of my life. I didn’t know how much I needed my friend until I had her. And now I can’t imagine my life without her.

I never really knew what it was like to love someone so much that when they’re not around, it feels like a part of you is missing. I didn’t fully understand the feeling of missing someone until I had my best friends.

There is a connection in friendship that is like a bonding of your heart to theirs. It’s not that I didn’t feel that with my family, it’s just that with my family that bonding felt more like a computer network. We could be far away from each other, but we were still so connected that I didn’t ever feel a separation. I feel the same way with my best friend of over 7 years. But with newer friends, that bond feels more like a piece of gum. You can be apart for so long and still feel connected, but eventually that gum strains and breaks, and it takes a piece of you with it. You can reconnect it and get it back, but sometimes the person just never comes back into your life.

Some people think that people with autism don’t understand love, that we don’t value the people around us. It’s not true. I remember everyone from Kindergarten to now. I remember everyone who was kind to me, who talked to me. I feel love. Too much.

It’s just that I don’t know how to express it. I don’t know how to let you know that I like being your friend or spending time with you. It’s not that I feel like I’m better than you or that I’m indifferent. I just don’t know how to navigate the social skills to tell you what you mean to me. But I love you and miss you more than you’ll ever know. And no matter how small, you took a piece of me with you and I will forever miss that.

I know it’s hard for you not to hear I love you. I know it’s hard for you to feel like we ignore you or don’t appreciate you. I can’t speak for every autistic person in the world, but I can tell you that no one could love you more than I love my friends and family. Yes, we love. Sometimes we just don’t know how to tell you how much we love.

Friends and Talking

I love the movie, Mozart and the Whale. The movie itself isn’t necessarily that great, but it is the most accurate depiction I have ever seen about how I feel. There is this part towards the beginning of the movie where the main character says, “I just never know what to say.” I feel like that a lot. I am not very good at talking. I don’t know what to say or how to say it, which makes conversations very difficult.

Sometimes I have a lot I want to say, but I don’t know how to bring it up. So I try to think about how I can shift the conversation to talk about what I need to work out, but by the time I’m done thinking about how I can bring it up, the other person is done with the conversation. A lot of times I think that’s why I don’t have much luck making friends. By the time I know how to talk to someone, they have already made a decision about who I am, and most people don’t change their first perceptions without a lot of work.

I hate it. I hate that I don’t know how to talk to people. Even with my best friend, I can’t bring up what I need to say. I feel like people get frustrated with me because I get quiet so often. It’s just that my mind is trying to figure out how to say something, while trying to process what is still going on, and by the time I’m ready to share what I have been thinking about, it is usually no longer a good time to say it.

There’s something else in the movie that really strikes a chord with me. The main character says, “People with Asperger’s want contact with other people very much; we’re just pathetically clueless at it, that’s all.” I am so clueless at talking to others. I want to talk to people, especially my friends, but I don’t know how.

I’m not really used to having friends. It’s only been in the last few years that I really felt like I had friends I could talk to on a regular basis. Growing up, the only friends I had were my sister’s friends and friends I had at activities I attended. Outside of those activities, I didn’t know how to interact with people.

So I always get anxious about talking to friends or doing things for friends or trying to make friends. It feels like unknown territory, which is scary because I can get hurt. I remember the first time I tried to make friends. I was 8 years old and in third grade. I was teased relentlessly. I didn’t quite know what I did wrong, but I knew I wasn’t wanted. That feeling has always stayed with me. Every time I try to make a new friend or talk to one of my current friends, that feeling comes back. I try to ignore it. I try not to let it stop me. Sometimes though, I just fall back into those feelings of being unwanted, of being hurt and vulnerable. I wonder if I’m a bad person, if there’s something wrong with me that makes me unlovable.

I have pretty amazing friends that make me feel wanted and loved, but the feelings haven’t gone away. I still need lots of reassurance that I’m doing alright and I haven’t messed things up yet. I hate that I need that much reassurance. I hate that I fall into thoughts of loneliness and anxiety and depression so easily. I hate that I have recurring feelings of abuse and teasing and the feeling of not being enough. I wish I could just trust my friends like I know I should. I wish I could tell my mind to stop thinking these thoughts. I wish I could just keep the feelings of being loved and wanted and feeling like a good person. I know that the things I have faced in my life have brought me to this point, and I’m in a good place in my life right now. Sometimes though, I wish I didn’t face quite so much because maybe then I could get these thoughts out of my head that cause so much heartache and anxiety.

Socializing

Apparently, I have become a master socializer… Me… The girl with autism… The girl that couldn’t make friends for 20 years because I was socially awkward and had terrible anxiety. To go from friendless to more amazing friends than I ever thought possible has been an interesting journey. It is interesting to look back on my life, to see the little girl that was teased at recess, that cried every night for just a single friend, that prayed and pleaded and hoped for someone to just talk to… To go from that to this… Is the most amazing feeling ever.

Last night, I went to an activity and talked to people and made friends, like it was a totally normal thing to do, like I was a natural. And I laughed and had fun and socialized and people looked to me like I knew what I was doing, like I was good at it. It was so wonderful and strange.

This world is hard. It’s loud and crazy and too rough and too much to handle and I struggle to breathe it all in. But I keep going. I keep trying. I keep pushing on and pushing through the hard things over and over again. And eventually, I get a day like yesterday when everything goes right, and I think, it all paid off, it was all worth it for this moment, this moment I have conquered.

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Social Signs

Most of the time I don’t think about the fact that I have Aspergers. It just is, like being a woman just is. You don’t think about it unless there is a reason to, such as walking into a bathroom. You remember your gender when you see the signs indicating a separation, and you go into the bathroom that corresponds to your gender.

There are signs of separation for socializing too. They may not be as obvious as other signs, but they tell us where to go in social situations. They tell us how to respond to jokes and sarcasm. Sometimes though, for someone with autism, these signs of separation are misunderstood. It’s like accidentally going into the wrong bathroom. You don’t realize you don’t belong until you see the looks on people’s faces or the indications that you made a mistake.

Navigating the social world is hard. I carefully analyzed social norms to determine what is acceptable, only to realize that acceptable is a matter of perspective. Acceptable is defined by situation, individual personalities, and relationship status. While I viewed acceptable behavior through the level of relationships of acquaintances, that is about as far as I ever got with it. It wasn’t until I stepped out of that box that I was able to discover a new level of friendship with its own acceptability and behaviors.

Sometimes I remember that I have autism- maybe because I made a mistake and find myself in an awkward situation or maybe because it is brought to my attention that I lack an understanding that others possess. It can be difficult and anxiety provoking to realize this. I break down sometimes under the pressure and realization that I do not seem to belong. I wonder if I will ever understand the signs or be able to fit in.

I have hope though. Things such as making friends like I have never had before give me hope. I still fall apart when I make a mistake sometimes. I am still working on not beating myself up for saying the wrong thing or misunderstanding someone. Overall though, autism is just part of my journey. I may not understand it and it may make some things more difficult, but it doesn’t keep me from being happy.

Phone Calls

My mom called me last night after reading my post about how nervous I was for the tests I’m going in for. We talked for a few minutes and just connected about our health issues. She helped me feel a little better about going in to the doctors and a little less nervous about everything.

After we got off the phone, I found myself tearing up. It was just so incredible to be able to talk to someone on the phone.

I hardly ever talk on the phone. I’m not good on the phone and I get nervous that I’ll make a mistake. But whenever someone calls me just to see if I’m okay or just to talk, it’s one of the best experiences ever.

I have this one friend that has called me a few times. Every time she does, it makes me so happy. It is honestly the best gift anyone could ever give me at that time.

As hard as it is to talk on the phone, I am so grateful when I do. It lifts my soul in a way few other things do. I am so grateful to those few people that do call me sometimes. It means more than they will ever know.

The Obvious Friend

Every once in a while, I realize how clueless I am when it comes to social situations.

I have been taking a communication class, and one of our readings was about relational messages. Basically relational messages are the clues people give that tell what type of relationship they are forming. It includes things like body language and showing interest. It was pretty eye opening for me because I am terrible at communicating like that. I am not very good at giving people clues about how I feel about them. That is one of the reasons why I write letters so often. I don’t understand how to let people know how I feel about them without explicitly stating or describing those feelings.

Up until I learned about this, I also did not know how to tell how people felt about me without them explicitly stating their feelings, which hardly anyone ever does. I realized that some people in my life have consistently shown me their willingness to be friends or their level of commitment through relational communication, but I completely missed the cues because I had no idea what they meant. Looking back at my interactions now, I can see quite obviously the clues I was given by certain friends. It seems almost ridiculous that I did not think certain people were my friends when they obviously showed me through their actions that they were indeed my friends.

No one ever taught me what to look for in a friendship though. No one ever explicitly told me cues people give when they want to be your friend. For most people, no one ever has to tell them, but as someone with autism, I was not able to learn this on my own. I needed someone to tell me that when someone talks to me consistently, that means they enjoy talking to me. I needed someone to tell me that when someone hugs me, that means they care. I needed someone to tell me that when someone listens to what I say, that means they value my opinion. I needed someone to tell me that when someone is excited to see or talk to me, that means they feel happy about our relationship. I know these may seem obvious, but to me they were a foreign language that I did not understand until I learned what they meant.

I can’t explain how much of a difference it makes to be able to notice signs of friendship. All of the years that I spent feeling lonely and isolated don’t seem so dark now that I can look back and see the many friends that were there. I wish I knew then how to tell that someone was trying to be my friend. It would have made me a much better friend in return. I would not have degraded myself for being unable to make friends. I would not have hated myself as much as I did.

It is still hard. I can see the actions of others that show friendship, but I am still working on learning how to show those actions myself. I am still working on learning how to show interest and how to communicate with body language. In the meantime though, I hope my friends understand how I feel about them. I hope they know that I care about them. I hope that my communication is enough to let them know I want to be their friend. And I hope one day I can learn to communicate how I feel about others in more ways than explicitly stating my feelings.