Escape

I know I shouldn’t want to disappear when family visits, but I feel like I can’t handle it all right now. I feel like I’m on the verge of an autistic meltdown…

Everyone always thinks I do so well with all this… They just see me handling things. As much as I try to be strong, I sometimes wish people could see how hard it is.

I sometimes wish people could see that behind every walking quickly through a crowd is a need to get away from the noise, behind every “I’m tired” is a feeling of overwhelming anxiety that I’m trying to hold inside, behind every disappearance is a series of actions to try to get to an okay place again. I wish they knew how hard it is to try to act normal when everything in me is searching desperately for an escape. I wish they knew that as high functioning as I am, I can still be autistic.

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Remembering Autism

Sometimes, I forget I have autism. Sometimes, I forget for so long that remembering is a painful experience.

Tonight, I remembered why things are so hard sometimes. I don’t know how other people see me. That is possibly one of the hardest parts of having autism. I never know if I just think I’m being awkward or if I really am awkward. But I feel lost sometimes. I feel like I’m looking around unsure of what to do or where to go.

I remember when I was in therapy that my therapist said that you should try to stay if a situation makes you feel anxious because leaving will reinforce that feeling of anxiety and the relief of escaping. So I try to stay. But it seems that staying makes things worse so many times. Staying just seems to re-tramatize me. I don’t want to remember that I have autism. I don’t want to remember that I have a hard time socializing in groups. I don’t want to remember that I don’t fit in.

Tonight, I remembered. But tomorrow will be better. I just have to hold on to hope. Tonight, I may break down and dislike myself or my autism. But tomorrow, tomorrow will be better.

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.

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.

Just Starting

I have been writing this blog for a long time. I have been living with autism (aspergers) for a long time. I have been learning how to seem normal for a long time.

What I haven’t been doing for a long time is learning how to be autistic.

It might seem strange that I would need to learn to be autistic since I have autism, but it’s the reality. I have learned to suppress everything that comes natural to me. I have learned not to stim in public, not to have special interests or at least not talk about them like I want to, not to have meltdowns around others.

And in all non-autistic circles, this is all a great success. I am high functioning. I am as close as you come to “cured”.

But… In autistic circles, I feel like a failure or at least a novice. I don’t know how to allow myself to be autistic. I don’t know how to be comfortable with being autistic. I don’t know if I even want to be autistic.

Is there a middle ground? Can I be autistic and normal and different and perfectly me all at the same time? Do I have to choose between living an autistic life or living a lie? Is that even what the choices are?

Like I said, I’m just starting to learn how to be autistic. But it is overwhelming sometimes. I thought learning about autism would make me feel less alone, but in some ways I have felt more alone.

I’m just starting… Just starting to try to find my place in the world. Please be patient. Please be kind. I don’t know where I’m going and I’m just starting a journey to a destination that I’m not even sure exists.