Friendship is Complicated

Friendship is complicated. There is so much more to relationships than what is on the surface. I have never had a close, lasting relationship with zero conflict. I think that surviving conflict is what builds relationships, but I do love the ease of my friendships that do not have conflict. They are simple, easy to understand, and take little work on my part, but these relationships are mostly superficial. You can spend time with a friend and have fun, but it is staying after the fun is over, when you are not feeling well or are going through difficulties, that friendship really starts to mean more.

I did not have many friends growing up. My first friendships as a young child did not survive their first conflict. I look back now and think of how I could have handled the situation better, how I could have salvaged my friendships, but at the time I had no real experience in handling conflict. I did not know how to talk through feelings and emotions. So, at age 8, I decided to try to make my first friends on my own. I knew every trouble maker and loner at the school. These were my friends because they seemed to have just as many troubles as I did. When we weren’t sitting on the benches, we were the outcasts that no one else would talk to. Looking back now, I wonder if I failed to do my homework on purpose because it was too hard to brave the large playground full of children on my own. Making friends is easier now than it was then, but it can be easy to feel like a little girl again on a playground that is far too large for me.

The other thing that can be difficult is learning to manage conflict with the friends I do have. Indecisiveness makes me anxious, which can be a problem when my best friends do not like to make decisions. They tend to be people pleasers that want to make sure everyone is comfortable with whatever is decided. I would rather go along with a less favorable choice than spend half an hour trying to decide on something that everyone agrees on. Sometimes my anxiety gets the better of me, and I become frustrated and push people away. This causes a whole new level of conflict because my friends don’t understand why I am responding in this way.

Friendship is complicated, and we don’t always know what to do to solve conflicts. As I grow to trust others more, I have learned to simply ask about things I do not understand. I have learned to ask for reassurance when I do not know how a recent conflict has affected a relationship. I have learned to ask what I can do better and how I can make things right with someone. They say it takes courage to apologize to someone, but not apologizing is so much harder for me. I need to know my status with someone, even if it is negative, I just need to know what to expect from them. I think that it must get tiring for my friends to constantly deal with my questions and insecurities, but I am so grateful that they are patient with my shortcomings because friendship really is complicated for me.

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Starting Over

I’m moving to a new place. I don’t know where or when, but I know that I am leaving this house very soon. I’ve been here for a little over four years, and I have loved it. I have loved living with my brother and being there for the birth of all my nieces and nephews. I have loved being a second mom to them and sharing my life with them. But when my little nephew died, I lost a part of me. And it became hard to be home. It hurt to be such a big part of this family.

Since that time, I have been thinking about moving. I have been considering getting my own apartment or moving into an apartment with other people. So when one of my friends had apartment problems, the thought came to me that I should find a place to live with them. I fought the thought at first because I enjoy living with my family and living with this particular friend could be overwhelming because we are very close and that could make it hard to get alone time. But it just seems like the right time and right thing to do.

I feel a deep desire to start over. I tend to become someone that people can count on wherever I go. My friends, my family, my work, and my church group, all know that I will be there when they need me. They trust in that consistency because that is what I have always and will always do. But sometimes when life gets complicated, I feel the need to pull away and go somewhere where people do not expect so much of me. I will always be who I am, but sometimes it is nice for people to not know who that is yet. And I think that my biggest struggle is finding someone I can count on.

I have been here for over four years, and in that time I have made many friends that have come and gone. I have developed relationships that dwindled when someone moved away or became married. And over and over, I am reminded that I am not the kind of person that people try to spend time with. I am the person people go to with problems. I am the person people go to when they need something. I am not the person people go to to have fun. So there seems little reason to not start over by moving away to a place where no one knows me. I have the hardest time making friends, but at this point it seems to not matter much because the friends I have made here are either gone or distant for the most part.

So I am starting over. I am moving and starting over. And hopefully this all works out for the best.

Best Friends

I was feeling lonely a few days ago because none of the things I was trying to do to spend time with people were working. I had invited people to a conference, movie night, game night, I even organized a committee meeting at church, but no one came to any of it. And I found myself in a lonely and vulnerable spot because I desperately need people, but I am terrible at figuring out how to spend time with them.

In my lowest moment of complete desperation, I got a message from someone thanking me for something I did for them. I broke down because I felt like I was doing everything I could, but I was still alone. And then, after a while, I felt the gentle reassurance that I was doing okay. I mean, I don’t have all the friends I want, and I wish I could spend more time with the friends I do have, but I have the friends I need.

When I was a kid, I prayed every day for a best friend, any friend. I prayed that someone would see me and like me and want to spend time with me. And I got some friends over the years. I only saw them at school or church or things like that, but it was something. And finally, at the age of 20, I got a friend that I could count on, that I felt like loved me, that I felt like wanted to be around me, and that I felt I wouldn’t ruin our friendship with my problems.

It was pretty amazing to feel loved, wanted, needed, important. For the first time since I was a little child, I felt whole. And then I became friends with the most wonderful person. And it was like every bad thing that ever happened to me was okay. I looked back at my life and saw hope in places I had previously seen pain. And it was life changing to feel safe with someone, to trust them with myself, to want to tell them everything. My best friend has been everything to me. She has had a healing impact on my life that I could not be more grateful for.

So, that night when I was feeling utterly alone, I remembered the little girl that just wanted one friend, and I thought, I have the most amazing friends I could ever ask for. I still get lonely. My best friends are farther away from me than I would like, but they still love me. I am still wanted, needed, loved, and safe with someone.

I heard about a school that was trying to ban best friends. They said that it was unfair to those who didn’t have a best friend. I grew up all through school with no best friends, with hardly any friends at all. I ate lunch alone and played alone, and when someone did talk to me, it was usually to get help with something. But I would go through that all again for a best friend. I don’t think you can truly ban best friends, but I would never want that for anyone anyway. As someone who knows what it is like to be jealous of other people’s friendships, I plead with you to never try to prevent a friendship. Teach inclusion, teach children that they do not have to only have one friend, teach children to make best friends with everyone, but don’t prevent that special bond with someone.

Having a best friend has changed my life. With each best friend I had, I became a little less broken, less lonely, less scared, more confident, more secure, more at peace. I think I will probably always have lonely moments. As an extrovert with autism, I simply do not have the capacity to create the friendships I want and participate in the amount of social activities I need to feel completely fulfilled, but I have the relationships I need. I have the friends I need to get through the lonely moments, and that is enough.

What Matters Most

Life seems daunting at times. The endless list of tasks that we should be doing to be a “good” person can be overwhelming to say the least. We hold up a measuring rod to ourselves and find that we are severely lacking. How can we possibly help our family, spend time with friends, care for those in need, do the dishes, wash and fold laundry, make our bed, get an hour of daily exercise, read good books, go to school, go to work, help those in need, go grocery shopping, date, keep in touch with distant friends and relatives, eat, sleep, and of course, take time for self care?

My mom always says that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. You choose how to spend it. The thing is though, how do you choose to spend it when there are so many good things you “should” be doing? I think one of the worst possible things you can do with your time is become overwhelmed by all the things you should be doing with your time.

I think the secret to life is really as simple as doing what makes you happy. There are a million good things to do with your time, but what is most meaningful to you? How do you want to spend your time?

Honestly, I need a good movie and popcorn every once in a while, but mostly when I have a chance, I like helping others. I like doing dishes and folding laundry and taking out the garbage- not because these things are fun, but because I know how much no one likes to do them. To me, it is a simple act of service, but to someone else, it can be the biggest help and relief for them. You can ask me to go to the movies with you, and I’ll set up a time to go. But ask me to help you with something, and I’ll be heading over before you finish your sentence.

So when I start to find myself stressing over not having enough time to do everything, I remind myself to step back and do what I enjoy the most, because really, that’s the most important thing I can do.

Different in Happy Ways

If there is one thing that life has taught me more than almost anything else, it is that I am different. That fact has been drilled into me from teasing in elementary school to tutoring in high school to not fitting in at church. I have just always known that I am different. Other people don’t see things the way I do. They don’t think the way I do. I see shapes and patterns, connections and intersections, possibilities and additional realities, where other people seem to just see an object or a story.

It is not bad to be different, but it can be difficult. It can be difficult to communicate so much where other people seem to see so little. It can be difficult to express feelings and emotions when others don’t seem to have the same connections. I have struggled with feeling different from others, feeling out of place and awkward in the things I do.

The thing is that most of my differences are good. I see needs that other people miss and I respond in ways that others might not think of. I notice details others ignore and draw connections to things other people are not thinking about. But sometimes, I just feel out of place. I feel lost in a world that seems to be lost in itself.

I have never been very good at joining groups. I struggle to find ways to become included in things without specifically being invited. So I do things for people. I notice needs and I respond to them. I do everything I would want someone to do for me. And people appreciate it, but it doesn’t make me belong any more than I did before. I still don’t feel like I belong. I still don’t feel like I fit in. I still feel out of place.

In a general meeting for women that my church does, one of the speakers said that people are drawn to our church when we “are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.” As I have been struggling with feeling different lately, I have repeated this often to myself. I can be distinct and different in happy ways. It can be hard and lonely to be different, but maybe somehow, people are or will be drawn to me because of my differences.

The Cure for Autism

It is amazing to me how much things can change in a year. With everything that has happened this year, I feel like much more time has passed. I look back at who I was 10 years ago and laugh at my selfishness and childish thoughts. I wonder how anyone put up with my whining and shortsighted views. I look back 5 years ago and am amazed at how much I have grown since then. I look back at two years ago and can hardly believe the healing and help and hope that has come into my life since then.

Two years ago, I posted about how I wanted to experience friendship like the love I had for others. I wanted to learn to love better and to love myself. I had grown to be strong and intelligent, resilient to the trials life would bring, but I was haunted by loneliness. Loneliness was a familiar friend, and many nights were spent in the deepest despair of want for human interaction.

I am not lonely anymore. That is the most beautiful statement in the world. I do not feel lonely anymore. I never thought this was possible for me. For so many years, I longed for a single person to see me and want to be more than a situational friend. It wasn’t until college that I felt like I had friends outside of church or school or activities. At that time, I was still getting used to the idea of having friends, and I messed up more times than I care to relate. But a little over two years ago, I started to really feel wanted. I started to have people I could call friends. I started to believe in hope.

I feel so blessed. I have felt love beyond my capacity to comprehend. I feel wanted, needed, important, and safe- most of all, safe. Two years ago, I was terrified of everything I was doing. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to people that I had no idea how to communicate with and doing things for others that scared me almost to death. Every day felt like walking around with my heart in my hands, hoping that it wouldn’t get crushed along the way.

But those sleepless nights and silent tears and debilitating anxiety led to the most wonderful friends a person could imagine. All my loneliness, all my pain and suffering, seem like nothing now compared to the love and protection I feel. I feel overflowing gratitude for my friends and for all that I have learned. I feel healed, whole, loved.

I can text someone when I want to talk. I can say hello to someone I recognize when I see them in a store or on the street. I can ask for help. I can tell people how I feel without feeling awkward or out of place. I can hug people or let someone give me a massage. I can relax. I can be myself.

No one knows how far I have come, but it is impossible for anyone to miss the progress I have made. Everyone who knew me before can see how I have changed. We talk about milestones in autism- being able to talk, looking someone in the eye, communicating a need, but the most important milestones are the ones that make you want to be you.

I learned how to do everything I was supposed to do at an early age. I analyzed people to the point where I knew how to appear normal. No one would guess that I have autism, unless it was one of those rare moments when I made a mistake. But despite my capacity to fit in, I could never find the capability to belong.

My milestones are hope, love, and belonging. If there is a “cure” for autism, this is it- hope, love, and belonging. All I ever wanted was to feel like I have a place in this world. I wanted to feel like I belong, that I am wanted here. I wanted to feel like autism wasn’t a wall that kept out love. You want to find the cure for autism? This is it- love, accept, embrace, help. After that, everything else will just fall into place.

Purpose

The things that happen, the people that cross your path, and where life takes you can’t all be coincidences. There has to be something bigger here. The perfect timing needed to meet certain people and all the little steps that lead you to a certain place in your life where you can become friends cannot be random happenstance. There are too many factors, too many possible variations, too many choices along the way for some things to not be destiny.

I don’t understand a lot of things in this life, but I do believe there is a purpose. There is a purpose to you being here. There is a purpose to your life. There is a purpose to my life. We are not aimless beings wandering in a world of uncertainty and discord. We are travelling in a direction, making a course towards something. We may not know what yet, but as long as we keep trying, we will never really be lost because we are travelling towards where we’re supposed to be.