We had a Valentine’s dinner for church today. The food was not great, and the conversation was uncomfortable and weird, but I am glad we went. I think it is important to get to know new people and to get out of our comfort zone at times.
I read too much into things. I assume that someone not talking to me means they hate me or I annoy them or they just simply don’t care about me.
A few months ago in therapy, we briefly discussed why I don’t reach out to people. My therapist proposed a low cost to reaching out, but I told him about the high cost I feel from it. I am terribly afraid of people. I am afraid of being abused. I am afraid of being yelled at. I pretend like everything is okay and that things don’t affect me, but the truth is that I am afraid of breaking down, all the time.
I would almost rather disappear. I would almost rather be the only person in the world than try to navigate the dangerous waters of socializing. But if I’m going to be around people, I need them like I need to breathe. I need them to like me, to think well of me, but mostly to not get annoyed with me.
I don’t care if people hate me. I don’t care if they yell at me or put me down- as long as it’s not someone I care about. If someone I care about even thinks I’m annoying, that destroys me.
Maybe it’s because I find lots of people with Aspergers to be annoying. I know that is terrible to say, but it’s true. They talk too much and don’t listen enough. They are always trying to bring all conversation back to them. They get upset when you don’t do things a certain way. Not everyone with Aspergers is like this, just the ones I think are annoying.
I guess I’m just afraid of becoming that. I know it is not their fault. They don’t understand that what they are doing is pushing people away rather than drawing them in. That’s why I’m so afraid of annoying people. I am afraid that I won’t realize that what I’m doing is pushing people away rather than drawing them in. I don’t know how to tell if someone is annoyed. I don’t know how to tell when I’ve said or done too much.
That is why it is so hard to do good. I want to make people happier, but I don’t know if it will cross a line. Do people get tired of good things being done for them? Do they get tired of thank you notes or just expressions of gratitude? Do they get tired of hearing how amazing they are or how much they are appreciated?
These are the questions I want answered. These are the questions I need answered if things are ever going to change. I need to know if what I am doing is okay, because otherwise, it will always feel wrong, and I’ll always struggle with the fear of not knowing if what I do is really good or not.
It is difficult to tell my story with autism because I’m not exactly sure what autism means for me or how much of my life it has affected. I felt like a pretty normal kid until third grade. I had a good group of friends that I would spend time with at recess or during lunch. I was in speech therapy because I had a hard time saying the letter “R”. I didn’t feel like therapy made me any different than anyone else though. I went with a few other students and we played games. It just felt like a break from class for a while.
In second grade, I started hanging out with a certain boy in my class. Typical, elementary school crushes, we would sit on the swings at recess and talk. I hardly spent any time with my group of friends because I would be with my seven-year-old crush. The next year, he moved away and I assumed that I could go back to my group of friends and nothing would have changed. Of course, I was wrong. A lot changes in a year. My friends had new friends, a new leader of the group, and new things they liked to do to pass the time.
I no longer felt like I fit in, and set off on my own to find other friends. The thing is, I had no idea how to make friends, how to talk to people, how to recognize facial expressions or know if someone liked me and wanted me around. My first group of friends evolved around the sister of my brother’s best friend. She had been to my house before and so it was natural to gravitate towards her at school. When I left her and that group of friends, I had no leads. I had no one to gravitate to, and not being able to say the letter “R” made it difficult to avoid teasing or misunderstanding.
It’s a pretty simple story and seems to have little to do with autism, which is exactly why it took until seventh grade to receive a diagnosis. People said I was shy; they blamed it on my speech impediment; they said I was lazy or that school was just hard. I don’t even think my family understood. How could I explain something so simple and yet so difficult? In my seven year old vocabulary and social skills, how could I explain that I was still the same person, that nothing had changed about me; it was the situation that changed and I didn’t know how to handle it.
Once I was diagnosed, nothing really changed. I had some accommodations for school work and we focused more on social skills in my speech therapy sessions. It was still incredibly difficult, but I just kept going. That was all I could really do, all I can really do.
Now that I know more about autism, I am beginning to explore what it means. I’m beginning to explore the differences in social reading, emotional reciprocity, and giving of social cues. I’m not good at it, but I am pretty good at faking it. I guess and then search for clues that I was right or wrong and make a course correction. I think we are all like that. We all don’t fully understand each other, no matter how well we can read social cues. For me, it’s just been more of an emotional and psychological journey.
What I am learning more about and learning to embrace more is the “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior”- the sensory side of autism, the special interests, stereotyped movements. In my intellectual, black-and-white mindset, it’s not easy to accept these sides of autism. My mind tells me they are wrong, abnormal, different, unacceptable, unforgivable, unlovable. I’m just starting to get past those thoughts, but it’s difficult. It’s difficult to rewrite years of observation, experimentation, and self-experienced research. But that journey is a story for a different day.
My posts over the last few months have been largely focused on my lack of social skills and the struggles that come with that. Anyway, after talking to some people about this and thinking a lot about it I realized something. I’ve been going about this the wrong way. I’ve been trying to be sociable without taking the time to learn social skills. I have wanted so badly to be part of the social world I see around me that I haven’t taken the time to learn how to first.
Trying to socialize without developing the skills first is like jumping feet first into a pool and trying to stay afloat. You can doggy paddle around the pool and keep from sinking, but you won’t be able to swim like everyone else until you take the time to learn how to swim. And I’d been doggy paddling for so long that I think I felt like I was drowning these last couple months.
So, long story short, I’ve decided to take a step back and learn how to swim socially. Right now I might have to just hang on to the side of the pool for a while and watch other people swim while I observe and get some coaching, but hopefully in time I can learn to socialize more like other people so that I can navigate this social world in which I long to belong.
People have always been amazed when I make friends with a complete stranger or socialize with someone when I could easily pass them by, but I’ve often wondered why. I mean, anyone can talk to someone else. All you have to do is make the decision. The trick is, of course, whether or not the conversation goes well… but the actual talking isn’t such a big deal.
I’ve said on here before how I have a hard time saying hi to people, but sometimes you can just skip the hi. Sometimes you can just say how are you? or what’s up? or mind if I join you? And then usually the other person can do the rest. It’s not so hard to make a friend once you’ve made yourself known.
What usually goes through my mind is what could I ever say to them? Then, what do I know about them? Then, how do I bring that up? After that, I either just go for it or get out.
The problem is that I know that if I just get out I won’t feel good about it later. Even if I try and fail, it’s better than not trying at all. One time when I was at a bus stop with this lady, I wanted to say something to her and I finally got the courage to do it… and then… she didn’t hear me. So… it doesn’t always work out. But I am always happier when I do try instead of not trying at all and never knowing whether it would have made a difference.
It all comes down to just being a friend. Even if you don’t know what to say, just go to someone’s level. Be sad with them or happy with them or lonely with them. Just be there with them. You don’t have to have the right thing to say or know how to fix their problems- just being there can make all the difference in the world.
So, my advice to all of you is to go be a friend to someone. Whether it’s someone you know already or someone you’ve never met, we could all use more friends and more time with friends. Just be a friend.