On the flight back from Kota Kinabalu, I decide to read the book that I brought for the trip – “Pretending to Be Normal”. I ordered the book online in August 2011, I read up to halfway into Chapter 4 – A Slow Walk Home. I stopped reading because my work schedule piled up since.
I want to take enough time and mental space to read. I decided to read during this vacation. I haven’t been having enough time for myself, even though I can proudly say that my work is exactly what I love doing, except that I do have other indulgences such as product researching which is equally time-consuming, yet providing me with much enjoyment.
I spent most part of this short vacation playing game – Words with Friends – which I end up losing most of the time. I derived at the theory that my rigid mind construct words according to what I know, but other players play the game quite differently. They may not necessarily know the words that are formed, but they sure know the rules of the game. I find myself falling into the ‘traps’ and creating more opportunities for my opponents. Winning is of the lowest priority to me, I enjoy the process of playing a game with a friend.
So, I decide to read the book during the flight home instead. It was a short flight; there wasn’t enough time to finish watching a movie. I only managed a few pages from where I left off the last time. I stopped reading and decided to watch a movie instead. If I hadn’t stopped reading, I would probably create an embarrassing scene of public weeping. Tears welled up as I read.
This book, strike so many chords, it feels like a book written about myself, minus the author’s great fortune to have 2 very loving friends whom she feels safe enough to be just herself.
On Page 65:
… in the hot and humid Houston weather. All these elements forced my sensory integration dysfunction into a high state of chaos.
In an attempt to avoid the tangled web of too many sensory overloads – the mass confusion and terrible noise that ride with traffic jams, the sticky weather, he worrying over getting to work on time – I decided to leave for the university at the crack of dawn.
I hardly meet friends, but when I do, I meet at odd hours to beat the lunch/meal crowd. I used to wake at the crack of dawn for morning walks to avoid the scorching sun. That didn’t work so well too, I can only workout in air-conditioned room where the air is dryer.
On Page 68-69:
… I can never tell how much time must needs to pass before I buy someone I have recently met a little ‘thinking of you’ gift. What if on the very day we met, I see something I think the new friend would like? Should I get the gift then and save it for say, six weeks, and then give it?
… The questions are endless, and the concerns mountain high. This is why human relationships usually take me beyond my limits. They wear me out. They scatter my thoughts. They make me worry about what I have just said and what they have just said, and how or if that all fits together, and what they will say next…
… why do the rules change depending on who the friend turns out to be and … and well, the whole thing drives me to total distraction and anxiety.
I never truly understand the ever-changing social rules. I mentioned about the ‘broken recorder‘ syndrome that I undergo all my life about the events that happen around people. Clearly, this book explains more.
On Page 73:
… most endearingly, they protect me, whether they realize or not, from those who do not afford me so much grace.
They simply illuminate that which is made better by my AS, my straightforwardness and assertiveness and creativity and tenacity and loyalty. Because they see me first as someone who possesses many good qualities, and only then as someone who is just a tiny bit different…
I envy the friendships the author enjoys. I might have friends like Maureen and Margo – author’s loving friends, but only in the later part of my adulthood and the recent years. The more tolerating friends are more matured than I am, and we don’t meet often – some are acquainted through my crafting business, and we maintain the friendly and non-intrusive online friendship.
On Page 73:
When I am with my closest friends, I can feel what it must be like to have a bunch of other friends, and for a moment I think I might just be over the old hang ups and anxieties.
On reading this, tears welled up in my eyes. Even with my closest friends, I don’t feel safe. I worry constantly that I may slip up. I feel so sad. It is like saying out loud that I can never feel what it must be like to have a bunch of friends. I hung out with a group of friends before, I tried to be quiet in a group. There was so much to process, the things each of them said, the behavioral patterns that I tried to keep in mind in order to avoid stepping on the mines and blow myself up. I can never know how it feels like to fit in.
There is only one person in my life – apart from myself – whom I feel absolutely safe and comfortable with, my husband, Mike. He is the only person I can count on, to not get upset when I only want to dine in air-conditioned and clean cafes/restaurant, when I cannot function in heat and humidity, when I ask a question purely for it and not intending it as a leading question. Only with him, I know I am safe from brutal judgement.
Sadly, I can’t say the same for him. Being married to an Aspie, he must have given up a lot. He loves outdoors, and I don’t travel well with others, so we don’t invite his friends to travel together. Some outdoor activities require a minimum of 2 people, such as the diving program we saw in most of the resort islands. I hate sun and sea/beach. I don’t like the idea that I may get wet or stuck with a layer of salt and fine sand.
I feel sorry for him. We don’t have children and we won’t have children. I cannot imagine the social involvements and lifetime commitment that evolved around a child. His friends are now new parents, they are unlikely to participate in All-Boys diving trips. I feel sorry that he attends all the social events alone. I feel sorry, but not enough that I want to go with him. The social stress that he might feel is not remotely equal to the social distress and aftermath that I will experience. It is a forgettable event for him; it can be miserably unforgettable for me.
On Page 74:
… And I do not want the people whom I meet to get offended if I turn down their invitations or never offer one on my own. I wish people could understand that I can soak up all I need from most friends in just a few minutes, then walk away happy and content, knowing I have just spent time with a friend. I am not trying to be evasive or unfriendly, I just fill up fast.
… there are many AS people who might never develop close friendships, even when they have learned how to be less egocentric, how to read nonverbal messages…
People get offended when I decline the invitation. People get offended when I don’t offer one. In the recent years, ever since I ‘retreated’ into working from home, I feel a lot safer and comfortable. Except for the occasional dealings with the postman, and delivery people, I am at my most comfortable state of pure ease. Ironically, what I perceive as pure comfort can sound like a sad lonely melody in your ears. The only time I know I am free of social burdens is when I don’t need to interact with anyone at all. Unlike you, these social mistakes that I make haunt me for life. Unlike you, the mistakes when learned, are of no real value since the social rules change frequently. I can never keep up, so I keep making new mistakes every time. Every time, it hurts being judged and ousted.
I have not finish reading the book, but at least now I know for sure that I am different, I am just not as unique as I thought. There are people who share my same social awkwardness and insecurities.
In this book, I find fragments of myself.