People who have come to know me better and learn about my challenges with a syndrome – one that cannot be outgrown – and out of kind intention, and a way of showing acceptance and support, they say, ‘Be yourself!’.
‘Be Myself’ – Optimized Version
‘Be Myself’ is a very big word. People with Asperger’s struggle to keep friends throughout their lifespan. I am no exception, but I am fortunate to have many good friends who love me for who I am, or at least what I show the world of me. That side of me, is as real as the authentic me, but let’s say, it’s an ‘optimized’ version.
Knowing the Limitations and Reality
I just need to be mindful that I may never have a best friend. It’s not a sad statement, it’s a positive one. Knowing our limitations, allow us to better accept the reality as it is, and reduces some struggles. A normal best friend is almost a luxury that I can never afford. It is a beautiful fantasy that finally I have someone who allows me to bare my vulnerabilities. Someone whom I don’t ever have to put my guard up. I can finally be myself, like everyone have encouraged me to!
The keyword here is ‘Fantasy‘. It is not real.
It’s not a spelling or grammatical error. I mean un-understood. At some point, when I become so comfortable with the best friend, I let the asperger’s traits run on free course. It’s liberating, for once, I don’t have to run a social script, I don’t have to think and ruminate over what’s been said and done. I am finally understood! I don’t need to be afraid anymore, even when the world outside my private world crumbles, I am safe with the best friend, he knows me.
That’s an ideal and beautiful outcome, yes? Sadly, even the best friend is unable to keep up the ‘understanding’ and ‘full aceeptance’. It’s not so much of a misunderstanding, it’s just the inability to always understand.
Routine vs Attention Needy
Routine is a huge part of my life, as with any Asperger’s or autistic person’s. Routine is the ‘predictable’ and ‘stable’ component in my life that helps to balance things out. I find solace and comfort in routine. Saying good morning and goodnight to a friend on a daily basis, is comforting. It’s like an imaginary constant connection with someone in the planet that is dominated by the neurotypicals.
The routine that I find great comfort in, is soon perceived as a demand for attention.
I am deeply hurt and saddened when I learned that the best friend develops an opinion as such about me, but it’s also enlightening. I didn’t think that way before, I have never been described as needy in any relationship or friendship. The romantic partner may say I was inflexible as I needed to do something the same way, at the same time. As a matured adult, change is possible, but advance notice will ease the anxiety and uneasiness.
(Asperger’s kids would have very different behaviors and responses, because the resilience is not yet formed, and the sad truth is, we ‘progress’ and ‘excel’ through great discomfort and emotional distresses – the frustration that we don’t fit, the annoyance that there is a different set of ‘normal’ rules out there)
There is a website set up for Asperger’s, it’s named very aptly as ‘Wrong Planet‘. Have you been to an event where you know quickly that you are in the wrong place, that you don’t fit? This is how I feel, and possibly forever.
The difference is that, you can just walk away from the event; there is no walking away for me. Learning to fit in is never a choice. It’s a survival instinct.
I spent a big part of my life trying to explain myself. Again, it’s not a choice, you can frivolously suggest that I don’t need to care about what others think; I am great with aloneness, but I do get lonely too. It would be really nice to be understood, once in a while.
For the earlier part of my life, I tried to make people understand that I didn’t mean to be weird and different. I didn’t know why I was different, and I got really frustrated at myself for being stupid because I never seem to be able to understand the social cues. I studied well, so it’s confusing to me that I was supposed to be quite intelligent, yet it contradicted with my tardiness in social interactions. I was convinced that I was stupid.
I spend the later years to-date, trying to explain my disabilities to even the experts. I am regarded as one of the highest coping, managing and functioning Aspies. As long as I don’t have to spend too much time with an individual, no one can tell that I live with a permanent disorder. The psychiatrist whom I saw for a formal diagnosis, had great difficulties in grasping with the fact that a person like me who is living a seemingly successful lifestyle, could have Asperger’s. The formal diagnosis is only completed after an interview with my mother – all aspies are believed to have similar beginnings, but we may have very different outcomes depending on many factors of influences (psychology term – multifinality).
It had been a good experience. I had not met another Aspie, I didn’t have a benchmark. The psychiatrist, on the other hand, had seen many patients with Asperger’s, and he found it unbelievable that an Aspie can cope and function as well as I do. I was upset with the psychiatrist for that, but with hindsight, it is possibly the highest compliment and affirmation towards my hard work and efforts (to be as normal as I could get).
I was discussing a matter with one of the lecturers and explained that although I appear and function like any normal person, it takes a lot of work, on daily basis. She responded with, ‘I know’, there is something in her voice and her expression that provides more assurance that she was issuing, further explanation is redundant. It feels very good to know someone knows.
The Dismissible Challenges, You Say
Our struggles seem very dismissible and trivial. Social component takes up a huge part of a person’s life – it includes conversation with strangers and service providers, interaction with friends, life sharing with a romantic significant other etc. So, if you can see it that way, you will know that I struggle with the ‘trivial’ of one of the most important part of life. A very big part of my life is veiled, like a smoggy area that even the best purifier cannot clear it up for me.
Don’t get me wrong. If you have conversed with me, rest assured that the words I mouthed are not scripted, they are what they are for real. However, unlike you, I have to run through many social scripts in my head, so the scenarios are likely to be predictable in some ways.
The thing about the challenges. You may argue that everyone has their fair share of struggles on daily basis. I agree with that. My counter-argument is that whatever you think you are going through, my struggles are on top of what you have. See, I am not completely abnormal, my disability is also known as the invisible disability. I too, go through whatever normal struggles that a normal person undertakes, I just have ‘bonus’ permanent challenges to deal with too. The bonus challenges cannot be overcame, that’s the marked difference; I survive by coping.
My Mistake, and Rising Above
My mistake is complacency. When I get too comfortable with friends, I let my guard down and believe that I actually have a chance to be normal. My fellow Aspies may resent what I am saying, but I do want to belong. Aspies form groups and come together, and they ‘stone’ the NTs for their insensitiveness and even cruelly handling us. I feel what they feel, really, but while we expect people to see things from our perspectives and understand our struggles – which often result in disappointments, heartbreaks, and tears in the pillow – perhaps we can rise above and be the bigger person, and try to understand that it’s natural for people to forget that we are different.
Metaphorically, I can tell a group of people that I am one kidney short, so there are tasks that may be too difficult for me to manage. They understand. I grew too comfortable that I assume that the world understands too. The truth is, we cannot blame people from misunderstanding because information is not made privy to them. There is no way they can tell that I only have one kidney, can they?
It’s almost like a desperate measure. I can understand that it’s hard for people to remember that I am coping everyday with real struggles because I am highly functional, some say, I function better than the normal people! Just because I understand, doesn’t warrant that I don’t get hurt. I am sensitive, I hurt easy, but I don’t show my tears easy.
My hope is that we (aspie or NTs) choose to be always kinder. It will be enough to do just that. Different is subjective, I could be the different one but perhaps it’s the rest of the world that is different. Either way, if we choose to be kinder, it will be alright even if we lack the capacity to fully understand what is different from us.
I want to continue to be resilient – trust me when I say, it’s one of the toughest things you have to do – and be one of the highest coping Aspies. I will earn my degree and I will speak (I know, it is really something, coming from me!) to the public about Aspergers (even though it’s now removed from DSM) and other disorders. I will be one of the most qualified speakers, because I have come long and far. I am not reading from a scripted speech, but I will speak from experiences. I can deliver that in the most effective manner with the condition taht I continue to cope in the best way I can.
I will not advocate for Aspies to try to be normal, or to stay different. I will speak of the facts and the decision is up to the individual. We can fight the world, or we can try to cultivate a more compassionate society to accept and embrace every one of us, despite our differences.
I will continue to talk about the uncomfortable topics – mental and developmental disorders – because that is the only hope we have to bridge the gap between the apathetic and compassionate society.
I Walk Away
I don’t know how much further I can go beyond my limits, but my guess is I am capable of achieving much more than I expect. Perhaps by then, I will not need to walk away from any undesired circumstances. I was working towards strengthening a cracked friendship, but I am walking away now, because my efforts are becoming a burden to the friend. I only know how to nurture a friendship with routine of connectedness, but my routine is perceived as attention-seeking tool.
I walk away not because I stop loving the friend. I walk away because I know he doesn’t need me anymore. I walk away because I am protecting what’s left of us. I am not assigning fault or blame, it is what it is, there is nothing I can do when people stop enjoying my company. It’s no one’s fault, the friendship has run its course, and it’s time to just leave it. I have to leave it because I cannot afford to feel unwanted. Remember, I know my limitations and I know which hole is a rabbit hole and there may be no return once I jump in.
This is my coping mechanism. It has served me well thus far.