What the hell am I?
I am a Martian. I look around at these strange alien people. Their customs are a mystery to me. Their behavior defies logic. They speak and write but their most important communication is encrypted. They say things but I can’t trust what they say.
They’ll make a logical statement that sounds true but there are all kinds of variables one also has to read that may change the value of the statement from true to false – or to “true but only on alternate Tuesdays”. If you don’t know the secret code, if you can’t read the variables, you are obviously an outsider and weird. Not fun except to play jokes on.
It has been said that 90% of interpersonal communications is in some way nonverbal and/or contextual. Intent is implied far more often than explicitly stated. It is a cruel world when you can’t decipher much of the rest of the 90%. Attempting to communicate using that remaining 10% can be terrifying. You are only catching the face value of a statement and missing the actual intent.
Even in writing it is assumed one is using all the same social constructs as everyone else. Unless I am writing on a niche topic, I’ll probably offend a lot of people if I am completely honest. At least in writing, there is time to process and I am alone. Nobody right there pressuring me or nagging me about something that will be clarified in the 5th draft.
When I was a young boy, I had a powerful intellect but very low emotional intelligence. I was clumsy. I disliked the feel of fabric on my skin. Very picky eater. A stickler for correct answers but missing the greater truths. Couldn’t function in noisy and chaotic situations. Slow to formulate responses in conversations, I’d vapor lock completely in highly emotional situations. Like getting yelled at. Always bouncing or thrumming my fingers or tapping my feet. (Irritates the hell out of some people.) Today that is called “stimming”.
And that still describes me today, just not in capital letters and bold typeface as it did then.
I hit puberty at around ten. I masturbated a lot, often several times a day. From the start, I was bright enough to always do it in private. I was also bright enough to know I was way way up in the high end of the frequency bell curve. I never thought of it as a cause for shame – any more than having a high IQ – yet it was another way I felt I was a freak and atypical. Different. And insanely frustrated!
Today I know that for an adult Aspie male, it isn’t all that unusual. And I was an adolescent flooded with hormones.
A couple times per year we’d get reading tests. I always tested two grade levels ahead of where I was, mainly because the test couldn’t go any higher. Again, probably the result of the Asperger’s. But back then “neurodiversity” wasn’t even a concept. You were a “Brainiac” and sometimes scorned by your peers for that reason. (And because you skewed the grading curve!)
But if you didn’t keep the academics up, you were lazy. If you didn’t fit in, it was because you were antisocial. Everything was viewed as a moral failing. “Neurodiversity” didn’t exist.
One thing I learned to value – which most people do not – is that there is great power and freedom in being alone. While the feeling of not belonging is itself sad, acceptance of alone-ness can become a strength and a source of joy. In solitude, none of your quirks matter, not lack of social perception, lack of athelticism, obsession with science or poor grooming or if you danced with yourself a dozen times a day.
Alone is a good thing. Alone doesn’t hurt or get you in trouble or get demands made on you. Long walks far away from judgmental humans are good for Martians. Alone lets your mind and body go free and wander where it will.
I am prone to joining oddball causes just because they appear correct. The cause is logical. I turn around and refuse to become part of the leadership. Too much confrontation, not a snappy talker. I’ll happily support you from the back of the pack.
TMI can also be a big problem. My filter isn’t in very good working order. I am prone to
blurting out things without thought, an irony not lost on someone who takes so long to answer a question. What appears ordinary and obvious to me is inappropriate or controversial to others. Maybe even creepy.
A person confronts me over atypical behavior or behavior that doesn’t meet their standards. Demands to know what I have to say for myself. My brain is empty. Its contents vanished the moment confrontation became a threat. I cannot think of anything to say. “Deer in the headlights” time. In the language of this strange world, that means I’m either confessing to guilt or I am pathologically uninterested in the challenge.
Neither is true and given a few minutes to collect my thoughts I could offer an explanation. In this world, quick replies are demanded. My wife will ask me to explain something and often get angry or make fun of me because I’ll say something, pause for a second and then continue with the next stage of the explanation.
She will often interrupt part of the way thru with, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“If you’d stop interrupting me in the middle of the explanation, it would make sense.”
“You are too slow and I want the answer now, not when you work up to it.”
“But without the initial information, the answer doesn’t make any sense.”
My fault, I guess. I have to speak slowly or my tongue gets tied up. I pause to allow myself to think. I organize my thoughts like a textbook. That isn’t how the world communicates.
I’m so f*cking clumsy! I failed at every sport we had so badly my PE teacher loudly pronounced me “worthless” in front of the entire gym class. What was worse is that this was not news to them and something I had already internalized.
When I would try to get a job, it just doesn’t work out well. I’ve been told I did well in interviews but… There was always a “but” that had nothing to do with my mastery of the skills required. I didn’t make enough eye contact or made too much eye contact. I fussed too much or didn’t speak well. When I get a job, I hide in my cubicle doing my job. Socializing with other people isn’t something I do well. It takes years to open up and then it is just a few people. This does nothing good for your prospects for promotion.
No, I don’t want to go to your party. A bunch of people I have nothing in common with. I don’t do small talk. (Actually, the word is can’t.) I can’t stand being confined and I don’t like all the noise. If you can guarantee someone will be there who thinks and talks like I do, I’ll go. But don’t be surprised if I hide in a corner and suck down our data plan and don’t be surprised if I take a long walk while you’re doing your social thing. (Worst case scenario: A bunch of parents bringing their children to Chuck E. Cheese for a party and I am “expected” to participate.)
Pets are great. I’m never confused by what an animal does. I speak their language. They are never confused about what I want. We don’t criticize or try to second guess each other. They know when I’m sad and offer support. I can confide all my secrets and sorrows to them and they’ll lick me in the face. It is a match made in heaven.
Watching anime is a bit like that too. I recognize “me” in a lot of characters. A large proportion of anime characters have some Aspie traits and some are out and out high on the spectrum. Understanding what is going on doesn’t require a degree in deciphering body language and innuendo.
As a child, I was considered to be “at fault” for all my social shortcomings. It is easy to say that I’m not at fault for anything but saying it doesn’t change the reality I live in. “Free to be me!” doesn’t mean that anyone appreciates you for your uniqueness. They just won’t institutionalize you for it.
There is no doubt in my mind that if I could’ve traded 60 points of IQ for being a normal, happy kid, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. I still believe that would be a good bargain, even today. Such trades cannot be made and I weep for it.
Having a label still doesn’t answer the question of what I am.
You just described my childhood. I also figured out today that was really quite unhappy without realising it because some of the most iconic songs that I remember are Numb by Linkin Park which is about suicide/depression along with My Tourniquet by Evanescence which is about taking Heroin. Not that I did either.
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I had a lot of depression and thought about suicide a lot. Came vanishingly close but didn’t. Probably more dumb luck than any particular virtue. My life philosophy is a bizarre combination of Stoicism, Zen Buddhism, Radical Acceptance, and individualism that I wish were much more rugged.
In the 1960s and 70s there wasn’t a lot of really depressing music like that. Or if there were, I wasn’t sufficiently sophisticated in music to have heard it. Maybe “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd? From “The Wall.”
I have another WP blog if you are interested.
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You just described the stories of many people I’ve worked with. I’m a survivor of severe bully and advocate for people who are bullied. Many of those who’ve come to me with stories of bullying are on the spectrum. They had such similar stories. I want you to know that my heart hurts for you. You aren’t alone and there are people out there who care. Sending warm thoughts your way.
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