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I want it, I need it...what's the difference?

Need and want are different things, right? How many times are we told as small children that we can't have something because we don't need it? Do you remember looking at the beautiful thing and thinking, 'But I do need it...' The feeling washed over you like you couldn't live without it and there were probably tears and tantrums when it was denied.

As adults we learn the difference between need and want, often in more uncomfortable ways than just being told. Small ways like wanting the pizza, but kidding yourself you need it because you've had a rough day. Bigger things like deciding you really, really need that car and will do anything to get it; then spending months, if not years, paying the price for buying something you wanted at the expense of things you actually needed.

Relationships can follow the same path, want over need, telling yourself you can't do without a person. Some dramatic Victorian hysteria creeps in where other people are concerned, I think, as the need voice takes on more emotion when it's people who are involved. You are even further removed from the ability to separate want and need and they both end up looking like the same thing.

Then we have the big things, the ones that lumber into your life, their size knocking lots of important stuff out of the way, crushing others underfoot, until all you can see is this monster of an intruder and nothing else.

I'm talking about when we decide what we don't need.

Okay, small example again. We don't want to get up for work. Obviously, we need to and there's no getting around that, right? Wrong. You may not have noticed yet, but aspies can get around anything. Anything at all.

So, you're there in your bed thinking about getting up for work. You don't want to, but need to. Do you really need to? Would they miss you if you didn't turn up? What do you contribute anyway? Last week you messed up that whole order and the boss had to do it again, by themselves, just to sort out your mistakes. The week before, you broke the computer. You didn't tell anyone and they've spent lots of time and money trying to get to the root of the problem when you know it was the air freshener that you spilled into it when you were trying to work out what the inside of an aerosol looked like.

They don't look very pleased to see you when you come in and you would probably only mess up again anyway. And as you're so tired, you could do with a lie in. Heck, you probably need a lie in, you most likely can't function without the extra sleep. If you went in feeling this tired, you'd be guaranteed to mess stuff up. It's probably in everyone's best interests if you just stay home. And in your best interests, too, as once you've had enough sleep you can go back to being a useful, non-destructive employee (yes, I'm pushing it there).

You see how a simple thing like not wanting to get up in the morning can escalate into not going into work at all and making it all about your job and life in general? By the time this train of thought has reached the station, there's a 50% probability that you've decided to quit your job and take up computer repair for a living. The irony will seem like one of life's little ha-has and you won't even pause to set up the computer biz first, before quitting the day job.

And all you wanted was more sleep? Or a laze in bed?

No, all you wanted was some peace and quiet and a laze in bed and a rest from the stresses of work - like many other people, aspie or otherwise. What you got was a standard, manipulative set of thought processes which turned the want into a need and the need into a great, 'normous life change.

This is just one example. The big monster I mentioned earlier, tramping around your life and crushing things, that is the bogey-man of the aspie life, the big thing that we don't like at any given time. It is what we don't need and it changes to suit our circumstances.

We don't like the job so it becomes all-encompassing, taking over our lives and is the only thing we think about. It spoils the good things in life and makes sure all the bad things (like getting up in the morning) become a part of it. Everything is now about the thing we don't like.

As it takes over, we become emotionally obsessed with it. If it was a mental puzzle, we would work it out. The emotional puzzles are more complex as they make us very unsettled, volatile, easily knocked off course and also affect our decision making. So we look for escape routes but as the problem that is upsetting us is a part of life, possibly an important one, it's not as easy as walking away.

As adults, we know that we need money and jobs give us money. If we walk away from the job, we don't get paid. By constructing a reason to walk away, by making walking away a necessity, a need, then we give ourselves permission to bail and do what we want. It becomes a need instead of a want and grown ups do what they need to and not what they want. Ta-da!

This applies to many problems in aspie lives, not just things like jobs. It can cover the very large and the very small issues, the approach is the same. We don't want to do something so we make it about need and find a way out.

Now, before I find orc heads being fired over the battlements at me, I must add a small, but important point here. I'm not saying that all aspies have failed to mature to a stage where they can deny themselves what they want. I don't mean that we behave like spoilt children (not all the time). This post might read like that, especially to those of you who can clearly see the difference between want and need. It probably looks like we're wilfully putting aside our common sense and choosing to behave in a self-indulgent manner? Yes and no.

Sometimes, yes, I use the need/want conundrum to do what I would like and am aware that it's a sham. Other times, I'm completely unaware that I've got them mixed up and that my actions are founded on a shaky, wantful premise. Mostly, it's somewhere in between.

You see, as aspies, we've spent a lot of time not wanting to do things. Believe me, we are the moany kid in class, the one who suddenly realised they were muddy and cold and everyone had to know about it; the one who realised the school play was horrible and decided to go home in the middle of it; the one who realised they didn't like maths so decided never to do it again.

It all sounds like a moan, doesn't it? There's a part of me that knows we're supposed to man up and get on with it. I know maths can't be ignored, I know playtime can be muddy, I know Mrs T worked her butt off organising the school play. I know all that.

I also know if I stay muddy and cold, I'll reach that dreadful place where my physical feelings will become everything and the whole world is cold and wet and it'll never be any different, ever again (drama!). I know that if I carry on with the maths, I'll fall further behind and start to cry in class again and last time the other kids teased me about it for ages.

I know if I carry on being a part of the school play, I'll feel myself becoming overwhelmed and I'll be in the middle of that big crowd of parents when I finally crack and do something everyone will remember until I leave school.

Consequences, you see. All the time, as we grow up, aspies find out what happens when you do something you didn't want to - it was very rarely a good result.

So, as adults, we avoid doing what we don't want as we know how it can go. We have tried to push ourselves and do them. We've really tried to be grown up about this, and you know what? The consequences were different but the same. They still sucked.

And there you have it: the want/need conundrum. It's a complex, faceted jewel of a problem, with so many ways of looking at it, making our problems multi-dimensional and dismally difficult to solve.

I know I need to get out of bed in the morning. I know I need to work. I know I need to behave like a sane and reasonable adult. But sometimes I do all that and it falls apart because it wasn't what I wanted to do. The want and the need are rarely apart. I can tell twins from one another but want and need very often look the same to me.

This is where every aspie needs a stable person alongside them, someone who can see the warning signs, offer support, give advice, pick up the pieces again afterwards. Believe me, it's no fun picking up those pieces by yourself, again.

Aspies very rarely listen to advice when it comes to the want/need problem, because it isn't a problem they want to be solved. They want to be away from it, have it at a distance and not think about it anymore. So, I warn any friends, family and best beloveds out there: the picking up of the pieces is the part you'll be doing most often.

Don't lose hope, though. Just sometimes, your advice will be there at the right time or your support will be all it took to make the problem smaller and manageable. As much as you can, keep being there. And don't forget, want and need in an aspie world are inseparable. Occasionally we can look at them and see the difference, but most of the time they're nearly the same. Bear that in mind before you judge us and make sure you always keep in plenty of bags to hold all the pieces.


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