The Emotional Pendulum


Or, to put it more bluntly - aspies are moody.

Seriously moody. I mean, I can say that from the place of experience. I am an aspe, I live with an aspie, I've worked with aspies and, if the magic diagnostic thingamajig could go backwards in time, half of one side of my family would be aspies too.

Let me be more polite, though, for sensitive aspies and their delicate best beloveds. We'll say that aspies have an emotional pendulum. It can sway from one extreme to the other in what seems like a heartbeat and the aspie goes with it, clinging grimly to this pendulum, trusting it with everything, as Life flashes past in startling Technicolor.

The emotional pendulum is not like one on a grandfather clock - it doesn't have to choose between still and in regular motion, though it does often need an experienced hand to set it off in the right time again. It can splutter and falter in mid-swing, holding the aspie at a curious angle, unable to let go but terrified of the view.

It can stop in the middle, with emotions in a calm place. This seems good, I like this one. If I wasn't feeling so blooming calm, I would say I love this one. I like the way it feels not to be swinging from side to side, to be able to stand steady and look at the view without feeling I'm falling off a cliff.

Readers, when the pendulum stops in the middle and leaves me feeling flat and stable, I find it so restful.  I admit, everything is also kind of muted, as if I'm wearing special glasses, but I think I might prefer that too, to the alternative.

All too soon, though, it starts swinging again, set off by anything or nothing or simply the need for the human mind not to stagnate. Before very long, I'm clinging on, trying to close my eyes to the images flashing past as I wonder if I'll ever, ever get the hang of this to-ing and fro-ing.

I've met some people, non-aspies, who are nearly always calm. I've felt like studying them, which would possibly require a locked room and inadvisable methods. But I've been friends with some and they fascinate me. They've had trauma in their lives and moments of intense joy, yet they still have this calm exterior.

For a long time, I just assumed they didn't feel things the same way (the arrogance of youth!), then as time passed and I became more wise, I could see the truth behind their eyes, or hidden away in their words. I learned the value of emotional subtext and the important lesson that people don't reveal everything in the way they speak or act.

I gradually learned the amazing, terrible truth - some people can live their lives in a state of near-calm (at least compared to my own state) and this near-calm is their normal operating function! I mean, really? To learn there was such a thing was bad enough but to find out people can live like that is just mind-blowing.

Imagine, readers, not waking up, wondering what mood you'll be in today and whether your emotions will get you into high jinks again. Just imagine waking up and only thinking about what you have to do and it never occurring to you that you might not feel up to it, or you might throw a wobbly at the wrong moment. Imagine your emotions being your friends!

This was an epiphany for me and shaped the way I viewed myself as well as my relationships. The people I have most in mind are old neighbours of mine, a calm, happy, contented couple who would have belonged in a Dickens novel as the kindly friends who show the young hero how stable and happy life can be. Dickens liked calm and stable people, no matter how many grotesques he created. The good people could be eccentric, but the truly good were often serene, showing how they had achieved this state of goodness by not indulging in the diabolical deeds which others enjoyed.

My old neighbours showed me a different way of being happy, one which I always wished for myself. I wanted to be like them. I wanted what others might perceive as the 'boring' life of just being together, at the end of each day, in quiet conversation. I didn't realise at first, but what I really wanted was the gentle contentment.

To anyone who thinks high passion and grand gestures make a life more worthwhile, try having high passion and making grand gestures throughout your life, at the moments when a bit of steady thinking and a calm hand might have saved you a lot of trouble. It's all very well wanting excitement and drama, but in real life, especially the aspie life, these things come not when you want them but when they feel like coming.

More years down the line and my old neighbours further into the past, I've learned something else about myself. I'm too restless to be contented. This was a major disappointment but being truthful to yourself is very important so I've faced it head on. Much as I'd like to mimic my old neighbours, I'm not sure I could.

I can't even sit with a cat on my knee without having at least one other thing to do. I can't just be content with me and Custard, resting on the sofa. I have to turn on the TV and have the laptop suspended on the sofa arm at the same time. Then I can enjoy the cat on my knee. The only time I'm content doing just one thing is when I'm ill (the cats love it then).

It's in my nature, and in the nature of many an aspie, to be buzzing, mentally at least. Physically, that all depends on the individual aspie, but mentally, how many of us can just zone out? Properly, no cheating, no sidetracking, no listening for the slightest excuse to set off the brain again?

That's where the middle of the pendulum comes in. When it does stop, in the greyed-out area where everything is muted, I can relish it in a quiet way because the drama is off to the sides of me and not where I am. I can appreciate this quietness, drab as it may be, because the alternative is high emotion (or low emotion) of one kind or another. Even those times when I don't think I'm feeling high emotion and am just feeling anxious, that's also an emotional reaction caused by the almost-constant swing of the pendulum.

So, readers, when it does stop, I stop with it. Did you know, the pendulum stopping almost feels like I've climbed off it for a while. I haven't but I can kid myself that I have. For some time, I can draw in a deep breath and look out over the bleak landscape, enjoying the absence of vivid colour and activity. I can enjoy the slow, peaceful movement of grey clouds in the sky and feel the chill in the air, the clean, crisp scent of winter.

Sooner or later, the pendulum swings again and I go with it, not only clinging to it but also to my memories of the calmer times, when things become simple and muted. Closing my eyes for a second, I see the barren lands, then open them again and face the rush of life once more.

Amanda

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