I'm not really arguing with this one. As I've said before, routine can be a wonderful thing, a soothing counter-balance to the ways of the world. It can make you feel in control as well as reassure you that everything has a purpose and there won't be any nasty surprises.
But it's also a stick to beat us with. I've often heard other people go on about how their aspie won't deviate from a routine, how they couldn't do a certain thing because it clashed with the routine. I've even been accused of it myself, when I've not wanted to do something spontaneous because I could see the day stretched out ahead of me in a planned way.
I think the only time I've heard routine and aspies being seen as wholly positive is when some poor child is being shoe-horned into school and their parents say that the part their little aspie likes is the school routine, that they find it comforting. Any other time and the aspie who loves routines is seen as a fly in the ointment of this grand world, full of opportunity and diversity. Right?
Well...I'd like to put my hand up here and resist the temptation to poke you in the eye with it. You see, from my point of view, I say that the world in general also loves routine. That as much as you criticise the aspie for being a fixed creature, the world seems trapped in the same way.
For instance, what is routine exactly? To the aspie, it's the way that things should be done, either the way they are organised or thought of, or simply the events that make up any given day or hour. Routine is simply a word to hang lots of different things on which mean something to the person and which are often repeated.
For the world at large, routine means something being done over and over. The definition is:
A sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.
So, to the world, the aspie follows a sequence of actions regularly, as if their lives exist within a fixed program. All right then, that may be true, but the whole world is the same!
This fixed program could apply to how we behave towards each other, from the small routines of how we greet one another to the more complex ones of how we should behave within conversations and social situations. Aspies do not follow the routines of social situations, both large and small - we are often in trouble because of this, so we know it's true.
The world is also routine when it comes to how we should progress through life. It is an accepted routine to go through school, get a job, progress in your career, meet someone and settle down and so on. These are seen as natural progressions in the world, the routine of life in so many ways.
The aspie may not be able to move through these stages in the same way or may stall and go back. In many ways, the aspie won't progress past the school part, as all of life is a learning experience and there is always something new to discover.
For the great journey of life, aspies buck the trend and don't usually follow the routine prescribed as the norm. Life goes on, people send their babies to nursery school and we all sing the same song, again.
The routine of dating is a big one, don't you think? Girls' magazines thrive on it, womens' magazines make a business out of the more seasoned daters who want to learn the rules for grown up dating and relationship ethics. To the aspie, this seems like an absolute miasma of confusion. Every rule seems written for a different handbook from the one we were given.
The smaller routines, like how to order in a restaurant, how you behave at the table, what you should and should not be doing with the knives and forks, how many napkins you're allowed to use and why no one else is washing the spoon with vinegar: all these little things, easily accessible to non-aspies, as a normal routine, have to be learned by the aspie.
If we don't follow the routine, we draw stares and are possibly accused of being too fixed in our silly routines to enjoy dining out - our routines involving having the right table, not sitting in the chair facing the other diners, having enough time to study the menu, calling to the waitress before she's ready to come back, asking for another glass, using all the napkins because you needed one for your lap, one to keep for after the meal, the one wet with vinegar so you could wash the spoon and the spare one just in case.
The routines of normal dining are broken up by the aspie routines of enjoyable/safe/healthy dining. The routines of conversation also fall foul of the aspie approach, as do so many other routines, encountered on a daily basis and treated as being what everyone does, until the aspie wanders along and ricochets through them, scattering them in all directions and wondering what the fuss is about.
You see, our silly routines, which are so important to us, are seen as a quirk of personality and they are an annoying quirk because we often follow them despite what is seen as acceptable. But I would ask, how is this so different from the routines imposed on us all by modern society? Why is it not a routine to do things in a certain way, but it is a routine for me to do things my own way?
What makes society the judge of a routine? Why does it see its own routines as normal behaviour, when so many aspies exist within society and probably don't do things the same way? Why are society's routines so rigid but must be followed when mine have to be pushed aside and dismissed?
Yes, I acknowledge that the routines within society are there for the benefit of a great many people whereas mine are just for me (and anyone else who wants a really clean spoon), but they are big and little brothers. Routine does not change to suit the moment: it either is a routine or it is not.
Don't pretend the big brother routine, grinning behind you in the playground is just what everybody does then call my little brother routine, hiding next to the fence, a silly obsession which helps nobody. They are part of the same family, you just have to take a better look at them.
The problem is that my routines are always going to seem very small compared to everyone else's and my arguments for keeping them are not as good as the arguments for following the ones other people like. This is why aspies keep to their routines in a more muted, private way, so as not to incur discussion or ridicule. If we know that you'll be embarrassed when we ask for more napkins, we'll be careful to ask when you're not looking, but we'll still ask.
Just remember, though, how uncomfortable you feel when we do something outside the norm and outside your comfort zone. It's not good, is it? That niggledy feeling at the back of your neck, like a cold finger just nipped you there. It's much better to feel happy and comfortable when things are done the right way, don't you agree?
Yes, so do we.
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Yes, that's what I'm doing today. In fact, I'm watching myself like a hawk as I'm very close to veering off on a tangent and doing things which help nobody, least of all me!
My post about making my way in the world was full of good intentions not to run off in different directions, trying to make money in ways that don't suit my personality. Well, yes, I remember everything I said in that post but last night I found myself on a wholesale website.
Gosh, but I love those wholesale websites! Just like the Hoarders who fill their homes with bargains, I fill my head with all the loveliness that other people are sure to want to buy from me, at a profit. The items look so good and they seem to shine off the page, smiling with promises to do the right thing, this time.
I actually filled out a shopping basket and it was a sensible one, readers. It was mostly full of things I have bought and sold before, so for once I wasn't rushing in blind. And I even went back and deleted a few items, this seemed to prove to me that I was being level-headed about it.
To be honest, I'm still not sure if I'm doing the right thing in not ordering or in making the order. It's so hard to tell. I could list to you very good reasons why all the items I want to buy will sell and estimate how much profit I'll make on each. I can even tell you how I'm factoring in extra costs, so that I'm not left out of pocket.
Sounds okay, doesn't it? It does to me, too, except that I know me all too well. Either I'll have left out some vital detail which just slipped away down the back of the cosmic sofa, or I'll find that what sells once doesn't necessarily sell twice, by which time I'll have bought ten.
On top of all that (and the reason I became suspicious of myself), buying these things is FUN. Yes, fun and profitable, fun and sensible, fun and grown-up. Hmm, there seems to be a common theme there.
There is the suspicion that if it's fun it isn't proper work and probably isn't a good idea. If something is fun then I'm more likely to do it and by being more likely to do it, I'm also more likely to ignore any objections.
No one knows I've been clicking away on the wholesale websites again so there were no objections this time. The thing is, as I sold the same things last time, maybe objections wouldn't come into it. And there is my dilemma.
Am I now so untrusting of myself, so necessarily paranoid of my bursts of energy and good intentions, that I can no longer recognise a real idea, a good one, when I come across it? Is everything so clouded in what I've done wrong in the past that the plans which might work are passed over, just because I promised I would?
By trying to keep on the right track, am I actually harming myself this time? And how do you tell?
Normally, people tell the difference by discussing their ideas with other people but, like me, my friends and family now have an automatically negative reaction to my new ideas. Then, if they listen a bit more as I explain and ask for advice, I can make it sound just so deliciously good, they cave anyway and are swept along in the thrill of the moment and the hope for the future.
Where does the truth lie in all of this? For a non-aspie with judgement that doesn't waver off the road and end up in the ditch, then truth usually lies somewhere between the extremes. For an aspie, extremes are often the order of the day and the truth can be whatever we choose.
If the truth happens to be that I should buy these items again because they sold in the past, is my distrust of myself based on experiences with other ideas that didn't work or are my instincts telling me something? If I give it time, will an extra factor pop up, one I simply didn't notice before, that would prove those doubts to be right?
And I must tell you, readers, my doubts are small. They are only there in the first place because I suddenly recognised the happy glow I was feeling from the laptop as I trawled through the wholesale websites. It was an alarm bell and I stopped to look at what I was doing. Then, and only then, I wondered if I was doing it all again.
This next fortnight, I have lots of jobs to do with my writing. I have a fiction book to bring to life, a poetry book to complete, a non-fiction book to polish off and I'm also working on a book based around this blog (ta-da!). None of these endeavours will bring me instant money, though hopefully they will be popular in the future. I do wonder if my brain threw in the lure of the wholesale sites to steer me off doing any or all of the above?
Am I trying to get myself off track, due to the fear of success? Am I more comfortable in the familiar behaviour of trying something new and hoping for the best, instead of staying where I am and making that everything it could be?
Am I, in fact, self-sabotaging? And if I am, why the heck would I do that? I love writing, I love the whole process of it, from the first word to having the book in my hands. I could just kick myself, readers! Would I really be so shamefacedly silly as to risk that, again?
Maybe I would, or maybe I'm going off on another tangent and blaming myself for all kinds of things when what I should be doing is congratulating myself instead. You see, unlike all the other times, I stopped. I saw myself and stopped before I clicked Buy. I hesitated and thought about it, making time for me to step back and decide if this was a plan that would help me or something else that would sit in a box in the corner of my bedroom.
I still haven't made up my mind but, for now, I'm holding back. I'll wait and see what happens when the glow has worn off and I've consulted people who know me at my worst. Then I'll wait some more and, with a bit of luck, spend some of that waiting time doing what I'm supposed to do and write the books!
Watch this space, readers. Cross your fingers that the next few blog posts are not delayed as I wade into the warm, welcoming waters of ebay selling. If there is any delay, just hope I'm sitting there, lost in new worlds and seeing the grand adventures of my characters as they battle themselves and other evils.
After all, isn't that what we all do, every day?
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Now, come on, aspies, if you were all being brutally, exquisitely honest, how many times have you been tempted to respond with, 'I don't care how you feel, do what you like.' Insert other suitable words instead of feel, such as cry, or behave, or anything that other people do and expect a response for and away you go.
The emotional detach can be a wonderful thing, if you happen to be in the middle of a hurtful situation and there is no fast way out. This ability to disconnect and feel only the soothing waves of placid emotion, or to feel a numbness, a cosy blankness inside, it can be a life-saver - perhaps literally.
It's not that we are depressed, though it maybe sounds like that. It's more fundamental: it is a retreat into an inner place that is untouched by the stupendously irritating world of emotions. We are there, you are outside and you are not getting in.
This is an extreme reaction, often to a series of smaller events or one big one, where the aspie drifts away. It's a quiet meltdown, an unnoticed one. It is a leaving behind of the worries of the day and retreating to somewhere else.
But in the middle of this serenity, which can be so good for us, is the other side of the coin. What happens when this wonderful calm becomes a disinterest in someone else's feelings or situation? This is where I need you to read this honestly and not tut to yourself about what a horror I am and how you would never do that.
It's the old lack of empathy argument at work. Let's look at it like that, from the non-aspie side of life. You have a crisis or a difficult situation, you need to explain and talk about it and your aspie glazes over and asks you what time you'll be making dinner. You repeat how you feel, it's obvious your aspie didn't get the point of what you said. You state, without subtlety, that you are upset and need support.
Your aspie, devastatingly, says, 'Hmm, I know, you already said.' And they go back to what they were doing.
You challenge them and ask why they don't care, what about all the times you supported them? Doesn't it work both ways?
At this point, you may get some emotional reaction, as it is a good way of reminding the aspie that you're the one clearing up after their sensory blowouts and so, perhaps, you deserve some support in return. Or, you may get another terrible reply, like, 'Yes, but what can I do to help? There's nothing I can do is there?'
Logically, in so many situations, there is nothing your aspie can do to help, so they lose interest and turn away. You've talked about your problem, they've ascertained there is nothing to be done and that's that.
Well, it is as bad as it sounds, frankly. Your aspie truly is turning away from you at this point. They are saying they can't or won't help and they're serious when they ask about dinner. There really is no limit to the selfishness sometimes.
From the aspie side of things, it is as logical as not being able to help you but there is more to it. Your stress and upset and wailing is so distracting from being an aspie. Sometimes, aspies are just getting through their day, being themselves and doing stuff that works and doesn't make the feelings muddy. Then you come and are saying all these things which make life complex and demanding and actually need a response from the aspie - a response that has nothing to do with the aspie themselves.
They don't want to deal with your drama. Life is full of drama, it's like always living on stage with the lights shining down and someone shouting, 'Cut!' just when you got to the good bit. You can never work out what's going on because no one gave you a script so it's a constant improvisation, with real-life consequences.
Then, on top of all that, the very person who is meant to make it all more bearable and shout cues from the front of the stage, they hop up onto the boards and start improvising too and expect you to join in! And they expect you to be able to be able to shout cues to them and make it all bearable.
When did that happen? When did it become the aspie's remit to sort out anyone else's problems? And anyway, how often have we offered you advice and had it laughed at or tossed away as impractical? Aspies don't forget, you know. It may be that the advice we gave before was laughable but we still offered it, we gave it thought and tried to help, in our way.
And now, after all that, with the drama of the stage and the previously unwanted advice, you now want us to step up and make it all better? Really?
Yes, behind very turning away there is a lot of anger, fused together with the stress of life itself and the belief that you should stay in your role as supportive other, the cue-giver who does not belong on the stage and should only be waiting to make life okay when the aspie cannot stand the glare of the lights for one more second.
Horrible, horrible aspie. If we were totally honest, we might offer up, 'I just don't care,' as our first response. In a way, it would be completely true. We don't have enough left to care about your problems because by caring, they become our own and we live them and see them and feel them. Most often, you see, it isn't a lack of empathy that plagues us but a mis-placed empathy that, once released, knows no bounds and will not go back in the box.
Better, then, to avoid helping in the first place and keep a tight grip on that Zen-like calm we hold so dear. Better to fob you off with an unkind word and hope you're feeling better soon, so that we don't have to worry we'll be alone on the stage.
Better that we don't give in to the panic and the rage and the suppressed emotions which sway us into the path of imminent disaster, suddenly, terrifyingly, taking you with us because it is your disaster this time and we have to come along for the ride.
Yes, behind every calm face and blank response is an aspie staring into the spotlights, wondering who lies behind in the unseen theatre. Where will the next voice come from? What shall we say this time? Will we have good lines or bad? What action takes us forward to the next stage of the story?
Forgive me, readers, I am an unkind aspie and perhaps your aspie is unkind too. Sometimes, the best you can hope for in the middle of a crisis is for your hand to be touched on the way past or for some flowers to be ripped from the garden and placed, in size order, in a vase where you might see them.
And sometimes, the last thing you want is an aspie trying to solve your problems because once we get a hold of something, we can't let go and you never know where you might end up. Better to stick with the flowers and just get on with making tea. It will be all right, so long as we are together.
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So, you have your new aspie and are wondering what to do with him/her. Depending on size and gender, some of these instructions may need to be followed with caution but we are confident that you will be able to get the best out of your aspie for many trouble-free years to come!
(Disclaimer: we are not responsible for any physical, emotional or financial harm that may come to you when following these instructions. Once unboxed, your aspie is not eligible for our guaranteed swappage and refurbishment policy. Please have a good look at the aspie through the window provided before unboxing).
1. Unbox carefully and without making physical contact with the aspie. Pull down the box using the flaps provided and allow them to step free by themselves.
2. Allow your aspie free rein, to explore their surroundings. For ease of capture, we recommend not unboxing in an area that is too large or too small. Open fields would not be suitable, unless you are a long distance runner. Small rooms are to be used at your own risk.
3. Do not ask the aspie what they want, until they initiate conversation as this is likely to set off the finely-calibrated temper-tincture.
4. When your aspie has stepped free of the box and begun to show some curiosity about their surroundings, then you may ask them if they would like a drink or something to eat. Offer one thing at a time, closely followed by the choice of drink or food.
5. Do not be surprised if the aspie follows you closely and makes it awkward to prepare the food and drink. Aspies are wary of physical contact but, quixotically, are very good at getting under your feet and being trodden on.
6. If you tread on the aspie, immediately accept responsibility. In no way blame your aspie, even if it was their fault, or you will hear about it for years to come.
7. Be prepared for them to choke/force down/suffer their food and drink as you 'did it wrong'. Note: You will need to have your aspie for many years before you are able to do their food and drink the right way, so do not worry too much about this.
8. Do not expect to introduce your aspie to your family and friends anytime soon. If you have already arranged a surprise get-together, to welcome them, then you are either very brave or have the hind of a Rhino. Good luck.
9. When your mother calls around 'as she was passing' to meet your aspie, do not be surprised if your aspie changes personality. As usual, extremes are in evidence and there will either be a switch to complete charm or the charm of a mosquito.
10. Be prepared for this first encounter to colour your aspie's relationship with your mother and everyone else you know for the foreseeable future. If your aspie was charming, then everything that happens afterwards will be your fault. If your aspie was a mosquito, then they'll never be able to do any right and that will also be your fault.
11. If you have romantic designs on your aspie, I suggest you develop an extra patience gene or take up the drink. You'll be needing both at some time, probably together. (Please note: we cannot offer detailed instructions on the best way to romance your aspie as everything we tried either worked or failed for no apparent reason. Again, good luck).
12. Sleeping arrangements: Your aspie must not be too warm, or too cold, too tired before they go to bed or too wide awake. You must not wake them just after they settled down, even if they weren't asleep to begin with. You must be able to tiptoe like Tinkerbell and be able to control and resolve every noise issue within a 50 mile radius. You must also keep an eye on the weather (wind blowing and rain tapping are the most difficult) and you must not snore or talk in your sleep as, like The Princess and the Pea, your aspie will be able to detect any noise you make from any part of the house, even if you sleep in a tent in the garden.
13. Computer arrangements: Your computer no longer belongs to you and you should ensure, preferably before your aspie is delivered, that you have the highest spec package in computer equipment and internet access that money can buy. Also, if you buy a laptop as well as a computer, expect the aspie to need that too, because the keyboard is better for long typing and you wouldn't want to be selfish and hog it to yourself, would you?
14. Pets. In general, aspies can be great animal lovers so have some hope your aspie can live in happiness alongside your furry friends. This advice does not always apply to big, jumpy dogs or biting cats, so if your pet is likely to initiate unwanted physical suffering on the aspie, do try to train the animal as well as yourself, on how to behave. (Note: biting cats will not be trainable, they will merely take greater pleasure in biting the aspie for fun. The cat will probably need to go live with your mother.)
15. Housework. You are on your own with this one. In theory and under controlled conditions, aspies are more than capable of doing housework and maintaining some order. In practice, this would mean leaving them a list; you remembering the list and explaining it to them; or being able to push forward with the list despite it being a prearranged chat-time with online friends, an anniversary of an obscure 80s game, the time of the day when they don't feel like it, the list that you made and they didn't so what happened to their list? and the very minute they were inspired to do many, many creative things which you now want to ruin with your typical selfishness.
16. Temper-tincture. As mentioned earlier, this is finely calibrated and you should avoid sudden movements or unnecessary disturbances. The tincture may need to be shaken up and run around the room with before the aspie is able to calm down. Occasionally, loud wailing, screaming, wall-biting and pandemonium must accompany the running around. Take cover until it is calm, accept full responsibility and put the kettle on.
17. Communication: Again, we have found many contradictions with this one and we think the aspie communication centre must be self-governing. We have tried to fix it many times and it reverts to a set pattern of stubborn awkwardness and the inability to process dull, practical information. We apologise for this and hope you will be patient with us. If you have any particular difficulties with communication, we recommend following the last instruction of number 16 (this is applicable to many situations, do not be afraid of overuse).
18. Making your aspie happy: Despite all the inherent difficulties outlined in our guidance, we firmly believe it is possible to make your aspie very happy indeed. The key is in following this list as accurately as possible while keeping up good communication with your aspie. You have not made an easy decision, in bringing your aspie home, but with some effort and imagination, you can have a rewarding relationship for many years to come.
For people who are meant to always take things literally and so, presumably, often at face value, aspies make some very interesting friend choices.
Growing up, my mother was very careful about who I brought home as a potential new friend. I was very keen to please, so if she didn't like the look of someone, I took her advice and drifted away from them. By the time I was a teenager, I was making more of my own choices regarding friends, but I was still very much swayed by the opinions of others.
This is natural, when you have less confidence in your own abilities. You don't want to make the wrong choice and if other people seem to know what's going on and understand things better, you're inclined to listen to them, What happens, though, when you're older and have a free rein?
When I went away to college, I made three very different friends. A bubbly blonde, who revelled in male attention and knew the dark secrets of hair and make up; a straight-as-a-dye student teacher, who wouldn't wear long shorts to work because she felt they were too provocative; and a free spirit, who smoked things she shouldn't and whose boyfriend serenaded her with his guitar, in public.
It sounds like one of those dating games, doesn't it? Only for friends instead of lovers. Which one will you choose, Amanda? Do you always want to have your pulse on what's happening in the world of romance and fashion? Do you want the steady friend, who knows the clear difference between right and wrong? Or do you want the retro hippy chick who confuses and enchants you with her reckless self-empowerment?
Well, of course, I chose all of them to some degree. I ended up sharing a house with the bubbly blonde and we became fast friends. It was she who instilled some small fashion sense in me and tried to explain the ways of people, men in particular. I stayed friends throughout college with the student teacher, who always made me feel comfortable because we shared a similar background and so already spoke the same language. But the one who has stayed with me all these years is the hippy chick.
She was like no one I had met before, you see. She didn't care what people thought. I couldn't get over this one. Imagine, going through life, doing what you wanted and not looking over your shoulder! I was fascinated and appalled. She smoked things. Not in my company, she knew how I felt about it, but she made no apologies or secret of the fact. And she was relaxed about life at the same time as being a deeply conflicted person in a lot of ways. I guess it's safe to say there was no chance of me getting bored when I knew her.
At first I thought we wouldn't get on as well as with others. We seemed polar opposites. But then I saw her laughing gently as my blonde friend described a social situation where she had been the star. I realised my hippy friend thought this kind of competitive living was meaningless - something we had in common.
It continued like that, you see. We seemed like polar opposites, but over time I learned that I was not exactly the person I always thought myself to be. My black and white thinking, my literal take on so many things, was shaken by her and her liberal views.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a horribly strait-laced person with a blinkered philosophy; I was simply trying to figure out the world and, through my friend, discovered that life could be many things at once, that there was no wrong or right way to do things.
She showed me how to be more open, even though I couldn't really match her on that one. And she showed me how she led a life as free as possible, while always feeling desperately left out and lonely - that I could identify with.
She left college without completing her degree, the strain of needing to fit herself into the degree system too great when measured up against her own view of herself. I was still quite by-the-book then and I wondered how she could make such a mistake with her life, to give up on the degree just because of a temporary feeling.
Now, I totally understand her need to walk away and have done it myself, many times. Another thing we turned out to have in common.
I describe this shining girl in such detail because to me she was shining. I saw these facets of her which opened up so many new ways of thinking to me and helped me become the person I am today.
One day, my mother visited me at college and wanted to meet my friends. After she had met and talked to my hippy friend she said she was surprised at how she seemed less than I had described. That's not a direct quote, but she was unable to see what I could in my friend. She seemed smaller and quieter in real life than I had led her to expect.
I was completely confused by this, as my friend was a large part of my life and, as she was on the cusp of leaving college, I was already feeling the gap she would leave in my life. I wondered how my mother could fail to see her as I did.
It's simple really, isn't it? Those aspects of a person that make a good friend, to an aspie in particular, are not going to appeal to everyone. But to aspies, a friend is a different beast anyway, because we have already made an effort in accepting them into our lives before we have even properly decided what place they might have there.
For them to walk in and be accepted, they must have something that sets them apart or appeals to us on a particular level. It's not just a person we can get along with, talk to or laugh with: they need to touch us in a way that other people do not manage.
If we are social aspies, we'll count ourselves as having lots of friends, but even the social ones will be able to tell you which ones are the close friends. For those of us who struggle with relationships, good friends are gold dust and we appreciate them all the more.
To me, my hippy friend was a key to a different way of thinking and, therefore, a new life. To my mother, she was a skinny little woman who didn't have much to say. I imagine if they had spent more time together, my mother would have described her as a nice girl who needed to settle down.
Aspies see people differently. I don't mean we look more deeply, or have some higher way of judging a good friend. We just appreciate different things about them. We might crave someone with a like mind who can make us feel like we belong, or someone with a very different mind who can show us a new view of life.
We might become friends with people who are wholly unsuitable and worry those close to us, simply because the new friends listen kindly while we talk. We might make friends with a person who barely speaks and seems to bark when they do, because we see the other look, behind the eyes and know them. Or they change their voice to speak to us and we know that means they make an effort not made for anyone else.
We might make friends with someone who is universally detested by everyone we know and, when asked to explain why we want to be friends with them, we shrug and say, 'Because they want to be friends with me.'
We may see the inner light in someone who is dismissed by other people, the spark that gets our attention and makes us take a second and third look, wondering what lies beneath.
Or they may be completely different with us than they are with others, just because they appreciate us as we appreciate them - surely the basis of a true friendship?
I was reminded of all of this the other day, when I went to college to collect RT teen. He waved and smiled and laughed at someone going past the car and said, his voice full of warmth, 'That's David.' I had heard him describe David many times, a class mate and friend of his and, right there, readers, I was back at college with my mother meeting my hippy friend.
David in my imagination was a funny, dynamic, arty type who had full conversations with RT teen and played a big part in his college days. David who walked past the car was pale, withdrawn, averted his eyes as soon as he saw me looking and barely acknowledged RT teen's greeting.
I glanced across to see how RT teen took this almost-brush off and he was still entirely happy and smiling at his friend, so knew then that this was normal for David and not a brush off at all. Also, my aspie-dar was humming on a high setting as David walked past, which explains his sudden turning away when he saw me and his muted response.
RT teen saw the David he describes to me and the friend he's made over the past couple of years. He saw the real David, the one he has laughed with and talked about everything with. It was left to me to see the David the rest of the world sees, as he drifts along, hoping no one notices him.
I smiled as we drove home, thinking of my hippy friend from so many years ago and of how, even now, I'm learning from the time we spent together. Thanks to her, I can look at David and accept that he is much more than he appears to be, because RT teen knows the truth of him.
All our friends, whether hippies, bubbly blondes, alien killers or Davids, are in our lives as a way of supporting us and opening up new worlds to us. It sometimes matters what other people think of them, but usually it is up to us whether we see them as good friends and why.
Sometimes, you need your aspie-ness turned onto the sideways glance to see someone in the right way and know that other side of them.
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As aspies, sometimes we are accidentally open about ourselves, even when the last thing we would want to do is share what we are with others.
For years, I tried to hide the real me, beneath what I thought of as appropriate behaviour at the time or by putting myself across as nonchalant or expressionless. A lot of this was down to the school I went to, where any expression of emotion was an open door to bullies who jumped on it to make fun. By seeming uncaring or closed off, I was trying to protect myself, long after I left school behind.
These days, I often wonder what my face is doing while I'm not thinking about it. IT teen says I have a severe look sometimes, as if I am ready to give someone a real telling off or leap to the attack. This is at times when I think I'm just wandering along, doing nothing in particular.
When I am actually annoyed, be it in a restaurant with bad service or someone deliberately goading me, well, it's lucky I don't have snakes for hair. I have the famous Look, which I usually don't know I've used until the waitress has flinched and stepped back or the small student suddenly finds their work much more interesting.
When I'm trying to be normal, I concentrate on my behaviour and facial expressions. I attempt what I think is a pleasant smile, then if I catch sight of myself in a mirror, I see the smile is mainly in the eyes and my years of self-protection are betraying me again.
When I am attempting something more formal, like making a complaint or speaking to someone in authority, strangely I can do that one. It's like a switch being flicked and I'm what I need to be. This is very useful, though I'm confused as to why it might work when the others do not? Perhaps years of moaning and having little respect for authority combine at the right time and give me the oomph I need?
The other night, I was coming out of the supermarket and trying not to laugh. I don't even know what was funny now, I think I'd been eavesdropping again. Whatever caused it, I left the shop, weighed down with my bags and a smile on my face. A woman coming in looked very serious and a little worried but when she saw me, she returned my smile and her face lifted. It was accidental on my part, a side effect of poor self control, but it was one of those moments when I saw what is possible, if we step outside ourselves.
There have been many moments, for me and probably for you too, where I have affected someone else's day in a small way without meaning to do anything. It's often in those unguarded moments when our real, true selves are at the front of everything that this happens.
The woman being cheered up by me smiling at her is a good example. It's a moment in life when I seemed to have reached out to someone else and they responded. This is always a shock to me as I am very nervous about reaching out to others, even if I know I am the 'strong' one in the situation. If you reach out, there is the danger that you won't be able to draw back again.
I think to myself, after these little moments, that the next time I'll smile anyway, whether or not it's for a different reason. What is the sense in going along, trying to protect yourself, when you do more harm than good? Why not open up a little and have that nice experience of interacting with other people in a good way?
Then life moves on and I forget again and I just hurry along, doing my best and hoping it'll all be okay, never really remembering my promise to be more open and let people in. It's very hard to remember or hang on to this kind of contradictory thinking, when your natural instinct is to be closed off, rather than wide open.
It feels like an open house phenomenon, where if you let one person bring a friend, you'll suddenly have hundreds of people turning up, drunk and expecting food. It sounds extreme to equate being more open to opening up every barrier within yourself, but that's actually how it feels.
A dam breaking, is what we expect if we let down our guard and invite people in. Harsh experience and firmly-held memories tell us that being open and guileless bring in the bad as well as the good. That those people we don't want to be with are the ones most likely to hurt us if we let everyone in.
More outgoing types will make some comment about it being worth it, taking the rough with the smooth, that you don't gain anything by keeping everyone at bay. They're right, of course, it's just that the rough hurts, that keeping people at bay feels safe and, when you've been wounded and are wondering where to go from here, it doesn't seem worth it.
You see, beneath every blank-faced aspie, looking like they drift through life without seeing anyone around them, there is a seething pot of emotions, often based on past experience. We are informed by past hurts and take them as advice for the future. We feel them keenly and don't want to be hurt that way again.
We are afraid that if you see the real person inside, you'll wonder what all the fuss was about and turn away.
After all, how many times have you smiled at a stranger and they don't respond? Or worse, looked away, in case you want to speak to them? Imagine this, on a much grander scale, as the aspie giving themselves to other people and finding they are unwanted.
I find the best way is to do what you can and be open when it feels possible. Smiling at strangers is a small risk, as practice makes their rejection less hurtful. Talking to people you meet is a good one, though brings it's own risks as the more you talk, the more aspie you become!
These days, fuelled with more self-knowledge than I've had in the past, I try to be more open. I try not to keep the barriers up all the time. Trying is what I can do and sometimes it works.
An all-out open house would not work; it would be a nightmare scenario where the real me is suddenly open to the world. How bad would that feel?
Hmm. The keener amongst you may have noticed the final, fatal flaw in that argument. You see, I may walk through the shop, blank-faced or stern, and I may only smile by accident at strangers, but each time I write this blog I am opening myself up fully and without compromise to the people reading it. I am doing the very thing I say I cannot in my everyday life.
There have been some hairy moments, some rough with the smooth but, like my outgoing friends, I can say it's been worth it. More than worth it! I can do on screen what I find so difficult in normal life; the written word, always my friend, giving me the power to open the door and let it all out.
There is a small twist to the tale, readers. Thanks to this blog, I am becoming more open in person too, whether people like it or not! I am more outspoken and outgoing than I was and, predictably, more obviously aspie as a result.
This is a good thing. I am being myself and if other people don't like it, well, I already showed them where the door was, didn't I? But as it turns out, no one has needed to use it yet.
I've become braver, if not fearless, thanks to giving it all away on here. Sooner or later, I will be doing the same in real life too. I can feel it bubbling up, ready to escape. I wonder if it will all happen at once, like it did with the blog, or if I'll be able to contain the aspie-ness enough, so that I don't scare the horses?
Who knows? But when it happens, I'll be sure to tell you everything, as usual, dear readers.
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No, don't smack me, I'm not being horrible! I'm not calling aspies stupid. I'm talking about when other people call us stupid, think that we are or make us feel like we are. And they're all very different things, aren't they?
I was thinking about the times when I've done or said something which seemed reasonable to me and had the other person look at me as if I just quacked like a duck, or laughed in my face. Or the sly snigger as they turn away - this one much loved by those who have an audience, so they can collude in their smirking.
It's not imagined nastiness, as I've sometimes been told it is. It surprises me how often other people have said to me, 'No, you're imagining it, I'm sure they weren't laughing at you.' Well, you know, actually they were. After all these years, you can tell.
Or when they mock you in an even worse way, by pointing out how ridiculous you've been and what an enormously stupid person you are. This one doesn't happen often, mainly as there are fewer people this mean, but it does still happen. And it's also the hardest to endure.
I remember when I was about fifteen, I was sitting in my mother's car while she did her rounds as a community midwife. It was Saturday morning and I liked to go out with her, just for the drive around, often taking my book to read. It was a restful way to spend a morning and signalled to me that the weekend was here and I could relax away from school for a while.
One day we were in a local village and someone I knew from school spotted me. Big sigh. We weren't enemies or anything, but we had very little in common. She beetled over to the car and rapped loudly on the window, grinning.
I wound it down and she asked me why I hadn't been at the party the night before. As usual, I gave the short answer, 'I didn't feel like it,' rather than the truth, 'I can't bear spending time with so many people, with everything loud and drink flowing and being expected to dance and socialise and suffer in so many little ways.' It's so much easier to shrug and say it isn't your thing.
She looked incredulous and laughed, open-mouthed, stating, 'I'm laughing at you!' Yes, I had noticed she was laughing at me but I guess she wanted to be sure I knew. Then she said, 'You should've come, you missed yourself!' There was more detail as to why I had 'missed myself', though I was distracted by then, wondering how I had missed myself, seeing as I was there the whole time.
None of the above was meant unkindly, it was my school mate's misguided way of telling me I should have gone to the party and had a good time. She had no way of knowing that by laughing in my face and telling me all the fun things I'd missed, she was actually reassuring me that I'd made the right decision in staying at home.
It's not that I didn't want to enjoy and appreciate some of the same things my friends did; it's just that I had tried them, and tried them a few more times after that, and came away feeling lonely and left out, knowing it was not for me. You don't want to keep putting yourself through that, do you?
I didn't try to explain any of this at the time, barely even explaining it to people who cared, let alone people who laughed in my face. It made sense to me and that was all I needed.
I must also say, the girl I mention didn't call me stupid, or even imply I was. But her incredulity was so large, she may as well have screamed FREAK! and run off down the street. This is the back story to every time people react this way, you see. They laugh, or make fun, or act mean, all because they see us as freaks. We are out of the ordinary, in a bad way, according to them. We do not know what to say and do, which makes us laughable failures, there to be despised or humoured, depending.
Not everyone thinks this way. The ones that do, though, tend to show it more and we come away, yet again, with the feeling that we needn't have bothered even interacting with them. What is the point, readers, in trying to communicate with people who decide that your inability to behave like them means you are a loss or a laugh?
Do I hear a small voice at the back talking about education? Should we make the effort, or let others make it for us, so that the people who behave this way become more knowledgeable about aspergers and so are less likely to be mean or silly in future?
Once, I might have agreed with this. Imagine the bliss of other people knowing how to behave around you and understanding, in some small part, why you say and do these things and how you feel?
Now, I don't mind, let them be as they are. If they wanted to know more, then their minds would already be open enough to take in the sharp look of hurt in our eyes as they make fun or the twitch in our mouthes as they say something cruel, then turn away.
Let other people educate them, if they like. For my part, I would rather they went their way while I go mine. They can mingle with people who appreciate their blinkered view and don't mind the caustic words.
I'll carry on mingling with aspies and friends, thank you very much. It's much more restful to me to communicate with like minds, who actually care about you. Or who are so intent on their own diversions that it never occurs to them to be cruel, for sport.
And take it from me, readers, if you do miss that party or walk away from the lonely feeling, instead of joining in, you won't miss yourself. You'll be right there, where you're meant to be, knowing your own mind.
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It never ceases to horrify me how the aspie brain, so full and diverse and replete with information can empty itself, at any given time, without warning. I think I'm safe in saying there isn't an aspie among us without a busy brain at most times of the day. Indeed, many of our problems come about because we're trying to live life past this busy-ness.
So, how can it be, amidst all of this activity, that the brain suddenly decides there is nothing there? The files are empty, the once-packed thoroughfares are now quiet, with not even a newspaper blowing past. The multi-storey, usually packed with cars full of worries, is standing silent. The waiting time at the counter for new ideas is zero, but there is no one to serve us.
Everything is like a ghost town in there, complete with the ominous atmosphere that something bad happened and can happen again. As if, by having a blank mind, we are in more danger than before and all because we have no idea what happened.
All right, let me climb down from the fence of fancy for a moment and be clear: I'm talking about those times when you could really use your brain, when you need it to be there for you and you reach for the information and it's simply...gone.
It's not as if it never existed, you haven't entirely lost the information. It's more like a memory, a faded essence of what was once there and now cannot be found. You know the information you needed, you could describe to someone else what you need to find out, but it's an empty drawer in the filing cabinet.
It becomes one of those moments when you sit, a vacant and perplexed look on your face, like when you reach out to pick up the car keys and there's just an empty space. You know you had those keys a moment ago, you know where you put them: how can they not be there now?
In the car keys scenario, what usually happens is that you're looking at where you put them yesterday or this morning and you'll eventually find them in the other place you like to keep them, i.e. on top of the second best toilet at the other side of the house.
It's very similar with your empty brain. You left the information where you thought it would be easy to find, then were confused to discover it had completely vanished. Like the keys, what actually happened was that your brain diverted all the information to the cerebral equivalent of the second best toilet. It all still exists, you just have to find it.
This happened to me the other day, in a lesson. Not good timing and not a good experience. Without going into too much detail, I was supposed to be helping a student with something and, as I sat down to look at their work, I realised I had completely forgotten what to do. The information had vanished.
I knew the shape of the box I kept it in and I knew the corner of my brain where the box usually sat. It was not a popular box and I often avoided it, but that didn't mean it wasn't there somewhere. In this situation, where I was required to teach the student this particular thing, for money, readers, I just couldn't remember how to do it.
What was the point of me being there? This is what I thought. I felt very ashamed and sorry that I couldn't help. I also began to panic, though tried to hold that off until the end of the lesson. Instead, we worked as well as we could with me looking up real-life information from the giant brain that is the internet.
I'm sorry to say the box was still lost in my brain by the time I had to leave. I wasn't much use and left feeling very deflated. I tried not to beat myself up about it but it's very hard not to do that when the whole reason for you being there is to help people with things they can't manage.
We're re-visiting the subject again next week and I'll be prepared. This time, it was sprung on me as a surprise request and I'm sure the surprise element had a lot to do with the information suddenly being unavailable. Next week, I will be armed with real-life information, in my keen little hand, where it can't get away. I'll read it beforehand and be ready to answer questions when we go through it. I will not be beaten!
So, for anyone who has ever looked inside their brain and found a desolate and empty place, you have my sympathy. It is not a good experience and is also a confusing one, to find your previously overcrowded space looking like the movers have been.
It reminds me of the end of Hoarders, when the 1-800 Got Junk? trucks ride off into the distance, filled to the brim with dreadfulness and clutter. The houses have been emptied but are not really ready for habitation, they are merely empty of everything that over-filled them before.
That is what the temporarily empty aspie brain is like - the de-cluttering has been instantaneous and done on a massive scale, leaving sad looking rooms, with dusty floors and old-fashioned cupboards. Everything has gone, of value and of sadness, leaving only the space, ready to be filled again.
Unlike the hoarders, we can re-fill our brains in a moment, all the information rushing back in, a joyful cacophony of clutter, ready to busy our minds both asleep and awake. What would be nice, just sometimes, is to have the happy medium between the two, neither too full nor too empty, but a middle ground, with everything in its place.
No, actually, I changed my mind even as I typed that. Much as I suffered the other day, I would rather live in my chaotic thinking and have the creativity and excitement of a buzzing mind, than live with a tidy and organised one that never knew the thrill of wondering what is under a moving heap of clutter.
Creativity thrives in clutter and lives on the myriad thoughts which crowd our minds, so I must accept that I can't be creative and organised. Sometimes, the price for this is bewilderment and empty-headedness. I just wish that the timing of these moments could be better!
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I once had a boss who used to introduce me to new clients by saying, 'This is Amanda, our new secretary. She has 'A' Levels and she's really clever! Say hello, Amanda.'
Oh grief, can you imagine? I was 19 and had left a steady, reliable job in the civil service due to being bullied by a new manager. I thought that going into a small firm, run by one person, I would be treated better and not have to watch my back all the time. What I forgot to consider , like so many times before and since, was the people factor.
My new boss had just started his business, having worked for others all his life. He was in turn terrified and exhilarated to be working for himself. He had a few full-time workers and a few casual staff. He wanted someone in the office to do everything he couldn't.
I had been on the enquiry desk with the civil service and knew a little about computers, could deal with dreadful customers, could do the myriad of small, insignificant jobs that come up in an office and had those 'A' Levels to prove I had a brain.
What he wanted me to do, and what I promised I could learn, was more than I had ever done before. He wanted a secretary to type his letters and to type onto the detailed drawings he used in his welding and engineering trade. He wanted someone who could re-organise his whole office and keep it running smoothly (...). He needed the wages to be calculated all the way from rota sheets, to drawing the money from the bank and paying everyone cash each week. He also needed his accounts to be done.
On a wing and a prayer, confident I could do all of these things or learn, I put myself across as confident and capable. My best interview technique went into our first encounter - and, readers, I have great interview technique! I just can't do the jobs very well afterwards.
I admitted I had never done accounts before but as he was a new business, he was able to send me on free courses to help me learn. What I didn't tell him was that I was very shaky in the maths department and couldn't really organise anything very well.
At first, it worked well. He was ridiculously pleased that I thought of ordering all his files alphabetically. He would stand, hands on his hips, as I sorted them all out. That was fine, I could do the alphabet, you know?
Once I got used to his ancient computer, I just about worked out how to do the rota sheets and turn them into wages. This one was stressful and important, I knew I couldn't get the wages wrong. It also became my favourite part as I escaped the dark little office, going into town to the bank, drawing out lots of money (nerve-wracking at the time) and then counting out the cash for the wages.
I really enjoyed always giving myself the best, crispest notes and giving the rattiest ones to whoever had got on my nerves that week.
Then the accounts training began. Now, readers, I know this is the modern age and if I took the job today, I would be trained in computer accounts. I would need to learn how to use the system and input the right figures in the right places. Then, way back when, it was paper accounts done in pencil on giant sheets of paper and I had to work everything out myself.
When I was in the accounts training sessions with our business advisor, the accounts made sense - while she was still there to show me. On the training days, with lots of other people, I took a fancy to one of the chaps on the course and didn't listen to half of what was going on. I did try, honestly, but I was 19 and he sat next to me every week. Also, the people running the courses made it very dull and even without distractions I was zoning off.
I then had to return to the office and apply everything I had learned, which was that my chap on the course was engaged (boo), that I was really tired of salmon sandwiches and that I never, ever wanted to do accounts again in my whole life.
What I did instead was call my friend who also did accounts and get her to talk me through the tricky bits. This worked better than the business advisor or the specialist course and I almost managed the accounts while I was there.
What I didn't manage was the expectation of the type of person I should be. As usual, winging it, I had entered the job promising much with no real idea of whether I could deliver. I had confidence that pretty much anything can be learned and I did get to grips with a lot of the job.
The problems came about because my boss had looked for an intelligent girl (yes, he knew secretaries were girls, so he looked for a girl) to work his office for him. Bearing in mind the amount of work I had to do and the complexity of a good half of it, he wasn't going to be able to take on someone who couldn't think on their feet and learn new things.
Unfortunately, what he also wanted was a girly-girl. That hated word bubbly came up at our first interview and he continued to use it. He wanted me to be the type who did her hair every morning and had good nails. I did brush my hair before coming in but my nails weren't up to much and I didn't wear make up either.
He wanted me to answer the phone in a bright and breezy manner. I just about got that one, by sticking an awful, mannequin smile on my face before picking up the receiver. Very scary for anyone in the office at the time.
He wanted to show me off to his visitors and then have me behave normally with them. Never once did his visitors look at ease with him doing this, but he never noticed and was always proud of my brains.
He also wanted me to call everyone Sir and Madam. Well, I know this is standard in lots of places and in different industries, but I was a thoroughly modern girl with that brain he kept going on about and had never had to call anyone Sir or Madam in my life. I always treated people with respect and described them as ladies and gentleman when discussing them, but it just didn't sit well with me to bow down that extra distance.
That's how I saw it, you see, bowing down. I could not get the words out of my mouth. Even when my boss would whisper to me, urgently, as a client came through the door, 'Don't forget to call him Sir!', I'd look up and the word would die in the back of my throat.
He began to see, then, that he hadn't got quite what he bargained for. I realised it too and was spurred on to look for a place in college so I could escape the hours of dreadfulness the job had become.
I felt the most left out at lunchtimes, when all the workers came through from the workshop to eat their food in the other half of the office. Oh, the food smells were appalling! Their sandwiches sounded like a toddler's testing lab and smelled even worse. One of them used to have some concoction of salami, jam and mustard. That was the worst one.
The conversations, too, about women a lot of the time, with an occasional self-conscious glance across at me. They soon lost their inhibitions, though and it was like I wasn't there. One of them going on about how he would have to hold off Madonna if they met (I think she may just have been able to contain herself there). All the jokes.
And the time my boss made the room fall momentarily silent when he started talking about how Hitler might have had the right idea about some things...That awkward few seconds passed when one of them remarked that my boss, as a 5 feet 4 inches man with curly dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin might not be on the right side of the fence in Nazi Germany.
Readers, my passionate dislike of the whole situation was only mitigated by the fact I had been accepted at college and was biding my time. My boss was also biding his time by now, having realised he was never going to be able to train me to be the right type of secretary and that I would always be holding myself above them and not calling people Sir.
We didn't part amicably. He did fire me in the end, with my mother chomping on his leg while he did it (metaphorically speaking). It was a relief to all of us that it had ended and I went on my way with a new appreciation of college surroundings, conversation, free time in the sun and the absence of any kind of accounts.
For many years I looked back and dismissed this job as a nasty blip, a job I would never have been suited for. In my mind I blamed my boss for many things, often remembering the way I felt when he tried to show me off. I felt justified in disliking him and the job, felt quite passionately that I hadn't done too many things wrong and it was mostly on his side.
Readers, all these years later, I would like to set the record straight. He was not wrong to expect someone who could do as he asked. His requests, though often put badly (he'd never been a boss before), were reasonable. It was not his fault that instead of an outgoing teenager with a brain he got an aspie teenager with her brains till at home, reading a book.
He could have had a different attitude much of the time but then I could have spoken my mind as well. Perhaps if we had both been able to be honest, I could have made everything easier. But at that stage I wasn't even being honest with myself. I felt if I admitted I couldn't do things, he would fire me and move on to someone else.
Now, I think he would have been relieved that I was telling him I couldn't manage. He wouldn't have judged a girl of my age for not knowing everything, though that's what I expected him to do. He would have set about training me so I could do the job. And the worst of it is, I would have still left.
That's the root of it, you see and that's why he is owed a belated apology. It wouldn't have mattered how honest I was or how hard we both tried to make the job work for me: I would still have made the decision to leave, for college or something else. This is just the way I work, I simply didn't know it then.
He had been unlucky in his choice of worker and I had chosen the wrong job in the wrong environment. By blaming him all those years, I avoided blaming myself and having any responsibility for the things that went wrong.
He wanted commitment from me and I wanted life to start being less of a struggle and more like I often imagined it would be.
I don't regret doing the job as it was a foothold to many others and it was packed full of life experience. I do regret not having enough self-knowledge to have let my old boss off the hook a bit. He wasn't blameless but in no way was he the villain I created in my memories.
In this situation, as in so many others, aspies are prone to blame the outside world and other people for their problems, without even pausing to think it might be themselves who are at fault. I'm not saying we should blame ourselves first, that would tie in too neatly with low self-esteem issues and guilt. But I do think there comes a time when we must admit where we went wrong and, in forgiving our past selves for not being able to get it right, we should also be able to forgive those innocent people who stumbled across our path and were caught up in the drama of knowing us.
For what it's worth, I still wouldn't be able to call anyone Sir or Madam, but I would be able to explain how it made me feel and why I wasn't able. In the end, that's what's more important.
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No, don't get excited, I'm not about to declare my undying troth to someone or tell you all to buy hats for the wedding. I just think I've put it off long enough.
Yes, readers, I've been putting off writing about the romantic aspie. Well, is that the right phrase? Are other aspies more romantic than I am? I remember birthdays (or at least the month of the birthday) and Christmas is full of presents, but I'm not very good at the hearts and flowers.
I'm also not very sure how to present this subject to you, as myself and romance are not happy bedfellows, if you'll forgive the pun. As with so many relationships, the romantic side of things is complicated by many factors, mostly originating from me, which make getting to know other people and sustaining a relationship problematic at best.
In other words, aspies can be their own worst enemies.
At this stage in my life I forgive myself and other aspies for this. For many years I berated myself for not behaving properly or not being the kind of person who could be normal enough to make love happen. I had felt like this for most of my adult life, from before I had my first boyfriend and, if I'm honest, when I was married too.
It's a dimension of feeling left out, that sinking sensation we are all so familiar with where you are with people who are meant to love you but you feel like you wandered into the wrong life somehow. That feeling of disconnect, often wavering about at the edges of your life, comes through fully in a relationship because you are forced to face, head on, so many of your regular difficulties and phobias.
For instance, if you have a relationship with someone, you are meant to talk to them about your feelings, or at least show them how you feel. Our families are used to us either saying the wrong thing or sharing the bad feelings more often than the good, but with a new person we try harder to be what is expected.
So, you quite like a person and feel you could be together: what do you do next? Potentially, you are honest with them and tell them how you feel. Sadly, and more likely, you will either tell them what you think they want to hear - as you know romance is meant to be loving and supportive - or you don't share how you are feeling because it's private, even though it directly involves them.
Supposing your new best beloved can push past this, or has a very thick skin and you reach the next level of them wanting a commitment from you. Really? Commitment?? With another person besides yourself?
This one is only ever going to happen if the aspie decides it is. Seriously, it is a terrifying concept, for another person to expect you to commit to them, be responsible for them, every single day for the foreseeable future. (There may be aspies out there who are not commitment-phobes. If so, I apologise, this is from my personal point of view).
This is often the stage where a settled and more stable aspie would back off a little and say they wanted to take things a little slower. For those of us who panic, this is the part we do whatever it takes to make the other person back off and stop being so damn scary all of a sudden!
Trying to revert to a friendship stage in the middle of a romantic relationship seems like a soft way of showing your new beloved that you don't want to commit yet. It feels safer to push them away, just a little, and go back to the non-scary phase of being friends, having a good time and not expecting life to suddenly come together in a brutal melding of minds reminiscent of a giant squid attack.
To the other person, what on earth are they meant to think when the aspie wants to be friends again? That they are a vile excuse for a love match? That they smell? That they did or said something so horrendous their partner was put off for life? That if they try harder, they can make it work and undo whatever it was they did?
To the aspie, still revelling in the relief of being just friends again, all this angst is secondary to getting back to how we were before. There's no need for talking about feelings and stuff like that because now we can be happy friends again.
The aspie will probably become charming, putting in the effort to make this new phase work and pretending not to notice their partner's hurt feelings or confusion.
If an ultimatum is reached, of the new partner wanting a proper explanation of the strange behaviour, most likely the relationship will end. This is too full-on for aspies, who need to back away and hide, not become embroiled in the many perplexing layers of other people's feelings.
Enter even more confusion for the now-ex partner, who wonders afresh what they did to make all this happen. They will probably relive the relationship, looking for the cracks and seeing none. It might occur to them that the aspie was behaving oddly, but whether or not they know the aspie is an aspie, they must already have accepted the odd behaviours as part and parcel of their beloved to have even moved on to the next stage.
They will have asked for an explanation and, mostly, received none. The aspie will probably blame themselves, which is true, without giving any background as to why they became so uncomfortable so quickly.
The now-ex will either go on their way, putting it down to experience or have another go and accept the friendship terms after all, hoping that the future will bring them closer together and the relationship can flourish once more.
In a normal, sensible world, the relationship would have a chance of flourishing, but in the aspie world, if no real depth of explanation and understanding is reached, then they are doomed to repeat the cycle of potential relationships heaving to and fro between new beginnings and away from commitment.
Even if the aspie explains everything, lays it all out and shows their possible life partner the way they feel, why they feel it, what goes wrong, what feels wrong, what can be done...if all of this is done, it can still end in tears, simply because other people do not understand the depth of feeling in an aspie.
The potential partner cannot see why an aspie might cope quite well with life in general, only showing odd little ways now and then, but not be able to do the same with a proper relationship. It doesn't make sense to them. Why should an aspie face work every day and survive, but not be able to face a loving, supportive relationship?
Well, in work you are not yourself, you are the working person, the facade of the real you, the whatever-it-takes to make it through to the end of the day. In a relationship, you cannot and should not do that, so if the aspie is not happy and committed to another person, they have to put forward a facade for the relationship, just like they do for work.
It's very hard to be yourself the whole time, you see, as your whole self is used to being hidden away from the world, even from your own family. So for another person to want to share that, on a full-time basis, it just feels exhausting.
It comes down to what your partner expects of you. On top of any other difficulties you may have in romantic relationships, I think the expectations of the other person are the most harrowing. It's hard enough to commit to a relationship in the first place, despite all your phobias and problems dealing with other people, without also having to face the other person wanting a response from you, every time you are together.
I know I make it all sound like such hard work - and it is! I won't deny it, not on here anyway. I speak for myself and other aspies who have problems in this area. We will all react slightly differently, will all have the areas that cause us most stress, but the over-riding concern will always, always be our response to the other person in the relationship.
If we can get past the need to present ourselves and move forward into some kind of honesty, then the relationship may stand a chance. If we can put aside our misgivings at letting another person so far into our lives, then we can, perhaps, begin to relax.
If we don't feel able to do these things and the other person needs more from us than we can give at any one time, then we will probably retreat and close down the barriers again. Better safe than sorry, you see. Safe from any harm, no matter the good intentions behind that harm.
It always comes down to how we feel. Words, actions, plans, attraction, meeting of minds, it's all secondary to how we feel and whether we can cope with those feelings. After so many years of doing our best to cope with all of life, we don't want to have to cope at home too. Our safe place, that central feeling within us, is sacred and if we feel it is in danger, then we'll do what we have to and make it safe again.
It's sad to write all this, readers, just because so much of it is very familiar to me. I hope it isn't familiar to you, aspie or non-aspie. I hope you sit now, with your best beloved and wonder what I'm talking about.
I hope you can feel like you're in your safe place, even when another person is there with you. Or better still, that they are your safe place.
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How many times have I thought this and then pushed it away? The idea that my method of approaching life is just like the skater, sliding out onto the frozen lake, pretending full confidence in the thickness of the ice because they don't want to admit they might be wrong.
It's not pure pigheadedness that puts you out there, hoping for the best. It's not the inability to admit you're wrong either. It's much more simple: what other way is there to live?
Without the tools of organisation and a methodical approach, thin ice is always waiting for aspies. If you don't plan ahead or can't bring yourself to look at the future as it comes towards you, then you have to throw yourself into things all the time and hope they turn out okay in the end.
It's no good saying you'll be different next time and do things properly because this happens so rarely, you can probably remember the once or twice you did it that way. And this is a big thing to admit as I, like many aspies, can barely remember what year it is, let alone what I was doing this morning.
So, disorganisation, a need to avoid having to be organised (not quite the same things), an immaturity when it comes to life in general and being responsible in particular...all these things conspire to have us pulling on the skates and hoping we'll be able to circuit the lake and be back before any cracks appear.
It's terrifying, you know, doing this to yourself. You know it should be different and, in the back of your mind, there is an alluring image of another you who has planned ahead and seems to know what they're doing, who never has to worry about crashing through to the icy waters below. That you, the imaginary one, would have known to pay the bill when the money was in, instead of buying flowers and cat meat. They would have filled in the vital form for IT teen to go to London and wouldn't have had to make the usual feckless, pleading call to someone in charge at college.
This wonderful you, who probably has good hair and never runs out of toilet paper, they would have remembered to set off the washing machine last night so there would be shirts for today. Their bed will be made so that it's nice to climb into at night and the dogs wouldn't have had to eat cat biscuits for breakfast again.
This fabulous you would also have realised, before spending all the money on dog biscuits and toilet paper, that they should have left some over for new shoes as they have to accompany their mother to a funeral on Friday and neither turquoise wedges nor furry winter boots will fit the bill.
As usual, I will get these things done. Once I've been out to tuition, there will be food, there will be time to wash the right clothes for the right day and, at some stage before Friday, there will be sensible shoes. And I promise myself I will look in the wardrobe and make sure I have sensible clothes to go with the shoes.
It will get done, somehow, but I'll spend all week ticking things off the list; not in an organised way, you understand. This is the sort of list that is drawn up in a semi-horrified panic, felt when you realise that yes, that has to be done this week and possibly today.
It is a thin-ice list, readers, one that many of you will be very familiar with. It happens when other things grabbed your attention first and you suddenly found yourself with many things to do in a short space of time, none of which can be dodged and so you are left, frantically doing them all as well as you can in a small, tiny window of opportunity.
So, there you have an image of what my week is going to be like. Please cross your fingers and hope that the printer ink carries on its miraculous performance in defiance of the on-screen warning, as I don't want to have to choose that over the shoes. And don't say 'I told you so', when I discover the sensible clothes I checked I had on Tuesday turn out to be a size too big or too small when I take them out to wear on Friday.
To finish, I have a small confession to make. Well, I blush and hesitate to type it. You see, besides having to juggle the money and ignoring the sinking feeling of finding out why that black skirt hasn't been worn in 2 years, I actually quite enjoy skating on thin ice.
There, I said it. I apologise for all the difficulties I cause other people by doing it and I especially apologise to my future self, who will look back with a grim stare at me saying this now, but, well, it's kind of fun to shoot through life, hoping for the best because you're in too much of a hurry to slow down and make sure all is well.
It's exhilarating to feel the cold wind in your face as you skate around the lake, eyes raised to the winter sky, the sound of the blades on the ice, the rush of the grass as you go too close to the edge.
And when I hear the cracking? Yes, I do regret it then, sometimes quite a lot. It's simply that it feels more natural this way, to zoom rather than plod and to enjoy the ride as I shoot through the misadventures.
Sometimes, readers, when I have done everything on time and am sitting, waiting to go somewhere because I was ready for a change, I think to myself, 'I wish I'd done something else first now, all this waiting around is so boring!'
I would much rather be flitting about, hopping on one foot as I pull the turquoise shoe onto the other, then cantering around the side of the house, slowing down as I reach the gate so it won't look like I've been running.
Watch out for the thin ice, readers, as I'll have already been on it and warmed it up for you and you never know what might happen next.
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I was thinking about my windows and how strange it is that the rain can make so many patterns on them before I notice they need cleaning. It's funny how many things seem completely obvious to me, while at the same time my windows can gently change shade and I never notice.
When I know IT teen's friend is coming to visit, I move like Taz the Tasmanian Devil around the house, trying to make it fit for visitors, fighting the feeling of shame that I need to do this every time and wishing it was always ready to have people over. Then It teen's friend arrives and smiles and pets the animals, all the while pretending not to notice the mess or the fact we have a completely different family life than he does.
I always appreciate the effort he makes not to see the cobwebs I forget about until his head passes under them or the torn wallpaper when all I have seen is a floor which needs vacuumed. I definitely appreciate that he notices when I've made some half-assed attempt at decoration, often seeing my efforts when IT and RT teen haven't noticed a thing.
I then slink back into guilt, feeling ashamed that I am more relaxed about the state of the house simply because Nice teen is so well brought up and kind that I feel I have to try less to be normal than I do with other people. I also know I can make him happy by feeing him pizza and cake.
It's a pity more people weren't like Nice teen, putting aside criticism and judgement in favour of greeting the person at the heart of it all. It's also a pity I don't do more in between visits so that Nice didn't have to be so nice and could just walk in and feel he was at the house of a normal person.
And yet, this meeting of minds he has with IT teen and our family at large is a remarkable thing. I won't be giving away any of his secrets in telling you he comes from a normal family. They do normal things and, on the face of it, don't exhibit any tendencies that get them talked about in their neighbourhood.
Nice teen met IT teen at school, when IT had just started there. IT hadn't taken enough money in for lunch and a drink, so was choosing what to buy when Nice came up and offered him the extra money he needed. As you can imagine, I was impressed with Nice even before I met him, especially when I heard later he hadn't expected the money back, he was just being kind.
IT and Nice bonded more in their Games lesson. IT sees sport as a waste of useful energy and Nice wasn't very athletic so they found themselves at the back of the cross country line together. They meandered the route instead of running and have been firm friends ever since.
I found out that Nice used to be a little nervous of me, when he met me the first few times. Readers, I can't tell you how hard I tried to be normal then! I was kind and friendly to him and tried not to behave in a strange way, but I didn't manage it. I have no idea what I did but over time he became more used to me.
Watching IT and Nice together is kind of like a real-life version of a corny detective show or buddy movie. You know, you have the energetic, sharp one who acts on impulse and the laid-back surfer type who usually ends up saving the day? No prizes for guessing who takes which role.
I find myself wishing we could all have a friend like Nice, or at least have people treat us the way he does. He comes from a background very different from the one he's found with us and I know that his family are not all like him.
But he accepts us and our differences in a way you don't find with many people. He realises we aren't all the same and is happy for people to follow their own path, even if he gets criticised for following his own. He experiences unfairness in his life, then shrugs and carries on, trying to see the positive.
In fact, there is the secret of his approach: he sees the positive in things and in people. Like coming to my house and seeing my paint job instead of the cobwebs, he seems to recognise the way people try to be and aspire to be rather than the way they are on the face of it.
If I'm honest, I don't just wish more people were like him, as being an aspie in that kind of world would be easier - I also wish I was more like him.
Even though I often find things difficult myself, I still expect others to find them easier. I expect others to behave themselves and be kind to me, even though, consciously or not, I often hurt feelings or am thoughtless.
I want people to not notice my cobwebs and then I go to their houses and straighten their pictures or shrink from the toilet brush. I say things that seem to have by-passed my brain, then hold hurts long after conversations have ended over what someone else has said.
It's not fair, to judge others and expect so much from them when you are so far less than perfect yourself, but I suppose we all do it to some extent. I know that Nice isn't perfect, he is human and he is a teenager. And I expect inside he does wish I would just brush away those cobwebs so he didn't have to duck going upstairs.
Perhaps the secret is to how we make people feel, in person. It almost doesn't matter what we think to ourselves, so long as we can put across a positive feeling and let others know that we appreciate them for what they do and not what they failed to do.
I know I have a long way to go before I achieve this but, in true aspie fashion, I am willing to learn from the example of others, so I'll take the lead of Nice and see if I can do some of what he does.
In return, readers, just sometimes I find myself being the voice of experience and knowledge with Nice, when he comes up against a problem his family don't quite understand. Then, I can give him the benefit of the other view, the one from the other side of the wall and show him how different things can be, if you let them.
There we have the secret of a true friendship, do we not? It's not enough to admire someone and appreciate them, we have to give each other the gift of ourselves, our personalities and wisdom. Reaching out goes both ways, just like criticism and judgement can too.
Whether or not our friends and acquaintances are like us or very different, by reaching out we cross that divide and meet somewhere in the middle. And it doesn't matter if one of us stretches more than the other as long as we make the effort and listen once we get there.
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