I've covered imagination before but I thought I would expand on how much difficulty our imaginations can cause in everyday life.
It's all very well me going on about how much imagination we aspies have, when I know that being able to visualise things is far from the same thing as being able to understand them. Sometimes this viualisation can cause more problems than it solves. After all, visualising being eaten by a giant bear does nothing to help you cross the forest. If anything, it's more likely to make you stay indoors and never cross the forest again.
In a similar way, aspies often find themselves imagining the bad things that can happen. These bad things may start off small, but like nasty little acorns they grow and grow until all you can see is the very thing you wanted to avoid in the first place. That obsessive quality of the aspie links very neatly with the ability to imagine the worst and create something all-consuming.
Social situations would be a really good example of this. The fear is already there with me so it doesn't take much of a nudge from my imagination for me to start seeing how it could all go wrong, with me at the centre of the wrongness. Sometimes, when the event (or torture) is over, I can look back and know that it was all imagination, that it turned out pretty well in the end. But mostly, how it turns out means very little because even though your imagined predictions didn't come true, you know they might the next time and, logically, if not then, one of those times will be as horrible as you imagined.
Yes, it is ridiculous in a way, to make ourselves suffer like this and we are creating an impossible problem. If the dreaded scenarios we come up with don't happen, we are still convinced they can and might the next time. Taking that as a rule for preparing ourselves for social interactions means we will always have the fear of what can go wrong and never be free of it.
If you follow this rule, it won't matter how often it goes right or for how long: we will still, no matter what, be waiting for it to go wrong and then, if it does, we'll know we were right to worry.
You see, alongside any dramatic and creative difficulties we make for ourselves, the fear is always there so it often feels as thought it went wrong, even if it didn't. We can't relax and trust the situation enough to form plenty of confidence to carry us through to the next time.
If you can approach social situations without this worry, then you are free to enjoy them and it probably won't occur to you to worry each time you have to interact with people. Imagine if the opposite was true, though: that each situation is stressful, despite any enjoyment you have and each future interaction has the potential to worry you for days before it happens.
It's one of the more frustrating aspects of aspergers that past experience only goes so far in smoothing down the corners of harsh and unforgiving worry. It's very easy for aspies to use past stresses and unhappy situations to prove to themselves that the next will be just as bad, but very difficult to use past happy outcomes to reassure themselves that it will be good next time too.
It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how often things go right or wrong, either. It has more foundation in our self-image, as we expect to get things wrong and if you don't have confidence in yourself, then why should you have any in other people or the world around you?
I'm painting aspies as a gloomy bunch, like Eeyore, waiting for the worst to happen and knowing it will, if you wait long enough. It isn't like that, honestly. We are full of many emotions and reactions besides the dread and real life does go on around us while we're imagining the worst.
Simply put, we are conscious of how transient the steady, stable feelings can be because life is so confusing at times, and surprising too. We know how very quickly we find things tipped on their heads with us wondering where our feet are meant to be.
You see, it doesn't take much for us to believe we've got it wrong again or that the expected problems occurred. I've used social interactions as an example because they cause me so many difficulties, but they are also a problem for many aspies because they bring us into contact with other people.
When it comes to our imaginations creating scary potential scenarios, it often doesn't come much scarier than imagining what other people might do. Even for the sociable aspie, people are the most confusing element in life. They behave erratically, unpredictably and sometimes cruelly. They say things we don't expect and behave in ways that make no sense.
People are easy to offend and upset, even when we try our best. They come out with statements that seem to bear no relation to what is happening and then expect us to know what it's all about. The most friendly of people can still cause problems, just approaching us as if we know all the same things they do.
Aspies are often on their guard, ready for people to throw a curve ball, as if they're playing a friendly game of catch in the park. How are we meant to catch the ball when we didn't even know you had it in your hand until it was hurtling through the air?
We have to keep our reactions and attentions focussed on other people to make sure there are no unwanted surprises. This is why we often appear odd, or disconnected. We spend so much time trying to be ourselves, as well as reacting, processing and keeping our attention on the here and now.
Frankly, having aspergers can often feel like being a few people at once, as if you were more than one version of yourself, existing in the same space and time but ever so slightly out of kilter, so that if you move too fast or the world tilts, everything blurs and you lose coherence for a moment.
You try negotiating normal, everyday life, with all that going on inside you. It makes life interesting, to say the least. If I seem distracted and surprised at any time, consider the fact that it can be quite hard to keep a grip on what you are doing and saying and expecting of me, when I can barely hold on to what I expect of myself.
In the end, I don't want you to leave this post thinking that I and other aspies are a bunch of stressed-out miseries, who can't string a sentence together because we're too busy dealing with sensory overload. You know, we're quite used to the way we are, we often only run into problems when you or the world around us behaves unexpectedly.
All you need to do is give us a little catch-up time and not be flinging that ball through the air, wondering why it bounces right off our forehead and disappears into the bushes. Games of catch, like life itself, are best played when everyone is in the same place and aware of the same things. Give us a little warning and we may try to catch the ball. Or we may not. Catch always seemed like a pointless game to me, so why not put the ball away and come and play a different game?
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