Aspie expressions - showing emotion vs feeling it

Is it true that aspies show less expression in their faces? It might be true at times, especially when you don't have to perform for the outside world, but sometimes it's just the wrong kind of expression you show the world.

When someone is expecting hearts and flowers all over my face (no, not literally), they might get a thin smile, struggling at the edges of my mouth as my ability to express myself buckles under the weight of their expectations.

When I need to show sympathy and concern, I might have a flicker over the eyes, a sense that I am thinking and feeling an emotion but not making it clear which one. The truth is that I am wanting to show sympathy but am let down by the fact your dog is salivating over my leg or the clock is skewed on the wall. Sorry. I do care, honestly.

And joy? Pure joy? That one is on a need-to-know-basis and if you aren't in the vaulted inner circle, then you don't need to know.

The real problem lies in the expected expression, as compared to the expressions in the Big Book of Faces, handed out to most children by the age of 5 and referred to ever-after as the one true reference for how people should look when Happy, Sad, Angry, Worried and Excited. There are sub-sections dealing with Anxiety, Stress, Anticipation and all the other, more complex shades of emotion which tag along behind the hotshot main chapters.

Children learn from this (mythical) book and other storybooks, they learn from achingly simplistic Disney films and the example of adults whose emotions are often complex but to the child are pared down to Approval (happy face), Disapproval (all manner of scary faces) and Indifferent (refer to Approval/Disapproval and try again).

If a child is faced with someone hard to understand who doesn't show a clear emotion in their face, then that child is likely to ask, 'How do you feel?' Another child would answer, telling them how they feel. An adult would probably gloss over it and insert some appropriate emotion that children can understand.

When you get older, people usually stop asking how you feel, or they ask but don't really want the real answer. Paradoxically, they expect to see the truth of your emotions in your face, as a shortcut to finding out how you are. It doesn't make them anymore likely to care but they can go away, satisfied that you are as grumpy as ever.

If you are expected to be happy, like when you meet people at a special occasion, then they also expect you to look happy. This doesn't often follow as special occasions can be a pain in the behind at the best of times and a tortuous assault on the senses at their worst. Looking happy is not high on the list, but is expected to be up there, top of the pile, where everyone can see it.

Present giving is another time to Look Happy, no matter that you find yourself the centre of attention and the recipient of a plastic chicken clock. Meeting new people, always a Looking Happy moment. Going shopping for new clothes - that makes everyone happy (didn't you know?).

When your natural expression is a bland serenity, borne out of many years of trying to take life one step at a time, then adding the Happy to it doesn't come easily. To express an emotion you first have to feel the emotion and if you don't feel the emotion strongly, then the expression might not change enough for people to see how you feel.

Also, you may feel gloriously, joyously, kittens-in-flower-meadows happy and still not show it because there is also a host of other things going on at the same time. So your inner happiness is there, all in one piece, but your outer self is batting away distractions and obstacles, just like any other day.

So, what is the solution to looking how you feel? Well, it's very simple: stop caring about it. Feel how you want to feel and look how you want to look and let other people and their expectations fall away.

It doesn't matter if your face tells a more muted story than your heart. If people want to know how you really are, on the inside, then they should ask. Small children know how to do it so grown adults shouldn't have too much difficulty.

Looking happy is vastly over-rated, as is being expected to look how you don't feel. Being happy is far more important and the expression on your face has very little to do with it. Expecting one to be inextricably linked to the other is like expecting tomatoes to turn themselves into soup and then wondering why your bowl is empty.


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Learning life's lessons the aspie way

When babies are small, they bellow and sob because they can't speak. Toddler shave tantrums because they can't control their emotions, even when they understand what they want. Children become more adept at getting their own way, either by asking the right questions or manipulating soft-hearted grannies in the middle of the supermarket.

When aspies go through all these phases, they are also learning the ways to live and be successful. They learn as much as anyone else and take in at least as much information as the next teething toddler. Life does not pass us by and we do not STOP and wait for something magical to happen to get what we need.

Aspies learn what to do the same way as any other child, by watching the people around them. Where it starts to diverge is when the little aspie has no idea why other people do something and what the end result is meant to be. If the little aspie doesn't understand the process, or the reason why one action leads to another, then they are much less likely to copy the process.

Take being nice to Great Aunt Celia, even though she won't share her sweets and nips you on the cheek when she sees you. The other children can't stand her either but they learn to be nice to her; they learn what to say, even when they feel resentment or dislike. They learn acceptable behaviour around selfish old ladies with no manners.

The little aspie sees Great Aunt Celia and sees the sweets and knows the nip on the cheek is coming (we're not dumb, you know). Having asked many times for a sweet and been refused, having explained to Great Aunt Celia that her teeth will rot if she doesn't share and having already told her, many times, that the nip on the cheek hurts, the little aspie learns to take matters into their own hands.

Great Aunt Celia will not share her sweets and the little aspie wants one so the little aspie ends up taking one. If our aspie is kind, then they might take the whole bag and share with the other children, secreted away somewhere under a table.

When the great, long-fingered hand comes to nip the cheek, little aspie, having exhausted all other possibilities, swats the hand away, Little aspie knows you don't hurt people but has to do something. Great Aunt Celia ignores this and nips anyway, earning herself a well-deserved nip of her own, with teeth, on the side of her hand.

Little aspie is then scolded, made to apologise to the greedy old lady with tears in her eyes - but won't. Little aspie is not sorry! Great Aunt Celia should be sorry because she nips and won't share her sweets! Doesn't anyone want to tell her off?!

At this point, the divergence is complete. For some unfathomable reason Great Aunt Celia is never told off and yet the little aspie is known as the rude biter who doesn't know how to behave with their elders and betters. How is a person supposed to make sense of that?

This type of situation is repeated throughout life, lessening with age as our aspie learns how to deal with difficult people - you avoid them instead of biting them - and how to get things that you want - you still take them, but you choose more carefully who to share them with.

Life is destined to be a puzzle that other people solve without knowing they are doing it. Learning is always ongoing, it never stops. Our little aspie will grow into a person who uses past situations to explain present ones.

Rather than fully understanding why we should allow nasty old women to do what they want, our aspie learns that it is acceptable to let some people get away with bad behaviour. In the future, a rotten soul will be horrible to our aspie and be allowed to get away with it, because that's how it is.

The challenge comes in how to apply the past lessons to the present difficulty. Which nasty people should be allowed to misbehave? When do we roll over and when do we bite? How are we supposed to know the difference?

The problem is, you don't. You learn to avoid awkward social situations if you don't know what to do. If you can't apply past lessons to them, you might decide to try learning on the spot, right now, and using that as a future lesson. Or you might zip off round a corner and not face the challenge.

Choices follow the aspie through life, waiting at each stage of learning. Inside every aspie is the little one, the child on the outside who watched the other children gaily tripping along, oblivious to any anxious feelings and knowing what to do without being told.

We are all still learning and filing away new lessons to apply to future problems. Eventually we'll realise that the fault often lies with other people who treat life as if it was all the same event, well-rehearsed and fully known. We aspies know that every single situation is unique and a conundrum waiting to swallow us whole and we try our best to be ready for it.


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She's just shy

'Is this your daughter? Hello pet!'

The leering, grinning face bent down to get even closer to me, every detail picked out by the morning sunshine. We were on our way to school and my mother had met one of her friends.

I dodged back behind my mother, as far as I could go without coming out the other side. The woman looked confused for a second and she and my mother exchanged glances - the sort of look you come to recognise as people asking 'what's wrong with her?'.

'She's just shy,' my mother answered the unspoken question. I sighed in relief and hung my head. Once people knew you were shy they backed off and ignored your behaviour because shy people are timid little creatures and can be ignored without it seeming rude.

The rest of the conversation was almost pain-free. I stood behind my mother, looking out at the view over the Solway, the sparkling water promising freedom and days out and making me think of Summer when me and my Granda would go there for hours at a time.

Then dragged back, brutally, into the conversation as my mother's friend suddenly raised her voice to indicate she was talking to the child and lowered her face again.

'So are you going to be a nurse like your mam when you grow up? Just like your mam, eh?'

They both laughed complacently, as if this was something good and expected, that a daughter should be like her mother. The sheer horror of having this future thrust upon me gave me courage and I burst out,

'No! I'd never be a nurse! Ever!'

Again, the moment where they looked at each other, put off by my odd reaction. Then my mother reached down for my hand and explained,

'Amanda hates anything to do with blood. She wants to be a writer.'

The woman's face changed again, a look of excitement as she said,

'Do you? That's lovely!'

For a moment I was in the loop, part of a real conversation where I didn't feel like hiding. It was good to be briefly seen as the person I was - or someone close to that person.

Then the conversation moved on and we had to leave for school, hurrying up the hill, late yet again. My mother regaled me with who the woman was and how she knew her and I appeared to listen, the greater half of me thinking about how this was the first time I had spoken up against my expected future.

From then on I never stayed quiet when people asked if I was going to be a nurse, like my mother (and they asked it a lot). I always said how I felt and often saw a fleeting shade of embarrassment cross their faces, as if they wondered what they had done wrong. Didn't every girl want to be a nurse? Didn't every girl want to be like her mother? And why did I seem angry?

Years later and I don't hide behind my mother anymore and people don't describe me as shy. I hide behind the facade I've built up with good, honest dedication and practice. I hide behind a screen which the good and the like-minded see past and love me anyway.

I can speak to people, pretend the words, pretend the conversation, appear at ease and often I am, as long as it's nothing deep or personal. I can be as close to what people expect as I am ever likely to get but beneath the surface, behind the facade, underneath the glimmer insisted upon by modern living, is the little girl who could not bear to look at the friendly face of the stranger.

'She's just shy,' the cue words to let me know I could hide without expectation of interaction or speech. How much I miss those words sometimes.


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The invisible obstacle

I'm managing everything right now - and it worries me to even say that. I can't help but wonder when the crash will come and if it will be a big one or just a stumble.

I've taken on more work, I'm looking for new students, I have a book to finish (I actually have about 5 to finish but I'm prioritising). I have an extra youngster to look after at home, my mother is working herself into the ground again, the car has an oil leak and we might need to go to the vet.

I'm managing all this and I even take the dog on his morning walk, clean my shoes, put petrol in the car before we're in danger of coming to a stop and I have even, readers, even been doing the housework.

So, having thrown all these balls in the air, something is bound to come down sooner or later.

I'm not being pessimistic, honestly. Part of my problem has always been a reckless optimism, filled to the brim with the belief that I can do it all. I know from experience if I just push ahead without admitting how big the 'all' is, then I come a cropper.

It starts with the sense that I've forgotten something, followed by a dragging fatigue as if I'm pushing a giant, invisible object ahead of me wherever I go. I can't be bothered to go out today, it's too much effort to push that thing around. I can't pick up the book today, that big, invisible obstacle is in the way.

And it is invisible. I can see everything through it, all the jobs I have to do, the responsibilities waiting for me to be a grown-up. There they are on the other side of the invisible obstacle, their images ever so gently altered as I view them through this self-made barrier.

I know the only way to get past this obstacle is to wait it out and try to restructure my life yet again. It's like a self-confirming lesson that you don't know is on your timetable until the bell rings. Here we are, ready to learn how our shortcomings will impact on life today.

Shall I shirk responsibility? Shall I disappoint, upset, confuse or run away from people? Shall I be here, right in the middle of everything, when I have my meltdown or will I make it home first? Or should I have it in the car, away from home, and then wonder if I'm safe to drive back?

So many choices and such diversity! The one certainty is that it will become too much and I'll have to slow down. I might find myself using that invisible obstacle to rest against, welcoming its cool surface and immovable nature as I sink down onto it, face turned away so that all I can see is the blessedly dull wall beside me.

Here I am, then, powered to do what I can and to try new things. One lesson I have remembered is to make the most of this phase. Appreciate the times when anything is possible and use that confidence and energy to fulfill as many things as possible while I'm unhindered and uncomplicated.

I have complete confidence in myself, just now. I can do anything, at this moment. I am a person of authority and talent, right this second. I am full of optimism, readers and also hope. This time, as I slow down, I'll slow down with the obstacle instead of pushing it everywhere until I'm worn out. That's my plan and, of course, it cannot fail.


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It's rude to stare...

I had one of the lunches with my mother and step-sister yesterday. I always have mixed feelings before I go as I know I'll end up on the outside looking in, with that sensation of being on the wrong train and not realising until I trundle past the right one, still parked by the platform.

It's like that when we're all together. I am there, on one side, and somehow my mother and step-sister are on the other. Their conversations swirl and eddy and I sit, wondering if I should participate or just let them get on with it (as usual).

It's strange how this feeling of isolation can happen so frequently when you're with your nearest and dearest, surrounded by people who would literally drop everything to rush to your side if you needed them. It's kind of like a stupid joke where the reality is they are faithful, loyal family but the everyday logic tells you they are also separate.

I listened to the conversation, waiting for cues to join in and trying to keep my face animated for when their gazes scanned across the table to include me. This didn't last long as I happened to notice a strange shade in my step-sister's hair colour and spent most of my time trying to figure out if it was a bad dye job or she had started to go grey.

My eye could not leave that patch of colour alone. Every chance I got I was staring at it, then tracing it back to her parting to see if it joined up with any grey there. And, like the eye of Sauron, her gaze swiveled round just as I was getting a good look and I'd have to flinch away and find a fascinating point behind her. No wonder people avoid me.

I was then left with staring out of the window or at the old woman at the other table. Luckily, the old woman wasn't as observant as my step-sister but she wasn't as interesting either. Finally, as a desperate attempt to distract myself I offered my own piece of conversation.

You know, it wasn't a dull piece either. I regaled them with my Thursday schedule (it was more exciting than it sounds), adding the funny parts where I'll be falling asleep by the end of the day. I swear, readers, I swear I got the Polite Moment of Listening before they turned back to the turgid tale that had hogged lunch for most of our visit.

I sighed, had one last look at my step-sister's hair and then took out my phone and went onto Facebook. I know it's rude to go online while you're meant to be socialising and even worse to message people in the middle of lunch with your relatives. I considered this rudeness almost as briefly as they had given me the Polite Moment of Listening, then I put it aside.

There comes a time in life when you don't feel compelled to sit and suffer like before. The advent of mobile tech at least means we have an escape from these times and it really does save you from making your own entertainment by staring at things you shouldn't or derailing the conversation just because you're bored.

It wasn't long before I had to go and we all parted amicably. I came away with a smile on my face as I'd enjoyed those ten minutes on the phone. I'll go again, of course, and it will most likely end up on here for whatever reason. But the next time I'll take the phone out sooner and save us all the embarrassment of me staring at the ceiling, right quick, as if I wasn't looking at anything else at all.

And I'm pretty certain it was a bad dye job after all.


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Respect your aspie, or else.

I used to think it would be good to mingle and manage normal life and be accepted as a real person, like all the other real people you see walking about, doing things without any effort. I wanted to be seeeeen, instead of by-passed, ignored or, worse than anything, treated like a nobody.

When I was a teenager, I thought this respect would happen naturally, as if it was something that matured along with the rest of you. After being sneered at by a middle-aged shop assistant or similar I used to think that when I was older, people would treat me with more respect. It was just being young that was the problem.

Yes, I was an idiot about this. What I didn't realise was that some people show no respect unless they think you have earned it and earning it seems to be one of the more mysterious aspects of life. It has little to do with age, either yours or the jerky person treating you like dirt and more to do with that element of human nature that only sees what it wants to see.

So the sneery shop assistant might have been nasty to me because I was young, but more than likely she'd be nasty to me if I was the same age as her too. What I didn't quite get was that she looked at me and found me wanting, so gave herself permission to be horrible.

This still happens now. People look at me and see someone just outside the norm on a good day or way off centre on an aspie day. Depending on what type of person they are, they either accept the me they see or treat me as they think I deserve.

This is a truly scary side of society and humanity (I use the word ironically). To look at someone and then decide how to treat them is only one step away from rushing out with burning torches and pitchforks. It relies on the belief that the mob, the mass, the heaving cauldron of humankind, is designed along a certain type and if that type is deviated from then the person is wrong.

There is no discussion with this belief, no chance to redeem yourself, Without the aid of a magic wand we are unlikely to do a ta-daa! and become what people would rather see. And if we did, it would be a lie.

But you know, they don't mind a lie. They don't mind if people seem normal and behave normally and are perpetually astonished that serial killers and multi-billionaires can look like everyone else. They are equally astounded that people who don't look like everyone else may not be serial killers and may, in fact, lead exemplary lives working a wide variety of jobs and bringing up families. Amazing!

Readers, I have discovered with the passing of time that it becomes harder to pass for an 'everyone else' type of person. It doesn't seem to matter what clothes I wear these days. I can dress like the next mumsy woman in the queue and still I give off this air of aspie-phere.

The difference these days is that I am rarely plagued with sneery shop assistants and hardly anyone tries to take my place in the queue. I am not ignored for long either. You see, as the years passed I did gain a way of helping people to treat me better and to show some respect, even if they were wary of giving it.

As life went on and I grew into my aspieness, I developed A Look, often over the top of my glasses or piercing through the lens into the very soul of the wrongdoer. It is the look of a wrathful aspie, an all-seeing, action-packed aspie who may not only look different but will act differently too, if you don't behave yourself.

Yes, I have found the only way to get respect from people who feel they don't need to give it is to demand it. And if they still misbehave, then do something about it.

It is up to those of us who might find ourselves at the wrong end of a pitchfork to turn around and change the status quo. Don't wait until the whole castle is burning and all your experiments are in ruins - put out the flame, right now. Storm out of that door and strike down the leader of the mob. Take their twisted little brains and turn them into something more pleasing (I expect you can imagine a few uses for them without me making myself look any more disturbed).

Take up the challenge, readers and take it up for others as well as yourself. Never be afraid to stand your ground and challenge the way other people think. Then walk away leaving them to wonder about the strangeness of the human race, not realising that they are the ones who are strange because they see other people as beneath themselves.


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