Joining the Dots - Seeing the Bigger Picture

I know I'm not just speaking for myself when I say that I spend a lot of time trying to work things out and thinking about what I have done, what other people have done and what on earth they might have been thinking while they were doing it. In other words, I've been trying to figure out the reasons behind people's actions.

By actions I include words, body language and any subtle (or not so subtle) expressions of feeling. Why do they do that? What did I do wrong? What should I have said? What did they mean?

All these questions parade across the aspie consciousness, like a beauty pageant without the ra-ra, waiting for me to pick the right one, the choice which makes sense of all the other entrants.

It just seems like it should be that simple, doesn't it? Other people seem to find it simple: in fact, they find communication so simple they insult people on purpose. Imagine it, readers, insulting people because you mean to! And when they get it wrong, they can figure out why. The bliss.

So I had chewed over my current problem (so much chewing there was really nothing left) and had come to the point where I asked IT Teen what was going on. He is to psychology what Iron Man is to ballet so I knew I would get a direct answer.

I laid it out for him ending with the part that had been bothering me.

'I just felt I shouldn't have said anything,' I told him, my brow creased and my hands idly waving a blue sun dress around to see if I might look good in it. 'I couldn't figure out why I felt that way, there was nothing obvious.'

'You destroyed her illusions,' he stated simply, pulling a face at the sun dress. I put the dress back and frowned at him. 'You gave her information which meant she could see the full truth after years of thinking everything was fine. Years and years of it all being great, as far as she knew, gone in  a few seconds.'

'Oh,' I said, relaying the conversation that had started all this worrying. Now I had this extra (devastating) piece of information, I could set it amongst the others and see more clearly. 'Ah,' I said, taking down a pair of jeans and testing them against me to see if I was still short (I was).

I was making a quick drive-through of the whole event, the conversation, my victim's body language, the way her face changed as I told her my news and then my unsettled feeling at the end that I had opened my mouth for too long again.

'I had no idea that would happen,' I said meekly, 'I don't know what I was thinking,' I ended, the horrible stirrings of guilt settling on me like burning ash.

IT Teen, removing the Iron Man mask for a moment, said, 'You just wanted someone to talk to, that was all.'

I nodded, gulping back the idea that by reaching out, by wanting a full conversation with someone instead of holding it all inside, I had unwittingly drawn them into my sad place and made their feelings worse too.

'I couldn't see it,' I told him, wondering at my inability to work all this out for myself. He nodded and took the jeans back, putting them on the high hook I couldn't reach.

'You never join up the dots,' he explained. 'You look at it but you just can't join them up and see the bigger picture.'

Readers, it's true. However hard I try, I am never in possession of as many of the facts as I think I am. I think I have it all there in front of me, ready to be examined and solved, but really there was another picture beneath, a hidden one still to be finished.

If you can't see this hidden picture, if you don't realise those marks are dots waiting to be joined, then how can you ever solve it? You look at the whole and you know, on a deeper level, that there is more you just can't see, but you have no way of making the connections until something else happens.

Without those connections we are left working with what we have, the incomplete picture we made for ourselves out of what was available. This is why we have to forgive ourselves when we get it wrong. With the fullest of intentions, we worked with what we had and did our best. If someone comes along later and points out the (obvious) connections and then we saw the bigger picture, well, we have to let that one go.

We should not punish ourselves for past faults when we are suddenly made privy to information unavailable at the time. We are finite creatures, destined to walk through this life in the passage of time given to the whole planet. We have no facility to go back and do a re-run, we are fixed in place. Regret may descend but we are still walking on from this point with no way of going back.

And if I could go back? Many times I have wished that was the case. If only I had said or not said, done or not done, unlived a moment and lived another. This also is human and just part of why we made it to the stars.


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The Inescapable Meltdown

Strategies, tactics, kindness, understanding, soft words, hard words, hiding under the blanket and running, screaming into the fresh air where no one can reach you: we all have our ways of avoiding a meltdown. But sometimes they're just doomed to fail.

Firstly, understand that a meltdown does not have to be a slap in the face of your life, a shout into the wind or a banshee-shriek in the living room. A meltdown can be just as damaging if it is an implosion within you, buried so deep and so well that all the outside world sees is a slight widening of the eyes - and that's if anyone is looking.

The over-riding factor in any meltdown is the immense depth of feeling involved, combined with an inability to control it. You can be out of control without moving, speaking or giving any outward sign of eruption. Or you can be beating the walls and tearing holes in the carpet, at which point even the most positive-minded of your relatives would admit you were having a problem.

So this violence within, which might or might not make it to the without, has occurred after our best efforts to maintain and dampen it to a manageable level. Rarely, if ever, do we just 'give in' or allow ourselves to lose control (I will not say never as there is a sweet joy in leaving the beast to roam free - we all have to stretch our legs sometimes).

Usually we will have tried our own techniques, built up over many years of having to live in constrictive society. When these techniques are exhausted and the meltdown is knocking to be heard, then other people might have to step in. This is a finely-tuned moment where the best intentions of our nearest and dearest can set the whole meltdown in motion, rather than reining it in.

If we are lucky, the intervention works and we are either rescued from the stressful situation or the solidarity of someone who understands is enough to pull us back; we can revert to our techniques and this time they work.

Then those times when we try everything, and you try everything and there is the great fear of harm around us; not physical harm but the harm of being seen in a public place, being observed in the very midst of the society we abhor, being the centre of attention as our inner world bursts out and lurches, unconfined, against the unyielding buttress of outside expectations.

A natural disaster at work and all within the perimeters of an average human being who was never really designed to be a god of thunderbolts, bringing terror to everyone under the storm.

We have Shown Ourselves Up, we have Let Ourselves Down. We have reached that point in our lives where we know this aspie thing is alive and sentient, unwilling to be denied its voice, determined to speak out and tell the world we...are...exhausted...

And the part of this that is the most true is the exhaustion, for the most controlled, calm, kind, diligent aspie will only be able to walk so far through life before their defences are so worn down and over-used that weariness falls back and lets exhaustion come forward. We can only do as much as is possible at the time and with each effort, energy is expelled, mental, emotional and everything in between.

The meltdown is the result of exhaustion, readers, a deep fatigue which can settle in a moment or build over months and years. We are there, at that instant, and we can no longer cover for it. It has to come out.

Exhaustion opens the gates and steps out into the battlefield, proud, defiant, ready to take on all-comers and unfeeling of our embarrassment or witnesses. Exhaustion is a true champion, willing to do what must be done to set us right and back on our path. Exhaustion knows these feelings must be unrestrained or we will fail.

To us it seems as though yet another meltdown has caused problems in life, not least in trying to explain to people why it happened. But within us our champion has trounced the enemy and leaves us free to venture out into the wide lands, leaving the defences behind, ready to explore without fear of being attacked. For a little while we are at peace.


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The Paralysis of Fear

Saying and doing the wrong things are both familiar and terrifying to me. You would think after so many years of opening my mouth and letting fly the Monkeys of No-Tact that I might be used to it by now. Or even more used to that feeling of letting people down by either not noticing what needs to be done or scuttling off rather than doing it.

You get to a point where saying and doing nothing is preferable to doing it wrong.

I've been scolded time and again by reasonable, right-minded people who say that efforts made to do it right are worth any possible mistakes and that speaking your mind is a good thing. I agree; honesty is always best and people mess up, so why the big deal? Why do I worry so much?

Well, it's the Fear.

It's not simply worry, or dread of yet another mistake. I can live with accidentally offending someone or even forgetting their birthday (sorry in advance). What I can't abide is the freezing, paralysing, stultifying fear which arrives at the very moment when I realise I might make a mistake. I am afraid, readers, terrified of getting it wrong - but not all the time.

You see, the fear is not a constant but it is consistent with certain situations and people. If you know someone is going to react badly to yet another stupid, dumb-ass, thoughtless, tactless mistake from your sorry self, then you will be afraid of making that mistake. In no way does any aspie want someone spinning round and fixing them with the Look that says you have done it again, well done, you really did it this time!

How could you forget three times in a row? You knew how important it was! You didn't really forget! It was too vital, too much of an issue the other two times. How could you get it wrong this time when we had that whole discussion (row) last time and you promised to try harder in future?

How could you let down your friends/family/limping dog so badly and then do it again? And again??!

The only answer is that you cannot care because a person who cares remembers and a person who cares has a reason for forgetting or real problems which stop them remembering things.

(It is worth pointing out that in these situations other people do some forgetting of their own and don't seem to remember that Aspergers is kind of permanent and does not switch off and on like Data's emotion chip).

Faced with this emotional and accusatory outpouring, what is to be done but apologise and hide? Or fall headlong into the adrenaline-fuelled meltdown caused by being attacked. Neither of these responses helps in the slightest with your awkward situation but I do recommend hiding anyway as it is good and people can only wait around for so long before leaving you alone and stomping off home.

The next time, though, we do remember something. We remember the fear and the fact that our forgetfulness or mistakes brought on the fear. We remember that the other person became angry and upset and we were to blame (or were blamed, which is a different thing but feels the same). We remember the badness of it, the sense that we wanted the whole thing to end right now so we could be okay again.

We remember sitting and wishing it had gone differently so we didn't have to endure the drama of getting it wrong.

Mostly, we remember that it was scary and had that pit-of-the-stomach lurch which signals danger. So we determine never to do it again.

Knowing that we can't always avoid the mistakes and forgetfulness, what we actually resolve never to do again is go through the fear. We may still forget but we will avoid situations where we are relied upon to remember. We may still make mistakes but we will avoid those people who rail against us for doing so. We become a closed book to sections of our lives where important people and places live and we move on, holding ourselves apart from the expectations which try to follow us.

Fear, readers, is a motivator like no other. Love and kindness are sweet but fear helps you remember situations and people in a way that no other emotion can. A small amount of fear reminds you of all the times you have been terrified and you back away instantly, just in case you let in the rest of it.

Whatever brave souls may tell you, fear is not a positive emotion. When you face danger you run from it and learn from the experience, you do not seek to repeat it just to be sure it was awful.

Paralysis and avoidance can be positive, if it means you do not have to stand, spot-lighted in a drama of your own making, chastising yourself for not getting it right while the other person chastises you for getting it wrong.

Today there will be no fear, only moments of pause where I stop what I am doing and decide if this is a time when I must turn away. To you it may look like I am unwilling to face reality but to me it means turning to the window, with the sun on my face. I choose that, readers.


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Condemned by Criticism

Criticism is very rarely constructive, whatever people say. One person's helpful advice is another person's ruined day. And then there's the kind of criticism which comes dressed as a joke - 'Oh, I didn't mean your picture really looked like a 5 year old did it! I was just being funny!' Ha ha.

I think there is a whole world of difference between those who criticise but couch it in soft, glowing terms to make it seem good and those who blurt out a criticism and look immediately abashed, never having meant to hurt your feelings (that would be me, half the time).

The ones who make the criticism soft and welcoming, who bring it to you under the guise of a Helpful Thing, they are the tongue of the snake, readers. They pretend it is a friendly act, a way to help you, to make your life better, to stop you from making the same dreadful mistake again. You'll thank them for it, one day.

And the worst of it is that they do stop you doing it again and they do have an effect on your life because the awful, plumbing depth of hurt brought by the criticism is something you never want to repeat. Except, they often do.

I've learnt the hard and hurt way that people who like to criticise will do it no matter what. I could be Splendifera the Wonder Child and they would still poke holes in my life. I could have a house like a glowing, golden treasure trove and they would see the dust on the diamond dragon's left nostril.

I could be justifiably exhausted after busying through a myriad of tasks and responsibilities in the one day and as I can't be criticised for being lazy, I will be criticised for not going to bed sooner so I would have more energy. Or not getting up sooner in the morning, so I wouldn't be so rushed with all the jobs I have to do. Or for just not being organised enough to spread out my workload.

That hard day, full of everything that seemed important, might not appear stressful to others but to me it was an accomplishment. I came through, I am at the other end of it and forgive me if I don't go to bed right away once it is done. I feel I have achieved something, a small glimmer of pride which is at once snatched and screwed up into an untidy and sad little offering by the criticism visited upon me.

It's a sad truth that a full day of winning can be quashed by a few words of criticism.

You see, sometimes people just wait for that slot in the conversation - or they make one of their own - and then insert the little seed of doubt or nastiness which trembles you out onto the edge of the precipice again, all your hard work slipping away into the drop below.

A few words said with unkindness and I am a sad child in the chair by the door. I don't understand that people have reasons for being unkind and I don't realise it might not be all about me. I heard you say you don't like me and my day falls apart, leaving me to pick up the pieces and wonder how to fit them back together.

Readers, thank goodness for friends with enough patience to repeat, as often as it takes, that I am not doing anything wrong, that I am a good person and to explain to me how the pieces look when they are whole, so I can fix them.


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