Yesterday I hinted at the fact that I’m learning a lot about myself and about how I think. And even as I write this all down I’m still arguing with myself about whether or not I’m right or if I’m just trying to force myself into a box, a label, a way to understand the things that I struggle with. But I do feel broken, and I think I’ve figured out what’s wrong.
I have decided I think I have Asperger’s Syndrome.
There I’ve said it. I put the words in print, and I’ve decided not to delete this post. That is progress!
I know most of the people who know me will think I’ve lost my mind. There’s no way I have Asperger’s (which is a form of autism), because I have emotions and feelings and I understand facial expressions and I interact socially just fine… But that’s the face I put on for the world.
While it’s true that I don’t really have a problem with facial expressions, that’s because I don’t really look at people when I’m talking to them. I judge my interactions more on the tone of voice, which I had to learn to understand. When I speak to someone, I don’t make eye contact. When I’m talking, I look everywhere except at the person. And when they are speaking, if I look at them at all, I look at their mouth.
I knew I did this, but I didn’t really understand why. I knew that there were actually some people that if I wasn’t looking at their mouth when they spoke, I couldn’t understand them, as if they were speaking another language, or as if I was deaf and reading lips…which I can’t actually do.
Eye contact makes me unbelievably uncomfortable. Just the thought of it sets off a mild panic attack. I’ve been told I’m sketchy because of it. Superman pointed out once that I didn’t make eye contact well. The Artist, too. The Boy says I make eye contact with him. It’s hard, but I like him and trust him (more than I probably should). I sometimes tell people I don’t like to see that much into another person and that tends to be enough of a reason not to make eye contact. It hints at a spiritual thing, and generally there’s a respect for people’s religious/spiritual views as long as they aren’t too different from our own…
A lot of the identifiers for Asperger’s deals with social interactions like that.
Like being able to know when it’s acceptable to talk or when the other person no longer wants to talk about what I’m talking about. My friend the Olde Man likes to interrupt me because I have to go back to the most logical point before the interruption and begin again. This sometimes means I have to start a story completely over in order to continue the train of thought. He used to tell me he was trying to break me of that habit.
The Boy does it sometimes, too. I haven’t told him how unbelievably angry it makes me that he does that because I actually have to go back to the most logical point, but because I’ve learned that people like the Boy and the Olde Man will interrupt me again, I say it silently in my head and then speak when I get to the point where I was so rudely interrupted. Because I’m a teacher, I have to make sure my students don’t realize that interrupting me can get me so very flustered…
I also sometimes don’t realize a topic is inappropriate. Like I have very liberal views on religion and gender roles and sexuality, and I have to actively think about whether or not certain topics shouldn’t be discussed. I like having a blog because I can actually speak about what it is that I believe and there is little to no fallout from me sharing my opinion.
For instance, I had to learn not to tell my friend who snoops that her snooping was just wrong!
And I loved my first attempt at college because it was expected to have differing opinions, and my different opinion was valued. I think that’s why I’ve managed to keep those friends more than most of the others I’ve made along the way.
Also in the communication/interaction category is my inability to get jokes. While I can identify metaphors and similes in literature, and have no problem sprinkling non-literal phrases in my own speech, I can’t identify when someone is joking about 75% of the time. Sarcasm is really really hard for me unless I’m simply mimicking other people, and I do it wrong. My interactions with the Boy when I’ve tried is proof of that. But it explains why I dislike Old Man Breakfast so much, and the Boy’s friends who would pick on me.
The Boy has finally figured out that I take things a little too literally. And while he teases me about it, he also can tell that it hurts me and so if he can tell I’m struggling with a thing, he’ll tell me if it’s a joke or not.
Speaking of, comedy routines are killer for me. I’ll feel really bad because I don’t think it’s funny, until there is something that I do find funny, and then this overly loud, booming laugh escapes my body making me feel like everyone is going to stare at me because of how I laugh… Someone once described it as the laughs build up in me until they just burst free.
Jokes, and sarcasm are really really hard for me sometimes.
And thus people who joke and are sarcastic all the time are exhausting to be around. One of my Geeky peeps once pointed out that sometimes I can be very off-putting to new people in our social group. Like I withdraw and don’t let them in. It’s true. People who strike me as silly just for silliness’ sake annoy me. I think that on some level I realize that I will have to work doubly hard to understand them, and thus would rather not deal with them. Apparently it makes me appear catty or stuck up.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t always get the jokes, or that I don’t joke with people. But it’s taken me years of mimicry to create a persona that can joke.
And see, that’s the key: different personas.
I mimic the movements and mannerisms of the people I interact with, completely becoming a new personality for each person I interact with until I don’t know who the person underneath is anymore, and in doing research about Asperger’s, that is a theme amongst women with Asperger’s it seems.
Well, maybe not completely getting lost to the personas, but it is a thing I’ve discussed with friends of mine before.
Basically, I feel like a lot of the traits of Asperger’s fits me. From the effort to have normal conversation (which I hadn’t realized how hard I worked at it until I could see other people’s explaining of the same thing and realized how many of their stories felt like my own), to the organization factor.
There are little things I do to organize that most people find silly, and if I can’t have it organized, I’ll leave it completely unorganized. Little things that most wouldn’t even notice. Like I always sort my books by size, not by author or genre, but by height of the book. It doesn’t make sense to me any other way. My closet, when I organize it, has to be color-coded by season and sleeve length, going from black to white with a proper rainbow of colors in between, and then the next season goes from white to black again.
Then there’s the dishes. When doing the dishes, I have to sort the silverware. To this day, my mother thinks it’s weird. It requires a conscious effort not to sort them, which I sometimes do when at my mother’s place because I’m still trying to fake being normal.
But I am not normal. I have thought I was broken for years, and have fought with the depression and anxiety of not understanding what was wrong with me, but the more I read about Asperger’s the more I am convinced that I have it. And it makes me sad to realize that I am definitely broken, but it’s also very satisfying to know that I’m not just crazy, which is the theory I’ve been going on for years now.
I know plenty of my friends won’t understand, and won’t believe it because I’m emotional, and I express myself, and I can read facial expressions, but I’ve had to train myself to do a lot of these things. I spent years in theater, and my theater movement class, which showed me how emotions work from the outside in has helped me to figure out other people’s emotions more than anything else.
It’s bizarre because I’m almost empathic and can tell when something is wrong, but identifying facial expressions is complicated for me. I have to make the face and register an emotional response of my own first.
Even when doing a test over emotional intelligence, identifying emotions through facial expressions, I found I had to mimic the expression, identify the feeling I felt caused by making that expression, and even then I was only able to identify slightly more than half. The big ones were easy: sadness, anger, pain, but separating compassion and happiness and politeness was nearly impossible. I even confused shame and flirtation… and that would have been mortifying in an actual social situation!
I guess the point is don’t assume that everything is alright. Because I’ve been faking alright most of my life, avoiding certain situations out of fear of making a mistake which would let everyone know I was broken.
Or not speaking my mind in a meeting when I know my way will work because I’ve learned that I might insult someone just by explaining why I’m right. I still don’t understand how that happens, but I know that I do it. It’s the cause of many of my fights with the Boy, it happened with Mr. West Coast, it’s happened a time or three in the aforementioned meetings.
Or apologizing when I react incorrectly because I misinterpreted the other person’s feelings and intentions, thus denying my own feelings on the situation.
So, yeah, I’m broken, but I think for the first time I’m accepting that my broken is just a different form of normal. And I’m okay with that.