I should probably start by saying that the spectrum is, well, a spectrum, and that I can only speak for myself and my own personal experiences and thoughts here. What I say is not meant to represent everyone. But I’d love to hear whether you understand what I’m saying, and whether you maybe even identify with it.
As a teenager, two independent psychiatrists told me that I’m likely on the autism spectrum. They said I probably have what was back then known as “Asperger’s”, but which is nowadays simply merged into the “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD); however, I don’t like that “D”. I prefer to just call it the (autistic/autism) spectrum.
Back then, I didn’t know what to make of it. It’s only now as an adult, that it’s starting to make sense.
I remember I always noticed how other teenagers seemed to speak a different language than me, how there was an unspoken language I did not seem to grasp, and which I asked a friend to “teach” me, but she failed to understand what I was referring to, because to her, it was something inherent she possessed, so she expected specific questions, meanwhile I was basically asking “how to be social”, or maybe even how to be human.
Throughout my life, the autism topic always popped up briefly, but only in the past few years did I deal with it more extensively, learned a lot, about myself, and others, and can make sense of it.
I remember how I always took everything literally and would get lost in little details, losing the bigger picture, annoying everyone while not realizing. I’m learning not to do that as much, although I still can be quite pedantic without being able to help it.
But this blog post here, is specifically about a repeated experience I had growing up, which I now know is common for people on the spectrum.
As a child, it would happen to me that I would say something, something which to me was nothing special or bad, but which got everyone around me upset. I would be called rude, or they’d tell me I’m lacking respect. I don’t remember what those things were, exactly, but I remember it was essentially about speaking the truth, and it somehow being taboo, other times I have no idea what it was that upset them.
I understand now, that society and just most people in general, tend to add a lot of value to words and things, they tend to add a “good” or “bad” to things, whereas through my eyes, I’m just descriptive about things without carrying those labels.
I also understand now, how most people don’t like the raw truth as much, and prefer things to be sugarcoated. For example, you might say someone “passed away” rather than “they died”. It means exactly the same thing, but to most people, this somehow is a difference.
But, without getting too distracted, the point is that I would not know what I did wrong, and people would not believe me.
They would think I’m pretending to be stupid, to get away with the ignorance defense. But I really did not understand, and they’d tell me “You know exactly what you did”, but I didn’t.
Growing up, this was extremely frustrating to me, and now that I think about it, it probably impaired my social development, by never being taught what it is that upsets them.
It was actually much more than just frustrating, it was outright painful to be called a liar, while speaking the truth, trying to explain that I really don’t know what I did wrong, and somehow no one believed me. Getting punished by the teacher and not knowing what for. Trying to reach out, but failing. It’s a lonely and horrible feeling.
Is it so hard, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and just tell them what upset you? Maybe they really are playing ignorant, but in that case, telling them, won’t hurt. But if they’re not playing ignorant, then not telling them is just damaging.
Now, the reason I am reminded of this experience and writing about it, is a friend of mine. In the past, it happened that I spoke to him, there was a misunderstanding, and I brought up being on the spectrum as explanation.
He responded with: “You can’t just use autism as a jail free card”.
The thing is, it was never meant to be a jail free card. But rather, it was an attempt at explaining myself, to have a basis, and not be left in the dark again like when I was growing up, not knowing how I was different. But now I do know how I’m different, so rather than just say “I do not understand this” and risk getting the “You are playing ignorant”, I went straight for the explanation. It didn’t work, but I didn’t take this any further.
A few weeks ago, that topic came up again. He shared how he met many people on the spectrum who were (in his words) assholes, and who used the “I’m on the spectrum” jail free card. Of course, I have not met the people that he met, I do not know what they said, and I can’t tell what they thought and what their intentions were.
But it does beg the question: What if the people he met, were legitimately in the same shoes as I was when growing up, but with the difference that they knew about how they are different.
My friend asked me: “Is it so hard to just say sorry and move on?”
What’s ironic to me about this question, is that to me that’s the real jail free card. Basically, people expect you to say sorry and move on, that’s pretty much a jail free card by definition.
Whereas to me, it’s really important to understand what I did wrong, what upset the other person, and so forth. I can’t apologize, without knowing. There is no logic in saying something without meaning, without knowing, to then just repeat the mistake because I didn’t know.
I may seem cold when I’m being all rational and direct about things, but I actually care an awful lot about my fellow human beings (even though living on this planet with them can admittedly also be really frustrating at times). So, while I’m seen as more rational, I seem to also be more emotional. I can start crying any moment about things no one understands, sometimes not even I. It’s as if my eyes were simply leaking. (:
There was a TV show once, called “Monk”. It’s about a detective named Monk, suffering from OCD and many phobias, but also having many quirks. I used to suffer from OCD, but the character also appears like he’s on the spectrum, and I could identify with many things. The similarities are uncanny. But there’s one thing I could not identify with: Monk has absolutely no empathy. It’s a common myth in media that people on the spectrum have no empathy. Some people said that I’m very empathetic (which might sound counter-intuitive to most).
There was one line at the end of the Monk series, where his best friend said: “Have you ever quite noticed how Monk seems to have something missing abut him? Like he’s not quite human?” he then proceeded to say: “But he saw more than others, noticed more than others, felt more than others… Maybe this was his real issue. Maybe he was too human”.
And that line, I can really identify with, at least to me personally, it’s a much better representation than the traditional view that people on the spectrum are all just heartless machines. And I’m typing this while being full on in tears. (:
People who know me say that I think too much, people who really know me say I feel too much. I think both statements are true.
I was diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder as an adult, I wonder if that’s really the right diagnosis, or if it’s just being on the spectrum making things difficult. Or perhaps, it’s the repeated failure to communicate with others, which caused me to be anxious. People seem to expect that everyone must think the way they do, anything else is “pretending”. So, when you fundamentally think differently, social interaction can be difficult.
I haven’t had the energy to explain all of this and more to my friend, and also wouldn’t know how, and I’m not even sure what exactly. So, I just started typing this here. Maybe things will make more sense.
All I can say is, that sometimes, it can feel really lonely.
Somehow, thinking about all this here, always gets me crying. I don’t fully understand why.