Photo by Stu Allsop
You matter. You matter an awful lot to me. I love my fellow humans and often wonder if they love me back the same way.
Being autistic for me is largely a total blast (“co-morbid” conditions excepted). Diagnosis has opened out my horizons and I find, after a lifetime of teetering between extreme caution and bold experimentation, that there is a middle way. A me way. An existence self-determined (within the usual constraints) and mainly me shaped. I love it. Love knowing who I am, and playing to my strengths.
Without diagnosis I was often – in my own perception – the sum of my weaknesses. Holding on to the corners of my life in snatches. This was, I now think, because I didn’t know how to look after myself. So knowing makes ALL the difference to how I can live more comfortably in a sometimes hostile world.
So newsflash everyone! Autism is very different from neurotypicality. No matter how much you (neurotypical friend) empathise with me (and vice versa), your struggle will never be mine nor mine yours. We are parallel beings, always and forever. And for me parallel is where it is at. Gorgeous and fleeting or pause-full and reflective. Parallel is tops for me. Head on and glancing (in that touch laden sense) – not so much.
And so on to social contact, and one small observation among the myriad reflections that bounce across the pond of self-knowledge that comes with diagnosis.
Neurotypical people seem to cram a lot in. I’ll give you a recent example.
After one full day – admittedly a working day – of pleasant professional interaction (during which so much personal information had also been exchanged) the question of what everyone would be doing after work arose.
Hmm. I stayed quiet, while others in the group told of plans which sounded like the chapter of a novel; entire segments of buddy movies flashed before me, the jaunty theme tune of the TV series “Friends” played in my head. I struggled to focus.
As an aside – it is interesting that neurotypicals like to ask about such plans (of which they won’t be part) and I have a light bulb moment. Aha! This is so the threads of future conversations can be taken up with ease – how did it go the other night – and so on. Smooth social baton-carrying from one lap to the next of busy social lives.
I stood politely listening, nodding. My turn to speak didn’t come. It was all quite natural. No-one noticed. Except me; and I smiled to myself. Not only was the conversation about to close but I didn’t have to explain that I had no further “social plans” for the day. I could have said (in a somewhat formal in tone),
“You have filled my cup and I will now go back gratefully to my family and chill.”
It would seem to be quiet a radical statement in the context. Huh? You don’t have a plan? Er…that is my plan…AWKWARD.
Now that I’ve thought it through I see that it isn’t awkward at all. I’ll grow more confident in saying quite simply that my plan is to decompress, and thank you for asking.
But back to my theme – this “cramming” of life with people isn’t confined to the after work scene either, I notice. Social time can be followed by further social time – the cramming (for example) of a coffee/lunch/day out with me (I have puzzled) is often followed by another plan my neurotypical friends must dive off to. Needing to get back to more “urgent” socialising is a definite thing.
It can feel odd.
As in, OH?
People appear so vividly in my life that I savour and absorb them. I also need time to get back to myself, back to the quiet core of me. Too much of the other and I literally don’t know who I am.
The strangeness is that it isn’t so for everyone. That human interaction can be so casual as to facilitate a rapid pole vault from one encounter to another is quite a concept for me.
What does this tell us about the quality of social interaction in either case? I’m really not sure, but an analogy comes to mind.
Dear friends and colleagues – when we meet I’m fully with you and you are my champagne. You DO fill my cup, and it’s delicious but will go to my head if I drink too many glasses, AND I can’t go from one glass to another in a social whirl. It simply doesn’t work that way for me.
The neurotypcials I know seem to have better heads for champagne metaphorically speaking; socialising as their lemonade to my bubbly would explain why they can drink so much more.
Intensity of experience is the difference, making serial socialising as hazardous for this autistic woman as drinking too much champagne. Think of the hangover!