Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Act of Shameless Emotional Exhibitionism

For all I hear about how widely variable people's experiences of autism are, I certainly run into a lot of people whose autism sounds a lot like my own.

The latest to join this group is this guy --- a British* engineer about my own age. He was recently diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, and much of his blog is devoted to making sense of his life in terms of this new information.

While his autism is not exactly like mine --- for one thing, he has serious trouble with social anxiety and paranoia stemming from his inability to "read" other people, whereas my own reaction to that inability has been not to care --- we do have a lot of really random, deeply personal things in common. I never even thought of some of them until I read his ramblings on the subject!

For instance, this:
I don't think I have ever told members of my family that I love them; I have never hugged anyone and felt comfortable about it, and I have never been in love with a woman.
Except for the last thing (I have been in love with a woman --- also with two men. I think the gender ratio is skewed because so many of my friends are men), I might have written that not too long ago. I was nineteen the first time I told my mother I loved her. It was when I had first started having depressive episodes, and been seized day and night with powerful suicidal compulsions, which for me took the form of visions. (Not hallucinations --- my normal thought processes are visual, so when I have recurring involuntary thoughts of a certain intensity, it makes sense to call them "visions," even though I do not actually see them in front of me). It was very scary for all of us, and I wanted to make sure she knew that I was still me, and could still have thoughts and feelings beyond those visions --- that there was a core of me that could not be destroyed. So I told her I loved her.

Matt says later in that post that saying the words "I love you" is hard for him --- as hard as looking someone in the eye. This is true for me as well. Anything relating to emotional or mental states, or to describe a physical sensation --- anything intimate and first-person --- I have always had massive trouble expressing. For most of my life I just did not know any words for the sorts of things I experienced --- indeed, until college I couldn't talk about my sensory or processing issues, mostly because I didn't know they differed from other people's. (I also had them get a lot worse in college --- just that change made them a lot more obvious to me!)

Some other characteristics we share that not all autistics or Aspies do are: sensory hypersensitivies (particularly to touch and to certain sounds --- neither of us can stand the sounds of chewing, road noise** or human voices, which latter sensitivity causes both of us to speak with exaggeratedly quiet voices, so as not to offend our own ears), inability to multitask, inability to read facial expressions, body language or detect emotion in others, lack of awareness of our own emotions, not being very emotional in general or being any good at talking about emotions, preference for (and greater skill at) written over spoken communication, inability to detect sarcasm, and (very probably related) tendency to take everything we hear absolutely literally.

Reading the autism blogosphere, one of the first things I noticed was that relatively few of us actually fit the stereotype of the "mindblind" autie or Aspie. I do, even if I do often mock researchers and writers who use it, if only because their definitions of mindreading are so limited.

Another thing Matt and I seem to share is a lack of emotional modulation --- we seem to be either almost completely affectless or overwhelmed with emotion so intense we can hardly speak. For me, this might be because I just lack the ability to detect all but the most dramatic shifts in my own emotional state.

We have also both wondered if we might be something other than human --- I started reading a lot of philosophy in high school, and thus kept running across a lot of grand pronouncements on universal human nature. Often, these conceptions of human nature excluded me: I wasn't a social animal, or a political animal, and I seemed to do a perfectly credible impersonation of an island. I thrived under conditions most people would consider emotional or intellectual starvation. I did not talk to myself. I did not become restless. I did not need the things humans were said to need, and sometimes I didn't even want them. But because I knew all along that I was different in a particular way, it did not scare me to discover these things. I would ask, "So, am I not human?" in a mocking way, implying Ha, ha, your theories are so puny they cannot contain me! rather than in a fearful, existential-angst-laden way.

That's probably the biggest, most crucial difference between my own life with autism and Matt's: mine has been spent knowing I was different, knowing how I was different, and being more or less fine with it. He, like a lot of people I've met, read about, or encountered online who were not diagnosed with autism until adulthood, seems to have gone through a lot of angst, self-doubt, soul-searching and trying to make himself more like everyone else.

*I didn't see where he was from at first --- just dove right in and started reading, and I saw that he spelled words like "realize" with S's instead of Z's, and then went all "Ahh, crap, you live in England, don't you?"
**I am actually somewhat afraid of cars. This gets especially bad in parking lots, when I am halfway out of my mind with worry that one will peel out from out of nowhere and try to run me down.


Anonymous said...

In response to the whole "am I human" thing. Yeah. I used to really wonder that. In some ways I still have trouble calling myself "Human".

Mostly the stuff I read spoke of humans as "language using, social, tool making animals". all things I used to see as not my strongest points.

Now, though I'm actually pretty good with my hands. I got a huge leap in coordination when I was a teen so now the tool-making part fits. :)

I was around social hawks a lot as a kid (I still am) and when I found out tabout trans people I actually thought "ok that explains it - I'm a hawk in a human body." :P

Beastinblack said...

I guess when it comes to inner turmoil, becoming emo is inevitable. More human than human :)

Anonymous said...

What did you find emo - either in the original post or in my comment?
Or what are you referring to, specifically?

Lindsay said...

Cereus, I think he was talking to me.

The original post at his blog to which I was responding was titled "Shoot me before I go too emo," and my own post is similarly kinda sappy.

Anonymous said...

Ah, ok, thanks for clearing that up.
Just wondering if it was something I should be responding to.

Beastinblack said...

It is just short for 'emotional'

Panthera said...

HEY lady! Well. Ahem. May I present some potential food for thought? You belong to a family that neither hugs (well, or touches, when you get down to it) nor declares love. Might interest you to know that it's taken me yeeeears to acclimate to hugging (still working on 'liking' it rather than tolerating it) and I can't recall seriously telling anyone I loved them. IF THAT'S TOO PERSONAL delete meeeee and I will gtfoff your blog.

Lindsay said...

Hello, Panthera!

It does surprise me to see that you've had similar experiences getting used to touching/declaring affection, too.

I'm sure a lot of mine --- at least with the touching --- does come from wacky tactile hypersensitivity related to my autism, but maybe a lot of the emotional reserve *IS* just a familial-culture thing.