I’m at the point right now where I know who I am in this world. It took me a long time to get to this point. I used to hate talking to people, socializing, small talk, the works. I hated the show, I hated getting ready for the show, and I wanted everyone to just leave me alone. I relished being alone. I didn’t have to work hard at pretending to understand others or socializing, because I realized myself. I’ve always had survival techniques, coping mechanisms, and the like. Still, it wasn’t until I understood the basic structure of the feelings of a normal person that I able to see the associations in the correct order and truly understand what it means to be human.
I am autistic. My mind works in associations that I call “boxes.” They are located in a place I call “the void.” The void just the blankness of my mind’s eye, it’s black, and there is nothing unless I’m thinking. Depending on what I’m thinking about, certain things happen in there. If I’m thinking about my feelings, there are color-placement associations. When I’m angry, my chest is red. When I’m sad, my arm is blue, and happiness is yellow in my tummy. If I recall information, this happens in the form of images. I can pull up multiple images and videos at once in my mind, but I have difficulties communicating the relevance of all of those things quickly. If I’m not “on,” my responses get mixed up, and I’ll get distracted by prefacing a semi-relevant story/article/video/scene, or the sentence I come up with is the point of all three of these at once. Still, it doesn’t make sense unless you know all three of the things I’m talking about (here’s looking at you, babe). By the time I get to the grit of it, I’ve already forgotten the point. Because of this, I tend to remain kind of quiet.
There’s a beauty of being quiet, though. Magic, if you will, to listen to the world around you. The people around you. Everyone has such a fantastic story to tell. Can you tell yet where this is going? I love to listen.
In my youth, my parents made sure to instill on me that it was essential to listen. “Have initiative,” my dad used to say. I asked what that meant, expecting an answer that I was used to from mom (which was “go look it up, the dictionary is in the hall”), but he clarified, “It means that when you see something that needs to be done, do it. Don’t wait to be asked.” I remember thinking about this for a moment. I remember thinking that that was very efficient, but not knowing how one would be able to tell if something needs to be done if they can’t see it. I didn’t ask though, my dad always seemed to know what needed to be done next, with no seeming rhyme or reason. Still, the concept stuck with me. I figured that one day I would understand. I stayed quiet and listened.
I had a confident trust in my parents for good advice. I remember even further back, randomly asking my mom if other adults made fun of her for something kids were teasing me for, and she said no, they didn’t. I connected this “Social Rules” question to the box of “The Things They Say in Movies,” and paired it with the phrase, “kids are cruel.” I remember understanding then that the rules of children were not the rules of man, but not knowing how one would be able to tell when the rules of children applied and when the rules of man applied. I didn’t ask though, sometimes my mom would be too tired or too busy being amazing and raising four kids to talk with me about things. Still, the concept stuck with me. I chalked it up to, “One day, I’ll figure it out.” I stayed quiet and listened.
It seems that as I age, I can recall the most important advice I’ve ever received in the most critical possible times. I feel the best way to describe it would be if you were on fire, and you remembered to stop, drop, and roll. Where would I be if I hadn’t listened? In the movies, any character that leaves home, always eventually returns home, because they don’t understand that they are back.
And yet, how many times have I understood someone was sad, knew that it was my turn to cheer them up, but I didn’t know how? I feel the guilt of knowing that I have to say something, but… how can I say something if I don’t understand how that person feels the way they do or what the other person’s actions mean? How can I have initiative if I’m stunted on how to help? What am I supposed to do?
When I try to get into the mind of someone other than myself (“If you want to catch a Jew, you have to think like a Jew,” Hans Landa Inglorious Bastards), I can only do so if I have an emotional investment in this person. This is because all my associations are boxed up, and I have a separate yellow-colored timeline in my head. I have to know each interaction’s date and relativity to the calendar so that I can see what happened that caused this specific person to harbor ill-will towards me. I can then work out the misunderstanding between us, and we can move on as people. However, if I don’t know the person, I don’t have any information to make these types of associations, and it leaves significant communication gaps. Certain things are always off-limits, of course, but what about when the person I don’t know just senses I’m someone to trust? I just stayed quiet and listened.
Becoming emotionally invested in a person is a long and rigorous process for me. Once I’ve determined that a person is a nice person, I have to piss them off real good one time to learn what they look like when they’re angry, how they act with me, are they still respectful, did it change our friendship, etc. Only after I know that they are safe to be myself around can I actually trust their advice. Their advice, however, directly translates to the role assigned by that person. I become Joshua in those moments, I can hear his voice come out through mine. I become my mother, her voice, and my sharp tongue, either becoming my own or staying alive in me. In emotionally investing myself in a person, I allow them to impress upon me something they know, they are, or what they’ve done. I let them encompass me when I need them the most.
I used to believe that the sighs my grandma did in the car were on purpose because she wanted me to talk to her. If that was the case, why didn’t she just say anything? She’s the one who wants to talk…etc. Did you know that sighs like that are automatic? It’s to keep your body from suffocating out of frustration. I used to live my life in the hopes that everyone would eventually figure out to leave me alone. This never happened, because that’s not how life is. And ultimately, it wasn’t what I wanted.
As humans, we crave interaction and approval of our tribes and families. I learned that it was about enjoying the time with others and resting in my off time, not painfully counting the minutes before it was socially acceptable to go to the bathroom (for the third time this evening), and counting the hours until it was time to go. I learned the positive side, the love side, the side I was always afraid of, yet relied so heavily on upon. Why did I take such an adversarial position… with regards to talking to my grandma?
I need social breaks, and communication breaks a lot. A lot is going on in a conversation. I can see all of the different movements in the face and body, and all of the incoming visual stimuli sometimes gets confused with the incoming auditory stimuli, and my responses get mixed up. I can accidentally respond to the person’s feelings instead of what they actually said. Sometimes this works in my favor, and we become closer. Some people challenge that they aren’t so easy to read. I can also accidentally respond to a completely wrong idea based on incorrect processing of what the person is trying to say (for example, if certain parts come in my head backward, then I might think you’re against something when you’re actually the opposite). I wish that talking wasn’t so hard for me. Perhaps the adversarial position was one of exhaustion, impatience, lack of self-control. As I age, I find that I can control myself more, and that has made me so much happier in my life.
I don’t want to have social anxiety, but I do. It comes with always being misunderstood and wishing I could explain. I cope by telling myself I’m a queen, and royalty doesn’t pay the game of feelings. That it’s always best to be diplomatic. It also helped too, you know, learn to explain (ha).
One never knows what’s going on with another person. It’s essential to listen to others. If someone is trying to impart their wisdom on you, it shouldn’t be looked at as being imposing. Some people just want to help, just want to offer you something. They don’t want their interaction with you to be for nothing.
They want your approval of them. We all want approval from each other. Everyone appreciates acknowledgment. The box of everything I know about humanity in the void is a large one. I don’t always have access to it, so conversations in real-time puzzle me. In regards to myself as a human, though, to prevent most confusion, I make sure that I live my life as lovely as I can be, as generous as I can reasonably be, and with as much love as possible in my heart.
To be human is to love, and love is pain, and to love anyone is to know that you will be hurt by them sometimes. Life is about forgiveness and genuinely allowing yourself to live in the happy moments, because eventually you will hurt, and those memories of yourself being happy is what you will cling to when you are in pain. The stronger your arms are, the harder you can cling, and the easier the pain will pass. Remember to be strong, and you will never have to worry about the pain carrying you away.
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