I don’t find that my condition is apparent most of the time. Over the years, I’ve grown skilled enough to order a grilled cheese sandwich, joke around with colleagues, and ask questions in class. I’m not typically “slow,” nor do I suffer from a lack of intelligence. I’ve learned to express my feelings quite well, given a little time to think about them. Perhaps I make use of that ability too often. But as far as people with Asperger’s go, I’m relatively high-functioning.
Of course, such terms seem odd to me, as they necessitate a comparison to instances that are less “functional.” It may simply mean that I can comprehend and engage in social activity with greater ease. But making that the bar for saying someone is “functional” feels a bit reductive to me. People function in their own sorts of ways. I merely use the term to clarify my situation, however flawed it may be.
Regardless, I’m still (according to 3 or 4 psychotherapists) very much a subject of the condition. I hesitate to call it a malady or an illness. I’m even more hesitant to call myself a victim. After all, in its bizarre way, it’s shaped who I am, who I will be. What would I be without it?
My primary struggles have always been anxiety and depression. Both walk hand-in-hand, but over time the latter has become much more prevalent than the former. I won’t waste time discussing the specifics of my depression, as the roots and symptoms of that have already found their way into every post I’ve ever submitted on this blog (and they will continue to do so).
Still, the two aren’t isolated in and of themselves. The peak of their holy trinity is Asperger’s. An old enemy. Seemingly ancient to me. Before my breakdown. Before my first romantic encounter. Far, far before I began to mature. No, this enemy was the cause, the creator. Not the only one, mind you, but the one most worthy that title.
Before I could read, I was lonely. Before I watched Spongebob, I watched the other kids frolicking around, playing and laughing, all without me. I didn’t understand them. I didn’t know why they did the things they did. I didn’t know why I did either. I tried to fit in sometimes. It never really worked. When it did, when I found one of those rare, consistent things I could hold on to as a means of shared interest, they outgrew me and abandoned me.
That lens is still a bit blurry, of course. Even foggier with age. None of them intended to abandon me. I don’t even know that they ever did. They just…
You see, I didn’t know how to talk to them. Or anyone at all. I repeated Pre-K 4 because my parents were worried I wasn’t talking anymore. Apparently, I’d started up pretty enthusiastically, then just stopped altogether. I don’t know what I was thinking back then. What I was feeling. But maybe I just got tired of it. Possibly, after all that failure, all that confusion and heartbreak, I just gave up. Perhaps I didn’t think it was worth it.
The anxiety and depression came afterwards. Concerned I couldn’t sway the girl of my dreams because I didn’t know how to talk to her? Anxiety and vomiting. Worried I’d never be what I wanted to be because social Darwinism has me in its crosshairs? Depression.
All of it came from one single fundamental fluke about me: in an inherently social world, I didn’t know how to be social.
I write all of this because a recent conversation I had sparked reflection. I talked to this person, someone who I really admire, for 87 minutes, and the entire time I didn’t know whether it was awkward or not.
Was it great to finally talk to this person on the phone? Yes, the reasonable part of me said. Doesn’t the length of the conversation provide enough evidence that it was enjoyable on their end? It seems probable, I said to myself.
But I just couldn’t (can’t) shake the feeling that I did something wrong. Were the occasional silences my fault? Did I talk too much? Was I supposed to ask them more questions? What the hell was I supposed to ask them anyway? How they want to be buried? Where they want to live in 30 years?
All of it is just so perplexing to me. And I’m just watching every little piece unfold right before my eyes.
It starts with me not knowing what’s okay and not okay, or what exactly my role in the conversation is supposed to be.
Then comes that first little question, whose shout echoes up the mountain: was that awkward?
Then the avalanche of insecurity that scatters the warm log cabin into a thousand piles of planks and stones.
Then the anxiety. Snap the planks, throw them around, melt the rocks, and break some glass.
Then the depression. I fucked up. I always fuck it up. I’m not good enough. I drove them away by being awkward and abrasive.
And all of it is entirely unfounded. Not a smidgen of it is consistent with the circumstances, the relationship I have with this person, the anxieties that each of us has opened up about to each other.
These are the sorts of things my condition creates in me: doubt, fear, isolation, hopelessness. But these are not the limits of who I am. They contribute to what makes me the unique person that I am. Others may call me “weird” or “antisocial,” but what they don’t understand is that such monikers only reinforce my hopes that I can be distinct.
I am profiled as someone who doesn’t understand social conventions. Someone who acts to openly, speaks too bluntly and pessimistically. But none of that is a “disorder” to me. Despite my condition, none of my skepticism about common behaviors and interests comes from a place of insecurity. The fact that I don’t understand them doesn’t mean that all of my tirades are an excuse for wanting the fit in.
Of course I want to live in a community with people I really care about. Of course I want to talk and laugh and stay up long nights with friends. But I’m going to do that on my terms. Not society’s. I won’t compromise my quirks to fit in somewhere that doesn’t make me happy. I will go where I finally understand. Where I am wanted. Not a projection of me. Not the me that everyone wants me to be. But the me on my own terms.