While I haven’t been diagnosed with autism by an actual professional type person, I am fairly convinced I have it.
Everything I’ve read about autism in girls and women aligns with my experiences and even before I knew that autism presented differently in girls, I knew that I had autistic traits that explained so much of my pained childhood.
I remember reading John Elder Robinson’s “Look Me In The Eye” – purely out of curiosity – and being surprised at how much I identified with his thought processes. I, too, felt more at ease with machines rather than people, electrocuting myself at age 7 or 8 trying to fix a space heater. I never went down the track of taking apart machinery and trying to put it back together again, but given the right set of circumstances, I might have.
I have always been fascinated with how things work – machines, people, the environment, plants, ecosystems, but I’ve never been quite able to figure out how to get along with people.
In my late teens, or maybe early 20s, I saw a psychologist with whom I worked on communication skills. I read books on how to have conversations, I eagerly watched Alan Pease on daytime TV trying to learn body language and generally tried to figure out how to get along in polite society.
I eventually mastered the art of polite conversation and now even understand its purpose, but it’s like a mask I put on when I find myself in social situations – Oh, now I have to people. When I’m not wearing my mask, I am direct, blunt and to the point. I will forget to offer you a drink or to ask you how you are. I am quite likely to ask you impolite, personal questions, because I am truly curious about your life story and why you are the way you are. I’m also not very good at beating around the bush and probably not very mindful of your feelings or personal boundaries.
You might also have guessed that I have difficulties with my own boundaries, especially online. I share a lot of personal and private stuff here, that most of you wouldn’t dream of talking about to your family. I wouldn’t talk about it to my family either, but there is something about the anonymity of the screen and keyboard that makes me brave. I am much more circumspect in person, but mostly because I don’t believe anyone would be interested in hearing what I have to say in real life.
Being with people is hard. I found it hard as a child and I find it hard as an adult. Making friends as a child felt near on impossible and while I knew a lot of kids in the neighbourhood and did have a lot of playmates, there were times when I was ostracised for doing or saying the wrong thing, because I didn’t know “the rules”. “The rules” were a mysterious thing that everybody seemed to know, but me.
It did get easier with age, as I mastered the art of “masking” – pretending that I knew what was going on and as kids got used to my strange ways, even accepting me as I was.
As an adult, the hardest thing about peopling is the sensory stimulation and the effort required to maintain the act. I still struggle with developing deeper connections and most of my relationships are pretty superficial. My last deep emotional connection was with my ex and look how that turned out.
I don’t really know how to break through the surface of my relationships, how to go deeper. I feel like I’m missing a vital clue to connecting with people. Do you know what it is?
Even this blog has become much more inward looking of late, as I try to explore my feelings and reconnect with them, rather than making external connections with my readers. Unless they can connect with my explorations.
Recently, somebody commented that they saw me as a very social person, always at some networking event or another. And it’s true. Networking for business has given me an excuse to connect with people at that superficial level, never quite going deep enough for friendship, but giving me the necessary social contact I crave after being in my own company for too long as a solepreneur.
But so much socialising has its costs. I need extended periods of time to retreat into solitude and silence, recovering from the sensory overload of yet another social get together. Not only am I autistic, I am an extreme introvert.
And while I do people quite a lot, my peopling can be clumsy. I rarely walk away with the right business card, or the coffee date that might lead to a business opportunity, or even possibly to friendship. I always feel like a fish out of water and that I’m missing that vital ingredient to truly connect.
I have some work ahead of me with a psychologist, so I might ask her to help me with that. Maybe she knows what the magic trick is.
Or maybe you do? What is the magic ingredient that makes an acquaintance turn into a friend? What am I missing?