Every moment of every day and most of the moments through the night, I reflect on what I have said and what I didn’t say; what everyone else said and what they didn’t say and whether or not I should or should not have done any of that. I plan in advance so I know what I am going to discuss. I presumed that was what everyone did. I write lists and print off articles which might help me provide evidence for my planned debates. I presumed that this was a positive attribute of mine and never understood why it didn’t seem to be well received or reciprocated.
I write everything down before, during and after interactions or lack of them, and then I read it out loud to myself over and over. If the opportunity arises, I tell everyone all about all of this. I need to discuss every word and every thought. I always thought that I was curious and caring and that I was just more able to analyse than other people. I presumed that they would have liked to be more like me. I thought I was adding to the discussion.
Having listened to Tony Attwood’s recent webcast, I realise that I am one of his ‘Italian drivers’ who doesn’t see the traffic lights and has no idea when or where to stop.
Fitting in – or not.
I don’t remember much about my childhood, but I do remember that I was on my own lots. During the lunch hour, I helped the teachers fill up the paint pots or tidy the scissors. I refused to gallop around the playground pretending to be a horse – how ridiculous, and I tried to befriend every waif and stray that came along. I would have a friend for a while, but then they would move on and I never understood why they didn’t take me with them. I never, ever, realised any of this until I looked back with my new filter of Asperger’s. I feel quite embarrassed and sorry for myself, but it does explain a lot. When I tried to join groups, I would spot their lack of organisation and ideas and offer to sort it all out for them. They would often suggest a request or complaint that needed explaining to someone else or to a teacher and they would ask me to do it. They always promised to be with me and to back me up. They never did, but I just presumed that I was more confident than them and less scared of authority.
Acting. Which is the same as masking isn’t it?
I did seem to fit in better for a while by taking the lead roles in all of the school plays, joining theatre groups and taking elocution lessons and speech exams. Maybe I didn’t fit in, but I didn’t feel as lonely. To be honest, looking back, I was surrounded by mainly gay boys or very strong and stroppy girls, so they probably didn’t pay much attention to me. Theatre and Drama were all I cared about. Every day, and every weekend I was taking part in something that involved acting. I wrote my own plays and have newspaper clippings of the various awards that I won. I think that my new fame allowed everyone to excuse, or at least try to overlook, my ‘eccentricities’. On the rare occasion that I have found someone on Facebook, they always ask if I am a famous actress. Obviously, I have always said no, but I realise that while I may not be famous, I have clearly been very successful at it. I didn’t just fool all of them; I fooled myself as well.
If anyone asks about my life, I tell them that is like the scene in Love Actually where Emma Thompson realises that her husband has bought a necklace for someone else. The awful truth hits her, she goes into her bedroom and cries, she wanders around trying to calm herself and distracts herself by tidying the bed. She composes herself, wipes the tears away and goes back to join in with just a bit too much enthusiasm. That is how it is to be me. Over and over and over again.
Topics for conversation
Apparently, I go on and on about everything and normally end up offending someone. They refuse to speak to me again and I sit and cry on the bathroom floor, not knowing or understanding what I have done. I always ask people loads of questions about what they do, where they go and what they think. I try to remember some family names so that I can ask again next time and I am always interested in any trips that they have planned. I want to know their plans and have always been quite baffled by how little they seem to know about what they are doing. I have always presumed that me diving in and creating an itinerary is incredibly helpful and that they will be grateful for suggestions that facilitate a much better schedule. No-one ever told me that this is what I need, but not them. I had no idea?
Next, I listen out for topics that they seem to be interested in. It might be Politics or religion or health or exercise or children or whatever. I don’t do it on purpose, and had never ever considered this until now, but I then become a specialist in their field of interest and even have handy articles or books in my bag ready to prove any points that I might make. I always thought that people would be eager to learn new things about something that they were already interested in. I presumed that they would want to debate any issues and be exposed to opposing facts and views. As it has now been brought to my attention, that these are not the rules with which most people play the game: I now understand why I normally lose.
Why did no-one tell me the rules?
I have asked my husband and my daughter why they never told me any of this stuff. If they all knew that there are rules for behaviour, meeting people, saying too much or too little, telling the truth or not, expressing opinions and whether to say yes or no, why didn’t they tell me? They both admit that they just thought that I was a bit of a rebel who refused to conform. They thought that I was choosing to ignore the rules or the social conventions, when in fact, I had absolutely no idea that these existed, and I thought that I was trying my best to fit in. It seems that I was actually behaving in a way that would always make me fit out!
Writing things down is really easy for me and is probably why I continually send letters and now emails to anyone and everyone that I feel needs an explanation about me. If you meet me and talk to me you will think that I am confident, clever and capable. For some years, I think that I believed that I was. I have been acting this thing for so long that I can’t switch it off. It is only recently, when I have started trying to be more honest, that I have realised that they simply don’t see. They hear my words, or even read my letters, but then they see me, and it doesn’t make sense. It is much easier to believe the surface chatty, exuberant and a bit crazy woman than to scratch the surface and face a much less palatable truth.
I don’t remember what I did yesterday, but yet I remember and have written down every moment of distress or discomfort for the last 20 years. I cling to this book and feel like it is my only friend that knows what has happened and what has been said to me. I panic if this book is not with me or if I cannot see it or know where it is. I feel really guilty and somewhat embarrassed about my book because it is just lists of what anyone has said to me that I deem to be offensive, insulting or disrespectful to me. What if I am wrong about all of this? What if this is normal behaviour that I am simply unable to see? I feel terrible about this and have no idea how to establish if this is just me or if it isn’t.
Writing down my thoughts is really just me talking to someone. It has become my only friend since everyone else stopped listening. I need to talk and to write in order to find my thoughts. I panic if my notebook or iPad are not with me because I think that I will forget something that I need to tell myself about. Does that make sense?
Yesterday on the train, I did not have anything so had to scribble notes in my diary, but at least my diary was now listening. If only my brain could connect straight to the paper and then to the printer, it would be so much easier. I did used to talk to Pete, or maybe tell is a better word than talk, and maybe that is why he got bored and irritated and stopped wanting to listen. I have tried to share books and articles and lists, but he doesn’t read them. No-one will come when you cry, so it is better to stop crying, stop waiting and hoping. Of course, I am so stupid that the next person who looks just a tiny bit interested in me, will open the door again and I will naively believe that it will be different this time. I know that it won’t, but I always want to believe that it will because otherwise what am I doing here? What is the point of me?
I have read so much about ‘Aspies’ now and have completed countless surveys and watched every You Tube discussion with every specialist out there. Part of me wants to be excited. Everything they describe is me, me and me. I thought that I was unique in my weirdness but turns out there are other people who believe they come from the same ‘planet’. Because I am me, I have wanted to talk about this. And talk and talk. I thought that Pete might like me better again if he knew that some of the things that I do are less my fault than we thought. Every day I ask him, and ask myself, what have I done that is wrong or bad? What have I said that I shouldn’t have? Is it my fault? What did I do? Often, I find myself crumpled and crying on the bathroom floor rocking backwards and forwards and asking myself, what did I do, what did I do?
I conclude that I must be even more wrong and bad and to blame than I thought I was? I didn’t break the rules on purpose. I couldn’t have done, because I didn’t know what they were in the first place.