I am a chameleon. When placed against my surroundings, I absorb and change colors innately acquiring language, facial expressions, mannerisms, feelings. All seeps within. Before this intermittent depression brought about by external circumstances in which I inherently hate everything and have shut out the world (you know, besides that)… I usually think how lucky I am to have the chance to meet and work with such amazing people. I full-heartedly appreciate how I seem to learn and take away so much. The more amazing the person, the more deeply and continually grateful I am to have them in my life. I love their quirks. I love their kindness. I love their strengths. I even love them in their weaknesses. I love them for being everything I’m not. I love that I get to glean a little of their awesomeness just from being around them.
Having Aspergers and being oddly hyperaware with a vault-like memory, I could tell you exactly who taught me to swear (like I mean it), who taught me to approach others with my feelings, who taught me various expressions, and even who taught me positive/negative outlooks. I am a living guestbook in which people write their entries.
I have a younger friend who has taught me more than I’ve learned in twenty-some years about expressing emotions to others. When there’s something on her mind, she speaks it, but she does so with a heart full of emotion and ready to learn. From her friendship and just simply presence, I’ve learned how to open myself up to others.
When I am going through something really hard, you have to remember I am the traveler in the dark. I navigate myself the best I can, but this is strange, unfamiliar territory and I can’t see very well in the darkness of the unknown. I may guess in which way to turn, but with an astronomical list of possibilities, it is likely I am guessing wrong. I don’t know what to say, tone of voice, how to express. I am either copying what I have seen or taking blind leaps.
But even apart from those obstacles, one of my biggest disadvantages is I don’t know how to read you. I have a remarkable long-term memory, but in times like these, I can’t seem to remember short-term signals or decipher simple things.
Phone calls can be helpful, but not sustaining. Words on the phone can’t stick for very long. I need to see your face. I need these added visual cues. But even for what it is, a phone call is still better than a text. Texting removes all human signs altogether. Intermittent pauses, tones, sighs, human conversation, those are all replaced with black letters on a white screen in which I have no idea how to interpret and, in myself, how to respond given only letters to attempt to communicate. If I see someone frequently, the mystery behind the texts aren’t really that bad. I have recent schema, background knowledge, and the upcoming meeting to rely on for other clues or for redemption of my own social blunders. But if I haven’t seen someone in a while, and there’s anything emotional or hard, I view texts as kind of mean. Let me see your humanity, not your technology and convenience. Let me be able to express mine.
In confusing times, my brain is desperately searching for what I know to make sense, for what I can hold onto. Nonverbal cues, social understandings, unspoken rules, those slip between my fingers like sand. As much as I may think I know you, I inherently understand that I am static and you are not. I don’t understand how people change and my efforts are futile in trying to keep track of this imperfect science. I can literally have no idea if you deeply love me, are concerned, and want to be involved or if you are humoring me, just being nice, and I am exhausting and wearing you out. I can’t see the difference. I can’t see it. I can’t read past the words to what’s really behind it. And this becomes stressful in its own sense as now I am left with this unresolved puzzle playing over and over again through my head forcing itself upon me for some kind of resolution.
Actions. Actions are what I can hold onto. Actions make sense to me. Actions are readable. Actions are black and white. The well-known expression “Actions speak louder than words” couldn’t hold truer than in these moments. I can’t hear your words. But I can hear your actions. I can’t see your nonverbal cues, but I can see what you do. And whether I want to or not, I innately store it in that hidden vault somewhere in my brain to be accessed when a pattern or contradiction arises or when I am desperately trying to fill in gaps of signals I know I’m not receiving.
These actions are like sparks thrown at me, guiding me where to go. I can’t read what I should be reading, so I rely on these. And in these moments, even the smallest, most miniscule action goes an astronomical distance. A text, a phone call, a facebook message, an invitation, a post of something I’d like, a coffee, any tiny action that is an extension of friendship instigated on your own prompting shows me that you do care, you aren’t backing away like others I’ve seen do, I’m not an annoyance, hindrance, or an unwanted burden as I so fear I am to people, as I so fear I have become to you. I need these reassurances because I can’t get them in the way other people can.
And just the same, inaction is action. In fact, for someone with a brain like mine, inaction is one of the worst possible actions you could inflict. An all-consuming black lies before me with an indecipherable puzzle. If I am bothersome to you and the friendship is not reciprocated, I would prefer tenfold you tell me immediately so I could deal with it, cut the cord, and move on. Otherwise, I am subjected to a web of never-ending analysis, confusion, and failed attempts to try to send these signals out of you. I know it seems like a favor in being passive and not wanting to say words that could hurt, but you will have saved me days, weeks, even months of agonizing confusion on this subject. And if the friendship is indeed reciprocated, do you understand what you have unknowingly inflicted upon me? Something that by just a few texts or grabbing a coffee or checking in could have prevented? Probably not because you don’t live inside one of these brains. And just like I don’t know what I don’t know, I assume it is just the same for you. But understand fully, by just a little, you could honestly save me so much by just some simple actions. And like the relief you feel when the unbearable pain of a sickness is lifted and followed by that rare appreciation for your normal, painless state, is kind of how I feel when I can read these messages when I can see your guiding sparks.
“Nonverbal cues, social understandings, unspoken rules, those slip between my fingers like sand. As much as I may think I know you, I inherently understand that I am static and you are not. I don’t understand how people change and my efforts are futile in trying to keep track of this imperfect science.”
For as much as I need and crave these small acts of kindness in challenging times like this, I fear I am my own double-edged sword. I fear that my own social behavior deters these very signals I so desperately rely on. If I could tell you what it was I was doing wrong, then this paragraph wouldn’t exist. I would have fixed it. But I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I don’t show proper validation in my words and facial expressions. Maybe it’s because I don’t know how to reciprocate, or if I even should. Maybe it’s because I don’t know how to ask for these things. Or maybe it’s all in my head.
Regardless, one thing to know about someone with Aspergers is nothing is ever returned void and nothing is ever futile. Even if I don’t show it, I appreciate it with a maturity and depth that surpasses my means. Even if I don’t look like I need it, trust me, I do and probably more so than anyone. For I play conversations and actions over and over in my head after they have taken place. I analyze. I search for meaning. I search for understanding. My memory is like a steel trap grasping onto all. Whereas other people feel happy in the moment and quickly forget, I don’t forget. I keep this happiness with me. And with each act of kindness, each signal that lifts a cumbersome burden from me, you grow larger and larger in my eyes with deep appreciation and gratitude. Nothing is void.
There are times when I have withdrawn. I have turned my phone off. I have avoided people. If you are someone who is a friend or an acquaintance and means well, it doesn’t mean I do not appreciate you or your kindness, but I’m just not ready to let you into that place. People who I don’t know as family members naturally take a lot out of me, are exhausting and draining trying to figure out, and in a situation like this, all of my energy is already spent. I’m just not ready yet.
If you’re someone I’ve reached out to and have gone to for help or with any emotions, this pretty much means I trust you like you are family. If you’re thinking of fishing me out of that cave, you have my go ahead to try, not to force, but to try. You don’t take any energy away from me. But if there is no immediate response or I don’t seem receptive, remember that, still, nothing is void. I will remember your attempts, they do impact me, they are anything but unnoticed, and I do appreciate them.
I can’t tell you the times I’ve shut myself off from the world, didn’t answer a phone call or text, but then after processing, changed my mind and reached back out because that attempt was there. Or it influenced me much later in another situation. Someone had thrown out a hook. Not immediately, but only after watching it bob up above in the water a while, I took the bait. Nothing is returned void.
With Aspergers, please understand that you may never know how much you truly mean to me. I don’t possess this unspoken skill that knows how to adequately express things, I don’t even know that certain things need expressing, and what I do express, might not come out in the way I think it does. But if you have made it into my circle, I love you deeply and unconditionally. You can do no wrong in my eyes. You are perfect to me, faults, mistakes, everything. I am eternally grateful that I get to know you. I understand firsthand what it means to be without. Most of my life seems to be occupied by the withouts. It has been filled with rejection, fear, loneliness, abandonment, and suffering—darkness. Having you as a light makes me appreciate you so much more than can ever be expressed. Thank you for just being you.
Thank you for leading this traveler.