That being said, this is a guarded secret I keep. For as soon as I mention the word “choice,” I have become immensely accountable. I have brought an unspoken load of expectations onto myself. If I choose to make the correct choice one time, why can’t I choose to make the right one all the time? Surely there must be a sinister motivation such as attention-seeking, manipulation, not trying hard enough, over-sensitivity, immaturity, and any other reason under the sun.
The word “choice” comes very loaded and is very difficult to undo.
Yes, it is a choice, but the waters are very muddled. It is rarely neutral. It is rarely do I choose the blue shirt or the red? Often, it is more like do I choose the blue shirt in my hand or do I choose the red shirt down the street five blocks, over a sea of burning coals, and strapped to a honey badger’s back?
Now, if it’s something like I can only enter Hogwarts with a red shirt, you can bet that honey badger has my name on it. But if it’s not, then I’m going to be going for the blue. I mean, wouldn’t you? Honey badgers eat bees. And cobras. They look the scum of the earth in the eye… and eat it.
Yes, it is a choice. But it’s not always the unbiased choice that people seem to think choices are. And it can be very reliant on external circumstances which are constantly changing variables.
When my life is good and things are safe and things are stable, I rarely find myself having to make these decisions. My threshold is high. I can take a lot. The “normal,” “better” choice is natural. I am lucky. I land on the higher end of the spectrum.
However, when it’s not… and there are triggers, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, overbearing stimuli, insecure environments, being overwhelmed, lack of trust, broken promises, not understanding social aspects, hurt, pain… I can find myself stuck between the Asperger’s Rock and the Socially Acceptable Hard Place.
The Asperger’s Rock would be all the autistic ways to completely shut out the present world: melting down, covering my face and eyes, not speaking, lashing out verbally, saying the same phrase over and over again, stimming, withdrawing, getting fixated.
The Socially Acceptable Hard Place would be the “normal” adult choice to make. Which seems easier than it is in these moments. You forget there’s this magnetic pull from the table to my head drawing me down, forcing me to cover my eyes, to block out the sound, to stop the new triggers from filling my head with weeks’ worth of hurt to combat. The Socially Acceptable place can be hard, physically unbearable, and full of emotional pain that will linger.
But it’s still not that simple. At any given time, there are a multitude of variables affecting how much each side weighs. Clearly, there’s the obvious like stress and anxiety weighing down the rock side. But there are other weights that are not so well-known and easy to be misinterpreted.
For example, location. Location is one of the heaviest weights I have. But it is finicky and switches from side to side. If I am in a safe, secure place, not to be interrupted, not to be stopped for time, the weight lands on the rock side. A meltdown is nigh and eminent. There is nothing holding me back. If I am in public or at a place not secure, then the location drops on the acting socially appropriate side. There is no counterweight in the world that could give me a meltdown in public. Not going to happen. The social and repercussion weights are far too heavy.
This is what it would look like with some of the weights added:
The weights shift and change with my external environment, even so much as a person walking in or out of a room. But depending on the heaviness of the side, it can either be easy to make the right choice or it can feel like I am swimming against an impossible current. And sometimes after swimming and swimming, you let go and give into the tide.
Now I realize the word “Asperger’s” is no longer correct terminology and can now be considered “out-dated,” but I still continue to use it. In fact, I will probably write an entire blog post on my reasons why. But that’s not for this one. Short story version: The umbrella is just too large. The term “High-functioning” doesn’t cover it all. At the era when Asperger’s was still being diagnosed, my family member was diagnosed as having “high-functioning autism.” Not Asperger’s. He falls under a separate category. And for a reason. His struggles, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses are very different. He is still Autistic. He is still very high-functioning.
The challenge is taking away a word, an entire category of characteristics and similarities, but not replacing it with another. Instead, spreading the blanket of the word “high-functioning” to reach up over and attempt to cover it too. But it doesn’t cover both nicely and neatly. Psychologists had been grouping people into these separate categories for years because there are notably similar features. If I ditch the word “Asperger’s” and just use “high-functioning autism,” at any given time I could be giving the wrong group false information. What is helpful for me with Asperger’s is not always helpful for my high-functioning autistic family member. What is true for me with Asperger’s, is not always true for him. And I see this again and again with people that fall into these categories. So I keep the word to not muddy the already unclear and hard to see waters.
Here is where you see the stark difference between Asperger’s and the earlier diagnosed “high-functioning autism.” With me, the scales above my hard-working little brain were usually leaned towards the socially appropriate side. The autism side was easily defeated or hardly noticeable. In the times that there are real struggles, I still have more control and more of a choice. My family member has very little choice sometimes. If even he does.
God forbid, he stub a toe… It doesn’t matter where we are, who is there, what the situation is, all weights have instantly dropped on the autistic side and he is open-mouthed, eyes closed, full on screaming. The happy covered canopy (that he stubbed his toe on) of people enjoying lunch, not even a weight. His toy car won’t fit in the window of his other toy car? Full on screams and tantrum. In a restaurant and they stopped carrying his favorite food? Does not matter who is there or who is looking. A tantrum. The social weights either aren’t there, or just not registering to weigh strong enough.
When I was his age, on the Asperger’s side, my God, those weights of the stares and looks would have been mortifying. The reactions of others and the weight of embarrassment or upset of my parents would have made that other side light as a feather. But he just doesn’t have all of these social counterweights. And his weights on the autistic side are so much heavier. Sensory, pain, frustration, those all so much harder on him. They drop, and instead of being a weighted choice, can simply be a reaction.
This very large difference is why I’m stressing the word, the category, “Asperger’s” in this blog. I do not want to lead anyone astray, especially because the English language fails us once again to provide proper vocabulary. 🙂
Sometimes it is more of a choice and sometimes it is not. But at the end of the day, this is our struggle and our weights to carry. Only we know what we are under and what the scale is tipping at. We lack the ability to properly express what these weights are, and, often we don’t even know all of them ourselves.
Frustration and anger just add more counterweights that are not helpful. But understanding, love, trust, patience, and gentleness can lift a number of invisible weights that you will never see and that only we can appreciate.
Always choose kindness.
There are things you can’t see.