This post is building on yesterday's blog which talked about how media can influence one's concept of what friendship is. What makes writing such an enjoyable and fulfilling thing for me is that I'm learning along with you. I write in a stream of consciousness way which means, often times, I don't know what point I'm going to make until I actually make it when I get there whilst writing. What this means is that I often will think about the concept after I make it and yesterday's blog has been on my mind ever since I finished it.
So yes, yesterday it was about how media can influence the concept of friendship and what it should look like, but how does this play out in person? Growing up watching television (a lot) there were little to no story lines or characters I could relate to. Of course, how could one depict being alone in a crowd, or even amongst those who may consider me a friend? How can it be depicted to feel isolated even while being in a classroom of 25? Pre-diagnosis, I was highly confused as to what was going on because if life were a game I certainly didn't know the rules and most certainly had no idea what the score was of this proverbial game.
During my school years I wasn't an outcast by any means. However, I wasn't part of any group. It's hard to explain because I've heard of others that had a much worse time than me and there were no bully situations I had nor was I constantly mocked, yet at the same time I was simply there. Perhaps that's many people's story, autism spectrum or not, in that I was just trying to fit in, but the difference was that the way I went about it was all wrong. Why did no one share my interests in the finer things like average speeds of the previous weekend's races or the cold front that was going to meet a warm and humid air mass which had the potential to create a dangerous day of storms? Why did no one else share my desire to converse about things that mattered and why was the teacher the only one who seemed to have any interest in what I was saying? It was about fourth grade that I became aware and became envious of what they had.
Who are they, exactly? They are everyone. They are all around and regardless of their story I see them as having it all; friends, conversation, and the soul of yesterday's and today's topic and the ability to connect. I felt a great disconnect and with each passing year the disconnect grew and grew.
In sixth grade I had had enough of this disconnect and getting me to go to school was a gargantuan task for my parents. What was my motivation to go? Sure, I might learn a thing or two but I would also be exposed to another long, drawn out day of watching everyone else converse with ease. I worked my magic and went to home schooling. This did work out and I was able to work at my own pace but underneath it all it was a way to escape the daily feeling of disconnect. I will state I didn't realize that at the time and had someone brought it up to me I would have adamantly denied it.
A person can run from their problems for so long before they catch up. Being homeschooled I minimized the chances of seeing what they had but at the same time it eliminated any chance that I'd ever have what they had. The "theys" of the world, or call it normal if you'd like, make it look so easy (from my vantage point) and being isolated even more so, while at first a much desired thing for myself, eventually turned into a misery all it's own. I went back to school and it worked great for, well, several days and then I quickly became burnt out again because I was so frustrated with myself. Once again I wasn't an outcast of any sort, but I once again had no ability for that all important connection. Did I think anything was wrong with me? No. Actually, I thought the issue was with everyone else. It wasn't until a night of bowling in 1999 that I first realized the true nature of what I had been missing out on.
I started league bowling in 1998 and each Monday night my dad and I would go bowling. Those Monday nights were my favorite bowling memories outside the night I bowled my 300 in 2005, but there were always a brother, a sister, and two of their friends there. They were there each Monday and the ease at which they interacted was puzzling because it was something I had never been a part of. Did I have "friends"? I did, but it was all centered around an activity, specifically a game, but this quartet often would take 20 minutes off from bowling to converse and simply be. Seeing this planted the seeds that maybe it wasn't everyone else, but it was myself that was bad or wrong, or maybe I just wasn't likable.
My diagnosis was a pivotal point in understanding the dynamics of all that I had gone through. All along it wasn't that I was stupid, bad, or unlikable it was that I wasn't on the same social wavelength as those around me. It took a while to come to this understanding, but I realized what they have is something different and lost within the concept of friendship depicted by media is what I have. See, that's the difference between understanding and no understanding. I can still look around as I am right now in the D terminal at La Guardia airport from where I'm writing this and see the ease with which others walk, talk, mingle, and simply be in the space they are in, and yet at the same time what they have is not what I have but what I have is not what they have. Whew, that was a confusing sentence, but the all too often trap those with Aspergers can fall into is forgetting who they are and if a person's image of happiness is defined by the way friendships are depicted in works of fiction then reality is going to be a challenge. Can we have friends? MOST CERTAINLY! However, if I try to be 100% normal I will be disappointed 100% of the time because no one is normal. While from my side of the wall, everyone is normal and perfect and everyone else has zero social anxieties. I realize that isn't true. When people tell me public speaking scares them to death, I give a stare of, "are you kidding? It's easy!" but that's what I have that they don't. We are all different, and if we all look at what they have we will never be good enough, will never be content, and the motivation to go out into the world will be nil. I know, I've been there many times and I still struggle to not fall into the trap, but I think that's natural because this is simply being human, autism spectrum or not.