Monday, August 14, 2023

The Angst in the First Move

I've always used metaphors and analogies to describe what living with autism is like, and once again I rely on the game of chess to attempt to relate to you the struggles that are faced.

A couple weeks ago, a coworker of mine told me I could stop in and chat anytime I felt like it. My reaction was to freeze. I didn't know what to say, or how to react, because I was already fearing the opening moves because, for me, any opening move is experienced in the thickest fog possible. To describe this, let's start a game of chess.

This isn't a typical game of chess, however. This concept is socializing on the autism and as you can see, black's pieces are not viewable minus the king which, for this concept, imagine as the desired destination. The thing about this game is that all the pieces are still out there. The lay of the land is not able to be seen so, when a move is made in the dense fog, it is not known if a move is good, or not good. So, let's make our first move.

Opening moves are scary. Whether it is a common greeting, initial eye contact, or simply being in a position that requires an acknowledgement of my presence, it's downright terrifying! To illustrate this, the first move is made, and I still don't know the lay of the land. Was this good? Was it not? I'm unsure. The thing about this chess game is that, sometimes, I can see the pieces directly in line with mine.

As time has gone on, I've actually become more and more anxious about first moves and while it may look like I'm uncaring, aloof, or a bit standoffish, I can assure you that this is not the case. Inside my brain I'm trapped. I'd like to have the ability to say, "hello" or make eye contact, but I attempt to take the safe approach and avoid it all. "Don't look at them" is what my internal narrative says. "It's the safest way" is what my brain knows and trusts. What has led to this inability to make that first move? Let's take a look at what a social disaster would look like in terms of chess.

Socially, most of the time, I'm socially blind. Without being able to see the lay of the land, a common greeting to someone that is upset, focused, or already busy can get a snippy response. The signs were there, as in this chess example if you could see the pieces, but it was too late. The game was unwinnable as a brigade of queens were scattered on the social battlefield of life, but when one can't pick up on social cues, it's not known until it is too late.

For myself, the reaction to a snippy response creates hours' worth of processing. "What did I do wrong?" reverberates through my thoughts. It consumes me and I can't focus on anything but the proverbial chess board. Now, between these examples of attempting to avoid playing the game, and playing the game and getting hurt, what would you do?

I must remind you that, "if you've met one person with autism, you've only met one person with autism." How this concept applies to someone else may be identical, or nonexistent. If someone experiences something like I've described, it's hard to relate to you just how much bravery and strength it takes to go out into the world each and every day because, for myself, I know that by not making those first moves, I may seem uncaring or that I don't care about anyone. The alternative is just too difficult though. I'm frozen into this world of attempting not to make a move. I go through the day hoping to be the best chameleon and to blend in without being seen, or at least not being forced to make the first move.

I'm grateful I have this platform, and the self-awareness to know this about myself, and to be able to advocate for myself as the reasons as to why I am how I am. I wonder though, how many others have lost opportunities due to this same concept. I often fear that my image is one of self-importance in that I don't have time for anyone else. Without reading the opening paragraphs to this blog, one could come to that conclusion, but while we may look stoic and flat on the outside, our brains on the inside are fearful of the game of chess mired in the dense fog. The same way I'm socially blind and can't see the lay of the board, I'm sure those not on the spectrum will have the hardest of times understanding the strength it takes to power through, and to ignore the voice in our heads that tell us, "It's too difficult! Why try? Why leave the house?" I deeply respect other's abilities to make those first moves with fearlessness, and I hope someday that society as a whole can respect the hidden strength it takes to take on this hidden challenge, the likes of which most will never be able to understand. 


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