Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Different, not Less

So, I'm a bit strange. (I know, I know. Some of you are laughing or saying something like "you don't say"--much sarcasm imbued) But it's more than you know. It's more than I knew. As strange as I have seemed for years, almost no one has had any idea how strange it has been inside my head.

Not even me.

I know. That sounds strange, but understanding sheds light on the shadows we live with.

I have been like a child afraid of the dark--afraid of the shadows and shapes that linger beyond what reason and self-assurance can assuage. Picture a child that, in the dark, sees the shadows and fears their shapes, KNOWING that this one is just a coat draped across a chair and that one is a lamp with a hat on it--KNOWING, but still fearing. And self-destructively critical because he DOES know, and can't stop being afraid, but there's no helping it, so he just gets used to being afraid and ignoring it. But you can't make it go away just by ignoring it; you can only learn to live with it and minimize its power in you life.

I'm not afraid of the dark, but there have been (and are) things in my life that I have known were different, things I didn't understand about myself, things that were WRONG with me that I basically forced myself to ignore and learn to live with.  Many of these things I have actually overcome. Many I still have to deal with.

As a child, I often found myself loathing the touch of others. Not always ( which actually made it more confusing), but often when someone wanted to hug me or just put a hand on me, it would make me mad/tense/irritable. For a season in my youth, it made me violent.
But I WANTED hugs. It was desperately important to me that people would still be willing, would still WANT to hug me; I just hated for them to try. It made me feel trapped/confined--like walking through the woods and your clothes keep getting snagged on branches or having spider webs get on you and you can't seem to get them off.  Logically I knew there was no danger or threat, but YOU try to just leave a spider web on you. . . hmm?

I'm passed that one. God did an amazing work through some awesome people in my life. One man, in particular, was very instrumental in this. He's a hugger, you see. And not just little hugs; no, he's the hug you way past what's comfortable kind of guy. Thing is, I knew he meant it. I knew that this was how he said he loved me and accepted me, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. . .  So, between that and some mind-blowing things God was doing where my self-image and identity were concerned, I found a place where I can hug and be hugged. It's a good thing. :)

I've also been highly sensitive to sounds, particularly high pitched ones or "crowd noises," but also sharp reports.  I flinch quite noticeably when a hammer hits a nail, or a nail gun goes off. I have a completely irrational "fear" of balloons (it's called globophobia, if you're curious). I KNOW it's just a balloon, but they set me completely on edge. When I see a child running around with a balloon, my first thought is inevitably something like "there's an accident/tragedy/disaster waiting to happen."

But the worst was always crowd noises. In a crowd, I would have a terrible time trying to think straight. I could barely follow any conversation, even if someone was right in front of me, I would keep getting pulled to a snippet of conversation here--a phrase there. It's like I'm compelled to try to follow every conversation in the room. . . and I CAN'T.

Keep in mind that I'm explaining a lot of this through the lens of hindsight; most of this just drove me crazy--I had no idea why: "There was just something wrong with me."

My default facial expression is "serious." I have had to learn to express emotion in acceptable ways over the years. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone yell at me or treat me harshly because they misunderstood the expression on my face. I've had people tell me that I looked like I thought they were stupid, when I was just listening intently. I've had teachers get mad at me because I looked like I "hated them" or like I was trying to look  . . . I don't even know. . .  Again, it's not all the time. . .

I had to learn to look people in the eyes when I spoke with them. I can't remember who it was, but one of the adults in my much younger life stopped me one day and told me that it was important to look people in the eyes/face because it made people feel like you weren't telling the truth (or something like that), so, as uncomfortable as it was (it made me feel exposed/vulnerable--like deliberately forcing your hands to your sides and sticking your chin out to be punched), I taught myself to look people in the eye. My natural inclination is to watch people's mouths or to look away and listen.  Especially when someone is sharing something emotional, where THEY seem vulnerable. It's REALLY hard to look at that.  . .  But not as hard as it used to be.

I have had to teach myself to smile when I greet people. This is not because I'm not genuinely happy to see them; I just don't naturally smile. I had to train myself to do it so that people could tell that I was happy to see them. It's habit now, but not a natural one.

I don't get claustrophobic in small places; those are actually very comfortable to me, but I can be in a very large place full of people and feel like I can't get enough air--I have recently learned that what I often experienced in grocery stores and other similar situations were "mild" panic attacks.  I still deal with this, but I've grown and learned how to cope in most situations.

I'm intelligent.  (You are probably wondering why I would list that with things like sound sensitivity and social claustrophobia.) The thing is that I've spent most of my life feeling stupid. INCREDIBLY stupid. I would walk into a room where no one had ever met me and be called the "genius" without even saying anything; I would have teachers and my parents all point out how smart I was, but then I would get a school assignment and be completely lost about how to find the answers.  I'd read a chapter in History and know the story, but then the questions would always seem to be about things that never occurred to me as important--most of them seemed so random that they seemed designed to make me fail, and then I'd see that I was one of the few that didn't get the answer. . . I'd work entire pages of math, totally sure that I was doing it right, only to find out that I had done every bit of it wrong. And I had no idea why. People would tell me how sad it was that I wasn't living up to my potential, and I'd be clueless as to how to do better--I'd study and still not know the answers. . . .

It wasn't until I went to college to be a teacher and started learning about different learning styles and being in classrooms where discussions were encouraged that I began to understand how my mind takes in information.

I'm highly auditory. I have been able to listen to people and take in most of what they are saying, and, in some cases, repeat it back word-for-word.  In conversation I can usually work out the meaning of what someone wants to convey, and the conversation is part of what makes it "stick." The thing is that while I'm talking or they are, my mind is flitting all around, making connections, drawing from other experiences and associations and using ALL of those things together to make the information accessible. I see patterns in things and the patterns make "three-dimensional" "pictures" in my mind, not necessarily about the individual concept that was being taught or discussed, but the "grand picture" of how that concept fit into the world as I know it. This ability was beyond useful in college classes, but I found that if I tried to take notes, one of two things would happen: 1. I would take terrible notes because I was trying to follow what was being said--making connection, etc..., or 2. I would write furiously, getting as much written as possible and have absolutely no memory of what was said. I would then have to go over the notes and try to piece together what I wrote with whatever memory of the lecture I could pull up. So I don't ever take notes any more. My memory is more reliable. For me at least.

There are other things that I have found out recently that make me different than other people. I think in pictures and concepts and then put those into words. When you speak to me, I see what you're saying as concepts or images and process them that way. Often my mind is randomly casting out for connections and will draw up puns based on how you said what you said, or based on the images that your words inspired. Through extensive reading and a love of language, I have learned (and am learning) to use language to bridge the gap between concept and words. Metaphors are more than poetic description to me; they are often LITERALLY how I think of something. If I say there was an ocean of people, rest assured that in my mind, I am picturing crowds of people moving like waves, waves that can crash over you, in which you can be lost and drown. It's more than a literary device for me. It's how I think.

But people don't talk like that, so I've learned not to either. . . mostly. I am happily learning how to tap back into it for the purpose of writing, though. :)

What's more, I've discovered that I see things--patterns, meanings, connections--that others don't see. I've written critical essays of literature on stories and poems that professors have been teaching on for decades and have pointed out things that they had never seen before. And I've done it over and over again.

In a previous blog post I talked about how I apparently have a gift where literary analysis is concerned; I now know why.

I mentioned in that post that God had shown me how to take that and apply it to my Bible reading.  I saw many things. SO many that I started to discount the ideas and connections I was making until Go d told me that He MADE me so that I would see things that others missed.

I am finally coming to understand what is different about me. I am finally beginning to see the pattern in me.
And it has a name:


I have done extensive research on symptoms and characteristics from the low-functioning to the high function ing--from the Autistic to Asperger.  I have read personal accounts from other Autists and found voices calling out from "out there," and they all say the same thing: "I understand."

I read an article  (<--click a="" about="" among="" and="" but="" came="" dealt="" different="" do="" else="" for="" have.="" have="" herself="" i="" in="" it="" known="" like="" lived="" many="" me="" naturally="" no="" of="" one="" other="" others="" p="" read="" same="" saw="" see.="" seemed="" she="" someone="" sounded="" talked="" teaching="" that="" the="" things="" to="" was="" ways="" where="" who="" with="" woman="" world="" yourself="">
I recently watched the movie Temple Grandin and was AMAZED at how well the way that noises and images were portrayed. At one point, I stopped the movie and turned to my wife and asked, "When people talk to you, do YOU see pictures like that?" She said no, and I suddenly realized that I always had, and here this movie was saying that this particular characteristic was unusual.  . . . Huh. I never knew.

I think, based on my early language development, and my over-all desire to have social relationships, that I would probably be classified with Asperger's, but due to the changes being made in the classification system, they, the powers that be, are doing away with the Asperger's Syndrome label anyway.

I think I much prefer Autist.

Gah! When I look back at my life and think on the times when I was so socially awkward and couldn't seem to figure out WHY I was different and HOW to be like others. . .  and it all makes sense now. Life, experience, and, most importantly, GOD have allowed me to make enough connections that I can get along fine in most situations. I still have problems in some, but I press through for the most part.

I am SO BLESSED!  Knowing WHY doesn't change anything, but it DOES lift off the burden of "What's Wrong With You!?"

Now I know that it's not that there's something wrong with me, I'm just made to see things differently.


  1. Well, perhaps. Yes, there are a lot of tickers here that point towards Autism, however, I have never considered you to be socially awkward to the point that those who have Autism are. Autistic people rarely are able to comprehend sarcasm or jokes that are not literal and you have always understood sarcasm around me (in fact I do not know any Autistic people who "get" sarcasm). Although, I do see that you have many autistic traits (now that you have pointed them out) lol, but I would not label you that way just because of your ability to interact with others socially. Because at it's base, Autism is a social disorder. but that is simply my opinion.

    1. Ahh, but that's the thing. You see, You have only known me well for my adulthood, and only very well for the past several years. I have been debating on saying more in a follow-up post, and I think I will now. See the next post for more. ;-)