Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Born to Run... My Meetup Tonight

It started with a gifted storyteller and a Bruce Springsteen song.

It ended with a wonderful display of emotions and soul and another Bruce Springsteen song.

In between, there was more connection, shared experience and shared humanity that I would have ever dared hope to find.

The occasion was a meet-up of the Where Would I Be Without Me group in North Yarmouth, Maine. I had brought some marshmellow Peeps to lighten the mood because I figured I was getting together with my peeps. Right? Come on, admit that you thought that was funny.

At any rate, we had six people to start, and eight later on. Less than the last few weeks, which created a more relaxed, open atmosphere.

So I've been going to that meetup for 18 months but this was the first time I felt like I shared something that everyone else could immediately relate to. Oh man, but it felt good to have everyone connect to what I was saying! It had been at least 90 minutes by that point and the new woman, who had come all the way from Rockland (90 minutes away for those of you not Mainers), said while I was speaking "This is what I came to hear." I felt so honored! What I was talking about wasn't so different than what I usually talk about but for some reason people grabbed on to it. Maybe it was because for once I wasn't phrasing it so much in the terms of Asperger's or MCS, or in terms of what I could or couldn't do but more in terms of "I've been wondering about..."?

I can't remember exactly how I put it but I said I had been thinking about connection, and about how connection seemed to me to come from the sharing of emotions. I talked about how sometimes when people's emotions are invalidated when they are younger, they don't learn that other people share the same emotions as them - and then they feel very isolated and unable to connect with others. They lack the ability to even begin to understand that their emotions are valid and so they also lack the ability to understand others have similar emotions as them. I think this is rampant among people with autism. They experience and express their emotions and feelings differently, so invalidation runs rampant.

Someone else brought up feeling rejected when someone doesn't acknowledge what you say, which is actually where I had wanted to be going with my statements but had completely forgotten that part of it by the time I got there! The theme of "how do you not feel rejected when someone is not properly acknowledging your statements" got a lot of people chiming in, and at least two or three people said "This really resonates with me." I'm sitting there thinking "They're saying this about something *I* said??" and of course very happy about it.

Many people struggled with feelings of invalidation or rejection. Many made the point that you don't know what place the other person is in when you are talking to them, and they might not be ready to receive what you are saying, so you shouldn't take it personally.

Validating yourself was talked about but I still believe that other people need to fall into this equation somehow.

We talked about how emotions are energy, and people exchange energy from each other - back and forth - because life is dynamic and always in motion, and so emotions are one way people connect to other. M made the point that physical contact such as hugs is another way people connect or share energy with each other, and she mused that I was so good at connecting with people emotionally but seemed to shy away from all physical contact - while most people are the opposite, desiring physical contact but not being very good with emotional sharing. She is right of course and I think that the part of my brain devoted to emotional sharing and emotions in general is far larger than the part that would want physical contact, which I am hypersensitive to (maybe that part of the brain *is* just as big but the physical contact is too overwhelming for me to process). But different, not less - it's hard living in a world where this is not the primary means people use to connect, of course, but it's not impossible.

We talked about how anger was just a stuck form of energy that needed to be released. If you can get angry and let it out, then you can move on and realize what it was about. Keeping it in doesn't do anyone any favors, as long as you let it out responsibly.

Everyone had something compelling to share, and opened up more than usual. It was inspiring and encouraging. One common theme was that people talked about feeling more alone than usual - even before I brought up the topic of connections and so on. So, there was far more of a common theme tonight than ever before. Usually, it is 6 or 8 relatively disparate stories with maybe 2 or 3 being like each other. But not tonight. Everyone was sharing the same energy, had similar cross purposes, feelings... I felt like part of the group tonight. Usually I just feel like my stories are just so out of line and so different from what everyone else talks about, and it drives me crazy! But not so tonight. I was and am thankful. One person hugged me when he left. It was a nice energy tonight.

One of the first people to talk used Bruce Springsteen in a story he was telling to illustrate something. The very last person, nearly three hours later, mentioned that when he was really upset he just wanted to hole up in his room listening to Bruce Springsteen. And the circle was complete...because baby, we were born to run... towards each other and towards building a better world for all of us to live in.

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