So when I was in college, once, in a (rather common) fit of despair I asked my psychology professor why I couldn't seem to get the other kids to talk to me. Something to that effect.
His answer was "They're scared of you because you're so smart."
I never in a million years would have expected that. I didn't consider myself smart or not smart.... Just me. I didn't understand why someone would be scared of someone smart. I have never been able to dumb myself down because I have never been able to understand what about me is so "smart," what smart IS, other than a recipe for not making friends easily. I have never had a great grasp of how I come across to others. It's one reason I can be relatively un-self conscious in many situations, such as doing the open mic the other day where I wrote and read a poem on the spot. But it leaves me not understanding when I'm liked, either. It spares me from a lot of the bad and all of the good, this lack of the ability to understand how I am perceived by others. It can be very isolating.
So after another day where yes, I socialized, and yes, I had several engaging conversations,
I realized something when I was at the library tonight. I was sitting in a chair, engrossed in reading the newspaper. Someone I know who works there said "Hi." That might not sound like much, but it was huge. I am a very social person, yes. But I start and intitiate EVERY. SINGLE. CONVERSATION. I can count on one hand the number of times people have said hi to me first, started a conversation with me first, or acted happy to see me before I started trying to entertain in order to be liked. I spend every day giving my all to make other people happy and engage with them. Very few people return the favor, and it kills me inside.
I watch how easily people interact at the public market. I watched, on the bus home, how easily a woman got into a conversation with the bus driver. And I think of how I still can't feel liked, and I still can't like myself, because in every instance I'm the one putting in all the effort to create these interesting, novel connections I have every day. I don't doubt that there are many people who genuinely enjoy talking to me when I start the conversation. But I do doubt that I can fully enjoy these interactions back, because all of the energy I use to start them and to wonder if they really want to talk to me wipes me clean. I have nothing left to truly take in their energy. And I'm sick of it. The anxiety it creates in me is ridiculous. The empty hole in me is seldom ever filled, even despite a ridiculous amount of effort on my part to "put myself out there."
So maybe my psychology professor was right, all those years ago. But I don't know how to dumb myself down. I don't know how to talk in the easy breezy cover girl way that other people do. I don't know how to look like I'm not trying (because this is what people want, casual and easy). I only know how to try harder. But the interesting, ironic, awful secret of social interactions is that often, the harder you try, the worst your result. People sense when you're trying too hard, and it scares them off. They don't understand it, so they scatter. So where, then, does that leave me, and the many other intelligent, warm, wonderful but a little off the beaten path Aspies and non-Aspies out there?
If you like this, please be sure to visit my other website, Accepting Asperger's. A lot of my older writing is stored here, including an editorial I once wrote for the Baltimore Sun. Click here to see it: Accepting Asperger's.
What's it really like to be a 20 something with Asperger's? On this blog, I hope to explore that question. But this blog is not just limited to an audience of people in their 20s - this is for anyone who ever wanted to know anything about autism. I plan to delve into the nature and experience of autism, and examine it from as many angles as possible. I would like to start a conversation between people with Asperger's or autism, parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who just wants to know more. Let's explore what autism means, together.
My goal is to start a discussion on and build a community of people affected by autism - parents and adults with ASD - so feel free to leave your two cents in the comments section of any post. If you're too shy for that, however, or want to speak to me personally, you may feel free to email me at KGoldfie@gmail.com.
Asperger's Book for Sale
Common Scents: Adventures with Autism and Chemical Sensitivity" is the story of a young woman's search for physical and emotional safety as she journeys through the mountains of the Cascades, small coastal towns on the Oregon coast, and out-of the-way towns in upstate New York. Along the way, she experiences things she would never have dreamed possible had she stayed in her Maine hometown, and begins to learn the power of human connection.
Common Scents is the story of the last three years of my life. It gives a gripping view of what it is like to experience the world as someone on the autistic spectrum, and some would say, is an entertaining travel story as well. Because of chemical sensitivities, I engaged on a three year journey for a place I could call home.
Comments from readers:
"The Asperger's element is remarkable. I feel that I understand my son better, so much better. I laughed at this part.... because I've stared at my son in the same way for the same thing." - mother of an Asperger's kid
"Your writing style is SO engaging and interesting. It brings me right into the subject and I always experience a little emotional punch towards the end. In other words, this is the third time I've teared-up reading your work. Kate, you've highlighted ALL the problems with how social skills are usually taught." - mother of ASD kid
"I stayed up entirely too late reading the first 14 pages. I can relate to so much of what you write. I really think you are expressing the true experience with MCS and autism in words that convey the experience." person with chemical sensitivity (MCS)
"Absolutely interesting, insightful and witty. You've blended together your three themes beautifully (Asperger's, MCS and travelling). It seems seamless."