Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Missing Piece of Connection

I need to eat...Thank God for the cooked salmon I bought yesterday. As my therapist said tonight I am having more insights than should be allowed by law or something like that. Everything is taking on symbolic as well as literal meaning. I walked back from my therapy appt tonight and intended to go to the gelato place. While I was walking there, I passed Longfellow Books. Nothing out of the ordinary, but this time it was full of people. They were having a reading of some sort. What was a fascinating experience was that you could see through the windows all of the people - probably 30 or 40 people sitting and listening to someone speaking. You could observe their emotions.... their emotional response to the speaker. And you could see the speaker. But you had no idea what was going on, what was being said that was being responded to. I had to find out what was going on inside, at whatever cost to myself. Which in itself is an analogy for the changes that have taken place in me and in my world since Christmas.

I thought for a moment about whether or not I wanted to go inside,  since Longfellow Books was not on my list of approved places to go (ie due to my chemical sensitivities I have trouble going into a lot of places but am slowly adding more and more in the last few months)...but I had to try. I had to figure out what door to go in... they locked the main one for the reading. I got in and found a seat.. it was almost over. I got to hear the last two poems. It was a poetry reading, it turned out. I was riveted. Absolutely riveted. The pure EMOTION that was in his words! He could have been talking about any subject under the sun and it wouldn't have mattered - I was hooked on the emotion in his voice. About 5 minutes after I walked in it, it ended. I was slightly relieved because I wasn't really up for sitting there longer than that. They asked if anyone had any questions or comments. Well, you know me. Or if you did know me in real life... or maybe you already do from reading all my posts. But I cannot for the life of me resist making deep profound comments at events where I have only been there 5 minutes to even understand what is going on, lol.

So I asked, basically about the process of distilling emotion into poetry or writing in a way that the audience can access and relate to. I don't really remember the response because it was one of those questions you can't really answer, you can only take in and observe and breathe around and enjoy. I wouldn't have been able to write that sentence a few days ago but I am now. Although later, someone told me they thought it was a bit like tapping a wall looking for a secret room - you tapped everywhere, listened for the thud, and when you found the hollow sound or whatever you knew you were in the right place. Following your heart is a bit like that - you have to thump everywhere, you have to thump a lot of places before you get the feeling that something is right for you. But when you get it, you have to follow it as if your life depended on it, because it does. Follow your instinct, Margie kept saying and I didn't know how. I didn't think I had an instinct other than fear. Fear was covering my natural sense of myself, my instinct, my sense of self. When I found my sense of self, the world opened up to me.

I got a couple comments about how profound my comment about poetry was, but not as many comments as usual. It ended and the room was full of people talking to other people. Since I had only been there for five minutes, I really didn't have any basis of which to approach any of them to start a conversation like I normally would have. I still had to adjust to the environment so I still had a bit of a wild animal look on my face, I suspect. But for once, it was okay. Because for so long, the only way I could stand to be in a group of people was to being having constant conversation with them, deep intense validating conversation with them, because otherwise it was as if I didn't exist. Otherwise the feeling of being shut out was too painful to tolerate. And I finally realized why. I finally realized tonight, not 5 minutes before I walked in that room from my therapy session, how to begin to validate myself. I finally learned, I finally experienced, for what was probably the first time in my life, what it was like to *truly be yourself while in an interaction with another.* My self kept slipping away before. It would either take on all the emotions and energy of the other person, or be so full of my own energy that I wasn't really hardly even aware of the other person in my space.... or so worried about the social norms I might be violating that I tried to manipulate myself and contort myself as best as I could into an image of what I thought "being social" was. But it always felt like acting and it made socializing, as much as I enjoyed it and wanted it, exhausting.

Tonight, for the first time, I had an experience of being myself in connection with someone else. Before, the two worlds were always seperate. There was *my world* where I was happy and comfortable and joyful but utterly seperate from the world around me. A world which I had actually lost until a few weeks ago for the most part, but found again. I still had existed in it but it had been greatly muted. I found it again, but then I had a dilemma. I had my world. I had *the world*. In *the world* I could put on a great act to connect to the world. People kept saying I had friends and social connections. So why did I feel so lonely? Because my world and the world were not connected. They were seperate. I didn't even realize it.

Is it possible parents didn't realize I wasn't part of the world? Is it possible they didn't realize the schism? I don't know.

Then tonight I had an experience where I was able to truly be myself in an interaction with someone else. The particulars are a bit obscure and a story for another time, and not the typical way you might experience this - but what is, for me? It is my path and it is okay. I didn't think much of it at the time, actually. That I had been interrupted when I was in "my world" was just an annoyance to process later. But to be interrupted in my world and STAY in my world while managing to interact with another - in however an unorthodox way I did it - was revolutionary.

So all this was going on in my head while I was at the poetry reading. I ended up meeting someone I knew from the museum. At first I wasn't sure if it was him. I just observed everyone for a while, something I am rarely able to do without my emotions pounding on me demanding to connect. But I was able to connect with myself somehow and stay open. After a while Martin, the guy I knew, came to talk to me. A wonderful conversation ensued and he kept introducing me to people. I didn't even know what to say. Then I found out he lives like one street over from where I'm moving (yeah by the way, I'm moving.) Synchronisity. So wonderful. Additionally, I found a wonderful book at the store that was a metaphor for my life. And I rediscovered how wonderful Longfellow Books is. It was the first time in seven years I had been there and was actually open enough to enjoy it. I had tried to go in a few times over the years but almost felt like the trauma was re-creating itself so steered far away from it. But I couldn't resist when I saw all the people in it. I couldn't resist trying.

So back to the initial experience of walking by and seeing all the people reacting emotionally but not being able to see the source. What I didn't realize until I started writing this was that that is the story of my life - emotional animals around me, but not being able to understand their motivations, feelings etc and feeling shut out. But unlike all of my life up until now, this time I was able to open the door and walk right in. Walk right into the emotional experience they were all sharing. Just walk right in. Not only physically but emotionally. What a great metaphor.

I am beginning to see that conversation is not just an intellectual exercise. I can begin to see the VERY beginnings of how to connect with others' experiences - and not just pretend to, for the sake of being in "the world." I always felt I was missing something and now I know what. There are so many concepts here that I can't fully articulate at the moment but they are so amazing and I spent three hours writing about them in my notebook today in the gelato place and two hours yesterday in the public market.

Conversation is not just an intellectual exercise. It is about being able to feel the flow of the universe and feel the flow of the people around you. Once you feel that flow it is about being able to observe it and then enter into it with your energy. If you are lucky, your energy will mesh with someone else's energy and create a connection. But if you go in forced or more intense than someone or not being your authentic self then the energy will MISS ITS TARGET. That's why I've spent years throwing words at people and just having it .... go off into a void and dissapear somewhere. Years not being able to figure out how to do conversation. Thinking that if I only came up with good enough stories or insights or whatever and shared them that that would be conversation, that that would make me feel connected to others. So I threw the words into the giant void that was my life. I threw so many words at other people. They all went into the void and I could never feel anything back. I could NEVER FEEL ANYTHING BACK. I remained just as emotionally isolated as I was before I had the conversation, even though for all extents and purposes I had participated in an engaged, connected discourse. How verbal you are, they said. How smart you are, they said. How good you are at conversation. But they couldn't see how alone I still was! They couldn't see how alone I still was. My act was too good. My act of being in the world was just too good. No one could see that I couldn't connect the experience of being myself with the experience of being in the world, and I sure as hell couldn't know that either.

Emotion is a human experiene that trascends language and all other boundaries.

I spent years thinking that if only I could find the right words, I could connect to others. I spent years trying to refine what those words were. I spent years SEARCHING for those words. Reading every memoir or piece of writing I could get my hands on about disability - any disability or difference - and about autism once I finally found the label for that. 50, 60 memoirs on autism and Asperger's over the years, and nearly ten years of reading blogs on autism, and I still didn't have the words. I did get damn good at talking about autism, though. People kept saying.... You have so many friends... You have so many social connections... You talk to so many people.. How can you be lonely? I didn't know but I felt so shut out. I felt so lonely, still. The connections helped and in really intense connections with others I felt good. But it never lasted. No object permanence (a developmental phase).

But then I realized... I realized this yesterday and I realized it anew today. It hit me like a ton of bricks, as they say. I was sitting on the stone thing in the middle of Monument Square. Ryan came by and I chatted with him for a bit. Then Nate happened by, which was quite a coincedence to run into them both at once randomly. Already emotionally full from my conversation with my therapist earlier and from Ryan just then, and feeling calm and happy and in my element, I looked at Nate. I saw him anew. I thought about his recent shoulder injury as I talked to him and as he talked to me about it. And I connected to his emotions about it. I paused when I saw him. I FELT his energy. And I connected to it. His energy, not mine . It was amazing.

Somehow, the thing that was missing was this. I have to be calm enough and feel safe enough and secure enough in my own self to be able to feel others' energy. If and when I can feel others' energy, others' presence, hell ANYTHING outside of my own self, a self I have been trapped in for thirty long freaking years..... then I can connect to it and I don't feel lonely. But if I can't feel others' energy, then I just throw myself into the equation and hope they will reflect it back to me. If they do reflect it back to me, I feel in connection. If they don't reflect it back to me, I am thrown into despair. It feels as if my whole self has just been rejected and trampled on because I had no stable sense of self before entering the discussion.

But if I can .... somehow validate myself and BE myself authentically when entering into conversations... then it doesn't matter what they say, or what they do. Because I am me - and I am okay - and they are them - and they are okay. We can BOTH be okay at the same time! That stunning insight I had today. There is no better, there is no right or wrong. There is one person being who they are, and me being who I am. We can both do that at the SAME TIME!

I spent.... all this time trying to figure out who the other person was so that I could mold myself after them and contort myself to fit who they were and have a "successful" conversation. I thought that is what you were supposed to do. But now I realize... a successful conversation is when two people can be themselves in connection with each other. And it doesn't even MATTER what you say when you are feeling that connection. Quite a stunning insight for a writer (insert laugh here).  

Everything in my life lately seems to be related to the way I experience the radio. That's an essay I 'll write another time. But for now I'll just use an analogy I take from the radio which just occurred to me. For years I have been addicted to country music. It is the only thing that can soothe my savage emotions. I connected to songs on the radio, to the emotions in country radio, long before I started connecting to or even became aware of other people's emotions .Because country songs are so raw.... so emotional... you can FEEL them. I love country - not the pick up trucks and redneck songs, but the emotional ones.

But for a long time I was amused by the fact that I could be in love with a song that had nothing to do with my experience. Songs about falling in love or pick up trucks, religion or drinking? I couldn't relate to those emotions, those experiences, so why did I relate and feel so strongly connected to the songs?

It's because sharing emotions has NOTHING to do with words!!!!!!!!

I just realized this. Words are a vehicle, a tool to use. But the words themselves mean nothing. The sound of the voice while EXPRESSING emotion, however, means a LOT. I connected to the feelings, no matter what the song was about .... because that is what we do as humans. Pick up on each other's feelings. (Usually, and if we feel safe enough to.) When you look at a successful conversation - the words that you use don't matter, but the ability to pick up on someone's energy and connect to it does. So just like I could strong relate to a song essentially about praising God when I'm atheist and Jewish (Jimmy Wayne's "I Love You This Much" comes to mind) or a song called "I Drive Your Truck" which sounds corny but is actually SO AMAZING... just like that, conversations, I am realizing, are not about the words I use.. and I use far, far too many words because that is my default setting - but I am finding that conversations are about me detecting the other person's energy and saying something to affirm or respond to that. That is mind blowing to me.            

Donna Williams actually wrote a lot about these concepts in her books, which were probably the first on autism I ever read, and end up now being the most relevant. I couldn't completely understand them then.... I just knew they seemed so familiar. She talks about her own concepts of "my world" and "the world" and how much trouble she had integrating them. She also talked about something she called exposure anxiety, which I must go back and look at . Exposure anxiety... maybe it's being in "the world" while being yourself. We choose so many tools to mediate this experience - to make it less intense for us - distracting ourselves- but it really just needs to happen. I need to read her books again. I realized I could actually tag her in this post - woah. It won't let me I'll try later.

It's like I am approaching from an opposite direction as everyone else when I have an interaction. For them, experience leads. They act, respond or discuss out of their lived experience - naturally. For me, it's the opposite. My lived experience at least with interacting with others as myself is... so limited. I have been stuck... trapped inside myself for thirty years. Which gave me a hell of a lot of time to try to study and dissect human communication to try to figure out how it worked and how to enter into it. So when I interact... I approach it from a point of view of thought, of theory, of social construction. Of analysis, of intellect. Then I have to figure out how to get from there to simple lived experience. For most people, they need to start with the lived experience and it is difficult for them to get more intense, thoughtful, analytical or what most people call "profound." For me, I have to start at profound and work my way down - to actual lived experience, to actual connecting.

And now that I think of it most of the important important people in my life growing up kind of seem like that too. I don't aim to put words in their mouths or paint them in a way that is not true but I also refuse to paint over what feels true to me. (Cue Trisha Yearwood's old song
"I Don't Paint Myself Into Corners Anymore")
Maybe they couldn't teach me about emotions because they couldn't feel them in connection with others either. They couldn't teach what they didn't already feel or know to be true.

I always said that when it came to conversation with others, that if there were ten steps to it, I was great with steps 5-10 (the really hard ones) but terrible with the first five (the supposedly easy ones). I think that makes sense in context with what I have just realized.

Cue George Strait's "I Saw God Today" (which actually has nothing to do with religion and constituted the entirety of my Passover celebration, but that's another story.)

 Last night I heard an amazing new song on the radio called "Give Them Hope," a collaboration with like 10 artists...that seems relevant here too.

I am going to  stop here.... and perhaps pick up the thread of this discussion another day.


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