Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Going Old-School

It was an innocent statement, said without much pretense. He probably didn't know how much it would mean to me. "You probably won't be able to go in my car, because it's a month old," he said warmly.                                      

It was a very intense discussion, full of so many different interesting angles, so many fascinating emotions, shared experiences and connections - more than I could possibly remember to write in this  essay. But as I was pondering how to start a blog about the experience of meeting someone I went to high school with but haven't seen in probably 10 years, this sentence stood out to me.

Because with this simple statement, he was saying so much more. He was saying "I GET that you have sensitivities to chemicals. I UNDERSTAND what that means. I am okay with that. I believe you. It doesn't bother me. I still like you. I am aware of what that means."

Being asexual and not finding a word to describe myself as such until I was 18, and being on the autism spectrum but not finding that label or community until I was 21, I have spent literally half my life being different and not knowing why. Being different and not having a community that I felt part of -  that I felt like I could ever be part of. This has left me naturally defensive and insecure, feeling I have to explain myself over and over again and that people will either outright reject me or regard me as a curiousity. Developing chemical sensitivities multiplied that pain by about 100 times.  

Fighting with people for the last ten years, trying to get them to understand that yes, new cars do bother me, yes, refinished floors can bother me for months afterwards, and yes ,  that shampoo you're using is making me go out of my mind.... It's become my new normal, but I never liked it. For obvious reasons.

Feeling like I can't be who I am  because no  one would ever like someone with so many differences, sensitivities and so on - that's never gotten easier. I've just gotten better at fighting. I've had to overcompensate and stand up for myself, to create a world I can physically tolerate, but rarely emotionally tolerate because the energy I use to try to convince myself other people like me anyway ... It's too much.

So, I could talk about how it was nice to share old teachers, such as the elementary school librarian that we somehow both remember, or the discussion about a gay, lesbian and queer community we were both in and the connections we have to that. I could talk about his warm, open personality, and how you felt like you could talk about anything and get a response, a connection that would just go on until I was too physically exhausted by talking to continue. The ease at which we started to discuss the norms of having discussions, which is a topic I've always been interested in but rarely found people articulate, thoughtful and aware enough to participate in.  (There are few things I love more than a good conversation analyzing the norms and rules of having conversations. It helps me figure out if I'm doing stuff right, helps me  figure out to treat myself more kindly, and brings me closer to someday being relaxed enough to feel connection without having to try so hard).

And all of those would be perfectly valid ways to describe the meeting.
But what sticks in my head is the experience of so casually being acknowledged
as a person with valid needs after years of trying to prove to the world around me that my needs were valid. That is a person with heart.

I might have been a little physically overwhelmed because I was pushing myself to interact so intensely, but I felt emotionally full and safe after, and that's something I don't feel all that often.

Whoever thought it could come from anything related to high school? =)




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