What follows is a repost of something I shared last week on my blog but took down shortly thereafter. I edited, added to, then shared it on Facebook. I have since deleted all social media accounts because it became too much for me to process.
I think I have Asperger’s Syndrome, or what is now known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
After the devastating loss of yet another friend and love interest, I set out on a journey of self-discovery and came to an unsettling, yet definitive conclusion. I started off with a simple Google search, “Why can’t I make and keep friends?” That was a hard question to allow myself to ask, even to a search bot, but I was in deep emotional turmoil at the time and desperate for answers.
The overwhelming response to my query, both in webpage returns and YouTube videos was, “Could it be Asperger’s?” I watched the videos that experts and other “Aspies” shared, and to my great relief, their symptoms and personality quirks closely mirrored my own. Some I have learned to overcome, but the compulsion to do them is still there, and I saw each of them reflected in the precious people who laid their lives bare for all to see. I finally felt like I belonged.
That’s when I decided to take a test. Several of them, actually. And the results were all the same: I had a high likelihood of being diagnosed with ASD. With that, I have sought counsel and in the next couple of weeks begin the process of determining a proper diagnosis. I plan to post regular updates of my progress.
Normally this is diagnosed in childhood, but Asperger’s wasn’t a medically accepted diagnosis until 1994; long after I had become an adult. They say it is hereditary and hindsight has given me reason to believe that my dad may have had this issue as well. My mom was always the outgoing one and had lots of friends who would keep in touch. My dad, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say I only ever saw him with family. I don’t remember ever hearing him talk about having a friend, let alone have one call, stop by, or write. It was always just us.
Until my health caused me to exit the workforce, I had been a very successful troubleshooter. That’s my natural ability. I’d see a problem, visualize the process that created it (whether mechanical, electrical, fluid power, or programming), then arrive at a logical solution. Some problems were trickier than others, but I always fixed them.
Sometimes I had dreams about an issue and when I went in to work the next day, that exact problem occurred. I did what I saw myself do in the dream and that fixed it every time. This happened to me dozens of times in every place I have ever worked. I could never explain why.
Aspies manifest their symptoms in ways as unique as the individual, but for me, people are my kryptonite. I tend to look at them the same way I do a machine or manufacturing process. I was good at solving those kinds of problems and I never thought people were any different. I think methodically, so everyone else does too, right?
As most of you already know, this isn’t how social interaction works. So, I learned to adapt. I became an intense listener. If I find a subject (person or topic) interesting, I digest and retain information like a hard drive. Observing and listening to someone provides me with the background I need to figure out how to interact with them. That’s why it takes me so long to make friends.
Once I have sufficient knowledge and experience with someone, I can then begin to anticipate how they will respond and gradually unveil myself to them. If I don’t have anything in common with them, humor, or rather, sarcasm is a huge part of the self-revelation process for me. I could never really formulate a joke myself, but my sense of sarcasm is razor sharp and I’m not afraid to use it. Regretfully, this often occurs at the expense of an innocent bystander.
I also discovered I had a talent for imitation. I could make people laugh by doing an impression of someone or something – cartoon characters were a favorite – and I enjoyed the response I got. Say something that reminds me of a pop culture reference, and I will regurgitate that scene to its penultimate end. If my friends followed along like we were on the same page, then the shared nostalgic experience made me feel accepted. As long as I made them laugh, I thought I was doing well. I had no idea I could have been alienating people at the same time.
Despite my ability to make them laugh, my friends and co-workers all but disappeared into shadow. From that, I have learned that just because someone enjoys your company, doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be your companion. Friendly and friends are two very different things. Just like loveable and loving. The capability may be there, but how they treat you must match how they talk to you or it’s just words, and I tend not to see the difference until after the relationship is over.
Because of that, romance has always been a nightmare for me. Especially at the beginning. Unless I initiate the flirtation (which is beyond rare), I never seem to pick up on it. I look back on my life and I am grateful for my naivety, as I am sure it saved me from a lot of pain, misery, and penicillin. But I remember those instances like they were yesterday and now I can clearly see everything that flew right over my head.
Here’s a perfect example of how naïve I am in that department. When I was 27, an 18-year-old girl came to my apartment, stripped naked, and asked me for a massage. So, completely oblivious of her intentions, I gave her a massage. She thanked me, got dressed, and went home. She did this on two separate occasions. Since I thought she needed me, I equated that with friendship because it was a form of acceptance, and that was what I needed.
As I grew older, my need to be needed waned and I grew tired of people using me for what I could do for them. This developed into a problem because that is the very nature of employment. I became contentious and condescending to everyone who didn’t think like me. I hated my boss, and I hated my job. What was once a creative outlet for me turned into a hostile working environment, and as a result, my health deteriorated.
If I volunteered my services, that was different. If I saw a need and wanted to fill it, or I saw something that needed fixing and wanted to fix it, then I enjoyed helping. That statement holds true for me today and it is how I decide when, where, and for how long I offer my services. I have left employers and religious organizations because I felt used. The acid test of whether I was right to leave was how they treated me afterward. Without exception, I have no regrets.
I no longer need to be needed. Now I want to be wanted. Professionally, socially, and romantically. It’s a subtle difference, but I prefer someone choose me because they like who I am rather than because I fill a need in their life or workforce. And I don’t want to have to convince anyone that their opinion of me is right or wrong. Manipulating someone else to get what I want isn’t right. I’m not a puppeteer. That’s not respectful of them, it isn’t respectful of me, and it’s no basis for any kind of relationship.
In my opinion, giving your time, talent, and ability to someone who doesn’t respect you as a person in order to gain their approval, friendship, love, or anything else to make yourself feel better is equal in every way to someone who harms themselves because they don’t want to feel any emotion at all. Whether that self-abuse comes through surrendering their body for the pleasure of another, self-medication, intoxication, or mutilation is irrelevant. Both are trying to escape what they feel by compromising themselves for the benefit of the ungrateful. They are opposite sides of the same coin, and they only serve to destroy the person we were created to be. It is a slow and malicious form of suicide, and I will never compromise who I am for the sake of another again.
At the time I am sharing this, I am 52 years old, I have never been married, I don’t have any kids, I can count the number of true friends I have (not including family) on one hand, and I have never had a romantic relationship last longer than a couple of months. I say this not to garner sympathy or to entice the ghosts of relationships past to return (that must be their decision, not a compulsion of my contrition), but rather so that those who have not abandoned me will understand me better and thus stabilize what friendships remain. And, hopefully, those whom I have yet to befriend will grant me grace in the befriending.
So, here I am at the end of this post and, alas, I have lost another love. Seven years of friendship; gone. Unlike all those who came before her, it saddens me greatly to think I shall never see or speak to her again. Despite my tragic loss, I would, however, like to thank her for leaving me. If she hadn’t, I am sure I would never have sought to understand why people discard me so easily and why I so often adapt to it as if I were changing a tire.
They say time heals all wounds, but if time is part of the pain, how then shall it heal?
What is it the French say? C’est la vie. That’s life. Well, that may be, but I sure don’t have to accept it willingly. And the knowledge I have gained from this experience will become a part of the next. Maybe one day I’ll get it right.
In the meantime, life goes on and so shall I. I wish her well and hope she finds the love that I had hoped to give her. She and her children deserve that much.
Finally, I realize that many of those whom I have offended over the years will never see this, but I would like to offer my apologies to them just the same.
If you were my co-worker, I shared what I knew not because I thought you didn’t know your job, but rather because I knew you did. I now see that I came across as a know-it-all or like I was self-righteous, but I just wanted you to have all of the information I did, no matter how trivial.
If you were my friend, I probably shared more information than you wanted to know because I trusted you with it. I thought you’d appreciate my openness, and more often than not, I wanted you to share your opinion.
My intention is always to be truthful, and I see that compulsion often comes across as blunt, heartless, and/or insulting. Until recently, understanding why never concerned me. The loss of my dearest love has given me ample reason to correct that attitude. I am truly sorry for offending her.
If I could have one wish, it would be that people would be as brutally honest with me as I am with them. My feelings are not nearly as sensitive as yours, believe me. I can handle the venom and vitriol better than the vacuum its absence leaves. Talk to me, yell at me, call me names; I don’t care. The more real you are, the better I understand. The better I understand, the more stable the relationship becomes.
I don’t want to use ASD as an excuse to justify anything I have said or done, but I am hoping that knowing this helps those who want to either repair or maintain a relationship with me to better understand my mannerisms in the future, or at the very least, give them a reason to stop and ask questions before walking away in anger – again.
I may be lonely for a while, but now that I understand myself better than I have before, I am hopeful that sharing this insight with everyone will gain me a moment’s mercy and people will be willing to talk through their concerns instead of withdrawing into cruel, deafening silence.
I realize this has been a weighty thing to share, but I felt it was important. Besides, with cancel culture sweeping the globe like wildfire, I am hoping that by inspiring others to take the time to ask questions before getting offended, it will go a long way to helping heal the world’s woes.
If my story changes the heart and mind of one person for the better, then it was worth it.
God bless and thank you for your time.