Sunday, September 20
I wish I weren't awkward.
I can deal with other aspects of autism - not getting sarcasm and having to listen and look for cues that only give me a hint of true meanings. I can handle being attracted to random guys, the ostracization that comes when guys think I like them, and the difficult conversations when they realize I'm not romantically interested in them, but they like me. I can deal with not being able to really feel appreciated, loved, or valued. I can carve out a spot between the demanding twin demons of nothingness and awesomeness. I could work around the despair that bipolar brought, and the chaos that came in its wake. I can even handle feeling *different* and never, ever being able to fit in, no matter where I go.
But the one flaw God gave me, the one blessing He put in my life, the one curse of my existence, the one thing that makes me shout and rage and cry more than anything else: being awkward - not intuitively understanding social norms, or communication, or people - that one hits me hard.
I think it's ironic that I found a way to cure my bipolar. It's an incurable, lifelong mental disorder that sometimes threatens people into subservience, sometimes smashes them into oblivion. For me, it was one of the few things in my life that I could really deal with. Something that gave me stability, and something that, every so often when the hypomanic phases set, made me awesome. Compared with the ever-present inadequacies that being on the autism spectrum provides, bipolar was a breath of fresh air.
I don't know if I can explain how much turmoil is constantly in my mind.
I don't have a gut feeling about how people feel about me, about relationships, even about total strangers. It's like playing darts while blindfolded on a moving, spinning platform. It lends itself to strange things. With only a few exceptions (close friends and family), I have to treat total strangers almost the same way I treat everyone else. I like to think I treat everyone well, but I'm still playing darts from a moving, spinning platform. I literally write out conversations before I have them in person or by phone, trying to cover every single possible contingency and interpreting the little information I have from every angle. Then, when someone reaches out to me, I try to categorize the interaction: Is this person just being nice? Are they constrained by social norms to talk with me and not really interested in continuing beyond what's required? Are they trying to initiate conversation because they want something - information, help, advice, or perspective on a specific issue? Did they just feel the desire to communicate one-way with me, and don't necessarily need or want me to respond? Do they need a friend who can reach out and be there for them? Or do they honestly want to be my friend?
I talked with my sister about it once a few years back, and we realized that I end up analyzing every single social interaction with the same intensity as a girl who likes a guy but doesn't know if he likes her back. She mentioned that she goes through turmoil trying to figure out what the guy is thinking - interpreting every gesture, every word, re-reading text messages, and even determining everything that *isn't* said - and ultimately ends up with only a cursory amount of information. It's the same for me. But instead of going through turmoil for just one person, and only or a while, my turmoil involves *everyone*. Forever.
There are some people where I know pieces of their long-term feelings. My family members love me. Acquaintances and friends at a distance - people who don't spend time with me outside of scheduled times - are at least indifferent, and probably somewhat warm towards me, as long as they're not angry. My best friend goes from one side of the spectrum to the other. I've lost lots of close friends in the past, so I equate any steps to close friendship with danger. That has made it really hard to trust any close friendships... but for now I can trust he'll still be there for me tomorrow.
But beyond those basic, core understandings, I feel like I know almost nothing. Even about family and close friends. I can sometimes tell when people are really angry - a dramatic increased use of directed, situational sarcasm is one cue there - and I can hear honest happiness in people's voices - something about the way they talk belies that feeling. But even those are processed emotions. Puzzle pieces put together with information gleaned from a conversation, intonation of voices, specific word choice. Running the entire experience through a thousand different rules and attempting to get a feel for the whole entire thing.
Someone asked me once why I care. Why I care so much about people and their lives... why I want so badly to be a part of their lives and want them to be part of mine. Many people with autism, at least to outsiders, don't really want to be involved with other people. And I've learned that many people don't deeply care about the feelings or lives of strangers. They don't feel an intense hunger to understand and befriend everyone they meet. So why do I?
It's taken me a while to figure out the answer.
I think the answer is the core of why autism, and the awkwardness, lack of social understanding, and other associated facets, is such a difficult thing for me. Why it rips me apart at the very core of who I am and makes me feel like an aspiring athlete with no legs or arms or feeling.
The truth is I don't care about understanding people, and being understood, primarily because I need friends. Don't get me wrong. I do need friends. Having a best friend has given me stability I never thought possible, and close friends, classmates, and colleagues have always been there in the moments that I needed someone. The reason I want to understand people is because I honestly...
It sounds dumb. Or cliche. Or self-aggrandizing.
It's because I honestly want people to be happy. Really, honestly, authentically, in-tune-with-God-and-themselves-and-others happy.
When I meet people - whether people I know or people I don't know - I often feel an insatiable desire to help them. It's not always. But almost.
My greatest wish, dream, goal, and the motivating factor behind most of the things I do is wanting to help people. It's like the desire to be a healer, but with far less emphasis on the physical side of mortality. I want to be a spiritual and emotional healer - to enable people to truly grow from the things they've faced in the past and become new people, full of hope and joy and light.
But I lack the ability to intuitively understand people - the way that most people see emotional or spiritual wounds. And who ever heard of a doctor who was blind?
I realize that, somehow, the tools to touch people are an inseparable part of me. I've had the ability to watch people undergo massive change at key points in their lives. At 10 years old I understood part of my calling in life when a random stranger poured out their life to me and asked for advice, and somehow I knew what to say. It's talked about in my Patriarchal blessing, and I've seen it literally thousands of times since then. Sometimes I've tried to avoid it, but I finally learned that the question wasn't *if* it would happen, but *how*. To extend the spinning blindly metaphor from before, now I'm trying to be a healer, but I'm blind, on a moving, spinning platform, and all I have are darts. People are the targets, and the darts are scalpels. No matter how softly I throw, someone will eventually get cut. People closest to me will probably get cut a lot. The question is only who, and where.
That's why every time I talk to someone, every time I write a letter, every time I compose a text message or determine even how much eye contact to use in an ongoing conversation, it's a decision that matters to me. I spend more time figuring out what I'm going to say to people than it ever takes to say it.
There is an exception. Here at (Gay) Mormon Guy I've somehow made myself believe that what I write here doesn't affect how people think of me. That it doesn't affect my relationships. Or that, at least if I'm completely honest and candid, any effects will be ok. When my best friend is having a rough day and I don't want to bring him down, or if I know I'd be rambling far longer than even family would want me to talk, I can still force myself to write it here. And while there have been just as many major repercussions from people interacting with (G)MG as in my real life, I can still force myself to publish here even when I'm so confused that I don't want to talk with anyone... because here I'm just talking.
Maybe that's why I blog. Because understanding my own feelings is one of the few things I can do, and writing about it gives me stability in a world I don't understand. Here at (G)MG, I'm not awkward. I'm just me. And, deep inside, I feel like writing may have just as much ability to help people figure out their lives as does talking, with far greater ability for others to dodge blindly flung darts. It comes with drawbacks. Every person who gets to know me here - where I force myself to just write what I feel - will always find me different in real life. Here it's totally ok for me to write for hours, and for you to read as much or as little as you want. To skip around and read something that shows me from yesterday or years ago. To delve my mind without feeling like you're prying and to stop without ever feeling like I've trespassed on your time. In real life, it doesn't often work that way. We could talk, or text, or email, and maybe we'd have some great conversations. But... I'm awkward.
I still wish I weren't awkward. When I watch people who are social butterflies and can easily understand the needs and feelings of others - people who can relate deeply and intuitively - I wish I had even a speck of their ability. I wish I knew all the rules that govern social engagement so I could keep them all running in my head all at once.
This was a perfect choice for my life, from God's perspective. I'm sure I came to life bringing with me the desire to touch people. And by binding the thing I want most - almost completely - He has perfectly set me up with a life full of complication. Trials. Blessings. Opportunities to grow. Opportunities to trust in Him instead of in myself.
I'm grateful for it. Grateful for the things it has taught me, the miracles I've seen, and the faith it has helped me build.
But I still wish I weren't awkward.