Friday, May 26

Awkwardness and Autism

I'm awkward in the worst way possible. When social grace has any leniency towards actions and words, my actions fall neatly within the margin of error. I look normal, sound normal, feel normal to those who interact with me. But when lines of communication get entangled (as they often do), or the stakes of a relationship rise and closeness grows (as usually happens), my dance of normalcy disappears. I find myself blindly making misstep after misstep, until the other dancers simply walk away.

Some people forgive me for my social faux pax... over and over and over again. A rare few see through the muddled mess into who I really am. But I think most people on the receiving end of my chaotic awkwardness feel subconsciously betrayed. I had seemed so easy to befriend at first glance. So straightforward. And then somehow, suddenly, a series of mistakes ensued and the relationship became unbearable.

I get it.

In a perfect world, people would be able to see through the problems that others face. To see them for who they really are and overlook the jarring problems they face. To instantly forgive the autistic people, those with personality disorders, and those facing untold emotional stress... and to be there for them. People would see that under my shortcomings, I live and breath for people. That I care so deeply that my life revolves around them - around guiding strangers to meaning, easing the burdens of the sick, helping anyone who will listen find happiness and peace.

But I don't live in a perfect world. My world is nowhere near perfect.

And in my world, someone who looks and acts normally in most situations, seems sincere, but then makes more and more major social missteps... is usually attributed personality flaws. If the person was a really "good" person, he would just fix his issues.

And so it goes with me.

I've been named by pretty much all of them.

I've been named uncaring, unloving, too caring, too intense, overconfident, unresponsive, creepy, mean, too nice, too invested, not invested enough, too physical, not physical enough, proud, dishonest, too honest, pessimistic, too optimistic, unfaithful, blindly obedient, hypocritical...

And ultimately not worth the effort.

That's reality.

Classes and counseling have given me tools to navigate most situations and look and feel normal. I can interact with most people and they never dream that they're talking with someone whose social persona is riddled with potholes. But I am a walking landmine, and most of my relationships explode.

And even when I tell them (since I often do) that my autism will likely push them away, people pishposh the heartfelt statement... And usually forget I predicted it would happen.

For a guy whose love language is quality time, who loves people more than life itself, and who thrives on deep connections with others, I've got a major problem. And for much of my life that problem has been depressing at best: I'll likely never be as close to people as I want to be. And, in a twist of bitter irony, if I try to get close to them, I run a real and major risk of losing the relationship completely.

So I can be surface-level friends with lots of people. They think I'm normal, a bit standoffish, a bit too proud, a bit too caring. They see chunks of me floating around, but aren't close enough to be smashed by them. The people I want to be close to usually end up running away.

I'm pretty sure I would run away too.


That's a pretty depressing reality. But that's part of being autistic. Deeply needing connection with people, and being pushed away by them and labeled as uncaring or broken or creepy or too intense has ripped me apart emotionally time and time again. I can't even count the number of times that I've tried and failed, each time burning yet another potential connection.

Another depressing reality is that there are only so many people with which to try. Propinquity - or the science of physical proximity - shows that most social relationships are based on proximity. Someone who lives just a few minutes away is far more likely to become a friend than someone who lives further... and beyond a given distance, the chance drops to almost zero. I don't travel much, and my ability to communicate through text, email, and social media is even worse than in person.



But there's a redeeming reality as well. One that, in the face of my likely hopeless lifelong battle, gives me strength and hope and peace.

God is real. This life isn't all there is. And if I follow Him, it will all work out.

Believing that I have to find love, meaning, connection, and happiness on my own, using the tools and circumstances I've got in life with the people in my small circle of proximity, is a short, honest road to failure and death. I've faced reality, and learned at least one thing after decades of trying: It's not going to happen. Most people, especially those exposed to my greater missteps because I want them in my life, aren't going to forgive my shortcomings or see beyond the issues I face. And my social world is far too small to filter through enough people to find large numbers of people who could look past my problems.

Without God, life is bleak.

With Him, I have faith.

I have no idea what my life will actually entail. I'm pretty sure that I'll fight the demons that surround me for the rest of mortality, hoping to find more truly good people who can see beyond the darkness into the light inside my soul. That I'll struggle to connect with and feel connected to people. And that, wanting only to make them happy, I'll unknowingly betray the people closest to me, creep them out, exhaust their souls, make them cry at night, and fill them with anger and isolation and despair until they run away.

But I'll also be touched by God. Blessed by Him. Cared for by Him. And, every so rarely, the demons will disappear, and I'll connect with someone for a moment - heart to heart, soul to soul - and remember what it's like to be who I really am.

I don't know why, of all the things given to people in life, I have this. Why the kid who loves people more than anything carries a debilitating social disability that draws people in, only to then make them flee in fear. Perhaps it's to help me learn to love more. To see beyond the demons that others face. To love them for who they truly are, even if they have never seen the light inside. Or perhaps it's to help others do the same. To give them a chance to navigate the pitfalls and landmines and find their own ability to love and forgive completely.

Whatever the reason, that's my reality. I'm awkward, disconnected, deceivingly normal, and unforgivably broken. 

But whatever the circumstances may be, with God at my side, I know at least one thing: His grace is sufficient for even me. Real happiness comes from being like God and connecting with Him... a happiness even greater than the human connection I crave, powerful enough to overcome anything and give hope in the darkest of times. 

I am awkward and broken. But with Him, my life will be amazing.

1 comment:

  1. You're helping me understand my teenage daughter better. Thank you. I'm sorry you have this to deal with. :(


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