Ever since I was very little, I knew that the world was a different place for me than it was for most people.
Frequently, I refer to myself to people that I meet as “the weird kid”, but that isn’t exactly true. I was the “strange kid”. Even if it didn’t seem that way to the people that knew me, or if it did, they were too polite to say. Or perhaps also being a “smart kid”, strangeness just came with the territory.
Through my whole life I have always had difficulty interacting with other people. I tended to keep to myself as a child – my best friend was an oak tree. And while I played with other kids, and had sleepovers and tended to be considered polite by their parents, at least that’s what I remember, in me, that thing, that connection that people have to each other was noticeable in its absence.
Years later, too many years later, after conversation, examination, introspection and investigation, I discovered there’s a name for this feeling, and the awkwardness that stems from it. I don’t like using the name because the name is a label and that label evokes things that just don’t fit, like that size L skirt made in India that’s clearly a medium.
It is a name for something that manifests differently in everyone to whom it could be applied. In me, it manifests as introversion, as overstimulation, as repetitive behaviors, like the pages and pages in all my school notebooks filled with the exhortation “Smile!”. You have no idea how many times I’ve scrawled that word like a nervous tick when the world was becoming more than I could handle. It manifests as a paralyzing anxiety that comes with picking up the phone and calling strangers, or of being in a roomful of people I don’t know. It manifests as a compulsion to arrive anywhere fifteen minutes early to avoid being late, because being late is like hell, or how any disruption in my routine, no matter how small sets me on edge.
These aren’t things that most people would notice, because I excel at tamping them down and keeping the crazy inside. I can be chatty and gregarious, belying my introversion, without anyone knowing how loudly I’m screaming on the inside for them to just shut up and ring up my Pringles.
I can pick up the phone and talk to a stranger like we just met again after years, because it’s my job and not doing my job would disrupt the routine of paying bills, eating food and having a place to live.
I channel my repetitive behaviors into endless games of Scrabble or Marbles, or Tetris or Collapse and I call it meditation, though sometimes a series of “Smiles!” appear on my notebook while taking minutes in a meeting.
The inability to sit in front of the TV, or in a movie theater for two hours or abide being touched is as bad as it gets. The overstimulation is like needles in my mind and then I have to go play Scrabble or Marbles or Tetris or Collapse and call it meditation while the prickling subsides. It makes me abrupt sometimes, but only to the people that I can be abrupt to. To everyone else, I just smile and crack a joke or a “Smile!” before excusing myself to the restroom.
The biggest challenge is operating at the social level because our social conventions are all based on things that we assume and take for granted. The beast of my brain doesn’t do assumption, and it can’t take anything for granted. On the upside, it makes me a freakishly good analyst, because I literally cycle through every conceivable possibility, no matter how ridiculously remote, accounting for every outlandish scenario, because the more variables that are accounted for, the more accurate the analysis is. It makes me a meticulous researcher and a dogged investigator. It gives me ability to ask questions that get information rather than answers, to pick up on the subtleties that distinguish a lie from the truth from someone just talking out of their ass because they’re hesitant to say “I don’t know” out of fear of sounding stupid. I’m not afraid of “I don’t know” because even that is information. I’m not worried about sounding stupid because part of me feels like I always do anyway.
On the downside, I don’t assume that people who I know and who love me like me because they don’t tell me. Probably because they think it’s obvious to me because it should be, but it isn’t. And because I do things that I do for people because I like people, it’s hard for me to ask people for help because I don’t know that they like me, and how do you ask people for help if you don’t know whether or not they like you?
Did you know that when you ask someone who loves you if they like you, they more often than not reply that they love you? Or that they are proud of you. Or they enjoy knowing you. Or the appreciate you.
But they never tell you they like you, because it’s just a simple, so simple thing to overlook when you love someone, that telling them you like them would never occur to you because is such an obvious thing to you. But to someone like them – like me – it isn’t.
And so, when they – when I – need help, we don’t ask because we refuse to put someone who loves us in the awkward position of obligation because we like them too much.
So, we do it ourselves. We – I – figure it out because the thing that we are makes me really good at figuring it out. Even if figuring it out is the hardest option.
But if you’re used to everything being hard, what’s one more hard thing?
But, it’s a catch-22, isn’t it? I tell people I like them and I show them by doing things for them. To help them. But I get locked in the vicious cyclone of not letting them do things for me for the same reason because this thing doesn’t let me make that assumption. I know, I’ve tried…
I don’t wish I were different. I may not want to wear the label, but I that doesn’t mean I reject the contents of the container. There’s nothing wrong with seeing the world differently, especially when I see from a vantage point of wonder.
It’s just the sense of isolation that goes with it I could, at times, do without.