Saturday, June 20, 2009

Angry Aspies (another rant on friendship)

I've got an anger management problem. Do you? I'm working on it, and getting a LOT better. I'm discovering a LOT of my life is faling into place as I address the things that built up this intense anger I carry within me.

I think many Aspies are wired to get angry with less provocation and in a more violent manner than NTs, and I think a lot of it has to deal with not understanding what happened but not being pleased about it on the subconscious level. I wonder if being different sets up a cycle of anger: be different, get treated bad, find yourself unable to process or express feelings, get angry and act our (different, weird) b/c you can't understand the rage you're feeling and just want it to stop, get treated bad because you're different, and on it goes.

We don't even realize it, but our tendencey to "hijack conversations" or "share" or lecture may be driven by our deep-seated inner desire to prove our selves. We may not even be aware of it- or even aware that we ARE trying to prove ourselves. But deep down, we're trying to prove that we're just as good as anyone else. That we deserve to be treated just as good as anyone else. When I discovered this about myself (almost a year ago) it knocked the wind out of me. All of my accomplishments up to that point meant nothing, because they could never fill the void by parents treating me bad (just leave her in the corner- she'll never be normal) and kids treating me bad (she's so stooooo-pid).

I see a lot of Aspies who are angry because life hasn't treated us fair, and we see people who are less smart, less perfect, and less fill-in-the-blank getting ahead when all we get is shunned. They're jerks, and everyone likes them. We're amazing, and no one likes us. We get angrier, and insist upon those areas in which we can prove our worth by being right.

Problem is, to the outside observer, we're not as cool and perfect as we think we are. And until we are humbled, that attitude of "always right" will turn people off (and against us) before we can get close enough to say hi. I'm not sure how NTs pick up on it, but they do. Normal people have normal faults. Normal people forget about stuff pretty quickly (even commitments, unfortunately). Normal people don't know about or know how to do everything. When I run off the long list of businesses and community boards on which I serve, people think I'm making it up because Normal People can't do all of that at one time. Normal people only go on ad-infinitum about their special interest (if they have one) with others who share that interest. Normal people have the discretion not to share too much personal history too soon.

When we show ourselves to be outside the range of "normal" we are sending a clear signal to "normal people" that they should stay away from us. We're going to take up a lot of their time. We're going to want to talk a loooooong time, mostly about us and how right we are, and other things they aren't interested in. We're going to send loooooooong emails that their minds can't follow. We're going to use, abuse, embarrass, or just plain inconvenience them, and unless they have issues, they are going to move on and be friends with someone else.

What's left? We end up scraping the bottom of the barrel and find people who use, abuse, embarrass, and inconvenience us. We're not happy with the relationship, but we don't dare end it because we don't have a lot of friends to choose from.

I learned this the hard way. I'm telling you, so you can avoid making my mistakes, and maybe have good friends in your teens and twenties, instead of waiting til your late thirties and forties to figure this stuff out. If you have an anger problem, get some help on getting in touch with your feelings and what's causing them. Once you know what's making you angry, you can fix it. Learning how to identify and fix anger causing situations will help you end toxic relationships, which will help you respect yourself more, and that in turn will help you attract better people. Not sure why that works, but it does.

Hope it helps.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How To Lose A Friendship Before It Starts

Let me share with you an excerpt from my list of “No-Nos,” things I used to do that kept me from making friends with "quality" people. I've come a long way in my behavior over the last 10-12 years, so I don't mind sharing. Maybe you'll recognize yourself or someone you know in some parts of this list.

First, I'd like to mention we need to be careful of calling people "friends." I often used to consider people my friends then they were actually just being polite. Because I would never invite someone to join me if I didn't want them there, it's hard to for me to remember that people often act like they want us around when they don't. They're just being polite. We're supposed to pick up on the subtle hints and conveniently come up with other plans. Subtle hints are hard for most Aspies to catch, but I'm getting better and I'm sure you will too.

We have to remember that people won't generally tell us if these things are a problem. They will just avoid us in public and conveniently forget about us when doing things as a group, even if they like our personality and have no problem hanging out with us one-on-one in private. It is more important to MOST people to fit in than to nurture our friendship if our friendship threatens their ability to fit in with the group.

  • Dominating the conversation, turning every conversation to be something about ourselves or our special interest. Even when talking about "them" somehow our comments always insert *us* and our accomplishments. We think we are building a bridge by sharing what we have in common. Others take it as bragging, narcissism, or dominating the conversation. I still have to watch out for this.
  • Digging in eyes, ears, scratching scalp, or picking nails in public. Especially for women- you are not supposed to touch your face a lot, unless it is with a napkin or to push up glasses, etc. Good thing my mom taught me not to pick my nose, or I probably would have done that too.
  • Poor grooming- look disheveled, strong body scent (according to their standards), hair not done (according to their standards), visible dirt on body, clothes rumpled or dirty (remember, they don't have tactile issues and don't understand why we always want to wear that same soft outfit all the time), also, if the group is fashionable (clothing, style) and you're not- the members of the group are less likely to invite you along, even if they like hanging around with you one-on-one (in private)
  • Talking too loud in public
  • Lack of "discretion," talking about things that are not "socially acceptable" As an example: in the airport one day, an aspie friend and I were talking about her upbringing. She explained childhood physical and sexual abuse in explicit detail, and was quite loud and agitated. I noticed that other passengers were getting uncomfortable with our conversation and directed it to something less distressing for those who overheard us. I consider this a victory, because 10 years ago I wouldn't have noticed their discomfort, and even if I had, I would have thought tough- that’s their problem and been happy to shake them out of their idyllic fake reality! I wouldn't have realized that extreme abuse isn't the kind of thing you talk about loudly in the airport waiting room.
  • Always dropping stuff because of carrying too much or too unorganized; always fumbling to find keys wallet, etc
  • Always tripping, falling, stumbling, etc. This is tough to overcome because many Aspies have spatial/clumsiness problems.
  • Always causing "trouble" by too many special requests at the restaurant, or by asking too many questions when someone "hooks up" your group with a special deal (I always did this, because I was scared I was getting conned or they were going to charge me later)
  • Being too critical of others (because we're so perfect, this is easy to do, LOL)
  • Acting "weird," which is admittedly hard to quantify but basically most people don't like to stand out. And they don't want to be in a group with someone who sticks out like a sore thumb. Sometimes I have to be "true to myself" and stand out, but I have to accept the consequence that the people I'm with will be less likely to invite me along next time.

Like I said, most NTs won’t come out and tell you these things. And a lot of Aspies won’t either, because in most of the Aspie groups I’ve attended, much of the above doesn’t bother anyone. I guess we all carry too much stuff, and we’re all tripping and bumping into things. Or stimming in public. Or looking a little rumpled. I learned this stuff through trial and error and by overhearing what people say about me and others like me. BTW: If this looks familiar to you, it’s because I pulled it from another post I made to an anonymous aspie group I frequent. Hope it is of some use to you.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Run a Marathon With Severe Autism

Since I'm training for my first-ever marathon this fall, I subscribed to Runner's World Magazine. One of my first issues, April 2009, tells (briefly) the story of Jonathan Brunot, a 19 year old from West Hempstead, NY. He's autistic, and according to the blurb, only speaks 10 words.
He ran the NYC Marathon in 4:49 with Rolling Thunder, a special-needs running program. At the finish, he clapped and waved to his parents for the first time.


Says Brunot's trainer, Vincent Del-cid: "At the marathon, Jonathan was confused at first by the crowds as they cheered for him, but then he liked it and started to run faster. When he received his medal, he looked up at me and said, 'Malathon.'"

While Runner's World homepage no longer has the article, you can read more about autistic runners at these links:

Asia Running
(blog of an autistic marathoner)
Autistic Runners (on Autism Runs Blog, by an autism dad)
Athletes with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (an article by Jennifer Copley)
Runman, blog of Autistic Runner Alex Bain (who you can see on the YouTube video below)

How to Handle "Typical" Unreliable People

I wrote this response to an Anonymous commenter who asked how to deal with the fact that most "typical" people don't value being reliable and following through on their word. You can see her comment on my "If Your Friends are Just Using You, They're Not Really Friends" post, but Blogger wouldn't accept the html link for the books, so here it is as a post.

Thank you for your comment. Let me recommend two books:

That's Not What I Meant!

You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation

I don't know why most people don't feel the need to be honest and reliable.

I DO know, however, that it is so "normal" to be dishonest, that when I answered a psychological eval question "I never lie" with "true of me all the time" the person who interpreted the test told me it most likely indicated I am putting up a front. I asked why that would be- I really DON'T lie. He said that everyone (of normal psychology) lies and that if one says they don't lie, they are either of abnormal neurology (such as autism) or they are trying to pretend they never lie so that they will look good to others (thus, they are putting up a front). Very weird, IMHO.

Personally, here is the way I deal with it:

1. I do not "depend" on "typical" people. I make plans but typically have a backup in mind "just in case." I enjoy their company, but don't rely on it.

2. I keep in mind that "typical" people often say they want to do something, go somewhere, make XYZ agreement, when they don't. In many cases, they are making subtle hints that we (if we were typical) would pick up on and realize that they weren't going to follow through.

3. I really don't "plan" too many things anymore, because "typical" people are too fickle, and they don't feel the same sense of obligation I do about things. If I say I'm coming, then I'm coming no matter what it takes. If I say I'll do XYZ for you, short of death and dismemberment, I'll do it. Most people aren't like that. They'll go with the best thing going, and when something better comes along, they'll forget they made plans with me.

4. If I do "plan" something, it's a common area event- by that I mean, it's something like going to a museum or a race, where I can still enjoy myself whether everyone comes or I end up by myself. My "social calender" isn't as full as it used to look, but my interactions are much more enjoyable.

5. Finally, and this has been the HARDEST part of my walk, has been realizing that people just don't like being around me too long. I'm too honest, live too clean a lifestyle, and I don't watch a whole lot of junk. In other works, I'm pretty boring, and my lifestyle condemns others (especially other Christians). Even though I'm learning to season my words with grace, and I'm getting better at social interaction, I've accepted the fact that until I make people feel good about themselves when they're around me, and until I squelch any embarrassing habits I have, I'm going to be alone more than I want. The good news is, I don't want to be alone forever, and that has inspired me to change over the past few years. I'm still rough around the edges, but ask those who have known me- they'll tell you I've come a loooooong way.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hating Yourself Will NOT Solve the Problem

I will expound on this more when I get home from work, but right now I have been constantly re-playing the following conversation in my mind:

Thought #1: Argh! I can't believe I am so stupid (fat, ugly, insert whatever). I HATE myself!

Thought #2: Wait now, hating myself will not solve the problem. I've been working out, taking better care of my grooming, trying to get more organized (etc). These things are solving the problem. But hating myself will not solve the problem.

I feel a small sense of victory, because a couple weeks ago, thought #2 wouldn't have entered into my process. It was just a constant string of, "I hate myself," mostly in reaction to some bad news I received two months ago. I guess the moral of the story is, if you know anyone who is really hating themselves right now, encourage them to look at what they can actively do to make their lives better. This will help them combat the depression that comes with self-hatred. At least, it's helping me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

If Your Friends are Just Using You, They're Not Really Friends

Tonight I posted a response to someone whose "friends" didn't seem to really care about xem. While the message board itself is anonymous, so I won't post the original message or details, I thought my response might help some of my fellow Aspies and autistic children of my NT readers. Here it is:


You are not alone.

Unfortunately, I don't have the answer for you, but I can tell you a little about my experience... warning, this is very long...

It was heartbreaking for me to realize, toward the end of my senior year of college, that my friendships were shallow and one-sided. Every once in a blue moon I'd find someone who just liked hanging around me- watching the same things I watch, going to bookstores, going hiking, but for the most part my "friends" had specific agendas:

  1. They didn't have anyone else to hang around with at the moment
  2. If they wanted to talk and whine about their problems and all their other friends were tired of listening to it
  3. They wanted to use me/take advantage of me
Some examples of "3" include:
In school I was one of few students who had a car, so I would get offers to go places if I drove. I often got "friends" who needed help on their homework (I was an honor roll student) and "liked me" long enough to get the homework or project done. Sometimes the Christian and Mormon girls would need a "chaperone" and invite me to tag along with them hiking with a guy.

Even though it's in my nature to want to help everyone and do things for people, I try really hard to resist now. People that are just using others do not care about the people they are using. In fact, I've worked with a lot of people that think those of us who are willing to help were put here to be taken advantage of. Basically, they subscribe to the belief that some people were made to be used, and it's ok to take advantage of someone if they deserve it. Of course I don't believe this, myself, but since I know most of my coworkers do I try to keep myself from doing things for them so I don't establish a cycle of being used.

After realizing most of my friendships were not really friendships at all, I made a concerted effort to minimize my involvement with those who are only out to use me. So I saw that someone didn't really care for me (because they never wanted to do what I want, and when we did stuff I always gave, never received, or they never cared how I was, only about themselves), I stopped doing things for them and I stop talking to them. Not completely, but mostly. It hurt to lose my friends. But they weren't really friends. And the funny thing is, I opened myself up to finding new friends (at church, the bookstore) now that I wasn't wasting all my time trying to please people who didn't really care about me.

Nowadays, when I meet someone, I am very careful not to do things for them or to tell too many of my stories. It's hard because I always want to help. Early on, I let others to talk more about themselves because the more you let others talk, the more they will enjoy being around you. But I keep an eye out for clues that this friendship will be one-sided, abusive, or just plain depressing, and if so, then I minimize my time spent with that person.

Some main results of this are:

  1. (good result) I feel much better about myself. I don't feel like a doormat anymore. Sometimes I will accommodate someone who is just trying to use me, but usually only if it's in line with my own personal goals to do so.
  2. (good result) I have a lower percentage of "superficial friendships." When I stopped letting people use me all the time, they moved on to other targets, er, I mean, more accommodating people. And it seems like when I started treating myself better by getting rid of people who were toxic for me, I started attracting better people into my life. Not MORE people, but BETTER people.
  3. (sometimes depressing result) of course, that unfortunately means I have less friends overall. I go more places by myself and do more things by myself. I'm not completely happy about that, but now when I do go out with people, I have more meaningful interaction so when I get down about being alone more than I like, I tell myself "choose quality over quantity."
  4. (really caught me by surprise) Finally, I want to note a side-effect of this change in my life is that, over time, I stopped really trusting people who come in to my life. meetings notwithstanding, I find if someone new is really friendly to me, or really seems interested in me, I get wary and start looking for "what do they want? what are they trying to butter me up for? what are they trying to get out of me?" 99% of the time they are, indeed, trying to take advantage of me. But I try to keep an open mind because every so often someone comes along who is just happy to meet someone like me (who is just like them).
Two big caveats I need to add to my advice are:

  1. I, like most Aspies, have the problem of driving away "quality people" by expecting them to be like us. They're not. Even another Aspie isn’t going to be just like me. We can't always gauge someone's friendship potential by what we want or by whether or not our needs are always met because we may have unique needs other people are unable to meet. For example, I am a very "intense" person. Most people are not as intense, and will never be able to satisfy my need for that "intensity" in friendships. For example, I'm sure you couldn't tell by the length of this post, LOL, but I love long detailed descriptions. Most people (especially NTs) like to keep emails and posts to one or two paragraphs at most, and get overwhelmed when I send something this long. I can't allow myself to feel like they don't care about me if I write them a book and they just send one or two lines back. MOST people send short emails. That's NORMAL. They don't LIKE long emails. So I have to accept that. I have a few friends who like to write the way I do, and I always have to encourage them to ramble on and express themselves, otherwise they have been so conditioned by everyone else that they will automatically shorten what they say to me. I can't judge others by my own personal conduct because my conduct is not "normal."
  2. Many people are, as XXXXXXXXX2 mentioned, narcissistic and only friends with us to feed their own egos and meet their own goals. It's good to stay away from those folks (because they drain us, and make us depressed) but we need to be honest with ourselves and realize that most of us are a little like that- we want friends that like US, make US feel good about ourselves, listen to US, and are interested in US. Since I know this is true for me, I don't cut off interaction with everyone who is just out for themselves, but I keep my expectations realistic. For example, a coworker often arranges events (dinners, trips, museums, etc). She has the personality that always finds special deals and gets people to make special concessions for her. We have spent a good portion of free time together, but I have no false expectations that she cares deeply about me. She simply does not like to be alone, and since I'm adventurous but unable to come up with the cool events she does, the "relationship" works for both of us.

Wow, that's longer than usual but I hope you are encouraged to know you are not alone and that you DON'T have to SETTLE for poor quality relationships. We still have to work with (and sometimes live with) people who are not good for us, but we don't have to spend our free time being hurt and ignored. It takes time to attract quality people into your life, but the first step is valuing yourself enough to put aside the people who are causing you pain.