Thursday, December 31, 2009

So unique. So Alone.

I have learned how to be friendly, and maintain a social calendar that is limited ONLY by my own personal requirement for “quiet time.” I’ve cracked the code on making friends, having fun, living the life.

Or so it seems.

Because I’m really still alone.

It’s easy to have friends when you learn to suppress some of your behaviors. Don’t talk about XYZ with this group. Don’t stim around that group. Don’t frown around most people. Don’t this. Don’t that.

Don’t look at this lunch as a social, fun time for you: look at it as work; you’re networking with the people you work with so they will help you out on the job later when you need them. You’re not shopping with the ladies from church so you can get what you want, but rather, you are shopping with them because for some reason (you still don’t understand) this makes them like you and accept you. Each of these things carry a social dimension that you’re missing, and though you don’t know WHY it works, you know that your life is easier and people help you more when you do these things with the people from job, church, community.

Smile, make small talk, ask about their mothers. Find something to compliment a person you don’t know and make it a challenge: what percentage of strangers at this gathering can you get talking for more than 2 minutes? A social checklist runs in your head, governing every interaction, and reminding you that when you get home you must log the details of your conversation, so that you will remember to ask after so-and-so’s mother and query you-know-who about their sponge hobby next time you meet.

You don’t REALLY watch movies with friends because if they get to talking, you go into sensory overload and can’t process their conversations or the speech from the movie. If you get mad, they get frustrated. So you learn how to control the meltdowns that go along with sensory overload, and go to their house to "watch movies” knowing full well you’re not going to understand anything. You know you will slip out for an extended bathroom break, or go outside to “talk” on your cell phone. But somehow they like you better when you spend time with them, and besides, you can always watch the movie later, by yourself.

When you go shopping with your “friends” you know better than to try and REALLY shop. You want to do it your way, which never seems to be their way. No one else wants to circle the mall 3 times visiting 47 stores to save $2.46 on a specific sweater. No one else wants to try on every article in the store to see if it will fit/flatter you. They just grab and go, but you’re just then getting warmed up. So you smile, and look, but you don’t really shop. You enjoy having friends, but sometimes feel alone.

But at the end of your day, all alone in your room, you realize that you are still alone. And you can go shopping for yourself, and go to dinner with yourself, and watch the shows you want to watch. But there’s no one there to watch them with. Because the minute you want to start doing YOUR stuff YOUR way, those people that filled up your social calendar melt away. Your way is too intense, too demanding, too precise, too full of minutiae, too calculating, too MUCH.

You are so unique. Will you always be alone?

Fun, But Still Alone.

I wrote the post "So Unique. So Alone." after thinking about two aspie authors who have killed themselves. It happened a long time ago and I don’t remember who they were. A Google search didn’t help me locate info on either of them so if you know who I’m talking about, please send me details. One was a lady whose book really helped me understand about being an Aspie, and the other was a young man whose aspie friendship site really helped others. I discovered them a couple years ago, after just learning about AS myself. I was shocked that someone who appeared to crack the code on friendship and getting along in an NT world would commit suicide. They had it made, right?

But one day I was sitting in my apartment. Alone. I could go to church. But I would still be alone. I can go to work tomorrow and laugh, joke, even go to lunch with my coworkers. But I would still be alone. I could go home to visit family who loves me. But I would still be alone. I can go out to meet new people, by joining a new group or trying to get closer to people I know but haven’t really hung around, because I hope that by meeting lots and lots of people I’ll eventually find some like me. But I’ve only found 1 other person who is enough like me that I can totally be myself around her; and she’s now living on another continent, so most likely I would still be alone.

So I sat there, alone. And felt the most hopeless and forlorn I had felt in a long time. In spite of all my efforts to be friendly, fill up my social calendar, and the fact that I was actually succeeding at my highly interpersonal job, I felt like there was too much missing. Like I would never be able to connect with someone in a way that was fulfilling to ALL of me. The part of me that loves the Lord AND the part of me that loves science AND the part of me that loves food AND the part of me that loves long-distance running AND the part of me that loves being a blend of two ethnic cultures AND the part of me that doesn’t like TV AND the part of me that doesn’t like movie theaters AND the part of me that loves to watch movies at home AND the part of me that likes outdoor sports AND the part of me that loves watching football AND the part of me that hates sports bars.

It sounds dumb when you read it, because none of that SHOULD be enough to make you depressed, but I didn’t want to live. I didn’t want to keep trying. I didn’t want to keep playing the NT game. I didn’t want to have to always adjust myself. It wasn’t fair. Other people didn’t have to change, why should I??? But in that instant, I discovered how others could help 1000s of other Aspies, appear to have cracked the code on how to have the good life, and yet still take their life.

I decided to pick myself up, accept the reality that my life is just going to be more of a battle than other people’s lives seemed to be (which really isn’t true- we just feel that way), and make the best out of a bad situation. Maybe I couldn’t be completely myself around others, but at least I could have fun. And I do have fun. But I have yet to feel as if I "belong," so even in the midst of my fun, I'm still alone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Change We Actually CAN Believe In

Copied from my best friend's blog:

After 4 days of travel delays, I finally made it home. Since I’m flying right back out tomorrow afternoon, I decided to get take-out rather than cook. I didn’t realize how generously sized the portions would be, and was surprised when the waitress brought out two large cases of food. I pondered how to balance two cases of food, two large styrofoam cups, a sleepy toddler, and a “you fiend” purse, and had decided to make two trips (and hope I didn’t get robbed), when a white teenage boy offered to carry both cases to the car for me. I glanced at his southern belle of a mom, who further surprised me by nodding her approval, and thanked him heartily as he grabbed the cases for me, opened the door for me, then carried my dinner down to my little red bug at the far end of the parking lot.

This event surprised me for two reasons:

1. My girlfriends and I had just been whining about how the more self-sufficient a woman is, the less likely anyone is to offer her help. It’s a vicious cycle: have to do things yourself, get offered less help, b/c you get offered less help, you have to learn to do more things for yourself. So I was not expecting an offer of help.

2. I’m back home in the Gump, and, well, when was the last time any of you readers saw a white boy offer to help a black woman (unless she was paying him)? Race issues have been heavy on my mind for a while now, and this is the angle I’ll take with the rest of this post.

My thinking about race began a couple days ago when I went to dinner with a friend. I love to try new restaurants, so was excited to go. However, from the moment I walked in, something didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right when the hostess pointed me to the ladies room, and the feeling didn’t lift when I returned to the foyer at the same time that my friend arrived. The feeling grew worse when we were seated at the worst table and requested to be moved. My friend was rightfully irritated because the place was practically empty and the other two parties were comfortably seated in the far corner. The feeling so colored my perceptions that when my friend discussed “those people” in the white house, I was horrified; having misinterpreted “those people” to mean blacks, not liberals (as was intended, and quickly explained).

The feeling left me a poor dinner partner, I suspect, because it so occupied my mind that I was rendered useless in holding up my end of what should have been a spirited political debate. With few exceptions, I shrugged off each topic with, “you’ve got a good point,” and returned, inwardly, to my reflection of how different it is living as a black person, even in the most powerful nation in the world.

Before I continue, let me say up front that being black in today’s America is NOTHING like it was 50, 40, or even 20 years ago. My struggles pale in comparison to what previous generations had to endure. I am ever so grateful that they kept on keeping on, that they fought the good fight of faith, and that they persevered so I can be where I am today. Praise God for your sacrifices! I am truly thankful.

As I munched on my stale bread and picked out the mushrooms I had asked them not to include in my salad, I thought how different life was for me and my Caucasian friend. I won’t go so far as to accuse the restaurant of seating us by the kitchen to slight us, because we weren’t in the deep south, but I’ve been in many places where there was “meaning” behind giving my group the worst seats in the house, behind getting our order wrong, and behind serving us poor quality food. My friend requested a new seat, but I was caught off guard by the request because I’m quite used to it by now. Not only have I stopped asking to be reseated, but I don’t even notice it anymore. I would never have complained about the stale bread and requested more because I’m used to it. Again, I’m not accusing that restaurant of being racist (this was after a bad blizzard, and it’s far more likely their supply trucks hadn’t come through) but it got me thinking about all the times when such incidences WERE on purpose.

When did I stop insisting on proper treatment? When did I stop noticing? When did I get used to being a second class citizen? When did I switch from outrage at not being served in a store (“uh, no I’ll take the guy behind you”), to acceptance (that’s just the way it is-go along to get along, don’t rock the boat, don’t make life harder for the rest of us)? How did I go from arriving in the USA as a 16 yr old, ready to experience the melting pot, the rainbow, and the land of the free, being shocked at the “isolated” incidences of bigotry I observed that first summer, to the young woman who doesn’t bat an eye when informed of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, or told “your son will never attend this school so stop trying.” Perhaps it happened when I moved to a city that has “Cradle of the Confederacy” smack dab in the middle of its city seal.

I tell of my experiences with a smile on my face. It’s a funny aberration of an otherwise great nation. I joke about the “white door” and “black door” some establishments still have (not labeled, of course, but you learn to pay attention after the first time of walking in the wrong door). Why smile, why joke, when it’s really not funny? Because it covers up some of the pain and dissipates some of the anger at not being able to DO anything about it. I tell myself to fight it with my conduct, for as Lt Col Herb Carter (an original Tuskegee Airman) says, “the antidote to racism is excellence in performance.” I try to fool myself by saying it’s a compliment when locals discus, “those people,” or, “the blacks” and qualify their statements with, “but we’re not talking about you.” That is a compliment, right? Right? Yeah. Right.

I thought about a lot more during that dinner, things that I would not feel comfortable printing here, and things I certainly wasn’t going to discuss with my Caucasian friend: experiences with which my civilian, military, and spiritual mentors have held me spellbound, stories they have told us behind closed doors, advice and warnings they have provided that, while contrary to my optimistic, glass-half-full mentality, has always served me well.

In spite of this, I look at how our nation has changed in just a few decades: A friend was telling us how as a teenager she couldn’t go into the restaurants and stores of her home town, but now, in her 60s, she can turn on the TV and look upon a (half) black president. The walls are coming down, the glass ceilings are slowly being broken. I’m not sure things will ever truly be equal, but I do know that my son can aspire to be whatever he wants to be. It may not be easy, but all things are possible. If a young white boy, in the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” is willing to carry a black woman’s packages to her car, and the leader of the free world has some color to his skin, our nation has indeed seen change… change we can actually believe in.

Overcoming Depression, Series Wrap Up

My hope is that this series has helped others overcome depression by looking at some of the factors that contribute to anxiety/stress in our lives. By reducing the anxiety of daily living, and taking positive action to direct our lives in the way WE want to go, we can begin to climb out of depression and into "life more abundantly."

As a wrap-up, here are my 5 tips to Overcoming Depression:

Tip #1: Tell yourself you are happy

Tip #2: Manage your expectations

Tip #3: Focus on what's good

Tip #4: Make sure your goals are things you can control

Tip 5: Accept yourself the way you are, or do something about it

Please note, thesse posts in no way qualify as professional advice. I am simply telling you what worked for me. Please seek your own counsel before implementing any of this advice.

Overcoming Depression, Part 5

Today's tip for overcoming depression is, to me, the toughest thing I ever did:

Tip 5: Accept yourself the way you are, or do something about it

To do this, I must examine myself, good and bad, and catagorize myself into things I can change and things I can't.

I must acknowledge what I can't change, and find ways to work around (or overcome)those obstacles. I must also acknowledge what I CAN change, and this can be tough because we really can change more than we like to believe we can.

A couple of examples:

I am African-American. In some places I visit, this affords me poor treatment. I cannot change that, though I can try to limit my travels (as much as possible) to places that aren't predominantly racist. And if I get treated poorly because of race, I can tell myself not to take it personally, not to let the incident get me down.

I am also a woman. In some jobs I've held, I've been told the reason my evals were poor was because I was a woman, not because of poor performance. I can't change that, though when I end up working for a boss who thinks less of women, I can quickly seek out another job. And if I get treated poorly because of gender, I can tell myself not to take it personally, not to let the incident get me down.

I prefer my own natural scent, and often don't understand why others don't agree. However, I have discovered that my scent offends others just as much as it pleases me, so I've learned to use nice grooming products with a pleasant smell and clean myself every morning (whether I feel like I need a wash or not). Being clean and somewhat fashionable results in more positive interactions with others, so this means less times people treat me bad, thus less hurtful experiences to be depressed about.

I must take a hard look at what I can change, and stop making excuses for not changing. If I choose not to change, that's one thing- I must accept the consequences of not changing as a matter of accepting myself the way I am. But many things that contribute to our depression can be changed. Behaviours, mannerisms, the way we present ourselves to others, etc, are things we can change. By changing them, we change how people react to us, and that in turn gives us more positive interactions, which helps lighten our depression.

My life will never be different if I keep doing the same things. Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” and I think he's right.

As much as I like to whine and complain about how other people have it easy, the bottom line is we all have handicaps. We all have personality issues. We all have strengths and weaknesses, including NTs. We all have to overcome SOMETHING, and the first thing we need to overcome is the tendency to look at ourselves and either sugar coat the truth so we can avoid change, or paint ourselves as horrible hopeless creatures, which discourages us so bad that we lose motivation to change.