Misunderstood (Part I)

I’ve always felt misunderstood. Not sometimes, but always, and for a long time, I didn’t know why. I didn’t feel this way only when I did something wrong, which would be understandable, but I felt this way even when I did everything right. Little did I know, I had Asperger’s. I wouldn’t discover this important part of the puzzle until I was well into adulthood. 

As a child, I tried my best to be good and obedient. I tried hard to follow the rules, even when they didn’t make sense to me. Despite working hard and going the extra mile, I often felt like an outcast because somehow, whatever I did always seemed to be wrong. It was either too much or too little, or I did nothing when I should have done something, or I did something when I should have done nothing. I just could never get it quite right. 

Growing up, I felt awkward. I excelled at academics and always got straight As, but I didn’t like school. I didn’t like crowds or noise. I just didn’t fit in. And then I discovered books. Reading opened a whole new world to me. It was a world where I was understood, entertained, protected, and ultimately, saved. In a sense, books became my invisible shield against a physical world I didn’t understand and didn’t understand me. Books were my constant companion, blocking out noise, people, and confusion. Books accompanied me everywhere I went; they were with me at family gatherings, on trips to the store, at school, on car rides. With books, I could be myself. With books, I was free. 

As I grew older, I thought my feelings of being constantly misunderstood would diminish. I saw other formerly awkward kids come into their own, so I assumed it would happen to me, too. But, no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t happen. I tried everything from ignoring my feelings to recalibrating my brain. I tried changing myself to fit in. I constantly made mental notes, keeping a running list of things I should do in different situations. And for a while, it worked. Eventually, however, it started to wear on me. It’s exhausting pretending to be someone you’re not, and doing things you don’t truly understand. I was living in a constant state of flux; it was like being thrown a curve ball every single time. 

The worst part of feeling misunderstood is when people think you do understand because you seem so normal on the outside. Or worse yet, they think you understand, but you’re pretending not to. What makes this even worse for me is all of this is usually unspoken. I remember cringing when I would see the phrase, “Be yourself!” on a t-shirt or billboard. What did “Be yourself!” really mean anyway? Not only didn’t I understand it, but now I had to be reminded of it almost everywhere I turned? And for a while, it really did seem like that catchphrase was everywhere. It killed me that I couldn’t just “be myself” because when I was, nobody got me; it wasn’t only confusing but frustrating. 

I wondered why things that were second nature to everyone else seemed so bizarre and complicated, and why activities so many people enjoyed held no appeal for me. I didn’t like large events, crowds, going to shopping malls, big parties, or dance clubs. I would look around and see people smiling and laughing; they genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves while I was miserable. I wondered if I was this way because I was a bad person. Or maybe I was just boring. I had one or two friends who shared my aversion to these types of activities, but that’s it. I craved close connections with more people, but not in those environments because it was difficult for me to engage or have a deep conversation under those circumstances. I didn’t want a million friends, but I did need a few good close ones. 

Ultimately, never feeling understood or that I understood others lead me to feel isolated and lonely. When I was a child, books filled that void for me. But as an adult, books were no longer enough. I needed more. They say the only constant is change, yet nothing inside of me was really changing. I wanted to understand. Moreover, I wanted to be understood. I needed another savior. I needed an answer. So, I set out to find both.