Misunderstood (Part II)
I’m an Aspie. And it’s no surprise that Aspies interact with others and process the world around them differently than neurotypicals do. Books were my saving grace while growing up because they shielded me from a world where I felt misunderstood. What otherwise would have been a lonely childhood was not because each book was, in a sense, a friend to me, and I flourished under their influence. Eventually, however, books would not be enough to get me through.
Growing up, one trait I had was that I questioned everything. However, when I asked too many questions in class, teachers and students thought I was just being difficult. On the contrary, I’ve always hated drawing attention to myself, so disrupting class was the last thing I wanted to do. I love to learn but to understand, I must ask questions, sometimes many of them. I also asked friends and classmates many questions because I didn’t understand why they did what they did. You’ve heard of a walking dictionary? Well, I’m a walking questionary. It’s just who I am and how I learn about the people and things around me.
Social norms and customs were often a mystery to me. I didn’t understand why a friend had to find out everything she could about a boy who was in a band she liked, or why another friend loved shopping so much. I didn’t understand why if a boy liked a girl, he ignored her. Dating and courtship rituals, physical attraction and the notion of romantic love were concepts that were lost on me (and still are) because I was more logic-based. I believed men and women should be treated as equals, regardless of social, cultural, or religious background or custom. I didn’t understand or accept prevailing gender norms or stereotypes, and I didn’t see people in terms of male or female. To me, love was love, and romance and physical attraction had little to do with it. This wasn’t a popular way of looking at things.
As I got older, books were no longer enough to protect me from creeping feelings of loneliness and isolation. Growing up is hard enough, but doing it in a world from which you feel increasingly ostracized is soul crushing. But then, something which had been there all along stepped in to take over where books had left off. That something was music, the one thing I had come to believe that truly understood me. So, when I played my rusty grand piano or my beloved cello, it was as if my instruments were speaking back to me. The music I played mirrored my emotions, because when I played an instrument, I instinctively shaped the sound I was producing to reflect how I was feeling. After composing a piece of music, I would often play it back repeatedly because I honestly felt my music was the only thing in the world that truly got me; this was my way of reaching out and getting the support I so desperately needed. My music was not only there for inspiration and entertainment, but also my comfort and redemption, and it’s been that way ever since.
It was only a few years ago that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Finding out I had Asperger’s felt as if the universe had suddenly switched on the lights after I had spent my entire life crawling around in the dark. It changed everything for me because I finally learned why I had felt misunderstood my whole life. It answered so many of my lifelong questions and gave me a tangible and scientific explanation for what up until then had been a confusing and sometimes painful existence. I was finally able to understand why I always felt like an alien from another planet because, in a sense, I am. I still remember my doctor smiling at me when I walked into her office, and she casually asked if I felt relieved because the water feature in her waiting room wasn’t turned on (thinking back, I wonder if this was a test). How did she know what was going on in my head? was my immediate thought. Aspies are very sensitive to sound, so the noise from the water feature would have bothered me. It was such a relief to find someone who finally understood what it was like to be in my head.
After my diagnosis, I again turned to books; but, this time I read anything and everything about Asperger’s (I read eight books in two weeks; I also read countless articles and watched every YouTube video I could find. Aspies tend to be obsessive and possess hyperfocus traits.). Reading these books was an aha moment for me; I felt like I was reading my memoirs because so much of what I read I could relate to and had gone through myself. I especially loved the works by Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Tony Attwood, both of whom I admire very much. Being open about my diagnosis and sharing both my triumphs and struggles has opened a whole new world for me, and thanks to social media, I’ve connected with many other fellow Aspies. Slowly but surely, we are building a community. Aspies may only make up 1% of the population, but knowing there are more people out there like me makes me feel connected and gives me a sense of belonging. These days I feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful community and bolstered by the idea I’m not the only one who lives on my Aspie planet.