Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Monday, September 14, 2009

In My Skin

On Friday my counsellor and I had a very interesting conversation. It started when she asked me to describe one way in which my Aspergers affects me as an adult. I mentioned often feeling gauche / socially inept, and she wanted an example. So I told her about something that happened at my weekend at the SCA. My cousin and I went to the two events together, and on the Saturday we discovered that her Saturday dress was made from the same material as my Sunday dress. When we got to the event we spotted another girl also wearing a dress of the same material. When I found myself next to that girl at the food table, I turned to her with a smile and told her that we had been laughing because of the number of dresses with the same material, which was no surprise really because it was such good material for costumes. She smiled back and that was that. But my cousin a minute later whispered to me in a wry-amused voice, "only you would point out and make light of such a social faux pas!". And I realised that she was right and felt awkward about it.

The counsellor said, "But why did her opinion matter more than yours?".
I blinked a few times, then said, "well, obviously I thought she was a bit silly for worrying about it, but I know most people would agree with her, not me."
Counsellor: "So?"
Me: ... ... ... *codfish impression*

God damn it, she's right.

Aspergers or not, people who are Different Like Me spend their whole lives feeling like they're marching to the beat of a different drum, out of sync, getting it wrong.

In our society the natural acquisition of social norms is characterised by the application of 'good' or 'bad' labels. Conforming behaviour is good, non-conforming behaviour is bad. Children internalise these labels, strive to stick to the 'good' and avoid the 'bad'. That'd be fine if people saved the 'bad' for things that are actually, you know, bad. But because our society insists on cultural conformity as well as behavioural conformity, that moral judgement is meted out whenever a child displays any behaviour - no matter how harmless - that falls outside the cultural norms. Some adults are stricter than others in their insistence on conformity, but even the most relaxed have a line past which they will tell the child that they are misbehaving or being an embarrassment.

And so we internalise the message. Non-conformity is BAD.

And for those of us who spend the first two decades of our lives just working out that there IS a code we were missing behind all this conformity stuff . . . we've spent two decades being told that our everything is embarrassing, unacceptable, bad.

Which, frankly, is bullshit.

Some social graces are required to ease the flow of society, yes. I'm not talking about abolishing please and thankyou here. But there is so much scope for people to be interesting and creative and wonderful and happy and free in ways that hurt no one, and yet attract those dreadful moral labels of "weird" or "embarrassing".

When I am in social situations, I often feel that I am "one step back from my eyes". I'm not living on the surface of my being, free to be myself and act and respond in ways that are genuine to my personality. Instead I'm lurking one step back, judging and assessing everything, making sure I'm not getting it wrong and cringing when I do. A lifetime of waiting for the next judgemental blow to fall has made this kind of mental camouflage necessary.

Occasionally I find that I have been living all the way out to the edges of my being. Sadly, all too often it's a comment like the one my cousin made that brings my attention to it, and I find myself one step back again, peering out through this body trying to make a connection with the world around me. But just once in a while I realise that I've spent a whole passage of time living all the way out to the edges and nothing bad has happened. I felt that way tonight when I left the SCA music practise. I realised that I'd spent the whole evening being 100% authentic uncensored me, and not once did I feel like I'd got it wrong.

I think that says a lot about the people I was with - they're good people, who recognise that weird is ok (if you're part of a society that re-enacts the medieval period I guess you kind of have to realise that). But I think there's also a seed of confidence inside me beginning to grow.

I want to learn to be like that - and feel that good - all the time. If I'm living all the way to the edges of my skin I may occasionally I may blurt out something gauche or get conversational reciprocity wrong or let on that my favourite interests are not mainstream. But . . . so what? If people get hung up about such minor deviations from the norm, that's their problem, not mine. And it's their loss, too.

I've internalised that message of essential badness far too well. The counsellor pointed out that in the example with my cousin, I had simply assumed that she was right and ignored the possibility that she could be wrong. I accepted her correction without casting a single critical thought over the situation or reflecting on whether my position might have some merit. I've become so used to being judged for my differences that I've actually lost the natural perspective that says "I might be right".

For someone who prides herself on critical thought, that's a bit of a devastating revelation.

I'm going to try to be mindful of this problem for the next few weeks. If I find myself one step back from my eyes, I'm going to work through my positive affirmations about being good and sufficient, and see whether I can make myself consciously step up to the outside. I want to get myself to the point where I am constantly and deliberately me, instead of achieving it only in heady moments of abandon with an inevitable come-down thump.

When I live on the outside of my skin I feel taller, stronger, brighter, lighter. I feel like the whole universe is at my fingertips. I feel like I'm glowing. My mind tingles. I can do anything.

I guess that's what self-confidence really feels like?

I want to walk like that through every day of my life.


I read and reread that entry and I can't even be sure what the social faux pas was! Oh dear.
I didn't even know you had a blog until I spotted your comment on mine! Even without Asperger's I understand just how you feel about the social awkwardness thing (you might not believe me, but I totally do :)). That's probably why we got along so well at uni- no need to pretend to be something different for acceptance.

I hope you're getting to walk around on the outside a lot more lately :)

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