I find people frustratingly annoying. I find them to be more so when they simply do not understand me. It’s not that I don’t try. I believe it’s because they either think my antisocial behavior is an act, a quirk, or a mental illness. It’s really none of those things. I’m not an act to avoid certain responsibilities that I have (give me a task and I will complete it. If I need assistance, I will ask for it). It’s not a behavioral oddity I can just turn off (I’m not trying to be humorous or difficult, it just is). It’s not depression (my ASD does heighten my sensitivity to certain sounds, lighting, and touch. At such times I withdraw into a meditative mode in order to control the anxiety it produces) I’m happy with who I am in life. So, what advice can I give, what insights in dealing with a person like me can I provide other than to just “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE”? Not much, I don’t think. But here’s a few things I can say about what I go through that may help you to understand who I am.
“Working well with others.” I’m a high voltage electrician (“medium-high voltage” technically for I deal with 480 to 14,000 AC volts) in a steel factory maintaining load carrying equipment. I deal with breakers, motor-generators, and relays that provide the power source for steel manufacturing. Most of what I do is watch and record current readings and maintain certain levels of power usage. On occasions, and this is when it becomes exciting for me, I must troubleshoot and repair equipment that has failed. If I maintain things right or act proactively, these occurrences should happen, as they should, rarely. It’s a lonely job. Does that bother me? Nope. I “do my thing” at my pace when I want to and to the standards, I set for myself. My boss calls me a “self-motivator”. In truth, being alone to do a job is when I enjoy it best. Most of the time I can handle what issues crop up on my own. The exceptions are when I have work in substations (OSHA rules, not mine) or when a task requires other people to assist me. At those times I may get a bit “chatty” but that’s only me overcompensating. It’s me trying to be friendly. Inside I’m screaming because circumstances have placed me in a position where I must rely on others. I do work well with others and do appreciate people’s help but if given a choice I would rather that do the job by myself.
For most of my life, I’ve had to deal with the fact that I was different. I see things differently, think differently, interact (as awkward as it was at times) with others in a different way. Because of this I was often ridiculed or shunned quite often. This led me to my attempts to conform, to falsely mimic other people’s behavior in order to fit in. Over the decades I became quite adept at it giving people the wrong idea that I was a “social person”. What they didn’t understand is how much work it took to maintain this façade. It was exhausting. I couldn’t maintain it all the time and when I wavered my interpersonal skills would falter and people, including myself, would get hurt. At times I would say “I need some alone time” or do things like isolating myself. This did not mean I didn’t care for other people’s feelings it just meant I needed to “recharge”, to be myself, before I could continue. I couldn’t make and keep friends. Relationships were nearly impossible (it may have been one of the reasons why my first marriage failed, I couldn’t be honest with her). Many people didn’t understand this, I didn’t for the longest time, and this brought about both anxiety and depression. I was not happy with myself because I was not who I am. I saw conformity as an enemy of who I really am. Inside, in my world, in my “mind’s eye”, people and things were part of an outside tapestry of interactions, patterns, that were foreign to me. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s that I had difficulty in understanding it unless I stood back and exam it first.
And this brings me to why I relied on years of drug and alcohol abuse and finally mental health therapy in order to cope. In my introspective search, I have come to accept who I am and have become a happier person. Quitting drugs and alcohol have relieved me of those self-abusing crutches. Therapy and the use of mood-stabilizing drugs have lessened the anxiety I would experience. Accepting myself, my “differences”, has liberated me from much of what I have struggled with for so long. I can unleash my creative mind because I no longer must work under the yoke of conformity. Because of all that I have also forged a relationship with an individual, my wife, who loves and understands me. Does that mean I have stopped pretending who I’m not? Unfortunately, my present employment situation and lifestyle keeps me from doing so. The difference now is that I have made a refuge both mentally and physically that helps me cope with the insane world of having to socialize in order to maintain other people’s emotional needs. I know it makes me sound cold and uncaring maybe even sociopathic but it’s far from the truth. I can feel, I do have empathy, I just have difficulty expressing it. My wife knows this very well. She also knows that when I truly open up to you and show you who I really am you are very special to me.