Dancing in the Grey – Life with my Asperger’s
© Rory Matier 2015
This chapter is in three parts.
Please Note this book was written in 2015.
The views within these chapters are mine and may not necessarily resonate with others on the spectrum – however bear in mind the quote by Dr. Stephen Shore .. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Chapter 15 – Ep 24
I See Grey People
Suzanne used to ask …”So what constitutes a grey issue for you?”
Such a simple question isn’t it, especially if you are on the spectrum although let us be honest many people not just ASD’s experience confusions. However it used to make me think long and hard.
In truth the answer is this: “A grey issue for me usually is the result of people making black and white topics more complex than they need to be”.
Years ago there were many of these topics and issues, however over time both pre and post diagnosis l managed to secure myself into positions comprising of coping mechanisms or simply managing certain confusions with more success.
Relationships and work careers used to be very difficult, but l am more confident of these now, and through sheer hard work and determination, l turned a pondering into an accomplishment. These days as you will already have read, l am still very confused by friendship – in so far as l don’t get it’.
But it is this statement that l used above that is really the main confusion “A grey issue for me usually is the result of people making black and white topics more complex than they need to be” and notably the inclusion of the word ‘people’.
If we look at ‘friendship’ as an example the only reason l don’t truly understand it outside of the black and white definition is because of the people involvement. As a topic it encompasses so many little side subjects alone – ‘emotions, appropriate behaviours, responses, social politics and graces, cues and conversations and sadly basic intelligence. The last word must sound so terribly pretentious but it is not meant to read as such, but it is sadly just a straight forward factual observation.
l know around 5 people that are either sitting on or know someone else of the spectrum. Suzanne herself sits somewhere due to her OCD habit, although her percentage of ‘disorder’ is very small. Since my diagnosis l have known around 20 people that have had Aspergers, Autism, and adhd and so on in various degrees and for various reasons we have parted company. But l have noticed and continue to observe that in many ways we share a similarity when it comes to the ‘grey’, notably it is always involving people and their expectations of others.
For easier reading and clarification – l mention NT as in Neurotypical although l sometimes use the same abbreviation to represent ‘normal thinker’, makes no odds either way for NT means exactly the same ‘those considered normal by society in so far as their behaviour and thinking. Although one then must ask the age old question – ‘what is normal?’ However, we are not addressing philosophy here, but grey matters. Aspies, AS’s or Aspergics refer to those on the spectrum.
This chapter may read especially to the likes of the NT as particularly scathing against them more so in their behaviour and thinking, it is not meant to, it just comes down to my observations, opinions and interpretation. It is not down to a hidden hatred of them or anything, for l do not dislike nor detest them, l just dislike the mentality they possess at times, as well as their illogical approach to what they do not know or wish to understand. Their own interpretation of normalcy can be very frustrating; equally their lack of intelligence concerning some matters is irksome. Of course ASD is also in some ways to blame here but not deliberately, but only because ‘Autism awareness’ is so low on the NT horizon and priority of learning agenda.
People in the UK have always been ignorant to not just the likes of Autism spectrum disorders, but also mental health issues and any kind of disability for that matter. The Ostrich syndrome is one of the biggest disorders in the United Kingdom today – “If we bury our heads in the sand, it will go away”. I know many NT’s [not just those involved in the industry] that do wish to learn and understand more, but are not always that sure where and how to go about adopting information. If you think of partners, parents or siblings of those sitting on the ASD, then here we have NT’s wanting to understand, wishing to develop their thinking parameters to taking on board these strange entities and enigmas. We have more informed people understanding the likes of Cancer, than we have informed and knowledgeable people understanding Autism.
In the main it is the ‘people’ who confuse me, they can be too emotional when it’s not needed, introduce and manipulate as well as widen the social political cues in conversations, bully when they do not understand as well as show and display a great lack of intelligence to sometimes the most basic of situations. Friendship is like this, the reason l don’t get it and probably never will is because NT people can muddy up the black and white definitions of simplicity with their thinking.
I am far from perfect, l have never contested this, l may possess a phenomenal set of skills that many over the years have envied and even become jealous over, but at times l am myself, a few sandwiches short of a picnic. But my skill set is not that of a social entrepreneur which many NT’s are whether they are aware of it or not. They are gifted naturally at birth the ability to flow in and out of the graces that we know as sociality. They can flaunt it, tease it and abuse it to their heart’s content, where as many AS’s can only look on in awe, the NT dances beautifully in this grey arena.
However, whilst the likes of friendship l still find daunting, l am becoming more aware of – l work my own level in to achievement. I am only bothered by it purely because l do not understand it as a people concept, and not because l stay awake at night thinking ‘oh l must have more friends’. No, people can accept me as l am today or basically ride off into the sunset on their bikes.
My Father used to think l was an idiot when it came to conversation, for at times l was slow in answering questions, and it was assumed that l was slow, that l was unintelligent, because in social situations l used to stumble and hesitate before l answered anyone. Other times my mind simply was running away with my tongue and many words came out in a jumbled slur. Over the years l learned a few tricks in delay tactics – nodding my head in understanding and comprehensions whilst my mind slowly went through every possible connection to the discussion. Thankfully l do not come across as a twit any more, l achieved the art of thinking on my feet. But those early days could be quite damning and embarrassing.
I do mostly only see everything in two colours – black and white, and in truth much of my mature life are these colours as is. Relationships introduced many grey areas, people at work introduced many more and well we all know my views on friendship. It used to be that l could take two minutes or so to respond to some people on subjects they asked me to answer on. Now, not often if l find l have to sectionalize an issue it can at maximum achieved in ten to twenty seconds.
Trying to explain the ‘grey’ to an NT is not always easy, how does one explain honestly Aspie confusions? I guess the way to display it properly is using the words expectations, interpretation and intelligence.
I can become very frustrated at times with NT’s because l think to myself, “Why can you not think like me?!” My expectation is that they should think like me, and as such interpret my intelligence to arrive to the same answers as l see them. However this simply is not possible, everyone thinks differently to the next person and the only way we can all think on the same page is if we are following the instructions in black and white in the manual!
Suzanne will many a time forget equally as much as l that we do not always speak the same language and that equally so we do not always think the same way – this of course can lead to frustration and a blip or glitch can occur. Bent logic appears because we have both assumed we were on that very same page whereas the reality is we simply can not arrive at the same destination.
For me, the black and white is instruction, for her, the grey is assumption and expectation. Our interpretation of this leads to bent logic on both fronts! She could expect me to Hoover the house in her absence as an example, however if l do not think the house needs to be cleaned up like that, l will not perform that task as l see it as irrelevant. If however she asks me to vacuum the house whilst she is absent l of course will do it, because a black and white instruction has been requested, and l am not expected to make a grey assumption.
The grey works like this, NT’s can at times expect or assume that an Aspie is thinking the same thing, but emotionally we are not always at that level as we see things in a very black and white manner. I learned about relationships like this, through error and trial and trial and error, then through understanding l began to appreciate that in relationships it takes two people to communicate. Sex was always black and white, it was easy, it was the emotional side that l had problems with as it was assumed that l was on the same page as that of my partner. I could perform the romantic side because l was sectionalizing it, it was a black and white approach, a strategy l had learned and acquired through the years and religiously worked it.
But of course that is not how relationship emotions worked, l know that now and also know that my emotions these days are not forced or black and white but dance in all three honest colours with some added ones for pleasure!
Grey is therefore a mixture of intelligence, assumption, expectation and interpretation. For us, black and white is blunt, direct and instructive. It is very hard for both an NT and an Aspie to arrive on the same page, but you know? It is not impossible, it can be achieved, but it does take communication, understanding and determination to succeed.
But it is because of this formula that l may never understand friendship, and in writing this down, l think in many ways, having a successful and loving relationship with the woman l love is actually worth more to me than a fulfilling and long standing traditional friendship. I used to become so terribly stressed trying to achieve accomplishments in my previous partner’s eyes, and yet now it is much easier – not the easy that you take for granted, but the easy that travels with knowledge and comprehension. Friendship in the classic sense can only arrive with very dedicated focus, one of which l am not overly concerned with. The relationship is in my ‘six’, friends are not.
NT’s can emotionally multitask l basically can not, plus l also prefer to live my life without conflict or stress, trying to focus on understanding traditional friendship basically causes me way too many headaches!
In this world that we live in and share with the unaware NT l see examples of bent logic and grey every day. Sometimes it is so bent out of shape that it defies the logic from not just us, but also them! When that occurs they manipulate, shape and widen the goal posts again to suit and sit their own needs and desires, and we have to keep up with these language manoeuvres like it is the only way forwards. Whilst l am far better than l used to be, it still comes down to multitasking the NT’s world, which requires special attention, again, this is why l lead a simple stress free life – it all gets too much! The NT only sees one way forwards – not in a deliberated tactical way, but a natural progressive manner – you think like us, or you do not, and it is that simple. If Autism awareness was greater, then the world in which we all live would be filled with smoother pathways.
The NT will always be far more naturally gifted than the Aspie in successfully blending the three colours, as l said they were awarded this at birth, whereas we were not. We have had to struggle, copy and paste, observe and basically mimic others to acquire the social skill set.
Many a time in the past, l have stumbled in the grey of conversations, because my social graces and etiquette has been questioned, some of my answers were delivered with a brutal directness, visibly lacking in empathy or sympathy and at times any emotion. It was not that l was incorrect in my response initially it was just way too open, almost hostile, answers stood out like erect nipples for they were that glaring. Where l stumbled afterwards was because l had to learn the arts of beating around the bush, and instead of just saying how it was had to then answer in almost a slow motion manner, to make every thing less inappropriate for other more sensitive ears. It is apparently politer to apply a lip service of truth than it was to be direct.
But that was when l was young; now l am more diplomatic and affront less people with my directness, l do understand the emotions involved in a good many conversations that involve the greyness of our world. I speak two languages these days, Aspie and NT. But in the main, you will predominately get the Aspergian answering you, he will behave his way, because that is his natural way.
People are way too sensitive today; they have for years lived in the grey world of the NT and are unfamiliar with the black and white realities. Many a time you will hear people say, “Oh l do like to hear direct answers, it is refreshing for someone to be so honest!” But in truth not many like it when the grey has been removed from their territory, when black and white unbent logic prevails! I do not specifically go out of my way to upset people, so l do exercise when possible empathy to people’s own emotions, that too is something l have learned the hard way. And what l have also learned is to not jump in when l am unsure [l still make errors of course, l am not perfect after all]. Whilst there is value in the ability to speak several languages, sometimes the ability to keep your mouth shut is priceless – for if no answer is forthcoming, people naturally explain themselves further – l know this to be fact as l have done it myself.
There will always be a staunch language barrier between them and us – yes that might look hostile – but until awareness is universal to the likes of ASD, it is true sadly, ‘them and us’. We have to learn to live in the world they have created for them, not us. It is their thinking, we have to learn it and struggle we will, and many of them do not bother understanding our thinking. We have to adopt their strange behaviours and ways, in order to fit into their society, they do not attempt to cross the borders into our society, and we must always be in theirs. They are unable to see into our world, through ignorance and a basic lack of intelligence. We are ostracized if we do not fit in, so we pretend to be like them, and we either succeed or fail, it is that simple.
Suzanne knows me very, very well because of what l have allowed her to see but more importantly what she herself has observed first hand, researched to further understand and of course experienced through our time together as friends and a couple. Many NT’s will have undertaken this to further see hopefully into the mindset of their own Aspies.
For years l studied my fellow man and woman to try and glean an understanding into how they ticked and why l did not seemingly ‘tick’ the same way. I knew from observation that they unlike me, did not have to don masks or cloaks and sneak around like a rogue just to capture glimmers of their world, or their people.
Our society is comprised of many differing aspects, but for the sake of simplicity – let us look at it this way – any outcast will know of the huge undertaking they have to take on board to fit in. I am only addressing Aspergers and the Autistic spectrum here – but my sympathies are awarded to all those who have to struggle to fit into the so called elitist society
As much as l am confused by people as a whole, l am at times more betwixt by those who say that “They know me oh so terribly well!” Suzanne does know me very well, very well indeed. But at my own concession my mind is very complex, l have made it that way in many ways for my own sanity and protection. Growing up was a hard job in my world, and with it came a lot of hurt and pain, humiliations and bad memories, my mind is filled to the brim with scores of those, they are mine alone, no one else’s. I should imagine many Aspies will have them. If l choose to award them to my partner l of course will, but it is insulting when l hear some people who don’t fully understand Autism awareness nor me, say they know who l am and what l represent.
And more so, because in many ways it is l who understands them more, they have the mind set of so many NT’s they have no unique differences which separates them from the ignorant society. Many of them have a long way to go before they will fully understand ASD, if we had a broken limb, they could see it and as such, comprehend, but they have no comprehension for what they can not see, and until Autism awareness is more universal that is the way it will always be.
Aspergers is an ‘individual unique personality and social disorder’ to each person who has it, our identities only share a small percentage of similarity and yet we are ALL different. NT’s are similar however in the main because of their thinking and behaviour they are almost all the same emotionally as the next.
I often think back to something l read by Temple Grandin:
“What would happen if the Autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool?
You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.”
The areas where ‘the grey’ are really problematic for the Aspies are in those situations where bullying and the finer art of manipulation comes into play. It is these two alone that have created the greatest peril for me in all of my life as l have always managed to fall victim to these insults.
Chapter 15 – Ep 25 – Soon