People with Autism are said to have difficultly (or inability) recognizing and interpreting emotions in themselves and others. Likewise, people without Autism have difficulty recognizing and interpreting the emotions of autistic people.
I feel all sorts of emotions although I may not display them or process them in the manner that’s expected by most. For example, a smile means someone is feeling happy. Well, when I’m feeling happy ( and I do experience many varieties of happiness), I tend to make what most people consider a brooding or serious face. Most times when I’m happy, I’m in deep concentration or meditation on what is making me feel happy, so a smile wouldn’t necessarily manifest. Think of someone who’s performing a highly skilled task that requires concentration, like welding. Do you usually see welders smiling gaily while blow-torching steel? (maybe there’s a few who do, I don’t know) For me, a certain type of happiness, especially if it’s focused on an external source, will consume a large amount of mental energy, and I’m like the welder who’s focused on the immediate. I’m consumed by the here and now when I’m in the midst of my feelings.
You can then probably imagine how grief would manifest itself. And it has in very awkward and uncomfortable ways. It tears me to pieces, sometimes to the point where I crack and begin to laugh uncontrollably. I’ve fallen into bad graces with others over my laughing during funerals, and during moments where others would be crying or showing some other physical sign that denotes unhappiness. Here’s a personal example– there was this time when after my mother died back in 2010, when I was in the last two months of pregnancy with Aitza, that the reality of a maternal absence took me by surprise. I was washing my hands at the bathroom sink and looked into the mirror and I saw my mother in my own face. I was reminded that I was without her, the first time that her death registered. Instead of sobs, I began to cackle while tears burned my eyes. Someone looking at me may have thought I was watching an unbelievably hilarious stand up act. Most people in a Lewis Black audience look like I did that afternoon. Inside me the grief was pulsing like gushing water and it quickly escalated, roiling into panic. This was an overwhelming, contradicting combination of emotions, I don’t know how many others feel grief this way.
From what I could gather upon questioning acquaintances on the personal experience of their own emotions, I sensed that my own are unique. You could say I get quite drawn in with my emotions– I inhabit them and interact with them, they comprise worlds. There are unpredictable stretches of time when I get “lost” in those worlds and it’s difficult to emerge disengaged. Maybe this is what Major Depressive Disorder was like for me when it wasn’t in remission (now, thankfully I’m in TOTAL remission!) and because my face seldom fluctuates in its expression, my debilitating experience of agony was not registering to others. I wonder if this is the thing that would make me mysterious to the people of my past.
There are times when I feel very deeply just by the sights, smells, and sounds of my surroundings. It’s not all frightening, though it has the potential to be so, especially if I’m in a place chocked full of the sort of stimulus that is painful to me, such as a grocery store with all of its clanging and clashing shopping carts, loud music on the speakers, cold freezer isles, flickering fluorescent lighting, oscillating multicolored checkered floor tiles, and shoppers bumping into me and brisking past.
And then there are the rare occasions I come into contact with live chamber music in a local library and I instantaneously transform into a weeping, blubbering mass of humanity whose loud sobbing disrupts the quiet and pensive audience that I didn’t notice on my way through the doors. Live violin and cello music is a big weakness of mine. Through the vibrations which I can feel deep inside my ears and the hairs on my head, I feel something else beyond the music that the rest of the audience can only hear. I have felt this way with Celtic drums and Inuit throat songs. Humans making music is magic, and even if most others can’t notice that so readily, I can.
There are those more frequent times, when I am not even experiencing my own emotions, but rather, absorb in a deep physical and psychic way, the emotions of those people surrounding me. It is hard, outright impossible, to sort all of it out, and I end up being tricked into thinking I am the angry one, when the man next to me is mentally cussing out the moron who rear ended him during rush hour.
Sometimes I’m frightened of the sounds of crying, pain in others causes pain in me. And the eyes. Oh, the eyes transmit so much information, even though I am not capable of sorting through that information and classifying it (side note: on my Autism evaluation I scored low on working memory, which affects executive function, a key function that deals with a branch of important cognitive tasks such as maintaining eye contact). I just haven’t the wiring. And, I think this is why I have difficulty looking into the eyes or touching people a lot of the time. This could be one of several reasons I need to seek out a small corner of space that isn’t occupied by anyone other than animals when I’ve had enough of feeling. I’ve been told by spiritual-trained individuals in passing (psychic mediums and light workers) that I’m an Empath. I do not know how I feel about that. I am still searching for the meaning of it, something about it that makes sense to me.
This brings me to something I’m on the fence about, and that is looking at my Autism in a less conventional way, trying to get a bit creative with my interpretation of it. All I’ve ever read on Autism has mainly to do with the science and the structure of it, the brain, and the myriad of deficits that afflict the bearers of the “disorder”. I would like to find other explanations for this ME that I am. I ventured into New Age views on the matter, and didn’t really feel at home there either. I do not think of myself as an ‘Indigo child’, or a ‘Free Spirit’ or ‘Spirited’ person either. And this isn’t to make jest at the people who feel they are these identities, it’s just that with my own psychology and personal, cultural mythologies, it doesn’t really fit.
I have considered the influence of ancestry on the contents of my genetic psychology. Though I am severed from the spiritual traditions of my mother’s people (First Nations: Nicomen/Salish, Matisse, Iroquois) I find that the sort of meditative-catatonic states I flit into during certain periods of overwhelm bring me a sort of mental clarity and insight that could be interpreted as “visions”, and these can look a lot like what we would consider dreams (not to be confused with day dreams) to be. I recently wrote a poem exploring this. I’ll close this post with it:
THE FUTURE IS A PAINTED SKELETON
My tribe is gone.
I have to take off my clothes.
I dance and my sister crashes down from the sky
and the blisters heal.
My tribe is gone.
Trees swear around me.
Standing on the shore we watch the ships,
and you say
“there are things you should learn, like driving”
I yell, the car spins out,
spinning circles too close to fences and houses
knocks down a mailbox, grazes a tree.
My tribe is gone.
I saw and I heard all the white folks
make the best cowboys and
Indian wisdom, though it has to camp out all night,
it wins the war against four hundred thousand guns.
And my tribe is gone.
I take one lock of hair, cut it like a promise
and all 400,000 promises come true.
The drug wears off while I dance.
I know my tribe is gone.
They always knew what time it is
and I can’t really understand memories and dreams and voices.
It’s inside me, the dance shakes me into dissonance.
And the white cowboys call it Autism.