How do I make sense of the conflicting aspects of my personality? That’s a question that has been occupying me on and off since I began to introspectively analyze myself following suspicion and later confirmation that I am autistic.
I’m content when alone; I’ve felt lonely with people
I’ve been called a loner many times during my life. I’ve always had a habit of wandering off by myself, apparently shunning human contact. But I don’t feel lonely when there’s just me and my drifting mind: it’s when there are people around me that loneliness can strike. When I want to be a part of the social action and feel a connexion with people around me but lack either the confidence or the skills to get involved. I’m OK in small, intimate situations where there are only a few people and it’s fairly quiet. But as soon as that party gets started I’m off to the kitchen! It’s partly down to sensory integration problems that hinder me when there are too many things going on (two conversations is usually one too many!) and partly an inability to understand the dynamics of interactions within a group of people. So I just sit or stand there on the edges, wanting to join in but not able to handle doing so. Lonely in the midst of people. I find that leaving the place so I can be alone makes the loneliness, the longing, abate.
I’m afraid of violence; I have violent meltdowns
For me, to witness aggression in another person or an animal is to become immediately fearful. A one-way express ticket to an anxiety-driven overload and possible shutdown. And yet on those occasions when I suffer meltdown I display that same aggression that would, under different circumstances, have me running away in fright. It makes sense because these are two different situations: it’s just ironic!
I am more fluent in writing than speech
How people ever managed before the invention of the keyboard, I will never know! My handwriting is poor and I get pain in my hand after using a pen for more than a few minutes at a time. I am considerably more fluent when my mouth doesn’t get involved. Because as soon as I start speaking I pause awkwardly, struggle more to find particular words and garble those words I do find when my tongue doesn’t behave. OK, it’s not as bad as all that — except for the pauses the other problems are intermittent — but it has a detrimental effect on my ability to interact verbally. Writing has the advantage that it isn’t as interactive: a text conversation is a series of alternating turns, so I am able to focus exclusively on what I am writing rather than having to observe the other person.
I’m a private person; I’m open when blogging
If somebody asks me how I’m feeling the honest answer right at that moment would be anxious or panicky — I’m uncomfortable putting my emotions into spoken words. But for whatever reason I don’t have the same problem when I sit down and write, such as when I’m blogging. I think one factor is time pressure: when somebody has asked a question and is waiting for a reply I feel under pressure to respond quickly, which causes stress and interferes with clarity of thought.
Another aspect of this is that I am much more guarded about how much I divulge in a face-to-face situation than I am when writing a post about some uncomfortable subject. This is a matter of physical distance and freedom from immediate reaction: again it comes down to feeling free from any pressure. When writing I don’t have to worry about being interrupted and interrogated while I’m assembling my words, so I have more time to weigh what I want to put across, considering the consequences. Whereas when there’s a listener standing in front of me I play it very safe and keep things much more to myself.
I love words; I am non-verbal at times
I do have a deep love of words and associated subjects: language, etymology, even grammar. I find having a large vocabulary to be both useful and satisfying in that I can choose between a plethora of options to find just the right word that conveys a precise nuanced meaning, avoiding repetition (except for emphasis). So it can be frustrating when I become overloaded and unable to string a sentence together. Even uttering a single word is often impossible. I can think but it is as if the words are locked inside my mind and there is no way to break them out so they may be heard. The overload itself has become a barrier, isolating my consciousness.
I enjoy loud, heavy music; I overload in noisy environments
Another seeming contradiction that has a straightforward explanation: when I’m listening to music I focus on it. It’s like tunnel vision. I become tuned in to the rhythm and melody, almost oblivious to anything else going on around me. A merely noisy environment, in contrast, is a random jumble of sensations. People talking (or shouting), bright or flashing lights, music that is too obtrusive to be background yet not loud enough to be clearly or consistently heard — yes, it’s sensory integration problems again! In fact I find that the louder the music the better because it drowns out any distractions from other noises — it’s a wonder my hearing isn’t measurably impaired!
I hate being touched; I enjoy hugs
Most of my body is hypersensitive to touch, certain areas such as the front of my neck especially so (which makes shaving awkward, but marginally less so than the itch of too-long stubble). Light touch, or touch on a small area, is particularly uncomfortable. This makes me instinctively flinch or shy away when somebody gets too close to me, or makes physical contact. It’s more pronounced when unexpected, when I don’t have a chance to prepare myself for the sensation. But hugs are the opposite: firm pressure over an extended area with my chest and back being among the less sensitive parts of my body. I find them comforting, the sensations pleasurable.
Contradiction? What Contradiction?
There you have it: these apparent contradictions are mostly superficial. So why go into this detail? Well, it’s because I’ve found that people around me, my wife included, find it difficult to understand that there is consistency underlying these apparently conflicting attributes of mine. Difficult to understand why one minute I pull away saying “Don’t touch me!” when later I seek a hug. There are patterns to my behavior but they seem to require my own inner knowledge to unlock: my knowledge of my capabilities and sensitivities. This explanation might help to bring those patterns to light.