Monday, July 23, 2012

Oops! I Breathed in the Wrong Direction!

When I was a kid, I experienced far fewer social conflicts online than in real life. That's because real life involves the social nuances of body language and voice tone. Today, my social conflicts are almost exclusively online. Usually, it pans out like this: I meet somebody through Facebook or reunite with somebody I haven't seen since childhood. We chat online once in a while. Sometimes, that person will even say, "I really like talking to you."  Next thing I know, the person has unfriended me or even blocked me. Usually, I just let it go, depending on who that person is and whether or not I had any real past with them, online or off, even if just for one summer at camp (I'm sentimental and nostalgic to a fault). Sometimes, however, I do ask for an explanation (if there is a way to contact that person) and I might even get one if I'm lucky. 

The top reason people have unfriended/blocked me is because I'm an atheist. I don't even have to ask to find out that this is the reason. Once, I was chatting online with someone I met through a mutual acquaintance who died. She wished me a Happy Easter. I told her I was Jewish, a Jewish atheist, to be exact. She asked me what that meant. I told her that I don't believe in God but I still value the Jewish culture in which I grew up. BAM! I was blocked. Other people have unfriended/blocked me because... gasp... I tagged them in photos. That's right, I tagged them in photos in which they are fifteen years old and not professional looking. When I contact them and ask them why, they say things like, "I'm not comfortable with being tagged." Well, gee, how about simply telling me that and NOT unfriending me? 

Probably the must hurtful of these situations happened about four years ago when I reunited with an old friend from camp online. We hit it off immediately and I developed a crush on him. I didn't tell him, of course, but he figured it out. He stopped answering my emails. He blocked me. A few months later, he unblocked me and accepted my friend request... but would not talk to me. He eventually blocked me again. For a whole year I drove myself crazy trying to figure out what the hell was going on. 

Just as hurtful (albeit for different reasons), my best friend from childhood, who I knew since 1992, stopped talking to me in 2008. I packed up and moved to NYC from my hometown in Pennsylvania in 1999, but we still saw each other about once a year. I knew she was going to get married in '08, and she definitely made it clear that I was going to be there. This was in 2007, the last time we spoke. 2008 came and went without an invitation. She rejected my friend request on MySpace. She no longer returned calls or answered emails. To this day I have no idea what happened. I even sent her an email asking her nicely why she did not invite me to the wedding or even talk to me anymore. I made it clear that I was hurt. No response. I still don't know what her rationale was for shutting me out, but I do know that it is not my fault. 

When these things happen, and inevitably hurt, I always hear, "Let it go." Sure. "Let it go." So I guess I should just say to myself, "Oh, fiddlesticks. I breathed in the wrong direction and some ultra sensitive person is shutting me out without explanation. I'll just let it go and make sure not to breathe in the wrong direction next time." I would suspect that this online drama is not unique to those with Asperger's Syndrome, but perhaps it bothers us more because we do not take friendship for granted. Perhaps, too, many are sentimental to a fault, as I am. In any case, I want to tell anybody who's reading this to be more sensitive to the person on the other side during this online nonsense. "Ignoring," is not communication, and "blocking," is little different than saying, "F--- you." Both say, "You are nothing to me." In online communication, you rarely know what happens at the other end, so this is not a case of missing body language or other cues. This is simply being kept in the dark. 

I am sure I speak for a lot of people-- with and without Asperger's Syndrome-- when I say that it is frustrating and irritating. It's like an online meme that I saw the other day: "I'm sorry that I did something that made YOU feel that I have to apologize."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Psst! Look! There's someone with REAL problems!"

When I was growing up with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, I felt like a freak. I knew I was different and I did not have an answer as to why. What I did know was that a lot of kids were mean to me, and a lot of adults-- including my own parents-- did not understand me.

Sometimes, in tears, I lamented about being a "freak" and having problems that seemed to have no solution. Sometimes my parents tried to help me put things in perspective, but in a very superficial and unhelpful way. For example, once we were eating at Chi-Chi's (a Mexican restaurant) and someone with no legs and hooks for where his arms should be was sitting in a wheelchair about ten feet away from us. My dad whispered to me, "Now there's someone with REAL problems." Another time, my mother (who is a high school teacher) said, "You think you have it bad? One of my students is pregnant." It wasn't just my parents who did this. Once, my best friend said, "Your problems are not that bad. At least you're not dying of AIDS or something!"

I bet if I told these stories to an auditorium of Aspies and asked how many of them have stories like this, every single one would raise their hands. I also am willing to bet that all of them would feel the same frustration I did. I was about twelve when my dad pointed out the limbless person in Chi-Chi's, and I remember that his comment didn't make me feel any better. Same thing when I was 15 and my mother told me about her pregnant student. Same, too, when I was also about 15 and my friend told me that at least I wasn't dying of some deadly disease. None of these comments made me feel better because I always knew that what I was going through was unheard of. Getting pregnant, dying from AIDS-related complications, and even having no limbs were problems that at least had names and explanations. In fact, I recall telling my friend that I would rather be dying of AIDS-related complications and have friends than be physically healthy and shunned by an entire society (which is what I felt like was happening). And this was not just something I said on a whim. I meant it.

In any case, just because someone complains about problems that are not as (superficially) serious as a deadly disease or the loss of limbs or teenage pregnancy does not mean that the problems are not just as real. With that logic, one could tell the person with HIV that at least he has all of his limbs, and at least he lives in a country where HIV can be managed for decades with medication and is not an immanent death sentence like it used to be. One could also, then, say that unless the person has problems that are not the absolute worst in the world (whatever that is) then he or she should not complain. By then, one has alienated the vast majority of the world, whose problems are suddenly not real.

Please, do not tell your kids or friends with Asperger's Syndrome, "At least you're not dying of some deadly disease" or something similar. It trivializes the very real anguish they are experiencing. Just because AS cannot be confirmed visually like the lack of limbs, a deadly disease, or teenage pregnancy, does not mean the problem does not exist. Furthermore, trivializing your kids'/friends' issues may make them feel like their problems are all in their minds and that they're crazy for feeling anguish. The last thing someone with AS needs is to feel even crazier than they already feel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No, I DON'T Regret It

Whoa! It's been four months since my last post. Sorry about that!

Everybody has regrets. I have regrets, too, most of them involving me not standing up for myself because I had reluctantly accepted that I was in the wrong concerning whatever social disaster I found myself in. However, that is not to say that there weren't times in my childhood/early adulthood when I DID stand up for myself and stick to my principles. In fact, I have a perfect example of when I stuck by my principles, to the befuddlement of a particular family member:
Like many girls with Asperger's Syndrome, I was (and AM) a tomboy. This means much more than the stereotypical, "Oh, she plays with trucks and likes sports. She's a tomboy." I always felt like I had a male brain in some ways (this feeling, too, is a common phenomenon among girls with AS). It was only natural, then, that I strongly disliked feminine clothing. I did not ask for clothes in the boys' section, but I did pick out clothes that one would consider gender neutral. When I was in middle school, my parents told me over and over that the bullying I experienced would stop and I would make friends if only I dressed differently. While my parents didn't force me to wear what I call "boob-neckline" shirts, they did bring up my clothing taste whenever I got into a conflict with somebody, be it a simple disagreement or outright bullying. 

No matter what my parents said (and it was painful and constantly resulted in my spending several hours on the phone with my feminist cousin), I stuck to my guns and wore what felt natural and comfortable on me. I refused to put on a costume. Today my parents realize they were wrong to try to force me into girly clothes, but I have talked to a particular family member who continues to be perplexed at my stubbornness (I call it strength!). As an example of a regret he feels about not taking his parents' advice, he talks about how his parents tried to get him to play a musical instrument. He didn't stick with musical lessons and his parents didn't try to make him. He regrets that they did not force him to. This is a classic case of apples and oranges. One involves trying to get their kid a hobby, and another is trying to get the kid to present themselves as something they're not, to lie to themselves and the world.

It is also important to realize that actions that are good for one kid are not good for another. Forcing me into music would have been not only a bad idea but also a pointless one as I developed several hobbies on my own without anybody's prodding. I was drawing and writing from a very early age, and in adolescence I grew interested in languages; I taught myself French I during the last three weeks of 9th grade so I could get into French II the following year. Forcing my relative to take music lessons might have been a good idea because he did not pursue hobbies as readily, let alone as intensely, as I.

Likewise, forcing someone, who feels she has a more masculine brain, to dress girly can be psychologically damaging. Why would that girl want to please the kids who bully her? That's answering to the bullies and affirming their behavior. Also, why would she even want people like that as friends? And no, this is not me as an adult critically dissecting it; I analyzed it intensely by the time I  was fourteen or fifteen. Prior to that, probably by the time I was about ten, I saw the blatant hypocrisy in the way adults would tell kids, "Just be yourself," when there were clearly hundreds of pages of fine print attached to that philosophy. Now, if there is a girl with Asperger's Syndrome who is feminine inside and wants to learn to dress like the other girls, then steering her in that direction is a good idea. 

So what did I tell my relative? No, I don't regret sticking by my principles. Why should I regret being true to myself and not blindly taking advice that hurt? I don't regret it, not in the slightest.

For the record, the bullying stopped when I finally had the guts to stand up to the bullies