Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I've been trying for most of a week to figure out another blog post, but inspiration just hasn't been striking very much.  Though that should largely be seen as a good thing, as it's when things get extra difficult that I start thinking about things that are likely to snowball into an idea for a full post.  And by way of update, I'm still keeping up with going to the gym - met with my personal trainer again today, in fact - and yesterday I went to the grocery store for another few things, mostly some fresh produce.  And my forum is being pleasantly active recently too, so I've got nothing to complain about.  But I've noticed a bit of a theme going on in my thought patterns lately: the idea of acceptance, both in the broad sense and the narrow sense.

I've been very slowly reading through a book for the past few months that my mom gave me, wanting to know my opinion of it.  I've not been reading it very fast though because I very rarely remember that it exists when it's a good time for me to read something.  But it's a book meant for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum and explains how the strengths of being on the spectrum can be used to overcome the particular challenges of it.  I'm not far enough into it to be sure what I think of the whole book yet, but the chapter I just finished was on emotions.  The part that stuck out to me most is that there's a tendency for people on the spectrum to have 'all or nothing' emotional states and a difficulty in regulating them.  This can obviously be problematic, but I loved that the book also pointed out that there's the advantage that if the intense emotion happens to be a good one then it's actually a positive thing - someone on the spectrum who is feeling happy is probably feeling a lot happier than someone who isn't.

But unregulated, intense emotions are more trouble than they're worth.  And there's two things that solve that problem.  The first is to simply learn a lot about emotions: this is what 'angry' feels like, this is what causes it, and this is what you should do when you're angry.  But I think that the second thing is to learn acceptance.  While learning about emotions helped me to regulate them, acceptance has been key to curing most of my emotional states that become problematic due to other people.

For example, like many people on the spectrum I can have the problem of wanting to talk about the same subject for extended periods of time - long past the attention span of any poor neurotypical I come across.  Fortunately, I'm very aware of this problem and try really hard not to do that.  The unregulated, intense emotion in these situations is enthusiasm.  And talking about whatever it is that you're enthusiastic about seems to only increase the emotion; it's like a hydra from Greek legend - if you share one thought about it, two more take its place.  And even though enthusiasm is a largely pleasant emotion, it's also somewhat uncomfortable - like you might explode if you don't get it out somehow.  Which is why it was so hard when it got to the point that the person I was talking to verbally told me that they didn't want to talk about it anymore - probably for their own sanity.  It made me want to scream in frustration every time!

But once I learned to accept the fact that other people just aren't as enthusiastic about whatever my current obsession is as I am, and that no matter how much I try to explain just how awesome it is that won't change, I learned to cope with that problem a lot better.  Accepting that people are just that way was the first step to learning that in order to carry on a pleasant conversation with someone I also needed to accept talking about subjects that I'm less enthusiastic about since that leads to conversations that are more fulfilling to both people involved.  To this day I find myself extremely disappointed when the person I'm talking to changes the subject off of something I really like, but since I accept that people do that I keep that feeling to myself, allow the change of topic to happen, resist the temptation to swing the conversation back to the old topic, and even make sure that I give the other person opportunities to change the topic or do that myself when I think that they might be getting bored.  As a result, I'm able to hold a conversation just like any neurotypical person would.  When I'm remembering to pay attention, anyway...

And that's just one example of the key role that acceptance plays - it helps me with a lot of other emotional reactions with others.  Once you accept what you can't change, you see more clearly what you can and changing other people is usually on the 'can't do' list.  Only sometimes can I use my influence on someone else that way, and generally speaking the more I want someone to change the less likely it is that it will happen.  So instead I have to accept the reality that other people are outside of my control and figure out what changes I need to make in myself to compensate for that - usually a matter of tailoring my expectations to what I can actually expect of them.  Each of my friends and family members all have their own quirks and personality traits that I just have to deal with, but as soon as I accept that each of them will be themselves (whether I like it or not) they all become a lot less frustrating and a lot more loveable.

Of course, it's not enough to accept other people, I've also had to learn to accept myself.  No matter how well I learn to mask and manage the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, I will still have it.  Accepting that is hard because it means that my life will differ, sometimes significantly, from the ideal I had in my head.  And though I refuse to accept that my anxiety problems will get in the way of me having a happy life, that's only because I can do something about that.  But I can't do anything about the fact that anxiety will probably always be a part of my life at some level, or the fact that it stopped me from doing several things today, so I accept that.  When I first started accepting these things about myself it was agonizingly difficult - I had to let go of the dreams of becoming the person that I'd like to be but never will.  But when I let go of that fantasy, I became a much happier person - pleased with who I am now even though I've still got a long way to go to reach my new dream of being the person that I'm not yet but could be.

Now I know that a lot of things I just said apply to people both on and off of the autism spectrum - learning to accept other people and yourself is a universal.  But I think that it's even more important for people on the spectrum to make that a very conscious thing because it comes a lot less easily to us.  And the day I started to really accept that I can't 'fix' anyone (and they're probably not that broken to begin with) was the day I started to learn how to fit myself into this world instead of uselessly complaining about it not fitting itself to me.  It's still an ongoing process - I can't say that I'm not butting heads with anyone or anything that I just need to learn to accept, but I'm a lot further down that road than I used to be and a lot happier as a result.

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