Asperger’s Syndrome: giving it all away

Amanda Harrington, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, opens herself to DH readers. Read this heartfelt story now!

As people with Asperger’s Syndrome, sometimes we are accidentally open about ourselves, even when the last thing we would want to do is share what we are with others.

For years, I tried to hide the real me, beneath what I thought of as “appropriate behaviour” at the time, or by putting myself across as nonchalant or expressionless. A lot of this was down to the school I went to, where any expression of emotion was an open door to bullies who jumped on it to make fun. By seeming uncaring or closed off, I was trying to protect myself, long after I left school behind.

These days, I often wonder what my face is doing while I’m not thinking about it. I have a severe look sometimes, as if I am ready to give someone a real telling off or leap to the attack. This is at times when I think I’m just wandering along, doing nothing in particular.

When I am actually annoyed (be it in a restaurant with bad service or someone deliberately goading me), well, it’s lucky I don’t have snakes for hair! I have the famous “look”, which I usually don’t know I’ve used until the waitress has flinched and stepped back or the small student suddenly finds their work much more interesting.

When I’m trying to be normal, I concentrate on my behaviour and facial expressions. I attempt what I think is a pleasant smile. Then, if I catch sight of myself in a mirror, I see the smile is mainly in the eyes and my years of self-protection are betraying me again.

Asperger's Syndrome - AmandaWhen I am attempting something more formal, like making a complaint or speaking to someone in authority, strangely I can do that one. It’s like a switch being flicked and I’m what I need to be. This is very useful, though I’m confused as to why it might work when the others do not? Perhaps years of moaning and having little respect for authority combine at the right time and give me the oomph I need?

The other night, I was coming out of the supermarket and trying not to laugh. I don’t even know what was funny now… I think I’d been eavesdropping again. Whatever caused it, I left the shop, weighed down with my bags and a smile on my face. A woman coming in looked very serious and a little worried but when she saw me, she returned my smile and her face lifted. It was accidental on my part, a side effect of poor self-control, but it was one of those moments when I saw what is possible, if we step outside ourselves.

There have been many moments (for me and probably for you too), where I have affected someone else’s day in a small way without meaning to do anything. It’s often in those unguarded moments when our real, true selves are at the front of everything that happens.

The woman being cheered up by me smiling at her is a good example. It was a moment in life when I seemed to have reached out to someone else and they responded. This is always a shock to me as I am very nervous about reaching out to others, even if I know I am the ‘strong’ one in the situation. If you reach out, there is the danger that you won’t be able to draw back again.

I think to myself, after these little moments, that the next time I’ll smile anyway, whether or not it’s for a different reason. What is the sense in going along, trying to protect yourself, when you do more harm than good? Why not open up a little and have that nice experience of interacting with other people in a good way?

Then, life moves on and I forget again and I just hurry along, doing my best and hoping it’ll all be okay, never really remembering my promise to be more open and let people in. It’s very hard to remember – or hang on – to this kind of contradictory thinking, when your natural instinct is to be closed off, rather than wide open.

It feels like an open house phenomenon, where if you let one person bring a friend, you’ll suddenly have hundreds of people turning up, drunk and expecting food. It sounds extreme to equate “being more open” to “opening up every barrier within yourself”, but that’s actually how it feels.

A dam breaking, is what we expect if we let down our guard and invite people in. Harsh experience and firmly-held memories tell us that being open and guileless bring in the bad as well as the good. That those people we don’t want to be with are the ones most likely to hurt us if we let everyone in.

More outgoing types will make some comment about it being worth it, taking the rough with the smooth, that you don’t gain anything by keeping everyone at bay. They’re right, of course. It’s just that the rough hurts, that keeping people at bay feels safe and, when you’ve been wounded and are wondering where to go from here, it doesn’t seem worth it.

You see, beneath every blank-faced aspie, looking like they drift through life without seeing anyone around them, there is a seething pot of emotions, often based on past experience. We are informed by past hurts and take them as advice for the future. We feel them keenly and don’t want to be hurt that way again.

We are afraid that if you see the real person inside, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about and turn away.

After all, how many times have you smiled at a stranger and they don’t respond? Or worse, looked away, in case you want to speak to them? Imagine this, on a much grander scale, as the aspie giving themselves to other people and finding they are unwanted.

I find the best way is to do what you can and be open when it feels possible. Smiling at strangers is a small risk, as practice makes their rejection less hurtful. Talking to people you meet is a good one, though brings its own risks as the more you talk, the more aspie you become!

These days, fuelled with more self-knowledge than I’ve had in the past, I try to be more open. I try not to keep the barriers up all the time. Trying is what I can do and sometimes it works.

An all-out open house would not work; it would be a nightmare scenario where the real me is suddenly open to the world. How bad would that feel?

Hmm. The keener amongst you may have noticed the final, fatal flaw in that argument. You see, I may walk through the shop, blank-faced or stern, and I may only smile by accident at strangers, but each time I write this blog I am opening myself up fully and without compromise to the people reading it. I am doing the very thing I say I cannot in my everyday life.

There have been some hairy moments, some rough with the smooth but, like my outgoing friends, I can say it’s been worth it. More than worth it! I can do on screen what I find so difficult in normal life; the written word – always my friend – giving me the power to open the door and let it all out.

There is a small twist to the tale, readers. Thanks to this blog, I am becoming more open in person too, whether people like it or not! I am more outspoken and outgoing than I was and, predictably, more obviously aspie as a result.

This is a good thing. I am being myself and if other people don’t like it, well, I already showed them where the door was, didn’t I? But as it turns out, no one has needed to use it yet.

I’ve become braver, if not fearless, thanks to giving it all away on here. Sooner or later, I will be doing the same in real life too. I can feel it bubbling up, ready to escape. I wonder if it will all happen at once, like it did with the blog, or if I’ll be able to contain the aspie-ness enough, so that I don’t scare the horses?

Who knows? But when it happens, I’ll be sure to tell you everything, as usual, dear readers.

By Amanda J Harrington

Click here to check out Amanda’s blog!

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