There was a time in my life when appearances mattered. That was an awfully long time ago. It seems even further away now than it really was. My guess is that a couple of years have passed. My mindframe has changed considerably though. I have a teacher who – if someone devised a drinking game for when he used this sentence we’d all be dead of alcohol poisoning – repeatedly reminds us that: “you are in college not in high school anymore” as if there were some sort of confusion on our end. He says it in a way that makes me think of Cartman from South Park only this teacher is Asian which makes it all the more hilarious in my mind. I can see his eyes turning into “x’s” as he says it every time. This isn’t the only thing that he repeats ad nauseum. His English isn’t very good, but he has a decent handle on idioms. If you walked into our class off the street though you might question whether we were learning something or preparing for war.
“Be brave” he says. “Face your fears.” This man sure has mastered the science of self-affirmation. Among the other things he’s fond of saying are: “you should know something” and he spends a good deal of our class time asking us if we’re “with him.” I always nod my head not because I’m a strong believer in his teaching methods, but because I didn’t think that I had much of a choice in the matter. Was another teacher going to run into the room and shout: “but, wait! My method is better!” It seemed unlikely, especially considering how dedicated he was to keeping the doors shut. The one thing that I will give the man is that he is extremely dedicated to what he does. He gives the appearance that what he is doing is simple. I can testify to the fact that what he is trying to teach us is anything but simple, but I applaud his efforts in trying to convince us of that idea. He really trys though to do a good job and there are days when he will come to class and insert a new word into our discussion. The other day the word was “trivial,” but it was used out of context like when he was talking about the subject he was teaching he would say: “this is very trivial.” I don’t think that the concepts we were learning were trivial or menial or anything like that, but I think he learned a new word and was kind of proud of himself for knowing that word, so he put that word on display for all of us to see. English is not this mans’ first language, so again I applaud his effort and it’s hard not to work your hardest for someone who is working their hardest for you.
My mother is rather fond of the saying: “the path to hell is paved with good intentions.” This means essentially that it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do, it matters what actually gets done, what actually gets across is what matters. I don’t know that I completely agree with that or not. I know that I have always had good intentions, but I can tell you that I’ve been punished for them. My lack of understanding when it comes to the world around me has dealt out more punishment than I know what to do with. I used to think it was just selfishness. That’s what everyone told me. I was just a really selfish individual who didn’t care about anyone else. I used to wonder how that could possibly be true because I always loved my family and friends very much. I couldn’t imagine life without them. This drove me a little crazy and I got terrible anxiety attacks and bouts of depression. People were telling me something that they may have believed was true, but something that I knew in my heart was not true. The fact that people perceived me as this self interested jerk who couldn’t care less about the world around him really hurt my pride.
Given my family background this was especially hurtful. My father for instance is obsessed with appearances. Sometimes this manifests itself in ways that hurt my feelings, but I know that he doesn’t mean it that way, it’s just the way he is. When he tells me to “speak up” despite the fact that speaking in a group environment is just about the most stressful thing you can do to me never ceases to deliver a special jolt of panic into my heart. When he tells me to “look someone in the eyes when they’re talking to you” I really freak out because that will not be happening. One of the things that Asperger’s does that is highly unusual is that it is very difficult to make eye contact. Someone told me that I could do it “when I wanted to” to which I replied: “it may seem that way, but no.” This person told me that I was being needlessly combative and I explained in as polite of a manner as I could that I never made eye contact with anyone. If it looked like I was making eye contact with you it’s probably because I’m really good at staring over peoples heads or at their knees. That’s just where my head has trained itself to go. When I truly look someone in the eyes I lose my train of thought, my throat gets dry and I find myself unable to speak. It’s a frightening feeling.
The one question that I have gotten very good at answering over the years is the one that I get asked with the most frequency: “what is wrong with you?” People don’t usually say this in an accusatorial way, but in a way that suggests that they’d actually like to know the answer to their question . I had a choice to make when I realized I had Asperger’s I could let my Asperger’s define me or I could define my Aspergers. I chose the latter. No one wants to be controlled and I don’t like the idea that my life is controlled by anything. It is a reality however that there are certain things that I am not good at. Socializing is one of those things, making eye contact is one of those things, speaking loudly and in a succinct manner is one of those things, and self-confidence especially with regards to my own identity used to be one of those things. However, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything determine who I was or what I was capable of. I’ve been through enough. I know what I’m going to do and I’m going to do it. What everyone around me has had to decide is whether that’s okay with them or not. I’m done putting up with things that upset me and hiding them inside me. I’m done being a person that bullies can push around. There comes a point in our lives when we realize what makes things simpler for us and when we realize this things begin to slow down and our lives become much less of a struggle than they were before. I know what makes things simpler for me and I know how I want to live my life. It’s just a matter of adjusting right now to the world around me, but that’s no challenge. I’ve been doing that my whole life.