…..and here’s how it manifests in me – it’s like navigating the world with a paint pallet, but with half the colors.  This means I will miss some social cues and over-analyze every word and encounter until my head hurts.  The knowledge that I’m (unofficially) an Asperger’s has been enlightening – finally, as I look back on my life, things started to make sense.  My unofficial diagnosis occurred in 2009, when three separate counselors in two different cities within a six-week period asked me if I was Asperger’s.  Never having heard of it before, the answer was naturally “No”.  Being officially diagnosed is on my List of Things to Do, and it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to find sources that would help (one is in Los Angeles).

How did I survive all this time?

Well, as it turns out, theater probably saved me in a way nothing else could have.  I got involved with theater at the age of three and eventually joined and several local theater troupes, as well as acting classes in college.  This gave me a safe way to explore relationships within context and having a script is really helpful. [1]  Theater is about trust and collaboration – if you didn’t trust your fellow thespians and techies, then there was a problem.  In this scenario, I had to learn who I could trust so I could work with them. [2]

Outside of theater, I tended to be on my own.  I liked being with my friends and doing stuff with them, but it also takes a LOT of energy to just be ‘normal’ enough to interact with people and social situations.  I’m also an empath, so I can feel what everyone else is feeling at any given time.  For example, while I might not be able to pick up on physical behaviors when someone is lying to me, I can definitely feel it when it happens.

What does it feel like to be lied to?  That’s a really good question and I’m sure it’s different for everyone. For me, it’s like being sucker-punched so hard, that I’m knocked out of the situation for a few seconds.  When that feeling passes, I’m no longer able to view things as they had been.  Everything feels fragile – too bright, too dark, too uncertain.  Unreal.  I’m unable to know for certain that what I’d been experiencing before the lie was true or if it was also a lie.  So I will go quiet and shrink back into myself and observe.

And I do that a lot – observing.  I watch how people behave with each other and if an action is confusing to me, I’ll find a way to ask about it.  This is helpful both as an actor and as a writer, which is another thing that helps me survive, analyze and negotiate this world.  As it turns out, I seem to have a pretty good grasp on seeing what’s going on around me.  Interpretation is no longer out of the question.  Case in point – about two years ago, I watched two people meet for the first time.  There was nothing unusual about their meeting, nothing I could point my finger at with any conviction and say, “This was the catalyst.”  But something pinged in my mind as I watched them and I remember thinking, This will develop into something, they will be a couple before the month is out.  Lo, and behold, they were and still are.

More than one person has expressed to me that perhaps therapy would be the best way to learn social cues, to which I say, “Bullshit.”  What could a therapist teach me that real life social interactions couldn’t?  You don’t learn how to ride a horse in the classroom – you go out to the barn, hire an instructor and get in the fucking saddle.  Same thing with driving a car – sure, there are some classroom stuff that you need to learn, but for practical experience, the only way to learn how to drive a car is to get in the driver’s seat.

Same thing with learning about people and social interactions, which is where theater has been an enormous help.  At some point, you have to go out into the real world and deal with real life situations.  You find and surround yourself with people you like and feel comfortable with, so that you have a safe way to experience things in a group.

And then you just go and do.  Observe people and their actions and behaviors.  Ask questions if you find something puzzling.  Be honest about who you are and how you process information, if you think it will help create understanding.  For me, I’ve found that, in most cases, being honest about my Asperger’s does help to alleviate any potential awkwardness.  I don’t even have to go into a lot of detail.

But don’t ever let someone make their discomfort your responsibility.  It’s an unfair position to be put in and one from which you might not be able to defend yourself.  In those situations, the best way to handle it is to walk away and let them hold the bag for their own poor judgment and behavior.

You owe them nothing.

Theater is a great place to observe and learn.

[1] I’ve tried improv and I cannot do it to save my life, nor do I enjoy it.  Improv is too off-the-cuff and on-your-feet thinking for me.  Having a script gives me a sense of structure, which enables me to then build and expand.

[2] Trust is essential in any aspect of life.  However, I’ve also learned who I couldn’t trust.  And that’s a separate post.

Recommended Reading:

The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – Tony Attwood

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