Normally, the holiday season fills me with a sense of joy, peace, and hope. I love everything about Christmas; the decorations, the traditions, the music, and especially the Christmas story. I very much relate to the idea of love and hope being born in the depths of winter. I arrive at the end of the year relieved and grateful, and excited for a fresh start.
I felt none of those things this year. I came around to decorating my home, something I usually go a little crazy doing, only after I decorated the office where I work and thought maybe I should try to coax myself into the holiday spirit by doing the apartment. I did all of the holiday things I normally do, playing hooky, getting my nails done, cooking and baking. I had a lovely holiday with my family and friends, restful, relaxing, fun, and drama-free. I couldn’t have asked for more. But through it all, a sadness lingered, a feeling of disconnect with how people treated me and what I saw in myself. I still see myself as unworthy, a child in grown-up clothes play-acting at being an adult. I still feel like the scared, confused little girl I was growing up, who no-one liked, who didn’t understand why no-one liked her.
But of course, I’m not that little girl. Intellectually, I know that I am a fully-realized, functional, mature human being. I know how to be a good friend, a good sister, a good aunt, a good daughter. Unlike many on the spectrum, I can move among my peers and co-workers with relative opacity, with no-one having any idea that I have Asperger’s, that what they see is not natural but an elaborate and now virtually automatic construction.
I no longer even really mind that it is a construction; rather, I am proud of it. I worked hard to learn to understand people and develop relationships with them over the last two decades, and I’m still trying, and learning and improving. I have come so far! But the dissonance persists. Everyone sees me as a whole person. Everyone, that is, except myself.
My therapist said that I have done such a good job of being useful that I doubt whether I would be desired otherwise. That I feel that if my friends and family didn’t need me around they wouldn’t want me around, and that need to try to figure out why that might be.
It’s terribly upsetting. Because it’s true. I don’t know if it is a result of misunderstanding and being misunderstood for so long, or if I came out of the box this way (or both). But I have been unable to accept the idea – the truth – that I am not a failure, or an accident, or a mistake. That I’m not a bad or mean or incompetent person. In fact, my loved ones are proud of me. Friends and co-workers are proud of me. Even strangers are proud of me. The only person not proud of me is me.
I can no longer blame this on my circumstances. The only negative feedback is coming from the inside, and no event occurring in my external life affects it. It doesn’t matter what I do, how much money I make, or how many obstacles I overcome; I keep waiting for that one final achievement to prove that I’m worthy of being called an adult, even though I don’t know what it would be, or how I would know it if it happened. (Maybe it’s already happened?) I have been treating my outward persona like an act, and only partially because of the effort that goes into projecting it. I’m stuck on the idea that it’s just the person I want to be, not the person I actually am.
But what is the difference, really, between thinking, feeling, and acting like someone, and being that person? I’ve lived as two people for so long, one inside and one outside, that I’ve taken the duality for granted. There’s who other people see, and there’s who I really am, and they are totally different, and that’s just how it is. No-one ever liked the “real” me when I was growing up, so why would they like it now?
Except, the girl no-one ever liked never actually existed. It is not who I was, and especially not who I am now. It was a misunderstanding, an assumption borne out of a lack of knowledge, on both sides, of my neurodivergence. I see that clearly in retrospect and my heart goes out to the little girl that lived through that experience. But I am grateful, too, because it made me who I am, someone who doesn’t tolerate the mistreatment of others. And I am incredibly grateful for my friends and family who saw past my Aspergers to the person underneath. And I have been able to use my experience to inform my interactions with others. I have learned the social language that allows all of us apes to get along and develop attachments to one another.
I did that. Because I wanted to. I wanted to have friends and be a friend, to like and love and enjoy being with other people, and be liked and loved and enjoyed by them. And if I made that effort, and still make that effort, doesn’t that count for something? If it’s who I want to be, and who I strive to be, then why isn’t it who I really am, inside as well as out?
It’s hard to let go of the dichotomy. It is a crutch that allows me to explain away my worst impulses, my shortcomings and failures, which all align with the conviction that I’m not “really” a good person, I just look like one. Because if I were a good person, there would be no excuse for ever acting like a bad one, even unintentionally. Since I’m a bad one, however, bad behavior is expected and all of my f***ing up makes sense. I’m still punishing myself for all the times I screwed up because of my Aspergers (or not), and constantly striving to balance it out with unrealistically high standards of behavior that I never attain because – wait for it – I’m not really a good person. Makes perfect sense, right? Nothing wrong with that line of thinking,
The advantage of writing out your thoughts is that you get to see how ridiculous they are.
Until now, I never entertained the possibility that I think and act and feel the way I do because it’s who I am. I haven’t learned how to act like someone. I have learned how to be someone. I have learned how to make the person on the outside match the one on the inside, not cover for it. A work in progress, of course, but more than adequate. Road tested and passed, lots of roads, lots of tests. It’s time to take myself off probation.
There aren’t two different TGAs. The dissonance is not inherent; it’s a coping mechanism developed years ago to shield me from the pain of my spectrum-related social challenges. But I don’t need it any more. The bones have healed and I can bear weight on this self. And I have proven that, time and again, over these years of pain and challenges and renewals.
I just need to believe it, deep down, and remember it in times of self-doubt, and work on convincing not just my head, but my heart, of the truth of it. Speaking of works in progress, this will be a big one. But today is the first day of a new year, and this year, my resolution is to stop thinking of myself as an elaborate fake and start thinking of myself as being the person my loved ones see. It’s terrifying (what if I’m wrong?). But it feels important, like the next step in my journey as an individual on the spectrum learning how to function in a neurotypical environment. Now that I’ve learned to behave like a socially habituated human, I need to learn to believe that’s what I am. Because it is.
Starting right now, this minute. I write it here so I can hold myself accountable. I am a good person, a worthy person, a real person. It will be hard to remember all the time, but the only way to get better is practice. So I will start practicing. Today.
Happy New Year.