Lately I have found myself deeply depressed with connections with others. There is a large part of myself I hold back. Many of my Facebook friends have no idea what I struggle with on a day-to-day basis. They don’t see the internal struggle I’m trying to overcome with understanding myself vs. the way the world works. And when I say world, I mean my world. I live in a Western culture. Even without Asperger’s, or High Functioning Autism, as it’s now called, I would still struggle with making friends and being “socially acceptable” in a world that has high expectations of how I should act.
Even a friend I have (or had?) that has Asperger’s doesn’t understand what I struggle with. I was “put in his outer circle of friends” because I couldn’t behave according to his expectations. I tried to explain to him what I am struggling with, but that didn’t seem to matter. All he was able to understand is that he didn’t like my dysfunction and he didn’t know what else to do with me. So he pushed me away.
I talked to another friend I had met years ago. He lives in another country in Europe. We had met through work but remained friends on Facebook. I gave him a brief outline of my struggles and he said he felt the same. “A lot of people suck,” were his sentiments. And true friends are hard to find. The humanitarian in me wants to disagree, but after nine years of working on myself and improving who I am, and seeing what is out there, I couldn’t disagree with him.
I realize that not only am I dealing with learning the social skills of a Western world, but I’m also dealing with the fact that everybody is struggling with what it means to truly connect with another human being and without adding our own expectations of what that person should act like. I admit. My expectations are high too. When I connect with someone, maybe I want a little too much. Maybe I expect understanding where it’s not possible to have any. Maybe I expect too much communication in a world gone made with the frenzy of just surviving.
But at the end of my life what is most important to me? In spite of my struggles with Asperger’s, I still value human connection very much. I want my connections with others to mean something. I’m tired of letting Western culture get in the way. And even though I have “high expectations,” they aren’t meaningless expectations!
Is it too much to want to draw a person out of their own dysfunctional communication styles in order to have that connection? Is it too much to be a little uncomfortable for the sake of humanity? I’m not talking full commitment. I’m talking about taking the time and effort to really get to know a person. That could be a few moments of time, or an entire lifetime. It’s whatever the interaction calls for. Sometimes I just say something small like, “You’re an awesome person.” People like to hear that because there is so much in Western culture telling them they are nothing compared to whatever thing we are trying to match ourselves up to.
I have found many times I can make a person feel worthy and included in very short spaces of time. And when I say it, I mean it. I don’t bullshit around. I also will take the time to help people. If they tell me they aren’t living up to their expectations, I tell them this culture doesn’t have realistic expectations when it comes to the standards of capitalism. Capitalism tells us we will never be enough and never have enough until we are rich, successful and powerful. This is so opposite to the truth!
I need money to survive. But it doesn’t talk to me. It doesn’t hold my hand when I’m scared. My status doesn’t make me feel safe.
But other people do. When someone connects with me and understands my pains and fears, that makes me feel safe. That is what I try to do for others that can be real with me. I can’t give that to someone who doesn’t want it though. I’ve met many people who don’t want it!
I’ve thought about “outing” myself on Facebook and telling everyone what I am. It reminds me of how people in the LGBTQ community must feel. How scary it is. And I wonder how it’s helped or hindered them. Or completely altered their world. Were they glad they came out? Was it worth the risk of being so vulnerable to others that they could judge, offer unsolicited advice, and otherwise make them feel less than?
At this point in all of my struggles, I feel like I don’t have much to lose. I’m already dealing with people on a constant basis that pick me up and put me down at their convenience. Maybe I don’t understand them. Maybe I’m being the one that is not understanding.
But at what point do we start facing this fear of human connection and start working together for ourselves and fellow human beings? Do we keep hiding behind our cell phones, and computers and social media?
I learned that I can work on myself all I want and improve myself and how wonderful that is. But improving myself when it comes to others is a whole ‘nother ball game. That requires more commitment to show up authentically, compassionately, and be willing to work through the ups and downs. And I could maybe do this if others wanted to too. But I can’t make them.
I want to take the easy route and keep hiding. That is safe. That is in my comfort zone. But that doesn’t get me anywhere in life. It doesn’t help me advance in my personal goals or my social and environmental goals. To hide means to stay stuck. To not allow myself to be raw and vulnerable means not dealing with more rejection. But it also means not even putting the efforts forward to have the connections I seek with others.
I’m not even sure what I want from other people. That’s the worst part of all. I can’t seem to get a clear goal of what I’m looking for. I don’t need that many people in my life. I couldn’t handle it. And after my friend axing me out of his immediate social circle, I feel all the less equipped to take on more friendships. I have one friendship in the real world right now. If I can’t handle social experiences, should I even pursue them?
What is the way out of this mess in my life? What is the way out of this mess in Western culture that puts so little value in community and building others up? How do we fix these problems we face?
When I look at all the social and environmental problems, it boils down to these two things. How willing are we to face ourselves? And how willing are we to face the problem of the ever growing isolation and loneliness in our culture? These are the things we all talk about. These are the things we all complain about. These are the things that are causing social and environmental problems. But these are the things we all run from.
I’ve seen this in so many places. How will we ever start to walk the walk? Aren’t we tired of the endless discussions and the endless articles online telling us what is wrong? And only to find there is so little of us standing up and putting the solutions forward in the interactions we have with those around us?
It’s so hard for me to see this. When I look at everybody online and in the real world it always seems like their lives with others are fine. I see people finding partners, having kids, getting jobs, going out and having wonderful experiences. It’s hard for me to admit that there is a rising statistic of isolation, loneliness, suicide and mental health issues in Western culture. Is it all a facade? Are people really truly happy with their lives, or are we all just pretending because A) we don’t want to face ourselves, and B) it’s too much to figure out relationships because we haven’t even figured ourselves out?
It just seems the surface of life is a totally different story from the internal workings of life. But maybe I’m just not seeing straight. Maybe that is the Asperger’s part of me. Is the truth that we all struggle with this regardless of whether we have “dysfunctions” or not? Are people without Asperger’s just better at faking it? I’m at a loss…