I see this stuff in terms of autistic emotion regulation difficulties, I guess it could be seen in terms of bipolar but I don’t know enough about that to comment. Also, as the title suggests, there’s no clear divide between many overlapping factors so who knows where we might end up, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
I read a blog recently (I forget which) which had a diagram of autistic emotions with very clear happy/sad/meltdown divisions. It was a good fit with my all or nothing mentality. When happy I am on top of the world, nothing can stop me, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks… frankly I’m an arrogant self-congratulating narcissist who truly believes she is the “all singing all dancing crap of the world”. When I’m not happy my self-worth plummets to abysmal lows and I find it impossible to understand how anyone could ever see me as anything but a foolish annoyance, a real pain in the butt. I have a lot of difficulty accepting kindness because deep down I simply do not believe I deserve it.
Here’s the catch, it’s not as clear cut as feeling either happy or sad, much of the time I am both simultaneously to varying degrees but it’s still somehow black and white, or rather happy or sad, in my mind. Even in my finest hours of triumph there is always an underlying current of doubt and an inner sarcasm mocking every petty victory. For example I think writing this blog is mostly a good thing, it helps me get my thoughts in order and express them in a relatively safe way. It’s something I can use as a coping tool and unlike therapists or friends it is available at no cost at any hour of the day. The idea of people reading what I write is a bonus in that it appeals to my vanity. It is also an act of hope in that I might provide some comfort to others who feel the same way just as reading the experiences of others helps me. It is also a curse as I despise my vanity, I believe that most of what I write is self-absorbed twaddle and I am desperately reaching out through the internet for someone, anyone, to understand which is a pathetic and futile hope when I cannot begin to understand myself. It’s the paradox which really bothers me, how can I be so vain and self-loathing at the same time??
Other people add another layer of complexity. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to understand people and often wonder if it is worth the effort. I am tempted to tar you all with the same brush – more black and white thinking: on a bad day it is so much easier to just believe all people are horrid rather than pick a route through the thorny complexities of: most people are mostly OK unless you catch them at a bad time; some people seem nice but have ulterior motives; and many people who have had my admiration are nowhere near as perfect in reality as they were in my imagination. Sometimes all I can manage is more of a two legs bad four legs good mindset. (Animals are much easier to read and more consistent in their behaviour). I have been let down by people time and again and so when the good ones come along I am slow to trust.
I’ve believed for some time (long before the revelation of autism), that I feel emotions more keenly than most people do. For what it’s worth though I wouldn’t want to change this; I think the passion goes hand in hand with the pain and I love that I am so very passionate about many things. Even within the pain there is also beauty, it takes but seconds to think of examples of this in every art form but this seems especially true of music: Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana and Adele’s Someone Like You come to mind. I want the pain, I want the bitter-sweet fantasy, I want to feel it all no matter what the cost.
I also lurch from one emotion to the next with dizzying speed (I think the shrinks would use the term emotional lability) as I react to every piece of input, including all those thoughts and thoughts about thoughts. I do love thinking but from a very young age I’ve desperately wanted to be able to turn my mind off and take a break from it for a while. The best I can do to achieve this is by being fully absorbed by something, I can become fascinated by almost anything and while my brain is immersed in one thing which demands all my attention it just doesn’t get a chance to come up with anything else, that’s as close as I get to relaxation.
Self-awareness, while often praised by MH types, isn’t necessarily a good thing. I am not sure how to express anything without making some predictions about how others might then perceive me, therefore anything I say or do consciously is a form of manipulation. If it is the result of wanting to be perceived in a certain way then anything that I’m aware of might not be as honest as thoughtless actions/words. However on the rare occasions I let down my guard of extreme self-control, or when communication moves too quickly for me to consider every consequence, my uncensored thoughts get me into all sorts of trouble. In general it seems people can’t handle the truth and I still have much to learn about tact.
Just in case autism isn’t complex enough that’s only one side of the picture, the nature side if you like. For a long time I believed the nurture side of things was the root of all my difficulties. When I’m not busy blaming myself for everything I’m also pretty good at blaming others. As a teenager I spent a lot of time composing suicide notes in my head which would show them exactly how they were to blame – ‘that’ll learn ’em’ I thought. These days I’m generally less suicidal but in a way I feel trapped by motherhood, I no longer have the luxury of being able to imagine writing vindictive ‘goodbye cruel world’ notes, or taking out all those who I perceive to have hurt me in a killing spree (we all have those thoughts right? Consider your answer carefully, I may be dangerous!) because even in my imagination the guilt of deserting my child is overwhelming, particularly as she doesn’t have a second parent to fall back on.
I’m also stuck between the varying impact of nature and nurture on who I am. It’s impossible to unravel the cause of every fleeting feeling but the self-analysis continues relentlessly. Sometimes I think autism may be a scapegoat for my failings just as my classmates (I hate how there is an implication of friendship in that word) were for my social failings. I am accountable for my actions and no diagnosis or half-arsed sob-story changes that. By increasing my knowledge of autism and human nature I hope that a more accurate understanding of myself and others will bring me peace. I fear that seeking knowledge is to some degree a substitute for the reassurance others get from relationships. I am luckier than I deserve in the friends I have, far more than I have the social stamina for. What I lack is a partner, someone to share the mundane highs and lows with, someone who gets me and loves me for who I am and I can bestow my love upon without fear. While this is the fantasy (and life is so unpredictable I’ve learned to never say never), I can’t see this being a reality for a long time to come.
So for now I write and I reach out and I try to brave the storm of emotions one day at a time.
Edit: I wrote this about three days ago when I couldn’t sleep. Since then I’ve been in two minds about whether to post it, pretty much for the reasons given above. I think overall it’s worth the risk of sharing, I hope so.