Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Beside the fence. Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010.
“The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is.” –Charles M. Schwab
Guess what? I was born into a dysfunctional family.
I guess I can pick a number and stand in line, because I only know a few families that are “functional” (and I’m judging them from the outside; I could be wrong about them).
Every dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way. In my case, my father had high-functioning autism (also known as Asperger’s Syndrome). He has never been diagnosed – the diagnosis itself didn’t even exist until the 1980s – but he is what you’d call a “textbook case.” My father has never made direct eye contact with me; all of our conversations (from the time I was a child until now) have revolved around camera parts; and, lacking empathy, he said and did many things to me as I was growing up that were (inadvertently) abusive.
My mother drank to deal with the loneliness and frustration of having a spouse that could not connect with her emotionally on even the most basic level. She didn’t drink every day; she worked full-time and kept the house absolutely perfect. But when she did drink, I sensed a gulf between us. My father was an emotional vacuum; my mother became one on those occasions that she did drink; and I had no siblings to share my experiences with. Both of my parents loved me deeply, but something was askew.
For some reason I’ll never understand, I took after my father – so much so, in fact, that I believe if I had been tested as a child, I would have been placed on the autistic spectrum. I was adept at going inside of myself from the time I was 4 or 5. I preferred to walk along the fence and tell stories inside my head rather than play with the other kids on the playground. I was 6 when I decided I was going to be a writer (a solitary craft), and when I drew pictures of myself as an adult, I never included a husband or children; only a dog.
When I communicated with other kids, I monologued – an Asperger’s trait – often having memorized my side of the conversation ahead of time, because it never occurred to me that conversation was a give-and-take thing. And I shared all the startles and phobias my dad had (also an Asperger’s trait) – loud noises, bright lights, flying.
But at some point – I think around seventh grade – I began to do something my father could not. I began to notice that my behavior was unusual, and I longed to be part of the “in” crowd. I began to study the way people talked, moved, and dressed, and I began to copy them.
Unfortunately, it would be years before I got it right; it wasn’t until I got a degree in psychology, became a journalist and had to relate to people in a deeply empathetic way that I truly became “NT” (neurotypical). In the meantime, I could never fit in – and I desperately, desperately wanted to. I always sensed that I didn’t quite fit in, even in my own house, with my own family, in my own church, in my own workplace.
And this sense has never left me. It’s hard for me to imagine that someone knows how I feel, because I feel that my very molecules are different from other peoples’. Interestingly, I’ve been told many times that I’m “good with people,” and “fun to be with.” My own therapist thinks I should be a therapist.
But inside I’m still that little girl, walking alone beside the fence.