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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Copyright 2002 Roger N. Meyer



      [This post is a response to a woman on the ASPIRES discussion list who expressed great concern about meeting someone she hadn't seen for several months.  She was terrified about what to say or do.  Her post struck a familiar chord among several AS members.  Here's my contribution to that discussion.]


     The same thing "happens to me all the time."  I don't treat each such meeting as a unique event.  I've developed my own "rules" for them.  But things have gotten to the point, now, where those rules are automatic, so I'm on autopilot every time I step out of the house and back into an "old world" with such a person.


     I think that treating such events categorically does a lot to reduce the bouts of anxiety and fretting that accompanies a person's worry about "each" such event.  One problem with treating these events as discrete is that your ruminate and ruminate and ruminate like MAD about each one, and thus start to connect the rumination with the process of meeting an old acquaintance.  The combination can be un nerving and lead to continual isolation and fear...not exactly a good combination that assures change.


     Because change is what it's all about.


     The "what if's" you might be experiencing, the doubts, have everything to do with the fact that you have changed...you are a different person, both in terms of the "real things that are apparent to others" AND your new-found knowledge about yourself.  These conditions have inevitably caused a reshuffling of the "index cards" in your knowledge base.  Every time you open up the old card box, the cards are in a different order, and that's both frustrating and confusing unless.........unless you realize that you are the person in charge of that card box, and the change IN the card box is safe and OK.


     This is called "letting it happen" and "not getting freaked about life."  There is absolutely no way you can stop change in either department, so it's your choice to decide whether either one of these things should continually unhinge you.


     Discussing this takes us back to a familiar theme here:  The theme of who is in charge of one's feelings.  If every time something happens or doesn't happen, a stranger or a person familiar "does" something to cause your emotions or feelings to change, you attribute that emotion "to" the other person, you are giving that person or that event unreal power.  The thing "causing" your feelings is external to you.  While it can be approached, avoided, or just let be, the person in charge of what that event, person, experience "does" to your emotions is you, ultimately, and not the event, person, or experience.


     Example:  Quite some time back one of our former list members expressed concern about someone at work always passing by her work cubicle and either looking in or just passing by.  The list member said "She is doing that to ________me."  I can't for the moment remember "what" that feeling or emotion was, but the response by several members here was:  "No.  She isn't causing your feelings.  You are in charge.  The moment people "give away" responsibility for how they feel or react to something to someone else, they lose the very real, palpable power they have over running their own lives.  Everything for folks who think this way is subject to what's happening out there.  In other words, the person "lives" reactively, totally dependent upon the outside world turning their emotions, governing their life, providing definition to their own internal experiences and reactions.


     That's unfair, and psychologically unsound.  It's also a very old, old feeling for folks who are autistic.  We rely on others early in our lives to "interpret" the outside world to us.  That's because when we are young, we don't have a sense of boundaries between ourselves and the world out there.  Everything kind of blends together.  We are afraid of "getting lost" in the external world because, as I've said lots of time, we don't know where "we" stop and the "them" or the "that" starts.


     So, our ability to perceive, to "receive," to note the differences between events and people, improves over time.  And that improvement leads to fewer surprises, fewer reasons to fear what's happening out there.


     Please note I'm not attributing blame or imputing moral inferiority to us here.  I'm just describing a very familiar, a very old feeling for those of us on the spectrum.  As we age, as we experience a more varied world, as we begin to navigate the world on our own, as we begin to "see" rather than build our own fences, our own identities, we realize, for example, that the cars rushing by on a heavily trafficked street aren't about to mow us down as we walk on the sidewalk next to the street.  That events half way around the world aren't happening right next to us, or, worse yet, "in" us.  We've developed a perspective, something we trust because in having developed it, time after time, the repetition starts to set "patterns" to our experience where before, as inexperienced persons, everything seemed random to us.


     These patterns are what I call "rules."  They aren't deliberate, just as external experiences aren't deliberate as much as they are catgegorizable (I hope there's such a word; if not, I just made it up.)  If X is happening out there, then our past experience of other X's suggests to us that "Y" is what we felt at the time, and if it was a "safe feeling," it's likely that Y will occur now.  And we can live with Y.  We may enjoy Y.  We may look forward to Y.   Even if "Y" doesn't occur to us now, that's because the X is really an X sub 1, or an X modified, or maybe isn't even an X at all.  Maybe it's a Z.


     The looking "forward" to a good, or even a neutral feeling inside us, something we recognize, something we are responsible for, is what drives "friendship."  People avoid others who consistently induce negative feelings and emotions.  Even if you can't name them,  the emotions, the feelings are unpleasant, and you start to attach those feelings to "those kinds of events, people, and experiences."  But this isn't automatic.  You, as a thinking and an aware person, are "in charge" of making those connections.  At first, it may be something almost autonomic....a response of the basic nervous system over which you have no control.  But that's generally for infants and children.  As we get more experienced in the world, we develop different receptors that correct for mistaken first impressions, and those receptors tell us to "check out that first impression" to see whether it is really what it seems to be. That process, the ever-expanding variety of "checking options," of self-monitoring responsibilities, defines progressive development, and ultimately defines "maturity."


     A last thing, something that's been discussed her the last two or three days.  Some of us are late bloomers.  Yes.  That's correct.  Late bloomers.  But I'm going to suggest that the late blooming isn't just a function of time.  For people who aren't going to change or develop, repeated experiences over their lives won't result in the "AHA!" moments, in those realizations that things are different and that things can be differentiated.  They are stuck in a time and an experience warp.  That happens quite often to folks on the spectrum.  Not about everything....we are known for being able to compartmentalize our functions pretty well, perhaps for some, too well.  Nope.


      Some of us are very inefficient processors of external experiences, people, events, and our memory trunk is so chock full of old things that we've kept boiling so that ancient experiences are still rising to the surface, are still "current" for us once we start to consciously think about them, that a new experience can be mistaken for an experience that happened thirty, forty, fifty years ago.  And then the feelings and emotions we experienced way back then become instantly contemporaneous.  We go on a bad kind of automatic pilot.  We conflate, we mix what is happening right now with what, in our own memory, is "right up there" even though it happened decades ago, and BOOM.  We're right back in the past while "being" in the present.


     And if our reactions don't confuse others, they sure confuse us.  All of a sudden something that "should" be a benign or even a pleasant new experience is being re-experienced through distorted memory, often multi-sensory, of ancient events.  This is the "schizoid" type of behavior that psychologists talk about.  Because that term is such a lousy term, it becomes associated with "not in touch with reality" that allows the "label" of other mental health conditions that really don't "fit" us.  What's happening to us, something we can't often explain to others who badger us for reports, is that we go into a panic state, or a state where present time is somehow suspended and we are mulling old memories, experiences, AND their feelings, right now.  Right in the present.  And our processors get stuck.  At that moment, they are "looping."  Our logic becomes circular and non-functional.  It functions, but it doesn't relate to efficient processing of a current event.  So, yes, it loops.


     And under those conditions, we might have to do with our thoughts the same thing we do with a stuck computer:  Re-boot it.  Refresh the order in which things are supposed to be "loaded in our systems" so that we can process current demands on our system without getting stuck, in this case, in the past.  So when the new experience says, in effect:  "Hi, I'm a new experience!" your computer isn't saying:  "No, wait a minute.  I don't recognize you.  Bad Command.  Bad Command.  Bad Command."  And then off you go, a puzzle to that person, a puzzle to yourself.  And then after the experience, you start beating yourself up.  If you are in an unsupportive family or a relationship that is not good, others won't have any trouble beating you up either.


     So maybe, just maybe, this is what happens over the issue of how to "deal," successfully, with old people who have changed.  By realizing that nothing remains the same, maybe you have to reboot so that you are "open" to new commands, to new input.


     And to the adult idea of friendship.


Copyright Issues


This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.


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