Letter to young me

with random flashbacks

I know you feel broken and lost. I remember it. You feel like there’s something wrong with you, an invisible brokenness, and while you can forget about it when you are alone, when you’re around others it becomes painfully obvious. People sense that something isn’t quite 100% right, but they can’t define it, so they come up with many names.

You are too childish, or unusually mature for your age. You are too lazy, forgetful, too brazen, too shy. You are imaginative, gifted, you don’t care what others think and wear whatever you want, they say. You are thick skinned, but too sensitive, bold, rude, weird, a one-horse cart, selfish, excentric, snap too easily, too aloof, a dreamer, too naive, a know-it-all, arrogant, too loud, inconsiderate, too quiet. You just need to learn to …. [insert cure here].

Your brokenness is not official and has no name, yet is all-pervasive with a bewildering & expanding list of names. School refusal, depression, social anxiety, eating disorder, suicide attempts, self harm, personality disorder. Throughout your life, your brokenness changes names many times, but never really responds to any of them.

One thing is clear: you MUST fix all those things that are wrong with you. The list is endless, there is no time to waste.

And you try. and try. and try. You succeed through hard work and dedication. It is stressful and draining and makes you question whether life is even worth the struggle for such limited improvement, but you do successfully fix some Things that were wrong before. You learn and develop your social skills.

Turns out it was not enough. Now when you can do the Things, you should also be able to do the rest of the Things, because those kind of Things go together as a package. So why don’t you.

You are exhausted. You learned to fix many of the Things that were wrong with you, and you are much better at those things now, but people STILL feel you are broken.

The problem is all the emptiness surrounding each of your social skills. Social reality is intricate & dynamic & deeply intertwined. Social skills that have been improved or acquired late can actually confuse people even more, when they reach the edges of your social skills after a few minutes or maybe half an hour or maybe 2 months, and they didn’t think there would be edges. There are not supposed to be edges. Baffled, they stare over the edges and into the abyss, and don’t know what to do with it.

You learned that a firm handshake, a friendly smile and direct eye contact makes the right impression on people, so they will want to get to know you, which is what you need. But you are not sure what’s next. Questions and answers, supposedly. Your smile soon tires and becomes a skeleton smile, as you are not sure where the breaks in smiling are supposed to be, and how to do the transitions. Your happy face and approachable eye contact degrades into a tense smile with a relentless stare, as you struggle to maintain the right attitude. Now no one feels comfortable. You feel like a large insect hanging onto a sleeve: in the group of people, but not really one of them. The conversation dries out, it wasn’t interesting but now it is slowly becoming unbearable for everyone.

Unfortunately, you can’t just talk with someone else. The whole planet is like this (pretty much). So you just have to learn how to blend in, no matter how daunting it is. You feel like a deer caught in headlights. That is not good enough, you must try harder.

Now when the tension is visceral to everyone and not just you, they are glancing around, looking for an exit to the conversation. Restless and relieved, they spot someone they know, make a socially acceptable gesture about having to talk to that person, and gone they are.

Your relief is overshadowed by your sense of growing panic. Now you are visibly alone in the crowd. There is only a flimsy buffer between that situation, and getting the damning Weirdo label, which can be extremely sticky, even well beyond the present time and situation. Having the Weirdo label is like having a contagious disease, and being weird is even weirder when you’re female. The situation has to be solved within the next 10-15 minutes, or you need to leave before anyone notices that your mask has slipped, and your social skills edges are now bared to anyone who looks.

Conversations are so hard to get into. People always seem to know each other better, even if they just met, bonding over demographic and cultural typicalities that transcend places and social circles, connecting dots from parallel life stories.

Groups have forcefields (even small groups, like pairs). Outsiders can be easily kept at bay with insider references and subtle gestures, like slight changes in body position and expressions. Insiders are protected against outside predators, as well as people they just don’t like, or whom they feel are too high maintenance. Filtering people is a fundamental group function.

Here is the name of your nameless condition: autistic. This will make it easier. Don’t be scared. Some day, you will make peace with it. Some day, it will become your friend – when you learn to work with it, instead of against it

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