Adept at Adapting

I can do magic. It’s a skill I’ve had since I was very young. And like any good magician, I’ve kept the source of my skills a secret. Why, a good magician never reveals the source of his magic. Especially when it’s not. Magic, that is. My tricks fall more in the line of pure deception. My goal is to get the audience to believe that everything is fine, and by no means should they pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. In short? I am a con artist. I con everyone I meet into thinking that I don’t modify the world to fit my experiences. That I don’t have to change everything I touch to make it make sense in my head. And that one deeply desperate thing I certainly don’t do is tweak myself. I am a con artist. And how could I not be? After almost 30 years of adapting to a world was not meant for someone with my brain, I’ve become pretty good at making things fit my needs.

When you find out that you don’t think like other people, you react in a couple of steps. They’re sort of like the steps of grieving, except that instead of grieving a person, or a relationship, you’re grieving a state of mind. While most of us go through a phase of feeling weird or alone, the idea that your brain works in fundamentally different ways than a “normal” person’s, you go into shock. At least I did. The idea is so foreign, it was a while before my brain could make sense of it. After that, I suppose there is a period of mourning. Mine didn’t last long. It’s not that I didn’t wish things were how I thought they had been, but more because the next phase is fascination, and fascinated basically describes who I am as a person.

I love to pick things apart in my head. I like to pick things apart with my hands too, but that’s a different story. Give me a thought, or a story, or a theory, and I will analyze the crap out of it. It makes conversations interesting, because I often get sidetracked thinking about what someone has said, even though they’ve kept talking. It usually end with me proclaiming the results of my thoughts in excitement, and them being very confused, as they’d moved on from that topic five minutes ago. Needless to say, I’m much better at text based conversations, as it gives me time to think and analyze without someone standing right in front of me.

Like a lot of autistic people, I learned to adapt to my surroundings pretty early. I think I was lucky, in that my love of analysis meant that I could observe how people around me acted, and then take that data to make rules for how people behaved. I don’t think I ever knew why those people were doing what they did, and I certainly didn’t know why I was acting that way- except because it was a Thing that people do.

This is the beginning of my long history of pretending. I mentioned that I am, in essence, a con artist, because I cultivate infinite versions of myself; whoever I need to be to fit the situation. Just to keep the record straight, I’m not changing who I am as a person, I’m not changing the important parts of me. Think of it more as a filter, as millennial as that makes me sound. The essence of the photo doesn’t change; the subject and the composition remain intact, but a filter lets people see it differently. And you can change the filter to fit the person. I may stay the same internally, but I certainly encourage people to see the external filter that I want them to see.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that all this amazing and complex filtering takes incredible amounts of mental energy. Which is interesting, because when I realized exactly what was going on, I was really surprised. After some, you guessed it, analyzing, I realized that over the past twenty-five years or so I had actually automated the observe-analyze-regurgitate process. It was like malware running in the background of my brain computer. I didn’t remember installing it, it slowed everything down, and it didn’t always have my best interest at heart. Not to say it isn’t useful sometimes, but I’d like to be the one who decides when it happens.

I’ll be coming up on my two year diagnose-iversary, and I’m planning on giving myself a gift. Luckily for me, I know exactly what I want: more brain space. Since I started learning more about myself, I’ve realized that there’s so much that I want from life. I want to educate people and to be an advocate, I want to go back to school, I want to write. And spending all my time trying to perfectly fit into every social situation is keeping me back. I’ve practicing being slightly more autistic, even though it feels like I’m doing something wrong, because of the huge amount of energy it grants me. I’m even getting more comfortable with just being myself. I’m perfecting the balance of wanting to be a kind and polite person, and staying true to who I am. And while there’s nothing wrong with adaptation, I’m finally learning how to make it work for me.

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