I’m a pretty independent person, as people who know me will attest.
I think it comes of having a Scottish heritage, being Aspergian, and of having been more or less abandoned by my parents, who simply weren’t interested in children. (This of course begs the question of why they adopted at all, but that’s a subject for another day.)
In other words, I am not only biologically inclined towards independence, but was driven to it by circumstance. I am not alone in this: one of my heroes, John Elder Robison, is another excellent example of a self-raised Aspergian.
Anyway, sometimes this is a really good thing: it means I’m organized (and how), and that when there’s a job to be done, whether it’s cleaning house or getting a book edited on deadline, I do it. It’s enabled me to complete a postsecondary education, be employed, and have a roof over my head, a car in the driveway, money in the bank, and food in the fridge. Nothing fancy, mind you, but I do manage to keep the wolf from the door.
However, there are also some serious down-sides to being so independent, and those usually occur where my need to get ‘er done, now, on my terms, meets the crushing naïveté of Asperger Syndrome.
As I’ve explained before, Asperger’s has made me fact-smart and people-stupid, meaning I’m great with setting up a study schedule or invoicing system for myself, but really bad with decisions involving social interactions. If life came with report cards, I’d be acing out in all the geek subjects, but flunking dismally in office life, friendships, and romance.
And this is where the folks I like to call my Seeing-Eye People come in. Just as people who are blind often have guide dogs that keep them from crashing into trees and falling down flights of stairs, I have acquired, in the last few years, a small, trustworthy group of people who help to keep me from stepping on too many land-mines in my dealings with other Humanoid Life Forms.
My decision to acquire Seeing-Eye People was motivated by some of the looking-back I did, with an Asperger’s specialist, after I was diagnosed in April 2009. He praised my accomplishments, but also gently pointed out the gaping craters of destruction where Asperger’s (and my unwillingness to ever ask for help or advice) had made its mark on my life — failed romances, poor choices of friends and partners, money lost to unscrupulous people, unhealthy career decisions….
Eventually, slowly, I began to understand not only that maybe some of these craters could have been avoided if I’d been able/willing to ask for advice, but also that asking for help is something we all — NT and Aspergian alike — need to do from time to time.
In fact, one of my Seeing-Eye People, my friend K., said to me recently that over the course of our friendship she has often worried terribly about me, as I’m so easily taken advantage of. However, since I wasn’t the ask-for-help type, she had to be content with watching uneasily as I slipped on banana peel after banana peel, socially speaking.
K., of course, was and is a keeper. But step one in the process of selecting the rest of my Seeing-Eye People was jettisoning some bad apples — drama queens, for example, or people who were only hanging around me for money or sex (or both), or sponges who were only nice to me when they needed a favour.
This left me with fewer friends, but better-quality ones. It’s a hard thing to do, and makes for a bit of loneliness, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Step two was recognizing when I was in a bind, or didn’t know what “social protocols” were expected. For most of my life I’ve just bashed my way through whatever decision needed to be made, and damn the torpedoes. Now I have to do a bit of sorting: “Is this something I normally do successfully on my own, or does this require a Social Skill I don’t possess?” or “Am I getting that uneasy, weirded-out feeling that tells me I might need help?” If it’s the latter, then I know I need to make a phone call or send a text or email to one of my Seeing-Eye People and ask for assistance.
Two instances spring to mind. One was last year when an acquaintance from my gym asked to borrow my car. I don’t know her very well, and she had just had an accident with her own vehicle, and because I badly wanted her to be my friend, I initially said Yes.
However, I got that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that told me that was a poor decision. I went for a walk (I think best on my feet) and eventually it occurred to me that I should phone K. pronto. I also emailed my friend T. and asked for her thoughts. Over the sound of their eyebrows rocketing up into their hairlines, I got the message loud and clear that I must NOT be going about lending my vehicle to virtual strangers!
As K. put it, even her own sister has never asked to borrow her car, nor has she (K.) in our 28 years of friendship, ever asked to borrow mine.
The other instance was a matter of protocol: a few months ago, a friend’s baby was stillborn. She lives in another city and notified me (and a few others) by email, as she was understandably crushed & in mourning. I emailed her back my heartfelt condolences, but felt I should do more. However, being an Aspergian, I had no idea what was required.
So I phoned my friend A. (Seeing-Eye Person No. 3) and explained the situation, and asked what the protocol would be in such a situation. A. explained that often people want to talk about these things, and although I hate talking on the phone, I understood that it would be good to make an exception here and phoned my friend. She did, indeed, badly need to talk, and so we talked for about an hour together, and I came away feeling that I’d absolutely done the right thing, and helped her to feel better.
There are, of course, still a galaxy of things I do on my own and for which I need no advice or input: the day-to-day running of my work, what to make for dinner, how to run my home, when and where to exercise, what to watch on TV.
But slowly, surely, I’m learning that in some matters — particularly the Big Things that give me that uneasy feeling in my stomach, or that could have an enormous impact on my financial or social well-being — I can and should consult with my Seeing-Eye People and utter those words that come so hard to all us Aspergians:
“I’m having trouble with this. What do you think?”