Posted on September 20th, 2013 | by Leslie

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A day in the life

I have Asperger’s.  We call ourselves Aspies.  Our brains are not like your brains.  Our needs are not your needs.  You really don’t get us, and maybe that’s because we don’t take the time to explain ourselves very often.  So because it’s come up recently several times in various places, this is my attempt to give you a tiny glimpse into our lives.

We spend a lot of energy and effort reinforcing an eroding wall.  The wall that keeps who we really are, what we need, the way we think and see the world, protected.  There are very few people who would be able to accept (even tolerate) us as we are without that wall between us, so it’s there as much to protect us as it is to make everyone else’s lives easier.  But building it comes at a price.

I’ve accepted that there will always be a barrier keeping me at a distance from almost everyone I’ll ever know, and the daily effort required to maintain it will be a part of my life forever.  But I’ve learned a great deal from watching you live your lives, and observing the way your minds think and process information.  Since I’m also autistic, and function very highly, this makes me an ideal candidate to act as a translator.

I’m going to try to explain the way our senses take in information, more information than you realize we receive, and more information than a neurotypical brain could hope to process.  Whenever I tell someone that I’m an Aspie and I see that look of pity in their eyes I’m astounded.  Yes, we’re different, but we’re the ones who feel sorry for you.  You miss so very much.

Imagine every time you see an image that at the same time your brain processes that image visually, it also perceives that image as sound, scent, taste and texture.  If that image is accompanied by a soundwave (say, a bird and its call) now the brain must process not only the image and its associated abstract sensations, but also the sound it makes, which also presents itself as colour, scent, taste and texture.  I’m not talking about the texture of the feathers of the bird, but the texture of the particular colour that smells like the flavour of the sound.  Lost yet?  Overwhelmed yet?

Let me put that into perspective.  You see a cardinal flit into view and it’s gone again.  1 second passes, and within it all of what I’ve described above is perceived as a single blast of multi-layered information.  Now multiply that second by 60, and you’ll have 1 minute comprised of 60 one-second assaults on your senses.  Without rest.  Multiply that minute by 60 again and you’ll have one hour in the life of an Aspie.  One hour.  Think about how much information you will have had to process in that hour.  Need a break?  Well you can’t have one.  Because that hour multiplies into days, then weeks, then years.  Now try to imagine from the moment you first open your eyes to the moment you draw your final breath, and every second you live is filled just like this.

Every.  Single.  Moment.

So when we need to retreat, when we require silence, when we seek comfort by immersing ourselves in the natural world for hours on end, when we prefer the company of animals to human beings, we are seeking solace in the only form in which it is available to us.  When we watch the same movie over and over again, or read the same stories, or listen to the same albums, it’s not that we’re stuck in a rut.  We seek the solace inherent in experiencing the familiar.  It’s the only form of respite we get.  It’s our only downtime.  It’s our saving grace.

Aspies are often called emotionless.  We have no empathy, little sympathy, and the best we can muster is a close approximation.  But remember what we’re perceiving on a neverending basis?  We’re called intellectuals because we spend so much time in our minds, but can you blame us?  Can you fathom how many boxes of file folders of data we have to sort through on a daily basis?  We can’t let that data pile up or we’ll drown in it.

But emotionless?  Never.  Our emotions are oceanic.  It’s not that we have very little emotional depth, it’s that our emotions flow so deeply and so powerfully that they threaten to overwhelm us constantly.  Ever witnessed an autistic child’s loss of emotional control?  Or how often that happens?  These are the moments when we give in, sometimes because we want to, sometimes because we just can’t stop it.  We become the emotions we feel.  And what’s so impossible to explain while we’re there in that chaos, fighting to stay afloat, is how desperately we need to occasionally let go of reason.  These moments cleanse us.  They allow us to purge huge backlogs of rage, despair, frustration, grief, loneliness..  Those closest to us understand this, and facilitate the process.  We feel isolated because we are; we’re visitors on an alien planet.

I could write for days on this subject.  I’m barely scratching the surface here, but the point I’m making is that it’s exhausting playing neurotypical when we’re not built that way.  When we do it we do it to fit in.  We do it in order to communicate in a way that makes sense to you.  We do it to fly below the radar so you won’t focus on us.  But the cost?  The cost is astronomical.  We bleed ourselves dry.  We create coping mechanisms, and write sub-routines to augment our programming, and occasionally we break ourselves apart and let the chaos flow free.  It may make very little sense to you, but this is how we survive among you.

Yet for all that we experience, I don’t know an Aspie who would even consider trading in one of our brains for one of yours.  We love our brains!  We’ve spent an awfully long time using ours to understand yours.  We’d love it if you felt it was time to return the favour.


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One Response to A day in the life

  1. Sheryl-Dawn Ryan says:

    My son Zachariah is an Aspie as well, also diagnosed with autism. He was recently trying to explain how his brain works to me.He tried his best to help me understand and though I understand how difficult it is for him, I did not ‘get’ it, until now. Thank you

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