Tag Archives | coping

What a Shame

derived from <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/leshaines123/8066229321">Reivers Cursing Stone Carlise</a> by Les Haines/flickr, used under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">creative commons by 2.0</a>

I have cursed myself, as a matter of survival. As a child, walking past a table of classmates in the cafeteria, and hearing their mocking laughter, I avoided emotional collapse only by — paradoxically — supporting the claims of my tormentors. I distracted myself from their words by doubling down with internal, vile self-indictment. Somehow my uncontrollable mind screams was able to mask the external cruelty. Stumbling in the din, I scarcely felt the chairs or people I stumbled into, as I sought escape.

This was typical. To recover from any childhood social ineptitude, from bungled interactions, from awkward moments of clear otherness, I would repeat a self-abusive phrase so foul, even as an adult I have not dared reveal it. I lived my youth with this brutal, effective and uncontrollable method to cut out the rest of the world and distract myself from the shame-filled pain of social ignorance.

A Mind Apart

Two masksAs a child, I needed three skills to effectively communicate with humans. First was the physical capacity to vocalize. Check. The next requirement was a reasonable vocabulary. Roger. The last ability was putting my voice together with the right language to express myself. Two out of three ain’t bad.

I struggled to assemble words to convey meaning to others. It was easier to keep my mouth closed and suffer the occasional, “Why is Jim so quiet?” — uttered within earshot by well-meaning, but pain-inflicting, humans — than to give them more evidence to fuel their theories by trying, and failing, to speak. Instead, I smiled, enhancing my reputation as a happy silent child, as my frustration grew.

My younger brother Doug was my voice to the outside world. We shared a bedroom and a mind — as close to twins as siblings separated by two years could be.  Beyond the home, we clung together. He knew what I needed. He spoke my thoughts.

Are You Listening?

derived from <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/smartphone-white-cellphone-mobile-157082/">unnamed</a> by   OpenClipartVectors/pixabay, used under <a   href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0</a>My smartphone is smarter than I am. It’s brain is broken up into eight processing circuits. Six of the processors are for general computing—making phone calls, playing games, tweeting and all the other smartphone wizardry we take for granted. There are two special processors, though, which are a different. One circuit is a little bit of genius. It is a natural language processor. It is always on, always listening, always ready to understand speech. It allows me to talk to the phone without touching it.

Humans have wiring in their brains—natural social processors—that interpret complex social interplay. Without conscious thought, this special purpose circuitry subtly decodes the meaning of numerous social cues: the choice of words (casual or formal, welcoming or off-putting), changes in tone (ending a sentence higher to welcome collaboration, or lower to indicate authority), the accompanying facial expressions (smiles, frowns, brow-furrowing, cocked eyebrows), gestures (folded arms, outstretched hands, shoulder brushing), body positioning (angling towards the welcomed, or away from the shunned), and many more. This processor is always on, always ready to help humans understand each other’s behavior.

The Seventy Percent Solution

derived from <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/tag-luggage-label-blank-price-309129/">unnamed</a> by   ClkerFreeVectorImages/pixabay, used under <a   href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0</a>

I am wrong 70% of the time. Don’t ask me how I know it is 70%. I recognize numbers the way you recognize faces—a matter of familiarity and unconscious association, not calculation. I have a holistic understanding that 70% of all the decisions I make are incorrect. Even when I am not paying attention, my brain is keeping track. Just as you might say, “Oh, that’s Arnold. He changed his eyeglasses.” I will tell myself, “Yes, 70% feels right.”

I wouldn’t have had much success in life if I failed at 70% of everything I attempted. What I needed was a mechanism to overcome my intrinsic tendency to make the wrong call. 

They’ll Know He’s a Phony

Robert Preston and Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria

Robert Preston and Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria

If you’re autistic, talking to humans is a bit of a magic trick.

When I was a child, I had yet to learn that trick. In fact, I didn’t yet know that I was autistic. Talking to humans was a mystery to me, as was so much else in life. I was a frustrated quiet child.

If I needed to something to drink, I didn’t know how to ask for it. So I remained silent and thirsty. If I was lucky, my younger brother was with me. He would know what I needed and ask for me.

When I was sick during the night, I knew I needed help from my mother. I went to my parents’ closed bedroom door and froze. I didn’t know what the next step was. I tried every few minutes to knock, or to speak, each time backing off. Tired and sick, I collapsed to the floor and slept the rest of the night curled up at the foot of the door.

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