Emotions and Asperger’s

I’m supposed to be exploring water and the emotions for Cat‘s druidry course. (Which I’m nearly at the end of. Can you believe it’s been a year? I can’t!)

Water is wonderful. Water is my favourite of the elements, and sea is the realm that I most love. I love its depths, its moods, its gateways to the Otherworld. I’ve sat on beaches in Israel and I’ve sat on the rocks by the sea in south-west Ireland and I’ve swum in a river in rural California and I’ve talked to rivers and lakes in the Midlands and London and Scotland, and they’re all utterly different and completely wonderful.

Emotions, though… Complete mystery to me. I maintain that I don’t really feel them. I have states of being – mostly, calm vs panicked, although there a few others, like elated vs sad and hyperfocused vs inattentive. Not much else, though. I literally don’t have complex emotions. Instead I have what I call proto-emotions. (I sometimes feel like a deeply unevolved creature with very basic, instinctual responses.) I can’t actually believe that there are enough emotions in the world to create this list. You people are making this stuff up, right? :P

Welcome to the world of someone with Asperger’s. I’ve never known anything else, so don’t feel bad for me. This is my world, and, mostly, I like it. But I don’t like when I have to fit in with society and what people believe is ‘normal’. Throughout Cat’s course, there have been a myriad of exercises and work that I simply could not do. I’ve worked very hard on adapting these exercises, and with some, it’s been possible. With others, though, reading the month’s instructions has regularly been very painful. It’s been “Oh, gods, something else that doesn’t work for me.”

And, don’t get me wrong – Cat is fantastic about this. She’s totally flexible and, as long as you try everything that you can, she lets you interpret the work in ways that work for you. (I’ll be posting more about this later!) But that doesn’t help with the feeling that I’m wrong. Nor does everyone telling me that I’m ‘really the same as everyone else’ and trying to help me understand how ‘normal’ I can be. I’d rather be myself, differences and all, and be seen (and celebrated) for who I am.

Image by the Orange County Asperger's Support Group

Image by the Orange County Asperger’s Support Group

Someone at The Cauldron forum was talking about how a mental health (or similar) diagnosis can be a good thing as long as it’s useful, as long as it helps you understand yourself and learn to cope with life better. Since I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve understood myself so much better. Including my emotions, such as they are.

I’d love you to have a glimpse into my world of proto-emotion. But when I try to describe it, words just… don’t work. In the same way as I will never understand the subtle differences between guilt and shame, or between joy and elation, neurotypical* people will never be able to understand my world of limited-but-overwhelming states, regular meltdowns when things get too much, and incredible, intense positive states, like joy in the little things, or deep hyperfocus that makes me adore being alive.

SJ bought me Cadbury’s creme eggs today. As they were leaving for work, they said “I’ve hidden two creme eggs somewhere in the house. If you can find them, they’re yours.” I shrieked “Easter egg hunt!!!” and threw myself at SJ (so that they very nearly fell over). I was totally overwhelmed with the wonder of being alive. I felt the same walking through London on the way home from the theatre last night – life was intensely wonderful, because there are pigeons in Bloomsbury. This is the ‘other side’ of Asperger’s proto-emotion – life can be unbelievably amazing sometimes.

Maybe because of my limited emotional life, I find talk of emotions incredibly difficult. It’s like trying to speak another language, one that I’m really bad at, where I can only parrot little phrases and always get the grammar wrong. This post was sparked by someone talking, in good American therapy-speak, about ‘self-care’. I recoil from such ideas. The same goes for people talking about how we have to love ourselves, or, really, how we ‘should’ feel about anything. There’s a lot of talk of this kind that goes on. My mother the counsellor talks about ’emotional intelligence’ (and gods help me if anyone tries to measure that in me). She seems (from my perspective) to revel in grief and pain, saying “Oh, so sad, so sad,” when she sees tragic things on TV, while my response is more like “Where can I send money/go/do to help fix?” She always wants me to ‘talk about it’, when this is absolutely never what I want to do, nor would it be good for me, since I’d basically be making up emotions to talk about. (See why counselling has never worked for me?) But, in her world, everyone feels a lot of emotion all the time, and it’s important to talk about it – we ‘should’. But that’s not my way.

So, if you’re sad and I’m not good at acknowledging it, or you’re angry and I get triggered and have to leave, or you want to talk about a feeling and I can’t relate or help – I hope you’ll understand. I do other things. I light candles on Brighid’s shrine – so many that there are usually dozens there, and every one gets prayers regularly. I do whatever I can to help, from magic to donations to practical support. This is my way. It’s not everyone’s way (although it’s certainly fairly common, and not just experienced by people with Asperger’s). It may not be your way. But it’s my way.

I guess I fail at this exercise, then. I’m not going to explore my emotions in any depth. It’s more important for me to understand myself and my own, idiosyncratic, personal way of engaging with the world. I can’t ask anyone else to understand me until I understand myself.

*’Neurotypical’ and ‘neurodivergent’ are terms chosen by many people with Asperger’s to better explain the experience of being neurologically different, in non-medicalized terms.

17 thoughts on “Emotions and Asperger’s

  1. Emotions are SO hard to talk about. I don’t know whether I feel emotions differently from neurotypical people, or whether I *feel* the same but can’t recognise or name them thanks to body awareness stuff and being slow on the uptake when it comes to self awareness. I’ve likened myself to an older computer screen – rather than displaying a squillion colours like modern ones do, it might only do 16.

    And that list of emotions is so dodgy… a lot of those are states of being that might trigger emotions, but that doesn’t make them emotions themselves. Being deceived might make you sad, or disappointed, but I don’t think there’s a special feeling just for “deceived”. Otherwise “just found a spider in the bath” would be an emotion!

    (This is Sulischild, BTW – my old WordPress account’s a lost cause.)

    • Haha. There is totally a ‘just found a spider in the bath’ emotion. I feel it regularly. ;)

      I’ve been torn over whether it’s that I don’t feel emotions, or that I can’t identify them, too. I lean towards not being able to feel them, in my case – but I may be wrong. I LOVE the computer screen analogy!

  2. It’s taken me a long time to get where I am with understanding emotions though I probably understand mostly by looking at it from an intellectual stand point and reading about it. Still can’t stand people who drop feelings bombs though.

    One of the things I’ve worked on understanding is the concept of loving on self actually, which I see now as the very sensible idea of doing things that make living for you somewhat easier. For example, keeping to my routine and making sure I have time to myself both count as self-care. At least that’s my definition.

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the idea of self-care is somehow stupid or irrelevant in itself. It’s a great thing. I just have a very personal reaction against it, that I think has something to do with emotions. Apologies if I made it seem like I was anti it. I’m not. I just need to find a way to conceive of it that fits better with my way of thinking.

      Yeah, intellectually understanding emotions helps me too.

  3. In theory I suppose I should understand emotions better as I am probably neurotypical but it’s not that easy. Emotions are very hard to explain. I think emotional responses are part physiological, part hormonal and part mental and all of that can be very confusing. I don’t think there are that many distinct emotions but there do seem to be different levels within each emotion so you can go from a low level of happiness to high level of happiness for example. Some people will give different names to each of those levels and for some they seem to be more a spectrum than distinct levels. All I can say is that I have no doubt my on the spectrum kids feel emotions, being able to express them or explain them to someone else is a whole different matter.

    • Of course. Two things: 1. I can only speak for myself, not for anyone else on the spectrum. 2. I didn’t say that I don’t feel emotions. I think I just feel them differently to others. And even that is a conclusion I’ve reached based on guesses and observations, and may be wrong.

  4. Lady… no fail at all. You’ve entirely succeeded in the task. Because you have explored your emotions – YOURS, on your terms and based on your understanding – so very deeply. You’ve explained this so well, given the lack of real describing words for such feelings and experiences… that’s all anyone can ask. Emotions aren’t simple – they’re tricksy and subjective, shaded in comparison to each other and social strictures. But you’ve considered, thoughtfully and honestly. I can only applaud. :)

    By the way… did you find the eggs? :) x

  5. So I’m neurotypical, and deal with a lot of emotions–mine and others. And as someone going into counselling, I’m almost embarrassed to say that counselling didn’t work for me until I found someone who focused on my cognitive processes than on just my emotions. I tend to intellectualize my feelings, and will tell you in a perfectly calm, coherent manner that I am angry, or sad, or ecstatic And I am, but the feeling itself isn’t as important to me as targeting and understanding the stimulus behind it.

    Love and duty compel me to kindness. Anger compels me to look for things I can change. Happiness… I still haven’t figured out what to do with that. I’m working on learning to let myself just feel it.

    For me, talking it out isn’t necessarily about processing feelings, but processing my inner thoughts and my outer perceptions of the world, and reorienting myself in my environment. Feelings are either a negative or positive upset to the placid equilibrium of Simply Existing. I joke that it’s my Peace that Passeth Understanding.

    This is not an argument that you just haven’t found the right counselor!! Because I don’t believe it’s a process that works for everyone, no.

    I do appreciate you sharing your perspective. This has given me a lot to think about. And I agree with Cat that you fulfilled the parameters with contemplating your personal experience. You are who you are, and you reaffirmed that to yourself.

  6. I always really appreciate it when people with different experiences share an insight into their world. This is a fantastically considered and thought-provoking example, so thank you so much for writing it!

    The wider theme of what we actually feel vs. what we “should” feel or what others expect us to feel is, I suspect, a deep and wide-ranging issue. I certainly struggle with it. The story of my life would be rejected from many a soap opera for being too implausibly dramatic, and I find it increasingly necessary to withdraw from others and just sit quietly until I can figure out how I actually feel.

    No-one who aims for real honesty with regard to their emotions can be said to have failed, in my books :)

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