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.
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.