Monday, February 24, 2014

A Self-Therapy Session: Asperger's, Relationships, and Self-Loathing

This blog has served multiple purposes for me. It has helped me to make a difference in other people's lives by showing solidarity with their struggles, showing that they are not alone. It has similarly helped, or at least I hope it has helped, to destigmatize depression and mental illness as a whole. Additionally, this blog has helped given me a foothold into mental health advocacy, and it was through the publishing of this blog that I was able to later give two speeches to two different middle schools about my struggles with depression.

But what has helped me the most in the publishing of this blog has been the therapeutic effect it has had on me. Through this blog, I have been able to expose my vulnerabilities, and in doing so, heal them. By communicating my own struggles to others, I also communicate to myself that it is ok to have these struggles, and to not be ashamed of having them. I destigmatize the struggles not only to others, but to myself. And I can not overstate how valuable that has been.

Today I am exposing another of the vulnerabilities, and a complex one at that. It's one I know many young people struggle with in one form or another, but in which I seem to be on one of the tail ends of the bell curve, out of the area where they resolve naturally with time but continue to remain, sometimes coagulating and leaving scar tissue behind, sometimes festering, and sometimes doing a twisted mixture of both.

I wrote the majority of this at 4 in the morning, after a bad cold has kept me awake for three hours so far. Excuse me if I get a bit sentimental.


A friend of mine recently came to me with wonderful news: She had begun dating someone she had been interested in for a time. To hear her talk about it, he's attractive, interesting, intelligent, everything she wants in a relationship. They'd gone on their first date a few days prior and when we talked about it later she was glowing. At that moment, she felt like she was on top of the world.

And yet I was upset.

When I heard about her having such a successful relationship, I felt something, I wasn't sure what. Jealousy, perhaps. Or resentment. I was upset because she seemed to be looking at the start of a successful relationship and yet I was still single. Aside from one troubled two-month relationship the year prior, I have always been single.

At this point I find myself struggling to find a balance between a balanced analysis of my feelings and falling into indulgent self-pity. Perhaps it is hard to escape that latter aspect of it. It hurts, to put it simply. It hurts to not have someone I can be so intimate with, to put my trust into so fully and see that trust reciprocated. I know that no relationship is perfect, and that a relationship will not solve all of my problems, but it nonetheless feels like something I am missing.

I can't speak to the legitimacy of that feeling. Many people are happily single, and to some extent I am content to be single as well, and have time to focus on myself and myself alone. I am hesitant to try for relationships because I know of how much of a commitment it is, and I'm unsure if I want such a commitment now.

But then that hurt.

There is a part of me that thinks I cannot have a relationship. It is a small part, and getting smaller as I get better, but for now it is still there. It took form in High School, and it was caused mainly by my Asperger's Syndrome and my difficulty with properly expressing and controlling my own feelings. Twice I had really good friendships. Twice those friendships developed into feelings for the other person. And twice those feelings led not only to no possibility of a relationship, but it led to the friendship as a whole falling apart.

I will not be ambiguous. This was not a case of incompatible personalities. If that is anything it is a distant factor. This was the case of me, and my issues, leading to the erosion of possible relationships and fulfilling friendships.

Both followed a similar pathway. After a certain point I realized I was interested in these friends romantically. Yet, mainly because of my Asperger's Syndrome, I did not know how to express that. So I expressed it with extra attention to the person, keeping in constant contact with them, and of course, obsessing about every little action they took in relation to me.

With the first person, in freshman year of high school, this manifested through making sure I sent them a text message every night, and worrying if I did not get a response back.  I greeted them every day and said goodbye to them everyday, and panicked if their response was tepid or otherwise subdued. I would try to talk to them as much as I could in between classes, and strained trying to figure out the right words, the right sequence of syllables, that would make things work out.

With the second person, which happened when I was a junior and she a senior, it was mainly an overbearing anxiety that clouded all of my interactions with them. I worried constantly that I had said or done something that would not only bother them, but would irreparably damage our relationship. I would take them aside and ask them, again and again, if I had done something wrong, convinced that I had, and time and time again they would say I did not, that I was fine. I didn't believe them. And the next week I would be there again, asking if I had done something wrong.

You can imagine the toll this took on the both of them. They naturally retreated from me, and because they retreated, I panicked more, and tried all the harder to hold onto what seemed to be slipping through my fingers. And because I tried all the harder, they moved away all the more. The end result was two people who did not talk to me, ignored me, and tried to keep their distance from me as much as they could.

I got a happy ending to one of these. A year after our problems in freshman year, I and my friend managed to reconcile and become close friends. I helped her through some tough times, and she helped me through some of mine.

The second time was not so lucky. We never reconciled. She stopped responding to my messages over Facebook. I had to unfriend her so I would stop seeing her on my newsfeed and getting upset all over again. Then I had to block her so I wouldn't see her in the search bar when I typed in names. Even just a mention of it would bring the memories and the hurt flooding back.

There are many ways things could have been different. If I had therapy that helped me to address these problems earlier. If they were more aware of my own personal struggles and knew how to respond to it. None of these matter. I lost a wonderful friendship, and to this day it remains a barely-healed wound, waiting for something to trigger it--a dream, resurgence of an old memory, saying her name--and reopen it and bring those feelings back to me again. Sometimes I still feel the urge to send her another message, because a part of me still believes we can be friends again. But even if she would respond, I wouldn't recognize her as the person I knew those years ago. It's been over three years since then, and we've both changed far too much. I don't send her those messages because I want to be friends with who she is now. I send them to her because I want my old friend back.

I did this again in college, nearly did it another two times, saved only by my developing restraint and the charity of the other persons. With all five occurrences came anxiety, depression, and mental breakdowns. It's not hard to see that a lot of the self-loathing and relationship issues I struggle with now came from these events. As I saw these relationships fall apart in front of me, I felt a sense of powerlessness. I knew, partially, what I was doing, and what it was leading to, but at the same time I couldn't stop. I didn't want to do it, but I didn't see what else I could do. In my warped perspective, my only option was to continue my flawed reasoning, and hold onto increasingly fictitious hope that there would be a happy outcome out of it.

I felt broken. I felt like I was dysfunctional in a fundamental and unchangeable way. In my mind, when I became too invested in a relationship, it would inevitably fall apart. I could not be happy, because I would sabotage my own happiness. I still deal with these feelings nowadays, and I don't doubt it has hindered recent attempts and considerations for relationships, along with a whole host of other things. Helpfully, though, I have not gotten to the point of losing relationships this way for a time. Perhaps I'll get my one-year pin soon.

There is a happy ending to all this, two of them in fact. One is somewhere in the future, when I've gotten better enough that I can let go of these problems, where the issues become so small they no longer hinder me like they used to. The other happy ending is simply I'm getting to that happy ending. Slowly, and in fits and starts, but I'm getting there. I'm improving, and will continue to do so, so long as I continue going to therapy, take medication, and look after my body both physically and mentally.

For now it hurts, and it will hurt in the forseeable future. Perhaps it will never stop hurting. But that doesn't mean I can't get better. Because I am getting better. I know it's something I say over and over again, but it is true. I am getting better. It's a slow process, and there's a lot of problems to wade through, but I am getting there. And it's posts like this that help with that.

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