As I round home plate for my sixtieth run, I find myself asking myself: “Myself, what have you learned in all this time?” (Apparently 60 yoa is supposed to be a big deal, fraught with meaning, so I’m trying to treat it as such.)
Here’s one thing I’ve learned: if people would strive to be more like trains, life would be a whole lot easier for a whole bunch of us.
We’d been talking, see, Sally and I. Talking about what it was that made our relationship work. Sally noted, sometime after my ASD diagnosis, that somehow I had managed to take her on as one of my Aspie “special interests.” I was deeply and unalterably interested in how she worked, I remembered and noted what she told me, and I had learned to ask her really good questions that helped her heal from old woundings. She felt really well taken care of.
How had I done that? How had I made Sally a special interest? We wondered. We were embarking on a new gig, working together to counsel other neurodiverse couples, and felt that, if only we could help other AS partners learn to take on their own partner as I had Sally, it would help them to feel more closely connected and attached. How do we teach the AS partner to do that? We thought and thought and thought.
And then Sally, in a fit of insight, came upon the answer. It wasn’t really about the AS partner at all. What had made our relationship work was that she, as a seasoned therapist on her own lifelong healing path, had learned to disclose and let me know the secret, vulnerable, inner workings of her heart and mind and soul.
Think about it. Whether it be trains or ham radios or insects or dinosaurs or computers or any of the other oft-named “special interests” of your stereotypical Aspie, the obvious thing they all have in common is this: they can be understood. It might take some study or training, but all of these things will eventually reveal their inner workings to a dedicated and fascinated student. As huge and as complicated as it might seem at first, given time to study its intricacies, a train makes sense.
But not so the human animal, amiright? Human beings hide things, most of them. They say the opposite of what they mean. They ignore questions they don’t want to answer. They tell half-truths and lies of omission and white lies and outright whoppers. They try to stay positive, not worry, be happy, be strong, stop complaining, quit whining, cheer up, get over it, no fear, suck it up, and let the past be the past. They have a million ways to cover up their unwelcome feelings and inconvenient needs and hopeless wants and forbidden thoughts. They have learned, as wounded as they have become in this unsane and sharp-edged culture, to paper over their vulnerability and “never let them see you sweat.”
And so to an Aspie, whose ability to read and understand certain signals is already limited (or overwhelmed), other human beings are about as not-train as you can get. By hiding their truest selves, and by failing to disclose the emotional motivations for their actions, other people can seem, at face value, wildly incomprehensible. They are black boxes. They do not make much sense.
Unless, like Sally, they have learned to share their real and vulnerable selves, and be like a train. Hence, my closest and least alarming human relationships are with the few people in my life who can share with me their inner workings such that I can more deeply understand them. And it’s inside of those relationships that I’ve learned to disclose the truth of my own experience.
And let’s face it, the autism spectrum is just part of the human spectrum, and while they may be more extreme in their limitations, people with autism are not the only ones who find it difficult to read and understand other human beings. Wouldn’t ya’ll benefit by humans striving to be more train-like too?
Seems to me that we all would. All it takes is that we stop hiding, and learn to share with the world our vulnerability, reveal our inner workings, and become comprehensible. Share our hopes and dreams, our fears and insecurities. Share our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and our mistakes. Share our outlier thoughts. Share our forbidden desires. Share our pain, our shame, our woundedness, our trauma, and our unscathed and glorious essential selves. Share it all. Share it so that others can see it. Share it so that we can be known.
You know… like a train.