Letter to My New Friend

“This is who I am. It is not a flaw. It is me.”

Dear Friend,

I am so happy to have met you and so glad that you would like to spend time with me during your vacation. I like you, always have. I think you are a good person with a sense of humor, empathy, and intelligence. You are also very kind.

But here’s the thing. When you talk about “having fun” when you visit me, I am at a loss to know what that might mean. And I am worried that I will be a terrible hostess. I do not want your holiday to be ruined.

I will try to explain.

I used to think I was a “loner” or an “introvert”. Now I know that I have something called “Asperger’s Syndrome”, a form of autism. This was interesting news to receive because it has helped me to process all the events in my life and to understand them better. Some people dislike labels, but this label has actually given me a new lease on life. It has allowed me to accept myself, finally, and to stop feeling bad about myself (sort of). This is who I am. It is not a flaw. It is me.

Asperger Syndrome 2

So, what is “fun”?

We have a Christmas film from when I was a young child. My sisters and cousins are seen jumping all over the furniture, throwing wrapping and toys around, squealing and laughing with joy. What am I doing? I have a little toy broom and dustpan in my hands and I am quietly moving around the happy throng, sweeping up.

During high school, I remember visiting all the clubs and groups in the school, and everyone was extremely nice to me, but I didn’t join. I just sort of wandered around during lunches, observing.

“Frosh Week”, an insane initiation ritual at the start of my Queen’s University days, was so intimidating that I simply refused to go to any events. Instead, I went home and waited for the mayhem to be over and for classes to start. I knew what to do in class: observe, concentrate, analyze, and write.

During my Queen’s years, I was asked to attend parties and even went to some, but I could not understand the point. It felt really silly to stand beside someone and have a conversation that, to my mind, was not really a conversation at all. What was it? I had no idea.

Then, for some reason known only to the gods, I chose to pursue graduate studies in theatre, not even realizing the extreme social demands of such a career choice. I did well in grad school, as I worked like a dog, but when I had my own plays performed professionally in Toronto, I left the theatre almost immediately after the curtain came down, even on opening night, and I sent my regrets to my own closing night parties. Even sitting in the audience was impossible for me, and so I watched all of my own shows from the back of the room, standing.

Marriage to an extrovert actor ended in disaster after only two years (what were we thinking?!). We met at work – which was manageable for me – but we discovered after moving in together that he needed people around him all the time. I needed to be alone.

At the law office where I worked, there were staff parties in the summer and holiday parties in December. I did not attend the summer parties and I left right after the meal was over during the holiday parties. By that time, people had had enough to drink that they had started talking and laughing loudly, dancing between the tables, and generally having a great time. I headed for the subway, breathing a sigh of relief that this yearly form of torture was over.

Just so you know, I also have very specific routines and habits. I do not eat what other people eat. Restaurants scare me. I do not travel. In fact, I rarely leave the downtown core.

So, that is my story. And this is why I am at a complete loss as to how to respond to your invitation, as delighted as I am to have received it.

Your friend,

Beth

This post was first published on Lift Heavy, Make it Beautiful, my first blog, on May 13, 2012.

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