There are two very loud voices in my head that have come to me after many years of social gaffes and the pressure to mask. The rehearser is a voice that insists that I must rehearse every possible conversation I will have with any other human ad nauseum, sometimes more than a hundred times if it’s a very important conversation, until I’m convinced that I’ve done it the “right way.” The explainer is the voice that tries to explain to me after something has happened what it means, how neurotypical people see the world and the specific situation and what my role in it all has meant to them.
It is these two voices in my head that allowed me to figure out during my teenage years how to mask so well that no one suggested that I might have social anxiety or anything that might need mediation or therapy. I was the well-adjusted, mostly happy child, the one who resolved tension in difficult situations, and who always did what was expected of me and more. I never thought of myself as autistic. I was, instead, an empath who absorbed other people’s feelings and carried them around without being able to set them down. I wasn’t lacking a social sense. I had too much of it.
I kept thinking through my twenties and thirties that if I wasn’t able to properly anticipate how conversations would go, then I just had to rehearse more and better. I had to read more books and understand through written text what other people’s motivations were. I even wrote my own books to try to create a less confusing set of circumstances through which I could try to understand what humans are really like and what they want and why they act the way they do.
It’s not that these two voices don’t help mitigate the problems with autism. They did genuinely help me mask and that is what I wanted at the time that I created them. But now that I’ve got the proper diagnosis, sometimes the voices are just annoying. The truth is that I’m terrible at figuring out other people’s motivations. Because neurotypical motivations are often quite different from my own. I try to avoid social condemnation but am never trying to climb a social ladder or get people to like me for any reason other than not being the target of bullying.
And I’ve never once in my life had a real conversation play out anything like what I do in my head. From the first chance…