It’s funny how I sometimes feel the ‘wrong’ thing i.e. not what I think most people would say I should be feeling. I don’t know if this is due to depression or autism (or both or neither). After hearing about my new job, I was initially excited and nervous, which is understandable. But then a while later I was in shock: numb and a bit nauseous, with slight tremor. Later I felt on the brink of tears, for the second time today (the first was while sitting waiting for my job interview). I’m fairly sure they weren’t the happy sort of tears (although that has confused me in the past, I suspect like a lot of people with autism and/or alexithymia), but I’m not sure why I felt sad.
Like a lot of autistic people, I get upset by changes of plan. I had planned to go to my interview today, come home, have lunch and watch Sherlock to unwind, then tackle some emails and chores. Except that I found out about getting the job at lunchtime, which I didn’t expect (I thought I would have to wait until tomorrow or even Friday) and so my afternoon has been disrupted by conversations with family and friends in person, on the phone and via text and WhatsApp message, so that it was long past 6.00pm before I did anything else and I only managed a fraction of what I wanted to do. It’s understandable, but the autistic part of me is frustrated and upset and threatening to catastrophise it into a huge disaster.
I’m not sure how coherent the rest of this post is, so please bear with me. I’m writing about emotions that I don’t fully understand or even experience clearly, trying to understand them…
One day I need to look carefully at how I react to fiction, particularly DVDs and books. I think I discussed it a bit with my therapist when I was in psychodynamic therapy. I know I mentioned here recently that I see books and DVDs as friends; I suspect I’m not the only autistic person who finds fictional characters easier to understand than real people. Fictional characters are more likely to have their motivation and thoughts spelt out by narrators (whether first or third person) and one can always go back a line or rewind a few minutes and replay an action or conversation until you can understand it.
At my autism workshop yesterday, it was mentioned that women with autism, unlike many men with autism, can build or enjoy elaborate fantasy worlds, but that they sometimes have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. They didn’t elaborate on this, though, as there were no women present. I may have mentioned that I have some autistic traits that I think are found more in autistic women than autistic men (from my research, which is ongoing), particularly my ability to rote-learn neurotypical behaviours like small talk and eye contact and to prepare certain topics of conversation before a social encounter (I can consciously make myself do these things to some extent, which I couldn’t when younger, but it takes a lot of energy and I feel very self-conscious doing it).
Certainly I feel that I enjoy certain fictional worlds. I don’t believe them to be real exactly, but they do exist in a very vivid and real way to me, perhaps more than aspects of the real world. I probably do know more about Doctor Who than about my friends’ lives, perhaps even more than some close family members’ lives. I think I also vividly project myself into these stories to try to understand my emotions, because I usually struggle so much to understand myself and my emotions (alexithymia). Certain images or moments in stories can become a mental short-hand for me about certain emotions. As I may have mentioned before, I don’t think just in words (as is apparently normal for neurotypicals) or in images (as many autistic people do), but a mixture of the two, like a blog post with embedded pictures of GIFs.
I mention all of this because I watched the Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall today and it brought up a lot of confused feelings. In the story, Moriarty frames Sherlock Holmes for a series of crimes and eventually forces him to (apparently) commit suicide. The episode made me think quite a bit. The image of Holmes jumping of the top of Bart’s Hospital is one of those ’embedded images’ in my brain that comes to mind a lot when I’m feeling overwhelmed by depression or social anxiety, when I just feel that I’m in free-fall and I don’t know what to do and I just want to die. (Maybe it’s a comforting image, in a way, because I know that Holmes’ death would later be revealed to be faked.) Holmes’ reactions to his friends also interested me. In earlier episodes he has said that he has no friends and is incapable of friendship, yet in the end he risked his life to save Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade (even though he only faked his death, there must have been a risk that his plan would go wrong – you can’t jump off a tall building without some risk).
I sometimes tell myself that I have no friends, but deep down I know there are people who I am pretty sure do like me and would do things for me and I would do things for them. It is possible that this is an immature, or at least imprecise, definition of friendship, doubtless due to autism again (my understanding is that some autistic children can manage friendships when very young, when friendship is just about sharing toys, but struggle with adolescent and adult friendships based on emotional intimacy. This was my experience). But it can be hard to work out where the boundaries lie. I upset friends sometimes by saying that I am alone; on the other hand, sometimes I think I would make sacrifices for people who I should not make sacrifices for, people who aren’t really my friends, and, if I do that, I will end up feeling used and angry (this happened to me a few months ago, with someone I thought was a friend who treated me badly; when I did something positive for him, far from supporting the friendship, I ended up feeling angry and used).
I also thought about Sherlock’s relationship with the pathologist Molly Hooper. Throughout the series, Sherlock treats Molly very badly and exploits her crush on him to get her to do pathological work for him and to give him access to corpses. Yet in this episode he sort of apologies to her (as much as he ever apologises to anyone) and says that he respects her. If I recall correctly, we discover in the next episode that she was one of the few people he let into his plan to fake his suicide and that the plan could not have worked without her help.
This made me think quite a bit. I mentioned recently that I have a kind of crush on Molly – not on the actress, but on the character – and this made me wonder what it says about me as a person and what I should look for if I ever try dating again. I like Molly because she’s intelligent and gentle, traits I would look for in a mate. She cares deeply about Sherlock, and I would want a wife who cared about me, but I also feel empathy for her and the bad way Sherlock treats her; I would not want to treat my wife that way. On one level she is exploited by Sherlock, but she is really one of only about two people (Watson being the other) who can call Sherlock out on bad or reckless behaviour and have any chance of being listened to and I would want a wife who can be honest with me like that. And she always forgives Sherlock; I feel that, while I would want to treat my wife better than Sherlock treats Molly, I would inevitably upset her inadvertently sometimes, because of my autism and depression (irritability) and I would need to find a wife who is more than averagely patient and forgiving.
I am not sure how I go about finding someone with these traits and identifying them in her, though, or if I’m really looking for an ideal that can only exist in fiction. The latter seems likely, especially as I feel that even if I could find an intelligent, gentle, honest and forgiving woman, she would be unlikely to find me attractive, particularly as I feel I have few positive points of my own to offer in return and that I have a lot against me in terms of autism, depression, social anxiety and low and insecure income, even before one factors in the fact that I want to find someone who shares my Jewish religious beliefs.