When I was in 9th grade, in English, I read Catcher in the Rye (one of my favorite books of all time). Our assignment was to psychologically diagnose Holden Caulfield. It was a very interesting assignment, and I learned a lot about psychology and coming of age. I would look up conditions on the internet, write down the ones I thought fit, and looked them up in my mom's plentiful medical texts. While doing this assignment, I discovered something I found especially interesting. The chapter on Asperger's syndrome was highlighted, with notes written in the margin. I didn't take me long to realize that the notes were about me. In fact, the highlighted regions described me perfectly, especially as a child.
I learned to speak, read, and write early and quickly, typical of Asperger's syndrome. I'd find little obsessions, passions, and I could amuse myself for hours reading and studying these things; then, I would talk, non-stop, about the things I found interesting, unable to understand that no one else really cared - another typical trait in children with Asperger's syndrom. I was intelligent, independent, quiet, and an overall good kid. But, at times, I would have intense temper tantrums, troubled by change in routine, a new situation, or anything that I didn't understand. Most notably, I struggled with social interaction and non-verbal communication.
It's not that I was a lonely child, but I was very much alone. I'd choose a book over a friend any day. In elementary school, I'd eat alone and spend recess alone, swinging on the swings or playing with my stuffed animals. I had a few friends, but we were never close, and I never really understood them. My teachers were worried. They'd call up my mom, tell her that I don't have any friends. At one point, my elementary school psychologist put me in a room with some girls my age. I played with them for a little while, and then went off to play on my own. She asked me why I wasn't playing with them, and I said that I simply didn't care, I liked to play on my own. My mom never got me diagnosed; she feared that it would interfere with my adult life. It wasn't until highschool that I first made friends who I would spend quality time with, who I hung out with outside of school.
Most of this I learned from my mom, when I asked her about the book. It wasn't really a shock, more like an answer. I quickly became comfortable with the idea, and I felt that the disease explained my personality, childhood, and entire life. Of course, by that time, I had changed a lot since I was a child. My mom explained that she thought I mostly grew out of the disease - that, rarely, children even grow out of autism, and that growing out of Asperger's wasn't particularly shocking.
Armed with the new understanding of who I was, I set out on the social journey known as highschool. Of course, I hadn't changed entirely. I became sensitive to change and to the unknown, and prone to long periods of Adjustment Depression; I still had temper tantrums, as if I was a baby, overwhelmed by things I didn't understand. I remained obsessive, reading about things or fixating on ideas, and would go on rants about them, unable to tell that others weren't interested. I struggled with non-verbal communication, and my mom would often have to point out what was going on, when I simply couldn't know. Mostly, I struggled with social interaction. A lot of it, I blamed on what remained of the disease: difficulty for non-verbal communication, the constant need for verbal feedback to know that people cared about me or the things I was saying. A lot of it, though, I blamed on what the disease did to my childhood. You see, it's when we're young that we learn about people, that we learn what it means to make friends and to love and to care. It's when we're young that we're socialized by our peers, that we become who we'll always be. I grew into myself intellectually, physically, mentally, emotionally as a child. But I never grew into the world socially, and I never learned all those things that now seem like common-sense. Yes, I don't have common sense.
I'd go through stages in highschool, first feeling proud of the independence and non-conformity and maturity I had achieved. Then, I was overcome by the challenge of learning how to make and stay friends. After a while, as I succeeded in some respects but not in others, I grew sad, upset that I couldn't understand others, certain that I would always be lonely.
Highschool was easier than college is. In that social bubble, I could act a role, any role I wanted, and people would accept me as such. College is more difficult. Outside the bubble, people are truly themselves. They're older, more mature, and I simply don't feel like I can keep up. Friendships are closer, more intimate, but based less on day-to-day interaction and superfuntime and more on overcoming life's plentiful challenges and the occasional adult relationship.
And I feel lonely. And I feel scared. And I feel young. And I feel incapable of knowing what's going on, incapable of being close to others. I'm afraid I'll never have friends, though I try. And, if I can't make friends, how can I ever care for someone romantically? I am craving a deeper connection, that I just can't seem to find.