The last few months have been a challenging time for me.
I have had to accept that sometimes, even when everything seems to fall into place as if it was meant to be, things still don't always work out the way I had expected.
I have always followed the little voice inside me, also known as your gut feeling. Whenever I heard that voice, I knew whatever the outcome; I would be making the right choice. The word 'fail' did not truly enter my vocabulary after this feeling. If what I expected did not happen, I would then rationalise that it was therefore not meant to be or I needed to learn something from if it had not worked. Had I been religious, I would have chalked it up to a higher power trying to teach me a valuable life lesson.
Experiencing this feeling was my way of knowing when I'd chosen the right path to follow. Now, for the first time, my inner voice had failed me. I am, even now, still reeling from the confusion and heartache this has caused.
I choose to first see the potential in people, not their faults. Apparently I have high expectations of people around me. I know this because friends, family and even my autism coaches have told me. When I look from my own perspective, I see how I measure others against what I expect of myself. A simple concept such as wanting to challenge myself to the extreme, distorts my view on how I interpret the behavior of the people around me.
When I see someone not pushing themselves to the level I push myself, my first instinct is to push for them. I came to a breakthrough a few months ago where I faced the distinct possibility of loosing a good friend through the pressure I put on him. Even though my initial reflex was to help in this way, I realised that I was forgetting to look at the person.
As a wise man once told me, your greatest advantage in life can also be your greatest disadvantage. This life rule of following my gut feeling, that had never failed me before, had now, for the first time, turned into my greatest disadvantage.
If you look at someone you love for example, and see how much potential they have, are you really seeing the reality of who that person actually is at this moment in time?
I have had to learn the hard way that this is not the case. You are superimposing another reality, your reality, onto this person.
Some of you might be reading this and think, ah, this is her lack of theory of mind that all people with autism supposedly have. However, when you really think about it, how often do you truly see the person standing in front of you?
We colour our world and the people in it with our own perception. We might hope that our children will have better lives then we did. Yet when you look at this example, who are we to say what will make our children’s' lives better...for one parent that would be growing up without money issues, for another getting a good education (i.e. college or university) and for someone else it might be the hope that their child will just be happy.
However, these hopes are all subjective. Your reality and opinions are coloured by your past experiences. Maybe you did not get to go to university but really wanted to. Or maybe you grew up in a household where money was scarce and you experienced the stress that goes hand in hand with that.
The other person has not had these experiences: you have. When we come to the subject of happiness, well, that is the most subjective idea of all. One persons' version of happiness can be another persons' version of hell. It is all a matter of perception.
So don't we all sometimes have difficulty with theory of mind?
I just have more chance of putting my foot in it if I get stuck in my idea of what would be the best path for someone to follow. Then again, if you watch the reality series' that are very popular at the moment for example; 'Toddlers and Tiara's' (where children take part in beauty pageants in America), the majority of children there obviously want to be doing something else rather than practicing how to walk, smile and turn. I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually seen a child who obviously thrived and loved to practice, perform and take part. The number of times I heard mothers' say with a smile on their face, 'I wish I had been able to participate in beauty pageants when I was her age' or 'I'm living through my daughter', can be counted on more than two hands.
If that isn’t an argument for looking at the similarities instead of the differences, then I don’t know what is.
So, if I see the potential of who someone can be as my reality, but am not able to link two versions of reality in order to get an authentic view, how can I rely on my gut feeling?
The answer is, I can't.
What is possibly one of the biggest problems in life if you have autism? In my opinion, it is the feeling of doubt. What happens when someone is unsure about something? You get stressed!
People with autism live with stress on a daily basis. Going through life with high levels of stress causes our mind and body to live in a constant fight or flight mode. One of the rules I had put into place to help cope or sometimes even totally avoid stress had failed me. This caused me to re-evaluate my rule of following my gut feeling and I came to a shocking epiphany!
If our gut feeling is coloured by our life experiences, and had worked for me for so long, what had changed?
My age. I was older.
I have grown, seen more, felt more and learned more. The Monique I am today is not the Monique from 15 years ago, or even from 4 years ago.
The younger you are, the less experiences you've had which distort the 'voice'. Therefore the older we get, the greater the chance that the voice will be distorted by everything we are experiencing in life.
Will I now have to dig harder through the layers life has built up to hear my true gut feeling again? Will it be more difficult to hear the voice in all areas' of my life in general or only my personal life when emotions are involved?
I have no answer to those questions at this moment in time.
My hope is that I will discover the answers quickly, but as my sense of time is pretty dreadful, I know that it may take longer than I expect.
This is a human problem, not an autistic one. It would be too easy for me to pass this off as a side effect of autism itself. Yet I do see it as a response to my autistic way of thinking.
I have spent years developing ways in which to survive and thrive in the world. I have done this because of autism. It makes total sense that these ways will also have to adapt and change as I myself do.
So what is the difference between the present and the years before my diagnosis? It is that I am now fully aware.
Awareness is like opening Pandora's Box. Once you open your eyes to it, you will never be able to close them again. I have sometimes found myself envying a person with autism who has not yet had that awareness. Yet had I not opened my eyes, or had them opened for me, I would not be doing what I'm doing today.
My work is based on having this awareness.
There is a balance to everything in life. The Chinese figured it out and have shown it so beautifully with their yin and yang symbol. Even in this, there must be balance.
I find myself asking, how many people in this world are truly aware?
Monique Post 2013