Emotions Part 1

When I was in elementary school, I had diagnosed myself with alexithymia. I had read about alexithymia in a book somewhere, and being young enough to think that actually adults cared, promptly ran to the school nurse to report my diagnosis. She laughed at me and said that was cute. I probably mispronounced the words in some adorable childlike way which belittled my efforts. But still, couldn’t she tell that I was very serious about this? I saw that nurse a lot, mostly to profess that I was too sick and needed to be sent home immediately. I think that was about the time that I decided that no one believed me and I should just keep things to myself.

Alexithymia is a disorder that makes it hard to identify and understand emotions. It is common with people on the Spectrum. I do not know as much about it as I would like to, but I do know my experiences with it.

When I was younger, I struggled so much with expressing myself. I got into arguments a lot (usually on accident) and I lost them all because I could never think of what to say fast enough or at all. I still struggle with that one, I have to be very careful not to turn every conversation into an argument. It happens a lot more than I would like to admit, but usually only around my close friends. Thankfully, they have developed a tolerance to my random arguing and know to just ignore me.

I could never really tell when someone was mad or deduce really anything about what they were feeling. I got into a lot of trouble for things like that. So I turned my brain onto that problem and did a lot of experimenting. I watched a lot of movies and studied the emotions of the people there. I watched a lot of drama movies and noted how they reacted and how they looked. I began to mimic those emotions and it worked. I began to watch other people closely for their reactions and began to spot their emotions. I have gotten really good at this habit now, when I focus on it.

But, I have still not gotten very far with identifying my own emotions.

I see emotions mainly as problems to be solved. If I am feeling angry, I will stop and figure out what made me angry and then fix that thing. If I am feeling happy, I will stop and figure out what made me happy and try to do more of that thing. Emotions are like a giant lifelong experiment to me. This gets me in a lot of trouble with other people though, because I do the same thing to them. When I see someone who is upset, I will usually be able to figure out pretty fast what caused it. For the regular shaped people, it’s usually something very simple and familiar (Oh no, your boyfriend didn’t call you? How tragic that must feel for you!). But I have gotten into a lot of arguments over that sort of thing because for some reason, people usually don’t want you to invade their personal lives and start to tell them how to make things better. For some reason, people seem to value their broken and messy personal relationships. I’ll save my views of relationships for another post (it’ll be a good one).

I think all this emotional experimenting began when I got interested in psychology in early middle school and read a lot of Sigmund Freud and Victor Frankl (you know, the usual things that 6th graders are into these days). I wanted to become a shrink one day and ask the famous “How does that make you feel?” question. I began to ask that question to myself constantly and went from there. Since then, I have been able to identify and catalog pretty much every emotion I have experienced. I can place them all in their proper places, and I like that. I understand them, and I understand how to use them to motivate myself. But really, I only have known or experienced a few emotions. I know anger, happiness, sadness, and love. And, of course, there are some weird combinations of those four. I always group things into a few simple categories because that makes much more sense to me. I like simpler taxonomies, like the binomial nomenclature system, rather than the full KPCOFGS (That’s a science reference for those playing along at home. They can’t all be math related, I like science too).

Anger is probably the most common one to feel, it’s my go to whenever something unexpected happens. Anger usually feels like a warm wind blowing through the body and a dull ache in the back of the head. Usually, time seems to slow down as if I am watching a movie on half-speed playback. Then I get a lump in my throat that starts to irritate me until I do something about it. When I am angry, nothing in the world matters, other people are not even remotely considered. True anger is very terrifying. I try to avoid it at all costs because it hurts me the most. I can almost always stop it before it gets to that point though.

Happiness feels like a soft mountain stream flowing in the shade of a sunny day. There is a gentle breeze flowing by, and some perfect clouds in the sky that look like happy little animals. There are many kinds of happiness. There is a happiness that comes from being around friends, and it feels very insular and protective, like we are on a private island that is protected from the rest of the world. The ‘friends happiness’ has a feeling almost of separation from others and I don’t like that aspect of it. There is a happiness that comes from animals, which is very different than then happiness that comes from people. ‘Animal happiness’ feels warm and comforting, like petting a dog’s fur or snuggling with an adorable animal. I get that feeling anytime I am around an animal that I like.

Sadness feels like a star falling from the sky that never quite manages to land. Sadness feels like you are completely left alone on a planet where everyone else has gone and moved on from you. There are definitely different levels of sadness. I can talk a lot more about sadness later.

Love feels like warm perfect sunshine pouring into your body. Love feels like a warm blanket beside a fire. Despite my sarcastic exterior, I am a very sappy romantic. I love being in love, it’s just not something I am too familiar with.

However, there’s a weird feeling I have been experiencing a lot the last few months. I believe it is called loneliness. It’s not something I am familiar with, or have ever really experienced prior to this year.

The feeling begins with a sensation of my heart sinking down towards my stomach, as if it was sliding down the esophagus. My brain begins spinning, almost like I am dizzy, but it feels like the inside of my brain is moving. Then, both the misplaced heart and the spinning brain begin to physically ache and hurt. Sometimes this lasts for a few seconds, sometimes for a few minutes.

Whenever I feel this feeling, all I can think to do is run away until I feel nothing anymore, because feeling nothing is so much better than feeling that way. If that is what loneliness feels like, then I can understand why people die from a broken heart. It terrifies me because I have no idea what it is or how to fix it or how to prevent it from happening ever again.

It always seems to happen after I see a picture of people laughing or smiling or doing something fun, or sometimes when I hear a story of something cool happening involving my friends. Sometimes, even just hearing people laughing can set it off. Sometimes, I’ll be lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep and I’ll get this feeling out of nowhere and can’t sleep for the rest of the night. It’s happened 3 times this week……

Anyways, that’s enough on emotions for now.

 

 

 

 

Wearing Masks

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about how to interact with people. I have noticed that I have a lot of unique tendencies when it comes to this kind of thing, which is not really surprising. One of the first ones I started to notice that I do constantly is wearing ‘masks’.

I don’t like masks, but I think they are a necessity for surviving in a society of other people. When I was young, I heard the saying that “A wise man adapts himself for the situation” or something like that. It made sense. I could tell that the way you were supposed to act around teachers and the way you acted around your friends were supposed to be different. I also noticed pretty early that the way I wanted to act was not the correct way to act according to other people. So I needed to come up with some way to rectify that.

I started thinking in terms in masks. If I am going to school, I can put on the school mask. The school mask is a way to remind me of what is allowed and what is not allowed and it somewhat controls my actions. I don’t really visualize this as a mask or anything physical, but more like a feature that I add on myself. Because, as a side note, I mostly think of myself as a thought that has a loose connection to some weird physical body. This is why I hate pictures of myself and looking at mirrors, it never matches who I think I am or what I think I look like. So anyways, the masks are like a filter that I push everything I do through.

Over the years I have developed many more masks that I change throughout the day or depending on the setting. Often, putting on the appropriate mask for the day is the hardest part of the day.

Most of the time, I use the ‘child mask’ because I work with children. The ‘child mask’ has some pretty strict rules on it, obviously. There is no cussing, no inappropriate conversation, no weird comments (that one I need refine a little bit), and so on. It also dictates behavioral things like don’t touch the kid, don’t stare at them for too long and that sort of thing that most everyone else just kind of does naturally. But for me, I have to have a reminder.

I also have the ‘adult mask’ which is used when I am around adults and not children. This one allows for cussing, but only in strongly emotional situations or as part of a joke. This mask allows for some inappropriate conversation, but not much.

There is the ‘friend mask’ which is used for general friends. This mask allows for things like sarcasm (the intentional kind), teasing, more jokes that sort of thing. It also allows for more deep conversations and some topics that are previously forbidden.

Then I have the ‘close friend’ mask which is only really shared with a few select people. This mask allows basically anything. With this mask on, I am completely open and free and will talk about anything. I don’t think I have ever worn this mask while in public. It seems way to scary, kind of like going to the store naked. I can’t be that exposed.

I also have the ‘public mask’ which I use anytime I go into public. This one limits cussing, stops personal conversations, limits sarcasm and dark comments, controls somewhat for anger and sadness, and stops me from doing too much stimming (most of the time at least).

But these masks are also more than just a list of protocols that I need to follow. These masks serve as a defense to protect me from the harshness of the world. The world is a pretty awful place out there, and I very rarely feel safe or at rest in it. But if I can hide behind a mask, then I can pretend to feel safe.

I use masks a lot of the time to project how I am ‘supposed’ to be feeling or acting at times when I cannot genuinely feel that way. I use it as a way to compensate for my shortcomings. For example, if I have to do something totally new to me or something that I have no idea how to do (which still happens daily), then I can put on a mask that lets me pretend that I know exactly what I am doing. I can convince other people of that much more easily than I can convince myself.

One of my greatest fears is that all of the mask process is destroying who I really am. I spend all of my time hiding behind a mask out of necessity and not knowing any other way to get by in the ‘real world’. I hate that it feels dishonest, because I think that dishonesty is one of the worst things that we can do as people. I spend so much time with a mask on, that I don’t really even remember what it is like to not wear one. I feel sometimes like I have lost who I am underneath all the masks, or sometimes that I have never discovered who I really am.

Over the past few years, I have been making an effort to wear fewer masks. Maybe it is because I have done a lot of growing up and maturing, maybe it is because I have stopped caring as much what people think about me, or maybe it’s because I am closer to who I am meant to be, I don’t really know. But I have stopped trying to hide myself. I have allowed myself to be much more vulnerable and much more honest with those around me. And that has been one of the best feelings I can imagine. It has also led me to completely change where I thought my life was heading and the path that I was trying to follow, but I can honestly say that I am so much better off now for that change. I love the person that I have become with fewer masks, and I think that I can show the ‘real’ me more often.

I still use the ‘masks’ today, but not as often. Most of the problems and things that I felt I had to hide away are now the things that I use to reach out and connect with other people.

Clothes, Clothes, and more Clothes

I have some weird rules when it comes to clothing. But like most of my other quirks, I just assumed that everyone did those things too. But I am (slowly) learning that most people do not in fact have so many random rules about clothing. So here are some of my clothing rules.

I will only wear clothes if they fit perfectly. There are very few clothes that fit perfectly. I try on the clothes in the morning and see if they fit for that day, and then change them if they do not. The fit has to be more than just a physical fit, it has to match my mood for that day too. I have to be comfortable in the clothes, and able to handle whatever things life is going to throw at me that day. If I am in a good mood, I will wear something I like. Usually, if I am in a bad mood I will try to dress up nicely so that I can at least look good.

I also have a need, a compulsion, to change clothes as soon as I get home every day. I feel that the clothes I wore wherever I went that day are dirty and must be changed. I know other people do this sometimes, but I do it every time. I get panicky if I don’t do that. This becomes a problem when I have breaks in the day and I go home for lunch or something. I will change when I come home lunch and then change again when I leave later. I a super paranoid that someone will see me and confront me about changing clothes in the middle of the day. I recognize that that is a completely ridiculous fear, but I can’t stop it.

At home, I will only wear a t shirt and shorts, even in winter. Shorts are just infinitely more comfortable. I would probably wear nothing but shorts forever if I could. But for some reason, those are not acceptable in ‘work settings’. I suppose I could probably  get away with it, but it just feels wrong.

I go through phases with shirts and will wear a certain shirt every day for a while. And then one day, I am done with it and don’t touch it for a while.

I am incredibly picky when it comes to buying new clothes. I can’t stand to try on new clothes because I am creeped out by the thought that someone else has tried it on before me. So I just buy it and wash it and then try it on to see if it fits. I also have a strong aversion to taking things back if they don’t fit. I usually just keep it in a box and try every few months to see if it fits now. When I am shopping, I am extremely self-conscious of people looking at me and judging me for looking at certain clothes. I know that that is ridiculous, but again, it’s a part of me that I can’t just turn off. I get really freaked out, and usually can last about 15 minutes before I have to leave. Just like all my other errands, I try to plan them at times when no one else is there.

I think that people should dress the way their personality is. Preppy happy people need to dress like preppy happy people. Red jackets, puka-shell necklaces, green and white tennis shoes, and sweat bands are all things that preppy people can wear. If anyone not preppy wears those items, it looks bad and I judge the people very harshly for it.

I once had a red jacket. It was a kind of athletic looking jacket. I loved that jacket so much, but I could never wear it because I wasn’t ever the right type of person for it. I finally had to throw it away because it just sat in my closet mocking me for never being happy and preppy enough to wear it.

I also worry a lot about people seeing me wear the same clothes again and again and I am afraid they will judge me for it. So much so, that for a time I kept a log of what I wore and whom I saw so that I could be certain not to double up.  This problem is especially bad since I only have a few shirts that I can wear.

I prefer lighter colors now, although I used to only wear black (during my long ‘gothic’ phase from about 14 to 17). I worry about matching colors because I truly don’t understand how matching works. I know color schemes very well from my years as a graphic designer and can do those all day. But that’s because I familiar with how those look on the screen and how they will print out. I have no idea how to judge the color of something when it looks totally different in every light setting. Also, do black and brown really make you frown?

I am glad to be a man, because that makes fashion so much easier. Male fashion is basically pants and shirts and jackets. Rinse and repeat. Most outfits are made to be worn again with a different combo. Finally, something that the rest of society came up with that actually makes logical sense! I think that makes 2 things so far.

I am a huge fan of jewelry for some reason. As long as I can remember, I have worn a bracelet and a necklace, even though boys aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing. My bracelets have always been handmade, some piece of fabric or rope or something that I made. I wear it till it breaks and then repeat with the nearest thing I can make a bracelet out of. I feel totally naked if I don’t have a bracelet on. Ironically, I hate wearing watches even though I have to. My first tattoo was a wrist tattoo (there’s an awesome story behind it but it has nothing to do with being a trapezium so I can’t share it here) and I have to cover it up to prevent kids asking about it constantly. Not that I am ashamed of it or anything, but the story is not exactly one that I think is appropriate for young children. I have somewhat phased out wearing a necklace because again, adults are not supposed to do that sort of thing (in case you haven’t I say that sarcastically). Also, I keep forgetting to put it on.

Shoes are a constant source of distress. I don’t like shoes at all. I would rather be barefoot or wearing flip flops at every moment of my life. Those are just comfortable and natural. But, for some reason, the world says you can’t do that. I still try to get away with it when I can, but I have been told that flip flops cannot be worn with long pants, and I still feel weird wearing shorts in public…so no flip flops. I remember one snow day, I went out for my usual snow-hike to Pizza Hut (a long standing tradition) and I have left wearing flip flops, shorts, and a hoodie. I was completely oblivious to the fact that it was 12 degrees outside, nor did I really care. I got a lot of strange looks that day (more than usual), but I was so comfy!

I get worried about wearing the same shoes over and over again too, because I think that is supposed to be also? So I have like 9 pairs of shoes and I try to alternate between them at a regular amount. Again, the shoes have to fit the mood and the day and the outfit. It is a very complicated ordeal to pick the right pair of shoes!

My Brain is a Crazy Train

My brain feels a lot of times like it is a computer. I know it’s cliché and corny to use that metaphor these days. But I started using it in elementary school. When the only time we used a computer was to play Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, or Math Blasters, or the best game of all – Oregon Trail.

I see a computer as a really good metaphor for a brain for a variety of reasons. Brains (or at least my brain) have specific programs, like computers do. When I go somewhere, like the grocery store for example, I ‘boot up’ that program. In that program, I have a map of the store showing me where everything is. I have a list of the protocols I am supposed to follow, things to remember, things to not do, and such. My grocery store program also has a feature that lets me keep track of my purchases to ensure I don’t go over budget. Doesn’t everyone do that when they go shopping? It makes a lot of sense.

I also have programs for work and programs for play. When I boot into work mode, it’s kind of like booting your computer into safe mode. When I boot into work mode, I can turn off emotions completely and only focus on what I need to. It is ridiculously useful, but has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years. Apparently, when I am in work mode, I also forget that others are not in their proper ‘work mode’ and so they still have feelings turned on. I have a tendency to say rude things while in ‘work mode’ because I am only interested in doing the work to the best of my ability and have no concern or interest in those around me. So there is often some conflict there, I have been slapped more than a few times for rude comments. In my defense, I have never meant any of them, nor did I ever think that they were actually rude. But other people can be squishy and soft, like a jellyfish. And that is really hard to navigate if you are something like a sea urchin.

I have learned that just like on a computer, the more windows you have open the slower things work. It gets really difficult to keep open the window to remind me of everything I need to be doing. For example, if I am at work I need to open the program to remind me of what to do, the program to control what I say, the program to control how I respond, the program to control how I behave, the program to control my face and make sure I don’t make any weird faces accidentally, the program to make sure I keep track of time, the program to make sure I speak at the appropriate times, and so on. So suddenly, going to work becomes a lot more complicated. Often times, I get overloaded and some windows get shut down, which often causes a problem later on.

I also have a master switch on my emotions. I can turn it off or on, at least most of the time. This emotion switch is a strong survival technique really. I feel a lot of very strong emotions, and I have to turn it off when I go out into public. If I don’t then I get obscenely upset at small things that no one else ever notices. Or I start crying randomly because I start thinking of a sick puppy limping his way down the street and yelping in pain. It’s not pretty. So I turn off the emotions in order to blend in better. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always work either. Because somehow, other shapes have a natural filter on their emotions I guess. I really have no understanding of how it works for them. Regular shapes seem to be able to control their emotions while still experiencing them. They can modulate them, without being overtaken. That is a skill I would love to learn one day. I am working on it. More about emotions later.

In my ‘computer brain’ I have a very intense database. I have stored all kinds of useful and a lot more useless information in there. I have records of most things I do that involve other people, records of their conversations, of things that we did together, and things like that. I use this a lot for my work now, because I can very easily recall the topics we discussed last week with my students and remember what they are doing in their own lives and tie that in to the lesson somehow. Mostly though, this effect is fairly useless. I can recall infinite random facts about most anything. I think that is also connected to the fact that my memory feels more like a great connected spider web.

This database, or as I call in ‘mindspace’, doesn’t really have a physical manifestation. By that I mean, I don’t really think of it as a file cabinet or a computer specifically, but I can conjure up that image easily. It’s more like the database is the back-end to the program that is my life. Certain things that I do or things that I see will reference or search for the information I need. This part can be really annoying to me. For example, just yesterday, a friend told me that she was engaged. I guess most people would be happy and scream or cry or whatever, but I didn’t. I could only think of the fact that I thought she was too young to be getting married, and that based on her previous relationships which she burned out on very quickly, this one would likely have the same problem but at a much greater cost. I also was concerned that neither of them had a stable career, and that usually marriage means kids, which usually requires a stable career. All of this came to my mind as an annoying pop-up window instead of feeling happy for my friend.

This kind of problem also occurs whenever I spot someone that makes a mistake. As soon as I hear someone say something that is not true, my brain pulls up the correct info and I have an almost pathological need to correct them and explain why they were wrong. Luckily, I have a much better control on that now because I am aware that people hate that kind of thing.

My brain feels almost like a freight train at times, most of the time really. From the moment I wake up in the morning my brain starts turning. It runs all day long at full speed. There is not any way I have found to safely stop it. I can distract myself by doing something I am involved in for a while, but then I am back to riding the crazy train. This fast moving train of thought can be a great thing. I can quickly run any conversation through in my head and see where it is going based on past conversations. This is very useful with my students because I can spot an error that they will make several steps before they do, and then set them on the right course before they ever make a mistake. I can also solve problems very fast and seem like I know everything (maybe I do know everything after all).

Sometimes though, I feel like I am going off the rails on a crazy train. Not being able to stop or even slow down this train is a huge problem. The second the train takes a negative turn, it goes down that road fast. I can go from being happy and laughing one minute, to feeling the utter emptiness of despair and depression the next minute. My brain takes any small negative thing and turns into its natural (not-so-logical) conclusion. That bump heard in the night is definitely aliens coming to kill you – that sort of thought process happen to me daily.

I also have a very hard time relaxing because of this. My brain is always buzzing with thoughts and things that I need to do, things that are coming up, things that I am planning for, and such like that. It is sickening. I feel trapped inside my own head with no way out, no way to stop these racing thoughts and allow myself to settle down. I feel a need to constantly be doing something, to be working, or doing something productive because if I can’t relax and have fun then I should be working. This was also part of the reason I used to drink so much. When I am drunk, the brain stops almost completely. Being drunk is the only time I have experienced the complete and total control over my thoughts. No more racing things through to the end, no more looking at a puppy and knowing that it will die someday, no more feeling that every time someone says bye that I will never see them again. I imagine that is how most people feel all of the time, and it must be nice.

 

That Awkward First Post…

So, I am not very good at introductions. I am usually more of an acquired taste, like coffee or bourbon, as most of my friends will tell you. I tend to come on a little strong (also like my preferred beverages). I also have a serious problem of never knowing what to say when I first meet someone. I usually just stick to the ‘Nice to meet you’ bit that everyone seems to cherish. But is it really? I mean is it really nice to meet someone? What if they are a complete jerk and you hate them right away, should you still say ‘Nice to meet you’?

Oops, sorry. I am probably coming on too strong now. Let’s start over again. I promise I’ll do better this time.

My name is Trapezium. Nice to meet you. Visit the What is a Trapezium page if you don’t know what a trapezium is yet. Or hire a math tutor. Everyone needs to know what a trapezium is, it is infinitely more useful than anything you will learn from watching TV.

A trapezium is someone who is a little different. Someone who has a few quirks, maybe a lot of them. A trapezium is someone who can be often misunderstood and often misrepresented. A trapezium also is someone who feels that they are usually misunderstood when they try to communicate to the other more traditional shapes. A trapezium is someone who has never quite fit in to any specific category before, but has tried many times. A trapezium is someone who has some fundamental differences that make them unique from all the other shapes in the world. Someone who can either hide those differences and try to blend in with the other quadrilaterals or embrace their differences and accept the fact that they are different and that it is okay to be different. In fact, it is great to be different.

The world needs trapeziums. The world needs trapeziums so much more than it needs  squares. Squares are dull – we get it you have four sides that are equal and four right angles. But trapeziums – they have no set rules, no definitions. Trapeziums can show up anywhere and look like anything (with four sides of course). Trapeziums are beautiful and have so many unique things to share with the world.

This blog will be a place where I share my journey, (mis)adventures, and struggles with like as a trapezium. I have spent so many years hiding my differences in shame, and I am done with that. I have spent years hating myself for differences and made myself sick countless times trying to live like a square. I want to share my strangeness with the world, and I hope that someone can benefit from it, learn from it, or at least maybe have a chuckle.

PS – I am using trapezium as a metaphor here. I felt like I made that pretty obvious, but I wanted to make sure you knew. I miss a lot of subtle things like that every day, and I appreciate it when someone tells me so that I don’t miss the bigger meaning. So, there’s your clue. I am definitely NOT talking about shapes here, I am talking about mental and learning differences.