Thursday, January 10, 2013

This Is What Loneliness Feels Like To Me

I'm not sure how to frame this post, or what to call it.  I don't know how loneliness feels to others on the spectrum, or to anyone else, for that matter.  It's a very private feeling that is hard to describe.  That's why I can only speak for myself.  I don't know that my loneliness is a side effect of Asperger's. I think it is, but I don't know for sure how others experience it, if they do at all.

When I was a teen I remember having this conversation with a 'friend' where she said "You can be in a room full of people, and still be lonely".  I replied that I didn't think that made sense. How can one be alone, and with others at the same time.  She maintained that there was a big difference between alone and lonely. 


Over the next few weeks, and years, even I thought about this. I pondered this idea that alone, and lonely meant two different things.  I finally came to the conclusion one day not long after that exchange that I was most definitely not the same as other people. What my friend meant clicked into place.  I remember the moment vividly, as if it were yesterday, though it happened 19 years ago.  I had been spiraling down into depression for awhile by this time. The coping skills I had forged in my life were no longer serving me as well as they had in my younger years.  I could feel all of my ability to cope slipping away.  The thing with autism is that the symptoms are not static.  Meaning, there are periods of my life where I cope well.  There are periods where I have had a wildly out of control sensory system that begged for mercy at the thought of being in public.  I was anxious, and I was exhausted.  I remember sliding down the wall in the hallway at school while waiting to go back to school after lunch.  The roar of noisy teenagers echoed the halls.  I wanted to just cover my ears, and run away.  I had friends, but they weren't always as nice to me as they could be.  They were all dysfunctional people that had their own cartloads of baggage.  I, as I had done quite a lot recently, decided to sit alone.  I don't think they'd miss me, and I couldn't muster the energy to socialize, anyway.  I sat on the floor with my back against the wall just watching everyone.  I noticed a few people over my the popular kids area. I began to see something I had never noticed before.  I started seeing an exchange of movements.  I saw two people conversing.  He would lean this way, and she would lean that way.  Hands were animated, and laughs were flowing.  It was as if they were doing this dance where no one touched each other, but yet they were in sync with silent music.  It was in this moment that I felt a depth of lonely I cannot describe.  It was a sudden realization that other people were in a constant exchange of something I did not see, and I did not posses.  I was not one of them.

I now know that something was nonverbal cues, and the dance was a flirting interaction. Of course, flirting is not the only time people use this dance.  There's a constant flow of invisible to me information happening all the time.  It is better now that I understand what nonverbal cues are at a cognitive level, but it will never be an automatic thing that I do subconsciously, like most people do.

I knew what it meant at that moment to be in a room full of people, but lonely.

Up until that point, I had mistakenly believed that everyone was as disconnected at me.  It wasn't until I was 15 that I knew others were connected in a ways that I couldn't imagine.  I liken it to the frequency of a radio station.  Everyone else is tuned into the same station.  Some are better than others at hearing it, and some may get a fuzzy reception, but nonetheless, 'typical' people all hear the same song, at the same time. They may misinterpret the meaning of the lyrics, and misunderstandings do occur, but they are in sync.  I am always just slightly off the right frequency.  I hear my own music, and I love it.  It's fulfilling, and enough for me most of the time, but sometimes.... sometimes I want to join others.  It's rare that I get the dial tuned just right to do so, and it takes so much effort, just to get a part of a signal. 

This disconnected feeling follows me everywhere I go.  I feel like I am not one of them in any group I am in.  I just know that I am unlikable, and considered an outsider.  That is how I feel.  This is such an isolating feeling.  It lends itself to depression, and me taking things others say and do personally.  I feel I have no backing, no group, no foundation.  It is just me, watching everyone else socialize, just like I did 19 yrs ago.  I'm the odd one out.  I am still sitting by myself. I'm on the outside looking in, and it's a lonely place to be sometimes.  It never changes, and everyday is the same.  I'm not like them, and I know it.  They know it.  I don't belong anywhere.

That is what loneliness feels like to me.

43 comments:

  1. SO many things I relate to in your post. I knew from an early age that I was an outsider, but I thought it was because of my parents divorce. I always felt as if I did not belong on either side of the family. I watched them interact and found it confusing.

    As I got older I realized that I was an outsider with everyone. When I am surrounded by people I feel as though it is an out-of-body experience every time. My mind takes on a certain role, I watch myself shutdown and observe, or my silliness or intellectual side comes out. AND they tend to be over the top. Whatever the scenario it is either that I am baffled at the "dance" you describe or I am trying to escape it because it is such a painful place to feel so isolated surrounded by others who seem to understand each other and connect.


    "This disconnected feeling follows me everywhere I go. I feel like I am not one of them in any group I am in. I just know that I am unlikable, and considered an outsider."

    Those words exactly, for me anyway. Much of what you said is how I have felt and do feel. Thank you for sharing! I am certain there are more of us who feel this way too.

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    1. Thank you for your words. I relate to you when you say it was like an 'out of body experience'. I tried to explain that to therapists when I was a teen, I am quite sure that was in part why I got mislabeled as having a dissociative disorder.

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  2. I'm almost in tears. This sums up how I feel the majority of the time way better than I could have ever explained it.

    I don't have many friends, and am married to a wonderful person, but I still feel like I'm on the outside looking in. I don't understand how people make friends. I'm just me. I spend the majority of my time alone, just me and the computer, movies, or a video game. I'm not good at socializing. I get painfully anxious when I talk to anyone, even with people I've known for years, and my spouse. I'm either a fidgety, chain-smoking, babbling mess, or I hardly speak and end up just staring at the floor.

    I would love to understand how to interact with people without feeling so awkward and anxious, and so different from them. I hate feeling so lonely.

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    1. I sometimes hate it, too. I don't always feel so anxious, but I do feel like the odd one out. I also don't have many friends. I really have none that live close by that I would classify as 'close'.

      Thanks for your comment.

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  3. This is just what my son's therapist explained to me today. My son working so hard...overtime even to fit in...to be accepted. All the while feeling like a deep inside he is different and will always be perceived that way. Thank you for sharing this ...I think you're a wonderful person.

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  4. Thank you so much for your blog. I have an Aspie daughter who is twelve years old. There have been times when we've been at the end of an argument, or just talking about something and she tells me that I don't know what it's like for her - that I have no idea. I always respond - You're right. I don't know. But I'm trying. I'm trying as hard as I can. Your blog helps me understand just that much more.

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    1. Thank you for trying. It will make all the difference in the world for your daughter!

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  5. At first I wanted to dismiss your thoughts as, "Well, everyone feels that way, even NTs!" Of course, when I took the time to reread your words, I realized that you conveyed a unique experience of loneliness.
    Thank you for sharing your perspective in such an eloquent way.

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    1. Thank you for re-thinking that. I was afraid that I might be met with those comments, or worse, pity comments. I know everyone feels lonely sometimes, and left out. As I prefaced this entry with, I really don't know that my experience is different than that of others that aren't on the spectrum. How do you rate loneliness? I guess what I wanted to convey through the whole thing was not that I was just lonely, but that my 'otherness' is something that is so deep, so penetrating, so pervasive to my entire life that I find it to be the hardest part of having AS.

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  6. This is beautifully expressed - you have perfectly described the feeling of being lonely while surrounded by others.

    I know, the temptation has always been for me to attribute the "failure" to myself rather than others. But a lot of people are not prepared to take the time to get to know someone. They are uncomfortable with anything they don't immediately understand or recognise. That is their failure.

    I think you're great and I just know you and I would get along in the real world too.

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    1. I so know that we would, too! Too bad we live oceans away from each other!

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  7. Sharing an interesting news :-

    http://www.edvantage.com.sg/edvantage/features/people/1535536/Asperger_s_syndrome_so_what_.html

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  8. What a tender-hearted, brave, and beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing and explaining so that those of us who do not have aspergers can understand how you see the world.

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  9. Excellent post, and it sums up so much of how I felt as a child/teen. While I haven't been diagnosed as being on the spectrum, I can say that I remember this feeling acutely. When I was 8, I went on a Girl Scout camping trip. The other girls wouldn't let me hang out in their cabin because I wasn't "cool enough". I tried to talk to them, but everything I said came out wrong. To me, my words made perfect sense, but everyone else laughed. It was like I wasn't privy to the subtleties that they were. I couldn't say the right thing, I was awkward, I did funny things like read about dinosaurs and rockets, and I toe-walked.

    Those many years from adolescence until college were some of the loneliest of my life. You sum it up well when you say that you realized that there were cues that you weren't picking up on - this was my experience, too. I remember specifically the day that I realized that people expected me to make eye contact with them. I was 20. I had to force myself to do it, but it took me 2 decades to pick up on just a portion of that secret that everyone else seemed to share...except for me.

    In a way, I think this is where blogging and social networking have filled a bit of a void in my life. The internet has been a bit of an equalizer for me, and I feel more connected via these outlets than I ever have before.

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    2. And the internet is a great way to connect with others who are feeling exactly as you are, making you feel you aren't alone. And let's you know that its okay to see the world differently.

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    3. You pretty much just described my life there. We have a lot in common

      Blogging, and social networking does help me to bridge the gap, somewhat. I still feel left out quite often, though. It seems that this feeling even follows me to the net. I even feel like I see other autistic people form social groups that I am not invited into. Sometimes, I will really like a page, or a blog, but then will unlike it, because I feel like every time I comment I get ignored while everyone else's gets a lot of attention. It feels like rejection, I suppose, and I have had enough of that in my life. I don't need to be triggered on the internet, too.Petty, I suppose, but it's how I feel.

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    4. Oh, yes, I *so* understand your Girl Scout trip - I did the same, the year I entered the Scouts, and spent most of my time with my younger sister, who was a Brownie, and who most of the time I couldn't tolerate because she bullied and manipulated me. But it was a lot easier dealing with her, than it was dealing with the other girls there, who teased and mocked me. (Especially since I could stand up for her - she had nasty allergies - when I couldn't for myself.) Never went back to Girl Scouts after that - it soured me on the whole experience.

      :( tagAught

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  10. Reading your post brings me back to the days when I was a child/teen. I was always the outsider looking in from outside, wondering what it feels like to be in. To have even just one friend. It was a terrible feeling, being alone in a place full of people all having friends, and I was constantly angry, and sometimes in despair. Even when I was part of a social group in college, I was never really connected, still felt like the outsider. Most times I have no idea what to say. I find it exhausting to have to talk. I was still alone among friends.

    It has taken me more than a decade, almost two, of actively observing people and forcing myself to interact with people to be not as socially awkward and anxious like before. I am married, have a kid, and have a couple of good friends now. But every now and then I do feel the old feeling of disconnection and isolation coming back. It never does leave no matter how much I have changed myself.

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    1. Your last line "It never does leave no matter how much I have changed myself." is really profound, and sums things up pretty well for me. I am done changing myself. It never helped anyway. I just have learned to be happy in my own company, and deal with the fact that, as you say, that feeling is never leaving.

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    2. Irene, I completely relate. To everything but especially your 2nd paragraph.
      I had the same experience as you and eventually learned how to interact and make a few friends as you. But the feeling never does leave completely. I SO feel you there. Making Aspie friends really helped me, too.
      If you are on Facebook - please friend me there if you like - or feel free to email - KGoldfie@gmail.com . I have so few female Aspie friends, mostly males.

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    3. Hey kate. Nice to find someone who share similar experience huh. Yes I am on facebook. I will add you as friend over there :D

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  11. So glad someone pointed me here.

    Your paragraph
    "I sat on the floor with my back against the wall just watching everyone. I noticed a few people over my the popular kids area. I began to see something I had never noticed before. I started seeing an exchange of movements. I saw two people conversing. He would lean this way, and she would lean that way. Hands were animated, and laughs were flowing. It was as if they were doing this dance where no one touched each other, but yet they were in sync with silent music. It was in this moment that I felt a depth of lonely I cannot describe. It was a sudden realization that other people were in a constant exchange of something I did not see, and I did not posses. I was not one of them"

    sums up what I spent my entire high school and college career doing, and trying to figure out. The sense of otherness, of what I called "a secret language" that others had that I couldn't share was a very painful fact to me, a VERY painful fact, and still is. Fortunately, it seems to me at least to some extent that as people get older they become a little more open, and I have also made several Aspie friends I feel that I can be completely myself with. I am lucky. I am even wading in the waters of trying to make NT friends a little. I am trying to break out of that shell. I am not saying this is what you or anyone should do, it is just my path.

    But I have tried to explain that EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE to people so many times over the years. And I think you did it much better than I. Or at least more concisely. (I am 28 w/ AS).

    So thank you! And are you on Facebook? Would love to friend you. Kate - kgoldfie@gmail.com

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    1. Yes, my experience is that people are generally more open and accepting as they grow older so it does get better. So for those young ones, hang in there! Life does get better.

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    2. Thank you for your replies. I am glad to connect with both of you on FB. :)

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  12. I still feel that way. I want a boyfriend, but all I can do is watch other couples. It looks so flippin' easy, but I feel like the preschooler trying to mash the square peg into the round hole. I am so tired of being alone, but I can't have roommates because it eventually drives me bonkers. I'm used to my own company and I'm independent. Some days I manage to keep busy and exhaust myself I to squashing this feeling, and other times, it simply doesn't work and I manage to emotionally exhaust myself

    I think it was Kate (who pointed this article out to me - thank you!) who mentioned that it's like looking into a candy store while everyone enjoys the candy and you're locked outside, looking in.

    I wish people would understand my autistic symptoms were not static. Most days I do well, but then my anxiety just goes out the window and I have to increase my Clozapam dosage just to function.

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    1. I thought that quote was a very good description, too. Glad you came by, and thanks for your comments. Hope to see you on my blog's FB page, too! Lots of discussion on there.

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  13. "...it's like looking into a candy store while everyone enjoys the candy and you're locked outside, looking in." - yes, that completely sums it up.

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    1. Or you are in the candy store, but everyone is enjoying their candy, sharing flavors, and you are just standing there eating yours all by yourself, even though it doesn't taste all that good. At the same time, you would be appalled if they came over and tried to lick your lollipop so you don't try very hard.

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  14. Thank you, Quiet Contemplation, for opening a window for me, an NT parent, to understand better what my child and others on the spectrum encounter in everyday life. Have you ever found others on the spectrum, both online and offline, and found a sense of connection through your similarities, or being on the same "frequency" to use your radio frequency analogy?

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    1. Online, yes definitely, at times, but not always. I have not found too many people in real life to hang around that are on the spectrum, so I'm not sure about that. I know that I can 'read' other autistic people way better than NTs tend to be able to, so I would say that we are closer to each other's frequencies in that way, but not fully, though.

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  15. Oh, *so* true. I never really had an epiphany the way you did, but I always felt happier and more content in my own company than I did in anyone else's. Part of that is that as well as being ASD, I'm an introvert, but part of that is because it was so *hard* to understand. I was *so* grateful to discover fandom when I was 18 / 19; everyone involved was "weird" in some way or another (a lot of people who were physically disabled, so-called "nerds" and "geeks", and it wouldn't surprise me to find a large percentage of those on the "capable of functioning somewhat adequately in the NT world" part of the spectrum as well), so I didn't stand out as much, and there wasn't as much expectation that I "fit in".

    But at the same time, it was finding other people on the spectrum and being able to befriend them that really made the difference. There's one friend I've had for years whom I've never yet met in person, but we chat and understand each other really well. Another one whom I've met since moving to St. John's, and we generally meet up at least once a week for just *being* together, with someone who *gets* us. (And for cuddles; both of us enjoy tactile interaction, without it being sexually-connected.)

    :) tagAught

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    1. It's great that you found some friends that you can really relate to! I have a husband hat I feel comfortable, and happy with, but otherwise I haven't found any close friends that I feel really compatible with.

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  16. I relate so much to this post... It almost sounds like I wrote it... Just that I didn't figure it all out until much later, in my mid 20's. I seriously wish I could explain to those around me how it's been for me, in such a clear manner..

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    1. It's taken me almost 20 yrs to get this out in this clear of a manner. This post was a long time a coming.Thanks for reading, and commenting!

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  17. Excellent description, and I like the radio metaphor - it is spot on (so is the dance metaphor).


    Quote: "Up until that point, I had mistakenly believed that everyone was as disconnected at me. It wasn't until I was 15 that I knew others were connected in a ways that I couldn't imagine."

    I was relying on the same assumption when I was a kid, and I fully began to realise that 'everybody else were connected' in a shared reality, sort of communicating via a main channel I couldn't perceive, when I was about 13 or 14. That is also the time where my big interests (animals/pets) became 'immature' and could no longer underpin friendships, so I started to loose my friends and social role at that time.

    Through my childhood and up till about 13 I was fairly unaware of social conventions and 'normal synchronisation' although I did feel like I had strangely limited options socially compared to other kids, and was frustrated about other kids' unpredictable, annoying and often unsettling collective behaviours, especially my classmates'.




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    1. Losing friends due to them growing out of, or changing interests is really common from what I hear. What might be acceptable for young kids to obsess over when they're 9 changes when they're 13 by quite a lot. We tend to stay back there focusing on making activities, and subjects, when other kids mature into switching their focus to other people.

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  18. Thank you for posting this. It really does open my eyes to how my son is most likely going through life, or will be in the near future.

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  19. Thank you for this post. I think that my daughter feels this way a lot. Sometimes she just bursts into tears for what most would think is no reason, but I think the reason is that she feels something like what you have described here.

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    1. Thanks for reading. I think that we can often have such delayed reactions to things that we don't even always know why we're suddenly so upset. It still happens to me often.

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