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.