Sitting across from my psychologist, I traced the swirls on the carpet with my foot as I gazed out the window behind her. How was I going to tell this wise woman who had helped me to understand my Aspergian brain ever since she diagnosed me that I was cured? That I apparently miracously no longer had Aspergers? That I probably never was on the autistic spectrum in the first place?
“Do you understand what I am saying?” After hemming and hawing, I looked at her hopefully. Maybe she would understand without me explaining myself in depth. The pain and disappointment might be softened that way.
“I am not quite sure where you are going but I think you are beginning to explain it to me.” Dashing my hopes, my therapist nudged me gently but firmly with her voice to continue.
Taking a deep breath, I let the truth spill out. “The other day, I was talking with my mom about empathy. Sometimes I feel so strongly what other people are going through although I have trouble distinguishing emotions. But my mom seemed surprised that I had empathy. People with Aspergers do not feel for other people. I do not know what is wrong with me. I can’t even have Aspergers the right way.”
“That is a myth about Aspergers.” Shaking her head, my psychologist surprised me with her answer. “People with Aspergers often fall on either extreme of the empathy spectrum. They can walk into a crowded room and be overwhelmed by the rush of emotions they feel from others. I believe that you alternate between confusion and over-feeling. This is very normal for someone with Aspergers.”
A huge weight lifted off my chest with her explanation. Instead of being condemned as a faker, I was affirmed as having legitimate feelings. One can indeed be empathetic and Aspergian; it is not an either-or diagnosis. My fear of being rejected or misdiagnosed vanished.
So often, people are confused when they hear that I am on the autistic spectrum. “But you are so sweet/normal/sensitive/insert other word here!” Although that response comes out of an attempt to compliment or understand me, it makes me anxious. Suddenly, I am a liar and have to prove that I have Aspergers. Social skills that I already struggle with become even more pronounced as I struggle to fit in to a group. How much are they watching me? What else do they think I am lying about? Millions of questions race through my head making following any conversation difficult. After a little while, I usually just give up and find a quiet place to hide.
Now as I said, those who doubt my Aspergers mean well. Often, they do not want me weighed down by a label. However, they are in fact putting me into the box of the stereotypical Autistic child. You know what? I am not a cookie cutter disordered person – not in my eating disorder, Aspergers, depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc. Just like everyone else in these world, I am a person. These diagnoses help me understand how my brain and body work but they do not define who I am. I am me. It’s as simple as that.
Part of who I am is empathetic. Yes, I struggle to read the emotions of others. No, I do not pick up social cues easily. But that does not mean that I do not feel what others are going through. When a family member is upset, I take their pain personally and attempt to find a solution (normally annoying them in the process). Often, I sob because of a story I heard on the news or a dead animal on the side of the road. In the past, I have become physically sick out of misery for a friend. Someone with Aspergers can feel empathy and I certainly do.
So, I have solved the enigma of an emphatic Aspergian; people can be both, neither, or just one of the two. No one fits into a label perfectly. We are all different with our own unique gifts, struggles, and tastes. From now on, whenever I meet someone, I am going to see who they truly are instead of attempting to make them fit into a box. After all, if there can be empathetic Aspergians, who knows what other types of people there are?