Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested: Part 8

You know those sheets of paper that have faces on them, the ones that ask, “how are you feeling today?” I have never understood those. Part of the problem is that my facial expressions don’t always match what is going on inside, and I can’t see other people’s expressions and relate them to emotions. The other part of the problem is that I have a hard time explaining what my emotions are. I know how other people define emotions--I’m quite capable with a dictionary--but this very clinical way of describing things has never seemed right to me. I sometimes have different emotional responses to events than people want me to have. I never seem to be compassionate to anything, and that isn’t at all the case. If someone tells me that a close friend passed away, I don’t naturally jump to the right response, “Oh, I am so sorry for your loss.” My brain goes to somewhere else, and I might inject a very wrong, “You’ll move on.” Though that may be true in the end, it certainly doesn’t comfort the other person. My brain takes empathy--which I have, but don’t express correctly--and outputs some other response that is often either unfortunate or embarrassing.

As another example, I had a friend once tell me that she’d lost quite a bit of weight very suddenly. Despite the fact that I knew she’d been trying to lose weight, my brain-to-mouth filter misfired and out flew, “you must be sick,” rather than the much more proper, “way to go!” Yeah, not my best moment. My clinical brain was right, she did lose the weight too quickly, but that isn’t the right thing to say. Lesson noted.

On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon has provided many examples of this trait. His use of a very hollow sounding “awww” to indicate sympathy and the suggestion of a warm drink to comfort a person come to mind. He has a very hard time emoting, and he doesn’t pick up on other people’s emotions.

I learned pretty early that explaining my emotions resulted in a long monologue that nobody wanted to listen to. I have more than one emotion at any given time, and none of them necessarily takes over the others, so my explanations could take forever. What someone might describe as a frustrating experience, I feel as “bad” or “not good.” I experience it to be triangles and a sort of strangling sensation. When someone says they are ecstatic, my version might feel that as “good, very good” and experience it as yellow circles, electric fingers, and a little tune in my head. Needless to say, when someone asks me, “How are you?” as a greeting rather than a question, my little head goes full-tilt trying to decypher the colors, shapes, and noises I am experiencing, while my brain-to-mouth filter is trying to figure out if I should answer the question at all or else risk monologuing and causing yet one more person to give me the “sorry I asked” look.

Rest assured that if I ask “how are you,” that I actually want a response. Otherwise I’d just say hi.

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