Photo: two people embracing, wearing coats and hats, outside a storefront as snow is falling. The sign in the shop window reads: “fresh cut flowers inside.”

In part one of what has now become a series, I highlighted the unfortunate discrepancy that exists between the media portrayal of autistic love and the lived experience of actual autistic people.

In this installment, I would like to dig a little deeper into the details of what, exactly, my beef is with those media portrayals, and what real life autistic approaches to love can look like.

My biggest beef with the portrayal of “autistic love” in shows like ‘Love on the Spectrum’ is that, from my understanding, autistic people are essentially groomed and coached and trained in neurotypical dating customs before being set up on dates (which are also exclusively with other autistic people.)

I, therefore, struggle to understand how this could ever be a true representation of “love on the spectrum.” What it actually is, at best, is a representation of autistic people conforming to neurotypical social rituals and neurotypical dating culture.

The thing this show, or society for that matter, doesn’t seem to take into account is that we already have our own unique autistic culture, when we are allowed to express it and embrace it.

Some studies have demonstrated that autistic people do not have social deficits when we are interacting with one another. We only appear to have deficits when interacting with neurotypical people. This is called the “Double Empathy Problem.”

The thing about communication is that it is a two-way street.

Neurotypical people have just as many “deficits” in social communication when interacting with autistic people as we have when interacting with them. Isn’t it possible, then, that the word “deficit” is nothing more than an indication of prejudice?

If it is a difficulty both neurotypes share when communicating with one another, why is that word foisted only upon the autistic person?

You wouldn’t, as an American, go to Japan, try speaking English to a Japanese person and then, when they don’t understand you, say, “Japanese people suck at communicating.”

You would understand that you were speaking two different languages and get out your translation app to bridge the gap.

You would understand that when a Japanese person invited you to their home and asked you to remove your shoes that this wasn’t some social aberration on their part, rather a valid part of their culture and their customs.

You would also understand that every citizen of Japan, despite being part of the same ethnic group, country and culture, was an individual human being.

So the assumption that autistic people need training in neuro-normative communication and neuro-normative social rituals completely ignores our inherent, and completely valid, social communication language and behaviors, and is just as insulting as assuming that to be “normal” Japanese people must fully assimilate into American culture.

Assimilation should not be the goal. It is unobtainable, first of all, and is also a tragedy that deprives autistic people authentic expression and the world of unique autistic perspectives and gifts.

Autistic people don’t need more training in how to better conform to neurotypical social practices. What is needed, firstly, is recognition of autistic cultural sovereignty and, secondly, cultural exchange between the different neurotypes.

I also call attention to these points because just like Japanese people are all individuals, so are autistic people. We share a lot in common, yet are each our own people, with our own preferences, needs, upbringings, backgrounds. Our approaches to love (and experiences with love) will be just as individual.

There will be some autistic people who have zero interest in dating. There are others who are only interested in sex and not romance, others who are interested in romance and not sex, and others interested in both.

There are autistic people who have concurrent intellectual disability, others with average intelligence, others with IQs so high they could join MENSA.

There are autistic people with ADHD, PDA, and mental health comorbidities, and those without. There are autistic people who communicate through assistive communication devices and never speak, others who speak sometimes, and others who use speech as their primary method of communication. There are autistic people from Mexico, Milan, Egypt, and the Bronx.

There are autistic people who might like going out on a traditional date to dinner and a movie and autistic people who might hate that.

Our diversity is dizzying. Our approaches to love will be just as diverse.

Even the traits which are likely to be universal among autistic people – such things as differences in sensory, social and interpersonal needs and preferences – are going to be highly subjective within the autistic community.

So, clearly, I can really only speak for myself and from my own experience and am aware that my experiences are not representative of every other autistic person in existence.

Before getting a bit more personal, though, I’d like to air one final grievance about shows like ‘Love on the Spectrum’; if any person, irrespective of neurotyoe, sacrifices all of their needs for a relationship, they are setting themselves up for failure and lack and disharmony.

Asking autistic people to abandon our sensory and social (and other) needs in order to engage in dating rituals that have been tailored to the sensory and social needs of the neurotypical majority is similarly setting us up for failure and lack and disharmony. And that is what it seems that shows like ‘Love on the Spectrum’ seem to do.

Even as I will be detailing my own experiences as an autistic person dating, it is important to remember that these will fail to give a full understanding of what overall autistic dating practices and culture look like, and not just because I am an individual amongst individuals, but because I, as a late-diagnosed autistic person, had also been trying, for most of my life, to conform to neurotypical dating and social procedures.

So, in some ways, as I relate my experiences, these will speak more to the pitfalls of expecting autistic people to play by neurotypical dating rules than they will to genuine expressions of autistic social customs and culture.

And though it’s been three years since my diagnosis, I still consider myself as being newly diagnosed/discovered. I never before now had this information about myself while dating, therefore, when I do date again following my divorce, I will be going forth with a level of self-awareness that I never had in all of the years that came before.

When I date again, I will be excited to discover what the social and dating rules look like when they are taking my social and sensory (and other) needs into account and not just catering to neurotypical needs. My experiences up to this point occurred in complete ignorance of my true neurobiological heritage, and that is important. I don’t yet know what it looks like to date in full awareness of myself as an autistic person, only what it looks like when I, as an undiagnosed autistic person, attempted to date per neurotypical expectations.

As it is my intent to dig a little deeper into the details of what love can look like for actually autistic people, and as the only truly reliable details I have to hand are those that have arisen from my own lived experiences, I will swallow my horror at being so transparent and share some of those experiences.

And, as there is only so much I can share in one blog before it becomes prohibitively long, and as there is so much to say on this topic, many experiences and comments will need to be saved for a later blog in this series, so please don’t expect this to be the final word on the matter.

First, a bit of background about me.

I am not only autistic. I have several other conditions which interact with and influence how my autistic traits manifest, and influence what my personal experience has been with relationships, in general. I went most of my life without knowing the following information.

I am autistic with a PDA profile, have ADHD, have Apraxia, have several co-occurring mental health conditions (Depression, General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, PTSD and OCD, all of which I now believe were a direct result of going nearly my entire life as an undiagnosed autistic person and the constant high level stress and trauma that came along with that) and also have several co-occurring chronic physical conditions (all dealing with autonomic nervous system malfunctioning, which I also have come to believe is a direct result of living in the constant state of high level stress and trauma of going through life unsupported as an undiagnosed autistic person. These conditions are: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, hEDS, Gastroparesis, Chronic Migraines/possible Chiari I Malformation, and three sleep disorders.)

I am semi-speaking. There are times, usually when I am overwhelmed, when I am completely unable to speak. The rest of the time, I am able to, but in varying degrees.

Part of the issue I have with speaking is that I do not think in words. The closest I can get to describing my mental processes is to say that I think in concepts. It takes me a while to encode these concepts into just the right words, something I generally need more time to do this than is available in the relatively fast pace of spoken conversation.

I can have the most perfectly complete concept in my head but all that comes out are words that convey only about 1% of that concept.

I have to put so much mental energy into translating these mental concepts into spoken words, and trying to make sure I am pronouncing these words correctly, trying to make sure I am using the correct vocal inflection, making the correct facial expression, using the correct body language, and have executive functioning difficulties with things like working memory that cause me to forget what I was even trying to convey in the first place and/or go blank on words I otherwise know well. Then, I either trail off in embarrassment or just try to keep flinging words out of my mouth and hoping they make some kind of sense.

On a date, or with someone I am romantically interested in, this can become excruciating. I’m trying to put forward my best self and know that no matter how hard I try, they’re getting a distorted perception of me in spoken communications, and a lot of weight and importance is placed on spoken communications in the establishment of relationships. I feel every ounce of that weight. It is crushing for me.

Generally, speaking is something I force myself to do because it is expected of me and as such forms part of my social mask (masking, in the terms of autistic culture, is an involuntary “fawn” response in the “fight-flight-fawn-freeze” trauma response. It is attempting to befriend a source of threat by blending in or making oneself seem the same as the source of the threat.) As I will discuss more later, my brain interprets people as both a threat to my survival, and necessary for my survival, making my relationship with them very complicated.

This mask is such a deeply ingrained, involuntary and well-worn, consistently triggered trauma response as to be virtually impossible for me to stop doing.

And it is convincing as all hell. It is so convincing (in the short term) that it has won me job offers, friends and relationships that would fall apart at the same rate that my mask would slip. It has been so convincing that unless someone spends time with me over a long duration, they might not even believe that I am autistic.

Masking takes a tremendous amount of mental resources to do. As I am getting older, I have less and less energy to mask, yet the expectation to maintain certain social standards remains the same. This has meant that I increasingly limit the amount of time I spend around other people as I have gotten older.

In my younger years, before I had kids, I had more energy to mask, and many of the social opportunities I’m going to discuss (like opportunities to go out on dates) were usually a direct result of that masking.

So when I discuss my dating history, please resist the urge to perceive me as a social butterfly. I’m not a social butterfly. I am a social chameleon, out of necessity.

If I were ever able to get to a point where I could calm my nervous system and brain and trauma responses enough to be able to stop or bypass involuntary masking, I would probably appear socially much like a child, and I in no way mean to infantilize myself in saying so.

What I mean is that when I was a child, if I went out on an errand with my mother somewhere, I could peacefully do my own thing as my mother made small talk with a friend she had bumped into at the post office, and no one really thought much of it if I didn’t respond when someone tried speaking with me. I could just remain focused on playing with the cord on the drapes or watching dust motes spin in a sunbeam. If I felt like speaking, I could do so.

When I was a child, especially a young child, no one really took much offense to this type of behavior. I would love to again spend time amongst people without being expected to verbally converse as the main method of showing social interest and politeness. It is one of the things I miss most about being a child.

Most speaking, for me, is the equivalent of helping someone move house. It’s arduous, it’s difficult, there’s a lot of heavy lifting, and it’s not something I can keep up day after day because I get so fatigued. I do it primarily because I care about others and am trying to accommodate them. But because it’s so tiring, when I don’t have the energy to do it, I simply isolate myself from people, because it is the expectation that as an adult, when I am in the presence of others, I will have a spoken conversation with them, and if I don’t, well, I must be mad at them, be self-absorbed, or rude.

Sometimes, I really do enjoy speaking. But not when I’m having difficulty getting words together or difficulty getting them out and have to force myself to speak. I mostly feel like speaking should be reserved for when there is something of substance or importance to communicate, and otherwise, it’s just a desperate attempt to fill silences that are only awkward when you’re uncomfortable experiencing the present moment and all that it contains.

It’s funny to me how people can interpret silence in the presence of others as impolite or rude. Have you ever shared space with someone without speaking? It is incredibly intimate, far more intimate than two people can get when keeping each other at arm’s length with inconsequential chit-chat.

To me, being near another human without speaking is a compliment. It means, “I am so comfortable in your presence that I can enjoy it without trying to protect myself against it by calling our mental attention to something else, anything else, with conversation.”

Maybe it’s not just one thing or another, but several social factors combining to make silence in the presence of others undesirable in the neurotypical social language; perhaps it stems a little bit from discomfort with existing in the present moment without filling it with spoken words, perhaps it’s the tendency of some neurotypicals to use verbal silence to communicate that they are upset (the “silent treatment”), perhaps it is just that they enjoy spoken communication and are confused when others don’t. As I’m not neurotypical, I can really only guess.

But going back to the use of the term “deficit,” it could be said that neurotypical communication “deficits,” when interacting with autistic people, include an “over-reliance” on speech, a pathological need for eye contact, and an inability to say precisely what they mean/speaking in euphemisms.

But, as we know, when neurotypicals are speaking with one another, these things are not “deficits” at all. In fact, they are seen as social norms, because neurotypicals make up the majority of the population and as such set the precedent for normalcy. Their “deficits” get to be social norms, and autistic social norms get to be “deficits,” purely by virtue of who is the majority and who is the minority.

The mismatch occurs when you try to superimpose one neurotype’s social norms onto the other.

Like in ‘Love on the Spectrum.’ And like in my own love life as an autistic person.

Even I, an actual autistic person, don’t yet know what actually autistic approaches to love can look like when they aren’t being influenced by neurotypical social standards and customs. I hope to be able to find out one day.

But in the meantime, I’m this post, I would like to focus specifically on how masking (downplaying autistic traits and emulating neurotypical ones) has impacted my dating history.

I mentioned that I am autistic with a “PDA profile.” PDA can be understood as a sub-type of autism.

PDA stands for Pathological Demand Avoidance, which, if you ask me, is a terrible name, given the negative connotation of the word “pathological” and the fact that it is usually followed by the word “liar.”

But here, the word refers to behaviors which are so pervasive as to impact every aspect of life. This means that no matter what the situation or circumstance I may find myself in, “demand avoidance” is present and operating.

And as with most things related to autism, semantics matter. You can either couch the language surrounding autism (and, in this instance, PDA) in derogatory, deficit-based terms, or you can use more positive descriptors. It’s a matter of perspective (and, all too often, prejudice.)

The term “demand avoidance” describes a prevailing trait of PDA in negative terms. Another, more neutral way to describe it would be to call it a “pervasive need for autonomy.” I have a pathological need to maintain autonomy in all situations in my life. That changes it a bit, doesn’t it?

Autistic people with PDA profiles tend to demonstrate a handful of traits that are not generally present in “classical autism;” for instance, increased tendency to mask and higher desire for social connection.

Motivation matters: PDA autistics are generally more socially motivated than our classic autistic counterparts, and this has always been the case for me, doubly so when romance was on the line. It has been intimately connected with my involuntary tendency to mask.

And it may seem like the ultimate paradox that a person with a strong need for the maintenance of autonomy would be the most prone to handing that autonomy over in the practice of masking and making themselves into an amenable to others, but both are extremes and extremes really are the same thing, just in different degrees. They are the ends of the same pole.

I’ve written extensively about masking but if you missed it, here’s a brief recap: masking is the “fawn” in the fight-flight-fawn-freeze trauma response. It is a response to trauma. It is not voluntary. What is more motivating than a survival mechanism?

Kristy Forbes is a brilliant autistic self advocate and PDAer, and in one of her videos, she describes her theory behind why the PDA autistic brain does this.

I am paraphrasing (and blending with my own perspective and theories on it, as well) but it is essentially the result of the autistic brain chronically being in fight or flight.

We are living in a society whose very customs and social structures are antithetical to our needs and our biology. Our perceptions and our ways of being in the world are things we are vilified or even ostracized for. Our brains are constantly overloaded by stimuli.

This level of chronic overload is completely foreign to neurotypical people who seldom experience overload to the same degree and even then, only ever acutely, not chronically.

Neurotypical people don’t experience this same daily overload because our society is set up to accommodate their sensory and social needs. Our society isn’t accommodating the sensory or social needs of autistic people. Not even close.

Think of what the primal brain perceives when it is in chronic overwhelm. Think of the only real parallel for this in our evolution; when the organism was under that much stress, they were usually being chased by a predator, or in a life or death situation.

So, our brains perceive, as a result of our chronic overwhelm and overstimulation, that we are perpetually in fight or flight, perpetually in a life or death situation. Many autistic people also experience autonomic nervous system dysfunction for this very reason (as I have already disclosed that I do.)

What is the one thing you MUST hold on to when you are in a life or death situation? Your autonomy. You need to remain in charge of your own faculties for as long as you possibly can.

But when the life or death situation persists, and becomes chronic, when fighting the threat is shown to be untenable or ineffectual, you’re left with the following survival mechanisms to choose from: flight (running away from the threat), fawn (attempting to befriend the source of threat to make oneself no longer a target), or freeze (playing dead in the hopes that the threat will go away.)

When the threat is “all people,” according to the traumatized autistic brain, and yet the autistic brain is also keenly aware that all humans are interdependent and that without connection to other people, survival chances are severely limited, you get a situation where fighting the threat (all people) isn’t an option, fleeing from the threat (all people) isn’t an option, and playing dead in the presence of all people isn’t an option.

The only option which remains is to fawn. To the autistic PDA brain, people are both a threat to survival, and the path to survival. The autistic PDA brain is constantly in the high arousal “fight or flight” mode and clings to autonomy – except where it perceives social connections are necessary to survival, in which case, we fawn (which means, in our case, that we mask. We downplay our autistic traits and emulate neurotypical ones to try to blend in and be accepted so we can have our basic survival needs met.) In that way, connection may override the need for autonomy.

Therefore, PDA may not be a natural neurotype or autism sub-type at all, but one manifestation of an autistic brain that is in fight or flight all the time.

And who’d have thunk that having the fulfillment of all of your needs being contingent on suppressing all your natural ways of being and communicating while emulating completely foreign ways of being and communicating could be traumatic? I’m here to say, it definitely is, and the brain reacts accordingly.

Masking has caused me to involuntarily give others a false impression of my strengths and weaknesses and desires, and contributed to partnering with people who really weren’t right for me because masking had caused me to have so little stability in my own identity that I honestly didn’t know who was a good match for me.

Immediately following my diagnosis three years ago, I walked headlong into an identity crisis that I absolutely wasn’t expecting. It was like going to cross the street and being struck by a car that had been hidden around the bend. When you spend your life camouflaging like an octopus to stay safe, you don’t remember what color you started out being. I am happy to report that three years on into this journey, I have rediscovered my hidden self and have a much better rooted sense of identity than I have had at perhaps any stage of my life up until now.

Masking, as a trauma response, also explains what might otherwise seem like an irreconcilable discrepancy in autistic behavior.

Autistic people are known for being direct and for being honest. If we’re so direct and honest, what the heck are we doing hiding our natural traits and tendencies and adopting neurotypical ones, then?

What we’re doing is trying to survive, trying to get our needs met, just like any human being would. We are responding, subconsciously, to the trauma of being socially ostracized and isolated for showing up in the world as we really are. As all humans are interdependent beings, social ostracism carries with it the risk of not being able to meet even our most basic survival needs.

As PDA autistics, we are not consciously choosing to be disingenuous. We are naturally honest and direct. But as I’ve said elsewhere, masking is no more intentional than flinching when someone throws a punch at your face. It is a primal and automatic reflex. And from my experience, the more it is triggered, the more deeply ingrained it becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to stop doing it.

As autistic people with a “PDA profile,” we are more motivated to mask because we have a higher need for social connection than do autistic people with a more “classical” profile of autism. We therefore can come across as more socially competent than we really are.

I have appeared to others – past employers (when I was still working), teachers, friends, and, yes, romantic partners, as more socially competent than I was (or, more appropriately, more fluent in the neurotypical social language than I really was.)

And since romantic relationships tend to be more straightforward and therefore easier for me to navigate than even friendships are, and since every human being needs social and emotional connection to survive (and I am no exception), the lure of romantic connection has triggered my masking quite a bit. This has meant downplaying the struggles I face as an autistic person, and trying to emulate neurotypical social abilities. It has created no shortage of opportunities for partnerships throughout my life.

It has absolutely offered a distorted view of me both to myself and to my partners at the outset of our relationships.

It has resulted in partners wondering why, for instance, I seemed to be able to socialize well with their friends at the beginning of the relationship and why I “suddenly” became more withdrawn. In reality, a big part of what was happening was that my mask was slipping.

And there’s been another hitch in all of my relationships up until now – a perfect storm of PDA traits, the first of which is hyperfocus.

PDAers are known to fixate on people, a trait shared in common with Borderline Personality Disorder. But unlike the fixation on a “special person” that comes along with BPD, this phenomenon is generally short-lived in PDA, fueled as it is by transient but intense focus.

This intense focus is actually common amongst all autistics, PDA and classical alike. It’s just that with classical autistics, the intense focus (or “hyperfocus”) tends to be on a specific subject or inanimate object. For PDA autistics, this hyperfocus can and often does center around a specific person.

This specific person does not have to be a romantic partner, but for me, it generally has been.

It has manifested for me as an intense desire to know everything about a new partner. I lavish attention on them, I am highly communicative and inquisitive, very present, and generally find them to be the most fascinating focal point of my entire existence. It hasn’t been quite on the level of becoming obsessive about a person but definitely has involved an intense and sustained (for a while) focus on another person with a higher than usual level of communication for me.

I have mistaken this for love, as have former partners, in the past. Sometimes this hyperfocus accompanied genuine love, sometimes it did not. And even when it did accompany genuine love, that level of intense hyperfocus is unsustainable for me in the long term.

When the hyperfocus would recede, partners would perceive it as me losing interest in them or falling out of love with them. I would seem to withdraw. And before I knew what was happening, it scared the hell out of me, to say nothing of the fear that it also created in my partners. I wondered if maybe I was incapable of sustaining relationships. It would often create such insecurity in both me and my partner that we would break up.

I believe masking also played a role in the initial phases of my relationships and added to this flush of hyperfocus. Even when I was legitimately interested in pursuing a relationship with someone, I sensed that if I did not demonstrate this in traditional ways that the relationship would not progress. So I would communicate more often than I would otherwise and spend more time with them than I would otherwise, to show partners in ways that would be easy for them to perceive (but that weren’t necessarily indicative of my own natural or normal behavior) that I was indeed interested.

I believe demand avoidance, itself, also joined the party to create havoc. Despite wanting to be in relationships with people, once I was officially someone’s partner, a low level panic would set in. Despite being inherently inclined towards commitment and loyalty, I would begin to feel trapped by exclusivity, and wonder if this meant that I didn’t really love my partner as much as I thought I did.

Taken all together, in complete ignorance of why I was acting these ways, that low level panic and doubt would eat away at the relationship like a cancer, and as the relationship progressed, I would start to withdraw more and more, eventually breaking up with my partner in a misguided attempt to save them from me, a partner who didn’t seem to be loving them in the way that they deserved.

I didn’t know that my initial hyperfocus wasn’t love, and that when it receded, that didn’t mean I was falling out of love.

I didn’t know consciously that I was masking when I was trying hard to suppress my own autistic needs in order to give clear signs of reassurance that I was really interested (such as overextending myself with too much communication and too much time together which cut across my own need to communicate in different ways and have adequate alone time) and that when my needs suddenly became to great to suspend that this didn’t mean I was withdrawing out of disinterest in my partner or the relationship.

I didn’t know that the implicit expectation of committing to a partner was triggering a deep-seated survival need for the maintenance of autonomy.

I know now.

And I know that trying to date again, now that I know these things about myself, per neurotypical dating customs would be relationship suicide.

Like I said, I don’t know exactly what a purely autistic approach to love and relationships would look like. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience it, growing up in this neurotypical-dominated society as I have. It feels like having an accent from growing up in a certain place, and no matter how long I’m away, I’ll always have that accent. And maybe that’s not a totally bad thing, when it is coupled with the knowledge of my true needs and tendencies, and when I very well may end up dating another neurotypical person again at some point in the future.

But I do know that my own approach to the initial phases of relationships will change to reflect what I now know. I will be aware that I may become utterly fascinated and transfixed with a person but that this is not love. My discernment has become sharp enough to know the difference. I therefore won’t be triggered into crippling doubt and insecurity, and neither will my partner, as I will be able to reassure them about how I’m actually feeling. I am working towards regulating my nervous system and deconstructing survival coping mechanisms like masking to be able to show up more authentically. And knowing about what triggers my demand avoidance takes that much power from those triggers. I’m not going to be bossed around by my triggers when I know exactly when they’re happening, and why.

And I know that if I was plucked from my life, slapped with some makeup, given a crash course in neurotypical dating etiquette and filmed while I performed these rituals like a trained monkey, without knowledge or accomodation for my unique autistic traits and tendencies and struggles, any relationships that would bloom from that experience would soon wilt just the same as all of my precious relationships ultimately have. Because the only difference between being an autistic person on ‘Love in the Spectrum’ and being an autistic person in real life has been the presence of the camera and the audience. I was still trained in neurotypical etiquette and customs. I still tried to adhere to them. It still ended in disaster. The only salvation has been greater self-awareness that has come with accepting and exploring my neurodivergence rather than fighting against it or trying to suppress it.

Since diagnosis/discovery, I have been on the nearly vertical learning curve (or, more accurately, an unlearning curve) to learn how to stop reflexively being a reflection of what I think is acceptable and just be me in all my autistic glory instead, and learning that this involves so much more than willpower.

It involves dedicating myself to mindfulness, to radical acceptance, and to practices which regulate my now-fried nervous system. It involves switching out of fight or flight and into a more restful state. Because as long as my brain senses ostracism as an imminent threat to my survival, I will involuntarily mask.

In the time since learning of my neurobiological heritage, I have put in an incredible amount of self-work to become acquainted with all that comes along with it.

After over three decades of self-abnegation and invalidation of my natural ways of being, I am learning how to lean into authenticity. I am getting in touch with what my true needs are, and what accommodations I need in order to navigate life (including relationships) in a much more genuine, fulfilling and healthy way. And while no person is an island, I have taken meaningful steps towards meeting much more of my needs by myself, which has also been commensurate with lowered anxiety surrounding those needs being met by others and more assurance of survival being assured, thereby lowering my automatic tendency to mask, leading to more authenticity and a positive feedback loop.

Knowing these things about myself won’t necessarily erase my struggles with them, but I find that things are usually able to do the most damage when they are operating underneath the conscious level. Being conscious of them mitigates their effects and restores the power of choice for me so that I am not their unwitting puppet.

Being conscious of them also allows me to develop a strategy and accommodations for myself to allow myself to do things like I might otherwise not been able to do, like sustain a long term relationship.

Join the Conversation


  1. I am continually amazed at your ability to verbalize abstract concepts so that I understand them, especially given your statement that you don’t think in words. I therefore conclude that you consumed a lot of energy writing and editing words to clarify your thoughts, and I appreciate the effort.
    When I first left home I was overwhelmed by normative questions like “How are you?” I would desperately ponder how I was at the moment, whilst feeling time pressure to answer appropriately. And because of alexithymia, I had no concept of how I was, other than my binary of socially functional / nonfunctional.
    Functional meant interaction with humans and getting slammed with questions like “how are you?”
    Nonfunctional meant avoiding human contact.
    I often appeared rude because my conversational style was to dive right into the points I wished to discuss.
    This was primarily in telephone conversation, because I’m not good at processing spoken words and rely a lot on facial expression and gesture to absorb meaning.
    I think in images and have a powerful memory for images.
    Therefore, I cannot recall spoken words, but can search my memory for a picture of written words.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your replies are always so thoughtful and kind! I really appreciate them. I do spend a great deal of time constructing these blogs. This particular one took probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 hours across a few days to compose and edit. But that is why I love writing – I have as much time as I need to do the concept-to-words translations. I love the way you described how alexithymia manifests itself in the context of normative questions like “how are you?” Very well said, and something I can certainly relate to, as well as appearing rude to others for wanting to discuss something of interest/substance. I only differ from you in that I also have aphantasia (mind blindness) and have very poor memory for images, but similarly cannot remember spoken languages. I have found so many times that after romantic relationships that ended, I forget what partner’s faces even looked like, and forgot things they said to me. There have been several instances where this meant I also forgot all of the positive things past partners said to me and thought that they must not have ever loved or cared for me, only to stumble across a love letter they wrote, or an old text or something and be shocked to see them saying loving and complimentary things. I can remember things I have read much better than things that have been spoken. Thank you so much for the support you give this blog and for your insightful replies! It is wonderful to see neurodivergent diversity represented!


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