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How Asperger's Makes Me Feel Like a Zombie in Disguise

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I have been binging on the gripping Netflix series “iZombie.” It is about how some humans become zombies and try to pass as humans so they can continue their lives in the “normal” human world. They retain their human personalities (so long as they consume human brains regularly) and live their undead lives as parents, lovers, friends and colleagues, disguising their pale skin with fake tans. They are who they were before they became undead, possessing all the same emotions and traits. I feel an affinity for the zombies. It is alienating for them to live amongst humans, and emotionally challenging to disclose their real nature to their loved ones. The desire to “blend in” is strong; everyone wants to feel accepted. So is the need to feel understood. Yet there is no getting away from the fact that the zombies are different from humans, with different needs.

I feel like this. I have Asperger’s syndrome, on the autism spectrum. I want to feel accepted and understood by people around me, so I try hard to be like them, to behave in ways that people like: to be friendly, helpful, sociable and thoughtful. However, it does not always come naturally to me. I am a kind person and I care about others, but I fail at “reading between the lines” in social interaction and it can result in hurting others’ feelings and in friendship problems. Because I look “normal,” people expect me to understand the “rules” of social interaction, so they often interpret my social blunders as being deliberately hurtful. I think in black and white, which can cause me to misunderstand other people’s behaviors, and this way of thinking is difficult to change as I must try to learn it without a dummies guide. I can manage interaction in short doses, since it leaves me utterly drained and I cannot do it multiple times a day.

My family is very supportive, but I believe my husband must frequently feel emotionally drained from being patient with me and helping me understand things, as well as counseling me when I am struggling to cope with my depression and anxiety. He also shoulders a lot of the family tasks that require socializing, such as taking the children to sports clubs or play dates. It can’t be easy for him, but he tries to understand me and support me, for which I am so grateful.

I feel isolated, but I know there are other people out there with Asperger’s who feel like me. There are social groups for people with Asperger’s for those brave enough to go meet others, but I am not brave enough, and in the evenings I choose to be home with my children. I don’t like going to bars or cafes anyway, since I generally find them overwhelming with too much noise and too many people.

Clearly I don’t eat brains like a zombie, but I need so much alone time that whenever I don’t have to go out or interact with people, I choose not to. I have to psych myself up just to meet a friend, which is my anxiety kicking in too. I look “normal” but inside my brain seems wired so differently than other neurotypical people. When I must go out and interact, I believe I manage well. But it is hard work, since some close friendship fails have me on edge that I might innocently offend someone. Disclosing to people that I have Asperger’s is also emotionally challenging. I brace myself for a variety of reactions from disbelief to confusion and fear.

Would I want to be cured from my autism, the way the zombies hope for a cure? No. I don’t want to erase who I am. Having Asperger’s has bestowed me with a fantastic (if over-active) imagination and inner resources to be alone, as well as a huge affinity for animals. I guess this would be like the zombies having immense strength. However, I would love to be rid of the anxiety and depression that accompanies my Asperger’s in the way a zombie may be keen to stop having the urge for brains. The anxiety and depression are what really derails my life and prevents me living to my potential.

I believe the anxiety comes from constantly worrying about trying to get interactions right all the time, trying to “fit in” socially and protecting my sacred alone time. It also comes from being surrounded by constant stimuli such as noise, bright lights and busyness that overwhelms my sensitive nervous system. The depression seems to come from being continually anxious and feeling often misunderstood. I feel exhausted! Medication provides some support, but it can’t fix the root of the issue, which is that my brain is different from those of many others. There is no translation device that can help. The only solution is awareness, understanding and tolerance, in ourselves and society.

Maybe the zombies and the humans can learn to live together in harmony. Maybe one day more people will understand what it’s like to live with autism and be more tolerant of differences in people like me. Then I won’t feel like a zombie any more.

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Photo via iZombie Facebook page.

Originally published: December 30, 2017
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