Why My Husband Says His Asperger's Is 'Like Carrying a Jar of Bees'
This story has been published with permission from the author’s husband.
It was a dark and stormy night… maybe not outside, but certainly inside our home. Emotions and confusion were running high, and I felt like I was drowning in a dark sea. My husband Jared was diagnosed with Asperger’s just a few weeks prior. He had lived 34 years without knowledge of this very important piece of who he is, and we were both struggling to make sense of everything.
It’s hard to recall my exact frame of mind, but I do remember that I was very worried about Jared. He wasn’t sleeping and was barely eating for days at a time — like a few months earlier when he worked himself into the ground and into a mental breakdown. Except now he was holed up in his workshop and just not functioning. It was very hard to see my husband in so much pain, darkness and confusion. I thought this diagnosis would bring light and understanding for him, but it sure didn’t feel that way.
That night, I knew Jared was restless and I was also having trouble sleeping, so I went to go talk to him at 5 a.m. It was (and still is) hard for me to grasp his meltdowns and to realize that sometimes I just can’t help him. I have to let it pass; offering help sometimes just makes it harder for him.
At the time, I didn’t realize this (Asperger’s was still a new “friend”), so I just got frustrated that he wouldn’t let me help him out of his meltdown. I didn’t understand that he couldn’t let me help. This led to a lot of yelling. We have never fought much, and I sure wouldn’t classify us as “yellers” toward each other. Looking back, I know we weren’t really yelling at each other, just near each other. We weren’t mad at each other — we were frustrated, confused, broken because of the circumstances.
We were mad at Asperger’s.
There was a lot of back-and-forth that morning. At one point, we were both curled up in the fetal position on our living room floor, sobbing. I don’t recall much of what we talked about; we were processing through things together. But one thing Jared said struck a chord with me; it’s an analogy I’ve revisited many times because it helps me understand what Jared is going through — what it’s like finding out you don’t know yourself at age 34.
He said something like this:
“Every day I have to carry around a jar of bees. I’m usually doing OK and going along my way when something — some outside force I can’t control — causes me to drop this jar of bees. And it breaks. The bees are shaken up and mad and I have to catch them and put them back into a new jar, but they just keep stinging me and stinging me, and I can’t catch them without hurting. So I try to run away to hide, but the angry bees follow me. Eventually, I can catch them again, but I never know how long it will take, and I am terrified of the next time I’ll drop the jar.”
To me, an Asperger’s outsider, this perfectly describes what a meltdown must feel like, along with the terror of the impending meltdown. Whether neurotypical or not, we all must keep our “bees” — emotions, feelings, thoughts — in check to some degree. But for most people, things like an excessively bright light, the buzz of an AC unit, or polyester rubbing on your neck don’t set us into an emotional overload.
During this time, Jared was having meltdowns for days at a time. He was overwhelmed by not only this new information about himself, but by years of overworking himself, ignoring his Asperger’s triggers, and pushing down his pain and anger, most of which, I suspect, was brought on by not knowing how to live with his atypical needs. He and I were both always in a panic, fearing what would bring on his next meltdown — the neighbor’s dog barking one too many times, his restaurant food coming out wrong, the kids’ video games up too loud, someone forgetting to replace a roll of toilet paper. It was unpredictable and scary. I felt like had to constantly be on guard to protect him, and Jared didn’t yet have the tools to protect himself.
Jared and I both are still learning to understand his Asperger’s — he as the Aspergian, me as his wife and life partner. How do we conquer this together? How do we change Jared’s jar to plastic instead of glass, so that when he drops it, it doesn’t take so long for the bees to settle down? This is the journey we have been on the last few years. I am proud of him for tackling this, for accepting and embracing Asperger’s as part of who he is. And I have been learning how to accept this newly identified part of my husband, too. This diagnosis doesn’t change who he is, but it has helped us both to know and understand him better. It isn’t always easy! It takes time and effort and a lot of communication, but it’s worth it. Because I know that one day soon, his bees will be appreciated for all the beauty they bring to our world, and not merely feared for their sting.
Getty image by Diyana Dimitrova.