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To the Person in a Relationship With Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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It’s not that you did anything wrong. It’s not that we’re in a mindless routine in our relationship. It’s not that we haven’t talked much or spent real time together. It’s not that I’m miffed by miscommunication. I’m not falling out of love with you.

It’s my overtaxed and overstimulated nervous system. It’s that the intoxicating newness quietly died away over time. It’s that I am in a shut-down mode and can’t connect myself to reality. It’s that I could use destress downtime and want to fully utilize it. I am having a hard time comprehending and expressing emotions and feelings again.

Emotions are a foreign concept. They’re one of the most confusing, and scary, concepts for me to fathom. That’s not to say I don’t have natural reactions and sensations in my body; I very well do. More so I do not innately understand them. Like autism and anything else in the world, there is a wide extending continuum on which emotions range. The depths, obscurities and forms vary between people, situations and moments. All that makes sense. But emotions are arbitrary and abstract – that’s the baffling part.

If anything I learned emotions contextually. I cannot pinpoint or break down what exact emotion a sensation is in my body sometimes, to say, “yes, that is what this particular sensation is and this is why I’m feeling it.” Frequently the depth is so great that it’s exhausting and terrifying. To let myself truly, fully feel something I don’t understand sometimes seems as though it’s going to break me. Throw in the myriad of everyday occurrences, my and other’s reactions, and various physical and external stimuli, it becomes too much. My autism production line to filter, process and absorb can easily get overworked.

It’s affected all kinds of relationships throughout my life. Emotions have held me back and deprived me, but it has also given me continual opportunities and experiences to learn more, to practice. It has given me both unnerving frustration and deep fulfillment. Most relationships are fairly steady, smooth, and the interaction frequency can be adjusted to some degree. The biggest testing is romantically.

Beginning romance is easily understood. There’s clearer distinction of what you’re feeling, freshness of attention, minimal pressure and a general acceptance of shyness and imperfection. As that wanes and disappears I resort to my default. The infatuation stage loses its hold of being the height of my attention span. I become more “me.”

“Easy” emotions dissolve into ambiguous ones. They don’t have as clear of meaning. I don’t know how to act. Avoidance starts, physical contact gets to be too much. My overall disconnect rises because I’m reaching interpersonal space and stimuli thresholds easily again. For the longest time I didn’t recognize how that affected my interactions with partners. It’s easy to see why most of them never lasted more than a few months. It was hard to give and be in the relationship when there’s equally important things that needed my time, energy, and focus, in school, work and family.

My relationship now is the longest I’ve ever had. And it’s hard, love. It is for anyone. The difference this time around is I decided to stick through those struggles and the foreignness. To share myself wholly with you in all ways. To bare my skin and let all of me, disabilities included, be unreservedly shown. To learn, experience and grow with you. That even though the majority of the time I have no idea what is going on internally and it’s immensely overwhelming, I still deeply feel and love you. I know sometimes you might not see or believe it. There are the moments where it’s tougher because I’m more rigid, or ornery because I don’t know what’s going on inside. I waver between expressing myself and not giving anything. But I do want to be with you. I want to explore the depths of what’s possible in all ways and slowly stretch my constraints, to know that I’m not going to break if I let myself understand and embrace my feelings, simply because they’re alien.

I may never fully understand emotions, mine included. But now I know that’s OK. It doesn’t limit or make my experiences any less. It doesn’t make who I am or my connections and interactions with you or others any less. I know I have and always had strong, immense natural energy that flows in my body and I might not be able to put a name or label to them, but I do feel.

So believe me when I say I love you. Sometimes it’s hard to.

Originally published: February 29, 2016
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