About AASN

Continued Grief and Growth

With Asperger's Syndrome

By A.J. Mahari

I've spent the last many years of my life free from the majority of the issues that I once struggled with. Issues that used to consume my life and dictate failure after failure. After a tremendous amount of healing from a traumatic past that included all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, I have spent the last three years of my life in search of a greater understanding of myself. Why? Well, even though so much has changed in my life for the better, socially and relationally, there still exists the challenge of Asperger's Syndrome (AS). I only found out that I have Asperger's, in 1997, at the age of 40. I have only really been dealing with it actively, consciously since 2001 – and even then only in spurts inter-dispersed between bouts of subsequent denial.

Recently, however, I have finally crossed the bridge from bouts of denial to a much firmer and lasting understanding that I need to consistently face the reality of AS in my life. This shift, in and of itself, has caused its own unique grief as well.

I have come to understand even more about the grief involved with AS. I have come to realize that, to one degree or another, it is a continuing and evolving aspect of my experience in life. Just as I continue to grieve, I continue to grow.

Since beginning the process of working through my denial toward a greater understanding and self-acceptance with regard to having Asperger's Syndrome, I have learned a great deal about myself. In many areas in my life things are fine. In many areas in my life I continue to make the kind of strides that I set out to make. However, this has not been the case socially or relationally.

The social realm of life has always puzzled me. For years I tried to be the square peg that tried and tried to stuff itself into the round hole. Trying time and time again to just be "social". To do what it is I have come to some basic understanding that others doing. But, no matter how hard I've tried to do this I walk away with the realization that I still just don't get "it". In fact, I just don't need it! Given the amount of energy and processing that it requires for me to be “social” I have learned I need to pick and choose my “spots” so to speak.

While most people experience socializing as a "filling up" I experience as a "emptying out" or "draining out" of my energy and peace. This doesn't make those who are highly social any more "right" than it makes me "wrong". This is just a matter of difference.

I am "filled up" by (primarily) solo pursuits. I have a couple of areas of intense interest and focus that are my "islands of ability" that provide me with immense joy and reward. I come alive, living in my own world.

To socialize, which I can do from time to time, when I choose to and am prepared to make the necessary efforts at, I feel like I step out of one "world" and into "the world" if you will. It is a sacrifice for me to make. One that I am learning more and more about managing in stronger ways but one that still takes away more from me than it gives to me. In my world there is still greater satisfaction, more peace, calm and interest than what I can muster to be social in the outer-world.

For the last couple of years I fought this. I kept defining myself as a failure for not being more social. This was me allowing worldly expectations and lack of understanding of me (and those like me) to supercede my own expectations and understanding of myself.

Each time I open further to a greater self-understanding there is grief. The grief now, is not as frequent or as intense as it once was. It is not as foreign either. It has become an ally instead of an enemy of mine in this process of my own personal growth.

There are still times when I learn more about myself or how AS impacts my life that I am thrust into a more intense grief, for a shorter period of time. In the experience of this, however, I find that by not pathologizing this, by accepting that it is "normal" for me, it is not such a negative or troubling experience.

Continuing to grow as an individual is just as true for most with AS, as it is for most people, generally. I am finding my way to many different compensatory strategies that enable me to get what I want out of life.

I have come to be particularly aware that the rather narrow and often quoted definitions of Asperger's Syndrome do not do justice to our abilities to grow and to learn. Each individual with AS is unique. I feel it is also important to point out that professionals are now recognizing, more than ever before, that AS can look quite different in women than it does in men. This is an area that needs to be much more clearly defined.

It is important for those with AS and for those who know or love someone with AS to remember that not everything you hear or read about Asperger's Syndrome applies to everyone with it. I have found it crucial to be careful not to take on anything that doesn't apply to me. There are some aspects of AS that aren't true for me. I have found it very important to let those I am close to understand this.

I am still in the process of finding my way in terms of having Asperger's Syndrome. I continue to learn how AS impacts my life. I continue to grieve for that, at times. When one has the insight into what is "missing" or what one "doesn't get" or how one is "different", I think, grief is natural.

Much of the grief that I continue to process has to do with all the years that I didn't know the cause or reasons for the challenges I was being so affected by. There is loss there. There is hurt and pain there. Accepting this can make it much more manageable to deal with this grief process. We have to grieve for what we've never had when we have a sense of the losses that have resulted.

Continuing to grow means periodic grieving is required. By allowing myself to continue to grieve, when it is necessary, I pave the way for my continued growth and my deepening self-understanding and self-acceptance. The more that I accept myself, the more I find others are more accepting of me as well, difference and all."

Accept your differences. Celebrate your strengths. Don't let anyone tell you who you "should" be. Just work toward being the best you that you can be.

© A.J. Mahari, February 22, 2004

Next Article: The Gate of Self-Acceptance

as of February 22, 2004