Jezebel posted earlier about loneliness, which got me thinking about loneliness and the difference and overlap between autism, introversion, loneliness, and depression. They all have some overlap, in the sadness one can feel about being alone, but they are also all dramatically different.

Introversion and extroversion are the endpoints of a spectrum all people are on, weighted towards the extroversion end (that is to say, many more people are extroverted than introverted; if a Kinsey-type scale is used with 0 being absolute extroversion and 6 being absolute introversion, most people fall in the 1-2 range). Extroversion is the state of being refreshed and energized by other people, crowds, friendships. Introversion is the state of being refreshed and energized by time alone. On my hypothetical scale, I’d say I’m about a 4.5 to 5–definite introvert, but not a hermit.

Autism is a type of cognitive style. It can be barely noticable or well-masked, or prevent most forms of communication. It is no more inherently disabling than any other cognitive style, save that we are not societally set-up to accomodate intellectual differences any more than we (really) are for physical differences. We assume that speaking, signing, writing–using words–is the ultimate goal of communication, rather than communication being the goal unto itself. We assume that whatever our existence is, all others must be unsatisfactory. We assume that everyone must have similar goals. We assume that everyone must have access to the information we have access to (like nonverbal communication or tone–but, funnily enough, this assumption when present in spectrumites becomes a symptom of a problem!). These assumptions as a society can absolutely be disabling for those on the spectrum, but the cognitive style itself is not. Autistics can be introverted or extroverted, though I suspect we tend towards the introversion due to sensory overloading and poor social skills.

All people–autistic, neurotypical, otherwise neurodiverse, introverts, extroverts–need connections to other people. It may be so difficult to overcome different cognitive styles that we go without, willingly or unwillingly, but we still need others to communicate with and recieve and give affection.

Loneliness is the gap between what we need, and what we get.

Introverts, if the comments on Jez are any indication, seem to think that they are above loneliness, because they need aloneness. I don’t think this could be father from the truth. Introverts need affection and respect and communication from other people, the same as extroverts. We all need these things, and perhaps this is another spectrum: some people need a lot and some just a little, and most people somewhere in between, a perfect bell-curve. What I think happens for those introverts who never feel lonely is that their personal connection requirements are quite low, and so easily met.

I need aloneness. I crave it, and seek it out. Being alone allows me to think, to perseverate, to relax, to experience all of the emotions I have collected over a day and not realized I was missing. But being alone can also lead to loneliness. I am a creature of habit; there are days I only eat broccoli and coffee and there are days I don’t speak to anyone aloud except the cat. There is a line between aloneness that is good for me, and loneliness, but I can’t find it–it moves, I think, with my emotions and physical sensations and even with my thoughts. It’s easy to cross over that line and only realize it some time later, when the loneliness begins to gnaw at me and I finally notice. Like many feelings, I suspect I feel it much earlier than I am aware of feeling it. I need connections to other people, because I am human. Being autistic, being an introvert doesn’t quell that need. Depression is where loneliness is so pervasive there is no longer a drive to seek out that contact, that connection.

I don’t know how I’m going to make friends in Atlanta, but I am beginning to recognize that it is not just something I would like, but something I will need.

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One Response to part of me just crumbles

  1. rose says:

    Atlanta has a shyness and social anxiety club. I haven’t been to one of their meetings, but I have joined the group. They meet a lot in NOrth Atlanta, I live down south a ways.

    My son’s psych wants him to join a social skills club. I actually joined this group for him. Social skills groups seem so contrived, where this is where people of a similar temperment get together and support each other.

    Atlanta is a great place to live. Like New York, there is something for everybody here. I’m not a native (I’m from Nebraska), but I’ve come to love the south. People are people where ever you go!