Shutting Down and Empathy

[Drafted 3/15/2018]

Today is Day 4 of my Everyman 3 Attempt.

And, it’s not off to a bad start considering I was able to sleep both my core and 1st nap pretty well whereas yesterday I did not get one good nap in.

Not having a good nap yesterday ultimately led to me being very irritable, though I realized it as the day progressed. I even got into it with another Aspie online (no, we don’t all get along perfectly. But that’s a subject for another post) when normally I would have had more patience and not gotten as upset with how I was being addressed. I did not necessarily ‘pop off’ or anything, but I was very frustrated. Then, shortly after my mate and I got into a dispute of sorts. And to be honest it was absolutely ridiculous. I was upset because in my perspective, my mate did not describe to me which dryer she had put our laundry in properly. Now admittedly, what probably frustrated me the most was simply that our laundry was sitting in the laundry room of our apartment complex since the day before, where we’ve had at least one item stolen before. I also had a panic moment in my mind where I again misunderstood what she was telling me and thought that I did check the right dryer, meaning our linens (which we spent more on than usual) were stolen. I hate stealing with a passion, as like most Aspies I have a very strong moral code and am very honest. To me, stealing is one of the biggest insults you can make to another person. It is selfish, hurtful, and in all but the rarest of scenarios is simply unnecessary and wrong. No one likes to be stolen from, so why do it to someone else?

Anyway, I raised my voice at my mate and that in turn really upset her. Which is understandable. I do speak very loud most of the time, especially when excited. But because I speak so loud, what is yelling for me and what is yelling for someone else are two different things (in my perspective). So when she mentioned that I yelled at her and was out of line, my response was in typical Asperger’s fashion: “I did not yell at you.”

But I did realize that I had raised my voice, regardless if I considered it yelling or not, and I also realized it was something kind of stupid to even get angry over so long as the laundry ended up okay. Yet this is how arguments typically go with Aspies, at least, from my experience and what I have read about others. We only focus in on what our perspective allows us to see and feel. Even if I acknowledge someone else’s point, my stubbornness to stray from my line of thinking kicks in. This is partly due to the fact that I often have a black and white view of the world when it comes to most things, even though at other times I can clearly see and describe a grey area (in regards to others or work for example). I find that Aspies also tend to focus on a specific detail rather than the entire situation.

So in this situation in particular, although I knew it was not a big deal I then got upset because my mate was stuck on the idea that I yelled at her while I felt that if I was truly yelling, it would have been much worse. Later I realized it was my sleep deprivation that caused this and so when I saw my mate again after work I was no longer upset, and she did not seem so either. However when I struck up conversation and in an attempt to actually make things better expressed to her that I did not have one good nap in the day and was irritable, she then became upset again, saying that it was apparent because I yelled at her.

Now let’s stop for a moment here.

Under normal circumstances, things may have gone different. I will not say they would have 100% because that’s part of the deal with Asperger’s. Sometimes we freak out about things other people don’t understand or quantify the same way. But we probably wouldn’t have even ended up in this situation in the first place if I was not deprived of sleep, and so because I was still deprived this moment was no different. Instead of trying to immediately diffuse the situation, I became frustrated again as well. Once again I explained to her that in my perspective I was not yelling, rather than tell her that I thought about the situation earlier and that although I still feel I was not yelling – I was obviously getting intense about something that was not her fault.

I focused on one detail and then that led to me explaining that I am sleep deprived, missed all my naps, and am understandably irritable. But by this point both of us were already frustrated with the emotions we had from earlier and she was not hearing what she wanted to hear, which is a simple “I’m sorry.” It’s hard to explain, but it is hard for me to even say those words. Not just because I’m prideful, but I have different way of looking at apologies. In my eyes when you say sorry to someone, you are apologizing for something that you did accidentally. Something you did not mean and that ended up hurting someone else. But when you intentionally do something, whether it is directly to someone or an indirect action, you knew what you were doing at the time and most likely how it would make someone feel. So, when you upset someone and they confront you about it you are not really sorry. If you were, you would not have done whatever it is you did. You are only sorry that you need to deal with it now and make someone else feel better. In fact, I’d go on a limb and say that at least 40-60% of apologies are insincere. You know who you are! Seriously, don’t hate me though. This is just how I view apologies. And there is one person I met that had the same philosophy. I was in high school and he was my ‘Big Brother’, essentially someone I was interning with. It’s interesting to note that he was the vice president of the company he worked for, so it’s not like his pride got in the way of his success. He, like me, simply did not see the point in saying sorry for something you meant to do – unless of course, you were unaware a person would feel a certain way about it.

In my case this time, I was not unaware of anything until I realized I was irritable. So it was kind of an accident. But even then, like I said, I focus in on very specific details at times. I also did not (and to a degree still) view the situation as something so serious that it needed to escalate the way it had. So being told again that I ‘was yelling’ and then that my polyphasic sleep schedule was causing problems was so frustrating to me in my current state that I did not want to apologize. I did explain myself and why I was the way I was but when you are upset you barely want to make amends much less say the words “I’m sorry.” And that is something that I struggle with in my relationship, as my mate is not used to being told “I’m sorry” by anyone, much less have someone admit they did something wrong. So even when I am apologizing in my half-done way, it is not the same. To top it off, as I struggle with emotions at times my mate also struggles due to her own criteria (depression, anxiety.)

To shorten the story some, we did not get anywhere with our frustrations, only blew up a small thing into a really big thing. It did not help anymore that my mate was on her cycle and undergoing acupuncture treatments, which can make anyone more emotional. By the end of the day we did not resolve anything, at least, not together. Because although I understood what was happening to a degree I struggle to convey what I am feeling in the actual moments they happen and while on sleep deprivation it is only more difficult. So despite us both hating when we argue and not believing in going to bed upset with each other, there was little to do when I have done what many a Aspie call “shutting down”, and my partner was filled with emotions that are too much for me to process in that state. (When you are adapting to polyphasic sleep it is best to postpone serious conversations and issues regardless of whether you usually have trouble communicating or not. Specifically when you are very sleep deprived and not feeling well. Your brain does not function properly when deprived of sleep, food, or water. So even without a polyphasic sleep schedule, that is something to keep in mind. Healthy mind leads to healthy solutions. Unhealthy mind leads to unhealthy thinking.)

When it comes to communicating, people who are neurotypical often seem to have trouble understanding how those on the spectrum process emotions. They especially do not understand how Aspies figuratively and literally shut down. It is something difficult to describe but I will do my best to help bring awareness to the concept by talking more about empathy. Also keep in mind that while to my knowledge all Aspies seem to shut down in some manner, as with other autistic traits, this can vary in how we do or the way it feels.

First, it’s important to understand and accept that we do feel emotions. In fact, we often feel emotions twice if not tens time more intense than a neurotypical does. But our range of emotions is often less, meaning we feel particular emotions but struggle to relate to others. For example, as certain things really frustrate us (change of schedule, particular sounds, not understanding something) we can relate to anger pretty well but not necessarily feel happiness or empathy the same way. This is actually what leads people to think Aspies are aggressive or violent. But in reality, we just struggle to emphasize with others in the way that is typical. See from an objective point of view, we often can put into perspective why someone would do something, even what they were thinking at the time. But if we were actually in the situation, we might completely read the situation wrong because in that moment we not only fail to recognize facial cues but also to put ourselves in the same emotional space as another. We might put ourselves in that person’s shoes, but we’ll still be stuck in what we would do personally, how we would react to a situation. It’s not that we are self-centered but rather that’s our default and primary way of interpreting things. We unconsciously try to hold others to our moral standards and way of understanding things because that’s the only way that makes sense to us.

Having time but also putting in the effort to comprehend others is essential to us reaching an understanding. And as my mate showed the next day, sometimes those arounds us also need time and effort to understand us. Because the next morning my partner actually came up to me and apologized for escalating the situation the way she did and not giving me the chance to sleep and recover enough to handle all the emotions going on even though I had asked for that. It was then that I was also able to explain myself more clearly, in a way more understandable to her. So at the end of it all, we both had just needed to be more patient and go back to the fact that Aspies have what is called “alexithymia”, or difficulty identifying and expressing our own feelings about a situation, even when do we have empathy. It was then we were both able to apologize for our behavior from the day before. If you talk to most with Asperger’s you’ll actually find that we do have a great deal of empathy, to the fact that most Aspies have more of a worldly view than NTs (neurotypicals) do. We often care greatly for our planet and everyone around us, even if we do not know said people personally. We try hard not to hurt others’ feelings but don’t always understand how not to do that. Most Aspies actually feel like it is those around us that lack empathy, that others do no try to understand us or do not care about the world as a whole. To make more sense of the situation it is good to know that some believe in classifying different types of empathy or understand having complete empathy as “understanding one’s own emotions as well as others'”. You can say there is “cognitive empathy” that Aspie’s usually excel in: understanding how another person is feeling or what they might be thinking. And then there is “emotional empathy”, which is actually sympathizing and feeling emotions the same as another. It is the varying degrees of these types of empathy that set everyone apart, but especially Aspies. As proven by certain studies, our brains are simply wired differently. To process emotions everyone’s brain uses multiple parts to interpret the information being fed. NTs have connections that are stable and allow for information to be processed timely and in an acceptable fashion to society. Aspies on the other hand, have less activity if any in the same regions, meaning we simply do not process the information the same way. It is an “out of sight, out of mind” concept; the information is not processed the same way and so the result that NTs reach is simply not there in Aspies. For more on this neuroscience, look to the end of this post and click the link.

If Aspies and NTs can stop to really try and see the other side however, to compromise between two different operating systems, than mutual understanding can be reached. It simply requires patience and compassion. But remember that Aspies do feel. We feel joy, we love, and we even cry. It’s just different and may take us longer to understand what we are even feeling. I hope that my readers remember this when dealing with other Aspies but also that it is this varying level of empathy in NTs that causes issues with communication and relationships. It is more severe for Aspies but everyone has a different emotional capacity and it takes compassion in everyone to reach understanding.

And if you’re reading this and considering polyphasic sleeping then what happened to me this day is something that can and will likely happen to you. You are going to be irritable during the adaption and housemates are likely going to hate your new schedule. That being said, personally I’d be more worried about any schedule that has less than 5 hours of sleep. Other schedules with 6 or more hours of sleep should be much easier to adapt to and whatever schedule you do, you should be feeling better than before after finally adapting. That’s my goal!

Now if you have experience or thoughts about different kinds of empathy yourself please share in the comments below.

Otherwise, thanks for reading! If you take anything from this let it be to be more open and communicative with your emotions as well as those around you.

Take care!

– Indi (:

Link on neuroscience in relation to empathy and those with Asperger’s:

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