Tag Archives: function

On ‘Potential’

I find I suddenly have lots of things I want to talk about. This one is hard for me – it deals with things I find personally hurtful, as well as things I feel shame about, and the intersection thereof. I have no idea if I’ll manage to do it justice, but I plan to try.

I get told that I have potential. I am never sure what it means. Potential to do what? Potential is such a vague word for people to be throwing about as casually as they do. During my screening for Asperger’s, a friend said about me “she could do so much more!” I’m sure she meant it as a compliment. She was talking about this ‘potential’ people like to gab about.

Specifically, she was talking about the fact that I’m smart. And it’s true. I am smart. Not only that, but I am very confident in my intelligence. If I focus (and potentially have someone to teach me) I can learn all sorts of things, and learn them well. So in that way, I guess I have potential to do… something. Maybe.

Do I?

Honestly, I’m not so sure. Yeah, I have brains. Know what else I have? Severe social difficulties that I am only just beginning to really understand. Sensory defensiveness that interacts with my social difficulties in mostly unpleasant ways. Difficulties in understanding “normal” speech patterns, like metaphors or people’s insistance on phrasing requests as offers (why do that do that? It’s so frustrating!). Things other people think are rude I think are polite, things other people think are polite I think are rude. It’s very very hard for me to navigate the world, so at this point I mostly don’t do it.

Throw that stuff in the mix and it suddenly becomes more difficult to assess my ‘potential.’ Even more so because this is an extrovert’s world. Society has focused on optimizing for a population that is more or less the opposite of me, and I often feel like there simply isn’t room for me and my weirdness. Could I do ‘more’? Yeah, probably. If I had help, if I could find a niche, if I could still spend the vast majority of my time away from people or the risk of people. And admittedly, if I could find a job doing something I enjoyed that didn’t threaten my sanity the way interacting with the world usually does, that would be pretty darn cool. That is really hard to find, though. I haven’t managed it yet. Add to that, it always feels like a statement that what I do simply isn’t enough. Without getting into it too much, that is a trigger for me. Maybe I don’t do things that society says are the things we are supposed to do, and it’s true that I have internalized that message, but I still do things, I still challenge myself, and I still learn and grow.

The easy answer is to not socialize with people who say such things, right? Except it seems so common. I find myself worrying about with people I already know, and especially with people who are new. I cannot be anyone other than who I am, and I’ve tried enough times that I’m pretty certain of it by now.

Hm. I think I’ve reached the conclusion point of this post, but I am having trouble figuring out how to wrap it all up. I guess for me, I am going to try to avoid talking about potential. If I see a kid who did something awesome, I think I’d rather just focus on the awesome thing rather then throw in an extra “you’ll do so much when you grow up” type statement.

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Rules I accept but don’t understand

In this case: fashion!  There are rules for clothes and what one can wear in public, and I find many of those rules to be very strange.

Ok, I get the basics.  There are certain body parts that must be covered at all times in public, unless one is in a location where the rules have been very explicitly changed.  It is considered important to cover more than those certain parts in most situations so as to avoid embarrassment or faux pas.  I am ok with all of those things.

Except then there are rules about exactly how one is supposed to do that covering.  Once when I was young, I had a full slip that was designed to go under a dress.  To my eyes, it looked pretty much like a dress in and of itself.  It covered everything that was supposed to be covered, it was opaque, so it seemed to me to be perfectly adequate covering.  So one day I went outside in it, and was chatting with a neighbor.  As soon as my mom saw me she rushed outside and brought me in, and scolded me for going outside in my underwear.  I got the message that what I did was incorrect, but I have never quite understood why.

Years ago when I worked in retail, one of my co-workers was scandalized by some dresses we once got, because they had adjustable straps.  That’s when I learned that adjustable straps go on underwear, and some people are upset at the idea of them on anything meant to show.  Ok, that helps explain why the slip was underwear instead of a dress, but I still don’t get why adjustable straps are so awful.

I also find the difference between undergarments and bathing suits to be a little perplexing.  They cover the same things, and while bras and panties are not always made to be opaque, they certainly can be.  Yet at a swimming pool, it is ok to go around in a swimsuit, but not ok to go around in underwear.

When I worked retail, I was also perplexed at how people treated trying on swimsuits.  Apparently an outfit that one would happily wander around in at a pool causes significant embarrassment to be seen in at a store.  Rather predictably, I was very confused.

I can’t say I understand these things all that much more than I did when I was a child.  They seem arbitrary and senseless to me.  Still, I am aware they exist.  So I follow the rules, because I have learned that even if I think the game is silly, it is important to play it anyway in order to avoid social backlash.


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Level of function seems to be such a complicated thing.  Maybe it isn’t complicated and I just haven’t figure it out yet, but right now it seems awfully complex.  According to my therapist, I am “high functioning.”  Or at least, I am in certain areas.  I am in a long-term relationship, I am capable of having friendships that last on the scale of years, I clean myself and do chores and take care of the cats without needing another person watching over my shoulder all the time, etc etc etc.  Unfortunately, even with my relative good relationship abilities, I still have huge problems in the social arena.  I know that my black & white thinking tends to be inaccurate, but I still have to struggle with it.  I can have real difficulty in controlling my emotional states.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my mom about my recent diagnosis.  I also mentioned my suspicion that someone else we both know may be an undiagnosed Aspie.  He has a rigid adherence to routines, well beyond their functionality.  He has always had some level of social awkwardness.  He is a deeply analytical thinker.  The list goes on.  In any case, it’s enough to form a suspicion.  My mom’s response was (and I am paraphrasing here), “He can’t have Asperger’s!  He’s funtional!”  So apparently my mom thinks that all aspies are non-functional, and if a person can hold down a job and have a few friends, they can’t possibly have Asperger’s.  I highly doubt my mom is the only person who thinks that too.

So to combat that idea, I provide you with a link to famous people who have or may have had Asperge’rs. Many of them are not only functional, but also incredibly gifted with amazing accomplishments.  Asperger’s also gives people some strong gifts, and when we can learn to work within our strengths we can often be anywhere from entirely functional to downright amazing.  Thus far every job I have tried to hold down has played to all my weaknesses, rather than capitalizing on my strengths.  I have not even tried to work in quite a while because of it.  However, I am hoping that I will be able to change that, and find something that is very good for me, and I have even been making some progress in that arena.

“Functional” is a strange word.  It’s hard to categorize aspies.  And I think, for the most part, that’s ok.

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