Tag Archives: wysiwyg

Not WYSIWYG – Emoting

Yet another What You See is NOT What You Get post! Yay!

This one is about emoting. In this case, when I say ’emote’ what I mean is ‘to display or show emotion in some way.’ Some basic examples would be smiling, laughing, frowning, crying, etc. The things we do that let other people know what it is we’re feeling, without using words.

I’ve noticed that people seem to have this idea that the amount a person emotes correlates to the amount a person is feeling, and that they can use the same basic gauge for everyone. Neither of these beliefs are true.

I do not generally emote very strongly. While my feelings do show, they show in a quieter, more subdued way than for most people out there. However, I do feel. I feel very deeply. I’m downright sensitive. However, if a person were to assume that the amount I emote indicates the amount I feel, they would believe that I feel very little. This is a dangerous assumption. It is especially dangerous with people who lack the words to explicitly say what they are feeling, such as children or non-verbal autistics.

I also know people who emote very strongly. I have gathered that sometimes people will tell them that their emotions are disproportionate. This is baffling to me on at least two different levels.

1. It is completely inappropriate to tell another person that their feelings are wrong in any way. This particular social skill seems to be sufficiently unknown that I am beginning to think it should be introduced as part of elementary school curriculum.

2. How do you know just how much they are feeling? All we know is how much a person emotes. However, I know that for me, it is not at all safe to judge my emotional level simply from the degree to which I am emoting. Nor am I willing to say that any other person *feels* more than I do, simply because they express more than I do. As such, I believe that it is *never* safe to assume we know how much someone feels, simply due to how much it’s showing. At most, we might be able to get an idea of how close to the surface their emotions sit. Maybe. Even that is iffy.

I know that seeing what a person is emoting is often our only clue to what they are feeling. I know that people, for whatever reason, rarely simply say “I am feeling x.” However, I think we need to stick to simply letting a person’s actions inform us of what they are feeling, and stop trying to measure them against some sort of universal yardstick. Beyond that, it’s all about getting to know people as individuals, and accepting that there are some things that we simply cannot know. Ultimately, the only possible way I can know if someone is feeling a lot or a little is if they tell me. The fact of a person laughing a whole lot or not very much, though, really tells me very little.

 

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Anxiety

If only panic always had a convenient button.

 

Along with being on the autism spectrum, I deal with both depression and anxiety.

I have found that depression mostly feels like a void. Depression comes in different flavors (sads and nothings being the two I hear of most often), but regardless of which flavor I am feeling at the time, it always feels like a void. Like some part of myself has just quietly ceased to exist and now there’s just a sucking void where it used to be, trying to pull the rest of me in.

Anxiety, on the other hand, feels more like an attack. I feel it almost like a presence, lodged somewhere in my chest and causing trouble. When it gets bad I sort of liken it to a giant bird claw, wrapped around or embedded in my chest, squeezing and stabbing and making it so I can’t breathe.

I can’t really objectively rate how bad my anxiety is. I was going to say it’s not that bad, but then I realized that there’s a good chance that anxiety has been a huge barrier in keeping me not-so-terribly functional, in certain socially expected ways. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if I got on proper meds to deal with it. Or, well, I’m sure it would be better. Maybe it’s more that I wonder how much better it could get, and what that would look like. Hard to say, really.

Anyway. One thing about anxiety that I want to talk about is that it does not always look the way people seem to think it should look. I have found that if I talk about panic attacks, people will immediately assume that means screaming and flailing and running mindlessly down the street or something. Of course, I don’t know much about what panic attacks look like in other people so maybe that assumption is often true and I just don’t know it. However, it is really not true for me. I have, on more than one occasion, had a panic attack whilst astride a horse, during a horseback riding lesson.

Now, panicking while on a horse is really not the best thing to be doing. Horses are very sensitive to their riders, and pick up on even a little bit of tension. This isn’t a huge thing on a therapy horse, or even a horse for beginners. Therapy horses are chosen for being very very calm, and really not caring a whole lot if their rider is tense or moving in odd ways.

However, I hardly ever ride therapy horses anymore. I ride horses that are supposed to be very sensitive to what you’re doing, so that they will respond to subtle commands. A panic attack on one of these horses can be maybe not such a good thing. However, I panic quietly. Sufficiently quietly that my riding instructor, who is a special ed teacher, will not know that I’m having a panic attack unless I tell her. The horses I have been on, while certainly knowing that something was up, were always willing to let me take a break without causing trouble.

Because my panic attacks don’t look the way people seem to think panic attacks should.

I have found that people interpret my anxiety in all sorts of interesting ways. It’s fairly well known that shyness can look like snobbiness to people who don’t know what’s going on. What seems to be less known is that anxiety can also look like anger. When I was young, there were occasional incidents where I was very very scared. Not of anything in particular, just of lights or noise or having trouble processing what was happening around me – that sort of thing. Sometimes afterwards, people would tell me that I was angry. I, apparently, looked angry, sounded angry, and acted angry. This was very frustrating for me, because if I tried to explain that no, I’m not angry, I’m scared, the people around me would simply dismiss what I was saying and insist that no, it was anger. Sometimes people assumed that I was lying for some reason, and sometimes people assumed that I must not be self-aware enough to know what I was feeling.

The general assumption was clearly that whatever it looks like I’m feeling must reflect what I am actually feeling. Except that what you see is not always what you get, and what you see on my face does not necessarily reflect what’s going on inside. And anxiety does not necessarily look the way people expect it to.

Do you get anxiety? Does it look like what you’d expect to see on TV?

 

 

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What you see is not necessarily what you get

There is something that I really want to see more people accept. This is probably true in much broader contexts than autism, but autism is the place where I feel it the most.

That being – what you see when you look at me and what is actually going on do not necessarily line up. People assume that whatever is going on in one’s head will automatically show on one’s face. That it just *happens,* all on it’s own. Which means that if a person has a blank facial expression, there must not be anything going on in their head.

It’s an easy conclusion to reach. It’s easy to assume this, and there may be plenty of circumstances where it’s true. There are, however, also plenty of circumstances where it is not true.

For instance, when I am particularly focused on something, my face tends to go blank. I knew that my face tended to go a bit slack when I was focusing, but up until recently I was not aware of the extent of this tendency. Not too long ago my SO took some brief video of me during my riding lesson. During the time that he was doing so, I was focused and concentrating and actually working quite hard. As it turns out, I did not look that way at all.

I imagine that when people think about someone who is really focused or concentrating on something, they picture something like this:

focused

I, however, look different. I looked blank. Completely blank. I mean, my jaw was slack and everything. Keeping expressions on my face takes a certain constant amount of attention. Usually it’s a small enough amount of attention that I don’t actually have to worry about it. However, when I am strongly focused or really tired, my facial expressions just seem to fall off. I imagine it happens in more contexts than just riding, too.

Sometimes people treat me as though I am, shall we say, not so smart. There are any number of reasons why they might, including that being just their default way of interacting with people, but I imagine part of it is that slack-jawed, empty looking stare I can get sometimes. And when people see me with that blank face, they assume that my mind is equally blank, when, in fact, it’s the other way around.

I’ve had similar “what you see is not what is happening” incidents in my life. For instance, when doing things like card games, I like to sit and visualize moving the cards around before making a move, so that I can get an idea of which moves will work and which moves will not. If someone happens to be watching me, all they will see is me just sitting and staring motionless at the screen. I have had people try to point out moves to me, thinking that I must not be seeing them. What I am doing does not show, but that does not mean that I am doing nothing.

I know that keeping this sort of thing in mind in the moment can be challenging. This is one (of many) reasons why autism advocates say to assume competence. We don’t always look or act the way you expect intelligent people to look or act, but that does not make up stupid. I often listen best by looking away and having a small fidget or stim with my hands. Other autistic people may listen best by flapping their hands or by humming or otherwise doing things that do not look like what people expect listening to look like. Forcing me to look like I’m listening will only result in poorer listening from me.

Instead, I would rather people accept those of us on the autism spectrum as we are, even if we don’t look or act the way you think we “should.”

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