0 Blogging About Autism: The Penguins with Differently Coloured Shoes

Friday, 20 September 2019

The Penguins with Differently Coloured Shoes

This was a response to someone on Quora who was feeling down about being autistic and having no friends and thinking his family don’t care about him. 

Imagine You Were a Penguin

Imagine you were a penguin with yellow shoes (an odd analogy I know but stick with me) and you loved your yellow shoes but everyone else was wearing pink shoes. Your yellow shoes are part of what makes you who you are and the pink shoe wearers were to ask you to paint them pink instead. Would you? I would and that is part of why I end up feeling how you are feeling now. The pink shoes wearers can move between pink, yellow, green basically any colour from the vast array of colours that exist in this world.

They can chop and change and still be happy with their shoes but for us, we can’t change our shoes and we can’t simply take them off. All we can do is paint them pink but they will still be yellow underneath and as soon as we get home, we are going to want to breathe a massive sigh of relief and paint them yellow again. It would get annoying to have to paint your shoes every day and it would be exhausting to have to keep changing them to pink and then yellow and then back to pink again.

Limited Options

Option 1

We could choose to never paint our shoes and end up lonely and out on a limb for long periods of time because some people don’t like our yellow shoes. Some people might not hate our yellow shoes but they would still rather we were wearing pink like them. Some of those people won’t recognize how stressful painting our shoes pink is and the others probably won’t even care. Our yellow shoes might make them feel like we are just trying to stand out or attention-seeking. Our yellow shoes might not be cool to them and it stands in the way of their fitting in if they are seen with us.

Problem with Option 1
We end up all alone and isolated and we start to hate ourselves because of our yellow shoes
Option 2
If you are one of the many aspies with the all or nothing mindset then you won’t even see that you could perhaps only wear pink shoes sometimes. I am all or nothing and perfectionistic when it comes to myself but I am trying my best to be more flexible. It is extremely difficult with restrictive repetitive thought patterns and linking thoughts. Wearing pink shoes is stressful for me and it makes me feel sad.
Problem with Option 2
We end up feeling like the alien in the picture below and we still feel all alone even when we are around others.
Option 3
Another option is to attempt to love your yellow shoes and look after them because when you look after them you are looking after yourself. Do everything you can to promote your own happiness and try not to care what the pink shoe wearers think. Take some walks in your yellow shoes, ride a bike or play your favourite game. The positive effects of those things are only temporary though and we do like the people with pink shoes we just struggle to understand them and they us.
A lot of aspies are constantly said to be lacking in empathy and that is an extremely hurtful and perhaps even harmful misconception. All people can be good or bad regardless of whether they are disabled or not. The truth is the opposite we actually often care far too much but we can’t find the spoken words or ways to show it. I am wonderful at writing and typing feelings but I struggle with saying them because it is overwhelming and I am always on the verge of crying and breaking down when I try. This is always the case no matter what I am trying to explain because I have slow processing and it's virtually impossible not to put too much pressure on myself because I know I am limited in this area and I strive to always do my best.
How Should We React to Our Struggles with Autism?
Option 1
Anger, Resentment and Defensiveness
This can lead to us seeming unfriendly when often we are just feeling rejected and alone. We might get really angry but not actually want to hurt anyone. We are just using our limited resources to try and find a way to cope. I think this is probably the unhealthiest option and could lead to trouble if things go too far. Problems with theory of mind and perception can be very disabling and you may not have them I don’t know if all of us aspies do. No matter what your mixed bag of autistic traits are though it can be incredibly difficult to feel positive in a world that is not exactly built for you. We might be shooting around a million different scenarios in our heads trying to understand what we are doing wrong and why our yellow shoes just aren’t good enough.
Option 2
Sadness and Despair
I feel like crying just trying to keep up with and process spoken words and the emotions that come from saying them. I also get confused by what other people are saying and I can have a long repetitive thought cycle that leads to me thinking Do these people like my yellow shoes? Do they hate my yellow shoes? What if I just change my yellow shoes but then I realize I can't. Are my yellow shoes making people uncomfortable? Omg everyone is looking at my yellow shoes.
Sometimes I am in so much despair that I kick my yellow shoes of something hard and hurt myself or I might poke holes in my yellow shoes or I might cry so loud that my throat begins to hurt and I really just wish my yellow shoes would just disappear.
I am like this because I am one of those people who takes all of my emotions out on myself instead of on others. I am stuck with my yellow shoes for life though and painting them pink like everyone else's just makes me even more miserable. I think you are feeling the sadness and despair right now but remember a complete stranger cared enough about how you are feeling to write all of this.
Option 3
Look for Others Like Ourselves
If we find others like ourselves it will be ok to feel alien because guess what they feel alien too but there are so many more people with pink shoes. I can never see the others with yellow shoes out in the world. Is it because they are painting their shoes pink for the duration of time they are out because they want to fit in? Is it because they too got bullied for having yellow shoes? The problem with only finding people like ourselves is we might miss out on meeting wonderful pink shoed people that we just don’t have the courage to interact with. If we have been bullied a lot and rejected too much, we might never get the courage to take the steps to meet the nice pink penguins of the world.
Option 4
Look for a Mixed Group of People Who Tolerate or Even Like Us
This is very hard to do if you are autistic because it doesn’t usually come naturally for most of us to make friends with anyone and unfortunately that also extends to when it comes to making friends with each other. To give an example of this I can refer to when a wonderful OT was coming to see me, she asked me to attend a group with other people with yellow shoes. There were other people with yellow shoes and I didn’t have to look for them because they would all be there. If I remember right that group didn’t exactly grow large and I wonder now if it ever managed to. It is not in the aspie nature to be a socialite but we still care about people and we do crave interaction. It is just all of us seem to need a different type of interaction. My specific form of interaction is deep and meaningful conversation. Some people only want to talk about their special interest but not everybody shares our idea of interesting.
Why Can't Aspies Always Socialize with Other Aspies?
I think everyone could give you a plethora of different interesting theories as to why that is and for me, it is just simply that face to face interaction with anyone is exhausting for me. I am always so focused on not appearing different that it is a full-time job just to operate in a pink shoed environment. I am constantly masking but I don’t want to be different on the outside even if I am alien on the inside. I have learned that being different in a way that is noticeable to others gets you bullied, abused, shouted at and generally just leads to bad things happening. If people with pink shoes would stop putting pressure on us to blend in and act and even dress like them perhaps, we would lead much happier lives.
That would mean not bullying us for our differences and not making remarks about the things that stand out because I find this to be prevalent even around people who care about me. If I do something differently they highlight it and a lot of aspies hate the spotlight. Let us be ourselves without making such a massive deal about it and perhaps we will be comfortable enough to come out of our little igloos and interact with other people like ourselves. It really doesn’t take much for some autistic people to be pushed to the edge. If one thing goes wrong in my routine, I feel like the penguin below for the next days and sometimes weeks, months or even years to follow. 

I encourage people with pink shoes to think of the worst day they have ever had and then imagine living through that day nearly every day. Now imagine that same day with hardly any friends or no friends at all and even sometimes without your family. I ask you to imagine trying to connect with other people but always getting it wrong in spite of your good intentions. That is the reality for a lot of aspies. Imagine living through your darkest day and never being able to trust your own perceptions. I can’t turn to a reassuring voice in my own head because I don’t have one. I need visual cues to remind me to do the littlest of things and if they are not in sight or if something goes wrong everything goes to crap. My emotions overtake and exhaust me so much that I can’t simply pick myself back up and move along.
Family Support
When you get diagnosed with autism it can be life-changing but it can also be a massive shock. Sometimes you don’t even know how to react and problems with your perceptions can mean that you think your family don’t love you because you can’t read between the lines and sometimes we really are unfortunate enough to be born to a family who not only doesn’t understand but make our lives even harder. Not everyone has a supportive family or even an encouraging one. Stability is so important to everyone in life and this is regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Some autistics including myself never feel stable and mixed with an aspies tendency to have strong emotions but no way to express them this can be devastating.
All of Our Choices Can Lead to Heartache and Complications
The sad fact is that if you are autistic and you want to fit in a lot of people with pink shoes will want you to wear pink shoes and it will be an expectation. If you don’t, they will exclude you. It is extremely hard to love yourself as an autistic because the world constantly asks us to wear pink shoes but yellow shoes are what makes us who we are. Whilst there are more people with pink shoes than yellow, we are always going to feel this way and so we have to try and make the best of it in whatever way we can.

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