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Self image: I am what I am...aren't I?

I wanted to bring up the touchy subject of self-image. Touchy because I, like many aspies, am uncomfortable talking about how I see myself. I'm much more used to listening to what others think about me and how they see me.

You see, with aspergers you learn not to trust yourself. For goodness sake, you can't be trusted! How many times have you stared, transfixed, when you should have looked away? How many times have you dodged in perfect time with the poor person trying to step past you? How often do you get things wrong? Plenty, would usually cover most bases.

So, although aspies have a very, very clear self-image, it usually stays locked up, safe and warm, inside. If you bring it out, even to loved ones, you risk losing it altogether, as you find out you were wrong all along.

A small example would be, you think you suit the colour yellow. I love yellow and, for years, I loved wearing it. No one told me I looked like I had jaundice when I put it on and looking in the mirror told me nothing, as I just saw me, wearing yellow, which I like wearing, because I like yellow: are you following my reasoning here? My biggest trouble would be the attention from bees.

Until I was in college and my new friend, Joanne, who knew all about things I had never considered, took me shopping. I picked out a top I thought she would like and she gently pointed out that the colour might be too bright for her skin tone (I had picked out a fair few before then, so she was trying to be subtle at this stage).

It struck me, like one of those wonderful revelations you want to tell everyone about but then realise they already knew: your clothes should match your skin tone!

I spent the rest of the shopping trip thinking about the various rainbow colours in my wardrobe and wondering how many of them looked horrible on me. It didn't take long to weed them out and, unfortunately, yellow was the biggest offender and the one I was most sorry about.

There are bigger things to get wrong than the colour of your clothes, though. You can be wrong about yourself in ways that affect your whole life.

A non-aspie, but interesting example, would be my cat, Custard (bear with me, this has a point). He has a disability and when he was born, his back legs wouldn't work. We did little exercises with him and gradually, over time, he became a normal-looking cat (he'd looked like a small alien before). As he couldn't mobilise much, he spent a lot of time with Granny Tess, our collie. Rather too much time, as it turned out.

I realised something was wrong when, one day, Tess ran into the hall to bark at the front door. Someone was coming and she warned me. Behind her, marching up and down like a little soldier, was Custard, bobbing his head up and down like Tess when she barked and making regular little 'uffing' noises as he did so.

That was the day I realised Custard had serious issues with his self-image. He thought, and still thinks, he's a dog. Judging by his personality and size, we're thinking that he's probably some kind of terrier. We've whittled it down to a Border Terrier. See if you can guess which of these pictures is the real Custard.


























We have tried to reveal to Custard that he shouldn't be trying to bark, or get in the bin, or run after dog balls, but he's so firmly set in his self-image as a dog that there seems little point in persuading him out of it. He's happy and only looks disappointed when he doesn't come out on walks with the dogs. He's also useful as a watch dog because Granny Tess is old and a bit deaf, so she misses visitors, and Rupert is a wimp who never barks. We need Custard running up and down, uffing, to let us know when someone comes.

Where does this come into aspie-ness? I've thought about this and, as an analogy, Custard's odd perspective on life is a good lesson for aspies. We have an image of ourselves, the one we don't often tell people, or like me with the colour yellow, we assume to be true without needing to talk about it. Does our self-image, however right or wrong, need to be changed?

Yes, if it's a bad one that we've created so we can put ourselves down. Why would we want to put ourselves down? Well, if enough people make you feel bad about yourself, one way to fit in is to agree with them, so our bad self-image may be one we've created to fit in.

What about if the truth is even more limiting though? What if we like to think of ourselves as sociable, and we are sociable, but we rarely make a success of social interaction? Where does that leave us? Do we go with the truth that we find it hard to deal with people, or the truth that we love people and want to deal with them?

The latter, always. We should always take Custard's route and aim for the good thing we love, but haven't quite achieved. It's so much better, for instance, to believe you're good with people and keep talking to them and interacting with them, because sooner or later, you meet someone on your wavelength and then you have that beautiful friendship you've waited so long for (hello B!).

What if it's something slightly more complicating, like my years and years of always going for jobs where I had to deal with the public, when I hate crowded spaces, can't stand confrontation, have difficulty understanding when people talk to me and generally find others rather stressful?

Again, take Custard's lead here. If he had accepted the fact his legs couldn't work properly, he would have spent his life, at best, mooching around with Tess in front of the fire. What he did was work and work until he could manage what he wanted. At the age of 9 months, he managed to jump up to the kitchen worksurface and, from there, to our little 'cat window', where he had wanted to sit for so long.

Granted, he then fell off and got his head stuck in a tin, but there are always trips along the way.

If I hadn't worked in all those unsuitable jobs, dealing with people every day, I never would have been able to go self-employed and deal with my own clients and customers. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have gained enough self-esteem and self-knowledge to return to my original dream of writing books and stories. By doing something I wasn't really fit for, I challenged myself and also trained myself to feel the fear and still try.

Between you and me, I sometimes suspect Custard knows he is a cat, but we all respect his decision to live life as a dog. If you're ever in any doubt as to whether you should live your life according to what you're given or what you accept as your lot, think of Custard and his determination to succeed.

Every day, you need to think, I'll do a little, small, tiny thing today that is good and is better for me. Sometimes, you'll do a big thing which you think you can't manage and it will exhaust you. Just occasionally, you get to aim much higher and pull it off. And you will, you know; I promise.

Sooner or later, we all have to face that inner self-image and decide if it's a true reflection of us. Are we really that person? Is that our face, our smile? Is that the real light in our eyes as we gaze back, unashamed and glad to be us?

Sooner or later, reader, aspergers or not, we all have to face our inner selves. You may as well come to meet them, hands outstretched, ready to cross that last distance. It doesn't matter how long it takes, we can all reach the high places in the end.

Amanda




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