Before we get to today’s post, an announcement: As part of the avalanche of advocacy this week, there will be a flashblog on Monday, Nov 18th. You can find the info at “This is Autism” Flashblog. It’s open to autistic individuals, parents and allies and is accepting writing, video, graphic and comics submissions.
On to the post . . .
Sometimes [often?] I feel invisible.
I thought this feeling would go away when I grew up. Feeling invisible as a kid is normal, right? Everyone is bigger than you. Smarter, more experienced. And the ones who weren’t bigger or smarter or more experienced, were funnier or prettier or . . . something.
I never quite understood what that something was, just that I didn’t have it. When teachers forgot my name, I shrugged and mumbled it for them. Then mumbled it again when they mistook my mumbling for Sandy or Sydney.
And really, to be honest, I never wanted to be one of those kids who everyone knew. The popular kids. Too much pressure. Too much attention. I like blending in. Getting a “well done” sticker next to the “100%!” on my spelling test was about all the positive attention I needed to keep me satisfied.
Still, I assumed being an adult would mean an end to feeling invisible.
Invisible is like this: I’m at a neighborhood holiday party. I’m sitting on the couch, talking with someone I know and enjoying it. A stranger sits beside me, inserts herself in our conversation as strangers do at neighborhood parties. She asks typical stranger questions. Do you live in the neighborhood? Where are you from? What do you do? We both turn to her and answer, suspending our conversation in favor of this getting-to-know-you talk.
Do I sound resentful of this intrusion? A little, but more in retrospect, because I know what’s coming.
Slowly, gradually, nearly imperceptibly, I feel the three-way conversation is becoming a two-way conversation between the stranger and the person I was talking to. Eventually, I settle back into the couch so they don’t have to keep leaning forward to talk around me. I listen to their words volley back and forth, unable to find a way back into the conversation, which has now turned to a subject they’re both passionate about.
I wait it out some more, picking at the plate of food on my lap, stuck in a rut of smile and nod as they glide from one subject to another. As much as I want to regain a footing in the conversation, I feel like I’ve disappeared from their radar. Bored and uncomfortable, I finally excuse myself, pointing to my empty plate, saying cheerfully that I want to go check out the dessert table. They look surprised and maybe a little chagrined, as if they only just realized that I’d fallen silent ten minutes ago.
It’s easy to assume they had something in common–something I didn’t share–so it was natural for them to become intensely involved in a 2-way conversation. Except that this story repeats itself too often to be “them and not me.”
This is probably fixable. If I was more assertive, made more effort, worked harder at learning conversation skills.
But the invisible feeling comes up at other times too. It’s there when I watch other people take credit for something I’ve done. It’s there when I post something to a group and no one responds. It’s there when someone seems to contact only if they need me to play tech support for their ailing computer. It’s there when someone promises to do something and then forgets, leaving me waiting like an overexcited kid who hasn’t yet realized that there will be no trip to the amusement park today.
That’s it–right there–the powerlessness that creeps up inside me and makes me feel small.
The problem, I see, as I’m writing this, is not so much the practical side of learning to be assertive in social situations. As a child, I was clueless about how to make myself seen and heard. As an adult, I have the potential to do something about feeling invisible, but the feeling itself is now the problem.
To write this, I had to force myself to be with it. Invite it to sit here beside me so I can examine it. And I don’t like it. I don’t want to do the hard work that I know is necessary to befriend the feeling and defang it. But I don’t want to let it haunt me anymore either.