I wish I could have an invisible camera crew follow me around when I’m at home. You see, over time I’ve learned not to do a lot of things around other people, because it makes them uncomfortable. But not doing them makes me uncomfortable. Even when I’m with friends, or my therapist, people I’m supposed to be comfortable and relaxed around, I suppress most of them. But that suppression is a constant strain. When I’m alone, I can be as quirky and overtly autistic as I want, and that freedom is relaxing.
That’s why the invisible camera crew, to record me when I’m relaxed and being myself. They’d have to be invisible and very quiet, or I’d know they’re there and I’d act more normal. I suppose hidden cameras would work just as well, but that’s not nearly as fun, is it?
Those cameras would record me bouncing in place while I wait for my tea to brew. They would hear me repeating conversations from yesterday, last month, last decade, out loud. They would see me meow at the cat and hear me purr to myself. The segment where I stare at the Christmas tree lights would probably be kind of dull. Being lost in thought and rocking would probably be boring too. My word games where I take a short phrase and say it in all the accents and with all the different stresses I can could be funny. The cameras would catch me jumping in circles, crawling on the floor, petting the new couches (They feel good!). The list goes on and I’m sure some people seeing this private footage would think I’m quite mad. But it’s a harmless sort of mad, and it helps keep me happy. I like the quirky, relaxed, at home me more than I like the tense, well-behaved, in public me.
If you get to see any of this in person, then you know you’re a friend I love and trust. I don’t let people in that far until I know they’re good, that they’re safe. You’ll know I think you’re my friend for real when my large personal-space bubble pops, and suddenly I start poking at you, pestering you, or wrestling with you. If I’m comfortable enough to crawl on the floor when you’re around, then you’re a trusted friend indeed. If, while crawling, I bump you with my head or rub up against you like a cat, then you’re BFF or intimate partner material. If I give you a friendly bite, that’s my way of saying you’re one of my people: adopted sibling, best friend forever, maybe life partner.
In my whole life, I’ve had about a dozen people I was comfortable with touching. That includes family and partners. Of those, there have been six people I would wrestle and bite. And out of my best and closest friends, only one has seen most of the relaxed, autistic me: my wonderful partner, Amy. She’s special in so many ways, but one of the best is that I don’t have to hide much of myself from her. Maybe some day I’ll be comfortable enough to not hide anything.
She’s also one of two people who bothered to learn my private language of whistles, cat noises, and animal sounds, and she’s by far the more fluent of the two. I don’t know of anything that says love more than learning your partner’s “native” language when it’s spoken by no other person in the world.
We try so hard to fit in, to pass for normal. We spend so much energy trying not to upset you. So the next time your autistic friend or partner is especially weird around you, remember that it might be a compliment. She might be saying she trusts you; he may be letting you know he approves of you. It might be our way of letting you into our world a little. I hope you’ll treat us well, because letting you in that little bit can feel like a big, big risk for us.