“‘I don’t know if the Road has ever been measured in miles beyond the Forsaken Inn, a day’s journey east of Bree,’ answered Strider. ‘Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise. It is a strange road, and folk are glad to reach their journey’s end, whether the time is long or short.'”
My mother recently linked me to a Psychology Today article called “The Dangers of Loneliness.” The article suggests that “chronic loneliness”– as opposed to the “normal” kind everyone experiences from time to time– is not only an indicator of “maladjustment,” a path to “delinquency,” and a “precipitant of depression and alcoholism,” but a danger to physical health.
This is a sentiment I hear echoed on almost a daily basis from one source or another. Popular culture has latched onto the prescription for a certain number of hugs per day to maintain mental well-being. Even people who find themselves at odds with mainstream society’s mores expound the virtues of a “chosen family” of people who understand them and provide vital support and security.
It’s an issue that hits a little too close to home for me. Every therapist I’ve tried has focused sessions on trying to make me more socially active. They’ve offered me concrete steps that are supposed to help me “get out there and meet people.” One offered me lessons in eye contact, handshakes, and situationally appropriate verbal responses. Another gave me a list of organizations where I might do volunteer work and, in doing so, encounter “like minded individuals.” The worst told me I needed to pretend to be more “intellectually average” so as not to intimidate potential acquaintances.
In my mind, all of these plans feel like a stack of child’s treasure maps, with dotted lines leading to a big black X that marks the coveted destination: socialization. They look so simple, it’s hard to see where anyone could go wrong. There’s just one problem– well, make that three problems. The people who draw these cutesy maps never seem to have the faintest idea where I’m coming from, on what kind of terrain I walk, or where it even is I want to go. So they might as well “try to chalk the sun/To races nurtured in the dark; –How would your own begin?”
I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a flavor of high functioning autism. I wake up every morning to a different world than my family, my therapists, and virtually everyone else around me. The people I meet are not friends or even potential friends, but daunting, unpredicatble obstacles that seriously threaten my ability to function. Conversation isn’t an opportunity to make a connection, it’s a grueling exercise in conscious self-analysis and correction. A crowded room is a battlefield; a party, Hell itself. I am a perpetual stranger, liked as little as I am understood. I come home only when I open a book and lose myself in a world of words that feels more real than the one outside. So how do you chart the path from where I am to where, it seems, I am supposed to be? Is watching “Dancing with the Stars” and giving a firm handshake really supposed to accomplish that? “Can blaze be done in cochineal,/ Or noon in mazarin?”
Which brings me to the title and purpose of this incipient blog. I am not a passerby on this road, temporarily between stays at warm and welcoming inns. I am lifelong denizen of the Lone Lands. Whether there is a Homely House waiting for me, I can’t say. Until I have sketched with open eyes the terrain I inhabit right now, any attempt at progress will be a blunder in the dark. And while that is true, enticing me with the El Dorado of “support networks” or driving me with the “dangers” of my present condition are nothing but equally futile ways to flog the lame. This is my landscape. Regardless of danger, there is beauty here for those who look– beauty worthy of much more than being tramped across in search of better things.