I’m one of those people who uses humour to deflect. When someone compliments me, or says something kind, I usually have a witty quip to help me emotionally duck-under their emotional reaching-out.
But here’s the thing, “Many a true word is spoken in jest.” I’ve always thought that only applies to people being mean. I thought that saying applied to people who say “Only joking!” after hurling some vile insult at someone else; that it was about using humour to avoid taking responsibility for saying something hurtful. It would never apply to me.
The other day I was doing a poetry reading, afterwards someone came up to me and told me I had made them cry. I have a stock phrase for this one, it’s a stupid phrase and I use it to push away the emotion in the moment, but I’m now having to confront the fact that it is also the truth: I say, “Yes! I love to make strangers cry! It’s why I do what I do.” I laugh, they laugh, and I’ve dodged a compliment like Shane Williams at his peak (Welsh rugby player reference, Shane could turn on a dime).
The truth is that I do love it.
It sounds awful; I don’t love to cause people pain, but there are two emotional responses that mean people have connected with my words; one is tears, the other is laughter. Laughter is much easier, but tears are a demonstration of pure empathy, and that is a beautiful thing.
I have spent a lot of my life being misunderstood. I have received anger and confusion, when all I was trying to do was connect. I have felt lost and alone in my feelings.
I don’t always understand other people’s communication, but there’s no misunderstanding with tears.
When I speak and it connects, it is magical. When people like me feel I have shared something of ours, and when people who are not autistic feel they understand us better, it is incredibly powerful. It is connection and building bridges. There’s such a purity to it, through revealing my vulnerabilities people feel safe to reach back to me.
About ten years ago I saw a counsellor during a period of stress. She was a lovely woman and we started off with me simply telling her my story. She cried.
I was taken aback by the display of emotion from her – surely she had heard it all. I asked her why, and she said, “I’m sad that you went through all that. Of course that makes me sad.”
Her display of empathy validated my experience. I had spent a lot of time berating myself for being upset about nothing, or overreacting, her reaction told me my reaction was real.
I spend a lot of time rationalising things and trying to find patterns and ways to make things better in practical ways, but sometimes the most effective way is empathy. Sometimes what is needed is bravery in sharing, and bravery in response.
I love to make you laugh too. I love being in an audience of people who are all beside each other, making the same noise for the same reason.
If I have ever told you that I love to make strangers cry, then know that it is true. I love that you trusted me with your emotion. I love that you felt what I felt. I love that we are connected whether autistic or not.
I’m working on accepting compliments gracefully.