he has a strange way about him

This is the fourth post from my ’empathy chip malfunction’ series. This time I’ll be looking at emotional distance.

I’m not a robot

I’ve always felt like something’s not quite right. A separateness, a disconnect, as if I’m watching the world like it’s a movie, or viewing it through a window.

For some reason, my ability to connect and empathise with people seems to be lacking. No matter how hard I’ve tried, it rarely seems to stick. Despite enjoying the company of people, it is easier and more comfortable for me when I’m on my own. Maybe I just don’t want it to stick.

It’s like the programming didn’t work. I’ve been observing human interaction since I was a child, trying to emulate it, but it seems the data is corrupted, or there’s a conflict somewhere.

What I think is the correct way to do things is often not the correct way to do things.

I can be cold and distant, disengaged, or aggressive and overbearing. I cannot quite seem to find a balance, or the right level. Maybe I do, but it’s hard for me to tell, so I’ll never really know.

My default mode seems to be cynical, somewhat irritated, and sometimes nihilistic. But internally I am full of hopes and dreams and optimism.

How can there be such a difference?

What’s that thing called?

How can you express something if you don’t know what that thing is?

I think it’s called an emotion.

Apparently, I’ve had difficulty expressing myself since I was a child. Nobody really knew what it was, but there was definitely something. Probably not something big enough to ever get checked out though. But that was the 1970s.

I was probably just a difficult child. I have some memories of my impulsive behaviour, and have heard stories of me lashing out for no reason. There are very few childhood photos of me smiling, and I remember reading on the back of one that they had to pull faces to make me smile.

It didn’t work.

I think I was happy though, on my own, and in my own way. I had a definite need for love and interaction, like anyone does, but I’m not sure it had much of an impact.

An unusual response

I remember one time, I’m not sure how old I was, my mum fell over in the street and I just stood there staring at her as she struggled to get back up. An old man ran across the road to help her up. I just stood and stared. Nothing.

Whenever someone needed comfort, my response was similarly cool. This is awkward. It would be fine. Maybe. Please make it stop.

If I erased an emotion from my mind maybe I would never feel it, would never be vulnerable, and things would be simpler.

My mum was a kind and generous woman, but she had a weak heart. When she came home from hospital after a having heart attack, she didn’t have the energy to do anything but lay on the sofa. I would sit with her trying to convince her to get up, knowing otherwise she would fade away. She knew this too, but was too weak.

A few days later, she had another heart attack.

I felt a sense of panic set in as we waited for the ambulance, I wanted to stay and watch, but I went to my room and drew on my skateboard instead. There was nothing to be done. She died in my father’s arms. It was the first time I’d seen any emotion from him that wasn’t anger, resentment, or indifference.

I was 16 and in my final year of school. I was annoyed that I needed an absence letter because I took a few days off. It was obvious why, everybody knew why. But I still had to provide a letter. Stupid rules.

My classmates thought it was strange that I attended school the morning of my mum’s funeral. I heard the chatter. The funeral was around lunch time, so why not?

At the funeral, a nasty uncle had a go at me for not grieving properly, not crying. I remember terms such as tough guy, and shit like that. I didn’t know there was a ‘proper’ way to do it.

Why doesn’t everyone just fuck off, leave me alone, and stop telling me how to do things?

For many years I battled with the fact that I hadn’t stayed with her when she passed.

And again

Within a year, my eldest brother had a brain haemorrhage.

He was on a ventilator. There was nothing to be done, so the decision was made to switch off the machine. He lived in another country. I was told we couldn’t afford for us all to go.

I didn’t attend the funeral.

A sense of nihilism was beginning to set in. I think it had always been there but was now starting to grow. The world makes no sense, people make no sense, and we all die anyway.

I was living with my father, a mean spirited and friendless man. My friends wouldn’t call because he’d either hang up the phone or slam the door in their face. I didn’t hang around very long, and was taken in by a kind and generous family. Unfortunately, I didn’t give them the respect or gratitude they deserved.

Many years later I got the call that my father had died. He’d not seen his children in years, and had died alone.

I laughed.

A mind like a maniacal pinball machine

Those things are just experiences.

Experiences that possibly had an impact, but ultimately just added to the background noise of the ever churning machine.

The rattles, dings, buzzes, and pings. It never stops. Layers upon layers, upon layers, upon layers of images, sounds, words, and ideas.

Ideas bouncing and crashing from all directions, never fully forming before being smashed from the side by something else. Too many. Too many good ideas. Pick one. Quick. Too late. Gone.

The churning machine pushes on. Relentless.

There’s a blender attached for good measure. Its mechanisms swirling so quickly you’d lose a limb if you tried to reach in. Only the scraps are left behind. Not enough to reconstruct. No manual to instruct.

It’s a collage of chaos.

Where’s the off switch?

Off switch? What the fuck is an off switch?

The churning machine pushes on.


Cheer up, it might never happen

It just fucking did.

So what’s the problem here?

I never considered that I might have a problem, apart from being awkward around people. OK, I can rub people up the wrong way, but that’s because I get frustrated that something that should be simple seems so complicated. Communication.

Yeah, I’ve always made it known I have a short attention span, get distracted easily, and find repetitive tasks tedious and frustrating. In fact, I find most tasks tedious and frustrating.

But that’s just me. It’s the normal me. So I’m normal, right?

It seems society isn’t comfortable with things that can’t be placed in nice little boxes. Be yourself, but only if it fits. Speak your mind, but only if it fits. Live your life, but do it this way. Be kind, compassionate, and understanding, but not toward those who don’t think like us.

Oh, and if you dare to question anything you’re being negative and pessimistic, or overthinking. Don’t disrupt the surface, you might actually discover something.

Really? I mean, really?

That thing, it has a name

I’ve never really had a problem with who I am, and I’ve never cared too much about what people think of me. I am what I am. But I’m fully aware that I’m not easy.

Over the years though, I’ve been finding that background noise more and more tiring. I’ve looked into things occasionally, just out of interest or to alleviate frustration, and came away intrigued. Huh. Interesting. Then a few years ago, when I was feeling really burnt out, I began looking into it more seriously.

I’ve been asked if I’m depressed. I don’t think so. I am down sometimes, just like anybody else, but I don’t think it’s that. As for anxiety, again, just like anybody else, although I’ve never been quite sure what anxiety actually is.

Someone once mentioned they’d noticed, over a period of about a year, that I’m really bad at reading body language, don’t notice if people are tired, bored, upset etc, and I tend to rant and interrupt. I can be particular about certain things, and fixate on certain things.

I don’t like physical contact, I know it’s a nice thing, but it feels awkward, invades my personal space, and sometimes annoys me because of the sensation on my skin. I’d generally prefer to keep people at a distance. Ironic, seeing as I’ve been tattooing people for two decades. But that has helped me be OK with it, although dealing with that discomfort has also been incredibly tiring for me.

I don’t like eye contact.

I get irritated by disruption to my thought process and routine, no matter how subtle that routine might be. I can be hyper focused on some things and show zero attention to other things, most things.

That person thought I might be autistic.

I have an issue with the passing of time. I exist in the present, disregard the past, and dream of the future, but I am firmly fixed in the now. Time moves too quickly and too slowly. I’m incredibly impatient, but not in a rush. I focus on one thing while being simultaneously distracted by everything.

The stimulus never stops. The filters, if they exist at all, don’t seem to work very well.

Is this ADHD?

Yes, I’m a moody sod and I have trouble with my emotions sometimes. Actually, I have trouble working out what emotions are in the first place. They’re feelings, right? But not stuff like touch, tiredness, hot, cold.

I’m wondering if it could be some kind of personality disorder.

Anyway, I’ve played with some surveys, quizzes, tests etc and the results are strongly leaning in those directions. But the results can be gamed, depending on mood. And without a formal assessment I’ll never know.

I’ve never had a formal assessment, and in my lifetime nobody has ever mentioned to me that it might be worthwhile. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe I’ve hidden it well.

Only one person has ever mentioned that it might be something more than me just being a dick.

More from this series: