Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Roses and Cacti: An NT/Asperger Relationship

"Roses and Cacti @ Copyright 2000 Marguerite Long"

The author grants permission to copy this document provided it is for non-commercial purposes, is complete, unaltered and retains this copyright message.

I see people with Asperger's Syndrome (aspies) as cacti, which are soft and vulnerable inside - but very soon in life they develop very cruel prickles to protect themselves from painful contacts with neurotypicals (NTs). Aspies belong in the desert. They are happy there. Occasionally they bloom - and it is so wonderful they light up the whole desert - but it is short-lived. Being natives of the desert they have the ability to withstand long periods of drought. When water is available they absorb it quickly and store it in their fleshy stems for times of need.

Cacti have a right to be cacti, and to live in the desert, and to have prickles.

I see neurotypicals as roses. The roots of roses must not be allowed to dry out. They need to be in a rose garden where they can constantly connect with other roses and be watered, fed and mulched. They need to be protected from the fierce heat of the desert and from shredding desert sandstorms. Most roses do not survive in the desert. The ones that do mostly become stunted, lose their flowers, develop larger ugly thorns, move into denial and often need medication. Medicated roses no longer see the harshness of the desert.

When the rose begins to wilt and tries to explain to the cactus that it needs rose food, the cactus will look out from the comfort of its stored reserves and ignore the rose. This is a form of passive aggression. As the roses's needs become desperate and the rose becomes increasingly demanding, the cactus can escalate to mental and emotional abuse in his lack of understanding of the rose's needs. The cactus does not mind if others are present - adding public humiliation to his abuse of the rose. When the pain of deprivation takes the rose beyond the boundaries of caution and reason, the cactus may escalate to door-slamming and physical abuse. The abused, starving rose retreats and grows a little more stunted and ugly.

Aspies do not understand that roses need rose food (emotional connection, tender loving care, appreciation, communication, time out for chatting complete with an emotional component, understanding, romance, etc.) Cactus food cannot nourish, or even sustain, a rose.

Aspies can only provide cactus food. When the rose begins to wilt and tries to explain that it needs rose food, the cactus will not understand and may call the rose "selfish" and "ungrateful". In the desert, with a prickly cactus, is a scary place for a rose to be. The rose will be deprived of intimate emotional connection, communication and love. Home-making will become a nightmare, because the cactus in his desert environment has no need for all the finishing touches that a rose would consider essential in her rose garden.

If a rose tries to bloom in the desert, the petals will be shredded by the merciless onslaught of the most ferocious desert sandstorms. In the process of desperately trying to provide myself with some mulch, water and food, I have mapped out a basic survival plan for a rose living in the desert with a cactus.

Survival plan for roses
1. Encouragement

When I have any sort of a petal on my rose at all that has not been shredded in a recent sandstorm, I try to apply myself to encouraging and acknowledging the strengths in my aspie cactus.

The soft, vulnerable part of the aspie is very receptive to praise and compliments and appreciation (like we all are, but I have found them to be more so). He has many good points. The problem is that the cruel sandstorms and the empty spareness of the desert have so stunted and shredded the rose that is me, that mostly I cannot even enjoy the good points. Nevertheless, I have found that encouragement and appreciation cause him to bloom in a very special way.

2. Quick forgiveness
There will be no remorse or apologies on the part of the cactus, because it only sees that it has been unfairly attacked and that the rose is ungrateful and too demanding. Eventually the rose has to find a way to forgive and keep going. This is survival because bitterness only hurts the rose and the cactus won't notice whether the rose is bitter or not.

3. A whole-body exerciser
Some means of exhausting the physical body is pretty much an essential first-aid emergency treatment for the larger, cruel, shredding, searing desert sandstorms. The clue is to stay with the exercise until the tears come. This is exhausting but healing and needs to be followed by step four.

4. A good book and a video
Roses need these as a first-aid measure to take the mind and emotions out of the desert and back into some sort of rose-garden environment.

5. Good friends.
Understanding friends are the remedy for the loneliness and the isolation of the desert. The problem is, to have a good friend you have to be a good friend. That is a very difficult thing to do for a stunted, shredded rose who is unwell through humiliation and lack of rose food. Internet support groups like FAAAS can be life preserving and a privilege at times like this.

6. Telephone counseling services that run 24 hours a day.
These are valuable for the desperate loneliness that hits around midnight and after. Just to hear another voice that is caring, accepting and non-judgmental does wonders.

7. Rose food

Roses have to supply their own. This is difficult when the cactus controls the budget and sees rose food as wasteful and extravagant. Gardening, reading, writing, painting, knitting, crocheting and loving chats with neighbours can often be invisibly worked into a desert budget.

8. Sleep
A cactus can be asleep within minutes of a desert sandstorm. A rose, however, will be hurting and desperate and may need to work through points three and four above.

9. Summary
The cactus is in the desert and easily survives the sandstorms. The rose cannot survive the shredding without lots of insight and protective measures on hand. Even then it is tough going!

Regarding marriage
Cacti have areas of brilliance that become their obsessions. Common obsessions are computers, technology, engineering and religion. Sometimes a male aspie will turn his obsessive interests towards a female neurotypical.

A cactus in full bloom is magnificent and very difficult for a rose to resist. At this early stage of the relationship the rose has not experienced, or been shredded by, the desert sandstorms - and has not been stunted by the emptiness and lack of nurture and food. The early cactus bloom stage may last some time (particularly if there are no children and the rose is financially independent).

However, the rose is now in the desert - and the desert does not sustain it. The wilt is inevitable. I am sorry to have to say it.

Many of the neurotypical women most likely to end up married to aspies had aspie fathers so the awful feelings of abuse and loneliness seem normal to them and almost comfortable because these feelings are so familiar.

Invisible wheelchairs
To a neurotypical, an aspie may seem emotionally disabled. Many people marry severely disabled people (such as quadriplegics) and with a lot of support and help manage to live reasonable lives. The difference here is that the quadriplegic knows he has the disability. Aspies mostly do not recognize their disability and mostly they judge the emotional interactions of neurotypical people as weakness and lack of self-discipline. Also, as you push around the quadriplegic's wheelchair people generally will make way for you, support you, even probably smile and affirm that you are doing a good job.

When a rose marries a cactus, the rose may come to feel that she is pushing an invisible wheelchair -on her own- without support and without help. People cannot "see" an invisible wheelchair, so the rose often may feel uncomfortable, even humiliated, when out in public with the cactus. In addition to this there may be a strong chance that offspring from this marriage could also be cacti. From the rose's perception - this amounts to more invisible wheelchairs.

Raising baby cacti
It is my opinion that young aspie cacti need people of insight to go in to bat for them. They need a kindly advocate. They are soft and vulnerable and do not yet have their protective prickles established.

I believe that whenever possible the young aspie's obsessions or "special interests" (and they may change as they get older) need to be nurtured and supported. These special interests are often computing, engineering, mathematics and science.

If the young aspie can be led into earning a living from his area of "special interest", I believe he will be content and functional in his world as an adult.

It is my belief however, from observation and experience, that this state of contentment and stability will be completely destroyed if he chooses to marry a neurotypical.

I believe the different brain patterns in people with Asperger's Syndrome do not allow for functional social interaction except on a very surface, factual level. I believe the aspie can be trained to say the right things at the right time, but have found that does not supply the emotional connection that is necessary for intimate relationships with neurotypicals.

Baby roses in the desert
Perhaps two cacti may exist happily together in the desert. However, think of the consequences of two cacti producing a baby rose. The baby rose, without any intention or effort from the cacti, would be subject to emotional deprivation and would be shredded in the desert. It is likely it would grow up stunted, without flowers and with very large thorns. Then it would look more like a cactus than a rose and would not fit into, or be accepted by, the rose garden.

Ultimately, the stunted, cactus-like rose would probably attract to itself another cactus rather than a rose. Unwittingly, then the rose would place itself in a marriage where all the pain, and more, of the rose's childhood would be revisited.

I wonder how many roses that are married to a cactus were in fact brought up by at least one cactus parent?

Roses and Cacti @ Copyright 2000 Marguerite Long

This revised edition of Roses and Cacti @ Copyright 2003

Marguerite Long, Email author marguerite@rosesandcacti.com

The author grants permission to copy this document provided it is for non-commercial purposes, is complete, unaltered and retains this copyright message.

The Wilted Rose

It has been a hard week. Since my husband doesn't know what to do to cheer me up (and doesn't see that I need cheering up in the first place), I sent him an email grocery list with only one item on it: "pretty flowers for the wife."

That evening when he walked in the door, he was grinning ear to ear. He proudly handed me a bunch of wilted, decaying roses. I cheerfully smiled and said 'thank you.'

And then I spent the next several minutes peeling off layers of ugly, wilted petals in search of some sort of loveliness underneath.

The symbolism astounds me.

I am a wilted rose in this asperger marriage. And my aspie husband doesn't even see it. And there are layers of ugliness in our marriage. But if I work hard enough and put in lots of extra effort, I can find some loveliness buried down deep.