August 11, 2020

I’ve learned that “How are you?” is usually meant as a greeting, not a question. But if I give a trite answer, and the person responds by repeating the question a second time – slower, with emphasis – then I know it’s truly a question.

That’s when it gets complicated.

Many autistic people experience “alexithymia,” or the inability to label emotions. I used to think I wasn’t affected by it. I could write an essay describing my emotions at any given moment, so I must not be alexithymic, right?

Well, I share this similarity: I can’t identify my emotions at first glance. I look inside, and it’s a complex jumble.

If I look closer, though, I can pick it apart. My memories of the recent past, my perception of the current environment, and my expectations for the near future all add up to a collection of distinct, identifiable, and sometimes contradictory emotions.

To honestly describe how I’m doing, I have to list each fact that’s hovering in my thoughts, and then say how that fact makes me feel.

Essentially, I’m pretending that the question isn’t, “How are you?” but rather, “What’s taking up space in your brain?” A few friends have even started phrasing the question that way, which helps me to know when they want a thorough answer.

Some autistic people really are alexithymic. Others, like me, merely access their emotions in an unconventional way.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.