Topic: Realising I used to have Alexithymia - Giant Text Wall Essay

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Realising I used to have Alexithymia - Giant Text Wall Essay
15.01.2020 by User43279B98

I believe I used to have Alexithymia, but have mostly overcome it. Here’s some of my life story for those who are curious. I go over how I misinterpreted many of the symptoms I had, and how Alexithymia recontextualises a lot of my experiences. Yes this is an essay, I’m quite aware.
Also, apologies for capitalising “Alexiythmia”, my spell check automatically did this and honestly I don’t think it’s worth it to comb through this yet again to correct them all.

So… I’m a 24 year old female with autism, and have had behavioural and psychological problems most my life, until around my 20s. I’ve long been fascinated by psychology, largely due to my desire to figure out other people, and myself, and why there’s this disconnect where I can’t fit in. I’d seen the term “Alexithymia” a few times, but not looking too deep into it, figured I clearly don’t have that since I had so many emotional meltdowns as a child, and was always able to experience emotions. But having looked more deeply into this as of last week, I’ve been blown away by how much it really did apply to me. I’ll give some specific examples…

Giving a speech in high school, we got peer feedback. I was shaking, talking fast, voice wavering. The feedback I got, a lot of it was along the lines of “Your speech was great, don’t be so nervous!”. Until I was told that, I didn’t know I was nervous. Sweating, racing heart, all the signs of fear, but I honestly didn’t realise I was indeed nervous. I figured I talk fast naturally, and got worse with speeches, and just had to improve. An emotional problem, despite the obvious physical signs, didn’t cross my mind. I’ve had anxiety issues since around age 10, but didn’t figure it out until I was around 19.

When I was 12, I told my therapist (had several of them as a child, only one was any good), that I didn’t feel much. I knew I did feel, I could laugh and cry and get mad, but it seemed like my default state was just bland and unfeeling. She was taken aback by this at first, but after reading a story I’d written about an abused orphan girl, she said that proves I do have emotions. Okay, cool… but that didn’t really address the problem at all. I wasn’t lying when I told her how I feel like I don’t feel, but she just brushed it off upon receiving evidence of me having emotion through my writing. Writing that, honestly, I didn’t know conveyed emotion but I guess it did. I simply narrated the fictional events, and explained the girl’s actions.

I’ve always been a decent writer. I read fictional novels excessively growing up (still do but less frequently), and learned a lot about the human condition from them. Why a person might feel this or that under different circumstances, what is and isn’t socially appropriate. However, it was a slow learning process. I made many mistakes when reading, especially evident in group reading in grade school. I was not picking up on the intended emotion of the scene whereas my classmates did. I also for a long time did not visualise what I read. I could if I thought about it later, but it didn’t just happen automatically when reading. It does now, but it’s still vague imagery, nothing hyper specific. I could never relate when people said that the depiction of a character in a movie adapted from a book bothered them, because they didn’t imagine the character looking that way when reading the novel. I never did, and still don’t, experience this.

I had, as a child and teenager, been the victim of bullying from both peers and teachers. But I had great difficulty recognising when I was being mistreated. In hindsight, I figured it was because, since I’d grown up knowing I’m autistic, I defaulted to assuming I was the problem when I got bullied. It must be me misinterpreting the situation, since I’m socially inept. Now knowing about Alexithymia, I think it’s likely that I just didn’t realise the fear and anger I felt when being mistreated, which made it hard to even know I was being mistreated. Did I feel bad? Well, no, not as far as I knew, so I wasn’t bullied, right? But the fear manifested as anxiety. I had a strong urge not to approach certain people. Hearing alarm clocks, something I associated with having to get up to go to school, triggered a flinching reaction but I didn’t know why. I didn’t put together that it was school I dreaded, bullies I feared. I cried in my sleep from nightmares nearly every night for a few years, and didn’t know it was abnormal until I did this in a shared hotel room with my family and woke them up.

Four years ago, I met my best friend in real life for the first time. We’d been online friends for around five years prior to meeting. When we met, I felt like an actor. In my diary, which I write in about once or twice a year when something significant happens, I literally wrote I felt like there’s a muter on my emotions. I expressed the right emotions, pretended to feel this or that way to make him happy, but inside felt kind of dead. (CONT)

15.01.2020 by User43279B98

This usually happens in social situations. I knew what other people would think. They’d think I was depressed, or, he just wasn’t the right kind of friend and one day I’d find people to make me happy. I knew both assumptions were wrong. I’d been depressed before, suicidal even, and I knew I wasn’t anymore. However, I still felt an emotional disconnect in social situations. And, he is not a bad friend at all, I knew that too. Yet, even so, I felt this lack of feeling, this fake show I put on because I was supposed to. And it bothered me, even with someone I trusted so much, to still feel like I can’t feel. Like maybe I should just be alone if I can’t genuinely return the emotions people give me. I have hurt people before due to this, and even knowing it isn’t right, still didn’t feel bad about it.

For most my life I’ve never missed people, even people I liked. I often wondered if I was sociopathic, due to seeming to lack empathy, but the symptoms never fit very well. Alexithymia makes a lot more sense. I think, all along, I did feel bad for hurting people. And I did enjoy the company of those I liked. I just couldn’t register this feeling. If I felt something at all for being emotionally distant to those I care about, it was anxiety, or a vague sense that a wrong has been committed, and that I really ought to care more.

I had emotional meltdowns as a kid, but they became less frequent as a pre-teen and beyond. As did most intense emotions. Nuclear tantrums subsided to snide back talking. I thought it was just me growing up. I thought it was just maturity to be more unfeeling. Only kids have emotional outbursts I figured, so for a long time, I had a lack of respect for any adult with anger problems, or those who cry openly for minor things (like a sad movie) or annoyingly squeal in joy. This mindset changed though as I learned more and more that no, really, it isn’t immature or abnormal to be emotional.

It also makes me wonder about the chicken and the egg… I do have reason to suspect I went through childhood emotional neglect, which does seem to be something that causes Alexithymia. However, being autistic also has high rates of alexithymiacs (is that the right term?), and that’s a nature thing, not a nurture thing. Did I end up this way naturally? Was it my upbringing? Both? What was first, the alexithymia due to my autism, present since birth, or was I emotionally neglected due to my autistic behaviour, which caused me to develop alexythmia? I suppose it might be impossible to know for sure.

I could go on and on about these examples and experiences. When taking the quiz a few days ago, I did not score as alexithymic… however, many questions, the answer would have been “yes” when I was younger. Why the change?

I gave up on therapy and medication at age 13, and have done my damnedest to fix myself since then. I’ve spent over a decade on introspection (I suppose this essay here makes that obvious), thinking about the reasons I do things, why others do things, and what their perspective might be. I’m far from an expert (seriously don’t ask me for advice expecting professional opinions!) but as a hobby I research mental conditions and read scientific papers and psych articles. I read a lot of fictional novels, and watched many YouTube videos that did character analysis for movies and cartoons. They pointed things out about the character’s emotional state that I wouldn’t have put together on my own. It fascinated me, and helped me pay more attention to my own feelings. I’ve always been analytical, but I now wonder if it was because I had to, it was the only way I could begin to understand myself, others, and emotions in general.

It’s hard to say precisely how I’ve overcome my alexithymia when I didn’t know I had it until last week. Or if I really have “overcome” it at all. The quiz seems to indicate I have, and I definitely have come a long way. I don’t feel distant and like an actor in social situations anymore. Before I thought I felt this way due to “masking” my autism, or being introverted… even though it occurred even with my own family. Also, I can now ask strangers for help without intense anxiety. I figured the anxiety decreased because I chilled out and stopped worrying so much if I fit in, that I gained enough confidence and knowledge in how to socialise properly. While that helped, I think over a decade of trying to understand myself and my feelings also played a role in improving my Alexithymia. I gained the ability to not just fake what I should feel, and know when it’s socially appropriate to express certain emotions, but genuinely feel it too.

15.01.2020 by User43279B98


I suppose I should be proud of this progress. I was excited at first when I put the pieces together, but now I’m just frustrated at myself for not figuring it out sooner. I never intended to reject my emotions, and thought striving for stoicism was foolish and denied people a vital part of who they are. Not to mention how unhealthy repression is. I didn’t want emotional outbursts of course, but I never wanted to just shut out emotion. Even with that mindset, I feel I failed myself for a long time, not even registering my own feelings properly. A bit hypocritical, but can I call it that if I didn’t know?

I’m also upset at those who failed to help me. I knew something wasn’t right with my emotions for a very long time. I even told my therapist at age 12, and still, I was on my own figuring this out. It’s not fair. But I suppose that’s life.

One last example… as recently as a couple weeks ago, I was watching “The Mandalorian” with my family. There’s a scene near the end (slight spoiler warning), where a droid says not to be sad, and Mando responds that he isn’t. The droid replies saying that he analysed the speech intonation and knows that he is, indeed, sad. My first thought was, Mando wasn’t lying. He legitimately did not realise he was sad until the droid pointed it out. Because I’ve often had experiences like that, I figured it happened to Mando too.

After learning of Alexithymia, I told my family how I interpreted the scene, and was told it is, indeed, weird to not know you’re sad.

And to close this… I’m not saying Alexithymia HAS to be “cured” or whatever. I’m floored by how much it recontextualises my life, and how it’s like I finally have the missing piece of why I had so many difficulties growing up, fitting in, making connections, and so on. And I wanted to share that.
But that’s my experience, no one has to seek to change themselves if they don’t desire to. Feel free to ask me anything, and I’d like to know if anyone else has had similar thoughts/experiences, or been able to feel more than they used to.

18.01.2020 by User40853F21

Hi there,

Thank you for writing this. I am able to relate to a lot of what you’ve said.

I’m Natalia, I’m 26 years old and I have only just discovered Alexithymia myself while googling emotional detachment last night.

When you said you felt like an actor in social situations that just put my thoughts into words. I know I should feel a certain way, and I kind of do, but it is just dulled and I overcompensate and just look disingenuous.

Your story gives me hope. Thank you.

18.01.2020 by User43279B98

@User40853F21 (Natalia)

Thank you for reading this! I know it's a lot. I'm glad it gives you hope, and that my obsessive introspection and attempts to put words to things helped someone. I'm sure your situation can improve. Won't be easy and will take a while, but knowing the problem is definitely a great start!