I’m going through a really rough time right now, because the kitty I grew up with died unexpectedly of sudden liver/kidney failure last Friday. He hadn’t been sick before, an there was no warning. I’m really really missing him. There. I wrote it. It’s always harder to see it in writing. I loved him, he loved me, and he was the only reason I would ever want to go home. I will write a tribute post to him at some point when I can do so without feeling a giant gaping hole in my gut every time I think about him. My mother called him her “Asperger’s Cat” and would make comments about how he and I were so very much alike in these aspects. That’s the closest she’s ever come to telling me about my diagnosis. But that’s not the point of this post. A good family friend who had been battling a particularly fatal form of cancer died not 3 hours later. Friday was pretty darn awful. But that’s not the point of this post either. This post has actually been mostly written for a while, ever since an entertaining conversation in the comments section of one of Ariane’s posts (a fantastic post titled “Want to know about Autism? Ask an Autistic”) over at Emma’s Hope Book. But the events of last Friday have led to a number of people wanting to give me spontaneous hugs, and this is universally not a helpful thing for me right now. Here’s why.
I consider myself a huggy person. And by that, I mean, I occasionally crave hugs. I don’t like them when they’re unsolicited. I don’t like them when they’re unannounced. I don’t like them from people I don’t know. I don’t like them unless I’m in need of a hug. And sometimes I’m even able to be the initiator of a hug, if it is a friend who asks of me something I would ask of them when necessary: “I need a hug”. And that makes me huggy. I don’t recoil instinctively at the idea of hugging someone, I just don’t like them very often.
For me, a hug is a thing of comfort, not a thing of affection. A hug can be comforting without being sexual. A hug can be someone helping to control my out of whack sensory system with calming deep pressure. A hug can be someone reminding me that I am not alone. A hug can be something I need in order to get through the next hour or even day. A hug can be something that makes me feel better. A hug is an act of friendship, a promise that someone is there for you when you need it. I guess technically, excluding affection from hugs isn’t quite right. But it’s the affection of comfort. Of knowing you’re safe, and that there is someone there for you. It isn’t the affection I would reserve for a family member or significant other. It’s something completely different. For me, I start feeling huggy, or rater, in need of hugs, when I’m not feeling well. When my body is getting sick, and I stop being able to deal as well with the sensory assault that is surviving in my world. Or when I’m getting overwhelmed, and close to a meltdown or shut down, sometimes I need a hug… only sometimes. And on rare occasions when I’m feeling strong emotions, and my body doesn’t know how to react. Times when I need comforting the most. But there’s often a limit… a window in which I want a hug. Go past that window in either direction, and hugs become a miserable thing for me again. They’re not a universal solution. I’ve been well past that window for the past few days – I skipped right past the “I need a hug” to the “don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, I can’t process any human interaction” phase. Sometimes hugs aren’t the solution.
Last time I wrote about hugs, I discussed the “red/yellow/green” sticker system at Mensa meetings. Green means “hug me!” while red means “don’t touch me!”. Yellow is the happy medium of “ask me first”. (And I learned that Autreat has a similar system) I said I was a yellow. But I don’t know if that’s quite accurate. More likely, I’m a yellow with a red dot in the middle. I don’t mind hugs, on occasion, but please, please, ask me first, and understand that I’m very likely going to turn you down. And group hugs? Please please PLEASE don’t make me join. They put my arms at odd angles, and there’s different pressure from different people on all sides, and it’s not comforting in the least. Usually it just feels like I’m going to explode, and that’s really not a fun feeling. Group hugs send me curled up into a ball under the table in the corner, rocking back and forth, face in my knees, trying to get rid of all the awful feelings. Please don’t ever make me group hug. If I’m feeling like my brain and body can handle it, I might join in, but it 100% has to be on my terms.
I’ve been known to write statuses or send texts to a few very specific people saying “I need a hug”. These people understand that for me, a hug is something completely different than it is for most people. I need a hug when I feel like the world is closing in, and when my tenuous grip on my sensory system loosens and I can’t control it anymore. Whenever people who aren’t those few see me hug one of them, or see me say that, they always get confused, and bombard me with questions like “I thought you didn’t like hugs” and “why won’t you hug me”. And it’s true, I don’t like hugs from most people. You have to earn your way into my “people whom I can and will hug” circle, by proving to me that you are a safe person who respects me and my need for space, boundaries, and honesty.
And sometimes, all I need is someone online to write “*hug*” into our chat window. Virtual hugs are the best kind, after all. All the intentions of making you feel better, without actually having to physically touch anything except some letters on a keyboard.
I will also say that sometimes for me, I will initiate hugs when I want to say “thank you” beyond just saying the words. So if I ever initiate an online or real life hug it’s probably because I don’t have the verbal ability at that moment to say thank you. And on that note, I wanted to thank all my readers who have come and commented, shared their experiences, or shared these posts. Every time I read a comment, I get a little warm, fuzzy feeling inside. If I didn’t respond to one, it’s not because I didn’t read it, or don’t care. It’s because I was so overwhelmed by responses that I couldn’t. So to anyone who’s ever left a comment here, shared a post, or sent me a message, sharing your thoughts and stories, *hug*, and thank you, for listening, thinking, and responding.