Individuals with Aspergers are particularly vulnerable to living in what is sometimes called “The Grey Zone.” Perhaps an illustration will help to explain what I mean by this.
Behold the boy wizard Harry Potter serving detention in the Forbidden Forest at night. He comes across a shadowy figure drinking the silvery blood of a dead unicorn. The figure is none other than Harry’s archnemesis Voldemort, currently a ghost of his former self. Noticing Harry, Voldemort begins advancing on him.
Seeing Harry in peril, the centaur Firenze comes to the rescue. When Harry asks about the figure he saw, and why he was drinking the unicorn’s blood, Firenze explains:
- “The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
Living with AS is, in many ways, like living this half-life—not living so much as existing–or rather living in a “grey zone”. As the name suggests, life in this zone is neither one thing nor another, but somewhere in between: not exactly sad, but not happy, either; not insane, but not mentally healthy; not asleep, but not quite awake; and so forth. It is what Lehi referred to as a “compound in one”, a hazy existence with nothing very clearly defined. It is frequently characterized by shame, grief, withdrawal, and despair. There is a constant undercurrent of melancholy and “nothingness” which colors every aspect of life (gray, of course).
In my own experience, life in the Grey Zone is largely dominated by “Not stupid, but not very intelligent”. It’s a form of sleepwalking through life, being partially aware of what is happening in the outside world, but not entirely. Because of this, many autistics are perceived as being self-absorbed. While there may be some truth to this notion—I often get caught up in my own thoughts to the point that I am largely unconscious of my surroundings and other people—it is an oversimplification of a complex mode of existence. Much of the work to be done by the AS individual involves getting out of the Grey Zone and awakening to life in all of its complexity, uncertainty, and energy.