I am not emotionless, its the alexithymia.
Has someone ever asked you ‘are you okay’ or ‘how are you feeling’ and you just don’t know and can’t give them an answer? Well, this is what I have, and its called Alexithymia.
Alexithymia is the inability to recognise and/or describe your own emotions. In Greek, this loosely translates to ‘no words for emotions’ and that is exactly what this is. Alexithymia is also a spectrum; some people may be more severe than others. I know some people who are more severe than me, but it is still alexithymia. We are alexithymic.
Its like there's a connection missing between the neurons in my brain, nothing connecting thoughts to emotions or my own brain to emotions. Sometimes its chaos.
For me, alexithymia means that I cannot identify my emotions. I know I am feeling something, but just can’t express or explain what it feels like for me. What I can identify is the ‘basic’ emotions. Anger, sadness and happiness. But that is about it. Everything else is obscure and hidden to me. I know through education and reading that there is a wide range of words to describe and identify emotions and I know that they are there somewhere, I just can’t recognise that that is what I am feeling at the time.
Autism is linked with alexithymia, but it can also be without autism. The link with autism is stronger, so people who are autistic are more likely to be alexithymic than those who are not autistic. Its to do with brain processes and communication. I have a huge difficulty with social communication, and my brain is very logical, so it makes sense to me why I am also alexithymic.
There is a question surrounding alexithymia and its links to aphantasia (see previous post) That the difficulty of being able to see images correlates to not being able to recognise emotions because of the part of our brain processing this information differently. This has not been thoroughly researched yet but I hope in due course that someone will explore this link further.
I was told that a way to tune into my emotions was to go through physical sensations instead, so when I experience an emotion or feeling I can link it to a physical sensation so I can then recognise what I’m feeling because of that sensation. For example, I know I’m feeling anxious because I make small hand movements and my breathing becomes shorter and my heart rate rises.
Personally, alexithymia is annoying. It does make things harder for me. I don’t know my own emotions, and I find other people’s emotions really uncomfortable because I don’t know how to manage it, and I struggle to connect to people on an empathetic level too. So often I come across as cold even if I do not mean to. And there is a pressure when someone asks ‘how do you feel’ because I try and force an emotion I do not recognise so stress myself out even further and get overwhelmed by it. The number of times I just say ‘I don’t know’ to those types of questions and it is not because I can’t be bothered to give an answer, I actually genuinely mean it. I do not know because there is nothing in my head telling me what it is.
I did not know I was alexithymic until my autism group at university recognised it within me by how I answered questions and through other people who are alexithymic as well. They know how not to overwhelm us. And this can be used for everyone, not just those who are alexithymic. Instead of asking ‘how are you feeling’ try something more factual as its easier to focus on and does not require me to force a feeling I do not identify, so asking ‘what has been happening’ or ‘what is going on’ is calmer for those who are alexithymic as it requires the recollection of events rather than feelings we just do not understand.
Alexithymia is another aspect of my autism, that means I process information differently to other people and react differently to how people expect. But that’s okay. I manage in my own way.