Dear, my friends… [An Open Letter]

Dear friends, acquaintances, readers, passers-by, and whomever else it may concern,

It has been over a year since I travelled to the psychologist’s office to receive the results of a battery of tests I had to endure to gain some insight on myself. When all was said and done, I was given a total of two major diagnoses based on DSM-V criteria:

  1. Major Depressive Disorder, Mild recurrent with anxious distress features
  2. Autism Spectrum Disorder

Along with diagnosis number two, the more important of to this letter, came the following information:

  • Social communication requiring support
  • Restricted, repetitive behaviors requiring support
  • Without accompanying intellectual delays
  • Without accompanying language impairment

I think everyone on some level has some idea of what Asperger’s syndrome is, but I want to be clear because everyone, literally everyone, with Asperger’s (now part of the Autism Spectrum as of 2013) is different with a few diagnostic criteria in common.

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by 1) deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth-conversations to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect 2)Deficits in nonverbal communicative behavior used for social interaction ranging from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures, to total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communications. Finally, 3)Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts, to difficulties in sharing in imaginative play or in making friends, to absence of interest in peers.
  2. Restricted, repetitive patterns fo behaviour, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following: 1) Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech, 2) Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behaviour, 3) Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus 4) Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment. (Atwood, 2008, p. 11)

That’s the clinical language surrounding it. If you made it this far, perhaps you’ll be willing to go a little further with me…

Most of what is listed above is true for me. For 30 years I didn’t know any bit of the way I acted was atypical aside from the fact that it made me an outcast in junior high and high school which made me very cynical after I graduated. Throughout that period of time I was also battling major depression on a fairly regular basis with little or no relief from medication, though I was tried on plenty of them.

A trip to the psychiatrist’s office in 2006 led to a diagnosis of some sort of mood disorder at first but then was changed to Bipolar II disorder. This led to more medication. Some of which I am still on, though in lowered dosages. The ensuing ten or so years have been hell, dealing with the side effects, the mood issues, the anxiety, and the depression on top of the social stressors I encountered along the way. These included losing two friends unexpectedly, almost losing a third to suicide, and a failed reconciliation with my biological father. Along with that comes a fear of abandonment because of the aforementioned bio-dad, which is the reason I have not pursued a relationship in the last 5 years or so. Feeble attempts have led to my being ghosted on more than one occasion. It just seemed the whole time, even before I was re-diagnosed, that I was not a good fit with most people.

Admittedly, there was a large amount of clarity that came when my diagnosis was updated to Autism Spectrum Disorder (colloquially: Asperger’s). The way I was growing up, the way I am now all make a lot more sense. To this day I still have issues communicating effectively either because I can’t read the tone of voice being used or because I take questions that have an expected response, like being asked my opinion on a new band someone really likes and wants me to like as well, and I don’t give the expected response by being super excited like they are even if they are visibly excited right in front of me.

If you know me at all, you know I love professional wrestling. I can already hear your collective groans as you read this. However, my obsession fits in well with the, “Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus”. I don’t watch the big names all that much anymore, but I have found a wealth of independent wrestling on the internet. I know the names of moves, I know the history behind some of them, as well as wrestling history in general.  I can tell you who trained who. I can identify the different styles used, and I even named my solo music project after an abnormally named pinning combination, The Magistral Cradle.

So, now, at the age of 31, I am living alone and going to school to get a BS in Psychology in hopes of getting into an MA program in Applied Behavioral Analysis, focusing on working with children on varying parts of the Autism Spectrum. I’m at the perfect school for it and I have the mind and compassion for it, I think. When I’m not doing school I’m on my feet for 4-8 hours a day as a Pharmacy Technician which, having Asperger’s, is surprisingly smooth sailing because a lot of it is just repetitive actions, phrases, and tasks. Now if only I could find a job with more hours and pays better. But that’s not really why I’m writing this.

Aspy’s, as we are lovingly called, are a lonely bunch for the most part. Every day is like a dress rehearsal, accompanied by generalized anxiety as well as anxiety when an activity or task is disrupted. Even when I’m doing something controlled and repetitive, I have to contend with the idea that, at a moment’s notice, my task will change based on the customer volume. I have medication to control it and it works well, but there’s still that conditioned response of hesitation and reticence that has to be overcome

I am lonely sometimes. I live in a small studio apartment that supplies all that I need for living situations and usually I am content with reading, writing, composing music, or just watching a movie by myself. People don’t enter the equation much when it comes to my thought process. My therapist urges me to seek more social interaction, which is probably the greatest difficulty I have right now. Yes, I have people I call friends but, as an Aspy, there is an inherent difficulty in my knowledge of how to maintain those friendships. Just as I am rigid with certain routines, I can be rigid with my definition of friendship and it’s hard for me to wrap my head around anyone else with a different understanding.

Not to mention, the perception of social cues and voice inflections is almost lost on me. I have to intellectualize both my emotions and yours when we talk which is why I’m not always quick to respond or to come up with answers to thought-provoking or introspective questions.

What I’m saying, I guess, is I really do miss people whom I consider friends but never see. I don’t know if I come off with this persona that I don’t like being around people all that much and so it’s considered doing me a favor by not including me in social activities or get-togethers or if those people just aren’t as good friends as I thought. That last statement is not an indictment but an admission of agnosia. I legitimately do not know and, even more so, cannot discern the answer. I just know some days I just lay in my bed with my eyes closed and sink into a world of my own creation, creating scenarios and having conversations with people, none of which is real. I don’t want to do anything, so I just let my mind wander.

I want to be part of your life. I think I have a big heart and a lot to offer even if my actions betray that sentient. So, my goal in writing this is to inspire you to try to understand what it is I deal with on a daily basis and the things I’m still trying to learn about myself. I still have not learned to adapt. I’m still discovering sensory hyperactivity responses, like chaotic noise, or abnormally bright light. I know not everyone understands that. I know not everyone understands why or has the patience to understand me when I say things bluntly or matter-of-fact without regard to the other person’s feelings. These things might offend you or make you mad. Please know it’s never my intent.

What I’m getting at is, if we’re friends, I’m still here. I’m still on this new journey and I wish you’d come along with me, maybe help me figure out what it means to be an Aspy in a sea of Neuro-typicals. Let’s have some fun. Just, please, don’t try to change me or fix me. This is who I am. This is who I was created to be. Just love me for that and things will work themselves out, I’m sure.

Until then, a certain song comes to mind whenever I feel out-of-place or like I’m on the outside looking in:

Not inferior, just different,

J

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