Welcome in

 

One of my biggest obsessions: pro wrestling. Pictured above: Team PAWG, LuFisto & Jordynne Grace

Someone once said, though I couldn’t readily find the source, that a child with autism is not ignoring you but waiting for you to enter their world. Even though I don’t ignore people in social situations, I do tend to stay away from social interactions where the topic is either uninteresting or too surface-level for me to want to engage in. This is contrasted with the times when I talk too much about topics I care about and want to try to interest other people in it so I’m not alone in my, admittedly, niche interests. I think Buddy Wakefield said it best:

I talk too much
If you see me being quiet,
Don’t ask me what’s wrong
I’m just practicing

This is me most of the time. People ask me what I’m interested in and I end up overwhelming them with the overwhelming amount of emotion and cognitive input I get when I experience something like a 5-star wrestling match or listen to a really good song that touches me down to the guts. I don’t share out of selfishness or to dominate a conversation but in the hopes that someone else will be able to experience the elation I feel when I get involved with my favorite things. There’s an excitement there for me and, as a lot of people know, I’m not a very excitable person. I hate surprises, I don’t really like going out, and it can take me a really long time to process emotional content.
This happens outside the ASD community. Everyone gets excited about something or has a passion for something that maybe not everyone shares. Just yesterday I was throwing some things in a recycle bin at my apartment complex and, out of nowhere, this perky red-head gets all excited and tells me about the outdoor patio she discovered on the premises after living here for a year. Being very poor at people being excited about much of anything, I just sort of nodded and stammered my way through a response. I then retreated to my hobbit hole. Upon reflection, I wish I would have been more responsive. After a long day at work, I just didn’t have it in me, I suppose.

It’s something to remember, though. It really is. I don’t try to dominate conversation with my interests but it’s one of the only ways I’m really good at welcoming people into my weird little world. It’s one of the few ways I can show people how I’m really feeling when words get to be too little; music does it so much better. I think part of being Autistic is sometimes not having the words to describe what you’re feeling when you’re feeling every facet of something at once. Sometimes, you share what you love in hopes of gaining an ally and someont to talk to. It’s not just Aspies. NT’s do it too. However, I can say from my experience that no one exhibits a passion for things so strange and off the wall than I do among what few friends I have.

They all think I’m weird. At least they are the people who are wiling to step inside and accept my invitations to this little world.

Now Playing
Artist: Paul Kelly & the Messengers
Song Title: “Dumb Things”
Album: Same Old Walk

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 imaginitive 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’a 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 cokmes 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’a 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 moreso, 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

Loneliest Man[ifesto]

write

I thought. I thought again. Some might say I overthought. They say that knowledge is power. They also say true wisdom is admitting you know nothing at all. And even more so, that with wisdom comes sorrow; knowledge only makes one more frustrated. I guess there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t found out I had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) after a decade of dealing with the depression, anxiety, and uncontrollable moods of Bipolar II disorder. Being the ever-inquisitive I just had to ask that question, had to needle the DSM thinking there might be more and it turns out there was.

When talking to friends and family about this, while being tested then waiting for my test results, I think the must uttered phrase was, “It’s not like it’s going to change anything.” I said it and I think almost everyone else said it too. The logic I followed was if I have it then I’ve been living with the effects of it my whole life and will have already developed coping strategies and ways around the strange wiring of my brain. Getting a diagnosis would, if anything, only confirm I’m more atypical than most and I could go about my life in as normal a fashion as I typically do.

I was so wrong.

That final meeting with the psychologist seemed almost anti-climactic. She gave me the diagnosis as she was getting up to leave. I will admit I was nonplussed by this because I figured I had the whole thing handled, remember? Life had already thrown me for a loop a million times that surely I could get a grip on this and move on with my life. And I was right for a while. Because I didn’t know anything about what it meant and what the implications would be for me going forward as to how to best manage myself and my life. So, of course, I began reading and studying and learning as only I know how to do and I think I moved too fast to cope for the way the shift in perception would hit me.

Did you ever find out you could do something as a natural ability without any sort of coaching or training, things like wiggling your ears or put a pair of glasses on for the first time after years of not being able to see? Very quickly, my perception of my perception of the world began to change. I learned things about my ability to perceive the world I figured were normal but were actually part of being on the spectrum. I react to every noise, especially in an enclosed space like cell phones, dropped writing utensils, the scraping of chairs, etc. Most people just tune that out either by choice or by their brain’s innate ability to gate that sensory input out.

I’ve never been good in large crowds unless it was at shows. But I went to one a while back and realized I didn’t really talk to anyone. I don’t speak small talk and I never have. If there’s live music playing that’s pretty much all I’ll pay attention to. I distinctly remember watching this one guy just go crazy on an acoustic guitar with this southern drawl slipping into his voice like ice into a glass of whiskey and that’s all I heard. Not because it was loud but because music is something my ears have always been attuned to. When I worked in customer service I used to sneak my headphones in so I shunt out some of the noise from all around me including the irritating white noise generators.

Anyway, I was listening and watching this guy play when I felt a hand at my back. I don’t think I moved at all but my friend’s face came into view. She asked me if I was alright with some concern on her face. I told her everything was fine. That was just how I did shows. She and the other friend I came with went and small-talked with their other friends who rode in separately. I didn’t mind. I’m not trying to evoke some sense of sympathy like they bailed on me or something. They did their thing and I did mine and the show was good.

The hands of the clock have made a few trips around its face and maybe even a page has come off the calendar since then. I couldn’t tell you if things have just gotten worse because I’m more cognizant of everything or if it’s stress from school, but I have not spent a lot of time outside of my apartment. I’ve been invited out once or twice to see a show but the minute someone does there’s this rising panic under my diaphragm. I picture being in a situation being surrounded by mostly strangers in a bar I have never personally seen. Where will I park? Who else will be there? What am I supposed to do with myself because I really dread conversation with people I don’t know and I just keep thinking these things and they become too real for me and I have to bail out.

I hate bailing out because of social anxiety. It makes me feel like a complete flake. It also makes me feel as if my friends will be disinclined to invite me to whatever get together they have in the future because they figure I just won’t show up. I really haven’t had a chance to explain my thought process to anyone or why I don’t go out in public much anymore. And usually my brain isn’t preoccupied with the absence of other people. I read a lot, I have homework to do, I have music I could write, or I could even take a nap. I’m usually pretty self-sufficient and I always have been.

But then the devil creeps in and reminds me I’m 30 years old. This old lead weight just sort of sits in the bottom of my ventricles and I don’t want to get out of bed. I feel very alone in the fact that my brain works the way it does and that I haven’t had a chance to explain myself to anybody. I’m just here like I’ve always been here. I have some friends who understand, sure. My parents are difficult sometimes, especially my mom because she has experience in dealing with this with my little sister. She started moving things from the spots where I keep them which was actually anxiety-inducing. I couldn’t use my George Foreman grill for a while because she cleaned it and I didn’t want to make it dirty again.

There’s no one I can explain this to and have it make any sort of sense, I feel like. I can try my hardest and the result is what you’re reading but there are not a lot of people who are going to read this because, for me, I don’t feel 100% human all the time. I feel like some forgotten creature that some people bring out for a laugh every now and again and only at their convenience. And the beauty of that thought is it could be right but it could be totally wrong because of mind-blindness, or an inability to see the nonverbal cues that most neuro-typicals use to understand someone’s thinking. I hope I’m wrong.

But that doesn’t change how I feel now.