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

Darwin Never Had A Driver’s License


The theory of evolution states
Those unfavorable traits we carry in our genes
Will be eradicated by means of selective
Extinction by a very slow process
Of making those genes unavailable
Basically,
If it doesn’t help the species flourish
It eventually dies.

I know I have a lot of unfavorable genes
Depression, anxiety, Asperger’s, and bad joints
Meds, therapists, and psychiatrists
All sort of make me feel like
My soul went shopping for its chassis and engine
And came out of the lot with a certified
Lemon.

I’ve had relationships.
I’ve come close to relationships, too.
They all end in similar fashions
With the girl doing the dashing
Whether I did grabbed the heart
And did the smashing
Like a football against the turf

(Even though you get a penalty
For unsportsmanlike conduct
When you spike the ball
If it ain’t yours, who cares?)

Or she tied every heart string
Around her finger like a she wanted a reminder
And when the tension got to be too much
She clenched her fist and rushed out
So fast, it took only that part of me with her
But left me living to survive with that pain.

Listen, I wonder sometimes if I
Was meant to die lonely while I watch
Everyone around me find out what it means
To at least be momentarily overjoyed
With the rings on their fingers and
Kids popping out every which woman

I am not, nor have I ever been built
To know what that is like in a sense
Other than one that is unique to me.
And if that means facing Darwin’s
Stoic perception of how traits die out
In this world then I will fight him to
Every last hair in his beard

Because as much as we agree
On certain things I don’t think
He’ll come out of this fight breathing
He is not the master of my destiny
And evolution was just a small picture
In this great landscape painting
Long before he described
The evolution of the species

Truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing
Don’t know where I’m going
Right now it seems prudent just to do
What is required to survive.

That’s hard enough most of the time.
Besides, if I had stopped my life
Every time I’d fallen in love
I’d feel even farther behind.
I only did that once
And it was the biggest waste
Of three years of my life

But sometimes, I ask God,
He being greater than Darwin
What it is I’m supposed to be doing
I don’t have a concrete answer yet
But like I learned driving from
Nebraska to Wyoming to Utah
To Nevada to California to Arizona (Fuck you)
To Kansas and back home

When you’re surrounded by open road
It’s way easier to go forward than back
Or to wait on the shoulder
For someone to save you

Fill up that tank,
Replace that tire and put miles behind you
And thank God Darwin can’t drive.

Nickel-Cadmium Battery

lightning-night-sky1

Running myself down like an old nickel-cadmium battery
Charged at the beginning of the day but with the energy
Of a twenty-four hour a day memory
Remembering the length of time I spent yesterday
Spinning my heart and mind over the bumps
And creaks my body speaks,
The groans and the braille tell the story
And this hi[s]tory is trapped in the chemical reactions
That give me energy after
Forgetting if I fell asleep the night before
And waking with the pools of my eyes dried shut

Must keep in mind to make the battery run dry
Before feeding it more or it will give me less to go on
Tomorrow.
Or tomorrow will be shorter than the last.

If depression is a rock
And anxiety a hard space
I’m stuck between an ever-narrowing valley
Of the things that broke me
And the things that maybe will
The electricity in my body is running so dry
That the desert of my skin misses
The rain of my body
Dry thunderstorm in no one’s arms

My battery is running low with nowhere left
For this last bit of current to go so I can sleep
And the desire to feed it to you is so short
An upturn of the palms would let it arc
Like I am always the third rail
The pleasant tap on the tip of your tongue
From a nine volt,
Looking out at skyline distance, capturing lightning bolts
I swear for the fleeting moment I was there
And then gone again.
Camera flash
The millisecond passed
Then I was gone again.

A NiCad battery should never be plugged into energy
Until it’s drained of all its stored capacity
Or it builds up a memory
And run out of its electricity more quickly.
I have a long memory.
Don’t plug me in unless you plan on keeping me.

The Goodbye at Union Station

I can recall watching ER when it was being broadcast. Of course, I was too young to care about certain facets of stories. Love, relationships… All this was lost on me then. The science and medicine were more important to me then.

Now, I’m 29. Enough time has passed that I’ve developed a love for story and character. I recently started to revisit this show from my youth and was reminded fondly of the love story that never quite was. It seems, now, so perfectly orchestrated. 

I won’t go into details because it’s meant to be seen, experienced. See how you feel when the train pulls away. 

Feels like I Got Run Over by a Red Editing Pen.

Edit my life

I should have listened…
I should have listened to my best friend’s father
when he told me, with great love and affection,
“You can’t rely on people too much…
Eventually, they’re going to fail you.”
I have seen my fair share of failures from people
through these 28 years and
there are definitely nights when I tumble around
memories of those kinds of lessons learned
in my mind
like shoes left alone in a dryer.
They kick the inside of my skull like
petulant children wanting out of their rooms
because I have not yet muster the courage
to let them go
They are grounded.

I just wish I could say the same for myself.
Then maybe I could stop having dreams
that figure out my problems faster than my
mind does at its waking speed
assisted with pharmaceutical concentration tablets.
I have a prescription for them, I swear.
Obtained them legally for a treatment of my
many ill diagnoses.
I’m a mess.

And I have been a mess for longer than I ever dreamed possible
My mom always told me it takes at least half the time
you were with someone to get over the fact that they’re gone.
Well, Ma, it’s been over that period of time and part of me
still misses part of her that’s gone
At least now I can think about her with as level a head
as I can generally muster,
marching through these cold months,
waking up alone, in a cold room in a warm bed
the polarization of these simultaneous events
is enough to give me a long pause and think
about my eventual rising from my mattress and pillows,
emerging from underneath my comforters quilted by my own mother
and, some mornings, I battle the dark demons
of a depressive state
weighing all my options on whether or not I want to go to work that day.

I have only failed once because I have learned the art
of talking to myself and the effect of music
to bring my spirit back to the edge.
A friend turned me on to the Gaslight Anthem’s “Handwritten”
and It’s Brian Fallon’s guitar
that usually sinks hooks into my deadweight body
then pulls me to my feet to begin the day.

Because I can’t rely on people anymore, not really.
And I don’t think I made that decision consciously,
there’s a surge of electricity that courses through my every cell
throughout my body every time I think about social interaction.
So, while everyone is getting into relationships,
engaged, married
I’m watching old TV shows that remind me that there may be
hope in my story yet.
And in my dreams I am just a punk kid who runs from his friend
when things change.
I learned that from my subconscious today and upon waking
I reached a moment of clarity I had not seen for at least 9 months
and I’m hoping it’s the start of a better path than I’ve been walking.

I’ve been alone. A lot.
I learn my lessons the hard way.
My head must go through the brick wall
before I realize it is solid and I must burn coil marks
into my hand
Before I realize the stove cooks food (and my hand), so it must be hot
And telling one person (aside from my therapist)
all the thoughts I have and all the things that scare me,
then have that person excise themselves from your life
like a new body part ripped from its grafting site,
tearing the stitches from the skin of which it had been a part of
for over a year and a half…
Leaves a lot of wounds and, eventually, scars
And so I haven’t spoken much to anyone,
I don’t leave my apartment much
and I battle with depression like the Southern states
deal with bouts of ice.
I shut down sometimes.

And there’s so much I want to do that I can’t.
I feel like my strength has left me completely.
Hello, my name is complacency.

Celebrating with “Her”.

Her

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”

I moved into an apartment about a month ago after spending a few years living in my parents’ basement again. I did what I had to do to get through college, I guess. This move has had its ups and downs, mostly ups because there’s nothing wrong with living here. I like it in fact. The downs come from me, usually. The apartment just facilitates the space and the time alone for me to let it sit in my head to fester and metastasize. I’ve struggled with being on my own and feeling isolated from the world and the depression that hasn’t really left me since June of last year.

I guess you could say I’ve been lonely.

Today is my birthday and I did everything I could to avoid any sort of interaction with people. I don’t like celebrating my birthday and I like being around people in a social setting even less, lately. So, I stayed in my room and tried to fend off my brain with what I could find for entertainment on Netflix and tried to find some way of getting out of going to my parents’ house because they want to celebrate my birthday. I eventually gave up trying that, just so you know. Anyway, I remembered there was a movie I wanted to see and decided to go alone. I decided to go to the 12:55 showing of this movie and when the time came I tossed on my clothes, my boots and my leather jacket and went to the theatre.

Going out in public by myself has always been easier in a lot of ways. Most people like to talk, but I don’t like to talk much. Talk is so cheap sometimes, especially to me and especially on my birthday. I guess I was disappointed too many times as a kid and this is another manifestation of the psychological damage done by my father when he abandoned me 15 years ago. Or maybe it’s just the winter. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I was really happy to have gone alone. I bought my ticket and went in and grabbed my seat.

[Unrelated to the topic at hand but I’m pretty sure I saw someone I went to high school with and had a thing for. It’s weird to see people you knew when the years have caused them to swell and balloon]

The movie I had come to see was a Spike Jonze film called “Her”. I was hoping for something good but, instead, I got to see something special.

Never has the future looked good dressed in red cardigans and plaid. The movie’s premise is that of a melancholy writer named Theodore. As the film progresses, you discover that he is going through a divorce and is having a difficult and lonely time of coping. He spends his time playing video games and having what amounts to kinky phone sex (where his partner asks him to strangle her with a cat) to fill the time. He has some friends and he attempts to date but nothing seems to work for him. In the midst of this he is introduced to a new product that is the first artificially intelligent operating system called OS 1. A clever little nod to Apple, I felt, considering their integration of Siri into their mobile OS.

Theodore installs this new operating system and, almost immediately, you are charmed by her warmth despite the fact that she is part of his computer. Scarlett Johansson does a wonderful job as the voice of Samantha, the OS. Very quickly, she begins to learn more about human nature and her own and she and Theodore develop the closest thing to a human relationship as possible. At moments it is sad because, as part of the audience, I felt like Samantha could be real. In the story, both Theodore and Samantha mention how much they both wish she had a body and could be next to him.

As they tend to do, doubt and jealousy begin to strain this relationship. This is where everything fell into place for me. Good films are artistic. The films that matter most are the ones where you can see yourself in them, the ones you can relate to. I found myself very much in Theodore’s shoes through most of his story. This movie was not one about technology for me and how its replacing social activity in our society. An argument could be made for that but, for me, this movie was about distance. It was about caring for someone who is essentially just a voice at the end of a line and wanting them, so badly, to be there with you.

It reminded me of my own experience with long distance relationships.

I can’t spoil the ending for you because I want you to see it for yourself and make your own judgements about how well put-together this movie is. I will say this: I know what it’s like to love someone who is, in one capacity, far away or inaccessible. And I know the problems it can create with jealousy and communication with that person and I know what it feels like when it all falls apart and you’re left with nothing.

My heart felt stimulated for the first time in a very long time. I think good art will do that to you, no matter the medium. In a world where classic movie remakes and TV show reboots are the money making scheme in film, it felt really good to see someone taking the time to assemble a cast and write a script that created a unique experience that tells a tale I’m sure almost anyone can relate to. It felt really good to be inspired again. And, for some reason, it felt really good to experience that by myself. I didn’t have to give my opinion afterwards or try to instantly analyze what I saw. I got to soak it up and process it.

And that has made all the difference.