Friday, February 6, 2015

Thoughts on . . . Autism

Autism scares the crap out of me.
Note: This post will be more my thoughts on autism in my own life than on autism in others or autism in general.
It probably started back in high school. Watching Rain Man for the first time and seeing how the character reacted to loud noises blew my mind because loud noises short circuit my brain too. And the similarities did not stop, although they were exaggerated in what I hoped was a Hollywood treatment. This was when I first started to suspect there might be something wrong with me in a way that could be diagnosed.

I doubt that I would be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome if I went in to be diagnosed for it, but then I listen or watch or read about people with Asperger's talking about it and I get physically sick. It is horrifying to hear their experiences and know them myself. The idea that what I've gone through isn't singular is in and of itself horrifying, but then the idea that it has a name, that it's a type of autism, that people have gone through this that are not as gifted or blessed as I am, that maybe some of my gifts are partly symptoms . . .

It scares the crap out of me.

Do I owe my ability to this? Do I owe my desire to learn to this? Is my obsession of knowing everything about whatever I am interested in due to this? Is it worth the failed relationships of my life? Is it worth not understanding how people act for an absurdly long amount of time? Is it worth not being able to trust what people say to this day? Is it worth always feeling like someone's last choice?

They should call it Algernon's Syndrome:
Choose a lifetime of talent or a lifetime of happiness.
Except you can't choose.

Whether it's something about myself that I enjoy or something about myself that I hate, the fact that it's on a list of symptoms is disturbing. Am I me? Am I less unique? Less special? Less self?

But I was never diagnosed. So is it all just a coincidence? Taking an autism spectrum quotient test, I am 3 standard deviations above normal, which is pretty unlikely except that it's right smack in the middle of normal for people diagnosed autistic.

There's so much I hate about myself that's practically a checklist for Asperger's.
I really want people to like me but I never choose to be around them and never really feel comfortable, no matter if those people are friends I've had for years or even if they're family.

And if I do somehow make an effort, I know I'm going to drop the ball when it comes to talking about things. I make an effort, put myself forth, but then retreat. At parties, I'll force myself to go up and talk to people, usually for all of about two lines. I scour my brain for anything to speak about that they're interested in. Then I go sit by myself and pretend that I'm more interested in nothing than something. That I have something really important on my phone that's occupying my attention. That I really care about the nothing that is on television. And if there is nothing to pretend? I just sit there. And then I'm accused of moping. What the flip do you want me to do? It's an act. It's just an act, and not one that I'm very good at for prolonged periods of time.

I like being nice. I like helping people. What's wrong with that? Why isn't it appreciated? Why does it feel like if I'm not nice to people that there will be nobody to be nice to? Why can't I trust anyone?

I don't think that I talk for hours on end about particular obsessive topics anymore, but looking back, I don't really talk much anymore. I rarely spend prolonged periods of time with just a single person where we would need to talk and when i think about times that I've had long conversations going back years, it was almost exclusively me talking about stuff. Like stuff people probably don't care about.

Even today, my primary form of communication is "did you know" type things. I am constantly learning stuff and then expelling it the first chance I get. I don't know how to have a conversation.

I don't memorize license plates anymore. Usually. I mean, if someone cuts me off or something I may take a gander. I don't know why I ever started doing that. It was just something to do. Driving is boring. I don't know. Why would I memorize license plates? What does that accomplish? Make me seem even more weird?

Everything needs to be planned. I don't like when people can't keep to a schedule. It upsets me. I'd like to use stronger words to describe just how bothersome it is. I have to stop myself from holding it against people. I can't help it. It's like I'm being attacked. It's like loud noises. I will frequently describe a place as having chaotic chi or bad vibes if people are behaving randomly and I usually try to make an exit strategy as quickly as possible from those places and situations. I feel under attack. That's the best description. The fire alarm, vacuums (unless I'm operating the vacuum becuase for some reason that makes it OK), not following the plan, being late, people yelling. It's all an attack. I'm under attack.

And I've gotten to the point where if I have to deal with it, then I can deal with it, but it's not pleasant.

At a fire alarm earlier this year I was white-knuckling it to keep it under control until I could get out of the building and away from the noise. I don't know how I made it through checking in at Pennsic this year.

I now know how to make a joke out of not getting something. "Oh, it's funny because such and such," applying a dry, explaining-the-joke-like-I-get-it-but-didn't-think-it's-funny way which is actually a type of joke itself. But I only realized this year that this is something I do as a defense mechanism. I really do understand jokes and innuendos sometimes . . . I guess I just don't understand why they make people laugh though.

I'm more comfortable at home alone, but I'm desperately lonely. I don't know if people were ever really my friends in truth or if it was always just a matter of convenience or I don't know. Does anyone actually like me? Do my family? Do the people that say they're my friends? Did they ever? Is everything really my fault? Is it because I'm too fucking retarded to tell? Can I ever get to the point where I can trust someone?

I just don't know.
But everything I've described is something that is considered characteristic for people with autism.

And then, for the most part, I really believe that most psychological "disorders" should be described as "conditions" instead of "disorders". I mean, ADHD for instance is not a disorder, it's just a description of a condition that a group of people have. It's like describing someone has black hair, except that this has behavioral ramifications in that they probably procrastinate, have a hard time staying on task, notice everything, and regularly bounce off the walls. Sometimes, those behaviors are difficult enough to keep within societal norms that medicine and treatment can help in the same way that hair dye can help change someone's characteristic hair color. You may prefer brunettes, but there are plenty of people out there that like those of us with black hair. It's not a bad thing to have black hair so long as you can manage it. I mean, don't have any bird nests in there. Wash it every once in a while. Except maybe you need the dye but you're allergic to it or it doesn't help you the way it helps others. . . . Is this metaphor going on too long?

I am lucky. Ridiculously so. I could overcome many issues I had in school through brute force and applying myself. I was never diagnosed with anything. I probably do not have Asperger's.

But then I watch a video on the symptoms of Asperger's or someone with it and it's just disgusterrifying. I don't know why I find it so jarring. Is it survivor guilt? Is it knowing that I could have very easily been too damaged to save? Or is it knowing that if I could have been diagnosed that there were probably steps that could have been taken that could have made some very dramatic changes in my life for the better. Graduating from Pitt comes to mind. Any of dozens of friendships that I messed up on my own and that I have little to no ill will towards the other now or even when it went to hell.

Does knowing the name make the behavior easier to deal with? Does knowing there are others out there make it easier to bear? It doesn't excuse anything, but it could explain a lot. Why am I simultaneously ashamed and horrified?

Am I ashamed of the diagnosis or of myself? Am I horrified for them or for me?



Thanks for reading. Probably won't promote this one, but please feel free to comment if you have something to share.