Trying stuff

I got my first job when I was 16. I worked at Whataburger, and overall, I hated it. I felt trapped when I was there, and I hated being in a position where I had to do whatever someone else told me. In the vast majority of the jobs I’ve had since then, it only got worse, especially when I was pressured to make sales.

I had more than a dozen jobs here and there until I was about 27 or 28, and it wasn’t just the jobs themselves that made me miserable. It was having to always have a job and thinking that that was just going to be my life. It made me unhappy, and it turned me into a paranoid narcissist. The only escape I had was believing that I was special and the world was trying to keep me down.

After Hollywood Video died and my job there died with it, I gave up on that kind of job. I could no longer even bring myself to fill out a job application. I still can’t. My girlfriend, Michelle, encouraged me to get my official autism diagnosis so I could get on disability for the freedom to explore what I wanted to do, and it has been so much better.

Now I have a number of different projects I’m working on, and though I haven’t struck gold with anything yet, I’m enjoying these beginnings of my journey to success.

Yay for life

I tend to find things to write about mostly when something is bothering me, so I thought I’d post something happy while nothing is bothering me. I don’t really have anything specific planned to write. I just wanted to wiggle my fingers on the keyboard for a bit and see what words come out.

Since I got my lens back from Canon and switched to Linux Mint on my main computer, I’ve felt very satisfied as far as my aspie obsessions are concerned. I take a lot of pictures, I get to use a variety of operating systems among my various devices (desktop with Linux, tablet with Windows 10, and Kindle Fire running Kindle’s version of Android), I’m not sick or injured, I’m in a wonderful relationship, and I just discovered that I have powers like Superman.

You would think that this would be the part where I confess that I’m just kidding, but no. I’m Superman. Deal with it. :p

What a difference getting help makes

It’s been several months since I started getting disability payments, and it has been a huge help to me.  I no longer suffer from the stress of working at retail jobs.  I don’t have to panic when I get sick because I can go to a doctor.  I can sharpen my photography skills with new equipment.  I have been more productive in the past few months than I was in all the time since I graduated from high school.  I could even put together a halfway decent resume if I really wanted to look for a job.  I don’t, of course, because I’m pursuing photography, but here are a few items I would put on it.

* Photographer for meetings of Houston Oasis, a local 501(c) organization and growing secular community

* Member of the Houston Oasis marketing committee

* Leader of support group meetings for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome

* Admininstrator of a growing Facebook group for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome in the Houston area

* Webmaster of my own photography website (http://www.jpmitchellphotography.com)

* Slayer of TROG-DOR THE BURNINATOR!

I’m kidding about the last one.  Nobody could ever defeat Trog-Dor.  But anyway, I’d say that’s pretty good so far, and it’s thanks in large part to the freedom I have now to explore my interests.  It’s gratifying to know that I’m putting the money to good, productive use.

The importance of self awareness

For a ridiculously long time, I was turning people away from me without even knowing it. I would say things that would hurt them and then try to justify my actions, thinking that if I just talked hard enough, my words would have the effect that I intended. I’ve behaved insensitively, and I suppose the effects have been so gradual, it’s only now that I’ve begun to reverse my course that I’m seeing the difference. I was pushing everyone away, and I was close to ending up alone and unhappy. I would have deserved it too. I’d have had no one but myself to blame.

Asperger’s Syndrome is not an excuse for behaving badly. I tried to use it as one, but I was wrong, and I am sorry to everyone I’ve hurt. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but I wasn’t trying not to, and the truth is that I was hurting people. I had no consideration for anyone’s feelings but my own. I can’t say I was unaware of what other people were going through. Some of them were directly telling me, and I refused to acknowledge them. It was incredibly childish, and I knew better.

I have no right to expect anyone to forgive me, but people are starting to all on their own. It’s amazing and humbling. I want more than anything else to make myself worthy of the compassion I’m being shown. I’m making more of an effort than ever before to create a climate of peace in my mind because constantly fighting is so tiring, and it’s not strength that made me keep it up for so long. It was weakness. The more tired I got, the harder I fought until I found myself more and more alone. When I took a step back, I saw what I had become and where the path I was on was leading me, and I didn’t want that. I want to be as good as my friends and family. I want to be accepted and liked. I have to adjust not only my behavior but also my way of thinking or else all of my talents will go to waste, and I will never be happy.

Aspies and our parents

I know that John has posted extensively about his complex and turbulent relationship with his parents, so I thought I should go into my own situation.

My parents could hardly be any more different from each other.  I figure they got together through sheer physical attraction.  My mom is very emotional but also closed off.  She reacts very strongly to things, but she keeps a lot to herself.  I think she is the main reason my sisters and I went to church when we were kids.  She’s one of those “spiritual but not religious” people with a mishmash of beliefs that are based on whatever makes her feel like she understands reality, though in actual reality she understands very little, and it’s impossible to have a conversation or debate with her about it.  Back when I was as superstitious as her, if I said something she found interesting, she would say “that’s deep” in a sort of mocking tone that didn’t encourage me to really go on.  Now that I’m more sensible, all of my points are met with “you have too much time to think” or “science is a religion”.  We get along ok most of the time because she likes to pretend that everything is ok when it really isn’t.

My dad is probably an aspie himself, though he hasn’t been tested and never will be.  I get the impression that he thinks things like asperger’s syndrome are just excuses not to do things.  He worked hard to get through school and get a job, so he expects me to do the same, and because I don’t, he’s disappointed.  Fortunately, I don’t care because I can see what walking the well paved path of conformity has done for him.  He keeps himself amused through various engineering, computer, or carpentry projects, but he’s basically not a happy guy.  When my sisters and I were little, he would hit us with his belt when we made him angry.  I remember the way he would snap it when he threatened us with it.  He was a monster, but he has become more of a human being when we became old enough to realize what he was doing was wrong.  It left us all with emotional scars that have yet to be healed completely.  He was one of 10 kids in a very catholic family, so you can imagine what the abuse was like for him.  His parents are both dead now, and he’s almost 62 now, so he’s probably as healed right now as he’ll ever get.  It’s pretty sad, especially because even to this day he thinks child abuse is sometimes justified.  He never touches his grandkids like that though.  He knows that would cause them to be removed from his life.  Despite all this, he and I have a lot in common, and we talk about computers a lot.  I have a lot of good memories of talking to him when I was little.

I don’t feel like either of my parents understand me or want to understand me.  They both just want me to conform and get a job and be miserable like everybody else.  I thought parents were supposed to want their kids to have better lives than they have.  Oh well.  I feel no obligation to work for their approval.  They have a long way to go before they get mine, but until then, relations will remain cordial.

My adoption, and a few more thoughts on that empathy thing

I am adopted.  I love my mom & dad, could not have asked for better parents.  My adoption took place and was processed in South Carolina in 1971.  During the last year, I filled out the paperwork for and obtained all the legally available documentation pertaining to that adoption.  While so-called “identifying information” (proper names of persons, institutions, etc) have been redacted, basic descriptive information on my birth parents were included.  I know that my birth mother was a college freshman.  I know my biological father was a college senior about to graduate.  I know (from the documents) that he did graduate and go on to graduate school in Florida and was the son of a doctor, though it is unclear if what is meant is a physician or PhD.  He is described as “very intelligent” but also it is noted more than once that he is a “nervous”, “anxious” man.  It is little clues like this that lead me to believe my biological father was probably an undiagnosed (and for that day and age, undiagnosable–as he evidently did not qualify for the full-on autism diagnosis of that era) Aspie.

I must have been conceived some time in the summer of 1970.  According to statements given for the record, both persons had been under the influence of alcohol (presumably at a college party) and neither in full command of their faculties.   Immediately after their congress, my biological father reportedly professed his love for my biological mother…again, this strikes me as very impulsive/immature and “Aspie”-like and offered to marry her, but she rebuffed him, as the feeling was not mutual.  Without the social lubricant of alcohol, I can only further assume–based on the assumption that my biological father was indeed an Aspie–that with both being stone cold sober, my father’s inherent social awkwardness could not be so easily hidden and that without “beer goggles” his attractiveness as an actual prospective mate fell off markedly.  Documents show he was a relatively handsome, tall blond haired, blue eyed man.  Based on the physical description of my birth mother, it seems I mainly inherited my looks from her.  She was relatively short, with brown eyes, athletic (well, ok, didn’t inherit that), and had brown hair with a reddish tint.

Before I knew all of this, I had grown a quasi-van dyke beard/mustache combo while I was still married which I’ve subsequently shaved off.  I was quite shocked at the time to note among my facial hair not only the expected dark brown hairs but some bright red and even blonde hairs that were mystifying to me at the time but make perfect sense now given what I now know of my biological parents.

My biological father evidently married another woman and was pursing a Masters-level graduate degree when my biological mother discovered she was pregnant by him and contacted him.  He offered full financial support, though he was constrained by the fact that his current wife was evidently unaware of this situation initially and it might put incredible strains on his marriage.  He was subsequently unable to follow through with financial support, despite his good intentions, owing to his own strained circumstances in Florida (even in the best of circumstances, it’s not like graduate students are exactly rolling in the dough, then or now).

All this exposition is a long winded way of getting around to the point of noting that I received on my birthday a genetics testing kit from the organization 23 AND ME, which is a genetics testing lab that is collecting samples of cheek cells in saliva samples in order to conduct DNA testing on the samples.  While it won’t give me direct information that I can use to identify my birth parents, it will give me more abstract information such as my general ethnic background, what part of Europe my mother and father’s respective families came from, etc.  It can also potentially identify more distant relatives, which could lead to clues tracing (eventually) back to my birth parents maybe.  This was my atypical 42nd birthday present that I asked for and my (adoptive) parents endorsed.  Yes, on Friday I turned the same age as the Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. (“Six by nine equals forty two? I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe.” –Arthur Dent).

23 AND ME requires users to register their kits with their website.  Unregistered kits will not be processed.  I have done so.  23 AND ME also has surveys that users are allowed to take at their leisure.  One of them was an Empathy quiz, evidently designed (or made with input or inspiration from) Simon Baron-Cohen.  I took it.  I was largely unsurprised by the result, which indicated I have “below normal” levels of empathy.  I still have problems with Simon Baron-Cohen’s thesis and methodology, and I still assert that Aspie empathy is different than NT empathy, that measures of empathy are not some objective quantity that NTs have and Aspies simply lack, full stop.

Some of the questions definitely made me think, however.  It made me wonder why seeing an animal in pain & suffering is more upsetting to me than seeing a human who is a stranger to me crying in the street or on television, say.  I do remember I cried very much when my paternal grandfather died, as I was very close to “Pa” and missed him dearly.  I was very young, and it was not long after we’d first moved to Houston in 1979.  With the much later deaths of my maternal grandmothers and great aunt, which were also far less sudden (the proverbial writing had been on the wall, so to speak such that all knew it was only a matter of time) and less of a shock…while I did feel a general sadness, I was not moved to tears by those deaths in my adult years.

It’s also been my experience that I am capable of flashes of empathy while watching Anime characters…especially when I’m watching alone, in the dark, and let myself fully participate in the fiction of the story on screen and develop an emotional bond with the characters.  I have winced when a favorite character was slapped, insulted, punched, etc, or hit with an emotionally shocking revelation, etc.  I have cried watching emotionally impactful anime stories.  I recognize that I often feel more emotional connection and concern for these fictional characters than I do for real life co-workers, casual friends, etc.

The survey also reminded me of situations like being with my former in-laws, that is, my then wife’s family, when my former father-in-law was dying in the hospital hospital.  I remember them all crying when he died, embracing and hugging.  I remained respectfully quiet, but did not tear up myself.  I really didn’t know the man all that well, and actually, he was not a particularly nice person, only “slightly left of the KKK”, as it were.  I had no direct emotional connection to this man and thus was not moved to tears despite all the crying relatives around me.  I remained clearheaded and sober and after a brief silence, began to ask his ex-wife (my mother-in-law) about funeral arrangements and other business that would have to be taken care of.  NTs can react with shock and call this “lack of empathy” if they like, but they should be thankful for Aspies who, in crisis situations, are not overwhelmed by emotion and can still think and act logically and rationally.

I have experimented with watching Anime and trying to remain as emotionally detached and objective as possible…and wind up surprising myself after a tear splashes down on my cheek involuntarily after a particularly sad or emotional sequence.  I then let up on the emotional “brake” lever in my mind and allow myself to feel the emotions generated.  It almost feels like my body has rebelled against my mind in instances like that.  I don’t know what it means, I’m merely reporting the results of my experiment.

I recall reading in John Elder Robison’s writings that with emotional situations, it seems to take the Aspie longer to process an emotional event, but it’s not as if we feel absolutely nothing…but because we are not immediately “in synch” with our NT colleagues, oftentimes we are “written off” as lacking empathy, full stop.  We are processing the same emotional content a bit slower and sometimes reaching different conclusions and responses.  Plus, all people on the spectrum are not only at variance with the NT population, but with each other as well.  I realize that Simon Baron-Cohen is trying to be as scientific as possible by making the assumption that empathy is like a zero sum game, as an easier way to quantify data and come up with more manageable metrics,  but I still question the downsides to this approach.  Good first effort, but in the long run I think this approach will have to be replaced with more nuanced, more holistic and qualitative measures.