Thinking differently

There are many voices in the autism community talking about how we have a hard time being understood by non-autistics. Mine is among them. But it recently really began to dawn on me just what the differences in our ways of thinking entail. And as I ponder this, it seems to me that I’ve had difficulties understanding non-aspies in the same way that they misunderstand me.

Unlike many aspies, I’m pretty decent at socializing. It tires me horribly, but I can get into “social mode” and make it through a social function, coming off to everyone there as “normal,” maybe even delightful. (I’m pushing it, I know. :p) But this is a persona based on imitating what I’ve observed as appropriate and entertaining behavior in others. It’s a mask made of my own genius.

On a much more fundamental level, the processes that take place in my mind as I take in information are very different from those in others. I don’t feel the way others do about things. I’m not patriotic, I’m not a sports fan, I’m very nonreligious, I’m not a feminist or an ally, I’m not outraged by the injustices that people bring up every day on Facebook, and there are many other things that seem to define a normal way of thinking that are totally alien to me. It’s as if I was born on another planet, and I’ve always felt that way. My sisters could tell you about the years of my childhood when I fantasized that I’d been born on Mars. Even back then, I picked up on the fact that there was something different about me.

And even though there are also differences in the way even individual aspies think, feel, and process information, I think we all know what it feels like to be different. In my opinion, the best way to begin fostering understanding between us and non-autistics is to work to understand them. It might make an interesting academic study.

Asperger’s on the Inside

Michelle Vines’s new book, Asperger’s on the Inside, is coming out on April 8, which just happens to be Autism Awareness Month. Hurray! It’s not a dry textbook about the clinical definition of Autism. It’s a personal story about her life and how it was affected by her Asperger’s Syndrome.

Overcoming Self-Consciousness Concerning My Cleanliness

From 9th – 11th grade, I was very self-conscious about looking and smelling nice outside of my domicile (I cared about this while at home too, but not as much as outside it). So much so that it played a significant role in me missing over 2 semesters of school from the latter half of 8th grade through 11th grade (a period of 4 ½ years in my case). This resulted in me having to take an extra semester of high school in the fall of 2008 before I could officially be finished with school. (There were other factors that contributed to such extensive absence from school, but those are posts for another day.)

Thankfully, since then, I’ve overcome that self-consciousness thanks to various coping methods. The most significant being that I no longer worry near as much as I used to about what people may or may not think about my level of cleanliness. While still maintaining an appropriate degree of cleanliness by my own standards and the standards of most others I know.

To this day, the best I can say as to why I felt this way for so long was due to at least one of many facets of my Asperger’s Syndrome.

Preferred Mediums of Communication

Since at least my high school years, when it comes to mediums of communicating with people, I’ve strongly preferred communicating via Facebook, texting, and email than via any other medium. This is because I feel much more comfortable communicating via those three mediums than via any others, notably talking on the phone and video chatting. Plus, it’s also easier for me to communicate via Facebook, texting, and email than via other mediums.

This stems from real time communication, e.g. talking on the phone, video chatting, etc, being more difficult for me than non-real time communication, e.g. communicating via Facebook, email, etc. Something many people with Asperger’s Syndrome (like myself) have in common. With mediums like Facebook, texting, and email, I have more time to formulate a response. Also, in real time communication, I feel more rushed to respond when asked something, which can often lead to me having difficulty articulating my thoughts. This is partially (though not the main reason) why I tend to do more listening in gatherings with other people than talking. Unless a topic of interest comes up.

Experiencing less sensory input from other’s emotions is another reason I prefer the mediums of communication that I do. That’s not to say I don’t like it when people express their emotions. Far from it. I’m just more affected by other’s emotions than non-Asperger’s people.

Friendship

Having friends, i.e. people that I can relate to and do stuff with, has always been very important to me. They’re a significant part of what I enjoy in life. Making those friends, on the other hand, has been quite a challenge. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, it has been more difficult for me than for most people to become friends with others. Particularly without them initiating interaction.

Earlier in my life, this was largely due to my lack of certain social skills and (at least in the past) elevated levels of anxiety when around unfamiliar people. For example, during my junior high and high school years, if I wanted to hang out with someone I was friends with, I would more often than not rely on them to initiate such interaction. Especially if that friend was a girl. Initiating interaction with others, whether in person, over the phone, etc., was quite nerve racking for me as an Aspie (i.e. someone with Asperger’s Syndrome).

Things have improved as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten better at calling/sending a message to my friends via some other electronic medium when I want to hang out, talk, or whatever. I also don’t get as anxious (if I get anxious at all) when doing such things. I’ve also learned that I can’t simply rely on my friends to contact me if I want to hang out. That said, it’s still quite difficult for me to initiate hanging out with and/or even conversing with people I know who’re female in real time (i.e. talking on the phone and in person), since I still get somewhat anxious about doing so.

Having friends has had a great impact on my life. Although it’s been a challenge for me to make (and in many cases keep) friends, I’m glad I have the friends that I do.

***2015 Update: It’s not as difficult for me to initiate conversation with women in real time as it used to be (especially with women I’m friends with), though it’s still a little more difficult than initiating conversation with men. Same goes for hanging out with people, i.e. it’s easier for me to ask people if they’d like to hang out, though it’s still a little more difficult to ask women than men.***

Making sense of an odd bit of conversation

Had an odd bit of conversation today with my mom after work.  Today was an atypical day because I had to completely re-adjust my lunch schedule because of a training webinar that took up a large chunk of the afternoon.  So I decided to eat out for lunch (despite having made a box lunch), as otherwise I’d be eating alone in my cubicle.  It was kind of a spontaneous decision.  When I do this (infrequently), I either take home my box lunch to eat as my dinner, or else I leave it overnight in the fridge at work and have it for lunch the following day instead, which is what I opted to do today.

I decided to sample the lunch-cut Chicken Fried Steak at Salt Grass Steak House just off the Highway near work.  It was really quite good, though I barely made it back to work on time (actually was a few minutes late, so may get some vacation time docked off but whatever).

I attended the training but it was so dull (and mostly covered stuff I already knew) that I did nod off a couple of times…training like this needs to be more interactive if they’re gonna schedule it after lunch…it was hard to stay focused and awake.  Luckily we got extensive handouts, and I can always go back and re-listen to the parts I missed.  I did perk up for about the last half hour and learned one or two useful things.

Anyway, I did email my mom about my changed lunch/dinner plans, and she re-confirmed with me that I’d leave my lunchbox overnight in the work fridge and eat my supper as usual. 

Inevitably, when I got home, mom had to ask why I’d decided to eat out for lunch and where.  I told her the truth about where I’d gone and what I’d eaten, and of course, she clicked her teeth in disapproval and asked why I’d done so….

“Because I wanted to.”

And she got angry at that, much to my confused consternation. 

“Don’t give me an answer like that!!” she shot back, raising her voice.

Then I got mad.  Part of me wondered if the “correct answer” would be averting my eyes, looking guilty and repentant and saying “I’m sorry” or saying something else in a tone of contrition?

“What the hell answer to you want?!  It’s the truth.  I went out because I wanted to, end of story.”

“Did your schedule change?  Did you have to eat alone?”, she asked.

This irritated me further, as I’d already explained all this in my email.

“YES,” I said, huffily, “As I’d already said in my email, if you’d been paying attention.”

“John, why do you have to talk so UGLY to me all the time…”

This scene has played itself out in numberless permutations and combinations throughout our relationship in my alleged adulthood.

I wouldn’t say we have a “turbulent and complex” relationship per se; I just have a flair for the dramatic.

But I did push back on the resistance to a perfectly valid answer to her question as asked. “Because I wanted to” is exactly true, exactly honest.

I read–or I think it was in an Anime series I recently watched–that many times when we’re angry with someone it’s because through their actions they reveal something we dislike strongly about OURSELVES.  My mother has struggled with her weight all her adult life.  I have too, but I also admit that I simply love to eat.  I do what I can to moderate, I realize my exercise rituals are only enough to arrest or retard further weight gain, that I usually often take in more calories than I burn, etc.  I realize if I wanted to get down to size 36 and actually STAY there, I’d have to be constantly vigilant and exercise an iron self discipline that I simply don’t have.  I think it pisses mom off that I can be so blase about what I eat at times and admit that I do so because it gives me pleasure because SHE cannot allow this for herself.  Lots of projection going on, I suspect.  She resents that I am so nonchalant and carefree about my eating and exercise habits while she works so hard on hers.  She resents that I don’t exercise the same level of self-discipline that she does, that I don’t seem to care as much as she does…and yet because of my (relative) youth and constitution am still in pretty good overall health.  It may catch up with me one day, but I’ll deal with that then.  I might live longer if I exercised greater discipline, got a nicer physique, etc…might even have a better chance of attracting a girlfriend and remarrying….but I’m such a freak and social klutz that really, I ask myself, what’s the point?  I could have a smoking hot bod, but inside my head is the same clueless dork so…again, what’s the point?  It’s not as if I’m a crass, reckless hedonist either…I’m more epicurean and refined than that.  I don’t binge on junk food/snacks/sweets between meals (the way my mom often does when she slips up).  But when I have a meal, I like a substantive meal that tastes good.  I like to sample different foods of different cultures–be adventurous in my culinary delights, etc.

I resent having to explain myself and explain my actions all the time to my mother.  I never feel completely free to just impulsively change my plans and go out to eat on a whim.  I do sometimes do so, but always with a sense of dread at having to explain myself somehow later.  I sometimes lie and say I went out with my friends from work, pretend my arm got twisted to go along with the gang…it’s easier than just saying “I did it because I wanted to.” (and I don’t care if you don’t like that I did).  And I do sometimes go out with the group–sometimes they do invite me and I typically always accept because why not? It’s fun to do something different every now and then.

Anyway, this tidbit of conversation this early evening after work was so baffling and frustrating to me that I kept it in my head with the aim to blog about it; I felt the need to get down these disparate thoughts and share them, as I think they’re illustrative of the perennial Aspie/NT disconnect in communication.

What Caused My Depression (and How I Conquered It)

This post is in response to my previous post entitled “The Unhappy Side”, which dealt with the depression and increased loneliness I use to have. Now that I’ve given it some more thought, and read over that post again, loneliness, coupled with underdeveloped social skills, is what likely caused my depression in the first place. I’m writing this new post because that wasn’t something I knew or realized then.

Before I became depressed, I didn’t have many friends. Through most of junior high, and the first couple years of high school, there was only one person I considered to be a close friend. The majority of my social interaction with that friend and other not as close friends was in/during school. Once I started high school, I didn’t have that close friend in school with me anymore. We remained friends, he just went to a different high school than I did.

Sure, their were still other people I knew and considered to be friends that went to high school with me. Although, my relationships with them, unlike with my close friend, deteriorated more and more as time went by. This was largely because of my underdeveloped social skills and lack of good knowledge on how to maintain a friendship. I didn’t keep in contact with most of those friends outside of school, aside from a rare phone call here and there. To some extent, I knew how to keep in touch, like when I’d call them. More often though, I relied on them to call me to talk and/or get together and hang out. This was the case even with the close friendships I developed later in high school.

At least with the latter, as I was developing those later friendships, Facebook had recently been invented. As I mentioned in my previous post, Facebook was a big help in significantly reducing my loneliness, and in turn, eliminating my depression. This is because most of my friends and other people I knew made accounts on Facebook, and eventually became my Facebook friends.

Something else that also helped me greatly reduce my loneliness, beat depression, and improve my social skills was an aspie support group I began attending sometime during high school. I learned a lot from this group. I met other people like myself, who shared similar life experiences, similar challenges, and other things they struggled with. I even learned about the many positives of being an aspie. I discovered I had a lot in common with these people, aside from just having Asperger’s Syndrome. I made many friends in this group, which further aided in the eventual conquering of my depression.

In conclusion, I think I can say with much certainty that loneliness, coupled with underdeveloped social skills, was indeed the cause of my depression. Through the many great friendships I made over time, the advent of Facebook, and more developed social skills, I was able to conquer my depression. I now live a much happier, comfortable life because of that.