Monday, June 24, 2013

My Life With Aspergers Syndrome

I was amused to read recently that the American Psychiatric Association has declared that Asperger's Syndrome no longer exists, which is unfortunate for those among us who function passably well with what is now known as high functioning autism. Asperger's was diagnosed by an Austrian doctor at the end of World War Two, not the most auspicious time to be trying to figure out how people's heads got messed up, yet the autism spectrum diagnosis has gained currency and has spread like an oil slick in a time when we are told most people have got mental issues. Consider how we are expected to live, in a world of restrictive standards of attractiveness, declining financial expectations, centralized wealth and manufactured fear and uncertainty spread about on TV by our avaricious and narcissistic leaders...Little wonder is it then that we see people going crazy. Autism? ADD, ADHD and on and on and on. But not Asperger's they say, not anymore.
I was just getting used to the idea that I have Asperger's when the medics pulled the rug from under my diagnosis. I am not at all sure I want to have high functioning autism thanks, not in a world where I think of people with autism as lacking communication skills and struggling to cope with the tasks and irritants of daily life in ways we stereotype but that we feel sure we don't share. People with autism are stereotyped and shunned in our world, the world that reveres youth and social gaiety. People with autism don't function they want to believe, in a society that demands conformity. That's not me, I'm not "autistic" I insist, but unfortunately Asperger's is me, and it makes meeting people and dealing with every day social encounters a high stress affair. Asperger's Syndrome Symptoms in Children, Teens, Adults I can talk, I can communicate, I don't usually flap my hands in public, I trained myself to stop avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. I see patterns where others don't care and I talk too much and too long. I dread meeting people. I have Asperger's Syndrome.

All the more credit to GarytheTourist for being persistent and pulling me out of my shell to sit down to lunch with him on Greene Street. The food at Solo was an attractant I grant you...short rib beef tacos and fries covered I was told with sugar and salt. Little wonder America is addicted to freedom fries.
Gary had a seafood flatbread, a form of thin crust pizza minus tomato sauce... And over food we talked. Gary lives in Nashville and has had a fascination with Key West for decades. This is where he comes for vacation with his family who makes the most of the seaside, the turquoise waters and life in a small town freed from the stress of normal daily life. As a result he is fascinated by the travails of life in Key West when it is daily life.
I find Gary's life breathtaking in its complexity, his job is to keep people alive yet asleep while they are having their insides reorganized by surgeons, a responsibility that makes me queasy at the mere thought, and on top of that he manages the lives of a family in the throes of maturity not yet attained. For someone like me living in Key West is a piece of cake compared to juggling so many responsibilities at once. If you can do all that, saving lives dealing with college, surviving occasional snow falls, being married and all, why then, living in Key West is nothing. How can he find the interest to follow my meager life in the Southernmost City? Odd that, and he decidedly doesn't have Aspergers.
I offered to have lunch on Monday but Gary couldn't and as he was leaving soon my back up was Tuesday and I had an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. Of course I started checking the time carefully as the moment approached for us to leave. Being late causes anxiety in most people with high functioning autism. Gary took one spoon of Key Lime pie and left me the rest as we dawdled over coffee. I wanted two more hours instead of having to get on the Vespa and riding across town. That I am Gary's portal to Key West the rest of he year while he is at home freaks me out a bit. He shares none of my political views but he never reproaches me for them. He must be a terrific Dad.
I don't mind the dentist. My logical mind knows that dealing with teeth is better on my terms than on the tooth's terms so I enjoy getting them cleaned and inspected. I have been going to the same office for years and I have no clue what my tooth cleaner's name is. I have learned over the years to pay attention when people tell me their names and I try to create a word/image in my mind to associate the name with the face, and if I remember to do that I am safe. I know a woman called Marion whom I hardly ever meet. I thought of Robin Hood when she introduced herself and her name has stuck. Bloody uselessly, but there we are. This important woman in the dentist's office is one instance where I forgot to do the mind/image trick and now twice a year I let this charming mother and wife and all round cheerful chatty sweet dental hygienist into my mouth anonymously. Lots of people do that but I obsess about my incompetence and shrugging social failures off is hard for me to do. It is a struggle to stop the self defeating tape from playing over and over in my head. My blog rarely features people because they are so hard for me to read and in the end places are easier to deal with. Hence an empty South Roosevelt Boulevard:
I'm lucky, more than I realised for a long time. My wife understands and puts up with these shortcomings. My work is ideally suited to me, my desire for routine, my pleasure in paying attention to details and despite working in a room with two others the demands of the job give me the ability to be alone, to enjoy solitude in the middle of the work shift. I get to work aloneon my screens while also oddly enough being part of the team. I am half the ideal employee, I hate being late, and I take my commitments seriously. Yet my boss knows I will melt down when critiqued and she has taken the time to learn to handle me, which is the most amazing good fortune. I keep asking her if she is thinking of leaving because I know life at work will get tough if she "moves on." She loves a man far away and I dread the day she decides to move.
I started this blog with no real idea of what I was doing or why. I got to hate public internet forums where logic and facts took a back seat to emotion and insults and I wanted my own quiet space that I controlled. so I started a web page of my own with no ulterior motive to sell things or push a point of view. I never imagined I would be feeding the compulsive need of the National Security Agency to immorally monitor my every move. I wish them joy of it and I wish my fellow Americans were more outraged, even slightly outraged that the government behaves this way. My Asperger's mind calculates that three people were killed by the Chechen nutters in the Boston bombing. Four thousand people die every year on motorcycles in this country. 600,000 Americans have died since 9/11 in cars on our roads. Yet we have to be monitored everywhere in violation of the Fourth Amendment for our "safety?" Makes no sense to me, but neurotypicals and their reasoning never make much sense to me. And when I find out how we are being watched not just by corporations but by our elected leaders I figure, what the hell - what do you want to know? Here I am. This is my silly little web page. Enjoy the pictures. Smathers Beach covered in dead seaweed:
I was asked once would I do this blog if no one read it? I guess the answer is yes. The compulsion that makes me post every day as close to the same time as I can make it (midnight Eastern) is the same compulsion that makes me wash up the dishes as soon as the meal is done. I do it because it helps me make sense of things. I see old essays and old pictures and like Maid Marian they trigger memories for me, where I was, what I was doing though not necessarily what I was feeling as those memories tend to make me uncomfortable. It is a diary for me. From time to time I look at Key West Lou's page and I find the constant pursuit of people and stimulation and excitement utterly exhausting just to read. Never mind for me to try to live that life. Key West as seen by a sensible neurotypical: Key West Lou | My Life in Key West the absence of prepositions and pronouns gives me hives but at this stage in my life I know lazy grammar is my issue and my problem. Weird sentence structure and odd word usage are characteristics of Asperger's too, though in the pursuit of accuracy we sometimes come off as stilted and portentous (see what I mean?). Check out my home grown pineapple:
I guess I wrote this essay, uncharacteristically personal, by way of apology. Meeting Gary reminded me that having lunch is a normal activity, and it can be pleasant, enjoyable even. I would never make the first move but if you want to get in touch by all means try. I shall try to overcome my hesitation. I warn you, people with Asperger's Syndrome tend to talk to much, don't understand social cues and don't use appropriate facial expressions. All of which is fine for a 911 operator but makes meeting people hellishly difficult. People usually end up getting pissed off at me, which is a huge encouragement to keep myself to myself, and to write my blog. Neurotypicals don't like to acknowledge Asperger's, most people I know shrug me off as exaggerating or making a big deal out of nothing, or of being trendy (me!) so in my real life I only bring it up to people I care about. They aren't many, to the rest I just shrug it off as a party piece or a joke if it happens to come up when my wife is laughing off my inappropriateness. The worst is when people say I use Aspergers as an excuse to cover that inappropriate behavior. Luckily I have reached a point where isolation actually suits me. My wife jokes that if I were sentenced to prison time I would beg for solitary confinement. She's not wrong either.
I was surprised by some misconceptions Gary had about my life as we talked over lunch. It surprised me as I feel so naked and transparent when I meet people, especially people I've met before. I've met Gary but he mostly knows me via the Web. Partly because I can't read social cues, and partly because I don't know what to say I get far too inward looking. I got a lot out of a two hour face to face lunch. This essay is an effort to pass it on. If you meet some inept human who can't make eye contact the chances are they aren't a serial killer or a child molester. They are just lost and need a little help getting to the other side of the street. In a world dominated by the electronic generation of fearfulness and "terror" that simple human lesson is worth remembering. I wish the NSA were listening. They too could find better ways of doing their job than violating the constitution and spying on their inept little neighbors. At some level we are more likely to have a little Aspergers not terrorism in our DNA.

Asperger's Resources:

I dislike abbreviations, they tend to infantilize, so I don't use the term "Aspie" which is popular. I think of myself as someone with Aspergers, but other people don't approve of that as they feel it puts one in a ghetto. As you wish.


Anonymous said...

You have Cheyenne, she is your outlet for whatever ails you. Pets are
great soothers of rattled interior beings which many of us are, from time to time. Your blog posting of this day is more personal than normal, however entirely acceptable;
as have been your other postings.

Ginney said...

Aspergers or not, your words draw me back to this page and your life in beautiful Key West again and again. We all look at life through different lenses and let it touch us in different ways. I appreciate the way you describe what you see.

Trobairitz said...

A beautiful post.

I heard about them dropping the Aspergers name and I was surprised. I don't really understand their reasoning.

As long as you know what/who you are. You mange along just fine. We met you in Bend a few years ago and you handled all the new faces very well.

RayW said...

For some good reading enjoyment that also gives what I feel is a good description of a person with autism you can check out the "WWW:Wake" trilogy by Robert Sawyer. It helped prepare me to meet a delighful young nephew of a good friend.

Conchscooter said...

Bryce, people with Asperger's frequently do better with animals- no subtext to communication. Google temple grandin a hero to people with autism.
Thank you ginney and torbaritz you have no idea how stressful that was for me.
I will check out Robert sawyer. Happily there is a growing body of literature on the subject.

Perry said...

Gary's one of many who enjoy your life, at least the blog of your life. It is anything BUT meager. I find it rich, meaningful, and thoughtful. I read it first thing every day.

I hope to meet you someday, awkwardness and all. Just to say thanks.

-- Perry

bob skoot said...


You looked normal to me and I thought I was the compulsive one. I also have to do the dishes and dry them right away and I don't like to step in the cracks in the sidewalk. I have to double check when I close my trunk or lock my front door. Perhaps I have what you have. I never knew there was a name for it and now that I know, it no longer exists . . . guess I'm cured, just like you

Riding the Wet Coast

Conchscooter said...

Thank you Perry. I am going to hunt you down when you come to key west and talk at you endlessly about plasti dip.
Bob, you may be compulsive but you aren't an Aspie. I'm much better than I was when I was a kid but now i have high functioning autism which is a designation I am not fond of. You need to sell the Suzuki and ride the BMW. Being a BMW avoider is over for you. I am holding out nicely.

Trish R said...

Nice post. Learned a lot.

Conchscooter said...

I wish I knew all this stuff when I was a teenager! But the Internet has to be good for something and here it is! Youngsters today with autism and aspergers dont have to feel so cut off.

Garythetourist said...

Michael, your comments demand a greater response that I can write here, but for now I would just like to say that most of us fall somewhere other than center of the bell-curve of normality. Usually those individuals who "appear" to be super well adjusted are simply people whom we don't know well. Personally, I'm a half bubble off plumb because of my synesthesia. (I'll let you Google it). My dear ironist friend, consider one who provides anesthesia and suffers from synesthesia.
You are very pleasant company Michael. I look forward to our next meeting. This Gary completely agrees with the comments of the above Perry. You enrich the lives of your readers and I would bet that you enrich the lives of most people who take the time to know you.

Keith - Circle Blue said...

Neurotypicals. It has been interesting becoming "special" as an adult. Heaven knows I never felt I much fit in. Now that I have attained the status of being a head injury survivor I have a whole host of new "issues". I could very much identify with you comments about your boss and your work environment. I've been best at the Courts with having understanding bosses and fret every time change comes in the air. Ironically, I've learned being "half the ideal employee", the half that shows up for work on time, cares about details, and follows through on commitments puts me way above the curve. Oh, and your comments about your reactions to being critiqued. Yes, I know the melt down.

Thanks for the post.

Conchscooter said...

dear Gary you are a very nice man and I envy you synesthesia. Its sounds like a yellow brick road though its probably terribly annoying.
dear keith, change is a bitch. I handle it by telling everyone that things will settle down soon and I devoutly hope it is so. so far it has been. I think working in the court system would be harder than dispatching where everyone tends to be a little odd. so you are ahead of me.good luck.

Anonymous said...

Abaco says,

As I had mentioned earlier, I just started reading this blog a few weeks ago and have really enjoyed it. It is my daily escape back to the city I love. I usually read it after work when I get home. What I do want you to know is how much this one ment to me. I have a five year old son named Sean who is just the sweetest little boy one could ever meet. Around eight months ago he was diagnosed with a high functioning autism. I’ll admit that when the doctor gave us the word it just broke my heart, exspecially since just four month earlier my wife of 17 years had walked out on me saying “she had fallen out of love with me”. Since then all of my focus has been on my son. I have been reading all kinds of books like the ones by Temple Grandon. Anyway todays post really made me feel like I better understood my son and it really gave me a better look into his life. Thank you!
All my best,

PS. I’m sorry this was so long.

Conchscooter said...

Good luck to you. Your son will be fine as frankl he will be better off with one loving parent. Autism sucks but if i can give you advice be direct, as direct as you can be, and let him be himself. Beimng by yourself can be very relaxing and having parents nag on about making friends gets o be tiring. I cannot stress how important being direct is for people with ASD. Subtlety just makes us crazy. good luck

Conchscooter said...

I forgot to say I'm glad it helped. Social cues. Grr.

RayW said...

Oh..I should add that the "WWW:Wake" trilogy is a work of science fiction, actually, and is not all 100% about autism. One of the main charecters is autistic and the way he is described is very realistic. The author seems to do a good job of describing some of the thought process the charecter goes through. It's a fun way to maybe understand a bit about the condition without slogging through something that is more specialized and technical.

Conchscooter said...

Most stuff about autism is a slog actually. Dry serious and lacking humor it can seem like the sky is always falling on asd. So this was an excellent suggestion. The book cover is a bit gaudy though! (Asperger's joke)...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words and advice, it really meant a lot to me.


MyamuhNative said...

This was a truly good post.
Nice to learn a bit more about you and in the process learn how to better communicate with others with ASD.

I have been reading you for years and really want to thank you for your blog.
I don't get to Key West very often anymore and all the changes there make me so unhappy.
Your local's view reminds me that there is still beauty amidst all the overdevelopment.

Conchscooter said...

Change is what happens all around us.There's lots more coming too, marinas have been sold condos are coming and Peary Court has a new development plan. Its hard for me to keep up.
Glad you like reading it

Lynn said...

this is a great post. You are an excellent writer, Asperger's or not.... I love reading and looking at your pics. And thank God for your dog...great companionship.
I just returned from Miami after spending a week there. My aunt and I made the trip to Key West. I had always wanted to see it. We spent 2 days there. I loved it, but it wasn't what I had always envisioned. We did Duvall Street and all the shops and some of the eateries. Hogs Breath Saloon and Southernmost Beach Café ROCKS!
Hey, I watched for you and Cheyenne...didn't see you. LOL

Oh, and I was disappointed that I didn't see many motorcycles. What an awesome ride that would be, to ride through the keys. Maybe it's too hot for Floridians. We Arkansans thrive on the hot weather for riding...

Conchscooter said...

Thanks. I like riding in the heat but motorcycles come here mostly in the winter.

Janna said...

It's been a long time, but I came back to read your blog because I'm counting the days until I'm back in KW again, first time since 2007. I'm so glad you wrote this. It's a much needed lesson in judging people, something I'm guilty of far more often than I like to admit. Bless u.

Conchscooter said...

Glad to hear from you. write when you come.