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.