I put the word out last week asking for topics that you’d like to see me cover. I got a suggestion I didn't expect: Asperger's syndrome.
Or, as this person put it, Ass Burgers.
Asperger's is a type of autism. Basically, it means my brain is configured in a different way than most others. Not dramatically! I'm still human. You might think I'm odd, but when it comes down to it I just have different strengths and weaknesses than others. More on those specifics later!
I was diagnosed and first heard of the term soon after dropping out of high school, but my… uniqueness came out far before that.
I remember when I was at primary school my parents asked in a parent teacher interview why I was so… unique. They’d raised me in the same way as my sister, but I somehow was turning out very different. During my youth I didn't associate much in big groups, and didn’t really do much else outside of school. I kept to myself, or just one or two close friends.
I didn’t like school. I found it so stressful and exhausting. I can see why everyone thought I was a massive doofus. When I tried to get in with my peers it never really worked.
I left school prematurely, I think I snapped once teenage stuff started to really set in at high school. I went on to study at UCOL, a polytech learning kind of place. It was much smaller classrooms with older people that didn’t really want to mix socializing with their education.
And, by the time I got my degree I ended up being my Dad’s caregiver for many years. It was a very, very sheltered life. I didn’t do much at all for all of my 20’s, both because I wanted to be there for my Dad, but I was also anxious about getting out there in the world
The symptom of Asperger’s syndrome that most people know about is not being socially aware. It’s always been difficult for me to gauge people's emotions and social queues.
I’ve had to spend time and effort just…. Learning. Figuring out people by awkwardly paying attention. I’m sure it made people uncomfortable, but now I try to do it more subtly. A common trait of people diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome is not often making eye contact, but I fought against that to force myself to pay attention to people.
I can often hurt or upset someone and be completely oblivious to it. And, on the other side of that coin, I know I can feel underappreciated just because I can’t gauge what your reaction to the things that I do are.
You're amazing. You do all of this naturally! No effort required. You can pick up these millions of social queues to know someone is upset with you without them having to spell it out in bold font. Despite trying, I still find this tough. I annoy people by asking "are you ok?" too often.
These days I have to fight back against staring too much. It's a tough balancing act! I'm better than I was, but know for sure I will always be making progress for the rest of my life. I thought I had conquered this, but recent life experiences prove otherwise.
I spoke recently about how I’m very hot or cold on things, and can’t always grasp a middle ground. This applies to conversations. I find it hard to follow a conversation if it's a topic I can't… grasp. It makes me so uncomfortable when trying to chat about something with someone that I just can't grasp and keep in my head. What should I say? Should I ask a question? Try to contribute? Should I sympathise? Was that a joke? Are you enjoying it?
On the other hand, if it's a conversation I'm into: Woah! You can't shut me up. It's actually quite a rush when that conversational volley gets going, but I can get carried away. I'll dominate the conversation and just talk endlessly with wild enthusiasm. If I find something really exciting or interesting, I have a tendency to repeat myself.
It's brought to the forefront with dating. Often it's just an awkward, difficult mess where I feel hopeless and, no matter how I try, the batner doesn't go anywhere. But occasionally I just click with someone and it's the most amazing feeling! I just have to… restrain myself, lest I get carried away in excitement.
I still struggle. Last year I went out to the city for an all around fun time with friends in Wellington. The huge number of people, many of them I barely knew, overwhelmed me. I can often get by in these situations, but this time it got to me: not only was I feeling well out of my comfort zone, but I really felt like I was letting everyone down. I had a massive panic attack and broke down. I felt like jumping off a very high bridge.
The loudness didn't help. A common trait of people like me is sensitivity to loud and messy noises. Since a young age I've been very sensitive to loud environments. My sister would exploit this by… squealing when she wanted to get under my skin. I'm not physically claustrophobic, but when I'm in a loud, busy environment the sound of an ocean of people can make it seem like the world is crushing in around me.
Another symptom of Asperger's syndrome that I particularly identify with is empathy. I can't easily put myself in other people's shoes. It's tough for me to understand and sympathize with someone struggling if it's not something I've experienced and can relate to. If I find something easy and fun, yet it's difficult for you? Well… why? Why can’t you do it like me? I'm not fully an asshole at this kind of thing now! But given how subtle the social queues can be, I still get caught out by just not even considering ways that people around me may be struggling.
And I get frustrated and sad when I completely suck at something, and everyone else is good at it.
Not singing though, I love being bad at that.
It also means I completely suck in being proactive at helping people. I'll be so willing and eager to do things for other people. I love helping people! But if you want me to help you? I'll have no idea what to do without it being spelled out for me, and if I try on my own I'll just do something odd. Anyone that knows me is probably used to me asking multiple times over if there is anything I can do for help.
I can hurt people too by doing something they see as very hurtful or offensive when I can't comprehend it that way. I often try to express my grumpiness for something small, not not really a big deal, but I unwillingly let my words and actions get out of hand because I don’t spend enough time to stop and understand how the other person will understand what I say.
I’m also very easily excitable, and that doesn’t help here!
My work is dynamic, with no fixed routine. I like routine! It's been a learning curve, especially with planning on my feet. Being my dad's caregiver was all about routine! All days were the same. It's been a learning curve, but now guess I've made a routine out of… not having a routine? I still appreciate going to bed at night knowing what my first job will be in the morning, rather than not knowing.
I am obsessive! If I’m hot on something I can put an extreme amount of effort into it. It can be nearly anything, if I love it? It’ll be an important part of me! Games, writing this blog, relationships, TV shows and even obscure stuff like… scientific concepts and technology theories. The nature of my obsession is part of why I can excel at such a demanding job.
I am worried a bit about my job. It’s letting me be very socially isolated, and that’s probably not great for me. I have no colleagues to work with, and the only people I see during a workday are customers of my company that I have to smile and impress in a very uncomfortable and artificial way. Finding a social circle is an extremely intimidating idea, but I know I need to somehow.
Oh, and I'm also very clumsy. I have poor dexterity and bad handwriting. If this was a hand written blog I couldn’t even read it.
But hey! Above average IQ. Apparently. I think that only applies to ultra niche and nerdy stuff, though.
I used to not be eager about sharing this aspect of me. I used to hate the title. I felt it’d make me Mr Asperger’s, and didn’t want people to assume I’d be like how autistic people are portrayed on TV or movies. But hey, it’s part of who I am. I have to own it and learn from it.
Please, more than ever, if you’ve got any questions get in touch! I’m very happy to talk about anything related to this at all. I’d love to do a follow up covering anything you’d want to know..