Saturday, 30 August 2008

The daily grind

One aspect of people with Asperger Syndrome (AS) is that we can have rigid, inflexible routines. The thing is...everyone has routines, it's normal. Having a routine is important for anything you need doing consistently. For example when you get into your car you probably follow a routine, when you do the dishes you probably follow a routine, and at work you probably have a whole load of routines. However you get people posting on forums - "OMG I think I have AS cos in the morning I get out of bed, I put my underwear on, I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth, then I wash, then I put my clothes on, then I put my shoes on, then I go to work. Does this mean I have AS cos I always follow the same routine?" The answer is, of course, "No". It's normal to have routines.

So what's an AS routine? To be honest, I'm not that hot on routines, it is one of the things I don't register strongly on. I do have them, though. You know your AS routines from your NT routines as they are needlessly rigid, and give you a sense of ease and comfort. You don't follow the routine as it means a task is done consistently, you follow it because it makes you feel calm and safe. My big routine is the gym, I go three times a week and I've had the same exercise plan for over a decade. Ask any body builder or personal trainer and they'll be horrified that someone has had the same plan for so long. The reason being is that you need to be constantly "shocking" your body and pushing it out of its comfort zone, as that is what builds muscle. I know this...I understand it. I've just explained it to you. I know it's bad, so why do I do it? Cos I have AS, that's why.

It's more than just keeping the same routine...if I'm on, say, my third exercise for that day and the machine is busy, I won't do exercise four and come back when the machine for exercise three is available, I'll just wait. If I get bored of waiting I'll just leave and go home. For me the routine can not be broken. Don't ask me to explain why, I just get anxious when I think about breaking the routine. It goes further too. I go to the gym Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In that order...always. If I can't make the Wednesday for some reason I won't go the next Friday either, or the next Monday, but it'll continue the following Wednesday. I have to go on a Monday, then a Wednesday, then a Friday.

That's an AS routine. It is needlessly inflexible and causes anxiety when broken. I have other minor routines too. At the weekend there is a cafe I like to go to and have a breakfast and a large coffee. I can't go anywhere else; looking at other cafes to have breakfast makes me feel anxious. You know you have AS when you rarely have to ask for anything, when the servers always know what you want before you ask, you might have AS. There is also a kebab place when I buy my kebabs from; I walk in and the guy asks "Large doner?" AS routine? No...they just do amazing kebabs, the best in the area and their chilli sauce is to die for. I don't feel anxious buying kebabs elsewhere, I just buy from this place cos they are the best in my area. Not every routine you have is due to your AS.

I won't buy apples that aren't Empire apples. I won't buy jeans that aren't Levi 501s. I know they are AS routines as I feel stressed an anxious if I have to consider buying anything else. I also hate taking time off work as it is a break in my routine.

Anyway, back to the gym. Another AS trait I don't think I have (*) is the issue of personal space. I like personal space, I worship it...but some people with AS have problems appreciating it and can invade the persona space of others. The gym, for me, is a bizarre situation where it seems that everyone else has the personal space issue and not me! I don't like being next to naked fat men with small penises. When I return to my locker and find a gaggle of jiggling man-flesh, I get my stuff and move to a bench where there is no-one else standing around. However no-one else seems to do this. If my locker area is empty when I get to it, but people subsequently turn up, do they think to move elsewhere? NO! They just get all fat and naked inches away from me, bending over as they dry their disgusting crevices. Yuk.

* one of the issues of AS is that you don't appreciate your own symptoms or how annoying they are. If you do, you might not have AS. You tend to only know when you're "breaking social norms" cos someone else has told you your behaviour is unacceptable or unusual.

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