Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Devil's in the detail

One of the more positive aspects I feel Asperger Syndrome (AS) has left me with is an interest in detail. I can never just know that something works; I have to know how and why it works. This is great for my job with computers and I usually understand things at a level far deeper than most. When it comes to diagnosing a tricky problem, really understanding what is going on deep inside often helps.

It's not just computers either, my interest in the mechanics of things also runs to physics and the mechanics of the world at large. However (as with most things AS related) it does appear to be somewhat selective. I have no interest in chemistry or politics, and the mechanics of machinery is often lost on me.

I'm going to get on a bit of a high horse for a second, but I think it's important that people take an interest in the world around them and how it works. It angers me when people don't take an interest in the news, or don't seem to care about gaining knowledge. Some people even revel in it as if it's a good thing! It's one of the things that separate us from the animals, and you should always be striving to improve yourself. It also angers me when people are so quick to believe things they hear without first researching it. Gullible idiots who believe the claims from the health industry are one of my biggest bugbears. I'm not asking that you gain a PhD in biology, but at least research the basic facts about how your body works, then you won't waste your time doing 50 sit-ups a day thinking it'll give you a flat stomach.

As well as being interested in the details of how things work, I also seem to focus on smaller aspects of a bigger thing. Like if I'm looking at a big vehicle I'm usually looking in detail at an aspect of the engine, the interior, the suspension. I'll note the width and profile of the tyres, how much tread there is and the tread patterns on the tyre. Obviously this isn't beneficial to anything, but I think it's all tied in to the same thing.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Not Alone but Feeling Lonely

Tonight was a work colleague's birthday so we had arranged to meet for food and drinks. The venue was not far from where I live so that was good at least. We were to meet at the restaurant/bar at 7pm which was, as someone with Asperger Syndrome (AS), the first problem. To me "meeting at 7pm" means meeting at 7pm. It's not hard, is it? Apparently so. Cue me waiting for a while for anyone else to turn up.

There were current work mates, past work mates and my colleague's own friends all there and I obviously got on with my own work mates better as I knew them. Some of my colleague's friends attempted to start a conversation but it didn't go well and things quickly ran dry. I actually spent most of my time talking with an ex-colleague of mine who is the opposite of who I would normally enjoy the company of. He is social and likes sport. However I think he is drawn to me as I am very candid in my views and he is quite the man's man. He knows he can talk to me about things most people would take offence at, let alone agree with. He knows no joke is too offensive to tell me, too off colour. My AS gives me an ability to see everything at face value and I call a spade a spade.

Funnily enough the guy that tried to talk to me also tried to spark a conversation with this ex- colleague and the two got on like a house on fire. I guess it's just me. By this point things were too loud and I was getting overload, people were talking but I couldn't hear, I couldn't differentiate one conversation from another. A wall of noise was forming.

After the initial venue a second one was agreed and I went there almost right away, but the others were some time behind. When they did turn up they were all firmly entrenched in their cliques, I was all but forgotten. My colleagues and this guy's own friends all lost in conversation with each other. Shock horror, I was nothing to do with it. People whose company I enjoy and want to spend time with outside of the office were all too busy with bonds they had formed in my absence. So I just went off home and no-one probably even noticed I had gone. I'm sure on Monday I'll hear all about the various pubs they went to, what club they ended up in, and what a great time they all had.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

I have my eye on you

One thing about me is that I'm quite a people watcher. I know lots of people are, so this is one of those things that I'm unsure is connected with my Asperger Syndrome (AS) or not. However I'm quite sure that there is an AS aspect to people watching - having AS means you have to learn social interaction instead of it coming naturally, and how better to learn than to observe?

So despite my rabid asocial nature, I'm actually quite fond of going to the pub (but only occasionally). Pubs can be problematic as they're not really geared up for non-social activity. Any woman in a pub on her own is beset with all manner of unwanted male attention; sharks circling in the menstrual blood. Any man in a pub on his own…well, he's just a weirdo, and I'm also not the kind of person who can just sit and do nothing. These two things mean that the only pubs I'll go to are ones with pool tables. This gives me something to watch, and an excuse to watch. Not just the game but the people playing the game, and not just them but everyone in the pub. I don't know why, but I feel I can stand in a pub watching pool as others might think I'm just awaiting a game. If a pub doesn't have a pool table I won't go there.

Not being particularly posh or well bred I'm not one for wine bars and pubs with dress codes, so I've always been drawn to the kind of pubs that have pool tables anyway; ones with terrible torn carpets and gaffer-taped benches. Looking back to when the social aspects of my AS were really taking hold, it doesn't surprise me that all of my haunts had pool tables. I used to think it was maybe a coincidence, but now I know it was just a sub-conscious decision. When you're living in a bedsit on an incredibly low income in a town where you don't know anyone, there isn't much to do at the weekend. So I spent mine in pubs, watching other people play pool and interact. Young people, old people, single people on the pull, single people on the defensive…I'd watch them all.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm not one for small talk or pub talk, I find it cliché and tiresome. So I'm not that keen when people see the loner and try to strike up a conversation. Depending on who they are I might indulge them for a while, but it often has me leave after I've finished my drink as I don't want to get into that situation where I awkwardly drop the conversation ball. This is one aspect of my AS where I've thrown the towel in. When I was pre-diagnosed a part of me wanted someone to talk to me or strike something up. Part of me thought that was how I could instigate a friendship. Post diagnosis I now realise that I'll never be good at these things and will never strike up friendships in this way…so why bother?

Friday, 12 September 2008

Small talk, small minds

When people without Asperger Syndrome (AS) have conversations when they meet in the street, or at the pub, there are certain rules that seem to be followed. It seems that cliché conversations are perfectly acceptable, as are conversations that involve stating the obvious. Cries of "bloody foreigners, taking our jobs" and other such canned reactions to topical news are the norm. Listening to two non-AS people talk reveals some insights into what I, an AS sufferer, am missing. Or not, as the case may be.

To me a conversation is an exchange of information, ideas and, if needs be, opinions. If there is a news story about how some kid has run amok there really is no need for you to inform the room that in your day your dad would have given you a slap. If there is a story in the Red Tops about a neglected child, or a paedophile, or a rapist there really is no need to tell us how the perpetrator should be castrated, or "left in a room with me and a baseball bat". It appears to me to be conversation for conversation's sake. It seems that non-AS people have a desire to talk, and other non-AS people recognise this and allow them to spew forth the hackneyed opinions they've been told to have by the gutter press. I assume this occurs as they themselves also want to talk for talking's sake and may need to also utter cliché opinions. It's like an "I'll rub your back and you'll rub mine" social club.

I hate this kind of conversation. It seems like keeping up the momentum of a conversation must be done at all costs. When conversation stops you can see people rack their brains for something else to say…anything to say no matter how tired or obvious. One of the reasons I'm rubbish at small talk is that I refuse to take part in this. I'll only add to a conversation if I think I have something unique and/or funny to contribute.

That's not my only problem with small talk though. If I meet someone there is usually something that has happened that I think we have a mutual interest in so can talk about for a short while. But after that, my mind goes blank and we quickly reach uncomfortable silences. Now one thing I don't understand is that surely it takes both people for the conversation to halt, so why do my conversations always halt? Why does one AS and one non-AS conversation fail, but two non-AS conversations don't? I don't know, TBH, I can't explain it. Anyway. That's a one-on-one, if it is a group chat the result is that I am quickly excluded while the other people continue to talk among themselves. This means that I don't mind group situations but I'll quickly tire of them as I am always on the outside, and it seems too much of an effort to break back into the circle. This makes me conscious that I'm seen as "quiet" and "odd". However I get really anxious in a one on one as I know I can't keep conversation going. This is awkward enough if I just meet someone briefly on the street, but my worst nightmare is someone wanting to "do something" with me, or we're in a group situation and the other people need to leave briefly (toilet or whatever) leaving it just me and another person. Much staring into space and awkward atmosphere is guaranteed. The pair of us obviously both praying for the others to return. What is it about me that my input into any conversation is like poisoning the wine?

Even the introduction phase of a conversation is stressful for me. When someone asks how I am, I hate that. I just reply "good". I note that when a non-AS person asks another non-AS person how they are, the other person always replies "Good, and you?" However I can never bring myself to ask someone this. For a start I genuinely don't care how they are, and what if they start talking about something that is happening in their life and I don't know how to respond? Won't they be thinking "why did he ask how I was when he obviously isn't interested?" So when someone asks how I am I never reciprocate…but then I think to myself "should I have asked how they were? Do they now think I'm rude?"

Often I don't even think to make introductions, I'll just barrel into a group situation without saying anything. It's not because I'm rude, but I genuinely just don't think to make introductions. However I have had people say (when they're mad at me for something else and want additional ammo) that my lack of introductions at such-and-such an event was very rude. This just adds to the AS sufferer's general anxiety, as we now think we're constantly offending people but don't know it and they're just too polite to say anything.

The social world can be an awkward place for people with AS, all these unwritten rules and rituals we are completely blind to. All the taboos and faux pas we walk around drenched in. The self-doubt and anxiety. When you have AS you do appear to be a not nice person sometimes but we genuinely can't help it. We don't know we're breaking your rules because no-one has written them down for us.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Not a good day

10.30pm Wednesday and not feeling that great. Had about 3 or 4 hours sleep each night from Sunday and a stressful day at work. Was in meetings a lot, even through my break times, and when I tried to take my breaks later I still had my boss calling me up, and of course my co-workers need my constant attention too and everything piled up.

Got home and was literally exhausted. Lay on my bed instead of going to the gym, got off the bed around 10pm. Not really sleeping, just relaxing and maybe drifting in and out. Haven't eaten or anything. So just back from the supermarket with something to eat and something to drink and I'll sign off. But before I do I'd like to thank microwave meals, 24 hour drinking laws, and Tesco for being open 24 hours to sell alcohol.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

This man's an island

Human beings are social animals, herd animals. We're meant to live in packs and societies. What is life like when this genetic link, ingrained in millions of year's evolution, isn't functioning? If you don't have Asperger Syndrome (AS) there is a whole world of things that you probably can't see yourself living without. Friends, human contact, chit chat to name a few.

Well when you do have AS, the big bad social world is such a chore that you begin to welcome time spent by yourself. Now I'm sure everyone appreciates a little "me" time, but with AS it's not so much that you like the "me" time, it's that you hate the "non-me" time. I don't enjoy being social, I don't enjoy social situations. I get no pleasure from the company of others. I don't enjoy conversing with people, I don't enjoy small talk. So when I'm done for the day and back home I can finally kick my shoes off and truly relax.

Do people with AS get "lonely"? I don't think so. To someone with AS being alone is the equivalent of someone without AS being at a party. If you don't have AS and you can't understand what this is like, imagine talking to someone is like ironing a shirt. Sometimes it is a necessary task but that's all. I don't get anything from being social, it gives me no pleasure or enjoyment. Not only do I get no direct enjoyment from it, I get no indirect enjoyment from it…it doesn't make me feel "closer" to you, it doesn't make me "bond" with you, I don't feel I'm building bridges or friendships toward you. I get nothing from dealing with people. It's often quite the opposite; a confusing chore so when I get a chance to be by my own I enjoy it.

And it doesn't just stop at sitting at home watching TV…I enjoy doing everything alone. Going shopping, going to the cinema, going to the gym - everything. If I can do something with someone or on my own I always get more pleasure doing it on my own cos if I'm doing it with someone else I have a relationship to "manage". Rather than concentrating on the activity at hand I have to think about them and if they are enjoying it, what they might want to do next, or I worry if I'm just ruining the experience for them with my AS weirdness. I have to decipher if there are non-verbal cues I'm supposed to be getting but am of course missing. When I am on my own I don't have any of that to worry about, I can just enjoy the activity.

I appreciate that when someone without AS is engaged in a group activity they have to ensure that their companions are enjoying themselves…but for people with AS it's different. I don't know if you're enjoying yourself or hating every second, and that makes me worried, paranoid and anxious. I'm constantly scanning for hints and ideas as to my companion's current state of mind.

Am I lonely? No, I don't think so. Do I enjoy being on my own? Yes I do. It's hard for us to be vocal about this as it is seen as taboo. No-one wants to be Johnny Nomates. No-one wants to be the sad guy with no friends, so of course you tell the odd white lie. Someone whose post on an internet forum you responded to becomes "This guy I know", or "This mate of mine". I don't feel particularly ashamed that I have no friends, but it's still something I tend to hide from other people because, AS or not, I still want to fit in and not unduly draw negative attention to myself.

So please don't pity our solitary existence, it's what we want.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Aye Aye, Captain

The thing about mental health is that it isn't always visible, it's not like a skin condition, or blindness or alopecia. As Asperger Syndrome (AS) manifests itself in social impairment and other subtle things it is something that is very much hidden. So much so that even the afflicted often don't know they have it. This is good for those of us with AS as it lets us tell who we want and keep secret from who we want.

Or can we?

Without a shadow of a doubt, there is one sure-fire thing to look for in someone with AS, a symptom above all that you can actually visualise…the lack of eye contact. Now as with all things AS, making poor eye contact doesn't mean someone has AS…but if someone has AS they'll almost certainly make poor eye contact.

They say a lot of communication is non-verbal, in fact they say most communication is non-verbal. Well, let's say I don't read non-verbal communication? Why should I look at you when you're only giving off information I can't see? You ever want to focus on something so hard you just close your eyes to block everything out but what you're focusing on? I'm not going to close my eyes when we talk…that would be crazy. So I'll do the next best thing. To stop being distracted and to focus on the words you're saying I won't look at you, I'll look at the wall or something. If I look at you and your expression changes it means I have to wonder what you're doing and what my response should be. If I can't see your expression change I don't have to react to it. I'm only interested in what you're saying so just let me listen. If you want to convey something non-verbal to me then learn to use your words better.

It's not just the lack of need to look someone in the eye...it just feels uncomfortable, I feel exposed and nasty. I don't know what's being asked of me. It's like the other person is trying to establish a bond that I'm not hapy with, like a hug from a stanger.

I tend to deal with some people better than others. When my boss talks to me I try and force myself to look. Mainly cos he's always bollocking me about being aloof. When my co-workers talk to me I try and look at them cos I know it means something to them. I can vary between holding eye contact if we're in a factual conversation, down to making eye contact briefly and frequently but only for a moment before looking away again if we're having anything else. However if you’re serving me a Big Mac or I'm paying for my petrol then forget about it…seriously.

However there is one kind of person I just can't look in the face. There is also a faint tie to my childhood in this respect also, as there was someone in my school with this "trait" much like I have a co-worker with it now - the person who speaks every line like it's a joke. I'm sure you know the person…they're not funny, not at all, but they want to be. So they speak every line with a comedic intonation and a put-on smile cos they know that when they smile the rules dictate you smile also. Well I don't follow the rules, I hate the tone you use to speak when nothing you say is funny, and I hate the grin plastered all over your face. I can't genuinely react to any of it so I can't look at it. I found it hard to deal with as a child, but with my co-worker as we are in a technical environment I use the "thoughtful look away". I look intently into the near distance as if deep in thought, contemplating what they're saying as if it was a great mystery. Or I'll just look at my own monitor as if what I'm doing is so important I can't look away, but I'll still try and talk to you.

It's an annoying trait only found in people with no sense of humour at all, people with very little personality. Rather than be funny, they paint what they say with the trappings of funny as if that on its own makes it funny. And as nothing they say is funny they don't bother discriminating, they just do it with everything they say. Seriously. They can tell you what they had for breakfast but their tone will rise and their grin will widen as if delivering a punchline. I HATE IT. If you're the type of person who only ever gets "nervous laughs" to your constant verbal diarrhoea then just stop doing it…people aren't laughing cos they find you funny, they're doing it cos you're making them uncomfortable.

Monday, 8 September 2008

This island of ours

This weekend I spent a long time in a car, about 8 hours return journey. Not the longest journey I've ever embarked on but tiring nonetheless. I'm not part of the "Tom Tom" generation yet and my phone doesn't have GPS either. There's an atlas in the passenger foot well but even that is just for emergencies. One thing I love about this country is that I could drive from Plymouth to Fort William, Glasgow or Dundee and never even have to look at an atlas. I can get in my car and 12 hours later just be there.

The feeling of freedom in being able to travel such great distances with no assistance is a great example of how technology binds us instead of setting us free.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Sights sounds and smells

Following on from my previous post, the other sensory issue I have is with sound, and this one seems common among those with Asperger Syndrome (AS). For me this is less pervasive than my temperature issues, but when it hits it hits harder.

When there are a lot of sounds going on, especially unfamiliar ones, it's like they all have the same volume. I can't tune in, or tune out to any one sound. When there are five people, all talking to each other, or sometimes to you, you still hear five voices and deciding on who to focus on is hard, and distinguishing their voice from the others even harder. Most frustrating has to be when you are in a group of people in a pub/club and one obviously wants to talk just to you, and you want to listen to them, you strain to listen to them, you try and filter the background sounds out, you try and lip read….but it's all for nothing. Instead you sit there, nodding and pretending you can hear them while all the other sounds crash over you.

This makes it so hard to participate in group conversations that you start to not bother. It is so much effort and you never seem to get it right. Frustration and overload set in and you retreat into yourself. Again you become the "weird one", the "shy one" the one with nothing to say. It's not that I have nothing to say, it's just that I can't navigate this auditory environment. I can't pick and find my way, it's an assault course for which I have no answer. When you've finally thrown in the towel you just sit and stare into space while others converse around you. You then start to realise that you don't really want to talk to these people anyway, you're only trying to fit in and do what they do. That is the moment of no return.

Outside of social situations there are also problems in generally crowed situations. Like going to McDonalds for example. Sometimes it's quiet…more often you're stood in the queue and it's busy and full and people are talking and people are laughing and children are playing and staff are serving and it grows into this uncomfortable wall of noise…auditory punches setting about your head and body. Anxiety sets in and comfort zones are removed. It's like you're the focus of the room and people are directing their sounds directly at you, targeting you in some malicious way, they might as well be stood around you shouting and taunting. You buckle down and try and concentrate on your order and how you'll ask for it when you get to the front of the queue. I swear I'd never eat if I didn't have to.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Constant over-stimulation numbs me, but I would not want you any other way

One of the more enduring symptoms of Asperger Syndrome (AS) are issues with external stimulus. Common problems revolve around noise, touch, the feeling of clothes on your body. Again every person with AS suffers in their own unique way and there is a collective pool of sensory issues we all dip our toes in. My major issues revolve around temperature and sound.

Going back even earlier than my insomnia, a bad reaction to heat is probably the only AS-related thing I've ever heard my parents tell me about when I was younger. Apparently from baby onward I have always hated the heat and hated being in the sun. I'd cry like the baby I was until taken into the shade. This particular symptom seems to have forked into issues with both heat and cold. I appear to be almost impervious to cold, it nears superhero proportions…as if I have a secret Fortress of Solitude, carved from ice somewhere in the Antarctic. No matter how low the temperature gets I never seem to feel it. I can walk around in a gale, the rain or a blizzard and not feel its effects. This in itself is not a problem for me, far from it. It makes "heating" my flat cheaper at least. However every Superman has his kryptonite…

I can't stand the heat. And when I say heat, I mean normal temperatures. It doesn't take much to get me hot and flustered, and when I get hot I sweat buckets. Walking is especially bad for me. When I have to walk somewhere I'm fine on the way, taking advantage of the breeze as I make progress, but as soon as I stop I suddenly overheat and drip sweat. I mean it drips off my nose, runs down my face, drips down the back of my neck.

The worst scenarios are having to go to a shop, and stuff like that. It's not that great when you get to the counter looking like you've ran a marathon. Haircuts are especially embarrassing. It's bad enough when your face is running in sweat, but when someone else has to cut your hair at the same time it's a bit grim. What I tend to do is walk to the hairdresser then wait outside until my core temperate balances out a little and the worst over the sweats is over and mopped up.

Other bad situations are coming out of a shower. I stay soaking for ages…I can dry the shower off but the water is just replaced by a thick coating of sweat pouring down my body as I sit in front of a fan trying to get my body temperature down. In the summer I try and offset this a little by turning the shower cold for a few minutes before I step out of it. I let the cold water crash against the top of my head and carom down my limbs to the gutter below. Also physical activity…even as small as doing the washing up or the vacuuming is again enough to have it dripping off my face.

I have a very minor issue with clothes, I'm not a fan of layers and that includes jackets or anything worn over a T-shirt, but that might be linked with my attempts to not overheat. I'll cover sound in a future post.

Friday, 5 September 2008

People who have been annoying me recently

People in supermarkets who read the newspaper at the top of the stack without moving it anywhere…they just turn the pages and read it with seemingly no thought for the fact that they are stopping others who want a paper from taking one from the pile. They usually turn the pages over a second stack of papers too. How broke are you? Just buy the thing.

People (women) who queue for the ATM then get there and don't have anything prepared. They need to rummage through their bags to find their cards, then they get a statement, then money, then have to secure everything up again before they leave.

People (women) who queue in a shop and when they get to the counter, again….nothing ready (see ATM comment above)

People who come out of a shop doorway onto the street then just stop dead with no regard for others who may also be trying to leave the shop and actually go somewhere.

People who come off an escalator and don't leave the area but hang around wondering where to go, again completely ignorant of others also trying to get off the escalator.

People walking down the street with umbrellas at head and neck height, totally uncaring for anyone who might lose an eye.

People walking down the street with no agenda at all. I'd love to have nothing to do and nowhere to go and be able to wander and amble at 1mph, moving my body into any gap in the crowd to stop anyone passing me, and occasionally stopping dead or just changing direction with no regard for the people whose way I'm getting in.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

How can I help you when I can't help myself?

This subject isn't something I've been looking forward to posting about and if I'm honest I doubt I'll post about it again. However I want this blog to be as honest as possible; I want my Asperger Syndrome (AS) to be as fully vivisected as it can be.

Having AS is having a frustrating, scary, and at times hard to deal with life. We often get overloaded and just fail at being able to cope. When I find myself in those lowest of times I do self-harm. I cut myself and have in the past (but only as a never-repeated experiment) burned myself. I've done other things that I'll stop short of telling you about, but needless to say my body is a patchwork of history.

As I have aged and matured I've kept to parts of my body that I can hide with clothes, but my younger self has pretty much ensured that I have secrets I want to hide but can't. My hands and my forearms are scarred, but it's weird cos I have just accepted it and cos I don't "see" my scars I think that others can't either. What unsettles me the most is when someone makes it obvious they can see them. Thankfully this has been very rare, but when it does happen it makes me think that everyone can see them, they are just too polite to say anything. The irony. Here I am, character assassin extraordinaire relying on the kindness of strangers. Probably the most memorable aspect of my diagnosis was the fact that I didn't think anything of my scars (as normal)…but I instantly noticed when my psychologist looked at them. She was being obvious about it and all my walls and barriers and lies came tumbling down. It was a visual slap in the face, a jerk into the reality of the obvious self-abuse that I deny…quickly followed with questions that began "I see you cut yourself" and other grasps at my dignity.

If I could go back in time I'd tell myself to only injure parts that you can hide.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

How to win friends and influence people

I'll say upfront that my Asperger Syndrome (AS) is on the milder end of the scale. I'm not a shut-in, I don't live with my parents, I'm not a virgin, I can get a bus if I have to, I can go to new places if I need to. In fact I live on my own, I have a good job and always have had, I drive quite a desirable and expensive car, and I have a girlfriend (chicks dig fast cars).

I don't want to pander to stereotypes, but…yes, computers are my thing. I've been blessed in that from a very early age I've always known that I've wanted to work with computers. It's been a blessing as there are so many people who just don't know what they want to do with their lives and they drift from career to career, being the master of none. Not for me. One aspect of AS is that you often have concentrated and singular interests and computers is it for me. From year dot I have been fascinated by computers. Not just fascinated but very good at it too. You see, another aspect of AS is your thinking and problem solving processes, they're often "out of the box" and that helps immensely with computers.

There were always computers in my house. My dad had one and when I still thought Father Christmas was real I too had one. Sure, I played games and pretended it was helping me with my schoolwork, who didn't? But I also delved into programming and really tearing the thing apart (not literally). I've always had a great need to know how things work at the detail level. I don't just want to know what works, I want to know why it works and how it works.

At school age I continued with computers in my spare time cos there were no computer classes available at my school. After school I went on to study programming at university and in the first year I didn't learn anything I hadn't already taught myself. I stuck university out and graduated top of the year and have had a small string of programming jobs since.

Computers are still obvious to me, and while my skills have been described in all manners of hyperbole I still see computers as easy and simple. I've never met a problem I can't solve and often come up with wild and varied solutions. I'm methodical and pay a lot of attention to detail. No mater the company I work for I always rise quickly to the top and I'm always the "go to" guy when you have a problem you just can't solve. Am I super intelligent? No, my brain is just wired differently. I sometimes get frustrated that my co-workers can't see the solution to problems that I often see as obvious, but I'm always just glad to help.

Not to say that work is plain-sailing. Not by a long shot. I have the obvious problems of eye contact and social issues (my boss has told me at annual reviews that he feels I am aloof). I'm also a big procrastinator and don't deal well with changes in tasks. Once I start something I like to finish it, but the nature of my job means that I can be pulled off something to work briefly on something else then have to go back to what I was doing. I hate having to deal with people on the phone and I also get bored very very easily and spend a lot of time just goofing off and mucking around. If I'm doing something new and interesting I can stick at it, but a lot of the time I'm working at a much-reduced rate cos I find what I'm doing boring and I'm easily distracted. Funnily enough that is something my teachers always wrote on my report card…easily distracted. I felt at university too I struggled really badly with subjects I wasn't interested in or didn't see the use of.

I couldn't do without work though. If I won the lottery I would still work. It aids my social world quite a lot, cos if you think about it you can have occasional 5 minute chats here and there at the water cooler or wherever. You can go to lunch with people if you want, take breaks with them if you want, and go for a drink after work if you want. It allows me to be as social or as ant-social as I want. My workmates and my girlfriend are really the only people I ever deal with.

So you can have AS and have what some might consider a successful life, but there is no guarantee of this at all. I was lucky in that I can make a career from my interest, but your special interest might be the cigars most loved by Winston Churchill, and if it is you're kinda screwed.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Never really asleep...never really awake

The first symptom of Asperger Syndrome (AS) that I ever remember having is insomnia. When it was my "bed time" I hated it cos I would never get off to sleep, instead it was like being consigned to jail. I'd be in my bedroom and having to amuse myself but not being able to do anything as my parents would hear and come to my room to remonstrate.

My insomnia really came to the fore when I was involved in a sleep-over with friends. Every single time the friend would just drop right off to sleep but I would remain awake for hours. When you are in someone else's house, what do you do? Nothing. All you can do is just lie awake for hours on end, swimming in unrelenting boredom.

As I got a bit older and stayed over with girls (yes…you can have AS and a girlfriend) at their homes I had all of the same issues. I remember with one girlfriend (I was still an early teen) I had to sleep in her brother's room and I would just be awake for hours and hours. It is bad enough in a normal room, but when your roommate snores (be they male or female) then sleeping becomes almost impossible.

When I'm in bed one of the reasons I can't ever sleep is because my mind just races and races with all these thoughts. Thoughts of what happened that day, thoughts of what I want to do tomorrow, and (the worst) memories of horrors from the past. As a child and young adult I guess I just dealt with it. Not well, but I dealt with it. As an adult I've started to use alcohol as a way of controlling my insomnia. Alcohol is freely available and it is the only thing that I've found works. A few drinks and I'm dropping off the second my head hits the pillow. There are downsides, of course, in a way it is being stuck between a rock and a hard place. I can either not sleep much (I usually get to bed around 3 or 4am and absolute exhaustion usually gets me to sleep) or I can have a few drinks and get 6 or 7 hours sleep. The problem with the former is that I am exhausted the next day, the problem with the latter is that I feel like shit the next day. Take your pick.

I've tried the traditional thing of going to the doctor and been given sleeping tablets but they didn't work. I took the recommended dose but nothing. Next night I took double the dose and nothing. Next night I took double the dose washed down with a lot of alcohol and the next day I was incredibly anxious and jittery, and very depressed. So I went back to the doctor and handed the remaining pills over. And that was the end of that experiment.

The other side affect of (ab)using alcohol to control your sleep is that you start to tick some worrying boxes. Do you drink every night? Yes. Do you drink alone? Yes. Do you drink to cope? Yes. I'd always been seeking an answer to my insomnia but now I know I have AS it has brought a small bit of relief. I still don't have a solution, but I can now come to terms with the fact that I will never have a solution. I can now focus my attention on just coping. I now stay up till 3am most nights (unless I'm drinking), sometimes later. In the morning I just deal with it. To be honest I think I cope with being tired after not drinking much better than I cope with feeling like shit after drinking. But again it is another compromise…I can have a better night and worse morning, or a worse night but better morning. I have no option that satisfies me both evening and morning, I have to enjoy one and suffer the other.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The problem with people

People with Asperger Syndrome (AS) have their brains wired up differently from normal people; it's almost as if the social element of it has been turned off. To have a stab at an analogy, do you ever remember learning to breathe? Or have you just always done it? Now image someone for who the breathing instinct has been turned off and they need to learn how to breathe and consciously think about it the whole time. As you're sat there watching TV they are sat thinking "breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…breathe out…" In social situations it can be like that for people with AS. In social situations we are exhibiting behaviour that we have learned from experience and observation…behaviour that just comes natural to other people.

Now for another analogy. As mentioned above, social interaction is, for us, an effort. Think of something else that is an effort, such as running on a treadmill. It's easy at the start, then it gets a bit of a chore, then it gets tiresome, then it gets too much and you have to stop. That's what it's like for us at a party or a group gathering. As time wears on we wear out and eventually zone out. This "zoned out" situation is one we refer to as overloading. When everything has gotten too much for us the shutters just come down. All desire to pretend to be social have evaporated. That's when we're sat in the corner at our rudest and quietest. It's not because we're horrible people…it's simply that while you've been enjoying yourself and relaxing, we've been running a damn marathon! Now we're exhausted and just want to be left alone.

It is this need to learn social behaviours that probably leads to a lot of confusion in a young person's life. I remember as a child, when someone would fall over and hurt themselves I couldn't care less, it didn't bother me. But other children would rush to the injured child's aid and I could never understand why. Little did I know that my AS was robbing me of empathy, I didn't care for people in peril as (frankly) the person in peril wasn't me. Seeing other people react in a totally different way from you is confusing and worrying when you're a child. So we do something we end up doing a lot of…we fake it. As a child I learned to fake concern by studying the reactions of others. So when a playmate fell over I would mimic the behaviours I saw in others. I still do it now…when a work mate or friend announces their grand parents have died or some disease has befallen them I screw my face up in concern and mutter "Oh no"s and "that's terrible"s just like everyone else in the room does. The reality is that I don't actually care. I know it sounds a horrible thing to say, but I can't help what my brain makes me consciously feel.

As I grew into a (still undiagnosed) adult my perception of this phenomenon changed and as my vulnerability to peer pressure waned and I began to grow in the confidence of my own skin I started to see people as being fake. As a child all you care about is fitting in, so you learn to mimic. As an adult you don't care about fitting in so much and instead start to question the behaviour you see in others. I would think that as I didn't care about this person, others couldn't either so their displays of affection were something I assumed were fake. That they felt just as I do but chose to demonstrate othewise. As I had to learn social interaction I think I view it in a far more clinical manner; to me it is simple cause and effect. I seem to view people's actions in a far more objective and critical way and tend to form opinions about people from their behaviour that others appear to be blind to. It's the classic "wood for the trees" scenario. Normal, social people seem to me to get enveloped in other's personalities, whereas I stand back and view things in a cold, analytical manner. A side affect of this process is that, of everyone I know, I'm far the quickest to say I don't like someone. It's rare for me to hear anyone say they don't like people, or they'll say things like "Don't get me wrong, I really like Joe, he's a great guy, but sometimes he does things that annoy me." You won't get that from me. I call a spade and a spade and I'll just come out and say "I don't like him" and I'll launch into an intimate character assassination, picking off flaws like shooting fish in a barrel.

That then leads onto another facet of AS (are you beginning to see that it all ties together into a big, complicated structure?) - namely that we tend to see things in black and white. I like you or I don't like you. I think you're right or I think you're wrong. I think you should obey a rule, or not obey it. Appreciating shades of grey is hard for me. Maybe I'll expand on that in a later post.