Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Ho, ho, horrible

My anxiety levels have been through the roof today, all day. My flat looks like the only gift I got this year was squatters. I honestly can't remember the last time I did the dishes, and the only thing with more dust than the cans and bottles on my floor is the vacuum cleaner. I'm living off takeaways and alcohol as each day is as without structure as the last. Getting up later and later each day, starting to drink earlier and earlier each evening. My deep depression has now turned into absolute anxiety.

I'm back at work for two days which is a strain to be honest, and then it all starts again until the New Year when I'll have a whole new batch of people to lie to about how great my Christmas was.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Let's get the party started

It was my new company's Christmas party last week, and I thought I'd better go along. I had an idea I wouldn't like it as it takes me a while to relax around new people. I had a get-together with my old work colleagues and it was great. People I'd known for years and I felt relaxed and able to talk, or just listen and not feel bad. We talked about people we knew and events we had all shared in.

My new work colleagues are all still a mystery to me, and I still haven't met 90% of the company. I turned up to the venue in my usual non-work attire of jeans and a t-shirt. Luckily I saw others arrive as I approached and my attire was somewhat "off point" so I had to go home to change into something more suit orientated. I returned to the venue and walked into a massive room where everyone was mingling and I was probably the last to turn up. Even in my new clothes I was underdressed with most men wearing morning suits or tuxedos and the females all wore glamorous ball gowns and dresses.

And I first turned up in jeans and a T-shirt.

I felt quite embarrassed and humiliated to be honest. How could I have gotten it so wrong? Two hundred people seemed to instinctively know the dress code was ubersmart; they had all managed to tap into this subconscious stream of social awareness that runs through all human beings with the exception of myself. At least I was in a position to go home and change - otherwise it would have been like that dream where you're naked, only more embarrassing.

The format of the evening was a mingle followed by us sitting for a meal in pre-arranged tables, and then more mingling after the meal. Needless to say my pre-drink mingling was awkward and mainly involved me hovering in the background of people who were probably internally debating on whether to acknowledge my existence or not.

The meal wasn't too bad as I kinda knew a few people on my table so made sure I arranged to sit next to them. In order to do so I had to swap places with someone so I swapped our name cards to complete the subterfuge. After 10 minutes or so in my seat its rightful owner approached and picked her wine glass up from in front of me, saying "sorry, I left my drink at your seat" with an amazingly subtle amount of sarcasm.

After the meal people started to talk and drift and people came and went and the whole seating structure of the room broke down and people floated like nebulous particles waiting to dock. The noise got louder and louder and I started to shut down, waiting for an opportunity to leave under the cloak of other people's social activity.

And then it happened…the pity talk. Someone who themselves seemed to have no-one to talk to, not because they were autistic but because they were boring, came over and flatly announced "I thought I'd come and talk to you". By now I had already shut down, I could barely hear anything, I tried to read their lips as best I could but ended up leaning in for far too many "eh?"s. I conversed the best I could but there was no way out of this. It was a war of attrition where neither of us had anyone to come to the rescue, and my mobile phone was off so I couldn't simulate a "silent call" with some deft manipulation so I was stuck. In one of the many lulls in our conversation I excused myself to see if "someone I'm giving a lift to" had left yet and they got the message and allowed me to scan the room with full neck motion until they got the message and left. I left shortly after.

It would have been better for me if I had never gone in the first place. I'm sure I came across as pretty rude to a few people *shrug* I just need more time to feel comfortable around these people, but I think I've put myself one step forward and two steps back. My probation is coming to an end in a few weeks too.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


This Christmas will be maybe my purest yet. It's just me and my flat this year. I think the thing that people with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) hate the most about Christmas is dealing with the expectations and needs of other people. People tend to be quite clandestine about their wants and desires and this is normally alright as normal people can pick up their hints and signals and successfully decode them. Unfortunately us with AS lack this ability.

It means that Christmas spent around friends and families is usually bound to end in an accumulation of interpretation, worry and ultimately disappointment. The only Christmas gift people really want is for you to show them that you understand them. It's a gift I can never give.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Thinking outside the box

I had an interesting day at work today. One of the main differences between my new job and my old one is that at my current job everyone is quite competent at what they do, and I'm also the "middle" developer with one developer more senior than me. So I don't spend as much time helping other people with their problems as I did in my old job.

However today we were dealing with a problem that no-one could solve or even much understand. Lots of people had had a hand in solving it to no avail. Now in these situations, what often happens is an unofficial coding free-for-all where everyone works on the problem at the same time with the aim that the person who solves it first gets the kudos.

So we were all pretty much focussed on solving this tricky problem and to paraphrase the situation, imagine a chain of events from step 1 to step 5, and step 5 is failing quite spectacularly. My colleagues were all spending their efforts looking at the ins and outs of step 5 and really tearing it apart and pouring over every line, trying to understand why it was failing. However I was the only one who seemed to contemplate the issue as a whole, and despite the obvious failure at step 5 I didn't want to make assumptions about where the fault was. So I took some time to analyse not how step 5 failed, but why it failed. After spending a few minutes on that I made some discoveries that all of my colleagues had missed. Mainly because they were looking at something else. Using my findings I back-tracked to step 4 to see the problem emerging, then back to step 3 to see the problem starting. It was step 3 that had the problem, and like dominos it was step 5 that exhibited the failure.

I'm now no more than 15 minutes into my attempt to solve the problem and I'm investigating an area none of my colleagues are. I am now confident that none of my colleagues has a chance of solving this problem as they are looking in the wrong place, so I soldier on and after half an hour I had finally solved the problem that no-one else could.

Now I'm not just blowing my own trumpet here :) the whole incident really taught me a few things. What struck me most was that my colleagues were acting in exactly the same way that my colleagues at my old job did. I was always frustrated as I felt people wasted too much energy looking for solutions in the wrong places after making too many assumptions. Not only that, but at my old job I'd often get annoyed at my colleagues' constant dialogue about what they thought was wrong, as to me that was just a distraction to my own train of thought. I'd feel like saying "stop wasting your time and stop speaking to me…you're looking into the wrong thing, you'll never solve this problem". Again today the same thing…I had to put up with a constant dialogue from my colleagues about this step 5 and I just tried to "yeah" and "uh-huh" the talk away and not let it distract me from looking at step 3.

This is a very clear-cut example of what people mean by out of the box thinking, and how the way my brain is wired gives me an advantage in problem solving over my non-autistic colleagues. When presented with a step that fails they get polarised by that step and can't see outside of its confines to contemplate that the real problem might be elsewhere. Whereas my first thought isn't "I wonder what is wrong with step 5", but "I wonder if step 5 is the problem". It's such a simple thing, such a simple concept yet other people don't seem to get it. Now that my new, rather competent, colleagues are exhibiting an identical problem solving approach to my old colleagues I can only assume that their way of thinking is just "normal".

So the sun does indeed shine on a dog's arse some days :)

Monday, 14 December 2009

Falling Down

I went to my usual cafĂ© at the weekend to get my usual breakfast, as I have done every weekend for a few months. Only this time the waitress didn't ask if I was having my "usual", instead she told me that they weren't doing breakfast at this time anymore. At this time? It was 2pm…who doesn't have breakfast at 2pm? With a glance over her shoulder she informed me they were trying to push the lunchtime specials now. I asked if I could have a breakfast anyway and she said she'd ask the chef. The chef said no.

I relented and went for the Sunday lunch instead. It was really nice if I'm honest, as all of their food is, and I guess I was glad I'd been forced to change from what I always have. But I'm like that…with no outside influence I'll just chart the same course until I fall off the end of the world…I need a kick up the backside to try something new.

My mum's Christmas card and "parcel" came at the weekend. It'll be the only Christmas card I get this year. When she phoned me up she talked as if I had opened them, so I interrupted and said that I hadn't opened them yet. "Are you waiting for Christmas day then?" "Yeah". The reality is that the parcel and card and both languishing in my flat somewhere and I haven't opened them as I don't want Christmas to spill out and invade my flat; my only sanctuary from the grotesque masquerade going on but a pane of glass away. If I thought my mum would never enquire further I'd probably deposit the whole lot at the nearest homeless shelter forthwith…banish this event from my life completely.

Still, not long yet.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Hello darkness my old friend

"When you meet one person with Asperger's you've met one person with Asperger's" so the saying goes. We all suffer different symptoms to different degrees, but a symptom I never really identified with was one where people get single-mindedly focused on a task to the detriment of everything else. Mainly because at work I do often have to switch active tasks, and it's something I've been aware I'm not 100% happy with doing but like many things I just get on and do it.

Last night I had a few tasks that I needed to do, and I've also started on a new personal project. I started off doing a bit of my project until I was too hungry to concentrate much, so broke for diner, then got back to my project. I was always keen to do just a bit more, then just a bit more. I knew I had other tasks to do but wanted to keep doing just a bit more. By the time 2am came I had not done any of my other tasks. I still had to finish a document I was writing for work, finish an e-mail to someone, have a shower, prepare lunch for the next day and also iron a shirt. It was 2am! I had been on my project for 5 hours.

So the e-mail just had to wait, the document was half-arsed but I knew I could finish it when I got to work, and I had to soldier with the other tasks. I didn't get to bed until just past 3am and I still couldn't shake this project from my mind and what plans I had to enhance it, what the next stages should be etc. So my mind was racing and I just couldn't switch off or get to sleep.

Then it dawned on me that this situation wasn't unique, it wasn't the first time I've done this…start a project and got so engrossed in it I just can't pull myself away and can barely sleep for thinking about it. Then thinking about it all day at work, just waiting to get back home to repeat the cycle. Yet whenever I hear about people with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) getting so focused and set on a single task that you can't break them free from I always thought "that's nothing like me." It's everything like me.

This is one of those times when knowing what is wrong with you really helps you understand yourself and your behaviours and recognise when your behaviour is the result of AS. If I didn't know I had AS I'd never stop to look at the trees instead of the wood.