An Aspie's Voyage

An alien in an alien land – an aspie's quest for a place in the world

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Aspies and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

So, I have survived another week at work. The disaster I feared at the end of the previous week did not materialise. Instead, while very difficult for me socially, the actual working time was OK because I spent it mostly on getting to know the equipment I’m going to specialise in.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the classroom and workshop time, I feared the times where I had to interact with my colleagues, such as breaks and transport to and from the training. I am happy to write that they were very civil towards me, but I have nothing in common with them as they are so young. Age wise I’m the odd one out, and I don’t like being the odd one in any group and under any circumstances because I easily become too self-conscious when trying to reach out to people or get reminded of failed past attempts at reaching out. When this happens I freeze, no words can come out of my mind, and when they do, I stammer or talk incoherently. I also have a tendency to pull a “sour face,” as my wife calls it, but it’s actually a face of fear, fear of being branded aloof or even worse, a creep.
There are other fears I have. For instance, I fear my sleeping problem will take over and I will end up so tired and head-achy that I will not be able to concentrate during the day. It is in fact doubly fearful to me since extreme focus is one of the few “aspie superpowers” I possess. I also fear that I will get so overwhelmed in social situations that I will start saying or doing strange things that will leave me stigmatised in the eyes of the others. This has actually happened before and because I have a very good memory I can remember everything in vivid detail.
This leads me to the issue of aspies and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD. PTSD is a well known mental illness. At one time it was known as  Shell-shock, a condition experienced by many soldiers of WWI. Other causes of PTSD include being a victim of a traumatic event such as a kidnapping. The symptoms include vivid and intrusive memories of the event, which can then deteriorate into a continuous reliving of it. Here is a link that explains PTSD in more detail:
Now, enter aspies with their often exceptional and visual memories. Yes, we can develop PTSD-like symptoms given the wrong conditions. When I am put in situations that remind me of previous bad experiences or when I feel that I am under too much pressure I can start getting vivid flashes of traumatic events in my past. On occasions the intrusive memories become so strong that past and present blend so I find it difficult to react to the present event. I can even suffer a meltdown.
I once mentioned my symptoms to a very renowned psychiatrist, but he just brushed them away as being of little consequence. This was  in the early noughties, when adults were only beginning to be diagnosed with Asperger’s. I wonder how he reacts nowadays when somebody comes to him with similar symptoms, but no obvious traumatic experience to speak of. Would he be as dismissive? 

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Last few weeks

What a hectic two weeks I’ve had. Let me begin in chronological order, from oldest to newest.
Two weeks ago my wife and I were vendors at a small SF convention. We were selling our own stuff, mostly DVDs and books. One thing an aspie does is to pursue their interests with great passion, and that often involves buying things, lots of them, in an obsessive fashion. I have always accumulated stuff, but this problem (as my wife calls it), became worse during a spot of extreme stress four years ago when there was a severe crisis in my extremely dysfunctional Swedish family. As a result my wife fell ill with all the stress and I began to do a lot of comfort buying. Not good for the pocket, not good, but my wife and I have decided to sell it all back to make more space at home and to recover some of that money. We were pleased that, although there weren’t many buyers around, we still made a small profit.
At the same convention I wore my steampunk outfit, which was a victory for me since I’m so shy and self-conscious. Something that helped ease the uneasiness was the fact that others were wearing even more extreme outfits. For example, one girl was wearing her crocheted brains out, gore and all, while another was wearing a costume made out of pockets. It was pockets on pockets on pockets until they were so tiny she couldn’t sew them on anymore. 
The weekend after was the World SF Convention, and my wife and I volunteered in the games tent. I had been looking forward to the convention for years and we had a very long and exciting first day there. The experience overwhelmed me so much emotionally that the day after I got a meltdown when it was time to get up and go. Meltdowns is what aspies get when we get overstimulated or overloaded with information. My meltdowns are quite mellow, and they just mean that I shut down and need to withdraw. Other aspies can get them much worse. My sister, for instance, gets violent. I remember her throwing things at me or hitting me on the back with her fists. The blows were hard and unexpected because I never knew what would trigger her meltdowns. My eldest brother told me that she once stabbed him on the back with a pencil, drawing blood. She would also hit my mother, she just couldn’t stop herself once she started, so she had to be restrained.
Back to my meltdown, I was so overwhelmed that I asked my wife to call and cancel our participation that day. This made me very upset because I thought I was going back to my old patterns of supreme excitement followed by an abysmal feeling of being a failure because I couldn’t keep up with the rest. However, my wife comforted me and reassured me by saying that it was understandable that I got so excited, and that now when I knew about meltdowns I could take the necessary steps to lessen their impact or to withdraw and rest if nothing else worked.
Although I had a difficult time for the rest of the convention I managed to get by. I even met a fellow aspie and his twin boys, who also have Aspergers. My wife played with the boys, and was truly shocked at seeing how the other kids in the game treated them: with anger and disrespect. I told her that that had been the story of my own childhood. She was truly shocked. I will dedicate an entire post to this “incident” (as my wife calls it) later on because it deserves a post of its own.
Directly from the last convention I went to my new job, my first in four years. Needless to say I was very nervous, terrified, actually, mainly because I didn’t know how I was going to react, how many meltdowns I would have, and whether others would notice my awkwardness. The job is in a call-centre, so it is not very difficult, but it is hectic and everything has to be done right. It might not be the ideal environment for an aspie, but then so many things are not ideal for us, or even good. In any way, I survived the first week. Most things went OK until Friday afternoon when the whole team gathered for the first time. They are all very young, very loud and very social. It was too much for me and I got a meltdown again. They mostly ignored me, which reminded me of other painful times when I have been ignored and isolated in similar situations. I remembered particularly my time at a university where I was doing a PhD a few years ago and my office fellow students were more interested in socializing that studying. The bullying was so severe and sustained that I had to move offices twice and downgrade from doctorate to masters. Not fair, but had I known then that I was Aspergers I guess I would have at least been allowed to finish the doctorate and not being labelled as slow and “not good enough for a PhD.” If only they had known how stressed I was, how close I was to a nervous breakdown. My tormentors went unpunished and now flourish in their respective careers, but that’s another story.

I recently read the following blog by Lisa Walker England (an aspie fellow):

What she wrote made me think… I write. In fact, I love writing. In my dreams I am a full time author; yes, in my dreams. In reality, I would never be able to support myself on my writing. What I have published has been either in learned journals or in small press, which does not pay, and I do not see how that will change in the foreseeable future. Still, I have some finished or nearly finished projects that I think deserve to be read, so, instead of letting my pieces gather virtual dust while finding ways to publish them I will put them on my blog. That will give me the joy of seeing my work available to others, who might feel inspired to do the same.

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On Reading

As many other aspies I was bullied. Some bullied me just for fun and others did it to crush me and bend me to their will, most notably my family and my first teacher. What I have discovered is that bullies have something in common with universalist ideologies: both want you to accept that their truth is the only one. 

What do I mean by a universalist ideology? First of all we have the global monotheistic religions that teach that there is only one god and no others, and everyone that does not believe in this god is wrong. Then we have the political mass movements that so much dominated the twentieth century. Their founders, followers and leaders claimed that their ideology possessed the only truth and that everyone not sharing their ideology was inferior, and therefore prey.

I grew up in 1970s Sweden where the currents from 1968 strongly influenced society. I was a pariah because my father was a businessman and my first schoolteacher made it his personal contribution to the world revolution to make my life hell. To him I, a seven year old, was the local representative of world capitalism and was therefore legal prey.

What does this have to do with reading and writing you the reader, rightly ask?

As I stated above, it is vitally important for bullies to make their victims accept that they are right. However, reading opens up other worlds and other opinions to the reader. When the real world was too unbearable I could disappear in the written world and discover that there was more to life than what my tormentors tried to force me to think. I, like many other aspies, discovered science fiction and fantasy and escaped into their alternate realities; both helped me to recharge and to tackle life.

The French author Houellebecq in his analysis of the horror author H P Lovecraft states that healthy people do not read. He might be right there, but he misses the real point, and that is that reading also comforts and heals.

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Why I decided to blog

Since being diagnosed earlier this year I have of course studied about Asperger’s Syndrome. There is a lot of literature out there, and much of it written by people actually on the Autism Disorder Spectrum. I have also looked at on-line resources by and for aspies. In a later post I will review and recommend some of the books and resources. 

When deciding which books to buy I researched them by reading the cover blurbs, excerpts and the reviews. I was, obviously, very interested in books written by other aspies. What I found posed a problem for me: most of the aspies – of those I found – that wrote about our condition either had had the support of their families or had one or more of these ‘aspie superpowers’ that more than compensate for their handicap. I wonder whether these people really have anything to tell me? Yes if you have a wonderful, loving supportive family that accepts you for who you are then you’re more likely to do well by following their advice. If you have an aspie superpower all the better because you can use it to create a special niche for yourself in the world and in the workplace.

What about us that lack either or both of these advantages, though? Is there a reason why we don’t write and publish? Is it not so that for every aspie that is a resounding success there are others – ten, or even a hundred – that struggle just to stay afloat like me? Who tells our stories? 

I felt that I wanted to write from the perspective of those of us who are not special – just aspies. This is why I’m here, because I’m an ordinary aspie.

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Life as an Aspie – 1

This relates to my previous post. It is not just about writing. Tasks that can be simplicity themselves for a neurotypical can be very complex for me, an aspie, since they involve so many decisions. I am at the moment doing the laundry. Instead of just taking it out and hanging it after I am done with it I want to wait a little bit before I open the door to the machine. After I have emptied the machine and put the laundry in the basket I take a break. After yet another pause I hang it. What I do is that I split each and every operation into a series of discrete actions with breaks in between. I do that to destress myself and to prepare myself for the next task. 

I can get very stressed when cooking, and baking with all its intricacies is most of the time beyond me.

Imagine then the effect more complex situations, i.e. social interactions, can have on me.