I’ve put a lot of work into understanding and replicating neurotypical interaction, but there are some things I just can’t figure out.

Logically, I know what’s appropriate to tell people when you first meet them. But I am only capable of so much logic in human interaction, and most of my normal wad gets blown on the complicated task of shaking a hand with the proper amount of pressure and looking my handshaking partner directly in the eye while I’m doing so. So I, um, told someone that I had met for the first time ever in my life (although I have had friendly, superficial e-mail contact with her) that someone died of an overdose on the day that my husband moved into his old, crappy apartment. I haven’t even thought of that in years, so how in the hell did it come up and out of my mouth today?

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My dear neurotypicals,

If you’ve ever wondered what all of your natural socialization and interaction looks like to me, particularly when I’m tired and low and social energy, I think that this is a pretty accurate representation.

love and lack of eye contact,

captainawesometism

Chariots Of Fail

March 27, 2011

I love a good repetitive pattern, but I also violently hated my old place, and I think that the latter has effectively canceled out the former in the case of my recent move. Whatever comfort there was in the routines of the old place had long been nullified by the accompanying resentment of having to do them in such a stupid, tiny place with a paint job and structural integrity worthy of any building you’d find in a fascinating but poignant photo essay on the urban decay in Detroit. And now, it seems, any stress involved in having to establish and navigate new, unfamiliar habits has been mitigated my fondness for the current place and the new/old neighbourhood.

But there was one thing I did genuinely adore about the old place: my running route. It was the first thing I ever ran and, in true autistic fashion, I went back to it over and over and over again. As I’ve become fond of saying, why do anything once when you can do it six million times? Even when I loathed running, I adored my little loop through the cemetery, which was exactly half a mile from my door. I liked knowing the specific distance markers along the way,watching the same sights coming up at the same times, and I loved engaging in the constant repetitive motion of putting one foot in front of the other and navigating through the same tried and true pathways. For almost half a decade, it was My Route. A really crazy new run consisted of adding an extra circle through the cemetery or, when I was really feeling bold, running the loop in the opposite direction. I can probably count the number of runs I’ve done somewhere other than the cemetery on both hands, and only one of those was in town.

Now, I still live within running distance of the very same cemetery. I’m just a little farther away than I used to be, and I have to enter through a different gate. I fully realize that these differences are pretty minor, but they’re driving me to untold heights of melodrama. I cried like a baby when I ran my original route for the last time. And my first attempt at the new route earlier today was, well, let’s go with “unpleasant.” It was a lot like that special brand of unpleasant that unpopular and awkward kids experience on the first day at a new school.

Unused to having so many people on the sidewalk because I used to live in a boring and dead neighbourhood, I began the whole unfortunate farce by pretty much bolting out of the gate in a misguided effort to get past the meandering sidewalk hogs and impress them with my “No! I haven’t been sick or injured and it totally hasn’t been over a week since I laced up my shoes!” speed. It’s bad enough for a normal runner to do this, as it leads to premature exhaustion and a generally shitty run, but it’s particularly wretched for someone with asthma. I avoided an actual attack, but there was a whole lotta wheezing (and coughing up and spitting of phlegm) going on for the rest of my journey.

Then I got lost and ran through a church parking lot that was located on a small but slippery hill. I did my best to descend it carefully, but I wound up on my ass in the mud. Then some asshole who was out walking her dog actually stopped, stared and laughed at me. Why do people do shit like that? It seemed to me like she really wanted me to know that she was laughing at me, and her reaction was quite audible and in my face. What does someone get out of an interaction like that? Maybe she could read my mind, and she felt that my school metaphor wasn’t obvious or literal enough? Sometimes I just really want to ask people: “I have Asperger’s. What’s your excuse?”

Anyway, I considered myself lucky that my pride was the only thing injured in the fall. I considered myself less lucky that I would be running eight more kilometers along one of the busiest streets in the country with a large brown spot oozing on my ass.

The rest of the run was a sea of winded horking, furious clock-watching, burning legs and an internal monologue of whining and nostalgia. On the way back, I had to change my plans on the fly because the road home was blocked off by a series of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. When I did make it back to my new door at last, I had problems unlocking it because my fingers wouldn’t move. That was when I looked down to realize that my hand and arm – which had been exposed to the elements up to the watchband level to accommodate all of that clock-watching – were swollen and covered in hives. (Among my many quirks, I am also allergic to the cold. What can I say? Some people just win the genetic lottery.)

Then I had a lukewarm bath because I don’t understand the temperature control on the new tub just yet. Finally, my Garmin GPS and heart rate monitor decided to add a cruel epilogue to the whole tale by refusing to upload the sad activity properly.

I’m grumpy because it sucked. I’m double grumpy because it sucked and new patterns suck even when they’re good. And I’m on a grumpy loop because I can’t let go of things.

And yet I’m already considering doing it all again tomorrow. I’m just not the kind of girl to try anything once.

I Have (Almost) Returned

March 26, 2011

I survived the music festival. Moving, and the subsequent rewriting of daily patterns, proved to be a lot less traumatic than anticipated. If you are autistic and about to move, see if you can relocate to a neighbourhood where your grandparents lived for 26 years. If your roommates and/or significant others can tolerate your ability/insistence on reciting the rental history of each commercial property (“This used to be a Hooters! And a Fran’s! And then there was some airplane-themed restaurant that wasn’t very good, and before that it was a Lime Ricky’s and they had the best sundaes and some country singer wrote a song about it.”) then it’s about as ideal as a transition can be.

A more consistent flow of content should (I hope) be on its way. In the meantime, I offer you this Moment In Awesometism:

People with Asperger’s have a certain affinity for minutiae. We also have a rather unfortunate inability to let things go. And, sometimes, we take things too literally. As you can imagine, this leads to some really great episodes, and I was recently reminded of one of my more amusing (to me) and notorious (to everyone else, I’m sure) hang-ups.

I was painting a wall in the new place, listening to a live Guess Who record (because that’s what all of the cool kids do in 2011), when “No Sugar Tonight/ New Mother Nature” started to play. Suddenly, my paint strokes became more furious, and my mind started to race in some very inane, well-worn circles.

Over the years, I’ve learned not to take most rock lyrics too seriously, or to overanalyze ones that simply don’t require it, but there’s something about “New Mother Nature” that I just can’t get over or ignore. Yeah, I know. “It’s about drugs!” That’s not hard to figure out, but I keep getting stuck on the details.

Who is Jocko? What is he saying “yes” to? Is the “yes” in relation to “the things I say?” Which, first of all, is a really solipsistic topic to discuss with friends. And, second of all, of course you’re going to believe a friend saying yes when you’re talking about the things you say, because he’s telling you what you want to hear.

Now who is this “she” and why are we discussing her lack of strength and guts to leave him when they’re standing in each other’s way? Is this Jocko’s girlfriend? Have we moved on to a different topic, or are the things you say about Jocko’s relationship?

And now you’ve moved on to tripping? Fine, I know this song is about drugs, but then what is all this stuff about Jocko and his girlfriend? Is the “you” that you are now addressing Jocko, or have we moved on to someone else now? How is leaving them all far behind related to Jocko and his relationship issues and his yes-saying?

But now he’s saying “no?” What is going on here? And it’s looking like you lost a friend? Really, Jocko is allowed to disagree with you once in a while, especially considering that he’s willing to talk about the things you say, which is probably not a topic he really enjoys, but he does discuss it because he’s your friend. Or maybe Jocko’s the one terminating this relationship? In which case, maybe you don’t need a friend like that, anyway. And look, I know that losing a friend is unfortunate, but really? There’s no use calling cause the sky is falling and you’re getting pretty near the end? Now you’re just being a drama queen. Whatever drugs you’re on are distorting your perspective.

But wait, now you’re all happy about a bag of goodies and a bottle of wine? Are you over Jocko already? Are you being flippant? Or in denial? Did you ever stop to consider that maybe you’re the emotionally unstable one, and that maybe Jocko was enabling you when he said “yes” but then he couldn’t do it anymore and he said “no” in an effort to get you some help, but then you turn to your baggie and your booze, thereby perpetuating this unfortunate cycle and dragging yourself into a situation that you don’t have the strength of the guts to leave?

You know what’s the most amazing part about all of this? When I started writing this entry, I was working with an amused sort of detachment, but by the hallway mark, I was legitimately worked up again.

Oddly enough, I have no such confusion about the “No Sugar Tonight” part of this equation, but then that is pretty straightforward, grabbing eyes notwithstanding.

I’m Still Here

March 16, 2011

That’s not a Joaquin Phoenix reference. I hated that film.

It’s just the only title I could come up with on my low mental energy right now. I should have known better than to start  blog before embarking on coverage of a music festival AND a move. In the past week, I have:

– made eye contact and shaken hands

– tried to converse in a group

– tried to converse in a group with loud music playing in the background

– tried to make eye contact in a dim-lit room

– uprooted comfortable patterns almost a decade in the making

It might not sound like much to my neurotypical readers, but trust me: If there was a movie about Aspies working their asses off Rocky-style for some sort of normie event, the training montage would look a lot like my life right now.

I’ll be back with longer entries soon. In the mean time, feel free to picture me running around in Rocky’s little half-sweatshirt in the third installment. (Interesting side note: my husband once made me watch Rocky III before every game of his hockey team’s playoffs. Athletes during the playoffs are basically glorified Aspies with better coordination.)

An aspie perseverating about special interests? Let’s just pretend I did that on purpose.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome really know our shit. Granted, that shit is most likely narrowly focussed and potentially obscure, but we really, really know our obsessive, particular and esoteric shit.

The well-researched and expertly regurgitated favourite subjects of a person with AS are generally referred to as “special interests,” but that’s a rather flaccid, ineffectual term for what actually goes on in my brain when I’m in the throes of such excitable nerdity.

As a fan of both Dexter and cheesy puns, I’ve taken to calling it my “Dork Passenger.” I imagine that the underlying impulses, the all-consuming need is quite similar in both of our cases. They only real difference is in our respective Passengers’ desires. While Dexter’s sibilant mental companion unfurls its wings and demands blood and death, mine furiously flaps its hands and squeals all sorts of constructive suggestions into my ear. Suggestions like “We need to learn more about DSV Alvin, the research submersible that our hero Dr. Robert Ballard was in when he explored the Titanic the second time!” or “Mom definitely wants to hear more about the destructive but intoxicating relationship between Beecher and Keller and how it was so painfully miswritten in season six!” or even “Yes! We definitely need to explain the finer points of the Eastern European roots of plyometrics to this guy we just met at the bar, because this is obviously an excellent party topic!!!”

The Dork Passenger can show up at any time and turn what might otherwise be a productive hobby or interest enjoyed with a sense of perspective and respect for the other facets of a well-balanced life and turns it a far more unwieldy beast. No amount of knowledge is ever good enough for The Dork Passenger. No amount of time is ever long enough to dedicate to its latest fixation.

The Dork Passenger can stay fixed on the same target for years, or it can leave as suddenly as it arrived. I’ll just wake up one morning, and find that the urgency and the magic aren’t really there anymore. Sometimes a lingering fondness for the object of obsession remains, much like normals might feel for a long lost love that was never meant to be, but the details never last. I keep a Titanic charm on a necklace these days, but I had to turn to Wikipedia for all of that stuff about Alvin mentioned above. I’d gotten Alvin mixed up with Jason Jr. which would have been a cardinal sin up to twenty years ago.

Over the course of my life, The Dork Passenger has steered me toward a bizarre hodgepodge of Most Important Things Ever, including dinosaurs (though, in my experience, saying an Aspie went through a dinosaur phase is like saying that a classic rock fan went through a Stones phase), the ruins of Pompei, JRR Tolkien, Dune, Canadian indie music, Big Star, a couple of foreign filmmakers, David Cronenberg and Dead Ringers, pro-wrestling, slash fanfiction and pro-wrestling slash fanfiction.

The way in which I explore these things has evolved over the years. What began as a strictly qualitative exercise involving strict numbers and facts has grown into more of an interest in qualitative observations. When I was at the height of Titanic-mania, I was all about memorizing things like the names of passengers, the song that was playing when the ship sunk and the time and date of the iceberg hit. When I was in the midst of my latest spell, this time with the HBO series OZ (yes, the girl who loved one of the most devastating losses of human life on the high seas went on to adore a TV show in which machiavellian monsters stick all sorts weapons and body parts into each other- there’s a sunny Asperger success story for you) I paid far more attention to plot lines, structure and characterization than I did to who directed a particular episode.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the giddy thrill of it all. It’s like a scholarly sugar high without the crash. Special interests get a bit of a bad wrap in autism literature, but I can honestly say they’re one of the two things I genuinely love about my disorder (my fascinating rain mannish ability to throw almost the exact same punch 20 times in a row being the other).

I won’t deny that the Dork Passenger has caused the occasional issue over the years, but they’ve been comparatively minor to any other AS-related drama I’ve navigated. Most of the problems I can recall off the top of my head are pretty amusing in retrospect. I’ve pulled some really weird shit over the years in the name of my favourite things, and I stand by almost every single stunt.

My only complaint with the whole phenomenon is that it has seriously amped up the intensity of my impostor syndrome. It’s almost impossible for me to understand what a normal sense of knowledge and expertise is supposed to feel like now. When you become an authoritative expert on anything while you’re still in kindergarten, everything after that is bound to feel a little half-assed.