“I KNOW, I KNOW! STOP YELLING AT ME!!!”

As a kid, one of the things I hated the absolute most was being yelled or scolded at by others.  Well, naturally, no kid (or even adult) enjoys being yelled or scolded at. I think all children feel sad and intimidated someone, especially an adult, gets frustrated at them and shouts, “NO! BAD! STOP!” However, for some reason, I usually took it much harder than most other kids.

Whenever any adult yelled at me or spoke to me in a loud, strict tone, I would often feel daunted and sometimes wanted to cry. To me it like they were turning into a big scary monster that was roaring at me, and I was supposed to “take it like a man” and not be scared or upset.   I can remember a few distinct moments of my childhood where a parent, teacher, relative, or even stranger shouted at me and caused me so much anxiety. For instance, there was the time when I got yelled at by my karate instructor (yeah, I used to take karate lessons) after I complained about being left behind during a jog with other students. At first I was intimidated and could barely move or think. After a few seconds, I became increasingly agitated and even angry, thinking to myself that I had been treated unfairly and wanting to scream right back at him. Then I tried to avoid the karate instructor and keep to myself as much as possible. I was able to shrug it off eventually, but it’ll be a while before I forget how scared and frustrated I was then.

That is essentially what would normally happen if someone shouted or loudly scolded at me: I’d initially be alarmed and silent, then I’d be upset and irritated, and then I’d isolate myself from others and try to make myself feel better. Occasionally I’d end up crying and had to be calmed down by one of my parents, but in most cases I wanted to prove that I “could take it” and showed as little intimidation as I could. In fact, I’d sometimes feel ashamed of being so anxious because an adult yelled at me; I assumed that people would think of me as a baby or wuss if I was unable to accept some discipline. So, there were plenty of times when I was pretending to be calm and happy after being reprimanded, when, in actuality, I wanted to break down in tears and beg them to stop.

Over time, as I matured into an adult, my reaction to being shouted or scolded at did sort of change – but not for the better. Nowadays, whenever I get shouted or nagged at, instead of becoming quiet and reclusive, I typically get defensive and apprehensive. In some instances, I might have a bit of an anxious meltdown.

A good example to point to happened several years ago, when I had to use my dad’s car to drive to work, since my sister had the car I usually drove and dad was out of town. After I got into the car I accidentally forgot to open the garage door and bumped into it, causing some minor damage. Upon hearing the noise, my mom immediately rushed into the garage and yelled out, “TIIIIM!!! WHAT HAPPENED?!?!” I freaked out and starting screaming much louder than she was. I can’t fully remember what I said and did, but I do know that I was scared, frustrated, and really want to be shouted at or scolded by anyone. I had to take a short walk to calm myself down before I drove to work.

There have been several other instances like this in recent times, mainly with my parents. While I’m certainly trying to control myself much more often, I still have difficulty maintaining my temper in these kinds of situations. The problem is that whenever someone shouts at me or speaks to me in a very loud, strict tone, I still feel the same way that I did as a child: scared and distressed, like an angry drill sergeant was screaming at me. I think the two main reasons for why I’m so sensitive to this are due to my struggle with anxiety as a whole and my apprehension of being judged negatively by others. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by people scolding or yelling at you if you’re already dealing with pressure from within.

By this point it should be well-understood that I really, really, really don’t like it when people talk to me in a loud, stern tone. Unfortunately, the reality is that I may have to learn to get used to it a little in the future. I think all of us can agree that being yelled and scolded is a part of almost everyone’s life, whether we like it or not. We all have to deal with people getting angry at us and yelling at us occasionally, and these people may be employers, close friends, romantic partners, spouses, and strangers. Becoming agitated and yelling back at them certainly won’t help in most situations, even if you don’t deserve to be talked to like that. In most cases, you need to accept it with good composure, not let it get to you, and move on. This is particularly relevant in the workplace, since I know I will probably get scolded and even yelled at by my boss every once in a while.

At the same time, I don’t think I can fully blame myself for the way I react to being yelled and scolded at. I think I can at least partially blame my Asperger Syndrome as well as problems with anxiety. From what I’ve seen and heard, many others with Aspergers react similarly to being in that kind of situation; when they are put under a great deal of stress and given a lot of audio sensory. I can definitely feel for Aspies when they have a tantrum or meltdown because someone shouted at or scolded them. They don’t necessarily mean to freak out or go ballistic; they just really hate being treated like that.

I will end this post by saying this to my non-Aspie readers: the next time you’re about to shout or wag your finger at someone with Aspergers, please don’t. If possible, please try to find another way of getting your point across without intimidating them or making them feel bad.

“I’ll have the usual… as always”

I have noticed that my last couple of posts touched upon issues that were more relevant to me as a person than to Asperger Syndrome as a whole. Therefore, I thought it was about time to discuss something that I know many people with Aspergers have to deal with, and that is sticking with things that we’re familiar with. To some, this topic may sound very similar to one that I’ve already talked about earlier, which is having singular interests. Yes, these two subjects are closely related in a lot of ways. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to give this topic of sticking with familiar things its own post since it significantly affects the daily lives of us Aspies.

To begin with, everyone has their own personal tastes in various areas of life, including food, entertainment, activities, aesthetics, etc. More simply put, we all have things that we prefer or fancy. For people like me, preferences go a little further than that. The things that I favor are, in several cases, the only things that I’ll choose to have, or in some cases, the only things that I will accept period. I frequently avoid experimenting with new things, and instead prefer to stick with the stuff that I currently like. Essentially, I’m just much more inclined to “have the usual” as opposed to trying something different.

This habit of mine applies to a lot of different things: food, drinks, literature, movie & TV franchises, personal activities, video games, among others. It’s probably been most prominent when it comes to food. When I was younger, I was extremely picky about what foods I’d eat and would often insist on having certain select meals. Consequently, I ended up having the same foods repeatedly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nowadays, I am slightly more open-minded and at least try to have some more variety in what I eat, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone a little. However, normally I choose to eat what I like and only try something different on occasion or when I have no choice. Plus, if I go to a restaurant or someplace similar, I will most likely order the meal that I typically have there or something that I am familiar with – as opposed to “exploring a bit” or having the daily special.

Another good example that demonstrates this pattern is the kinds of movies I watch or video games I play. On most days, I choose to stick with franchises, genres, series, and other (look up) that I’m already a fan of. For instance, it isn’t often that I will choose to see a new drama film, even if it’s receiving massive critical acclaim, over the next entry to the Star Wars or Planet of the Apes reboot series. Furthermore, I am more likely to replay an older game from my childhood or play the newest Mario or Sonic game than to something more new and popular like Minecraft, Counter Strike, or Overwatch (though my laptop probably couldn’t handle them very well anyway). Of course, I am not completely against watching or playing something different; it simply wouldn’t be my first choice.

As usual on this blog, it’s somewhat tricky to adequately explain why I do this. I think a partial reason for it is due to my abovementioned tendency to be obsessed with certain things and have very focused interests. It goes without saying that when you’re fixated on something, you rarely have an interest in anything different. However, I think the main reason for repetitive behavior is that often feel somewhat nervous and sometimes even scared about the prospect of trying something completely new. Sticking with things that I’m more familiar with helps me feel more secure and doesn’t “expose me to the threat of something I don’t like.”

Allow me to further illustrate: Let’s say, for instance, one of my friends offers me two choices for a game we could play: Mario Kart 8 or Battlefield 1. I am more than familiar with the Mario Kart series, having played nearly all the console versions (from Mario Kart 64 to 8), and consider myself to be a rather adept Mario Kart player. With Battlefield, on the other hand, I have not played any of the games in the series and therefore have no idea what the series is about.  I haven’t played that many popular FPS games to begin with, and the ones I have played I wasn’t particularly skilled at. So, the idea of trying out Battlefield 1 with my friend makes me a tiny bit uncomfortable because there is a chance that I will not enjoy the game and will perform horribly at it. Given my sensitivity to discomfort and general unwillingness to take huge risks, my most likely choice in this scenario would be Mario Kart 8.

I feel confident that some of Aspie readers can identify with me on this topic. I say that because many of the other Aspies that I’ve come across in my life demonstrated this kind of habit: clinging onto this that they are familiar with as opposed to wanting to try new things. In addition, I’ve read a couple of online articles that discuss this pattern among people with Asperger Syndrome.* I certainly do not wish to imply that every single Aspie has this issue, since Aspergers is a very broad condition that has many ranging symptoms. Nonetheless, my point stands that this habit is prevalent in a significant portion of us, so I know that I’m not the only one with Aspergers who does it.

I for one fully acknowledge disadvantages of being so inflexible, though I don’t think that I should feel ashamed of it. On the one hand, it’s easy to see why people say I should explore a lot more and “not be so close-minded” about what I choose to do, watch, eat, listen to, play, etc. In fact, a large part of me wishes that I could be more open to doing new things and wouldn’t be so scared of, say, trying coffee, watching Orange is the New Black, or reading Game of Thrones. At the same time, I don’t necessarily see any reason to feel guilty about it. What, in all honesty, is wrong with wanting to stick to routine and chose stuff that I’m familiar with over stuff that I’m unfamiliar with? I’m not saying that I’m necessarily proud of it, but I just don’t see anything immoral or disgusting in choosing to eat fruit every day for breakfast or playing Crash Bandicoot while everyone else is playing League of Legends.” In all honesty, I consider it part of who I am, and I genuinely appreciate who I am. I strongly believe all of us should.

*See: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-psychology/autism-aspergers/#.WFW4hFziMn0, http://wildsister.com/2014/03/im-coming-out-of-the-autism-closet/, http://dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com/p/adhd-aspergers-syndrome-teaching.html, https://www.quora.com/What-Does-It-Feel-Like-to-X/What-does-it-feel-like-to-have-Aspergers-Syndrome#!n=30

“Relax, Tim, don’t think about it so much”

In my previous blog post, I gave a detailed illustration of how my mind generally works to try to explain why I sometimes talk to myself. To put it briefly, I stated that my brain produces so many thoughts at such a rapid pace that I find it tough to keep what’s on my mind entirely to myself. In my view, the chief problem is that it’s near impossible for me to calm or slow down the constant activity that’s happening in my mind. As a result, I very often feel compelled to observe and contemplate things in an excessively analytical, critical matter. In other words, I tend to overthink things. A lot.

Now, before you go and say “Wait a minute Tim, all of us overthink things from time to time, what makes you think you’re special”, I fully realize that no one is immune to excessive analysis. Heck, overthinking is something that we sometimes depend upon to get important work done or to solve complex problems. I’m not saying that I’m special because I overthink. What I am saying, however, is that I believe that I do it a bit more often than most people, as in practically all the time.

So, referring to previous post again, I like to see the minds of most human beings as something that works at a relatively steady, manageable pace. For the vast majority of people, the brain produces one or two thoughts at a time, and they are usually able to react to them in a prompt and efficient manner, without having to worry about whether they should keep it to themselves or not. The way my mind works, however, is slightly different. My mind evidently likes to produce a lot of thoughts at once, far too many for me to handle effectively. Instead of having one or two thoughts at a time and allowing them to sink in before responding, I am thinking so rapidly that I’m given barely any time to appropriately react to them. I’m essentially forced to keep up with my thoughts and observations as they come, constantly trying to make sense of everything and prevent myself from being confused or overwhelmed.

The best way I can describe this habit is that whenever I observe something or try to work on something, I will often dwell on waaay too much and form of these massive webs of thought. Apparently, pondering something for only a little bit isn’t an option for me. For whatever, reason, my mind feels as if it’s required to thoroughly analyze and elaborate on what’s going on, to look at it from all possible angles. One thought will immediately lead to another and then another and then another, and in a way that doesn’t always seem normal or consistent. Indeed, a lot of times my mind won’t stick to one topic at a time, but rather change topics every few minutes or even seconds. There are tons of times when I’m thinking of a topic and it somehow leads to another topic which has nothing to do with the first one – and yet I’m still obsessing myself over it!

Moreover, my mind is never content with having one thought or piece of information and sticking with it. It has to expand upon it. In many cases, this causes me to try to figure out everything all at once, or force myself to have a “complete” understanding. It is not enough to start to understand something piece by piece, and it’s never acceptable for me to “not get” a few things or to feel a little behind. My mind will not be satisfied unless it feels like it is perfectly in-tune with everything to the very last detail. If there’s even the slightest confusion, then my mind feels insecure and paranoid. In some cases, “knowing everything” isn’t even enough. I must elaborate beyond what’s presented to me, and apply it to my own situation

A great example would be when I’m reading a textbook for one of my college courses. As I begin reading a chapter, new concepts, ideas, and facts will be thrown at me. Instead of casually taking in each fact and detail one at a time, trying my best to remember as I go along, I mentally obsess over nearly each line of text and paragraph, especially when it teaches me something new. I try to ensure that I have an absolute grasp of everything that I read. It’s never acceptable to just move on if I’m even a tiny bit confused or may have missed something. Not only that, but I also want to have perfect, crystal-clear idea of what I’m reading. I want to make sure that the images in my head exactly match up to what’s being presented to me. Even when I already have a pretty good idea of what I’m being taught, I will still spend several minutes contemplating – just it to make absolutely sure that I fully comprehend it. All of this partially explains why it takes so long for me to read in general, and hence why I don’t like to read all that much (see this post for a further discussion on me and reading).

The same thing applies to when I do something that shouldn’t require that much thinking, such as watching a movie. Whenever I watch a film, much like with reading, it often takes me longer than it should to mentally absorb and comprehend things such as plot points and dialogue. My mind will waste a lot of time thinking about what’s being presented to me, as opposed to relaxing and enjoying the film. To make things worse, my mind is extremely adamant about understanding 100% what’s going on in the film – making sure that I’m not missing a single detail. Consequently, I might rewind a couple of times while watching to ensure that I’m completely “in sync” with everything. I just cannot be satisfied with having a basic understanding of what’s going on, and so it’s pretty easy for me to get frustrated when watching a more complex or dialogue-heavy film.

Needless to say, my tendency to overthink is another common source of anxiety and stress for me. All of the constant mental noise and activity can be a lot to deal with, and it makes calming myself down and letting things go more complicated. It’s a little like having tiny voices in your head that like to go on long, annoying rants and rarely ever shut up. Even when I’m doing something that is meant to reduce the constant mental chatter, like meditating, I will still instinctively think about what I’m doing and why it’s important. There are times when I wish to myself that I had a “normal” mind; that I could think at a much more steady, manageable pace – a mind that didn’t force me to think so much or waste so much time obsessing over things that really don’t matter in the long run.

The most frustrating part is that overthinking has been exceptionally challenging for me to reduce. I have tried a couple of strategies, such as meditation and positive affirmations, to help me with this issue, but I haven’t made much progress so far. I believe that part of the problem is that overthinking has become such a deep-rooted habit that it’s kind of hard to imagine a life without it. It would definitely be nice if I could experience what it’s like having a mind that’s much simpler and more quiet. Of course, I can’t be entirely sure that other people’s brains work that much differently, as I am unfortunately unable to read others thoughts. Also, I am unable to confirm if overthinking is relatively common among people on the Autism spectrum. Once again, it could simply be something that I have to deal with as Tim Kirtland.

I will say this though: if you don’t consider yourself to be much of an overthinker and believe that your thoughts are mostly simple and straight-forward, then you have no idea how much I envy you!

“Tim, if you keep talking to yourself, people are gonna think you’re crazy!”

Ok, it has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog. I sincerely apologize to anyone who has been waiting for me to upload something since last October. Unfortunately, I cannot promise that I will go back to posting articles on a regular basis after this, but I will do my best to post a bit more often than once every 9 or 10 months.

One reason why this post took so long for me to finish is because the subject I’m discussing here, intrapersonal communication, or talking to myself. Indeed, there is just so much for me to discuss regarding this particular issue that I don’t think I’ll be able to bring up everything in this article. I will do my best to cover as much as I can without making this an hour-long blog post, and hopefully it will be enough to give you an accurate understanding of why I regularly engage in intrapersonal communication.

To start off, for those who haven’t read my post “Tim, please, keep it to yourself,” (click here to read it), I like to express what’s on my mind with other people. A lot. I generally find it much more difficult than other people to keep my thoughts to myself and stay silent. Consequently, I frequently find myself openly discussing random topics with people as they pop up in my head. It can obviously get very irritating for other people, especially when I go off on a tangent and ramble endlessly about something that you really couldn’t care less about.

I believe that the main reason I speak my mind to others so often is because I simply have an exceptionally energetic, “noisy” brain. There is just so much going on in my head at once and it is near impossible for me to control all of it effectively. This means that a lot of my thoughts unavoidably pushed out through my mouth, even when I should probably keep my mouth shut – because there is only so much room in my head to contain my brain activity. Yeah, I know this is a bit perplexing to understand. As I said, this is a very complicated issue and I don’t think I could ever do it justice with words. So I’ll give you an illustration that hopefully clears things up a bit.

I personally like to think that human mind works a lot like an information processing center of sorts. In this processing center, our everyday thoughts are continuously being created, analyzed, and managed – each by a different department. The first department creates thoughts, and then forwards them to another department, which responsible for quickly reviewing them. After that department is finished examining the thoughts, they are then sent to a third department, which decides how to deal with these thoughts: either send them to the dump, send them to short-term memory, or let them be expressed through verbal communication. All of this occurs in our heads at a very rapid pace and hardly ever ceases as long as we’re awake.

In my view, this whole process usually runs relatively smoothly for most people: the thought-creating department generates thoughts at a constant, but steady pace; the analyzing department is able to examine these thoughts carefully before sending them off to the handling department; and the handling department is usually capable of deciding whether to send each thought to short-term memory, to the dump, or to the mouth.

For people like me, however, I like to imagine that it’s a bit of a different story. The primary issue is that the thought-generating department, for some reason, is producing WAY too many thoughts at once. As a result, the thought-analysis department is swamped with thoughts to review and hardly has any time to examine each one sufficiently before sending them off to the handling department. Meanwhile, the “workers” at the thought-handling department are constantly being overwhelmed with so many thoughts to manage at once. They are thus frequently hectic and unsure about what to do with each of them, especially with thoughts that are particularly “powerful” or “heavy”. Unfortunately, the short-term memory as well as the mind dump have limited amounts of space, and the workers don’t want to cause overflow or gridlock. Thus the thought-management department will sometimes have no choice but to let those thoughts be expressed through oral communication –even when it’s clear that it isn’t an appropriate time or setting to express them. It’s not their fault, they are simply given way too many thoughts to deal with and they are doing their best to keep things going as efficiently as possible.

So, did you get all that? I hope so, because it was the best illustration I could give to explain why my mouth works the way it does. The main idea I wish to convey here is that my mind produces so many thoughts at such a rapid pace that I simply cannot keep them all to myself without overwhelming my brain. I just have to allow some of them to be expressed, regardless of whether or not other people care to hear them.

This brings me to the actual focus of this particular blog entry: intrapersonal communication. First of all, I have mentioned numerous times in previous blog posts that I don’t have a very large social network. I certainly have friends, and I spend time with them as much as I can, but I’m not hanging out with other people as much as I’d like to. So if I have something to share, most of the time I’m the only person present to hear.

Secondly, it comes without saying that I’d always be interested in what I have to say. I mean, I am the same person who is thinking those thoughts and I obviously found them worthy of discussion in the first place. Therefore, I’m naturally the perfect audience for my own little rants and monologues, and sometimes I can even provide myself with a person to engage in “dialogue” with. Indeed, given how overactive and energetic my mind is, I can easily think from multiple points of view and come up with ways in which another person may respond to what I say. I have been able to engage in rather insightful conversations with myself about a bunch of things – ranging from the current state of the Republic Party to whether or not Green Day can be legitimately considered a punk band. This works slightly better than me ranting on and on about it to someone else who clearly doesn’t give a flying… fudge, doesn’t it?

With that said, there are at least three common subjects that I will usually talk to myself about:

  • Something that is relevant to the current situation or that just happened to me.
  • Something related to what I see or hear from a form of media or art (film, television, radio, book, website, video game, etc.)
  • A topic that simply popped in my head randomly and particularly interests me.

In each case, I will spend a couple of minutes either having a little “conversation” (or sometimes “debate”) with myself or going on some prolonged rant to communicate my feelings or thoughts. I basically act as if I am actually talking to other people or providing some sort of commentary to a small group of others.

A rather frequent example is when I’m driving somewhere, and I hear about something political on the radio or a political topic just pops into my head. For whatever reason, I will feel the need to articulate my own beliefs on the subject in a sort of brief speech, pretending that I’m speaking to a news reporter, political analyst, or well-known political commentator. Most of the time, I will do my best to make an appeal to a moderate, sort of “middle-of-the-road” approach to the issue in question; agreeing in part with both sides. I believe that I partially do this in order to clarify my political beliefs to myself, since I like to make sure that I’m always making fair, intelligent analyses of every subject.

In some cases, I will pretend that I am giving commentary for someone else – imaging that I am some popular actor, writer, musician, or scientist. This plays a lot into what I discussed a while back about “imaginary play” (click here to learn more). For instance, after watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I may pretend that I’m one of the cast members and provide some commentary for it. I will explain why the episode was written the way it was, what I liked most about the episode, and what it was like for me portraying my character. Of course, it’s pretty silly of me to act like I know what is going on in the heads of any of these people, but c’mon… it’s always fun to pretend!

I am not sure if it’s a common thing for people with Asperger Syndrome or Autism to regularly talk to themselves. I tried looking up scientific studies and articles online that may link Autism spectrum disorders with intrapersonal communication and I couldn’t find any concrete evidence that there is a connection. It is pretty likely that this issue doesn’t have much to do with Asperger Syndrome, and is simply another aspect of who I am.

I will say, however, that I don’t personally find anything really wrong with intrapersonal communication per se. Sure it was a little embarrassing for me to share this with you guys, but I’m not exactly hurting anyone when I talk to myself, including myself, am I? Hence, I don’t see any reason why I ought to stop doing it. I obviously don’t want to do it when I’m with other people, but if I’m alone and just minding my own business, I have no reason to be ashamed of talking to myself. So to those out there who, for similar reasons, like to engage in intrapersonal communication every once in a while: I say continue doing it if you feel like it. Don’t let anyone convince you that you’re “weird” or “crazy” for expressing your thoughts aloud to yourself!

Preschool memories of an Aspie

Yep, that’s right. I actually remember a couple of things from when I was in preschool, at which time I was 3-4 years old. Of course, my existing memories of preschool are extremely vague and few in number. Nonetheless, many of the experiences that I can recall seem to indicate my Asperger Syndrome pretty well, and they sort of set a benchmark for what life was going to be like for me throughout the years that followed.

One of the very first memories that comes to mind when I think of my preschool years is the time when one of the teachers got really impatient with me while trying to help me in the bathroom. You know how 3 or 4 years is usually the age where many kids start learning how to properly use the toilet? Well I guess that I may have been having a bit of trouble  in certain areas. I cannot remember what exactly I was doing wrong or why the teacher became so frustrated with me. All I know is that I was trying to use a toilet or urinal, while the rest of the class was watching a video I believe, and at one point she grabbed my pants and loudly whispered something along the lines of “Pull your pants down/up now! Or you’ll miss the rest the video!” My recollection is, again, tremendously vague and there are probably a lot of details that I’m missing. Regardless, that moment seemed to really stick with me for one reason or another, and I distinctly remember being very intimated and scared by the teacher. Consequently, whenever an adult angrily scolded me for my apparent misbehavior, I would often think back to this incident with the preschool teacher.

Another incident from preschool that frequently pops up in my memory is when I randomly hugged some boy in my class. We were all outside picking flowers and doing other stuff, and out of nowhere, for some reason that I have no recollection of, I gave one of the other kids this big hug from behind. As you might expect, the other boy didn’t enjoy this sudden physical display of affection and immediately told me to stop. Fortunately, I complied, and I believe not much else happened afterward. The best guess I can come up with as to why I did that is because I had been watching too much Sesame Street or Barney the Dinosaur (y’know, the shows that have unrealistic expectations of how young children behave). I can safely say that this was not the only time in preschool that I acted in ways that the other kids found weird or annoying. I think that in most cases I was imitating something I saw on television or a movie; completely lost in my own world and oblivious to what I was really doing (see “Imaginary Play” for a fuller discussion of this issue).

I can also hazily remember spending time with this one teacher, separately from the other kids, to engage in some special activities. Once again, I do not recall any of the specific things I did with this teacher, but I believe it was some sort of physical play therapy, designed to help me with my motor skills and coordination. I say this because I remember these sessions being heavily physical and focused entirely on my body – as if I were exercising. The fact that the teacher had me do these activities apart from the other kids also gives me a pretty good idea of what its purpose was. Whether or not this purpose was successfully fulfilled at the time, I could not tell you.

One last memory from preschool that I’d like to share is much more positive. In fact, it might be one the happiest experiences from my preschool years. At home I had this CD-ROM program that was a collection of kids games based on the Disney film, Aladdin. One of the games in it was a simple coloring book thing: where you have a pre-drawn image associated with the film, and you get to color it in however you please. One day, perhaps on the encouragement of one of my parents, I printed out a bunch colored-in pictures from the program and brought them to class to give out to the other kids. The teachers seemed pretty happy with what I had brought in, and made each of the children got a picture. I think we even got to watch some of the film itself, Aladdin, to celebrate. This was probably one of the very few times in preschool where it seemed that the teachers were pleased with me and the other students (sort of) respected me. I felt immensely proud for it!

I think that the reason why each of these moments really stick out in my memory is because they had something to do with the fact that I was “different”, or had difficulties that weren’t present in the other kids. I didn’t fully understand what was going on at the time, of course, but those incidents possibly gave me some sense that there was something “wrong” with me; something about me that was “special”. This would become increasingly clear to me in later years, from Kindergarten onwards. There are still times when I think back on those preschool memories, reminiscing how difficult it was for me even back then to be “normal” and fit in with everyone else. I believe that many others with Aspergers and other autism-related disorders might have similar memories of their early years.

Who cares about what others think?

I seriously wish I didn’t.

Ok, so by this point, it should be pretty clear to my readers that I tend to stress out much more easily than most others, and that I am very perfectionist in how I handle many of my day-to-day activities. Additionally, if you’ve read “My Aspie Obsessions over the years,” you may be aware that I have a bad habit of looking up comments on the web concerning political or socially divisive topics (read the blog post if you haven’t already). It’s only recently that I’ve started to fully realize that these problems are, to a significant degree, caused by my concern for how other people judge me and how they feel toward various social/political topics.

Some of you who have been following my blog might not be too surprised by this, especially considering how I’ve said several times that I’m regularly worried about “not being good enough” and that I’m always trying to do what other people think I should do. It makes sense to say that this is partially because I care a lot about what others think and assume they “know what’s best for me”. It also seems reasonable to suppose that I keep wasting so much time by reading online comments because I’m so deeply worried about the views of my peers – wanting to see if my views correspond well with theirs. In other words, I seem to put a bit too much weight in the judgments of others, and refusing to fully trust my own perceptions.

Unlike many of the issues I’ve discussed before, I can’t say that this is a common thing for people with Asperger Syndrome. I have found a couple of articles* online that indicate that I may not be the only Aspie with this particular problem. Nonetheless, it could still very well be that this is something that I’ve developed on my own, independent from my disorder. Besides, nearly all of us is concerned to some degree with how other individuals perceive us, and plenty of people are interested in the popular consensus of certain sociopolitical topics. Regardless, I just want to make it clear that I am not suggesting this is something that all or even most Aspies go through.

Anyway, I will now attempt to explain why I concern myself so much with the opinions or judgments of others. I believe that my childhood may provide some answers. As you might imagine, I wasn’t exactly a very popular kid in school, and my behavior was often a source of ridicule from my classmates, as well as a source of frustration for my parents and teachers. It didn’t take too long for me to notice that I was receiving a fair amount of negative judgments from those around me, because I was behaving weird or annoying to them. I did not like this one bit, though I often went out of my way to show that I wasn’t affected by this at all. As hard as I tried, however, I could not hide the fact that I desperately wanted to be respected and accepted by other kids as well as adults.

Over the years, I developed an increasing desire to please those around me, or at least prevent them from judging me negatively. Simply put, I tried my best to do what they thought I ought to do, or what would make me look “good” or “cool” in their eyes. This applied to my friends, to my relatives, to my peers at school, to my teachers, and especially to my parents. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful in doing this most of the time. Despite my attempts to avoid negative judgment, I kept on behaving in ways that constantly annoyed, frustrated, or invited chuckles from other people. If I wasn’t causing my friends to shake their hands and laugh at me behind my back, I was testing my parents’ patience and driving them nearly insane. So in other words, being myself while at the same time being presentable to other people just didn’t seem possible.

In spite of this, I kept on trying really hard to be the kind of person that would make everyone around me happy. My desire to be accepted became even stronger over time, and I got increasingly upset with the critical reactions that I often received. This eventually caused me to behave a bit more submissively and apologetically toward others, going out of my way to not offend, annoy, or turn off anyone. Meanwhile, starting in my late high school years I believe, I developed a profound curiosity in how my peers in school and elsewhere felt about certain political and social topics that I felt very passionate about (e.g. LGBT rights, the War in Iraq, women’s rights, bullying, gun laws, and gang-related violence). For a while, I would sometimes ask my friends and acquaintances for their opinions on these issues, or get into a long conversation with them if they brought it up. If their views substantially differed from mine, then I would often get into heated arguments with them and tried to present my case as forcefully as possible. As a result, I had my fair share of verbal fights with people throughout high school and college, one of which resulted in the loss of a good friend of mien. I also got into quite a few arguments with random people online, often being the victim of falling for a troll’s provocative comments.

Then at one point, I believe my desire to please other people and my obsession with their sociopolitical viewpoints came into conflict with one another. I soon realized that it wasn’t possible to avoid making others uncomfortable or unhappy so long as I kept arguing with them and expressed my disagreement with their views. At the same time, I began to worry that I may very well be wrong about certain subjects, and I was losing confidence in my ability to evaluate them logically. Consequently, I stopped getting myself into debates with people about sociopolitical issues, and instead started simply observing what they had to say about them. This is what eventually led to my current habit of going online to search for and look at comments that challenge my own beliefs. I suppose this is my way of trying to be more “in touch” with popular opinion, as if I can’t be trusted to form my own independent conclusions.

In addition to this, I’ve become even more sensitive to the judgments of other people and anxious of their disapproval. As I mentioned in “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough”, I keep assuming that others know better than I do about what I should be doing with my life. Whenever someone suggests that I do a certain activity in any context, I feel almost obliged to engage that activity, as if it were necessary for my health or happiness. Moreover, I continue to take whatever steps I can to make the people around me happy and respectful of me. This applies mainly to people who I know personally, such as my friends, professors, employers, relatives, and especially my parents. When it is clear that I’ve bothered them or they don’t agree with what I’m doing, I can get very upset. So I am always willing to make certain sacrifices in order to keep them from passing negative judgment on me; anything to win their full approval!

Having said all of this, I desperately wish I could be a little more independent and confident in myself. I hate wasting so much of my valuable time worrying about how my sociopolitical views differ from those of my peers, and I don’t like constantly sacrificing my own desires for the sake of making other people happy. Like many other individuals throughout the globe, I desperately want to be able to trust myself and not rely so heavily on the opinions of others. It would be nice if I could honestly say, “Y’know what, not everyone will approve of what I do and what I believe, and that is ok. What really matters is what I think.” I can guarantee you that I’d be a much happier and more productive person then!

*Articles on Asperger Syndrome and obsessing over other people’s opinions:
https://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/new-study-finds-that-individuals-with-aspergers-syndrome-dont-lack-empathy-in-fact-if-anything-they-empathize-too-much/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/05/11/a-radical-new-autism-theory.html

“If you want my help, then stop rejecting it!”

If you’ve already read my post, “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough,” then you should know that I tend to be somewhat perfectionist when it comes to my schoolwork, or just about anything. This has been the case since middle school, I believe, and it gradually got worse from then onward. I think it probably hit its peak when I was in my later high school years, and did not get any better afterwards. My academic fastidiousness was particularly noticeable in how I handled many of my homework assignments, and it would sometimes cause me to have nervous meltdowns.

To clarify, however, I actually did pretty well in terms of my schoolwork throughout most of high school and college. Although I struggled quite a bit with the workload and would habitually complain of having too much to worry about at once, I usually completed my assignments with commendable results and performed very nicely on exams for the most part. So I wasn’t exactly having troubles with learning the material or studying it.

Instead, I believe much of the ongoing anxiety came from my desire to do as well as I possibly could with each assignment for every class, combined with my constant lack of confidence in my ability to do so. I typically approached each piece of homework I was given, from minor daily assignments to big, long-term projects, with an intention to do a really good job and impress the instructor, as well as myself. In the majority of cases, I was able to complete my homework without getting too worked up about the outcome or how I was going to be graded. Naturally, it was the larger, more complex assignments that tended to bring me a lot of stress and make me worry that I wouldn’t be able to do well. Smaller projects could also make me anxious if I didn’t fully understand what I was supposed do.

Anyway, as I’m sure most kids would, I often asked my parents for help with my homework whenever I was having trouble. At least half of the time, my mom or dad (sometimes both of them) was successfully able to assist me with whatever I was struggling with, without a whole lot of drama. I must admit that in several cases, they may have done some of the work for me, particularly when it came to long-term writing assignments. I can’t blame them for doing this as I actually used to have some difficulties with writing, believe it or not; specifically with trying not to sound too awkward or vague.

Unfortunately, there were far too many instances where my anxiety and perfectionism got the better of me and led to usually brief, yet unpleasant conflicts with my parents. What I mean by this is that I would sometimes become a little fussy or upset when the help that they were giving me didn’t meet my expectations or went against what I wanted to do. This more often occurred with writing assignments, and nearly always involved my parents wanting to do something with the assignment that was very different from what I had in mind. The idea of completely abandoning my ideas or going with something that I didn’t think could work filled me with severe apprehension, and thus usually resulted in me having some kind of emotional outburst or temper tantrum. On occasion, the same thing could also happen if I simply didn’t think that what my parents were suggesting was “good enough” or wasn’t helping all that much.

Whatever the case, I would make quite a scene while my parents tried to give me the best help they could with the assignment. Being so overwhelmingly stressed out and confused, I would stubbornly reject their suggestions and shout at them angrily. I would moan or yell things like “This won’t work,” or “This isn’t what I’m supposed to do,” or “I still don’t know what to do,” or “No, that’s not how I wanna do it!” Eventually, seeing that I wasn’t listening to reason or willing to give their proposals a chance, my parents would throw up their arms and say, “Ok Tim, I give up! You’re on your own! We’re trying to help you, and you just aren’t letting us!” At this point, I would implore them to continue helping me and try my best to explain why I couldn’t go with their recommendations. Afterwards, I would usually either calm down gradually and let my parents assist me in the way they were suggesting, or I would stick with what I thought was best for the assignment, with or without my parents’ help. Most of the time, I believe the former was the ultimate outcome.

Looking back on these nervous meltdowns, although I definitely regret being so rude and stubborn with my parents when they were trying to help, I honestly do understand why I behaved the way I did. As I mentioned earlier, my perfectionist way of doing things was really problematic at this point in my life, and so I was very easily stressed out by my schoolwork. I cared a great deal about my academics and wanted to do as well as I could on all of my assignments. At same time, I didn’t like taking risks or trying things I wasn’t confident I could do successfully. I wanted to feel completely safe in what I was doing with my homework, to know that I was “doing what I should be doing.” Meanwhile, I always looked up to my parents and believed that they could give me the solution to any problem I was having, especially it if was school-related. So when my parents tried to help by suggesting something that I thought was risky or pushed me out of my comfort zone, I understandably became very nervous and conflicted. On one hand, I wanted them to help me and I knew that I couldn’t proceed confidently without them, but on the other hand, what they wanted me to do was at odds with what I thought I needed to do with the assignment. So I think you can see why this would lead me to get into intense arguments with my parents.

All the same, I still realize that I should have been much more appreciative of my parents’ assistance, and I wish I didn’t give them such a hard time when they were just trying to be helpful. Believe me when I say that my mom and dad had to put up with quite a lot on my part; they showed a remarkable amount of patience, tolerance, and understanding when most people would probably lose their cool and give up on me completely. For that, I am forever grateful to them! I still go to them for help with my schoolwork every now and then, and they never fail to make me feel much more confident in my ability to get it done successfully. I try to express my gratitude for their assistance by achieving the best academic results that I possibly can, letting them know that it is only thanks to them that I have been able to succeed so well. If it weren’t for their ongoing, unconditional support as well as their patience, I wouldn’t have come even close to accomplishing what I did in high school as well as in college.

C’mon let’s go, let’s go! Move dammit!

I wish to start this post by confessing that I may have been slightly off in my previous posts concerning Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Upon closer examination, I think that I might actually have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), instead of just ADD. I say this because, as I will soon explain in further detail, I not only have trouble paying attention and focusing on my current task, but also with being mentally and physically still when I need to. After doing a little bit of “research”, I’ve discovered that this tendency is often a symptom of ADHD, which makes sense to me since “hyperactivity” does indicate a sense of restlessness and impatience. Therefore I wish to apologize for not realizing this much earlier and constantly saying that I am diagnosed with ADD, not ADHD (I am unable to officially verify that I have either disorder, but I will assume that I have ADHD simply because it seems extremely likely).

With that out of the way, let’s discuss my problems with staying still and waiting placidly (probably caused by ADHD). Indeed, a lot of times I find it difficult to be calm and comfortable when I’m forced to wait for something to progress or when something is not proceeding as quickly as I’d like it to.  In other words, if things aren’t moving along at a nice, ongoing pace or if I have to deal with several delays, then I can easily become slightly irritated and “on edge”. This is especially the case when I have to remain seated in a chair or keep standing for a long time, and it’s almost unbearable when I have absolutely nothing to do. On some occasions, it will cause me to complain out loud to others or put me in a grumpy mood.

In my earlier years, this issue with hyperactivity and impatience was much more troublesome, and it led to quite a few temper tantrums and arguments with my parents. I would frequently become very upset if I was told to wait and be patient in a place that was extremely boring and uninteresting for me. I can remember a couple of instances where I made a bit of a scene in public, whining and yelling to parents that we leave a store or restaurant or museum right away. Yeah, my parents put up with a great deal of annoyance and frustration on my part, and I’m immensely grateful that they hardly ever lost their temper with me. They seriously deserve a lot of credit for how patient and understanding they were with me, even when I was driving them insane and would not shut up.

Like with many other problems related to my Aspergers, the issue has gotten much better over time, but has not gone away completely. There are plenty of instances in my current life where I get incredibly anxious because I have to wait for things to move along. A perfect example to point to would be when I’m driving. As you probably expect, I like to drive as fast as the speed limit allows (which I like to think is about 8-10 miles above the limit, depending on road conditions), and I take every opportunity to do so. I am very easily annoyed, therefore, when I am forced to drive slower than I’d like due to the speed of the car in front of me. I will say to myself “Oh, COME ON!” and let out a soft groan, begrudgingly staying behind the other driver and matching their speed. I might keep hoping that the car will eventually make a turn, and sometimes I will consider passing them if I have the chance. Unfortunately, I never feel confident enough to pass a car on a one-lane road, and I will usually have no choice but to just wait until I am able to drive at my preferred speed. Yes, I know that this sort of thing can annoy just about anyone, but I get particularly annoyed by the idea of being forced to wait and spend more time driving.

Now there may be some of you who are a little confused by all of this, after I mentioned in my earlier post “All the time in the world…” that I tend to take more time to complete certain tasks than others do. It may seem logical to assume that I would be perfectly ok with things going slowly so that I am able to keep up. The thing is, actually, that my sluggish, time-consuming pace also irritates me much of the time. I am regularly frustrated by my failure to accomplish tasks in a speedy fashion and to be more productive throughout the day. It’s one of the reasons why I often have  slightly low self-esteem, as I will frequently put myself down for not meeting my own desires for productivity.

Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I am gradually getting better at being patient and accepting the fact that things don’t always go as quickly as I’d like them to. At the very least, I don’t whine or complain as much as I did when I was a child, and I’ve learned that demanding that other people pick up the pace doesn’t resolve anything. I still have some progress to make, though, especially since I will eventually be living on my own and have to deal with situations that require a huge amount of patience. With the help of meditation, exercise, and other resources, it is my hope that I will be able to maintain good posture when it is needed the most (e.g. going to the DMV, talking to employers, getting loans from the bank, and attending special events for loved ones).

Aspergers and Stimming: Hair-Pulling

I have a question for my Aspie readers: How many of you regularly engage in something called “stimming,” which means repetitive, self-stimulating activities? I’m talking about things such as foot-tapping, finger-biting, playing with pens, making noises with your mouth, bouncing up and down, messing with your hair – stuff that you find yourself doing impulsively, usually when you’re really bored or nervous.

Come on guys, be honest. I’m willing to bet that most of you with Asperger Syndrome do at least a little bit of stimming every once in a while. Don’t worry about though, it’s nothing to really be ashamed of. I confess that I engage those sorts of activities almost constantly, even to this very day. I am unwilling, however, to describe in full detail the kinds of things that I usually do. Yeah, I know that I said it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it can still be very embarrassing, and I think you understand why I’d prefer to keep it to myself.

I will, however, share a past instance of stimming that ultimately resulted in a pretty big change in my life. Starting in early middle school, I believe, I began impulsively pulling hair out of my head. This would usually occur during classes or when I was feeling particularly bored or anxious. I would either pluck individual strands of hair one by one, or I would twirl a bunch of strands at once and then pull them all out. Please do not ask why I did this. I honestly have no idea why I thought this was a good way to calm myself down or pass the time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I knew at the time that I shouldn’t pull my hair like that.

It didn’t take too long before a bald spot started forming somewhere on my scalp. To make matters worse: for some reason, I kept pulling more and more hair from that particular area. As soon as my mom noticed this, she got quite upset and went out of her way to stop me from making the bald spot worse. She attempted to make it hard for me to pull any more strands from that spot by applying lotion to the area every day. This solution didn’t work too well, as I took every single opportunity that I could to pluck more hair from that spot when the lotion wasn’t there.

Eventually my mom lost her patience and decided that the only way to resolve this issue was to cut my hair very short. So after a year or so of having this bald spot, she took me to a barber shop and had them give me a buzz cut. This was meant to be temporary, and I was supposed to let my hair grow back until it was about even all over. My mom probably thought this might teach me a lesson and convince me to find other ways to stim when I’m bored or nervous. Ironically, however, I actually grew to like this new hairstyle, and I insisted that I be allowed to keep it from now on. And that is essentially why I have short hair.

Of course, I do not want to suggest that it was a good thing that I pulled my hair to the point where my mom had it cut short. I certainly wasn’t happy having that bald spot, and I hated having to come up with a story about a barber “messing up my haircut” to explain it to other kids at school. Plus, I certainly do not recommend it to others who have Aspergers or similar mental disorders. I will say, however, that I can fully relate to people who find it extremely hard to avoid doing things like that on a regular basis.

Speaking from personal experience, the main problem with stimming as a whole is that it’s sort of like an addiction, a compulsive behavior that is extremely difficult to refrain from. For those who do not have this problem, the best way I can describe it is like this: imagine if you have a constant severe itch somewhere you probably shouldn’t scratch in public (e.g. feet, armpits, belly, butt). If the itch is REALLY bad, you might end up end up scratching anyway it even if it looks weird or rude to other people. Over time, it will come to a point where you don’t think about it when you scratch that spot – you just do it impulsively whenever the itch comes up. This may not be the very best illustration of why people on the autism spectrum stim, but I think it’s fairly accurate.

This is… uh… my p-post… about… y’know… t-t-talking… and stuff

I really do not want to come across as arrogant or self-congratulatory here, but I must say that I am an exceptionally skilled writer. Despite what I said in “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough” about rarely feeling 100% satisfied with my work, I will admit that, from an objective point of view, I can write some rather commendable pieces. This is at least what I’ve been told countless times by family members, professors, and other people who have seen my academic essays and blog posts. Additionally, I believe that I’m rather good at writing emails, personal letters, and even simple text messages. The bottom line here is that when it comes to written communication, I am usually able to get my points across effectively and express my thoughts eloquently.

Verbal communication, however, is a completely different story for me. Oh boy, if you think I can speak about as well as I can write, then you are dead wrong. When I try to express myself verbally, it hardly ever comes out precisely how I’d like it to. I could practically go on forever describing how poor I am at oral communication, so I will try my best to give a sufficient explanation of the issue without going too overboard.

To start with, it seems like I have profound difficulty getting the exact words that I want to say to come out of my mouth. It’s hard to fully explain what I mean by this, but I guess you could say it’s very similar to what tends to happen when you’re trying to talk to someone while extremely nervous. Consequently, whenever I’m trying to share a certain idea with or make a specific statement to someone else, what I end up actually saying to them does a poor job at articulating that sentiment. In most cases, my speech suffers from terrible diction, very flawed grammar, incomplete sentences, unclear phrasing, constant repetition, misuse of certain words, and tons of “um’s” and “eh’s.”

Allow me to illustrate what this can look like in daily life. Let’s say that I’m having a casual conversation with a friend, and we are talking about the most recent Pixar film, Inside Out. A one point, I wish to comment on how I adore the movie’s ability to make the audience experience sorts of emotions, putting them on a sort of “roller coaster of emotions” as it progresses. Now the statement that I would want to come out of my mouth looks something like this: “Yeah, what I enjoyed most about this movie is just how emotionally powerful it is; how it is able to make us feel all these different sentiments depending on what the characters are going through. There are moments when you are genuinely happy and cheerful when watching it, as well as moments when you seriously just want to cry your eyes out. That is simply amazing!” Unfortunately, the actual words that come out of my mouth will most likely sound like this: “Uh yeah, I r-r-really liked how that movie… y’know… makes you feel and… feel all these feelings. There are m-moments when you’re really happy and moments when really you want to cry. I mean… uh… y’know… it’s just… so moving!” As hard as I try to articulate the former statement, for some reason, I cannot help but speak the latter statement.

This issue is prevalent whenever I am engaged in nearly any sort of dialogue with one or more other people, regardless of who they are. It occurs when talking to my parents, friends, other family members, bosses at work, academic professors, or complete strangers. The only time when I can speak much more fluently is when I’m talking to myself (yeah, I do that a lot, and I’ll cover it in a future blog post). Unsurprisingly, verbal communication becomes even more problematic for me when I’m trying to be formal and respectful with the other person – e.g., meeting new people at a party or answering questions during job interview. Indeed, the very first thing people tend to notice about me is how awkward I sound when talking to them.

Expressing myself in words is even more difficult in situations when I’m feeling very stressed or under a ton of pressure. My speech is then filled with even more “um’s” and “eh’s,” and I can hardly get any of the words that I want to speak to come out right. On top of this, I can’t help but stutter a little every couple of seconds, and take long pauses to process my thinking before I continue speaking. It’ll essentially sound like I’m about to have panic attack, even if what’s happening at the moment doesn’t warrant it in the least. This most likely connects to my struggles with anxiety (See “Not allowing myself peace: Anxiety and Me”), since it tends to affect me a bit more harshly than it does most other people.

What is most interesting about this whole situation is that, as mentioned in my post “Tim, please… keep it to yourself”, I actually really like to talk to other people. Despite how challenging it can be to express myself verbally, I still like to engage in conversation with other people (predominately family and friends) whenever I can. To make matters worse (again, as I explained in “Tim, please… keep it to yourself), I cannot help but open my mouth a bit more frequently than I should, often dominating the conversation and going into lengthy rants. As a result, I sometimes end up making a bit of an ass of myself, chattering on and on while sounding like a blend of Jeff Goldblum, a political talk show host, and a nervous 7-year-old (yeah that’s the best description I could think of).

I realize that problems with verbal communication aren’t exactly uncommon among Aspies or people on the autism spectrum, so I’ll bet there are plenty of people out there who can identify with what I’m saying in this post. I have already mentioned before that knowing how to properly converse with other individuals simply doesn’t come naturally to us as it does for most neuro-typicals. So I do understand why there are many people with Asperger Syndrome who prefer not to engage in verbal dialogue with others at all. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it really sucks not being able to express oneself as fluently or clearly as most others can. It is my hope that we each eventually find a way to make oral communication much simpler for us, as it would be especially helpful in matters such as getting a steady job and expanding our social lives.