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.

Girls, girls, girls!

Before I start this entry, I have something very happy to announce: I am currently in a relationship! Yep, for the first time in my life, I have managed to form an intimate, romantic bond with another person, and so far it looks like things are going really well. Her name is Heather, and she is a tremendously sweet, intelligent, fun-loving girl who relates to many of my issues with anxiety and socializing. We came across each other on the online dating service OkCupid, and she was the only person on that site that showed any interest in my profile. My relationship with Heather has significantly brightened me up in general, giving me a great deal of optimism for a much more gratifying, less stressful future!

With that said, I will now discuss my personal history with females and romance. As you guys are probably expecting, many of my past interactions with girls from early childhood onward have involved certain complications. Especially during my teenage years, I had a pretty hard time managing casual relationships with females my age and knowing how to behave when I had certain affections for them. To make things more difficult, I almost always developed crushes on girls that I became acquainted with, frequently hoping deep down that they would eventually become my girlfriend. Yeah, I have to admit that I was a little bit… um… how shall I put it… lovesick and desirous as a kid. Of course, I made every attempt I could to hide my affections and pretend I had no interest in those girls whatsoever.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I was very good at hiding these feelings as a kid or teenager. At school, I would regularly stare or keep glancing at girls that I found attractive or was already acquainted with. I actually knew at the time that this behavior was inappropriate and a little creepy, but it was very hard for me to avoid doing it. In addition, I struggled quite a bit when trying to talk with girls, and sometimes I ended up unwittingly revealing my affections for them. It wasn’t so bad that I had to avoid girls as much as possible, or that I never had any female friends at all, as I did hang out with females quite a bit in school and elsewhere. Nonetheless, for the most part, it was much simpler for me to socialize with boys, and when I had even the slightest crush on a girl, I wasn’t usually successful in concealing this fact from her.

I would like to share two instances from my youth that demonstrate this trend. Quick note: just like with my post about friendships, I’ve changed names for the sake of privacy.

The first instance took place in middle school and involved a girl named Jessie, whom I always thought was extremely cute. I became closely acquainted with her at one point, though we never spent time with each other outside of school. Plus, I’m not sure exactly how much Jessie and I actually talked to one another and how our relationship progressed. All I know is that we personally knew each other, she was very friendly towards me, and I had a massive crush on her. As a result, whenever Jessie was in the same class as me, I couldn’t help but glance over at her every couple of minutes. This quickly made her rather uneasy, and she told me a couple of times not to do this, which I did my very best to comply (with mixed results). Fortunately, our acquaintanceship faded away before too long, and I hardly saw Jessie at all during high school. So I guess I managed to dodge a bullet with that relationship.

However, there was another girl that I became friends with later on, and I screwed up with her BIG TIME. Her name was Lily, and our friendship started after I noticed how often she was saying hi to me and acting so nice towards me. Thinking that this may be an opportunity for a date or even future relationship, I asked her if she wanted to see a movie with me. We ended up seeing a film at her place, and that’s where I found out that Lily was already in a relationship with another guy. I was immensely jealous, which of course I did my very best to hide, and I kept spending time with her afterwards. Surrounded by media depictions of romance and knowing a couple of friends with girlfriends, it became increasingly difficult to let go of Lily and shove aside my crush toward her. So at one point, I made probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life and wrote her a letter confessing my feelings for her. Our friendship faded away rather quickly afterwards, and I don’t think I saw much else of her after the summer. On the bright side, I suppose that I learned a powerful lesson about inappropriate behavior and how to maintain friendships with girls.

There are several other experiences with girls from my elementary, middle, and high school that I could point to, but I will not include them for the sake of keeping this post as brief as possible. Besides, I think you guys should have a pretty good understanding of what I’m talking about, and as always, I expect that some of you out there may be able to relate. While I don’t necessarily have any statistics or research to back up anything, I assume that many individuals with Aspergers or autism spectrum disorders have serious difficulties with dating and finding romance. I say this because, at least from my experience, forming an intimate relationship is a rather big step above forming normal friendships, and it usually requires a lot more patience and confidence.

This isn’t to say that Aspies aren’t at all capable of having intimate relationships, as I have shown in the beginning of this post to not be the case. It certainly is very frustrating for a lot of us given our complications with social interaction and unfamiliarity with various social cues, not to mention our need for alone time and other things that may potentially interfere with a relationship. Nonetheless, for each of us, there is definitely someone out there not too far away who is fully able to see past our problems and admire us for who we truly are, which is precisely the case with my new girlfriend Heather. Moreover, we are never alone and are surrounded with other people with similar mental and social disorders, many of whom are also wishing to form an intimate connection with someone else. In my honest opinion, just about any Aspie has the ability to find a romantic partner if they keep themselves open to it and try reaching out as much as they can.

Asperger Syndrome and Executive Functioning

Ok, I have to return to the topic that was first brought up in “What do I do? What ‘should’ I do?” one more time. There is something that I forgot to discuss in the related series of posts that helps explain the whole situation even better. This will probably be the last time, at least for a long time, that I submit an entry related to this particular topic. Also, this post isn’t as long as many of the others I’ve been uploading lately because I honestly don’t have that much information to offer on this issue.

Anyway, so if you’ve already read the aforementioned post, you know that I will sometimes freak out and have a little mental breakdown if I have a particularly large number of responsibilities that need to be addressed. When this happens, I spend so much time worrying and stressing myself out that I can hardly get anything done at first. In many instances I will need the help of my parents or a counselor to help me calm down and get productive. I also explained that two important sources for this problem are my difficulties with time management, and my perfectionist tendencies – which includes a false belief that I’m never “good enough.”

There is yet another element to this topic that I neglected to mention in that first post. It actually explains to a considerable degree why I get overwhelmed so easily with schoolwork and other things. You see, my mother has told me that, since I have Asperger Syndrome, I struggle quite a bit with executive functions, which makes it more difficult for me to handle multiple responsibilities efficiently. What exactly are executive functions, you may ask? According to an article by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child*, executive functions denotes the management of important cognitive processes that allow us to fulfill a variety of tasks. These processes include planning, short-term memory, problem-solving, reasoning, and self-control. So basically, they are the kinds of skills that facilitate multitasking.

In short, it appears that my mind sometimes has a bit difficulty engaging in these sorts of mental processes. This definitely sheds some light on many of my problems with stress, time management, social interaction, concentration, and even reading. Additionally, I have been able to verify from several sources** that many individuals with Asperger Syndrome suffer from a slight deficit in executive functioning, among other mental areas. Therefore, I can safely say that my brain might simply be setup so that it’s harder for me to manage many responsibilities at once without stressing out.

I’m afraid that I don’t really have much else to say about my issues with executive functions. I’m fairly certain my story isn’t really that different from other people who have Asperger Syndrome and suffer from deficits in executive functioning. It’s pretty much how our brains work, and there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. After all, this is why Aspergers and Autism are called disorders.

Of course, I do not wish to imply that we are helpless victims or that there isn’t any way to cope with this issue. Far, FAR from it. There exists a vast multitude of ways in which children as well as adults with Aspergers or Autism can deal with their complications and be able to manage numerous tasks at once. I have already mentioned several tools that I use to help with ADD and anxiety, such as meditation, exercise, and audiobooks. I know of several other methods that individuals with Aspergers or Autism can improve their executive functions to some degree.

For instance, it can extremely helpful for Aspie students to have a checklist that breaks down each of their schoolwork assignments – dividing them into small, much more manageable parts. Some people also recommend having a sort of personal organizational system set up in their living space: with colored labels for where different items should go, reminders and checklists for various chores and tasks, and photos of what clean bedrooms and kitchens should look like. If you look online you should find dozens of recommended techniques, services, books, and iPhone apps to help children and adults on the Autism spectrum deal with their deficits in executive functions.

* http://developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/executive_function/

** http://cirpstudents.com/Research%20Library/assets/another-advanced-test-of-theory-of- mind–evidence-from-very-high-functioning-adults–with-autism-or-asperger-syndrome-.pdfm, http://www.du.edu/psychology/dnrl/Executive%20function%20deficits%20in%20high-functioning%20autistic.pdf, http://www.sacramentoasis.com/docs/8-22-03/core_deficits.pdf, http://aut.sagepub.com/content/3/3/213.full.pdf, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1991.tb00352.x/abstract

Tim’s Aspie Diet

Here is another topic that I think a good amount of fellow Aspies can relate to: an “abnormal” diet. I consider my daily meal plan to be rather unusual, at least compared to that of most other people around me. Much like with obsessive interests, I know that this is a fairly common thing among individuals who are on the autism spectrum. In one manner or another, what we like and do not like to eat on a regular basis somewhat differentiates from what’s considered “normal” in our society.

In this post, I will share some of the ways in which my average food schedule could be seen as odd or weird. This includes a couple of foods that I like to eat, what I typically chose to eat for certain meals, what I refuse to eat, and how I prefer to eat particular foods. This time I’m almost 100% confident that someone out there will be able to relate very closely to what I’m about to share.

Let’s start with breakfast. Now most people like to munch on things like eggs, cereal and milk, pancakes, waffles, and French toast. Here is what my typical breakfast looks like: a whole poppy-seed bagel (heated in the microwave for 40 seconds), two cheesesticks, a couple of carrots, and one or two pieces of fruit. Sometimes I will have some cereal as well, but never with any milk; I seriously cannot stand the stuff (on its own, that is). I’ll also eat things like donuts, bacon, and croissants if they are being served. You definitely won’t convince me to eat any pancakes, French toast, or eggs, and I might end up getting breakfast on my own if nothing I can tolerate is available. Also, if you think my typical breakfast today looks weird, I used to eat things like broccoli and leftovers from last night’s dinner for breakfast when I was much younger.

Next up is my typical lunch. On average it will include a strawberry yoghurt, a piece of fruit, sugar-snap peas, pretzels, and maybe a couple of Oreos. I will on occasion buy things like burgers, hotdogs, salads, and pasta for lunch, but the aforementioned list is what I normally eat at home or at work. This might not seem too unusual upon first glance, until you consider that I absolutely refuse to eat most sandwiches and salads. Yep, for some reason, I cannot tolerate vegetables and cold-cut meat between two pieces of wheat bread. I won’t even eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore (I used to eat them for lunch at school, but now I try to avoid them as much as possible). Most pre-made salads are off for me as well, since they usually contain things I don’t like such as cherry tomatoes, celery, olives, cheese, and sea food (I’ll talk about sea food a bit more later). I will only eat salads that I make myself or ones made by my family, unless they add many of the items mentioned above. As a result, it can sometimes be a bit inconvenient for me to eat at someone else’s place for lunch, as there is usually nothing else available but sandwich stuff.

When it comes dinner, I normally eat what is offered to me to my parents or whoever is making dinner. Of course, if the meal contains something that I do not like, then I’ll try to avoid that food item and push it out the way. Only on very rare occasions will I refuse to eat the meal altogether, and eat some stuff that I like afterwards. If I am on my own for dinner, then I’ll usually purchase something from a nearby pizzeria or supermarket. Right now, I can’t really cook that many meals other than pasta and rice, and I mainly subsist on pre-made microwavable meals when I’m living on my own. If there are any leftovers of a meal that I enjoyed, then I’ll naturally have it for dinner.

That’s it for the three main meals, so I guess I should talk about snacks. For the most part, I don’t snack an awful lot throughout the day. Every now and then I’ll munch on the typical snack food such as peanuts, fruit, cookies, candy, and ice cream. However, there is at least one food that I really like to have as a snack which I doubt is common among most other people, and that is carrots. I’m not talking about baby carrots or sliced carrots that you’ll find at a party along with other vegetables and some dipping sauce. I’m talking FULL carrots, just without the long leafy stem at the end. I love those kinds of carrots sooo much, especially when they are first brought home and washed before put in the fridge. I consider them the absolute perfect snack for any time of the day. I guess you could say I’m also like Bugs Bunny in a way (maybe that’s where I originally got it from).

I would now like to list a couple of other foods that most other people seem to enjoy, but I either have to force down my throat or outright refuse to try. They include popovers, cornbread, olives, cream cheese, lettuce that isn’t chopped up in a salad, eggs, tomato slices, mushrooms, pineapples, melons, oatmeal, almost any kind of pie, lamb, tarts, and ham unless it’s dipped in mustard. Like I said earlier, sea food is a major turnoff for me, and I mean any type of sea food, even crab cakes, lobster, tuna, and sushi. I also can’t stand the taste of alcohol, so I’ll usually drink soda while everyone else is having beer, wine, or martinis.

I believe that is about it in terms of my overall eating patterns. I encourage readers who have Aspergers or any autism-related disorder to share some of their own “weird” eating habits in the comments below. In addition, I would like to say that there is absolutely no shame in having a food pattern that differs from that of most other people. I strongly believe you should feel free to eat whatever you feel like eating at whatever time you please (as long as it isn’t significantly harming your health, of course).

“It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough.”

Do you constantly find yourself worrying that the work you’re doing might not be “good enough?” Do you also tend to worry about not being “good enough” as a person in general? If so, then let it be known that you are not alone. In fact, a sizable percentage of the human race has some form of perfectionism; they believe that no matter what, they’ll never truly be good enough. I just might be one of those people who suffers from this the most.

If there is one thing that never fails to bring me severe stress, it’s the endless, relentless fear that I’m not doing an adequate job: whether it be on a specific task, or as a general fact. In other words, I have a pretty severe case of perfectionism. I stated in the post, “What do I do? What ‘should I do?” that this, along with my poor time management skills, makes it easier for me to panic whenever I have many tasks to handle at once. Just as I did with time management in the previous entry, I will now elaborate upon my issues with perfectionism and why it causes me so much anxiety.

As I mentioned earlier, I am completely aware that tons of people have this problem of constantly trying to meet a certain standard in their lives, and never feeling fully satisfied with themselves. It’s definitely NOT an unusual condition, and it may very well be that the majority of all human beings suffer from it. With that said, perfectionism seems to have a particularly powerful influence on my day-to-day behavior. Perfectionism affects my life in two key areas.

Firstly, whenever I am given a responsibility or task to complete, I will often spend a considerable amount of time making sure that I do a “good job” on it. This mostly applies to tasks such as schoolwork assignments, duties at work, and long-term academic projects. It can also sometimes apply to less substantial things like household chores, exercise, meditating, buying products, and even playing video games. In any case, as I engage myself in the task at hand, I will quickly become obsessed with getting the most praiseworthy result that I can; with being able to feel genuinely proud about what I have accomplished. Of course, when you’re such a perfectionist and nit-picky person, it’s not easy to be fully satisfied with your work, and you tend to give yourself unreasonable standards for quality. Consequently, I will spend far more time than necessary to finish a particular task, with much of it spent struggling to meet these standards. Most of the time, I will be unsatisfied to some extent with the end product and believe that someone else could have done it a whole lot better.

For example: I rarely feel completely gratified with my own posts on this blog. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake off the impression that the article I’m writing could be a little better. As a result, I have to make several modifications to each entry before I consider uploading it. I will sometimes even send the post to my mother for a quick review. Even when she says that it’s perfectly fine, I’ll still feel a little disappointed with how the post turned out in the end. Since I am apparently unable to make it as fantastic and well-crafted as I’d like it to be, I upload it anyway, hoping that at least others will appreciate it. So I guess you can say that I’m not a huge fan of my blog, because I’m so perfectionist and self-critical when it comes to writing. I also tend to assume that other people write far superior blog posts, including on the topic of Asperger Syndrome (please don’t try to convince me otherwise, because that’ll mean you’re putting down your own writing, which I do not wish to hear).

The second way in which perfectionism enters into my life is on a much more general level. It would be difficult to explain this issue fully without making the post over 3000 words long, so I’ll do best to give a basic summary. Whenever I take a good look at myself – what my social life looks like, how independent I am from my family, how hard I study, how productive I am at work, what I do with my free time, how much I contribute to charitable causes, among other factors – I’m always extremely discontented. Particularly when I compare myself to others in those areas, I can’t help but feel awfully pathetic, unaccomplished, and lazy. As a result, I keep on thinking that I need to do a lot more with myself and follow the suggestions of others in order to become a more admirable person.

For this reason, I like to give myself a bunch of activities casually recommended to me by other people on a regular basis. These recommended activities can include things that my parents said I may want to consider, advice given by my therapist or counselor, interests a friend has which they want me to try out, or suggestions from a book that I’m reading. Whatever the source may be, I will often perceive the recommendation as something that’s mandatory, an activity that I need to perform in order to feel better about myself. I will typically add the activity to my to-do list, put a reminder for it on my iPhone, and try to make absolutely sure that I eventually attend to it. Alternatively, I may myself stress out because I don’t have the time to engage in that activity or because I simply don’t want to do it. Again, even though it is merely a suggestion, I will treat it as a vital task or a direct command from someone else, thus feeling pretty awful and lazy when I cannot fulfill it.

Even if I do commit myself to performing an activity that was recommended to me, it doesn’t guarantee that I actually will get to it. Either I may forget about it completely, or I might be too busy with academic assignment, work-related stuff, and other responsibilities to make time for it. When that happens, I will naturally feel somewhat guilty and stressed – criticizing myself for “being lazy” and not “doing what I should be doing.” Yes, I know that it never was 100% essential, yet I cannot help to perceive it as if it were, since I’m so unsatisfied with myself and I constantly think that I need to do more with my life.

Once again, I fully realize that I’m not the only one who has these problems with perfectionism and self-disapproval. It’s something that affects those with or without autism-related disorders, including those without any disorders at all. All the same, I have a good feeling that those somewhere on the autism spectrum likely struggle with it more than “neurotypical” individuals do. It may have something to do with our troubles with executive functions, how we tend to interpret what other people say, or perhaps the way we grew up as children. In any case, I think it’s very important for all of us to be aware just how critical and nit-picky we can be toward ourselves – far more than most people are in our lives. I, for one, am currently trying my best to abandon my perfectionist way of thinking, and adopt a more encouraging, more relaxed way of looking at things. I believe that many others out there, Aspergers or not, may want to consider doing this as well.

All the time in the world… and it’s never enough

I wish to start this post off by acknowledging that I actually don’t have that much on my daily schedule, at least compared to many others my age. Aside from duties at work and academic assignments, there really isn’t anything else that I have to worry about on a regular basis. Indeed, for the most part, the only two big responsibilities that require my attention are schoolwork and my current job. Therefore, I usually have a huge amount of free time on my hands.

Despite this fact, I often find it very difficult to accomplish all the things I want to accomplish throughout the day. For a number of reasons (that I will mention later), it feels like I hardly ever have the right amount of time to get enough work done. Indeed, even though I probably have a lot more free time than most other people, managing my time efficiently is still a major challenge for me.

In last week’s post, “What do I do? What ‘should’ I do,” I said how I sometimes get “stuck” because I cannot decide what to do when I have so much to worry about at once. One of the main reasons for this, I explained, was that I have trouble acquiring sufficient time to complete all of the tasks that I would like to complete. As I promised in that post, I will now go into more detail explaining what this problem entails, including why it exists.

To give a reliable summary of the issue: when I’m given a large number of school assignments, personal responsibilities, or casually suggested activities to do, I will unlikely be able to secure the right amount of time to execute a lot of these tasks in a single day. Put much more simply, there just isn’t enough hours in a day to for me to accomplish an amount of work that I can be satisfied with. As a result, what I can get done that day is fairly limited, and I’m frequently disappointed with how little I was able to complete. This is made much worse when I notice that others around me are getting a lot more done than I am, including fellow students, friends, and family members.

There are multiple factors that contribute to this time management problem, some of which have been touched upon in previous blog posts. Firstly, I am only able to be fully productive for about 9-10 hours during the day because I have to take medication in order to be stay moderately focused as well as disciplined. The meds take about an hour to take effect in my body, and they wear off about 9 or 10 after I take them. This means that I cannot be at all productive in the early morning or in the evening; so late-night studying or reading is not for me.

Secondly, even while the medications are active in my body, I still have a lot of difficulty concentrating on the tasks that I need to be engaged in. I can’t help but be continuously distracted by my own thoughts about miscellaneous topics and by my obsessions with things like rock music, Nintendo games, and political controversies. As much as I try not to, I will inevitably waste an hour or more of my time lost in thought or reading “triggering” comments online (See “My Aspie obsessions over the years”).

Thirdly, there are a number tasks that take slightly longer for me to complete than they do for most people. I’m not sure if this is mostly due to my Asperger Syndrome, my Attention Deficit Disorder, or something else, but I normally require an extra amount of time to finish certain activities, such as reading, studying, exam-taking, cleaning, waking up in the morning, making decisions, and recovering from a workout.

Fourthly, if I have so many responsibilities to tackle at once, then, as explained in my previous post, I will become frozen with anxiety and worry myself to death. This, obviously, takes away a massive chunk of time that could be used to complete some of the tasks on my to-do list, thus adding more to my severe frustration. So this means that my problems with knowing what I should do in these situations and my problems with time management are reciprocal; they each cause the other issue to get worse and worse.

This is all essentially why my daily schedule, from an objective point of view, does not include a lot of responsibilities or hobbies. Just like with everything else, if I was able to be productive for much longer, stay more focused on my tasks, and get things done slightly faster, then time management wouldn’t so much of a problem. I could then occupy myself with far more productive activities, from volunteering at a local animal shelter to finishing the video games that I bought 3 months ago. Plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about being so incredibly stressed out whenever I have numerous responsibilities at once. As always, I hope that as time goes on, I will get slightly better at managing my daily schedule, allowing me to feel much more productive as a person.

Selling rocks

I think many of us have childhood memories that may not seem very significant upon first glance, yet are immensely special to us for one reason or another. These are moments during our youth that made us particularly joyful, and that we like to reminisce about every now and then – even if they didn’t leave that much of an impact on us. I have a couple of childhood memories that meet this description, many of which involve friends and family. One memory in particular that sticks out in my mind an awful lot is perhaps one of the most peculiar: it involves me “selling” rocks with another kid during recess.

Here is what I can remember from this experience: When I was in 4th or 5th grade, there was this boy I knew named Chris. To be honest, I didn’t really know him all that well, and I hardly spent time with him outside of recess. So anyway, I met Chris one day near one of the jungle gyms on the playground, where he was doing something a little odd with the small stones that filled the surrounding area. He was lining them up on the wooden barrier around the jungle gym, and occasionally talking to other kids, asking them if they wanted one. Instantly intrigued by what he was doing and having nothing better to do, I asked Chris if I could join him. Fortunately he was kind enough to let me partake in his little activity, which he called “selling rocks.”

So for the next couple of weeks that followed, almost every day during recess I would “sell” rocks with Chris. We pretty much collected little stones around the jungle gym area, picking out ones that we thought looked especially pretty, and placed them on the wooden slabs that surrounded the jungle gym. Afterwards, we tried to get the attention of other kids and ask them to “buy” some of the stones from us. Of course, we never actually charged them money or anything; we essentially just gave the stones away to anyone who would take them.

This “rock-selling” business went on for a while, but unfortunately, it didn’t last longer than a couple of weeks. I suppose Chris eventually got bored with the game, and I wasn’t really interested in doing anything else with him. Sadly, we didn’t do a whole lot together or hang out with each other much afterwards. I did see Chris here and there during middle and high school, but mostly because some of the friends I had at the time knew him. Essentially, that rock-selling game we played in elementary school is the only thing that connects us.

Nonetheless, that rock-selling game was more than enough for me to cherish Chris as an acquaintance, even if it was only for a brief period of time. The fact remains that, as boring or stupid as it may sound to other people, this little activity was loads of fun for me as a kid. Back then, until it was over, I looked forward to selling rocks with Chris every day. It’s hard to fully explain why I liked it so much, but I will say that it was one the only activities I genuinely enjoyed during recess. Unlike many of the other recess activities I tried out in elementary school, I was actually having a lot of fun with this game, feeling a little sad when I had to stop and go back inside. I suppose the fact that Chris and I were playing pretend, something that I loved to do as a kid, may partially explain why I was having so much fun with it.

More importantly though, this was one of the only recess activities that I could truly enjoy with another person. Indeed, most of the time when I was in recess, I was either forcing myself to play games with the other kids that I didn’t really like, or I was trying to have fun by myself. Selling rocks with Chris was one of the very few things to do in recess that was not only entertaining for me, but also involved someone else around my age. I got to interact with him in a way that I wasn’t able to achieve with the other kids in class, and I was just as engaged in this game as he was. It was as if we were doing something that, in a manner of speaking, “spoke to me”; allowing to me to be myself without having to do it entirely alone. This wasn’t something I got to do very often with other kids my age, even among my friends.

That’s why whenever I think of really positive moments from my childhood, one of the first to pop up in my head is pretending to sell rocks with Chris in elementary school. Sure it may not seem like too much at first, and I doubt that it made a big influence on my life overall, but I genuinely treasure the memory with all of my heart. Like I said, it’s one of those things that gave me so much pleasure as a kid, simply for being an activity that I got to fully immerse myself in with another kid my age. The fact that this sort of thing was rare back then might be sufficient to make it one of my fondest childhood memories. I guess all I can say for now is thank you so much, Chris. You may not be able recall our rock-selling game very well, but you ought to know how much it meant for me to be able to play it with you back then.

Why I don’t like reading all that much

Ok, it’s time for a little confession. This is something that I’m not exactly proud of, and I can’t help but feel guilty about it. However, I think it simply has to be said. All right, here goes: I honestly don’t like to read that much. There, I said it. Reading through entire novels, textbooks, short stories, and even brief articles tends to feel like a chore for me instead of a pleasurable activity.

Now this does not mean that I have trouble reading or that I find reading to be a boring hobby at large. Far from it, I can read text just as proficiently as anyone else, and I know fully well that reading is extremely vital for a successful education and a successful living. Reading is obviously necessary to have sufficient knowledge of the world around us, and it can introduce people to a fantastic world of imagination and creativity. I wholeheartedly believe that people should read as much as they can – both fiction and non-fiction. Unfortunately, frequent casual reading is just not for me, at least for right now.

The main reason I say this goes back to my post about having so much trouble focusing (“Focus, man, focus!”). Remember when I said that it is massively difficult for me to stay attentive to what’s currently in front of me or to what I’m currently doing? Well this applies almost perfectly to when I’m reading. As hard as I try to keep my mind on the text that I am examining, I can’t help but be regularly distracted by something – whether it be an external stimuli, or simply a thought that I want to contemplate. Consequently, I have no choice but to keep going back several times on a single page to make sure that I’ve truly absorbed the material in the book. This, of course, means that getting through a single chapter or article will take a lot more time than it does for most other people.

So basically, I’m not a huge fan of reading because it simply takes waaay too long for me to do. It is impossible for me to go through each paragraph just once since my mind will constantly drift away, forcing me to skim through it at least twice, until I feel confident that I understand what the text is telling me. This quickly becomes very tedious and irritating, thus preventing me from getting the same enjoyment out of reading that many others seem to experience. It is especially problematic when I’m trying to read an article or non-fiction book for class. Much of the time, I do not complete the full reading assignment because I simply don’t have the time or patience to read through the whole thing.

I also wish to make clear that I am not implying that I never read in my free time. I read articles on the web pretty frequently, and I will sometimes try out books that people recommend to me (I rarely finish them though). Nonetheless, the vast majority of my reading is done as part of an academic assignment or a duty at work; as a requirement. Leisure reading, especially of longer works, is considerably rare for me. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been novels that I’ve genuinely enjoyed and that I like to revisit occasionally (e.g. Harry Potter, Phantom Tollbooth, Redwall, and Bud Not Buddy). It’s just that you won’t typically see me reading stories from a newspaper or a well-known work like Lord of the Flies.

The thing is that I probably would be reading on my own much more often if I could do it without retracing myself every 2 minutes. Indeed, the only thing that prevents me from truly appreciating fantastic writers from Mark Twain to George R.R. Martin is the fact that going through their works would require many, many, MANY hours of my time. I am all too aware of the joy and excitement that people receive from reading these authors’ stories, in addition to the vast amount of knowledge I could gain from looking at more non-fiction pieces. Therefore, I sincerely do wish that reading long texts didn’t have to be such an arduous task for me.

Well, I think I’ve done enough lamenting on this particular topic for now. I promise that in my next post, I will discuss something unrelated to my ADHD or obsessive mindfulness. In fact, perhaps I will write something a little more positive to let you guys know that these difficulties CAN be overcome; to remind everyone with Aspergers Syndrome that there is always hope for improvement.

“What do I do? What ‘should’ I do?”

Have you ever experienced a moment where you felt completely “stuck” – where you were under a significant amount of pressure, were given a large number of tasks or requests, and you simply did not know how to handle it all? In other words, have you ever had to say to yourself, “God dammit! I seriously have no idea what to do right now!” Well I certainly have… countless times in the past few years, as a matter of fact.

Not being able to decide for myself what I’m “supposed” to do in certain situations is yet another significant contributor to my overall anxiety. Although this issue is not as prevalent as many of the others I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, it is still pretty frequent and causes me severe stress whenever it happens. It usually occurs when I have a lot of things that I want to get done as soon as possible and I’m not at all sure where to start. On some occasions, it can also occur when I don’t have much to do at all and I cannot decide how I should spend my free time. So in other words, it is considerably easy for me to become lost and confused with what I ought to be doing in the present moment, especially if there is a great number of tasks or activities I could be engaged in.

Anyhow, whenever I am in this sort of situation of not knowing how to move forward, I will most often spend a considerable amount of time standing or sitting still, stressing myself out and worrying. I will try my very hardest to come up with a plan or schedule that I think will sufficiently address everything that I wish to address. Unfortunately, in most instances it will take almost hours for me to come up with a plan that I feel ok with, and even if I come up with one, it may not work when I put it into action, forcing me to try to come up with another strategy. On top of that, I will sometimes be much too frightened by the sheer (or apparent) difficult of the tasks that I have been given as well as how many I have to (or wish to) tackle in one day.

As a result, instead of being as productive as I can in the time that I have, I will waste so much that time just thinking about what I’m supposed to do and endlessly stressing myself out to find an adequate solution. In most cases, though, I eventually will sit down and get to work, doing what I can to accomplish at least some of the things that I wanted to do for that day – typically with the help of my parents or college counselors. Well, that’s at least what happens with academic assignments or anything that’s absolutely mandatory. It can be a slightly different story, however, with things that aren’t exactly obligatory, yet are highly recommended to me.

Indeed, there are two separate categories of tasks that will cause me serious unease when I have so many on my mind at once. The first are tasks which I am directly required to fulfill within a certain period of time. Right now, this mostly consists of academic assignments and long-term projects (although eventually it will no longer be the case, after I complete my Paralegal Certificate Program at Marist). Aside from that, it can also involve things such as duties at work, personal obligations to other individuals, and household chores.

The second category of “tasks” are things that people, either directly or indirectly, have suggested to me or said that I ought to try, for one reason or another. A couple of common examples include trying to make plans with friends, reading a particular book, using a certain meditation technique, trying a new exercise schedule, playing a video game that is extremely popular, staying in touch with current friends, or going to a local event. I’m basically talking about anything that could, supposedly, be somewhat beneficial to me.

To sum up: whenever I’m given large amount of tasks from one or both of these categories, I very easily get stressed out and have trouble deciding what I ought to do first. One reason why this happens to me so frequently is that I am not too skilled at managing my time as well as many others. As hard as I try, I simply cannot get things done as quickly as I would like to, and thus it’s pretty difficult for me to accomplish a significant amount in one day. On top of this, I can only be productive while I’m on my medication (see blog post “Focus, man, focus!”), which sadly only lasts for about 9-10 hours. I shall elaborate upon this whole topic in far more detail in the next blog post.

Another reason it occurs so frequently is because I can be a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to performing tasks and “doing what I ought to do.” What I’m saying here is that I often want to: a) Make sure that the work I’m doing looks adequate and meets all sorts of criteria; and b) Do all of the things that I feel like I “should be doing” given my current situation. In other words, I seem to have this constant desire to feel productive and do what will supposedly make me a better person. This perfectionist tendency is something else that I will definitely touch upon in another upcoming blog post.

I think you can imagine how stressful and embarrassing it can be to have this sort of problem. Not only has intense indecisiveness delayed progress on some very important projects, but it has also resulted in several emotional outbursts and temper tantrums in the past. The worst part is that I am not confident that this issue will go away in the near future, meaning that I may have to deal with it as I enter the workforce and start living independently. So, as with many of my other problems, it is my hope that I will gradually get better at handling multiple responsibilities at once without stressing myself out so much and without making a scene. Maybe as I get more used to functioning in a job environment and continue to use many of the tools I’ve mentioned in “Ways I’m trying to cope with my problems”, I will be able to settle down and take things one step at a time instead of spending hours to formulate an intricate plan. One thing for sure is that I cannot allow myself to go through life continuously worrying and procrastinating when I should be getting things done.