“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!

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.

“Tim, please… keep it to yourself.”

Who here has ever asked themselves these sorts of questions:

“When exactly am I supposed to talk?”

“When am I supposed to be quiet and listen?”

“Why do people seem to hate it whenever I talk?”

“How come hardly anyone seems really interested in what I have to say?”

“How come I can never find the right time to raise my thoughts during a conversation?”

“Why do I keep going on some tangent whenever I start speaking?”

“Why do I have so much trouble with shutting myself up and listening?”

“Should I even enter this conversation at all, or should I leave it alone?”

“How can I possibly contribute to a conversation I have no interest in to begin with?”

“Why does it have to be such a chore for me verbally interact with other people?”

If these questions seem at all familiar to you, then you are definitely not alone. It’s always been tough for me to understand exactly when I should open my mouth, and when I should just stay silent. Aspergers Syndrome often makes it difficult for people to communicate fluently with others, and so the appropriate time to provide verbal input isn’t always clear to them. As a result, engaging in a productive, two-sided dialogue does not usually work out for me like it does for most people.

This is not to say that I can never a good, meaningful conversation with anyone; very far from it! I have had the pleasure of enjoying countless discussions that were fun, amusing, informative, friendly, comforting, and thoughtful. I mean, I actually really enjoy chatting with people whenever I can, preferably those I know fairly well. It’s just that I need to learn how to be a more responsible, self-restrained speaker.

For one thing, I have very frequently found myself going off on a tangent as I discuss a certain topic of interest with others. What happens is that once I perceive an opportunity for me to speak out, I immediately take it and then quickly end up talking endlessly about what’s on my mind. Without thinking at all, I get carried away and establish myself as the center of the conversation, inadvertently failing to give the other person their chance to speak. This usually leaves people a little agitated at me and completely unengaged in what I’m saying. They anxiously wait for me to be done with my monologue, occasionally trying to find a polite way of telling to be shut up and let them speak. Unfortunately, I won’t realize I was dominating the discussion until it’s too late, feeling regretful for being so inconsiderate to the other person.

Meanwhile, when trying to have conversation with others, I tend to talk about things that only I want to explore- regardless of how everyone else feels about the topic. Sometimes I might begin a conversation, usually out of complete nowhere, concerning a subject matter that I desperately feel like sharing, simply for the sake of “getting it out there.” Alternatively, I might find a way to bring this subject into an already active conversation when it is not the least bit relevant. In most cases, this dissolves into the one-sided rant that I mentioned earlier, meaning that people have to listen to me jabbering on and on about something they really don’t care about. Even though I may have gotten better at this, I still find myself committing the same mistake rather frequently, mostly unaware of what I’m doing wrong until later.

This brings me to one of my more regrettable habits, which is constantly interrupting people in the middle of talking so that I can give my thoughts. Despite my efforts to try and give other people their space to talk, it remains somewhat of a challenge to keep my mouth shut and pay attention while others are talking. If I feel like I really have get my thoughts out, then I may not be able to wait my turn and save what I have to say till the other person is done.

This is especially prevalent when there is some disagreement between me and the other person. If I really do not want to hear what someone is communicating to me, I may try to block it out by simply cutting them off and abruptly offering a counter argument. A good example of this is when I used to talk to my parents about schoolwork or my behavior. Whenever they would try to say something that I didn’t like or made me somewhat bad, I would instinctively try to shut them up and say something like, “Y-yeah, buuut…” or “I know, I know. Just lemme talk now.”

What makes this even more interesting is the fact that I seriously hate being interrupted myself. Indeed, if someone tries to correct or disrupt me before I finish speaking (which, as you remember, will often take a while), I often react irritated and insist that I be allowed to finish.

Similarly, I often have trouble identifying when I may contribute to a conversation with several people. In many cases, I desperately want to join in on a discussion that apparently isn’t allowing me any room to talk, which makes me feel irritated. I keep trying to find an opportunity to share my thoughts, typically when it seems that someone else is done talking, and unfortunately I can’t find the right moment. This is because either the other person continues to talk, or someone else jumps in to speak instead. Of course, I may eventually grow very impatient and just decide to interrupt someone else so that I may express what I wish to get out. I basically get tired of waiting my turn, so I sort of “take my turn.” In other cases, I may simply give up on trying to contribute at all to the conversation and either stay completely silent, or possibly walk away and leave the discussion altogether.

Does this all sound familiar to anyone?