“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

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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

“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.