“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

My Aspie obsessions over the years

I have a good feeling that a bunch of fellow Aspies can relate to this aspect of my life: being constantly preoccupied with particular subjects of interest. I have heard many accounts of other individuals with Asperger Syndrome having a fixation with something that especially appeals to them – whether it be a comic book franchise, an entire field of science, or just a specific musician or band. It is arguably one of the most common as well as most noticeable features of the disorder as a whole, and I am definitely no exception!

Throughout most of my life, up to this very day, I have had a number of particular interests that tend to overshadow much of my thoughts, behavior, and what I want to talk about. My specific obsessions have changed many times over the years, and I am normally obsessed with more than one subject at once. In this post, I will describe some of the fixations I have had in the past, as well as a couple of my current ones. They are not posted in any particular order because I am unable to remember the order in which they popped up in my life.

I believe that one of my earliest obsessions as a child was computer games and video games. Before I had access to video game consoles, I would play various CD-ROM games on my parents’ Windows 95 PC – the majority of them interactive storybooks and activity centers. Then as soon as I got my hands on a PlayStation, I quickly got hooked on console games, frequently playing the PlayStation titles that I owned for hours and hours. In addition, I often liked to immerse myself in the worlds of the games that I played, sometimes pretending that I was in the games (see my earlier post, “Imaginary Play”). For a while, video games the only thing I wanted to talk about with friends, and whenever I was spending time with them outside of school, I pretty much just wanted to play games with them all day.

One particular game series that I grew fond of was Sonic the Hedgehog, starting with Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the Nintendo Gamecube. Soon after I started playing that game, I simply couldn’t get enough of the entire Sonic franchise, so I spent a massive amount of my adolescence talking, fantasizing, and daydreaming about it. I repeatedly played nearly all of the new games following Sonic Adventure 2, and I would get super excited for each new release that came out. I was such a passionate fan that I somehow convinced myself to enjoy Shadow the Hedgehog (the 2005 game), the Sonic X TV series, and yes, even the infamous Sonic ’06 (if you’re unfamiliar with its notoriety, look it up on Wikipedia).

Along with video games, I also became obsessed with some of the films that I watched as a child and teenager. Any time I saw a movie that I really enjoyed, the movie would instantly become a new fascination of mine for the next couple of weeks or months. A couple of examples off the top of my head include Toy Story, The Grinch (the 2000 movie, which I now actually despise), Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, and the Dark Knight. In each case, I could not stop thinking about the film, acting out my favorite scenes in private and in public, or getting a bunch of merchandise associated with it. I distinctly remember buying nearly all of the toys based off the Toy Story characters, and regularly pretending to be Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. Interestingly, it was the Dark Knight (2008) film that got me interested Batman and many other DC comic book heroes for a while.

On the other side of the spectrum, there were also obsessions I had as a child/teenager that were social/political topics which I could not stop dwelling upon. Bullying was one of these topics, mainly because I loathed the mere idea of bullying with a passion that didn’t seem to exist in other kids my age. As described in the blog post, “Timmah!”, I had to deal with some harassment in middle and high school, but that wasn’t the kind of bullying I was so troubled with. It was the stereotypical physical harassment that I would often see in television shows and in the news which filled my mind with rage. Whenever I heard or saw something related to bullying, I would go into this long, hate-filled rant about bullies, describing how I would love to deal with them if I had the opportunity (I could get pretty graphic at times).

There was also a time when I was considerably preoccupied with the Iraq War, at least whenever it was brought up around me. Borrowing a lot of what I knew about the conflict from my family as well as popular media, I was a bit overly passionate in my opposition to the war while it was at its peak. I didn’t actually participate in protests of any sort, but I certainly made no secret of how much I believed that the war was a huge disaster and built upon a complete lie. My opinions on the Iraq War haven’t really changed since then, but I can say with utmost certainty that I was far too emotional and one-sided in my criticism of the conflict. Even worse, I would sometimes rant about it in situations when I definitely should have kept my opinion to myself. For instance, I once argued about the war with a woman who said that her son was fighting in Iraq. I now regret doing that with all of my heart, and wish to apologize to her for being so insensitive.

It would be nice to say that, as an adult, I have overcome this issue and am no longer so obsessed with things, but that is not quite the case. While I’m pretty sure that it has gotten somewhat better, I still find myself regularly preoccupied with certain select subjects. For one thing, I am a HUUUGE fan of rock and roll music. Not only do I enjoy listening to classic hard rock songs, but I also like to converse about individual bands, look up information on them, go to concerts when I have the chance, and sometimes fantasize about being in a band myself. I mostly blame Guitar Hero for all this, although I do not intend to abandon my fascination with rock music anytime soon.

One obsession that I would like to get rid of, however, is my constant preoccupation with reading anti-egalitarian, neoconservative viewpoints on the web. Whenever I’m using a computer, I will repeatedly go on websites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, and Google just to look for comments that “trigger” me or put me into a mental self-debate. For instance, I will often search for critical comments on things that may contain feminist, pro-gender equality elements, where many users will inevitably call it “more liberal, feminazi propaganda.” To be honest, I sort of understand these critiques to a limited extent, and I will admit that they’ve encouraged me to be more open-minded and thoughtful in how I approach various social and political issues. Nonetheless, the fact that I engage in this activity almost every day clearly makes it somewhat of an addiction: something that I, for some reason, cannot stop doing, even though it gives me nothing but headaches. Hopefully with the help of exercise, meditation, and reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, I might eventually be able to kick this habit and find more productive things to occupy my free time with.

It would be wonderful if I didn’t have any big obsessions at all, so that it could be much easier to interact successfully with other people and to get work done quicker. I do realize, however, how difficult abandoning it is for individuals with Asperger Syndrome to abandon obsessive behavior, so I shouldn’t expect it to go away in the near future. Plus, I’m not sure if there is any actual danger to having an excessive interest in things, as long as it doesn’t go way too far or directly harm anyone. In any case, I ultimately wrote this post to express what it’s like for many of us Aspies to be so preoccupied with certain subjects. I’m sure a good amount of other Aspies can relate to my experiences, and I think they should know that there is nothing to be ashamed of in being so fascinated with things, no matter what other people may tell them.

I wish my mind had an off-switch

Throughout the majority of most days, my mind will constantly drift away and reflect on a number of topics that I can’t seem to get out of my head. What I’m thinking about usually involves subjects that were brought up to me earlier, and are somewhat controversial, debatable, difficult to resolve, or simply extremely thought-provoking. A couple of examples to mention here might include third-wave feminism, racial tensions in big cities, the existence of free will, the rising Islamic State, and if Sonic Adventure 2 is actually a good game. It most often happens when my mind is relatively free from stimulation and I’m doing something very simple like walking, driving, eating, showering, or waiting for an appointment.

Unlike many people who seem able to put their mind at rest when they’ve decided their opinion on a topic, I often find myself incapable of settling upon any specific, concrete viewpoint. Instead, I have to keep considering both sides of the debate and how each would respond to a given counter-argument, while also dwelling upon the potential consequences of any claim or suggestion proposed. I feel compelled to make absolutely sure that I’m looking at the topic from a fair, objective perspective and am not jumping to conclusions nor being biased against one stance or another.

I think everyone can agree that there are many problems around the world today that are far too complicated for a one-sided solution, and instead require thoughtful discussion. If these issues really were that simple and could be resolved right away, then they wouldn’t be so controversial to begin with. However, I perceive that for the majority of people, a clear-cut answer is available, and when they believe they have discovered it, it isn’t very easy to change their minds. For me, it’s an entirely different story. While I do hold certain philosophical and political values close to my heart that I doubt will ever radically change (at least not without effective convincing), my specific viewpoints on a variety of topics is either uncertain or always changing. I am not suggesting that I cannot decide at all what my social and political ideology is, as I always have something to say about social and political topics. What I’m trying to get at here, rather, is that there are so many different factors to take into consideration with issues such as immigration, free will, poverty, and the quality of video games that I find it incredibly hard to reconcile with them successfully.

This means that I can’t help but see why any sort of stance on these issues could be problematic for one reason or another, or could legitimately be called “downright wrong” by the opposite side. As a result, my mind is regularly fixed upon these concerns and I have to debate with myself over what is right, what is wrong, and how we should approach these topics. Saying to myself, “Look, let’s just say that X is the right answer to Y and leave it at that,” is rarely ever an option for me (except maybe for same-sex marriage). In my view, there is almost ALWAYS more to the story that we need to consider, meaning that whatever argument you side with is always going to be confronted with legit complaints and counter-arguments. Both the pro immigrant rights and anti-immigration stance, for example, are riddled with logical inconsistencies, negative implications, and so many ways in which they can be wrong (even though I side a bit more with pro-immigrants’ rights). So I will keep on pondering over these complications, until I find something else to obsess over or at least something to distract me.

Pretty much whenever I have the opportunity, I will engage in a sort of mental discussion regarding a number of these topics – continuously attempting to make better sense of them and possibly form a more informed, more objective opinion of them. While I’m driving home from work, for instance, I will most likely spend much of the ride debating with myself regarding whether or not abortion could be considered wrong, if hard rock has any place in future mainstream music, and the true validity of full gender or racial equality. The debates will go on and on until I get tired of them, only to shift to another topic, and then to yet another topic, and so on. In almost all cases, the debate will never reach a satisfying conclusion, and I am simply left as uncertain about these issues as I was before. It’s as if I am literally having constant debates with a clone of myself: I can’t resist constantly talking to this other me, we can hardly agree on any political, social, or philosophical topic, and we change the topic every 5 minutes or so.

So in other words, my mind will just never shut up! I cannot avoid the ongoing barrage of thoughts and considerations of various topics of interest, even when I’m trying my absolute best to stay relaxed or focused on something. Yes, there are plenty of moments when I am not engaged in this mental debate, but that’s usually when I’m doing something that requires my full attention like playing video games or talking to someone else. Even then, however, it is still challenging to not subconsciously reflect upon matters that stimulate my curiosity. The whole thing can give me a serious headache at times, and make me desperately wish that I could just form an opinion and stick with it. If it were at all possible for me to merely stop obsessing over these things and have a calm, yet attentive mind, you can bet that I would. As usual, the world just doesn’t work like that, and so I am left to deal with this issue as best as I can.

Much like with my anxiety and difficulty focusing, I am currently trying to reduce my obsessive mindfulness through activities like exercise, meditation, and reading. The progress, so far, is tremendously slow, and I don’t expect to be rid of this issue any time soon. Maybe some of you can relate to this sort of problem, in which case I would love to discuss it with you. Indeed, if there is anyone out there who also suffers from a mind that won’t sit still, then please know that I understand completely what you’re going through, and that you have my utmost support!