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

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“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.

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.