The Conversation Conundrum

Engaging in conversation comes easy to most because of the way the human brain develops throughout childhood. We have an innate ability to pick up on social behaviour which helps us build up our social skills that by around the age of 10 we have a basic ability to talk to other children about the common things children talk about. However, for some of us this innate ability is missing, especially in those with autism, other neurological disorders or people with delayed social development.

I’m in the latter category. For me personally I never really had the desire to socialise and due to a severe social anxiety disorder known as selective mutism I rarely talked outside the family home. I saw some progress in my teens but I didn’t see much dramatic change until my mid 20s. By this time I was already diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD, and I can’t deny that being prescribed Ritalin not only helped me talk more but have the desire to talk to people at all. I finally had the patience and clear headedness to be able to pick up on social behaviour and put it into practice.

Learning new social skills was a matter of listening to two other people sit beside me and have a conversation and to carefully watch their body language; anything from the length of eye contact made to subtle hand movements. I often got some pretty confused looks from the people I was secretly learning from. I didn’t just pick up social skills from people talking to each other or from my own feeble attempts at having a conversation with someone but from watching actors on TV and in film. I’m a longtime fan of children’s films in the 80s and 90s and I’ve always mimicked the words, mannerisms and even dress sense of those young protagonists.

Some TV shows have been central to my social development or just made me understand confusing neurotypical (someone without a neurological disorder) behaviour. That wasn’t something I wanted to mimic but just be aware of because it was so illogical, things like lying and keeping secrets and the eventual confrontation that surfaced after being caught out. It was mostly science fiction shows that taught me the importance of teamwork and how to think about others. Recently, a TV show on Netflix called Granite Flats showed me how to apologize to people. These sound like very simple things to know but I’m not just taught these things by the characters on a show or film, but the way they say these things helps me actually get the words out at all otherwise it’s very difficult for me to say things such as ‘sorry.’ I don’t just mimic actors but become their characters. I actually sound exactly like the characters, anyone from Data on Star Trek to Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. I rather enjoy sounding like a space cowboy too. But I can also mimic people I know if I look up to them enough.

I’ve come far in the 5 or so years that I’ve been training up my social skills. I’ve also lost them and had to build them up over again which is what happens to autistic adults when they are under extreme stress. I can even lose these skills if I go a long time without talking to anyone. So, it’s important for me to get out there not just for emotional reasons but so I can retain the skills I’ve learned and continue to build them up. There are differences between what an autistic person wants to get out of a conversation verses an NT. An NT, or non-autistic person doesn’t care so much about what words are said but just the time spent with another person, whereas an autistic person really wants to share information and hopes that the other person will learn something new and remember it. That’s not always the case though. In my experience people don’t remember much of what was said at all.

I do enjoy the time I get to spend with people. I’m trying to focus less on the information I give and more on the time spent, especially when building a new relationship with someone. Talking though is still very hard for me to do. I have the usual problems that anyone with social awkwardness or delayed social skills goes through like not knowing what to say at all or worrying about whether the topic is relevant or socially acceptable, and then I have to work out whether what I say will come across as offensive before even saying it. But the actual act of speaking and making thoughts formed in my mind come out of my mouth in the order that I thought them is often a task I fail at. They don’t come out in the right order. I think this is because I think of two ways to say something and combine the two ways together in one sentence. I also get a blank half way through a sentence that I often spend a lot of time quickly trying to remember what I thought of a few seconds ago and grabbing any bunch of words that come to mind and make my best attempt to form a sentence out of them.

However, my friend Patrick seems to be the complete opposite of that. He’s a musician, a bass player that I’ve recently met after years of taking photos of bands he’s been in. I was in awe of his ability to keep a conversation going but staying relevant to the subject. I wanted to emulate that but at the same time it’s my impulsive mouth that makes me say anything at all. Sure, those words can often embarrass me or unknowingly offend others and often make me feel stupid, but it’s my thing. However, I’ve been noticing that I am holding my tongue more in an attempt to stay relevant. Pat though is a really nice guy and despite my social awkwardness which can lead to a lot of impatience by people or have them making fun of me for stumbling, he remains patient and tries to help me get around my little handicap.

Even though I’m still developing my social skills I’ve learned a lot and have a high amount of empathy for an autistic person and even find myself mentally telling non-autistic people to think about how others feel or will respond to the way they’ve said something. It seems these days with social media being such a huge part of people’s lives that they’ve forgotten the very first thing I learned in my social skills training: not everyone will agree with you or have the same interests. Psychologists call it having a poor theory of mind or mind blindness when you fail to understand this. I remember when I struggled to keep thinking of others as separate individuals from me with their own likes, hates and wants, and their own experiences which help shape their personalities.

Still, most people seem to have adequate enough social skills to think they don’t need any further help and still they look at those who struggle socially with impatience. The best thing you can do for someone who is struggling to speak is be patient, not assume you know what they are going to say or finish their sentences for them. We don’t all have the same social ability and the person struggling is often very frustrated at themselves. It’s not uncommon for the more introverted person to hold something against an extrovert who replies before they’ve even finished talking or repeats their words to other people. To them it’s very rude. As for rudeness, sometimes those with poor social skills can say something that might be interpreted as rude but often they’ve just failed to realize it would come across this way. If you keep this in mind and not respond with anger you can probably avoid confrontation and the person will not become depressed over their mistake. Having poor social skills leads to a lot of anxiety and depression and these two disorders really interfere with developing new social skills.

My mood disorder gets in the way of me developing socially. Sometimes I get too hyper and impulsive and slightly delusional to apply what I learned when I was in a more euthymic state, and my depressed and anxious states lead to a lot of self-doubt and negative social scripting, which is thinking of worse possible outcomes in a social situation. Usually though, I use social scripting to help me come up with subjects to use in a conversation and it actually does work.

I still get surprised when I hit a brick wall in my social skills, which happens when people act in ways that I don’t understand or I realize that despite all the years I’ve put into developing new social skills I’m still not able to steer myself out of difficult situations. Usually, my answer to dealing with a heated dispute between me and a friend is to completely get them out of my life. Not everyone is happy with me using this approach but I’m at a loss to know how to work out a solution. So, much work is still left to do if I want to keep my friends. I applaud my friends for trying to keep our relationship intact, I just hope one day I can return the favour.

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So Long, Anxiety! (Sort Of), Part 1

I’ve been taking anti-depressants for 19 days – so almost 3 weeks – and I pretty much think I’ve experienced all the benefits and side effects this medication can give me. Maybe there’s still a bit more change to see in me because I know when I first took these meds I had completely changed. I lost all interest in all my hobbies and didn’t really need to stick to a routine anymore, nor did change bother me. This time my interests in my hobbies have stayed intact, in fact, I’ve become very much in love with Star Trek all over again and have started to fall in love with Adventure Time.

Although I have days where I’m low on energy and feeling both lethargic and apathetic and need to give myself a swift kick up the butt to keep doing the usual things I do in a day, I’ve also found on my more hyper days that I’m, well, more hyper and that never happened last time. My meds don’t seem to work as well on those days. Usually the medication makes me less impulsive which is a welcome change, especially when I look back on my history of impulsive purchases, but when I’m in this hyper mood I become impulsive again. On the plus side my concerns about losing my creativity when on these meds seems to be eased when I’m hyper because my mind will go to many fantastic places without even trying to conjure up some type of creative idea. They come to me spontaneously. Then there are times on these meds where I don’t seem to have an imagination at all.

I know I said in my last post how I didn’t think I had bipolar if the meds worked but I think that might have been a bit pre-mature. The good news is the depression and anxiety is controlled when I would be in a normally low mood but in the higher states it seems anxiety is just more manageable but still present, while depression is mild but OCD-like symptoms have become worse. I just know I’ve been washing my hands a lot. I’ve even had to remind myself of the times when I was young and I went many hours without washing my hands after petting the dog, playing outside and eating sweets and I never got sick over it. 

My major test comes in just 8 days where I have to face my fear of going to a place I’m unfamiliar with just to see one of my favourite singers. Sometimes I feel like I can do it but at night when my meds wear off my doubts begin to resurface and linger. I’m trying to tell myself it will be ok. I mean, I’m hardly worried about going overseas compared to how I’m worried over getting to a venue and returning home in one night so close to where I live. I may also have to muster up a lot of courage to approach and talk to this singer for reasons I’d rather not disclose yet just in case a certain someone may happen to be reading this post.

Overall the medication has been good for me. Early in my treatment I felt uncomfortable being around people and was impatient and anti-social around them, but now I’ve gotten used to the meds I can be in the same room with people and talk to them. When I’m in a rush though I do blow them off. I go from being tired to active to tired again many times in the day but it’s just a bit more extreme than what I’m used to. I usually speed my way through tasks and end up using up all my energy in one go so I’m used to taking a lot of breaks and eating a lot of food just to jolt me back into action. Speaking of eating, the medication has increased my appetite which I was able to deal with by changing my eating habits around. I never did return to having a usual appetite after Ritalin left me with appetite suppression. But now my appetite has seemed to become more or less normal – according to the way I see other people eat – so I only needed to add a few more snacks to my shopping list. At first I didn’t care much about putting on weight because I now have a different view on how I see body types – not everyone can or should be thin etc – but I don’t want to have to buy new clothes so I’m trying to stay the same weight.

The way I found out I had increased my appetite was kind of scary. I would wake up in the morning around 7am or earlier and because it’s been really cold out I just rolled over and tried to sleep in for one more hour (and then another and another) but by the time it was 9am my body would be in agony. The pain was so great that I have to currently be in that type of pain to correctly describe it. It was basically the most severe case of hypoglycemia. There was muscle tightness and light headedness, shaking, sweating etc. So, I started leaving a banana on my bedside table at night and eating it as soon as I got up gave me enough strength to go downstairs and get breakfast. During this time I was still eating very little during the day, because I usually don’t eat when I get hungry but at certain times when I usually get blood sugar crashes. I remember once I did wake up in pain because I didn’t eat much at all at night, so that was when I decided that I needed to eat more. And ever since I can wake up in the morning, roll over for just one more hour, and then finally get up even though my body is no longer in pain. Usually. I get up more for my two cats. They have to eat and I’m usually the only one who feeds them.

A downside to being on these meds is that it’s very hard to focus on reading, unless it’s Star Trek related. I’ve managed to read some of my Marvel Fact Files but I just can’t focus on a comic book. I’ve been watching a lot of TV during the day and even getting out of the house to go for walks. I was even reminded that my skin likes to go all bumpy when exposed to too much sunlight. It’s been almost impossible to write and explain myself properly, so being able to write all of this feels like a real miracle has happened. 

The meds do help with keeping my anxiety and depression low during the day and I stopped writing a to-do list. The only list I use now is a shopping list. There’s no harm in using a to-do list to stay more organised but it’s now all in my head. I’m not forgetting to do tasks as much as I used to. My nighttime routine has pretty much stayed as it is but I’m more flexible with it.

The meds don’t seem to be that miracle pill I was looking for but they are helping to make life easier for me. I’m not sure if they will help me become more independent and make it easier for me to manage the stress of being in a working environment, because I think my days on this disability pension are numbered. I’m both looking forward to that day and dreading it. Sometimes I wish my brain wasn’t so different. People say it’s good to be different, and it is, but when it comes with a whole lot of impairments that lead to mental illness, and without it life was tough anyway, and you can’t even get a job or survive on your own or even meet someone for lunch in a restaurant you’ve never been to before, being different suddenly becomes less desirable. If you’ve never had to rehearse a conversation in your head with just a few people you’ve only watched a distance for over a year you probably can’t understand the torture my mind can be under. The ‘what if it never happens,’ or ‘what if I make a fool out of myself’ or even ‘what if they don’t end up liking me’ and other such doubts swirl around my head in between extremely over confident bouts of ‘next time I will definitely say something – I was just tired/anxious/depressed/completely unprepared last time – yeah, it will definitely happen this time, I’ll make sure of it.’

But is what it is and at least there’s still a lot left for me to learn about Star Trek.

I probably shouldn’t go back on stimulants. I’ll just see how I go with being on anti-depressants and fish oil (for focus, motivation and energy) and I hope it doesn’t make me too manic.

One last side effect I’ve been having…well, I hope it’s not a side effect and just a result of the cold; I’ve been waking up every couple of hours after a very short sleep. I usually don’t sleep well but I’ve had a few nights a week when I got at least 6 hours…5 hours. Although my mind seems to be incredibly active when I do wake up so it might have to do with my more hyper mood, whatever may be causing it. It’s at least a fun mood to be in.

Anyway, I may update you all in another 3 weeks when I hopefully know more about what these meds are doing in me and if they begin to manage my symptoms of anxiety and depression better, and if I survive seeing one of my favourite singers in a big old scary venue, that’s only really scary because I haven’t been there for many years. And also I’ll probably be in Portland so I’ll let you all know about my adventures over there too.

How I Experience Hyperactivity Part 2: Hyperfocus and Anxiety

In the previous post I tried my best to describe the mental, physical and emotional responses I experience due to symptoms of hyperactivity. Today I’m going to continue by elaborating on two other symptoms that happen in a very hyperactive brain: hyperfocus and anxiety.

When a person with attention problems finally can focus they don’t just focus normally. For me, I basically latch on to that one thing I can finally focus on. It doesn’t matter what is it or if it’s especially important. Usually, it’s not. Most times it might be an online news article or a message board and I’ll get stuck on reading and replying for far longer than I anticipated. Even after I realise this and that I should maybe go and do something else, like do those tasks I planned to do like cleaning or buying food, I will find it impossible to pull away from that one thing that has captured my focus.

Pulling away from that focus feels like severing a physical link between me and that subject. I have to put a lot of conscious effort to force myself away. Having hypoglycemia kind of helps me do this because I have in the past decided to stay focused when I should eat and then I would crash so hard. For those who aren’t aware symptoms of hypoglycemia come with sudden weakness, muscle aches, vision problems, and what I can only describe as psycho-motor retardation; a slowing down of motor skills, sometimes with a lot of shakiness. There are also behaviour symptoms. When I’m out and about with people or even in the kitchen in a mad dash to stabilise my blood sugar levels and people talk to me, I cannot be polite. There’s zero suppression or regulation of emotions. I will yell at that person until they get out of the way of the fridge, cupboard, toaster, whatever. And if they try to talk to me – I really don’t have the patience to even pretend I care. I sound pretty harsh but I usually just tell people I’m dying, which is a huge exaggeration, but I just feel like my whole body is shutting down.

So, when I’m hyperfocusing and I know I’m going to crash soon I have the decision between experiencing these symptoms or getting up and getting some meal inside me. If I’m a few minutes to an hour late I’ll have a lil crash, but if I went about 3 -5 hours I will continue to feel weak even after eating.

Another problem is that if I spend a long time on one subject then I may drain myself both mentally and physically and often I have to attempt 10 minute breaks. I say attempt because after 2 minutes I want to try and do something else. I crash a lot throughout the day. Some days are better than others and I can break away from tasks sooner than on those days where I’m spending 3-5 hours longer on something.

Lately I’ve been playing an old Captain America game on my Wii and yesterday I was fine to stop after playing two levels but today I wanted to keep going. I probably could have but then I started to get fed up and decided to take a break to write this blog, something I had planned to write. I spent much longer playing Batman: Arkham City and even on Super Mario U even when I wasn’t that great at the latter. The gamepad kept dying after 3 hours too. I would play Batman in the morning, afternoon and at night having breaks only to recharge that stupid controller. Sometimes having more anticipation to play a game is better than just having a game to play with not much getting in the way. The more some outside force keeps me from playing games the more I want to play them.

I played Batman for weeks until I got stuck and decided to get back to it later which I never did. I actually had to make sure I ate a sizable meal before deciding to play, because I didn’t want to get hungry yet not be motivated enough to make a meal and instead just grab some chips. I did that with Skylanders and ended up feeling very ill.

So that’s the bad type of hyperfocus. People with ADHD will have their own definition for hyperfocus and some will say there’s good and bad, I tend to be very strict in my definition. Hyperfocus to me is anything I focus on that I didn’t plan to and can’t just easily break away from. It’s something I enjoy so much I lose track of time on it. I tend to forget about the world around me, all senses for anything other then the thing I’m focused on begin to dull and I might even forget where I am.

Then there’s controlled hyperfocus which are tasks I plan to spend time on. But to me this is regular focus even if I do get distracted about 50 times, have information processing issues (which means I have to read over lines or re-watch certain scenes in a show/movie over again) and have to put a lot  of effort in to stay focused, even if it’s something I like doing. I don’t often get stuck on it and once I’ve spent enough time on this subject that I had planned all along I can stop and move onto something else. Then I might begin to hyperfocus on them, that is, become so absorbed the rest of the world is blocked out and I spend far longer on the task than I planned.

Social Networking sites like Facebook can really suck me into all the wealth of information available. If someone with ADHD doesn’t want to read article over article or comment about 1000 times in 30 minutes then they need to limit the amount of time they spend on Facebook. Most forms of digital communication aggravate ADHD symptoms and even the most committed person who wants to better manage their ADHD can end up jumping from one story to another, play apps and partake in meaningless re-post rituals for hours, and they just threw away a whole day in which they finally wanted to be more organised.

I used to be addicted to playing games on my phone and using the internet on it until one day I just threw it across the room and just decided no more. At times I do go back on, though games are reserved for the iPad which is now barely nothing more than a journal and comic book reader. OK, I admit I have started to play Captain America: The Winter Soldier and it’s really fun. I only use the internet on my phone when I’m in a café or pub and begin to feel anxious.

I’ve dealt with anxiety all my life but I think some of it does come from having a hyperactive brain. I also have seizures which I wouldn’t say are connected to hyperactivity but they certainly influence each other. I can go from extremely hyperactive to suddenly convulsive. It’s usually on days where I have heightened senses which generally make life uncomfortable for me.

Some days when I go out I can have higher social anxiety than usual which turns into paranoia. I basically call it paranoia when I think someone can do harm to me and the usual ‘they’re thinking negative thoughts about me.’

I think some of my anxiety can be blamed on ADHD or rather it was developed out of the symptoms of ADHD. At times of high anxiety I will constantly re-check I have important items on me, like phone, wallet, keys etc. Even when I’ve checked about three times I’ll still get the lingering anxious thoughts from not being completely sure if I just had checked. I think this comes from having a poor short term memory because even though I checked I had something with me just a few seconds before I will still feel like I hadn’t done it yet, unless the memory becomes visual or has some sort of sound associated with it. Then I can forget whether I’ve closed the front door or turned off the stove and this produces extreme feelings of anxiety, and it’s not uncommon for me to have a panic attack.

There are moments when my mind is thinking of far too many things at once and this turns to having more anxious thoughts about possibly everything. There are specific things I’m anxious about like travelling overseas – not of flying but of going to someplace I’ve never been to before – aka. the fear of change. It’s not just about overseas but areas that are close to me that I’ve never been to before. That’s one of my autistic gifts.

I have generalized anxiety which is usually about fears of the future and about financial instability. I have anxiety attacks when I have to unexpectedly pay a lot of money upfront. I’m also not the best at managing my finances because of my impulsivity and inattention. I suppose it’s become more challenging for me since I decided to stop taking ADHD medication.

So, there’s a lot of anxiety that has come out of symptoms with ADHD. I haven’t even got into the social anxiety I feel about either saying too little or too much and my ability to occasionally blurt out something that makes me sound ignorant, selfish and just plain rude.

As bad as anxiety is sometimes it does help keep me organized and helps with decision making. Not when it gets debilitating. When it’s like that it makes all the wrong decisions for me which makes sure I stay locked up in my house and never have any new experiences. But sometimes I get the urge to do certain things even when I’m not planning to do them and it’s like I needed to do them. For example when I take photos of bands I might need to ask them for special access in certain venues. I’ll get these persistent thoughts about them and feel restless and even be unable to do anything else. Sometimes I just feel depressed or highly strung when I just need to go grocery shopping. Then when I complete those tasks I feel better, even a bit more hyper and happier. It also makes me feel safer that it’s there at the severe paranoid level it can get to, which makes it hard for me to seek treatment. My anxiety really is so bad that I think if I didn’t have it I wouldn’t be as safe.

Hell, I’m anxious about getting this post up as fast as possible.

So, there you have it. Two very detailed descriptions on two very common symptoms of hyperactivity. I hope I’ve made some people out there understand what goes on in a hyperactive brain more, whether it be from ADHD, bipolar, or even traumatic brain injury. I also hope that people will keep an open mind when they cross paths with a hyperactive person, most likely a child, and realize that under the hyperactivity (which often looks like it can be fun) are layers and layers of other symptoms that make us restless, physically and emotionally uncomfortable and get in the way of accomplishing the basic everyday tasks most people take for granted.

It is kind of fun though, at times.

It doesn’t really matter if people don’t believe what I’ve written in these two posts, or that they still deny ADHD could be a real disorder. Because I like many others will still experience the symptoms. And I challenge those people to try and think about those with a diagnosis of ADHD who may or may or not take medication for it in a different way; instead of thinking we are making up excuses for being lazy and wanting to get away with being rude and selfish, instead try looking at it like we realise it’s much harder for us to accomplish basic everyday tasks and we really want to, so this diagnosis and treatment is just a way to make us do those things better. And we want to do that without giving up chocolate. Think of it as a coping mechanism which are tools or methods we put in place to help us manage our symptoms. Like people who go for strict restrictive diets we choose a diagnosis and medication to help us to manage our symptoms and learn to understand ourselves better. We don’t need a complete cure because ADHD has shaped our life into what is it, and our personality. For me, it’s better to manage it than get rid of it completely.

And lastly, mind your own damn business.

How I Experience Hyperactivity

This is yet another desperate attempt to get others to understand what it is truly like living with symptoms of ADHD. For some reason I can’t just let go the fact that people will always deny and criticise this disorder that people like me have to live with everyday.

For starters I’m not predominately hyperactive, I’m what is called combined; I have both hyperactive and inattentive symptoms (the sub-type of ADHD that exists with very little hyperactivity and impulsiveness).

I start by feeling awake and alert which is a good sign, it means I might be able to focus with minimal effort.

But then it all gets a bit too much. I read over lines and the words won’t process, or they process but there’s no retention. So I read over lines and it takes a great effort to move on from there. Music is usually helping to stimulate my mind more and to block out any distractions. It’s still not enough.

Frustrated, I throw the book or magazine (these days I can only manage to read magazines and comic books) away and my legs will dance around, not to the music – they are moving way too fast to keep to the beat. I feel restless and have racing thoughts. Sometimes they are anxious but usually they are just random neutral thoughts that pop up suddenly, and one thought branches off into two or more associative thoughts. Soon they layer upon each other and another completely unrelated thought comes up. My thoughts can be heard very loudly as though someone is standing next to me and yelling them out at me from inside an echoey chamber.

I only listen to the thoughts at night when I’m trying to sleep. I don’t normally fall asleep within the hour, or two, or three. They become very vivid and visual at night. Occasionally having so much noise in my head can become physically painful. It’s a merging of emotional pain with physical pain.

During the daytime these thoughts might give me a good idea with how to spend my time but if I can’t focus on anything – I will attempt two or three things – then I’m left alone with my dancing legs, flapping hands and insurmountable amount of energy I can’t channel anywhere. Sometimes I feel like being destructive but I usually only resort to such methods when I’m going through a violent anxiety driven rage. Most of the time I am overjoyed and energetic and just need to keep moving. At times I crave social contact (which is a bit weird given the title of this blog) and will feel very uncomfortable if I can’t fulfill this desire. I can usually take being bored a few minutes but if this lasts any longer and I can’t figure out what to do I could just scream from the frustration at having so much energy and nowhere to put it.

I even cannot focus enough to watch my favourite TV shows or set up my video game console. My senses are so alive that everything around me becomes bright and loud and I just can’t settle myself down to sit comfortably on the couch.

I can be a very happy and socially engaging person during this time though and don’t even need one alcoholic beverage to be able to say a few words to people. Other times I might require one or two.

I’m still not completely certain whether this is ADHD or is more related to the mania in bipolar. I do become manic too but that usually involves non-stop energy and having the ability to do more tasks than I usually do while having a flood of creative ideas, feeling like I’m not doing things fast enough and with the odd grandiose delusions. The whole time I feel like I’m back on stimulant medication too. This type of sped-up feeling in my brain which I don’t experience with normal hyperactivity. Could also be hypomania though. Could be both. How can you really tell the difference?

I eventually do crash and for a few nights now have experienced more depressive thoughts.

The fact remains that this hyperactivity I experience is completely out of my control. It takes away my ability to focus, even on those things I enjoy. I usually slip in some Omega 3 or even a weak stimulant to help me focus. Then I put too much energy into it and I crash pretty soon. I fail to control my impulses especially when it comes to spending and speaking. Occasionally with my own actions too but I usually live by a daily to-do list to keep myself more organised and occupied.

It really becomes difficult to make choices and follow through with them. I often start projects and never get back into them, especially when something else grabs my attention and it doesn’t take nearly as much effort to stick with. Once again I’ve failed to get into the mode to write my science fiction but that’s ok because I’m yet again obsessed with the Marvel Comic Universe and band photography, I guess.

I love to be hyperactive though. I enjoy the extreme happiness and energy that comes with it. My self-confidence seems to be on overload and I get most of my creative ideas this way. Trouble is I can’t focus and process information properly. My memory is more impaired and I’m so active and impulsive that I might end up doing something without thinking it through, often ending up with physical injuries or losing important items or saying something offensive to someone without realising it. Just try and think of the many times in a day you need to focus, remember things, watch what you say to people because of how they would react if you didn’t, avoid distractions and suppress impulses and keep your damn body still. You need to do these things within minutes of getting out of bed and an insurmountable number of times before you go back to bed, in which you must then sleep otherwise you’ll be fatigued, forgetful and find it very hard to focus the next day. If you don’t you’ll delay getting very basic tasks done, offend a whole lot of people or they’ll judge you based on your intelligence which is based on how they view your social competence and general knowledge about the world and even the speed in which you can recall a memory, and most importantly you will not just mess up a few times a day but constantly throughout the day damaging your own self-confidence and risk your relationships with people, your bank account and pretty much everything you need to always be aware about; locking the front door, remembering where your keys are, looking before you cross the road, and if you have little ones to take care of…you’re now taking on double the responsibility and you can’t even remember whether you zipped your fly up. And now you have to constantly re-check you did.

I still love being more hyperactive than most but it’s still so damn hard to control and just get on with those mundane daily tasks, and even the fun ones as well. And not to feel like a complete failure when comparing myself to other people who don’t have to face the constant barrage of symptoms I do on a daily basis. I still have more energy than them.

I did not even get around to talking about how my hyperactivity can make it seem impossible for me to make dinner or how when doing daily household chores I feel such intense resistance to the task the more I try the more uncomfortable it feels.

On Being A Selfish Person

I’m a selfish person. I must be – people tell me I am all the time. “You’re so self-centered,” “you need to think about people more.” My own mother said that. I mean the person who raised me thinks I’m a selfish person. She thinks I have a choice in the matter.

Fact is sometimes I’m not even aware about how much I should think about a person. I try my hardest, often after I realise I’ve upset them or insulted them beyond all forgiveness. I’m an honest person and don’t agree that people should hold things in or lie just so we can all better get along. I try my best to not be rude and if I’m actually aware about what I’m thinking about saying could be misinterpreted I’d rather say nothing at all. I’d rather just ignore the whole damn situation.

Most people respond more emotionally to me. I react with heightened and unregulated moods, but I’m for the most part able to analyze my own emotions, re-direct my thinking and choose my words carefully so I don’t hurt people too much. Or I just ignore the situation.

If people still get hurt by my somewhat Vulcanesque response then it’s their problem. I went to a whole lot of effort to not just vent my frustrations at them and I can do no more. I’d like them to completely detach their emotions using kolinahr and come up with the most logical solution to this little dispute that’s only happening because people are letting their emotions get the better of them.

Another thing is that I can get so absorbed in what we in autistic community call a special interest that we can completely be blind to what is happening in the world outside of it. It becomes our whole world and completely takes over our personality. Not in the same way a personality disorder does. It just changes a few characteristics around, like for example I might be playing my Batman video game for hours a day for a week and my hometown might just start looking like Arkham City. Or all I’m capable talking about are Marvel comic books and will relate almost every subject no matter how disconnected it is to it. I’m not even making this up. My whole voice, dress and mannerisms can mimic that of one of my favourite sci-fi characters without any conscious effort on my part.

Those interests become the center of our world and everything else is in the background or puts up a barrier between us getting to spend time on them. They become less important.

If you think this makes me a selfish person then fine, think that. I’ve worked very hard to build my empathic skills and there are still a few gaps. I do eventually get a basic idea of what someone must have been feeling and I learn from that and I try my best to adjust my responses based on that understanding. That’s also called emotional intelligence.

Theory of mind is when a person has a basic idea of what people will be collectively thinking about. All humans follow a pattern of behaviour and I think learning this pattern made it easier for me to gain a better theory of mind. People without autism or social development issues will have this inherit ability from a young age and be able to pick up on the feelings of others more and more as they grow. I wonder if this is where the whole ‘you know what I mean’ statement comes from. Because I have never understood what a person meant when they said it. However, I could tell they got impatient with me if I said I didn’t so I just said yes. Then when my mother said it to me it was more like, ‘come on, YOU know WHAT I MEANNNN!!’

I apologise to my mother for keep using her in examples but I must tell the truth. The truth was I was a very confused child who never quite understood why people got angry with me, and I was mostly scared into changing my behaviour. I may have been responding to what she said with exaggerated emotions when any other child might have not even blinked at her disapproving tone of voice. Bringing this up may help other parents with autistic children properly respond to them. We can’t just be brought up the same way as non-autistic children and there was hardly any education for this twenty years ago. It’s now known that certain words always make us feel threatened; saying ‘no’ is like a slap in the face. You might have well said ‘no, you little retarded monkey. My God, are you so dense. As if I would have said yes. Now go chain yourself back in the attic, you’re an embarrassment to be called my spawn.”

That might have been a slight exaggeration but I just mean we can feel threatened by fairly innocuous responses. When I say ‘no’ myself I utter it under my breath as though it’s a forbidden cursed word to use. I anticipate a challenge and when someone just accepts it I return my sword to its sheath. I still look on like a guard dog lowly growling to give a warning to not come any closer.

Socialising is an agonising business for me. I can’t usually say much after the greeting and if I do it’s an impulsive jumble of the latest subjects that has excited me. I find it difficult to make eye contact and talk at the same time or even at all. It really depends on my mood. If I’m a lot more hyper than usual I’ll probably make too much eye contact and bounce up and down on my heels, and won’t be capable of zipping my lip. My thoughts are even more randomised and it becomes excruciatingly painful to allow pauses in between talking.

I’m usually fine to just chat to people about my interests, or the news, if I’m actually going out and doing something, or my cats, but when someone says something unexpected which my oppositional brain just pegs as a good opportunity to show that I’m an individual with my own opinions, I might end up in the middle of an argument and the other person either gets exasperated and gives up or launches an offensive of their own in which in this passionate moment I will refuse to back down. Sometimes I will be impossibly to convince, even if my opinion is completely ludicrous. And yes, it has been. Basically, when someone is manic they feel like they are in a higher state of enlightenment and everyone else is just too stupid to get it. They’re just being unreasonable and deliberately disagreeing with you, refusing to open their minds up to greater ideas that challenge our conventional ways of thinking, and the laws of physics sometimes. There’s a whole lot more to it but I won’t go into it, and yes, I do become manic. I possibly have been while writing this post.

I can live with the arguments, even though they throw me off what I was going to talk about because I must be prepared for everything. I don’t do well with change. Yes, even such a small change as someone bringing up a topic or responding in such a way I didn’t expect. How dare they!

The social drama is where I really get stuck. It’s when people are angry enough to stop talking to me or having lasting negative feelings toward me. I might have personally insulted them, at least in their mind or I may have just…pissed them off. The only way I know how to get out of it is to explain the situation rationally. “Oh you thought I…no, that’s not what I meant at all,” or “I was acting that way because…” It doesn’t have the desired effect which befuddles me because I’m putting out factual information, without any feelings involved. I think the correct way to do it is say something like ‘man, you’ve been so good at putting up with me. Wow, you are strong to just ignore me and then be a complete passive aggressive bastard. Yes I was wrong and you were right. I suppose if I want things to work out I should just grovel on hand and knee for your forgiveness and essentially lie and say that none of it was your fault and it was all down to me – you know, the one with a goddamned social communication delay. How could I just miss those cues. I mean, it’s not like I’m autistic, or anything.” Woops.

Some sarcasm may have been used in the above paragraph. Oh my God, I can actually do sarcasm! Does this mean I no longer have the autisms?

Sorry. I’m venting.

I’m basically saying that I don’t agree with many social conventions, especially the one where I have to continually stroke a person’s ego just so they like me. I’d rather just go through friendships in a trial and error way. As a child I had no interest to be social, I was pressured into wanting it because people thought it would make me happy. It’s made me see that people are bullies, not willing to listen to reason, you must always agree with them even if you are smarter and think they can control you. That’s not all from one person. I’ve had good times with friends too. Early in my social development my skills were so poor I didn’t want to be more than a drinking buddy with people. But now I operate from a strict ‘Kiss and Make Up’ policy i.e I want to be able to maturely discuss our disagreements and not just go back to pretending everything is normal between us. I grew up having none of that until I moved out and lived with my sister. We apologised to each other and explained why we got so mad in the first place. Now I won’t take anything less. And if people aren’t willing to talk through our problems then I’ll completely close myself to them by not discussing any personal matters. I’ve been hurt so many times before and I’m just not going to risk getting hurt again.

For now, I’m happy to be the lone wolf. My interests keep me occupied and my strong will helps me be a rational person even when deep down my emotions are screaming out to be heard. The whole ‘willpower’ thing I actually borrowed from The Green Lantern film and is not based on any peer reviewed science studies. It basically helps me deal with my emotional responses.

I like having friends. I like having a good time with them but I think for now I’ll just have what I call a superficial relationship with them. The drinking buddy is back. I don’t really want to know someone enough to discover how much they irritate me because almost everyone does.

I know I’m not being willfully selfish. I have autism which means I have a bit of a wonky theory of mind ability and don’t always empathise when I should, but I’m not incapable of it. I feel guilty when I realise when I should have been thinking about another person more and I keep trying to do better. But in order for friendships to work both people have to do their part to let the other know that they care about them at all. You’d think finding someone with the equal amount of mental health problems would make this an almost symbiotic relationship but as it turns out it’s like arguing with yourself. It’s like that evil voice in your head that tells you you’re no good that you try your best to ignore, but when it’s from another person you just feel like giving into it. You’re right, I am selfish. I’m horrible. I care only for myself. So, why do you even like me?

Is there any point for me to keep trying to make friends when I keep being reminded time and time again that I don’t always care about them? Seems pretty unfair to keep putting myself out there when I can’t reciprocate enough emotional understanding they require to actually feel loved.