Food, ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome – part 1

Posted: May 13, 2014 in ADD, Asperger's syndrome
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The last few days have been as bad as any I have known for a very long time. I rang in sick today. In fact, I rang in sick and then, failing to get through, I wrote an e-mail. I expect to hear about that, be dressed down for it and/or sacked. I imagine I will be told that it is unprofessional. Maybe they will have read something that I have posted to social media. Perhaps they will simply have had enough of my recalcitrance, my periodic recriminatory e-mails, my being so stubborn when everybody else knows to be so pliable. But then none of this is anything new. I often expect to be sacked. I have changed jobs more than most and though I have walked out of places, I have not yet been sacked or indeed disciplined as far as I can recall. It is just that I have never not been a square peg in a round hole. I have never found it easy to simply knuckle down and do what I am told if I don’t believe in what I am supposed to be doing.

I have mentioned before that I have AD(H)D. I have mentioned before that I have asperger’s syndrome. Usually such posts last out there a couple of days, if that, attract a couple of more or less accidental visitors before I take them down. I have 400 followers on Twitter but I have perhaps twice tweeted a link to a blog post. What I have written here has most often been a kind of solipsistic venting. Posts, that is, have usually taken the form of the kind of off-loading I would prefer to happen face to face, in a pub or, better, a cafe; during a run; even those that pour out of you somewhere, when you close a car door and get moving, step out on a hike, walk out into the smoking area: the kind of chat you have with somebody you trust. Probably, they are the kind of chats you don’t even need when you have somebody around you can have them with. Blogs, for me, have occasionally, when they mean anything at all, taken the place of friends and acquaintances who get what I am about, a distributed network of potential sympathisers, confidantes. As I write, it doesn’t matter if they are there. I would almost prefer nobody to hear what I am saying; it matters that they might hear, they might get it, they might have been waiting for somebody, finally, to say the same thing.

I have closed up over the years, got my guard up high, began to throw in a tapper jab in now and again when I am not sure whether somebody is thinking about getting on my case. I would say I learned to ‘trust, but verify’, but I put up the threshold for verification so high nobody can pass it without getting close enough to show me their true selves, and I don’t let them do that if I don’t trust them.

The conditions named above lead can lead to reclusive dispositions in and of themselves. The degree to which the natural disposition of those with Asperger’s syndrome is anti-social is contestable – Tony Attwood is balanced, it seems to me, in alluding to both the difficulty neurotypicals experience in empathising with their Aspergic peers and also the propensity Aspies indeed have for certain kinds of socialising, mixing well with others like themselves, and those who are essentially more logical and scientifically-minded than most but who do not possess the requisite core traits of asperger’s, or demonstrate those more peripheral traits in sufficient quantity to justify diagnosis. Nonetheless, if the disproportionate incidence of children with Asperger’s in Silicon valley and its equivalents suggests that there is indeed some kind of sociologically significant aspergic socialising going on somewhere, it remains the case that there are a significant minority of Aspergics, both diagnosed and otherwise, whose one truly mastered facial expression is “fuck all y’all” and who don’t willingly speak to anybody without a gaming headset on and a virtual firearm. AD(H)D is the opposite case: it is frequently assumed that those with ADD/ADHD are very sociable, perhaps too sociable. Indeed, often they may be. If those with ADHD are able to slot into a dependable social circle – a sports team, perhaps, or a team associated with a relatively ADHD-friendly job – it may be throwing themselves into the social world that they need over and over to provide the stimulation they need. But here is one of those  examples where a given condition may lead to two or more experiencial and behavioural manifestations that are not merely discrete, but in fact perfect opposites. People with this condition may find themselves at one or the other side of a notional normal distribution graph of sociability and struggle to scale it.

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.:

ADD can interfere with one’s interpersonal life just as dramatically as it does with one’s academic or job performance. To make friends, you have to be able to pay attention. To get along in a group, you have to be able to follow what is being said in the group. Social cues are often subtle: the narrowing of the eyes, the raising of eyebrows, a slight change in tone of voice, a tilting of the head… a lapse in social awareness due to the distractibiliy or impulsivity of ADD can preclude acceptance by a group or deny understanding from a friend.

All true (though I am not certain the degree to which the social cues examples used above can be objectively ascribed to ADD qua ADD). And indeed it goes deeper. People with ADHD struggle to maintain meaningful loving relationships almost as much as those with asperger’s. Additionally, too, the fact that they are underemployed, that they may move around a lot, lose jobs and be out of work for long stretches, may mean that they are socially excluded. And whether or not we accept that those with asperger’s need less in the way of social contact than neurotypicals, we can agree that, whatever the deficits in social function experienced by those with ADD, they don’t desire social contact any less than others. This leads to their experiencing hugely disproportionate rates of depression.

For me, I suspect the principle cause is different from those adumbrated above, though I can’t be sure that the symptoms of ADD and Asperger’s, or indeed the aetiology of the disorders themselves can be meaningfully unravelled and independently examined in this way. I sometimes thing that they, and other neurodevelopmental disorders which appear to be linked in terms of predispositions which appear to be genetic, may be discrete manifestations of a self-similar underlying cause, perhaps a metabolic anomaly. Whatever the truth of this, the main problem I experience as limiting my scope for social life is not my unarguable inability to work out what you people are thinking or my once-regular incapacity to pay mind to whatever it is you are banging on about, nor even the iron law that seems, wherever I go, to guarantee that all but the peaks of the conversation of 19/20ths of those I meet don’t so much as tickle the underside of my vertiginous boredom threshold.

It is that I have to do so much to keep my symptoms down to near-manageable levels. This here now is the paragraph where I will stall, where I will fail to complete this post. This is precisely where it will grind me down. Where merely thinking about taking on all of the misconceptions, the sneers, the ignorant dismissals wears down what energy and focus I have until I am sent on some reactive escapade, needing to leave the flat, get out and distract myself from all of it.

And so here I am several hours later. I have done a little debugging and, fingers crossed, it has worked. We’ll get on to that. In the interim, though, I have mentioned food before as a major problem of mine before now. I have worried, indeed, that it would see me leave Prague. Perhaps it still will. It was a contributory factor in a simply awful week spent out in the hills here back at the end of the winter and there is not a day it does not hugely complicate.

I was thought an idiot in the conveyor car wash I worked at when I was 17, 18. I hadn’t often been considered an idiot at school and I am rarely considered an idiot now. There was no good reason to have been considered an idiot back then either. I was reading the broadsheets in that office, worked my way through the culture section of the Observer, took in books to read from the library and, when I was worried about the petrol fumes, read up on PM10s in my brother’s cast off copies of the New Scientist. Still and all, the manager was a class A prick and for all that was going on inside my head, none of it was being expressed.

“You’ve got the constitution of an ox,” he used to say. I used to stuff myself with sweets, Ginsters pasties (MMMM, Ginsters Pasties!) and flapjacks. For years I lived for sweets. Sugar was a compulsion. Had been for years. On a trip to Spain when I was six or seven years old, I would empty the packets of sugar from the tea into my mouth. In my first years of secondary school, I would hide midnight snacks in my room and wait up till midnight to listen to Ian Perry’s Midnight Line.

It was at university I got looking into it the more. Cooking may initially have been a procrastination exercise. I used to cook for the whole house, regularly. I would pick up cookery books and experiment with different styles of cooking. I got pretty good at Chinese, did a few nice Italian dishes, some traditional British stuff. Ended up paying for most of it as I recall. Later though, when I was doing a lot of reading into my problems – which were as obvious then as they have ever been – I got into nutrition in a big way.

The first book, spotted on a shelf of the Student Support Centre woman who worked there part time while doing some postgrad research on Byron, was Potatoes Not Prozac. I’ll not give a link. It was pseudo scientific and not the place I would recommend somebody to start. Start me it did, though, and since even a stopped clock is right twice a day, it gave me a couple of decent leads despite its flaws.

At first, I switched to brown bread and cut out the highly refined carbohydrates. Since I used to eat a lot of chocolate and likely had some nutrition-free cereals for breakfast, this was a big change in itself.

Other changes came piecemeal, and always with a fight and multiple backslides that have continued ever since. Nor can I remember now exactly what had the most effect. I got my degree, but came out the other side of it as chaotic as I went in with a mental microclimate that threw around ideas, priorities, impulses and interests like Wizard of Oz Tornado threw around houses and farm animals. I kept on creeping forward with it, but since learning what worked and what doesn’t was a slow process and since I have always said that if I had the organisational capacity to follow the diet, I wouldn’t need it, it was a constant battle marked by retreats and significant defeats as well as progress.

 

I’ll go into it a little more. There is a lot to it. And I have not yet touched on what has made me ill this time around. But it has been a battle getting this down, and I’ve done enough fighting with my head these past few days, so I will break this into sections.

 

 

 

 

 

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