Archive for the ‘Social life’ Category

I have censored myself and have set out to deceive others in my speech, my writing, and in my actions countless times daily for the last twenty years or so. I have done so for good reasons, or for reasons at least, which seemed to me to be good, which is, I am almost certain, as good as any of us can ever really say. Though these reasons might have been primarily self-interested, there are forms of self-interest, which, motivated by the desire to prevent significant harms to our own selves, may, I think, be understood as being related to the moral imperative Kant and others proposed which prevents an individual committing suicide, and thereby denying the wider community the contributions they might otherwise have made. If there may be such a thing as an individual who does not exist or depend upon the wider community in order to either A> facilitate the contributions they are able to make to others or B> to sustain their own well-being in order to do so, then it is likely to be one who had previously depended upon such goods as only such a community may deliver, and such individuals are likely to be as rare as, to use my father’s phrase, hen’s teeth, meaning they may justly be overlooked. To follow the above confession, then, the apologia: where I have censored myself and deceived others, I have in part done so in order to protect myself, perhaps, but have tried, with what social capital I believed myself to have gained (better understood here as the social capital I would have received by default, and which I stood to lose by behaving otherwise), to help others as best I could.

How? Why? What kinds of cowardice and deceptions am I trying to now obfuscate by these abstract yet meticulous lines?

Firstly, it is an exaggeration, but not by much, to say that the introductory paragraph above could only have been written by somebody with Asperger’s syndrome. Whether it may be considered to achieve its aim or not, the punctiliously logical style of writing, with its many clarifying clauses, is characteristic of the manner of thinking, of writing, even, in exceptional cases, of talking, of this one of the two conditions I have tried to hide from the world by passing as somebody I am not. I can write in a different way, and most often do. In fact, the writing I most dedicate my time to bears no relation to the above and I would bin it if it did. Still, it is one of my most prominent dispositions, was perhaps once something like a default, and it is one not shared by most of the people I meet; a disposition which, in many of its manifestations, is different enough from those of more commonly distributed styles of thought to prompt extreme and negative judgements in people. Whether or not thinking in ways different to the above takes effort on my part, trying to play it down or cover up the fact it ever exists, takes work, and must, I think, exert a psychological toll every day of my life.

Of course, as far as this first condition goes, manners of thought and expression are not the whole picture. The social elements of asperger’s syndrome are the best known (though it strikes me here that I ought to say the most widely appreciated, since I am far from sure they are well known), and are likely to be for most of us, the most significant.

It’s difficult for me now to pick this apart from other influences, and I suspect that is not merely a matter of my own experience. It is true that I was often alone as a child, and it is true that I have most often been alone since. I certainly spend much of my free time on my own now. Indeed, my phone rarely rings, I receive few texts, and I rarely pick up the phone myself either to answer a call when one does come in, or to make one myself.

The statement that is often made about people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum conditions (ASC), however, is that we do not feel the need to socialise, and that is not a claim that can be easily substantiated by observation. Firstly, even to make the claim that we aspies lack the drive to socialise that allistic / neurotypical people invariably have is not to compare like with like if a> what is meant by this is that aspies don’t like to socialise with allistic / neurotypical people and b> the social drive being held to be normal or indeed normative, is that of allistic / neurotypical people seeking the company of allistic / neurotypical people ie. those who, broadly speaking, have the same dispositions and manner of processing sensorial and social data.

To my mind, what those who make the above case that autistics lack a social drive ought to seek to prove is that they do not seek, with a consistency that matches their non-autistic peers, relations with others, with relations being defined more inclusively than is often the case, to exclude the possibility that they are encoding assumptions about what relationships should look like from allistic experience. They should be careful to ensure both that they do not mistake failure to make or maintain social relationships with the lack of a desire to have them, and that they do not confuse fear or anxiety to approach others with the lack of a desire to do so.

Around one per cent of people have autism. Most class sizes are a good deal smaller than one hundred. Confining ourselves then for the sake of argument to those character-defining relationships formed in school, it is reasonable to assume that most non-autistics can easily find, and choose between, those of their peers who are most like them in terms of their neurological makeup. Contrariwise it is fair to assume, I think, that although in many schools, autistics might find each other and pair up to socialise, perhaps making friends in different year groups, this is likely to demand more interactions (most of which will be of a discouraging type), and, perhaps, more difficult interactions, in order to achieve.

Writing this now in short stints, my head full of the shifting shapes, and weights, of anger and disappointment, self-hatred, bitterness and misanthropy that has taken hold; the day dragging on with nothing giving me pleasure, and with tomorrow’s day at work appearing to me now to be full of unforgiving encounters, and with every person I bring to mind being one of a number of kinds of rebuke, I am starting to think that even this piece, intended to bring it all out into the open, is a species of evasion. This writing style is not here because it is characteristic of autistic thinking or writing. It is here because it is opaque, it obscures the subjective with dry sociological generalities.

How about this? I was in the supermarket today. I was depressed. I had woken up early, a result of my new medication regime, tackled my novel for a while (a section where my character faces down a number of demons, transpositions of those of my own; a section which features suicidal ideation and the hostility of the social world), had breakfast (which is never easy, food being a big issue for me as I may go on to explain), and then headed to Tesco to buy a few more groceries to help to tackle some of lesser, but still substantial difficulties of the day, and of the week ahead. Having changed from listening to an In Our Time podcast on Mrs Dalloway to John Le Carre’s Smiley’s People, which I have been listening to unsuccessfully and intermittently for months, constantly hopping back to pick up the strands, I do my usual walk around the isles and my phone rings. “Home”. Now this is always a dilemma. One that is invariably resolved by the following questions: “how many times have I hung up on them now?”, “if I take this now will I have reason to extricate myself in a matter of minutes?” and “if I take this now, will it save me having to take a call at a more inconvenient moment later?”

I removed Skype from my computer on a security drive some months ago and didn’t convince anybody to try Jitsi. I hadn’t often used Skype in any case. I would talk every few months with one friend in Germany and feel awkward at times – often – because with Skype it’s tougher to stand side on to somebody. You have to look them in the eyes. I can do that one to one. Not as regularly or as steadily as some people do, perhaps; I find it difficult enough at times that I suspect I don’t do it ‘right’, but I can do it. On Skype it feels different, uncomfortable, even with people I care about, like this particular friend: perhaps the one person I have tended to open up to over the last two, three years. Most of the time I would cry slow connection and have a voice-only call. And it was true most of the time. We would often start on video and have to give up. And I don’t want to give the impression this is in some way better for me than meeting up in person. It isn’t. We meet up so seldom that I have often, perhaps invariably, fallen into a depression after meeting up, knowing that it would likely be months before we could do so again. (As I mention above, we must not mistake the inability to make and maintain friendships and other forms of relationship with the unwillingness to seek them, or the desire to have them, and the few close friendships and relationships I have managed to make and keep up often differ in most instances from those of others, largely in their intensity, as if I could be compared to a sub-atomic particle with such esoteric type and spin, that successful interactions, though rare, are proportionately the more vigorous.)

These are examples, then, of my closing down, of shutting people out, of making it harder for them to get in touch, or allowing them to do so only upon my terms (though, once again, the friend I mention is an exception).

There are the other times I reach out, and do so perhaps clumsily. Ineffectually at any rate. It may be that I Spend months abruptly declining every social invite, locking myself away from all social interaction until either a major project (we’ll come on to the projects), goes bust, or the lack of society drives me near insane with loneliness and the unexpressed, and that I then suddenly from nowhere talking about going to gigs, getting involved in sport, even going to watch live sporting events. It may be that I simply go about it, whatever it is, wrongly. That is, that, though it might be so difficult to outline what one does do when one asks others to join you in some kind of social event that the idea of putting together a guide to doing so would strike many as absurd, it is easier to spot when somebody get’s it wrong; it is easy enough for me much of the time, to see when somebody else gets it’s wrong. There are the other times I get it wrong, erring on the side of over-enthusiasm. Often, this might be traced back to being so desperately in need of a friend, or something more than a friend, and deciding, for what might be little more than arbitrary reasons, that somebody has proven themselves to be trustworthy or uncommonly empathetic. Perhaps (I am never, in those mortifying days and weeks of postmortem after such an event, sure how far this might be true), one of my dispositions is to work on a mental model of emotional reciprocity until such a time as I remember to stop and question my assumptions about a given relationship – something I can only do when I am in a ‘mode’ of relating to my environment, that throws up a firewall between myself and people I will later, inevitably, decide is a barrier that must be brought down.

Of course, such approaches are only part of the picture. I could get them right, but if people have long before observed that I am strange, that, perhaps, I am desperately sad or lonely, in need of company or caught up in my own thoughts more than is typical even for those who are on the introverted side of a standard range, they may decline a properly phrased invitation, or shy away from my company.

Who wants to be the person somebody who is having a really hard time (let’s say somebody at work or some other such random group of people) invariably turns to to lean upon. Who wants to have to constantly come up with excuses and turn down persistent requests.

But, now that I have shifted into the first person to explore this topic, which is being written over a period of weeks in short stints facing down my own demons in a manner which can only engender very real feelings of depression, I am forced to confront the fact that it is not, in me, a mere matter of asperger’s syndrome, though the patterns typical for that condition are most certainly present. No, a number of psychological reactions are at work, each with their own patterns and periodicities. The fact that I have such difficulty trusting people is not a direct result of autism, but a reaction to the experiences I have had in my life; difficulties with dealing with others which, at times, perhaps reached a pitch where the term trauma could be used without hyperbole. Then the social facilities I have picked up over the years of trying to work out people and how to work with them; facilities which mean that many people – chiefly those who know me in certain limited contexts – are incredulous when the term autism is used.

Since I have also restricted myself to discussion of autism for now, I also will not try here to cover the social difficulties associated with those other conditions I hope to go on to discuss. Suffice it to say, though, that, for five years at least, I have spent most of my time on my own. I am, to cap it all, a recluse, a celibate; socially, a miserable failure.

* * *

I have not, I can see, got the size of the social side of things at all well. Nonetheless, I have go it out, and, given that the aim of this post is principally to make a confession, it is better to post than hold out any longer.

I have said that I have been writing this post in short sprints. That is my working practice more often than I would like to acknowledge even here, and, quite aside from the depression adumbrated here above, I hope in later posts to explain why this might be. I plan two or three more such posts on this subject.

For now, it has been a long, lonely weekend, and I need this off my in-tray to clear an hour or two’s buffer of what I hope (though also doubt) could be a state of relative peace of mind before I go back to work tomorrow.

If any of this means anything to you, or to anyone you know, please let me know.

I’m going to try and write a quick, more sober, look at things today, avoiding some of the histrionics that come out of me the times I am drawn to purge myself of some of the bile, bitterness, resentments, frustrations, anger and self-hatred that come up from time to time negotiating life as an intelligent, creative, high functioning autistic.

I have been back from Prague for almost a month now. It has gone quickly. In that time I have adjusted not at all to being back. I have settled not at all. I have thrown myself into one thing and another, trying to build a kind of structure around me. I have, to this end, written a lot of pieces for a rather quixotic application for a position on a respected left wing political journal. I have read a fair amount of Czech, trying to improve my level. I have met up with a girl around here who wants to work on some songs, me playing guitar, she singing.

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