I don't usually make a big deal about being on the autism spectrum, but it's been a problem lately and I just need to vent.
I had a first date recently, where, after 10 minutes of chit-chat, I said, "I can't do this. People on dates pretend they're better than they are and try to figure out what flaws the other person's hiding. I have plenty of flaws, but I'm honest; tell me what flaws you're looking for and I'll tell you whether or not I have them. Then maybe I can relax and can enjoy spending time with you, which is really what I wanted to do in the first place." This was a bad idea. I knew it was a bad idea and I did it anyway. Some might think, "How refreshing! I wish someone had said that to me when I was dating," but you would've reacted badly to it if it happened. That's why people don't do that. It's clean, logical, efficient... and apparently unforgivably wrongheaded. The profoundly autistic don't date and the mildly autistic learn the accepted rules of behavior and abide by them (Pretend you're really interested in what she's saying. Ask a lot of questions, but nothing personal, etc.), though they think it's absurd. I'm in the middle range and it's frustrating. In almost 30 years of dating, about the only things I've learned are: 1) If someone takes a breath mint and offers you one, take it. 2) Apparently, it's never too hot for patio seating. 3) People laugh when they're nervous; don't assume you're actually amusing.
Autism can be very lonely. I can spend 23 hours a day by myself and be perfectly content, but eventually I want to be around other people and have trouble figuring out how to do that. It never occurs to me that I have to actually make an effort to contact people on a regular basis or relationships dry up. Meeting people is hard: I have trouble making eye contact, I don't like crowds (or noise, or being touched, or any other sensory overload that others can ignore), I have trouble starting and ending conversations. That's pretty limiting.
Autism can be very confusing. I don't notice a lot of things that others think important, but notice a world of details that I try to connect into some semblance of order and it gives me a skewed view of the world. Two examples come to mind. 1) I had a job where one day my boss told me he needed a large number of strips of aluminum of a certain size and gave me an example by cutting one with a razor blade. He called me twice, exasperated that I was so slow in getting him what he needed, but my hands had cramped with the work and were covered with hundreds of razor nicks (I had used up an entire box of blades and was forced to cut with dull ones). It never occurred to me that I was doing this on top of a machine designed to cut aluminum into strips. 2) I had a first date with a woman where we twice went for walks because her roommates wouldn't let her smoke indoors. She did something very peculiar. She kept running a few steps ahead of me and then stood on a curb or a park bench and waited for me to arrive. Only when I kissed her good night and she stepped on top of something so we'd be at a less awkward angle - she was very short - did I realize she had spent the night wondering why I didn't kiss her when she'd given me every opportunity. There was body language involved that I just couldn't read. [We dated for two years after that. It didn't get much easier.]
Autism can be very frustrating. A job interview, for example. My skin crawls when I'm offered a hand to shake, but I do it and the other person gives a facial expression that I've learned means "Good God! Don't crush my fingers." I try to look in their eyes, but it's hard, so I look away and they think, "He's being evasive. He's kind of shifty." They ask a question and it's open-ended, there's a hundred ways to answer it, so I think about how to best answer and I realize I'm taking too long, that it looks like I don't know or I'm trying to think of a good lie, I really should say something, anything, but all I can think about is the fact that I'm not saying anything and I should, I start to panic... and then say something that makes sense to me, but without the context of the interior monologue makes no sense at all.
The severely autistic don't speak at all and people wonder what's going on inside them. I have what I call "autistic moments," where I get a sort of vacant stare and I know I've stopped moving and it's not normal, but it's comfortable; I'm aware of what's going on, but I'm disconnected from the things around me. I expect catatonia must be like that.
I have two contrasting problems that each compensate for the other. I have an impossibly short attention span and I have a tendency to obsess. I focus on one thing, very hard, for a very long time, then my mind wanders and focuses on something else, very intently. It's like ADD and OCD combined. I think it's common in autism and one of the reasons the autistic develop "splinter skills," like the famous savants that are excellent at one particular activity, to the exclusion of all else. If you can master one thing, control it, understand it completely, it sort of makes up for the surrounding chaos and you think that perhaps the skills used to conquer that one thing will apply to everything else. [They never do.]
Depression is very common in autism and part of it is undoubtedly from the frustration of not being able to do things others take for granted. I used to sit in restaurants and bars and watch people, to see if I could figure out how they behave. I watched a lot of television, to see how certain characters handle various situations. The same with novels; it's a vicarious life.
Okay, I'm starting to feel my mind wander to something else, so it's time to stop writing.
Aid Station: Eugene Curnow
3 days ago