Living with Asperger’s Syndrome: A guest blog by Dan G.
Two years ago I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the lighter end of the Autism Spectrum. I’ve been told my case is very mild, but it is very clearly there nonetheless. My friend had told me, years before, that he thought I might have this condition. He sat with me and made me take an online test, as he did with several others. I’m certain he has Asperger’s, maybe worse than I do. My results were pretty neutral because he had input that affected the honesty of my answers. Later, I took the same test by myself, and the results were far stronger.
For those who don’t know, Asperger’s is “characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development.” (Wikipedia) To understand how a person with Autism views the world, there is a truly fantastic 2010 film called Temple Grandin..
Autism is not considered a disease; the simplest explanation is that the brains of those on any level of the Autism Spectrum are simply “wired differently.” Wired. Weird. Heh. For the love of God, the ‘repetitive patterns of behavior’ is obnoxious beyond all measure. I will literally go hours where my mind will repeat nothing but the four line chorus of a crappy song that I can’t stand. Granted, this can be good for comedy or creative research, but it still drives me absolutely nuts on a consistent basis. “What am I thinking?” you ask? Oh, just the logistical fallacies of the Justin Bieber song ‘Baby.’ I’ve never heard the song in its entirety, but there is NOTHING more important for me to be thinking about RIGHT NOW than THIS!“ It causes me to research things, unto ungodly hours on the internet, which results in sleep deprivation. It could be 2 AM and, even though I know I need to be up in 6 hours, I must know EVERYTHING about Doctor Who RIGHT… NOW!!
I’ve always felt out of place around “normal people.” Even back in grammar school, I never understood why my peers would change the way they dress, or act, or speak, in order to fit in with others. Refusing to adapt, naturally, resulted in the relentless bullying I endured for the next decade. It’s no wonder that Autism is nicknamed “Wrong Planet Syndrome.” So often it feels like I was dropped into a world that is so incredibly bizarre to me, while others seem strangely comfortable in it.
Recently, I have realized that my Asperger’s has caused significant anxiety and depression, and the three constantly re-enforce each other. I don’t know how interact with people on a basic level, which gives me anxiety, which saps my energy and makes me depressed, which makes me realize exactly what I need to do to fix my problems, but I’m too exhausted to even try, which makes me fat and apathetic, which makes me know ‘for a fact’ that I will screw up any social situation I enter into, which scares me and makes me even less prepared to interact socially, and so I don’t even try to engage in said social interaction, which makes me feel hopeless and alone, which gives me anxiety… and so on.
My condition became far more apparent when I transitioned from cooking into an office environment, to the point that I decided to seek diagnosis and counseling. As a result, I was officially diagnosed by both my psychologist and several psychiatrists. The little rules that everyone, except for me, seems to inherently understand made no sense at all. People would ask “How are you?” But, if you actually told them how you were feeling, they would freak out. I realized that asking “How are you?” was, essentially, a way of just saying “Hello” a second time, and therefore was redundant and unnecessary and stupid. I would walk over to someone’s cubicle with a business related question, only to find that they were chatting with someone else about their personal lives. What do I do? Do I stand there and wait awkwardly until they’re done? Do I wait for a pause in the conversation and interrupt? Do I stand there for a minute awkwardly, and then walk away and come back later? Do I go back to my desk and send them an e-mail? But doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of us all being in the same office? All of them seemed like wrong answers, but I usually went with #2, which always felt like the worst answer; not only was I being awkward, but I was interrupting now.
This became far more confusing when I started doing stand-up comedy almost 3 years ago. Reflectively, situations like the “How are you?” scenario above seemed hilarious. People, by sociological custom, are obliged to ask how you are, but they don’t actually want to know how you are. I found things like this hilarious in retrospect. Yet these ‘jokes’ were usually met with silence from the audience. I feel like a decent joke writer, but I’m not sure why people don’t laugh. Again, there’s a disconnect that I don’t understand and it’s frustrating. When I try to tell jokes that require even the simplest level of thinking, the crowd looks at me like I have a third eye. Things that I personally found ridiculous about the assumptions of day to day life are met with blank stares. But maybe that’s just part of being a new comic.
Well, crap… maybe I really was born on the wrong planet…