Here's another instalment in Dave's explanation of what it's like to have Asperger syndrome
Still more Aspergery tendrils ….
Somewhere I wrote that I did not have Aspergers, but rather Aspergers had me. That’s about it, really. It shapes most of what I do, and makes me who I am. And after all these years, that’s fine. It’s almost fun. Almost.
The more the brain cells tumbled this idea over, the more stuff emerged that I hadn’t really thought much about. Not doing social is obvious. And there is no denying that my brain is constantly analysing the daftest things to try to understand them. Maybe this is why I watch Donald Trump to try to understand his latest hypnotic enormity.
Then there are the sotto voce small obsessions that shape my life: eating, cycling, struggles with time-zones and anti-social hours, not travelling, dress codes and uniforms, avoiding queues …
At home as a kid, the constant stream of customers in the shop meant that family meals were rare. Instead we grazed, like disconsolate wildebeest, taking food whenever we fancied, and usually alone, while the rest of the herd were busy doing other stuff. Eating was definitely an individual event rather than a team sport. We saw eating as refuelling, and took the same pleasure in it as you get at a petrol station pumping diesel. Eating was purely functional. There weren’t enough people free at the same time to give it a social charge.
We didn’t really have highly-developed gastronomic finesse. Or even a gastronomic vocabulary. On Sunday we had meat. Meat ? Yes, meat. Not a particular kind of meat. Just meat. It was a bit like eating only in primary colours. We did not do shades. Or flavours.
Vegetarian for 45 years now I have the ‘phases of eating’ that are typical of autism spectrum living. I have a limited range of foods which I eat – as many as ten. I eat them for a period of time, and then suddenly move on. It could be four months of scrambled eggs suddenly morphing into toasted sandwiches which segue into banana smoothies.
And always unfeasible volumes of yogurt. Plain yogurt. Buckets of it. Yum. The yogurt phase has lasted about 45 years so far and shows no sign of going away. Sounds boring ? Well, not really. If you like something a lot, why eat anything else ? Yogurt has been the inexplicable constant, and no meal – that’s right, no meal – is complete without it. Did I mention that I like food to be cold, and white ? I also like white dishes, plates, mugs. No patterns, which drive me crazy. Bizarre or what ?
|Christmas yogurt stored outside because there was no room in the fridge|
There are intense ‘special interests.’ I started cycling at university. Not for fun, but to get limited-loan books back to the library late at night. I did a regular run for the women in Sue’s hall on a borrowed bike. Later, with my own bike, I set myself the life-time target of cycling to the moon (say, 250, 000 miles). Why ? Who knows ? But I landed a couple of years ago, and am now on the way back. At nearly 70 it’s unlikely that I will get much out of lunar orbit. Oh, and I have always tried to do a balance of clockwise and anti-clockwise rides on my usual circuit. I used to get really jumpy if the balance was uneven, but I have mellowed with age.
Did I mention that I have supersonic hearing ? I can tell when snow is falling outside by the change in sound. It’s not really a very useful thing, but it means that I don’t really like loud noises in the same way that my cat doesn’t. ASD people very often have some sensory problems. Visiting a school, I came across a ‘naughty’ boy who spent a lot of time under the tables. It did not take long to discover that he was hiding from the bright classroom lights. When he had a dimmer environment, he began to thrive.
I have difficulty with authority of all kinds. After leaving university I had 11 jobs, nine of which I quit with no job to go to. Self-employment was the answer, but I could no longer resign in a fit of pique. Uniforms of all kinds get my goat. I can make a logical case for hating school uniform and business suits, but it’s all guff. It is something much more visceral: I hate being told what to do. Dress codes are no exception. I did once have a suit for an interview. It’s still here, I think. I am with Thoreau who warned that we should beware of any occupation that required a new suit of clothes.
I have no dress sense whatsoever, and wear a rag-tag collection of mostly second-hand clothes. I like clothes that shrug off stains and have lots of pockets. I am a sartorial disaster area.
From tie-zones to time-zones.
Since giving up work, I also gave up watches and do not own one. This makes things so much easier, though faintly feral. I get up when I wake, usually around 0400, and go to bed routinely by 2100. Between those hours I graze through the day and go cycling at the hottest point the day offers. I am ridiculously punctual and am habitually early, timing journeys carefully to allow plenty of time for delays.
Changing the clocks takes me at least a week to get used to. Sometimes I change them early to give myself a chance, and we have the bi-annual argument about leaving the clocks as they are and just ignoring the change. I always lose, but keep asking myself what time it is REALLY for at least a fortnight after the change.
When Sue goes to the States I can never figure out which day she is on. Is it tomorrow there ? Or yesterday ? And what time ? Or even next week ? Who knows ? Not me, for sure. Maths always feels like comfortable territory, but time is the exception. Somehow I just cannot get the hang of time-zones.
So when Sue goes to the States, why don’t I go as well ? Easy. Travel is a definite no-no. My passport just expired after 10 years of non-use except as proof of identity for suspicious officialdom. Geography is a mystery to me. I have never been greedy for new places, or suffer any pang of visual acquisitiveness. The real trouble here is that there is no need of a holiday from where I live. It’s a holiday from being me that I need. In the future maybe we will be able to hire a body and brain to inhabit for a fortnight, just like a holiday cottage now. That will suit me fine, leaving myself in store while I gallivant away with a brain that works slightly less eccentrically.
As it is, travelling is unsettling, and stress levels rise in proportion to the distance from home. Clinging to the wreckage is what I do well, and travel loosens my grip. Apart from that, if you go away, you don’t want to go to a place worse than home, and if you find somewhere better than home you will come back feeling dissatisfied. You might even want to live there. So when we holiday on barges – the ideal resort for ASD people as you take your temporary home with you – I always come back yearning to buy a barge and go and live on it. Always.
And of course, the dollar note is that I tend to go on and
on and on about pet subjects, just like I am doing right now. After decades I
can just about judge the moment when Sue glazes over at the latest exciting
development in astro-physics, and of course the enticing numbers that come with
it. But it beats me how people can not be excited by the stuff that is so INHERENTLY
exciting that it is like a constant intellectual firework exploding in the
darknesses of the brain. Romans, Latin poetry (especially Catullus and
Martial), the history of scarf joints, crokinole, table tennis, cosmology,
astro-physics. All overwhelmingly absorbing and impossibly throbbing with
excitement, right ?
Or maybe not.
If you think it’s tough dealing with someone who has ASD, try being one of us ! Oh dear.
If you missed his earlier instalment, it's here.