Monday, November 10, 2008

Over & Over Again

For the past month or so, I've been volunteering my services with the United Church of Raymond. Their congregation seems to be the most progressive in this area and I thought it would be good for me to get out of the house once in awhile. They hold monthly suppers and lunches for people in the community and, in my opinion, that's a really neat thing in these days of economic uncertainty.

The task I have volunteered to do is dish washing. It's a way for me to provide a needed service without having to deal with the crowds of people in the dining hall -- something I absolutely loath due to my social awkwardness and fear of social settings.

This certainly isn't the first time I've volunteered to handle dish washing duties. A group that I was involved with in Salem, OR held numerous slow food suppers over a 2 - 3 year period. Though I was usually the lead organizer for these events, I tried earnestly to recruit others to be the greeters and/or the Master of Ceremonies, so I could hide out in the kitchen with the dishes.

I also volunteered for dish washing duties with several other groups as well. In fact, I can remember at least two occasions when I was merely a reluctant attendee at a dinner and folks would eventually find me back in the kitchen washing dishes. It's a great place to get away from the hordes!

But something dawned on me this week as I washed the dishes for over 200 attendees at the United Church's Harvest Dinner. While the rationale that dish washing does allow me the opportunity to avoid crowds is certainly true, I think there's an even more important explanation for it. It's a repetitive job and I seem to flock to tasks that involve repetition.

One of the hallmark aspects of Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is absolutely detesting change. Sameness, not spontaneity, is the ultimate goal. The AS individual likes routines and doing things the same way over and over again. This symptom defines my life.

As I look back over the past 15 years or so, most of the jobs I've been paid to do or have volunteered to do are what most people would consider drab and monotonous because they involve mindless repetition. I've served as treasurer for numerous groups and accounting is a repetitious activity. I've also served as the database manager for almost every group I've been involved with and this again involves entering the same kind of information over and over again.

More importantly, while many people perform these services simply because they NEED to be done, I actually enjoy these sorts of tasks. While most other people I know do these sorts of things as quickly as possible, so they can move on to the more interesting aspects of organizational development, I find doing these repetitive tasks interesting!

One of the reasons I like working with numbers is that they are musical and poetic for me. I know this is going to sound strange to most of you, but numbers sing to me. Repeating numbers over and over again in my head is akin to reading poetry. There is something about them that provides a calming influence on me.

Beyond these types of activities, repetition and sameness are a big part of my life. I lead a very routinized existence and I'm easily freaked out if my routines are disturbed. In other words, I don't deal well with change -- even trivial change -- at all.

Here are two examples. The first example is when my grandmother died unexpectedly in my presence. I was very close to my grandmother and her death lead to many months of depression and an inability to motivate myself to do much of anything. I had a routine of seeing my grandmother and, when this routine was taken from me, I was completely lost.

A lot of you may be able to identify with this kind of situation. Lots of people become depressed at the loss of a loved one and grief is a natural response to losing someone or something a person cares about. However, I presented this more normal situation as a setup for the abnormal one.

For nearly 30 years, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for, at least, one meal every single day. The peanut butter had to be Jif and the jelly had to be Welch’s grape. The peanut butter had to be spread on one slice of bread first (the one on the left), the jelly had to be spread on the other slice of bread (the one on the right) and then the two slices had to be put together.

If I saw someone make it differently or I was told it was made differently or I even suspected this routine was not followed, I would not and could not eat it. I would make another one myself.

While I have worked very, very hard to lessen the frequency of consuming peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (for health reasons), each sandwich MUST be made the way I described above or I WILL NOT AND CANNOT EAT IT.

When my wife Della & I were first married, she made the mistake of spreading the peanut butter and then the jelly on top of it on the same slice of bread and I became quite agitated. Of course, I refused to eat it and this led to one of our first marital arguments.

Anyhow, these two examples and hundreds more clearly illustrate my aversion to difference and my compulsion to sameness. I would change if I could, but I can't. When I try to force myself to try something different, I don't enjoy it at all and long for my routine...over and over again.

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