Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Possible Link?

One of the great advantages of using tracking software or services with a blog or other website is the kind of information one can glean from it. For example, I use SiteMeter and I can check it any time of the day or night to see where visitors hail from or the referring url. Earlier today I noticed that a visitor from England came to The Rambling Taoist as the result of a search on Google with the search terms of "klinefelter and asperger".

I followed the link and discovered a recent study published this past March that suggests there may be a link between these two syndromes. Because I have both, this is a very interesting potential development!
The high levels of autism traits in XXY men suggest that Klinefelter syndrome may be associated with an increased genetic vulnerability for autistic features. Interestingly, our finding of high rates of autistic traits across all dimensions of the autism phenotype suggest that vulnerability for autistic features in Klinefelter syndrome may not be restricted to impairments in social behavior and communication, but may extend to other aspects of the phenotype as well. Although this observation suggests that XXY men may display the specific combination of various individual traits that are all part of the autism phenotype, some of the traits and symptoms of autism are not specific for the autism phenotype, but may also be seen in individuals with other psychiatric disorders. Therefore, it is possible that men with Klinefelter may not only have an increased vulnerability for autism, but also for other psychiatric disorders.
In addition, I've read before -- though I don't have the citations offhand -- that there are some indications that those with Klinefelter's have a greater propensity for auto-immune disorders. So, the underlying root cause of my fibromyalgia and Asperger's Syndrome may be the abnormaility in my 26th chromosone.

No More, No Less

As I wrote here a year or two ago, I grew up in the Presbyterian Church and even applied to Seminary with the intent of becoming a minister. But several nagging questions kept me from traversing that path. One of my biggest points of internal struggle was the concept of Jesus as part-man, part-God.

For me, the part-God portion mucks everything up. It negates the message Jesus' life was supposed to typify. If he was truly endowed with the omniscient self, then all the supposed trials, tribulations and suffering he went through are, in my view, severely downgraded. How can one truly suffer from human misery and terror if part of that self knows everything is going to work out a-ok in the end?

This is the precise reason why the unknown is so scary for aspies and neurotypicals alike. We simply don't know if our trials and tribulations will take us to a greater place or if we all merely wind up as heaps of dust at the end. This not knowing is the motor of fear and anxiety.

In my view, the Jewish carpenter would be worthy of all this adulation IF believers accepted the fact that he was entirely human just like the rest of us. As a mere mortal, his suffering on the cross takes on a entirely different dimension. It would show that he died for what he believed in, not knowing if what he believed was right.

More importantly, if Jesus was just some guy from Nazareth, then it means that each of us could tread a similar path. It means that we could lead a life based on the very principles he espoused.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the institutionalized Christian Church is absolutely terrified of this view. If people believed in this way, there would be no need for churches, ministers, and all the trappings that go with it. No more offerings, TV evangelists or massive property holdings. No more Focus on the Family, Moral Majority or Promise Keepers.

And let's face it, religion is big business. It has been from the very beginning -- it's one of the aspects that ticked off Jesus so (remember his behavior in the temple)!! People kill for religion. They repress and subjugate for it. Heck, we're slaughtering innocents in Afghanistan and Iraq because of it and the other side is doing the same thing to us in devotion to their depiction of the all mighty.

So, this conflict started me down the road to Taoism. What pushed me over the edge, however, was the Christian belief in knowing God. The very idea that a mere mortal could understand the breadth of the complex universe is not a sign of devotion but complete egocentrism!

Whatever it is out there -- being, process, law, principle or something else -- is so vast that what our feeble minds can comprehend is tantamount to a few pixels of a trillion upon trillion gigabyte picture. It's like holding a handful of sand and then pompously thinking we can each accurately describe a 1 million mile long beach!

Consequently, from my viewpoint, religion exists merely to provide rigid and static answers to questions that cannot be answered. It's a well-orchestrated and well-funded facade. It's not a path to enlightenment, but a road to darkness.

I think Jesus was a guy who lived and died many years ago. After he died, he went wherever everything else winds up. He was not superhuman nor was he "God" incarnate.

In his own way, Jesus definitely was a Taoist.

Ever Shifting Paths

When I started this blog in January 2005, it was my intent to share one Taoist's perspective on the world. For the past 3+ years I kept to this same path, more or less. In recent weeks, I've discovered I have Asperger's Syndrome (AS) and I have now woven this thread into the tapestry.

It dawned on me tonight that both Taoism and AS share a unique characteristic -- both lead a person to view the world and universe differently than the vast majority. Both embrace the idea that there are many paths and that we each must find for ourselves which path is the one on which we shall tread.

Though it's only been a short time that I've come to understand the many aspects of being an aspie, these traits have been with me all along. The only thing that has changed is that I now have a little box with which to toss all my quirks and neurological differences into.

So, it leaves me to wonder if being an aspie is what lead me to Tao?

Think about this concept for a minute. The Taoist philosophy turns western civilization on its head. While western thought extols the virtues of the individual, Taoist principles embrace the idea of the connectivity of all things. Western religion provides a cloak of finality and rigid answers, while philosophical Taoism is open-ended and encourages each being to find our own answers.

I'm not suggesting that all Taoists are aspies and all neurotypicals (a term many aspies use to define "normal" folks) are religious. But it certainly wouldn't suprise me in the least if aspies are more prone to search for cosmic understanding outside of the typical established boundaries. By our very neurological nature, we view the entirety of the world differently and so it stands to reason that we would be more open to the exploration of different philosophical perspectives.

One of the things that I must remind myself of again and again is that a person's path is not static. You don't find "your path" and then never change your stride. Life is fluid and so each path must be fluid also. If our chosen path curves to the right or the left, we end up leaving it if we stubbornly keep walking devoutly in a straight line!

So, while Taoism will continue to be one of the main premises of this blog, so too will be the interplay between it and Asperger's Syndrome. There may be a very tenable tether or I may decide the tether is very thin or nonexistent. Only time will tell.

I welcome you -- regardless of your perspective or neurological state -- along for the ride.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Interesting Site

I just received an email telling me The Rambling Taoist is now listed on All the Top Buddhism News (the link is also listed on the right). I get emails like this quite often -- usually from dubious sources. This one, however, looks promising as they also feature information on Taoism.

I'm sure I'll check it out several times in the coming weeks and, if you are interested in learning more about the Buddhist and/or Taoist perspective, I hope you will too.

Was Ist Das?

Last night my wife & I watched one of my all-time favorite movies on AMC. It has been quite awhile since I viewed it completely from beginning to end. It was released in 1963 and it's star won the Oscar for Best Actor -- well-deserved in my opinion!

However, I don't think this splendid film would play well in 2008. It is missing all the elements that most moviegoers look for in a film. There is no violence, gratuitous or otherwise. There are no sex scenes -- not even a quick kiss, touching embrace nor longing looks. There is no "chase" scene, though a car does play a role in the plot.

It's not really a drama because there is no build-up toward an all-powerful climax. It's not a comedy, even though there are many lighthearted moments. And it's not a musical, yet one song is key to the storyline.

Do you know which movie I'm referring to? If not, you'll find the answer here. (You'll better understand the title for this entry.)

It's a beautiful film and one I highly recommend.

If Tomorrow Never Comes

One topic that most people don't like to think about -- let alone TALK about -- is death. It's one of those mysteries that is so beyond our limited human comprehension that it tends to make one feel small and fleeting in the vastness of time and space. Like most everyone else, it makes me more than a little squeamish, but I still think about it constantly!

My grandmother's death -- right in front of my eyes -- made me truly realize how ephemeral our lives are. One moment we're here and then, poof, we're gone. Sometimes we get to say farewell to our loved ones; often times not.

Every minute of every day, someone leaves home for some reason (e.g., go to school, work or a quick dash to the store for milk, etc.), never to come home again. They may say, "See ya tonight" or "Be back in a jiff", but that jiff never materializes.

Several years back Garth Brooks penned a song entitled, If Tomorrow Never Comes. Though I'm usually not a big fan of country music, this particular song hit a chord with me.
Sometimes late at night
I lie awake and watch her sleeping
She's lost in peaceful dreams
So I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark
And the thought crosses my mind
If I never wake up in the morning
Would she ever doubt the way I feel
About her in my heart

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she's my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

'Cause I've lost loved ones in my life
Who never knew how much I loved them
Now I live with the regret
That my true feelings for them never were revealed
So I made a promise to myself
To say each day how much she means to me
And avoid that circumstance
Where there's no second chance to tell her how I feel

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she's my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

So tell that someone that you love
Just what you're thinking of
If tomorrow never comes
As a person who keeps to myself a lot, I sometimes wonder if my close friends and family really know how much they mean to me. I try to tell them, from time to time, but I'm never sure I'm saying it in a way that conveys the depths of my feelings.

Since my wife reads this blog, I just want her to know that though, I may not say the right words enough nor be the romantic type -- I LOVE YOU Honey, more than you'll ever know!!!!!

I think one of the primary reasons that death is always on mind is that, simply put, it's not something a person genuinely can prepare for. It's change in the most dramatic sense of the word and, since folks like me detest change, I'm always thinking about how I will react if my beloved wife dies or if it's me facing the final curtain.

So, I'm constantly sifting through various scenarios in the attempt to catalog each one. The idea here is to have a resource to fall back on when the inevitable occurs.

But there's a problem with my plan -- I already know it won't work!! This knowledge makes me even more anxious. It's a vicious cycle.

The reason I know this plan is faulty is as the result of my mother's death. My mother had cancer and her last days were spent in the hospital. Being very close to my mother, I was relieved that, when I flew to Arkansas from Oregon, I arrived in time to enjoy spending some time with her before she slipped into a coma-like state.

Once she lost consciousness for the last time, my brother and I (along with my wife and other family members) spent a lot of time sitting next to her hospital bed waiting for the inevitable. As usual, I mourned her death before it happened to sort of prepare myself for when it did happen.

When the heart monitor flatlined, I soon came to understand that all my preparation was for naught. The emotions simply overwhelmed me and it left me in a daze for weeks!!

So rationally, I realize that thinking about death frequently won't prepare me for it one wit. Too bad, my rational self isn't the dominant one!

Is this something peculiar to me or is this common with other aspies too?

Friday, November 28, 2008

What I Mean

Since we had nothing special planned for Thanksgiving Day, my wife & I volunteered to work at the holiday community supper in downtown Raymond. My wife took orders, cleaned tables and, later, ate a fine traditional turkey meal. I, of course, volunteered to wash dishes and I washed dishes for nearly 3 1/2 hours.

As we were close to finishing the clean-up process, I told the organizer (Ollie) that, I'd like to say I had fun, but...and I winked. There was an awkward pause, then she said to me, "But you volunteered to wash dishes! If you wanted to do a different task, all you had to do was ask."

This is very typical of the conversations I get into with people. I meant nothing negative whatsoever. The simple fact of the matter is that washing dishes is not a "fun" task. For me, it does tend to be enjoyable, but fun and enjoyable don't mean the same thing in my book.

As I've written before, I tend to gravitate toward repetitive tasks. Since dish washing meets this criteria, I enjoyed the work I volunteered to do. When I finished, I felt a sense of accomplishment and I know that my work was valued by all the other volunteers who had spent their time cooking and serving.

I tried to explain what I meant to Ollie, but I don't think she got it. I'm afraid she went home thinking that my time was not pleasurable and that I won't volunteer next year. If this is her presumption, she's wrong. In fact, I told one of the other volunteers that, if she knew of other like events, I'm usually interested in volunteering to wash dishes.

So, there you have it. I washed dishes for over three hours. It was a very enjoyable experience -- but it wasn't a FUN experience.


Addendum: It's the morning of the day after. As is usual, I can hardly move. So, today will be a down day.

People often ask me, "If you know doing this sort of stuff will render you lame and in pain the next day and beyond, why do it?" And the simple answer is why not? Since I have lots of down days anyway -- regardless of whether or not I engage in the above activities -- I might as well get out of the house and do something for someone else.

In other words, I can wash dishes at community events every week, just not on consecutive days or more than twice per week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What's Really Remarkable

Each year around the holiday season the media likes to bring us stories of remarkable people and/or circumstances that are labeled as miracles. Many of these features tug at the 'ol heart strings, for sure. So, I don't want anyone to think that I'm dissing any particular storyline.

For me, though, I think they miss an important point, one that most of us take for granted -- Life itself is remarkable and a miracle!

It really doesn't matter what one does with their life. It doesn't matter if you're famous or obscure. It doesn't matter if you're a leader or a follower. It doesn't matter if you're the President of the United States or a person living in a vegetative state. It doesn't matter if you live 100 years or merely 1 minute. None of this matters.

What's remarkable is that any of us are. From the smallest of elements, we come to be.

This is the true miracle.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chopping Wood

One of the great problems with poverty is, of course, the inability to purchase things -- even needed things. In order to keep our electric bill as low as possible this winter, we're keeping the thermostat very low and, in the evenings, heating the front room by using the fireplace.

Making a fire almost every night necessitates having a lot of wood to burn, possibly a cord or two for the entire season. Around here, a cord of seasoned wood sells for $120 - $150 and that's about $120 - $150 more than we can afford. So what to do?

I'm very fortunate that two of my neighbors had several of their dying trees cut down and neither wanted the wood. So, we were able to procure a tremendous amount of firewood for no money. In addition, as a result of last December's mighty storm, there are downed trees and limbs all over the forest behind our home -- more free wood.

Were it not for my fibromyalgia, all this free wood would be an utter bonanza! While it certainly is helping us to lessen our utility expenses, all of this wood needs to be cut and split. I am the designated cutter and splitter of the household.

So each dry day -- when I feel up to it -- I split wood. I can only do it though for about 60 minutes before my body gives out. Today offers a good example of what I'm referring to. I split wood for about 45 minutes, then stacked it in the basement. Once finished, I limped up our back steps and took a 4-hour nap!

In essence, a 60 minute workout means I'm done doing ANYTHING physical for the rest of the day -- sometimes far longer. It's really terrible being a middle-aged fellow who can barely do the necessary work to produce needed firewood.

But this is my path and I must accept it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My $10 Million Ship Hath Come In

Generally, I immediately delete spam. However, the item below caused me to howl with uproarious laughter. What's even funnier is that -- somewhere out there -- some fool will take this seriously.
The United Nations Security Council, hereby receives your payment with reference number #.MAV/UNO/WBO/LM-05-371 amounting to US$10,625,000.00 Ten Million Six Hundred and Twenty Five Thousand United States Dollars This council was set up to fight against scam and fraudulent activities worldwide,

This important notice is to let you know that your payment is ready to be moved by Swift Bank Transfer,which will take about Five working days to get to your account or via diplomatic means of cash delivery . Please note that your payment will be processed and released to you as soon as you respond to this confidential letter by reconfirming the following details.

1. Your Full Name:
2. Home Address:
3. Phone, Fax and Mobile Number:
4. Company Name/Occupation:
5. Home Address:
6. Payment option,Bank Transfer/Cash delivery

Immediately the above details are received and validated, your payment will be processed within 48hours.

Yours Faithfully,
Director, Special Duties.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

One of the Worst...

On the evening news was a report about a horrific fire east of Seattle that claimed the lives of two children. It got me to thinking about what kind of disaster would be the worst for people with Asperger's Syndrome (AS). While each person with AS is unique, I still bet most of us would not handle well a disaster that destroyed our homes -- fire, tornado, earthquake, tsunami, flood or hurricane.

For me, I think the worst of the lot would be fire. With all the others, I'd stand a much better chance of recovering some objects and, as I've reported in this space before, objects are of great importance to me. But a devastating fire could possibly incinerate every single object I hold dear!

As a pack rat, I have lots and lots of cherished objects. I've kept quite a few objects from my maternal grandparents -- furniture, books, clothing and many kitchen utensils. I have my collection of maps and oodles of books.

Actually, I don't even want to think about this possibility! Such an occurrence would mess me up for months or years. I'd be lost.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

Seems I misunderstood the directive -- a very common problem I have. I didn't visit a psychiatrist today; she was a psycholoGIST. I've generally had good experiences as a social worker with the "gists", so this put me much more at ease.

Of course, this is the quintessential problem with anxiety -- so often I get all worked up over nothing!! In my mind's eye, it has to be this way, though. I find that I react to different situations better if I worry about them ahead of time as opposed to not worrying about it and then facing a situation I'm not even slightly prepared for. Generally, when the latter occurs, my reaction is very similar to that of a deer caught in the headlights!

The interview still was interesting and a bit nerve-wracking. As someone who used to be a social worker, it's hard for me not to analyze what kind of response each question is looking for. Mind you, I'm not saying that I wanted to say what I thought she wanted to hear, but I always try to figure out the underlying purpose of each query.

Aside from talking about my various physical and psychological issues, the later portion of our 2-hour session focused on my ability to remember numbers (which I did so-so at) and my interpretation of words and parables.

One section dealt with the psychologist stating a word and then I was to offer its opposite. This was very easy, except when we got to the word, night. Initially, I said nothing. I then stated that I realized she would expect me to say "day", but I personally don't consider day as being the opposite of night. They are each one portion of what we commonly call a day. My wife later remarked that, as is my penchant, I was being too literal!

Another section dealt with the psychologist offering an axiom and for me to say what it means. The first one was "All that glitters is not gold." I said that this was another way of saying don't judge a book by its cover. The second one, however, stumped me -- Still waters run deep. I've never really understood that one and so I said nothing.

All in all, the experience was not as bad as I had expected or maybe it was and I just didn't realize it.

God Made Me Do It!

Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research. According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society. It compares the social performance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution.
Of course, this finding doesn't shock me in the least because religion tends to divide the world into us (the TRUE believers) versus them (anyone who doesn't agree with us). Nationalism shares this same trait, but misses the most important variable of all -- God is on OUR side and so any action we undertake is blessed from above.

How else can one explain so-called devout nations that sanction murder, rape, slavery, homophobia, repression and subjugation?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Interesting Day

Tomorrow should prove to be an interesting day. The State of Washington is sending me to visit a psychiatrist. Since, unlike a lot of people, I don't relish meeting new folks, I'm understandably getting a bit anxious.

I'm being sent to see the shrink as part of my appeal for the denial benefits for the state medicaid program. I have no idea how this "visit" is going to go or what the learned professional plans to do. It may end up being a perfunctory visit not lasting more than 30 minutes OR it may last for several hours. I just don't know.

My only hope is that this interview goes better than the last time I was sent to a psychiatrist!

The last time was nearly 40 years ago. My parents were in the process of divorcing and then remarrying (only to divorce each other again). They were in couples counseling and each had individual sessions as well. Their chief psychiatrist decided it would be a good idea for 13 year old me and my 7 year old brother to "talk out our feelings" too.

So, against my wishes, I was dispatched to see Dr. L. I played the game by making sure I didn't disclose ANYTHING that was actually bothering me. I basically told the guy what I thought he wanted to hear. After a few sessions, learned Dr. L decided that I was depressed and very anxious -- what child wouldn't be with his parents engaged in nightly [non-physical] pitched battles?

He prescribed an anti-depressant. It didn't work as intended. Instead of making me less anxious, it made me anxious times five. So, another one was tried. Same result. A third medication was written out and it made me more manic than ever. Fortunately, someone got the hint and he quit trying to medicate me.

Now, I'm not suggesting that I couldn't have benefited from seeing a professional. As I've written in this space before, my junior high years were hell. I was a social misfit consumed by loneliness, self-doubt and anxiety. My best comrades were all imaginary.

Unfortunately, my parents sent me to a fellow who, obviously, didn't have a lot of experience dealing with weirdos like me. His basic methodology seemed to be a little talk and a lot of medication -- drugs that didn't help me at all!

That, however, hasn't been my only negative experience with a psychiatrist. When I was a state social worker, one of my assignments was working with abused and neglected children at a residential facility in Monticello, Arkansas. One of my charges -- who I will identify as X -- was a very seductive 15 year old girl.

X knew how to make this fresh-out-of-college social worker very uncomfortable. She had a propensity for sticking her hands down my pants (not in my underwear, thank goodness) and telling me all the wonderful things she could do for me!!

As I've indicated previously, I don't like being touched by non-family members and I even have issues with being touched by family members a good deal of the time. So, I think it's very easy to imagine how unglued I became with these unwanted advances. I would immediately remove her hand and scream at her that this was not appropriate.

But you know what the residential facility's shrink told me to do? He said that X was trying to elicit a particular response from me and so I SHOULD ALLOW HER to put her hands down my pants and then act completely disinterested. He reasoned that, if I followed his advice, she would grow tired of my lack of response and discontinue the behavior.

I thought this professional opinion was pure malarkey. However, I was a very young and inexperienced social worker and he was a well-respected psychiatrist. So, even though his advice made me very uncomfortable, I reluctantly followed the script.

X didn't seem to grow disinterested at all; in fact, my forced nonchalance seemed to embolden her. Things may have progressed to a very bad circumstance, but X pulled her stunt one time when my then-wife was present. Mrs. Smith grabbed X's hand and told her if she ever tried that again, she would be very, VERY sorry. (I had to spend the better part of 2 weeks explaining to the wife why I had allowed X to behave in this manner without protest!)

She never tried it again.

Needless to say, after these two different experiences with persons in the field of psychiatry, I'm very nervous about tomorrow.

Did the Butler Do It?

One of my favorite genres of TV, film and books is the detective mystery or whodunit. My two favorite TV shows are Law & Order:Criminal Intent and CSI. In younger days, I was addicted to Perry Mason, Ellery Queen and Matlock. In fact, I think I've either watched or read almost every Perry Mason case! (Interestingly enough, I've never read any Sherlock Holmes.)

I've learned that most people like whodunits because they like to try to figure out the culprit BEFORE he/she is revealed. My wife is very adept at this. More often than not, she pegs the correct person.

I am rarely able to do this and I think I know the reason why. It's never really occurred to me to try to unravel the mystery! I simply watch the story unfold and wait for the secret to be revealed. I'm sure I watch these programs or read these books as intently as others do -- if not more so --but I've just never been that interested in trying to solve the mystery independent of the storyteller.

As I've explored Asperger's Syndrome (AS), I've come to understand that the AS individual tends not to pickup on social clues. Maybe this explains why I'm ineffective at trying to guess such outcomes. More importantly, it might well explain why trying to solve the mystery is something that never would have occur to me and still doesn't.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If We'd Only Look

When most people question me about Taoism, one of the first comments they make goes something like this: I've vaguely heard of it, but I don't recall reading or hearing anything specifically about it. In other words, unless a specific idea or concept explicitly is denoted as "Taoist", far too many people fail to recognize it.

But Taoist principles are all around us, if we'd only look.

Here's a great example. I recently got a book from the library, "Wildlife in the Garden" by Gene Logsdon. Though I've only read the first few pages, I would be utterly shocked if the word Tao, in all it's various forms, appears anywhere in this book. Though this precise word most likely will not appear, Taoist principles have permeated the first 20 pages or so.

This section on page 14 really encapsulates the Taoist perspective on life rather well:
In a very real sense, no creature loses life, but instead is constantly reabsorbed into other forms of life. Real death can come only through a final, fatal disruption of the food web itself. This is the vision, the place of ecology: to witness and defend the sacredness of the natural web of life. It is a vision that is neither totally scientific nor religious, but one that combines both the pragmatism of the former and the solace of the latter. There is a way in which we can live forever, says the ecologist, if we will but preserve the inviolability of the web of life.
So, if you want to learn more about Taoism and Taoist thought, it's not altogether necessary to find materials explicitly about the topic. You only need to keep your heart and mind open to the bounty around you. Most sources will impart the basic ideas without ever identifying it as such.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the Map

When I was a kid, I liked maps -- still do. I collected them. I had maps for most every state in the nation plus many from other parts of the world. Several were rather old maps. Many came from National Geographic; many did not.

Now collecting maps, in and of itself, is not the strangest thing in the world. It's not very typical of an 8 year old, but one could collect far stranger items. What was weird, however, is why I collected maps. I seemed to derive rather odd information from them.

Like many children, I memorized all 50 state capitols. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I also memorized most national capitols too. But I also memorized every Indian Reservation across the ole US of A.

The weirdest bit of information I gleaned from my large Rand McNally set of maps was the location of almost every 4 and 2 year college in the country. All a person need do is mention the name of a college and I could tell you where it was located.

For example, as early as 1965, I knew that Grays Harbor College was located in Aberdeen, Washington. Mind you, I had never been anywhere west of the Kansas prairie, but I knew where this school was and the approximate population of the area. So, when my wife & I moved to Aberdeen in late 2005, I already knew a lot about the area. In fact, as a child, I had imagined living near Grays Harbor!

One of the many facets of Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is becoming fixated on strange topics and a young child collecting maps certainly fits into this definition. What is really odd is that, for the most part, I had no interest whatsoever in visiting the thousands of places I marked on these maps. My interest was mainly in the lines, shapes and dots that maps contain.

While I've shed many of my other collections (sports cards, stamps, coins, etc.), I have kept many of my maps. I look at them frequently and I even have a few hung on my walls. I don't know why I've always found them interesting and intriguing. I just do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Fistful of Dollars

Back in 1976, my maternal grandparents gave me for Christmas a $25 U.S. Savings Bond. As I've moved throughout life, the savings bond has traveled with me. It's always kept in one of my keepsake boxes.

From time to time, I get it out to look at. It's just a silly piece of paper, but it reminds me of my grandparents and the lake house.

Of course, the reason they gave it to me was to cash it in one day. Despite this singular fact, I've continued to hold onto it -- Folks with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) tend to cling to or overly identify with objects!

Many people in my position would have held onto the bond until it's maturity date. This could offer an explanation of why I've held it so long. However, that reasoning wouldn't be true because the very idea of a maturity date never occurred to me. In fact, utilizing the government's online bond calculator, I discovered the other day that this bond matured nearly 2 years ago!!

Later today I will finally cash it in. It won't be easy though. While we desperately need the additional $138 in our till -- unfortunately, NOT for dear Scruffy (see below) -- just the idea of parting with this piece of paper will cause me a certain amount of anguish. What I will end up doing is making a photocopy of the bond, so I can keep this in its holder. That way I can still get it out from time to time.

It won't be the same as before, but at least it will feel like a close facsimile. Even the person with AS realizes that desperate times often call for desperate measures.

What to Do?

One of the many drawbacks of poverty is limited access to medical care. Since November 2005, I've been to see the doctor twice. The first time I needed to get an x-ray of my right arm after I fell off my bike and, later, I had an acute gallstone attack. Other than these two times, I haven't seen a doctor in 3 years for any of my chronic medical issues and it's been several years since I've seen a dentist!!

My wife has seen the doctor a bit more frequently, but not that much. She's having to alternate her diabetes medicine because we simply can't afford to fill her prescriptions regularly.

While we forgo needed medical care, we understand the why. Of course, this ability to understand the economic realities doesn't make the situation more palatable, but, at least, the knowledge helps a tad.

One of our dogs is dying from cancer. She's in a lot of pain right now. It's getting to the point that she's having quite a bit of trouble putting any weight on her right front leg. She takes turns staring at each of us in a pleading manner, "Please make this pain go away." I don't think that she understands why we don't take her to the vet.

I've tried to explain to her about our precarious financial situation and that, if we had the money, all of us would schedule appointments with our doctors. But the sad fact is that we don't have the money for doctors or for several other things (including all of our ongoing bills). So, my wife & I are forced to watch our little Scruffy suffer.

At some juncture -- sooner than later, I fear -- we're going to get to the point in which we'll need to put her down. However, euthanasia costs money too and we certainly don't have an extra $75 sitting around.

Needless to say, poverty sucks.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tuckered Out

When I was a younger lad, one of my favorite pastimes was hiking. During my college years, I hiked on and around the mountains in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It got to the point that I believed that Hot Springs, North & West Mountains were my domain. I knew almost every inch as I rarely kept to the established trails.

I also did a bit of hiking near my maternal grandparent's home west of town. This was back in the day BEFORE massive development hit this rural area. I couldn't hike in those same areas today as palatial estates and condos now dot the map.

I was musing about my past exploits today as I was cutting downed timber on the hill behind my house. Our December storm of last year brought down many trees and so I've spent the past 8 months or so scavenging for free firewood.

As a hiker, I would often hike all day, covering many miles. Afterward, I would often head off to my grandparent's house to do chores. My endurance now is a far cry from yesteryear. Of course, I'm a lot grayer in the tooth and my physical issues have taken a mighty toll. These days 90 minutes -- and many days, it's even less -- is about all my decrepit body can tolerate.

So, as a general rule, I try to limit myself to 1 hour of sustained work at a time. Even though 1 hour isn't much time, it's amazing how much it takes out of me. Because we've enjoyed sunny weather for the past 4 days (after three days of nearly 10 inches of rain), I've forced myself to head to the woods each day.

Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow afternoon or evening. While this means I won't be able to collect as much wood as I would like, I'm actually pleased the rain is returning. My aching body needs the rest!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Perks

While there are certainly a lot of hurdles imposed by Asperger's Syndrome (AS), I certainly don't wish it to appear that it's all gloom and doom. Every individual in this life faces challenges whether they be physical, psychological, or spiritual. There is no such thing as an average normal person. What is normal to one of us may be decidedly abnormal to others and vice versa.

Because the AS individual finds great difficulty in navigating social situations, many of us have channeled our time and energy into specific fields that are not social, by nature. Many people believe that Albert Einstein suffered from AS and he made a stupendous contribution to the furthering of knowledge.

For me, my outlets for expression are philosophy and writing. This very blog and my other blog, Greener Times, offer me the opportunity to share my perspective on life with the world. Through both I've met several interesting people -- folks I would probably have shied away from had I met them in person!

Another plus that derives from AS is the ability for contemplation. A great many people in this world are running to and fro at such a frenzied pace each day that it can very hard to slow down the metabolism to stop to think deeply. As an extremely routinized individual, I rarely rush around and so deep thought is part and parcel of my life.

Finally, because of my social isolation, I am very comfortable with being alone. On the surface, this might seem a negative, not a plus (and sometimes it certainly is!) However, a great many people are terrified at the thought of spending time with no one but themselves! They go to great lengths NOT to be alone by surrounding themselves with just anybody they can find or engaging in behaviors that can only be considered destructive.

AS definitely is a major challenge in one's life, but it's not a death sentence. The trick is to figure out how best to live on this wrong planet and engage the natives.

Friday, November 14, 2008

First Bowser

We're staring ecological calamity in the face, a worldwide economic crisis, a deteriorating infrastructure and a preemptive war without end, yet what is the mainstream media and the American public most concerned about? A dog. What kind of dog the Obama's take to the White House in January!

I don't give a diddly. For one thing, it's not anybody's business -- It's a family decision. For another, it doesn't matter. Whatever specific dog the family chooses is not going to change anything for the masses.

The First Bowser is not going to bring world peace. The Number 1 dog is not going to solve the energy crisis. The top doggy will have no have no effect on whether or not we fall into an economic depression.

So people, let's keep our eyes on the prize and not on the fresh manure that soon will be deposited regularly on the White House lawn.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

All Things Considered

For the last week, I've laid my cupboard bare. I've willingly exposed many of the weird and different aspects of my behavior and personality. In and of itself, this is yet another classic symptom of Asperger's Syndrome (AS). People with AS tend to share too much personal information, particularly in situations in which such is highly inappropriate. The reader will have to decide how appropriate/inappropriate this venue is.

Now I will be the first to admit that even the healthiest of individuals has personal tastes, preferences and quirks. Each of us is a unique creature and we each view the world around us through a personally subjective lens. So, one question that must be entertained is where does the line exist between a person afflicted with AS and the person who is just plain quirky?

For me, the answer is twofold: areas of quirkiness and the preponderance of quirkiness.

As I've illustrated over the past 6 days, most of my quirks and overall weirdness falls along the spectrum that has been identified as Asperger's Syndrome. These problems entail difficulty with social interaction, a lack of capabilities in interpersonal communication, a longing for sameness and an unnatural interest in repetition.

It is because of the number of these specific types of maladies and peculiarities that I believe that AS is the best way to convey my overall situation to the world.

One question that pops up frequently on sites that deal with AS is when to seek an "official" diagnosis. Many people with this array of symptoms simply self-diagnose. It is often suggested that an individual should only seek an official diagnosis IF the array of problems is causing serious issues in one's life.

I am moving down this path as my symptoms are, in fact, causing me great difficulty in navigating this world. I've never held any one job for longer than 3 years. It seems I always come into conflict with my superiors which leads them to give me the boot or me to walk away.

Due to my continued problems with interpersonal communication and fear of social situations, I have significantly withdrawn from the social world. I rarely leave my small rural county anymore and I avoid any type of social event in which more than a few people are expected.

I don't even talk to that many people anymore. Many days go by each week when the only human (beyond myself) who I have any contact with is my wife and there are many days in which I don't talk to her very much either.

Consequently, an official diagnosis is very important to me. It would put me in a position to get some needed help. While counseling has not been shown to be particularly helpful in cases of AS, social and behavioral training has. Maybe I can learn enough techniques to be able to reintegrate myself into society on occasion.

I will never be a social gadfly. I will always prefer solitude to chaos. But there's a world out there that I'm choosing to avoid. My hope is that with some training that I won't continue to avoid the world altogether.

Sensations All Around

Another classic symptom of Asperger's Syndrome has to do with sights, sounds, textures and tastes. The AS individual is often far more sensitive to these than the average person. I've even read that some with AS can taste sounds, though I've never experienced this and I'm not altogether sure I even understand it.

While I may not be able to understand this phenomena, I do understand much of the rest. I have a tactile aversion to corduroy and velvet. If my fingers or some other part of my body comes into contact with either, I feel as if I just stuck my hand into a live electrical socket. It makes my teeth clatter and I get the weirdest sensation in my head.

When I was a wee lad my parents bought me a dark brown corduroy suit -- coat and pants. It was for those extra special occasions. From my point of view, no occasion was special enough to convince me voluntarily to don this "prison garb". I can vaguely recall a few arguments concerning my adamant refusal to wear this outfit.

Obviously, I must have lost these battles because I have retained several photos with me in it. Needless to say, I'm not smiling in ANY of the pictures. I'm sure the only thing going through my head was "Get this damn thing off of me!"

A closely related aversion is to carbonated or fermented beverages. For me, it's sort like drinking corduroy. As soon as the fizz hits my tongue, it gets spit out. Consequently, I have never consumed a coke, pepsi, or any other soft drink.

On the wedding night of my first marriage, I eagerly popped the cork of the champagne only to discover I couldn't drink it -- too fizzy! I've never downed a beer for the same reason. Heck, I've never been able to swallow Alka Seltzer.

Speaking of eating and drinking, I seem to have an inability to eat or drink anything while walking. Trying to swallow while the rest of my body is moving almost always leads me to choke. I can successfully manage to swallow consumables while standing -- just as long as I'm not moving.

I also have an aversion to low decibel noises. While I'll be the first to admit that I don't possess the keenest hearing, I often hear low noises that no one around me hears. On the other hand, I often don't hear higher pitched noises that everyone else hears.

While I don't seem to mind low-watt fluorescent lights, the brighter ones -- those in many department stores -- give me a royal headache. On other occasions, the lights themselves aren't the problem; it's the noise emitting from them that drives me up the wall.

Most of my family and cohorts are used to my peculiarities. They don't necessarily understand them, but they're used to them. Strangers and acquaintances, however, don't know what to make of them at all. I suppose that is to be expected!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gibberish -- In & Out

One of the key facets that separates Asperger's Syndrome (AS) from other forms of autism is in the realm of language development. While individuals on the higher end of the autism spectrum exhibit significant delays or a complete inability to acquire language and communication skills the AS person tends to pick up these same skills at age-appropriate levels and many of us possess a higher than average vocabulary.

So, it would appear that the individual afflicted with AS would not suffer from language and communication difficulties with the outside world. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. In fact, communication is one of our most persistent challenges, one that we struggle with every single day.

According to Wikipedia,
Although individuals with Asperger syndrome acquire language skills without significant general delay and their speech typically lacks significant abnormalities, language acquisition and use is often atypical. Abnormalities include verbosity, abrupt transitions, literal interpretations and miscomprehension of nuance, use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker, auditory perception deficits, unusually pedantic, formal or idiosyncratic speech, and oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody, and rhythm.

Three aspects of communication patterns are of clinical interest: poor prosody, tangential and circumstantial speech, and marked verbosity. Although inflection and intonation may be less rigid or monotonic than in autism, people with AS often have a limited range of intonation: speech may be unusually fast, jerky or loud. Speech may convey a sense of incoherence; the conversational style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener, fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal thoughts. Individuals with AS may fail to monitor whether the listener is interested or engaged in the conversation. The speaker's conclusion or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics, are often unsuccessful.

I can personally identify with many, if not most, of the issues listed above. I'm frequently told by others to lower my volume, even though my volume sounds fine to me. I have a tendency to talk fast or in bursts. Because of my obsessive-compulsive nature, I tend toward long monologues on, sometimes, arcane topics that no one else genuinely is interested in hearing about.

I can be painfully long-winded. My conversation is peppered with similes and metaphors that usually seem to miss their intended mark. I often start into a long dissertation, only to stop and backtrack to side issues not related to the topic at hand, then to lurch forward again, only to interrupt myself with verbalized internal thoughts.

What is the most frustrating thing for me is that, despite my strong talents in the areas of language -- I scored in the top 20% nationally in the language section on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) -- I often seem unable to get people to understand the specific point I'm trying to make.

I'll go through all sorts of histrionics and examples, only to have the person respond in a way that indicates he/she missed the main point. So, I'll try to explain the point in a different manner, but often end up with the same result!!

This is one of the primary reasons I write so much. While I have great difficulty in getting people to understand me via the spoken word, this problem is mitigated somewhat through the written word. Though I still can be rather long-winded in this format -- as I'm sure many of you have noticed -- I seem better able to get the words in my head down on paper, virtual or otherwise.

This problem also works in the opposite direction. I seem to understand words and intonations differently than most people. If you're talking to me and 4 other people, the 4 others will go away from the conversation generally understanding it one way, while I will understand it a completely different way.

This is a problem my wife & I struggle with constantly. Just last night, I stormed off in a huff when I thought my wife was being overly critical of my attempts to cut a piece of wood. From my perspective, every position I tried, she criticized. She, on the other hand, told me she wasn't being critical at all -- she was merely showing concern for my safety (a common theme as I'm an accident waiting to happen).

I'm fairly certain she thinks I stormed off because I was mad at her. Of course, she wouldn't know the real reason because I haven't said a word to her in over 18 hours (though neither of us has left the house). I stormed off because of my building frustration with my inability to understand what others try to convey to me.

Sometimes it feels like I'm speaking a different language than everybody else around me. The words have the same sound, but a completely different feel.

In essence, I'm drowning in a sea of uncertainty. People keep throwing me words and phrases as they would throw a life vest, but, try as I might, I can't seem to grab a firm hold on any of them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Missing in America

I'm going to pause from my series on Asperger's Syndrome to comment on a news story I saw on King 5 today. Being that it's Veteran's Day, the noonday anchors brought the viewing audience a feature about the Missing in America Project.

According to the MIP website, their mission is:
The purpose of the MIA Project is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. To provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.
My response to this is BUNK. It doesn't matter where their body or urn is interred -- on a shelf in a mortuary, buried in the ground or stuck up in a tree -- because they are dead.

Funerals are for the living, not for those who have passed on. Once we each go on to wherever or whatever comes next, I'd be shocked if any us give a hoot what's going on back here. So, while I can certainly understand how this effort might make the veterans involved in the project feel better, I simply don't think it will have any affect whatsoever on the deceased.

For me, the best way to honor current veterans is to work damn hard to ensure there aren't ANY MORE veterans.

No more war -- no more problem.

Can't Get It Out of My Head

One of the hallmarks of Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is obsessive-compulsive behavior. I'm sure my regular readers have already figured this out as I'm currently obsessing on and compulsively writing about AS itself!!

This aspect of AS constantly manifests itself in my life. I've become quite a little authority on many topics because I've studied them into the ground. While obsessions, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad things, they can become so or, at least, they can allow you to drive everyone around you stark raving mad. On the plus side, I'm a great teammate to have when playing Trivial Pursuit or other such games. :-)

When I was in college, I became obsessed with American Indians. I chose to skip a spring break trip because I wanted to read a 800+ page book written by Alvin Josephy, Jr. As a slow, plodding reader, it took me the whole of spring break to devour the book. Once I finished it, I probably read another 20 books on the topic.

However, that was a mild obsession compared to the one I developed for the movie, Titanic!! The first time I watched the James Cameron epic, I was spellbound. I immediately went out to buy the video so I could watch it again anytime I desired to. But my desire became obsessive and I watched the entire 3+ hour film or substantial portions of it for 54 consecutive days!

According to my poor wife, I was almost in a trance. I slept little. I ate little. I bathed little. Almost every conversation I engaged in featured Titanic front and center. She kept telling me to turn off the VCR and move on to something else. I wanted to, but I just couldn't seem to quit watching it.

Finally, after nearly 2 months, I was able to turn off the VCR. My wife thought this episode was over with. Oh, but it wasn't! Instead of watching a fictionalized movie, I purchased almost every book I could find on the topic -- in the end, my library featured over 20 such books. I read each of them from cover-to-cover.

In between the books, I scoured the internet. I downloaded a Titanic screensaver, video and audio clips from the movie, portions of the soundtrack, and even interviews with the stars of the film. All in all, this obsession lasted nearly 6 months. I was finally able to pry myself away from it only when a new obsession popped up.

Beyond these sorts of manifestations, I've had a life long fear of being contaminated with poison. When I'm forced to apply anti-flea applications on my dogs, I bet the whole process would probably appear hysterical to most people.

Though you squeeze the gunk directly on the dogs skin, it obviously doesn't poison the dog! I've watched our vets do it many times and rarely does one of them wear gloves. However, when I have to do it, I double glove my hands. When I finish, I wash my hands thoroughly several times. Yet, no matter how many insane precautions I take, I'm always certain I've poisoned myself and I worry incessantly -- sometimes for hours at a time -- that something dreadful is going to happen next.

A few years back, one of my doctors suggested a prescription medicine to help control these feelings. Of course, I wouldn't agree to that at all because I have a fear of prescription medicines! All licensed drugs have side affects and I'm convinced that, whatever the side affects are for any given drug, I will have it in spades!!

What makes this aspect of AS so maddening is that, as a generally rational individual, I KNOW that these behaviors, attitudes and beliefs are irrational. I know objectively that I should work to behave differently, but my obsessive-compulsive constitution simply will not allow my rational mind to overule my automatic urges.

The only solace I can take from all this is that I'm not an axemurder, child molester, rapist or voyeur. My obsessions-compulsions don't affect most people and the person they do affect the most -- my loving wife -- has shown to have the patience of Job.

The Cobwebs of My Mind

When most people conjure up images from their past in their memory or dreams, I'm told they can envision the situation or circumstance like it was yesterday. The faces, sights, sounds and smells seem to come alive and they are transported back in time. I am very jealous of this ability because it's simply something that I seem incapable of.

When I think back upon MY past -- sometimes as short as few days previous -- I have a great deal of trouble seeing faces or hearing voices. It's almost like I'm viewing someone else's memory through a fog. People appear as ghosts and then they melt away all together.

Yet, while people are missing from my memories and dreams, objects are front and center. I can tell you with clear detail how a particular room looked, where each piece of furniture set and the color of the rug!

For example, one of my special places as a child and youth was at my maternal grandparents home on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had a very close relationship with both of my grandparents as I spent more time with them than my brother and 6 cousins combined. Grandma & Grandpa had a very special place in my heart and I was devastated when each of them died.

So, one would think that when I think back to all the joyous times I spent with these two special people that the picture, first and foremost in my mind, would be their two visages. Alas, it's not the case at all! Their faces flash in my mind in an instant and then disappear. Their voices don't register at all.

What do I see? Their home and the expansive yard. I can travel from room to room and describe in detail all the trappings of routine life. I can tell you where the cushions for the back porch wicker furniture were kept. I can tell you what was in almost every kitchen cabinet. I can even describe the mildewed grout in Grandpa's shower!

I'm can see almost every square inch of their 1+ acre property. I can tell you which areas were the rockiest and where you'd be most apt to run into a snake or a yellow jacket hole. I can envision the dock, boathouse and even the old Criscraft speed boat that was retired when I was 6 or 7 years old.

I can envision all these things as if I was standing there right now, but I can only VERY vaguely remember the people who made it the special place it was.

My mother died in 1992 of cancer and, though I was very close to my mother, I only remember what she looks like because of all the pictures of her I've kept. If these photos were to disappear, so too would my ability to see my mom.

Some people might suggest that my inability in this area pointed to my lack of coping skills with trauma. I would agree with such an assessment, except that my inability to see faces in my mind extends to people who are alive and well. I can often meet someone one week and see them again in the next week or so and not be able to remember meeting them the first time.

Like many people afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome (AS), I think the primary reason I have so much trouble remembering faces is that I don't see them very often. While most folks look directly at the people they converse with on a daily basis, I don't. I sweep my gaze across their faces, from time to time, because I learned early on that to do otherwise causes people to think you're not paying attention to them.

But I rarely look directly into someone's eyes when I talk with them. I can't tell you why I don't look at people directly during conversation, but if our eyes happen to meet, it makes me very uncomfortable and I immediately look away.

Since objects don't look back -- at least I don't think they do -- there's nothing for me to avert my eyes from. Consequently, I spend a great deal of time looking at and, sometimes, fixated on objects. That's why I can envision and describe them to myself in uncanny detail. (Note: Unfortunately, I can't describe these objects to you because I have a great deal of difficulty explaining myself to people -- I'll deal with that issue in a separate post sometime.)

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.

Missing the Obvious Cues

Over the years, I've developed a steadfast belief about human interaction. Based on my experience, I decided that it's next too impossible to anticipate how any other person will react to any act or statement another person will make. I firmly believed this was a universal concept, but now I'm coming to understand that it's not universal at all -- it's a peculiar aspect of me!

Throughout my life, I've seemed to be a lightning rod for controversy. If there's a tempest or imbroglio in any group I happen to be a part of, you can be fairly certain that this here Rambling Taoist is in the middle of it. In fact, more often than not, I'm the one who sparked it.

This, of course, begs the question of why. Why are people continually thinking I'm attacking them or insulting them or offending them in some fashion? And the honest answer is that I view the world and the act of interpersonal communication far differently than most people.

This is very typical of the individual afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome (AS). For reasons no one yet understands, AS folks a) seem unable to understand the mores of social communication and b) to pick up on both verbal and non-verbal cues from others. In most cases -- and it's certainly true in my case -- there is no intent to come off as belligerent or mean. In fact, folks like yours truly are often dumbfounded and mortified when we discover that something we've said or done has angered or offended another person.

I can't count the number of times I've said or written something (usually in an email) that I consider really matter-of-fact that others take great umbrage with. It's the kind of thing that, if someone said it or wrote it me, I wouldn't give it a second thought and it certainly wouldn't upset me.

Just yesterday I said something to my wife that caused her to get upset. I couldn't fathom why -- I thought I was merely stating an obvious fact. Even when she went to great pains to explain WHY it upset her, I still didn't get it. Her reaction simply doesn't compute in my brain.

And this is what makes this particular aspect of AS so maddening and a bit scary. Throughout the years, many people have shown great patience by explaining to me why what I did or said elicited the negative reaction. In most cases though, the explanation doesn't lead to any greater understanding on my part. I hear their words, but it's like they're talking in Chinese. I try to listen intently to their explanation, but it simply doesn't make any sense to me which means there is a good chance I will unintentionally commit the same sin again.

The other side to this equation -- the inability to pick up on social cues -- is just as frustrating. Like most people with AS, I tend to take everything too literal and at face value. Someone can tell me that they agree with something I've said while giving off non-verbal cues that they really don't and I will go away thinking we've found agreement.

And then there are times that everybody under the sun knows what's going on in certain situations, but I'm completely clueless. Here's an example of what I mean.

During my first marriage, I worked as a state social worker in Monticello, AR. I had one quasi-close friend, Carla, a counselor at a Children’s home I served as a liaison for. It seems that everyone in our small town, including my then-wife, knew Carla had a “thing” for me and many people believed we were having an affair. I constantly told people that they were misreading the situation; we were just old friends from college who liked to hang out together.

After my wife & I divorced, I moved to a different town. On a trip back to visit Carla, she propositioned me. I was absolutely dumbfounded. I really had no clue whatsoever that she was interested in anything other than friendship. She, of course, thought that I knew because everyone else did!

We talked about this for nearly an hour. She explained the obvious clues that I should have picked up on -- the same clues that everyone else I knew picked up on. There was never a point in which I said to her, "Oh, I see what you mean. How dumb of me." In fact, re this particular situation, I'm as clueless today as I was back in 1983!

This is but one example, but I could fill this space with hundreds of others. My friends and colleagues are always amazed that an intelligent fellow like me continually misunderstands the intent and meaning of others. They don't understand (heck, I never understood it either) how I can miss such obvious cues.

Now I know the answer why. What is so patently obvious to the vast majority is not obvious at all to an AS individual whose brain is wired differently. It's not that we're lazy or so self-centered, but that what is logical to us is illogical to almost everybody else or, better put, what is logical for the rest of you is completely illogical to us.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Odd Man Out

For as long as I can remember, people have always thought I was weird and strange. To be perfectly frank, I've realized this too, though I was never really clear on what exactly it is about me that is so out of step with the vast majority of the world. But everyone seems to agree that there's something about me that simply is different.

I came to grasp this fact very early on. As a young child, I never seemed to connect with others like my contemporaries were able to do. This is not to say that I didn't have friends in grade school, because I did, sort of. For the most part, however, I only had one close friend and my relationship with Greg was decidedly different.

When it was just the two of us, we were great buddies. We hung out at each other's houses and one or the other of us spent the night at the other's home almost every weekend. I considered Greg's mom my second mother and I'm fairly certain Greg felt the same way about my mom.

But our relationship was VERY different in the social setting of school. Greg rarely talked to me then and joined in as the other kids teased me. And I was teased relentlessly for being "weird" -- not beat up or shunned entirely, but constantly ridiculed and belittled. To this day, I don't know why my classmates decided I was weird, but it seemed to be a universally shared concept!

Other than Greg -- who I accepted on his own terms because, had I not, it would have meant NO close "friend" -- the only other kids I was remotely close to were the other outcasts -- Dickie & Nathan. I actually think Dickie & I could have been good friends, but he was Nazarene and his parents weren't keen on having their son hang out with some kid from OUTSIDE the faith.

This said, I don't want any of you to get the wrong idea. Many of my classmates came to my home each year for my birthday party. I think most of them had a good time. I participated in school outings and I often went to "play" with these kids. While I was never excluded from these types of activities, I wasn't exactly welcomed either. In and of itself, the situation was kind of weird -- grudgingly accepted...but not really.

My two years in junior high school were hell. I became an even greater social outcast, so much so that even the nerds kept their distance from me! In junior high, I actually was bullied and beaten up twice. There were a few bright spots -- a few so-so friends and my first girl friend (though we never kissed nor even held hands). I sometimes find it remarkable that I didn't commit suicide then because the vast majority of this time was downright miserable for me.

I think the thing that saved me was that my family moved and this meant I started over again in a new school district. After my previous experience, I kept to myself the whole first year and almost said nary a word to anyone. I figured that, if no one got to know me, no one would pick on me.

Though I tried hard to remain anonymous, my obvious weirdness kept leaking out. But a funny thing happened as I entered my junior year: The very aspects of me that had annoyed my contemporaries for so long became oddly popular. Not only was I not teased for the next two years, but I actually found a modicum of acceptance for being unique.

I had my first serious relationship with a girl and I even had 4 or 5 relatively close friends. Mind you, people continued to tell me that I was definitely strange, but during this brief respite, it wasn't considered to be a negative.

Unfortunately, my celebrity didn't last long and I was pushed back into my role as social outcast in college. And I have been socially awkward ever since.

All in all, my school years would have been unbearable if not for my relationships with my teachers. With only a few exceptions, I seemed to get along with adults far better than kids my own age. (These days this dynamic has flip-flopped; now I seem to relate better to children and animals than I do to adults!)

All of this is very consistent with Asperger's Syndrome (AS). People with AS are typically viewed by others as weird, strange, odd or eccentric. AS folks have great difficulty making friends and always seem awkward in social situations.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wrong Planet

I've really been completely out of sorts lately. Over the past two weeks my life has been turned upside down. My entire definition of who I am, what I believe and where I fit in the scheme of things has been torn asunder. I feel like a lost soul drifting in the ether.

I've been seeing a psychologist (Bill) -- mainly to help with my disability claim. However, during one of our sessions, the topic of autism came up. I remarked that, for many years, my wife has said that she feels I might be autistic. I always pooh poohed the idea because...well...autistic people have trouble communicating and many have developmental disabilities. That certainly doesn't describe an intelligent fellow like me!!

Bill thumbed through his DSM. He read me the description and symptoms of a particular neurological disorder. As he read, I perked up. It seemed to be describing me to a T. What is it, I asked. The answer? Asperger's Syndrome (AS).

Since that meeting, I've done a lot of research on AS. I took a test that provides strong indicators of the presence of AS. It says that a lot of people who score above 32 (out of 50 possible points) are prone to have it and I scored 46.

This revelation explains a lot of the problems I've had throughout my life. I don't do well in social situations and I don't seem to have the capability to "read" people. While I'm a very sympathetic individual, I don't seem to have the skill set to be empathetic. I am an extremely routinized person who doesn't deal well at all with change and I seem to enjoy repetitious activities.

In other words, I have what they call high functioning autism.

I've visited several websites that deal with AS and have read what others with the condition say about their lives. One recurrent theme is that many feel as if they're living on the wrong planet. I can truly relate to this sentiment as I've often thought this same thing throughout my life.

I will most likely be writing on this topic in the days to come both as a form of education to others and therapy for myself.

I no longer know who I am and, maybe, this virtual process will help me to find myself again.

P.S. While it's bad enough to learn that the wiring in my brain most likely isn't wired like most people, it's even more discombobulating since I also suffer from Klinefelter's Syndrome and Fibromyalgia too -- each of which has its own life-altering peculiarities. Consequently, I'm worried that I may be on an even different planet that most folks with AS!

An anomaly amongst anomalies.