The Whisper that Tingles – My Experiments with ASMR.

Quoting from Wikipedia
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is an experience characterised by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synaesthesia. ASMR signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterised by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin”. It is most commonly triggered by specific acoustic, visual and digital media stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attentional control

It has been referred to as the so-called “Head Orgasm” although I dislike this term intensely as to me ASMR is a deeply pleasing, relaxing and totally un-sexualised experience.

ASMR recording tend to be whispers in the ear, crinkling of papers and tissues or the sounds of haircuts! These actually don’t do anything for me and in fact, whispering close to my ear or giving me a haircut is probably going to do the EXACT opposite to me. These sounds represent someone getting “too close” and invading my personal space. The back of my neck as a no-go area to most people other than my wife. I have to force myself to brave the monthly haircut as I’m supposedly a grown up now 😀

Sounds which trigger ASMR for me are the white-noise static sounds. hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, washing machines, babbling brooks and rushing streams, heavy rain and the such.  These sounds often (but not always) trigger the unmistakable scalp tingle that travels down my neck and across the back of my shoulders. It’s an odd sensation and one I cannot really pin down, like a cross between a cold breeze on the skin and a nervous shiver.

I’m a bit of an audio experimenter in my spare time. I create “Soundscape” tracks. Not musical per se but a bizarre melange of natural sounds, synthetic drone sounds created using pseudo-random mathematical functions and strange oscillating pulsating sounds generated to strobe from ear to ear creating the so-called “Binaural Beat” effect which people claim to be able to entrain the brain into broad frequency states (Alpha, Beta, Theta, Delta etc) I’m open-minded about this claim however I don’t buy in to the more out there and “esoteric” claims of it “opening the third eye”, “aligning one’s chakras with one’s QI” or “Enabling astral projection” . Instead, to me they are nothing but an oddly relaxing sound.

I layer my sounds in what I find pleasing arrangements then master them to create these fairly lengthy tracks which range from 20 mins up to around an hour in length each.

I don’t do this for any personal gain, other than having a repository of tracks to listen to when i feel the need to relax and try to achieve a more mindful state. I mentioned this briefly in a previous post :- Music, meditation, mindfulness, and Me.

As I sit here in my office, the air conditioning has just kicked in, there’s a gentle hum from the fans that just triggered an ASMR response compounded by the sudden breeze of icy cool air blowing across the back of my neck.

To me, ASMR and White noise/nature sounds are a form of safety net. It’s a comforting sound that makes me feel good. You could almost say it’s a form of auditory stimming as it provides everything stimming does and more.

if you want to experience these yourself, please feel free. I’ve put them on Soundcloud and can be played free of charge as often as you like. You can find my “audio creations” under Mycrofttech Audio – Soundscapes

About my Anosmia.

Ok, on a blog about living with Asperger syndrome I do a post that’s nothing to do with Asperger’s! I’ve been getting a few questions about this and how it affects me so I’ll do my best to answer them below.

Q. What is Anosmia?
A. Anosmia is the medical term for loss of the sense of smell. It can be caused by many things such as head trauma or infection, Nasal polyps, exposure to toxic chemicals, drug abuse or medication side effects (to name but a few) . For some people, like me, it’s a congenital condition meaning we were born this way. I’ve never known what a smell is; I will never know what a smell is. My brain just isn’t wired to receive this information.

Q. So if you can’t smell, you can’t taste right?
A. Wrong. I *CAN* taste. “Flavour” is a combination of both taste and smell (and affected by other senses too such as sight, mouth feel etc) The human tongue detects 5 basic flavour groups, Namely Salt, Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Unami (the strange “savoury” or “brothy” taste found in foods like Beef, Mushrooms and Soy). I can also detect the burning sensation (an actual physical pain response) from the capsaicin in chili, and the cooling sensation of menthol in mints. What I *CANNOT* get is the aromatics found in food. These travel both up the front of the nose, and up the back and give an extra level of information about the food you’re eating. This is why I don’t really drink. Wine all tastes the same to me. Beer all tastes bitter. I can’t differentiate between herbs in dishes and subtle nuances are totally lost on me. It’s all about the primary flavour and the mouthfeel to me. Explains why I ADORE salty potato crisps! (Chips if you’re an American 😉 )

Q. But it’s not serious though is it?
A. Yes AND No. I do not consider myself to be disabled. It’s not as limiting to my day-to-day life as deafness or blindness would be. It doesn’t degrade my quality of life significantly and on a day to day basis I rarely think about its absence. However, that said I have had issues in the past. I’ve had more than my fair share of food poisoning. I’ve eaten foods that have gone off because they LOOKED ok. I’ve set fire to my kitchen at least twice because I couldn’t smell the food I was cooking was burning. Finally, I’ve NARROWLY avoided killing myself because I walked into a kitchen and was about to turn on a light.. not realising a recently fitted gas appliance had been leaking all day! Luckily I was with someone with a good sense of smell who stopped me before… well. Also, among people who have lost their sense of smell, the sense of deprivation has been linked to severe depression and even suicidal thoughts. Luckily I don’t miss it as I’ve never had it.

Q. Wow! I hadn’t really thought about that! So any positives about anosmia?
A. Well, as positive as one can be about missing one of your five senses. I used to work on my Aunt’s farm at weekends as a child for pocket-money. I do not need to go into any great detail about why having no olfactory sense would be a benefit there 😉 It’s also fairly invisible. Unless I tell someone, no one knows. So I don’t have to suffer discrimination (positive or negative) over my condition.

Q. So how else has Anosmia affected your life?
A. For a while I was obsessed with being clean. I mean overly obsessed. As I didn’t know if I smelt fresh or not I would constantly wash myself. This developed into an OCD fixation with hand washing to the point where my hands were dry, cracked and bleeding. I’m “better” now. I manage my condition much more effectively than I did. I still don’t like being “dirty” but I can tolerate it. I can do things now I couldn’t do previously. Like getting my hands messy with dough making bread for my Wife and I. (Apparently I bake the better bread of the two of us.. so this is my task now XD ) I do not know if my Anosmia and Asperger Syndrome are linked. It’s likely. I’ve always felt “detached” from reality, like I’m living inside a plastic bubble. I cannot really connect with anything as I’m missing out on a layer of information I cannot perceive. Food is mostly boring for me. I forget to eat mainly because I’m not being prompted by external signals. I do like some foods over others but mostly I eat because I have to not because I want to.

I also don’t use deodorants or scented soaps. I wash with plain white unscented shower lotion and do not use any sprays or perfumes.

This is just a brief introduction to anosmia for those who didn’t already know anything about it. If you are interested in hearing more please feel free to contact me.

An Aspie Sidesteps The Multiverse

There is a theory which is popular among science fiction writers that we live in one universe among many other parallel and different universes. In these universes life is similar to the one we live but not exactly the same as here, so I might be a professor teaching mathematics in one instead of the software developer I actually am in this universe. Small events can ripple outwards to make huge changes in the eventual outcome, meaning even a small change at the start of a life can lead to a very different one at the end. It made me wonder. What if?

Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a 47-year-old with autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 5. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, I just remember being told I had to go to the “special class” when I started school.

I didn’t much like school. The teacher never really listened to me and we kept having to do stuff I found easy, Like working out change from shopping or how to make a sandwich. I always felt really odd in there, surrounded by kids with Angelman’s syndrome, profound deafness or other similar conditions. Perhaps these days the kids would be more integrated and less isolated but this was a small Scottish lowland school in the 70’s we were hidden away in our own class like an embarrassment. I remember Mum and Dad arguing a lot. Dad always wondering about who was going to take care of me. Mum worrying about how I’d cope when they were gone. I tried telling them I was ok and could look after myself but they never listened. Primary school came and passed. I didn’t learn much, at least, not from the teachers at least. I read my own books and learnt from them. When I went to secondary school again I was segregated into our own special little class only difference now was there were more of us from other schools in the area. Teachers tried to give us the basics, but with limited staff and so many people with different abilities and disabilities more often than not we were just told to keep quiet and read.

I got picked on a lot at school. I didn’t really make any friends unfortunately. I’d often just spend time in the library, but even that was frustrating as the librarian always seemed to think the books I wanted to read were “too advanced for me” and gave me other ones. I get angry when I’m not allowed to do what I want and as such I’m always in the headmaster’s office for punishment.

School finishes and I’m told I have to go to the adult learning centre. It’s not what I want to do, I see people on TV using computers and things and I think they look fun, unfortunately my Mum and Dad say they’re for “other” kids and we don’t get one. I’m so bored so I make my own fun. I’m arrested several times for lighting fires. Just piles of rubbish but I loved the flames. I remember mum crying again and dad not speaking to me. Next thing I know I’m in “sheltered accommodation” living with other “disabled” and elderly people in a large town in SW Scotland. I’m given pocket-money every day and I have to report in all the time. I’m really bored. We have a computer in the home. It’s not very fancy but it’s got some games and stuff. I’m not allowed to mess around with it though. I was looking around one day and changed something and the printer stopped working. I was just curious.

I stay in one sheltered home after another. I’m allowed a little more independence now. Seems people are more accepting of the mentally ill. I have a small job working in the local supermarket. I’m not allowed to be on the tills or anything, but I sweep up the store and stock the shelves. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.

One day a new book shop opened across the street. It was an odd place, sold books but also have a coffee shop and computers you could use! If you paid 50p you could use one of the computers and search for ANYTHING you wanted. It’s amazing.

This one time, I found this story about a guy the same age as me, funnily enough also called Pete. Only he’s married and living in London with his wife and works as a senior software developer for a large multinational company. Gosh.. what a wonderful life that would be but it’s not likely.. it’s just pure science fiction if you ask me!

Afterword.

Obviously none of this happened to me. But it’s not all fictional. My school did have quite pronounced segregation for special needs students. Even the deaf students who were bright and intelligent were schooled with the more acutely disabled students. I did actually (and erroneously) end up in that class for one afternoon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My life as a troublemaker, arsonist and shop worker didn’t happen to me either. There was one boy in our school who this happened to. I never really knew what happened to him, I recall him being sent to a borstal school because of his arsonist tendencies.

My mum and dad were supportive all my life and encouraged my curiosity and wild ideas. Not many kids in early secondary school had two full sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica! (Admittedly 2 very old moth-eaten second-hand sets – but still !) I got my first computer aged 10.

And yes, I knew of people consigned to the care system. Living in sheltered homes and the such. My mother used to work as a carer in one such establishment and I got to know some of the residents who lived there. In this “what if” scenario I just put myself in their shoes.

I was never diagnosed at school. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46 by which point I was working in London and married. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have changed so drastically and dramatically. But I know my parents would have worried about my future and I also know I wouldn’t have got the level of education I needed. The rest is pure fiction and conjecture.

Positively Autistic: A List of (Positive) Autistic Traits

I just had to reblog this for my friends who read my wittering’s! So much of this could be used to describe me and it’s immensely refreshing to see these “quirks” portrayed as positives! Anyone who knows me will see me reflected here !

The rest of the blog is really interesting too! You should *really* go check it out!

UPDATE
Since I moved hosts I’ve noticed some of my re-blogged posts are missing. Where possible I’ve gone back and found the original site but alas not always have searches proved fruitful. Luckily I found this one and present a link to the original article here.

Stranger, Darker Better : Positively Autistic: A List of (Positive) Autistic Traits

Music, meditation, mindfulness, and Me.

Fellow aspies and non-aspies alike often suffer from the self-same problem, namely an overabundance or busy thoughts bouncing around our cramped overloaded brains all clamouring for attention. I guess ASD people perceive themselves to suffer more as they’re that little more susceptible to the negative effects. However, it’s something EVERYONE has to deal with at one point or another and in today’s high octane, high stress, low downtime environment finding quiet time is becoming increasingly more and more important.

As a child/young adult I loved the invention of the Sony Walkman. I’d never leave the house without mine and a collection of cassettes. Later the Sony Discman came out and again, I’d walk around with this oversized tea plate of a device strapped to my side and a collection of my precious CD’s . Thank heavens for the invention of the MP3 is all I can say.

To me, music was a means to escape – a bolthole for when things got too much. Although I listened to pretty much anything and everything my music tastes veered more to Classical music, repetitive tracks like Philip Glass or Steve Reich, complex layered pieces from the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre or Jazz from practitioners like Stan Getz et al.  I liked music I could get lost in, music that took me away from my immediate surroundings and gave me something to think about other than my current anxieties.

I remember listening to a self-hypnosis CD. It wasn’t music, it didn’t have vocals or anything but it was a rich layered abstract environment with overlapping elements of Whale song, synthetic drone sounds, chimes, discordant sounds and choral voices. I loved it! I would listen to this while lying on a bed in a darkened room and my mind would drift off into a strange daydream like state, totally focussed on the sounds but unlinked from reality. For the 30 or so minutes it played I would be totally relaxed and calm and the myriad voices in my head would be quietened. 

Flash-forward many years and I started making these sort of “music” pieces myself for my own benefit. I put music in quotes there because it’s anything BUT musical XD. I’m a mathematician, a programmer, an electronics engineer but most certainly NOT a musician.  I wrote software to generate midi keyboard signals based on musical theory (a mathematical concept) , Chord progressions too I incorporated  (again, another mathematical concept) –When you boil it down, you realise just how mathematical musical composition is ! I’d no real talent at composition but my semi-random plinks and plonks seemed pleasing enough.

I investigated binaural beat theory. I’m dubious about all their claims of Binaural (or Isochronic) beat technology being able to “Open the third eye, Activate astral projection or ensure lucid dreaming” instead I simply found the strange oscillating, pulsating sounds oddly soothing. Whether or not they were actually affecting my Alpha, Beta, Theta or Gamma brainwaves as they claim I have no idea – but they did relax me.

Later in conversation with a friend who was going through a rough patch I mentioned I did these for my own benefit and he showed an interest. Then another, and another.  Ultimately I polished my technique and made a few tracks which I released on Soundcloud.

As I say I’m not a professional musician – I’m not even an amateur musician XD I like listening to these as a means to relax. I find I become very focussed on the music and my random thoughts quieten down. I drift through strange landscapes where thunder and lightning mix with Tibetan bowls and choirs singing vocal aaahs and ooohs!
   I make no claims about my “creations” other than they’re vaguely and strangely relaxing.

If you are interested you can check them out here.

 

 

Me and The Mask

No, this isn’t a discussion of my personal feelings regarding the Jim Carrey movie (although, for better or worse, I quite like it.. Let’s just agree to never talk about the sequel though ok?)

No, the mask in question is this one *points to face* what? You don’t see a mask? Perfect! Just the way it should be. You should look at me and ne’er give me a second glance. You should cast your eyes upon my unremarkable mediocre visage and pass on without a second thought. I should merge seamlessly into the sea of anonymous faces, never standing out.

The mask I wear hides who I really am. After 47 years of being an aspie – actually no, technically after 1 year of being aspie and 46 years of being a very confused individual – I’ve learnt to hide my inner true self. I hark back to the conversation of the previous week ( see blog post Oh Dear…. for details) where a colleague told me I couldn’t possibly be on the autistic spectrum as I was “not weird enough” I suppose I should be happy that it’s working so well.

Unfortunately, I have to present a false front to my shabby interior. We’re all judged daily by people we know and people we don’t. Walk onto a bus and within seconds someone has probably made a snap judgement about who you are and what sort of person you might be. I get treated differently when I’m in my work suit and tie opposed to my scruffy weekend gear. How do you think I’d be received if people who didn’t know me suddenly realised I’m “not right in the head” (not my words – overheard on a bus recently about another passenger)

Masking is dangerous. It puts us under incredible stress and strain. Constantly being on guard and pretending to be someone else every waking moment is hard. Constantly worrying about letting your pretence of normality slip for a second makes me very anxious. Of course, I can’t SHOW this anxiety, no I have to bottle it up as well. Apply the plastic broad smile and artificial twinkle in my eyes. I have to laugh and joke with everyone like I don’t have a care in the world when in reality I’d dead and dry as dust inside.

It’s tiring being someone you’re not, which is why my wife is so important to me. She’s one of the few people who know ME – Not the fake public me, but the frail broken shy private me. She’s got the keys to my inner enclave. She’s seen the face behind the mask and covered it in loving kisses. I feel safe around her. She is my strength and my anchor.

Unfortunately I can’t carry her around with me every minute of every day. I have to work, interact with people, deal with problems and strangers and that great messy uncontrolled tangle that is London. As much as I hate it, I need the mask.

Time to put the mask on again and face the world from behind its protection.

How do I feel?

Smokin’

 

the-mask-world-cup-630x349

A letter to my younger selves

Imagine writing a series to letters to be sent back in time to yourself at previous points in your life. What would you say to yourself?

Dear 7yr Old Peter,

Hi, It’s Pete here. I’m you from 40 years in the future. I’m just writing to say hi and to let you know you’re going to be ok in School. You’ll be, what?, in 2nd year of Primary school at the moment ? I know you don’t like school very much on account of the bullying. You won’t always be the smallest person in the class, in fact by the time you go to high school you’ll be the tallest.  I know you don’t like many people in your class. But it’s ok. Things will get better. Not for a while I’m afraid to say, but they will get better. I know you feel different, you are but not in a bad way. You won’t know for a long time but you’re on the Autistic Spectrum. It means you find some things like making friends difficult but you’ll find you’re better at other things too. I know Mum and Dad shout at you when you get your homework wrong. It’s ok. They know how clever you are and are just trying to push you to do your best. Pity they’re doing it all the wrong way but it’s not because they think you’re stupid but because they think you’re clever and can do better. You know, after high school you’ll go to college and then university and you’ll become a Mathematician! Imagine that!! Mum and Dad are so proud of you, they may not tell you now but they will.. when you’re older.

Are you still playing with Lego ? In a few years Mum is going to give all your Lego away to our young cousin. I know I’m still angry about that. But you know what’s funny? When you leave university and get a job you buy more Lego that you ever have now ! At least that’s something to look forward to.

Oh and another thing, in a few years in the early 1980’s you’ll get a toy called a ‘Rubik Cube’ trust me you’re going to LOVE THAT!

Anyway I must go. Keep reading those science fiction books. In the future getting books is so much easier. I know the local village library isn’t very good but by the time you’re 18 you’ll have so many second hand books you’ll break the bedroom wall ! Dad will shout about it then, but we both laugh about it now.

Take care, stick in at school, And I’ll write to you again in a few years. Say hi to Kaye for me 😉

I’ll just stick this in the post. Hmm I might have time for another one to a later version of me..

Dear 17 year old Peter,

Hey! It’s me again! I know it’s been 10 years since I last wrote. It’s not easy writing letters to be delivered back in time. The postage is EXTORTIONATE ! haha. So, secondary school eh? And what you’ll be in 5th or 6th year now I suppose? You’ve been doing ok with your exams if I remember? And you’re library monitor now , albeit unofficially.  Sorry to hear you’re still getting bullied but congratulations on getting over your stammer ! You may not have liked it at the time, but the speech therapist sending you to the school acting club really helped! I see you like to hang around with the clever kids. They’re nice but they really don’t think you’re one of them you know. In few weeks they’ll all be voted in as Prefects. They’ll all vote for each other but I’m sorry to say no one will vote for you. I know you try to fit in but you’re still too “odd” for them. I wish you had been diagnosed earlier but you still won’t be diagnosed for nearly another 30 years! I’m sorry, people are just going to think you’re strange for a bit longer. At least the Doctors are looking into your Anosmia now! I know it took a while for them to realise. You’re not very good at communicating things yet. I know all those tests etc are unpleasant. I hate to tell you they never find a cure, turns out that it was due to you being so premature. Maybe that explains why we’re so “different” in other ways too? Who knows.

But.. whoo hoo.. if I remember correctly. Didn’t you get your first girlfriend recently? I forget her name but I remember her hand me down fur coat she’d wear to school. She was picked on a lot too. You called her “Teddy bear” and she called you “Specs” it won’t last I’m afraid but there will be others, few and far between granted but there will be others! You even get married later! But again that’s not for 23 years !

How you getting on with the cube? You’ve got a few now don’t you? And you’ve asked Dad to put bigger shelves up above the bed for all your books? I’d warn you not to overload them, but I know you won’t listen. Never mind, the sight of you buried under a pile of books will be a joke you and dad share in later years.

Oh, and how many LP’s and Cassettes do you have now? In a few years at University you’ll get a thing called a CD player. It plays things like little silver records. You and your sensitive hearing will LOVE the sound quality.

What else to say? Oh yeah. Don’t feel bad about flunking your 1st driving test.  You’re still young. Heck I’m 47 and I’ve just failed again too XD I won’t tell you how many times that is now.

Anyway must dash and get this in the post. I’ll write you again in a decade or so.

Pete.

Ps. Yeah, btw, you’ll drop the ‘R’ from your name when in Uni. Mum will still call you Peter. Heck she still refuses to call me anything but Peter!

Time’s getting on. Maybe I’ll write to my 27 and 37 year old selves in a few days.. Anyway I’m off to watch Doctor Who…

Known by many, loved by few.

That’s a twist on a regular diagnosis of ADHD sufferers (something, thankfully, I don’t suffer from) the typical way of describing someone with ADHD is ““known by all but liked by none” which is actually quite cruel if you consider it for a moment.

I read that and considered my own interaction with friends. I’ve only known about my Aspergers for about a year now but as a child I didn’t make friends easily. If there was a pecking order for bullies then I was at the very bottom of the pile. I was bullied mercilessly by everyone including some of the female students.  I had a terrible speech defect (to some extent I still have it, although 47 years of practice means I hide it very well) and kids (being the cruel little monsters they are) picked up on it and all through primary and secondary school my nickname was “Stutter”

Not everyone was a monster or a bully though. There was one girl, Kaye – sigh – I honestly thought we’d marry back then. Ah the innocence of childhood eh! Of course, to marry it is USUALLY preferable for affection to work BOTH ways XD Not being very good at reading emotions I didn’t actually pick up on that. I always got the impression she “liked me” but probably much in the same way as a child likes a dumb dog or cute idiotic little hamster hehe.

Anyway, we grew up. One cannot prevent that no matter how one tries. Primary School gave way to High School, High School gave way to University, and University gave way to the endless trudge of working for a living.

For 47 years I’ve found making (and more importantly keeping) friends very difficult. I’m what can only be described as “odd” or “peculiar”. I’m prone to emotional outbursts and don’t like letting people into my internal “fortress of solitude”. I’m standoffish and shy, bordering on rude at times.

I don’t like social events, I don’t like lots of people milling around or chatting (see my previous post for a recent example) so naturally I don’t tend to socialise much.

The fact that I somehow met a woman who loved me enough to see past my hang-ups to actually marry me is amazing. But she’s a social butterfly. She dances, she goes to the WI (Woman’s Institute) , she has MANY MANY friend who she contacts and visits regularly. Me?  I have her.

Well, ok I DO have other friends. People from University I feel comfortable around. They were my best man and ushers at my wedding. I never contact them, never see them, occasionally I’ll post something on my Facebook page that mentions them but I know they’re there. They’re not expecting me to chat or call. (When I do occasionally telephone I’m always at a loss for things to say anyway XD)

Then there’s my circle of VF’s (Virtual Friends.. a term my wife coined for me) These are people I chat with on Twitter. They have names, they ALL have names, but we don’t use them. It’s all MightyMycroft this and Diceman3000 that or BizarroMan10 the other (Those names are made up btw) there’s a level of detachment about them. Doesn’t mean they’re not important to me. They are. But they’re not “REAL” in the tactile sense. I’ve never met any of them, I have no intention to ever meet any of them, I care about them and their problems. Even going as far as helping them out when problems strike, but they don’t REALLY know me. They know a VERSION of me. Edited and spell checked (mostly) , Puns carefully thought out and delivered with rapier sharp (but controlled, planned and restrained) intellect . They get the cardboard cut-out of me complete with sound bites and bad jokes. They get the image I project onto Twitter. It’s no more me that the image on a movie screen is the actual actor whose movie you’re watching. It’s two dimensional and ever so slightly fake.

I have my wife but am I lonely? Perhaps? Yes AND No. I know that’s a contradiction but I like my solitude. I like going to the movies by myself, I like going to Cosplay conventions on my own. But part of me aches for the connection. I see friends playing online together, or meeting up at games conventions and the likes. I want to be able to share in that warmth but I can’t I’m too isolated. It’s a barrier I can’t get over. I have my soul mate in my wife; I should be content with that.

Sadly part of me is still that 8 year old boy standing on the edge of the playground watching other kids have fun playing chase and wishing I could join in.

Of Meltdowns and Men

(My apologies to John Steinbeck)

Well, what can I say? I’m an aspie and I have pronounced aspie traits. I’m 47 years old and tend not to throw tantrums these days when things get a bit out of hand, however that doesn’t mean I’m 100% immune from the looming spectre of the dreaded aspie meltdown.

At the weekend my wife and I drove from London to the Guilford area for a friend’s 50th birthday bash. Although I was hesitant and somewhat dubious about going to a party I decided to attend because (a) I like the friend in question (one of my Wife’s oldest friends I’ve ‘adopted’) and (b) I thought I could handle it.. After all how bad could it be?

Oh dear!

We arrived at the venue and it was quite small with benches round the outside and a couple of tables with buffet foods laid out. They were playing 80’s pop hits on the sound system and it was all very cosy and friendly – initially! Not everyone had arrived yet and we were some of the first people to turn up. More and more people started to arrive and floor space began to get eaten up. I found myself being unintentionally ushered up against the wall between a bench and the buffet while people split off into groups and chatted noisily around me. My wife is off chatting to some old friends and I’m standing there, trapped with no route out.. no, that’s incorrect, I had a route out. I just needed to say “Excuse me” and move. Of course, 20/20 hindsight is a wondrous thing. No instead I stood there feeling increasingly more and more anxious while being bombarded by music too loud for the size of the venue and the oppressive mix of multiple conversations battering my senses.

My wife looked over and her face dropped. I didn’t realise it at the time but according to her “post mortem” of the situation I’d started rocking and fidgeting with my fingers and cuffs. My “tell” is when I start constantly wringing my fingers over and over while keeping my arms tight up against my chest. When I’m really stressed I rock back and forth slightly, the faster I rock , the more stressed I’m getting.

I was at the brink of screaming when my wife grabbed me by the arm and guided me out to a quieter back area of the café/bar where the party was being held. But alas the damage was done. I was shaking, I became non vocal, was rocking violently and was chewing on my fingers.

People kept coming over to see if I was ok, unfortunately sitting down next to me and putting their arm around me didn’t help my feeling of being trapped. My tactile defensiveness was cranked up to 11. In the end, the proprietor of the establishment let me out the back of the bar – there was NO way I’d be able to walk through the crowd again. Luckily My wife and I were staying in a hotel across the road for the night so I had a bolt hole. I dread to think what would have happened if we were driving home or were staying miles from the party venue.

I felt awful. Not only had I ruined my night, I’d (perceived) to have ruined my wife’s night, my wife’s friend’s night and the night of her guests. As it transpires my wife informed them of my problem and they were all quite understanding.

I hate letting myself down like this. I’m 47, I feel I should be able to cope. I was supposed to be going to the MCM comic con this month but that’s a no go now. I can’t even begin to face several thousand people in a loud crammed exhibition centre.

As I get older I find myself getting increasingly isolationary. I seem to be losing the ability to cope with crowds. It’s a worrying trend and one I need to keep an eye on. Perhaps it’s not just me though? Perhaps other aspies have the same problem. Or perhaps.. going back to John Steinbeck..

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

What is Normal Anyway?

Warning! This is a long stream of consciousness post! You have been warned ;p

A thread on Twitter yesterday gave me cause for thought. One of my VF’s (Virtual Friends) was discussing in a somewhat heated exchange about the term “Neurodiversity”. As is the case with such internet based discussions it was very black and white and the argument was between Neurodiversity being an important term for people with mental illness conditions or, as my VF put it, A meaningless umbrella term. Now I’ve used the Neurodiversity term myself. So my initial reaction was one of “HOW DARE YOU!” but thankfully a few seconds of thought and I could see his point of view. I didn’t necessarily agree with it 100% but at least I could see it.

His argument boiled down to stating that, at some level, we ALL have some sort of difference to what’s perceived as “Normal” and he questioned what “Normal” is anyway. Statistically speaking Normal is the average, the peak of a bell curve.

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The “Normal” Bell curve

 

Normal is clustered around the warm comfortable middle with the majority of everyone else, patting yourself on the back and saying how good it is to be exactly the same as everyone else.

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My Bell Curve.

 

There’s one small problem with that, namely, it’s a lie ! Most humans (I assume you, gentle reader, are human? if not I for one welcome our new alien overlords!) are born with two legs, two lungs, two arms, two eyes etc,etc,etc. The average human is therefore depicted as such. However some people for whatever reason, illness, injury , whatever are born without 2 of some of these. So even if 999,999 people out of one million have two legs and one person has one, statistically speaking the average number of legs IS NOT TWO.. it’s 1.999999 ! as I certainly have two legs I’m therefore ABOVE AVERAGE in the leg department. I’m Leg Divergent. I’m also Eye Divergent, Lung Divergent and Arm Divergent. In this case being above average is the norm! (Obviously this is all facetious as in this situation we’d use MODE not MEAN but it’s illustrating a point)

Let me attack this from another direction. You are unique and totally, wonderfully, indescribably unique. In the entire history of human existence there has only ever been, and will only ever be, one of you. Speaking as a mathematician the odds of you existing at all are so mind bogglingly infinitesimally small that, statistically speaking, odds are you shouldn’t exist.

Don’t believe me? ok Big bang. Matter had to form; fluctuations in gravity had to cause matter to clump together in JUST The right way to form stars. The stars had to form in JUST THE RIGHT WAY to create all the nice heavy elements like carbon, iron etc. that make up our bodies. Not only did the stars have to go Supernova to let all that heavy element goodness out, they had to reform later to form solar systems.

Jump forward a few million million years.

The newly formed Earth had to be JUST the right distance from the Sun, not to close, not too far away. It had to be JUST the right size to get JUST enough gas to accumulate around it to form an atmosphere.

Jump forward a few million years

The right chemicals had to mix to make life, that life had to survive all manner of apocalypses and disasters, to eventually through many millions of years, evolve into some sort of “intelligent” life form.

Jump forward a few hundred thousand years.

At some point your great great great great great great great.. <some time later> ..  grandfather met a woman he quite liked and bingo – conception! of all the people he or she had to meet they met the ONE person that would be your distant ancestor.

Every child HAD to meet JUST THE RIGHT PERSON at the RIGHT TIME down the generations. Any difference and you wouldn’t be here right now. Someone ELSE might be here, but it wouldn’t be you.

Jump forward to the day of YOUR conception. Of the 100 million or so sperm that attempted to reach the egg ONE made it. That egg fertilised and bingo.. There you were.

The sheer number of things that had to be exactly right to produce exactly the person sitting there, reading this and wondering “What the hell is he on about?!” right now is mindboggling.  You are unique. So is everyone else. We’re all unique and infinitely precious. Saying you’re exactly the same as someone else diminishes you in ways you cannot comprehend.

No one is “average”, everyone is “unique”. In a world where above average number of limbs is the norm, uniqueness is “normality” We’re all different. It’s not a world where things fit into a binary classification system.  Black or White? I’m Scottish so naturally pale blue 😉 my Father is 1/2 Scottish and 1/2 Mediterranean descent. He’s naturally darker skinned than me.  It’s not “Straight” or “Gay” either. I’m a happily married Cis Gender Male. Am I straight? Mostly? Yes! Completely? No. I find some men attractive. I happened to fall in love with a woman and married her.  I’m not planning to change that. Am I BI? Nope. I am not any of these labels. Imagine a rainbow’s spectrum. Where EXACTLY does Orange end and Yellow begin? How do you decide to label something as Red, Orange or Yellow? Who gets to decide? Sexuality is a spectrum, Mental conditions are a spectrum. Within that, Even Asperger’s is a Spectrum. Am I EXACTLY the same as someone else with Asperger’s? No.

I’m a totally unique individual with a unique genetic makeup. There is NO ONE else exactly like me. My Sexuality is my own, My mental issues are unique to me. I may be SIMILAR to other people in certain aspects but I’m a singular entity. I may divert from the norm in terms of many things .. but then so does everyone else!

Neurodivergance is a catch all umbrella term that, ultimately, is meaningless. Normality is also a catch all umbrella term that is also meaningless. We’re all on the same planet together, all dealing with our own challenges and triumphs, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Isn’t it about time we stopped the whole “Us and Them” mentality?

There is no “Them” there is only “Us”