Most people have triggers that will raise one’s anxiety. Such as if one walks into a convenience store and the person at the counter is not paying with cash but insisting on cash with a gun in hand. That would do it for most folks.
One of my triggers is scheduling and keeping an appointment. Doctor appointments are the worse, but other kinds of appointments are not anxiety-free either. It’s as much a battle of calling and making the appointment as it is in keeping it. When I have to call and make one, I actually secretly wish to myself that no one answers the phone on the other end.
A necessary appointment to keep me on the road is a car check-up. After all, a car doesn’t change its own oil or rotate its own tires. The auto industry is working on cars driving themselves. I’m all for that. It would be even better if my car could get itcheck-up without my having to tag along.
It isn’t the wait so much as it is interacting with the counterperson. Most social interactions, formal or informal, are not welcomed by me. On my car’s last check-up, my autistic trait of the fear of posing so much as a question to the one behind the counter increased my waiting time by an hour. My car didn’t get any attention until a counterperson guessed I was the owner of the blue car just sitting by its lonesome in the car-waiting lane. She asked if I had checked in with someone. Sadly, I had been debating in my mind as I sat in the waiting room about whether I needed to check-in or not. You see, I had made the appointment on-line. Didn’t they have the information since they had the car? Oh, well, I was at least grateful she didn’t admonish me that I should have done that when I first walked in. I felt bad enough as it was.
A good week is a week without any appointments. I have more good weeks since I am now retired. When I leave the house, it is usually to go where I want to go. It is nice to on those occasions when I am out and about with no pressure to interact with my fellow man. Even shopping trips are not as much a strain since the arrival of self-service check-outs in my local stores.
I can say there’s practically “0” chance of my forgetting an appointment. Thus there is no danger of my being charged a fee for not showing up at my appointed time. Why? The anxiety of the appointment will start within a few days before the appointed time. And, more likely than not, I will have a nightmare living through the appointment before the appointment.
WARNING: Don’t get too close to me!
If there are words to explain how Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects my communicating with my fellow man, I don’t know them. It’s a mystery to me and I can only hold up my hands and say to myself, “it is what it is”. I relate to the above posting by Alis Rowe, author of “The Girl with the Curly Hair – Asperger’s and Me”.
I have a friend who knows more about me than those who’ve known me for most of my 61 years of living. The odd thing is we have never met in person. Our friendship is proof that one-on-one contact isn’t required. An exchange of on-line messaging has been sufficient. It works well for me since writing is my passion and social interaction is not!
My friend, who is long-distance, gets an e-mail update on “what’s going on with me” every Sunday without fail. I do mean every Sunday; not Monday, or any other day of the week. It is the “routine” thing that’s a common ASD trait. If she didn’t get a message from me on Sunday, she’d know that I must be in utter misery on my backside or in a coma.
Once upon a time, my friend and her best friend were on vacation and within driving distance. She messaged me and invited me for dinner at a restaurant about halfway between my house and her hotel. One would think I would want to lay eyes on someone who knew me better than most. But instead of excitement, I felt utter panic. It was as if she issued a threat instead of an invitation. It was unexpected and threw me for a loop. I racked my brain and came up with an excuse which is typically the way I respond to invitations.
Why I didn’t just do it? As I stated earlier, “it is what it is.”
I admit I don’t make a good friend in person. I’m not a good choice to chat with, dine with, or take in a movie with. But I make a good casual friend and cater to having relationships of those whom I am fairly sure won’t invite me over for whatever. Most especially, the few in my life who get updates from me on a routine basis and above all, want them.
One-player games are the best!
Amidst a group, my thinker is working and my mouth isn’t.
Tasks that are planned are a delight to carry out. Unexpected tasks are NOT!
Although my interests are few, they are plenty of ointment for my anxiety.
I don’t share very well.
The decisions I have to make on the fly are ones I usually kick myself for later.
I prefer to take on a problem by myself. There’s just something about the gratification of figuring it out all by myself!
If I ask for help in solving something, I am a desperate woman!
Even if I could use some assistance in a store setting, I seldom will seek it.
On rare occasions, I have acted spontaneously and enjoyed it, but it was MY idea! Someone else’s, NO! I might do it but I won’t like it.
I like the sound of “Alone Again”.
I make a phone call and hope no one answers.
There’s NO space like MY space.
My vacation is now the same destination. A six-hour round road trip that I have come to know so well. How well? I know how many exits there are off IH-75 from Dallas to my destination in Oklahoma. I have two road stops and I know the exit numbers of both. It is a solo trip and upon arrival, I’m the only human being within a few miles. I have the company of three dogs whose Pop and Mom are my brother and sister-in-law. When they leave for an overnight visit for a night, or more nights, that’s when my vacation begins.
On my most recent dogsitting adventure, I had to keep an extra eye on one of the three dogs, Bailey, who had surgery on one of her hind legs. It had a splint on it and she was having to take antibiotics and pain medicine. There were three dog bowls with three hungry dogs at my feet. It took a few mistakes for me to figure out what was the best approach to dispensing the medicine in the right bowl. I also learned the hard way to wash my hands after every dispensing operation. Believe you me, Bailey’s antibiotic powder tasted terrible!
I would take the dogs for a walk so we all four got some exercise and fresh air. I was empathetic as I observed Bailey try to keep up with the rest of us. Before the surgery and splint, she could run circles around the older dog Blu who is 15-years-old in dog years. Now she was the one in the last place. When I saw her in a distance hopping along in our direction, I headed back in her direction. She then stopped and hopped around where she was doing what dogs are notorious for doing – smelling the earth.
Watching Bailey’s struggle reminded me of my own with living on the Autism Spectrum. For a temporary period, Bailey had something that set her apart. It was just a splint on a hind leg, but mentally and physically it was a temporary life-changing event. Though no fault of her own, Bailey was out of step with her companions.
When Bailey stopped trying to keep up with us and was satisfied with where she was, it brought to my mind that this is how I cope with living on the Spectrum. Unlike Bailey’s difference, mine is a lifelong one. I didn’t have an explanation of what my “splint” was until I had just turned 58. Knowing what it was helped me to stop trying so hard to keep in step with my companions.
For instance, I didn’t get as far as marriage and a family of my own. After my diagnosis after turning 58 years old, I stopped grieving about that. I know that some of my peers who are on the Spectrum are married and have families, but I believe it just wasn’t something I could have managed. If I had pursued marriage and family just so I could be like my peers, I suspect I would have been as miserable as Bailey would have been in stretching that rear leg farther than it was able to go.
Bailey’s struggle is temporary. When that splint comes off, she will be back in full force. She will be able to run as far as the puppy Luna. My splint will be with me until my last day on earth. But I’m okay with that by relishing where I am at in my life instead of where my companions are who don’t live on the Spectrum.
Competition is one of those things I see people do and wonder why. To be the BEST? Beats me why. Whatever I like to do, such as bicycling, I just want to enjoy it by MYSELF! I don’t care to be in a race on a bike or in a game with a deck of cards. I don’t like to play games with others. I am content as I can be solving puzzles in solitary confinement.
Surprisingly, I fell head over heels with a new obsession last Christmas that affords myself many an opportunity to indulge in “competition”. It’s an offshoot to my long-held obsession with electronic gadgets. I have long held a strange attraction to items attached to power cords or have battery compartments. Anyway, I ventured into the world of video-games. After all, video consoles do have power cords attached to them.
My first bite into gaming was a cheap video game console. A small investment before going full hog. By Christmas, a few months later, I had purchased not one, not two, but three different video game consoles. I can’t speak for others with Autism, but with me, if I like something, I go way OVERBOARD! This explains, too, why I have so many boxes of Cheerios and packs of diet coke always on hand.
My favorite video games are one that provides “training sessions”. I stay “in training” instead of engaging in an online competition! Such as a ping-pong game in virtual reality where my opponent is an alien-like figure. The figure always wins just as the wall always wins when I practice hitting a tennis ball against a wall. My goal is to maintain a work-out of pinging back and forth rather than serving a ball that doesn’t make it over the net or lands off the table in out-of-boundary land.
My Autism has a part in just about everything I do. That includes when I have a game controller in my hand. My lack of balance, motor skills, and speed raise their ugly faces when I’m gaming. Racing games, in particular, are not a good match for me. I don’t know a lot about racing but I know enough to know that quick thinking on the fly is a valuable asset for a speedster. One doesn’t have time to think on a racing track of whether to speed up, slow down, veer to the right or to the left, etc. if they want to finish in a decent place. My goal isn’t to finish third, second, or first. But just to get to the finish line with the racing care in one piece.
There is always the option with many of the video games of playing them with others on-line. I’d only do that if a pistol was pointing at my head.
I confess right up front I am 61 going on 11.
Family members who come over to my Mom’s for Sunday dinner where I also live are used to my being a no-show at the dinner table. I am a solitary diner, in other words. My sweet grandniece and charming grandnephew rush to my room after dinner. To see me? Well, I am the key to getting entrance into my room where the toys are. I call them electronic gadgets but to the kids they are toys.
One of my gadgets/toys is a robot named Cozmo that resembles a big-sized mouse. The kids enjoy playing with it using a smartphone app as a remote control to control the robot’s movements. Cozmo can also sing on demand and make animal impersonations.
I’ve added another obsession to my list and it all started when my grandniece said she wanted a Nintendo Switch Lite for Christmas. I would like to pin the blame on her but that wouldn’t be fair. Her wish prompted me to do research on what she wanted and its relations (Xbox, PS-4, etc.). By the time I came to my senses and said ENOUGH to Amazon.com, I had bought an Xbox, Virtual Reality Quest, as well as a Nintendo Switch Lite. It wasn’t for my playmates; they were all for ME!
I am letting the kids play though when they are visiting. If there is one positive reason for adding video consoles and games to my collection, it would be the joy of watching the kids in my life play with them. I think it is a good safe bet that they’ll remember me as their Great Auntie Sashi having the neatest toys in town. Not a bad way to be remembered.
One of the delights when I sub for my friend, a special education teacher’s aide, is working with a now-third grader named Elijah. I’ve known him for a couple of years now. The aide brings him into the room where she is stationed and spends 15 minutes with him each school day to help him with social skills. I subbed for her recently on a Friday and the following Monday. Elijah, like myself, is on the Autism Spectrum and has a talent and special interest, or obsession. Mine is writing and fascination with gadgets; Elijah’s is drawing and fascination with superhero characters like Spiderman, etc.
I told him on Friday that I had recently taken up a new obsession with video gaming. He said, “You’re too old to play games!” Of course, I gave a strong rebuttal to that but I didn’t see any sign that I had persuaded him that I wasn’t too old for the gaming world. On the following Monday, I told one of the special ed instructors what Elijah had said about my being beyond the age of gaming.
Later, during our 15 minutes of time together, Elijah and I decided to play the board game Chutes and Ladders that was sitting on the table. Low and behold, I won the game! I told the instructor I had won, half-believing I had. She said within earshot of both myself and Elijah, “Well, I guess Ms. England you are NOT too old for games!” I looked over at Elijah’s face and I detected an honest-to-goodness chuckle. Like some autistic boys, it is NO SMALL task to get so much as a chuckle out of them.
I am not too old for playing video games. Winning? Well, I do win sometimes but I’m better at losing. Video gaming always reminds me of my autistic traits of lack of coordination, lack of being able to focus on more than one thing, and not being quick on my feet. However, my obsession has only grown and I’m persistently stubborn about playing no matter my scores. Since I play games by myself as I do so many things, I don’t have to contend with eyewitnesses.
I have been asked by neurotypical relatives and friends, “I don’t understand! Why you can’t just…?” I don’t like the question because I don’t have an answer that would satisfy the one asking. Maybe that person would be surprised how many times I’ve asked myself why can’t I just do what so many people do without a heavy dose of anxiety.
I don’t understand why I instantly become the silent observer when I find myself with more than one person. I don’t understand why I have anxiety pangs when my phone rings or I have a voice mail message. I don’t understand why I need to talk to myself as I do to breathe. I don’t understand why I wring my hands and pace the floor when excited or anxious. I don’t understand why I repeat out loud or in my head the same senseless phrases every single day. I don’t understand why someone playing music on the radio or some other device can upset me to the point of a meltdown. I don’t understand dating, sex, and marriage. I don’t understand parenthood. I don’t understand grieving and funerals. I don’t understand why it is easier for me to show my affection for others in writing than to display affection or speak of it. I don’t understand why I have this constant daily need to live in two worlds: the real world and my imaginary world.
I don’t understand why people enjoy being with others rather than alone. I don’t understand why social gatherings, such as club meetings or church services, can be enjoyable or uplifting. I don’t understand how simple it is to give or receive a hug. I don’t understand why it is just a simple thing to ask a store employee a simple question such as if and where they keep an item I am on the hunt for. I don’t understand how anyone could look forward to going out on a date than to dread it terribly. I don’t understand how the phrase “I love you” can come easily and often off of one’s lips.
I sincerely don’t understand what comes easy, natural, no big deal does NOT to me. I don’t understand what comes naturally for me to do doesn’t enter the minds of others.
I’ve heard it say those who have Autism can’t fully explain it and those who don’t can’t fully understand it. Although I don’t understand, it is of such comfort and relief to know there are many others who don’t know understand why they just can’t do whatever either.
I have moments when socializing I think to myself, “I wish someone would give me a script!” With living on the Autism Spectrum, I could use one when undertaking the challenge of a conversation. (I gave my Autism a nickname of Billy).
I recently was visited by a couple of family members. As I typically do, I retreated to my bedroom where I continued hanging out on my computer. I heard the chatter in the living room between my relatives and had no urge whatsoever to join them. Their conversation covered topics I had “0” input or interest in. Billy isn’t a secret to them and they’ve come to expect me to stay in my room when they come over.
One of my nephews will pop into my room to say hello. He’s one of my top favorite fellas in my life and that’s saying a lot coming from me who has had few males in my life. However, we don’t have many mutual topics of interest. Such as I am interested in politics and he’s sworn off voting ever again. I can understand why he feels that way though.
We do talk about my electronic gadget collection since he does seem infatuated by it or maybe he’s just infatuated with how many gadgets his eccentric Aunt has. His visits are usually months apart and so by the time he visits, I’ve add another gadget or more to my ever-growing collection. This keeps the conversation going for a while depending on what I am showing off and his interest in it. After the demo, I am GROPING for something to say to disrupt the deafening silence. If he isn’t wishing for an escape hatch, I know I am.
On a shopping trip with my Mom, we ran into a lady we’ve known for around 40 years and hadn’t seen in like a decade. I was glad to see her and even exchanged two hugs worth. Her idea, not mine. HA! My Mom got more hugs but two was my limit. My Mom and the family friend were more engaged in conversation than I was. I felt more or less like a standing statue watching the other customers maneuver around us. I would pop in the conversation if a topic came up I could contribute to. I wish I could have enjoyed it as much as they did but it just doesn’t work that way in my brain where my Billy resides. Billy is what he is.
Life changed after that lightbulb moment when I first suspected that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), commonly called Asperger’s, wasn’t just a medical term for those students in a special education class where I often subbed for a teacher’s aide. One of the positive changes was no longer worrying about being a loner. I had an explanation as to why I preferred to do most anything by myself.
I never thought I would ever say I enjoyed being in a group. Well, I don’t cater to one where I have to physically be with group members. I found ASD groups on FACEBOOK (FB) where I could be among my own people, so to speak. I could participate instead of only observe. Since the groups were online, I didn’t have to worry about a fellow member inviting me out for coffee.
One of my absolute favorites is the daily postings on FB from Alis Rowe, from the U.K., who refers to herself as “the girl with the curly hair”. The below posting is me in a nutshell when it comes to socialization.
I’m isolated in a group. I’m delighted conversing with one person on a mutual-interesting topic. I’m most content alone.