29 January 2014

I am...

So we all have stories to tell.  Stories that define us, that make up who we are, that describe us...and everything else in between.  I've written randomly in the past about part of my story, most recently talking about my battle with depression/anxiety and my thoughts on bullying, and random other bits and pieces.  With my 2013 end of the year post I mentioned that I had recently had another diagnosis that I wasn't ready to discuss then.  Now though...I'm ready to share the information widely (had to wait on a few other things first.)  It's another part of my story.

Although I've never written about it before I was diagnosed early on in my life with ADD, and of course I've blogged about part of my battle with depression and anxiety.  And if you've met me in real life you'd be apt to describe me as the quite, shy, quirky, but mostly nice dude that could probably speak up a bit more cause he's pretty smart.  That's the way I've been described all my life.  But...I never felt like it described me right.  Growing up I knew that I thought differently than everyone else.  I could never describe it or put it in words, but I knew I didn't think like everyone else around me. So I just went with it.  I did things to emphasize that I was different, that I was me, and I didn't care what anyone else though. And it worked for the most part. Sure I had to conform to rules for some jobs, but overall I could just be me and I still had the things that I wanted. I'd get the job done my way and no one was bothered by my quirks. I had friends that hung out with me and would occasionally make allowances for my weirdness.  That all changed a good bit when I started my first professional job.  It wasn't bad though and I could make it. And then in the summer of 2012 the depression/anxiety hit like a ton of bricks and it don't go away.  I could almost get back to an even keel, but there were situations that I kept encountering that just made me feel lost and confused no matter what I tried.  And a lot of the advice I got from so many different people, some meaning well and others not so much, just didn't click or fit for me and just added to everything else that I was feeling. That something was wrong with me, because I couldn't match what they did.

Then last spring I had the chance to visit a friend and they were talking to me about one of their kids, and something clicked.  I kept thinking the way they were describing their child...they were describing me.  Having to watch people to see how to fit into groups, what they did to get invited into conversations, a lot of things just...matched.  And in December I was diagnosed as being on the Asperger's spectrum.  And a lightbulb went off in my head.  Lots of things that hadn't made sense growing up, things that couldn't be described by just being shy or ADD...the pieces finally fit.  Why I couldn't figure out how to talk to people, why I do poorly in some social settings, why I say things that violate "societal norms," all of it finally made sense.  When I told some people their response was "I would never have pegged you for being on that spectrum" and others were "Yeah I started to think that a couple of years ago" (thanks I think?)

If you read the Wikipedia link above (yes wikipedia provides a good overview) you can see that Asperger's is a broad ranging spectrum that is part of a larger scale of Autism Spectrum Disorders, which is why some people were surprised when I told them that I'm on it.  For me, I fall somewhere in the middle of the Asperger's spectrum.  Some of the traits/characteristics that apply to me:
  • I'm not the best at social interactions.  95% of the time I have no idea how to start a conversation with someone new. My brain just can't figure it out so as a coping mechanism I'll try to talk about something that I like, with varying degrees of success.  Once I get to know someone and learn what they like I can start conversations, but....they're going to be on the topics that I know that person likes, which can get old after a while.  If someone else starts the conversation though, I'm generally OK.
    • As part of this I also tend to use repetitive phrases, a coping mechanism I developed to be able to fit into conversations. Like saying "I'm tired" a lot if I'm responding to how I'm doing.
    • Another part of this...I don't always say or ask the right thing in social interactions.  Nothing malicious, just questions that one shouldn't ask, like asking if someone is pregnant because they just announced their engagement and were out sick for a few days.  Can't explain why, but that's just where my brain goes.
  • I don't do well in crowded spaces. If I'm with someone I can control it a bit, but being on a plane or movie theater or conference where someone sits right next to me is...uncomfortable 
  • I don't do well with nonverbal communication or nonvoiced expectations.  This crops up on projects and what not where other people get the sign that things should be done a certain way, just because...I miss it.  Or mistake it for something else.  As for the nonvoiced expectations, I have to ask questions or clarifications for things that may be obvious to others.
This post from CNN.com, written by a father of a child with Asperger's and someone that talks about hiring people with Asperger's, resonated with me on so many levels and just fits...me.

So needless to say all of this, has impacted my life, both personal and professional.  And it's created some unexpected challenges in a part of my life that I've been working through lately, which has made this the worst start to a year I've ever had.  And...yeah.  And yes this is only part of the story. I may blog more about it later, I don't know. I'm still figuring out where I fit into all of this, but things are getting a bit easier now that I know a name for it.

But these things aren't all of me. They're a part of me.  The shape how I view and process and interact with the world around me.  They are a part of me, but not all of it.  I am also these things:
  • librarian
  • artist
  • Blogger
  • Book reviewer
  • Lego builder
  • designer
  • problem solver
  • trouble shooter
  • excellent listener 
  • fan of graphic novels
  • doer 
  • role maker
And a lot of other things that I can't list or name or don't even want to start naming.  

I'm still figuring out some of what that means. And if you don't like it...frankly that's your loss.  I know I've got good ideas, that I'm a good person, and that I mean well.  And I may say stupid things, I may not act or react like you do or how you want me to, but that's ok because I am me.  Meanwhile, I'm going to remember this line from Batman Begins where Alfred Peenyworth says to Bruce Wayne: "Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up." Not that I've fallen...but I am going to pick myself up again and go on with life.