(Originally Posted October 6 2006)
Essay: Adventures in Aspieland; Coming to Terms with my “bad wiring”
It is probably an overused statement – ‘The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways’- one that is sure to invoke the rolling of eyeballs by the more practical folk amongst us; but regardless of whether it is a catch-all for both the unexpected and the fortuitous – it doth remain ever the same: He does. Psalm 139:14 says that we are wonderfully and fearfully made; but for some of us who are set apart from the “neuro-typical” we are, in addition to these things, ‘quirkily’ made as well. Recently, I had a moment of realization, after practically stumbling across it in an inadvertent Google search; the source of why I have, all my life, tried to “fit in” but have seemingly never quite completely succeeded. I appear to have what is called Aspergers Syndrome. But I am getting ahead of myself…
It all began a period of time ago. I will not say whether it was a long time ago or a short while; as I will protect the identities of the guilty and the innocent; but there was a certain young lady who had caught my attention. After pestering her with text messages and long drawn out e-mails that are an embarrassment to even mention; I had the opportunity to actually sit down with her in relative privacy and make my case for why I wanted to ask her out. I had implied it in text messages and e-mails – but had heretofore failed to step up to the plate and make a bold statement vocally. The internet and it’s various and wondrous forms of communication have forever changed the way that singles find each other, flirt, communicate, relate and potentially fall in love – but there will never be any combination of ones and zeros that will ever replace the sound of your own vocal cords vibrating out the message: I like you and I want to go out with you. And so – unexpected as it was in the moment – I had my chance, and I aspired to make full use of it.
Any reader of this blog can no doubt recall the magic moment in a given romantic comedy when the guys “makes the play” and finally – perhaps after failing to do it over and over again – finally gets it right. We all remember when Bill Murray finally gets it right in Groundhog Day, Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, and no one can forget Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump telling Jenni – “I know what love is.” And so I was there, talking to my friend – in what should have been a magic moment; but if it were a movie, suddenly, unexpectedly – it was as if all the writers had walked off the set. It was not that I had no lines to remember; I had no lines to say…they were not written – I had nothing to speak. In other words, in that supposed to be that certain aspired for magical moment…I flopped. Later in the day – I stood looking in the mirror, wondering to myself – is there something wrong with me? Why could I not emotionally articulate myself? It was an incredibly awkward moment – and it takes great honesty to even write about it or confess it. At 34 years old – I seemingly still did not know how to talk to a girl; at least in the way that a guy should learn to talk to girl. I prayed about it- and added it to the list of things I felt like the Lord needed to speak to me about.
This He would – in the most mysterious of ways.
For the benefit of those who don’t know me, or have not known me since I was a kid – I..m a normal appearing guy. I’m a highly functional adult, with most of the things that would figure into a picture of a successful individual; perhaps even an overachiever. I helped start and still own a successful web development firm that has been in operation for 8 years. I have two college degrees. I have held the same job in a local hospital’s lab; a stressful, demanding job that requires nerve and intelligence. I have watched fellow coworkers be hired, make mistakes and get burned out or worse yet, fired. I make decent money – and have been successful in real estate investing. I drive a newer model Cadillac – of which I own more then the bank does. I am decent looking – and I am working on getting off the few extra pounds that spending long hours cranking out programming code in front of a computer screen can earn you. I have a close-knit group of friends that miss me when I am working too much and who let me know it. I think I am pretty normal – but that has not always been the case.
As all these self-doubts began to further unfold – I went back and dug out my old mental evaluations that had been done on me as a child. I had not read them in years. Truth told – I don’t know if I had ever really read them. I knew they existed. I had seen them. My mom seemed on rare occasions to occasionally reference them; usually when I had exceedingly frustrated her with a single-minded, determined focus to get something done – despite all things to the contrary – she would say, I have a paper that says your like this; you’ll stop at nothing to get what you really want!.. But this time, I sat down at my desk and gently opened up the yellowing parchments from twenty five plus years ago and read what the child psychiatrists had written about me two something decades ago. It was unnerving – reading them. They described a tortured child who would beat his head against the wall, claw at his face and tear his hair out at what seemed an immense frustration with the world and how to relate to it; interviews, sessions with the Doctor that had to be canceled and rescheduled because I was so out of control; a birthday party, where as more and more people arrived, I became more and more excited until I reached a moment of what seemed like a neurological spasm – and ran up the stairs of the house and then down them – and then out into the brightness of day waving my arms in a spasm of energy impossible to contain any longer. There was the doctor that took me off Ritalin because my other doctor that had put me on it was “a navy doctor and they all take antidepressant and all their kids are on Ritalin” – or so he said – and after which, how I had done the unthinkable: failed kindergarten – until I was put back on it and rescued from the mental oblivion of ADHD that left me a lonely, misunderstood kid.
Denial. For the record, that is a six letter word; but it rather should be a four letter one – there were at least a lot of four letter words that came to mind when I was reminded by someone of my ‘learning disability’ as I got older. Such a joy it was – when the day finally came – that they finally let me go to classes all day long by myself; freed finally and forever from the ‘special ed’ classes that I was forced to go to. Such joy it was for my parents, also, when they called us all in – and told us that because of my diagnosis and faithful adherence to all the steps and processes offered by the state for my despised disability; that the federal government would pay my way through college anywhere I wanted to go for any degree; and if I graduated from college and could not get a job – they’d pay for another degree. Denial. I am not learning disabled. I am not ADHDHDADH-Whatever. I am not taking that money. I am not taking that label. I am NORMAL. Normal is a formal term – I have thus learned of late – more appropriately articulated as one who is ‘neuro-typical’ – or “NT” for short: possessive of a normal neurological state. This I have always wanted to be but seemingly have never quite been able to achieve.
Somewhere along the way – I finally stopped pulling my hair out. First literally and – then a decade or so later – figuratively. My first year of college I found what I know can only be described as my first real acceptance into a structured societal group; until that point, I had been a perpetual outcast – only accepted among other societal discards from the various yet standard, culturally-corralled stereotypes – not themselves totally neurotypical; assemblages I encountered throughout my early adolescence: geeks, nerds; the socially withdrawn; these were my cohorts – my understanding friends.
But eventually, I made it into a group – and many numbered among them as “normal” people; that first group of people wherewith I first experienced the concept of “social integration;” I still know a number of them, though it has been 14 years since they became my friends. Time came and passed and did the inevitable; social groupings reformed, old ones dissolved and many of the people within them went their different ways. I found another group to be a part of as the last formal vestiges of the previous passed into organizational entropy.
I experienced growth in other ways also. In high school I joined Junior Achievement and over three years slowly, painfully, gained the ability to make a presentation, to interact with groups of people, and to not just fit in – but to lead. Much later, by way of the goal of surrounding myself with successful people – I would surround myself with entrepreneurs, and they would rub off on me – and with the coming of the Internet, with its myriad of ever evolving possibilities; a good friend of mine and I saw opportunity – and took a giant step. Eight years of sales presentations and business meetings later – I hardly remember the abstract fear and tantalizing terror that such a prospect had in my previous years evoked from within the very center of my soul. I have come so far: I have a social fabric of friends and business and leadership skills – so far as to perhaps be able to fail to remember my fragile foundations. Yellowed pieces of paper and the tales that they told reminded me of my past. Long before it became a popular diagnosis – the over-reactive, falsely-assuming doctor had already been made cognizant of its fast approaching wave of popularity – I was a severely ADHD child. Whatever I was now – I had overcome great challenges to be where I was.
I stood, looking in the mirror after my ‘this is why I like you’ debacle – and I thought – could this have anything to do with all of that? I have had moments of realization; realizations of denial. I have sat in front of a computer screen and taken all day to crank out code that should have taken 30 minutes. Read a few pages of that book, cleaned my office for once, shaved, organized my financial papers, responded to e-mails – did everything but what I wanted to really get done. I’m still ADD; I’d think to myself; you never really outgrow it – you just learn to deal with it and focus, that is what they all say. You do learn to focus – constantly. I made the mistake of describing the ability to be easily distracted as a gift to someone by mistake; that if I grew bored in a conversation or situation – perhaps one of those dreaded company CQI in-services – I could almost instantly take myself somewhere completely different mentally – somewhere far, far way. I have expressed in confidence to a handful of people my disappointment with my past choices regarding not taking full advantage of my college grant; opting rather to let my hard-headed denial shape my college/career path. I have asked a friend I grew up with who is now a doctor about halfway through his psychiatry residency; dude – should I be on Stratera?
They say that time heals all hurts. I think that it eases a lot of hardheadedness as well. It brings certain realities into focus that you would have preferred to have left blurred and denied. I believe that the Lord God has an interest in our physical lives; not just our spiritual. I believe that the Lord God desires healing for those things wherein we hurt; even if the hurt has been denied for untold years and unspoken reasons. I believe in a God that can take brokenness and speak wholeness to it; and in the process uncover treasure where once there was only pain.
Without boring you with all of the exegetical theology behind such a notion – one, that in today’s modern evangelical culture may come off as being outmoded or unorthodox – it is my belief that God works this way more often then He works through other ways and means: He accomplishes the revelation of His Wholeness though Brokenness; He reveals the fullness of his Joy through Despair. We are not always quick in noticing His paths to these purposes. Perhaps we, at times in our lives, never notice them at all – though they abound everywhere. Sometimes, though we do…perhaps when asking to see the obvious.
Not too long ago I was surfing the Internet. I drove a 94 thunderbird until it had 286 thousand miles and had lost all resemblance of ever having had a paint job. The two most amazing concepts I came across when I bought my Cadillac were what it’s like to have a car with a paint job, and what it feels like to drive one with shocks that work to boot. It was not that I could not afford shocks. I was just too cheap to buy them – and since a rough ride did not really bother me that much, I never thought twice to replace them – I just drove slower over rail road tracks, and went elsewhere mentally when fussed at by my mom or somebody at having to ride a bit rougher somewhere; no big deal for me and the ever faithful thunderchicken. But I’ll put them on the Deville – when it needs them, through, I thought to myself while my pastor-friend Craig Ervin was stretching himself back in the caddy’s cashmere leather seats and saying “wow, what a smooth ride – nice”, as he then further elaborated that if I ever pulled up in the thunderchicken again – as I had so many countless times before – he would refuse to get in. He would only ride in ‘Pearl’ as he thus christened her, for the pearl paint job she sports. The name for my car stuck. So did the idea that I’ll get those shocks no matter who much they cost – when Pearl needs them.
So, in a nutshell, that’s how it happened. I was looking up “2000 Deville air shocks” just out of curiosity in regards to how expensive they would be when they would be replaced. Google is such an interesting creature by its very nature; the results that it returns are usually more interesting then the very thing you’re looking up; this is a notion shared by the ADD and the neurotypical alike. On the second page, about half way down in the results that Google served up to me, were words – that in a way I cannot explain – jumped out at me.
Asperger’s syndrome – MayoClinic.com
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate and socialize with others. Early specialized interventions can …
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aspergers-syndrome/DS00551 – 23k – Cached – Similar pages
Can -what? I Thought. I clicked on the link. I looked up Asperger’s on Google directly and spent several hours filtering throughout the recesses of the Internet; everywhere from webmd.com to those who blamed it on mercury in childhood vaccines. There was a lot to be found out about it. Turns out that Asperger’s has a 30 percent co-morbidity with ADDHD (30 percent of all ADDHD children are also positive for Apserger’s Syndrome). Some experts say that Asperger’s and ADDHD are actually the same thing, just manifesting different symptoms in different ways. Others say that they are separate medical disorders. Regardless – there is not a brain scan or blood test that can be performed for either; and Asperger’s is classified as spectrum Autism Disorder or High Functioning Autism, whereas ADDHD falls more along the lines of being classified as a learning disorder. Great. I’m Autistic. Hello – I’m Matthew, a.k.a. Rain Man. Pardon me while I go get the phone book and start memorizing it. There are lists of the classic symptoms of the syndrome; and after a time of denial; I realized that I was matched up with a considerable number of them, some somewhat – others very much so; enough that there was a great likelihood that to some degree I was that lucky 30 percent of ADDHD’rs to also have Asperger’s – or be an “Aspie” – as I continued to learn the online community of them refer to themselves as. How could this have been missed – if this is the case? I thought to myself. Turns out that there is a tremendous amount of research going on into autism (and these autism “spectrum disorders” as they are referred to) and there is so much that has only recently been learned and as much remains to still be discovered. I am 34 years old and was 7, when my diagnosis was made 25+ years ago, Asperger’s was hardly known about; if I was not full-blown – or even visibly full-blown to the right people in terms of my treatment – then I probably easily slipped through the diagnostic cracks. No one with Asperger’s presents all the classic symptoms. Most are very functional people. Some are outright geniuses – Andy Warhol, Einstein, Thomas Edison – their biographers have gone back with the Asperger’s criteria in hand and found that in all likelihood they and a large number of movers and shakers in the past were strong candidates for it.
Of course the world is full of unrepentant hypochondriacs who constantly pour over the web and create detailed lists of all the illness that they have. I wonder if the advent of the Internet created any perceivable bump in the numbers of patients treated for hypochondria amongst the practitioners of mental health. There is for sure a period of mild hypochondria that many people entering the medical profession experience during their training and education; while learning the ins and outs of various diseases – a cough registers somewhere the fear that it could be the beginning vestiges of some awful, encroaching disease. You grow out of that; well, most of us do. Once, more then a decade ago when I had first started working in the lab initially as a phlebotomist, I had the distinct misfortune of being stuck by a needle while drawing blood from a combative patient who was later, after the routine screening workup because of my exposure, found to be HIV positive. I tested negative – but only after waking up in the middle of the night, broke out in a sweat, after having put too many blankets over myself on a cold winter’s night – thinking to myself; oh, dear God, this is a symptom of AIDS overwhelming my body’s defenses; I’m seroconverting…
No – I never did. I never tested positive for HIV. But it made for some really nerve-wracking trips to have myself checked out. The issue is this- a bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A lot of knowledge can be downright frightening. You simply guard yourself against the terrors of such machinations by establishing within your mind that the laws of probability state that if you stop what you are doing, fly to Vegas, and blow every red cent you and your credit cards can cough up on slot machines: chances are you will be one thing: busted butt broke. And likewise if you start coughing; you don’t have interstitial lung disease, your not coming down with AIDS just because you woke up sweating one night (even if you were stuck with a bloody needle) and you’ re not Asperger’s positive just because you have all the symptoms… This is a hypochondriac moment- I thought to myself. The most I’ve ever come to it since that sweaty night after the AIDS needle stick thing. And then I remembered my prayer that I had offered up regarding my befuddlement at just trying to express how I felt about someone to them. What I felt was real wasn’t it? Was it just nervousness – or was it something more? Apies have difficulties expressing themselves sometimes because they feel love differently; more logically and cerebrally then emotionally. I remembered a friend teasing me as a child that I would grow up to be a mad scientist. The time I challenged a neighborhood friend to a game of monopoly – if I won, he had to be my friend – if I lost, I would never bug him to be my friend again – I lost. Aspies cannot read body language that everybody else communicates and reads subconsciously; the hidden language – was I deaf and mute to it? If the laws of probability in regards to me having Asperger’s and hitting it big in Vegas were the same – would I be on my way there right now? Maybe – with some of my money, not all of it – potentially.
The ongoing natural tendency to use big words in speaking when simple ones would sound much better; Aspies tend to use vocabularies way beyond their years. I failed kindergarten and 6th grade, but they told my mom that when I was failing the 6th grade I was on an 11th grade reading level. That’s just because I read a lot, right? If the laws of probability in regards to me having Asperger’s and hitting it big in Vegas were the same – would I be on my way there right now? Vegas? Probably. That when I told my mom about this- she told me that I had autistic-like mannerisms; facial ticks; and that I was forever walking on my tip toes. Check, check, check – Vegas? I’m already packed.
No one can offer conclusive evidence that I don’t have Aspergers. But there seems to be an overwhelming body of evidence that I was strongly in its grip as a child- and may well yet be still, even as I walk throughout adult life. But unlike interstitial Lung disease or AIDS, Asperger’s is not something that I would dread ever being told I probably have; at least now that I am educated in regards to it’s nature and effects. To those who have it and to those who work with those who do, as they grow up and face the diverse challenges that ADDHD’rs, Aspies, and others alike – and neurotypicals unalike face as well – it’s not really a curse – it’s a blessing. Of course it’s much more likely that rather then winning any popularity contests, you might rather be the object of the scorn of your peers; you might have to work harder at expressing yourself, perhaps in different ways to those you might get a crush on; and you might not always be able to trust your gut instincts when it comes to certain things – but if you are an aspie – somewhere, potentially hidden away from obvious view; in a place you might have never explored – there is a gift. In the brains of neurotypical individuals; if the wiring therein were thought of in terms of a house’s wiring – then everywhere you plug something into a wall socket you’d get the normative 110 volts. So you could plug in and play the radio that resides in the clock that wakes you up in the morning – or your Yamaha 300w foundation shaking stereo system that wakes up the neighbors three doors down. Point is – big or small endeavors; your still running 110 volts; and there is allot that you can do with that. In an Aspie’s brain, however, you’d find – to your surprise – that certain plugs are seemingly miss-wired. A test with a voltmeter would reveal one wall socket to be 12 volts; only enough to power a boom box or a flashlight; others would reveal themselves to be wired for 220 volts; enough juice to power a concert’s sound stage – or to power searchlights bright enough to not just light up a room but an entire downtown block. That’s the gift of Asperger’s – the adventure to be found in discovering that you have bad wiring in the power distribution of your brains capability provisioning. Some things are tough for you – and you can still do what you need to do albeit with extra effort. Other things – when you search and find them – will be found to be things that you are positively awesomely good at; better then anybody else could ever be, outside of tremendous effort – which for you comes effortlessly in comparison.
An Apple advertising campaign in recent memory began with the words here’s to the crazy ones – but aside from a maker of computers expressly offering its hardware/software to creative professionals – who often have already come to terms with the reality that they are a bit touched – most of the rest of society is constantly expressing itself in terms of a desire to be normal. The truth is that most of the creative and innovative movers and shakers in our world fall far from that description; and the rise of computers, technology and the internet has served to make all the more evident and acceptable what some have always known; geeks really do rule the world. What I found most interesting in what exploration I have done is that there is a tremendous amount of research going on in regards to the link between creativity and intelligence and non-neurotypicallity. Do a Google search on the words ‘Ashkenazi’ and ‘over-clocking’ and your find scholarly papers exploring the persecution of the Ashkenazi Jews and speculation in regards to if their constant fight for survival has contributed to an increased degree of intelligence from the normal population and also the prevalence of select physiological disorders and neurological diseases and can also be found. Anybody that ever put together computers before the advent of cheap custom built computers like Dell and HP; can remember putting together their own ‘Frankensteins’ and the potential ability through the selection of dip switches or by other various methods to speed up the megahertz of a given computers clock cycle or speed. Sometimes the results was a faster rendering of a photoshop file – sometimes the result was a fried computer from the effects of the increased heat and strain upon the computers neuro-like electronic infrastructure. Is it a gift to be over-clocked as long as you’ve got the fans blowing and can dissipate the heat or other oddities that come from such a non-typical setup?
This much is known – sometimes normal is quite boring. Sometimes having a bit of bad wiring is not all that bad of a thing. The universe is constantly demonstrating itself to be a far more complex state of affairs then ever previous thought. Michael Behe popularized the notion of irreducible complexity, in his book Darwin’s Black Box; arguing that in almost every layer that science decodes, there is yet another layer of complexity elusively awaiting discovery. What if personalities and intelligence are of the same nature – there were mediating elements at work far beyond not just our perception but also our control. There are scores of movies – the Island of Dr. Moreau for example – that tell haunting tales of one man..s quest to improve something, the result of which proves to come back circumspectly to both haunt him and eventually destroy him. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dr. Moreau finds a way to mix the dna of humans and creatures, trying to build a smarter, better, more genetically advanced person – and what he creates, rather, are legions of monsters some brutal others fragile – but all perpetually self-tormented. In the video game and the fictional/futuresque sci-fi movie it spawned, Resident Evil, a monolithic Microsoft-like purveyor of health enhancing pharmaceuticals invents a virus that does more then just rejuvenate aged skin – it brings the dead back to life and a typical zombiefest struggle for the future of humanity ensues as the virus gets out and the infected, reanimated dead escape from the underground laboratory called the hive where the horror born of hope was created.
So do we risk such a thing tinkering with the inner workings of the mind? Was the horror of the Holocaust not the logical outworkings of the then popular theory of Eugenics? Whereas such demons were before unleashed in the realm of politics, in the pursuit of a master German race – will we ourselves unleash that same dark genie from his dusty bottle once again -this time rubbing upon it in the name of science?
At the time of this writing – a demon-driven gunman recently walked into a quaint Amish schoolhouse and massacred innocent girls, thrusting the quite, unassuming Pennsylvanian Dutch into the unwelcomed limelight of the national news media. The Amish celebrate community through uniformity -whereas most of America celebrate community through individuality. We go great lengths to be different and included and they go great lengths to be the uniformly same and consider that to be the bedrock of their culture of faith.
Somewhere between the Amish and The Island of Dr. Moreau, I think, there has to be a balance. We should not tinker or seek to purposefully reproduce problems in the intricate machineries and fine wiring of our “fearfully and wonderfully made” mortal coils; neither should we reject and gloss over that which is there – I believe – sovereignly by the hand of God. This is where I have to swerve, unapologetically, to God’s planned design and His sovereign will for our lives. Brokenness for brokenness’s sake is non-instrumental and entropic both in it’s immediacy and in it..s ends; whereas – for the Christian and the heathen alike – brokenness by the will of God will almost always achieve a purpose, and even sometimes a blessing; more so to those who trust in God – but not exclusively to believers either. Nihilism is the wreckage of relativism upon the rocks of the absolute; nothing ‘just happens’- all is ordained and foreknown in the eyes of the one who both created and loves us. We ourselves may produce entropy-inducing chaos by our own hands – but the transcendence and immanency of God cannot allow Him to do any such thing with any such results. He is the God not just of order, but of disorder. Brokenness and despair are His secret servants; and they reveal His majesty and accomplish His work in their own secret, often to our own eyes, bewildering ways.
In 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul writes
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
In 1st Corinthians 1:26-31, he further states
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called]: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea], and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
And so I resolve that whatever old or newly discovered weakness I may or may not have; I know that there is strength to be found either spiritually or naturally or in both dimensions from it. And whereas I was conceived somewhere in Cleveland Ohio and not on an island in the lab of a mad scientist; neither am I a zombie – thought long nights of programming and lack of sleep can seem to induce the appearance – if I ever do find out I’m somehow I’m really either, I’ll stick to sushi over brains and try to still be a halfway sharp dresser. To God be all the Glory regardless of the situation.
And as a footnote – my love life – yes, Aspies love too and those who love them, love them and cherish them for who they are and the way they are too. I am greatly loved and I love. And I am dating/pursuing and – usually – find my words and emotional self-expression just fine; unlike the episode that launched me into the before-mentioned time of self-reconsideration. I would never want to be too good at wooing somebody anyway – but as they say; “hate the game not the player” – right? Perhaps it was God pulling away my vain words to reveal my own unrevealed, heretofore unknown brokenness; somewhat healed but still present, as an answer to a prayer that I prayed to know all of Him – both in my wholeness and in my brokenness.
Sola Dei Gloria
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