Hi! It’s Juensung here again with another boring, not-written-by-Sophia-and-therefore-automatically-not-as-good post! My esteemed host recently published a post about living with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a condition that the both of us share. I, too, have had my fair share of people asking me what it’s like to be the way I am. For a long time this baffled me, as I’m just, well, me. I don’t find anything special about being who I am. But they insisted they wanted to know, so eventually I wrote an article for a web magazine run by friends of mine that explained it in a bit of detail. The original can be found here, but I thought I’d share it with all of you here since Sophia broached the topic.
It starts with the mind-blindness.
This is a difficult concept to explain. Supposedly, science dictates that human beings are born with a special brain neuron called the “mirror neuron”, and this is what allows a person to approximate what is going through another person’s mind.
This is something that I’ve always been bad at.
I, like many others with autism or Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, do not intuitively grasp why it is that we are expected to comb our hair, wear ties, let other people finish speaking, and not laugh at funerals. Such things have always seemed rather silly and contrived to us. This makes other people react and possibly ostracize us, maybe even point or laugh.
One common misconception about those with autism is that we have no emotions, or that we are psychopaths. This is quite the opposite— we have very powerful emotions, but we’re just not very good at expressing them. Sometimes, we might not understand at all that others want them expressed and in the end, it all comes back to mind-blindness. We do not understand other people any better than you understand us.
In the busy blur of life, the things that stand out to me are not necessarily the things which stand out to others. For most people, the human sensory capabilities are something frequently overlooked. Human beings have five senses. Well, technically we have more, but nobody ever includes proprioception and the others. Thanks, Aristotle. The five basic senses are how we perceive the world, and many of those with autism have these senses on a whole other level.
I’ve struggled with these senses all my life. I can pick apart every ingredient in a plate of food. I can hear a cellphone go off halfway across a restaurant, and I can feel pretty much every thread of a sock on my foot.
It can get to be too much, which leads to a problem called “over-stimulation.”
I crash mentally from the sheer amount of information that’s coming in, akin almost to a computer that’s taking in too much data.
There are medicines that dull the senses, of course, but they often come at the expense of intellectual function and alertness, and I like neither of those side effects. The human brain is not equipped to handle so much information all at once. To compensate during development, parts of our brain are sacrificed to handle the power of those enhanced senses, and they say the mirror neurons usually are the first to go. Perhaps this is also the reason for our enhanced emotions. Emotions are, scientifically, no more than a series of physical reactions, and we feel anything physical very, very strongly.
Having Asperger’s, to me, is like seeing the world from inside a fish bowl.
The sun can heat the glass to boiling, setting you on fire. The moon freezes the glass to ice, trapping you in unbearable cold. Tapping vibrates the glass, tearing at your ears and your flesh, and the wind carries in a maelstrom of scent and sound and blinding light. It is agonizing and exhilarating and enthralling. I can know everything around me, from the greatest shout of joy to the tiniest squeal of anguish, the bugs in the dirt and the birds in the air. Sometimes, if I focus, I feel like I can hear the world around me sing – atoms and particles dancing in the void. That is the world I live in. And it’s very different from anyone else’s.
In pop culture today, it is the trait of quirkiness that probably defines Asperger’s and autism, to the point of reducing those of us with the condition to a trope. If a television writer needs a weird, yet intelligent and oddly charismatic character, they give him something closely resembling Asperger’s: Sheldon Cooper, Temperance Brennan, both dead ringers for this cultural fad.
In a case of art imitating life, they are not too far off from the real thing. Many with Asperger’s don’t understand social norms. They have odd, compulsive habits such as flapping their hands or making strange noises. And we all have something that we are focused on to the point of obsession, and when it comes to that topic, there’s nothing better. Such foci can range from dinosaurs to cars to academia (*coughSophiacough*) to my personal one, human beings.
I am an Aspie with a human focus. I am completely obsessed with everything human— their minds, their culture, their history, their anatomy. I compulsively memorize almost everything I read or hear on the subject, information concerning the brain, the bones, muscles, organs, philosophers, scholars, psychologists, stories, cities, wars, weapons, poisons, medicines, religions, scripts, and enough Greek, Latin and some German (Though I’m not as linguistically accomplished as my host) to at least get the gist of most Western European languages.
Aspies are also very literal, very logically minded. We sometimes have trouble with colloquialisms. We don’t always understand humour. We like routine, habits and rituals. We can become deeply disturbed when our routines and habits are interrupted. I personally think it has something to do with the senses. We need to control something to feel in control. It’s a large, intimidating world out there, and we can’t do anything about it. So we need something we can control.
But here’s the dark side of Asperger’s: our oddity isolates us. We rarely have close friends (though I myself am blessed with my host and my childhood friend Gwen). And in spite of the common belief that we don’t want any, we do. Oh, we do. Life in the fishbowl can be horribly, horribly lonely at times. We are not the ones invited to social gatherings. We are not the popular ones. The world can be frightening to us. It is filled with strange, incomprehensible people, people who curse at us and yell at us. There’s no order, no beautiful structure. Just complete, maddening chaos, and noise and smell and too many people.
Asperger’s can be painful. Extremely painful. Knowing what I do now, if Mephistopheles walked into the house of my friend and offered him the eyes I have, I would urge him not to take it.
But gradually, I have learned I wouldn’t want to change it. It’s part of me, after all. They say that humans are part way between angels and beasts, and I view myself as even more polarized than most. I can feel in my soul simple freedom in tune with my surroundings. I feel raw sensation, raw emotion. And while I stretch further between heaven and earth than most, it comes at the cost of being able to see left and right— I do not connect with people— nor vice-versa. But that’s the bargain that was made for my unique perspective, and though it was not freely made, it is willingly maintained.
And it’s not a losing battle either. I’ve found a way to be myself, more confident and whole. I am unafraid of public opinion, forthright, and diligent. My friends like me for my odd collection of talents, and my willingness to do everything I can to help them. My family members still do not understand me, but they are nonetheless proud of me and my accomplishments. In the great, cosmic game that is my life, I think that I have come to terms with my hand, and even learned to play it well. In a way, that’s all we can ever hope for. After everything, autism has become both blessing and curse. And isn’t that just life itself?