Anyplace like this – open spaces, rolling meadows covered in bright green grass with mountains in the distance – is my happy place. Image courtesy of pngtree.com
Here are a few passages from my soon-to-be self-published book on my life having Asperger’s in the mainstream, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”.
These excerpts describe my experiences as a forty-something, approaching-middle-age adult on the high-functioning autism spectrum;
The chapter is called “Frustrations In My Forties, With A Helping Of Hope” – which I believe explains it all…
I would be anywhere – in my house, or out and about – doing my thing, when all of a sudden a flashback of something socially stupid that I did or said, or a memory of someone like Marlon* putting me through hell, even though it had happened decades before those horrible reminisces would suddenly pop into my head with such clarity, they might as well have occurred that day.
The trauma resulting from these flashbacks would be to the point where I would scream “NO!!” inside my head in order to try to get them out, Sometimes I’d scream “NO!!!” out loud because the flashback and trauma would be so overwhelming.
This PTSD, combined with the faux-pas I committed that was a part of trying to live, be accepted, and liked in the neurotypical world on my terms, all led to a level of frustration that was so pronounced that it got to a point of, well…
Remember the 1995 movie Leaving Las Vegas?
That’s the movie where Nicholas Cage won the Oscar for Best Actor playing a raging alcoholic who, when he loses his job and everything else due to his dependency on booze, moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and ultimately succeeds in that goal, but not before meeting and falling for the proverbial “Hooker with a Heart of Gold”, played by Elizabeth Shue (who got a Best Actress nomination for her efforts).
Well, for a long time that’s how I felt, dating back to when I quit my last job as an after school teacher in Inglewood.
Did I start hitting the Jack Daniels or hook up with a working girl of the evening?
Of course not, but whenever I saw Nicholas’ character imbibing on the Vegas Strip and the surrounding streets, I couldn’t help thinking that I could relate to how he felt; how he saw absolutely no way out.
What triggered these urges in me were the acute feelings of oppression; being yelled at (in my mind), told what to do or what not to do in a way that (again, in my mind) made me feel like the one doing the yelling and ordering about saw me as an inferior less-than-human being, as that seemed to be the only time he or she ever communicated with me in any way when all I was doing was something that society has always said one should do:
For practically my entire life, the messages I had received time and time again was that the world would universally respect, accept, and embrace me if I was myself and didn’t try to emulate anyone else.
Incident after incident, not just during my forties but seemingly my whole life, told me in no uncertain terms that the notion of “be myself and I would get respect” was nothing but a boldface lie – at least as far as I was concerned as I would never intend to speak for anyone else.
How does my being on the autism spectrum tie into all of this, you may be asking.
While I have described different episodes that highlighted my anger and frustration over being rejected, condescended to and bullied for the crime of just being me and – very important – not conforming to what was considered “normal” and “acceptable” in whatever group or endeavor I was involved in,
By the time I approached my late thirties and it became clear that nothing ha changed, my frustrations over seemingly failing to be liked, accepted, and successful in the neurotypical world got to be so overwhelming that I began to voice the suicidal thoughts that – judging from that time I went to jump off the top of SMC’s football stadium after I punched that girl when she told me to shut up – had been inside me since my late teens.
A decent example of this was at one of the places where I had worked. I had mentioned it earlier, about how I was told by the supervisor that I was no longer welcome in that place of employment due to the way I interacted with my co-workers and others.
“Well, there’s nothing left to do but kill myself,” I remarked, the reality of losing yet another job sinking in.
“You don’t need to kill yourself,” my just-became former employer replied.
“Yes I do,” I thought, as the spirit of Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas nestled inside me.
There were quite a few gnarly incidents like that over the next several years, when anytime somebody said something in a certain way that would make me feel picked on, put down, or like they didn’t see me as an equal human being those negative (in my mind) words would bring out the suicidal feelings; although I knew I shouldn’t take things like that personally – and was told such many times – I didn’t know how to take it any other way.
And, I must admit, still have a difficult time doing.
Of course the fact is I’m not dead (at least as of this writing as no one can predict the future and tomorrow’s never guaranteed to anyone), which along with never hitting the bottle or meeting and falling in love with a prostitute are the big differences between me and Ben Sanderson – Nicholas Cage’s Leaving Las Vegas character – as I couldn’t go through with the actual deed of taking my own life.
By blurting out my desires to take my life and not going through with it, I reckon there were a few people who saw me as the proverbial “Boy Who Cried Wolf”; it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case.
The truth was, like every other person who has ever considered ending it all, I was in roughly forty years worth of mental and emotional pain as my blurting out my desire to end my life was akin to coffee spilling from a cup.
A VERY interesting photo of an Asperger’s brain compared with a neurotypical brain…
This next excerpt illustrates two personal traits of my Asperger’s – CONFUSION and ARRESTED MATURITY & EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT…
I was at the Culver City Library and had just finished with my online work on the public computers when this lady passed by me and suddenly, with this “Eureka!” look on her face, exclaimed “Derek!” like I was an old BFF.
I was thinking “Who the hell is this girl?” as I asked, “Do I know you?”
I won’t say her name in order to protect her privacy, but rest assured when she told me who she was – and old elementary school classmate who was in my 4th and 5th grade classes, the memories came back.
And they were not good ones as she was, while not as bad as Marlon, was one of those who had bullied me, calling me an ape and a gorilla and not only picking a fight with me when I dared to stand up for myself, but punching me on the shoulder while I was trying to do the right thing and walk away.
The confusing part of all of this was that this girl didn’t always bully me. There were times when she treated me okay and I would think, “She’s my friend”, then for seemingly no reason she would turn on me, call me some nasty name, and I would get upset to the point of sometimes crying.
It was all a lifelong part of only being able to see things in black and white as in this case – and by my estimate several hundred other cases regarding my interactions with people – it was simply too hard for my brain to not see people as either a friend or an enemy, with no in between.
As far as I’m concerned, people either liked or hated me.
And I still struggle with that at times, because those shades of gray are too complicated for me to completely understand.
Fast forward roughly 35 years…
There we were in that library, me and my old classmate, and as the memories of her bullying me returned to my gray matter, rather than rejoicing over seeing her after all those years, my emotions were mixed as I voiced what she had done to me.
To her tremendous credit, her reaction was expressed by two words:
Even though I did forgive her, and even though we ended up having a nice little reunion that day, my mind still couldn’t avoid bursts of PTSD that stemmed from her bullying all those decades ago.
ARRESTED MATURITY AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
This was and is the other personal aspect of having Asperger’s Syndrome that over time I realized was a part of the disorder that really had a grip on me – and in some ways still has.
Starting in high school, and for a long time afterward, it became quite clear that I was emotionally behind the other kids in my grade as even though they, like me, were born in 1967, it seemed like they were older than me somehow.
They had signed up for driver’s education and had gotten their permits and licenses and cars the moment they were able to while I had not only waited until senior year to take driver’s ed, ending up with a bunch of sophomores, well…if you’ve been reading this book you know how trying to get my license turned out for me.
Many if not most of them were going to wild parties and getting smashed, while with the reputation I had even the slightest thought of inviting me to those soirees was pooh-poohed.
I always found myself interacting with younger kids not only in those days, as among other things I hung around my old junior high school a bit too much during my first year at Samohi and ran back to hang out at Samo at least one a week for the first couple of years I was at college; I was even told by a couple of well-meaning guys one night at a football game that I shouldn’t “make a habit” of visiting too much.
I wasn’t that clueless; I knew deep down that my choices in who I hung with were unusual. I knew deep down that the lack of interactions with my fellow members of the class of 1985 and my preference of befriending members of latter classes was, for lack of a better term, “socially (so-called) retarded”.
Even during the class reunions I attended, although I had a nice time and interacted pretty well with my classmates, I still felt like they were somehow older than me despite the fact that we were the same age.
The thing was, not only was I not driving and not partying, which seemed to me was what roughly 90% of my peers were doing back in the day, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that stuff even if I was welcomed to those shindigs.
I specifically remember during the fall of 1983 – my junior year – the Samohi marching band getting into HUGE trouble to the point of being pulled from all of our scheduled competition tournaments save one, because of the extreme partying that the majority of the band would do after games on Friday nights, some of them showing up to rehearsals the next morning hung over, and feeling left out and like I was seen as a loser because I had no knowledge of those parties, which meant I wasn’t invited.
Looking back, it would have been a Catch-22 if I had gone to them because all the drinking, drugging, and other madness would have been completely alien to me, like I was visiting from another planet with older folks as I still had that kid mentality of “Oooh, they’re drinking and smoking and having sex!”
They were going through the adolescent growing-up process and the wiring in my brain wasn’t allowing me to, which was frustrating, being mainstreamed into that neurotypical world, the level of frustration growing over the years to the point where suicidal feelings would manifest in me from time to time, for roughly thirty years after that.
Although I still sometimes continue to think that no one really needs me, that if I died people, at best, would mourn me for a bit and then move on as if I had never existed, their attitudes bordering on the “Good Riddance” variety, these desires to end my life eventually ended due to something that happened to me – and I’m still going through – back in 2012.
The root of all my social struggles stems from this:
HAVING ASPERGER’S SYNDROME IN A NEUROTYPICAL WORLD.
Allow me to make something crystal clear, however…
I am NOT, in any way, shape, or form whatsoever, speaking for everyone in the Asperger’s community. I know full well that there are plenty of people with this condition, including some big names like Dan Ackroyd, who are thriving in the NT community and have done so for many years with independence, lucrative careers, and the like.
I am strictly speaking for myself, for THIS aspie.
(* = Not his real name)
A good illustration of me during my formative years, I think.