Learn Physics or Get Bored Trying

Bruce Willis Is A Ghost

There’s a certain kind of film (or, more generally, story) that I’m a complete sucker for. It’s the sort that, right near the end, the storyteller reveals that one little fact that brings the whole story together; completely changing your perspective on all that had come before, and subjecting audiences to a brief and frantic moment of replaying the whole film/book in their head, figuring out what it all means. You all know the sort I mean: The Sting; The Usual Suspects; Memento and so on. Or to take a book, you can’t do a much better job than Douglas Adams managed with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, in which he plays the ultimate trick on the reader by filling the book with the kinds of amusing yet incidental sidetracks that we have come to expect from his work, then in the closing chapter pulls off the sheet and reveals not only the solution to the overall mystery, but how pretty much every one of these asides was a vital piece of the puzzle. In one chapter we go from an entertaining but fragmented collection of events to suddenly seeing how it all fits together when the final piece is found. And I love it.

With that in mind, I want you to consider a long film. Really long. Peter Jackson long, and then some. Specifically, a little over 34 years long (and counting). The main protagonist, we shall call him Bob, has arrived where he has via a certain sequence of events. Being neither famous, infamous or otherwise remarkable (aside from being dashedly handsome and an all-round Good Egg), his particular sequence could be argued to be reasonably typical; a collection of occasionally entertaining, but largely unconnected happenings. There is a token love interest to keep the focus groups happy (though such comments may prove painful very shortly).

It’s in this 35th year that, with the audience running low on overpriced popcorn and watered-down drinks, the screenwriter has decided it’s time to reveal the “twist”. About three months ago, based on some fairly inconsequential incident in the ongoing anxiety plot-device, I did some online research, and resolved to ask my GP for a psychiatric referral to discuss the possibility that I have Asperger’s syndrome. Today, that process has reached the conclusion that I do, albeit at the mild end of the spectrum.

For those that don’t know, Asperger’s syndrome is itself considered to be part of the autism spectrum; in fact the line between Asperger’s and high-functioning autism is blurred at best. It is chiefly associated with a certain degree of difficulty in social interaction, and generally presents in childhood, leading to difficulties “fitting in” with other children. This often leads (in adult life) to susceptibility to depression and/or anxiety, particularly in social contexts. People who know of my anxiety problems will no doubt figure out that this was what led me to look into this as a possible source.

Where this all gets interesting, and why I subjected you to the introductory spiel is in the number of “secondary” indicators that, in hindsight, could perhaps bring whole areas of my life to this point under the one umbrella. For example, there are often signs of physical clumsiness; either at the whole body level, or in fine motor control. Bad handwriting is common. Slow, monotonic and pedantic speech patterns, along with a tendency to focus on particular points too far also; not to mention going off at peculiar tangents and returning to previous topics at a whim. Sound like anyone you know? Sticking to daily routines, and pursuing specific interests or “projects” almost obsessively; tending to value “alone” time (say, watching crappy television until all-hours in your girlfriend’s flat) are all typical, all me. Hell even the speech therapy sessions I needed as a kid may be related (we learn to speak by mimicking others around us). There’s more, but I won’t bore you further with it. Suffice to say that almost every recollection I have from childhood upwards straightforwardly makes more sense when put in an Asperger’s light.

So given the diagnosis, what changes? Not much, to be honest. There’s no “cure”, nor any treatment (beyond the pretty little pills I take for the moment to control the anxiety). It’s just part of the package that is me. Having the diagnosis helps me understand how I am where I am; ties up old issues from my rarely-missed school days, and with luck may provide guidance on dealing with the anxiety and other issues.

That said, there’s a good reason I put the word “cure” in quotes. It is argued by some—and I happen to agree—that it is inappropriate to describe Asperger’s syndrome as a universally Bad Thing. Along with the undoubtedly negative aspects associated with the syndrome come a number of characteristics that I wouldn’t give up for the world (and here you will have to forgive me for abandoning my normally impeccable modesty). Asperger’s “sufferers” are typically above average intelligence, and tend to excel in maths and science (indeed one of the tests I did results in a numerical value indicating the degree to which you fit the profile; about a third of the way between “normal” and “mild Asperger’s” is marked “Average computer scientist”). The “obsessive interests” mentioned above can equally be marketed as “highly focussed”, and tends to be coupled with attention to detail. A strong sense of morals and ethics is not unusual, and while social interaction is difficult when growing up, social rules can be “learned”, making it easier to act objectively in difficult circumstances later in life.

So in essence I will continue to be me. Nobody should feel the need to treat me differently—indeed that would be the worst way to deal with it—I’d just ask people not to be offended should you find me behaving like… well… me. And feel free to ask if there’s anything you want to know about. I make it a point to be as open and honest as possible about my mental health, as I’m buggered if I’m going to let it be something to be ashamed of.


September 30, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , | 5 Comments