Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Know Thyself

Those of us with Asperger's Syndrome are no strangers to psychotherapy. Many of us have been seeing shrinks from an early age: way back when we were children in the '90s (or earlier) when nobody had even heard of Asperger's, up through the present day when Asperger's is well-known and understood. What's interesting is that today many kids with Asperger's don't need to see a shrink. Why? Because now that Asperger's is in the mainstream, psychologists recognize that there isn't necessarily anything psychologically wrong with kids who have AS. These kids get a little extra support in social skills and other areas where they have difficulty, these days often in school, but often do not need psychotherapy.

I am turning 34 next month and grew up in a world in which very few people had heard of Asperger's Syndrome. As you may have surmised, I have been in and out of therapy for years to a number of shrinks. Some of them have been great, some of them mediocre, and some just plain bad. I recently had to switch shrinks because my most recent one, Dr. Donalds (not her real name), was a nice person who meant well but who also chased a lot of red herrings, analyzing things about me and my life that had no deep meaning.  Without going into detail, I've recently been having a problem with explosive anger whenever someone criticizes me. Why? Because for decades I've heard "You need to work on this", "You do that", "You make people uncomfortable", "You're perceived this way and that way", "You," "You", "You". It becomes infuriating after a while and makes me feel helpless and angry at myself. It's as if my brain short circuits when I hear one criticism too many. Instead of recognizing this issue for what it was-- anger and frustration--  Dr. Donalds tried to convince me that I was reacting to a repressed memory. Anybody who knows me knows that the idea of me having a repressed memory is hilarious. One of my friends even jokingly said that he doesn't want to end up in a courtroom with me because he knows I'll remember things that he doesn't. I told Dr. Donalds that this idea was absolutely ridiculous, but she got upset, feeling that I was calling her ridiculous. 

Dr. Donalds also tried to diagnose me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of vivid recurring nightmares that I experience. She said that such nightmares are a symptom of PTSD. I am fully aware that one symptom isn't enough to diagnose somebody with anything, so I asked her about the other symptoms. One of them is a "fatalistic outlook on life". I said, "I don't have a fatalistic outlook on life!" She gave me this look that conveyed, "Um, seriously?" In fact, she gave me that look whenever I disagreed with something she said. She also tried to tell me I was clinically depressed. No, I'm happy most of the time, but I'm also frustrated. Again, challenging her assessment earned me the look

This woman also treated my life like a mystery novel, trying to find a constellation of events in my background that converged in a singularity that is my life today. She even asked me to help her put together a family tree. I mentioned briefly that my father's side is mostly estranged these days (long story) but I never really knew them well to begin with. Dr. Donalds tried to tell me that this dynamic ultimately had some effect on me.  I tried to tell her that these people had never had anything to do with me so their estrangement wasn't something I gave a second thought. She also tried to tell me that the occasions that I got separated from a group in school because of being spaced out had to have been traumatic. Why? Simply because I remember them. Never mind that I remember a lot of things, good and bad.

Oh, and Dr. Donalds also gave me that look when I told her I had Asperger's Syndrome. She didn't believe me, despite the fact that I was formally diagnosed back in New York City. And for the record, even if I hadn't been diagnosed, nothing could convince me I don't have Asperger's. I've done the research and I it explains everything about my life that was once a mystery.

I finally got tired of hearing that I had a repressed memory, tired of hearing that Dad's side of the family affected me, and tired of hearing that environment, not genetics, was 100% responsible for my issues, so I stopped seeing Dr. Donalds. I am now seeing a new therapist who seems much better. She understands me better and has worked with people with Asperger's Syndrome all across the spectrum. Most people don't know right away that I have AS, but she was able to see it quickly in subtle things such as my facial expressions and mannerisms. 

Yes, therapists have degrees in psychology, but psychology is not an exact science. A therapist should help you with the problems you know you have and, perhaps, help you identify others. But Dr. Donalds made me question my sanity. If you think your therapist is  seeing things that aren't there, or is overanalyzing aspects of your personality, then you are probably right. Just because a shrink has a lot of fancy wallpaper known as PhDs or MDs doesn't mean they have a trump card on understanding their patients. Besides, I think I know myself better than most people know themselves. I also suspect those of us with issues probably know ourselves better than those who have never had to go into therapy. Why? Because we have been forced to undergo constant sober reflection, for good and bad reasons. 

As the old saying goes, know thyself.

Friday, September 5, 2014

People Just Don't Get It

Note: This is an angry rant, so there will be some swearing. If you're offended by that sort of thing, just read my other blog posts.

This post is an angry rant, because I am pretty fucking angry. It's hard enough to keep a happy, optimistic face for this blog. I want this blog to come across happy and optimistic because I want to give parents hope that everything is going to be okay. But I have to be honest. There is a lot in my life that isn't okay. Sometimes I get so frustrated and angry that I break down crying, thinking, "Where do I even begin to fix this?" And by "this" I mean being financially independent like my peers. I am turning 34 in October, and I still don't have a career or even a decent-sized apartment, let alone one that I can afford on my own. Everybody else my age I know-- and many ten years younger-- has a career, has a decent-sized apartment (or a house, if they're in the suburbs), and doesn't need help from their parents to make ends meet.

"Oh, but at least you're not starving in Africa. You don't know how lucky you are." You know what? You're right. I'm not starving in Africa. So fucking what? That doesn't make my frustration and anger any less real (It's a logical fallacy; I forget what it's called). I grew up relatively privileged, in a white, middle-class household with educated parents. I lived in a relatively affluent suburb in Pennsylvania. I went to college and grad school. Given my background, I should have a career now and be financially independent. But if you have Asperger's Syndrome, growing up privileged doesn't mean shit unless you are born into wealth. I still have to get a career. I have a Master's Degree and am making $12.75 an hour at a temporary work-at-home job. What is my job? Transcribing. Mind-numbing transcribing that any idiot with a GED can do. And because I lost my last two jobs, each after a paltry four months (in both cases they said I was too awkward and made our clientele uncomfortable), to stay in Boston I had to give up my spacious, one-bedroom apartment and downgrade to a studio. It's $1200 a month, and the only way to get any lower in Boston is to live in a basement apartment not much bigger than a walk-in closet with no windows. Even then, the lowest the rent goes for something like that is $1000. The other option is to get roommates, which can bring each person's rent as low as $700-$800 per month. But all my roommate situations in the past have been disasters. My parents even said they would rather help me pay for my own little corner of the universe than take the chance that I would get into some ridiculous conflict with roommates and then have to move out (moving, of course, isn't free).

I know that I'm more intelligent than my employment history and living circumstances reflect but that makes no fucking difference unless you have pristine social skills. And research has shown that the decision to hire someone an any job is almost entirely based on how well they think she'll "fit in" with her coworkers, much more than if she has the talent to do the job. I'm not the kind of person who fits in. It's not that I haven't tried, it's that I can't. Making friends is not an issue for me because I live in a diverse city and can easily find social misfits/intellectual nerds who'd rather talk about psychologically intense topics than how someone's third cousin once removed is doing. But most people would rather talk about the latter, and that's what they expect you to do on the job, even if it is not related to the job description. People know when I'm faking it. I can only feign interest in somebody's third cousin once removed before the holes in my mask start to form. I then have to retreat to my little corner of the universe and do my work. But no. Most high paying jobs expect you to work as a team. I work in groups with about the same ease and naturalness as an asexual person behaves like John F. Kennedy.

"Oh, well have you tried this? Or that? Or the other thing?" Yes, of course I have. I've finished my undergrad 11 years ago. You think I haven't fucking tried? Of course I have, and I've run into one brick wall after another.

Oh, and people have told me over and over that I come off as harsh, angry, argumentative, and even cold.

"You know, the way you're talking to me when you're upset, you're real intense and argumentative and harsh. Maybe that's what's gotten you in trouble at work." No! That's not what has happened! I'm letting my guard down with you. At work I try to hide these emotions. People have told me I'm too "intense" or "harsh" or "argumentative" even when I'm happy or joking around. It's like all I have to do to fucking offend someone is open my fucking mouth, even if I just ask how they are! So you know what the other option is, to make sure I don't offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable? Not talk. And then I become a fucking stiff and they still feel uncomfortable, but for different reasons.

"Well, you know, you do tell inappropriate and sometimes shocking jokes. Do you do that at work?" 

Yes, I have a raunchy, macabre, and downright absurd sense of humor. I also love saying things for shock value just to see how people react. But you know, I'm not Rainman. I tell the "shock value" jokes you're talking about to friends or on online social networks under an anonymous name, not in a professional setting. My friends laugh, and people online click "like" or write "Hahaha!" I learned years and years ago that there's a time and a place for these things, and work sure as hell isn't it. People at work have called me "inappropriate" for reasons that I'm not sure of but that have nothing to do with the jokes I tell outside of work.

"Well you're very interested in the work of Richard Dawkins and Dr. Kevorkian. You bring those guys up all the time. Are you talking about them at work? You can't do that, you know. They're too controversial."

Yes, I fucking know that I can't bring up these guys or their work in a job setting-- especially not Dr. Kevorkian-- because people at work represent a diverse range of sociopolitical and religious beliefs and I don't know these people well enough to have such discussions with them. I don't feel deprived if I can't bring up Richard Dawkins or Dr. Kevorkian, either. I am at work to do work. Of course, the funny thing is I've heard radically conservative people at work bring up their shocking views without getting in trouble. 

"Maybe you are talking about Richard Dawkins and Dr. Kevorkian and you don't realize it?"

I think I'm fucking aware of what topics I'm bringing up. Don't patronize me.

When people-- friends, relatives, and even my shrink-- say these things to me, they clearly don't get it. I know they're trying to help me, reaching for the lowest hanging fruit, so to speak. But after a while it's like I'm hearing a mantra, a list of phrases from a pull-string doll. And yes, when I get frustrated enough, I do explode and curse a blue streak (it upsets them, but they know not to take it personally and I do apologize later). But they don't get it. They really don't. Why? They're coming from a neurotypical perspective, that the only way that I as a white, privileged middle-class American could be in this situation is if there was something I haven't tried. The fact that even my shrink gives these obvious suggestions is very telling. Hell, even my parents only started to "get it" in the past five years or so!

This is my life as an adult with Asperger's. Don't get me wrong: I am happy most of the time. But then sometimes (like last night when I was talking to my shrink) old wounds get reopened. No, they get reopened, have salt poured in them, and are pissed in. And I get angry and explosive and cry. Sometimes I just can't take it. Working out usually helps a little, but recently I injured myself while running and I can't do much of anything in the way of vigorous exercise until I heal. 

I'm angry. I'm hurting. I'm cynical. I'm frustrated. I have Asperger's Syndrome.