Saturday, November 22, 2014

As Nature Made Me: The Aspie Who Was Raised as a Neurotypical: Part II- Thoughtcrime

When Dr. Jack Kevorkian, an intellectual hero of mine, died on June 3, 2011, I stared at the computer screen and muttered, "Oh, no." I felt my heart racing. And the next day on the way to Manhattan to see a friend, I briefly had tears in my eyes thinking about it. But why? I had never even met the man. Immediately, I found myself thinking, "What's wrong with me? Why should this upset me?" But of course I understand why. This was because reading about Dr. Jack Kevorkian I learned that he was a unique person, more than the Dr. Death stereotype. He was a painter, a musician, a filmmaker, a historian, a philosopher, a linguist, and an overall fiercely independent and brilliant man.  I had never heard of anybody quite like him, and I had suspected that he had Asperger's Syndrome. My words here don't do him justice; one has to read his biography and watch the HBO documentary Kevorkian to really get it. I was upset because what it came down to was this: There will never be another.

Above you can see that I was justifying my feelings to myself. I felt I had to. It really shouldn't matter why I reacted the way I did to Dr. Kevorkian's death. It is the way I reacted, and I should have been able to own and embrace it. But my reflexive need-to-justify comes from years of unwitting conditioning from my parents. I thought that if they knew about my upset over Dr. Kevorkian's death, their reaction would be, "You have an unhealthy obsession with this." In fact, I had decided that if they did react that way I would tell them to get over it, that I'm an adult and this is who I am. Of course, now that they understand me better, they didn't bat an eye when I told them about my reaction to Dr. Kevorkian's death.

"As Nature Made Me: Part I" talked about the things that I did that my parents tried to fix. But what about the things that I thought? Yes, my thoughts were under scrutiny too. As you can see from the above anecdote, I was reflexively afraid of what amounts to being guilty of Thoughtcrime.

My parents' attempts to "fix" me didn't stop in telling me what to do and what not to do. My mother in particular pried into my thoughts with questions, comments, and judgments. I understand that she was trying to help me and just didn't know how. But it is still a frustrating memory that resonates to this day.

For example, when I was twelve there was a story in the news about conjoined twins that had been separated. I jokingly asked Dad, "What did they do? Take a knife and chop them down the middle?" Dad rolled his eyes and said, "Yes, Julie, exactly." Just as Dad was finishing his sentence, Mom shouted, "How could you find that funny? Why do you find these things funny?" Often, I was asked why I found a lot of different weird things funny. I had no answer and I couldn't think of a single one that would alleviate Mom's fears and concerns about me. It really hurt when Mom responded negatively to my gallows sense of humor, often by saying, "Get those odd thoughts out of your head!"

As a reaction to my absurdist sense of humor and oddball cartoon characters I created, Mom would often ask, "Why aren't you interested in 'nice' things, in 'beautiful' things?" or "Why can't you create a cartoon character like Belle from Beauty and the Beast?" To the first question, I had no answer. I wondered why there had to be one. And as for the second, SNORE.

There was also the Thoughtcrime about the movies and TV shows I got obsessed with. Mom would say: "Why do you talk about [insert movie here] all the time?" or "Why are you always thinking about that?" And this gem: "I don't want to talk about [insert set of characters here]. They are not people in my life!" I understand that it was probably tiresome for Mom to listen to me go on about the same thing over and over again, but I felt like I was being shut down, dismissed, and, most importantly, judged. I felt like I was committing Thoughtcrime. Today, it reminds me of how religions often chastise people for "impure thoughts".

Then there was the Thoughtcrime about thoughts I didn't have. I didn't have thoughts about the opposite sex at all until well into my teens. My parents thought I was gay and not ready to come out of the closet. Both of them (again, mostly Mom) grilled me about why I wasn't interested in dating, what thoughts I had about boys (sorry, none), and whether I had thoughts about girls (none there either). Telling them of my indifference was unsatisfactory. They just kept asking. In a way, it seemed that they didn't want an honest answer, but the "right" answer. To get them to leave me alone, I had to give them the answer that they wanted to hear. After all, any honest answer I gave was met with more questions.

Over the years I felt helpless to control my thoughts, my feelings, my obsessions, and my sense of humor. I often had intense internal monologues with myself, trying to justify as to why I was the way I was. I felt that I needed to justify these things, not just to my parents, but to myself. If I couldn't justify my thoughts, there was something fundamentally wrong with me. 

In the days before Asperger's Syndrome was widely recognized, there was a huge coming-out process for those on the spectrum. At around age fourteen I came out to my father about the intensity of my obsessions with movies and TV shows (they manifested as "butterflies in my stomach"). I trusted him with this information because I knew it wouldn't freak him out. We often had talks about these sorts of things when he drove me to school in the morning. When I asked Dad, "Why do I get these physiological reactions?" of course he didn't know the answer, but he did often respond with, "That's you", or "Because you're creative and you get excited about these things." 

Both of my parents are guilty to some extent of the accusations of "Thoughtcrime", but Dad was more laid back about my idiosyncrasies than Mom. Maybe mothers are just naturally grizzly bears, so to speak. Or maybe Dad's psychological profile, despite not having Asperger's Syndrome, is closer to mine than Mom's is. In any case, what a person with Asperger's needs is understanding about and acceptance for who they are. They don't need invasive questions, demands to stop thinking a certain way, and they certainly don't need to be fixed.


  1. This was an interesting series. As a parent I can understand your parent's concern about you - they wanted you to be 'normal' and unfortunately it sounds like your mother reacted often out of fear. You may not realize it but how you behaved may have effected her far more than just what you did. Often other parents look at children and judge the skills of your parents rather harshly - this is sad, but true. This type of behavior may have limited what she was 'allowed' or invited to do with other parents in the neighborhood/ school/ church or whatever.

    Anyway I wonder if it wouldn't be helpful for you to seek some counseling to help overcome any lingering patterns you may have - as you mentioned worrying about thoughts etc

    You are just find the way you are, but it is important for you to feel comfortable in your own skin and not listen to those quite voices in your head that are trying to tell you otherwise.

    God Bless

    1. My parents realize now that they were wrong. Also, I promise you that none of their reactions-- even my mom's extreme ones-- had nothing to do with "What will the neighbors think?".