London Diaries (III)

Originally posted Sept 29th, 5:18 pm

I have Asperger’s syndrome which basically means that I see the world with less filters than normal, leading to sensory overload and being overwhelmed by ideas and information. Since I was a child, I’ve coped with this by creating my own inner world consisting of reading,pondering, and identifying abstract patterns in the world, where I’d retreat to when the world got too confusing and overwhelming. I’d have obsession with particular topics and amass information to use this as a shield when going out into the world. I take things literal so jokes and sarcasm usually go over my head and I often ask what the person means exactly. I have strict routines like where I put my stuff, where I sit in a vehicle, cleaning, – and these act like a buffer between me and the outside world, like an exoskeleton. It gives me a sense of control and peace of mind. That’s why abrupt changes can be disastrous to me. I seem very naive because I don’t have nuanced filters through which I judge the world, so bad experiences don’t change my perception of what I deem as the truth. I’m oblivious to how I come across to others, unless I explicitly ask. I hate injustice and being misunderstood, with such fervour. I have a very low pain threshold. I don’t think in words, I think in 3D images which is why it’s difficult for me to keep eyecontact with another because I can’t process what’s being said and keep eyecontact at the same time. I usually look away to an empty spot to piece my thoughts together like a game of Tetris.

Only I can take the appropriate measures to care for my wellbeing and being self-compassionate, and for the majority of my life I was afraid of being assertive. I thought if I was nice enough, people would leave me alone. I don’t know why passive aggressiveness and emotional manipulation is the norm where instead of each taking care of themselves, they have to work for approval and be paid in having needs fulfilled. Anyway, as I became an adult I became increasingly isolated because being around unpredictable and passive aggressive folks was enough to bring my sensory system to a screeching halt.

My laptop is my comfort and my lifeline. I feel anxious if anyone wants to borrow it for a while. And I have to know exactly for how long so that I can set my brain like a timer, and zone out until the time runs out. If I’m going somewhere new I have to have the exact visuals of the destination, exactly like a GPS to be reassured. I basically have to engineer my own systems and laws from scratch, as this world doesn’t aaccommodatefor people like me. Aspie girls are better off than boys, socially, because their symptoms are way more subtle and their social skills much better. I actually studied social cues and etiquettes when I was 17. I’d observe and study people around me in different settings and jot down my findings in my diary. I ended up being so well-versed that I often remind my mum of social etiquettes she might overlook. I can’t feign stuff, so I’m very straightforward which gets uncomfortable for some. But I’ve found a way to offset that by using my extreme intuition to pick up on microexpressions that let’s me know what the person is thinking, so as to assuage their hurt or apologize for a mistake I did. This is way easier on me than having to walk on eggshells and bite my tongue.

Anyway, me coming out this far out of my comfort zone and braving unknown experiences by meeting new people is only possible because I’ve thrown away the social norm crutch. I just do me, which means being unusually pedantic about my stuff at times or calling someone out on an injustice, and I give myself the freedom to retreat at the slightest discomfort. That way I don’t have to obsess about what-ifs. I’m only pedantic when it comes to things that are within my boundaries, but I’m very very flexible and gracious with others. It might seem like a paradox, but because I’m so comfortable in my own skin, I can be comfortable with others as opposed to expecting others to tend to my needs.

Witnessing my meltdowns or being on the other end of my frustration is not a nice thing, but I always come around when I calm down to apologize.

But I’m still a big, walking sore thumb. I’m a social alien and many don’t know what to make of my confident eccentricity. But I like to believe that in standing in my truth, I enable others to do the same. And if I have no other impact in this world than being the eccentric kind genius, then that’s a worthy legacy. A legacy of vulnerability and authenticity.

einstein

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When I feel overwhelmed – which is often- I like to be in complete darkness and silence. I switch the displays on both my laptop and phone to black. I turn off the lights and sit down, rocking myself gently.

I live in two worlds and I’m in constant tug-of-war between the two. But I’m always leaning towards my inner world, my refuge.

My sensory system is extremely sensitive and everything around me is amplified. I hear, feel,smell,see everything all at once, with nothing being relegated to the background, which is what would happen in a normal sensory system.

I learnt very early on to create an inner world where I wasn’t constantly barraged by noise and people. A place where I could muse and focus on the things that I wanted. This world became all the more elaborate, while I remained aloof to the outside world.

She’s extremely shy, teachers would tell my mum. She doesn’t talk much. I was selectively mute until I reached puberty. There was nothing that hindered me per se. But I had to choose between my inner universe and playing with snotty kids. So I’d take to myself and observe the world from afar.

Most of my memories are of the ground and people’s shoes, and the sky. I didn’t like looking at people. I still don’t. But I’ve found that the reason isn’t because I fear people’s gaze or anything – but I think in pictures, not words. It’s difficult for me to focus unless I write it down, or visualize it in my head. I do that when I read something astonishing in a book or article; I look away and ruminate on this new piece of knowledge, as if I’m filing it away somewhere in my brain. So the same thing happens with people – I can’t focus and look them in the eye simultaneously. Something has got to give. I look down as I listen intensely to what is being said, and not simply waiting for my turn. I ask many follow-up questions and seemingly irrelevant information like the colour of the car that almost hit her, or how tall he was at the time of the story, or exactly how long ago ‘long ago’ is? I keep an intricate network of information in the form of images, like a gigantic vision board. And as I’m painting this image of a certain incident that someone is telling me, I need enough details to fit it into the overall pattern, algorithm of said vision board. Until I have a complete understanding of a piece of information, I’ll put it in the back burner. Sometimes I mull over an issue or question for years before I take a stance on it.
If it’s light hearted banter, then I’m not so particular about it.

Over the years, the images on my inner vision board have grown elaborate and since I use a certain algorithm before I paint the image, everything is interconnected. Many a times, I only need to know the gist of a topic before I’m well-acquainted with it. Likewise, i never really employ rote learning, so I either remember something in detail by taking a mental screen shot of sorts, or I disregard it completely.

I still remember the birthdays of my classmates from 6th grade, and the thoughts I had when I was 3 and the scary dream I had when I was 5. My earliest memory is from when I was 2, and I know this actually happened because my parents weren’t aware of it. I was with a nanny as my mum had her hands full with the twins who were a couple of months. I remember what I wore, the weather, and the miniature police car I was playing with.

Likewise, if I’m asked a question that I’m not familiar with, I’m still able to answer correctly based on the search algorithms that underpin all that I know.

Because the world is not made for my ilk, I’ve had to program my own softwares (values, principles, etc.) and create every step that I put my foot on. I’m constantly fumbling in the dark and I have no comfort zone. This is extremely taxing and although the reward is my emancipation, it’s a heavy burden to bear. I get easily overwhelmed. One misstep, and I get buried under the weight of my consciousness which is potentially fatal. My mind is like a wild horse that I need to tame and control, or else it’ll throw me off and stomp me to death.

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