Ten Things I Like About Myself

This is something I was challenged to do by my therapist. He felt that I could benefit from focusing my OCD tendencies on the things I like rather than dislike about myself. He feels this could be an interesting challenge for me and helpful. I agree and as I’ve torn myself down publicly why shouldn’t I build myself up publicly? So here goes. 

  1. I am a great dad. This is a new trait but a trait I know is there. I adore Lola and she adores me. I’m naturally good at caring for her. This is something unexpected but real. 
  2. I am loyal to my friends. Sarah Andersen has that great cartoon about getting in a tank when someone hurts her friends. That’s me. Cross me? I don’t care. Cross my friends? Welcome to die. 
  3. I have a strong sense of humor. I’m definitely not someone with a standard sense of humor but I have a unique and potent one. I love wordplay and satire. I also love great slapstick. 
  4. I hold on tight to my interests. I’ve been a Star Wars fan for over 20 years. I was first a Mickey Mouse fan before I could talk and I just today added a new MM comic to my phone. I hold onto what I love. 
  5. I don’t let my limits hold me back if I want something bad enough. I learned to ride a bicycle even though being autistic made it hard. Once I learned that, I wanted so badly to get out that I pushed myself on epic bike rides despite lacking a body built for them at first. In time I became great. 
  6. I’m a gifted writer, even in fiction. I don’t credit myself enough with how skilled I am here. I know I’m a good nonfiction writer but I really can craft short fiction and with a good idea, even screenplays. I have skill at character. Are my pieces heavily focused on my interests? Yes. So are the pieces every other human being writes. 
  7. I’m good at my job. I really don’t give myself enough credit. I can look at a blank page and in 15 minutes have it filled. I know how to place my jumps doing business. I know how to find the very best art. I’m great at my job. 
  8. I’m gifted at creative solutions. The image of an autistic running through various calculations in his head to figure something out? That’s me. And that rocks. I can think my way out of a bind if I have enough time. 
  9. I’m damn good at gifting. This is a unique skill but one I have. I will find the exact right gift for someone and it’ll be one they never see coming.  That’s a ton of fun for me and kind to others. 
  10. I clean up well. I know I look like a slob often but when I dress confidently I look sharp. I wear suit jackets well. I have a very piercing stare and it’s an effective tool for me that enhances that cleaned up look. 

So there you have it. 10 good things about me. Will there be a corresponding list? No! I’m not going to tear me down anymore. But I will add to this list in time. 

On My Fear of the Apocalypse

One of the defining moments in my childhood came when a teacher told us in fourth grade about the ebola virus. She laid out exactly how it would wipe us all out. It was rather graphic discussion for a fourth grade class and she wasn’t much of a teacher to be blunt. But I remember that incident because I had a violent anxiety attack that afternoon that resulted in me being unable to function. My counselor tried but a germaphobe was born I fear.

There have been other apocalyptic moments in my life. In my freshman semester of college, I became fixated on global warming. I wasn’t wrong but I was overly obsessed with it and couldn’t function at times. After college, it was the economy. Same situation. I was right but it destroyed me.

And now I’m here. I’m obsessed with the idea we are heading to a period of apocalypse, this one social. I am studying every warning sign. I look at every piece of evidence that something horrible is about to happen. I follow every vote. I monitor it all.

What makes this so awful is this: For the first time ever, I am in an echo chamber with nobody to help me. My peers are making it worse in fact. If I share my concerns, I’m told repeatedly a great purge and die off are coming. Yeah, I’m just getting walls of help I stress.

It’s taken a physical toll on me. I’m unable to sleep. I’m having trouble eating and when I do eat, not well. I’m definitely going through severe depression. It’s just bad.

I’ve felt very alone because I don’t know how to handle it. My usual outlet of social media is only making things worse. I don’t want to burden those I know in person. I’m alone frankly. 

And I think my great pain is that I can’t give up and accept things are awful and that’s just how it is. I might get to if I was alone in life. Then I could give up as completely as possible. I could go full bunker and punish me before they punish me. I could go very far with this. 

I can’t. I have a wife and daughter who need me. For them I must keep going. There’s nothing more to add to that. But the pain and fear don’t go away. They can’t. So I have to try to make sense of everything. 

Looking back at the previous panics a pattern emerges. Ebola was within 6 months of the move. Global warming was during first semester of college. Economy hit just when I was out on my own. This hit during Lola’s first year. Every apocalypse accompanied a period of true change in my life. And they all were real, albeit with varying degrees of direct impact. 

There’s also a theme to what I fear. It’s all a grand impersonal threat that affects me. I think on a micro scale so I have trouble no matter how old I get with the macro. My brain just isn’t built for it. I can’t grasp that I’m just a speck in all of this. The universe doesn’t consider me at all and that’s scarier than if it did. 

The hard truth is in this moment I don’t have answers. That is the nature of a panic like this after all, fearing the unknown. I just know I have to keep going. I am in therapy. I am taking my meds. I am trying to use every technique I have. 

This fear won’t ever escape me I suspect. It’s how I’m wired. All I know is I don’t get to quit. I must fight on. 

What To Expect When You Enter the Dating World as an Autistic Person

I won’t lie, I’ve had serious writer’s block this year. Finding something worth writing about for this site has been hard. When you do a topical; blog, you inevitably run out of topics. That’s been me. A lot of the ground I’ve been feeling is ground I’ve covered. I don’t need to rehash.

But there is one topic I’ve needed to cover: Romance. I don’t have an epic amount of dating experience but I have some. I have several years as a husband under my belt and some insight into the topic. So what follows is my best approximation of the advice I would give someone trying to figure this out. Much of this can apply to NTs as well but my focus is on the tribe.

First piece of advice: Go in knowing that it WILL be harder for you than it is for NTs. Much of courtship in our society is reliant on cues like eye contact, body language, verbal nuance, etc. These are things we are awful at. But that’s just how it is. Don’t whine about it. Don’t try to act like these things don’t matter. The world will never reshape itself for you. We just have to adapt.

It’s also vital NOT to get your ideas about how the dating scene works from the media. Most characters on TV are chronic sex addicts. This is not what it’s like in real life. In fact, finding someone to go out with is very tricky. Come to think of it, a lot of sitcoms seem to avoid the introductions. In reality, it’s a messy and awkward sight.

Online dating is definitely your friend. As I noted, the entire dating scene is hard, but this is at least a tool. Now, it’s not a perfect fix. There are a ton of cues you will miss. I had a girl subtly try and try to get me to ask her out once before she finally outright asked me. (She’s now my wife.) But it helps.

You’ll have to perform. This is a tricky subject and I’ve even rewritten this entry based on criticism. The hard truth to me is I’ve found that there is some measure of performance in socializing. You want to be appealing. The key is to be the best version of you that you can but never to lie. Be confident. Be strong. Take pride in who you are. Think of yourself as a product you’re proud to sell. Don’t lie I stress. But remember there’s a lot about you worth highlighting. 

You’re going to get rejected. Rejection stings but it’s absolutely guaranteed to happen. Nobody gets around it. What you need to know is this: it’s not always a sign of something wrong with you. Often it’s just a lack of chemistry. There’s no connection there and trying to force one is a horrid idea. Be sad but don’t be angry.

We really have no business trying to find romance in bars. I’m going to take this big cliche off the table for my autistic peers. It’s not a good place for us to socialize. Too loud, too intense. Go elsewhere. However, there are worse things than sitting and having a pint if you find a good one.

This is a big one for me: You’re not in this to find a trophy, you’re in it to find a companion. I hate the way movies focus on the idea of finding the hottest girl. What you’re really looking for is someone to have an amazing time with for the rest of your life. Contrary to cliche, opposites do NOT attract. Find someone with common interests.

Lastly, enjoy the journey.

 

The Truth in West Memphis

This year marks several notable anniversaries. It’s been a year since Lola was born. It’s been a year since the book came out. Four years of living with Amanda and the marriage that came with it. 15 years of reading comics. 20 years since the diagnosis. 33 years of living. 10 year anniversary of my college graduation.

And 10 years after West Memphis.

Of every incident in my life, there is none more nebulous than this one. I can give a clear answer to what really happened in virtually every instance of my life, at least to the best of my abilities. But this one? It feels vague and amorphous to me. I don’t have any clear answers.

The basic facts are this. I had a phone interview for a job in West Memphis while still in college. I got the job. I moved to West Memphis, fast finding an apartment. I got set up over a weekend, and then the following things happened, as described in this excerpt from my memoir.

I went to work on time [on my first day], my first actual in person appearance at the job. I’d never interviewed in person which felt immediately like a mistake. I was given very icy treatment by the editors. My attempts at trying to make myself heard were ignored.

The day went slowly. I filled out paperwork and was put at a desk. I did a bit of work based on an assignment. I wasn’t very good at it, not having done very many like it. There were a few more minor tasks to get accomplished. Then I went home.

The next day I went to work. I had no assignments to work on so I waited for work.

Fifteen minutes later, I woke up. To my utter horror I’d drifted off to, if not sleep, unconsciousness. This was something I’d done all too often in class but sadly did in the real world for the first time. I was ashamed and highly apologetic as I faced my editor, taking the blame like an adult. I was promptly sent home to get my needed sleep.

I went back after a quick nap where I talked to the editor. We came to a mutual agreement I shouldn’t be there. At least that was the polite way to put it. In truth she chewed me out and accused me of being a liar on my resume, which I wasn’t. She excoriated me for mistakes I’d made on a story the day before. She made me feel small, like the very person I was afraid I’d prove to be in the “adult” world.

With thought, I might view that moment different. I might see what an unethical bind I was put in. I might see how they were wrong to ever hire me without a proper interview. I might see that I was put in a no win situation. I might believe I was setup to fail.

None of that mattered in the moment and it certainly didn’t sitting on the floor of the Kroger where I used a payphone to seek my mom’s advice. Hers was simple: flee. I hadn’t exactly quit but I could so I did. If I returned, and it was made clear they didn’t want me back, I couldn’t redeem myself.

This is how I described the incident in the book. It’s a perfectly workable version of the event. It has the facts. You could ace a test on my life based on it. I don’t even think anybody there could dispute it.

Yet I kind of do. That’s the weird thing about it. I actually reread the book upon the one year anniversary and a few errors aside I found it rather bracingly honest except for this section. Reading it feels evasive. Sure I describe the thing I did wrong but do I ever admit fault? I don’t think I do.

Instead I craft a narrative that makes me look good. I made a mistake but they were mean to me. What I don’t put in there is how utterly scared I was to be there. I don’t admit that I had no idea how to adult. I don’t note that I had zero preparation for the situation. The universe had always helped me before and it wasn’t going to be there now.

There is indeed an alternate version of this story. In that version, I’m an arrogant student who felt entitled to a decent job fresh out of college, resting on laurels others wouldn’t be impressed by. I took a job in a city connected to a big city because I thought I deserved it. I went in with no preparation and showed how completely unqualified I was. I was shown up with an epic mistake and returned home to face reality.

That version is true too. At least it’s true from another point of view. So which version is truly the truth?

Before I answer that, I want to talk about a film I just saw, Asghar Farhadi’s masterpiece A Separation. In the film there is a fight that seems to lead to a miscarriage. Much of the narrative consists of the question of intent and of facts that are unknowable. The characters debate endlessly but there is never a clear answer. The truth, Farhadi implies, is impossible to know because it is colored by our perceptions and our biases.

Memory is a lie. It’s colored by retellings. It’s heavily suggestible. It’s altered by what we come to believe. I like to refer to my book as my personal historical fiction. It’s what I think was true but there are inaccuracies there. In the end unless I had video of a moment, all I can ever know is a variant of the truth.

That’s the likely truth here. I can debate in my head endlessly what happened in this moment and I will go to my grave not truly knowing. All I will ever know is what what happened did happen.

But there is definitely an answer I can live with. Which version of what happened? A version that combines all 3.

In this version I was naive and a bit arrogant as I pursued my career. I took a job despite clear warning signs they were just settling on me. I went into it with no idea what I was really doing which exacerbated my anxiety. I found myself in a hostile environment and my behavior didn’t make anything better. I made a grievous error but one which was almost inevitable in light of the situation. The situation ended in failure. It was one which was inevitable from the start.

In the end, nobody acted right. I was too naive and proud of myself. They ran a bad business. It happened.

I can live with that. It’s a truth somewhere in the middle. It’s cliched but the truth of a situation almost always winds up there. Even the lies are true.

A Guide to Handling Current Events For The Autistic

It’s an understatement to say the last week has been a very trying time if you’re autistic. Many of my peers are hurting rather badly. Our spoon count is low. I’m certainly in that number, having had at least two panic moments. The only thing I can think to do right now is reach out to my peers and give my best advice about enduring this challenging time.

First and foremost, do not let the macro overwhelm the micro. This is a scary time on a large scale but all of us have lives on a small scale. Do not neglect them. Your obligation is to your own life first. Make sure you are still taking care of it before you work on the larger scale. You can’t help anybody if you don’t first have your own life in order.

Definitely do not stop any treatment you’re on. This is vital advice at any time but it’s needed now more than ever. If you’re in therapy, STAY. (I have resumed counseling myself.) If you’re on your meds, stay on them. There is never a good time to go lax on your treatment but this is when you need it the most.

Control what news sources you are exposed to. Cable news? Out. Internet news that’s not AP based? Out. I’m biased because of my job but I really think newspapers are the way to go for staying current. There’s a slight time delay but that  allows for more solidly sourced facts. I know from working in a newsroom that there is a hard focus on objectivity. You need to stay current, but be careful how.

Social media is out. Yeah, I hate to say that as it is our main method of communicating and this will ironically be spread over twitter, but until you are stable STAY OFF. What I’m trying to do is keep messenger available but otherwise I’m trying to stay off. Yes, that hurts because it limits my social life. But again, I’m not doing any good if I’m not ok. Social media is triggering.

If you must go on, it’s time to question every single thing you see. Seriously, 75% of the quotes and “facts” you’re seeing aren’t well sourced and often lies. This is the age of propaganda. Do your research. Question anything that seems hyperbolic. We’re known for being rational. We should show it.

Don’t feel pressured to be an activist. There is a violent pressure on all of us to stand up and if you’re capable of it then yes, by all means do all you can. Many of my friends and family are and I admire them. I can’t though. I’m not comfortable, I have violent social anxiety, and honestly I’m not knowledgeable enough to help. All I can do is vocally support which I do. If you don’t have enough spoons, do not kill yourself trying to act like you do. However, if that does make you feel better, then get out there.

Ultimately, my best advice is this: Understand that we are fundamentally powerless. I voted. I had my say. I didn’t vote for him. That was all any of us could do. And yes, it’s ungodly frustrating. It hurts. If you’re angry, you’re only reacting accurately. But know this, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of us out there. The good people are trying.

Will we get through this okay? I doubt it. I’m not going to lie. But will it be doomsday? I’ll concede it might not be. We survived a civil war, a revolution, a terrorist attack, the 60s, and WWII. We won’t be ok immediately. But we might yet be OK in time.

 

 

In Praise of Abed Nadir

It’s very easy to focus on the things we dislike in reviews. Doing so allows us a safe outlet for expressing our anger we usually sublimate in other issues. So it’s tempting for me in this moment to write about a trope I dislike, the unlikable autistic, and use that as an outlet for such feelings. It’s tempting and I’m certainly thinking a lot on the trope due to reading an atrocious book with an autistic coded character. But why not critique it from a different angle by looking at an autistic character I actually love?

Abed Nadir from Community is by far my favorite autistic coded character in mass media today. He’s the rare example of an accurate portrayal, one who has issues but highly recognizable ones. He’s not a cartoon of quirks and rudeness but a genuinely likable human being. What’s remarkable about this is Abed still goes through the same humanization journey as shown in the rest of the media. It’s just his is right. 

First off, I have to concede the character is technically shown as undiagnosed. Yet this is the one time that doesn’t matter. In fact creator Dan Harmon did extensive research into the disorder and realized he himself falls on the spectrum. And the show does make frequent allusions to the idea he might be one of us. So I’m not even treating it as headcanon. Abed is on the spectrum. 

And he’s a remarkably accurate portrait at that. Abed’s dominant trait is an obsession with media tropes he applies to every step of his life. This might seem strange to an outsider, even unbelievable, but it might be the single most accurate thing about him. Abed is a rare example of something I’ve seen in my own life. He’s baffled by the outside world so he uses the language of media to process something he’s confused by. It’s a remarkable thing to see. 

Abed also serves as an accurate example of how we actually are about order. Unlike the utter rudeness of Sheldon Cooper, Abed is very matter of fact about his need for routine. He’s not a jerk. He’s just very matter of fact in the way we are. In one episode, he’s frustrated by his favorite show not coming back and he gets annoyed in a realistic way. He vents like I would. 

He also handles moments of severe upheaval in a familiar way. He vanishes into his mind, seeking the safe structure of it. In a key episode, he realizes his social network is going through a massive change and he can’t handle it so he fights it, first criticizing it then utterly melting down. It’s an honest moment and at the end there’s a poignant bit of narration where he concedes he has real issues. This is how the show treats him throughout. He isn’t a joke. He’s someone it sympathizes with. 

And that sympathy is key to his best trait. Abed is the rare social autistic in mass media. He’s shown as having friends that he genuinely cares about and wants to help. He’s not cold and asocial. He even eventually gets a girlfriend. It’s sad how rare this is but how nice it is to see. 

Because ultimately that trait might be what sets him apart from all other portraits of us. We’re shown as actively hating socializing. Abed is baffled by it at times but he tries. He tries because he wants to have friends. It’s not a subtle hidden trait either. He clearly, distinctly cares and he works to hold onto what friends he has. He even openly discussed 

Is he a perfect portrait? No, he gets cartoonish. But that’s the show he’s on to a great degree. Everybody is a cartoon. I’ll take a good version that’s a bit of a joke any day. 

So yeah, I could focus on the bad, but in this moment I raise a glass to one time the media got it right. Cheers. 

The Social Life Demons I Need To Slay

There is nothing more hypocritical than writing a post on why you’re stepping back from being on social media that will be blasted all over social media. It’s the equivalent of a rapper telling those who hate him he doesn’t care about them repeatedly. So yes, I’m starting on a fatally flawed premise right off the bat.

And isn’t that fitting for what this piece is about? Because that hiatus is really background to the real subject which is the things I’m seeing in myself I need to change. Taking that hiatus is a first step. If I can take a moment to remove all the noise then I might be able to reflect as I need to. The next step is using this site so that I might study some of the behaviors which need changing.

What brought this on was a sudden moment of reflection I had recently. I was talking with my father and I heard myself expressing extremist ideologies which sounded alien even to me. Now there’s no denying I’ve tilted that way of late and the basic points I was making are ones I do believe in, namely that I am horrified by the rise of hate speech in the US. But how it was coming out? Not me.

I realized with horror that I’m not sounding like myself of late and that’s a scary thing. Thus I realized, as I often must, that I needed to silence all voices I was hearing save for my own and a few trusted peers, just as a test. Within 24 hours, my head was remarkably clearer and I started to see what I needed to see.

I’ve realized I’m addicted to Twitter. Like I’m recognizably addicted to it. I go through withdrawal. I check it incessantly. I fixate on my likes. I get excited when something I say gets retweeted a lot. If a conversation goes bad, I can get insomnia. Sure,  nothing but the last part is abnormal but the degree to which I feel these things is getting to be too much.

But Twitter is itself of course a medium for social interaction by its very definition. Any issue I have there has a “real life” counterpart which can be taken down just as easily. These are the demons at the root of everything.

None is more prevalent than my need to be liked. All of those likes? They’re a perfect symbol of what I’m craving. This makes sense as I have fatally low self esteem. I struggle to produce from within so I seek from without. This is pretty logical. And after all, I’m trying to rebuild a self esteem that was destroyed by others after a childhood where I was rejected rather firmly by the outside world.

The problem is that my need to be liked often dictates my actions and my thoughts. I change my opinions to fit in. I try to post things that will get me attention. Believe me, several of my blog posts were written with that purpose, though the ones that tried actually failed to do so. I talk about things that will get me the “right” attention. I’ll even hedge an opinion or two when it doesn’t go over with the crowd.

Trying to stretch myself hurts with time. While there are issues that I truly am profoundly passionate about–I will shatter my fist trying to beat down a door in the name of equality–there are times I can’t fit in. I wasn’t offended by Doctor Strange for example. I recognized it was a fumbled effort by Marvel but it didn’t bug me. Yet I felt compelled because so many were offended to be offended by it and I wasn’t. I thus felt amoral when I wasn’t joining in on the outrage as so many I respect were. (I didn’t finish Luke Cage while I’m confessing my Marvel sins. It was ok but didn’t grab me.) You can use this story as an example for a good many issues.

I’m trying to be the me I think I should be to others. When I do go off on the weird tangents that are fundamentally me, with rare exceptions it does leave me feeling isolated. I’m reminded even in my groups that I don’t fit in. Going back to the times I tried to get responses and failed, those really hurt because I thought I was going to stoke the interest of others. I’m frustrated.

This leads to the inevitable pain I face. I do sometimes have an outright falling out with people. In fact, I’m a few months out from what looks like a permanent severance of a tie I’d had for years. This was one of my best friends from way back but we finally grew apart and I decided I didn’t want to deal with him any more. The pain hurts still and may even increase with time.

And all of this spirals to a simple, brutal fact: I’m lonely. Yes, I’m a married man with a daughter but I’m still very lonely. Friendship fills a niche relationships don’t and vice versa. I don’t have any in person friends I see regularly anymore as all have either moved or I’ve had a falling out or both. As a result, I’ve turned online for that fix. And that’s not proving all that healthy anymore. I desperately need a functioning social life not linked to a screen.

So with all this said, what do I need to do? It really may all come down to this: I need to be honest about who I am with people. Am I a firebrand? Not on most issues so playing one needs to stop. After all, it dilutes my voice on the things I care about. I need to accept that my opinions may alienate others and that’s ok because better they like me than someone who isn’t there. I need to hope that others will accept me. I also absolutely must find group activities in person here.

And ultimately I need to accept that I’ve probably screamed this into a void. But that’s fine. I wrote this for me. That’s enough.