Why I Need to Talk (About Myself)

My name is Austin Shinn and I have an addiction. I am fixated on talking, especially about my life and myself.

The addiction became clear to me when I launched a second twitter feed in part to talk about stories from my past. I shared two or three before it became clear that nobody was listening. Admittedly, I don’t have many followers on that feed. But in the isolation, I realized my addiction. I need to talk nonstop and mostly about me.

Why? There are several excellent reasons. I’m a bit lonely during the day with just Lola around. I don’t have many friends at night. I’m constantly unable to stop thinking which burns off as excess energy. These are standard reasons. No reason to waste a graph on each. But there are two other reasons on my mind that I can’t stop weighing. It’s these that make me write today.

The first is a need for validation. Why do I write such long, expansive essays along with regular repeating columns I’m not sure are read? Because I’m fishing for that one specific topic that will interest people and make them listen to me. I want to know that I’m interesting because internally I fear that I’m not. Sure, I love writing but more specifically I want others to love my writing. It’s the one thing I’ve gotten any attention for in the past.

The second is why I talk about me. I’m not a narcissist. I rather clearly hate myself. But I’m desperate to reach out. I want others to understand me. I feel like if people knew me they’d get me and respect me. So I cast my net wide in desperation that maybe the lockbox that is my brain will be opened for others.

There’s a third reason though. I was lonely as a child. I’m still trying to heal the silence and that doesn’t come easy. I want to fix the pain of my past. The solitary bike rides still wound me.

There’s no easy answer to this feeling. I have deep needs I’m struggling with and it doesn’t make me fun to be around. I’m way too much. I know. I think half of my twitter followers have me on mute. I’m working on this. I try to limit to one tweet an hour. But I still need to vent. I still have these issues. I still want to be heard.

I just need patience.

Confronting My Issues After A Social Media Overdose

WARNING: I’m going to be extraordinarily honest here. If you don’t want to hear about ugliness in my life, do not read this.

As always, I have to start this post with an explanation for why I haven’t written as much as I’d like here. The very real, very happy truth is I’ve been way too busy with a screenplay which I put to bed yesterday. Yay accomplishments. The very real, very dark truth is I’ve also been struggling hard with my mental illness.

I’m mentally ill. There shouldn’t be a sense of horror at saying that. I am. Of course I am. I’m diagnosed! But I’m starting to confront the scary truth that it might go a bit deeper than I like. This all stems from my apocalyptic fixation I’ve written on before. I’m starting to see how real it is and how susceptible I am.

In the last month, the specter of doomsday has been an almost daily occurrence. There was at least one moment where I went to the movies and came out relieved there wasn’t nuclear war. Then the health care war has raged. That’s led to talk that democracy is dead. And the last part, well the last part triggered me.

The episode I had on Thursday was the ugliest in my entire life. I really think it was. What triggered it was a sudden, very massive overdose of people declaring the sky had fallen. That the government was definitely going full eugenics. That a coup had already happened. That was the only way this awful bill could’ve passed. That we were all going to die.

Today I step back and I see what I read for what it is: A bit much if I’m nice and paranoid delusions if I’m saying what I truly think. Things just aren’t that bad and I think they might not ever get near that. But if you factor in my susceptibility to such talk and my intense emotions over a bill that stands to harm my family, yes I snapped.

All that happened was I screamed and cried a bit until I was talked down logically. Amanda really helped. But the emotions I felt were so intense that removed from the situation, I saw them for what they are: a form of psychosis. And if any event leaves me feeling less certain about social media, it’s this one.

It’s not a new idea for me that I need to consider leaving twitter for my own mental health. After the election and after a few other incidents, I took days off. I’m currently on limited use. mostly for the hype on Guardians 2. It’s really not the worst idea for me.

The problem is social media is addictive. That feed gets to you. Your notifications tab is a drug. When it’s in full blast with 8+ notifications, you have done something right. The reaction I got to the Silbermann issue post was really intense.

It also helps deal with loneliness. my friends have moved away and I’m slowly making new ones. Yes, I’ve got Amanda but I need more. I want to just talk comics & movies. I don’t think it’s so wrong to want an outlet. I don’t have many here.

But that’s one of the evil things about social media. There’s a frequent sense you need to have the correct discussion. If you’re not political 25/8 then you don’t care. You’ll be ignored. You need to be at your angriest all the time.

I noted this after the election of 2004: Being hyperpolitical is a skin I don’t wear well because it requires me to argue constantly and know what I’m supposed to say at every moment. I’m not good at that. I’m not good at being apathetic, but I’m really not good at living every moment in constant war.

But perhaps the hardest thing for me about social media is this: I’m bombarded with input nonstop. I get overstimulated easy. And if I’m bombarded with bleak imagery from, well I’ll be blunt questionable authority, then yes I snap. Because social media isn’t designed to filter arguments. The Wall Street Journal has the same respect as a drunk spewing paranoia there.

I’m a journalist by training. When I admit to these issues, I’m often asked why my job doesn’t trigger the same response. Easy. Being at a newspaper means I’m surrounded by filters. There’s a wall on the information I get that means it’s accurate. Hyperbole gets drained. And I’ve got bad news: Blogs are REALLY awful information sources. Even the “best” have far less accuracy than the Wall Street Journal or The Washington Times.

So this is where I am. I’m looking at what caused the episode and I’m making changes. I pruned my feed last night. I started blocking out the sources I know trigger me. Not to put my head in the sand–please read the two paragraphs up top–but to get healthier. If something is causing episodes of paranoia then NO it is not healthy to indulge in it.

I’m of course still in therapy. That I may never leave. I’m ok with that. I’m going to look into getting on stronger medication too. I’m not sure I want to keep living as if this is just what I am. I have more wrong than just depression and anxiety. That’s ok.

But most importantly, I’m looking hard at social media. It’s an addiction. There are no healthy addictions in the end.

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.