The week was a fresh start for me, a reboot of my past life, all new and shiny as opposed to the previous version. On Monday, I started an exciting new chapter in my professional life. I work with an email marketing services firm. They’ve been around for a little while and they have an excellent history of growth as well as future expansion plans. I’ve been there a week and feel humbled and energized to be a part of their culture and future history. The office culture is great and what is not to love about a group of friendly, fun and talented individuals who just happen to all have similarly odd musical playlists like me. What an exciting opportunity to learn and grow!
This is a far better position than I was in just last year. In May 2013, I had just graduated, started working a software development job, and manage to have 3 days of a normal post college life before I was diagnosed with a slight evolutionary defect. I spent the past year and half fighting my way back to the light.
Speaking of opportunities to learn and grow… I learned something new about myself last week. So I think it should come as no surprise that I might need a little therapeutic guidance getting back to good. Over the course of the past couple of months it became obvious to my therapist that my behaviors and discussions led her to believe that I have Asperger’s syndrome. She also told me, that she believed that I had become highly adapted. Which means that I have watched other people and learned the appropriate responses to do what is expected of a normal person. “Fake it, until you make it.” Right?
It was the week before my first post-cancer job was set to start and there I was analyzing and overanalyzing the facts and symptoms related to Asperger’s. Laura being awesome accompanied me to the therapist to answer a series of questions to clarify the Asperger’s as a possibility. The more I’ve read, the more sense it makes to me, the more obvious my adaptations have become. Many previously mysterious parts of my childhood suddenly made perfect sense.
While I struggled with accepting this new found condition, I also began to realize that this condition has never not existed. It’s no different than my personality, it’s just a set of conditions that causes my brain to function differently than the average neuro-typical person. Of course, I spent the week between appointments burying myself in reading as much as I possibly could about Asperger’s and taking numerous tests trying to verify without a doubt that I either was, or was not an Asperger’s individual. By the way, that fixated study of a particular topic, is a noted behavior of an Asperger’s brain.
The basic overview for Asperger’s (which is technically an obsolete diagnosis as it has been rolled into the Autism Spectrum Disorders category) is:
Problems with social skills: Difficulty interacting with individuals, small talk is difficult or considered unnecessary, difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations, and the inability to make friends easily.
Eccentric or repetitive behaviors: I have a finger tapping thing I do, like playing scales using my fingers 1234-4321 and back and forth while I’m concentrating on something.
Communication difficulties: I tend to fail to maintain eye contact with a person while talking. It’s easier for some reason for me to look away during long bits of conversation. I have been known to make weird expressions or gestures. I also have struggled with understanding language in unusual context, or, I’m very literal and logical. Jokes and metaphors can be lost on me.
Limited range of interests: These can shift dramatically throughout the years, but I am often hyper-fascinated with a subject and will learn everything there is to learn about it. When I was growing up it was the Titanic, the Oak Island Money Pit, and everything space. As an adult, it has translated into varying degrees of obsession with analyzing musical lyrics and deriving meaning from them. This particular one drives Laura insane as I occasionally “ruin” songs for her.
Coordination problems: It’s been imparted to me by Laura that I have an interesting gait that is considered a common symptom of Asperger’s.
Sensory and perceptual abilities: While Asperger’s individuals often have heightened sensory and perception this also sometimes causes an inability to cope with all of the signals being processed simultaneously. It has not been an uncommon experience that Laura and I go to a restaurant and try to have a conversation and the combination of music, other conversation, and shiny objects around the room mesh into a headache I wouldn’t wish on anyone and renders all conversation to a stopping point.
Skilled or talented: I am exceptionally gifted with intelligence, logic, and if my hyper-focus coincides with my work or creativity it can be a powerful engine.
There are many other symptoms, several of which I also share, but these are the primary effects.
So given all of that, I had to start my new job on Monday. Let me tell you, I was absolutely terrified. Why should I be terrified? It was no different than any other time that I started a new job, I was going to learn new things, meet new people, and develop working relationships. However, having just accepted that I have Asperger’s I suddenly questioned everything I did to the point of paralysis. I worried about making a good first impression and still do. I’m scared to ask questions, to involve myself in conversations, and even had a relatively pleasant conversation with the president and felt like I was stumbling all over myself.
What does any of it even mean? The more I sit with the acceptance of this condition the more I see how it impacts my life. It might be simple little things, like laughing at something I think is funny on The Office and watching Laura look at me and smile clearly not finding it as humorous as I do. I find that Laura and I quite often exchange conversations in which one or the other is clarifying what the other person meant, usually me. Every day, I see Asperger’s in the things I do, and I can’t un-see it.
On the upside, it means I can further adapt and become better at the things that I struggle with, on the downside, I think I’m scared that I won’t do well with the new job because I’m struggling both with the normal nervousness of starting a new job and the secondary powerful nervousness of Asperger’s.
I hope this plays out well in the end.