Monday, September 16, 2013

Healing Together, Walking Together

[Ed. note: After I wrote the essay Falling Down, I authored the update below. Please read Falling Down first, if you have time. Thanks!:]

While my wound is healing, it still hurts when I walk or put pressure on my left leg. I did see a doctor, even though it cost me a $25 copay, and I had to pay $15 for the supplies to treat my wounds. That's okay - I know that I have to stay in good health, and can't get an infection.

Speaking of old wounds, I have been feeling some anxiety about my social situation lately, although I suspect my fears are overblown. It's just difficult for me to avoid my apprehensions even when I have good reasons to suspect they're ill-advised.

I can recognize that many of my friends and the groups where I associate are trending in different directions than I am. Once again, tonight I am going on a date instead of spending time at an outing with some of my closest friends. Almost every time, I feel stupid afterward for missing good times with my friends in exchange for an at-best-mediocre date.

So why do I keep making this trade? There are a few reasons: I do feel lonely sometimes, and I very much want a relationship. Also, while I know my friends are close to me now and I cherish them, I feel vulnerable relying so much on the same people for so long. I want to expand the circle of people I know, especially people that I can keep close to me.

Sometimes I worry that my interactions with my friends and people I meet are two one-sided, too focused on myself and my needs. I want to be a better listener, a more generous and more supportive person. I feel inadequate in that effort in part because I realize that I'm not inclined to take initiative. I'm not always a demonstrative person, and I don't tend to go out of my way to connect with people. I have an inkling that I may want to change this feature, but I'm not sold yet, let alone wise enough to decide how to change.

I just feel like I don't know enough about myself, or about other people yet. This sense of ignorance feeds my insecurities, too...and already, we've returned to a focus on *my* issues - when I'm trying to think about others.

Cutting myself some slack, though, part of the reason I have focused more on my own reactions than those of other people, lies in good intentions. There have been times in the past when I've tried to connect with people in counter-productive ways and seen my outreach backfire badly. That is a major influence on my current instincts of deferring to other people or focusing primarily on my own perspective.

Focusing on myself has long felt like the safer and more courteous option. I am tortured by worst-case scenarios; I can't escape the fears I have of repeating the debilitating mistakes I have made in the past.

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, every day you can ask yourself two things to become a better person: 1) what have I learned today? 2) what have I done to help other people? Considered through this prism, I feel positively overall about the strides I have made to be a better person towards my fellow human beings.

I want to focus on the positive lessons I have learned, not on the dread or shame of past mistakes. I want to have the comfort level to take risks, and the discretion to take smart risks. That goes back to why I am going on a date tonight instead of spending all my time with the friends I already have: I know I could take the safer option, but how is my life going to improve if I always fall back on what feels safe?

Sometimes, I fall. Sometimes, I fall because I've done something rather stupid. I have wounds that have healed, and wounds that are still mending. Sometimes, old pains flare again, and it takes all my strength just to walk on my own. Yet - sometimes - putting one foot in front of the other makes me feel more powerful, wiser, and bolder with each towering step.

Watching those who are attempting the same journey, I wonder how I can do my best to help others. What does that promise mean? How do I fulfill this commitment? I have no idea. But first I'm going to get up, and I won't be going alone.

Falling Down

[Ed. note: I first wrote this essay almost two weeks ago, but waited to publish these words until now:]

Yesterday evening, I was walking home through my neighborhood, when I took a false step off of a curb and fell down. I was falling straight forward, so I involuntarily caught myself with my hands and knees. At the time, I was carrying my briefcase and a package of M&Ms, and I was thinking about something else.

I ripped holes in both legs of my dress pants, and managed to scrape my right hand plus both of my knees, which were skinned through the holes that were created in my pants when I was breaking my fall.

It was very painful to have to walk all the way back home. When I got there, my roommate gave me some bandages. I washed my wounds, and then put on band-aids.

My hand and my right knee seem to be alright, but the wound on my left knee won't quit bleeding. I had to ask my boss for a package of tissues to borrow so I can swab the blood. I already changed the bandage this morning. I wish I had a bigger bandage, but all I have are the standard-sized band-aids that are way too small for my wound, so I have to use four or five of them.

As far as I know, I wasn't having this problem last night. I'm worried. Hopefully the wound won't get infected and will quit bleeding soon. I'll change the bandages again as soon as I return home, but that won't be for several more hours.

I feel pretty silly about injuring myself from falling down in the street. I was just mundanely walking when, all of a sudden, I fell down.

When I was changing my bandages this morning, it was very painful. Ripping several bandages from my skin at once - plus the fact that the bandages stick to the hair on my leg and rip that off, too - makes the process hard to endure.

While I was writing the last paragraph, I had to pause and daub the blood off of my left knee again. Argh. I don't even want to buy bigger bandages, because I'm so low on funds before my next paycheck. I'm already trying to decide if I have enough money to pay my Internet bill during the next week, or if I can pay my portion of our apartment's lease change fee.

If the wound gets worse - showing signs of infection - I will be reticent to get that examined because, frankly, my insurance situation is terrible. While I'm fortunate that I can stay on my parents' insurance, since I live so far from them, places where I live that take our insurance are harder to find. I can pay a co-pay at the office because I have insurance, but then I get billed a ridiculous charge later just because I saw a convenient care doctor one time.

When you don't have much money, and don't have good insurance, even the smallest, most inane of events can produce anxiety - even something as silly as falling down.

Life Precedes Words

[Ed. note: I actually composed the following essay before I wrote Better Living Through References, even though I published the latter essay first on this blog. I intended the essay below to serve as my reintroduction to this blog, this time:]

I have allowed some time to elapse since the last time I updated this blog. That is true for a variety of reasons. In the past few months, I have started a paid internship which has become a temporary job. I am cautiously optimistic.

I am hoping to secure something more permanent while I continue my current work. I am heartened to have something steady while I keep searching, but anxious for the low margin of error I still have. I have faith in the skills that have gotten me to this more positive place, but still feel trepidation for the uncertainty ahead, just as I often have in the last few years.

I've also spent some much needed time relaxing with my friends. In between worrying about my work, whether I can pay my bills, or how I'm going to coordinate my living situation, staying in touch with my closest friends has been more invaluable than ever.

While I have wanted to expand my social circle, by and large, I'm spending time with the same people that I knew when I left college. Another side project, my writing, has been largely hit-or-miss. I've faced prolonged dry spells and feelings of inadequacy, laced with some intriguing experiments and inspirations. I do feel that I have progressed as a person, especially as a young adult seeking to be more independent and responsible. That quest continues to be my main objective.

I have been discussing my interest in the disability community with people from several organizations. My work in health and aging advocacy provides a natural segue to the disability world. I devoured the book "No Pity" by Joseph Shapiro, which chronicles the development of the disability rights movement and describes the challenges that people with disabilities face and overcome.

In parallel to this exploration, I have spent more time reflecting upon my identity as a person with a disability. I have not reached the end of my deliberation, nor do I expect to reach an end - everything I consider is a reaction to the evolving situations in my life, and I relish the opportunity to grow as a person and immerse myself in new experiences (and as clich├ęd and stilted as that sounds, I believe that attitude and embrace it fully).

So, I am trying to manage all of these different ambitions and necessities before I feel composed enough to express myself coherently on other topics - before I have time, or before I have inclination. I realize this is all elaborate excuse-making, but I also have a cynical faith that the best inventions of human reason tend to be rationalizations. In a last-ditch effort to be somewhat genuine, I am sharing my rationalizations here.

I hope to write more often in the near future. I hope to update this space with something to pique interest. Whether that hope materializes, I cannot predict. I have often hoped on one hand, and schemed to act differently on the other hand. If I have any shot at delivering on these promises, I must scheme to reverse myself again, and return to my original intentions - which change too rapidly to measure.

Yes, those who know me and follow my vain attempts at writing have learned that uncertainty is my crucible and my companion...the catalyst that overwhelms my reluctance, feeds my devotion, and yet, undermines my ability to articulate anything close to the thrill and fervent terror my mind evokes.

My entire life is a somersault: when I dare to reach new heights, spinning in the air to keep my balance, I am stretched so far that I am unable to bring my thoughts to the surface. It is in that brief moment afterwards, when I am standing on solid ground but still remember the sensations of leaping, that I can properly share a true vision of movement.

Okay, that's the round-up of what I haven't been doing, and what I don't know. Eventually, I'll return to tell you about another time when I haven't done something else...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Better Living Through References

A close friend of mine once told me that her brother with Asperger's has only communicated with her through shared references. Her brother has never had any other type of interaction with her - his efforts to reach out never migrate from direct experiences to reflection - never include what most people consider "real" conversation.

Many people tell me that it's hard to know that I have Asperger's. My close friend has reported that she sees vast differences between her brother and myself, yet sometimes, I feel that all of my "sophisticated, thoughtful" ideas are still loosely based on references and nothing else.

I have a phenomenal working memory for topics that interest me, and I store as much useful (or useless, depending on how you value the data) information as I can. This allows me to cheat, to make me seem like a person with "normal" reactions to life.

I feel like a human version of the "Turing test": every day, I wonder if people can distinguish what I say and how I act from the people around me. Will I pass? How long will people know me before they suspect me?

Once upon a time, Windows operating software like Windows 95 functioned on top of a pre-existing program called DOS. Windows 95 gave users the illusion of direct control, but Windows was still dependent on DOS architecture for daily operations. I like using this analogy to describe what it's like to be a person with Asperger's who has made some adjustments to cope with a neurotypical world.

While I strive to act compatibly with the majority of the people around me, I am in fact deeply dependent on a very different set of hardwiring. As much as I try to act in a synchronized way with what other people seem to expect from me, there are invariably times when I become frustrated by my limitations and the strenuous difficulty of staying on constant alert.

There are many things I do and ways I think about the world which are considered unusual. For example, I have a profoundly different sense of humor than most people I have met. A lot of things amuse me which are similar to neurotypical humor, but they tend to have their own subtle but pleasing spin for me.

Lots of people appreciate slapstick humor and the idea of the pratfall. Countless comedians - from Charlie Chaplin in the silent film era, to Chevy Chase's bumbling impression of Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live, to Ben Stiller antagonizing Robert DeNiro in the Meet the Parents movies - have made their reputations and millions of dollars from this brand of comedy.

For me, though, the concept of the pratfall extends from the physical to the emotional and societal. When people are hypocritical, inconsistent, passive-aggressive, dishonest, euphemistic, or otherwise find their feelings and actions at cross-purposes, I feel a great surge of schadenfreude. Those who have, as I have, spent their entire lives struggling to relate to people or to decipher the murky impressions people agonizingly leave in their wake, find it especially hysterical when neurotypical people struggle with some of the same problems.

On a related note, one of my favorite things is when neurotypical people adopt behaviors that autistic people have used to cope with a society that is inherently difficult for them. Every year, more people adopt smartphones, tablets, and other kinds of technology that occupy a person's every waking moment - insulating individuals from the burden of small talk and other social relationships. People are so cocooned in their own worlds - due to technology - that they miss out on the subtle, intimate details of daily life that people like me have struggled in vain to notice.

It amuses me to no end that so many neurotypical people are voluntarily abandoning a portal to the world that has been troublesome for me to access. When I am surrounded by a group of my friends who are all consumed in their smartphones, and I am the one person most intent on making conversation and observing the world around me...I cannot help but guffaw.

In an era of wildly proliferating Internet memes and the burgeoning celebration of pop culture references as a touchstone of daily life, I am beginning to wonder whether I am the person who truly has a problem with relying too much on abstract references and ideas.

The consumer-focused, hyper-individualized culture of America has blurred the lines (yes, that was intentional) between my struggle to anticipate how other people expect me to behave, and my longing to capture as much of the human experience as I possibly can.

I now face a society that discourages authenticity and the hard work required to immerse one's self in a diverse array of experiences. I face a society seemingly satisfied with low-hanging fruit and lowest-common-denominators. If I used to worry that I would not live up to the expectations of society, perhaps it is society that needs to worry about whether it's going to live up to my expectations.