I have been looking some more information on the internet, and am finding some remarkable stuff. Here’s one from an American writer, a woman, who has a lovely way of describing things. She wrote My Inner Life: Adventures With Asperger’s. Like myself, she has not had a professional diagnosis but has done some tests. One I did last January, just under a year ago, revealed a “neurodiverse” score of 116 of 200 and a “neurotypical” score of 98 of 200. The young lady to whom I linked took the same test and got 125 of 200 and a “neurotypical” score of 86 of 200. I think my differences were my intact physical coordination and spatial perception (ability to drive safely and navigate at sea), and being slightly less sensitive to outside stimuli. I will do the test again, trying to be as honest as possible, and see how it goes.
Whatever, each human being is totally different and the typology has to be very subtle. One sign is feeling more in common with “aspie” people than with mainstream folk in our places of work and in the world. Many aspies do not have habits like flapping hands or melting down at the slightest stimulation. I do look people in the eye even if not for very long. One thing I like about this lady’s article is the interior dimension of this condition. Whoever we are, we can’t know what it feels like to be someone else. But, I do notice that many things I notice and which bring me some pleasure (or the opposite) have little or no effect on most people.
The inner world is described thus, and I have never come anywhere near articulating it with such precision:
I want to show you what it is like to live inside in my head. It is a colorful world, a verbal world, a world of impressions and shapes and impulses and words and thoughts that can never be put into words no matter how much I struggle. It is a place where new connections are constantly being formed, where I am testing the truth of every statement, searching for contradictions, searching for commonalities, searching for patterns and puns and odd ways to fit everything together.
My mind wants to hear everything, see everything, take it all in. And sometimes it breaks down because it has taken in too much. I want to know people in impossibly deep ways, and yet want to avoid them because the disruptions they cause to my steady stream of thoughts is nearly intolerable.
I do not settle for simple. I will not abide ordinary. Welcome to my inner life.
I have always had “impressions” from everything I see, hear, smell, taste and touch, but have never been able to describe them, any more than being able to describe a colour other than by using the conventional words red, yellow, blue, etc. My experience of sensing things in this world makes a big impression on me, but is this so with most people. Or, do they keep quiet lest they should be labelled as mentally ill? The schizophrenic sees and hears things that most people don’t sense, and are labelled as crazy when they are diagnosed by a psychiatrist. My own theory is that some people sense reality totally differently. Perhaps the very reality they sense is different. Quantum physicists talk about multiverses: different worlds of probabilities. Imagine a world in which there was no first World War, and Hitler remained a bummer and failed art student in Vienna – or a world in which there was no Reformation of French Revolution. Maybe all these worlds exist at the same time but at different “frequencies” like on a radio. Most of us live in a single frequency like a perfectly-tuned radio, but sometimes there is interference. Thus some people have mystical experiences, see Our Lady, prophecy, speak in tongues, goodness knows what else! Something of that happens in me, but it is too different to describe, too subtle. Have I experienced something of heaven and hell? Perhaps, on one hand through music and beauty, and on the other hand through hearing hard rock blaring out of a car and hearing the way some people talk and act.
Some people have synaesthesia, which is something very strange. For example, letters and words have colours, you can “touch” musical notes, hear tastes of food, and all sorts. Perhaps the “celestial electrician” was drunk when he connected all the circuits, switches, relays and circuit breakers! I do tend to take some words and separate them from their conventional meaning, and take enjoyment in pronouncing them and making them mean something else. The words concerned change throughout life, but some current examples coming into thoughts are “drop”, “apple pie”, “prickly” and some others. Some of these words I associate with pieces of music. I listen to Parry’s Shulbrede Tunes played on the piano, and then the quintessential English dessert, apple pie, came up in my mind. Perhaps Mrs Parry made good apple pie in her Victorian kitchen when her husband was teaching, composing or out in his boat! There is a lovely passage of Alfred Deller singing Purcell’s Music for Awhile, and the word “drop, drop, drop” is repeated. It is rather a lovely sensation to sing it. In a certain way, an “aspie” remains a child, innocent and open to everything – which is not a good idea in today’s modern world of predators and people with personality issues. Naturally, you keep quiet about this kind of thing, otherwise you might be grouped with people who think they are Napoleon – stark raving crackers!
When I was six years old (the year was 1965 when Churchill died), I was taken shopping by my mother in town. One of our ports of call was Briggs Boot Store where farmers, gardeners and others would find their joy in stock. There was a whole row of wellies of different types and sizes on the floor along the front row of shelves. My mother would remind me of this story years afterwards, how I touched each boot (yes, they were in pairs) and chirped “Booty, booty, booty” all the way down the row. I don’t think I was particularly fascinated by boots, but rather by the word. I suppose it still resonates when I boot up the computer or hear the expression “So-and-so got the boot”. It’s a strange word. In German, it means a boat and the French say botte.
Since childhood, I have been fascinated with words, their etymology and meaning as well as the sound of their pronunciation. I enjoyed grammar lessons at school and did well at writing my little weekly essays. I was never very good at foreign languages, but I learned French through the force of circumstances. Finally, I earn my living by what I am best at, but I tend to be a tad literal for some clients. That has to be carefully watched. Abstract mathematics and Aristotelian logic were off my radar, but I can deal with things like geometry and trigonometry because they allow us to measure things using angles – indispensable for sea navigation.
Science seems to have identified differences in the structures of our neurones and the way our brains function. It is genetic, a neurological difference and not a mental problem caused by bad outside influence like childhood abuse. Some think it is caused by pollution, poisons and vaccines, but not all scientists are agreed. Autism has been studied for a long time, and there is a whole spectrum from those who are very retarded and have no use of language to kids like Mozart or Einstein or a physics student who proved mathematical errors in Newton’s calculations.
It is not without significance that the old Gnostics distinguished between the spirituals (pneumatics), the psychics and the hylics (materialists). There are theories, more or less fantastic, about humans being descended from different “races” of “extraterrestrial” or “angelic” species of before the Flood. I think that Hitler got into this sort of conspiracy stuff as a part of his eugenics programme – and there is plenty of garbage from weird Evangelical cults on YouTube. All the same, there might be something in the genetic questions, just as with debilitating illnesses like Downs Syndrome because of DNA or genetic defects. I can imagine that some of the genetic differences go back many generations and perhaps even to ancient times.
Whatever, we are all human beings with different experiences of life, and some of us fit badly into mainstream life, at least without adaptation and convincing acting. Regarding Aspergers Syndrome or high-functioning autism as psychiatrists generally call it nowadays, some of the classical stereotypes are being dropped or given less emphasis as criteria.
It is since I begun to read about the experience of “aspies”, however imperfectly expressed in conventional language, that I began to understand that there was really a difference between how sensitive people feel things and most “ordinary” people feel them. Perhaps the big difference is that “aspies” feel everything from within, and most people rely on stimulation from outside, from crowds and groups of people giving them energy.
I share the same social awkwardness, though I have become better at not over-compensating for it by trying to be a false extrovert and make a complete fool of myself, especially by mimicking and imitating characters with idiosyncrasies. I can just be myself, but know that I will never “hold court” in a conversation. I am just drowned out by the others and I listen if the subject is interesting, try to be polite or get up and walk away quietly. This is the way it is. My talents lie elsewhere. I am no Oscar Wilde! I always hated small talk, and make a fool of myself when I try it. It is necessary, and I understand that intellectually. I have learned to desist from engaging people I don’t know in deep conversation. There’s nothing worse than a party bore, and I seem to have learned that lesson a long time ago – from my father.
It is a whole experience of life, and reading about others who have the same or similar experiences of life bring a whole sense of identity, not of sick people looking for a cure, but our own existence with our individual talents but social difficulties. None of us can be good at everything between using language, numbers and figures and calculations – or their physical expressions.
I was certainly given to hyperlexia as a child, reading material that was totally inappropriate for a child. For example my father’s textbooks from his university days on animal anatomy and pathology fascinated me. Biochemistry was a little less fascinating, and I would find dead animals and birds (if they weren’t too mutilated by the cat or putrid), and my father would teach me how to do a dissection and drawings of the internal organs. My grandmother was successful in getting me onto ornithology by buying me a very nice Readers Digest book – and I still remember quite a few species to this day. The characteristic obsessions were certainly me, from dismantling mechanical toys to collecting locks and keys. I became fascinated by Captain Nemo’s submarine from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne. I suppose that that sort of thing was quite characteristic. My problem was that I didn’t seem to be able to invent something that hadn’t already been invented! I still have some film footage of me, taken on Super 8 by my father, standing in front of a flower bush in the garden playing with bee-like flies, totally absorbed in the flowers and flying insects. I seemed not to be far from being the Very Model of a Modern Major General!
I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
I’m very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
I know our mythic history, King Arthur’s and Sir Caradoc’s;
I answer hard acrostics, I’ve a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I’ve heard the music’s din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.
Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev’ry detail of Caractacus’s uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
In fact, when I know what is meant by “mamelon” and “ravelin”,
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a Javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I’m more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by “commissariat”
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery
In short, when I’ve a smattering of elemental strategy
You’ll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.
For my military knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
The implication seems to be that the poor fellow knew everything and nothing! When one grows up, one has to get an idea of reality and concentrate on what is really within our reach!
Circumstances in my life seem to dictate that I will live a very secluded life, hopefully in the west of Brittany. I am going to leave married life, for the sake of my soul and sense of being. I need the stability of life and predictability with which I can only find with myself. Knowing that I have failed in a relationship is bitter, but it will be better for her and better for me to go our ways. I will have time and possibility to focus, not only to “hack” translations but also to do some real writing beyond this blog. I need to think up some projects, perhaps the question of ability to relate to a Church and remain a person. There is an Asperger Ministry blog on the web, which is very interesting, but it seems to have lost steam and is Evangelical. A comparative approach is very revealing, and shows the difficulties we have in Churches simply because of social difficulties and inability to fit into a team or a group.
When I read through the article, I recognise so much, but not everything. I don’t rock backwards and forwards, nor do I flap hands. I do sometime fidget, but very discreetly and not in circumstances where I would be judged for it. On the whole, my own life compares with this lady’s life or that of so many others. I have to realise that most people are totally different and have other priorities. I do not judge them, because man is naturally social like many species of animals. We have to be to survive. We are conditioned to believe that if we do not relate to this mould, we have moral failings and are selfish. We live in a “neurotypical” world and we have to negotiate with it and play the game, be realistic. I often criticise “preppers” and others in alternative lifestyles, because we will not entirely eliminate money and the need for electricity, telephone and other utilities. We can become less dependent, but compromise is necessary. That takes a lot of effort.
I have a strong sense of empathy too, and I feel conflicts very intensely, even when the conflicts do not concern me. One that occurred between my wife and her sister caused me an anxiety state that lasted for more than a month, and my wife getting too close to me now still causes the anxiety. She comes to me, not to bring tenderness and comfort, like a man would usually expect from a loving wife, but more need for energy, another “fix”. I must go away as soon as possible and establish myself in the contemplative life I seek. In a group with a lot of noise, I find it difficult to filter and follow a conversation. Perhaps the worst I have known is the evening festivities at the Semaine du Golfe when the traditional Brittany dance music blares out of over-amplified speakers. I hear all the noise and it is quite painful.
Autism experts still see the spectrum of conditions as a handicap. I intend to study this human phenomenon and try to understand not only the high-functioning part of the continuum but also the little children who are given up as idiots. Some “aspies” have become priests like I have, and that definitely goes against the management principles and criteria of vocations directors and seminary rectors. Would I have persevered with the knowledge I now have? I think so, and with the idea that people can bring their gifts and talents to their vocation, and not merely conform to a system.
There is the Christian site I linked to above. There is also Wrong Planet, which contains a forum. I find it a little bewildering, and don’t let anyone count on me to organise anything new. I already posted a load of links that depart from the old stereotypes of clumsy geeks and examine the interior and human dimensions. There would be room for Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox who identify with this condition, or have received a professional diagnosis, but it is better for them to look at the “aspie community” in general and pursue the path of their own individuation as Jung would have expressed it. I know at least two “aspies” who read my site. There are certainly others, because they like my way of going on and on and on.
Whether we are “aspie” or “neurotypical” or somewhere between the two, let us pray for each other and learn to love the diversity of our personalities and experience of life.