Apologies in advance for the sudden, randomness of this post. Since GameSpot removed it's community sharing features last year there have been no appropriate places on the site to flag blogs as viewable to anyone other than those on the forums.
Despite having Asperger’s Syndrome, a potentially crippling condition that can make daily life almost impossible, I consider myself a lucky person. I grew up in idyllic and peaceful country surroundings, I had loving and sympathetic parents with the finances to give me the best start in life and had the privilege of receiving a good education. Although my inability to fit in with my peers at school and elsewhere was a source of great discomfort, I was no more bullied than the average child found most anywhere. So considering the many, many people who don’t have the benefit of such a background, I’m truly grateful for all those who worked to give me the life I have.
But inevitably there are those moments we look back on and wish we could have done differently or had gone a different way. For me it was my failure to recognise the futility of resisting something as determined as Asperger’s Syndrome and the damage it caused as a result of my stubbornness. Compared to most children, who are typically diagnosed between the ages of four and eleven, I joined the ranks of the Aspies at the age of 14. While I displayed all of the symptoms from birth, they were met with confusion and anger by those who witnessed them. Perhaps if I had been diagnosed earlier both they and I may have had more time to become accustomed to it. I can recall my reaction to my mother when she explained the disorder to me for the first time. Having had a longer than usual discussion with my therapist, she laid it all out for me with the stack of pamphlets and leaflets she had been given.
“Ass-burgers!?” I said, rather startled. “No, no dear. As-pergers” she replied in her eternally calm, soothing voice. She then explained in detail what was written on the pamphlets and the reasons for all the outspoken comments, temper tantrums and obsessive behaviour. She told me I had been misunderstood – by my friends, teachers, family and just about anyone else I had come into contact with. To her, I was no longer ill-tempered troublemaker but a person of special and unique qualities. But I was having none of it. I despised the idea of being special and had absolutely no interest in being unique, standing out or being different in any way. I wanted to fit in, to be considered one of the rest, to be able to do and say things that came so naturally to the people around me. So I refused to embrace it, choosing instead to resist and attempt to suppress it the best I could. Therefore, from that moment I became the architect of my own mental near-destruction as I embodied one side of a civil war that was already brewing within my own mind.
A short while later, as part of her attempts to convince me it was nothing to fear, my mother had me watch Rain Man (1988) featuring Dustin Hoffman as an Autistic man who shared some of the traits associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. But rather than educate me on what it meant to have an Autistic spectrum disorder, it began a whirlwind of theories in my mind that could explain my personality in a way I was comfortable with. I had always been a huge film buff and I think my attraction to the more fantastical genres like horror and science-fiction could be interpreted as my way of retreating to a fabricated world in which I was more at ease. This was helped enormously by the amount of artistic and surrealist films like those of David Lynch I was watching that catered precisely to the kind of fractured minds that all Aspies can be argued as possessing. The vast majority of his films deal with characters that seem to split or morph into entirely different individuals as they go on. Lost Highway (1997) in particular has Bill Pullman’s character changing from a Jazz musician into a much younger man possessing an entirely different life before finally reverting back again for the film’s ending. It certainly may not be what Lynch had intended but what I took away from films like this was that the human mind can sometimes be at odds with itself. Not merely the kind of indecision that we all experience from time to time but an intense, damaging and vicious conflict as one side of the mind wrestles for control over the other – with the brain itself acting as a battlefield.
Going back to Rain Man, the behaviour of Dustin Hoffman’s character – rather than conflict – represented submission and that’s ultimately how I came to view the difference between Autism and Asperger’s. What I saw in Raymond Babbitt was a man who was completely at the mercy of his disorder, a man who had absolutely no control over it and was forced to live his life by the rules it had laid out for him. There was no arguing with it and no resisting it – to the point of being forced to travel hundreds of miles back to one particular shop in order to buy new underwear.
Like Autism, the severity of Asperger’s is relative to the person – but generally speaking, Aspies have a statistically greater chance to live a relatively normal life provided they receive the proper care and guidance. I was taught that this was a blessing. Whenever my temper flared or my mood was down, my mother would remind me of Rain Man and reassure me that my situation could be far worse. But this is both a blessing and a curse as it gives rise to a unique scenario that simply isn’t present with Autistics. The very fact that Aspies still have partial control over their own minds leaves them in a permanent dilemma as the rational side struggles against the irrational. Throughout my chaotic ritualistic behaviour, obsessions, thoughts and communication difficulties and after observing the absence of such things in those around me, I slowly became aware that this was not the way in which I was meant to behave. I can recall one particular night when I sat on at the top of the stairs in our home at about 3am, bathed under the glow of the moon that was shining through the skylight. I clutched my head in my hands as I desperately tried to find some kind of answer in my head by comparing my behaviour and things that I often said with those of my classmates. It was the beginning of a time where my mind would routinely struggle with justifying the need to do such irrational things as clearing each speck of dust from the top of my desk or keeping my DVDs perfectly lined up on my shelf while constantly spouting film quotes that would usually see me spending my school lunch break in detention. Eventually this kind of obsessiveness extended to almost every facet of daily life as I constantly revised and pre-planned greetings, conversation subjects to avoid being told off or becoming further isolated from my peers.
So the conflict I mentioned arises from the knowledge that what I was doing was irrational and unnecessary but at the same time I lacked the comprehension and the identification needed to do anything about it.
Meanwhile, as I continued to absorb myself in my imaginings, I became quite fond of war films. I was first introduced to a serious war film when one of my few friends suggested I watch Saving Private Ryan (1998). Not because it related to me in any way but simply because I might enjoy it. Like the films of David Lynch, I immediately saw my own situation mirrored in this gut-wrenching display of chaos and bloodshed. One of the most prevalent experiences I had when I was going through one of my rituals or ruminations for hours at a time were intense headaches, loss of coordination and what I perceived as blurred vision – though the latter may simply have been my inability to focus on the reality around me. I was able to find similarities in what I was feeling with the shaky, dusty and occasionally blurred camera work seen not just in Saving Private Ryan but several modern war films in order to convey a sense of distortion brought on by the filth and noise. I also became enamoured with the heroic actions of the characters on screen. I found great inspiration in their ability to move through smoke and smog across blood soaked battlefields and emerge victorious on the other side. But to me they had earned their heroic status not because of they had won or saved their fellow soldiers but by being able to endure the experience itself and were able to resist everything that was thrown at them. That concept of resisting punishment no matter how severe effectively became my association with Asperger’s Syndrome from that point on.
And so came this revelation that I tried to come up with while sitting on those stairs that night. “This is how you identify as being an Aspie” I thought. “This isn’t a disorder, condition or illness – it’s a war.” This would be my way of making sense of it. If I could turn it into something I could recognise, perhaps that would be the key to dealing with it or at least explaining it to others. If Autistics have already lost their war and are experience a prolonged occupation of the mind by a psychological and totalitarian force, those with Asperger’s must surely be locked in a constant state of conflict as the ability to recognise the irrational must defend itself against the compulsion to act irrationally.
My mother would frown on me attributing such a negative concept to something she once described as making me special but if it meant achieving some semblance of peace – however ironic that sounds – wouldn’t it sure be worth it? Is that not the message so often conveyed by all those who have ever been involved in a war?
Regardless, I neglected to anticipate the pain such stubbornness would inflict.