Sunday, July 26, 2009
Back To The Psycho Mines
I've recently been through one of the most pleasant runs of mood I've had in my life. I went through weeks of being stable, happy, and productive. But the last few days have seen me back on the roller coaster. Not in a serious way, but enough to throw me for a loop and worry the missus.
And then this morning I ran across this book on our kitchen counter. Started reading it in the bathroom, took it back to bed. Didn't set it down until I was done. It took me three hours to read and much of that time was spent in thought. It is a wonderful book and I'd recommend it to any interested party -- but this isn't a critical piece.
Now I've always scored high on Asperger's/autism tests but I always figured that was because they don't distinguish between autism and misanthropy. But reading this book, I was startled by the number of traits and behaviors I had in common with the author and her fellow autistics.
I ain't autistic. The two most obvious symptoms of autism are difficulty with verbal thinking and lack of empathy. In these areas I'm aberrant in the opposite direction; I was conversational on an adult level by nine or ten months, and my empathy is of the kind where it is frequently difficult for me to distinguish between my emotions and those of the people around me. (This makes it really, really easy to get me to do what you want if you really, really want to.) And while I have difficulty socializing, I've always treasured and desired human contact in a way that's quite alien to the autistic.
But over and over again I found myself recognizing the way she viewed life and the way she dealt with it. She talks about how autistic people benefit from the application of physical pressure to their bodies; until I moved away from home I slept with sixteen old-fashioned wool blankets on my bed because I needed the pressure in order to sleep. (During the summer I'd roll them up and stick them in our upright freezer during the day so they'd keep me cool at night.) Even now I can't sleep unless I have a pillow over my head. And a lot of my childhood play involved confinement in close quarters, which always soothed me. Even my preference for soft, heavy women seems to reflect this tendency.
The way she had to construct her social skills deliberately and intellectually. Again, this was and is very true for me. I don't have any intuitive sense of how people are going to react to me. I'm continually refining my public behavior based on incoming information. And there are aspects of my behavior which I don't even notice until they're pointed out to me -- the way I blow my nose loudly, for instance. I have no idea how many of those idiosyncrasies are still unknown to me.
Ms. Grandin wrote of having to study people in order to be able to interact with them effectively. I was utterly baffled by people until I watched a Jane Goodall special on the National Geographic show and I realized that if I were to get by in the world I'd have to do with humans what she did with chimps.
Autistic people can have trouble filtering input. Oh, man. Noises other people would never notice can prevent me from sleeping. I can't listen to more than one conversation at once -- if someone tries to talk to me when I'm on the phone I'm overtaken by a brute rage. I can't filter sensory input -- but on the other hand, if I'm focused you have to yell at me for a while before I'll notice you.
Autistic people have trouble deviating from routine. Again, guilty as charged. If there's any variation in my routine I can start losing my shit. And self-injury as a way to soothe oneself via endorphins? All my best scars are self-inflicted, and my rule of thumb is that if the number of minutes I've spent pacing is multiplied by the bleeding bite-marks on my cuticles is greater than one hundred, it's time to take things seriously.
It went on and on. Even small details like having additional difficulties during the fall and the spring seemed to be similar to my own experiences.
There are a cluster of mental conditions like schizophrenia, depression, autism, OCD, etc. that seem to be related to and interactive with one another and I live in that zone. While I've been diagnosed with agitated depression and tentatively diagnosed with borderline schizophrenia, I really don't fall neatly into any diagnosis. My symptoms range all over the place and every so often something new will crop up unexpectedly and then fade away.
(I was particularly grateful that the mean-talking voices in my head were a one-off. Living with that shit would be too much.)
When I know my role, when there's an emergency or a job to be done, I have no problem functioning. That's when I shine. People I work or go to school with tend to think of me as able, amiable, and confident. It's only people who don't know me at all or who know me really well who understand that the boy's got issues.
This book got me wondering if I should reconsider the possibility of counseling and medication. Which doesn't help put me in a good mood. Last time I tried that it was a fucking disaster. Medication made things worse (seems that they no longer prescribe anti-depressants for agitated depression), and I wound up depressing my counselor. And god only knows I don't have the money, so the point is moot -- but there are the counselors at school, but would they be capable of working with a headcase of this magnitude?
Ah, well. The mood will pass. It's actually not as big a deal as it sounds. I'm doing pretty well for a crazy person. And all of the best parts of being me are the light side of that shadow. C'est la fucking vie, you know?