ASPIE ADULTHOOD / ASPIE DEPRESSION
Struggling with Asperger's Syndrome in my forties
"The older I get, the more stupid I feel,
I don't know what's going on...
The harder I try, the less people I please..." Joe Jackson, "Flying", 1994
Life can be socially complicated and difficult enough for the average adult in America.
Figuring out what is considered acceptable and appropriate behavior when interacting with others can often be tricky even for a normal, neurotypical person - someone with no mental or emotional disabilities. What is thought of as the right thing to do or say one day can suddenly be thought of as the wrong thing to do or say the next day.
For an adult with Asperger's Syndrome, however, trying to behave and conduct oneself in a manner that's considered appropriate and acceptable is often akin to someone having to make their way through a wilderness without a compass and while having never been outside, or being thrown into the Pacific Ocean and not knowing how to swim.
I know this is so, for I am in my early forties and I have Asperger's Syndrome - a high functioning form of autism that affects social interaction, usually in a negative way. It involves such things as obsession with certain topics, difficulty making friends, and alienating people by saying inappropriate things.
When I discovered that I had this disorder in early 1996, it completely explained the social struggles that I had had throughout my life.
It explained getting bullied and picked on as a kid and being shunned and ignored as a teenager and young adult. It explained my obsessions with certain things, like maps, baseball caps, Robin Hood, and the Peanuts comic strip, as well as a lack of maturity in certain social situations.
Most of all, it explained why I was woefully behing my peers in life's social milestones; people were getting married, buying SUVs and houses in the suburbs, having children and successful careers and generally enjoying life, while I was still living with and being supported by my mother, which is seen as complete retardation in American society.
I can hear the "Loser!" statements now as I write this.
I thought that people would cut me some slack and life would be a bit easier for me as a result of this discovery, especially when I let them know about my condition; namely employers, co-workers, acquaintances, and even the few friends that I had. I certianly did not intend to keep my being an "aspie" - short for Asperger's - a secret.
Unfortunately, that turned out to not be the case.
For the past six years, my life has socially been more difficult, especially in the workforce. And having Asperger's has had a fairly big part in that.
I do fully admit that my mistake was thinking that if people in the workplace (and other places), particularly supervisors, knew and understood about my AS (Asperger's) disability, they would be more able to overlook my social shortcomings, focus on my strong points such as my sense of dedication, responsibility, and knowledge of my job, and accept me for such strong points.
However, I couldn't really understand that people didn't have to overlook my bad points and accept me anyway.
Or even care.
I couldn't understand that their only concern was whether or not I could do the job their way and blindly follow their orders, regardless of whether or not I agreed with them.
Since "digging in" to one's ideas and being resistant to change, particularly sudden and unexpected change and direction, is an AS trait that I have, it has led me to quitting or being fired from six jobs in the past five years.
Quite a pathetic record in any walk of life.
Now i know what some people may be thinking right about now: That if I just worked a little harder in those areas that I struggled in I could have overcome such shortcomings, and have been able to keep a job.
I used to feel the same way, which was a big source of frustration, depression, and a sense of failure every time I was told that my services were no longer needed.
Then I remembered a conversation I had with a special education coordinator at a school I worked at one day, when I mentioned that a couple of students with Asperger's needed to work a little harder to meet behavior standards. She said, "Working harder doesn't work."
That pertained to those kids, and as time went on, it certainly pertained to me. And continues to. I should know - I tried "working harder" for the bulk of my adult life, and it hasn't gotten me to where I want to be. Not even close.
In short, that coordinator was SO right.
As frustrating as my workplace failures were, an even bigger source of depression has been - and remains - the fact that certain individuals throughout my life have shown a hostility towards me for my social awkwardness; shunning me, telling me to shut up while merely expressing myself and exercising my free speech rights, things such as that.
The frustrating part of all this was when I told these people that I was an "Aspie" and behaved the way I did due to that, they didn't care. They still refused to accept me for my good points and were as intolerant towards me as ever, seeing me as a socially retarded jerk.
This sense of rejection and ostracism, along with the fact that certain people in my life only talk to me when they're ordering me about or getting on my case for seemingly every little mischance, and that I haven't made any real friends since college, has led to such an unhappiness that it's led to periodic suicidal thoughts.
In fact, just last week I was at a college football game.
Thousands of fanatics were yelling, screaming, cheering, and having a grand old time while for about 90% of the contest, all I could think about was dying; how people would react if someone told them that Derek Hart killed himself, especially those who disliked me and apparently cared nothing about me as a fellow human being.
To be brutally candid, there have been quite a few times when I've felt that offing myself would be best for everyone involved.
And you know what? Sometimes I still feel that way; sometimes I feel like the black Kurt Cobain. Without the drugs, of course.
Reasons for feeling like this?
Simple - I don't feel like I really fit into society. To me it often feels like the world doesn't want me around; I've actually had a lady say exactly that to me. I am a 41-year old man who has been denied the pleasures of grown-up life that American society has to offer. There are plenty of people out there who think lowly of me, and even my handful of friends don't really understand me much of the time. All due to my being an "Aspie".
At least, that's how I continue to feel at times.
I am sure people are thinking that I'm wallowing in self-pity as they are reading this. That I'm just an immature, overgrown little boy crying wolf.
But it's not my intention to be a whiny, woe-is-me victim here. I know full well that according to Dr. Tony Attwood, an expert on AS, rather than suffering from Asperger's, I'm suffering from other people.
So don't panic folks, this is not a suicide note - while the thoughts have crossed my mind recently, and may well continue to in the future, I have no real plans to leave this life at the present time.
The fact is, while I hate being an adult with AS much of the time, I'm still here on this planet. At least for now. I guess that should count for something.
I don't know exactly what it is, but something is keeping me going, keeping me from jumping off a bridge or putting a gun to my head and squeezing the trigger. Or swallowing a cyanide pill.
But I do know one thing: As long as I am here, I am going to use what I call the Malcolm X approach - By Any Means Necessary - to do one thing: BE MYSELF. As long as I can do that, then all those individuals who don't accept me or like me due to my Asperger's can go to you-know-where.
That's the approach I must take. That's the challenge I must take. That's the only way that I can find true happiness and perhaps overcome this depression over being an aspie in a neurotypical world and not having many of the things that my peers have obtained with relative ease. As a famous person said recently...
"If your joy is derived from what society thinks of you, you're always going to be disappointed."