Monday, August 13, 2012

Who am I? Who are people? What is this world?

Times come again when I try to understand who I am. What do/can I know about myself? (and how come people claim that they know what's wrong with me when I can't even be sure?)

Sometimes I try to understand people instead. I am really interested about truly understanding people. Maybe I think that by understanding them I might understand more about me. I'do say that I am anxious about something or too emotional about something or that I procrastinate or anything on myself that I'd wish it was different. And they do say that they also had this thing and followed that solution to fight the problem (solution that don't always work the same way with myself). They say they were in my path. But then I am here. And they have evolved. How do they know that their anxiety and emotions are of the same scale as mine? How can I know the severity of their emotions compared to mine? Everyone says "yes we know what fear, anxiety, sadness, lack of motivation, etc. is, you can get over it as I did" but how can you know without walking on my shoes?

And then I meet people, regular folks that do not seem to show understanding about other people's inner worlds. Not only don't they seem to talk about these things but some of their talk is like having lack of this understanding that people think and feel different. "If I think and feel like this, then everyone feels and thinks like this.". It kinda reminds me of what in psychology is called lack of Theory of Mind.

And then there comes the other crazy thing, I see this so much everywhere around me that makes me feel so alone or special. Nobody seems to go much further than his own understanding. I am constantly thinking about these things, constantly doubting, trying to understand myself, people and the world in it's entirety and objectively I conclude that I can know very very few things. (I want to stretch though with a counter argument that maybe I am mistaken here, maybe sometimes people are so overwhelmed by their own concerns that they actually project their own personal understanding on your own life. And maybe sometimes people are spontaneous when saying things and it doesn't really mean that they can't understand this simple thing, that our minds work different)

And all this connects with the autistic spectrum disorder and the great paradox. Who is the true autistic afterall?

Let me explain you. In my desperate attempt to finally find who I am, why am I going through such an emotional turbulence, why the worries, the searching, the past struggles, I discovered the autistic and aspie people on blogs and communities. Haven't I heard about autism before? Of course I did, but just what you see in TV. We all think of an autistic person as Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. Yet, I discovered several people writing in a forum or blog and discussing about these facts and themselves, with such articulate and understanding of their condition that you wouldn't think they fit in the image we have about Rainman's (Where is the retarded writing? Those people in the blogs look clever, so they can't be. Also, an autistic does not understand that he is autistic (as in a crazy person does not understand that he is a crazy :P). To not misunderstand, these are not my words, but just what a person who is not informed would possibly think). And there are even respected scientists, programmers, artists, etc for whom some have speculated that they are autistic. While they are regular successful people you would never think that of. Of course some people have tried to distinguish themselves from the term autistic by occupying another the term aspie from Asperger's Syndrome. In a sense it has to do with higher functioning people sharing some characteristics of classic rainman style autism. Yet there is also the autistic spectrum syndrome which encapsulates the many different levels of autism. And there is a whole community out of people who talk about these things in quite articulate way and how different they feel from the rest of the world, though you won't see many severly autistics there.

To move further and hopefully reach my point, this is how I gradually got introduced to the whole autism subject. I have once heard one of my friends talking about an article he just read, which in a sense says that a lot of autistic or aspies might be more frequent inside our computer programming geeky communities. At a time much later I flirted with the idea that maybe some of the characteristics that make me miserable could be connected with autistic traits (better: signs). First of all there is this struggle I always had and still have with social situations. And then there is the obsessive focus into special interests, for me computer programming. And then my own excessive need to analyze and understand everything, which lacks in most people who prefer to socialize and exchange common ideas (even if not necessary true) just for the sake of connecting.

For a long period I played with this idea, yet I wasn't shouting this much. Because I wasn't sure and because it sounds to the layman like saying "Hey, I am retarded" while one would also say "How you dare claiming that yourself, when there are real low functioning autistic struggling with life like you will never understand!". So it was, the uncertainty, the media image and the fear of seeming disgraceful to severely autistic people. So, even if I wrote some posts here in my blog and maybe somewhere else in the past, I decided later to just study the whole matter to see where I connect but not identify myself with it outside anymore.

Recently I tried to identify the very very few things that I can be highly sure about myself. And they are very very few concerning that I always seem to doubt even about myself. Things that certainly define me:

  • High emotional sensitivity. I am so affected by this, too much anxiety, doubt, worrying, my mind racing with overwhelming emotions that seems to be more severe than in the average person.
  • A racing mind. I am so much overanalyzing things. I want to understand and explain everything. I am still in doubt about things that could not be what they seem. Even when I understand that thinking too much creates havoc along my high emotional sensitivity, I just can't stop the flow.

I could speak of more, like my special focus on things rather than people (which is really a focus into the so many interesting things existing on the universe rather than being content with just hanging around with people) but those could be explained as aftereffects of the two factors. I think now that I am simply highly emotional and highly analytical at the same time and this is the shortest accurate description of myself ever.

These two factors could explain why the various social/mental traits (better: signs) without the advent of autistic spectrum disorder. That's why better: signs, because I came to the hypothesis that maybe some of my struggles might arise from those certain traits, where only few of them are also found in autism. Seemingly autistic signs explained differently:

  • Social awkwardness/seclusion. It didn't took much for me to understand that I am actually feeling too overwhelmed in social situations. That's because of my high emotional sensitivity and racing thoughts like: "Did I say something wrong? Am I making eye contact? Did he/she left because I was boring? Should I approach that person? What do I say? How do I respond to friendly picking?". Though, I should not forget that there is a second catch here, more things that I feel about the whole socialization fad. Not only is it overwhelming to me but it also feels boring most of the time. People like to do casual talk just as means to connect, not to discover the secrets of the universe or something. What reason do I have to do this when I don't enjoy it eitherwise. Sometimes I just want to be alone and delve into my special interests.
  • Focus into special interests.  My emotion along with my analytical mind makes me hooked all the time with various subjects and hobbies that I find extremely interesting. I am too passionate about my special interests that I start the monologue in a party till I start the thoughts from above "Am I boring? Did he left because he couldn't stand my talking? What to do next? Ahhh..". But I cannot understand at the same time how most people don't seem to really be hooked by some really interesting matters in this world that I would love to even listen to discussions for matters and their only interest is to casually connect. One would argue that people also talk about science or computers sometimes, but I'd add only as means for socialization, for example jumping in the discussion to science things that are quite popular on TV  (like the Curiosity landing or the LHC for example) and then the discussion derails while I find it an interesting subject to delve into.
And there I come into the autism paradox. Social awkardness, yes. Special interests, yes. High emotional sensitivity? No! One characteristic usually attributed to autism is lack of emotion. The other one that goes along is Theory of Mind. But I am so hooked with trying to understand other people, with the sole idea that every person lives in his own unique world and I shouldn't judge everyone by my own personal metrics, that I can definitely say I have past the stage of not realizing that people don't think just like me.

And here is the paradox. I sometimes identified myself with autism, even though I realized that regular people, even those which you wouldn't think they are autistics, lack in that sense the Theory of Mind. Preaching about normality is the strongest sign of lack of theory of mind. That's strange! People usually identify autistics and aspies as not normal persons while those who follow our common image of normal life (and/or preaching about it) we would think they are neurotypicals. Well, some of them might be, but not those who worship the normal like it's a law. Who would do that? One who doesn't understand that people think and feel different, one who lacks a theory of mind.

And yet, in the most blogs belonging to so called autistic people, you will read so insightful posts that show definite understanding of that universal rule, that each one of us thinks and feels different, that you can't define other people's needs just by your own personal narrow view. Also, what do most of these bloggers think about the common stereotype that says autistic people lack of emotion? "That's not right! Many of the autistic persons just can't show emotion because they are so overwhelmed by it. Autistics are the most sensitive persons out there!"

What do I think of this? At least I have an interesting sample of the autistics who specifically write in blogs. They do understand emotion and they are actually too overwhelmed by emotions. I have found myself very frequently being sympathetic with them and identifying with some of their thoughts, because I think they combine both the analytical thought and the high emotional sensitivity to write how they feel about things and how they can explain. They have also come to several conclusions that you think regular people should understand, like how different each one of us is and how really even inside the autistic spectrum each individual is unique. Autism is really another label and as you can have autistics who struggling with physical stimulus or overwhelmed by emotions, being fast or slow talkers, having a theory of mind or lacking it, being into creative hobbies or just counting numbers, being severly autistics or high functioning, wanting to be normal or preferring to be themselves, having more of these traits or less, they all belong to the same spectrum and each one of them understands the world different. This is something that many insightful writers of these blogs understand and this brings me to another argument.

In statistics, the sample you are taking matters a lot. You can't just be asking a hundred of only wealthy or only poor people about their education if you want to make a conclusion about the education of Americans. A more random sampling of arbitrary wealth, culture or other variables is required. The kind of autistics who claim to understand emotions and definitely show a deep understanding of their own situation and a theory of mind are those who happen to want to write constantly about these matters in a blog. Furthermore, maybe I've selectively chosen to follow the specific blogs of those thinkers that are quite close to my own way of thinking, trying to understand themselves and the world in it's wholeness, rather than in a narrow view, reaching similar conclusions like my own. To make things more interesting, the kind of autistic people who are blogging on the internet are those who represent one positive view of what autistic people are and think like.

Of course, they themselves insist that this is not the only kind of autism and each autistic person is unique and I applause this view too. I just want to stretch that it happens that a specific kind of autistics are interested in analyzing their thoughts onto the matter in a blog, constituting only of a narrow statistic sample when one wants to understand how autistics think in general just by studying the blog community. In few words we don't have the whole image, even though I like this specific kind in the internet because they are closer to my highly emotional/analytical self. (One more interesting, irrelevant and maybe wrong fact (or personal observation) is that a lot of these kind of thinkers happen to be mostly females (maybe the boys prefer to focus on their special interests and not talk too much about it?). But maybe I am just narrowing down my blog reading sample more :))

Where are the other kinds of autistics? One kind, either not knowing or believing that they are autistics (it's a label after all), they prefer to focus into special interests, aka science, computers, art or anything weird. And the social awkwardness is not necessary. Maybe some are actually extroverted. Or antisocial. Many kinds.

And the last kind I want to talk about. (I want to stretch that all these three kinds are not in medical terms of traits but of understanding of their situation and attitudes in life). The normality preachers! Yes, I said it. Some of those people who made your life sad might be autistics themselves. At least in that sense of being too literate, not understanding you are different, lacking the so called theory of mind (why not theory of different minds btw?). Supposedly they are trying to live life by strict rules, because everyone has to be slightly normal in their view and so they try to act too in perfection. They nag you about every little detail, how you look others in the eyes, how you walk, how you do small talk, how to have a strict plan about everything. There is another label for humans called neurotypicals who are supposed to be the opposite of autistics, doing fairly good with social situations and stimulus and stuff because it all comes natural to them. If the normality preachers nag you about these details, is it possible that they didn't come natural to them and after they enforced them into their life, they started preaching their new style to everyone who also lack these? Are they autistics in disguise?

Maybe some of the autistics (or people who happen to suffer from some social and other traits, to avoid the label) have infiltrated our society, some of them are just doing science or art without even thinking it and not going into other people's business, while others out of the chronic struggle to convert themselves into the social image of what a normal person is, have become preachers of normality taking the place of older people (autistic? neurotypical?) who enforced the normality pressure on them. It's like the person who stopped smoking and now his new task for the world is to preach to everyone in the world how bad smoking is (as if they don't know this already and as if he didn't know how hard it is and that logic alone is not enough to get through this :P). It's like that thing I hear from friends (but can't confirm) of secretive gay people (with a complex) who hate gays. Preaching against the thing that you secretly are.

And it's not just the autistics in disguise as I like to call them. It's society as a whole. Society enforced the whole normality fad. Even the dominating casual socialization I am so bored of is an enforcer of normality as it is of common beliefs. The most popular memes persist because those are more likely to be also believed by the rest of the people around you and so you connect this way. This is a vicious cycle because the most common beliefs even if not always correct, will be preserved and spread further because it's only advantageous for the individual who is socially interested to connect to speak these ones which he knows will be met with familiarity and more acceptance. And which things are more familiar than being and thinking like the rest?

In that sense, society is too senseless, lacking understanding of individuality and just clinking to the same old song. It wouldn't be so bad if people would say some good reasons to a weird person why one of his/her attitudes is a problem to the community, but most of the times it's just a robotic talk that one should do this or that because it's not normal even if it doesn't seem to always harm people. There are "normal" (absurd for me) activities that are widely accepted and even applauded by people but are quite more harmful (for example smoking) than just wishing to be alone and spent time on your special interests..

In conclusion, I can't understand anymore who is really the "autistic" and who is not in society. I am lost here :(

p.s. I am quite interested discovering people with this kind of thinking. I am quite pleased to find some and I feel like they are rare. Combining overwhelming emotions and analytical thinking. Wishing to find answers about the human matters that are important, beside computers and science and other geeky interests. There is another kind of "label" in psychology, the High Sensitive Person which is more close to a part of my condition and those autistic bloggers, though the definition of HSPs does not require the additional analytical thinking, yet that's what puts us into this hybrid state with seemingly autistic traits yet overwhelming emotional world. Which is I think, the mind of a philosopher.

p.p.s. Just a side note. This combination of overwhelming emotions and mind racing makes quite a great sense when thinking about my Pure-O OCD struggle (not the Jack Nickolson type, but something more unseen :P). The only psychiatric label that I wasn't afraid to endorse on myself (even if I avoid discussing it openly today) because I've lived through this and kept a detailed view about it's mind tricking mechanisms even years before I understand that exactly this thing is called like this. I won't doubt about this.

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