Monday, 10 September 2012

Part 4 - I love sports and I don't care who knows

I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone this but the worlds of primary school and high school are vastly different from each other, I of course had no idea of this and went in with my new found confidence. I had learned the secret after all.
I was of course naive (not for the first time) and an idiot (definitely not the last time).
Things mattered now, things that did not seem to really matter before. Things like shoes, backpacks, hair cuts, jeans, t-shirts and the amount of money you brought to spend at the canteen. Apparently in 1990 the wrong things were all of the things that I had. You see, I am at my core a geek, I always was and I always will be. Yes, I was good at sport but I did not own sneakers with the words Reebok, Nike, Adidas or Converse on them. And for some reason the rules had changed without me knowing. Not only did you have to be good at sport but you also had to have the right sneakers.
What I did have was comic books, action figures, trading cards, a fondness for metal music and a dedication to my skateboard during a time when skateboards were really struggling to be considered cool by anyone (this would all change of course as soon as Tony Hawk's pro skater came out for the Playstation). I did not smoke, I did not get high, I did not drink and I did not party in any way.
I was immediately relegated back to the do not talk to that guy section of the school yard.
"But.. but... I'm good at sports" I cried out as they walked away.
"Uh huh, sure you are, weird kid." Said the same kids who had known me and talked to me during my primary school days.
This was of course all made worse by the fact that now I had started to notice that girls were around, they were everywhere all of a sudden and they had all started developing bodies. This was of course not news to the other boys who adapted immediately and just started to hang out with these girls. The groups started to join and form. There were no boy/girl groups before, there were boy groups, and there were girl groups. I did not know the first thing about how to interact with them, I was as clueless as Inspector Gadget when there was no Brain or Penny to help him. So I returned to what I knew, I played sport. All of them. Well all of the team ones anyway. I played football, soccer, rugby, cricket, basketball, baseball, badminton, table tennis, hell I even joined the athletics team. I played sport all year, every single day of the week. And nobody on any of the teams talked to me once the game was over.
It was at this point that I decided that most of the people that I knew were assholes. And that I did not care what they thought anymore. I also decided that I had to beat them the only way I knew how. I don't remember it happening but it must have been building up over time... A competitive streak was growing in me.
If being good at sports is how you gain acceptance from people then I'm going to be the best at all of them. This is seriously how I thought it would work. I had gotten stronger, faster and my understanding of each of the games grew until I was at the point where I stopped caring about other things. I forgot about girls entirely. My marks, which used to be pretty solid A and B type stuff started to slip and finally at one point I stopped showing up to lessons at all. I still showed up to sports and I still showed up at lunch time to play sport but the rest of it I just forgot about. I even stopped showing up to the art class where my teacher would accept my drawings of Spider-Man as actual class work. In short, I lost my shit. Having aspergers and not knowing it, meant that I had a disposition to becoming focused on one single aspect and forgetting about all of the rest. It wasn't that I didn't care, it was more like they didn't even enter into my thoughts. My parent's at the time had their own lives/issues and didn't even notice that I had stopped going to high school... but they are a different story for another day. I unfortunately started to think that competition was the way that you gained attention outside of sport as well. I developed an attitude problem, a smart mouth and a bad habit of getting my back up if I were ever challenged at something. Now this is something that I developed as a self defence mechanism, and at the time I honestly did not know any better. And even though I do know better now, every once in a while someone will throw down a challenge and I will feel the need to prove myself, and in that situation I can act like a bit of a dick.
Sport changed me you see, I love it, I fucking love the intricacies, the challenge, the competition, the feeling of belonging that it can instil, the rules, the spectacle, the drama, the elation, the disappointments and I love the way it makes me feel about myself. Before I found sport I was the most timid, meek, shy and quiet little mouse you could ever imagine. Sport empowered me, it gave me my confidence, it gave me whatever swagger I have and it taught me to believe in myself (It can also make me a cocky son of a bitch).
In year 12 of high school something changed though, something that opened back up the rest of the world beyond sport and competition. At lunch time, during a social soccer game a girl walked out into the middle of the field. She walked right up to me, handed me a letter and then walked away.

To be continued...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Part 3 - I like sports and I don't care who knows

Now this post about sports and how they have changed me was supposed to get written a while ago, in between the last post and now though, something happened... The 2013 version of Madden NFL football got released for consoles, and if there is one thing I like as much as sports, it's video games. As a result I have been living out my digital fantasy of playing wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, I'm having a hell of a rookie season too, in case you were wondering. I know you were.
Anyway, on to the actual story, you guys didn't come here to read about video games.
Haha, look at me pretending people are actually reading this!

Just after my 8th birthday my father walked out of the house and never came back. Well actually he did come back, but only for visits, that's kind of the point of this little bit. Every Tuesday night he would come over for dinner, which usually meant pizza (pizza was the food that my mother apparently craved while she was pregnant with me, it was also the food that we ate when my absent father visited... pizza is my favourite food... yep, I guess it's like that). It also meant that I got to stay up later, which is actually a pretty big deal for any little kid, but I was always sure I was missing something when I went to bed. I was always awake late anyway (some things never change, I played Madden until 5am last night) but I was alone in my room, with my books and toys, playing silently so that I didn't get told off for not being in bed. But Tuesdays, well Tuesdays I was allowed to be awake and well, because there was a fair amount of awkward and not a lot of interaction between my parents, we watched the television.
Now I had always liked sport as a general rule, but I was never really into a sport until September came, and with it, football season. In 1985 American football was broadcast on Tuesday nights, at 10pm. My bed time was 10:30 on Tuesdays but when football season started I somehow talked my way into staying up until the end of the game. Do you have any idea how much of a big deal that became?
I was an 8 year old, who was allowed to stay up way past an already extended bed time.
It was, at the time, the most masculine thing I had ever seen (and I was the oldest boy living with his single mother so this was important.)
It was something that was just between me an my dad (my little brother was too young and had to go to bed) we watched, he explained the rules, we talked about it, it was great.
I picked the game up very quickly and had a solid understanding of the rules, positions, tactics and mechanics of how the game works. This really was another sign of me being on the spectrum, though it would have been harder for people to see it. It turns out I can do this with any sport that I care to show an interest in, making me be better at most sports than my physical skills would usually allow.
It became a symbol for male bonding for me.
Other kids at school watched it too it turned out, well the kids who had parents who were wealthy enough to own VCRs anyway. They of course had to wait until after school on Wednesday to watch it, then talk about it on Thursday. When I first overheard them talking about it I was thrilled, but I did not join the conversation, it took me a few weeks to get there. But then I found this out, boys who have nothing else in common and would never normally even look at each other, can talk for hours and be friends if they like the same sport. And hell, if you happen to have the same favourite team in that sport, then you're pretty much best friends. So for the first time ever in my schooling career, I was interacting with other kids outside of the classrooms. We set up a field at lunch time and played full contact, no pads gridiron.
More news for me at this point, if you are good at a sport, then other people will like you too and want to be on your team. My mind was blown, I had no idea that this was how male interactions worked in primary school. I was a fast, strong kid who had decent hand/eye co-ordination (apparently I played with balls a lot as a child) and in my small northern suburbs school, among the small subset of people who knew what gridiron was, I was the best. Not because I was the most athletic, but because when I watched the game, I was studying it, figuring it out, and apparently the other kids were just going "woah, did you see that!" Suddenly I went from being the least popular kid in school to being the kid that got picked first in P.E. It fed something inside me and I did not want to let it go, so I became interested in more sports and I watched them and I studied them and I played them.
I thought that I had found the secret.

To be continued...

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A promise - A break from our regularly scheduled programming

When I found out that I had aspergers, and was made aware of some of the ways it had been contributing to who I was, I made a promise to myself.

You see when you have a brain that is wired in this way, there is an increased chance that you will settle for what you have and convince yourself of a few things...
It is the best that you are capable of.
This is what is comfortable.
This is where I feel safe.
These things combined can (and in my case did) trick you into convincing yourself that this is what happy is, or this is the amount of happy that I deserve. In my case neither of these was true, it just took me a lot of time to come to grips with.

The promise that I made myself was this. I would no longer stop myself from going after the things that I want, simply because it was outside my comfort zone or I was scared of the consequences. I started to write the words 'if not now, when...' on my arm in thick black texta every morning so that I would have a constant visual reminder of this promise I had made myself. I did this for six months, every single day (a habit like this one is an easy one to keep going for someone who has aspergers, it's the starting that is hard). After that point I decided that it was important enough to me that I had it tattooed there instead.

Yes I am sitting here at uni on a beautiful Sunday morning writing in my blog.

This promise of course is a difficult one for anyone to keep, and is especially difficult for someone who deals with anxiety, and brick walls when trying to expand. To be honest it is something that I fight against myself every day to try to continue doing even though it has been 7 years now. And to be brutally honest, I hold myself up to a very high standard and when I set this challenge to myself I had no idea how hard it would be. I have failed to live up to this promise as much as I have succeeded, and when I do fail, I tend to beat myself up about it pretty bad. But I get better at it every single day.
Without having to trouble your imagination too much I'm sure you can imagine that there are risks involved with a strategy such as this, and those risks are increased greatly when another person is involved. One of the things that I have always struggled with is reading a situation and knowing the best course of action to take. As a result, I tend to have to guess, and as much as I'm sure it is a surprise to everyone, I'm not always right. So in the case of personal relationships (be they boy/girl type stuff or just regular friendships) a person like myself might need people to be a little bit more patient than they are used to being. I will make the type of mistakes that you will think to yourself "how could he not see that was the wrong thing to do?" but as long as you point those mistakes out to me then I can try and learn from them. A person with aspergers, even one who is lucky enough to be high functioning such as myself is high maintenance for anyone who has to deal with them, not in a constantly needs to be looked after sense (because for the most part they will be fine just sitting by themselves) but in a patience and forgiveness sense. There will be mistakes and we learn differently, so if you don't take the time to point them out and why they are mistakes we can not grow from them.
This morning I made a mistake. I pushed when I should have pulled. Deep down, I knew that I needed to pull. I made this mistake because of the promise. There is something I want, something I feel is worth fighting for. And so I looked at my arm. 

Just as a side note here, it is important to note that I have spent the last two days straight being quite hard on myself for certain things that I considered failings. When I do get to the point where I am being hard on myself it has been pointed out to me that I am not good company and in some cases I'm actually a bit weird, and not in a good way. So when I looked down at my arm, the last thing I needed was to add another failure to the list.

So I looked at my arm, and as I lay there I thought about the risk involved and the fact that either outcome was going to feel like I had failed. Then I chose the one where I was keeping the promise to myself. I thought about the words I had chosen and I went for it. I created a hope in my head that it would play out a certain way, like my life is some stupid fucking movie and things will work out for me because I'm the protagonist (I do this more often than I would like to admit). It backfired of course, played out in the exact opposite way and honestly I feel like absolute shit about it. There was a line there and I could not see it. It was the perfect example of "how could he not see that was the wrong thing to do?" 
Every day a mistake gets made, some of them are small, some of them are big. This mistake somehow feels like it could be both. I am sorry for this mistake, I honestly am, and not because I may have harmed my chances of getting what I want. I'm sorry because I upset someone that I care about a great deal. But unlike other mistakes I have made I would not ask for a do-over, because I made this one by trying to be true to myself. The timing could not possibly be more awful, and so I now must ask for the patience and forgiveness...

Please forgive me
If I act a little strange
For I know not what I do
Feels like lightning
Running through my brain
Every time I look at you

That's from a song, it's not mine but sometimes even those of us that do not struggle with words feel like someone else has said it perfectly.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Part 2 - Doubting yourself and where that gets you...

The easy answer to the title is of course, nowhere. The slightly more realistic answer to the title is, a pile of questions you don't (and in my case can't) know the answer to.
Armed with my new knowledge and my questions, I decided to go back and talk to the man in the shirt and tie and also a woman who also wore a shirt but who's tie was conspicuously absent. The thing they said to me changed everything, like someone had finally used the clutch to try and changed gears for once.
They told me about the 'everyone is different' issue but then explained to me that I was considered a special case even within my own little special new graph. As a general rule, they said, people who have aspergers tend to be diagnosed early in life (as in before they were 10) and as a result have that to hold on to (or hold you back as the case may be). I of course did not have this. I was diagnosed at 28 years old. What I did have is an 80s childhood in what most would consider one of the rougher, less privileged outer suburbs of Adelaide named Salisbury. Now I certainly had never heard of autism or aspergers as a kid and I'm pretty sure that my parents had never heard of them either, it was something of an age of ignorance to a syndrome that quite frankly is still not properly understood today. And so I do not blame my folks for not seeking the answers it took me so long to look for myself. Instead of a kid who has aspergers what they saw was this.

These are actual quotes from my parents...

"What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"Don't you realise what it feels like to have someone do that to you?"
"He's just really quiet and well behaved, he doesn't bother anyone, just sits in his room and reads, draws, and plays by himself all day."
"We can't send him to his room to be alone as punishment, he enjoys that too much!"

And this one from my grandmother...

"You're a very odd child and I can not handle watching you eat. Go eat in the other room by yourself so that I don't have to look at you."

Now, these probably sound mean, and when they are said to a kid that has aspergers they are kind of are, but they didn't know that I had it. They thought they were talking to a kid that "was being weird to get attention". 
Salisbury is the home of the Holden Commodore that has a mismatched panel, the Escort reds, the mullet hair cut, the stubbies short, the bonds singlet and the black as night ACDC shirt. To say that I struggled to find my niche would be an understatement of grand proportions, so I was forced to adapt in order to survive the bullying that was to come. Adapting is the least natural thing you could possibly ask someone on the spectrum to do... 
But I didn't know that I was on the spectrum yet.
Survival instincts started to kick in, and even though inside my own head I had to wrestle with every single thing I did in public, I fought back. I figured out little ways that I could do the things I needed to do to keep my brain from leaping out of my skull in frustration. I built walls that would protect me against those who I just could not understand (everyone). I developed a security blanket based sense of humour that would allow me to laugh and shake things off that no 8 year old should ever have to deal with. I spent my lunch times listening to music that the other kids had not heard of on a walkman by myself.
And then... well then I started to play sports.

To be continued... 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Part 1 - All the colours of the spectrum

Normal is a distribution, it is an average. 
Imagine if you will a graph, where average is represented as a straight line in the middle and how "normal" you are is based on how close you are to this line. 
Are you doing it? Where do you imagine yourself on that graph?
I figured out (many years ago now) that I was nowhere near this line, not even close to it, and it became something of a troubling thought in my head. One that I spent years and years on. A cloud had formed and I found myself trapped under it, unable to even imagine a way out.
Why do I feel so different?
How can I fix it?
What am I doing wrong?
Why does this stuff seem so much easier for everyone else?
Now I'm sure that everyone at some point has asked themselves at least one of these questions, and I do not wish to make anyone feel like their problems are not as important as mine, but there was a point where I was asking myself all of these questions at the same time... Every single day. Some might call this a rut, some might call it depression, others might think of it as a routine. I really didn't know what the hell to call it, to me it was just my reality.
There eventually came a time when these questions just became too much and too hard for me to deal with, so I went searching... I was 28 years old, and I had never talked to anyone about the way I had been feeling before.
What I found was a new graph, called the spectrum, where there was no such thing as the word normal.
I found out that the reason I felt different was because I am different. Something in my brain works in a different way to the way yours does, it changes the way I learn, the way I store and retrieve information, and in certain situations even enables me (or prevents me) from doing things that others might find hard (or of course ridiculously simple). A man in a shirt and tie told me that I have high functioning aspergers syndrome. To which I responded with ...huh.
All my life I had felt different, and then a doctor said that it's because I was.
Aspergers and autism and anything else that falls on this spectrum can be a very difficult thing to explain to people. There is no normal for this graph because everyone really is different, two people with aspergers can be completely different from each other in the way that it has manifested. As an example imagine a rainbow or colour chart that is on the floor and imagine that on that chart aspergers is the colour red. Two people standing within that red section, both of them are diagnosed with aspergers syndrome, but they do not share the same space on the floor, one of them is standing in vermillion, while the other stands in crimson. The same, but different.
They do not really explain this to you, you have to figure it out for yourself.
So I started reading about aspergers syndrome, to try and understand myself a little bit better, research will fix everything right? Well, no, I was wrong about that too. When I read up about it I felt like parts of what they said were right while others were way off, as a result I started to doubt it, and by extension, I started to doubt myself.

To be continued... (I did title it part 1)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Not like the others

I'm built differently to most boys, although to look at me you may not be able to see it. I know in the greater sense we are all different and unique and special and blah fucking blah, blah... But some of us a more different than others.
It has been my experience that most dudes of the fella persuasion feel the need to prove themselves, now the problem with this is that for the most part they can't always think of a constructive way to do this, as a result they tend to try and prove themselves by dominating another dude. It's basic and animalistic and it's nothing more than macho fucking bullshit. I'm getting a bit fucking tired of the whole thing to be honest. As a general rule I don't participate in it, I mean I try and prove myself but I've always tried to do that through actions and sincerity. And usually when there is another guy who is trying to assert himself in the alpha dog position I am perfectly happy for them to take up whatever position makes them happy, even if it means looking "weak" to others, what do I care, I'm secure in who I am. There are times however, when I get pushed too far, and I am dragged back into the bullshit, everyone has a limit to the amount of shit that they will allow to be hung on them. Every time it happens I end up feeling petty and hating myself a little bit. The problem is, it has been happening a bit too frequently these past few weeks. As part of my New Freddie experiment I have been making a concerted effort to be more outgoing, which has led to some new friendships, with some truly incredible and special people and I can only hope that these people feel the same way about me as I do them. 
One of these people is Little t, he is a smart guy, with a good heart who will be the first to tell you he has seen some shit, in fact you may not be able to stop him from telling you. He is someone who constantly wants to be the alpha dog, he loves the attention, he feeds off of it, like his ego has an appetite. Now for the most part, Little t and I get on great, the only problem is that he is a button pusher, not just with me, with everyone. I'm not sure why, it's not one of the things that I have ever really understood, I guess he's one of those people that likes to get reactions out of people. Like I said I'm different and I don't understand some things. But button pushing is something that I have never really been a big fan of, and I don't really have many buttons that can be pushed, so I guess I am pretty protective of the ones I do have.

For the record - Buttons that do not work on me...

My mother (insult her all you want, fuck I care)
My manhood or (lack of) size of my package
Homosexuality (not afraid of it, kissed a dude once, did nothing for me)
My intelligence
My lack of proficiency with the ladies (I will often joke about this one myself)
The implication that I am whipped
My ability to drink alcohol at a specific rate
My sporting prowess
My knowledge of cars and other symbols of masculinity
Anyway I think you get the point...

Buttons that do work on me...

Food and things related to my consumption of it
The questioning/doubting of my current relationship (or the girl that is a part of said relationship)

There may be more for each list but these are the ones that came to me as I was writing.

So anyway, Little t has decided that for the last couple of weeks he would combine his alpha dog, button pushing, one upsmanship, macho thing as a result of feeling pretty good about himself (I say decided but the truth of the matter is that it's probably just nature and the was no actual deciding in it whatsoever) and just due to proximity I have been taking most of the brunt of the (I can't think of a better word) assault. I have not always risen to the occasion and I have at times lashed out, making us both look petty and frankly a bit fucking stupid. The most annoying part of it is all of my weaker moments keep happening in front of Leisa and I really feel like I am letting myself down in that regard...

This is something I need to work on, I will add it to my list.

Friday, 17 August 2012

An endless game

I'm the kind that loves too easily she says, and she is not completely wrong. I'm an intensely passionate guy and when I find myself attracted to someone I rarely think about holding back. Why the fuck should I? If not now, when... Some might think this is a weakness but I like to think of it as a strength. I like to think that rather than stupid, I am brave. I'm optimistic, rather than a fool.
Recently a girl, let's call her Leisa (no one will be able to crack that code,) has captured my attention in just such a way, captivating my head and my heart at the same time, no mean trick let me tell you. And honestly I could not tell you how long this will last, it could all end tomorrow. Somehow it seems safe and tenuous all at the same time. But right now it feels pretty fucking great. I have fallen for girls before of course, but this feels different and new, and exciting. Part of this is because a while ago I made a decision to make a change in myself, something that comes as a bit of a struggle for me to be honest. I'm a different version of myself and there's a lot that is new, or at least feels it. The other part of it is the girl herself, never before have I ever dated a girl who was so independent, so sure of who she is and so willful in the guarding of these two things. She is in short, the type of girl I have always wanted to be with. But exactly the type of girl I have no experience with, so I find myself a bit caught off guard sometimes.
Let me just provide a little bit of an insight into what I mean here, because I tend to think in a slightly different way to most folk. (Now I am aware that revealing the information that I am about to will further enhance the 'weirdo' label I get but fuck it.) Sometimes, particularly with girls that I like (but not exclusively), I think of conversations like a game of chess. As in, I try and think a few moves ahead and make (for lack of a better word) conversational strategies.
Yes I know, I am a weirdo.
The problem with this approach is that I have never known a girl like Leisa before, so when she makes her 'chess' move and it is not one of the possibilities I had imagined in my head, because it never is, then I have to go off book. And my brain has been so busy thinking up my next move to endless other possible moves that when one arrives that I have not planned for... Well, it panics. It stops working altogether and I end up spurting out whatever is actually in my head without censoring, without hiding the bat shit crazy. This is what I mean when I say caught off guard. The conversation then ends up in a stupid place that nobody had wanted it to go and I'm left like a car crash survivor, just trying to sort out how I got here.
The thing that I have realized though is that I love that she catches me off guard, I love that I don't know what is going to happen next. It's a little bit thrilling and stupid and fun. I have never felt this fun or free in my life. I have spent most of it trapped in my own mind, kidding myself about how much enjoyment I wasn't missing out on, because I was scared to shake things up. I'm still scared but I'm shaking anyway, and for a while now it has been a real struggle, but every day it gets a tiny microscopic bit easier. And I'm a bit more free.