Category Archives: Aspergers

One year of living honestly

The title might imply that I didn’t live honestly before, but I actually tried.  The title is in reference to this, where I revealed that I had recently learned that I am living with Aspergers Syndrome, on the autism spectrum.

Where I might have failed in ‘honesty’ was in not having the knowledge or tools to present myself to others as a whole person, fully aware of my presence.  I know now that there are many things I did and said where I was not fully aware of myself.  I now know where my known limitations are and I am even learning how to pay attention to my trigger points.

What do I mean by trigger points?  Well, for instance, when I have explained a solution to something or a debate point and the other party still does not understand or see my point after a couple variations of explanation, I have learned to let it go (no, don’t queue the song..)  When I have said something that I thought was important (because, really, anything I say is important and shouldn’t be ignored), and realize that no one was paying attention, well, while it still greatly disturbs me, I know now that I have to just let it go and let things move on.  Really, it is difficult, but I have far fewer times when I want to march out of the room in frustration and actually I’ve been told that I appear much more at peace and much more pleasant to be around.  I know that I feel much more confident in everything I do and definitely finally know what it truly means to be present.

While I can attest to meeting more guys, going on many more dates than before, I still find myself single and as I approach the age of 50 in a little more than a year, I really am starting to feel alone than I have in the past.  I tire of the comments from well-meaning acquaintances that I will eventually find the man I’m supposed to be with, because really none of us know what will happen in the future.  But as I approach 50 and find myself alone, I think back to a conversation I had with a friend many years ago.

My friend had asked me, “What’s your scary age?”

I asked what he meant and he said it was the age that I’m most afraid to reach.

While I really never have had any issue with age, mine or anyone else’s, I told him, just out of the air, “50–but at that time I will have been celebrating the 10th anniversary with the guy I will be with for the rest of my life”.

Of course, that never happened, and as I get closer to that ‘scary’ age, and I’m still single after all these years, well, I have to honestly say that it disturbs me.

But, I understand it somewhat. As long as I was unaware of how I pushed people away with generally how I presented myself and as long as I was unaware of why I was told many times that I was too stiff or too emotionless, then I do understand how guys who were looking for that perfect guy and never took the time to really get to know me, then I understand why those didn’t work.  I am still holding out hope that someone will come around, but in the meantime, I am working on strengthening my friendships, even while I see many of my friends getting married (since gay men can now marry the person they love in Oregon) and therefore focusing their energies more on those relationships, as appropriate, than on their other friendships. But those things I understand.

I also understand when some people who used to invite me to parties no longer invite me.  They haven’t really spent time with me since I have learned that I have Aspergers, so I understand why they might not want to spend time with me. But another thing I’m learning is how to move on.

Hopefully those people who matter will see that (for those who have not yet seen it).  Good things will come. Great things will continue to come my way. I have an amazing life ahead of me, no matter what.  And it is even better now that I know how to work around something that was previously an unknown weakness.

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Sounds of jazz, through the layers of my mind

I am sitting in a nice jazz lounge with a couple of friends, listening to the music. More than music. The interplay of acoustic guitar, upright bass, alto saxophone, and a soft sweet voice. Back and forth improvisation between the sax and the bass. Heavenly sounds.
It occurs to me that jazz was the first music I loved as a child. I never really understood it completely, so I often wondered if I could really claim that musical space the same way that a true jazz aficionado might. Maybe I just wasn’t listening correctly. But, I could still feel the music running through me like it was second nature.

As I sit here listening to this, I finally get it. Jazz, the music of the soul. The many layers of music, each player playing their own thing, but in support of each other. I can tune out everyone else but one player, or I can hear all three players distinctly, at the same time.

As a person with Aspergers, I now get it. My mind needs to process five things at once, sometimes each thing is proceeding at its own pace, but at the same time, in conjunction with everything else. That’s jazz. That’s planned improvisation (must be planned since I can never actually turn off to let things just happen on their own).

Jazz was my first love. Jazz is how my mind works, though much more orderly. Jazz takes me into those places that aren’t quite as orderly.

Sounds of Silence

Generally, I have excellent hearing.  Even after all the loud concerts I have attended, I still hear very well.  But sometimes the words someone says do not match the mouth movements.  Or sometimes, after a period of intense focus on something, a small sound or if there is something that will quickly jar me out of that concentrated focused place, I all of the sudden hear all of the noises around me much louder–white noises, along with every conversation in the room, and any music or keyboard clicking–all of this become very loud and overwhelming.

If I am at a restaurant or bar, deep in conversation with someone, sometimes a plate might be dropped or a glass breaks or a door slams–any sharp noise.  When that happens, I all of the sudden will hear everything 10 times louder and no longer can distinguish the voice of the person with whom I am conversing.

 Phone calls can be very difficult. The background sounds must be very quiet on both ends of the line, or I cannot focus on the voice on the other end and I will have to ask the other person to repeat themselves often.  This makes it extremely difficult with all the political work I do.  Phone banks actually give me migraines due to the stress of working so hard to focus on the voice on the line.

 At work, I pretty much always need to have music playing at all times.  It is the only way to drown out the white noise and background conversations and phones ringing and keyboards clicking.

 At rare instances, I sometimes cannot understand the words spoken on the radio (difficult for someone who enjoys NPR as much as I) or sometimes during a newscast on TV, the words spoken do not connect with the mouth movements of the newscaster.

 This is how it has been for me for several years. 20-some years ago a doctor possibly mis-diagnosed me with adjustment anxiety syndrome because I would have out-of-body experiences when having conversations with coworkers–I could observe both of us having the conversations, as if I was floating a few inches above my body.  When that happened, it took an even greater amount of focus to interpret what either one of us was saying (yes, I even didn’t know what I was saying).  I now know that this was likely due to my Aspergers–add the stress of moving to a new place and starting to work with a new group of coworkers and this would be triggered.  Or when I had to work 70 or 80 hours a week, this would happen then, as well.

 These are real problems for some people with Aspergers. Some don’t have auditory problems at all and some have extreme auditory issues.  This is part of my reality and I am reminded of it daily.

Rough Waters: irregular employment of an Aspie

I recently read that up to 85% of the people with Aspergers do not have full employment. That is a hard number to fully comprehend and accept, especially since, apparently, I am (mostly) one of the 15%.

Thinking about this further, however, and I understand. Even for someone asks highly functioning as myself, I see continual challenges and barriers even when I am employed.

I think back to the beginning of my career, right out of college. I had graduated with a B.S. In Mathematics with a Minor focus on Computer Science. I really did not know what I should do with that.

I knew about a large computer services company that would hire bright people out of college and train them to be even more than programmer/analysts. In 1987, this was one of the best programs around. I saw that they were interviewing in the Portland area, so I arranged an interview.

I was invited twice to interview with Electronic Data Systems (knowing that the third interview was usually the hiring interview). I thought the interviews went very well, so I was surprised to receive a letter after the second interview that said that I was not a fit–and they explained why. Mostly, it had to do with me not asking many questions and generally the recruiter feeling that I seemed uninterested.

I turned around and wrote a long letter explaining that I had already done very extensive research about EDS and their training program, and I knew a couple of people who had entered the program. I knew that this is where I belonged.

The letter worked. I was scheduled for the hiring interview and then I ended up working for that company for several years.

Throughout the course of my employment, there were often one or two leaders who ‘didn’t get me’ and with whom I would have many disagreements. Every year when it came time for my performance review, it was always very mixed. I always excelled in problem solving and usually got good marks on customer relationships, but generally lower marks on teamwork and I would generally find that coworkers were uncomfortable coming to me with technical questions.

Really? My few close friends always told me that I was very friendly and tried to help whenever I could. Why was I not approachable in the workplace?

Despite the difficulties and challenges I faced, generally, it was good employment and I learned a lot and still became one of the technical leaders, one of the handful of people in the entire company who knew the business functions behind the managed care health insurance delivery system, specifically as it interfaced with Medicaid. I had worked on managed care systems all over the country, so I knew how it worked in many States. I had earned the respect of Medicaid IT managers in a couple of States, especially in Tennessee.

Everything came to a head when I was working as the Managed Care functional team lead on a project to replace the Medicaid system for Tennessee, which was entirely a ‘Managed Care’ State. One member of my team did not like me and would bully me and harass me daily. I thought that this was because I was gay and that is what she didn’t like. When I protested one time, she claimed that I was harassing her—and when a woman accuses a man of harassment in the workplace, then that is pretty much the end for the man, regardless of what the reality says. She was a person who was very unhappy with her life and she found someone who was different who she could transfer her unhappiness upon.

While I thought at the time it was because I am gay and she was a conservative Christian woman, I now believe that it was because of Asperger’s. I was an easy target for her daily bullying.

I ended up losing my job as a result of her protests against me and a middle manager who didn’t like me because the Tennessee Medicaid IT director told him directly to listen to me. Yeah, no one told him what to do and who to listen to, especially not the person who is not seen as a team player.
Since that time, more than 10 years ago, I have gone from job to job, unemployment to unemployment. I have a very impressive resume, and I’m usually told that I am the top candidate being interviewed for a full time job. Each time, I thoroughly research the company prior to the interview. Each time, I am invited to interview multiple times, with different managers and potential coworkers. Each time it ends with one manager telling me that I am not a fit for the team or I didn’t connect with the team or the manager when I was interviewing.

This falls in line with a lot of what I read about others living with Asperger’s and it matches my experience in other areas. When interviewing, there is usually one or two people with whom I cannot connect. Whenever I do have a job, there are always one or two people who are there to bully me or to otherwise make things difficult on me since I’m the odd one. I’m the different one.

I used to think that it was everyone else who didn’t try to reach out to get to know me and work with me. I now know that this is ME and part of my neurological makeup and there are things I can still learn that will help me finally find that perfect job.