Being meta: the need for analysis

Writing about Asperger Syndrome is actually harder than I thought. Not the details – I can describe those quite accurately. Not even the big picture in itself. The difficulty is in integrating the two. While I’m aware of the difficulty I have in integrating details with the big picture, it somehow didn’t occur to me that it would also influence how I write. But it does, as I will now explain.

If I talk about the big picture, I look at Aspergers as a different way of thinking. I look at how differences are not necessarily bad. I say that I’m happy to be myself, and that Aspergers has both positives and negatives. And all of this is true. But then I realise that this doesn’t give an accurate idea of the specific difficulties and the ways in which they can actually be quite disabling in some situations, and so I become concerned I am trivialising the disability aspect.

But if I talk about the specific difficulties, which I can describe and illustrate in great detail, I become aware that I’ve made myself sound terribly disabled and incapable. And in reality this is not the case. The difficulties are there, and they can be disabling, but I have all kinds of strategies to deal with them. The strategies can be tiring, and I do need a lot of sleep, and don’t have as much energy as I’d like, but at the same time I function and I generally enjoy life, when I’m not overwhelmed. Sometimes I function better than other times, depending on how supportive my environment is.

So I’ve been feeling that the big picture and the specific details weren’t giving a unified picture, and I’ve been wondering how to link them. On reflection, I think the strategies are the link. If I talk about what strategies I use, then it will make sense of how it’s possible to function and enjoy life at the same time as having specific difficulties.

Something I’ve become aware of is that not all people with Asperger Syndrome function as well as I do. I know some who are very unhappy and find life incredibly difficult. And also there are others who function better than I do, because everyone is different. And to be honest, there have been plenty of times I’ve been very unhappy and found life incredibly difficult, and there may well be such times in the future too. Of course, that’s the same for everyone, regardless of whether or not they’re on the spectrum, but I’m talking about when it’s due to specific Asperger traits and limitations.  I am aware that I function well because I have put lots of focused effort into finding strategies, and also because I adapt my environment, where possible, to make life easier for myself. Doing this has required becoming very self-aware and seeing what helps me and what doesn’t.

I think this entry is a way of voicing my thoughts about how to focus this blog, and how to integrate the positives and negatives of Aspergers, and the details and the big picture. I think the focus should be a mix of the following:

  • describing and illustrating the way my mind works, in order to explain Asperger traits and theories
  • providing strategies that I have used and describing how they work

I realise this entry is very ‘meta’. People often tell me I’m being ‘meta’ – this seems to be a popular word lately to mean that you are talking about how you are doing what you are doing, rather than simply talking about what you are doing. So I am being ‘meta’ by talking about how I am writing my blog rather than actual blogging. In the past, before people used the word ‘meta’, people would call this kind of behaviour ‘analytical’. One person used to tell me that it was ‘pretentious’ to talk about the act of blogging rather than just to blog. I’ve often been told that I ‘over-analyse’ and that I should just live without analysing.

Generally, people don’t seem to like this ‘meta’-ness. So I will explain here that I actually don’t have a choice. It’s the way my mind works. I need things to be explicit, and I need to be explicit. I have to anlalyse everything in order to process it, because I need to see the mechanisms behind things. I don’t process things on instinct. I analyse people in order to understand them. I analyse what I am doing in order to understand it. I analyse what is happening around me – because if I don’t, I am in chaos.

Also, I need to write my thoughts and feelings down to process them. Most of this is done in private journals, rather than in blogs, but as this is about my blog, I am putting it here. I hope it will function to explain my thinking behind the blog and how I want to organise it. I also hope it will show a bit about how my mind works, to illustrate Aspergers a little, which is what I aim to do with this blog.

One thing I always like to do is to illustrate what I talk about with specific examples. This is because, for myself, concrete examples always help me to understand something. So, having talked about how I need to analyse everything, I will now give an example to illustrate it…

Once, when I worked in a residential home, I could hear two colleagues chatting outside as they had a cigarette break. Let’s call these colleagues Sarah and Doreen (which are not their real names). While I got on well with most staff in this workplace – they found me eccentric, but a good worker – Sarah and I never really ‘clicked’. She was very different from me, and we didn’t get on so well. I found her frustrating because she was very indirect, and would never say when she had a problem with someone. She would gossip about people behind their backs rather than dealing directly with issues.

Anyway, as I heard them talking, I caught snatches of what they were talking about. I heard my name mentioned by Sarah a couple of times. I heard Sarah talking in a critical way about someone, with the tone of voice she used when gossiping. She was complaining about working with this person. I wasn’t able to hear the whole conversation – just snatches. It sounded like she was criticising me, but I couldn’t hear why. I was a bit irritated by this, because I felt that if she had a problem with the way I work with her, she should say so directly to me, particularly as she was my senior in the hierarchy of the staff.

The next day I was working with her again. During a quiet time, we were having a cup of tea in the kitchen – Sarah and I, and another staff member, whom I’ll call Jill, who was also senior to me. I said casually to Sarah, ‘I heard you and Doreen talking last night – you were complaining about someone in an annoyed voice, and I kept hearing my name.  It sounded like you were talking about me. Did I do something in the shift to upset you?’

Sarah paused, and then said with great emphasis ‘No no no! Not at all.’ She went on in great detail to tell me about how she’d been complaining about another person and the particular things she’d been complaining about, and how she’d mentioned my name just because she was on shift with me. She spent a long time telling me the details of what she’d been talking about.

I told her that if ever she did have a problem with me, she could tell me. She assured me that if she had a problem with me she would of course tell me, and that she hadn’t had a problem with me at all, and that I was being quite paranoid.

I believed her, because to me, if someone had asked me that question and I’d had a problem with them, I’d have told them – I’d have welcomed the chance to talk about the problem. And I would never tell someone they were paranoid unless they really were. However, I did think it was odd that Sarah went into such detail and kept repeating herself, and there were some parts of the story that didn’t quite make sense to me, but I couldn’t process it on the spot, because I was busy trying to understand everything she was telling me.

Afterwards, when I was at home, the conversation ran through my head, because I tend to remember conversations almost verbatim. As it ran through my head, I realised there were parts that contradicted each other. I analysed everything she’d said, and then realised there were inconsistencies that made it clear, logically, that she must have been lying. It took quite a while to analyse it all. There was no instinct – analysis was the only way I could evaluate what she’d said.

The next day, when I was alone with Jill, I said to her ‘You know that conversation I had with Sarah yesterday. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t telling the truth, because what she said had contradictions.’

‘Oh yes, that was hilarious!’ said Jill with a laugh. ‘She was so obviously lying.’

‘How do you know?’ I asked, rather surprised, because to me it hadn’t been obvious, but had taken a lot of analysis.

‘Oh you know – her gestures, the way she talked fast and kept going on and on, and waving her arms around wildly, like she always does when she’s lying. She’s so obvious when she lies! It was so funny that you confronted her – did you see me hiding my face in the fridge so she couldn’t see I was laughing?’

I was amazed. I hadn’t seen any of this. I’d heard the words of what Sarah was saying. I hadn’t noticed her gesticulations, nor the speed of her speech, nor Jill hiding her face in the fridge! I’d also had no idea that Sarah lied regularly (which Jill’s comment implied) nor that there was any kind of friction between Jill and Sarah that would cause Jill to laugh at Sarah being confronted. In that conversation I caught a glimpse of a world of innuendos and subtleties that I was not part of. And yet Jill and I had both reached the same conclusion, through completely different means – we both realised that Sarah was lying. But for me, it had been a logical analysis, rather than seeing all the subtle levels that Jill immediately saw.

So that is why I need to analyse. I don’t have another way of working things out. It’s a compensation strategy. One of the many strategies I use. I quite enjoy it actually – I love piecing things together, like a detective. It’s like a puzzle. It enables me to spot lies – and numerous other details – that others don’t spot. There are of course a lot of drawbacks to not picking up on all the innuendos. While I may be accepted in a group, I’m never part of that inner circle of subtle social cues, exchanged glances, etc. Possibly, if I tried really hard, I could be, but then I’m not sure I’d want to, because, as well as being exhausting, it would involve webs of deception that would be quite confusing and uncomfortable to me.

Besides, my way of dealing with things directly generally works for me, at the levels I need it to work. People often like my honesty and directness. It hasn’t always worked, as in the past I haven’t always chosen my words with the other person’s feelings in mind, but over the years I’ve learnt to hone it down so that it’s generally acceptable and non-offensive. So I have an alternative way of operating, and I learn to make it work. Which, to me, is what forming strategies is all about.