Battling My Own Brain

brain-tank Over the years, I’ve fought long, protracted war.  This wasn’t a conventional battlefield, though.  This war took place entirely within my own mind.  I had to fight tooth and nail (synapse and neuron?) to overcome some challenges and get to where I am today.  Meanwhile, I still have many challenges to overcome in the future.

Back in high school, I found my brain getting stuck constantly.  By this, I don’t mean that I wouldn’t be able to come up with an idea.  Instead, I would pour over every detail of a social interaction that I had made.  I would critique it in every way possible, berate myself for missed opportunities or for saying/doing the wrong thing, and would take situations completely out of context.  These "hindsight reviews" could last for days and would completely cripple me socially.  After all, if I was completely wrong in my actions in one situation (as judged by me later on) then how could I possibly be sure that I’d be correct in another action.  Combine in fear of bullying and the paranoia that it caused and it isn’t hard to see how my social development was stunted.

This "stuck brain" phenomena would also manifest itself when I worried about something.  As I went over the topic over and over again, the worry would grow more and more unmanageable.  Even if there was nothing I could do at the moment, my brain would focus on the problem and wouldn’t stop.  Thankfully, I eventually learned to segment my worrying and put aside items when there wasn’t anything I could do about them at the moment.  This can often be misinterpreted as me not worrying about something, but it is more of a self-defense mechanism.  If I didn’t put some worries aside, I could easily revert back into my worry-obsession behavior.

In college, I vowed to force myself to be more social.  I joined an organization whose sole purpose was the throw big parties – exactly the kind of social situation I wasn’t comfortable in.  It was my way of confronting my comfort zone and breaking through it.  However, while I made strides in my general social development, another battle raged on.  This battled was complicated because it involved the opposite sex.

College Me was living away from home for the first time and I found myself surrounded by all kinds of people.  As will inevitably happen to college kids, I developed crushes on some of my fellow students.  However, whenever I thought about acting on the crush, I found myself paralyzed.  I would go over a plan to ask a girl out, but could only think of the horrible things that might result.  I had just escaped high school – where I was made fun of mercilessly – and the specter of being mocked by my peers again haunted me.  Inevitably, I would over-think so much that the girl I had a crush on would begin dating someone else.  I had gone from doubting my actions after the fact to doubting my actions before I took them.  I might have won the general battle, but I was clearly losing on this particular front.  After college, I got a job and, a few years later, met B.  Unlike with all the other women I had tried to ask out before, everything seemed to come naturally to me.  Part of this was definitely due to a greater maturity and self-confidence due to being successful in my job.  A big part, however, was just that I could sense right from the beginning that B was "the one."

With that battle won, you might think that the war in my head was over.  It wasn’t, though.  Even in the present day, I tend to have two main "brain battles."  The first deals with Asperger’s.  Often I’ll get fixated on something, such as reining in the chaos that two young boys playing can cause.  Meanwhile, NHL will fixate on something else and we’ll have an Aspie-Aspie clash with B caught in the middle.

As hard as that is to deal with, there’s something else I deal with on a regular basis.  "Bad thoughts."  This is what I call it when my brain seems to try to interpret others’ motives in the worst possible light.  A voice in my head might try telling me that some people don’t care about me or that they don’t need me.  I’ve learned not to listen to this voice.  Though it always attributes the negativity to others, it is really the voice of self doubt.  It is the ghosts of the battles I’ve fought over the years coming back and trying to take hold once more.  I hesitate to call it depression – mainly because it never gets that bad and I wouldn’t want to minimize someone else who deals with actual depression.  From what I’ve heard online from people who have depression, though, this "bad voice" shares many of the same characteristics.  It belittles my accomplishments, attempts to sabotage my relationships with my friends and family, and convinces me to bottle up my feelings instead of opening up about them.  (That last one is made worse by my Asperger’s "Emotional Cage.")  When the "bad voice" is active in my brain, I will often sulk and stew over even the smallest of slights.  I’ll find myself unable to focus on other topics.  This is the one instance where a form of my "worry obsession" still overtakes me easily.

I’ve seen NHL deal with this also.  If he is yelled at to stop doing something, he’ll often mutter to himself over and over.  When I listen to him, it frighteningly sounds like what my "bad voice" says to me.  Nobody loves me.  Nobody understands me.  The world is against me.  People are doing things to hurt me on purpose.

I’ve learned to suppress this "voice" so it doesn’t come out of my mouth – even when it is screaming in my brain.  NHL, meanwhile, hasn’t.  Perhaps this is a good thing, though.  Maybe I can use this as an opportunity to help him learn to deal with his own "bad voice" in his head so it doesn’t turn into a problem.

NOTE: The "brain tank" image above is a combination of "brain" by trubinial guru and "cartoon tank" by rg1024.  Both images are available via

Asperger’s and the Emotional Cage

aspergers_emotional_cage_small_watermarkedHaving Asperger’s Syndrome can be challenging in a lot of ways.  Many of them involve dealing with the neurotypical world and its strange (to those on the spectrum) ways and rules.  Things that neurotypical individuals take for granted can be mysterious for us Aspies.  A big challenge I’ve recently realized can be the expression of emotions.

Some people will look at those with Asperger’s and mistakenly think that we don’t have emotions or that said emotions are less than our neurotypical counterparts – at least until said emotions explode out.  These people are horribly, horribly wrong.  If anything, people with Asperger’s feel emotions more deeply.  I’ll often find myself hurt about something for days while the other person has forgotten about the incident ten minutes later.  The trouble is that Aspies often find themselves unable to express those emotions.

Think of an Aspie’s emotions as being hidden behind a big sheet of tinted, sound-proof glass.  You stand on one side and the Aspie’s emotions are on the other side.  Through the tinted glass, you might be able to make out some shapes on the other side, but you won’t see it clearly.  Meanwhile, the Aspie on the other side is trying desperately to communicate how he or she feels.  Talking doesn’t seem to work and small movements seem to be lost on the other side as well.  Big movements might work, but lack any form of subtly.

An observer on the other side of the glass might mistake the lack of small movements/sounds for a lack of emotions – until the Aspie makes big movements or big sounds that get through the sound-proof glass.  The neurotypical observers are surprised but the Aspie is frustrated.  It’s like living in an emotional cage.

Personally, I’ve recognized this tendency with me since before I heard about Asperger’s Syndrome.  My go-to method for conflict resolution is keeping quiet.  I’ve always done this because I’m afraid of becoming so upset that I shout something that I don’t really mean.  I’ve found that NHL – who is obviously less adept at expressing his emotions having had less time to practice – is prone to this.  He’ll get upset over an issue (say, being made to go on a family walk when he just wants to play video games) and will shout things like “I hate you” and “I’m going to kick you” instead of calmly discussing his feelings.

Outbursts aside, however, I’ll often plan out arguments in my head.  I’ll lay out reasons why I feel a particular way, what the person did to make me feel this way, and the resolution I’m looking for.  The arguments are all there in my head, but when they come out of my mouth they get garbled and are less than persuasive.  It’s like being able to imagine a perfect drawing in your head but only being able to draw a stick figure – and a poor one at that.

It’s not just my own emotions that I have trouble with but expressing empathy for others’ emotions.  Plenty of times, B will have something going wrong, she’ll look to me for sympathy, and will find none.  That’s not because I have no sympathy for her.  I do, but I just don’t have the words to express it.  I’m standing behind that tinted-glass cage screaming how I feel but all that comes out is a muffled “sorry.”  I’m frustrated because I can’t express how I feel and B’s frustrated that I’m not showing sympathy for her situation.

Interestingly enough, I feel much more at home expressing emotions in writing.  There’s no immediate pressure to put the perfect words to my feelings.  I can write, delete, and rewrite how I feel before sending it on to the recipient.  It’s no wonder that I feel more at home in the online world than in the “real” world and that I feel more social on social media than when face to face.

All in all, having Asperger’s can be frustrating to all involved when it comes to expression of emotions.  Aspies can easily be misunderstood and thought of as having no real emotions when the opposite is true.  We Aspies feel deeply but just can’t find the words to express those feelings.  The next time you find yourself dealing with an Aspie, keep this in mind and be patient as they try to express themselves from behind their emotional cage.

NOTE: The “Asperger’s Emotional Cage” image above is composed of four emoticon images by nicubunu that are available from “Laughing Face“, “Crying Face“, “Loving Face“, and “Question Face.”

Altered Plans Equals Turbulence

This weekend, we were supposed to go to my parents’ house.  Living over 3 hours away from them means that I don’t get to see them often and I’ve been looking forward to it.  As the trip approached, various circumstances kept threatening to cancel our trip.  Finally, on the day before we were supposed to leave, B wasn’t feeling good.  She definitely wasn’t up to making the trip.  To make matters worse, another storm was bearing down on my parents’ house.  It looked like, even if I went with the boys, we would be just sitting around my parents’ house for a couple of days.  Reluctantly, I called my parents and they agreed we should reschedule.

Luckily, I took this change of plans completely in stride.  If you define "completely in stride", as "acted as a ‘just me’ and moped about the altered plans."

Those who have dealt with people with Asperger’s know that we can get attached to our plans.  Change them and you risk a melt down.  I didn’t exactly "melt down" on the outside, but I was going nuclear on the inside.  I’ll admit that I was silently blaming B, the Universe, everyone and everything for not caring about me and keeping the plans that I wanted to do.

In my more calm state, I can appreciate that this is *exactly* the sort of thing that NHL screams when plans he holds dear are changed.  This is the sort of thing that we are always working with NHL to help him handle better.  Mind you, I didn’t vocalize any of this.  I’ve long since learned to internalize these thoughts so I don’t hurt anyone when my mind lashes out.  I even snuck upstairs for a bit to have some moping time to myself so any mutterings weren’t overheard and so I could calm myself down.  Still, it’s clear that I need some work on taking my own advice.

In the end, the storm my parents were supposed to have came to our house instead.  (An additional 4 inches at least – probably more.)  It took a day or so, but I calmed down and gained perspective.  I even had a bunch of fun moments with the boys while B recuperated.  (More on that in later posts.)

All in all, it was a fun way to end 2012.  Here’s hoping that 2013 is just as fun (though a bit less turbulence would be appreciated).

Aloha Friday: Man Enough To Cry

There are days when the various pressures I face get to be too much.  Though I try to keep a strong, stable face to the world, I’ll often feel like I just want to retreat to a dark corner and cry for a few hours.  With that feeling invariably comes a small voice that tells me “Real men don’t cry.  Real men hide their feelings and show as little emotion as possible.”

I know that society tells us that men who cry are wimps and guys who push their feelings down deep are strong, but I think it’s the other way around.  I’ve done the whole hide-what-you-are feeling thing.  It doesn’t make you strong.  It just makes bad feelings fester in you until they either explode or poison you (or your relationships).  I think men who are comfortable enough to cry are the stronger of the two groups.  They’re the ones who stand up to the Real Man Stereotype and shatter it.

My Aloha Friday question for today is: Do you think any less of a man if he admits that he cries?  Also, have you ever felt like hiding in a dark corner and crying?  What do you do when you feel this way?

P.S. If you haven’t already, go visit FollowerHQ and let me know what you think of my Twitter application.

Thanks to Kailani at An Island Life for starting this fun for Friday. Please be sure to head over to her blog to say hello and sign the linky there if you are participating.

Aloha Friday by Kailani at An Island Life

Aloha #114

Temper, Temper

Most people who know me would say that I’m very even tempered.  Perhaps to a fault, even.  I can take abuse after abuse and keep my calm while trying to resolve the situation.  Indeed, if we’re ever in a situation where we need an even head, I’m the person who makes the call.  When we need someone to be forceful and perhaps even raise their voice a bit, B handles it.  (See?  We compliment each other’s talents nicely!)

However, I have a confession to make.  I actually have a very bad temper.  A horrible one, in fact.  The problem is, my temper doesn’t usually flare against people unless they are very close to me.

Growing up, I was bullied mercilessly, but I rarely lost my temper.  Meanwhile, my sister could make me blow my top with a single word or action.  She was so good at it that she made it into an art form.  She would do something to me designed to make me lose my temper.  I would blow my top and get physical (e.g. push her down).  She would cry to my parents.  They would see her down and me standing over her and I would get punished.  At the time, I thought it was horribly unfair.  It still is, but I understand it more now that I’m a parent.  When you have 2 kids with conflicting stories as to what happened, the best you can do is rely on what you have seen occur.

Later, my sister got married and moved out.  My father became the person who pushed my buttons.  In this case, he didn’t mean to do so.  It was just that I was living back at home after the freedom of college and was having trouble following the “it’s my house, you’ll do it this way” rules.  So we’d fight (verbally, rarely physically), not talk to each other for a week and then (spurred on by my mother who hates conflict) would make up just in time for the next fight to begin.

Once I moved away from my parents, we got along much better.  He’ll still get on my nerves from time to time, but not to the “I’m not talking to you for a week” level.  Now, the people close to me are my wife and my kids.

I’ve written before about how I get quiet during arguments with B.  This is primarily because of my temper.  If I talk while I’m upset and my temper flares, I’m likely to make sweeping generalizing statements that are highly hurtful and not true at all.  This will not only hurt my case (nothing shatters your argument more than a poorly thought out personal attack), but will hurt B’s feelings.  While it might feel better in the short term to rant and rave rather than hold back, it’s better in the long term to calm down before discussing sensitive topics.

That leaves the kids.  Ideally, I’d like to say that I keep an even temper at all times and never yell.  This isn’t an ideal world, though.  I try to keep an even temper and not yell, but lately it seems like the boys have conspired to push my temper to the brink.

First, NHL will refuse to do what we tell him to do and insist that things have to be done the way he wants them done, WHEN he wants them done.  Then, JSL, having just seen his brother get in trouble, will repeat his brother’s actions perfectly.  NHL will yell and scream while JSL will make mocking faces.  My blood starts to boil as I raise my voice telling them to behave.  Finally, I’m yelling outright at them and sending them to their room.

When they’re in their room and I’m calming down, I’ll get hit by a streak of guilt.  They’re testing boundaries and need to be given firm reminders of what is and isn’t appropriate, but I feel awful when I yell at them.  I *want* to be the fun loving parent who plays with them all the time and has a blast.  I don’t want to be the rule-setting parent who comes down hard on them if they decide to scream and try to run away from us in the middle of a store.  However, I have to be both.  It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes.

I definitely have room for improvement in not letting my temper get the best of me.  I’ve had success in the past with the “repeating things three times” method.  (Tell them once.  Say “Second time… [repeated message].”  Then say “THIRD TIME! [repeated message]. Do NOT make me repeat myself AGAIN!”)  I need to force myself to rely on methods like that more than yelling.

Do you ever find yourself losing your temper with your children?  What do you do when this happens?