Monday, October 13, 2014

Routines, Rituals and Remembering

At any given time, on any given day in my life, I have tens of thousands of images and thoughts rushing through my brain like a mighty river. I've never adequately been able to describe this to NTs.  My brain is very much the same as how Temple Grandin describes her own.  I think almost entirely in imagery, words come much later.   
Temple Grandin

Reading Temple's description of this was the first time I had language to describe how I think.  To me, it still defies logic.  My brain is also wired for free associative thought processes.  Much the way the NT "daydreams" is my normal thinking process.

This can be terribly frustrating for someone with ACC or ASD because it seems to us (and is in reality) that no one else understands what is going on inside our heads, and we don't know how to communicate it.  God has given me a gift in the past 7 years to have "found my voice."  I never could before use language to talk about my internal processes, thoughts, emotions, etc...this seemed to slowly grow, then one day take off, hence this blog.

My life is one of routine and ritual.  Were it not for these I could not function (at all) in the world.  It gives me a great deal of comfort, because my brain is so easily distracted from the task at hand.  Many of you know the experience of walking into a room to get something, only to forget what it was you needed, and having to walk back to where you were and try to remember.  Without exaggeration, this occurs to me hundreds of times in a day, if not more.  It is because of this that I don't tolerate unforeseen changes in habits, routines and skill sets.  

The odd thing, this is another case of my not knowing how this worked with me, until much later in life.  I could not understand, as a youth, adolescent and into adulthood, why changes in routine freaked me out so.  Understanding it (now) gives a small portion of relief, if only because I can reason to myself "this too shall pass."

My routines and rituals could be seen by the uninitiated as OCD.  And, while OCD is not at all uncommon with ASDs and ACCs it is not the case with me.  My routines and rituals are coping mechanisms for my flawed memory processing.  Before my proper diagnoses of ACC and ASD, medical professionals commented that "I was the worst case of ADHD ever seen in a clinical setting."  Another example of a misdiagnoses that was covering up the real issues at hand.

When we can't follow through on our routines, or we are not allowed to finish the task at hand because of some external stimulus we tend towards extreme anxiety and discomfort.  To parents, and others observing this behavior it might appear as rebelliousness, recalcitrance, but it is not (necessarily) so.  What it really is, is the rug being pulled out from under our mental process at the time.  And most of us understand instinctually, that if we do not complete the current thought/task/project that it will most likely be forgotten and ignored, hence the anxiety.  I compare it to a blind person, who has gotten to know where all the furniture is in the house and can navigate it, then someone secretly moves all the furniture around...we end up slamming our shins into tables and chairs and tripping over ourselves.

I also know that if I have learned a skill or habit in a certain way, I have tremendous difficulty adapting that skill set to anything else, difficulty generalizing how it could be done in a different situation, or itself done differently in the same situation.

I brought up thinking in pictures in the beginning of this post for a reason.  While we are sitting or standing there communicating to you with words, it is likely that we are actually trying to communicate our imagery to you and translate that into words, and translate your words into images.  This lends itself, often to tremendous confusion.  I (personally) have this thing where, whether a simple word or complex sentence, I will quite literally say the exact opposite of what I intend, and not even understand I have just done so.  This happens to me in complex conversations where a lot of words are being communicated back and forth.  Having to go through the process of translating your words into images, then my images back to words you understand is mentally taxing and exhausting.

In an NT, a doctor might call this phenomenon "intrusive thoughts" but again, this is misunderstanding the process happening within us.  These thoughts are not intrusive, rather they are our (particular) brain's way of processing information.  I have to work extra hard, at all times to discriminate the difference between "thoughts in here" and "things out there."  I've learned to cope with this better in my older adulthood, but because of the way I think I'm usually picked out of the crowd, ostracized and made fun of, or just plain rejected and ignored.  It is obvious to others I do not think like they do, even if they can't "put their finger on it."

I am grateful to have begun gathering people in my life that make room for me, have space for me, allow me to be who I am without censure and ridicule.  At 52 this is just beginning for me, but it is a welcome change.

One year ago tomorrow my very best friend "T" died of ovarian cancer.  T loved me unconditionally and provided a safe space where I could develop and grow over years.  She never judged me and accepted me just as I come.  I miss her terribly, perhaps even more today than one year ago, but I will never forget the kindness and love she so freely offered me.  The space she made for me to grow, allowed me to offer myself the same unconditional love and acceptance, helping me become the man I am today.

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