Sunday, May 27, 2012

On Asberger's

World of Warcraft is a game that hardly needs an introduction, especially here on the internet. If you're reading this, you either play World of Warcraft or know someone who does. If you do not fall into either category, then go back to your homeworld and tell them an invasion will be stopped by an army of Level 85 Death Knights. They'll know what that means, even if you don't. Hint: It means your shit is about to get wrecked.

In what is certainly familiar for anyone who plays the game, a kid dubbed "Red Shirt Guy" corrected the makers of the game on their own story. For a short while, it was debated if the guy had a mental illness or maybe if he was a robot in desperate need of polishing (ladies). His voice was very atonal, as anyone can tell. Alot of viewers wrote it off to a congestion of virginity until he made his own Youtube video responding to his critics by saying that he has Asberger's Syndrome. This condition, perhaps as equally well-known to internet junkies, is a high-functioning form of autism. It has almost become a fallback position for socially awkward teens as an excuse for assholedom.

As a sufferer of this condition, I will give them that it does often cause situations that are extremely uncomfortable for all parties. The other day, I was at a friend's birthday lunch for his girlfriend and I decided to begin the festivities by talking about cannibalism. It didn't occur to me until later that this was more than a little inappropriate, especially in front of his grandmother. In case you're wondering, I was talking about the recent decision by Pepsico, Kraft Foods, and Nestle to begin using a sweetener extracted from the cloned kidneys of aborted fetuses (no matter how you write that, it will look like I made it up) and was the only person laughing at my Soylent Green jokes. It's a blunt simplification of the research conducted by Senomyx with HEK293 cells, but there is nothing in that statement that isn't true.

But back to the point. Asberger's is probably the most misunderstoof of any social disorder. The simplest way to define it is a lack of empathy, but that's like calling the ocean a bunch of water. It doesn't fully capture the scope of the disorder. Anyone who uses it as an excuse for assholery should be smacked in the head with an old two by four that shatters on impact and gives them 10,000 splinters.

Empathy is alot more than being able to know how people feel. Imagine going through life and never being able to truly relate to another human being. Even among family, you feel like the new kid at school. You never know what it truly means to feel loved or hated. It's pretty much the loneliest existence imaginable. Every day, the pain of being alone is almost physical. It drags you down like chains, threatening to pull you down into the Abyss that yawns beneath you. Despite having a wife and son, I am aware of their love but only because the rational part of me tells me so.

Growing up, you have to watch everyone carefully to study their body language because you have no concept of such a thing. In your natural state, you're standing still while everyone fidgets and smiles for reasons that you can't fathom. For a long time, I had trouble with my smile. It was a painstaking effort not to have this big Cheshire Cat smile that many found off-putting. You try and mimic the little movements that people make when they're comfortable, but until you get these right you look like a spaz. Even the smallest abnormality is noticed by those watching, if only on an unconscious level. They see the jagged flow of your movement and a tiny warning goes off in the head to tell them that something is off-putting about this guy. Without even realizing it, they begin to assume that you must be crazy or, at least, have something wrong with you. It's a prejudice most people don't even realize they have.

In my teenage years, I didn't have any friends. It wasn't because I was a nerd or a loser, it was because I was nothing. I had no sense of humor, no true personality, I had to learn those by exposure to others. I was a bottomless source of information and if anyone spoke to me, I would just recite information in an attempt to seem interesting. You're condemned to spending time with the lunatic fringe, the people who don't fit in quite right because they're anarchists or anime junkies or Bible Thumpers. It doesn't matter their faults, because at least it's another human being you can talk to. But here's the bitch of it: It doesn't make you any happier. It's almost like talking to a video game character; while they are replying you don't feel any true realness to it.

Because of your habit of watching people, you can see the desperation to be accepted painted all over their face, but you see this with a clinical detachment. That's probably the most infuriating thing to people who love you, that damn clinical detachment. Everything that happens seems like it's happening to somebody else and before long you start to wonder if you're living somebody else's story. You compulsively study everything around you, trying to fully understand it but you never do. There's no way of telling if you're stupid for not understanding or if everybody only pretends to get it. Every Aspie has a certain thing, an obsession that permeates every aspect of their lives. For some, it's writing and making lists, others exercise, still others are constantly studying music and art. But there would be nobody to share it with. If you tell a layman the stuff you learn, you risk bombarding them with volumes of information they couldn't give a pile of dingo kidneys about. If you tell an expert, they might correct you or, worse, assess your work. It doesn't matter if their findings confirm or deny your words, it's going to be goddamn uncomfortable and embarassing.

I sometimes wonder if maybe everything we do is to finally feel alive. Our emotions are like fossils sealed in the bedrock of our skulls and only that certain thing can even give us a taste of what it is to feel. When you do finally feel emotion, it's a high pressure jet that can't be savored. It crashes over you like a landslide and sweeps away all else. There is no in-between for us. We either feel nothing or we feel nothing but that one single, dominating passion. If you're sad, you're suicidal and nihilistic. If you're angry, you're ready to peel the skin off of everyone's bodies. If you're in love, you're in LOVE, which is written in great flaming letters three miles high. And if you're happy, you're cackling like a madman until your sides hurt...then, just like that, it all goes away. Your moment of humanity is gone and you're back to being nothing.

Growing up, I always wondered what I was. I didn't feel human, so I certainly couldn't be that. Being reared in a religious environment, I would often wonder if maybe I was an angel or demon trapped in a human's body. I would look at the darkness and pain that thrived deep inside and wonder if I would die should I be exorcised. This all sounds insane to anyone who doesn't know what it feels like. Everytime I opened up to people, they would either deem me a psychopath or try to offer comfort. I think the latter was the more painful. You wouldn't get a single ounce of the love they were trying to share, but your keen observation skills would let you see their discomfort and uncertainty. Even if they thought they were sincere, you would see the doubt scribbled across their faces and think they were only patronizing you. If you didn't get angry, you would only feel uncomfortable at their attempts to relate to you.

This all sounds very emo, I'm aware of that. Unfortunately, that's just how it is. If I were a teenager telling you this, I could be written off as an angsty teenager. But I'm twenty-five years old and nothing seems like it's going to change. I'm going to watch television and movies, listen to music, look at art, read fiction, althewhile being painfully aware that all the comedy and drama is simply to appeal to you so you won't feel bad when they take your money. I'm going to talk to people I see in public, knowing the whole time that neither one of us are really having an affect on the other. When I find something that truly qualifies as art, I'm going to know that this person poured this emotion out in a bout of passion and every subsequent viewing is no more than a photograph of a work of art. I'll watch the presidential debate and know that every word is recited for our benefit. No politician is going to dare speak his mind unless a poll can let him know that at least half the population wants to hear it.

I've often wondered if this is what it's like to live without a soul. Whether you believe in a soul or not doesn't matter. An essential something is missing and I don't think I'll ever be able to get that part of me. Every human being lives their lives trying to fill that void in their hearts, but there will always be the unlucky few who will never be whole. We trudge through this life until we fade away in the end, lonely and broken in some inexplicable way. Don't get me wrong, I love my wife and son. I love them with every ounce of effort I can muster. I love my friends as much as possible, but if they truly knew how little that means it would hurt their feelings. They seem to think that because they mean little to me, I must be bidding them ill will. They don't realize that by feeling any closeness at all to them, it means alot.

So the next time someone excuses their behaviour with Asberger's, please do me a favor and punch them hard in the face. They give us all a bad name and should be ashamed of themselves. But if they're incapable of actually feeling shame, it might be a bit more understandable.

This has just been some random thoughts by a casual observer. If you agree or disagree, that's your prerogative. These observations are casual and so I wouldn't be surprised to find them inaccurate and in the end, grossly off-topic. But they're my thoughts and it's boring to keep them to myself.

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