Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Outcast (Asperger Syndrome)

I have Asperger syndrome. If you don’t know what that means, it’s hard to explain. I can link to the Wikipedia article, but all that you’ll get there is a technical description defining a neurological disorder in a way the general public can understand from an outside perspective. I will now attempt to describe some aspects of what it’s like, as well as some of my concerns regarding its treatment in society.


I am different. I’ve always been different. My mind functions in a different manner. At some points in my life, I have considered myself superior, at some points inferior, but the end result is that I am not like other people.
I’ve always thought of myself as running hotter than normal, like an identifying aspect of my mind is that it is innately “hotter” than the rest. I’ve often identified with the color red as an innate expression of my self, especially my prepubescent self.

I feel more in touch with my senses. I enjoy tactile sensation to a greater degree than the general population. This is often coupled with my sense of taste, and I have specific ways of eating things to gain full enjoyment. Taste is also blended with my perception of color, and I feel that certain taste combinations come together like patterns almost quilt-like in nature. When this is added with the enjoyment of tactile sensation, eating can be extremely delightful.

I have specific passions, loves, that are hard to explain. When I search to define them, I find it hard, like they are so emotional and irrational that the attempt to strip them down into logical processes scares them away to the corners of my mind. I know I love fictional elements and aesthetic beauty. Hard to define, and I don’t much want to if the act of doing so scares it away.

I get into conflicts, fights, with my parents a lot. A lot of time, I feel like the victim, like they all gang-up on me and jump on me for no good reason. Or their reasons are so skewed and if they could see things the way I do, they’d see that they’re looking at the world all wrong. Things often get really emotional and really painful to deal with. I often feel they view me at such times as a sneaky and volatile enemy that needs to be intimidated into submission.

My mom intimidated me at one point into taking a 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5HTP) dietary supplement, essentially a drug store variety antidepressant. It was one of the worse times of my life. No exaggeration. I seriously hate my use of that drug with a fiery passion.

I recall reading this Harry Potter fanfic in which Sirius Black takes revenge on Snape by cursing him with a happiness charm. Snape was such a grumpy guy that this was hell for him, and he was so angry at Sirius for making him feel happy when it was all Sirius’ doing and he plotted revenge even while smiling cheerfully or some such. I remember thinking how foolish Snape was, that he should just enjoy being happy. Now I wonder if the author had to take anti-depressants against her will.

At times such as this, one undergoes a paradigm shift in which a bit of philosophizing is necessary to establish definition of terms. What I had thought to be one entity, that of happiness, was not so. Here is a breakdown of these terms.

There is what I call “emotional happiness.” This is the purely physiological reaction to positive stimuli. I find symptoms to be a heightened perception of color saturation, as well as finding things to just look prettier, as well as sound lovelier. As this effect as been replicated through stuffing myself at buffets, I assume that chemicals stimulated are very much the same.

Then, there is “intellectual happiness.” This, I feel, is the whole key to the enjoyment of happiness. As we are sapient beings, the whole of our identities is based on thought and of willful perception. If the substance of our identities does not match up with our physiology, it is quite a torment.

Though I have no first-hand experience, I speculate that those with clinical depression have a similar problem of their intellectual state of mind not matching up with their physiological emotions. If this is the case, I imagine the drug would be effective, as it does push up the emotional happiness level without regard to the intellectual. However, I accept it as possible that my paradigm hasn’t shifted enough, never having to deal with that situation and all.

What happened when I took the drug was, essentially like I was forced to be happy, like Snape in the story. The problem is that English is a little too rudimentary, and “happy” just sounds good. For an average person, hearing someone say they wouldn’t want to be happy sounds ludicrous, like someone from Plato’s cave listening to someone describe the foundations of his society as false. It doesn’t mean it isn’t, but the guy still looks mad.

I was assaulted with false feelings, physiological conditions that were not in alignment with my sense of being. It’s like my mind was encased in a suit of emotional happiness, one impossible to remove. I could only wait until the drug wore off, but then I’d just have to take another pill again.

At first it was okay, because it was new. I felt happy, and I was pleased. It worked, as far as I knew. The only problem was, I couldn’t enjoy works of fiction anymore. I just couldn’t disengage the happiness function in order to get into a drama. I could only enjoy simplistic stories, like Dilbert or what not. Certainly not anything as complex or emotional as Buffy. You know, to really get into a work of fiction, you have to be able to empathize with the characters, who are generally not happy unless it’s a short comedy with little substance.
It got to a point where I just couldn’t enjoy myself anymore. I mean, I felt emotional happiness, but it’s not the same as true enjoyment. I imagine emotional happiness is an evolutionary instinct to get primitive beings to do things that would aid in their ability to survive to reproduce, but one irrelevant from the mental well-being of sapient creatures such as ourselves. I kept trying to rationalize it as no big deal, but I really felt unwell.
I hesitantly went to my mom to ask her to let me stop taking them, but she convinced me I was being selfish. She said that she was also taking them to keep from getting upset but that she considered it her duty to the family and that if she would stop enjoying fiction she would never stop taking them just because of that. I agreed I was being selfish, and I stopped complaining.

But the thing was that I was always feeling the effects of the drug. It was ALWAYS THERE. It was maddening. The false happiness assaulted my mind and commandeered my senses. It was telling me that I was happy, but I was not. I felt as though it was keeping me in a prison of my mind and I wanted to be able to feel it as my own once more, but I was continuously blocked from my attempts to function normally.
I tried to suppress it, but I couldn’t because it was always there and I couldn’t turn it off. I felt as though I was being forcibly kept from my own sense of identity and ability to exist in the world under my own initiative. The world I existed in had all the appearance of loveliness, but was really just an imperfect imitation of it, like Pleasantville almost.

I finally found an out through self-injury. I couldn’t escape the false happiness in any other way. I’d close my eyes and that fake elation would still be there in my head. But pain still felt the same. I would have expected it to feel affected by the drug, put through a filter as was the rest of life, but it still felt the way it always did and so was my salvation, my escape into my proper being.

Naturally, this made it extremely unhealthy. I considered using it as an excuse to not take the drug, but I ultimately decided the risk was too high that my dose would just get increased to the point that I would be utterly and completely its prisoner, and the whole point was that I wanted to be free. So, I ended up pulling a Girl, Interrupted and disposed of the pills while pretending to take them. Eventually, my mom forgot about resupplying them, and I was able to go on without them honestly.

The whole thing reminds me of this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Outcast. The gist of the episode is that the Enterprise deals with these aliens that are completely androgynous and the very notion of gender is considered a primitive mindset. Well, one of the aliens falls for Riker and reveals that she identifies as female, something forbidden in her culture. Someone sees them kiss, and she ends up “outing” herself to avoid causing an international incident. She makes her case to the planet’s authority, saying that she has a right to exist as feels appropriate to her sense of identity; however, they take her to some behavioral modification facility. Riker breaks the law to rescue her, but finds her completely brainwashed, her sense of identity altered drastically enough that she is essentially a different person, almost like the wives of Stepford.

The episode was written as an allegory for homophobia, though transphobia’s probably a better connection – not that the subject’s popular enough to write about on this kind of show. The gay community’s generally given it a poor review for the way it handles its subject matter, in which the androgynous aliens are all played by female actors and such. This aside, I’ve always felt eerily able to relate to the story as about someone different from the masses who wishes to be able to retain their sense of identity despite being opposed by the authority that governs society. I consider it one of my favorite episodes for this reason, since even before I actually got the gay angle.

At one point, sometime after I was free of the drug for a while, I shared with a friend how bad the experience was, where my mom could hear. I got really emotional and broke down in tears. Afterwards, she told me she had no idea it was that bad for me and said that I don’t have to take anything mind-altering that I don’t want to. I don’t know; I guess our physiologies are drastically different so she felt nothing of the adverse effects I felt.

Things have been pretty okay for me since then. I was seeing a psychologist at one point, though, who highly recommended the use of antidepressants. I remain in a basic state of fear regarding that, especially regarding the possibility that an authority (medical, government, etc.) should force it upon me.
I’ll finish with an exchange from the episode:

I am female. I was born that way. I have had those feelings, those longings, all of my life. It is not unnatural. I am not sick because I feel this way. I do not need to be helped. I do not need to be cured. What I need, and what all of those who are like me need, is your understanding. And your compassion. We have not injured you in any way. And yet we are scorned and attacked. And all because we are different. What we do is no different from what you do. We talk and laugh. We complain about work. And we wonder about growing old. We talk about our families and we worry about the future. And we cry with each other when things seem hopeless. All of the loving things that you do with each other - that is what we do. And for that we are called misfits, and deviants and criminals. What right do you have to punish us? What right do you have to change us? What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?

I congratulate you, Soren. Your decision to admit your perversion makes it much more likely that we can help you.

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