I used to think I was just good at things. Art, writing, singing, anything creative… it all seems to come naturally. Things just work. Like the wheels perfectly arranged in a clock, some things just seem to fit the way they should. It’s like I already have this ability built in. I don’t have to learn it like other people, I already know it.
When I write, it’s almost like music that I hear. I hear the words in my head as if someone else is speaking them. I don’t have to try, they’re already there. And I hear the rhythm, I hear the flow. I hear when I need a two syllable adverb. I hear when a phrase is lacking in depth. I hear when I need short sentences and when I need long sentences. It all fits together like a song. Something inside of me does it and I am merely the puppet acting on this unknowable force.
Creativity has always been easy.
But stepping out of the natural and delving into other skills, something different also takes place. It’s almost like somebody hands me a “Pass Go” card, a skip to the next level, or jump straight to intermediate.
Up until learning of my Asperger’s, my giddy secret to life was setting the bar high and trying. I believed other people just weren’t taking risks or trying hard enough, that’s why they couldn’t advance in skills as quickly. This theory solidified itself in college when I was surrounded 24/7 by my peers in an all girl dormitory.
I would get the girl-ogling, disbelief, or asking how I did things and, from which, I usually had no answer. I chalked it up simply to what I did: tried.
“How did you learn to French braid?”
“I didn’t… I just did it like five seconds ago.”
“Yeah, but how did you learn to French braid your own hair?”
“I just tried it yesterday and it was kind of messy and then I did it again today and it looked normal…”
“You cannot cable knit! You just learned how to knit! That is too advanced. I didn’t try for a while!”
“What are you talking about? Of course you can play the piano, you just played Les Miserables!”
“I can play the full song because I wanted to play it and learn it. Give me anything else, or anything beginning and I can’t play it.”
(I’m not trying to pretend I was really cool and had people fawning over me. I had my two best friends and then the rest of my friend groups were hard for me to break into completely. It was a challenge that I never really understood or succeeded at. So being awesome at being cool wasn’t really the case. There just are things that you start to realize aren’t normal from other people’s reactions. Luckily, these things were all positives.)
But my simple theory of other people selling themselves short in not trying has since been reworked since this whole Asperger’s thing.
It’s true, having Asperger’s there are many things that I am just simply “good at.” I am an extremely good self-teacher. I teach myself a variety of skills and very quickly. I advance rapidly in many areas because my mind is fast, I have great memorization, and I’m able to pull in many different separate observations into a whole picture.
Some people see the forest or the trees. I see them both along with an estimate of the number of trees in the forest, the type of wildlife population, the species of trees, the ecosystem of the area, how this fits into the norm of the region, any differences or uniqueness with this particular forest, how this forest compares to other forests, the long-term predicted outcome of this forest’s well-being based on its past trends, human influence on this area, forest fire statistics, and are you tired yet? I’m probably just getting started. But I’m exhausted too. It’s just I can’t stop.
I need to understand everything. I don’t need to just know that things work. I need to know why they work. I need to understand them inside and out. When I see a French braid, I don’t just see a French braid. I’m analyzing all the pieces to structurally make it work. I’m innately taking in what makes it a French braid. This means that if I happen to ever try it down the line, I already have this silent reserve of information stored so I can just do it and it feels like I’m not even thinking about it. Or if for some reason this slipped my analysis, I have all the tools to logically dissect something inside and out so I would be able to do it fairly quickly.
Given a certain spin, all of the above could kind of sound like not a bad deal. Oh, man, I am so smart and talented. I learn things quickly. I’m just the best and so amazing. Did I mention I’m awesome at stuff? Because really I am. Let me tell you how I’m great at other stuff too. But life is just so hard when you’re so talented and learn stuff quick. Poor me, it’s hard being so beautiful, wonderful, awesomely talented, most smartest, humblest, best ever. You just wouldn’t understand without being as awesome as I am. It’s just a burden of being so great.
Yeah… it would be cool to be able to write that above paragraph. Besides wanting to punch that person in the throat, I’d like to be them.
I think the issue when I use words like things are “easy” or “natural,” it kind of underplays it. What I mean is that I am usually able to do things in a short amount of time that people spend years studying or trying to perfect. In fields I have no experience, I can instantly create a professional looking product. But although many aspects are “natural” or “innate,” there is a cost to them. I’m hyperfocused.
My brain spins and churns at speeds faster than light travels. My thoughts, my entire being, is consumed and poured into this one thing. I can’t multi-task—this is the only task. Eating, drinking, sleeping, using the bathroom, other people—irrelevant, hindrances if I have to eventually face them. If it’s something I’m very involved in, I literally don’t feel these human things. I don’t feel tired at all, I don’t feel hungry, I rarely even feel like I have to pee, and I certainly don’t feel any need for people. My excitement, analysis, vision, and execution is all I feel.
This is a more extreme example. But it actually happens a lot. Things like when I started this blog can be like this but to a lesser extent. I still had to go to work and do human things, but it occupied all of my brain power, and on overdrive.
And if there isn’t anything for my brain to grasp onto like a starving, desperate parasite, it will create things to obsessively analyze. Did you know my brain thinks it is imperative to research the internet on what kind of soap dispenser I would like my kitchen to have? Because I can’t just make this decision in daylight and when I’m at an actual store. I need to research all of the possibilities inside and out and what styles would go with the overall “flow” of my kitchen. Of course, in the morning, I will not care. I guess, some of this information will be there when I go to buy one, but still… come on… But my brain needs to turn ten thousands miles per hour, so sleep be screwed, goddammit, I am researching soap dispensers. Soap dispensers are the most important thing during these next two hours.
It’s summer so I am not on a particular schedule, but I am becoming nocturnal… My brain churns and churns until it can’t anymore. But this isn’t happening until the very early hours. I tried sleeping at 2:00, but, alas, I am now up at 4:30. I sleep past noon because my body wants the full hours of sleep. Sometimes, when I am working (actually, most times), I only get a few hours during the week. My life slips a lot. I ignore important responsibilities like going to the store, ordering contacts, getting my hair cut because I am focused on the thing that has consumed my brain and I need to devote all my time to it. I am a horrible friend. When I am focused I ignore text messages, I don’t respond, and I avoid social engagements (or being taken away from what I am working on).
Life is very tiring for me. And then add the other things like social interactions and my constant analysis and attempts at understanding them.
I never just think thoughts. I think thoughts upon thoughts. And thoughts upon those thoughts. And so on and so on. The Asperger’s vault of my brain opens up an immeasurable amount of thoughts to be analyzed and maintains the never-ending flow.
Above, I said writing comes “easy” to me. I do tend to just know things about writing that happen on their own. And despite only having the *required* writing classes through high school and college, I have no writing experience but still manage to produce things that I assume don’t entirely suck or, in theory, things that should be at a much lesser caliber than they are.
But for that “easy” part… when I write, I am also hyperfocused. I reread things far more than I should. Sometimes the whole page three or four times before I even add a sentence. I hit the “preview” button at astronomical rates—and then reread the same words, but from that angle. I am a painstaking perfectionist. Every word, every phrase must be perfect. I forgo sleep (like right now…), responsibilities, and reason.
Things are longer and harder than they should be. I probably have about ten drafts queued up that are perfectly publishable, but I just haven’t yet because I’m not happy about something in them. All that work invested, and I don’t use them. I say I’ll go back, and a few I do, but writing is such an investment, being hyperfocused is such an investment. It’s draining. I’ve already spent almost three hours writing this one article and in revelation of how exhausted I am in SUPER hyperfocusing these past few weeks, I’ve limited myself to rereading about halfway through this piece. If you notice quality goes down as you read, you probably won’t be wrong…
I like people to believe that I’m talented, happy, and things are just easy all the time. I hide how tired I am and how much I intensely work on things. It’s fun to be believed to be amazing. But the truth is, I’m not a savant, and I have a human cost that I pay for these things too, it’s just different than the average person. I am constantly hyperfocused in life.