Editor’s Note: This article is a combination of two articles that can be found on the writer Garret Mathews’ blog, An Aspie Comes Out of the Closet, a collection of thoughts and reflections following being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at 67.
Am I happily capable of spending long hours inside an isolation booth? Check.
Do I lack the wherewithal to understand even a little of what my wife is feeling? Check.
Why am I telling you?
I am 67 years old and recently had surgery to remove my cancerous prostate. While I can run five miles in less than 50 minutes and crank out 70 push-ups in the time it takes to play “Hey, Jude,” the truth is undeniable. I am not going to live forever, even if I can work up to 175 push-ups before “In a Gadda Da Vida” fades out.
So I live in the now. The let’s-get-it-done-before-I-croak now.
I came to the party late, but based on what I’ve read and what I know about myself, few Aspies will be remembered for being witty at parties. Even fewer will require funeral homes to hire extra parking attendants for our wakes.
I’m lucky. I have an out. I can write well enough to win awards (and thousands of dollars) in contests sponsored by a national column-writing organization and by Scripps-Howard, a previous owner of the Evansville newspaper.
I’ve done numerous books, several plays, and there’s a movie script with my name on it that’s making the rounds.
If I don’t use my words to reach out to others with Asperger’s (and their loved ones), I’m the worst slacker on the planet.
A counselor who specializes in Asperger’s invited me to speak to a group of neuro-typical spouses of Aspies who gather periodically to share feelings and pizza.
Actually, I didn’t address the group as much as I answered their questions, or at least tried to. Many of their husbands, I learned, are either in denial or have no interest in opening up about their Aspie-itis. The counselor thought they could use me as a sort of prism to gain insight into their bunkmates.
It was my first time in such a role, but hopefully not my last. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I am very willing to go public with my AS. If I can help even one person deal with life on the spectrum, my efforts will be worthwhile.
One woman asked if I could sum up my Aspie existence in one word. I thought for a moment and came up with “selfish.” My natural inclination in any situation that comes up, I confessed, is to determine what’s best for me and act accordingly.
Nods all around the room. I was on a roll.
I put all my focus into my job for the newspaper, ignoring what was going on at home. Aspie traits can be advantageous in certain careers, like the military, computer programming, or accounting. Many of the people at the meeting had spouses in occupations like those. But when dealing with the significant people in their lives, these helpful career traits are counter-productive. Lack of apparent feelings, “zombie-like” behavior, hurts relationships. In the military, for instance, if an officer shows emotion, “men could die.” But not showing emotion at home results in death — the death of the marriage.
Hours interfacing with computers was a common theme. Interacting with television is another behavior “annoying” to spouses. One Aspie husband, while watching his favorite movies, constantly blurts out dialogue and recites facts about the flick’s casting, production and distribution, making it impossible for his wife to enjoy the movie.
Me, too. If “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” or “Unforgiven” or “No Country for Old Men” are on, my wife knows that for the sake of her mental health, it’s best to go to another room.
It’s the same way with music. If a John Fogerty composition comes on Sirius, I’ll rattle off the meaning of the tune and inform MaryAnne, who doesn’t want to know, of other songs that are on that particular album.
I know I’m being a smart aleck, but there are so many things I suck at (fixing anything, doing the taxes, driving on crowded interstate highways) that I feel the need to ballyhoo the little bit that I know.
Another woman told me her husband’s favorite thing to do is play his electric guitar at full volume in the garage. She arranges her schedule to give him four hours alone at his craft, “but when I return he looks at me like I should have stayed away longer. He says he spent the first few hours paying bills and didn’t plug in his amp until later. When I mention that he could have paid the bills any other time, he throws up his hands and says he can’t do anything right.”
I understood completely. I do the same thing when MaryAnne finds fault with me over something I consider trifling. My favorite retort is to say the converse isn’t true, and that she would almost have to commit felonious assault for me to question her behavior.
What I don’t understand is why my wife would have to bring up something that bothers her. I take that as criticism of me as a person.
I’m trying to work my way through that, I explained.
Nods all around. I thanked them for their understanding.
As I got ready to leave, one person said I am “good at bantering.”
Reciting Clint Eastwood’s dialogue in “Unforgiven,” knowing the story behind Fogerty’s “Proud Mary,” good at bantering — I’m on a roll.
Message from the Editor: Thank you so much, Garret, for allowing us to share some of your work. It’s a great insight into how you think, and it made me reflect on certain behaviours I have noticed in my ASD son.
If any readers would like to hear more of Garret’s insights, please be sure to check out his blog and follow him.