A letter to my younger selves Pt 2

A while back I wrote two time travelling letters to my 7 year old and my 17 year old former selves. In this blog entry I fire up my quantum pen and put temporal ink to hyperspacial paper and write two more letters to the 27 and 37 year old versions of me respectively.

“Hi 27 Year old Pete!

It’s me! 47 year old Pete writing to you from the year 2017! How are you doing? Congratulations on your math degree by the way! I know you found it quite easy. Math always was your strong subject, you might not have known you were Asperger’s back then, but you were, one of the rare positives of austism I suppose, although not everyone develops super math skills like you. I hate to tell you though, you won’t be using your degree skills much from now on as you’ve no doubt found already? Let me see you’ve had a couple of small jobs already. A Document Controller for an oil and gas pipeline project? Oh and you worked for that Joinery and Building company in Aberdeen didn’t you? You wrote their client tracking and employee scheduling system for them didn’t you. That’s what you’re going to do from now on I’m afraid. You’re a Software engineer now, you’ll write software for other people! Still it pays the bills (admittedly it doesn’t pay very many bills at the moment.. but you will get paid more eventually, especially when you move)

Oh yeah, I really should cover that. You’re in Aberdeen at the moment. The “Big” city! I know you found moving there really stressful and you miss the quiet of your small home town. It’s ok, it will get better. Trust me you will get used to city life. You’ll be here for around 10 years yet, just in time for my next letter I guess. You’ll make some great friends and even have one of those more serious Girlfriends I told you about previously. You’ll end up as a software developer for a huge multinational oil and gas corporation and you’ll be there for nearly 8 years. However there’s going to be some big changes ahead. Good ones I have to say – don’t make me worry you. But there are big scary changes ahead and you can’t avoid them. Just try to enjoy your time in Aberdeen. Anyway, I’ve only got a short while and I still need to write a letter to your 37 year old self. Enjoy the next 10 years, by my calculations I’ll be writing to you just around the time of your big change! It’s ok. I won’t spoil the surprise just yet. See you in a decade

Your friend, You (aged 47)”
Right that’s one for the Doctor to post next time he’s popping over. Time for one last one.
“Dear 37 year old Pete,
Hello once more ! This will be my last letter to you as a decade after this – well you’ll be me here writing them! So you’re still in Aberdeen for now and you’ve recently bought a flat?! Wow you own your own home! Feels very odd doesn’t it? You and your last girlfriend broke up if I remember, it’s a pity but hey, you’ve got a new girlfriend now haven’t you? Yes, and what’s more she’s from London! I still cannot you met through social dancing of all things XD It was your best friend who suggested you go dancing after you broke up with your ex.  I recall you didn’t particularly enjoy the dancing, but you made some very good friends there, friends you still have today..er.. my today that is – not yours. My my time travelling is so confusing! Anyway you like this new girlfriend of yours and I believe you’ve been popping up and down to visit her and she’s been doing likewise. I know you have a good feeling about her and you’re right to. Ok, in my last letter I told you about a big change, one I knew you wouldn’t like much. I just want to take a moment to prepare you for it. The company you work for is being bought out, they are going to get rid of most of your department and I’m afraid to say, you will be being made redundant. It’s nothing personal, but I know this will really upset you for a while, it’s ok to be upset but I’m here to tell you something you might not expect. Ready? THIS WAS A GOOD THING!

Yes really! You and your Girlfriend have both been travelling back and forth from Aberdeen to London for months. You don’t need to do this any longer. You’ll get a sizable redundancy package, you’ll find someone to rent your flat – and you’ll move down to London!

No, I’m not kidding. Don’t panic it’s fine. It all works out REALLY well. You move down to London and move in with your girlfriend in her flat. You’ll get a REALLY COOL new job working for a famous F1 motorsports company and you’ll be making so much more money. But that’s not the best part. Ok, I’m probably spoiling the surprise a bit but here goes. When you turn 40 you’ll get married. YES, you heard me right, married. Believe it or not, you’ll actually get up in front of all your friends and do a speech! And you’ll barely stammer at all. You’ve come a long way since that scared little 7 year old boy I first wrote to.

You and your new wife will then sell both your and her flats and buy a house in London together. You’ll have ups and downs, you’ll change jobs a couple of times but eventually you and I will catch up. We’ll be living in our family home with a cat called Jelly. No we didn’t name her. You won’t have any children unfortunately but that’s ok. You’re happy. Eventually during one of your low periods you’ll go to the doctor for counselling and , in doing so, will finally be told the truth of who you are. It’s taken you 40+ years to get here but here you are – Aspie and proud.

It’s been one hell of a journey and I’m glad I got to share it with you

Best regards

Pete.

An Aspie Sidesteps The Multiverse

There is a theory which is popular among science fiction writers that we live in one universe among many other parallel and different universes. In these universes life is similar to the one we live but not exactly the same as here, so I might be a professor teaching mathematics in one instead of the software developer I actually am in this universe. Small events can ripple outwards to make huge changes in the eventual outcome, meaning even a small change at the start of a life can lead to a very different one at the end. It made me wonder. What if?

Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a 47-year-old with autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 5. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, I just remember being told I had to go to the “special class” when I started school.

I didn’t much like school. The teacher never really listened to me and we kept having to do stuff I found easy, Like working out change from shopping or how to make a sandwich. I always felt really odd in there, surrounded by kids with Angelman’s syndrome, profound deafness or other similar conditions. Perhaps these days the kids would be more integrated and less isolated but this was a small Scottish lowland school in the 70’s we were hidden away in our own class like an embarrassment. I remember Mum and Dad arguing a lot. Dad always wondering about who was going to take care of me. Mum worrying about how I’d cope when they were gone. I tried telling them I was ok and could look after myself but they never listened. Primary school came and passed. I didn’t learn much, at least, not from the teachers at least. I read my own books and learnt from them. When I went to secondary school again I was segregated into our own special little class only difference now was there were more of us from other schools in the area. Teachers tried to give us the basics, but with limited staff and so many people with different abilities and disabilities more often than not we were just told to keep quiet and read.

I got picked on a lot at school. I didn’t really make any friends unfortunately. I’d often just spend time in the library, but even that was frustrating as the librarian always seemed to think the books I wanted to read were “too advanced for me” and gave me other ones. I get angry when I’m not allowed to do what I want and as such I’m always in the headmaster’s office for punishment.

School finishes and I’m told I have to go to the adult learning centre. It’s not what I want to do, I see people on TV using computers and things and I think they look fun, unfortunately my Mum and Dad say they’re for “other” kids and we don’t get one. I’m so bored so I make my own fun. I’m arrested several times for lighting fires. Just piles of rubbish but I loved the flames. I remember mum crying again and dad not speaking to me. Next thing I know I’m in “sheltered accommodation” living with other “disabled” and elderly people in a large town in SW Scotland. I’m given pocket-money every day and I have to report in all the time. I’m really bored. We have a computer in the home. It’s not very fancy but it’s got some games and stuff. I’m not allowed to mess around with it though. I was looking around one day and changed something and the printer stopped working. I was just curious.

I stay in one sheltered home after another. I’m allowed a little more independence now. Seems people are more accepting of the mentally ill. I have a small job working in the local supermarket. I’m not allowed to be on the tills or anything, but I sweep up the store and stock the shelves. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.

One day a new book shop opened across the street. It was an odd place, sold books but also have a coffee shop and computers you could use! If you paid 50p you could use one of the computers and search for ANYTHING you wanted. It’s amazing.

This one time, I found this story about a guy the same age as me, funnily enough also called Pete. Only he’s married and living in London with his wife and works as a senior software developer for a large multinational company. Gosh.. what a wonderful life that would be but it’s not likely.. it’s just pure science fiction if you ask me!

Afterword.

Obviously none of this happened to me. But it’s not all fictional. My school did have quite pronounced segregation for special needs students. Even the deaf students who were bright and intelligent were schooled with the more acutely disabled students. I did actually (and erroneously) end up in that class for one afternoon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My life as a troublemaker, arsonist and shop worker didn’t happen to me either. There was one boy in our school who this happened to. I never really knew what happened to him, I recall him being sent to a borstal school because of his arsonist tendencies.

My mum and dad were supportive all my life and encouraged my curiosity and wild ideas. Not many kids in early secondary school had two full sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica! (Admittedly 2 very old moth-eaten second-hand sets – but still !) I got my first computer aged 10.

And yes, I knew of people consigned to the care system. Living in sheltered homes and the such. My mother used to work as a carer in one such establishment and I got to know some of the residents who lived there. In this “what if” scenario I just put myself in their shoes.

I was never diagnosed at school. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46 by which point I was working in London and married. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have changed so drastically and dramatically. But I know my parents would have worried about my future and I also know I wouldn’t have got the level of education I needed. The rest is pure fiction and conjecture.

A letter to my younger selves

Imagine writing a series to letters to be sent back in time to yourself at previous points in your life. What would you say to yourself?

Dear 7yr Old Peter,

Hi, It’s Pete here. I’m you from 40 years in the future. I’m just writing to say hi and to let you know you’re going to be ok in School. You’ll be, what?, in 2nd year of Primary school at the moment ? I know you don’t like school very much on account of the bullying. You won’t always be the smallest person in the class, in fact by the time you go to high school you’ll be the tallest.  I know you don’t like many people in your class. But it’s ok. Things will get better. Not for a while I’m afraid to say, but they will get better. I know you feel different, you are but not in a bad way. You won’t know for a long time but you’re on the Autistic Spectrum. It means you find some things like making friends difficult but you’ll find you’re better at other things too. I know Mum and Dad shout at you when you get your homework wrong. It’s ok. They know how clever you are and are just trying to push you to do your best. Pity they’re doing it all the wrong way but it’s not because they think you’re stupid but because they think you’re clever and can do better. You know, after high school you’ll go to college and then university and you’ll become a Mathematician! Imagine that!! Mum and Dad are so proud of you, they may not tell you now but they will.. when you’re older.

Are you still playing with Lego ? In a few years Mum is going to give all your Lego away to our young cousin. I know I’m still angry about that. But you know what’s funny? When you leave university and get a job you buy more Lego that you ever have now ! At least that’s something to look forward to.

Oh and another thing, in a few years in the early 1980’s you’ll get a toy called a ‘Rubik Cube’ trust me you’re going to LOVE THAT!

Anyway I must go. Keep reading those science fiction books. In the future getting books is so much easier. I know the local village library isn’t very good but by the time you’re 18 you’ll have so many second hand books you’ll break the bedroom wall ! Dad will shout about it then, but we both laugh about it now.

Take care, stick in at school, And I’ll write to you again in a few years. Say hi to Kaye for me 😉

I’ll just stick this in the post. Hmm I might have time for another one to a later version of me..

Dear 17 year old Peter,

Hey! It’s me again! I know it’s been 10 years since I last wrote. It’s not easy writing letters to be delivered back in time. The postage is EXTORTIONATE ! haha. So, secondary school eh? And what you’ll be in 5th or 6th year now I suppose? You’ve been doing ok with your exams if I remember? And you’re library monitor now , albeit unofficially.  Sorry to hear you’re still getting bullied but congratulations on getting over your stammer ! You may not have liked it at the time, but the speech therapist sending you to the school acting club really helped! I see you like to hang around with the clever kids. They’re nice but they really don’t think you’re one of them you know. In few weeks they’ll all be voted in as Prefects. They’ll all vote for each other but I’m sorry to say no one will vote for you. I know you try to fit in but you’re still too “odd” for them. I wish you had been diagnosed earlier but you still won’t be diagnosed for nearly another 30 years! I’m sorry, people are just going to think you’re strange for a bit longer. At least the Doctors are looking into your Anosmia now! I know it took a while for them to realise. You’re not very good at communicating things yet. I know all those tests etc are unpleasant. I hate to tell you they never find a cure, turns out that it was due to you being so premature. Maybe that explains why we’re so “different” in other ways too? Who knows.

But.. whoo hoo.. if I remember correctly. Didn’t you get your first girlfriend recently? I forget her name but I remember her hand me down fur coat she’d wear to school. She was picked on a lot too. You called her “Teddy bear” and she called you “Specs” it won’t last I’m afraid but there will be others, few and far between granted but there will be others! You even get married later! But again that’s not for 23 years !

How you getting on with the cube? You’ve got a few now don’t you? And you’ve asked Dad to put bigger shelves up above the bed for all your books? I’d warn you not to overload them, but I know you won’t listen. Never mind, the sight of you buried under a pile of books will be a joke you and dad share in later years.

Oh, and how many LP’s and Cassettes do you have now? In a few years at University you’ll get a thing called a CD player. It plays things like little silver records. You and your sensitive hearing will LOVE the sound quality.

What else to say? Oh yeah. Don’t feel bad about flunking your 1st driving test.  You’re still young. Heck I’m 47 and I’ve just failed again too XD I won’t tell you how many times that is now.

Anyway must dash and get this in the post. I’ll write you again in a decade or so.

Pete.

Ps. Yeah, btw, you’ll drop the ‘R’ from your name when in Uni. Mum will still call you Peter. Heck she still refuses to call me anything but Peter!

Time’s getting on. Maybe I’ll write to my 27 and 37 year old selves in a few days.. Anyway I’m off to watch Doctor Who…

What is Normal Anyway?

Warning! This is a long stream of consciousness post! You have been warned ;p

A thread on Twitter yesterday gave me cause for thought. One of my VF’s (Virtual Friends) was discussing in a somewhat heated exchange about the term “Neurodiversity”. As is the case with such internet based discussions it was very black and white and the argument was between Neurodiversity being an important term for people with mental illness conditions or, as my VF put it, A meaningless umbrella term. Now I’ve used the Neurodiversity term myself. So my initial reaction was one of “HOW DARE YOU!” but thankfully a few seconds of thought and I could see his point of view. I didn’t necessarily agree with it 100% but at least I could see it.

His argument boiled down to stating that, at some level, we ALL have some sort of difference to what’s perceived as “Normal” and he questioned what “Normal” is anyway. Statistically speaking Normal is the average, the peak of a bell curve.

thWLL4VQ9W

The “Normal” Bell curve

 

Normal is clustered around the warm comfortable middle with the majority of everyone else, patting yourself on the back and saying how good it is to be exactly the same as everyone else.

thRERRJWTD

My Bell Curve.

 

There’s one small problem with that, namely, it’s a lie ! Most humans (I assume you, gentle reader, are human? if not I for one welcome our new alien overlords!) are born with two legs, two lungs, two arms, two eyes etc,etc,etc. The average human is therefore depicted as such. However some people for whatever reason, illness, injury , whatever are born without 2 of some of these. So even if 999,999 people out of one million have two legs and one person has one, statistically speaking the average number of legs IS NOT TWO.. it’s 1.999999 ! as I certainly have two legs I’m therefore ABOVE AVERAGE in the leg department. I’m Leg Divergent. I’m also Eye Divergent, Lung Divergent and Arm Divergent. In this case being above average is the norm! (Obviously this is all facetious as in this situation we’d use MODE not MEAN but it’s illustrating a point)

Let me attack this from another direction. You are unique and totally, wonderfully, indescribably unique. In the entire history of human existence there has only ever been, and will only ever be, one of you. Speaking as a mathematician the odds of you existing at all are so mind bogglingly infinitesimally small that, statistically speaking, odds are you shouldn’t exist.

Don’t believe me? ok Big bang. Matter had to form; fluctuations in gravity had to cause matter to clump together in JUST The right way to form stars. The stars had to form in JUST THE RIGHT WAY to create all the nice heavy elements like carbon, iron etc. that make up our bodies. Not only did the stars have to go Supernova to let all that heavy element goodness out, they had to reform later to form solar systems.

Jump forward a few million million years.

The newly formed Earth had to be JUST the right distance from the Sun, not to close, not too far away. It had to be JUST the right size to get JUST enough gas to accumulate around it to form an atmosphere.

Jump forward a few million years

The right chemicals had to mix to make life, that life had to survive all manner of apocalypses and disasters, to eventually through many millions of years, evolve into some sort of “intelligent” life form.

Jump forward a few hundred thousand years.

At some point your great great great great great great great.. <some time later> ..  grandfather met a woman he quite liked and bingo – conception! of all the people he or she had to meet they met the ONE person that would be your distant ancestor.

Every child HAD to meet JUST THE RIGHT PERSON at the RIGHT TIME down the generations. Any difference and you wouldn’t be here right now. Someone ELSE might be here, but it wouldn’t be you.

Jump forward to the day of YOUR conception. Of the 100 million or so sperm that attempted to reach the egg ONE made it. That egg fertilised and bingo.. There you were.

The sheer number of things that had to be exactly right to produce exactly the person sitting there, reading this and wondering “What the hell is he on about?!” right now is mindboggling.  You are unique. So is everyone else. We’re all unique and infinitely precious. Saying you’re exactly the same as someone else diminishes you in ways you cannot comprehend.

No one is “average”, everyone is “unique”. In a world where above average number of limbs is the norm, uniqueness is “normality” We’re all different. It’s not a world where things fit into a binary classification system.  Black or White? I’m Scottish so naturally pale blue 😉 my Father is 1/2 Scottish and 1/2 Mediterranean descent. He’s naturally darker skinned than me.  It’s not “Straight” or “Gay” either. I’m a happily married Cis Gender Male. Am I straight? Mostly? Yes! Completely? No. I find some men attractive. I happened to fall in love with a woman and married her.  I’m not planning to change that. Am I BI? Nope. I am not any of these labels. Imagine a rainbow’s spectrum. Where EXACTLY does Orange end and Yellow begin? How do you decide to label something as Red, Orange or Yellow? Who gets to decide? Sexuality is a spectrum, Mental conditions are a spectrum. Within that, Even Asperger’s is a Spectrum. Am I EXACTLY the same as someone else with Asperger’s? No.

I’m a totally unique individual with a unique genetic makeup. There is NO ONE else exactly like me. My Sexuality is my own, My mental issues are unique to me. I may be SIMILAR to other people in certain aspects but I’m a singular entity. I may divert from the norm in terms of many things .. but then so does everyone else!

Neurodivergance is a catch all umbrella term that, ultimately, is meaningless. Normality is also a catch all umbrella term that is also meaningless. We’re all on the same planet together, all dealing with our own challenges and triumphs, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Isn’t it about time we stopped the whole “Us and Them” mentality?

There is no “Them” there is only “Us”

Oh Dear….

I had an “interesting” conversation with a colleague today. The subject of Autism came up and as in the course of the conversation I mentioned that I was on the spectrum and that I have Asperger’s. I present the conversation as best as I can remember it here.

“You realise that I’m Autistic? At least I’m on the spectrum. I have Asperger’s Syndrome”
“You? no you don’t”
“er.. yes I do!”
“No, you don’t you can’t have Asperger’s Syndrome”
“I do. Why do you say I can’t?”
“Because you’re normal. You’re not weird or anything!”

at this point I start laughing.. not because I find what he’s saying funny or even amusing but out of sheer disbelief

“I assure you. I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome by a number of medical professionals. First my Doctor who sent me to a specialist and secondly by the specialist who said, in no uncertain terms, I was not just slightly on the spectrum.. but SLAP BANG IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SPECTRUM”

what he said next , stunned me into silence.

“Nah! they’re wrong. They don’t know nothing!”

So there you have it folks. I’m obviously NOT on the spectrum because I’m “not Weird enough” and two Doctors/Psychiatrists don’t know diddly-squat when compared to the vast intellect of a software developer.

I walked away at that point. I might have started throwing things otherwise XD

Please.. someone stop the planet. I want to get off.