I’m not disabled!

I *could* just leave this blog entry there. Three words on the title “I’m not disabled!” and call it a day. Although I guess that’s not really why you, gentle reader, are here is it?

I’m an aspie, I’m on the autistic spectrum, I’m a mathematician, I’m a husband, I’m a punster, I’m a steampunk aficionado and I’m pretty handy in the kitchen. I’m all these things and more, but there are two things I’m most certainly not.

  1. I’m not disabled.
  2. I’m not gifted.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had well-meaning (and some NOT SO well meaning) Neurotypical types put me in one of those two categories against my will. Let me explain why I don’t feel either of those terms applies to me. (Note this is me talking about me here. I am using first person narrative here. I know some aspies and auties DO consider themselves either disabled or gifted – or both! – that’s perfectly fine. It just doesn’t apply to me).

Let me give you a bit of background here. I have an MSc in mathematics (cliché alert!) I’m a white cisgender male (cliché alert!) with an interest in sci-fi, science, puzzles and memorising facts and figures about movies (cliché aler… ooh my cliché klaxon has over heated!). Yes I’m afraid to admit I’m the poster boy for Hollywood autists. I should point out however I’m no Rainman-esque savant. I’m certainly nothing like young Simon in ‘Mercury Rising’ either. Ok yes, I bought the GCHQ puzzle book and, yes I had a good crack at some of the enigmas contained therein. I CERTAINLY couldn’t just pick up the book and decipher them with just a glance at the page! Like my MSc qualification, I had to work at them. Yet, somehow when I tell NT’s I’m a mathematician AND an aspie they sort of look at me like I’m a cheat! “Well of COURSE you passed your maths degree when you sneaked that quantum supercomputer filled with all the answers into the exams! Anyone would have passed if they did the same..” (no one actually said those exact words but I’ve had similar implied to me in the past) . Let me say two things here. 1. When I sat my exams and did my MSc I didn’t know I was on the spectrum. I was just a nerdy math obsessed geek with terrible social skills. 2. (I need to shout this) AUTISM IS NOT A GIFT!  It’s not some magic information processing system that gives the owner superhuman levels of perception and calculation! I had to study hard, revise long and was just as confused as others at times. I may have a math orientated brain but so do many many others in both AS and NT groupings. It was a long hard slog but I got there eventually. Nothing about the process was what I would call “Easy” at any time.

Conversely I’ve had people imply I’m somehow damaged goods. I’m mentally deficient and disabled. Erm… Hello! 46 years on not knowing I was on the spectrum here. I’ve held down some PRETTY DARNED IMPRESSIVE jobs in my time. I’ve owned my own flat, I’ve married and now we own our own 3 bedroom semi-detached house and a cat! I’m certainly NOT disabled. There’s nothing holding me back other than myself. I’ve had this argument put to me previously but in reference to my congenital anosmia. “Oh but you’re missing one of your five senses! Therefore you HAVE to be disabled!” again, erm no ! Does not being able to smell anything entitle me to park in the disabled bay at the supermarket? Does not being able to smell anything stop me taking a train into the city centre for a job? Or entitle me to any form of benefit? No, of course not. It doesn’t affect the way I work (it might if I was a perfume tester or a wine taster.. but I’m not and loads of NON anosmics can’t do those jobs either!) same with my autism. I don’t like crowds but I deal with them. I dislike speaking in front of the team but I do it. I get stressed by deadlines but work to clear them (and show me one NT person who DOESN’T EVER get stressed by deadlines)  My asperger’s doesn’t limit me in my day-to-day living. It might make certain things a bit harder but I still do them. I can work, travel, date, marry, party and dance like the next man. My autism is just a different way of looking at things, it’s not a disease to be cured nor a cancer to be cut out. It’s a preference for mint choc chip ice cream over vanilla,  it’s liking Jazz and hating Rap. It’s a personal way of thinking.

No I’m not gifted nor am I disabled. Who am I? I’m Pete.. pleased to make your acquaintance!

7 hours and 400 miles of Hell.

Ok, perhaps not hell but it certainly will not be fun. On Friday I’m off up to Scotland to see my parents. I don’t drive so taking the train (or at least trains plural), a cross London multi-hop stage, then a long stage from Euston to Carlisle before the last train to Dumfries (the biggest town/train station to my parents) after than it’s a good hour and a half by bus home.

My idea of ..well.. I’ve already said it.. Hell !

Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to seeing my parents but I’m dreading the journey. It’s Monday now and my journey doesn’t start until early Friday morning but already I’m fretting. There’s rail construction going on which is causing disruption. It “shouldn’t” affect me but I’m already worrying that it will. I panic constantly about being late. I’m not as bad as I was before I moved to London/got married but I would set off an hour early… then add an hour more for safe measures… then take the train/bus etc BEFORE the one I calculated I’d need to get just on the OFF CHANCE I missed it. So the end result I’d usually be at least 2hrs early for everything.

My wife on the other hand, ambles through life and is usually late which sets me off on one of my “fun” meltdowns. Just as she’s have a positive effect on me, I’ve had one on her and now I’ll leave later than I feel is adequate and she’ll leave earlier than she feels adequate and now we arrive slightly early/on time which is a blessing.

However, back to Friday. So I’m checking the tickets in my wallet every hour or so. Like they’re just suddenly going to jump out and wander off by themselves? But I have to keep checking they’re in there. Of course, a sensible idea would be to leave them in an envelope at home, but then I’d worry about them when I’m at work. What if they’re moved? What if I can’t find them on Friday before I need to depart?

I’ve got my headphones and reading materials. And a phone charger, and a battery pack, and another battery pack just in case the battery pack and charger don’t work. (I have a drawer in my desk with AT LEAST 10 or 11 battery packs I’ve bought over the years)  “if My phone dies I’ll have no music, I’ll have to listen to all the voices on the train, I’ll have a meltdown…” (this is my thought process btw) .. “best take a third battery pack just in case!”

Ok I’m going for the weekend. Off on Friday and back following Monday. I’d best pack a weeks worth of clothes. Well you never know what might happen! But I don’t know what I’ll be doing!! ok so I’d best pack jeans AND a pair of smart trousers, oh and a couple of smarter shirts, and a jumper. Is it going to be hot or cold? Best pack another jumper and a few light summer shirts. Wet or dry? Best pack my waterproof AND my light summer jacket.

Oh dear! My rucksack is getting full and heavy now. Should I take a suitcase instead? but if I take a suitcase I’ll need to stow it in the racks away from my seat. I’ll need to keep watching it to ensure it’s still there. And if I take a suitcase how will I access my chargers etc? I’d best take a suitcase AND my rucksack for stuff I need with me.

Oh dear! how am I going to get across London carrying all this? It’s going to take me longer than I planned… I’d best plan to leave a bit earlier on Friday.

This is me fretting about everything that could go wrong about the journey. Lets not forget about the parental visit itself. No safe quiet space for me. None of my own belongings around me, parents constantly wanting to chat (they don’t yet know about my DX. I’ve never found the right moment to tell them) so it’s going to be emotional overload all weekend.

And then, of course, Next Monday.. I have to do the journey in reverse. Getting back to my London home late Monday night nice and refreshed for work the next morning.. erm?

Everything is Awesome..

No. Far from it. There’s too much hatred in the world, too much bitterness, too much “us and them”. It sometimes feels that the world is a toxic environment covered with stinking quagmires and clouds of noxious gasses. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone you meet is “out to get you” or only looking out for their own interests.

No, I refute this. Constantly assuming the worst isn’t healthy. I’m not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination (I used to be.. but that’s a WHOLE different story) but I must have faith (for want of a better word) that Good (for want of a better word) will prevail over Evil (for want of.. well..you get the picture!)

I like people. Genuinely, I like people. I get odd looks from commuters as I randomly smile at people. A wise old face, a happy child, a loving couple, a unique individual can often find themselves victim of a drive by smiling by this crazy old fool.

I have a particularly odd outlook on life. A personal philosophy I fashioned over many years of feeling different. It occurred to me that we are ALL different which in turn makes us ALL the same. I mean we are all unique and it is this collective uniqueness that binds us all together.

My philosophy is one fashioned from questionable physics and crude mathematics 😉 When you look at the universe from creation to now there have been numerous points where something specific had to happen to end up where we are right now (you.. sitting there.. reading this!) The right atoms had to clump together to form the galaxy, the right lumps of matter had to form to create the protoplasmic Earth. The right planetoid had to crash into Earth to knock it off kilter and give us our moon.  The right meteors and comets had to bombard the planet with the right chemicals to form the basis of life. That life had to survive many extinction level events to evolve. The right fish, the right reptile, the right mammal, the right ape then think to the more recent history. Your great-great-great-great.. .. .. great grandparents had to meet from all the people they could  have met, the right sperm had to meet the right egg at the right time, again and again and again and again down the generations until eventually, you. You right there.. was born. Mathematically speaking the odds of these specific things happening are astronomical. Ok obviously they HAD to happen otherwise we wouldn’t be here. But when you look at it from this perspective you are statistically impossible. The odds of you existing are stacked against you, yet despite the odds here you are. You are as close to a miracle as this mathematician sceptic aspie is ever going to see. And you know what else? So am I ! And your friends, your co-workers, that guy you pass on the street, the annoying politician who everyone laughs at.

We have to realise that we are the greatest treasure this universe will ever have (at least on this unremarkable blue-green planet in the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy) We have to realise that once we’re gone.. We’re gone. Never was there anyone like us before, never will there be anyone like us again. We are irreplaceable and totally unique. And in the grand scheme of things we are mayflies. We flare and burn and go out so very very quickly. Which makes every second a precious gift, every minute a fortune. Not to be wasted, not to be squandered on causing pain or discomfort, but riches to be spent telling others how wonderful they are. Helping the weak, the infirm, the frail and speaking up for those with no voices of their own, shouting down those who will seek to silence others for personal gain.

We must be proud of our differences. We must stand shoulder to shoulder and spend our time riches wisely. We are wonderful. We are beautiful.

I’m reminded of a quote from the movie V for Vendetta. Where a letter from a long departed inmate called Valerie is found and read. The last part sums up my sentiment exactly.

“What I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that even though I do not know you, and even though I may not meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you: I love you.

With all my heart

I love you”

Why I feel people hate me before they’ve ever seen me!

One word. “Atypical”

Netflix’s latest offering is a “Dark comedy” about a young 18-year-old male growing up on the Autism Spectrum and trying to get a girlfriend.

Ok.. sounds familiar (well apart from the elephant in the room that is the fact I wasn’t diagnosed Autistic until I was 46) “perhaps this could be interesting” Thinks Me.

Oh boy.. So much hatred on social media for this show. Calls to boycott it, tweet upon tweet upon tweet about how they didn’t hire an actual autist for the role, about how he’s white, about how he’s straight, about how he’s Cisgender, about how he’s a he! I’ve seen posts about “Toxic Masculinity” dear god an 18-year-old boy imagining having sex? How very dare they.

Ok, look. Sure, they could have hired an actual autist for the role. I’m not a huge fan of The Big Bang theory. People say Sheldon Cooper is “an example of someone on the spectrum” I disagree.. I think he’s an example of someone who’s an a**hole! I associate more with Leonard or Raj than any other character. My wife says I’m like Moss from The I.T. Crowd (the original British version I hurry to state!) Yes I can see that. Naïve, intelligent, awkward, loyal and at times as dim-witted as two short planks stacked together. Sums me up that does! Played perfectly by the talented Richard Ayoade I really see a lot of myself in Moss (except I don’t live with my mum any longer and actually have a social life .. of sorts) When I heard there was a show where the “hero” was autistic, not implied but actually written as autistic, I was glad. I was looking forward to the show. Then I saw the vitriol being targeted towards it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I understand where they are all coming from.  I see your points and, in part, I agree with them.  But let’s just step back for a second. Take a look as someone who *IS* a white straight cisgender male on the autistic spectrum. (heck worse than that.. I’m middle aged AND middle class) When I see people saying how they’re not interested in seeing “toxic male cisgendered straight guys with all their ill-gotten privileges” I feel like they’re saying “Pete? I don’t like who you are.. I don’t like what you are and I don’t think anyone needs to hear anything you have to say. Please delete your twitter and blog immediately!

Intellectually I KNOW they’re not personally attacking me. But my aspie side find it hard to separate the words from the meaning. When I was 18 I wanted nothing more than a girlfriend. I was “lucky” I had a high school girlfriend. We’d hold hands. I was 18… other boys my age were bragging about their conquests. I didn’t want that. I was happy holding hands. I got a peck on the cheek once; I still remember that nearly 30 years later.  I had my first “proper” girlfriend when I was in my very late 20’s/early 30’s . Which is why I can’t watch the comedy “The 40 year old virgin” .. I wasn’t quite that bad but, really, not far off and it’s not really a fun nor funny experience. I wasn’t preoccupied with sex, I’d rather have someone to cuddle and chat with. (I love cuddles)

Ok, So Atypical isn’t ideal. Surely an autistic hero is better than a NT hero? Even if he is being played by an NT actor? (I grew up in the Sean Connery/Roger Moore Bond era. How’s that for an unrealistic view of toxic masculinity and overly sexed NT heroes?)  I was looking forward to having ONE fictional character I could call my own. One like me. Not identical, not a carbon copy, but someone with SOMETHING in common.

And now I feel that I should be ashamed of who I am, Curse me for being born male, damn me for being born white and a hex on my head for being straight! I cannot help these things, this is who I am. Warts and all. I do my best to acknowledge my privileges and do my best to signal boost, promote and support others of all groups. So why do I feel hated?

This whole Atypical thing is making me very low. I’m sinking into a deep funk. So much so I’ve recently blocked any tweets mentioning it, I’m not going to watch the show, I’m also not going to listen to anyone telling me I’m not entitled to my say.

I’m feeling truly lost.

Is Twitter a Toxic Environment?

I love twitter; it’s my social media platform of choice. I have a Facebook account but I don’t use it for anything other than sharing fun stuff with my family. As my parents use it and read/comment on EVERYTHING I post it’s a heavily edited and censored version of me. My parents still don’t know about my AS diagnosis, as far as they know I’m the same old “normal” son I’ve always been.

On Twitter I have a cabal of interesting people I follow, a caucus of weird people who follow me and a junta of people I respect and occasionally see other people re-tweeting. For the most part Twitter is fun and I can be truer to myself than on any other social media platform. However it’s not without its problems. On more than one occasion I’ve fallen foul of “Twitter etiquette” or been set upon by the baying hounds of some Twitter lynch mob just because I had the audacity to either disagree with someone – or agree with the wrong person!

My current Twitter account is at least my 5th – I say “at least” because I’ve honestly lost track. I’ve deleted accounts when I’ve been picked on so many times. People might tell me to “man up” but I can’t. My aspie side hates conflict and I can’t stand it when I think people dislike me.

I try VERY HARD to be likable. I’m VERY OPEN to alternative lifestyles. I DO NOT CARE if you are Black, White, Straight, Gay, Cis, Trans, Male, Female or a Yellow polka-dotted bisexual tribble! As long as you’re a decent person I’ll probably get along with you. Unfortunately my eagerness to “get along with people” has been misinterpreted on more than one occasion. I know I can be a little “invasive” and I try to curb this.. but if I see something I agree/disagree with I’ll usually respond to the person who tweeted it originally. I’ll often mistake twitter conversation for friendship and a friendly “hey you look good today!” tweet from me comes across as a creepy perverted tweet to another.

I had one ex-follower recently accuse me of being a pervert and a “chaser” (I still don’t fully understand this..) to another friend and encouraged my friend to “be careful” and “steer clear”. Thankfully my friend disagreed with this person’s opinions and stood up for me in my absence. Unfortunately the spreader of this toxic accusation had MANY MANY followers who took up arms and picked on me, my friend and mutual friends. So much so they drove my new friend off twitter, blocked me and anyone I followed and who disagreed with them and spent the next few days rubbishing anything and everything I’d ever done via poisonous subtweets. After that, I deleted my account (again) and was very careful about who I let in.

Speaking as an Aspie, I find the terse 140 character limit very problematic. I find it very difficult to read subtext in such a small piece of text. I can’t always pick up on irony or sarcasm; sometimes I’ll read the gist of a tweet wrong and comment inappropriately. It’s not easy to read the mind of anyone from the contents of their tweet, not just for aspies but for anyone.

Another problem with Twitter is its lack of any form of control. Anyone can form a twitter account and say anything they like, admittedly inflammatory or racist comments get picked up EVENTUALLY but usually too late. The number of far right, islamophobic, homophobic, anti-female, anti-male, anti-science, anti-common-sense twitter accounts out there is staggering. Then you have “The Eggs” the accounts who’s only purpose to throw a bucket of steaming hot poison into the room then vanish. They pop up like a rash, Egg or Pepe the frog accounts with random names just to insult someone and cause a ruckus (or fan the flames of an existing ruckus and pour gasoline on the fire!) because there’s an anonymity that makes people think they’re untouchable. I’m @CopernicusCF on twitter. Copernicus, you’ll be surprised to hear, isn’t my real name! I’m loathe to put my real name on twitter or anywhere else where it could be used to track me, my wife, my family or my friends down.

If only Twitter would open up the verified account mark for EVERYONE who supplies proof of id. You wouldn’t need to use your real name, but JUST have your account linked to an identifiable person in the background. Then they could add an extra filter to say only see tweets from verified users. Ok this in itself wouldn’t rid twitter of ALL the bile, but it would dissuade some of these more vocal hate mongers from spewing their vile bile over the internet. But it’s not in Twitter’s interest to do this. They don’t want to limit users access and of course there’s the screams of “Hey free speech and all that! You grok me Earthman?” any time any mention of a filter is suggested.

I’m not for limiting the right of any user to say whatever they want.. I’m just saying we don’t necessarily need to see it in our daily feeds.

 

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”