Years back, when searching for an accurate description of what I was experiencing, of what was driving my homelessness, “moments of great despair” is what I came up with. Mentioning this to others, they took it to mean, “depression.” So, I dropped my own idea for theirs. Seeing myself as mostly clueless to the world around me, I assumed that others would know better. Yet now with the revelation of Asperger’s Syndrome, I find my original understanding of my condition to be more accurate.
People like myself who have Asperger’s Syndrome react differently to the events that occur in the normal course of life – differently compared to the majority of people. People of the majority are referred to as NTs (Neuro Typicals) by Aspies (those with Asperger’s Syndrome). That is because the brains of Aspies are wired differently than the majority of people. Although no such thing as “normal” has yet to be determined, we do know what is typical, or of the majority, as far as the brain is concerned.. It is not an indication that NTs or Aspies brains are somehow inferior to the other’s, but only that they are different. Generally Aspies have higher IQs than NTs but have certain sensitivities that NT’s do not, which makes living in an NT dominated world difficult for Aspies.
The vast majority of people in the world are NTs and so the world has, for the most part, been formed by them, so to meet their wants and needs. This has caused Aspies to be marginalized, and in many cases ostracized by the NTs. Fitting an Aspie in an NT world is like fitting a square peg into a round hole.
I hope that this explanation makes sense. Aspergers is new to me, so describing it in a meaningful and understandable way is difficult. Many people, especially NTs, deny that there are differences in how people’s brains operate and are wired. Still evidence is plentiful. We can agree that every person has different physical attributes that gives each person different skill sets. But when it comes to our brains, people have a harder time accepting differences. Not only do Aspies have a difficult time adjusting to a world dominated by NTs, the denial of differences by NTs has created additional diffculties/social barriers for Aspies to deal with.
More than just having different mental wiring, Aspies have a recognizable difficulty understanding and properly using accepted social communication skills. This inability to properly communicate can cause Aspies a great many personal problems. Divorce, being disowned by family, loss of employment, lack of healthy social interaction, is all too common for Aspies. And for this, Aspies can carry a lot of guilt due to their inability to fit in and function normally within society.
Then consider another trait of Aspies. I’ve heard it to referred to most often as “sensory overload” There are peculiar sensitivities that cause Aspies to over react to things. The triggers can be simple like smells and tastes, or situations like being late for an important meeting, or events like loud and crowded parties. For an NT these things are commonly dealt with without much bother, they may be mildly stressful, but these things may cause Aspies to completely stress out, and to react in ways that are considered by others to be inappropriate .
Certainly, nothing prevents an Aspie from developing normal friendships like these apparently inappropriate reactions to stimulus. As you might imagine, being an Aspie can be a very lonely life.
I’m sure that those of you reading this who have had dealings with me personally can think of an occasion or two where I have behaved this way, and for it I’ve motivated you to distance yourself from me. It’s ok. I understand now that I was the cause of this, to an extent. Hopefully with this explanation, and with a renewed understanding, some of you might even be somewhat forgiving of me. Hopefully you may even venture to approach me again as a potential friend. But I digress.
Moments of despair. The movie “Adam,” is the story of a man with Aspergers attempting to develop a relationship and love interest with a new neighbor. Our Aspie, Adam, often takes it out on himself when sensory overload thwarts his attempts to successful socialize with her. At one point he even smashes a mirror with his forehead, and causing himself to bleed. Anger, guilt, frustration and ultimately self disappointment cause these reactions of his. All of which is beyond his friend’s comprehension, and which compounds the difficulties he has in successfully developing the relationship.
As I have recently discovered, my moments of great despair are also due to this. When I attempt to step out of myself and engage the greater world, to socialize and participate and contribute to the life around me, eventually, and usually pretty quickly, something happens that’s beyond my ability to deal with, I become overwhelmed and everything falls apart. In the immediate aftermath I feel angry and guilty, disappointed and very ashamed of myself. Surely, this is depressing, but it’s more than just depression. It really is despair.
After the initial event, what follows is usually worse, if you can imagine that. I withdraw from almost everyone and everything that matters to me. I isolate myself even more than what is usual for an Aspie. I shut everything down, and hide. Doing so is partly an attempt to avoid any more of the triggers that had set me off, and partly it’s an attempt to prevent myself from additional social damage I might do to myself, more than what perchance has already happened.
Having grown up an Aspie without knowing it, I had developed a survival techniques of my own, of shutting myself off, to the world, and to myself. These resulted in my becaming numb to life. Some would probably say I was being callous. In fact, though, I was experiencing an over sensitivity. As much as I attempted to not feel anything, there were still plenty of events happening in my life, especially as a young man that resulted in my attempting to run away from home and attempting suicide.
It should be no surprise, then, that I was reluctant to finally leave home as a young man. When I turned 21 my father insisted that I move out. It should also be no surprise, knowing what you now know about me, that I ended up homeless, living on the streets, and not having a clue as to how to take care of myself, within a very short period afterward.
So, there I was, homeless, living among addicts, alcoholics, and schizophrenics; and being told by rescue mission preachers that my homelessness was due to sin.
To survive life on the streets, I had to shut down even more than before, shutting out not only my own pain, but also all the misery of those around me. I was never able to do so completely. The insanity of it all still crept into my mind, and though I had trained myself to a large degree to not react to it, deep down I was still wishing myself dead, so to be free of it. I was constantly visualizing walking down to the river and jumping from the bridge.
I first became homeless in February of 1982, and now here I am, it’s 2010, 28 years later, and I’m still struggling to find a way off the streets.
That I have Asperger’s Syndrome is a very recent revelation, and it may be the turning point in my finding a way to have some stability in life. I’m sure that is still a long way off. Sensory overload continues to be a problem for me. It happened again recently. Though the trigger event happened nearly a month ago, I’m still reeling from it today.
I thought I had figured a way to finally get myself out of the homeless environment. (I am still in a transitional housing program for the homeless, all my neighbors are from the streets) I had been selling a homeless newspaper, and found a location that was generating enough income with which I could afford an apartment, of my own. The location where I was selling the paper was so far away from downtown Nashville that I was able to sell without being harassed by homeless people, panhandlers and other newspaper vendors.
It did not take long though, before the homeless and panhandlers and other homeless newspaper sellers were encroaching on my sales area. I began stressing out for it. And then it happened. I was confronted by some alcoholics that wanted to take over my selling area and began intimidating me to leave.
I understand that a normal (NT) person might not reacted the way I did, and might not have lost the selling location. But the stress of it was way more than I could handle. I had to leave. Since that day, I have not be out to sell papers. I did force myself to go into the newspaper office when the new issue came out so to pick up some copies to sell. But a couple weeks later and those papers are still in my backpack. At this point, selling papers is out of the question, I can barely bring myself to leave my apartment to check the mail. My only saving grace is the internet which affords me at least a modicum of human interaction. For the past few weeks I’ve been paralyzed, overwhelmed by competing emotions of indescribable fear and deep disappointment – the disappointment of losing the opportunity of getting out of this place I currently live in, and disappointment in my inability to succeed at even something as insignificant as selling street papers.
As things currently stand, my rent is paid up through the end of this month, and I have groceries that will last me as long. What I am going to do after that, I have no idea.