Frustration Surges

As a disclaimer, I wish to point out that this blog post is based on my own personal experience. I am aware that there are people on the autistic spectrum who never outwardly display their frustrations and are capable of keeping calm for long periods of time. I do not wish to upset or offend anyone but this is my own personal experience.

I like to consider myself as having a placid nature most of the time. I like to treat others the way I would like to be treated and I like to think that I am highly tolerant of other people. Most of the time, I behave calmly but, when something does get to me, my temper is incredibly short. I remember reading something on an Aspergers forum once where the person was asking whether other people with AS considered themselves to be hard to anger but, once angry, kept their anger alive for a long time or, conversely, as prone to frustration but the frustration subsided quickly. I consider myself to be one of the second group of people. Sometimes the most trivial of comments or actions can send me into a child like rage of storming off, slamming doors and hitting random objects but, after several minutes, the anger is over and I am left feeling very foolish. I display frustration through noise. I hit things to make as much noise as possible-I scream and make frustrated growls. When I get highly frustrated beyond that level, I chew at my skin. When I was a child, I used to place my thumb behind my top front teeth and push forward, which didn’t help my jaw misalignment which later required four years of orthodontic treatment and surgery.

When I have calmed from these rages, I often find myself wondering why something so small wound me up so much. I also find that, once an individual has wound me up once, whether intentionally or unintentionally, little things they do that I never noticed before will start winding me up too. Maybe I am not such a tolerant person after all! Or maybe everybody else out there is equally as intolerant of people as I am but hide it better! Unfortunately I cannot hide my frustration well. Maybe I have had too many years of keeping my frustration at the bigger things in life sealed so the tiniest of things now sends my frustration to inappropriate levels and thus inappropriate behaviour. It is an interesting topic and I would like to know what other people think. Is frustration an inevitable facet of my particular manifestation of Aspergers or do I just need to “man up”, as the colloquial saying goes, and not let minor things get to me as much? Or do I need to face the causes of the ongoing frustration, such as the disappointments that I have faced in life, in order for the little things not to annoy me as much?

If you recognise these frustration surges in yourself or in someone you know with Aspergers, try and discover the deeper reasons behind them. I know that people with no conditions at all can also experience extreme frustration and display this in inappropriate ways but obviously my blog post is based around this behaviour in people on the autistic spectrum. I think I need to do some soul searching in order to reduce these child like rages and it is likely that other people on the spectrum need to as well. Dealing with such negative emotions is a long and emotionally draining journey but it needs to be undertaken. If someone you know is experiencing this right now, try and be there for them and let them know that these rages will not push you away. A lot of people with Aspergers crave acceptance from other people and feel awful when something they have done may put that in jeopardy. Remember that the rages will be over soon enough and try and support them through this.

That’s my post done for this week-I will let everyone know how my soul searching gets on!

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Unplanned Change As Overwhelming

Like pretty much everybody on the autistic spectrum, I struggle with accepting change. However, where I perhaps differ from some other people is that it is only unplanned change that I struggle with. If I know in advance that a big change is coming up, I tolerate it well. It is change at short notice that upsets me, even if this is a change that turns out to be positive for me in the long term. Over the years, I have learned to be able to tolerate this better as I do appreciate that being so rigid in my ways holds me back so I try to challenge myself in this area as much as I can.

As an adult, I like to think that my dislike of change doesn’t get to me as much anymore but, every so often, something happens that reminds me just how hard change still is for me. One example, indeed the one that prompted this post, happened at work this week when, due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to take over the running of the shift. Now, usually, I have no issues with this if I know in advance that this is going to be my role but, on this occasion, as I wasn’t expecting it, it really affected my mood, even though I knew the circumstances couldn’t be helped. My mood was affected for several hours following this event until I eventually calmed down. This is not a competence or confidence issue as I am confident in that aspect of my role-it’s purely an issue to do with change and not expecting this to happen. In general, people on all areas of the autistic spectrum appreciate being informed in the method of communication most relevant to them that a change is due to happen. Obviously life does not always give you advance warnings and those of us on the spectrum do need to learn this but we need to be supported through the change as patiently and calmly as possible. Also it should be remembered that, for some people with autism, big changes can be accepted more than tiny changes that most people would view as trivial. These little routines and rituals are often what helps us tolerate the bigger changes so please appreciate this and try to understand that we are not being intentionally difficult when change upsets us. The world is confusing for us and routines help to keep us secure. Please try and understand how difficult it is for a lot of us and support us and acknowledge when we have coped well with change. It really is not easy for us but, with support, we can learn to cope with it better over time which will be better for everyone-we just need some patience and understanding.

Aspergers And Extremes/Polar Opposites

The idea for this post came from a meeting I had at work recently. I have been having regular meetings with someone from the Training department to help me improve the way that I manage my colleagues when I am the most senior person on shift (I struggle with being assertive). The last time we met, it was to go through the results of a Myers Briggs personality screening questionnaire that I had taken in order to gain a better insight into which management style is best for me.

When this person showed me my results, they actually said that my scores in 3 out of the 4 categories tested were some of the highest they had ever seen with me scoring 49 out of 60 on the Introversion Section, 47 on the Sensing Section and a massive 55 out of 60 on the Judging Section. For anyone who is interested in the test and which attributes it measures, you can Google it. I did find it very interesting. The only area in which my dominance was a lot lower was in the Thinking versus Feeling section and, between us, we ended up working out that I am actually an INFJ rather than an INTJ. I had to resort to writing out the key personality traits of both and counting which one I scored higher in which my assessor found very amusing and proof of how logical I am.

In some respects, my high scores weren’t exactly a surprise to me, particularly the Judging one as the questions on there were all about how you cope with change and whether you like to plan ahead or leave things to chance. Basically it seemed pretty much like a lot of the screening questions you find on Aspergers tests so it wasn’t a surprise for me that I came out as scoring so highly on that one. The Introversion score did surprise me but I guess that was probably down to my own pre judgement of how a typical introvert behaves. I don’t see myself as highly introverted because I do like chatting and spending time with friends and family. However, my assessor explained that a lot of what makes someone introverted is whether they re energise by being alone or by being around other people. This made more sense to me. I like spending time with people who are close to me but, after a while, it does become draining and I need a few hours rest to re energise. I have always been happy in my own company, reading my Kindle, going on the Internet or just thinking. I have never understood why some people feel the need to be around other people all the time.Perhaps these are the people who score just as highly on the opposite end of the scale.

Following this meeting, I began thinking about my high scores. It occurred to me that actually, in my opinion, Aspergers lends itself to extremes. This is based from my own experiences and discussions I have read and participated in on Aspergers forums. The Aspergers stereotype that a lot of people still believe in as the only type of person with AS there is is someone who is highly introverted and does not seek out interaction with anybody. This is an extreme personality type (and actually there are very, very few people in this world, autistic or not, who have no desire for company or friendship). On the other end of the Introversion/Extroversion spectrum, there are people with Aspergers who are extremely extroverted and sociable but struggle to make and keep friends because of their weak social skills. There are, of course, people in the middle but my opinion is that, generally, people with Aspergers tend to be drawn to either end of the personality type spectrum. Perhaps this is why so many of us are so strong willed and determined and why so many of us are so passionate about injustice. A lot of people with Aspergers tend to be strong (sometimes overbearing) personalities and maybe the fact that most of us would score extremely highly in whatever personality type we end up being explains why we can find it hard to tolerate our polar opposites. I struggle to deal with people who are extreme extroverts-if I am in close contact with them for a period of more than around an hour, it gets to the stage where the sound of their voice makes my stomach churn. I feel bad because I know it’s just the way they are but I just cannot tolerate them. Similarly, I cannot tolerate working or living with people who are disorganised and want to just take life as it comes without making plans (although I can cope with these people more than I can with extroverts). I like everything to be in the correct order and position and I like everything to be planned in advance. I am extremely logical in the way I do things and like to see things written down rather than trying to work through them in my head.

What really fascinated me was that a highly observed personality trait in those who are INFJ is a tendency to “catastrophise” minor mistakes and problems. This is something I do a lot and I always considered it to be a distressing aspect of my Aspergers. I was amazed to find out that there are potentially lots of people out there having the same issue, whether they are on the spectrum or not. Or maybe the INTJ and the INFJ personality types are primarily formed of people with Aspergers. I guess it lends a certain amount of credence to the theory that Aspergers is just an extreme personality type. However, I guess what makes us different from the other people who share these personality types and aren’t on the spectrum is the frequency and high scoring of the traits along with the other areas that are involved in Aspergers such as the sensory issues and the communication issues.

Overall, my result was fascinating and incredibly insightful. It made me realise why I work the way I do and why I seem to have such a low tolerance for people who are the polar opposite of me, even though they may be fantastic people. I know a lot of people have issues with personality screenings for various reasons but it really helped me and perhaps this post may help other people understand why a lot of people with Aspergers tend to be extreme personality types.

Aspergers and Relationships

This is the first time I have written about my relationship on my blog. It is a private part of my life and I checked with my boyfriend, out of courtesy, whether he was happy with me writing about our relationship on here. I feel that I have discussed many other topics on this blog and I feel that covering the topic of Aspergers and relationships would be beneficial to a lot of my readers so the time has come to address this area.

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost five years-our anniversary is on Monday. We met at work while both signing a petition against a rent increase in the hostel where we both lived at the time (I still live there-he moved out when he left the organisation). Unusually for me, I felt able to speak to him with ease the first time I met him-usually I have to get to know people first to feel comfortable with them. The first evening we met, we spoke for two and a half hours before we went our separate ways. Ten minutes later, a note was slid under my door which read “Let’s keep in touch” followed by his mobile phone number. The rest, as they say, is history. Our first date was a couple of days later and we have been together ever since.

Prior to our relationship, I never thought I would be successful in the area of romantic relationships. I was a late starter in this area compared to my peers. In fact, my current boyfriend is my first serious boyfriend and I was twenty two when we got together. My failure to find love at an earlier age caused me great distress when I was single. I used to be incredibly self pitying which, looking back now, is cringe worthy. I saw everyone around me finding girlfriends and boyfriends with ease and I wondered what it was about me that made this an impossibility. The more anguished I got about my lack of a relationship, the less attractive a relationship with me probably seemed to any outsider observing the way I behaved. University was a phase of my life where I often felt depressed anyway-the lack of a man to share that with just made things worse. I was unbelievably happy when I met my boyfriend and could finally settle down with someone.

I am going to be brutally honest here and admit that Aspergers does add an extra layer of complication to our relationship (my boyfriend does not have AS). Reading non verbal communication has never been one of my strong points so I have to work twice as hard as most people to pick up the subtle signals from my partner. I am often naive to social context and don’t pick things up which are usually obvious to everyone else, such as the social nicety of typing both of our names in a text to let my family know that we have arrived safely in our holiday destination. I will type “I have arrived safely” because, in my mind, my family know that the two of us are travelling together so should automatically know that, if I have arrived safely, he will have arrived safely too. I guess that’s where the whole theory of mind thing lets me down. It took me a while to realise that I should include both of us in the text and I still do sometimes forget. It’s like my brain automatically writes “I” without thinking to add my boyfriend’s name too. Like any couple, we have our differences and these can be difficult for the other to comprehend. He has said to me in the past, “Every time I think I understand you, you do something else which makes me realise I still have so far to go to understand you”. I don’t think that Aspergers has affected our relationship in a negative sense-I just feel that it is an area which means that we both have to work slightly harder at our relationship than a lot of couples. It is hard for me to understand how he thinks a lot of the time and it is equally as hard for him to understand how I think but we work through it and have a lot of fun and good times too. I appreciate our relationship every day and I appreciate how hard he has worked at understanding the way my mind works. I know that there are aspects of my condition that make me far from the ideal partner-when I am tired, my tolerance for social interaction drops to the extent that I can’t even manage our daily phone call and will just send a quick text saying “Good Night” instead, and I like my own space a lot too. However, I believe, and I’m sure he will back me up on this, that there are also aspects of my Aspergers that make me a pretty good girlfriend to have, such as my strong sense of loyalty to those who are dearest to me and my strong sense of justice. I like to live by the rules because it’s the right thing to do and that means that I always treat him fairly and the way that I would want to be treated. In more humorous ways, I am a cheap date as I don’t drink (the AS made me totally immune to peer pressure at university and, as I have hated the taste of almost every alcoholic drink I have ever tried, I have remained teetotal since the age of sixteen when I got tipsy on half a bottle of Bacardi Breezer-I am obviously a real lightweight which is another reason for me to avoid drinking) and my attention to detail means I am also a very efficient proof reader of the documents he asks me to look over on a fairly regular basis.

I have met a lot of people with Aspergers, particularly in online forums, who believe that people with Aspergers would be best off dating and seeking relationships with other people with Aspergers. I have mixed views on this. I think, on occasions, it works brilliantly and there are lots of couples where both people have Aspergers who are very happy together. It must be a relief to have a partner who has a deeper understanding of how your mind works without having to explain why this is. However, I think there are also many potential pitfalls that not everyone thinks about. Firstly, I think, for me personally, if I was single and on the look out for a potential partner, some Aspergers traits, for me, would be intolerable to live with. I know that this sounds harsh but, despite being an obsessive person myself, I don’t tolerate other people’s obsessions well if I have no interest in them. If we had our own separate spaces to pursue our obsessive interests in peace, it could work but otherwise I think I would become very stressed very quickly. Also, there is no guarantee that, just because you both have Aspergers, you’re going to be compatible, which is something I think a lot of people forget. A lot of people with Aspergers have strong characters and are very strong willed which means that, quite often, they can wind each other up. I also think that, for me, I need someone without Aspergers to keep me calm. I am a naturally anxious person and I think a lot of people on the spectrum have their own issues with anxiety which can make it hard, in my experience, for them to be able to view another person’s anxiety objectively and deal with it calmly. I am also fairly stubborn-once I have something set in my mind, there’s no shifting it. My partner will often agree to disagree in cases where we have differences of opinion but I can imagine, if I was in a relationship with someone whose characteristics of Aspergers were similar to mine, our differences of opinion would be loudly debated over and over again because neither of us would be willing to back down. I know, of course, that there are people with Aspergers who are introverted and quiet and a relationship with someone like this may have worked well for me if I was still single now.

I am not saying that those of us with Aspergers make difficult partners and that dating us is impossible-that is not true. What I am saying is that, for some of us, including me, relationships work better with people who are not on the spectrum because of the fact that they tend to be a lot more socially aware (my boyfriend is amazing at reading non verbal communication and reading context) and so provide the ideal support for our bad days and are able to talk us through why social situations go wrong sometimes. I am not saying that a relationship between two people on the spectrum would be doomed to failure-that would be foolish to assert because there are many successful relationships where both of the partners are on the spectrum. I would not be averse to a relationship with someone with Aspergers if I was still single-all I am saying is it shouldn’t be assumed that a relationship with someone else with AS will work because you both have AS-you need to be compatible together too. I have a low tolerance level for a lot of minor personality traits and this is something I am working on so that I can tolerate more personality types. I am never nasty to anyone I can’t tolerate-I just get incredibly stressed and flustered around them because they trigger me all the time. If I was in a relationship with someone who had an equally low tolerance of certain traits, I can envision a lonely life ahead. Luckily my boyfriend can pretty much talk to and interact with everyone he meets, an ability that I envy but that I know is necessary in life and so I am happy that he is blessed in this way.

A lot of people with Aspergers find making and keeping relationships difficult. For most people, it does get easier in time. Maybe I have watched too many soppy movies but I genuinely believe that there is the right person out there for everyone. I don’t mean an instant soul mate-a lot of couples are incompatible in some ways but I mean meeting the right person who is willing to work through the issues and we must also work through the issues. Yes, Aspergers makes it extremely difficult to get it right, socially speaking, and we can make embarrassing mistakes but we need to try and meet our partners half way, metaphorically speaking. It is hard for us to understand how someone who isn’t on the spectrum thinks and sees the world but it is just as hard for them to understand the way an individual on the spectrum sees the world. All we can do is try and educate each other. Sometimes it won’t work and the couple are just too incompatible to remain together but eventually you will find your ideal partner. All relationships need working at as that’s what needs to be done if you want to hold on to that special person in your life-Aspergers might make that work a bit harder but, if both partners love each other and are determined, it will work out in the end. There will be someone out there who doesn’t get fazed by the social mistakes or the need for a quiet place to destress or the fact that our ability to read non verbal communication isn’t too brilliant. There will be people out there that fall in love with our honesty and loyalty, even if we find it hard to verbalise our emotions. I love my partner so, so much and I feel truly blessed to have him in my life. It’s not always easy but ours is a relationship worth working for. We work hard at it together and appreciate each other deeply. It should be remembered that it is better being alone than being in the wrong relationship. There are some people out there in relationships with people with Aspergers who moan constantly about how embarrassing their partner is and how much hard work they are. I am lucky that my boyfriend does not see me in this way. Nobody is forcing anybody to be in a relationship with someone with AS-surely, if you loved them enough to enter a relationship with them, you love them enough to appreciate their Aspergers. Playing the martyr is not helpful. I am very aware of how difficult Aspergers can be in a relationship but keeping the relationship going should be a mutual effort. A lot of people with Aspergers do desire romantic relationships and, with the right people who are willing to get to know us for who we truly are, we do make good partners. We all just need to give each other a chance.