Biochemistry exhilarates me. I have spent entire workdays solely investigating Lysine metabolism. I’ve spent two and a half years (and counting) researching branched-chain amino acid metabolism. It makes my soul sing inside.
Even before I knew I was an Aspie, I called my “research” “diving down deep”. That was my term for it. It was–and remains–on my short-list of favorite activities. I would close my office door, the unquestionable signal NOT to attempt to get my attention. Even my staff half-jokingly found the following meme:
“Are you on fire?” Then, in flowchart fashion, it proceeds to split “No” from “Yes”. If “No”: “I’m busy.” If “Yes”: “Then put yourself out and wait patiently, I’m still busy.”
We got a good belly laugh from it, but we were also well aware of its pinpoint accuracy. They printed it out, stuck it in a page protector, and taped it to my door on days like that. The message was loud and clear. The penalty for failing to receive that message, for going against the sign, was to be caught in the crosshairs of “the look of death”.
This is because my brain is like a freight train. From a dead stop, it takes a while to get going. As in, 0-60 in 5 minutes.
Once it gets up to speed, though, it’s powerful, even if lumbering and at times, menacing. It’s not elegant, by any stretch; it’s bullheaded, insisting upon its way, and it gets where it’s going with brute force and brute strength. It may not be beautiful, refined, or graceful, and it can be dangerous when messed with, but it carries me toward my interests, which provide the heartbeat of my life, the lifeblood of my soul, and indeed, my very purpose on this earth.
It’s a beautiful thing, delving into biochemistry, a recent-but-potent special interest. It’s an orchestra, a symphony–both the subject itself and my journey through it.
I can almost see the elements come together, the biochemical reactions form sentences like a language of its own, where the substrate is the subject, the enzyme is the verb, and the product is the direct object. (See how multilingual I am?) 😉
That ability to hyper-focus was the main red flag that told me that what my “label” is, isn’t ADD/ADHD. I don’t have an attention deficit. I have an attention surplus. When I’m “under”, lost in my own enchanted forest of biochemistry (or whatever else; I have a few of these Hot Topics), I’m so entranced that I often forget how long it’s been since I’ve eaten or slept. My stomach might try to send me a few subtle hints, but much like when interacting with people, those hints don’t register. My stomach has to reach a near-panic state and execute a ginormous growl that is almost uncomfortable, in order to get my attention. That’s not ADHD; that’s Asperger’s.
What an Aspie brain can learn, produce, and accomplish at its cruising speed sometimes astounds me. I’m pretty tough on myself, so that doesn’t happen very often. I’m both impatient and perfectionistic.
A derailment, then, assuredly spells disaster. A complete train wreck.
Unrecognizable pieces are scattered everywhere.
Ugh. (Cue a bunch of really caustic words…)
If it’s a human being who caused this catastrophe, they receive the unabashed intensity, the full force of the “death glare”. Of course, I don’t intend it to be rude or mean-spirited. It’s just sheer irritation.
Because now, I’m the one who has to go back and pick up all the pieces.
I’m the one who has to try and reassemble them into some hyper-classified sense of order.
I’m the one who has to put it all back together.
I’m the one who loses that precious time. Time I would much rather have spent moving further forward. Getting more done. Creating more. Accomplishing more. Producing more. Learning more. Achieving more. Always more.
I try not to show the irritation, but my efforts are futile. It surfaces anyway.
I used to (drum-roll please; say it with me now) Beat Myself Up. Because the person interrupting my train of thought (a phrase that was undoubtedly coined by an Aspie) didn’t mean any harm. I knew that my response was exaggerated. I hadn’t seen anybody else react that way before. If their train of thought gets disconnected, no problem; they just roll with it. I can’t. Nobody else gets that irate when they’re interrupted, so why do I? What’s wrong with me? Am I just some hard-headed, anal-retentive psycho meanie-butt, some impossible employer, some antisocial recluse?
No. (Well, OK–maybe some of that is true.)
I now know that I’m an Aspie. I also know that mentally changing gears when I’m extremely hyper-focused is indeed akin to a virtual train wreck for me. It really does set me back, and quite a bit. And I’m the only one who can pick up those pieces. I’m also the only one who can reassemble them. I’m the one who loses that time. That’s why I also tend to lose my mind. And that’s also when I tend to flip my shit.
So, I wasn’t too far off-base after all. I instinctively knew the magnitude of the issue. I just didn’t have the explanation for it. I didn’t realize it was legitimate. I couldn’t warn anyone around me beforehand.
I don’t have it all down-pat yet, this how-my-brain-works thing. I’m still learning. I don’t think I’m alone, either. We’re each wandering through our own enchanted forest, or magical beach, or what-have-you, trying to figure ourselves out. Even those of us (including me) who had done so much self-analysis that we thought we had ourselves pretty well figured out already. I thought I knew who I was, how I worked, and what made me tick.
Yeah, right. Not so much. Life decided to throw me a pretty gigantic curveball.
It was a welcome and liberating curveball, though. Once I (finally) caught it, I learned that I wasn’t an antisocial recluse, an impossible employer, a bossy bitch, an explosive “Type A”, an anal-retentive jackass, or anything else.
It’s simply that I have trouble task-switching. I have trouble extricating myself from one task and fully wrapping myself around another. I take that back–it’s not that I “have trouble” with it; it’s not that I can’t do it, or that I don’t do as good a job at it; it’s just that it takes me longer. I can’t do it as quickly (although there are no extra points for speed, in my book). I figure that this is probably because the Aspie brain engages more fully, locking in tight on a subject/concept/factoid/etc more thoroughly and intensely than a “regular” brain. Doing that extra work is going to take extra time. Thus, it’s less of a “trouble” and more of a “challenge”.
These days, I’ve informed everybody involved, everyone closest to me or who works with me. I’ve done my best to change what I can change, found the words to communicate and explain that which I can’t change, and I’ve accepted and forgiven myself, and I’ve apologized (probably multiple times) to everyone else, for everything else.
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)