What the Fuck’s Wrong With You? Epilogue: And By the Way, You’re Nuts
A lot of people with Asperger’s are pretty fucking crazy. The incidence of depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder within the autistic community is significantly higher than in the general population.
This is mostly due to our having to put up with a lot of shit we shouldn’t have to deal with. If we were given appropriate accommodations to help us handle the endless sensory onslaught and the social isolation we have to deal with on a daily basis, we wouldn’t be such a goddamn mess.
So when I noticed in high school that I was experiencing symptoms of O.C.D., I thought well, I guess that makes sense. I’m autistic, I’m under a lot of stress, and it’s finally gone and driven me crazy.
I don’t know if “fortunate” is the right word for it, but the particular kind of O.C.D. symptoms I was exhibiting were incredibly specific. I didn’t worry about cleanliness or handwashing or neatness or things being in a certain order, or any of the cute stereotypes you commonly see associated with the disorder.
I only really had one symptom: The Thoughts.
The Thoughts were disturbing, cyclical, and uncontrollable, frequently causing panic attacks and intense feelings of guilt and shame.
In grade eleven I told my social skills counsellor about them, because she had O.C.D. and I figured she might be able to shed some light on what was happening.
“Yeah, it sounds like you’ve got what’s called Primarily Obsessional O.C.D.”
“That sounds fun.”
“Well, you really only have the one symptom to worry about, so that’s something. You just have to figure out how to manage the Thoughts.”
And it’s true: O.C.D. really isn’t that big of a deal. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a problem. But it’s a problem like diabetes is a problem. If you figure out how to take care of yourself and manage your lifestyle, you’ll probably be fine.
With O.C.D. you’ve got to learn how to monitor your thoughts- without being obsessive about it- and figure out when your thoughts are starting to spiral, and know how to talk yourself down. It takes a little bit of practise, but you’ve got your whole lifetime to practise. O.C.D. doesn’t go away.
When I was twenty-two, my O.C.D. went away.
That wasn’t uncommon. The Thoughts had always come in waves. They stayed around for a couple of days, or a few weeks, and then left for a month or two, and came back again. Usually the longer they stayed away, the worse they were when they returned.
A month went by, and then two, and then three. The Thoughts did not return. I started seeing a therapist to help me manage my O.C.D.
“It’s gone at the moment,” I said. “But when it comes back, it’ll be a real doozy.”
Winter turned to spring.
I was accustomed to monitoring my thoughts and my mood in order to detect potential problems, and I was picking up some funny things.
I was feeling more energetic than usual. Happier. More extroverted. More interested in other people’s problems. All of a sudden I gained an intense interest in looking after people.
One day I was wandering around The Beach in Toronto when I was struck by an urge to volunteer with the Big Brothers organization. I had never been interested in kids before. I’d always kind of avoided them, actually. But now, all of a sudden, I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to spend some time with a kid and get to know them and help take care of them.
Where the fuck is this coming from? I thought.
The O.C.D. didn’t come back. My energy level kept increasing. My nurturing urges kept increasing.
This can’t be right, I thought.
But it felt amazing, like a thick dark cloak had been pulled away, to reveal something underneath. Something real and unmistakably good.
I talked to my therapist about it.
“Man, I’m telling you, when the O.C.D. finally comes back, it’s going to be a killer,” I said.
Two years later it had not returned, and the changes in my personality had become routine. I knew a few things:
a) O.C.D. doesn’t just disappear.
b) Something else- something serious- had been going on in my brain for a long time, probably since about grade five.
c) But whatever it was, it was gone now.
I remembered one of my friends talking about his mental health problems, and specifically his struggles with post traumatic stress disorder and the related panic attacks.
On a hunch, I looked up P.T.S.D. on Wikipedia. The symptoms were startlingly close to Primarily Obsessional O.C.D.
I went to my therapist with the information I’d found, expecting him to explain how I couldn’t possibly have had P.T.S.D., how there was some other explanation I’d overlooked, or some book which contained the answers I was looking for.
“I’ve suspected this for a long time,” my therapist said.
“Yeah, but I’m not a diagnostician, so I had to wait for you to bring it up.”
“So you don’t think I have O.C.D.”
“If you did, it would be the strangest case I’d ever heard. It just doesn’t fit. From everything you’ve told me, P.T.S.D. is much more likely.”
Of course, how the hell could I have post traumatic stress disorder without a trauma?
Well, you see, when I was a little boy, my dad had a really excellent job which entailed a lot of responsibility. And my uncle was crazy jealous about my dad’s job. So one day, my uncle lured me into the middle of a wildebeest stampede, and when my dad came to rescue me, my uncle-
No wait, that’s The Lion King.
So basically what happened is that when I was four, my sister was born, and about two weeks after that she almost died. Using impeccable four-year-old logic I deduced that this was my fault, because I’d wanted her to be born, and if she hadn’t been born she wouldn’t have almost died.
But she didn’t die. I figured this must’ve had something to do with me not wanting her to die. Crisis averted, onto the next thing.
Three years later, my favourite uncle went crazy and had to be hospitalized. I figured I could rescue him through sheer willpower like I did with my sister, wrote him a nice letter demanding that he get better, and I waited for a response.
The response never came.
When I realized the implications of this, the unresolved guilt concerning my sister meshed with the guilt concerning my uncle, I became convinced that I was a horrible person, and that’s when the train jumped the tracks. In grade four. Right around the time when my parents began noticing that I was behaving strangely. And they suspected that my moodiness might be connected to my problems in school. And they thought that maybe I might have a disability.