Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
I have Asperger’s Syndrome combined with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These conditions have been formally diagnosed by mental health professionals in the last few years, but I had known for many years that I probably have Asperger’s and OCD. I have long intended to write a piece about my condition, but have found the prospect daunting. I find it difficult to talk, and write, about these things.
A lot of people who know me well do not seem to realise that I have Asperger’s and OCD. I do not know to what extent this is due to a lack of common knowledge about the conditions, and the clues as to who has them. It may be a result of my having the conditions at a relatively low level. Alternatively it could be due to my not openly speaking about them. Actually I am able to write about the conditions in the sense that they are central to my book Fifteen Minutes of Fame, the satirical autobiography of an obscure writer. I have had several books published, with limited success. Perhaps the obsessions that spur me to write also undermine my ability to actually promote books when they are published.
My Twitter profile announces that I have Asperger’s and OCD, and I have about 900 followers, some of whom share my interest in mental health issues. On the other hand, how many people regularly check the profile detail of people they follow and re-tweet? Actually I do such a thing – it is part of the obsession. Also I will often become obsessed about a particular news story, read and post loads of tweets about it for a day or two, before moving on to the next obsession.
As I write this, various ideas are popping into my head. I am sometimes asked what my conditions feel like. The OCD involves a lot of regular routines, which leave me feeling uneasy if they are not followed. There is also a lot of worrying, intrusive thoughts, and a strange belief in doing deals with fate to make things better. The main point about Asperger’s is a difficulty with social interaction. I often avoid doing things so as to reduce worry about being in a difficult social situation, and then regret that I missed out on something enjoyable. I have spells of depression, which can last for days or weeks, which reinforce the avoidance. Apparently worry about Asperger’s and OCD leads to depression.
There are lots of overlaps between Asperger’s and OCD. I had a quick look around the Internet recently to see if there is a term for people having both conditions, but I did not find anything that straightforward. Perhaps I should just call it “my condition” in so far as it relates to me. Everybody experiences things differently.
There are some positives in having Asperger’s. Such people usually have the ability to master a particular subject that interests them. The woman who assessed me for Asperger’s said that the most interesting part of the process is when people tell her about their “special interests”. I outlined some of my special interests, including football statistics. I also said “I like to write lists about things that interest me. One day I plan to write a list of my favourite lists”. The assessor lady burst into (supportive) laughter, saying this was the funniest response she had heard yet.
I often deal with a worry or obsession by finding another obsession to replace it. Having planned in the last few days to focus on this piece, I have found myself spending too much time on Twitter. There has been lots to debate, and share, on Twitter, including the calls for David Cameron to resign as Prime Minister, but the mental energy I devote to this is excessive. My tweeting about the links between the Panama Papers and tax avoidance by Tories, among other things, has led to a rapid growth in the number of followers I have on Twitter. I have reached a (relatively modest) personal record with one message, asking David Cameron if he is guilty of tax avoidance, getting 11 retweets, and 26 likes. I feel positive when people interact with me on Twitter. The responses are often fast, and give a short feeling of positivity. They are certainly faster than writing a book, and the process of publishing it, only for a small sprinkling of people (more like hundreds than thousands) to read it.
It was not until a few years ago that I realised that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty reading people, and body language. This has long been a problem for me. Until recently, unless somebody verbally told me there were not interested in what I was saying to them, I would assume what I had to say was of interest. I have got better at reading body language, but it is still an issue. When I am feeling confident, I have a lot to say for myself. When I am feeling stressed, I often try to counter this, using humour, and end up having too much to say for myself. This can cause confusion, and misunderstanding in the workplace – I have worked in offices for a series of private and public sector organisations. At work I am good at the technical elements of a job, but struggle in my interaction with colleagues.
Ever since I was a teenager, many years ago, I have been fascinated by politics. I have been a member of the Labour Party for 32 years. Sometimes I have been very active, other times I have withdrawn. I have stood for local council elections several times, but not been elected. Once I thought I had a decent chance of victory, but things ended badly, with political passions, clashes of ego, and party managers who did not seem to know how to manage me. The outcome was demoralisation and withdrawal. Going out door-knocking, and talking to the general public, used to feel very daunting, but I managed a few years ago to start doing this regularly – even frequently. I generally got a good response from the public.
I am a bit of a perfectionist. If I get something 95 per cent right, the wrong 5 per cent often feels more important. Sending the simplest of emails can be a struggle, as I search for exactly the right wording. I like to think I am good at grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I can also be a bit pedantic about such things as the incorrect use of apostrophes.
I take comfort, and even find inspiration, from the achievements of people with similar conditions to my own. Bruce Springsteen and David Beckham have both spoken about their having OCD. Back in the past, Samuel Pepys and Jean-Jacques Rousseau displayed symptoms of what we now know to be OCD. People believed to have Asperger’s Syndrome include George Orwell, in the past, and Bob Dylan in the never ending present. In the course of writing this piece, Internet research has informed me that Lionel Messi was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child – a piece of knowledge that somehow eluded me when I wrote a profile of Messi four years ago.
I wish I could speak confidently to more people about my condition. I often find the condition tough, but there are advantages. I like to be different, although I generally tell people this is due to my being eccentric. In a way we are all different, and all struggle with some things, but some people are more different than others. There is also the theory that people who are not on the Autistic / Asperger’s spectrum suffer from something called Neurotypical Syndrome. People from the Autistic spectrum have displayed brilliant humour in their satirical definitions of Neurotypical Syndrome – including a suggestion that it features “preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity” while “there is no known cure”. Think I will leave this Blog post now, before it becomes something I work upon for far too long. Also I wonder how many people will read this. I may return to the subject.