If you have landed here, perhaps you know me from Quora or Medium. I was a physicist for twenty years, but today I am the author of several, unusual novels and one soothing, yet illuminating blog filled with musings about science, philosophy, and culture.
At age 37, I woke up from a lost decade and a half. (The awakening had something to do with a chia seed.)
I got my first, long-term job right after college and my life ground to a halt. I still went out and did things, but when I got that job, the music and emotion of life came to an abrupt end as all of my energy was drained into my workplace. Later, some of that energy went into making babies, but that was exhaustion on a whole new level.
Surely, I must have found some satisfaction in my job as a research scientist and in the work of keeping small people alive.. but I don’t think so. In retrospect, I was in hell much of the time. I just didn’t let myself see it. I tried to be tough, but now I can see that working on pointless research projects hurt me. In retrospect, I’ve blocked out most of the memories of my life from those 15 years and all that remains are photo albums of moments that weren’t absolutely terrible and a profile on Research Gate with papers that few people will ever read.
There were, of course, moments of genuine emotion and love for the beauty of the little tiny people I’d made, but they paled in comparison to the unrelenting grind of a life lived in service of pointless aims.
“There’s a light, a light in the darkness of everybody’s lives” is a refrain that ached through my mind again and again as the years ticked by.
After I woke up and quit my job. I started writing books and a blog.
Maybe I’m crazy.
I’ve even started making YouTube videos to promote my books and I bet that if the person I was twenty years ago saw those videos, she would conclude that I’ve lost my mind. Such is the internet age!
If you’d met me during those 15 years of research work, you would’ve thought that I was a perfectly normal person – a happy, lucky person with everything a person needs to be happy. I would’ve insisted that I was happy. But, in retrospect, I don’t think I was. I was immeasurably happier before I took that first job.
I’m looking back and trying to figure out what went wrong. With me.. with the world.. It is a puzzle.
One of the pieces of that puzzle is Aspergers.
I once met an adult woman that I suspected of having Aspergers and I saw a lot of myself in her. She was employed in a technical job and looked organized and in control, but there was something mask-like about her face — like she was an actress playing a role. When she confided to me that her husband was suffering from severe depression and he had been unable to get out of bed for months, she did so with an emotional disconnection that felt familiar to me. I had to learn how to disconnect myself from strong emotions because they could be overwhelming.
I experienced this recently when I had to describe an old, traumatic injury to a doctor. I could do so with a straight face and calm demeanor, but my body began to betray me by shaking.
The shaking is a part of myself that I learned to suppress when I had temper tantrums as a child and was locked in my room until I calmed down. These strong emotions never affected me in school and they went away as I got older. However, if I went on a school trip, after a week surrounded by people, I felt quite stressed. I remember having a meltdown after I got home from one of those trips.
I know that I often walked on my tiptoes when I was a child and I’ve read that this is associated with autism, but I never really felt socially disconnected as I grew up. I figured out a way to stay with the group and play by their rules.
Up through my twenties, I enjoyed being around people if I made myself go out and enjoyed playing my role, but it usually felt like a performance and I was sometimes exhausted afterward by the effort it took to avoid misunderstandings and blend in. Without positive outcomes from social interaction, I would’ve avoided it entirely.
Today, I avoid most non-work social situations because they are generally in the context of some school meeting for my kids and this bores me to tears. I literally want to run out of the room screaming after listening to information communicated in the most inefficient manner imaginable.
I sit there and think – “This two-hour meeting could’ve been conducted in fifteen minutes. They are only drawing it out to feed their egos and establish their authority in a stupid monkey hierarchy.” I am under the impression that other people are not as bothered by these situations.
I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, although I suspect that a counselor I saw in college decided that I had schizoid adaptations (not the same thing as schizophrenia!) due to trauma in my teens and parents who suffered from their own self-absorbed issues.
Overall, I think that I have a tendency to feel alienated simply because I am not built in the same way as everybody else. It, however, doesn’t help me to fall back on a label or diagnosis because I have to play by the same rules as everybody else.
One of those rules is: market yourself!!! Since I am trying to market some books that I wrote, I am using myself as bait to lure customers to my books and since I haven’t yet built up the confidence to start jabbering at the camera in the style of most YouTube self/book marketers, I practice connecting to the camera by expressing myself in a way that feels more comfortable – by singing!
Perhaps that is a trait of a person with Aspergers – having difficulty with speaking to a camera but finding it easier to hide behind an attempt at being artistic!
Based on what I know about myself, I can imagine that there are a lot of women who hide behind a mask and pretend to be like everyone else, even though their lives have taught them that they really aren’t.