Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Wanted: one executive. Must function.

At some point in the five years* I've been blogging about Aspergers, I've argued that the sensory issues are a much bigger problem for me than the social stuff.  It's not that I don't struggle socially - I somehow ended up solo at a free-range alcohol-based social event on Friday night, and pretty much just sat with a random group of strangers listening to their conversation like some sort of creeping creeper who creeps - but the sensory stuff is an even bigger problem.  

Also, the sensory stuff causes more of the social issues than is usually acknowledged.  If you literally can't hear what someone's saying over the roar of background noise you can't filter out, you're going to struggle to hold up your end of the conversation.  If you don't recognise the shapes your own face and body makes when you're happy or sad, you're going to struggle to recognise those shapes in others.  And if you're in genuine physical pain you're just not going to be up for socialising at all.

However, I'd now like to retract my claim that sensory dysfunction is the bane of my existence.

Yes, the sensory stuff is a bigger problem than the social issues.  And yes, it is a complete pain in the arse and something I have to plan my whole life around, like that episode of Degrassi where the kids had to carry an egg around for a week to simulate having a baby. 

But the issue that's doing even more to really screw up my life is bloody executive dysfunction.

Executive function: getting (and keeping) your ducks in a row
Executive function is, at its heart, your ability to get shit done.  It takes in various different kinds of memory, the ability to prioritise, to break tasks down into steps and to think sequentially.  It encompasses time management and organisation - not just in the extreme sense of working three jobs while studying full time or singlehandedly running a music festival, but even the basic memory, planning and execution needed to keep yourself fed, watered and clean. 

My executive function really sucks.  It may not be purely an Aspergers thing - I also have ADD, and depression which can interfere with getting things done for even the most neurologically blessed person.**

When I was younger - childhood, teens, even into my early 20s - I was able to coast through a lot of the executive function shambles on the back of being fairly intelligent.  Looking back at my uni work, I really didn't know how to conduct research effectively or construct an essay, and when I had an opinion or an insight they were probably toe-curlingly immature, but I did well mostly because I was able to spin pleasing verbal arrangements made up of the sort of words and concepts the lecturers were using.  I don't know if you'd call it echolalia, but there was certainly something echo-scented going on.

This wasn't pure laziness.  This was what I did to survive.

I think there were two main things going on here.  The first is that I was very literal minded (still am, of course, but not to the same degree) and had trouble applying my existing knowledge and experience to new situations.  So, even though my high school history teacher taught me a template for writing a short essay in response to an exam question about the Aztecs,*** it didn't occur to me to apply that same technique when it was time to produce 5,000 words about symbolism in gothic fiction.  That doesn't mean I just sat down at the keyboard one afternoon and farted out 5K of genius whimsy: I worked bloody hard.  I did at least as much work as the students who had a clue what they were doing.

Also, the effects of Aspergers, ADD and depression were really ramping up as I became an adult.  I was burning vast amounts of energy dealing with sensory issues I didn't even realise existed.  I was becoming fully aware of how different I was from my peers, as they started to have serious relationships and babies and travel and lives that meant something, and that was incredibly distressing.  And of course, a diagnosis was still at least five years away, so as far as I or anyone else knew I was just lazy or stupid or... chose to be that way for some ineffable reason of my own.

But while I was stumbling through on raw intelligence and dumb luck, my peers were learning to plan and manage their time and use systems and call in favours and get things done.  Their executives were clocking on.

Now my life's reached a point where I really need a functioning executive.  Work has taken a turn towards long term project management type things, I'm involved in a sort of community event in a vaguely organiserish function and need to keep that together or I'll let others down, there's family stuff that needs to be planned and at some point it would be kinda nice to have a life.  But I genuinely don't have the neurological infrastructure for the degree of organisation, planning, strategy and general getting-shit-done skills that most people do.  And I also don't have as much experience at doing it as I probably should by now, because I've been lucky enough to just wing it with a few book smarts and a hell of a lot of (inefficient) work.

To be continued...
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* I know, right?  How did that happen?  And why hasn't anyone bought me a cake?

** Although it's hard to argue that anyone with depression is neurologically blessed.  Work with me here.

*** I'm not sure why our history teacher was the one teaching us this, or what the hell we were doing in English at the time.****

**** These asterisks are a pretty good sign that I've got some funky ADD stuff going on as I write this.  Never mind being able to manage it, it's a relatively recent development for me to even be able to identify it as it's happening.  Yay me, I guess.  Only 20 years late, as usual.