Thursday, August 4, 2022

You Are Not A Diagnosis!

It seems trendy today to identify yourself as damaged goods.

I was at a campground the other day and a young man who worked there was very nice and helpful, but at the same time a little goofy.  "I'm Autistic!" he chirped, and then gave me a big hug.  He was a nice kid and I wanted to tell him that he was just fine and shouldn't view his life through the lens of Autism.

Besides, I wondered if he really was.  I noted before a friend of mine worked with retarded and severely autistic people in an "adult day care" center in Syracuse.  The retarded kids were great - the worked at a cafe the place ran and they just wanted to work hard and be part of society.  They seemed so happy, too.

The severely autistic folks were almost catatonic and prone to screaming fits.  If you touched them at all, they would scream as though you burned them with a torch.   And if they didn't have the exact same clothes to wear or food to eat, or any routine was disrupted, they had a meltdown - a full-blown toddler screaming throw-down hissy-fit.  My heart goes out to parents of severely autistic people.  It is a lifetime commitment to caring for someone who can be a real pain in the ass at times.

So I thought it was odd that this young man claimed to be Autistic but gave everyone bear hugs. Usually it is the opposite - social awkwardness, lack of communication or communicating in weird ways and lack of intimacy.  But then again, maybe it comes in all flavors.

But what bugged me was that he identified himself by this diagnosis, rather than as a human being. Like sufferers from "Fibromyalgia" - he identified with a diagnosis and built his life around it.  And worse yet, it seems to be a popular sport as of late.  You look around and everyone claims a diagnosis that defines them - some illness, real or imagined, or mental condition - ADD, Dyslexia, Asperger's syndrome, gender dysphoria, or whatever.  And maybe they have these things - maybe not.  Maybe they just hear about these things a lot in the media and decide to jump on the bandwagon.  Among young people, in particular, it is a way of getting attention - and having a crutch to lean on.

Identify someone as a "troubled teen" and they will live up to that expectation.

I read online a story about a young man who was being a real jerk to his friends.  Every time they called him out on his boorish behavior, he retorted with, "I'm Autistic!  I can't help it!  You have to deal with it!" - and again, maybe he was Autistic. But since when did that become a get-out-of-jail-free card for life?  That kid who shot up a school - his Mom claimed he was Asperger's.  Is that an excuse?

I mentioned before about some mentally ill people I met, was raised with, or dated over the years.  One pattern I noted about mental illness was that the folks I knew sort of obsessed about their own mental condition, which made them very selfish.  In fact, it was all they could talk about - what their therapist said, what their latest meds were (and the side-effects) and of course, how their condition was an excuse not to move on with life.  "I can't help it!  I'm [fill-in-the-blank]"   And again, maybe this is true, or maybe if they didn't spend so much time being introspective and notice that other people have feelings, too, they might not be so depressed or whatever and move on.

Hey, it's worth a shot.

More than one reader has claimed that I had Asperger's syndrome, which I guess can be diagnosed by amateurs, through the Internet, by reading what I write.  OK, maybe that is possible as well.  And indeed, in my early years, several teachers tried to tag me with the "troubled" label, starting in Kindergarten and continuing to the fourth grade.  My Mother, to her credit, would have none of it.

I started Kindergarten late in the year as my parents had just moved to Illinois.  So it was a month into the fall semester when I started and all the kids knew the routine and I didn't.  And like so many five-year-olds, I cried like a little bitch the first day Mom dropped me off.

The teacher handed out a mimeograph worksheet for us to complete.  There were rows of pictures and we were given crayons.   "These are easy!" one girl told me.  The goal was to color in all the objects that were the same.   So in the first row was a taxi cab, an ambulance, a firetruck and a tomato.  I looked at it and the colored crayons and thought, "This must be about color" and the fire truck and tomato were both red, so I carefully colored them in, in red, keeping inside the lines.

The other kids just scribbled whatever color was in their hands, over the vehicles in the row, as they knew the goal of the exercise was to group items together by type not by color.  The instructions given to me were not clear on this point.

There was also an incident with a Thanksgiving decoration, which for some reason I was not in class the day they did it.  I was told to make the decoration the next day and not given very clear instructions like the rest of the class.  So I winged it.  As I recall, we were given circles of colored construction paper and one was a large brown circle.   The fill-in-the-dots crowd used this as the "body" of the turkey and glued "feathers" to it.  I thought it was the ass-end of the turkey - you know the part with the feathers sticking out.  Anyway, I got it wrong and the Kindergarten teacher called my Mother and suggested I be sent back a year.  That's right, they were going to flunk me out of Kindergarten.

Mom would have none of it and threw a fit and the teacher and principal relented.  I went on to first and second grade there and was usually the smartest or second-smartest kid in the class.  So there!  Pffffft!  Maybe that is why I don't have this fanatical reverence for teachers that the teachers' union wants us all to have.  They are just people like you and me.  Some are great, some are mediocre, some are bad, and some are downright evil.

Which brings us to the fourth grade.   In our fourth grade class, we had to memorize the multiplication tables and the stupidest kids in class seem to do the best with this - rote memorization.  I had no trouble with it, other than some oddball ones like 7x8 which still flummoxes me.  Once again, a phone call from the teacher and she wants to send me back a year for not memorizing the multiplication tables. Once again, Mom to the rescue and she put her foot down.

And sure enough, the next year, I was a "math jock" and was through high school, until I decided to start smoking an awful lot of pot.

The point is - and I did have one - was that my Mother wasn't going to let me be labeled as different or special or whatever.  Only after she died did I find out that I had a very unhealthy childhood starting with my birth - nearly 24 hours of labor.   But Mom never said a word about it and insisted I be treated like any other kid in the family, and as a result, I never leaned on any crutch labeled "special" or "disabled" or "dyslexic".    Sure, it took me 14 years to get through college.  But I did.

But enough about me.  The point is, I believe that we are becoming too introspective as a nation and as a people.  We are spending too much time trying to figure out what's wrong with us and not enough time realizing a lot that is right.  Read the news, for example - it's all bad.  We are horrible people and horrible things are happening all over and the world is going to hell.   We don't talk about how people are trying to make things better or what the actual scope of our problems actually are.

We lament the "homeless epidemic" as though it encompasses half the nation - when it barely encompasses a half-a-percent.   We tend to obsess about bad news and forget what a beautiful world we do have - and how lucky we are.

It seems trendy these days to view ourselves as damaged goods and then lower our expectations accordingly.  I can't get ahead because of... student loan debt, my asshole boss, my fibromyalgia, my Asperger's, my ADHD, my Dyslexia, my Gender Dysphoria, my.... whatever excuse you want to make. And yes, some of these things are difficult and an additional obstacle in life.  But are they just obstacles that can be overcome or at least accommodated, or are they just an excuse not to try?

Or in the case of the "Autistic" kid who was mean to his friends, just an excuse to do whatever the fuck you want?

I made fun of the "Autistic Muppet" on Sesame Street because, to me, she sounded more like a passive-aggressive Muppet than an Autistic one.  She insists on playing games her own way and everyone else has to accommodate her.  And if she melts down because someone makes a loud noise, well, everyone has to deal with that.  And I've seen online, t-shirts for sale that say, "I'm Autistic, Deal with it!" - which is a really neat trick, to get everyone else to dance to your tune.

Sadly, this sort of thing seems to be a popular sport.  People bring animals on an airplane because they claim it calms their nerves and they have to have them and are entitled to have them and deal with it!  It seems kind of funny to me - what did people do back in the 1970's when they wanted to fly?  Mark's Dad never had a "service animal" in his B-17 and they had a lot more to be nervous about back then.

Maybe we were made of stronger stuff back then.  Or maybe today we are just indulging our every whim.  It is kind of scary, what some people are saying today with a straight face.  I'll kill myself unless I get gender reassignment surgery!  Therefore it is a life-saving medical procedure!  All you liver transplant people - back of the line!

Have we gone too far with the touchy-feely stuff lately?  To even ask the question is to be condemned as a cold-hearted racist homophobic transphobe bastard.  And is this shit going to backfire on us in a big, big way?  In a way, it already has.  The election of Donald Trump was a push-back against political correctness and the perceptions of many people in the 'heartland" who have become more and more puzzled by the oddball policies of the Democratic Party.

Of course, the hard-core Trumpers have crutches of their own to lean on - they are "victims" of society, liberals, cancel culture and whatnot. They would be Billionaires if the Federal Reserve hadn't handed all their hard-earned money to "Welfare Queens" and "Illegal Immigrants" (which of course are both barely concealed code words for minorities).  The blame game is one anyone can play.  Blame your medical malady, blame the government, blame foreign governments, blame minorities, blame the other party.  It's all part and parcel of externalizing one's problems.

The difference is (or isn't) is that when you use Autism or ADHD or Dyslexia or whatever as a crutch or excuse, you are not externalizing per se, as it is an internal issue.  But since it is an issue ostensibly out of your control, it is actually as external as the trilateral commission.  This is particularly true for people who have self-diagnosed themselves with these conditions.

So what's the point of all this?  It isn't to say that mental health conditions are imaginary or that you should go off your meds - far from it.  Please stay on them.  No, the point is to stop thinking of yourself as damaged goods and constantly be looking for signs to reaffirm this.   You drop a glass of water in the kitchen and it breaks.  That's not Asperger's syndrome at work, that's shit that happens - to everyone, at some time in their life.  And some of us are just clumsy, too.  Not everyone as the cat-like reflexes of an athlete or a dancer.  Some cats don't even have them!

If you allow yourself to be labeled as damaged goods or worse yet, label yourself as damaged goods, life is going to suck, big-time, or at the very least, may not be what you expected it or wanted it to be.

I wanted to tell "Autistic Guy" at the campground that he was a perfectly decent and functional human being and didn't need to make excuses for his behavior as he hadn't done anything wrong.  I felt sad that he had to identify himself through this prism of Autism (indeed, it was the first thing he said to me - and others - was his diagnosis).  But I never got the chance to have that conversation.

I wanted to tell him how I was labeled, early on, as damaged goods, but succeeded not in spite of that, but because someone stood up for me and didn't allow me to be so labeled.

P.S. - If what I say here upsets you or makes you angry, too bad! That's just the Asperger's talking.  Pffft!  Hey, this is a fun game to play - I always get to win!  Maybe that's the point of the game.