Monthly Archives: November 2012

Autism and special interests

The Hospital Series will be back. But we’re going to take a break from bipolar and go back to autism for a post. And something a little happier, or at least, something that makes me happy.

In the autism community they’re called “special interests”. Most autistic people have *something* they are very interested in. In the DSM (Diagnostic manual), they call it “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus”

Abnormal in intensity or focus.

Well let’s take one of my own special interests for an example. The biggest one. Musical Theatre. Intensity? Well, let me describe the feelings that come along with special interests. Just listening to a cast recording makes my heart rate speed up, my breathing catch in my throat, and I get a general feeling of wanting to break out of my skin. I get obsessed with this cast recording and want to spend all my time absorbing myself in it. I want to know every word, every syllable, every note. I want to know the history of the production, the cast. The NEED to know everything about it takes me over and I can no more stop my research than I can fly. The interest is ALL I want to do all day and if I actually have a free day to spend on an interest I might even forget to eat. It’s the only thing I want to talk about. I still struggle with realizing that other people just aren’t as interested as I am and may not want to talk in as much detail about it, if they want to talk about it at all. That’s an example of intensity.

Focus? Well, in some cases my focus is very narrow. Like a specific song. The song “Nobody’s Side” from the musical Chess, for example. I know which actress sang the song on each Cast Recording and how long each version is. When I’m distressed, I line them up in my head from shortest to longest.

Currently I’ve discovered the Off Broadway 2012 version of the musical Carrie and it’s started an Asperger’s obsession cycle…. For me the cycle goes,

Around 6 o’clock yesterday evening I discovered the cast recording for the musical. Immediately I found the entire 2012 performance on YouTube and watched the whole thing TWICE. Then I started researching the history, how the 1988 version of this show flopped and lost a lot of money, who the different cast members were…

This researching can go on for hours. It’s still going on the morning after. Because I just NEED to know everything about it and put it in its little box in my brain.

And it’s never consistent how long the obsession cycle lasts. As far as musical theatre in general goes, that’s been there since I was 5 years old and is still going strong. But the individual musicals cycle, and eventually a different musical will ignite the cycle all over again.

Occasionally a non musical theatre subject will become a special interest. Past ones have been tornadoes, or the computer game Minecraft, or Toronto Island. I was obsessed with running for a while, that was a good one. But they never replace the main special interest, musical theatre, the thing I would love to be able to talk to everybody about for hours.

Recently a professional suggested to me that musical theatre was an odd special interest for someone on the autism spectrum. Especially since I also like performing.

In response to that, I will say that I have heard a very wide range of special interests from people on the spectrum, and as for me, I was drawn to acting first because it was a natural extension of loving to listen to the musicals, and second because I wanted social contact (YES people with autism want social contact, they just don’t know how to get it). So if I was acting, I had contact with my cast. And if I wasn’t good at relating to the people, at least our characters interacted. I don’t understand why acting would be weird for someone with Asperger’s… the social relationships between characters onstage are only onstage so they end when you go home and you don’t have to think of what to say because there’s a script. And while you’re studying it you learn what motivates people and why people react the way they do. Sounds perfect to me. And I CAN relate to theatre people. I usually get along with theatre people and they get or tolerate my quirks.

So special interests really are something special. At least for me as an autistic person, they brighten my life. Even if they sometimes have a feverish intensity, I always have something to be occupied with. And absorbing myself in them makes me feel fulfilled, hopeful, and satisfied.

Some teachers and parents think autistic children’s special interests should be extinguished because they’re “not mingling” or they’re spending too much time on it. Well, teachers and parents wouldn’t understand unless they were on the autism spectrum themselves. I do admit, sometimes I spend too much time on my subject of obsession, but if that’s a problem, schedule some special interest time and schedule some homework time. Don’t take it away altogether. That would be like asking a bird not to sing.

And if the “problem” is that the child is spending all his time in solitary pursuit of his interest, try and open it up. If he’s interested in comic books, take him to the comic book store and talk to the people there. Find an interest group for him, if you can.

I don’t know if non-autistics have anything like autistic special interests, but I would say I would miss it a lot if it was gone.

So then, who the hell am I?

I promise I will return to writing the hospital series once I feel up to it. But today’s blog will focus on the head trip that bipolar episodes bring on.

August of this year was great. I knew who I was. I was confident, happy, and I had people around me. So much of my life I’ve been alone.

September of this year put my emotions to the test. I grew even further, but was full of conflicting confidence and disappointment.

Somewhere around the end of September the mania started. The person who I thought I was was still there, but he was magnified 1000%. Who knows who triggered it? Another one of my medications, school, all the mental energy I was putting into auditions that only ever said no? And the “no”s confused me because all the feedback was good, excellent, even. So maybe a big ball of conflicting emotions was one part of it.

Then, somewhere around the middle of October, I crashed into depression. That’s usually what happens to me when I have a manic episode. It’s followed by a depression. Sometimes not so severe but this one was very severe. On the 22nd I was hospitalized. I got out yesterday.

And I find myself wondering who the hell I am?

Was that content, confident, exuberant, even, guy that I was last August really me?

Is it possible for me to have exuberance without having mania?

Will I have to give up natural excitement and exuberance in order to keep from getting sick?

I liked manic Jay before it got too far and I started with the delusions of grandeur. But that’s not who I am… that’s what the disease makes me.

Depressed Jay is not me. I have too much love for things to be reduced to that.

So is post-hospital Jay really me? I don’t feel depressed, but I don’t feel happy. Everything is just kind of ehh. I can find pleasure in things if I try hard enough.

My doctor would say that the levels of medication in my blood are just starting to get to a therapeutic level, and that I should wait, hold on, whatever.

So say the medication starts working. THEN who will I be?

The Hospital Series: Part 1

If you read my last post, you know I was going down fast. Here’s the thing about bipolar depression – it gets bad very¬†quickly. On October 22nd, at 9 in the morning, I saw my psychiatrist and she admitted me to the hospital.

There were no beds available yet, though, so I curled up in the fetal position in the corner of an empty office to wait for them to find a place for me. Finally at 3 in the afternoon I was escorted to the hospital and admitted to the psychiatric ward.

There’s something that always happens to me when I get admitted – for the first little while, there is just RELIEF that people are watching me and keeping me safe from the things I could do to myself. I remember friends visiting my first night, and I almost felt normal, like we were hanging out. Not like someone who had been composing music for his own funeral the night before.

But then, the relief passed, I realized that I still felt like my body was filled with lead, and I pretty much didn’t get out of bed for a couple of days. I really have trouble remembering some of this hospitalization, because I was SO depressed.

I’m going to talk about the hospital in short snippets, because it’s too much all at once.

Some Psych Hospital Survival Tips:
Stockpile towels. The nurses are always busy when you want to take a shower.
Don’t eat the chicken pot pie.
I will talk about Asperger’s sensitivities and psych hospitals later, but BRING EARPLUGS.
Sweatpants are a better choice then jeans because they might take away your belt and then your jeans will fall down.
You will have days where you feel great and can exercise, go to groups, do laundry, socialize…and then you will have days where you stay in bed all day.

I’m still in the hospital, but have gotten to the point where I can come home for a few hours. More blog posts are forthcoming, hopefully better ones… my brain is still too fried to be prolific.