b3ta.com user The Ghost of Stephen Foster
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Incidentally, the below story about the peanut butter has nothing to do with me. Much as I like peanut butter, I was born in the arse end of 1980 and the sack in question would have been bigger than me.

Shit, perhaps it was me.

Recent front page messages:

Had this in my head for a while.

As it were.
(Wed 16th Nov 2005, 2:27, More)

I'd like to return this record, please, me hearty...

I'm afraid thar's been a bit of confusion. Arrr!

edit: First ever front page! Hooray!!!
(Thu 17th Jul 2003, 0:13, More)

Best answers to questions:

» My Biggest Disappointment

Since people are belittling Asperger's below, I thought I'd come out of the shadows and educate you a bit:
This is a repost from my blog, which I wrote some time in September.

So. Yesterday I went to see a psychiatrist for the first time, because I'm trying to get a diagnosis for Asperger's Syndrome or potentially another disorder on the Autistic Spectrum. Since birth I've had some highly unusual difficulties with social interaction, behavioral instincts, spatial awareness, perception of physical interaction, and other things that ordinary people take for granted. Some three months ago I learned of a recently-discovered condition known as hyperlexia: essentially the opposite of dyslexia, i.e. a preternatural ability to read from an early age, to such a degree that it effectively pushes other parts of the mind aside. Those who have hyperlexia are without a doubt on the Autistic Spectrum. Well, I could read at adult fluency - and I mean, I could read a page from a science fiction novel without pausing to think - by my third birthday.

This, plus the other clues in my perceptions and behaviour, lead me to believe that I suffer from Asperger's Syndrome. With close analysis, it's a no-brainer. These elements, when added together, create a pattern of symptoms that can only be interpreted as an ASD by somebody who knows what to look for.

Recent events following my move to Lancaster have convinced me that I need to get this thing diagnosed and find a way to deal with it. My inability to break the ice socially, to present myself without appearing nervous or "creepy", to hold down a job without becoming intensely frustrated; my paranoia and depression resulting from my failed human interactions and the general negative reaction of the public towards my seemingly awkward and intangibly strange body language; all of these things create barriers that I cannot penetrate alone. At least without knowing for sure what they are or what causes them.

Some three months ago I visited my GP with these worries, and received a referral to a psychiatrist. I waited out the twelve weeks or so - which, by the way, is an incredibly long time to wait when one is worried about one's mental health - and finally I made it. I could not sleep a wink the night before, for fear of missing the early morning appointment (incidentally, that's another symptom), so when I arrived I was not at my most alert. I had, however, faith in the system. After all, psychiatrists are qualified professionals, right? They are trained in their field and prepared to ask specific questions in order to diagnose the particular disorders pertinent to the patient in question . . . right?

Apparently not. I decided that I should allow her to take the lead, assuming that the questions she asked would be the right ones based on my goal: to assess whetheror not I have Asperger's Syndrome or another Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The first warning sign was that the doctor - who shall remain unnamed - had never heard of hyperlexia. Okay, this was a little offputting, but hyperlexia is a reasonably new discovery. Old enough that there is already an American Hyperlexic Association, but still, relatively new. Stick with it.

She then continued to ask me a series of questions based purely around my friendships: whether I made friends in pre-school (I didn't go to pre-school, I took one look and told my mother "too many people!" - *ahem* - could this be a clue?), in infant school (one friend at a time, never kept hold of one), all the way up through secondary school (very few friends, treated as an outcast, never understood why, developed a desire to make new friends but never became good at it), and whether or not I have friends now (yep, lots, but breaking the ice is still extremely hard). This fixation took up nine-tenths of the conversation.

Had I realised she was fixating so hard on this, I would have tried to steer the conversation towards other symptoms - lack of spatial awareness, inability to
read facial expressions, ritualised nervous habits, dislike of eye contact, etc. I managed to mention a large number of these other symptoms, but because she kept steering the conversation back to the friendships thing, I barely scratched the surface.

In the end, within a couple of minutes of the end of the session when she wrapped the whole thing up, I learned why. She said, and I paraphrase: "I don't know very much about Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and I don't think anybody else around here does, but they tend to be characterised by a lack of desire to socialise, so I don't think you have one." She then asked me to describe in great detail the depression I suffer as a result of the effects these symptoms have on my life, and prescribed me anti-depressants (and a referral to a psychologist, which I don't hold out much hope for) as a quick fix.

If it weren't the end of the session, and I weren't exhausted from lack of sleep, I might have stuck around to argue with her.

Firstly, she is a practising psychiatrist. It is her duty to keep up with developments in the field of study, such as the diagnosis of hyperlexia as either a separate disorder or a symptom of other ASDs.

Secondly, she knew - almost three months prior to the appointment - that the reason I was seeing her was because I believe I have Asperger's. Would it have been difficult to do a little research into what, exactly, the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome are? No, it would not. Again, it is a matter of duty. Psychiatric disorders are diagnosed using a checklist of symptoms, assessing the patient against said criteria. If a majority, or a specified number of those criteria, are met, then an initial prognosis can be made and work can begin.

I don't necessarily expect a spot diagnosis; I do, however, expect the psychiatrist who has had three months of preparation time to at least possess a copy of the criteria for assessment! At no point did she ask any questions pertinent to the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, aside from repeated queries regarding whether or not I have any friends. Even my body language and speech patterns during the session should have given something away.

From the website of the Natonal Autistic Society: "Unlike the person with 'classic' autism, who often appears withdrawn and uninterested in the world around them, many people with Asperger syndrome want to be sociable and enjoy human contact . . ."

It took me minutes to find that quote. Minutes.

As for the anti-depressants: I asked immediately about side-effects, and she became quite evasive. She ran her finger down a large paragraph of text in the manual, and mumbled (again, I paraphrase) "possible increased blood pressure and heart rate, nausea, and lightheadedness when you stand up too quickly". I asked her if it could potentially exacerbate the symptoms of depression during the adjustment period, because I know some anti-depressants can do that and it can be dangerous if you're not prepared. She said "oh, yes, that can happen". Clearly she was ready to let me find out about that part for myself.

So I left and begrudgingly took the prescription to the pharmacist, seeing as that's clearly the best I was going to get. The pharmacist mentioned that sertraline takes two weeks to build up effectively in the system, and I'd only been given a fortnight's dose. Fair enough, we're playing it safe. Upon arriving home I check the actual list of side-effects: wow. It includes, but is not limited to: dizziness, vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, change in sex drive or function (!), effects on the skin and nervous system, and so on.

Okay, most medication lists a lot of side effects. No big deal. I take one - a day's dose - and within half an hour I feel sick and get the shakes. Nice. Time for anti-depression to kick in: a fortnight. Time for side-effects to kick in: half an hour. Brilliant.

Looking up sertraline on the internet, I find the potential is far worse than so far indicated, either by the psychiatrist (no surprise there) or by the packaging. For a start, the actual benefits are highly debateable. In test subjects the inpatients reacted exactly the same way as to the placebo, and only the outpatients received any (actually unspecified in any layman's terms that I could see) positive effects at all. Secondly, an abnormally intense reaction - quite plausible for somebody of my body mass - can cause mania, hallucinations, and, yes, an initial exacerbation of the symptoms of depression, manifested in the form of thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide. Especially, and the packaging itself mentions this, in the 18-29 age group. For those keeping score, I am twenty-six years old.

Here's the good part: withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms, after a Seratonin Re-uptake Inhibitor such as this, has built up in the system can - and likely will - cause sleep disturbance, violent and vivid dreams, and all kinds of other nasty symptoms including long-term or even permanent sexual dysfunction. The jury is still out as to whether or not this happens in a majority of cases, but the statistics seem to put it at between 40% and 65% of cases (clinical trials don't follow these things up after the test period is over, you see - go, science!).

Think about this. The underlying reason for my depression - which really isn't that bad, I'll have you know - is because of my long-term problems with social interaction, manifested partially but prominently in my inability to initiate romantic relationships. How is losing my ability to perform sexually going to help with that? "Not" is the answer. Here's to short-term solutions, and fighting the symptoms without addressing the causes! Hip-hip . . .

The moral of the story? I don't bloody know, but "go private if you can because the NHS is useless" seems to be a good starting point.

Okay, so the medication thing isn't that big a deal. Irritating, and clearly just a way of getting me out of there and claiming to have done something. I'm not going to take any more of the damn things because it's clearly going to do more harm than good. The part that really offends me is that an hour of my life was wasted with this useless, amateurish attempt at psychotherapy, at the end of which the doctor admitted that she knows nothing about the subject at hand, and then diagnosed me anyway with a patently false assertion!

What was the point in the whole thing? Why did she bother? Could she not have said this at the start? Maybe then I could have presented my symptoms better, rather than letting her take the lead in a dance to which I knew the steps far better than she. That's one hour of my life gone, nothing gained, and my faith in the professionalism of the NHS and the educational system destroyed.

She booked another appointment for me in two months' time. I won't be turning up. I will, however, be complaining heavily and seeking out a psychiatrist who knows what they're doing and can assess me properly and in an informed manner.
(Mon 30th Jun 2008, 4:06, More)

» It was a great holiday, but...

While on holiday in Norway in 1981,
I discovered a huge transparent sack full of slightly runny peanut butter that somebody had left by the side of the road. I was overjoyed at the time, being a big fan of peanut butter, and ate it slowly over the next three weeks.
(Sat 23rd Apr 2005, 21:42, More)

» My Biggest Disappointment

Once again, my response to a QOTW has spawned a board-wide debate.
Since posting my story, I've had several gazzes from kind-hearted supporters and sympathetic fellow autists, or those who know or are related to them. Far too many to realistically respond to individually, so I'd like to say collectively: thank you all, your respect is very much appreciated.

For the sake of clarity, I would like to point out that the intention behind my post was not to garner sympathy, but simply to tell the story of how the NHS let me down by not even knowing the symptoms of the disorder for which I was trying to get a diagnosis.

I'm not all "wah wah wah nobody loves me"; I'm simply trying to draw attention to the fact that:

a) autistic spectrum disorders are one of the most common psychiatric complaints in the world - one in 150 children is now diagnosed with one - and yet the NHS seems not to know the first thing about them, or to even care.

b) the general public is just as ill-informed. Did any of you know that April was Autism Awareness Month? Most forms of cancer, MS, ME, et cetera, et cetara, and all other types of disability or debilitating illness, are in some way recognised by the public. There's a general outpouring of sympathy for them, which is great. ASDs, however, are not recognised at all by most people. We're the last of the disabilities which are generally treated with contempt.

I can't properly control my body language, facial expressions, or social interactions, because that part of my brain hasn't developed right. Particularly because awareness about autism was absolutely appalling when I was still in school. Most people hadn't even heard of it.

I still get treated like a monster by people I bump into, even some people whom I know quite well, because I'm "creepy". I work my balls off to learn how body language and social interaction work, I don't let it get me down or beat me, and I don't have a defeatist attitude about it. The fact that I get treated this way is other people's problem, not mine. It's morally equivalent to racism or gender-based prejudice, particularly with people who know I'm autistic.

In fact, I know a girl who works with autistic children. She knows how autism works, and yet she still decides to treat me like a freak. I know that I come across as a weirdo, and I try so hard to fight it that I'm constantly - CONSTANTLY - concentrating on every single element of my speech and body language just to try to fit in properly. But it's not enough for people in general to understand. I'm pretty certain that I'll never be allowed to experience the world the way other people do, and that hurts like a bastard.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a testament to my own inner strength and willpower that I carry on living, and don't treat myself like a victim. Occasionally I vent, some days I cry into an empty room. Sometimes I wonder what the point is in owning a double bed when I only ever use one side of it.

But I haven't given up. Sure, I spend a lot of time ranting about how people need to learn to understand autism the way they understand other differences that turn people into minorities. I complain a lot about the way people treat me because I'm just "weird" in a way they can't put their finger on. But I don't feel bad about it. Just like people who are gay, or black, or paraplegic don't think it's their fault. It's not. It's their DNA, and it makes them different, not worse.

You want somebody who knows the English language inside out? Or who can learn any skill in half the time it takes somebody else? Or whose ability to comprehend philosophy and theology is preternatural? I'm your fucking man. Ask me about chaos magic some day, I'll change your world view. I promise.

Just don't treat me like a monster because I don't know I'm staring too much. Or because my tone of voice is off. Or because I appear to be frowning. It's a physical thing between brain and body, and if you actually take the time to get to know me . . . really, I'm pretty awesome.

Edited to remove dickery. See here: www.b3ta.com/questions/disappointment/post188249
(Mon 30th Jun 2008, 21:16, More)

» Local Nutters

I forgot about Waterboy!
Waterboy (real name Nick) used to come into the cinema where I worked. He was in his late thirties but had a mental age of around nine or ten, lived with his parents who cared for him (despite letting him out on his own), and mostly just spent his allowance on cinema tickets. He didn't fully understand the idea that you bought one ticket to see one film, watched it to the end, then left, so he would frequently leave halfway through with cries of "don't like that one". He would then change his ticket for another film (we often let him get away with this because he didn't really undertsand). Sometimes he would just come in and engage in utterly inane conversation with members of staff while a queue formed behind him and we tried to get rid of him. He had absolutely no concept of subtlety, grace, or propriety, but was for all intents and purposes a harmless individual. His worst crime was occasionally staring down women's tops and dribbling (he had no idea why this was a bad idea - frankly, I'm on his side there), or asking a perfect stranger to guess what was in his bag. This almost got him into trouble once or twice.
So, why "Waterboy"? Well, simply put, he used to have a fetish for films with water in them. His routine for purchasing a ticket would be to point at the list of films showing and ask the following questions: "What's that one called?", "What's it about?", "What time's it start?", "What time's it finish?" and "Has it got water in it?" He would do this over and over for as long as it took for the victim of this insanity to ask him in the politest possible terms to either pick a film or let the person behind him have a go. He would ask each question of each film in a completely random order, asking the same question several times for each film, until he finally bought a ticket. Then he'd go through the same routine with the person who took his ticket at the door to the screen.
One day the water fetish came to an abrupt halt, when he left a screening of "Titanic" in a state of some disarray with the immortal words "That's got too much water!" Strangely, he really liked "Waterworld".
Classic stuff.
(Thu 16th Sep 2004, 22:33, More)

» Fancy Dress

I once went to a Hallowe'en party as Easter Island.
I got a grey swimming cap to cover my head and used grey face paint to make everything above the neck match. That was the big stone head. Dark shadows in the eyes and everything.

I wore a swatch of green carpet that I got from a charitable carpet dealer around my shoulders to be the island part. Underneath that was a pale blue sheet, which I wore like a cape, to represent the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, I raided my old Lego collection and found a palm tree, a rowboat, and some sailors in full period garb. They had rifles, hats, a map and everything. I used tiny bits of steel wire threaded through the carpet to hold all of them in position as though they'd just landed and were exploring. Looking up at my face, which was a giant stone idol.
(Fri 13th Jan 2006, 1:54, More)
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