This true story about absolutism and Asperger’s is about complaining, and the consequences of refusing to acknowledge something is wrong inside. Everyone you will ever meet determines all sorts of personal rules they keep for themselves. One person's principle can become another person's obsessive absolute. This is especially true for growing and impressionable minds.
I was diagnosed with Asperger's when I was tiny. Most of the science surrounding these issues never sat right with me, or Richard Kaplan, M.Ed, Sp.Ed. Through collaborating with my mentor, we believe we can pinpoint and demystify Asperger's as a series of absolutes.
Every child whines, tears up, and throws fits. It’s all part of growing up. I was not much different than any other child in this way. It just felt embarrassing when I didn’t have the words to express myself and got frustrated publicly when I mentally misplaced my ideas. I replay these memories often. I wished I were tougher, no matter what. I determined this absolute in my head and Asperger’s meant I’d focus on that no matter what, I would hold everything in.
The following circumstances should not be recommended to any child. The year was either 1997 or 1998. I can remember sitting at home when I was 11 or 12 one day in the winter. Mom, Dad, and Grampa either sat down or moved in and out of the room, trying to make themselves comfortable as I read the comics section of the newspaper next to a baseball encyclopedia while the TV played Nickelodeon.
Absolute Aches, Pains, and Problems
Grampa never complained except to my mom, and even then he tried everything he could to put a pleasant face on when he saw people. Though active all his life, a long-standing arthritic condition in his back, hips, and knees slowed him down, affecting him every time he walked or stood up. Mom was often fatigued from one of her last chemotherapy sessions. Soon after, my dad did the same towards the kitchen. He was hunched over and aging quickly. At this time, he had outlived a diagnosis for multiple myeloma by a long shot. This was close to when his kidneys completely failed. As a result, he needed dialysis treatment for the rest of his life.
Mom, Dad, and Grampa spelled out what their problems were to me and my siblings. Somehow the grownups never sat around to complain. At least not around us kids. I determined that nothing I could face could be as dramatic as cancer and chemotherapy, kidney failure, or arthritis. Combine that with every message imploring kids to be thankful for what has been provided to them and it’s clear to see how anyone else can make this absolute conclusion: “I should never complain.” Noble and reasonable goal, right?
Completely, Absolutely, Impossible
Asperger’s meant I was poor at sorting out this social issue. Absolutism ensured I was determined not to show any variation of a mood and refrain from complaining. Quickly I start to look sullen and detached. My expressions looked more and more deadpan. The entire world along with its conventional wisdom must have said that, “Oh, it’s just Asperger’s. Simon just wants to be left alone. He doesn’t want to be consoled; he’ll just keep himself occupied.”
This is how a vicious cycle starts. I continued to nothing when something bothered me. I doubted the point of speaking up and describing my miserable time in school. My mom later looked through family photos and said there was a turning point in my emotions. I had a “normal” range of emotions, then started to look sadder and sadder.
I learned very little during the day, while feeling abject isolation at the same time. It’s hard to wake up early every day under these circumstances. Every problem on top of another problem was overwhelming. I felt like I had the wrong color jersey on during a sporting event. But like an athlete, I was conditioned not to have an outburst, to stay stoic when it felt like many eyes looking at me. In light of both parents being ill, then taking care of each other, neither one could fight any battles for me in school. I did not say anything, and there was no spare time to figure out what bothered me. This is an excellent way to start sulking instead of being proactive. Bad body language coupled with silence means everyone around you plays a guessing game if they can even determine something is bothering you. If you don’t think you deserve to have your voice heard, you also will become too hesitant to speak up and use your own voice.
I’m the oldest of three siblings. If I say very little during all this, and I look expressionless and like I’m trying to hide while showing no expression, then I’m not going to get consoled. My siblings are, because they did not make the absolute conclusions that I did. Also, neither of them looked standoffish like me.
Refusing to complain extends far beyond school and growing up. What happens if the person next to you at work isn’t doing their job right? What about someone staying in an unhealthy relationship? How is anyone supposed to know when something they said or did upset someone else? Also, being a good friend does not mean always agreeing. I’ve held in my emotions so often, for so many years, that I don’t trust myself to speak up in these situations that require people smarts. Sometimes, it’s okay to complain.
You’ve just read about some problems my elders faced. What I have not said is that their judgments were far different than mine. They often complained about minor inconveniences, then let it go, on to the next problem. It’s just that their illnesses overshadowed little gripes about traffic, customer service, or ranting at the news, to name just a few examples. It’s remarkable to me how someone can be unflappable in a crisis situation yet complain about the little things. It turned out that the people I respected do complain. My sense of absolutism did not let me see this. Together, absolutism and Asperger’s meant that I held in my emotions so much that I did not realize my problems were significant. If I did not create my absolute in the first place, my range of emotions would have been acknowledged through the celebration of my excitements and commiserating with me when I’m down. I missed out on all of that because of my absolute not to complain. And the people who loved me would have wanted to share all of this with me as it happened.