Adventures in a Neurologically Mixed Marriage

Posts tagged ‘marriage’

Ghost Cat

Ghost Cat pic

She says:

 It’s spring in LA and I had the door cracked open to get some fresh air. I was working at my computer when I saw a furry gray streak out of the corner of my eye.

“Buddy!”

I jumped up to follow what I thought was the cat that normally lives outside, but when I turned the corner a split-second later, the cat had vanished. I walked down the corridor to the laundry area, looking for evidence of the feral intruder, but there was nothing but empty space and silence. I scouted around a bit then gave up.

When I went back to my desk and looked out the window, I could see Buddy outside on the woodpile, lounging in the sun. So who had just run through the room?

Later that night, I told Tom about it.

“Was there any sound?” he said.

Come to think of it, there wasn’t.

“It’s Ghost Cat,” Tom said.

He says:

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, really, since we live in a 100 year-old house. After all that time and all the folks who have been through here, it’s only logical to assume that something must be haunting the place. In our case, it’s a little gray kitty.

At first, Ghost Cat was a gray streak seen periodically out of the corner of my eye, usually when I was in the kitchen preparing dinner. After awhile I could sense him staring at me, disappearing as soon as I would look in his direction.

By all rights this should be freaking me the hell out, but it doesn’t. One aspect of Asperger’s Syndrome is the ability to simply accept the world around you with little or no judgment. Bourbon on the right. Chicken in the oven. Louis Armstrong on the stereo. Ghost Cat at your feet, staring at you.

Having Ghost Cat has some distinct advantages over other varieties—he doesn’t shed, he doesn’t make Linda sneeze, and I haven’t seen a single Ghost Mouse the whole time we’ve lived here.

And like the full-bodied, living, breathing, meowing variety, Ghost Cat doesn’t seem to particularly care about whether I’m there or not. Maybe Ghost Cat has Asperger’s too.

©2014 Tom and Linda Peters

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Special Interests, The Blackfish Effect and “Way of the Whale”

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Way of the Whale: A Novel by Linda Peters

You may have seen the phrase – The Blackfish Effect – popping up in the media lately, referring to a backlash against theme parks that display orca whales. Rock stars are cancelling shows and little kids are lobbying to change class field trip destinations.

My Blackfish Effect was that I wrote a novel from the point-of-view of a killer whale who finds it hard to follow rules in a world that doesn’t make sense to him.

In case you’ve been on a media blackout for the past year, Blackfish is a documentary film that tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale who was taken from the ocean as a baby and housed in theme parks to perform for the public. He killed three people.

I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins. I’ve traveled to Alaska to see orcas in the wild, and kayaked around San Juan Island hoping to have my own close encounter. But after seeing Blackfish in the theater, I became absolutely obsessed.

I went on a Google binge and read everything I could find about killer whales and captivity. I watched YouTube videos of a massive orca holding its trainer twenty feet underwater by the ankle. I wanted to understand why these animals attacked the people who were caring for them. I wanted to understand why audiences were told that swimming with captive orcas was safe.

I spent entire days immersed in incident reports and animal profiles, then curled up at night to read another chapter of Death at SeaWorld.

“I’m not sure why I’m spending so much time on this,” I told Tom.

“It’s your special interest,” he said.

Tom understands obsessions and special interests. He turns them into careers, like Grammy®-nominated classical musician, or hobbies, like ukulele collector or purveyor of persimmon tarts.

Mine turned into a novel.

I am happy to say that I published Way of the Whale: A Novel a few weeks ago! Tom and I collaborated to launch this whale of a story out into the world. He did the music for the book trailer. I hope you enjoy our trailer and will give my novel a read!

You can get “Way of the Whale” on Amazon:  ‪http://amzn.to/LoOoU9

You can watch the trailer here:

©2014 Tom and Linda Peters

Why My Husband Hates Wallpaper, or Pattern Obsession and Asperger’s Syndrome

We were in a hotel room on Catalina Island when Tom came to bed fretting. 640px-Interieur,_detail_van_behangsel_in_de_linkerkamer_op_de_eerste_verdieping_-_IJsselstein_-_20424548_-_RCE

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“The tile pattern in the bathroom floor,” he said. “I can’t figure out where they started it.”

Tom sees patterns everywhere, in everything. When he enters a hotel room, he has to figure out the pattern in the carpet, on the bedspread, and in the bathroom tile. He does all this calculating quietly. We had been together for several years before he even mentioned it.

“Wallpaper is the worst,” he said. “It’s very imprecise. I have to figure out how the pattern repeats — if it goes top to bottom or left to right — and where it ends. Then I have to figure out where the seams match up, which color was printed first, and in which order each piece was hung.”

“Sounds exhausting,” I said.

“Doesn’t everyone do that?”

When I read about Asperger’s, doctors say that patterns are soothing for someone like my husband.

“It’s not soothing,” Tom said. “It’s very disruptive. They drive me crazy.”

Me:      Then why do you look for them?

Tom:   I sometimes think that Asperger’s is a “disorder of order.” Looking for  patterns is a compulsion; it’s not curiosity.

Me:      Is it like OCD?

Tom:   With OCD, there is a fear of stopping the routine or pattern. With me, there is  no fear. Nothing bad is going to happen. Noticing the pattern is just an annoyance. I wish it would stop.

Me:      Outside of hotel rooms, what other places do you see patterns?

Tom:   Nature loves patterns. Everything in nature has a pattern. It’s very predictable and there are a limited number of finite outcomes. I think that’s why people with Asperger’s tend to like studying things like weather and  astronomy.

Me:      What about people? Do people have patterns?

Tom:   There is no discernable pattern to human interaction. Maybe that’s the reason that social interaction is so difficult. Human-made patterns don’t make sense to me. People operate on an instinctual level. It’s not logical.

Me:      And what about the music you write and play? Does pattern recognition help you compose?

Tom:   Music is all pattern. It’s a closed system. The reason to keep writing or playing a piece of music is to resolve the pattern. If I had to stop in the middle, it would bother me very much.

Listening to Tom talk about patterns made me wonder if the “Asperger’s experts” are wrong about how people like my husband feel on the inside.

Maybe applying NT logic to a condition that operates from a fundamentally different type of logic is another human-made pattern that makes no sense.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

Photo: “Interieur, detail van behangsel in de linkerkamer op de eerste verdieping – IJsselstein – 20424548 – RCE” by Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons

Brain-lock! A Peek Inside the Inner Workings of an Over-stimulated Asperger’s Brain

What do you do when your husband freezes in a river full of moving people?

"SchafherdeInKoeln" by © Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 2002 /. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

“SchafherdeInKoeln” by © Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 2002 /. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

After a Go-Go’s concert, we got up to leave the Hollywood Bowl bleacher seats with thousands of other people. Tom’s hand gripped my shoulder.

“Are you all right?” I said.

He gripped harder and we crept toward the exit. I knew something was wrong so I tried to guide him. People were pushing from all sides. It was like rush hour on the 405 Freeway and there was no place to pull over.

“We’re almost out,” I said.

But as soon as we squeezed out of the theater, many lines of people converged from the various exits. We were in the middle of this crushing mass, trying to walk downhill.

“Wall,” Tom said.

I aimed for the snack bar building, about 20 yards away. We were oozing along with a somewhat raucous crowd of tipsy concert-goers, and the momentum was preventing us from reaching the perimeter.

And then Tom froze. He wouldn’t move or respond to me.

He says:

One of the hazards of Asperger’s Syndrome and ASD is something I call brain-lock. People on the autism spectrum tend to be hypersensitive to everyday stimuli that people not on the spectrum have the ability to ignore. Brain-lock occurs when too much sensory information comes in and the mind seizes up.

A crush of humanity triggers brain-lock in me.

At the end of the concert of 80’s bands, I held back and waited for the crowds to thin out. I know my limitations. There seemed to be a break so off we went. That’s when the crush began. I gripped Linda’s shoulders and let her lead me through as brain-lock descended. I honestly had no idea of who, what or where I was. It’s like standing in the eye of a swirling hurricane of colors, sounds, sensations and thoughts, where nothing—even your own existence—makes any sense.

“Are you all right?” I heard Linda ask through the swirling blur of loud Hawaiian shirts, shouting voices, the feel of bodies crushing in on me and the smell of stale margaritas. What she was saying made no sense to me.

I tried parsing out the words.

Are—R?  Arrrgh?

You—U? Ewww? Ewe?

All right?—Al Wright? Awl rite? All left?

“Wall,” was all I could manage. I knew if I had something solid, I at least stood a chance to get my bearings and just make it all stop. If nothing else, I knew it would eventually end when enough people left. We couldn’t make it. There were just so many souls in this river of humanity that the wall was about as far away as the moon. We kept going.

Eventually we reached an open area and I dove for the nearest people-free space. I vaguely remember clinging onto the railing of a closed snack bar, gasping for breath until my brain unlocked and the world slowly returned to normal.  The hurricane subsided and I was myself again.

Just another middle-aged guy in a Hawaiian shirt

©2013 Tom & Linda Peters

How to Communicate with an Aspie: Be Like a Dog!

I have never been a dog person. Both Linda and I grew up with a combination of cats and dander allergies, so house pets

"Smiling Tan Pomerarnian" by Slant6guy at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Smiling Tan Pomerarnian” by Slant6guy at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

that didn’t spend all their time swimming in our aquarium have been out of the question. A few months ago, we moved to a property that changed everything. We share a large yard here with four loveable dogs. They greet us, protect us, entertain us, and love it when I sit outside at night and play ukulele. I finally get the whole dog thing. God, are they cute!

One thing I like about dogs is that they are honest with their intentions. A dog growls when it’s angry, whimpers when it’s sad, barks when it’s agitated and wags its tail when it’s happy to see you. If they want something from you, like food or love, they don’t beat around the bush, or try to make it seem like it was your idea in the first place and they’ll just go along with it. Maybe that’s why ASD people seem to have a special affinity for animals.

All interactions, be they between people or furry critters, are exchanges in energy. Interaction is a give and take that, ideally, both parties benefit from. Dogs exude a kind of energy that keeps the give and take equal. People are not like that.

I know, I know—there are some who would say that if an energy can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist, but go with me here. Have you ever had the experience of getting together with people, having a great time, then coming home feeling like you’ve somehow been insulted? You can usually trace it back to some snide, offhand remark that you didn’t notice when it was said but feels awful now. In an unfortunate number of human interactions, one person takes from the other, leaving the second person feeling hollow and inadequate, and questioning why they feel so depleted.

People live in a world of multilayered complexity, where the words they use are often the opposite of what is meant. This is particularly difficult for someone on the autism spectrum, where literal meanings are taken as gospel truths. Take sarcasm for example. If I’m wearing a bright red Hawaiian shirt, blue shorts, green socks and sandals, a well-meaning person might want to tell me that the combination looks hideous. A common way of expressing this would be, “Well that’s a nice combination!,” at which point I might proudly say “Thanks!,” missing the point completely.

Sarcasm or doublespeak is seen as a sign of wit and intelligence, rather than meanness or the fear of expressing yourself directly. It is my wish, not just as an Aspie but as a human being, that all people deal with each other directly. Please, just say what you mean and mean what you say. Be like a dog.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

The Advantages of Asperger’s Syndrome, or Can I Keep Him? Huh? Huh? Can I Keep Him?

She said:

It was 2 AM and a clattering noise in the living room woke us up.Bigfoot UFO

“Did you hear that?” I said.

Tom went to investigate.

“Um…we have a problem,” he said.

There was animal poop on the hardwood floor and we don’t have any pets.

“Whatever it is, it’s not small,” he said, searching for the intruder. “I could use some help.”

But I couldn’t move. I was curled up in a defensive fetal position. When I was little, I used to be scared that nightmarish monsters would sneak into my room while I was sleeping. Now, one had finally found me. I was sure that if my bare foot touched the floor, the beast would attack.

“I…can’t…”

Before this incident, I had prided myself on an above-average ability to handle a crisis. I’d always found it easy to calm people down and make a plan, even when things were going terribly wrong. But we weren’t dealing with people in this case. We were dealing with a wild animal. And it was in…the…house. And I needed to use the bathroom.

“Can you check the bathroom,” I said. “Just in case.”

And behind the standing towel rack, Tom saw two fuzzy ears.

“It’s an opossum,” he said.

“What?!”

“North America’s only indigenous marsupial is in the corner, next to the bathtub.”

He said:

Dealing with a marsupial in the bathroom is not one of Linda’s strong suits.

Linda and I are a good match in many ways, particularly in a crisis. Linda handles aggressive people with absolute aplomb. In situations where I would be a confused mess, she steps in and takes charge, navigating the treacherous waters of human interaction.

I’m much better with the nonhuman variety—computers, mechanical things and small, furry animals. In this case, I think that having Asperger’s Syndrome equipped me for being able to get into our fuzzy little interloper’s brain. Animal reason and logic is not word-based, so by putting myself in his little paws I knew instinctively that the critter was not about to attack.

As I stood in the bathroom eyeing my opponent, I could immediately tell that he wanted out of our house more than we wanted him out, but he was terrified and wasn’t about to budge.

After checking the various nooks and crannies for any other furry compatriots, I called Animal Control. After convincing them that no, I wasn’t going to just put a box over a wild animal and take him outside, they sent help.

Now all the holes and entry points have been sealed, so I doubt we’ll be seeing any more surprise guests.

Still, that little opossum was pretty darned cute.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

I Hate Words: The Hazards of Asperger’s Communication

I hate words. Give Wings to your Heart

Many of the difficulties I’ve had as an Aspie in relationships have revolved around the use and misuse of words. Written words are not the problem; they can be worked and reworked until there is some precision of meaning conveyed. No—it’s those little spoken bastards that give me the most trouble. I know exactly what I mean and want to say, but the words simply won’t cooperate.

In the 60s, Northwest Airlines started a very successful American campaign with the slogan “Give Wings to Your Heart,” and wanted to take it global. Instead of springing for a good Chinese translator, Northwest decided to go the budget route. The Chinese version of the “Give Wings to Your Heart” slogan was translated as: “Tie Feathers to Your Blood Pump.”

I’m pretty sure that a budget Chinese translator resides inside my Asperger’s brain.

Words are the translators of thoughts, ideas and emotions, and they can devilishly mistranslate those same thoughts, ideas and emotions with the exact opposite meaning from what was originally intended. This is where my internal translator—who at times feels like he’s on his third martini—either mutters or hears something entirely inappropriate or passes out altogether, leaving me to stare blankly and wonder what the word “what” means.

This, I think, is one of the primary reasons I write and perform music. Words are not even an issue.

Linda is one of the only people in my life who actually takes the time to look for the meaning behind the words, and is patient enough to make sure her meanings get through as well.

And I have to say, it truly ties feathers to my blood pump.

© 2013 Tom and Linda Peters