For those who don't know me, I'm autistic. Asperger's Syndrome to be precise. I've been a developer for the better part of 8 years now, and have been programming for somewhere over a decade.
I didn't find out I was ASD until 19, and didn't really reconcile with that until likely years later. These posts will be a combination of advice I've given to those who are like me, as well as a letter of sorts to my past self who could have used a lot of it.
I write these posts in the hopes that someone like me will find value in knowing a very simple and very important truth about ASD:
You are not alone, and you are loved.
One distinguishing factor of people like us is an ability to tune everything out, to become so entrenched and focused on a single task we form a void of consciousness around that obsession.
I imagine a flame, and then I push everything into it. Hate, fear, nervousness. Everything. When they’re all consumed, there’s an emptiness, a void, inside my head. I am in the middle of it, but I’m a part of whatever I am concentrating on, too.
- Rand Al Thor (Wheel of Time)
When we're in that void, nothing can stop us, we feel invincible, it's an ecstasy of sorts. In that moment we know we can do anything, and do we shall.
There's danger down that path, losing yourself to that obsession. Like a child running their first race, sprinting ahead with the energy only a child could contain, we accelerate faster and faster. Soon, that speed wears off, our bodies and souls drained, and we realize one of the horrors of that void.
What goes up must inevitably come down, and if one spends too long in that focused state pushing ahead without regard it will crash all the harder.
Likely you've been at that empty state in the past, a depression creeping in that you've lost that spark, that special energy that people have praised you for for years.
If only you could get it back, be that brilliant and shine that brightly again, if even for a few more moments! It's a consuming hunger and a taxation on your mental health.
You live life waiting for that spark to return, covered in a fog of depression and loathing, hoping and praying to find it again. The problem is once it's found we're just as likely to do what lost us that spark in the first place.
Once we regain ourselves, we throw all of ourselves at a problem to prove, perhaps to ourselves, that we're just as brilliant and capable as before. Then, once again, we find ourselves at the bottom of that well.
Life is not a race that can be finished in a series of sprints, it's a test of endurance and fortitude. It's not kind to those who burn quickly and brightly, and will likely consume such people.
We pace ourselves through taking care of our bodies, the first important lesson.
The body needs sleep, food, company, and rest.
To deny it of these things in pursuit of that void-like state will leave one empty.
Our spark, our fire, needs time to recover. Failing to do so will cause it to dwindle, and eventually die, leaving a hollowness behind that gnaws at the soul.
Set alarms if you have to, but make sure to do right by your body and your soul. Failing to do so comes at a heavy cost, and no temporary boost in productivity will be worth ignoring it in the long run.
My past self would be especially annoyed by this advice, as there's no magic to it. No trick, no shortcut, just what I'd been told my entire life: take care of yourself.
Now that's all rather depressing, we only have a finite amount of spark? To people like us, that spark is an addiction of sorts, moderating it does not come easily, and putting limits on it is a horrifying concept.
Remember back to the race in which the child takes off sprinting. So too do we sprint and lose that spark, but what of the trained runner?
They spend years building up their endurance, stretching their limits, exercising and training to surpass themselves. Likewise we can train ourselves and stretch those limits to be able to spend longer in that focused state.
Such a runner will also tell you of the necessity of rest, and the risk of injury should they ignore it. Even if they can run a race at a certain pace, it would be dangerous to do so every day.
You cannot spend all of your time at maximum output, and that does not make you guilty of slacking to acknowledge it as such. Those thoughts can be dangerous, and will lead to a lot of guilt and a feeling of being a fraud.
You're not. You're pacing for the longer race.
That spark is a very powerful force, and being able to control it well is almost like a super power.
Everything feels clearer, things make sense, and absurd problems unravel in front of you. That very strength is what has propelled me in my career to do things beyond what I'd have believed possible.
That strength is also what's cost me dearly in relationships, sleep, health, and many other facets of life.
By this point I have more control over it, but still there's the siren's call, the temptation to give over everything. I've done it before, and it's gotten me promoted, praised, and recognized beyond my wildest dreams.
When I stopped afterwards and looked around I realized a depressing truth. Friendships had dwindled, my health had waned, and what was left of me had slowly faded away. The cost is high, the burn out is real, but still that temptation remains.
It is not weakness to seek help, it's the strength and bravery to admit that you cannot carry on by yourself anymore, and that you're willing to work to be better.
If you find yourself depressed, this is especially important as it becomes all the easier to give over to that spark and feed everything to it. It becomes an escape, and that's the very moment in which you need the most help to pull yourself back out.
We're not great at recognizing or dealing with our own emotions, and because of that they can rule us. Learning to control them, and having someone to talk through them is critical.
We're blind to ourselves, despite best intentions, and that can be one of the most dangerous things of all to someone with ASD.
You have an incredible gift, and will make many incredible things in your life. It won't be easy, the path won't always be clear, but I know you have the strength to keep walking it.
One day soon you may find someone much like yourself, struggling to go another step. Be the mentor you needed as a kid, because chances are they could use someone a lot like you.
You don't have to be perfect, you just have to care. The world could use more caring and love, and you have more of it in you than you realize.
Know that you're not alone in this crazy thing we call life. I believe in you.