Not that kind of breakdown/A question of identity

I always knew I was “different” but it was never clear how or why. Hardly anything was clear in my youth. I spent a lot of time and tried a lot of different things looking for answers, always ending in frustration and disappointment. What was wrong? Why didn’t things work the way they were supposed to?

A curious thing happened, many years later, at a Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider’s course in Atlanta, Georgia. In the classroom part of course there was a quiz with a trick question: “what is the most common cause of motorcycle accidents?” Now, you are probably thinking speeding or drunk driving or poor maintenance or something like that. We were. The answer is something conceptually different:

What is the most common cause of motorcycle accidents? Multiple factors.

Huh? What does that mean?

Generally, if a motorcyclist encounters a single problem, that problem can be handled. Most accidents occur when multiple problems, multiple factors, occur simultaneously. Having two problems at the same time is not the same as having each one separately. Sometimes that’s because two problems at once push you past the limit of your capabilities. Sometimes one distracts you from the other. But it’s also because when two problems happen simultaneously you have to break them down into single problems to deal with them, or even realize there are multiple problems that need to be broken down, not just one big one. This extra complexity can be a killer.

This model threw new light on my situation from years earlier. There had never been a single, simple answer to the problem, because there wasn’t a single, simple problem. And we like to look for single, simple problems. That’s not always what happens.

This idea helped, but finding out about ASD was the key piece in the puzzle; maybe the most significant of the multiple factors that caused my previous life to implode. It’s finally possible to break down the situation, separate the elements, and get a better idea of what was going on then, and what is going on now.

Now I have a better break down of factors like: my ASD, other family members’ (presumed) ASD, my mistakes, other people’s mistakes, other people’s negative reactions to ASD, systemic apathy, odd choices, leadership failures, institutional failures, bad advice, weird circumstances, and plain old bad luck, including unfortunate timing in getting out of school into a massive economic recession.

Beyond this mechanical stuff, online ASD support forums have also helped. Seeing the diverse range of experiences and personalities of other people with ASD, helped define for me what ASD is and what it is not. And that realm of “what it is not” has given me a clearer idea of who I am as a person, which I didn’t have before.

The funny thing is, when I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, everything felt like dysfunction, and everything felt like my fault. On some level I have regarded my personality as dysfunction: another factor among a jumble of things that made me different and unacceptable. Finding out about ASD has given me permission to be myself by accepting ASD symptoms and behaviors, but also accepting those things that aren’t.

So this kind of breakdown is a positive breakdown; a tool for problem solving, acceptance and moving forward. It has let me see myself amongst the weeds.


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