Saturday, 27 October 2012


There is no such thing as random. There is always an algorithm. Perhaps it is so complicated that it appears random, but I know that there must be an algorithm somewhere.

In the gym, I usually do my cardio exercise on the step master. I recently discovered that one of the exercises you can choose is called 'around the world'. The impact varies according to mountains and sights in the continents I 'visit'. E.g. going through Sahara is low impact, while the Eiffel Tower is one narrow peak with high impact. Now I am trying to deduce the algorithm...

  • There are six continents: South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceana. 
  • The workout does not always start in South America but could start anywhere on the list. The order of continents remains the same.
  • A 25 minute workout and a 30 minute workout visit three continents. 9 minutes in the first, 10 minutes in the second and the remainder in the third.
  • A 53 minute workout (which I did today) visit all six continents, 4'20'' in the first, and ten minutes in the others except of course for the last one, which lasts a little less.
  • Thus below a threshold this workout visits only a subset of continents, and above the threshold all six. 
Next step is of course to deduce the threshold. Maybe there is more than one threshold, the likely thing is that 50-60 minutes equals 6 continents, 40-50 equals 5, etc. So what's with the 9-10-11 minutes versus the something-10-10-10-10-something? I got to go on the step master till I've figured it out!

OK computer algorithms are easy because I know that they are there. Other algorithms are much more difficult. (Heaven forbid that they simply don't exist)

First time you meet a person, you shake hands. At some stage, if you see the person often or become close, you stop touching and just say hello when you meet. Then at some stage you may become so close that you hug the person when you meet. This algorithm I've learned. I've also learned that sometimes you don't hug a person that you've hugged before because you saw him or her recently. But sometimes it becomes more complicated than that. Maybe you hug upon arrival but not when you leave. Or the other way around. Or both. Or neither, even though you didn't see these hugable people for a long time. Please teach me the algorithm!

Ending e-mails is a similar story. The Danish greetings are different from the English greetings, of course, but the idea would be more or less the same: From 'sincerely' over 'best regards' and no greeting - just the name, to 'with love' (in Danish the abbreviated form is rather common) or maybe 'hugs', there is a development of increasing proximity. But what does it mean when a colleague writes 'with love' one week and simply 'regards' the next? When a friend moves from 'hugs' to 'with love' to 'best regards'? When a person I never met before ends their e-mail 'with love'? THAT algorithm is not installed on my computer! I've got my own but I am not sure it works to the purpose. To colleagues I write 'best regards', to friends 'with love', except for the selected few that receive 'hugs' from me. My algorithm works, most of the time, but it feels like speaking very broken French to French-speaking people. The risk of making mistakes, also offensive mistakes, is rather high, and there is nothing I can do, because nobody taught me the algorithm.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

View from a bridge

I found this picture on the internet:

The source is, although the painting is by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. The girl in the white dress is with the others but alone, she is in the same place but sees different things. The title of the painting is not 'girls on a bridge', but 'girl on a bridge'.

Somehow we are always on a bridge, always developing from one state to another. From child to adult, from being a child to having a child, etc. The bridge I stand on these days goes from the country of fitting in to the country of not fitting in at all. From the place of people to the place of solitude. From the average to the odd. From NT-land to Aspie-land.

And I have to find my way, my place on the bridge. Should I accept being part of a team at work, or should I do my best to avoid it? Should I join the others for a Friday beer or should I close my office door and stare at a spreadsheet? Should I call or e-mail? Should I respond to 'lets have coffee' or just 'forget' (I don't)?

Within the past few weeks some people that I've known for many years have asked if we should meet. A group of old colleagues have arranged to eat dinner at a (noisy) restaurant. Another former colleague wants to have coffee, well two former colleagues both want to have coffee. One of them I actually regard a close friend. I really like to have these people - and others - in my life. But I don't want to see them. In particular, I don't want to spent too much time outside my home and my workplace. I get exhausted by the noisy café. But I also know that that is the way we people socialise.

Something in me (but not the whole me) wants to run as fast as the white dress allows to the 'other' country. Kindly decline all invitations to gather. Cycle to work every morning, and cycle back every afternoon. Go shopping, cook, and after dinner open my computer and write long e-mails to all the people I like to have in my life, go on Facebook and comment at their photos, or communicate via text messages or even the chat function in wordfeud.

There's one part of real life socialising that I enjoy a lot though. I like having people over for dinner. If I am uncomfortable with our guests, I can always find something to do in the kitchen. And I am at home. My base. So my favourite place on that  bridge would be a few steps away from the country of never seeing people in real life.

I tried to explain myself to my husband. I may have misunderstood, but I gathered that he felt that since I've fitted into social norms for 44 years, I might as well continue. It would, admittedly, make things much easier.

It is as if exploring my being different per se makes me more different. It is as if there's no turning back to the country of fitting in. And I think that scares me a little, and it scares my husband too. What if I turn into a hermit? Is that covered by 'for better for worse'? I don't know if I am about to turn into a hermit, I cross the bridge in my own speed and explore as I go.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Beware of people

Several years ago, while I shared an office with another woman, my office-mate and I laughed at a power-point presentation entitled 'Engrish', which consisted of anglophone signs from China. The fun thing about it was of course that the Chinese made a lot of mistakes. I make mistakes myself when writing English, so for me it is OK to laugh (I hope). One of the signs were from the exit of a public transportation and it read: 'Beware of people'. The true meaning is obvious, nevertheless the actual sign was hilarious. So much so, that we printed it out, and tagged it to the exit of our office.

It was not just for fun though. Inside the office we were safe (I don't know how she felt about it, this is my rationing), we knew each other very well and we had our things there. We were in control. Outside the office we would meet our colleagues, our superior, or people visiting the institute. Our 'fear' of everything outside our wonderful office developed to the point of us buying an electric kettle and some instant coffee, so we didn't have to walk the 20 meters down the hall to the kitchen. Perhaps it was not fear but rather laziness. Not laziness of walking the 20 meters of course but laziness towards relating to the people we might meet on the way.

Why is it so hard to relate to colleagues in a corridor or while waiting for the coffee brewer? I experience the laziness still, in my present job. I have my own office, very close to the kitchen at work. I usually wait till there is noone there, before I go and fetch myself a cup of coffee. Sometimes I tell myself: what rubbish! and I get up and go to the kitchen before giving it any more thought. It's easier when I can hear a conversation that I know how to join in. E.g. if they talk about cakes, or cell phones, or children.

I think it is because I need a "haven". A place where I can retreat to. Where I am safe. I believe most people do, I just think this need is stronger with me than with others.

I feel the same way about my home. I long to go home and I don't want to leave my home. In particular, I don't want to go to other people's homes. When people are visiting us, I go and stay in the kitchen for as long as possible. And I know very well what is trigging me: I am not afraid of other places, I am uncomfortable around 'people'. Not strangers though, I don't have to relate to people in the line at the supermarket or people on the train. Only people I have to relate to. Colleagues, visitors, etc. Because I am uncertain about how to relate. If I talk to much, or too little, too loud or too soft. If I misunderstand irony or if I try to make a joke and it is just not funny.

A discipline that I never mastered is 'friendly teasing', when I say something 'nasty' to a person that is close to me. While I say: 'Dumbass', I really mean: 'I care about you', but I say 'Dumbass' instead to impress all the other people that listen. And quite often, the teasing is an exchange between me and my husband or me and a friend. And now I've given up. Firstly I don't get it before too late when I am being teased, and secondly when I try myself, it always comes out too hard and I hurt people I care about. So I have decided to resign from the friendly teasing.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Groups and parties

While I went to primary school, team work started being popular. Pupils had to work in groups, new universities were founded and based on team work. Nobody questioned the benefits of team work. I understand from my children's school that the team dogma is still in place, and is still not being questioned.

I never really got used to it. In primary school I either took over the entire group, made all the decisions and did all the work. Or I sat in the corner and sulked. There was nothing in between. In high school I usually worked with one friend and that was OK. On my first day in university I became friends with Peter. We HAD to form teams in university, so Peter and I teamed up with different constellations. It only worked when it was just the two of us. And that worked because we had a clear division of labour: I was much better than Peter at the mathematical subjects, whereas he was better at words hence the more political subjects were his field. When other people were part of our group, I got confused and frustrated.

At times during my working life, I have had to put up with team work again. A few times I have been lucky and met another 'Peter', where the other person and I excelled in different areas. But more often that has not been the case, or the team had consisted of more than two people. And then the primary school history repeated itself. I took over everthing or I sulked in a corner.

I don't feel particularly well about parties either. The less chaotic the better, though. The annual Christmas party is a good example. Most often the party starts with a sports event, a city walk, or similar. During dinner, there are speeches, quizzes, competitions etc. All this time, I am fine. The mere existence of a schedule or a plan makes me relax. Also I know what is expected from me. I just have to participate, go with the flow... Then, after dinner, things get worse. The light is softened, the music made louder, and tables are being pushed aside so people can dance. No more schedule. If I happened to be engaged in a conversation, the loud music makes it difficult. And nobody asks me to dance. Not that I like to dance, but I don't like to sit alone and do nothing. If have no idea what to do and I can't find my friends because they are busy dancing and drinking. Since I don't dance and I don't drink, I am by all means 'not on board'. In recent years I have left the party at this time, deciding that nobody will notice that I am the only person under 60 to leave the party at about 9 pm. If they do, I make my voice hoarse and say that I have a sore throat. Which is not a lie because my throat gets sore from shouting over the music....

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The social coach

In 2002 I was divorced. Two years later I met another man, known by my friends and my Danish blog as W. He was 44 when I met him, so calling him a 'boyfriend' somehow doesn't seem right. We went out for four years and a bit, and it was not a happy relationship. At least I wasn't happy. It was while I was seeing W, that child care professionals started talking about Asperger's in relation to my youngest son. I was rejecting them completely but W thought I should hear them out. He was a child professional himself and I suspect he talked on behalf of his profession. He also had a son (he still has I guess). His son went for regular tests, he has epilepsy, ADHD and maybe something else as well. The boy went to specialised daycare and education. Somebody also talked about Aspergers in relation to W's son.

W never managed to 'see himself from the outside', but his daughter and some of my friends suspected that he had Aspergers. Now I am certain that he does. Compared to him, I was more outgoing and socially ept. My own challenges were minor compared to his. Also, this was before my long period of self-development, where the Aspie-recognition is only the last step. And I have several years of practice in the fine art of almost fitting in. When I compare myself to W and to my mother, I see at least one major advantage of my own personality: I am friendly and tolerant and I have a positive way of thinking. My mother doesn't, and W didn't. Therefore people like me, and my probability of being accepted is much higher than theirs.

W used me as a social coach. His job as a teacher provided daily challenges, with peers not with the children, in the form of small-talk, smiling at people, making friends with people. And he changed his workplace rather often. Everywhere he ran into problems. And he told me about it and I tried to tell him what to do. I think it was his Aspergers combined with the personality: People saw him as rejecting and cross, and nobody wants to get to know a person like that. During the course of our relationship, the coaching part of our conversations grew in size and eventually there was no time for me to tell about my day or whatever I needed to talk about. Not that I really needed HIS advise on anything, his advise was very lousy. I was a bit annoyed with this development but I also enjoyed being of use.

I broke up with W, embarked on a development process, during which I discovered my own Aspie traits (as described), met my husband, and now I am here. My husband knows a lot of Aspies and he works with engineers, but he is not Asperger himself and definitely more socially ept than I am. I often want to ask him for advise in social situations but do not want our relationship to develop the way W's and mine did. I don't want to be W! Sometimes I can hear W's sentences in my head, and if I don't stop myself I'll talk like him. My husband never met W, so he wouldn't know, but I know...

Friday, 12 October 2012

Knowing the rules

Some three years ago, Denmark hosted the global climate summit COP15. It ended up a failure, not least due to the Danish prime Minister, who, as a host, had to lead the final meetings. The rest of the worlds may have forgotten, while a lot of Danes still remember (with embarrasment) our tired and angry prime Minister shouting at Obama et al: 'I don't know your rules!'

I count myself among those being embarrassed about that incident, and I was never particularly fond of that (now former) prime Minister. However, I find his quote rather useful for numerous other occasions.

When I was a child my parents never told me the rules of social conduct. Maybe they tried but I didn't listen. Or maybe they didn't find it necessary. I was, after all, a quiet and well-behaved child. Also, due to my mother being the way she is (strong Asperger features though never recognised), my parents never had a noticable social life, where my social abilities (or lack thereof) could be tested. Thus they never realised I had the need for knowing the rules or they never knew the rules themselves, or at least my mother didn't.

My grandmother read a weekly magazine targeted at elderly women and housewifes. I always read it when I visited my grandparents. Among the subjects covered by this magazine was an agony column about very day-to-day issues. A woman wrote a letter asking which set of cutlery she should use first when she was at a fancy dinner party where there was more than one set of cutlery laid out. The agony woman answered to the question but also stated that when in doubt at a dinner party, check out what the hostess is doing, and copy her. Now that advise was very useful to me, it applies in a lot of settings and not only fancy dinner parties. Hence: rule #1: do what the hostess/ the others are doing.

I invented rule #2 myself - but Einstein has been quoted for something similar: when in doubt: shut up. Due to rule #2, I never said a word during my first 'adult' job, which I had for about 14 months. After I had worked there for almost a year I tried to say something during lunch, but my collegaues had become so used to me saying nothing that they didn't notice.

I just have to tell something else about the magazine my grandmother was reading. It was, in fact, a rather boring magazine, but I tend to collect useless information and the magazine must have had some appeal to me. The magazine contained a number of cartoons, some of which being vaguely funny. The one I remember was never funny, only puzzling. It was about a newly wed woman and her husband. The 'fun' part was about the husband being helpless and stupid about household chores. The wife is looking for the oven cleaner, and her husband seems to not know what an oven cleaner is. She is shocked, because that means that the oven has not been cleaned for A YEAR! Oh my. From this I learned: 1. There is something called 'oven cleaner' 2. Ovens should be cleaned, more often than once a year. Hey, nobody told me!

The other day, my husband and I were discussing gender differences in 'getting laid'-behaviour. He claimed that women can just come onto men while men has to be more subtle, invite for dinner etc. I painfully recalled those incidents in my youth when I was trying to 'come onto' a man but was rejected. And the men usually preferred either those very 'easy' women, or those playing hard to get. If I played hard to get, nobody noticed me. And I wasn't a subject of interest in the 'easy' category either. I never understood why women who were worse-looking and less bright always overtook me. But now I understand. I didn't know the rules.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Parents and children

Aspergers has only been part of the vocabulary for the past ten years or so. The diagnosis may have been invented much earlier, but when I was a child nobody knew about Aspergers. We hadn’t even heard of autism until Rain Man.
I think that my grandfather was irritated with my mother. She was a girl and he wished for a boy, but also I think he was put off by some of her traits such as being stubborn, anxious, black-and-white, introvert, a bit paranoid and other characteristics that he had himself. My grandfather had a few interests and could go on and on about them. He also took refuge in the kitchen. I don’t know how common this is, but I see numerous examples of parents being very irritated with their children when the children remind them of themselves. And that was the case for my mother and her father. What they had in common was quite a few Aspie-traits.

My mother did many things to spite her parents. A lot of her actions have been driven by anger. She felt neglected as a child and I believe she never really forgave her father for that. Her response to the demands of her surroundings was to be as different as she possibly could. She despised those people that fitted in, people wearing fashion clothes, watching soccer matches, reading gossip magazines and all the other things ‘people’ did. Then she had two children: a boy that displayed so many of the characteristics that she had herself. And a girl (that would be me) that was so eager to fit in that nobody noticed she also had those characteristics. My mother has always had an attitude of surprise and disapproval towards me. I think my need to fit in is seen by her as betrayal. Because her thing was to not fit in, and demonstrate against those that did. My brother on the other hand, did not fit in. Maybe he wanted to if he could. But the gender difference in how Aspergers manifests is the key to understanding why my brother and I developed so differently.

My mother could relate to my brother and never really related to me. I had, after all, rejected her project of not fitting in. What she doesn’t know is that I didn’t. I was close though. I have been so worn out by parties because I tried so hard to be like the others. And I have spent hours, days even, contemplating what I should have said or – in particular – not said. But I went to the party or function or whatever it was. And I tried, because I wanted to. This is probably what my mother despised of.

My point is that I see Aspie parents acting in two different ways towards their children with Aspergers (nobody of course said the A-word). Either they form a strong alliance with the child, as my mother did with my brother. She protected him like she had wished for protection (and perhaps understanding) as a child.
I have been mad at my youngest son many times. My parents have suggested that I was sad because he was different. I think most parents experience a kind of sorrow when their child appears to be less than perfect. During the past year or so I have come to understand that my youngest son is much more like me than I thought. And my sorrow related to his being different is in fact related to me being different. I experience him going through the same challenges that I did. Only, there was no such thing as Aspergers then, and I was a girl and much better at hiding under the radar.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The closet door

In Denmark, people with Aspergers are mostly regarded as having a disability. Child care professionals, lots of parents, and journalists talk and write about it that way. Seeing the difference as a mere difference, which may even be turned into a strength, is not a common way to percieve Aspergers. And autism and other diagnoses as well.

Once, I met a boy of about 11 whose parents had him diagnosed with Aspergers. He described himself as disabled. We had some function at our house and I took refuge in the kitchen (as I always do when I can get away with it). This boy came and asked if he could help. I asked him to chop vegetables or something and the two of us talked. He said that he wasn't very good at being around large crowds (such as the one gathering in our house that day), because he was disabled. While we worked together, we talked about cooking, food, recipes, and his school. When there was no more to be done in the kitchen, I found him a remote room and a computer, and he and a few other boys played some online games.

This boy came across as nice, friendly, skilled (at least much better at cooking than his peers), and I was left with a very positive impression of him. And still, his parents, obviously not meaning to do any harm, had been so focused on the diagnosis, that the boy introduces himself as being disabled.

When child care professionals are eager to put a diagnosis on the childen in Danish schools and nursery schools, I am afraid that their motivation is mainly to be allocated more ressources, because a child with a diagnosis is entitled to additional support. We know very little of the consequences for the child later in life, what will happen when they, as the boy in my kitchen, introduce themselves as disabled? Can they get a job? A partner? Children?

A young man with Aspergers wrote a letter to the newspaper, describing the difficulties he encountered in getting a job, because he's got the diagnosis.

So parents and child care professionals make a child come out of the Aspie-closet, which only results in a stamp on his forehead. And for reasons that mainly relate to the needs of parents and teachers, that child has to carry the stamp with him for the rest of his life. Thus while the closet door opens, many other doors close.

I am a bit scared on my on behalf. But only a bit. I know I can adjust, I did it my entire life. And also, I already have a partner, children, a job. But on behalf of my youngest son: I am certain that the diagnosis will do him more harm than good. Not because of him, not because of the Aspergers. But because of the Danish manner of seeing needs instead of opportunities. Let's just close that closet door.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Defining me

On my other, Danish-language, blog I have TWO pages describing who I am. One is a short description of my family mostly, the other contains not less than 100 facts about me.

Writing them was a true challenge, because I always had extreme difficulties seeing myself from outside. When people told me how they percieved me, I was always very surprised. I couldn't define me.

Many years ago I befriended a South African woman whose native language wasn't English either. She spent a lot of time in conversations defining herself. I think what she said was not entirely correct linguistically but I prefer her phrase: 'I am a person, that is stubborn', 'I am a person that doesn't like sugar in my tea', 'I am a person...'. And for years I did the same (inside my head or when talking to myself): 'I am a person...', giving myself an identity through my taste or preferences.

But a lot of it was something I made up. I still couldn't define myself. When I did the 100 facts thing, I focused mostly on preferences: Food, clothing, culture. And I made one entry one day, and described the opposite preference the next. I couldn't even define myself through my favourite candy, my style in clothing, my taste in movies.

Now, when I read blog entries from others describing the Asperger traits, e.g. this one, I feel recognised and understood. I am like that - or like most of that. An example: I try and avoid conflict, I get nervous and want to escape when someone is criticising me. I duck when others are angry. But at other times I am the one that is angry, and others are scared of me.

When I was about to finish high school, our class should agree on a performance at some matriculation function. Nobody had the time to write the song, and eventually my friend and I volunteered. We weren't very good at it and it took forever, but we did write a song. When we presented it in class, one boy said: That song can't be sung! And he made a whole scene about it. Or maybe I made the scene. At least thats how people remember me: I was nice but I could really be mad at times. In retrospect I think I had a temper tantrum, someting that happens once in a while. And other people get scared. At other times I was the one being scared about much lesser things. I wish I could just be a little bit more on the middle of the road. I wish I could assert myself without scaring others.

Friday, 5 October 2012

I am still me

For most of my life, I've been working very hard trying to fit in, to be like the others, to be 'normal'. Around my 40th birthday four years ago, I started on a development process, during which I began to redefine myself. Perhaps it is OK not to be 'normal'.

The four years since that process started have taught me that there are vices and virtues of being 'different'. But I kept thinking that I was normal, I just had a bit of Aspergers. Only recently I realised that I in fact have a lot of Aspergers.

So sometimes I see it this way: I was 'normal' for 40 years, I was 'normal' but slightly different for four years, and now I am just different. It is like I lost my grip on normality, and where does that take me? Did the process suddenly accelerate and did I just lose control?

Loss of control really scares me. As in really really really. And I have to keep telling myself that this process is under my control and I will NOT end up being an isolated Rain Man. I am still me. Just a little different.

Now what!

I started blogging about fifteen months ago. My Danish blog has centered around a dramatic conflict with my mother in July 2011. Later, I touched upon other issues such as my relationship with my husband and challenges involving my children. One central challenge relates to my youngest son. Since he was about five, nursery school teachers and teachers and psychologists have suggested that he might have Aspergers. I have (almost violently) denied. Through my blogging I came to realise that my maternal grandfather, my mother, my uncle, my brother and probably also my youngest son, all have Aspergers.

Now where does that recognition leave me? I started to think that my anger towards those people wanting to diagnose my son was related to all those traits of his that I had as a child or still have. Thus I felt they were criticising me... So maybe I was Asperger too? A lot of conversations between my husband and me, and between my best friend and me, touched on the topic of Aspergers.

So, after giving it a lot of thought, I took a test. That is, I took a number of tests. And scored very high on the Asperger scale. And spent the next couple of days searching the internet for implications of this finding. I found a number of blogs and facebook groups. Most of the Danish web-pages and facebook groups seemed to be dominated by people that couldn't get the help they felt they needed, from the municipality. So much talk of social workers and financial support...

I can't relate to that, I may be a little different but I am not a victim, and I can support myself. The American blogs and pages were much better. I subscribe to a number of them and I really enjoy reading them. They talk of being Aspie as a challenge AND a strength. Also with my newfound knowledge it is a pleasure reading about others being like me.

My strong preference for the American websites drove me to starting a new blog which is not written in my native language. My hope is that I can give a little bit back to those people that made me feel so... recognised...