Monday, May 30, 2016

Keeping Enthusiasm Alive in the Real World

Remember my last blog post, I Don't Wanna Grow Up? I talked about how I wanted to regain my childlike mindset. As someone on the autism spectrum, I realized that a big part of that (for me) is keeping my “obsessive interests” alive.

Now, obsessing can be good or bad. What I discuss in this vlog is an example of "bad" obsessing for me:

But in this post, I'm talking about a GOOD kind of obsessing, involving extreme interest in things that HELP--not HINDER--one's mental health. I’ll call them “enthusiams,” to distinguish from the “bad” obsessing. For instance, it's not necessarily bad if an aspie really loves video games, as long as it doesn't hinder their ability to function normally. An Enthusiasm should provide an aspie relief from stress and keep them content.

However, it is more difficult to maintain Enthusiams as one gets older, for many reasons. For me, it affects...
  1. Friendships: Over-enthusiasm can freak people out or bore them to death. (i.e. talking about Pokemon for two hours straight)
  2. Productivity: I lose interest in things I SHOULD be doing.
  3. Time: Time flies, and I'm not getting any younger.
  4. "Better" Things: I had a feeling that I was "missing out" on life. (for the record, I was wrong--my brain is WAY better than what the Real World has to offer)

One example of an Enthusiam for me:
My childhood interest in superheroes and cartoons.

I was a HUGE fan of CARTOON NETWORK in the 90's and early 2000's, and my favorite show was Teen Titans. I didn't just like the show... I felt the show. What I mean by this is that I was so emotionally invested in it that I felt like I was a part of it, and turning off the TV to live real life again was a Shock to my system.

I also had a serious crush on Beast Boy.

When I got older, my interests changed and I became obsessed with pirates. I "lived" the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

I wanted to live out my fantasy of being a pirate, so I decided to make my own pirate movie. The finished film is by no means professional, but it was one of my biggest dreams I had ever accomplished, so I am proud of it!
(You can watch the film here.)
Cursed Waters 5 Year Anniversay (smaller) Big shoutout to my awesome friends and family who helped me produce it!

Like with my previous interests, a defining feature of each of these Enthusiams is the Shock factor of coming back to reality. As you can imagine, I had to experience this “shock" more and more often as reality creeped to the forefront of my adult life. Hence, reasons not to pursue obsessions have been DRILLED into my brain over time. Whenever I felt a new Enthusiasm developing, I didn't let it surface. I had to keep up with everyone else.

I know this is why my mental health has declined as I've grown older. In the Real World, so many things pull you back into REALITY. A schedule to keep up with, events to prepare for, bills to pay, emails to reply to, social obligations, people to listen to, family to attend to, etc. etc. It makes me depressed, anxious, and numb.

All of this makes it very difficult to maintain hobbies and even any desire for them--and they often leave me with a lingering sense of futility. This is very sad, because my Enthusiams have been a huge part of my life. Without them, I am depressed and apathetic.

I didn't even notice at first that I was losing my Enthusiasm. But as years passed, I slowly realized what was happening, and I was scared that I would lose it forever.
But it wasn't too late for me.

After a mental breakdown that led to me taking a semester off school, I focused solely on improving my mental health. This journey has taken me through all the things I hate about myself, like my workaholic tendencies and inability to focus. I realized that I have been limiting myself, and I need to allow myself to enjoy things no matter how odd they may seem. I need to follow my creative desires wherever they may take me, without worrying too much about other people or the boundaries of the Real World.

This opened up my heart and mind to seek new Enthusiasms. I am starting to watch more cartoons and movies, avoiding the strictly "gourmet" 90's kid mindset. There are a lot of great hobbies and media to enjoy in this generation, even if they are different! You just gotta look for them.

Two shows I have been obsessing over recently are Gravity Falls and Steven Universe (lol don't judge, 90's kids). My interest is Gravity Falls is waning a little now that it's over, so I've switched to Steven Universe. I NEVER thought I'd watch that show--I assumed it was cruddy like a lot of other new cartoons.

And now, I can't even express how much I like Steven Universe and how much it has helped me since it became my new obsession. The story is skillfully structured and the characters are interesting. I love the fantasy  elements and the variety in the show, and I never thought there'd be so many feels in it! It is also a well-developed world that shows many perspectives.

I find the characters refreshing and relateable. None are stuffed into a stereotype and they are very complex. They are more like real people than I've seen in other cartoons, and more importantly, they are like MY people... they show traits that aren’t often represented positively in the media, like anxiety and OCD tendencies (*ahem* Pearl), yet these traits are normalized in the show.

Everything must be just so.

I could go on for hours about Steven Universe, but alas, this is a blog post, not a TV show review.

So how does an aspie maintain Enthusiasms while living in the Real World?
It's not easy, but it’s doable.

I realize that while my Enthusiams can no longer be the sole focus of my life, they can linger even when I'm doing other things. I could be playing a mental montage of my favorite moments from Steven Universe while I do the dishes, or ponder ideas for Vael while watering the plants, or monologue my next blog post to myself while driving places.

While I embrace my Enthusiasms, I have to manage my feelings about them--sometimes I despise Real World tasks for taking me away from what I love , even if it's just for a short time. Or, I get WAY too into my obsession and it starts to feel wrong.

Either way, I should not have a negative association with them.
I may run into issues like this otherwise:

  1. I will stop functioning normally in favor of my obsessions
  2. I will set aside my obsessions completely to live a "normal" yet depressed life.
    (^ My black-and-white all-or-nothing thinking right there.)
In the aspie world of black-and-white (as well as "all-or-nothing") thinking, it's especially important to find a balance, as I have stated in previous posts.

With practice, I've learned to suppress my obsessions just enough so that they are manageable, but not so much that I can't enjoy them. Like I mentioned earlier,  it helps me to think about them while doing other things to motivate me. It's actually quite easy for me since I'm an imaginative visual thinker. I can "become" my Enthusiam if I wish to, even if that interest has nothing to do with what's in front of me in the Real World (i.e. errands, dishes).

Becoming My Obsession
If I have been watching a show, playing a game, etc. often enough, specific elements of them (usually characters or places) stick in my head as images.

pearl content sword fighting
Pearl suprised shocked STEVEN
While the images are incredibly varied in content and detail, I get a lot of facial expressions to either match or influence my mood.
{Character: Pearl from Steven Universe)

In the same way, images of familiar places from media also reflect or change my mood.
{Images in order: “Spritied Away,” “Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” “Shadow of the Colossus,” “RealMyst”)

My mind can easily mesh with the feelings or "aura" I associate with those images. When I was younger, sometimes my outward actions would reflect this inward state. Here is one example, with me acting in a short play I wrote:
This is me mimickinglicking a specific hand gesture of Guybrush Threepwood, a pirate character I liked at the time.

When I was in college, my stress levels suppressed my visual mind. So I couldn't "become" my obsessions anymore, for a long time. But I regained this ability after taking the semester off, and it's helped me a lot!

Currently, the character my mind chose to fixate on is Pearl from Steven Universe (it’s probably obvious, considering the above images), since I identify with her the most, and her demeanor and movements often reflect how I feel. She is also prone to being a little neurotic like I am. :P

Allowing the Obsession
I have found that by allowing myself to engage with my Enthusiasm on a daily basis (or at least every other day), I function better with other tasks. One thing I try hard NOT to do though, is to use my obsession as a reward for other tasks. Enthusiasms or “obsessive interests” for aspies are more like coping mechanisms, not privileges. There should be at least one activity of intense interest that is allowed routinely.
For me, it is crucial to my sanity.

My Enthusiasms changes sometimes, so I always plan to do what I am currently interested in until it serves its purpose. Usually I know to change my routine interest once I no longer feel any excitement over my current one. It can be anything--a particular TV show, a video game, sitting in the sun, drawing, etc.

Overall, it is crucial for aspies to engage with their interests.

Obsessions can be good or bad depending on whether it helps or hinders their daily functioning. From my experience, it helps to get to know your own needs and what feels natural to you, and to find your own method of balancing interaction with Your World and the Real World.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

I Don't Wanna Grow Up

I seem to feel the most content when I am pretending.

And not my everyday pretending, like pretending to be normal, pretending to be okay, etc.

What I mean is... childlike pretending. Really getting into the story of something, focusing on the details, projecting my awareness onto specific characters or things. It's as if I become someone else for a little while.

I was playing Skyrim today, and instead of just playing through quests mindlessly and only focusing on visuals and action, I listened to the characters, focused on a story (aka quest), and read the books associated with that one story.

I found related books and characters in Oblivion and it excited me. For once in a long time, I was interested in the lore, not just the gameplay.

The quests I focused on was "Seeking Your Roots" in Oblivion and "Return to Your Roots" in Skyrim.
Both quests involved an ambitious alchemist named Sinderion.

To get into the lore of a game, movie, or TV series requires a level of pretending. "Suspending disbelief," if you will. Rather than just watching something or playing something, you get involved.

And suddenly, the fake food is real, like in the movie "Hook." You can finally taste it. 🍴

I also find that allowing myself a break from reality helps...
I like to view myself as if I am living a story. It can be anything. I mean, I used to pretend I was a pirate.

Yarr, I be swashbucklin' in a non-threatening way!

My back deck was a ship, and I even made hardtack to add to the experience.

It didn't taste that good.

And my childhood blanket tents--to me--were real tents out in the wilderness. Not just a bunch of blankets, but a real sanctuary where I truly felt safe.

Now that I'm older, it's not so easy. You can't just dress up like a pirate and not feel a little embarrassed... At least, I can't. I feel like I'm expected to act more mature now that I'm 24 years old. But if being too stifled to play dress up and make blanket tents is what being an adult is, I sure as heck don't want to be an adult.

However, for a while, I was able to maintain the mindset of pretend play without the accessories. I used to pretend my house was a hotel, and I "paid rent" for my room. I used pop tabs as currency, and kept them in a little pouch. Throughout the day I would earn poptabs by doing mundane, everyday, boring adult tasks.

I don't need motivation like that anymore, but now my life feels like it's lacking something. There's no spice to it. It's just me going through the motions, fulfilling responsibilities, doing things I don't particularly enjoy, putting on a fake smile while doing them, and limiting my behavior to what is considered "mature."

When kids grow up, things start disappearing. No more silly dancing and singing. No more toys on the floor. No more days where the clock doesn't matter. Suddenly, they want to look more like the grownups. But why?? Shouldn't children be examples to us, with their simple wisdom and carefree enjoyment? We should be more like them!

I really want my childhood back. I need to fight to keep that mindset alive, lest it be crushed by everyday realities. I am going to keep fighting...


Liked this post? Check out this great video by Chloe Hayden (aka Princess Aspien), a vlogger with Asperger's who doesn't want to grow up!