Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Why Are You Here"

First, let me say that writing is becoming increasingly difficult. I have a couple of thoughts as to why this is. The first is that I am so busy that my mind is not having time to think. My concepts I've created and most of my blog posts are created in the subconscious and I don't put effort into creating the work. Already this year I'm up to over 65 days on the road so perhaps this is a cause.

Another potential cause is that I've become a master and controlling my surroundings and becoming more apt at handling situations which are outside my comfort zone. What does this mean? The first part is that I've become a master at avoiding uncomfortable situations. Also, since I'm always traveling, I've become decent at the whole "live life on the road" routine. The second part is that I think I've grown by an unmeasurable amount the past 13 months or so, and maybe just in the past three months. What used to be a major episode is now just a part of life. Just five days ago I had a conversation with someone wondering, "Do I actually have Asperger's?" and this is a common question I ask when there haven't been any reminders. Remember, Asperger's roots itself socially and if one isn't in social situations how could one be reminded of it? That reminder happened yesterday.

I went to the doctor's office yesterday and this was my first time visiting one outside of the ER or urgent care in a very long time. Also, this was my first time visiting a new doctor by myself so I approached the sign in sheet very timidly and I signed it and right away the lady behind the counter told me that she could sign me in.

The process began and she got out sheet after sheet after sheet of paperwork and I felt as if I had just gone back to school after missing a couple days and I was being given all my assignments. Then she said that she had to confirm some information and she started to talk but then a lady came up to sign in. The office worker then stopped talking but the lady signing in stood still and didn't move and so too the office worker didn't speak to me. Eventually the worker who was signing me in said, "Do you need help" to which the lady beside me responded, "Oh, no. I just wanted to stand here."

Several awkward seconds passed as I was staring at the soon to be worked on papers that would ask me more health information than I would know and eventually the lady that came up left and the office worker said, "I can't speak to you when another person is up here due to privacy rules." and as luck would have it another person came up making the conversation a jerky one of stop and go.

During this conversation, or at least when it was going, I was very agreeable. I wanted it over as fast as possible and I wanted to get that paperwork done as quickly as possible. I got my chance to start working on it, but just as I did I was called into the back and some quick vitals were taken and into the room I went. I sat down and was asked, "Why are you here today?" Simple enough question, right?

What seemed to be the easiest question quickly turned into a state of panic. I had a moment of, "I think therefore you should know" so I, at first, got mad that she asked this question because she should have already known because I knew. This took some processing time and I glanced over and saw the unfinished paperwork looming and I looked back to her and my mind was blank; I tried to talk but nothing happened. I wanted to say something, anything, but I kept shaking my head as if to say, "I know what I want to say but my body and mind just aren't playing well together right now."

I don't think I showed it on the outside but on the inside I was crying. I knew it was a simple question and I knew the answer... and that's the kicker! I knew I knew the answer but still I didn't know how to respond to her.

Thirty seconds had passed and I still was spinning my wheels going no where and she said, "Are you new here?" to which now I was trying to answer two questions and I still knew why I had gone to the first place and then I glanced back over at all those new patient documents I had to fill out and I just about took out my copay money and left. I tell you, I have never been closer in my life to just giving up and leaving without saying a word than I was right then and there. It was all too much.

She then asked a third question, "so since you are new here is this an initial visit then?" and quickly I responded with, "Yes, I think. Something like that. Yes, um, yeah." and that was that. She left, doctor came in, and in the end I don't think those papers got filled out 100%, but all in all this was a reminder that Asperger's is there. I've become rather good at avoiding situations like that, but once it presented itself I locked up. And what makes locking worse is when I'm aware it is happening because then I try to "think harder" and nothing good comes from that and the end situation is that which happened. Thankfully now I do have a doctor I can go see, but I wonder this; the next time I go will I have to fill out all that paperwork I left unfinished?


  1. As long as they have your address to track you down and your insurance information, they probably won't worry about the rest.

    One of the biggest lessons in effective communication that I learned when I was conducting interviews with musicians for my old jazz website was patience. Don't try to finish a person's thoughts. Don't hurry their answers. And, above all, don't ask one questions while the previous one hasn't been answered yet. This particular office doesn't seem to have learned that lesson yet even though you'd expect a doctor's office to have patience. (Sorry, pun ENTIRELY unintended!)

    It's amazing to me how we tend to let our instant messaging habits spill oveer into our "Real World" conversation skills. Where we seem like we're trying to have several conversations at once instead of concentrating on the person in front of us and effectively reading body language and just hearing what they're saying.

    Again, from the outside looking in, meeting new people, putting yourself in conversational situations and speaking on the fly is hard enough. I continue to use your blog as a window into a world that I'm just now getting familiar with. I appreciate your insight.

  2. Effective communication is an art. Each member participating in a conversation has a responsibility of keeping a good flow. I learned this through observing others (using my occupational therapy skills). In many instances, ideally you should response in no more than a few seconds. (There are situations, though, where it's OK to think a little bit.) If you provide in a time that is beyond what's reasonable, it is very easy for people to perceive you in a negative way... like "how can you not recall this kind of stuff in seconds?" or "Are you mentally retarded?"

    That said, anxiety can happen, especially if people were in situations they may not be comfortable in. Anxiety can wreck havoc on people's abilities on doing things they know they are capable in. The thing is- what can we as autistic people do to manage that?

    If I were to answer the question, we need to first know how much anxiety we can handle that won't interfere with our performance in crucial life situations. Then, we also need to identify possible factors that might have contributed to this "more than acceptable level of anxiety". If there are things we can control, we have to be wise in knowing these triggers and avoid them. If there are things we can't control, then we have to find ways to do better head on.

    I would name an example. I met the department head of occupational therapy from NYU a few weeks ago for breakfast. I arranged to meet her in person weeks before that on Facebook. In that conversation, she asked me some questions as we were exchanging some ideas for something we might collaborate together. Even though I knew her quite well, it was the first major meeting between us and the stakes of the meeting were higher than any other meetings with occupational therapy professionals (as I was actually talking about a possible paid job or two). So I was a little anxious. But I managed myself OK that meeting overall. The reason was not only I knew what was expected of me in that breakfast socially, but also what my triggers can be. I stayed out of caffeine that breakfast (I ordered juice instead). I also am mindful of the flow of the conversation and I know what to do in case I couldn't come up with an answer right away. To be honest, I was asked some pretty tough questions. Yet I handled them with relative ease because I knew what my work is all about, what I am interested in moving forward, etc. Moreover, I am no longer an occupational therapy student any more. So, I got to be smart all the way around whenever I am talking to someone I look up to in the field.

    There are times where avoiding uncomfortable situations are perfectly acceptable. But there are also times where it's better to face these uncomfortable situations head on. That's the best way for our sometimes fragile confidence to grow. I will give you another example.

    One of the things now I am doing is being a professionalism mentor for current and future OT students. At first, I wasn't serious about it, as a friend's friend approached me and asked me some OT questions and I answered them. But, the whole situation changed last December, when a girl I never met somehow found my email address and asked me for some advices to get into my OT program. I gave her some pointers as she submitted her application. A few months later, she actually got into my OT program. Now, the whole situation changed because of this notification via text message. Was I afraid to be an OT professionalism mentor for an NT OT student? You bet... since I don't even have my license for ONE year yet. But, I also knew that it is something I have to do anyway in the future, if not now. So, I told myself as I took the plunge, "You are going to face this sooner or later... screw it!"

    I came in my mentor-mentee meeting with low expectations. But, my mentee gave me really positive feedback as I was helpful to her. Since then, I took on a few more OT students as my confidence grew!