Friday, January 14, 2022

The Tale of the St. Elmo Watertower

In sharing yesterday's blog I used the header, "Who says an Aspie isn't sentimental?" I, of course, know we are and maybe, as this post will show, can be a bit more. The misconceptions are annoying but if a person doesn't have understanding of the autism spectrum, then the potentially beautiful, emotional, and sentimental ways will not be understood or misinterpreted...   

Small things have always meant more to be than it has seemed it has to others. While others seem to be moved by bigger things in life, I can be brought to tears by seemingly simply changes to the world. This can be confusing for those around us, and my first girlfriend got rather confused by this.

It was 2001 and Emily and I (her full story is in my book Finding Kansas) were driving up to my sister's in Indianapolis to attend the Brickyard 400. On the drive we were on I-70 and we came through this town of St. Elmo, Illinois and the first thing I noticed was that the water tower had been repainted. No big deal, right? Wrong! From 1993 to 2001 I must have been in a car through that town at least 50 times and on the water tower, under the town name, it said, "1988 I.H.S.A.A. Final Four" which meant that the team from that town made that year's state's final four in basketball. In 1988 I was only five years old so you would think this would mean nothing to me but my reaction to this change was tears. Emily thought I was kidding, but I was brought to tears as I thought about all those that were on that team and that no one, from that day forward, would know what they did.

The confusing thing for Emily was that just a month prior her dog had been diagnosed with a potentially life-ending health ailment. I had never met a dog that disliked me until that dog. I love animals, but I gave that dog no second thoughts when I wasn't around it. Anyway, we she told me the news I had a blank facial expression. I didn't know what to say or how to say it. I immediately asked how bowling went the previous night which made her none too happy. Of course, I was undiagnosed at the time and had zero self-awareness, so I had no idea the thing to do at that moment would've been to be as supportive as possible. Several hours later I knew I should've been supportive, but the processing in the moment made this impossible. Side note: the dog was fine and probably spent the rest of its days thinking of how to terrorize me.

This is a very difficult concept to explain because, on one hand, there can be this cold, and seemingly immune reaction to emotion and yet a minor change in the world can evoke an emotional response that I'm sure is impossible for others around me to understand which is why I think the line of, "more is less and less is more" fits perfectly to this because some things that would seem to be an obvious emotional reaction may get none and a change in the environment say, a business that goes out of business, or a childhood toy is lost, or a street sign is changed, or a water tower being repainted may illicit major reactions.

There are many reasons, I think, that puts this system in play. One, for sure, is the "associative memory system" in those exterior items, or places, or songs, or anything really becomes connected to a time, a place, an emotion, or a person. It's this system which everything is really tied. I originally thought it was just memories, but this is the foundation for everything really and the basis for routines. When something is lost, or changed, it creates a rift throughout the entire system, and it is here when "less is more" becomes apparent. If something is sudden and stated much like "my dog may be dying" it is hard to register. That's the only way to describe it as it takes time to register and to be processed and yeah, four hours later I realized the scope of the loss, but at the moment more was less because it was unable to be processed.

There's been many more St. Elmo water towers in my life. It's difficult to move on from things, or throw things out, because I either get overly emotional thinking about basketball players from 1988 who have been forgotten by their town, or it's the associative memory system that ties that memory to the web that makes up my memory system. So yes, some people may have a gigantic misconception of what those with Asperger's may feel, but when we do feel it can feel as if, well, a water tower fell and all the water came gushing out. 

No comments:

Post a Comment