It’s become a regular thing for me to apologise for my lack of content, and yet again, I feel obliged to do so, with this post taking nearly four months for me to write. This is partly due to moving down to Norwich and beginning life as a student at the University of East Anglia, leaving me caught up in work and student life. However, the biggest reason for such a delay, if I’m honest, is me often feeling burned out, and even considering giving up writing this blog; something I have firmly decided not to do.
I originally began this post when, back in October, I sat down and watched Chris Packham’s incredibly revealing documentary Asperger’s and Me. Chris has been very vocal about his condition, and it’s raised the issue of naturalists on the autistic spectrum. As such, I wanted to share my own experience of growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome, and the effect it has had on me, because even though a lot of time has passed, it’s still something I want to talk about.
In many ways, living with Asperger’s Syndrome has been a trial. In the past, I’ve behaved the wrong way in certain social situations, without knowing what I’ve been doing wrong; indeed, I’ve often struggled with social situations full-stop. While I’ve learned in recent years how to form and maintain a friendship, I’m still far from sociable, and if I ever take a day out it will typically be on my own. I’ve still never asked a girl out, although I’d really like to: I’ve just never felt confident enough. And while I haven’t quite been driven to depression, I have been prone to extreme low points when things haven’t gone as I hoped. Arisaig this year was a case in point: the RIB broke down early on in our time up there, and I felt really down about not being able to go out to sea. It should come as no surprise my blogging productivity was low during that time.
In reality, however, these are things that everyone experiences. I’ve learned to be put off by these, because for every pitfall, Asperger’s Syndrome also provides a great advantage. Chris pointed to two particular aspects that he felt defined him as a person: a hypersensitive memory and an obsessive mind-set. Both of these are things I can relate to. Whenever I’m in the garden, or at sea, or anywhere else outdoors, I always find myself noticing things other people miss, because I am always looking meticulously at the surroundings and everything in it. And like Chris, this meticulous observation has been fuelled by an obsession, from an early age, with wildlife and natural history in some form or other, and a desire to learn everything about it, whether it’s keeping a slow worm in a tinfoil container, or the countless hours pouring over encyclopaedias, even to the point of having them read to me as bedtime stories. Even when, in times such as the last few months, I’ve felt burned out, it’s this obsession that’s kept me going.
Asperger’s Syndrome, or any form of autism, can be difficult to cope with of times. Ultimately however, it’s something that has defined who I am, as a naturalist and as a person. As we saw in Asperger’s and Me, there are scientists who are attempting to find a way of ‘curing’ Asperger’s and other autistic disorders. And while I wouldn’t object to somebody with the my condition who wanted themselves cured, I wouldn’t do it, because Asperger’s Syndrome is an instrumental part of me.