Michael Kargas aka Optimus/Dirty Minds
So many years have passed. Still wondering what's wrong with me. Dealing with the same worries, the same questions, the same struggle.
Who am I? Why have I chosen this way in life? Can I manage to make it through? Will it be worth the effort? What do I really want? Why do I feel bad about myself? Why do I care about what other people say? Why can't I get along with myself? Why are things making me sad? Why is there still no change in how I feel? Why the same questions and answers all over again? Why? Why? .. what is my problem anyway?
To my surprise, one night was enough to properly understand my mental confusion during the past. Well, two nights.
The first night left me with a feeling of awe and surprise. I was happy to learn that there is truly something else in me that explains my moments of misery, a more unique and satisfactory answer than the usual guess of the people around me. I always suspected it but never was sure or had clues to support it.
The second night left me with a strange mix of feelings. It wasn't sadness, it wasn't joy. It was a wicked mix of these manifested into emptiness. It was like solving the puzzle of yourself to find out that you were betrayed. The solution to the problem was that there is actually no problem at all! Well, I always suspected it but never was sure or had clues to support it.
I was right.
A demon in my mind
There was something that bothered me since my childhood. It was my big bad psychological error. It was the secret of mine, hidden inside me, where noone could find it..
I originally called it a mind virus. That's because there was one single period in my life when this thing came and dominated my mind. Before that point there was serenity. After that, I couldn't find it.
Much later, I decided to describe it as a malicious demon taking over control of my brain. For I have understood that this virus resembles actually a living organism inside my head that is trying intentionally to tease me in the most gruesome way. And no matter how I managed to avoid it, it would manifest itself into different forms. And when I became conscious of its presence and tried to analyze how it works to figure out how to fight it, even if it became obvious that this is like my brain playing games on me, I still couldn't stop taking it seriously and the struggle went on. Well, much later I found out that I was close to the "cure". I was just not sure enough to try out..
I never went to see a doctor about my condition. I was afraid to talk at all about my thoughts. They were so grotesque but not mine. It was just the demon teasing me by forcing myself to think of horrible things. How would I describe these thoughts without being misunderstood? I was terrified by the idea that someone would hear what I was thinking at times. It wouldn't even be worth the try as he'd probably respond that it's just thoughts I shouldn't be bothered about or something that everyone experiences to a lesser or greater degree. Would it pay off the embarrassment to break myself and expose my little secret to the people who know me just for getting this disappointing answer? And so, I was never brave enough to ask my parents to go talk with a doctor, sometimes thinking that maybe it's really just thoughts and I am overreacting, even if the problem was still there.
Less than a year ago, I found out that this wasn't just thoughts. It was neither something that every person experiences nor was it simple!
In a period in which I stopped analyzing it (even if it still bothered me at times) I came upon it accidentally on the net. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
The funny thing is that people cannot see that on me because what they see doesn't match with the classic form of OCD as seen on TV. This one shows itself as compulsive actions that come after obsessive thoughts. Things like washing your hand twenty times or checking the locks again and again belong to it. And a lot of other things too. There are several different forms and ways in which OCD manifests itself, a unique one for each sufferer out there. My own struggle is a subcategory of the disorder called Pure-O OCD. In this, it is supposed that only obsessions and not external compulsions are occuring. The obsessions are usually grotesque thoughts with sexual, violent or religious themes that are incompatible with my personality but insist bothering me no matter if I tell to myself that it isn't me who is willing to continue making these thoughts. But as long as I react against them, they come back stronger. And as long as I am aware they are still here, they can stay and bother me for hours. Or they might stick in my mind for the rest of the day or the days after. This thing takes place every day and entirely inside my mind and you probably haven't noticed it. Outside, I look like a regular person. Inside, I am suffering in silence..
I was quite surprised to discover this. It even said a lot about myself, like the general anxiety I have about many things, my usual lack of self-esteem and it even explained my perfectionism (OCD sufferers usually have it) and other elements of me. I even tried to explain my social anxiety with it, even though there was still something missing here..
Nevertheless, as long as I was sure and happy about finding it, I started discussing about it with some close friends and relatives. The reactions were predictable as expected even though there was a small compensation from few that it's me who knows at best. Most people will still deny that I suffer from it and they will even point to me that if I read the descriptions of various disorders I will end up saying that I have many of these. They should remember however that for more than 10 years I was in full cognition of that condition as described above till I found out that it's an actual disorder someone called OCD. It didn't happen the other way around. After all it was me who was living the hell of it since my childhood, so many years before you've ever thought that "Maybe people can read descriptions of disorders and think they have it too!". Nah :P
For the next nine months, I researched more into it and discussed about it in various OCD communities. Trying to remember more elements of myself in the past or present and view them under the new glasses. I could finally give satisfactory answers to several of my worries about who I am, other than the predictable replies I heard from most people. Several things instantly made sense! I was almost ready to explain various social traits of me, my focus into a special interest and several other quirks through the looking glass of OCD even though I felt there was something else missing, needed to explain these domains. Something I still didn't knew or haven't thought this way..
Discovering my nature
The funny thing is that all these discoveries happened in a very "off" period of my life. 10 years ago I was floating in uncertainity to only find answers recently while living inside the most struggling environment, serving some thing people call the army duty (several Greek men have to go through this, it's still obligatory here :P). It was a threat for my psychic health not just because I was obliged to stay inside the army camp for a long time and do my service properly, but mostly because I had to live in the same room with more than twenty soldiers for every day. It was hard to seek for a place to be alone and I had to go through all this struggle of being constantly social or listening to the preachings of some people when I seized to be, stupid criticism about my life in a place where you actually can't have one (what an irony :P).
I can't remember all the factors that brought me here. Maybe it had to do with what was I observing about myself under a different view (I have learned about my OCD few weeks before entering the army), maybe the every day clash with people that I couldn't avoid, criticising me with the same predictable discussions that forced me to burst in anger and finally decide what I want to be. Maybe it was the fact that regardless of my integration into a totally social environment for a long time (which had to happen since highschool!), I was still remaining the same old person, not being able to fit, introverted, prefering to be alone and having my brain occupied by many special interests, unlike what most people there liked to talk about. And the responses were the same. I regularly use the word "predictable" while I am getting tired of it, even though it totally describes what I expect to hear from most people. But listening to the same song gets annoying and moves me further away from the truth.
Well, since always I was suspecting it but never had the guts to claim it. For I wasn't sure..
Back in the past I thought this was a cultural choice. And so I had to explain the reasons behind it. But it was hard. For I had to go through several axioms of life that nested in my head since my birth. I knew I was asocial for a reason, I knew I prefered to be alone or strive to achieve in my special interests, I knew that I shared a greater interest for geeky or spiritual stuff than real life pleasures. Though it all eventually bumped against the "common sense". It was a taboo for me to shout that an individual could not be motivated by the things that are mostly considered to be the essence of life. Or that there exist more unique interests in his life. It was a "mistake" to feel like a truly individual and unique person, being single-minded and focused in one special thing instead of being "balanced" and enjoy real life in the same way as the rest of the population. I knew I was that thing but I couldn't defend myself as I felt preety bad for being asocial, introverted and focused. It wasn't real life, it wasn't supposed to be life at all! Nobody approved it and everyone would try to make me feel bad about it by forcing me to notice my anxiety and social traits. I was supposed to be the one who is wrong..
About my social incompetence, I originally suspected that my OCD had to do with it. Maybe it manifested in various ways during social occasions to make me feel anxious and never let me in peace. And since it produced anxiety during social occasions, it rendered being together with people a big struggle. Though, this explanation missed a lot of the things that I use to notice on me, like the fact that sometimes I simply ain't motivated enough to either be involved in social occasions or the things most people care about. Or that even if I put myself into social occasions for a long time, my social traits are still there. I never seem to be "evolving" in the way people expect me to.
Only one thing explained it properly to me. One thing that fits me. That it's all in my nature! And that's not something I should be ashamed for and strive for acceptance and understanding instead.
I was suspecting it for a long. Even before learning about my OCD, there was something else bothering me. But there weren't strong indications to support my claims. So, I avoided thinking it because I was ashamed of the idea to be wrong about such a claim. I was only sure about my OCD self-diagnosis back then, because this one was so alive and bothering that it would be such a stupid thing to insist that I am still mistaken about having it. Though the other one seemed to me like a cultural choice rather than a disorder. Since it described my personality. Already, by researching more into OCD I bumped upon it. I researched further into that other "disorder", even discussed about it with people bearing the same thing to finally burst in anger about a different view on my life that was hidden from me or pulled away from my knowledge.
The most important thing I've learned so far is that whatever is happening to me, however it is named, it wasn't a matter of personal choice rather than some neurological diferrence in my brain. You have to know that I never woke up oneday and said "Hey! While life can be quite beatiful, I decided to NOT live it properly because I am stubborn :P". No, it never occured this way..
In case you need to know, in case it does matter to you, the name of the "disease" is called autism. While this term can produce feelings of embarrassment (since people think of the most "retarded" form of it as being portraited on the TV rather than keeping a broader view of the autistic spectrum), I can rest your (and mine) unease by referring to it with another term. Asperger's Syndrome. At least that's one kind of it, the one mostly resembling me. No matter the name of the disorder, the most important idea that was revealed to me, is that there are people who deviate from the average Joe in several primary social aspects and that's not their personal choice. And there are people who might not be as interested as you in the mutual aspects of life. And because everyone resembles an average norm, it shouldn't be essential for all people to be just like the rest. In fact it's a struggle trying to be "normal" when it's not in your nature. The reason for all these? Neurodiversity.
Well, always I was suspecting it but I am afraid I don't have enough clues to support it. Or maybe I am just terrified by the idea that I may be misunderstood or teased when talking about it. After all it's something new for me and maybe I haven't researched as much into it and myself yet. So, I will just refer to some elements of myself without mentioning anything about disorders. And those who can understand, they will..
I remember my mother narrating to me about my early childhood and how some things on me worried her. She was worried about how introverted I was since the day I was born, sticking into reading books instead of playing with the other children around me, what kinds of questions I asked to the elder people and how I investigated things. Another thing that bothered her was during the period where I was supposed to start talking as the rest of the children at that age, but instead there was a slight delay in that. This strange fact always made me wonder about myself. I remember that being introverted and sensitive continued being a primary characteristic of me during school and even further. I remember that more awareness later in my life made me wonder about some social traits I discovered in myself. I was struggling being social and trying to find something to say or sometimes I couldn't understand what should my reply be in teasings, jokes or other occasions. The most characteristic things that made me anxious were eye contact and face recognition. Especially with the second one, my primary anxiety was to meet someone for the first time and not being able to recognize him instantly by his face when I have to meet him again in a meeting place full of people. It happens several times that I meet some people known to me in the city, they greet me and I look at their face puzzled, trying to remember. And they are always arguing why I don't remember them, which makes me even more embarassed. I remember that I couldn't fit in. And I remember my mother being the ultimate preacher of real life, always trying to force me to be just like the rest in every aspect, talking more strictly than every other person who criticizes me about the same issues, leading me into total misery. Instead of helping me discover my real nature :(
Was there ever a problem? Was it a mistake to be different? Is it a disorder, a disease, a fatal choice in childhood or nothing of them? Neurodiversity is just the biological explanation of what I am. But it pays! I was never a problem. The problem is that I was blamed for being my true self. I just need to learn more about it now to discover more things about me. And strive for acceptance and understanding.
I decided to not get into further detail explaining autism in this article. After all I don't know it very well and it's also a very complicated and misunderstood matter to try to explain. This would make the article quite much bigger. Instead of that, I will end up with this by reciting a single phrase an autistic person told me when I asked her to explain me what autism really is:
"well, us autistics don't naturally learn social skills. We might have to learn them manually and that is what defines us as autistic."
Long before discovering me, I came into the conclusion that some people are being blamed and mistreated simply for deviating from the average norm. People don't seem to like or understand individuals that don't resemble the average person. However, I have also been insisting on the idea lately that maybe these people are not to be blamed for not having a life as it was their choice. And when I showed an interest in mental disorders, I understood by reading other people's stories, that deviant people (naming this way those who differ) have usually a fair reason for being as they appear. I then called this reason a disorder. You can't blame some people for being asocial or not having a life, because you've probably not understood the struggle they are going through and how much more difficult it is for some to achieve what the average person has done in his social and real life. There are way more better explanations of having no life rather than being lazy and sometimes this is called a disorder.
Much later I came to the quite interesting conclusion (maybe after reading about autism) that deviating from the norm could actually be a definition of the term "disorder". Autistic people for example are supposed to have problems communicating with the people around them. As long as I read more about it though, I've found out that several people in the autistic community don't consider it as a disorder rather than a difference in the brain. And simply, differing in how we communicate produces misunderstandings. And most people expect that since every person looks and reacts similarly to them in social occasions, this is the right way to go for all people. Thus, being a deviant (whether it's your nature or choice), is not accepted by several people and is either noticed as "laziness", "immaturity", "arrogance", etc or it can be categorized in a manual of mental disorders. For most people, you can either be misguided or mentally ill if you differ enough. Why not being yourself with your own set of special elements and needs?
I've figured out that there are two primary kinds of struggle for deviants. The physical pain that may come out of their possible "disorder" and the social pain that they have to endure because of the constant criticism and unacceptance from society. And sometimes the second one is quite more painful for the individual..
And now what?
Well, since I've made it through that second night, bearing in mind the feeling of bitterness and regret about the truth that was hidden from me for such a long time, I swear to myself that I'll never let the other people put my self-esteem down and will only insist on my own new ideas about the way of MY life and nature. Regardless if I refer to autism or AS to defend my claims or not, I will just insist and let THEM down.
Even if I am more into believing that in a sense there is no disorder really out there but just a categorization of someone's strange quirks, I keep reading as many resources as I can about OCD, autism, AS and neurodiversity in general and it really helps me cope with my doubt of being still mistaken by reading the personal stories and thoughts of other individuals in the community sites. No matter how confusing sometimes the terms and categorizations of disorder are, how much this seems to be yet another construct to divide the "sane" from the "insane", if you think you have some elements of a mental disorder and pay a visit to sites speaking of this, there is a great sense of familiarity in there and someone awaiting to understand you and be understood.
In fact, for so many years before learning about all these, I remember myself doing these lonely walks while talking to myself. Speaking of various confusing matters having to do with me and the illusion of society, the common beliefs, the dope most people are on, the other side of the truth that they cannot or don't want to see, etc. Maybe back then I thought that they wouldn't understand me but a bit later I came to the conclusion that maybe it's me who can't understand them (actually it happens in both ways). Maybe some people find a meaning and happiness in this ignorant state that I cannot understand. Nevertheless, back then those thoughts were confusing me and led me to nihilism. Only after learning about autism and further understanding myself did I understand why was I on steroids bearing with these endless monologues. I couldn't find my place in this world. And then again I find several of my old ideas being recited (and more properly explained this time) by either autistic individuals or philosophical websites with maybe an autistic basis. I find out that I am not alone anymore. There is someone else understanding the deep essence of all these in a similar way as me..
There were more things I'd like to say here. Interesting things. Unfortunately I'll have to finish here. Also, maybe I didn't write enough things behind the truth about autism (it's easier to explain my OCD than this), though my initial plan was to make a point that sometimes it's not the popular belief that the fact that I miss a girlfriend or a life is my problem which makes me miserable, only some invisible disorder and the physical and social struggle this one produces. And sometimes the second one is making me feeling more helpless..
Thanks for listening.
p.s. I decided to share a helpful URL with several thoughts and links about autism as I feel that I didn't explain it further here as I'd like to (even though that wasn't the initial plan of my article). As about OCD, search in Wikipedia for Obsessive-Compulsive disorder and especially its sublink to Pure-O OCD.