The guy who sold me my car cancelled the plates the very next week. Luckily, I didn’t know that because there was a November expiration sticker on the plate. So the fact that I was driving the car illegally for three months did not bother me. Until now. But now I’m at the DMV.

I know your first inclination is to say that I’m an idiot for waiting until the end of November. But I really, really cannot deal with bureaucracy. To give you a sense of how much I can’t deal with it, I almost did not graduate college because I had too many library fines. I graduated only because my grandma made some calls.

I have found, in adult life, that bureaucracy only gets deeper and deeper, and for someone like me, with Asperger Syndrome, the rules, numbers and conversations that bureaucracy entails is completely overwhelming: IRS, health insurance, 401Ks, I actually have no idea how people cope with this stuff.

Which brings me to the DMV, to register my car, the day my sticker expires.

I have to fill in my age on the form, but there are numbers all over the form and all over the room and I can’t remember if I’m 41 or 42. I know the math problem is 2009 – 1966, but it would require borrowing and carrying, I think, because the 9 is so much bigger than the 0 and that’s where they will line up: the 9 under the 0. The numbers on top always feel like they are flying and I can’t keep track of them and I’ll never get the math problem right. At least not right now. So I guess.

I tell the DMV lady I filled out my form.

She looks to see if I filled in everything.

She says that I left the second part blank.

This is true. It looked like it was too much. Like, how could they want all that information? I just can’t believe it.

She says, “You need your VIN, color, make, date purchased and your signature.”

“I do?”

“Yes. Do you have it?”

“I forgot the car title stuff at my house. Can you look it up?”

“You came to register your car without the vehicle identification number?”

“Oh. Um. I thought I had it.”

I have to go home.

This is not easy. I can’t read a map, and I don’t know left and right, so I can’t follow verbal directions, so I have three routes I know well in Madison, and if I’m trying to get anywhere, I try to get to one of my three routes. For me, it’s not about the fastest route, it’s about not having to follow a new one.

But I’m on the side of town I never go to, so I can’t figure out how to get to one of my routes. I think I have a straight shot to my office, though. So I tell myself I’ll go to my office and then I’ll do my regular drive home, and get the title.

But I get lost going to my office. I would usually call Ryan Paugh for something like this but he’s on vacation. I review the social norms I know about vacations: usually, if someone is your friend, you can call them for help on vacation. But Ryan probably only helps me because I’m sort of his boss.

So I get lost going to my office, and then I go home, and then I take the same route back to the DMV, but it’s so long that I decide to stop at my favorite gas station.

It’s my favorite gas station for the coffee. Have I told you that now that I live in Wisconsin I have taken to drinking gas station coffee? I don’t know what’s come over me. So my favorite meal right now is French Vanilla coffee and a Peanut Butter Power Bar.

I have told you before that transitions are insanely difficult for me. This is one of those times. I am eating—so nice and easy—and going back to the DMV seems so terrible, and isn’t going to ever work out anyway. So I get another coffee and another Power Bar. And it’s so nice, sitting in my car, alone, with no noise, and I think I’m going to die if I have to go back to the DMV.

I do not die, but I do get anxiety and start picking at my cuticles. I have Googled a million times to see if picking cuticles is associated with Asperger’s because it’s insane that I do it. I mean, it hurts and everyone can see it, and sometimes, if it’s a really bad day, I get blood on a nice shirt. Which is today. Well, not really a nice shirt because I was so stressed about today that I did not change out of the shirt I slept in. But I am bleeding.

The only thing I found out from Google is that people with Asperger’s self-mutilate as a way to focus away from what is overwhelming. So it’s like cutting. That’s what’s going on here. I find Googling that another form of this sort of self-mutilation is anorexia, which I wish so much I could have.

Do not tell me this is not acceptable to say. It’s always the fat people who say that. Because really everyone wishes they could be anorexic for a few days, just to get their weight down. I’m just wishing I could be anorexic for the days that I’m picking at my cuticles. The food thing is so much more socially acceptable.

I bring my VIN number to the window where the lady is.

She says, “Hello again.”

Really. She says this. And I can only think of that part of the book Go Dog Go where the dogs say:

Hello again.

Hello.

Do you like my hat?

I do not.

Goodbye again.

Goodbye.

I always liked that part because I felt like Go Dog Go doesn’t just have work dogs and play dogs, and up dogs and down dogs. Go Dog Go also has Asperger’s dogs.

So I say, “Hello.”

I hope we are going to do the Go Dog Go script. I’m giddy with anticipation of having a real connection with the DMV lady.

She says, “Do you have proper identification now?”

I panic. I was expecting “Do you like my hat?” I thought she only needed the car stuff. I worry she needs a phone bill with my address on it or something.

I show her my stuff. She helps me fill in the form. She talks slowly for me, and it’s comforting.

She gives me a number and tells me to wait until it’s called.

I look around for people looking at numbers being called. I don’t see a crowd of people holding papers like mine.

Also, I hear a lot of stuff being called. I mean, there’s the Wisconsin ID department, and the driver’s license department, and the car registration people, and you can even get a passport photo taken here. There’s a lot going on. There are a lot of numbers here.

I worry that I’m going to miss my number while I’m trying to figure things out. So I go back to the woman and ask her how long she thinks it’ll be.

She says, “Not long at all.”

I say, “Not long like an hour, or not long like a minute?”

She says, “Five minutes.”

I go back to looking for where people are listening to numbers. I tell myself I have four minutes to figure out where the numbers are coming from. I look around and the place is full of sixteen-year-olds who are handling all the paperwork for their driver’s licenses. Their parents are reading books, taking care of young siblings, not paying attention to the forms and the numbers and the lines. The sixteen-year-olds are doing it.

Is this the DMV for the gifted-and-talented? Is it normal that all these teens can navigate the DMV? How do they know what to do? Where do they get their information?

I cannot figure out who is supposed to call my number. I am not hearing numbers. I so so so do not want to go back to the woman at the desk. I stare at the wall trying to figure out what to do.

The wall at the DMV is, actually, overwhelming. There are videos about immigration and posters about drunk driving, and there are LCD displays of numbers and letters and I have to find the only blank spot on the wall, in between the bathroom doors, to stare.

I tell myself that it will be fine to ask the lady at the window for help again. I remind myself about the airport. For years I was too scared to ask for help at the airport even though I could not read my boarding pass. I missed so many flights that Ryan Healy was not even surprised anymore when I called him from an airport to tell him I was stuck. Sometimes I’d be right there, sitting at the gate, watching the clock, but the clock is just more numbers, and still I’d miss the flight. Or, if I did not miss my flight, it took so much concentration that I would lose all my stuff; there’s too much commotion to navigate for me to also read numbers.

So I started asking the person at the counter to circle the gate and the time on my boarding pass. I say, “I’m dyslexic and I can’t read my boarding pass.” The person always has a moment of surprise but usually they watch out for me.

So I pretend I’m at the airport and I go to the DMV lady again. I say, “Can you tell me what to do with this? I can’t figure out how to know where to go with my number.”

She says, “What number?”

I hand her my slip.

She says, “These are all letters.”

I look. And it’s true. They are. But they are tricky letters for someone thinking numbers. Well, the H is not tricky, but the I and the O really threw me off.

I say thank you, and then I see there is an LCD above each window in the whole place that shows the number and letter sequence that is almost like mine but not really mine.

I watch. And then it’s my turn.

I go up to the counter. The woman looks over my form.

I am so nervous that I’m not going to have the right information that I have to look away. I look at the customer at the window next to me.

She has a folder of information. Everyone has folders for their car stuff? How can the whole world be so organized? How can the government require that you be this organized to get through life? Why is no one protesting?

My new DMV lady looks up stuff in the computer. She tells me I have a ticket.

This does not surprise me. I get tickets a lot and I forget to pay them. So I sort of think of all tickets, when I get them, as the amount on the slip plus the inevitable late fee.

I say, “Can I pay it now?”

She says, “No. You need to pay at the police station at the Capitol.”

I don’t know why I say this, because just getting the words out gives me so much stress that I think I’m going to have diarrhea right there on the spot. But I say, “Can I go pay it at the police station and then come back?”

“No. It takes up to seven days to clear in the system.”

“What?”

“The system here needs to show you have no tickets before I can register your car.”

So I settle in for a week of surreptitious, unregistered driving while I wait for the system to clear.

Luckily this is not a day I have to drive to the farm. The farmer drives to my house.

And right when I am trying to get dinner on the table, he says, “Do you have a stamp?”

My first thought is, “It’s so annoying that are you are talking to me when I am trying to get dinner ready because it’s too hard for me to do dinner and kids and stamps.” Also, I think, “Who is still using stamps? What do we need stamps for in 2009 besides letters to Santa?”

He says, “I got a ticket today for parking in front of your house, and I want to pay it before I forget.”

Then I put down my pot, turn off the stove and walk over to give him a kiss. The important thing when you have Asperger’s is not to be able to do stuff you can’t do, but to surround yourself with people who can.

230 replies
« Older CommentsNewer Comments »
  1. Meg Bear
    Meg Bear says:

    I love your summary! This is true for all things. Getting people in your life who can do things you cannot is what everyone needs. In fact, that’s the key to success. Those who are best at it get the farthest.

    -Meg

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    Thank you for this, Penelope. It embodies your greatest strengths even as you share your weakness. It is very moving in its honesty and vulnerability.

    • MamaMia
      MamaMia says:

      What an ignorant thing to say. This comment takes me back to when my son was in middle school, and his teachers had that same type of thinking. They have no excuse. They’re supposed to know what Asperger’s is and how it affects their students. Let’s assume you’re not a teacher, and probably not an adult, perhaps someone with out much education. So many people make commentary on Asperger’s without even bothering to read up on it first. There’s a reason for it being referred to as an “invisible disability.”

      Aspies can be expert at many things, but totally inept at others. A kid with the learning difference may know the names and stats of every major league baseball player going back decades, but not know the rules of the game, nor have any interest in ever going to a game. My son was a straight ‘A’ student all through school, but could only perform on exams that required memorization of facts. Ask him to synthesize that knowledge, and carry it over to another situation, and you’ll totally lose him. And he’ll probably burst into tears and have a panic attack. He could sing an entire album of music before he was two, but couldn’t tie his shoes in under five minutes until he was ten.

      Yes, Asperger’s is difficult to comprehend, but don’t criticize people just because YOU don’t get it. I’m betting you’re not feeling great right now about someone calling you ignorant, childish, and uneducated, and just because it doesn’t make sense to you.

  3. ziggy
    ziggy says:

    So, you can’t tell left from right, but yet you can be the CEO of Internet start-ups.

    And you didn’t know that the VIN is on the car, even though that’s a basic standard in any data model/relational database, which you would know if you were really doing all the IT work you claimed to have done.

    I’m starting to think that your stuff doesn’t add up.

    • ziggy
      ziggy says:

      Okay, so you have 3 routes you can follow without getting lost in your hometown. Yet, to see your farmer, you have to take a route from Madison to Darlington, which has several twists and turns, small state routes, etc., ending in a rural area…

      It doesn’t seem to add up …

    • Jan
      Jan says:

      Ziggy: A Vehicle Identification Number is a basic standard in any data model/relational database?
      So if I have a database on geographical or financial data, that still includes VIN? Are you sure you’re not talking about basic primary keys?
      Even if relational databases contained VIN (which some definetly do), why should that knowledge help someone to find his/her VIN on their car?

    • Belinda Gomez
      Belinda Gomez says:

      But lots of people can’t tell left from right, and can function. Don’t forget–none of PT”s companies have ever been successful.
      Nothing adds up. There’s no standard test for any disorder on the autism spectrum, so you can be as disabled as you claim to be.

      • Anthony
        Anthony says:

        Since my brother really does have Asperger’s, I can say with confidence that there is a perceivable difference between Asperger’s and the neurotypical population. I have also worked with people with full blown autism, and I can again say there is a difference. I do agree that the diagnostic criteria for Autism spectrum disorders is a bit broad and may warrant splitting into more distinct disorders, that still does not mean that anyone can claim it. As someone with ADD and social anxiety disorder, I would easily be able to claim some Autism related disorder under your criteria, yet I have been evaluated and diagnosed and distinctly neurotypical in this regard.

        While I can’t say for certain if Penelope does have Asperger’s, the fact that she seems to stick her foot in her mouth with almost every post is indicative of Asperger’s.

    • Anthony
      Anthony says:

      Ziggy, when did she ever say that she was an IT genius. I do recall her trying to start an online employment consultancy, but I do not recall her ever trying to start an IT firm proper. Her company was run through the internet, but it did not produce anything technological.

      She would not have to be an ‘IT Genius’ to come up with or found such a company as the web was simply the medium through which business was conducted. She would simply have to hire people with the proper skill set to implement the technological backend to power the business. If this were not the case, then none of my clients would have their site’s because they weren’t ‘IT Geniuses.’

      • Melania Rosseau
        Melania Rosseau says:

        @Ziggy and Belinda,
        Thanks! Those are exactly my points: Well-written post, but so inconsistent with the persona:

        No planning skills (how hard is it to check if this transaction can be done online?);

        No delegation skills (with house manager/office assistant, etc., why not just delegate this?)

        Worse than anything, no self-awareness of her difficulties handling tasks, ending up being both inefficient and ineffective.

        The claims of Asperger’s/Dislexia do not change the fact that you need some basic skills to become an entrepreneur. This story sounds a little to close to James Frey to comfort.

        Btw, and trying to help: if the transaction that initiated the post was something that could not be delegated (i.e. changing the picture); the story would have been believable. These type of details are something a writer should take into account.

    • MamaMia
      MamaMia says:

      What an ignorant thing to say. This comment takes me back to when my son was in middle school, and his teachers had that same type of thinking. They have no excuse. They’re supposed to know what Asperger’s is and how it affects their students. Let’s assume you’re not a teacher, and probably not an adult, perhaps someone with out much education. So many people make commentary on Asperger’s without even bothering to read up on it first. There’s a reason for it being referred to as an “invisible disability.”

      Aspies can be expert at many things, but totally inept at others. A kid with the learning difference may know the names and stats of every major league baseball player going back decades, but not know the rules of the game, nor have any interest in ever going to a game. My son was a straight ‘A’ student all through school, but could only perform on exams that required memorization of facts. Ask him to synthesize that knowledge, and carry it over to another situation, and you’ll totally lose him. And he’ll probably burst into tears and have a panic attack. He could sing an entire album of music before he was two, but couldn’t tie his shoes in under five minutes until he was ten.

      Yes, Asperger’s is difficult to comprehend, but don’t criticize people just because YOU don’t get it. I’m betting you’re not feeling great right now about someone calling you ignorant, childish, and uneducated, and just because it doesn’t make sense to you. This comment is intended for the poster who made the comment about working in IT or being a CEO.

  4. Iris
    Iris says:

    Penelope, your struggle understanding maths is a condition called dyscalculia. I worry you are giving people the impression that dyscalculia is just part of Aspergers. They may often go together, but they are separate things.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. Yeah. I forgot about that. Thank you for clarifying. I’ve linked to it a few times in Wikipedia, and in this post, I linked to the post where I learn that it’s dyscalculia. But I think it’s a subset of dyslexia, yes?

      Anyway, it often comes with Asperger’s.

      And, in terms of the airport story, it’s a lot easier to tell the person at the airport that I have dyslexia. They know what that is, and I get the help I need. If I say dyscalculia, I’ll have a harder time getting help.

      Penelope

      • Iris
        Iris says:

        Absolutely, most people have never heard of dyscalculia.

        Also, describing it as a subset of dyslexia is misleading. I think that’s why you’re getting the comments with helpful math tips. People don’t understand that dyscalculia is not just about numbers flying around. I work in a lab that studies dyscalculia (though not me personally). A lot of mathematical reasoning is related to spatial reasoning, and with dyscalculia, that’s where the heart of the matter lies. Hence the left-right confusion, and the map-reading issue. The idea is you are missing the ‘mental number line’ that most people have.

      • prklypr
        prklypr says:

        I had never heard of dyscalculia until I read this post. I just googled it and I’m thinking that sounds like me. I do not have Asperger’s and I am not dyslexic, but I get my left and right confused – I have little tricks I use to remember – and I’m awful at math, could never memorize multiplication tables. I use the same routes when driving, even going out of my way, because I can’t follow maps or intuitively figure out which way to go. I get lost going to places I’ve been to many times before. I also have trouble with spatial relations – I have no idea if something is a foot or a yard away from me. Is that dyscalculia?

  5. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I’m not going to tell you it’s ‘not acceptable’ to say that sometimes you wish you could anorexic for a short time. It’s up to you to decide what’s acceptable for you or not. But I will say that I think you’re on your own with that. I have never wished I were anorexic, even for a limited amount of time (which isn’t possible anyway). And although I can’t see inside the head of every other woman, I don’t think it’s a particularly common desire among adult females. Teenage girls who don’t know better, maybe.

    • Jan
      Jan says:

      Well my guess is that the underlying statement was, that some women will sometimes think about (not necessarily undertake!) drastic measures when it comes to weight loss, no matter what the consequences may be.

      It is my belief that everyone thinks similar things sometimes, but about different topics (think about drugs to feel good, alcohol to numb pain, speeding to get a rush, cheating on your spouse to achieve a different kind of satisfaction…)

  6. Cat in Boston
    Cat in Boston says:

    Caitlin and all others, it was a figure of speech get over it. Like no one ever wanted to get a bad cold to drop five lbs? Please.

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:

      I’m already over it… but if you think it wasn’t meant literally, then clearly we haven’t been reading the same blog. I have been reading PT a long (probably read every single post on this blog) and I’m pretty sure I know when something is just a figure of speech or not.

  7. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Using long subtraction to figure out your age makes it harder on yourself that it needs to be. The trick is shorter, simpler subtractions and additions. If you were born in 1966, you were 4 in 1970. That means you were 34 in 2000. That means you’re 43 in 2009 (unless your birthday is coming up in the next month, in which case you’re still 42).

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Okay. Seriously. This paragraph has eight numbers in it. There is now way that it is a simplification when there are eight numbers.

      I know you are trying to help, Caitlin. I know because you are one of those commenters who is insightful and compassionate all the time on this blog, so why should this comment be different?

      But it is not helpful, and I think if I tell you why then other people will understand better how to help.

      A good way to help someone like me is not to say “Here’s a trick for subtraction” because the numbers are flying for me no matter how they are on the page — they even fly for me in that paragraph you wrote. By the same token, it doesn’t help to say, “Here’s a trick for left and right” because it’s the concept I don’t understand, not which hand is L and which is R.

      The helpful thing in this post was “why don’t you have an assistant register your car?” That’s really helpful.

      Penelope

  8. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Penelope,

    This sounds like a really hard day. I had no idea bureaucracy could feel like this for people with Asperger’s, and I appreciate that you shared it.

    Also, even though you told us not to, there’s something you need to know about anorexia, because you don’t seem to know it, and it makes that comment of yours inaccurate and frustrating for people like me to read, who’ve had friends and family suffer from anorexia. (I’m not fat, by the way.) Anorexia is not about wanting to be thin. For some people, it’s about wanting to have something they control; but for many people, it’s about feeling that you don’t deserve food — or anything at all, really — because you’re a terrible person.

    I know that was a throwaway aside for you in this post, but every time someone says they wish they had anorexia, I think of my cousin Kerry a few years ago — down to 80 lbs, too small for size zero clothes, and in the hospital — and how helpless I felt about being able to convince her know she was precious and important.

    Anyway, in sum, I think you’re precious and important too, and I hope you have less days like the one you wrote about, and I also hope you never develop anorexia. It isn’t easier to handle.

    Love your blog!

  9. Marcy
    Marcy says:

    ” I have found, in adult life, that bureaucracy only gets deeper and deeper, and for someone like me, with Asperger Syndrome, the rules, numbers and conversations that bureaucracy entails is completely overwhelming: IRS, health insurance, 401Ks, I actually have no idea how people cope with this stuff”

    I really don’t either. For the longest time I thought I was the crazy person that could not deal with being a grown-up. It is quite relieving to know I’m not the only one. Thank you for sharing this. I’m sure your candid accounts will lead many to seek help and (hopefully) those around them to be more patient and understanding.

    Practical tip: in California, there are DMV registry services – you call them up, they come to you, figure out what you need, get your paperwork and file for you, for about a $25 fee. More than worth it if you ask me. Even if you have to be at the DMV in person, they’ll arrange everything else for you. I don’t know if you would have this in Wisconsin, or rather, in your small town – but it never hurts to check. Turnkey services are the way to go.

  10. EllenSka
    EllenSka says:

    I personally would rather have the flu for a week than anorexia. The flu gets over and you lost the 10 lbs., but with anorexia, you have to go on to pay for long-term therapy.

    Seriously, your post is going to help me be a better bookstore clerk. [My first job was typing drivers licenses at the DMV (ha ha!).] Just knowing that different people have different challenges reminds me to be more compassionate toward everyone. And as your loyal independent bookstore clerk, when I screw up this holiday season, please have pity on me in return.

  11. Isao
    Isao says:

    The last paragraph was such a nice, adorable touch. I got the impression that your partner is the “anchor” in your life that makes you feel you can always come back to a place physically/emotionally.

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      Lucky her, then, to have a partner. Some of us have neither the self-confidence nor the confidence in others to get to that point. I say men have it particularly hard, because without confidence we’re not attractive to anybody.

  12. Jim
    Jim says:

    I had the same ocurrence many years ago with a plate sticker that expired earliler than I realized when I bought a car from a dealership. We had recently moved from another part of the country where the motor vehicle process is different. Unfortunately, it was our son (late teens)who got pulled over by the police and who got the ticket.

    So off I went to the local court house where I had to plead my son’e case – read my stupidity – before a judge. He was pretty cool and dropped the fine to $10 and ensured that my sons would not get whacked any points.

    But during our two-hour in the waiting, it was interesting to see all the weirdos arrive. One young teen was admitting to death threats, others had done even dumber things than me with their cars. Lesson learned: pay attention to your licence plate.

  13. bindu wiles
    bindu wiles says:

    a terrific and funny post written with an acute detail and chronology that gives the reader the experience of Aspergers. One of your best posts. you have a gift for conveying the humor and poignancy of our humanity.

  14. Monica Lond-LeBlanc
    Monica Lond-LeBlanc says:

    Also in California if you below to the Auto Club (AAA) you can go there and they will help you with all your car registration issues. I haven’t gone to the DMV to register my car in years. In fact, by going to AAA, we pay our car registration and get our tags immediately instead of waiting for weeks to get them in the mail. Since they aren’t a government agency, and they want your business, all their customer service representatives are very, very helpful.

    Now to your anorexia comment. First I think you put comments like is in your blog to “shock” people to get reactions. I was very angry about this “throw away” statement. I am one of those fat people you mentioned but I have never in my fat life wished I could be anorexic. Have bad cold or the flu yes of course. To me that statement is like saying I wish I could have spent a few months in a concentration camp – hey that’s a good way to lose weight too. So I guess your readers are just supposed to chalk up that comment to your having Asperger’s and say – that’s the reason you can make such a dumb statement. Goes with your lack of social understand so hey give her a break. I’m sorry but you’re a high powered individual, you’ve been very successful in your life — what you say can make a big impact on people. So I’d caution you to please be bit more careful. Anorexic individuals already believe that they aren’t doing anything wrong, they don’t need someone like you to reinforce their life threatening behavior. Remember people admire you.

  15. D
    D says:

    Penelope, your comment about the Iliad strikes a note with me. As an adult with ADD, I often feel like I missed some “secret” that everyone else knows… so I often find myself a day late and a dollar short.

  16. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    For what it’s worth, I do really well in bureaucracy…so well I have thought about starting a business to help out people like you. But the angriest and closest to losing control of myself I have ever gotten was at the DMV. That place is crazy-making for even the most socially functional individual. I’m proud you made it through, but next time, take someone else with you who can do everything including telling you where to sign and when to hand over your credit card.

  17. Scott Woodard
    Scott Woodard says:

    Penelope,

    There is no G&T DMV; we’re all complete idiots when it comes to the DMV. The entire process was designed by underachivers in High School to get back at everyone else they perceived were out to get them. ;)

    ~ Scott

  18. Deb
    Deb says:

    I don’t have Asperger’s but I can totally relate to being distracted: As I'm driving to work this morning, I hear a really good, new song that I want to look up when I get to work to see who the artist is. That's because for some reason, my XM radio wasn't showing the artist or the song this morning. So I don't know the name of the song, or the artist. It sounds like it might be Natalie Grant. And by the repeating lyrics, I figure I can Google them and determine the song and artist.

    So all during the 15 minute drive to work, I'm repeating those snippets of lyrics to myself, because if I can just repeat them often enough, I won't forget them between the commute and the getting settled into work. But in the interim, I'm still listening to other songs. Ooh, there's a MercyMe song. And next, a Chris Tomlin song. I love both of them! Wait, I still remember most of the new song. Most is better than none. Was it King of Heaven or Heavenly King? Oh well, I remember the next part – €“ Breathe on me, Light my way. Or was it Light my way, Breathe on Me?

    Finally I get to work, walk in, sign in, plug my laptop in, read some email – was there something I was going to look up? Yeah, that song! What was it now?

    Sigh – ..Nothing of any kind (not Natalie Grant) turns up and I've completely misremembered the lyrics.

    Re: the anorexia comment, I totally get that too. I’ve thought that before myself, and I am definitely overweight.

    Your last paragraph was just precious.

  19. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    This is the story of my life, only I can’t articulate it like you do. I just melt down.

    The important thing when you have Asperger's is not to be able to do stuff you can't do, but to surround yourself with people who can.

    This is one of the major reasons I got married and my husband is such a doll he doesn’t even mind it. He knows it’s true. Somehow, he understands the incongruity of my ability to run a successful business, or rebuilding a PC in an afternoon but getting a post office box or having utilities connected at the office, guarantees trauma and an ensuing evening of sedation. That’s assuming a lot, that the job would be done in a day. You’re lucky. My recent DMV experience took two months and practically required a personal intervention from the governor.

  20. Kari
    Kari says:

    Oh man, I loved this post SO MUCH. I am always telling people that it’s “exhausting being me,” and I say it half-jokingly (I mask a lot of anxiety and self-doubt/loathing with humor)because I can’t seem to “get my life in order.” But this is really how my life is, too – and it’s effing EXHAUSTING. I feel like sending this to my family – they will immediately recognize so much of what you’ve written as stuff I do all the time.

    Hang in there sister.

  21. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    PT: I don’t have Asperger’s, but I have experienced some of the same challenges due to a head injury from a car accident a few years ago. I have a whole new appreciation for the people I used to consider “disorganized” or “clueless.”

    I think you would enjoy this post on a recent experience I had with renewing my driving license. [http://www.editormum.com/2009/09/12/impossible-days/] When I was reading your account of your experience at the DMV, I was reminded of my own experience. I don’t know why those places have to be so complex and maze-like. And now that I suffer from panic attacks and agoraphobia, it’s a torture for me to have to deal with situations and places like the DMV.

    I’m glad you have the Farmer and the Ryans to help you navigate the insanity.

  22. lucinda
    lucinda says:

    Wow. I just had a huge surge of sympathy for you, and for me. Not because of your perceived challenges, but because of your total identification with being asperger’s syndrom, and my buying into it as well. I am really sorry for seeing you, and anyone else with whatever they’re perceived “challenges” happen to be, as less than whole. Thanks for the article.

  23. K
    K says:

    In WI they actually allow you to title/register a car at those emission testing places – that’s what I did to avoid the confusion of the DMV.

    Just giving you some car knowledge…

    But from now on, you can just do it online, much easier!

  24. Anca C
    Anca C says:

    Reading this post was just like reading an exciting short story- plus I could connect with so many parts of it, it felt comforting to know that there’s another person out there that has 3 well-known routes they usually take( so many people cannot understand this),someone who is not able, in the blink of an eye, to tell left from right, and on top of all this, someone who is NOT perfectly organized, and YES, can survive this way.
    All the more reason to continue visiting your blog!

  25. ioana
    ioana says:

    Beautiful post. I had no idea how much aspergers can affect all these little interractions that I take for granted. I hope you find ways and tools to help make all these challenges easier and smoother. I agree with the poster who says that the farmer seems like an anchor for you.

  26. Operation Pink Herring
    Operation Pink Herring says:

    I pick my cuticles, too. It’s a horrible, embarassing habit, but I sort of enjoy the actual picking. It’s calming.

    I used to be anorexic, and the picking is so, so much better. The thoughts that go along wiht anorexia are so terrible that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even for a few days.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such an interesting comment. I love that you can tell us, with first hand knowledge, which is worse. I believe you. But I want to know, what are the terrible thoughts? Like, what thoughts do you have when you are anorexic and what thoughts do you have when you pick your cuticles.

      Oh. I hope you’ll come back and write an answer…

      -Penelope

      • Caroline
        Caroline says:

        I’m not “Operation Pink Herring” — but I can tell you that small-scale fixations like picking cuticles tend to be a means of managing stress in a slightly thoughtless way — self-soothing, almost.

        The thoughts of anorexia tend to involve wide-spread self-hatred, full-time obsession with food and control and how whether you eat the second half of that piece of bread means you are a very, very bad and weak person.

  27. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    I love you too. Thank you for all your work. Keep writing, because everytime it rings bells for me and for my son. You help us navigate life.
    I loved Go Dog Go too.

  28. Johnny
    Johnny says:

    > There’s just no good reason for this comment.
    > Why tell someone that they’re full of crap?

    Because the truth shall set you free.

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      Just don’t get too complacent about what “the truth” is. It can come back to bite you in the butt.

  29. John
    John says:

    Hey Pee, I’ve got one for your blog: try crashing a White House dinner and then claiming you have an invite. Try it, who knows? Maybe you’ll get a reality show out of it.

  30. Diana
    Diana says:

    P, you are a delight to read, even though I am reading of your misfortune! Plus…I think my husband may have Asperger’s or something along that line and you are describing the things he uses to cope with (probably) dyslexia and math anxiety – subterfuge, compensation, distraction, and the comfort of soothing addictions like coffee at the gas station. He always gets to the airport hours early, hands me the check to add the tip and has to pay bills when they arrive for lack of strategizing.

    I have panic disorder and I have a terrible time with social anxiety at the DMV and other official buildings. I once had an appointment and teh people in line didn’t and it became an angry mob scene. I thought I’d die of embarrassment! When I see a police car, I think I may be arrested (too much Kafka?) Thanks for making my life feel less unusual.

  31. Irv Podolsky
    Irv Podolsky says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I’ve never been a joiner of clubs, or been involved in group therapy, or been a member of AA, or any gathering where people break down into public honesty. So perhaps I’m naive about what can happen when someone like yourself puts her soul on the line and speaks uncensored truth. Perhaps the outpouring of sympathy and raw anger happens a lot more than I suspect. And reading this blog, an old dream of mine is being rekindled – that given enough honesty, people will generally respond in kind. And be kind.

    And so what I’m seeing here, is an admission from so many of us, that we don’t have control over our personal lives. No surprise there. And very few of us feel secure about that. In fact, most of us are really scared about that. And it’s comforting to see how many people are admitting how scared we all are, even through angry words. Admission of fear is uniting us, in a good way.

    But even so, I gave up the idea of world peace a long time ago. But as I mentioned, part of me has NOT given up on a Community of Peace…and love…and understanding. And I know I’m getting sentimental, but so is life. And so is Brazen Careerist. And so are you, Penelope Trunk. And I don’t believe you should give up one inch of that. Because in this tiny pocket of the Universe, you are forming a community of truth. And we can’t let that get away.

    Irv P.

  32. Matt
    Matt says:

    Wow! You completely opened my eyes. I mean, holy shit, i never knew it was like this for somebody with Asperger’s. A good friend of my wife has Asperger’s, and I now realize how lame and unsympathetic I have been. Honestly, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing.

  33. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    Thanks for this – I have more compassion and greater understanding about Asperger’s. Good fix at the airport. It’s important for companies to make workplace accommodations so things like the math and bureaucracy situation don’t cause them to miss out on excellent people.

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      Of course, remember that the excellent are the enemy of the merely good. Bureaucracy exists for reasons, number one being that I got mine and I’m damned if I’m gonna let you get yours.

  34. Tina Fortune
    Tina Fortune says:

    My first thought was “Didn’t you know you could find the VIN on the car?” Glad someone answered that. I have not been to the DMV in years because of the stress that it causes me. I can actually feel my body temperature rising at the irritation and frustration I often felt towards the employees! Your post reminds me so much of my day as a divorced mom of 3. Somehow your post was comforting in a weird sort of way.

  35. Naomi
    Naomi says:

    I find it hard to believe that you have Asperger’s. I definitely do not, yet I also hate going to the DMV, find it overwhelming and confusing, and I pick my cuticles (nervousness). My brother has Asperger’s and he cannot connect with people (you were married and are in a relationship) could not keep a job (you do not seem to have a problem with this) and could never, ever have the organizational skills to execute this blog. Being overwhelmed at the DMV and biting you nails do not qualify you as having a syndrome.

    • Steeple
      Steeple says:

      Hey, Naomi! I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s since I was a little kid, and I am also capable of handling some employment and maintaining a web presence. In fact, did you know that Aspergers is part of the Autism Spectrum? It’s called “spectrum” because we all have a spectrum of needs, strengths and problems. So it’s actually a countryproductive and douchebag move to use one person’s symptoms/experiences to tell someone else that they’re “not really disabled”. In fact, it’s pretty insulting to imply that they’re not “disabled enough” for you.

      Since you’re allistic, please don’t presume you know more about this than an autistic person does.

    • Steeple
      Steeple says:

      Hey, Naomi! I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s since I was a little kid, and I am also capable of handling some employment and maintaining a web presence. In fact, did you know that Aspergers is part of the Autism Spectrum? It’s called “spectrum” because we all have a spectrum of needs, strengths and problems. So it’s actually a countryproductive and douchebag move to use one person’s symptoms/experiences to tell someone else that they’re “not really disabled”. In fact, it’s pretty insulting to imply that they’re not “disabled enough” for you.

      Since you’re allistic, please don’t presume you know more about this than an autistic person does.

  36. Deb
    Deb says:

    Naomi, Penelope does not need anyone to give her a diagnosis or dispute her diagnosis. Have you read any of her other posts? And you only picked out two incidents from the whole post; there were plenty more (getting lost on the way home; stopping and getting coffee, etc.). I just felt I had to respond to your post. She is high-functioning in many aspects of her life, but she writes about many things in which she has troubles, due to Aspergers.

    • Belinda Gomez
      Belinda Gomez says:

      PT’s Aspergers is based solely on her own diagnosis. Last I checked, she’s not an MD, PhD, MSW or anything remotely related to someone who can make this diagnosis competently. I can’t believe how many readers believe her just because she says so.

      Melania Rosseau–right on.

  37. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    This story makes me think twice as a special education teacher whom is responsible for teaching students with disabilities that makes it impossible for them to do tasks as their same age peers do.
    Each day I work with students that struggle with skills that their non-disabled peers have acheived at a much earlier age.

    • prklypr
      prklypr says:

      This comment is shocking, not for it’s content but for the claim that it was written by a teacher – the first sentence makes absolutely no sense and is riddled with gramatical errors. A special education teacher, no less.

  38. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Seriously, Penelope. I like your blogs and I have read quite a few, but lay off the fat comments. You make such rude, assinine comments about that. Yes, I am someone who has to work out and watch what i eat very closely to stay healthy. “its always the fat people who are sensitive”

    Perhaps you purposefully aim to be offensive and mean. If so, how lame. Find a different population to be crappy too, because dont worry, overweight people get it enough.

  39. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Hilarious post! My EX husband has Asperger’s so I’m very interested in everything you write about it. You help me understand it better even though it’s belated understanding. The DMV is not a fun place for any of us. Yes, Jill, “Life with people is hard”. Go, dog, go!

  40. William Bruce
    William Bruce says:

    Directed to Ms. Trunk, some relatively (and uncharacteristically) short comments on a few matters broached here…

    “I know your first inclination is to say that I'm an idiot for waiting until the end of November. But I really, really cannot deal with bureaucracy.”

    It sounds as if you need to be more proactive in how you approach or avoid bureaucratic encounters, from the start. *My* first inclination is to say that personal responsibility must enter the narrative at some point. I suspect that this is the place for it.

    “The numbers on top always feel like they are flying and I can't keep track of them and I'll never get the math problem right. At least not right now. So I guess.”

    If your computational competence (so to speak) is so low, then you are in dire need of a support; an ever-present personal assistant, a plethora of ever-available contacts, a finely tuned system for reference, or some equally radical solution is called for. Again, despite being clichéd thanks to California overuse, you need to be more proactive (and prescient) regarding these obstacles. Follow the Delphic precept, plan accordingly, and act accordingly.

    “This is not easy. I can't read a map, and I don't know left and right, so I can't follow verbal directions… For me, it's not about the fastest route, it's about not having to follow a new one.”

    More problems where deliberateness is called for in your planning and decision-making. While hardly a panacea, it *will* allow you to ascertain over time which obstacles you should attend to on your own, and which require more substantial support.

    “I don't know why I say this, because just getting the words out gives me so much stress that I think I'm going to have diarrhea right there on the spot.”

    I find this is unfortunate vindication of my earlier suggestions.

    Regarding the claims and arguments about anorexia…

    “Do not tell me this is not acceptable to say.”

    If you were merely describing your own thoughts and feelings, I would salute you. Even transparency of the most brutal sort is commendable. But, alas…

    “It's always the fat people who say that.”

    This is at least one of two very bad things: Charitably interpreted, it is a painfully obtuse “sociology of knowledge” type of argument; less charitably, it is an embarrassing *ad hominem* that demands you be called out.

    “Because really everyone wishes they could be anorexic for a few days, just to get their weight down.”

    The embarrassing forms of argumentation continue. Interpreted charitably, you are still speaking for others — something I would hope is below you. Less charitably, you fell into the genetic fallacy again.

    “I'm just wishing I could be anorexic for the days that I'm picking at my cuticles. The food thing is so much more socially acceptable.”

    Your rigorous attention to the socially acceptable comes at the expense of perspective, and tells the tale all on its own. I must apply the descriptor being batted around in the prior comments, namely, “immature.”

    Doubtless, it was an intriguing post, but those aforementioned remarks detract greatly from its finer qualities. You do yourself a grave disservice, and make yourself far less sympathetic.

  41. Kat Wilder
    Kat Wilder says:

    Your last line pretty much says it all, whether you have Asperger’s or not. Because silly and cliche as it seems, we really do need a village.
    I really don’t want to do it all by myself, DIYers be damned!

    Those with learning challenges – OCD, ADHD, Asperger’s, etc. – have life harder than most, in part because no one else knows what to do with people with learning challenges.

    • Farley
      Farley says:

      Amen. I, to, am and ENF/TP and constantly get myself appointed the one and only person to do something with the bureaucracy. The problem with that is it’s neverending. I go round and round through agencies and departments till I find the right one and someone who can solve the problem. It is confusing, frustrating, and very very time consuming. Worse, it is so complicated and incestuous that it is impossible to hand off to anyone.

  42. JJ
    JJ says:

    The premise of this post is off: tons of DMV transactions can be done online. Yet a busy-and savvy internet person, who can’t deal with red tape, and with assistants galore, decides to go waste a day at the DMV. It doesn’t make sense.

    Witty writing, though.

    • ictus75
      ictus75 says:

      Ah, that’s the fun of Aspergers – the way we think doesn’t always make sense, both to others, and to ourselves. Logic & common sense often escape us. Yes, it doesn’t make sense, but we can’t really change that –

  43. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    You made me feel not so alone. I have the same level of confusing but it’s from my diabetes and other meds. I get so frustrated that I’ve learned to tell people I have a hearing problem so they speak slowly and repeat themselves. It makes them feel better and I’m able to translate their words. Thank you!

  44. Julia
    Julia says:

    Reading the beginning of this post STRESSED me OUT and made my heart speed up I empathized so deeply. I couldn’ even finish it b/c I was getting so anxious. I don’t have Asperger’s (as far as I know) but I’m an ENTP and I think it has to do with that and growing up in an Alcoholic family.

    I also can’t tell left from right and get completely OVERWELMED when confronted with burocracy, I dropped out of college b/c of not knowing how to file for graduation or write petitions. I have a speeding ticket right now, that I can’t find and it is stressing me out EVERY DAY. I don’t have a partner who can help with this stuff. WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP OURSELVES?

  45. Renee
    Renee says:

    I have ADD and your description reminded me a lot of the organizational issues I deal with.

    Very well-written! Hopefully this will help some people that are perfectly organize understand us scatter-brains!

« Older CommentsNewer Comments »

Comments are closed.