My friend Melissa is here for two weeks. She is one of those Gen-Y jet-set types. But she flew here, to Wisconsin, from Hong Kong, where she just quit her job in finance to become a nanny in Italy.

I was going to tell you that I love her because she is taking amazing photos with her zillion-dollar camera of stuff on the farm that I can see but I can’t figure out how to get in a photo. Like this. It’s just my house. But it’s the magic of my house in the winter.

What I really want to tell you about Melissa though, is that she quit her $150,000/year in international finance to hang out with some nine-year-old Italian after school. She speaks Chinese, which is how she got the family to pay her enough money. The family really wanted a nanny who could fix the kid’s English accent because English tutor was from Sweden. But now they’re getting a two-for-one: Their kid will learn English with an American accent and Chinese with an American accent, too.

Like me, Melissa has Asperger’s Syndrome. So I can finish her sentences for her, and she can finish my sentences. Which is funny because neither of us ever shuts up. So there are really never any sentences to finish.

We are both very high-functioning for people with Asperger’s. Both of us were in special ed classes in high school. And both of us were in honors classes as well. We spend a lot of time helping each other deal with Asperger’s. Here are things we do.

1. Stop circular thinking.

When I want something to happen that does not seem to be going to happen, I cannot stop talking about it. Like, somehow, if I keep talking, nothing bad will happen. Melissa tells me: Shhh! And snaps her finger like I’m a dog. If she does that, I am quiet. Not because I want to be, but because I know I have a problem that I can’t shut up when I don’t like something, so if someone tells me to shut up, I need to do that.

When she arrived at the house, there was a huge pile of dishes in the sink because I was too upset with the farmer to keep the house clean. I had to obsess about how upset I was, and then I had to tell her, and I told her I was going to die. And she said, “Shhh!” And then she started taking pictures to document the mess.

So often if I just stop talking about something, it goes away. But I don’t have that natural inclination.

2. No emails longer than 300 words.

Melissa sends endless emails. She is generally right, about everything, but people don’t care. They don’t want to read anyone’s discussion of why they are right for five paragraphs. So Melissa tries to just send 300 words, no matter what topic is. I do positive reinforcement by not reading anything from her that I think is too long.

This goes for talking, too. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if you’re right if you’re boring. Melissa and I help each other to know when the talk is getting boring. That, or we just talk over each other.

3. Xanax as a backup

I never used to be a Xanax person. In fact, I’m scared of it because I think I could become addicted. But it’s so easy for someone with Asperger’s to go into an anxiety attack. Many people with Asperger’s choose not to vary from their routine at all. They eat the same thing every day and go to the same places every day. Some people like routine so much that they will drive ten miles out of the way just to drive on roads they already know. Melissa and I know tons of self-soothing mechanisms: yoga, hot bath, meditation. But if nothing works, Melissa decides it is a chemical imbalance, and she takes a Xanax. Now, when I am panicking about the farmer — it’s almost always about the farmer: he doesn’t love me, he’s leaving, he wants a dog instead of me — I take a Xanax.

4. Serotonin replacements

I haven’t written about medication on the blog. And look, I wasn’t even going to write about it here, but I can’t write about Melissa with out writing about it.

Do you know who diagnosed Melissa with Asperger’s? Me. I can spot someone a mile away. Then she got herself officially diagnosed and then she found this doctor who explained to her that she has extra dopamine because her serotonin is absorbed too quickly. She needs to slow down the serotonin uptake to balance her out. Then she read on my blog that I can have a day where all I eat is bread — actually, I have had probably ten million days where all I eat is bread — and she told me I need to replace bread with a serotonin uptake inhibitor.

5. There is no five.

This post is digressing into a post about medicating yourself for anxiety. Okay. So all of you who have ever written to me about how you think numbered-lists are for philistines and if I want to write a numbered list I should write for Cosmo. Well, first of all, I’d die of happiness to write for Cosmo because it would mean that someone finally acknowledged that I have skills in the bedroom. But look, now I’m doing the un-list. I have a list that is not a list because list item number five is that Melissa got me to take medication, and I’m happy.

If this were a list with sub-points — like, a, b, and c — they would be about all the reasons I don’t take my medication. Just yesterday I was talking to my therapist about how the only reason I’m trying really hard to take my medication regularly is because a big sign of manic-depression is that the person doesn’t take their medication.

She laughed. She said it’s not just manic depressives — it’s everyone. They feel better and then they stop.

Maybe this is true. Here’s another thing. Next time I write a post where I’m sad or happy or I don’t know what, I don’t want you guys saying, “Did you take your medicine?”

You know how when you throw a fit at your boyfriend and he asks you if you have PMS? It sucks, right? Because whether or not you have PMS, the premise of the fit is still true — the boyfriend, or the world, or whatever is still pissing you off.

At the beginning of the post, my ideas were nice and organized about what I was going to write about Melissa. Now, I’m on shaky territory. I hate people telling me I’m crazy because crazy is not interesting. I want you to think I’m like you. I like being around Melissa so much because she makes me feel normal.

She has never visited my house before, but when she got here, she immediately gravitated to our yellow disc. She said, “What’s this for?”

I said, “For standing.”

“Why?”

“It’s calming to people who have self-regulating issues.”

But I didn’t need to tell her. She was already using it.

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  1. Maggie McGary
    Maggie McGary says:

    If you were bipolar the SSRI would make you manic…it’s like the Ritalin thing for people with ADHD. So if you’re taking it and still functioning, you don’t have to worry about being bipolar.

  2. Jenny E
    Jenny E says:

    Thanks for the replies; the alone time definitely works, and thankfully my husband picks up the parenting duties during those times. That helps a lot.

    My husband has suggested exercise after I get home from work, and I read somehwere that it helps to pet an animal (Penelope, maybe I need to borrow your donkey to pet? LOL). Temple Grandin liked to be pressed in her hugging machine. Babies who are overstimulated (which is due to an underdeveloped central nervous system) need to be swaddled in a dark room and you’re supposed to avoid eye contact until they calm down.

    I haven’t tried any of these other things yet, but so far I can say the alone time definitely works. I do think that when my kiddo leaves the nest to live her own life, I’m going to be left with some regrets if I don’t find a supplementary solution.

    I’ll start by attempting to move my exercise from the mornings to the early evenings, and we’ll go from there. Thanks again for the feedback!

  3. Sasana
    Sasana says:

    Hi Penelope,

    thanks for the interesting blog! I think it’s funny how many of the commenters imitate your writing style in the comments… unless it’s you writing all those comments yourself! :)

    I have a question that I’d like you to address sometime: how do you survive a friend with Asperger’s if you don’t have it yourself?

    One of my friends has Aspergers or at least has symptoms (it’s in her family, too) and sometimes she is very difficult to be with. She is always right, and she gets very abusive about it sometimes. Sometimes the stuff she thinks she is right about is very painful, personal stuff, and she chooses to be “right” about it wherever, sometimes in front of people I’ve never met before, which is really embarrassing.

    Examples: when I quit drinking, she was convinced I was only doing it “to get more attention” and she criticized me about it in public. After she had her kids and my husband and I were agonizing about whether we were going to have any (and I ended up in therapy – I had a really violent childhood and was afraid I would harm my own children) all the support I got from her was probability statistics about how time was running out and I was almost too old to get pregnant. She thinks I am “much too concerned about my looks” and is very critical if I buy new clothes or change my hair style. (I don’t actually buy clothes very often and am not, I think, more concerned about my looks than the average person.) I managed to lose 14 pounds of weight and she was convinced that a) I had an eating disorder (I still weigh over 140 pounds and definitely do not have an eating disorder) and at the same time she denied that I had actually lost any weight, because she “knew” that any time she had seen me, I weighed exactly the same. (I had no idea she was keeping stats of my weight!) She accused me of secretly harboring an eating disorder with a bunch of people present who were new to me, her friends I was meeting for the first time. It was awful and I think those people now think I am some kind of diseased freak who lies about weight loss.

    My friend seems to think that if only she criticizes me vividly and hurtfully enough, I will change and become the sort of person she “knows” I should be. Her constant berating feels like emotional violence. All I get from her is endless oversharing about her fertility treatments and where they poked her and how the sperm is collected from her husband, and pregnancy details that do not interest me especially since I am grieving about childlessness, or how she alphabetized her baby food jars, and then color coded them, and then alphabetized them again – and how she is entitled to only talk about this one subject because she has had such a tragic life and this makes her happy – or her berating me about what I am doing wrong.

    I am at the end of my rope. Asperger’s is one of the reasons she thinks she just is the way she is, and everyone else has to deal.

    But what if it hurts all the time to “deal”? Does having Aspergers mean you don’t have to be nice to people? Does it actually mean you are always right, and everyone else is always wrong, even when it comes to intensely personal things like alcoholism and weight? Is it an Aspergers symptom to deny others’ medical problems (like alcohol dependency) or success with treating them (like not drinking, or losing weight)? If someone has Asperger’s, is it okay for them to not support their friends?

    Is there any way for me to convey to her that being her friend HURTS – or does it just not mean anything to her that other people have feelings?

    Please help.

    • Working
      Working says:

      @ Sasana – a developmental disorder is not an excuse for that abusive behavior.
      Get rid of that friendship-that woman is toxic, and you deserve real friends that care for you.

      PS – I know several real Aspies in real life.

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      Sometime we dont understand, but it’s important to understand that we are 3 diminutional people like you. And like you, some of us are just asholes :)

  4. Shanon
    Shanon says:

    In reply to Sasana…

    I was raised in a family with a father who has Asperger’s (he was never formerly diagnosed but it’s become clear) and then ended up having a child with a man who had Asperger’s who was also never formerly diagnosed but it became clear when we had a child with Asperger’s who was formerly diagnosed.

    I’ve written to Penelope about how her blog helps me feel better about this planet of odd birds I live on. Inhabiting a world with people who can be very rigid, direct and seemingly unaware or unconcerned about others’ feelings can be overwhelming. But I care about all of these people in my life and have spent a great deal of time working through relationships with them. Here is a rudimentary list of things I’ve learned:

    1) When my child says hurtful things to me I wait until she is done saying the hurful thing and say “When you said “quote” it hurt my feelings. I would appreciate it if you didn’t say that again”.

    2) When my father or ex say “What does it matter?” My standard reply is that different things matter to different people. If it matters to me, and I matter to you, than it matters.

    3) Taking a break from them is okay. Telling them that I will call back later, speak to them later or address something later, is okay.

    4) I actively remind myself that they don’t understand my emotions. They are not trying to be hurtful. Just like I want to break my computer over my head occasionally because I don’t understand it, I suspect they occasionally want to throw up their hands in despair about me.

    Being friends, a parent, or a child to someone with Asperger’s takes strength and resolve but there are unspeakable benefits. In my experience, they are creative, original thinkers who are also unflappable in their loyalty and desire to prove they care. They are good eggs.

    Hope this helps,
    Shanon.

  5. Jenny E
    Jenny E says:

    Sometimes it helps to get a “do-over”. Tell your friend what she could have said to be more supportive, and then invite her to retry the conversation. If she resists, let her know that your feelings and friendship are on the line.

  6. gloria
    gloria says:

    <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

    No judging comments, no ass kissing remarks. So, yeah.
    Just hearts.

    -Gloria

  7. Shanon
    Shanon says:

    The aspies in my life are real too. I find it interesting that my circumstances and approach are suspect and that I’m being called out in such a ridiculous way.

  8. Kim
    Kim says:

    I think Shanon makes a valid point. If you can’t ask someone with Asperger’s to respect you and your feelings, then how can we (the parents, friends, siblings, etc) respect them back as the wonderful and inspirational individuals that they are. I also think that we all know someone who is “not diagnosed” based on parents and a time where people didn’t want to believe there was anything “different” about their children. A person with Asperger’s (raised in a different time) raising a child with it certainly won’t recognize the illness.
    Why can’t we all just get along??!!

  9. JennInAustin
    JennInAustin says:

    I am like you. Or you’re like me. And that’s exactly why I love to read your blog and probably why I continually send links to my husband – to point out that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. So, yeah, you make me feel at home when I read your blog. I’d make you a numbered list of why that is but I probably don’t have enough room and I’m quite sure it would exceed 300 words. In other words – thanks. I feel better about who I am when I relate to someone else.

  10. kate
    kate says:

    I don’t understand the yellow ring, nor the bread issues, but I found it very interesting and clever reading. As a teacher with several students with Asperger’s, I found your circular writing insightful. I would benefit even more if you shared how you navigate social situations…especially new ones. How did you relate to your peers in high school?

  11. MarketingVeep
    MarketingVeep says:

    OMG, 1/3 way into the comments, I thought perhaps I was on drugs.com. Talk about a groundswell — hey, I’m not knocking the conversation…in fact, if I were a betting man (which is impossible because I’m a woman and I have scarcity issues) I’d say this is the first time many of your readers opened up publicly about their own meds or lack thereof.

    I’m a long time reader but too-distracted-by-moving-objects to comment as often as I swear I will. Extraordinary post, and not just because you showed us your gnarly sink and talked about what’s in your medicine cabinet (btw, had you just made pancakes or a cake?). You’re just so real, enough so that it frees people to dare for the first time in their lives to unfold their freak flags and hang them year ’round.

    God willing, we all have one friend in our lifetime who fills in the gaps, kicks our ass, and tells us we’re AbFab no matter how frazzled, make-up smeared or puffy we are in that moment. it’s a bonus round if that Bestie has her own set of obsessions, tics and chronic ailments. Granted, a woman doesn’t appreciate those traits in a friend until we age and Mother Nature turns into a smart-ass peri-menopausal witch herself.

    Gotta email my own BFF right now to see if she read this post. Cheers!!

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  13. Rachel Claire Haynes
    Rachel Claire Haynes says:

    Penelope! You are amazing!! Reading your blog is a fun endeavor, yet now I learned I should limit myself to 30 minutes, but your writing sucks me in! I could read on and on!!

    You are so interesting and I learn so much. I crave Penelope Trunk!

  14. katie
    katie says:

    *Tears* I have a “Melissa” also. She is called Annabanana. She is the only person in this world I can tell about the fucked up thoughts in my head and she can laugh or agree like it’s totally normal. This post was really touching.

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