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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Commentary

Tiegen: Sometimes, your brain needs time, a little help and a reboot

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One of the biggest challenges of having a mental condition such as Asperger’s syndrome is predicting how it will affect your behavior. This was never clearer to me than the morning after a night at the ballpark.

Nearly three years ago, my co-workers and I went to a Rays game. We had box seats and were wined and dined. There was joking, camaraderie and cheering. My attention was divided between my coworkers’ activities and the game. I sat there, soaking in everything around me. I thought I was enjoying myself.

The next morning I went into the kitchen and started to pace. I couldn’t stop thinking about my relationship with my coworkers and their relationships with each other. I paced for hours. Soon, my spine started to ache. It felt like the nerves within it were misfiring, and someone had singed them with a cigarette butt. I couldn’t concentrate.

By the afternoon I was in my bedroom with my back against the wall, pleading with God to shut my brain down. The sun was streaming through my window blinds, and I was ready to scream.

I decided that if I couldn’t figure out my relationships with the people in my life, then I wouldn’t let them be in my life anymore. I defriended them on Facebook and was then at least able to concentrate on things again.

You see, since being diagnosed with Asperger’s, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, I’d learned a lot about coping with stress. I was 27 and had already achieved successes in socializing. I thought without distractions I would be able to decompress.

Then, the part of my brain that enjoys socializing just shut down. I stopped cleaning my apartment. I stopped taking care of my hygiene when I didn’t have to do it for work. I stank, and so did my car and apartment. I tried hanging out with new friends, only to have a fit after we went bowling. I wanted everyone to just disappear.

It was like that for two months. Then, something in my brain made me want to send a former colleague an email asking how they were. That’s when I started to recover.

Sometimes when a PC is doing multiple things at once, it shuts down abruptly because it can’t handle the multitasking burden. Then, the next time you boot it up, it might have to launch a process recovering files and repairing disrupted programs.

I realized that’s what my brain had started to do. It was rebooting after a “catastrophic failure.”

Rebooting my brain took another two months. I started reconnecting with some of the people I had defriended and then incrementally spending time with them. I took care of myself and regained a sense of humor. I started doing little things for others’ benefit to step outside my own head. I worked myself up to a point where I felt comfortable with people again.

I share this story as an example of how a mental condition can evolve and catch you off guard, and how that doesn’t have to be as big a stumbling block as you might expect. People have different coping mechanisms and sometimes need to reassess them. Some people escape into fantasy. Some use yoga or relaxation.

I benefited from having supportive parents who encouraged me to explore what my condition does and to find ways to deal with my symptoms.

In this case, I was able to help myself through patience and will. Sometimes your brain wants to be healthy. Sometimes all it needs is time and a little help.

Sometimes all that takes is asking someone, “How are you?’

I’ve had a few people ask me about resources for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and wanted to pass them along. The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities is a hub of resources for people with developmental conditions, including support groups. It has offices nationwide, and one of them is at the University of South Florida. It’s online at http://card-usf.fmhi .usf.edu/ and physically at 13301 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., MHC 2113A, Tampa. Nationwide offices are listed under “Locations” at www.centerforautism.com/.

The other is the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. It’s a taxpayer-funded organization that aims to help people with disabilities entering the workforce. It also helps those still in school with psychological assessment and financial aid for post-secondary school expenses.

Find out more at www.re habworks.org.

Alex Tiegen is a full-time student in Florida State University’s online Library and Information Sciences Program. He also freelances in journalism and public relations. A New Port Richey area resident, he can be emailed at Alex.Tiegen@gmail.com.

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