Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Asperger's and Chris

I've just caught up with an excellent TV programme which, for reasons I can't really articulate, made me strangely tearful at times.  I was moved - moved by the nuances, moved by one or two things I felt in common, moved by the honesty, moved by the love of nature, by attitudes towards mental health and why we should value our individuality.  Just moved.  The programme was Chris Packham: Asperger's and Me.

You may already know from things I've mentioned before here that I feel great affinity and admiration for Chris Packham.  It's for many reasons - his deep love of nature is at the fore, but also his sense of outsiderness, his admission of social anxiety, and of course his musical and sartorial tastes.

I think a lot of us have a sort of autistic streak to one degree or another.  Not enough to affect our ability to function normally but perhaps enough to make some aspects of life trickier than we envisage it being for our peers.  Maybe just the merest hint of it, maybe not even something noticeable to anyone else, but the horrible feeling you get deep inside when you don't want to go to that party, or that wedding, or that work do, or whatever it is where everyone expects things to be a certain way and that way just isn't you.  When you feel in the minority - or maybe completely alone - for whatever reason, be it your interests, or your level of enthusiasm for something, or your lack of  enthusiasm for something else.  Where you don't feel you can fit in, because everyone else seems to do so with ease and so you must be the odd one out.  When you have to adapt the way you express yourself, when you tone down your inner voice that wants to rave about its weird passions that nobody else seems to get.  I think here, in this corner, it's a safe place.  But in the wider world it's sometimes hard to navigate.  Sometimes you have to fake normality.  Is that some kind of autism, being a bit unusual?  I don't know.  But I know that a lot of what Chris spoke about in his programme was absolutely relatable.

I'm pretty sure my dad would be diagnosed as having Asperger's if he were to undergo analysis.  An incredibly brainy, mathematical, logical man, he has no idea how to behave socially, how to dress or present himself conventionally, how to even be a 'true' father to my sister and me.  He's awkward, disconnected.  I see him in myself at times and I have to work at it.  I forgive him his inability to communicate normally with his own offspring.  It's just the way he is, and it doesn't make him bad.

My mum - very sociable and gregarious - was affected by mental health issues (clinical depression) and what with my dad... well, perhaps that's why I was precocious and difficult for a few years, maybe it's in that odd combination of genes!  I was happy to spend hours, days, on my own in my bedroom drawing, writing, reading.  My head was nearly always in a book - or making books of my own.  Or crouching outside on the step watching ants, studying woodlice, feeding lettuce to snails.  Hating new clothes, hating change.  Refusing to eat the baked beans that fell off the toast. Keeping a collection of butterfly cocoons in a plastic box.  Having to get back to my bedroom before the toilet flush stopped making a noise for fear of something bad happening if I didn't.  Daydreaming far too much.  It all kind of broke when I became a teenager. And then punk spoke to me, music and style and gigs and kindred spirits gave me an outlet.  It's okay to be a bit weird - embrace it.  You can be creative with clothes!  You can be creative, full stop.

Punk spoke to Chris Packham as a teenager too - it's easy to see why.



I really recommend watching it, if not already.  Here's the iPlayer link:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09b1zbb/chris-packham-aspergers-and-me

23 comments:

  1. A fascinating and very brave programme
    My nephew has Aspergers although fortunately it appears to be reasonably mild so I watched with interest

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    1. It was excellent, wasn't it? And, as you say, brave. I can't stop thinking about it today.

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  2. This is on my to-watch, or more precisely to-catch-up-on, list.

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    1. I hope you get as much out of it as I did. It really was fascinating, eye-opening and strangely heartwarming. Hence my odd ramble above but it was all brimming over last night I just had to write something.
      I included the Penetration track as it was in the programme, a particularly meaningful song for the young Chris. Always good to post some Penetration.

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    2. Forgot to say that it was good to see music as a positive therapy

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    3. Yes - and I was dying to see what else was in his record box!

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  3. I need to watch this. A friend of our works with young people with ASD and Aspergers. She has said for years that all men are somewhere on the spectrum. As a man who has written a music blog almost every day for 8 years I think this is a ridiculous theory.

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    1. Do try catch it if you can. It's very revealing and candid. Must admit that I thought there might be a slightly higher percentage than average in the blogging world too...

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  4. Great post, C. I once asked my mother why I always seemed to be a half a step 'out' with most others. She just tossed her eyes. Many years later, I worked with someone who felt the same way. His father had told him, "A fish that swims against the current, is alive. A fish that goes with the flow is usually dead." I haven't forgotten that. In my office I had a poster above my desk that warned: "DON'T BE A SHEEP!" The management hated it. Sometimes it's a good thing to embrace those traits that set us apart from the crowd, or register us as being slightly out of kilter, isn't it?

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    1. Thanks Martin - I like those words from your colleague's father. It's always hard to swim against the tide - all that pressure from outside -
      but it's equally hard to swim with it when it's simply not how you feel, isn't it? Hearing Chris Packham speak about his own experiences and feelings about the world was very empowering somehow; I came away just wishing everyone could be as honest!

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  5. C, I believe this is one of the most touching, moving, brilliantly written and perceptive blog posts that I've ever read!

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    1. Ah thank you! And it's nice to see you here. I don't suppose you can access the programme from there and I don't know how well-known Chris Packham is in your part of the world - but regardless, the subject of how we navigate our way through the world with our individual quirks and obsessions, etc. is a universal one!

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  6. Been on a trip so just reading this now but really important that I watch this doc now on catch-up. Like what you said about this little corner of the blogosphere being a safe place to mention all these quirks and foibles that many of us seem to have who find ourselves here. I know that my fastidious need to list and categorise everything in my life is not normal but it works for me. Also our geek tendencies make Mr WIAA and I a tad different from other middle-aged couples, but again, wouldn't have it any other way. Glad to have found this virtual place where people like yourself can write so eloquently about something many of us can identify with. Right, off now to check out that link.

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    1. Thanks Alyson and I do hope you managed to watch it and got as much out of it as I did. I don't know what 'normal' is - but do remember my dad once paraphrasing a Sigmund Freud comment: "If you can find me a normal person I can cure them"!
      Totally get what you say about your geek tendencies making you and Mr WIAA different from other middle-aged couples and it's a bit like what we were saying in my last post about the ageing thing. What I loved about this programme and its candour was the reminder that when other people seem to behave oddly too it may be down to their own psychological quirks and issues rather than them just them being selfish or whatever. And I often found that being shy/quiet could be misinterpreted as being aloof - and that's something I try to bear in mind with other people too.

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    2. Watched it this afternoon (look at me watching telly in the afternoon!) - I totally get how you found it such compelling viewing and hadn't realised that Chris was a sufferer although now makes sense. Watching him in his younger days on telly (a cool blond-haired punk) he was perfect for that medium, so great that he found a career that suited his particular, obsessive skillset. Troubled by that chap in America whose ambition is to cure everyone of autism - without these high-functioning individuals there would be no NASA, Microsoft, Google etc. Had to laugh at how he arranged his wardrobe and had to line up books etc. at exactly the same angle - That is so me. Also for some reason I can't be in a room with the door open (not lined up with the wall you see). Great telly and well done Chris for being so candid and sharing his world with us - Loved his cottage in the woods.

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    3. Oh I'm so glad you saw it and got something from it too - I feel compelled to watch it all again so will do so soon. Yes, his cottage in the woods looks gorgeous and his deep love for Scratchy (and vice versa!) was palpable! I agree about that idea of a cure and thought there was a subtle giveaway in that man's comment about "praying" for it - an attitude I don't think we'd get over here. I know that severe autism is really painful and hard to deal with but the idea of eradicating the slightest differences in behaviour is indeed troubling and it would certainly dilute creativity as well as technology - as Chris said the solution surely is to help make society more tolerant.
      I know what you mean about the door thing, I think there are a good few of us who have these little 'things' - it's not quite OCD but it's just things that we want to fit a certain way, and that we feel slightly discomfited by when they don't.
      Anyway, yes great telly, and then I watched Autumn Watch and heard Chris, Michaela and Martin discuss, with great enthusiasm, 'anal rubbing'! (Badgers....) Makes me feel not quite so weird about my quirky interests. Erm, that could be misinterpreted... I mean of course the strange rituals of wildlife!

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    4. Oh C - you are so funny. Now I'll have to make sure I watch Autumn Watch in case I miss talk of the quirky rituals of badgers (and not necessarily lady bloggers!).

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  7. I too have a huge amount of time and respect for Chris Packham and definitely want to catch this documentary. I'm constantly exasperated by the unpleasant negative criticism he receives from certain elements of society. Surely any fool can see that Chris is one of the good guys.

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    1. Oh yes do try and see it TS, I think you will find it very revealing about Chris and it only adds to my admiration of him and relatability. Have you read his autobiography? I'm halfway through - would recommend that too.
      I'm glad he says what he says without concern for the controversy he sometimes causes, anything that makes us think more, and often outside the box, about what we're doing as a species and how it affects the natural world has to be a good thing.

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  8. Another show I wish I'd found time for. (Will see if I have iPlayer time for it.) I have a lot of time for Chris P - even read his autobiography a few years back.

    Plus, there was this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT9hGAlt89o

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  9. Hope you find time to catch it Rol, and good to know you like Chris too. Yes, absolutely loved the cheeky musical references scattered throughout various Springwatch series - remember the Bowie one too? - and of course the Smiths right up your street (or should I say track)?

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  10. I watched this show the night and also found it very moving. It touched me particularly deeply as my youngest daughter has autism and suffers, I suspect to an even greater degree, from many of the issues and anxieties that Chris talked about. On one hand, it gave me hope for her seeing how well Chris copes with his 'outsiderness' but it also tears me apart to consider how difficult life is almost certain to be for her. Chris is a wonderful, talented and passionate individual and he's finding his way through a world that just doesn't understand uniqueness. My girl is all of these things as well. Thanks God a few more seem to be listening but the world still doesn't seem ready for 'difference'.

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    1. I can understand how it must have been particularly resonant to you, Rickety Rackety. Good to hear your admiration for Chris's qualities too and that you can see them in your daughter. A friend who is no longer around had a severely autistic son and it was hard to hear of his stories - I know the world can be a cruel place but hold out hope for a better informed future after watching programmes like this.

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