The Wrong Kind of Focus

Image from Dreamatico

Image from Dreamatico

My mind is an interesting one.

Right before I moved to Chicago, I spent a day with some of my best friends from college, and they told me they thought I might have some degree of Asperger’s syndrome…a suspicion my parents confirmed later on, telling me I was tested for it as a child. If this is true, it is something I welcome. My brain has intertwined tendencies, one dominating over the other depending on the day, to both focus on things and scatter itself through fields of information, and this has allowed me to absorb a wide range of knowledge AND settle down to tell long-form narratives.

My mind also gets me in trouble, in that I can be overcome with the most intense depression.

I have never been clinically diagnosed with depression. But there are times when I have what I once called manic episodes, but, not wanting to use that language, instead refer to as “the wrong kind of focus.” Something will trigger what I perceive as a problem and my mind fixates on that problem in a desire for solutions, realizes it cannot, and destroys my sense of well-being.

This misguided focus is rooted in a common lie every one of us tells ourselves, to quote Donald Miller: that life is a story about us. We can easily convince ourselves that if a person or group we are close to is angry or sad or simply having a bad day, then it has to be our fault in some way, that we offended or hurt them or let them down. For me, there is no greater fear than hurting another person, and the possibility that I did is often my greatest motivator for a poor focus.

My most recent episode was at a party with many old and new friends. I had been been enjoying a few drinks (Alcohol is definitely an aid to manic episodes as it weakens my intellectual stability.) and was in a marvelously good mood on a warm summer night. Then a person I greatly respect said one thing that snapped my brain to attention. This person clearly meant nothing personal by the remark and was in no way angry at me. But in that moment my good mood vanished and I thought of myself as a sad, worthless excuse for a human being who hurts everyone he meets.

I left the party soon afterwards because everyone else was in a great mood and I refused to let myself bring other people down. I ended up (naturally) calling my parents and sobbing for half an hour.

Twenty minutes after I was home, I was alright again, and the only thing that made me upset was that I let myself ruin a wonderful night.

That’s the last thing. This has happened to me enough to recognize the pattern over and over but while I have worked to reduce its frequency, it has never gone away. My mind will snap every month or two for a little bit under the pressures of doing so much and trying to maintain a positive attitude through it all.

I don’t think it will ever stop.

I write this because I have so many wonderful and brave friends who have shared their emotional upheaval with me and others. We all deal with our own little demons. And maybe there is someone else out there who has this same pattern of picking up the wrong kind of focus, and I want you to know you are not alone.

One thought on “The Wrong Kind of Focus

  1. Andrew,
    While some tend to look at Asperger’s as a form of being disabled, I prefer to think of it as “otherwise enabled.” There are wide, varying degrees to which it can affect people as well. If you in fact have it, you have certainly excelled with it. You’ve made wonderful friends. Look at all you’ve accomplished already in life!
    Those of us who know you well, know that you would never willingly hurt anyone. There’s not a mean bone in your body. Some say their Asperger’s has helped them to focus on a creative ability, or on on a certain area or two of knowledge. Many authors, artists, musicians, composers, actors, film makers, business owners, creative directors, and others do very well with it. As you just said here, you are able to attend to so many more things that are going on around you than others and absorb more facts as a result. So many with Asperger’s have accomplished great things!
    If you are feeling sad or depressed, try drinking some more water and having some almonds or walnuts. Make sure you are eating enough to feel well, because your B vitamins may be a just a bit low. You’ll be amazed at how it can help to add them to your diet. A fistful of almonds a day can work wonders and so can a brisk walk outside.
    Also, please don’t go it alone when you feel that way. Reach out. Call your loved ones! That’s why the good Lord gave you a family and friends. They will all understand and will want to help you to refocus and carry on.


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