Friday, 14 January 2011

Who am I?

I am not neurotypical (NT). However I am not easily put into any particular box. Below I will try to explain how I think and the various boxes that I have researched.

1. I don't have a conscience
skype chat recently with a friend I've come 'out' to:
GB: so you never feel guilty?
Res: nope
GB: weird, as an overly emotional person in a negative sense, this intrigues me
Res: i experimented when i was younger
GB: by doing what?!
GB: !?
GB: ahhh
Res: torturing and killing a frog
GB: aw, that's mean!!
Res: then a bird
Res: then a cat
GB: noooooo, i have a cat!
Res: then i stopped...
GB: my cat is awesome
GB: how the fuck did you catch a bird?
Res: i figured i'd move up the evolved sentience scale in case my guilt only kicked in at some point...
Res: i shot it with a catapult. fucking awesome shot
[p.s. I kept the cat's collar for a couple of years as a reminder/trophy, then threw it out one day on impulse]

2. I lack empathy and emotion
In fMRI scans, the same area of a normal brain is activated when a person watches someone being hurt as when they themselves are hurt. The response is demonstrably different in certain disorders and people with damage to particular areas of their brain (due to a cancer exorcism or an accident). I do sometimes wince slightly when I see someone hit in the crotch, but I am unaffected at seeing someone else's emotional pain – can someone empathise with an emotion they have not felt?
Another skype chat:
Res: I'm not sure I feel love, the way other people do anyway, but i can feel in-love. raised heart rate. lightness in my chest. thinking about them all the time.
Res: but that's all physiological associated with hormones etc.
GB: i think that too!
GB: i only enjoy being with someone at the start
Res: if my parents died in a car crash my first thought would be what a pain it would make my life organising the funeral and dealing with people trying to be sympathetic
GB: that makes me sad!
Res: pros and cons...
GB: sad for them too
Res: they'd be dead. so why/how would they care ;)
GB: no, now!
Res: well i'm not gonna tell them am i !
Res: lol
GB: but the fact that you think this behind their back!
Res: but if they never know what is the difference?

3. I am intelligent and self aware
I excelled at school with little/no effort. I graduated top of the class in a physics masters. I studied physics because I wanted to know how the world worked – as if perhaps it would lead to an understanding of 'why?'. I also read a lot of philosophy, but quickly discovered only the ignorant worship the famous philosophers – some good ideas but only interspersed into embarrassingly stupid ones. I've been an amateur psychologist all my life; due to lack of emotion I needed to understand how to fit in and act normal. Only relatively recently have I actively researched aspects of psychology.

4. All social interactions are learned and driven by an objective
Not just what I say and my general demeanor, but all aspects of body language – stance, facial movements, voice inflections, gesticulations, etc are all conscious decisions. Of course, I am also constantly aware of others around me.  This can become very tiring.
With certain groups of people (I am careful that they don't overlap) I am seen as the life of the group, with others I am the introverted shy physicist. With new people that are meaningless to me I will most likely either charm them because we have a mutual friend I need to maintain a mask for, or I will treat them as a plaything to entertain me – saying or asking something that takes them out of their comfort zone so I see them either squirm or demonstrate their lack of intelligence.  I especially like to play with the religious.

5. I have a lot of self control
I took up cigarettes at school to test my will power. I smoked ~10 a day for 6 months then gave up. I honestly don't think it possible for me to be addicted to anything (other drugs tried, not just cigs!).

6. Everything is a conscious cost/benefit analysis
I think NTs have this calculation in their unconscious and then the result is passed to the conscious mind as a feeling. I think that my neural wiring gives access to the raw calculation process instead of the feeling.
For example, I have friends that I value. I mean this literally. They not only provide interest to me, or partake in activities I find interesting, or provide a safety net that I know I could rely on should I need it, but they also provide a means for me to appear normal. I cultivate these relationships in a conscious manner but if the demands on me (the cost) look like they will outweigh the benefits to me in the long term then I will engineer a separation of our friendship.

7. I would prefer to be 'good' than 'bad'
Part of my [slightly narcissistic] self image is that I am more worthy of life than most people – I do good things because I choose to, not because it is my instinct, not because I would feel guilty if I didn't, and not because my religion demands it of me. I believe this makes me a better person than others. I am more alive. It is hard to tie down this definition of 'better' – and I am aware that any definition I come up with would be self fulfilling to suit my needs...
I am always quick to be helpful - it is a good strategy because not only do I feed/reinforce my superior self-image, but because the help I give usually costs me very little (emotionally nothing!), but the cost to an NT would be large – thus the potential reciprocal benefit to me (directly, or indirectly by others finding out about my 'selfless' act) far outweighs my cost.

The DSM-IV defines:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
    I am more important than most people, who are but sheep following their instincts and who get excited about shoe shopping. Is this not simply reasonable rather than delusional? I do not need to exaggerate achievements to impress.
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
    No, no, no, no, and yes – of course I seek ideal love...
  • Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
    I am certainly special, and NTs cannot hope to understand my thought process. However that is due to their neurophysiology, not anything to do with their status.
  • Requires excessive admiration
    No. I really don't need attention or admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e. unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
    This ties in with 1. and 3. and instinctively I do not feel rules apply to me.
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
    Yes.  But everyone does, I am just conscious of it.
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
    Yes... but I'm not unwilling to identify with the feelings of others – I can recognise the signs very well and behave taking them into account.
  • Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
  • I do not live in the grandiose fantasy world that NPDs construct. I do not feel the need for admiration. However some of the other traits certainly strike a chord, and I do place great value on myself.

    Sociopathic Antisocial Personality Disorder
    Characteristics of people with antisocial personality disorder may include:
    • Apparent lack of remorse or empathy for others
    • Persistent lying or stealing
      No... it is rarely necessary to lie to achieve what I want and if I lie there is a chance of being caught in it. If I need to create a rapport with someone in a one-off situation I will not hesitate to lie to create the rapport. I don't habitually steal, though have done on occasion.
    • Cruelty to animals
      Certainly capable. But I don't gain pleasure from it so don't tend to. Perhaps if I'm in a bad mood and bored and there is opportunity.
    • Poor behavioral controls — expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper
    • A history of childhood conduct disorder
    • Recurring difficulties with the law
      No.  Arrested twice, but nothing major.
    • Promiscuity
      Until the past few years above average, due more to being considered handsome and thus having more opportunity presented than to my seeking it out.
    • Tendency to violate the boundaries and rights of others
      Boundaries, yes – to provoke an interesting response.
    • Aggressive, often violent behavior; prone to getting involved in fights
      No. Though I partake in mixed martial arts training.
    • Inability to tolerate boredom
      Inability? Too poorly defined.
    • Poor or abusive relationships
      No.  Unless you count the one with a BPD girl.
    • Irresponsible work behavior
      No.  Though there is a temporal element to this.  After ~4 years it becomes very difficult to maintain the veneer of responsibility.
    • Disregard for safety
      Yes. I don't wear a seatbelt, have crashed a hang-glider, pushed dangerous snowboarding limits...
    Other common characteristics of those with Antisocial Personality Disorder include superficial charm [Yes], shallow emotions [Yes], a distorted sense of self [By definition I cannot judge this], a constant search for new sensations (which can have bizarre consequences) [Yes], a tendency to physically or verbally abuse peers or relatives [No], and manipulation of others without remorse or empathy for the victim [Yes]. Egocentrism [Yes], megalomania [No], lack of responsibility [Lack of feeling responsible], extroversion [Apparent, but I'm really an introvert], excessive hedonism [it's not excessive if I'm still alive and have kept my life together], high impulsivity [Yes and no... instinct is to be impulsive, self control mostly stops my being so], and the desire to experience sensations of control and power can also be present. [umm better than feeling powerless and under someone else's control...]

    The problem is the people diagnosed with a disorder are the ones with no self-control (usually an assessment before their trial...). Therefore lack of self control becomes part of the diagnosis. The parts of sociopathy that do not apply to me are the parts that are due to lack of self control; the thoughts and thought processes fit me pretty well.

    Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD)
    The World Health Organization's ICD-10 lists schizoid personality disorder as characterized by at least four of the following criteria:
    1. Emotional coldness, detachment or reduced affection.
      Shallow affect... so yep.
    2. Limited capacity to express either positive or negative emotions towards others.
      Not really, if I do feel positive or negative to someone I have no problem letting them know.
    3. Consistent preference for solitary activities.I do like my alone time, but as I spend time with friends/family perhaps 5 out of 7 days a week I don't think this can apply to me.
    4. Very few, if any, close friends or relationships and a lack of desire for such.I have a few close friends, close enough to discuss shit like this with.  I am in a healthy loving relationship.
    5. Indifference to either praise or criticism.
      No.  I see praise/criticism more from the point of view of my narcissistic side - if someone praises me I'm thinking I deserve it and that person did well to recognise it.  If someone criticises me it bounces off because they are inferior and don't know what they are talking about.
    6. Taking pleasure in few, if any, activities.
      Shallow affect will do that...
    7. Indifference to social norms and conventions.Not a simple answer.  I don't feel like I am part of mainstream society and I don't feel rules apply to me.  I adhere to social norms and conventions most of the time because I have to to appear normal!
    8. Preoccupation with fantasy and introspection.
    9. Lack of desire for sexual experiences with another person.

    Autism Spectrum Disorder
    I am a physicist, and have non-typical emotions, so of course I must suspect e.g. Aspergers. However, I have no trouble reading other people's emotions and no trouble imagining what another person's response to a situation will be when they are given different information to work from than me. The questions in the AQ test mostly don't have a simple answer so it's hard to score it. However, I do like rocking sometimes :)

    I'm also co-morbid with Cyclothymia which is essentially a lower amplitude bipolar disorder:
    Dysthymic phase [yes yes yes... apart from the guilt obviously]
    Difficulty making decisions; problems concentrating; poor memory recall; guilt; self-criticism; low self-esteem; pessimism; self-destructive thinking; continuously feeling sad; apathy; hopelessness; helplessness; irritability; quick temper; lack of motivation; social withdrawal; appetite change; lack of sexual desire; self-neglect; fatigue or insomnia.
    Euphoric phase [yes yes yes... except it's more aggressive thoughts than behaviour]
    Unusually good mood or cheerfulness (euphoria); Extreme optimism; Inflated self-esteem; Poor judgment; Rapid speech; Racing Thoughts; Aggressive or hostile behavior; Being inconsiderate of others; Agitation; Increased physical activity; Risky behavior; Spending sprees; Increased drive to perform or achieve goals; Increased sexual drive; Decreased need for sleep; Tendency to be easily distracted; Inability to concentrate

    Both phases involve difficulty sleeping, which is the bane of my life. I certainly notice things like my speech and thought speed changing drastically in different moods.
    I exercise a lot, and exercise is the best treatment for any depressive mood disorder. In a typical week I would do >6 hours' strenuous exercise. If I don't do this for whatever reason (e.g. Injury) I go downhill. That is why I often push on with exercise even when injured, when physically I should give it time to heal. Last May I had my collarbone broken during a brazillian ju-jitsu match and by not letting it heal properly it was still a little sore for months after.

    So in conclusion, if forced to define the complicated cocktail of co-morbidity that is me, I would say that my thought processes are mostly sociopath, with a generous dollop of NPD, and just a dash of Aspie and SPD; baked in with some cyclothymia.  
    My high self control precludes me from ever being diagnosed as a sociopath, and that combined with being non-delusional precludes an NPD diagnosis.  I can identify a little with aspies but I am not one.  I am still romantically idealistic, even though this post and my previous one on love may not give that impression.

    I am a special snowflake and I don't need a label.


    notme said...

    Hi Res. I really like your new background btw. :D

    I'm glad you mentioned Cyclothymia. I definately have a mood disorder and I think Cyclothymia (since you mention it) sounds like what I experience. I don't think my hypomanic phases are extreme, but they are there, along with a general, incessant dysphoria. Sucks.

    HavenNyx said...

    I have no empathy for people’s everyday aches, pains, bruises and cuts. I’m done so much damage to myself via fighting, sports, and self harm, I’m relatively deadened to pain. Seeing other people whine about paper cuts when I’ve inflicted nerve damage makes me want to kick them and tell them to stop whining.

    I understand the concept of being in-love as an addiction. It’s always at the start that things are wonderful and hopeful, but it never lasts and I get really bored. I constantly think about ending things with whoever my current partner is, break up with them, then freak out once they’re gone. Enter the BPD craze.

    I am the same way when you talk about wanting to be ‘good’ than ‘bad’. I’ve always used that as one of my anti-religious arguments. Is it really free will if you’re only doing good things for fear of eternal punishment? I’d rather do decent things for my own desire to be a good person than for some looming threat forcing my hand.

    “Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends - Yes. But everyone does, I am just conscious of it.” This made me giggle.

    ResCogitans said...

    notme - I conciously steered away from the black/red colours I may otherwise have chosen - this blog is a happy place ;)
    I'm in my worst ever manic phase right now; have needed to leave work early a couple of times recently and am physically shaking with energy. seeing doc tomorrow about a few chill pills to see me through. manic phase is worse than dysthemic phase in my opinion and thankfully manic:dys ratio is about 1:2.

    haven - i have a real problem with love. if i have one cognitive dissonence then that is it. i want to believe it. i can feel it. but always at the back of my mind is that it is just chemicals that will wash out of my system... been single for ages but started seeing someone recently who seems a possibility (a better fit for me than any previous) so thought i'd give it another go.
    and yeah - physical pain is something i enjoy to some extent. i love the pain of lactic acid the next day or a good bruise or cut. nothing major. makes me feel more alive. haven't tried jamming a knife into my arm yet but tbh am tempted.

    notme said...

    Res, how do you explain it to your boss? Do you say, 'i have this mood disorder...'
    Or are you pretty quiet about it.

    ResCogitans said...

    my immediate boss and i get on pretty well. he knows i'm... not NT but doesn't know the half of it (in a high tech company there are plenty of people more overtly odd than me). because i haven't been able to hide the shaking and 100mph speech and the need to leave outside core hours to stop myself going postal, i've had to spin something to him - i told him that i'm seeing a dr and it's probably an overactive thyroid (which perhaps could be a factor). i don't want any mental problem associated with me. the lows have never been so low i haven't been able to go to work and hide in a lab on my own and do some experiments and answer a few emails. people just notice i'm a bit more withdrawn when i'm forced out and if they mention it i just say i've slept badly recently. and the proper lows are only a couple of weeks maybe twice a year, so nothing major, but impression management certainly becomes very difficult - it's the only time i doubt my self control and may snap at someone.

    do you work? the BPD girl i dated certainly couldn't hide her problems and couldn't hold down a job. bright girl but you just couldn't rely on her to show up let alone complete any work responsibilities - vicious circle of low self esteem.

    Anonymous said...

    so you're in that low phase now? Good luck with it.

    Yeah i work. Day off today. But my employment history has been pretty bad. I don't normally hold down a job for longer than a few months etc.
    And I'm overqualified for my current job, I've just lost the drive and incentive to find something that caters more to my talents at the moment.

    I hope your ex is doing a bit better. Sounds bad. I know how that looks.

    Anonymous said...

    have you considered the [very real] possibility that you have nothing more than a run-of-the-mill schizoid personality disorder?

    SPD is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, secretiveness (such as lying about where you are from) and emotional coldness, blunted affect and detachment. Not really anything special. there, you have been diagnosed. for free.

    it's certainly nothing to blog home about.

    ResCogitans said...

    i already decided to be a special snowflake, not any label :) however, i think i will edit this piece and add a wee section to cover SPD for completeness, because there is no denying some of it applies.

    i never intended for someone to believe i was a biscuit designer (!) from australia you dumbass. but what relevance is it? this blog is nothing to do with where i live or diagnosing myself with anything.

    Ana said...

    I did the autism quotient test out of curiosity and it scored 31-above average (!). WTF.
    This is kind of a false-alarming test. It only scored that because of my weak social abilities, which I think that have nothing to do with autism. don't really know what to think.

    regardless you are interestingly out of the ordinary and remind me someone I know.

    ResCogitans said...

    i think i remember reading that 80% of diagnosed autism spectrum people score 32+. the test isn't definitive, and, as you say, naturally shy/introverted people will score highly even though they don't have any cognitive difficulties.

    i certainly score above average, but consider myself self-aware enough to view the AQ test as an interesting aside rather than actually indicating i'm an aspie.