This post is quite a long and rambling one... my apologies.
I haven't been the most supportive husband of late due mainly to two separate incidents, both of which are worth blogging about.
I'll cover one incident in this post and hopefully by the time I do my next post, I'll have my head around the second.
Talk is Difficult If you read most articles which cover aspie diagnostic criteria, you'll find mention of the difficulties of smalltalk. You could be forgiven for thinking that this means that aspies are hopeless at discussing off-topic things like the weather (except for the surprisingly large number for whom this is a special interest).
You might also assume that aspies would be fine when talking on the job or about their special interests. That a computer aspie like myself could talk to lots of people for hours about computers - so long as nobody mentions "the weather". Similarly, you could assume that discussions with your partner on topics such as your children, what you did today or family financial matters are simple.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Every conversation drains us. True, some are worse than others but all contribute to "drainage".
Setting the Scene So here was my problem. Most people who know me would probably describe me as "perfectionist" and a "workaholic". I have very little capacity to say "no" to anyone and when additional work is dumped on me, I don't complain.
Furthermore, I set very high standards and I demand (of myself) a consistent and high quality of work. When someone working for me turns something in which is below par, I'll often ask them to make some changes and still feel underwhelmed. I've long since given up expecting other people to meet my standards and often I find myself modifying or doing a "ground-up" rewrite of submitted work. I remember doing group work at university and being so displeased with my colleagues work that I included their 20 page submissions as an appendix in my 300 page work. We all got an "A+" but I don't think they were too pleased with the way their work was treated. I couldn't help it.
I guess this is the reason why in the last twelve months, I've gone from being a technical consultant on a couple of big projects worth half a million to wearing a variety of hats including "business analyst", "project manager", "coder", "data analyst" and "tester". I've always been used to long hours and my working week has been in excess of 50 hours for the past 15 years - of late it's been even longer.
At work, I'd have my hands full with this project alone but since I'm an IT manager, systems administrator, developer, troubleshooter and strategist for a complex system used by 3800 people at 950 institutions, it constitutes only a small part of my daily work.
All this was one of the reasons why I'd just spent two days hopping from one meeting to another while simultaneously dealing with a constant stream of people wandering in and out of my office. I was "talked out"
I got on the bus for my 90 minute (45 when the traffic is good) journey home and I was too tired to do my usual trick of listening to audio books on the blackberry while playing games on it (that's right, my idea of "relaxation" is pretty intense. This time, I tried to relax normally but my bus driver kept alternately stomping on the accelerator and brake and I had to hold on tight just to stay on my seat. Needless to say, I was very tired by the time I got home.
Welcome Home Now my wife is a stay-at-home mum with her own share of problems. If it isn't enough trouble getting two aspie boys ready for school (sometimes against their will), helping them with their homework when they get home and preventing the from attacking eachother across the dinner table, we've had a lot of other things going on in our lives.
For a start, a close friend of ours had recently died unexpectedly at 43, within a couple of days of my godfather's death and I'd not exactly been full of empathy (this will be the subject of my next post).
In addition, we've been installing a pool and the workers had been at her all day with questions and misunderstandings. She's been busy running around trying to get comparable quotations for various types of fencing, concrete surrounds and electrical and plumbing installations.
I staggered into the house, said hello, got changed and sat down, my energy reserves depleted. At this point, what I needed most was "alone-time" to recouperate but being married with children, I've mostly had to accept that none is forthcoming.
I turned the TV on so that I'd have something "blaring" to occupy myself with. I don't actually watch much TV because the perfectionist in me can't handle not watching anything (a) from the start, and (b) not interrupted by commercials. I only watched Star Trek - The Next Generation for the first time last year - because I systematically hired the DVDs one per week and watched them in exact order. I'm still frustrated that the shop had one missing DVD.
It's rare that I find anything on TV worth watching but I can usually handle silly things like Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and Funniest Home Videos because their "stories" don't last more than 15 minutes and mostly don't take much intelligence to follow. Jerry was on, so I started watching it.
My wife came into the room and watched for about five minutes then got bored and started talking to me about her day. I usually try to give my wife quality time when she seeks it because obviously if she needs to talk to me, it must be important. The show was running an advert but probably only had five minutes left.
When the show started again, it was calling me. I'd already watched about ten minutes and it was up to the last five of a particular segment. Stopping at the end of a segment means a "clean break" while failing to complete it would mean that it hadn't been worthwhile watching the first ten minutes. My wife was aware that I liked the show and that I hadn't seen it for a couple of years but she continued talking. Obviously that means that her information is "more important".
Now when I'm listening to someone - and this is true for most "reformed" aspies, I need to pay very close attention to detail. Facial expressions and tone don't come naturally and neither does decent facial/eye contact. It's a struggle to remember everything that "normal" people are supposed to do in conversations while simultaneously trying to reinterpret every single line for "hidden" meanings, emotions that I'm supposed to empathise with etc. It's even more difficult when you're deaf and there's a significant amount of lip-reading involved as well as hard work trying to screen out the screaming, jumping and constantly moving activities of my kids who were wandering in and out of the room.
After a little while though, when I realised that my wife was actually recounting every single detail of her day, the various quotations and sizes and textures of concrete, descriptions of fences, discussions with tradespeople (he said, then I said...) etc, I started to lose contact and drift off. After all, I was really tired. She noticed my attention wandering and got quite upset (understandably). Telling me that I'd rather watch Jerry than listen to her, she stormed off and didn't want to talk to me for the rest of the night. I turned Jerry off (no, I didn't watch the rest), made myself dinner (it was a "make your own" night) and went to bed early.
It's true that at the time, I did have an almost overwhelming urge to "complete the task" (Jerry) but at the same time my reserves were completely drained. Over the past two days, I'd found myself "drifting off twice during technical meetings" and it had taken a lot of effort to get back on track. Home is one of the few places I feel like I should be able to "be myself". Unfortunately, that means that I'm less disciplined in social graces at home.
There are a few things to take away from this. I can't expect my wife to change automatically, since she was mostly unaware of my uncommunicated feelings and had a lot of important information to tell me. It's all up to me to change.
On my part;
When I've had a draining day like that, I need to find a way to safely and sensitively ask my wife to postpone discussions until after dinner. Dinner gives you more energy to go on.
If a discussion starts to get technical to the point where I'm having trouble following it. I need to find a way to safely and sensitively halt it and move it to a more appropriate place. Say, the dinner table, with no TV and after the kids are in bed.
If I'm watching a TV show with only five minutes to go, I need to make sure that I communicate that fact to my wife when she starts talking. Again, somehow I need to get this into an empathatic and sensitive form.
I guess my real problem here is how to redirect conversations without offending. It isn't a problem at work because I never redirect conversations there - I'm a "slave" to my fellow employees. Conversations are usually more formal at work too. If someone wants to talk to me about something in a lot of detail, they often arrange a meeting in advance - it's free from distraction, I know in advance and I've had time to prepare.
Unfortunately, thus far, I don't have any answers to provide. I've never been successful at redirecting conversations at home and each and every time I try, I offend.