Saturday, June 6, 2009

An Introduction - Part Three (Early Adulthood)

Continuing my story, If this is dull I apologize (there's only one more part after this and then I'll get back to more topical posts). The next set of hurdles were in tertiary education, the workplace and relationships. It's important to note that at the time, I was completely unaware of my aspergers. What makes this story interesting is the way in which aspie traits obviously shaped my decisions.

Civil Engineering
I guess the third part of my story picks up after I left school. I'd gotten quite good marks and gone to university to do Civil Engineering. I knew nothing about engineering, hadn't taken the right subjects for it at school and wasn't even sure exactly what engineers did. My father was adamant that it was a good career choice and my two of friends were starting on electrical engineering, so it must have been good.

My teachers at school were stunned. After all, they'd always figured that I'd pursue a career in journalism or computing. The work was difficult and uninteresting to me - except for the computing parts, which I loved. Another problem was the wealth of distractions at university and the fact that important things weren't repeated. This is one area where children from private schools were seriously disadvantaged compared to those from public schools. The private school kids were used to being mollycoddled and constantly reminded about assignment due dates while the public school kids were self starters. I never made any friends at university, somehow I just couldn't connect with people. I spent my lunch times wandering aimlessly around, reading books or playing on their computers.

Ending the Romance
I had mostly cut off communication with my "ex-"girlfriend because I was worried about how much study I needed to do. In my mind, she was still my girlfriend "on the shelf". I never gave any thought to how that might feel - (perhaps a lack of empathy?) and I never properly communicated my intentions towards her. A failing that she waved in my face for years afterward.

Things between her and I became further strained when, at the end of the semester, I received my marks. I was devastated. I'd never failed anything academic in my life but suddenly I'd failed all subjects except computing (for which I got a distinction). It was as good a career marker as I could ask for but at the same time, my self esteem was destroyed.

My father and I feeding Kangaroos on holiday. At the time I thought those clothes looked fairly trendy but of course now, I can see them for what they were, dag clothes.

My life started to go into a downward spiral at that point and although I renewed my relationship with my girlfriend because I was no longer at university, it was the only positive. She was the only light in my darkness. I'd had a few car accidents and was unforgiving of myself over these and my academic failures. I'd always had suicidal thoughts, even as a child but now it was constantly on my mind and depression set in.

My mother wasn't content to allow me to wallow in my thoughts and started applying for jobs on my behalf and sending me off to interviews. It was a depressing time because every job I failed to get further lowered my self confidence. Eventually she remembered that I'd been a library monitor at school and sent me off to an interview. Subconsciously, she'd hit upon one of the basic tenants of aspergers. Follow the special interest in all things.

I was later told by the head librarian that the reason I did well at the interview was because I started talking about things at home and my OCD (which I was unaware of at the time) took over. I started talking enthusiastically about how many books I had, how every single one was covered and catalogued. How as a child, I used to catalogue them using an old typewriter and A4 paper and how, when I was older, I wrote my own computer programs to catalogue my books for me. It was obvious that library work was in my blood. It was a special interest.

(Aside: Today my catalogues, particularly my dvd list, contains reviews, ratings, bloopers, pictures and about 20 different sorts, categorisations and views on the data). They automatically replicate across several domino servers, are available on the internet and have special interfaces for queries and updates via mobile phone. If I'm out shopping and find a DVD cheap, I can check my catalogue to make sure that I don't already have it - though to be honest, I nearly always remember everything I have).

Returning to University
After six months of work, I was ready to return to university part time for another attempt. I had changed my degree to Applied Science with Computing Majors and this was obviously much more suitable. I loved my job and at that point in my life, I wouldn't have agreed to leave it. Going part-time would take longer but it had the perks of;

  • More money
  • People at work who I could turn to for help
  • Reduced numbers of subjects
  • Reduced social requirements at university
  • More mature (older) classmates

Once again, I unceremoniously "dumped" my girlfriend. I didn't want to but after my previous failure at university, I figured that I neede to try even harder with my work. I wasn't going to take any chances. She had been asking me about our future (and hinting that she would only wait two years to get engaged). I knew university would take me from her for six years and so chivalriously, or so I thought, I released her.

Releasing her made me terribly depressed but I was detemined not to let her know. I deliberately didn't call her and tried to let her get on with her life.

Once again, I didn't make any friends at university but I put my heart and soul into the work. I managed to reduce the six year stretch down to five and I became well known for the quality and quantity of my output. I had lots of problems on group assignments and was frequently disappointed by my colleagues efforts. I'd often redo their sections or relegate their work to appendicies in mine because I felt that their work wasn't up to standard. Looking back, I can understand how I must have upset them but at the time I really wasn't aware.

One particular example springs to mind. I was assigned to a team of three people to develop some software, manuals and development plans. I wrote the software entirely because the programming skills of my colleages were not up to scratch. I provided them with copies of the program for the to write their manual but they gave me about ten pages each, mostly full of diagrams and mostly drawn rather than screenshots. I ended up not using them and handed in a 300 page assignment. We all got A+ even though the others were never involved in the project.

Library Work
Four and a half years later and I was still working in the library full time. It was a lot of fun and I found that far from being resistant to change, I enjoyed the variety of tasks available to me. I learned a lot about people and was forced to participate in smalltalk with customers. It was the best form of smalltalk because you could only talk until the next customer came along and on busy days, you could mostly ignore the clientelle and frantically wand or shelve books.

One night, my ex-girlfriend, Joanne came in to visit me. She used the excuse that she had things to look up for her tertiary studies but it was far from her local library. She'd recently been to my 21st birthday party, and not long after I'd gone to hers. It was there that I discovered to my horror that she had a new boyfriend. For some bizarre reason, I'd always assumed she'd be waiting for me when I finished my studies. She spent a while talking to me in the library and I got into trouble for neglecting my duties. This sparked my one and only personality clash in the library - an issue which dogged me until I left about a year later.

Joanne and I at my University Graduation

By this time, I'd become quite settled with my studies and was able to cope with the demand without too much stress although assignments almost invariably led to meltdowns. I saw Joanne more and more often and she started to visit me whenever she had problems with her boyfriend. Eventually, one night, when she was in tears over some rough treatment, I said, "break up with him and go out with me". The words were out of my mouth before I realised what I'd said. Sure, I'd been thinking it for years but somehow I'd been holding myself back. The slip was accidental but I knew in seconds that it was what I really wanted.

She was quite untrusting at first, having been dumped unceremoniously by me a couple of times in the past. I had to show her that I was serious. I took her out to dinner (all our other outings had been to movies). I started taking her to clubs and other places. I contacted my friends and told them all that they could not invite me anywhere unless she too was invited. I also bought her a ring to celebrate our friendship. She nearly freaked out when I gave it to her because I was a bit too formal and I said, "would you be my friend".

I'd always assumed that an overseas trip was expected once I finished university but I decided to wait until Joanne had finished her studies too. It was a long wait and in the meantime, I left the library and moved into the IT department at the same local council (Ku-ring-gai). Joanne's parents weren't too happy about their daughter going out with me, given my past behaviour but they were even less impressed with our trip plans. They started talking about why we had to be engaged first but I ignored them. I had my own plans.

We touched down in Paris on September 24, 1994 and about three days later I proposed to her on the top of the Eiffel Tower. Fortunately she accepted.

Joanne and I in Trocodero, Paris - September 27, 1994. The day of our Engagement.


Rachel said...

Gavin, I love hearing people's stories, and yours is no exception. Despite all the ups and downs, you've prevailed and come out feeling positive about your life. Looking forward to hearing more!

The Rambling Taoist said...

I've have so thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of your life. As a fellow aspie, much of it deeply resonates with me and has caused me to reevaluate my own life story.

And just let me say, you are a very lucky man indeed! Your wife obviously loves you for who and what you are. She was patient and didn't give up on you (when most girls would have left you behind in the dust). I too am very lucky in that way as my wife of nearly 25 years has the patience of Job and accepts me for the odd duck that I am.

StatMama said...

Your life makes a wonderful story, one which I've enjoyed having the opportunity to read.

Damo said...

enjoying the read keep it up

Jennifer G said...

There is something about the awkwardness that makes my heart melt. Thanks for brightening my day. Please keep writing. I love to read your posts!