Written by J, a Project Rex Participant

What is Autism? This is what everyone always asks me when I have to give them a reason on why I am so shy. I always tell them that it just means that I get nervous around large crowds of people, loud music or noises, and that it is very difficult for me to make eye contact. What they do not know is that I have greatly simplified it.

You see, there is much more to autism than this simple generalization. Autism is a spectrum disorder in that there are “smaller” neurological conditions inside this umbrella diagnosis. In other words, while different autistic people may have similar symptoms they will not have all the symptoms of autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder ranges from “severe” autism, little to no verbal talking skills, to high functioning autism also called Asperger’s syndrome. I have high functioning autism. This is the one that has been made popular on TV lately with Dr. Sheldon Cooper of the CBS show The Big Bang Theory, to Detective Sonya Cross of FX’s The Bridge, to Will Graham of NBC’s Hannibal, to Dr. Gil Grissom of CBS’s CSI, to finally Dr. Spencer Reid of Criminal Minds also on CBS.

What does it mean to have high functioning autism versus low functioning autism? With high functioning autism, I can talk and carry on a conversation until the cows come home, sometimes to the dismay of my mom and youngest brother whom I live with. I can go out in public by myself, even though I get nervous if it is real crowded or if people are talking really loud.

I have a very active imagination that fuels my curious personality (which can be good or bad sometimes) and I have very focused and fixated obsessions that I am constantly self-monitoring to make sure they do not get out of hand. I also have extreme loneliness due to the fact that I would rather be at home than go to social gatherings, which is quite a paradox since I really do want friends and to be able to feel comfortable in social gatherings. I am hoping that by allowing people who do not have autism into my autistic world that it will help them understand what it is like to have autism.

One of the big things that I have noticed from my high functioning autism is my very active imagination. I can literally get lost in my own little world. Let me give you a personal example then I will explain what I mean. When I take out the trash, for my mom, to the landlord’s dumpster, I always have my headphones on listening to my favorite music from the anime Gundam Seed and Gundam 00. In the real world I pass several GE appliance delivery trucks on the way to the dumpster.

In my mind, however, I do not see the trucks at all. I see giant robots called Zaku and Gouf parked at a Zeon military base. I am in the world of my favorite anime Gundam. This is like an escape from the real world to some place where I’d rather be. A mini vacation if you will.

Now you might be wondering, “What can be so bad about having such a vivid and active imagination?” I will tell you. Normally there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, it can be very beneficial when I write stories. The downside is that this “false” world can be really realistic. You see I have just started to learn how to drive; I know I am 27 and it is a little late, but as my mom always says better late than never.

If I was listening to my music while driving then this could prove to be dangerous and even fatal to me and my fellow drivers. I would get distracted and enter the world of Gundam and I would see Zakus, Goufs and Rick Doms instead of cars which would negatively affect my reaction time leading to an accident and even killing me and/or the people around me. I have noticed that music is key for me to be able to enter these fantasy worlds. For this reason I have decided that I just cannot listen to music while driving. This is so that I can devote 100% of my concentration to driving to do everything in my power to avoid an accident.

I have to even watch what music I listen to when I am feeling very depressed. Earlier this year I was feeling really depressed, which I will go into more detail later in this paper, for a variety of issues. After having a massive meltdown with my mom and youngest brother, they went to Walmart and I stayed here at the house.

While they were gone I was listening to one of my favorite songs called Fields of Hope by Rie Tanaka. I do not listen to this song very often, even though I really do like it, because it is so sad. This song was played on an episode of the anime Gundam Seed Destiny in which the remnants of a massive space colony was purposely put on a collision orbit with the Earth killing tens of millions of people.

One of the main characters of the show was singing this song to some scared orphans as they took shelter in an underground bomb shelter to avoid the falling debris of the descending space colony. Every time I hear this song being played I can almost see the space colony entering Earth’s atmosphere as if I am really living in the world of Gundam. As a result, this song makes me feel very sad as the episode was very sad.

I should not have listened to this song that day as it feed into my already bottomed out depressed feeling, but I did. As a result it made me feel even more depressed until I came to the conclusion that my family would be better off without me. So I took a bunch of pills to try and end my life. I ended up having to go to the hospital for a week. To be clear, I am not saying that the song caused me to try and commit suicide. I was already spiraling out of control and would have eventually tried to do it as it had been building for months.

You can think of it like this: If you take one match to burn trash in a barrel it will burn, it will take a good minute for the flame caused by that one match to burn but it will eventually. If you add gasoline to that mixture then it will cause that flame to burn brighter and a heck of a lot faster than just the match alone. My spiral descent is like that one match. Listening to Fields of Hope while I was bottomed out is like adding gasoline to the fire started by that one match. It feed into my depressive bottomed out state making me feel even worse.

From my stay at the hospital I came to the conclusion that I have to take responsibility for my decisions and actions and that meant realizing what triggers my depressive state. One such trigger was listening to Fields of Hope while I am very depressed. This is no different than an alcoholic having to avoid going to bars or friends’ parties if they know that alcohol will be served or if a diabetic’s sugar is really high then they need to avoid sugar at all costs until it comes down. Same goes for me and not listening to Fields of Hope while I am very depressed. It is part of being mature and realizing what are my personal triggers.

Another thing I have noticed when it comes to my high functioning autism is obsessions. What I mean by obsessions is something that I fixate on and have to know more and more about. Over the years for me this has been: Back to the Future and DMC Deloreans, to the RMS Titanic, to Star Wars, to Mobile Suit Gundam, to history (both military and political), and now back to Mobile Suit Gundam. Normally these obsessions are harmless, but not always. Let me give you a personal example of what I mean by this.

Last year and the first half of this year, I was obsessed with World War 2 history with an emphasis on dictators, and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed. With dictators I was fascinated with how an unstable person could legally take over an advanced democratic nation and to manipulate his people into committing horrible crimes in the name of national pride. With Mobile Suit Gundam Seed I was fascinated with the villain Rau Le Creuset. You may be thinking that Gundam is just an anime and history is just history so what can be the harm? For me, at that time, it was not good.

At that time, I began getting more and more depressed and more and more bitter. The depression and bitterness began to slowly warp my thinking and beliefs. It started with the belief that I could somehow get into politics and use the political gifts of the different dictators from World War II to ultimately help people instead of killing people like they did.

One problem with that logic- they were evil and crazy and no good can ever come from that. This led to me think like my favorite villain Rau Le Creuset. I started to care about no one except my mom and my youngest brother. I started to agree with Le Creuset in that I believed humanity would ultimately kill each other. I just wished, at the time, that I could find some way to speed it up. I believed, at that time, that since I was the only one who realized this, then only I could pass judgment over all of humanity just like Le Creuset believed only he had the right to judge.

After I went into the hospital this past April I realized I was in bad shape. I was very reluctant to go to the hospital, because I hate being confined to one place for about a week, but I needed to go. I was also reluctant from wanting to go to the hospital because I saw myself as weak for giving in to my condition. I thought that if I just looked deep down in myself I would be able to find a way to overcome my bitterness, anger, and depression, but that was not the case.

You see going to the hospital is not admitting defeat, showing weakness, or an attack on your “manhood”, but instead shows inner strength because you are admitting to yourself that you need help because you cannot deal with this problem by yourself. By thinking that I could handle this on my own, even when help was offered to me by my psychiatrist, I was not being a man. A real man is someone who realizes that they need help and accepts it, even if it is hard or we do not want to.

I just wish I had realized this back in April so that it would have saved me from embarrassing myself with my suicidal meltdown and, most importantly, putting my family through the enormous stress that I caused them that day. It was during my hospital stay that I decided that no good will ever come from intensely studying dictators or from watching Gundam Seed all the time. So I quit reading about dictators from any era and I limit myself to how often I watch Gundam Seed.

Obsessions for me are like black holes. Black holes are harmless until you cross the event horizon. Once you cross the event horizon you are forever stuck in the black hole and can never get out again. Obsessions can be harmless till you cross the event horizon and it becomes unhealthy and/or dangerous. This is what I believe happened to me. Just like how I had to realize that certain songs were a trigger for me, the same goes for what I read and watch on TV and get fixated on. As a result I have to be conscious of this and take that into account before I decide to look something up or read about something, or even watch something rather it be fiction or nonfiction.

The last major thing I have noticed when it comes to my high functioning autism is the loneliness. I have never had friends, even though some people have tried throughout my life. I was bullied so bad that to this day I get emotional flashbacks if I go inside any school buildings, and that is why I was taking my college classes online.

Since I have dropped out of high school over ten years ago, I have had few social interactions. In those ten years I have had social interactions with my mom, youngest brother, grandmother, therapist, doctors, psychiatrist, and my fellow patients when I had to go to the psych hospital numerous times. To this day all my friends exist solely on Facebook. I have never had a girlfriend, or even kissed a girl for that matter. Lately I have been feeling frustrated. I am not depressed; thank God, just frustrated with my zero social life.

I have been trying to keep busy with my college work. For me this feels like a paradox because I want friends more than anything, but I hate to go outside my own house since it makes me feel uncomfortable as it is out of my comfort zone. Knowing this I have come to the realization that my mom was right when she said that as long as I stay in the house I will never make any friends. Between that realization and the fact that I suck at math, I have decided to change my major from Information Systems Specialist (computers) to Human Services. By doing this, I have to go inside the college to take my classes, since they do not offer classes for that major online.

Will this be hard for me? Yes it will, at first anyways, but for me to make friends and eventually a girlfriend it is the only way. I have to get out of my comfort zone. For the last couple of months I have been working on myself in preparation for going to the classroom. One of those preparations has been learning how to drive a car. This, I believe, will help me so that I do not feel trapped at the school waiting on my mom to pick me up.

You see, if I am having a bad day, then normally I would have to wait on my mom to pick me up. As a result, this just fed into my paranoid state in which I was thinking that people were talking about me when they weren’t. If I have a driver’s license then all I have to do is make it through the day and get out of there as soon as it is over, without the fear of having a meltdown because my mom could not get there fast enough. That in of itself will cut down on a lot of my stress.

This is just a glimpse of what it is like for me personally to have high functioning autism. It is a very unique condition in that I can very easily slip into a fantasy world where I am a Sith Lord or captain of an Imperial-class Star Destroyer hunting down the rebel alliance or that I am a Gundam pilot, or even into a fantasy world that I created. It is an illness where I can remember high amounts of information on a subject I like. It is also a condition of self-imposed isolation and loneliness.

This is what I am hoping that you, the reader, get out of this: that you see while high functioning autism does have many gifts, it also has many challenges. It is like a double edged sword. I am also hoping that by reading this it will make you aware of when someone you know with high functioning autism is “slipping”. You may be able to see the warning signs so that you can help prevent that person from making a terrible mistake that they cannot take back.

You know for me personally, I believe that we are put on this Earth to help people and in some way make this world a better place than when we found it, whether that contribution be big or small. If I can help just one person then I will feel like that I have made a difference.