Thank you, Asperger’s
In 2016, this former newspaper columnist learned he has Asperger’s.
Big picture, I’m okay with it.
Oh, I often wonder what it would be like to live 24 hours as a social gadfly. Have a bunch of friends. Go to parties. Be voted Most Popular.
To not bite my fingernails until they bleed. To not require a game plan for every day. To not spend large chunks of time alone.
What would it be like to have deeper relationships with those closest to me? What would it be like to more fully understand their thoughts and feelings?
But the mold for Garret Mathews was cast a long time ago, and I think I wear it well.
I consider my professional life a success.
Wife. Two kids. Two grandchildren.
Travel adventures in France, Germany, and South Korea.
Thousands upon thousands of people have read my newspaper columns, books, and magazine articles. Hundreds have attended performances of my theatrical plays.
A high functioning person on the autism spectrum, that’s me.
And so very fortunate.
I recently attended a conference with other folks who have Asperger’s. One needs help with her day-to-day activities. Another cuts himself on a regular basis. Another had to be talked out of suicide.
Various persons on the panel have never had a job, never driven a car, rarely been out of the state.
I have someone at home, my bride MaryAnne, who helps me deal with the fallout of Asperger’s. The selfishness. The desire to withdraw from humankind.
Many have to go it alone.
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I began my newspaper career in 1972 at the Bluefield, W. Va., Daily Telegraph. In 1987, I was hired to write the metro column for the Evansville, Indiana, Courier & Press. When I retired in 2011, I had penned more than 6,500 columns and feature stories on every subject from a backwards-speller with thousands of words in his repertoire to a just-arrested prostitute awaiting delousing before being assigned a jail cell.
It was the perfect job.
I didn’t have to sell anybody anything. I didn’t have to deal with the general public. I didn’t have to go to meetings that would have required me to interact with colleagues.
I found my own story subjects. My ideas weren’t second-guessed. I sank or swam—I think mostly the latter – on my own efforts and energy.
Asperger’s only served to help.
It provided the focus and self-discipline that allowed me to get to the end of any project I undertake, and always with plenty of time left on the clock.
There was a singular truth behind every byline: The men and women I interviewed came away from our chats not knowing any more about me than when we first sat down.
Ask anyone in my former line of work. The scribe is not the story. That distinction belongs to the person being chatted up.
And that’s why I was good at what I did.
If you were on the other side of the table, all you got from me was the equivalent of name, rank and serial number.
You were the star attraction. I was merely the guy with pen and paper.
It was The Rule, one that was easy for my Aspie self to follow. That’s because it was never a career aspiration to be the center of attention. You score the goal. I’ll settle for the assist.
Oh, I did a lot of first-person stuff, often of the goofball variety. Pedaled my one-speed bicycle 190 miles across Indiana. Challenged 11-year-olds to beat me at the mile run. Learned to juggle rings and clubs. Pitched batting practice to a high school baseball team.
And I wrote plenty of pieces that called for me to form opinions on issues of the day.
But when the column required an interview, The Rule was solidly in place. You did the talking. I wrote down what you said.
I didn’t find out about my Asperger’s until well into retirement. But deflecting the limelight away from me and onto someone else? That’s been Job One since I was a kid.
And I found a profession that let me do that five days a week for a long, long time.
Thank you, Asperger’s.
This article was featured in Issue 88 – Knowledge is Power