The terms ‘special interest’ and ‘infodump’ often come up in relation to autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people. These terms aren’t loved by all, and I haven’t given much thought to how I feel about them myself – but for the sake of exploring my feelings I’m using these terms because I see them used frequently in autistic communities by autistic people.
In case you haven’t heard of these terms, ‘special interest’ refers to an area of interest that a person is intensely focused on. Many autistic people find that engaging in a special interest to be something that recharges them. For some people it can get to levels that others would consider obsessions (and maybe even an ‘unhealthy’ obsession if people don’t understand the benefits the interests bring to a neurodivergent person). As for infodump – it’s pretty much what it reads like. It’s when an autistic person is seen to be ‘dumping information’ by sharing it with another person – and often it’s sharing a lot of information. Infodumps are often about a special interest.
Okay, now with that out of the way… a week or so ago I was struck with the idea that maybe my ‘special interest’ is my own damn self. And then as I sat down to write this, I thought that maybe my blog was actually a way to indulge in my special interest, and also an opportunity to infodump about said special interest (regardless of whether anyone was actually reading). What a reframe.
And oh boy, did I recoil at those thoughts. I often frame myself as unworthy of anyone’s interest. Yet here I was recognizing that I was pretty much self-obsessed – and also that I wanted to share this self-obsession with the world. Whoa.
I had it in my head that I wanted to write a blog post about this idea since it crossed my mind – but I haven’t. Partly because I have been a bit burned out, but I think that it’s also taken some time to get comfortable enough with the idea to dig into it further. It feels really ‘wrong’ to be so self-interested. Probably due to my upbringing and messages about what it means to be a ‘good person’ and my desire to be perfect. A ‘good person’ thinks of others, not themselves. A ‘good person’ listens more than they speak. A ‘good person’ is modest and humble.
Who the fuck is this ‘good person’?
Well, I guess it ain’t me, and I think that I couldn’t be an autobiographical writer if I kept trying to be that fictional, unattainable ‘good person’. I am that I am, and here I am indulging in my special interest, and infodumping on anyone willing to read this.
And I definitely want my blog posts to be read. I am starting to see that as (at least partly) an expression of me being excited and passionate about my special interest and thinking – in a genuinely altruistic way – that other people could really benefit from these ‘infodumps’.
Maybe they will provide another perspective that helps people see things differently for themselves, or help someone in relationship with an autistic or neurodivergent person. Maybe they will help provide strategies to cope with this fucked up world. Maybe they will help the reader have more self-acceptance and compassion. That definitely feels good – the idea that what I write may be helping other people, but the fact is that regardless of audience, I am infodumping about a special interest. And infodumping feels good and is energizing.
But… you’re too self-aware to be autistic
A few years back, when I was living in America, I was seeing a therapist briefly. During one of our sessions I plucked up the courage to ask her if she thought I could be autistic, and her response was that I was ‘too self-aware’ to be autistic.
Hahaha… little did she know that my self-awareness would turn out to be an expression of my autism rather than proof that I couldn’t be autistic. Not surprisingly, I stopped seeing her shortly after that because I lost trust in her. Why? Because I had studied enough on autism to know that was a bullshit myth.
And yes, I did study autism – and I’ll get to that a bit further in the piece – but I’ve always been a very diligent student. I love learning. But since I got my degree and left university, I haven’t had any structure to my learning. And perhaps that’s where learning about myself really began to become a bit of an obsession. I mean, it wasn’t something ‘new’ – and maybe that’s partly because I was going to therapy from a young age. And this quest to become the perfect person – also dates back to childhood. In fact I vividly remember my mom getting me this book when I was a child because I was such a perfectionist.
So it’s no surprise to see that my oldest surviving Journal (dating from 1997-1999) includes notes I had taken from a book on social anxiety. My notes included pages and pages of stuff that I deemed relevant to me. I answered questions that were posed in the book. I set goals and objectives. And then I moved on to the next thing – a book on perfectionism. And as I’ve gone through my journals and my bookshelf, I can see that I was really caught up in a lot of the ‘self-help’ movement.
Maybe it could even be said that ‘self-help’ was a special interest, but I think that when I stand back and take a wider view, it was me all along. Or as the meme goes, always has been.
That’s not to say that I haven’t had other special interests along the way – but this is probably the most enduring one. It’s just been expressed through different pathways that maybe looked like their own special interest at times but can all be traced back to ‘me’.
The many expressions of a special interest in myself
Self-help may have been the gateway into this special interest. I mean, self is right in the name of the genre. I had highly perfectionist tendencies, even as a child. And I loved to read. Add to that the autistic tendency to take things literally, and voila – I was on the road to fixing my damn self.
The unfortunate part about being neurologically different, and a perfectionist is that I held this belief that if I just followed all of the steps in each self-help book, I could become ‘normal’ or ‘good’ or… maybe even achieve that holy grail … perfection. Which was of course impossible. I say of course now, but back then it seemed perfectly rational. Follow the steps, achieve the desired result. What could go wrong?
How it worked in reality was that I would find a flaw in myself, and then find a book that offered help for that flaw (often something in the Hay House catalog because You Can Heal Your Life was so seminal to me on my self-help journey). And then I would apply the strategies found in the book… and still have fucking problems! Well, that must mean that there’s yet another problem that I haven’t addressed. And the cycle would repeat ad infinitum.
Somehow I eventually got onto spirituality as a way to come to terms with my inability to attain perfection. I grew up Catholic, but organized religion didn’t feel right to me. I began to explore spiritual pathways. As a metalhead, I got right into different aspects of the occult. The band Tool was a gateway into things such as Kabbalah, Chakras, Aleister Crowley, and The Golden Dawn system of Magic. The patterns, connections and mystery were very intriguing, but I kept moving through different ideas – all with the intention of being my best self.
Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi led me into doing a program in ‘Self-Realization’ which had a very strict curriculum to follow, but I was sure that if I just did all the right things, this time I would actually be able to find peace in my life. But before I finished the program, I got pregnant and took a bit of a detour.
But from there, it’s been one thing after another and sometimes in rapid succession. Buddhism, Mindfulness, Meditation, Kundalini Yoga, Toltec Wisdom, Goddesses, Witchcraft, Channeling, Energy Healing, Sound Healing, Tarot and Oracle Cards, Crystals, Astrology, Starseeds… and I am sure there’s more that I am not remembering.
But they were all pathways to becoming the best version of me so while I was learning about ‘systems’ – I was still able to get my fix of fixing me. Somehow, I lost the message about love and compassion that was inherent in most, if not all, spiritual traditions.
I took a little detour once I became pregnant and threw myself into learning how to be the best mother. Pregnancy. Hypnobirthing. Attachment parenting. Breastfeeding. Co-Sleeping. You name it, I read about it and attempted it.
Mindset & Motivational Speakers
This feels kind of like doubling back into the self-help landscape. And to be clear – there aren’t linear pathways through any of this. But I am putting this separately because there was a spell where everything was about mindset. Particularly in the ‘entrepreneur’ space – it seemed like there was always some ‘block’ to be overcome if I wanted to be a success in life. And there was always some structure that I could put into place if I just bought this online training or book.
During this phase I learned NLP and while there are some great principles and ideas throughout, in the end I would feel like a massive fuck up because even though I ‘knew all this stuff’ about how to overcome fears and limiting beliefs and even anxieties and phobias I was still not able to be okay. And worse than that, it was all my own fucking fault. It must have been choices I was making (that was my personal interpretation of it – and probably had much to do with being literal as an autistic more than what NLP was trying to teach me). So after all that I was stuck on figuring out why I kept making fucked up choices.
It’s not all in my head – it’s in my body too
I’ve also had many obsessions with my physical self. Sometimes it’s been about dieting and highly restrictive eating. Sometimes it’s been about finding the perfect hormonal balance. Sometimes it’s been about exercise. At its most benign, it seems to be trying to answer the question ‘How can I eat, sleep, consume, and exercise to get rid of my mental illnesses and just be normal?’ And at its worst it is OCD; obsessing about sensations in my body, compulsively checking to see what I am noticing in my body, and becoming highly anxious and having panic attacks. This OCD is what made me finally decide to go back on an SNRI medication.
Mental illness, psychology and neurodiversity
This has been another area that I have put a lot of focus on throughout the years. I wanted to learn all I could about anxiety over the years, as that has felt like the most difficult aspect of my ‘self’ to live with. I suffered from depression, and I was diagnosed with OCD so I learned more about those conditions. And over the years, as these labels didn’t seem to explain enough, I would wonder if I was bipolar. Or had a personality disorder. At times I worried I was paranoid-schizophrenic; a diagnosis that someone else in my family had. I would look through books and eventually the internet to try to figure out what diagnosis could explain me. And although I had an autistic half-brother, I didn’t think about autism for myself until I had another close relative who was female and diagnosed as autistic.
I was learning a lot about sensory processing disorder and autism for a while before my relative’s diagnosis. She didn’t fit the stereotypical autistic presentation, so it was difficult to work out what was happening with her, and what sort of help she needed. And in learning about autism in girls and women I was starting to see a lot of my own issues coming up on various ‘checklists’ of autistic traits and diagnostic criteria of what is now more thought of as the ‘camouflaging subtype’. So, I spent a fair bit of time immersing myself in learning about autism but it wasn’t until just last year that I decided that diagnosis would be necessary for my wellbeing.
The current that runs through all these different expressions of a special interest in myself is the constant self-analysis. I can’t even begin to express how much of my mental energy goes to thinking about myself – and usually it’s some form of analyzing something I have said or done or even thought, or what I can do to improve something in my life. And usually, I’ve not been very kind or compassionate to myself. As you can probably tell, this quest to be my ‘best self’ has been brought on by a core belief that I am flawed – and not only that; if I find the magic formula and apply it consistently, I can achieve perfection.
The belief that I am flawed has taken many forms – and sometimes they are even opposing forms expressed at different times; I’m not good enough for these people / I am too good for these people; I am not enough / I am too much; I am too passive / I am too intimidating. Sometimes it’s been outright bullying and self-loathing. As a child, I recall thinking repeatedly ‘I hate myself and I want to die.’ I used to refer to myself as deranged. A freak. And even now, I will sometimes call myself a fuck up.
I’ve often been told that I overanalyze – and that’s based on what comes out verbally or in writing. Imagine if people had access to the hyperactive thinking that is happening in my mind… yikes.
And it seems like I have come full circle. Or perhaps a better explanation is that the serpent is eating itself. The self-analysis leads to all these ways to try to better myself, which can only fail because the goal has been perfection, which is unattainable.
I’m not gonna say I hate it
It may seem a bit weird to some people, but I actually like seeing my self-analysis as a special interest, and my blog as a place to infodump. This has helped me to understand why writing for this blog has been so energizing to me. And in today’s big, longwinded journey of self-analysis I have learned a lot about where I want to go from here. In looking back, I can see where things haven’t been very helpful. And I can be more thoughtful in my self-obsessiveness. I don’t expect it will go away. Sure, there will be distractions from time to time, but this is a fundamental piece of what makes me ‘me’.
One big change I’ve made recently is in asking for professional help and allowing that help. Books were my first friends, so it was very natural to look to books to help me. And my past experiences with doctors and therapists left me feeling misunderstood most of the time. So, I felt like nobody could help me because nobody could possibly ‘get’ what I was going through. But this one-sided approach left me trying to solve my problems without any outside perspective, and so I could never break the cycles that were keeping me stuck in some very negative, undesirable states.
Since diagnosis… it’s been back to learning about me. Just with different expectations. And with supports. I have been working with practitioners who I trust and feel like I can learn from. It’s not always easy but it definitely leaves me lots of stuff to think about between sessions – and over time I have been able to swing away from spending most of my time obsessing about all these things that are ‘wrong’ with me in body, mind and spirit. I have been able to spend more time thinking about how to take better care of myself; how to be more compassionate toward myself, and what I want for my life. And that has given me the confidence to do this infodumping which is much more constructive and fulfilling than criticizing myself all the time. Instead of constantly beating myself up, I get more curious with things as they come up and over time I have become much less judgmental.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion
As much as I like ‘finishing things’ I know that there will be no end to the quest to be my best self, and I won’t always remember to be compassionate and kind in the process. But at least I know that it’s not a process that will come to some neat, tidy conclusion whereby I have done everything perfectly and have become a perfect person. And I have a different perspective that allows my special interest to be expressed in a way healthier way than ever before.
And I would really love to hear from other people who relate to this – because truthfully I am still trying to figure out if it makes sense to other autistic people, and I think it’s best if I just leave this here for others to weigh in instead of holding the debate with myself – which is dangerously close to happening here in this blog!