I had an idea for a post a while back using this title but I didn’t end up writing it, partly because I wasn’t sure what I was writing about and partly because I had two titles that I wanted to use and I couldn’t decide between them. The other title being “The Framework of Football.” Back then I thought I’d just use both if I couldn’t decide, the logic being that this isn’t bowling this is blogging, there aren’t rules, a bit of a reverse Big Lebowski there.
I’ve written about such things before, musing about the nature of special interests, about what they mean and whether or not the terms special interest and obsession should be used interchangeably or if they have different meanings. I’ve never been able to make my mind up about that, I’ve always gone back and forth on it. I think with all that I’ve written on the subject before, I didn’t really know what I was actually writing about, I didn’t really understand what I was writing about. Then yesterday I had something of a light-bulb moment, not only did I finally notice something that’s going on right now but I made sense of something from a long time ago.
The thing from long ago that I made sense of is something an educational psychologist said on a TV show, a documentary about a family that have six autistic children. Her comment was about their eldest son who has AS, she was talking about his social skills and about the fact that the majority of his social time is structured by other people. And that the amount of social contact he has is probably satisfactory to him right now but that he’ll struggle when he leaves school because there won’t be anyone to structure his social time or to offer him the kind of activities that school does.
What she says makes a lot of sense. I first saw the show l think about two years ago but I only just fully understood what she means and what the problem is. I never gave any thought to how I made my friends and the limited social opportunities that I do have. All but one of my friendships in the past few years have been, in a way put together by other people. That is I was introduced to someone with the specific intention of us making friends, or made to buddy up with someone at school or at a social group for people on the spectrum. Just one of my friendships in the past few years happened without the intervention of other people and that was by accident, a complete fluke, or meant to be if you believe in that kind of thing.
When it’s left to me to decide such things I usually end up spending most if not all of my time by myself. I don’t know if that’s because it’s what I really want or if I’m just going for the easiest and least stressful option. I’m never really sure if I want to spend time with other people or not. More often that not, if someone doesn’t get in touch with me then I don’t tend to want to chase them too much to make arrangements. Either way I worry about getting it wrong, I worry that by hardly ever being the one who asks to make plans that it seems like I’m not interested and at the same time I worry that if I do that, I come across as too eager somehow or commit some kind of social infraction I didn’t even know existed. Truth is, on so many levels it’s just easier and less exhausting not to socialise.
Which brings me to what I noticed right now, I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema or went out at all, either alone or with someone else. Nor can I remember the last time I talked to someone about something other than football. And keeping the best or the worst in this case till last, I only now just noticed that I haven’t made plans with anyone for over a month. How is it that people stop talking to me and I don’t even notice?
Also, now I get what my mother’s been trying to do these past few weeks and the motivation behind it. At the time it was baffling to me why she kept bugging me about my plans (or lack of them), why she kept suggesting films to go and see and why she eventually resorted to offering to buy me popcorn and lunch if only I would agree to go the cinema with her. Even if I’ve been unaware of just how focused I’ve become one one topic to the complete exclusion of everything else, it’s not gone unnoticed by everyone else. I did eventually agree to making some plans, I’m going to see the Minions film but not on the day it comes out as per my usual routine. I can’t see it on the Friday it comes out because that’s Freiburg Friday, there’s several of their games on TV that day and I’m hoping to be able to see and record at least some of them. That fact provides part of the answer to the question “how do you know when a special interest becomes a special interest?” The answer being when you’re willing to change your normal routine for it, when you have no qualms whatsoever about altering what was previously sacred. Friday is no longer my cinema day now, it’s a football day. The cinema just gets fitted in around it instead of the other way around. The other part of the answer is when you get up at 3:00am because of it without any complaints.
This is where the special interest comes into it and why I’ve been thinking about if there’s a difference between a special interest and an obsession. The word obsession has negative connotations and some people don’t like the term being used to describe what they call special interests. I remember in his book Luke Jackson talks about how if you have a socially accepted interest and you’re nuts about it then it’s ok, funnily enough the example he uses is football. He makes the point that if a boy his age was obsessed with football and talked about nothing else, no-one would think much of it. But if they were interested in something considered “strange” or “nerdy” like computers or video games like he is then it’s seen as different or as a problem.
He’s both right and wrong. He’s right about there being things that it’s socially acceptable to be “obsessed” with. He’s also wrong because it’s not just about the subject, it’s about the intensity of the interest. Someone online gave the best explanation I’ve ever read. Essentially they said that NTs possess a certain flexibility that autistic people lack. That whilst they may be “obsessed” with their favourite topic, they have other interests and it doesn’t dominate their thoughts and their life in quite the same way, or at all really.
In my case I’ve been wondering if the term special interest should be used when it’s not the sole focus of your attention, when it doesn’t interfere with the rest of your life in such a negative way, when you don’t ignore everything else because of it. When it’s the only thing you can talk about, think about and pay attention to then maybe you should call it an obsession. The other thing to consider is does that make you unhappy, the fact that you are fixated on this one topic to the exclusion of everything else. I’m trying to work that out, if it makes me happy or unhappy, I don’t have much of an answer yet. I think it makes me happy but I’m not really sure, feelings can be fickle creatures after all and I’m not exactly an expert at such things. But what if what makes me happy makes someone else unhappy? If the fact that I’m so focused on this to the exclusion of everything else leaves them feeling like they’ve been, I don’t know, pushed out somehow.
What I do know is that usually I have about two or three major obsessions a year, the past few years the pattern has been pretty fixed as regards the number of them, the kind of topics I’ve focused on and the time of the year I’ve switched focus. To be more specific, most of my interests have been either based on or connected with film or TV in some way and have tended to be focused on or built around one person, usually a particular actor or character. And it’s almost always been at the beginning of the year and around summer time that I’ve switched from one to another. Well the beginning of the year has been and gone and nothing has changed and summer is here now and nothing seems to be changing.
I’m not sure about the happiness question but there is one thing I know I like about having a special interest, there’s little or no room in your head for anything else. That it means you worry less about other things. Which is the purpose of special interests after all, an escape from the confusing and frustrating world that never makes any sense to you. Sometimes it seems like it’s the only thing that makes me happy at all, like there’s nothing else in the world that has the same effect. But then how would I know when I never give anything else a second thought?