The Inverted Popularity of This Aspie’s Phobias and Philias, Part I: An Explanation

phobias and philias

The image above contains three colors: white, black, and red. The words appear in red because I see it as a color denoting positive or negative intensity, and phobias and philias are both certainly intense. To “see red,” I have learned, does not usually mean what it would mean if I said it myself. Consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome, which I have, I tend to be almost completely literal in the words I use, while the non-Aspie majority often uses words in confusing (to me) non-literal ways. Over the years, I have figured out that this phrase means, when non-Aspies say it,  that they are extremely angry. (I, however, would only say “I see red” if I was actually seeing light with the wavelength-range, ~620 to ~740 nm, which our species has labeled, in English, as “red.”) On the other hand, red roses and Valentine’s Day hearts are popularly used to symbolize romantic love, which is an intensely positive emotion, while extreme anger is extremely negative. White and black, the other colors above, in much of the world, are commonly associated with, respectively, positive and negative things. I, on the other hand, view these colors the opposite way: I have avoided sunlight for much of my life, and continue to do so (to the point where I need to take supplements of vitamin D), while also reveling in darkness, in much the same way that I revel in my “Aspieness.” Right now, it is daytime here, and I am writing this inside, in a dark room, with the only artificial light reaching me coming from computer screens.

It is a common misconception that Aspies (an informal term many people with Asperger’s use for ourselves) are non-emotional. After all, two well-known fictional characters from different incarnations of Star Trek, Spock and Data, are based, in my opinion, on Aspie stereotypes. Stereotypes, I have observed, are usually based on some real phenomenon, and in this case, that phenomenon is that many Aspies experience emotions in radically different ways from the non-Aspie majority — so differently that we are sometimes perceived by non-Aspies to be emotionless, although that is not the case. This causes a considerable amount of tension, and no small amount of outright hostility, between the community of Aspies and the non-Aspie majority. When I write on the subject of Asperger’s Syndrome, I try to do so with the goal of explaining and understanding our differences, in order to reduce Aspie/non-Aspie misunderstanding, which is both common and unhelpful — in both directions. This is the reason I use the factual, non-hostile term “non-Aspie,” in place of the unhelpful and perjorative term “neurotypical” (a word in common use within the Aspie community), one of three unfortunate words discussed in this post.

Explaining my choices of colors in the image above was a prelude to a personal, mathematical analysis of the inverted popularity of my own phobias and philias. I have long observed that I have an intense, inexplicable affinity (in many cases, reaching the level of a “philia,” an often-misunderstood word and suffix, for reasons I will discuss below) for things which the majority, in my part of the world (the American South) hates and/or fears. Examples include spiders, cats, the number thirteen (and all other prime numbers), mathematics in general, geometry in particular (strangely, even many people who like mathematics still dislike the subfield of geometry), being different from those around me, darkness, the color black, night, the physical sciences, evolution (which happens, like it or not), enclosed spaces, heights, flying on airplanes, women, and Muslims. I have also struggled with phobias, working (with professional help) on eliminating them, one by one, but they tend to be less common. Examples of targets for my current and past phobias include light, especially sunlight, to the point where I actually have to take vitamin D supplements; as well as voice calls on cell phones (human voices coming out of small boxes freak me out); death; the life sciences; insurance; sports (and related events, such as pep rallies); loud noises; efforts to control me; and, since my mother died, last November 16, the 16th day of any month, especially at, and after, six months after her death.

I’m a teacher, and it’s the 16th of July, and I simply do not have the option of falling apart on the 16th of every month when school starts again next month, at a new school, with new students, for, as the saying goes, the students will arrive — whether I’m ready or not. That’s no way to start a school year.

I have much to be optimistic about, for I will be teaching in a different building, but on a much-improved schedule, with far fewer different subjects to prepare for each day than I had last year. When I fell asleep last night, after completing four full days of training to teach Pre-AP Physical Science for the first time, starting next month, some part of me knew that mental health improvement — before the 16th hit again, today — was essential. Was that something about which I was consciously thinking? No. I apparently rewrote my mental software (again) last night, an ability I have worked on developing for over thirty-five years. When this brain-software-debugging process first became evident, a few years back, it was happening in my sleep, just as happened again last night, and it took some time for me to figure out exactly what was going on, and how my ability to rapidly adapt to change had improved. 

In Part II of this post, I will analyze, mathematically, the inverted popularity of my phobias, compared to the most common phobias, ranked by incidence among the population. First, however, it is necessary for me to explain what I mean — and do not mean — by the word “philia.” There is a serious problem with this word, in English, when it appears as a suffix, and that is due to an unfortunate linguistic error: the incorrect application of a Greek idea, and word, to the horrific, disgusting, and criminal behavior of child molesters, as well as those who have sex with corpses. The ancient Greeks, as is well-known, used four different words for different kinds of love, and “philia” (φιλία) referred specifically to fraternal, or “brotherly,” love. This was not a word the ancient Greeks used for any type of sexual act. The words “pedophilia” and “necrophilia” are, for this reason, historical anomalies. Both terms are misnomers, meaning, simply, that they are messed-up words, and their existence creates the potential for misunderstanding. A philia, properly understood, is simply the opposite of a phobia. Phobias are better-understood, of course, and require no detailed explanation. 

One example of what I mean by my own philias should suffice. I have, for many years, had an abnormally strong fascination with spiders. I like them — a lot — so much so, in fact, that I actually have a tattoo of a spider, and often wear a spider necklace, to express how much I like this one biological order, the largest within the class of arachnids. Despite my strong affinity for spiders, however, I have zero sexual interest in them. It is accurate to call me an arachnophiliac, which is the opposite of an arachnophobe.

It is now near 9 pm on Saturday, November 16, and Friday night’s sleep therapy gave me the energy to work on the needed improvements to my mental health during the day today, by using reflective writing as a therapeutic technique. I also have a new appreciation for sleep, which will come soon. Part II will be posted soon, but it will not be written until after I have enjoyed a full night of sleep — starting, hopefully, in a few minutes. Goodnight, and thank you for reading Part I.

[Update, July 17: Part II is now posted here.]

On Writing Treaties with Memory

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Writing a Treaty with Memory

At an age of four years or so, my favorite song was Simon & Garfunkel’s song “The Boxer,” which I had not listened to in a very long time, until this morning. I still remember the lyrics well, and was singing along with the song. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, here it is:

Everything was fine, until I found myself singing this part of the song: “In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him ’till he cried out, in his anger and his shame — I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”

I made it to the words “his anger and his” — before literally choking on the word “shame.” Music is a powerful tool for evoking memories, I now realize, and sometimes that can be dangerous.

I choked because some horrific, repressed memory was brought close to the surface of my consciousness by this part of the song.

Despite the picture here of “The Man Without Fear,” fear is not something I lack. However, these days, I almost never fear that which is right in front of me. I can face down bullies, and other tyrants, in my present life, especially if people I care about are threatened, and now I have a better understanding of the reasons for this: such present threats are as nothing, when compared to the horrors I now only half-remember from when I was very young. The parts I do not remember at all are blank spaces for which I am grateful, for those are memories I do not need.

What exact memory did this song dredge up, from the depths of my own unconscious? I can’t tell you that, because I simply don’t know the details. I do know that this part of that song — or, rather, my reaction to it — instantly dropped me into a nearly-comatose state for the better part of an hour, and prompted me, in that state, to do an emergency-rewrite of the software installed in my brain, re-submerging the memories that had nearly surfaced. I then wrote, and proceeded to install — yes, I view my own brain as a computer, which it is — new safety protocols to protect myself from such problems in the future. This is by no means the only time something like this has happened, and I am tired of being temporarily disabled by such events.

These new safety subroutines were written to recognize repressed memories that are in the process of surfacing, before panic sets in, but they don’t simply push them back down, as previous versions have attempted, with limited success. Instead, they break off a small, invisible piece of mind which can operate independently of, and simultaneously with, my primary consciousness. Internally, it “sits down” with the dangerous memory in question, and has a conversation with it, calming myself down without medication, until the past can be safely left in the past, where it belongs. The process leaves me tired, and the scars of memory are, of course, still there, just as Matt Murdock’s/Daredevil’s scars are visible, in the picture above. These memory-scars will exist as long as I do. However, a scar is nothing but a wound that no longer hurts, and has been healed by the passage of time, to the point where it no longer has to be dangerous. The job of my newly-installed subroutine isn’t simply to repress memories, but to actually write treaties with them, something I had never attempted before today. It was necessary. I didn’t fully leave this semi-comatose state until a treaty with this particular memory had been both written and implemented.

After emerging back into full consciousness, I tested my new software-patch — by listening to, and singing along with, “The Boxer,” more than once. I was able to do this without incident, which tells me my efforts were successful.

My new self-programming will be further analyzed, and debugged, when I next sleep. If necessary, it will be re-written altogether. I do this every time I sleep, a technique which took me decades to develop, but which has increased my ability to adapt to whatever life demands of me — in the present, in the future, and when dealing with my memories of the past, whether those memories are fully accessible, or not.

Everyone may do this sort of thing, although few are aware of it. This might be an undiscovered purpose of sleep — or it might not. Whether all people do this, or not, I am aware that I do it, and know that these metacognitive techniques are helping me get better.

I like getting better.