I gave up hope the other week. I accepted that life was never going to improve, and as a result I feel better than I have in a long time.
It sounds counterintuitive, so let me explain. My husband has Asperger’s syndrome. We only realized this a few months ago, after another lost job. Our two decades of marriage are littered with lost jobs, short friendships, and aborted projects. I’ve long known there was something about Kelsey that didn’t fit the expected mold, something that keeps him from living according to the life script that most people happily and mindlessly adhere to. I’ve never minded that; in fact, I celebrate it. His oddness is what makes him who he is, and I love who he is. I joke that he’s dragged me kicking and screaming into some of the best experiences of my life. Not all of those experiences have been so positive, though, and we find ourselves in our 40s still living a lifestyle more common among people who are just starting out.
I’ve had countless conversations that revolve around trying to solve the mystery. “There’s got to be something I’m missing,” I’d say after he would come home, having quit or, more frequently, been fired from a job that he’d been good at and even having earned glowing reviews. I knew he was good at most types of work. I knew he wasn’t lazy or afraid of work. He’s highly intelligent and his coworkers typically like him. The only thing I could think of was his awkwardness in social situations, but I never considered it seriously because work =/= socializing.
On hearing of Asperger’s, I’d researched it a bit, wondered if he might not have some of the tendencies, and promptly forgot about it. After he lost his last job over an utter triviality, I remembered some of the hallmarks of the syndrome and blurted out a diagnosis, “You know what you’ve got? You’ve got Asperger’s!” I was kind of mad and immediately ashamed of myself for phrasing it as an accusation. To his credit, he wanted answers as badly as I did, and he threw himself into research. Within a short time he’d found a therapist and got an appointment set up for testing, and weeks later had a diagnosis in hand.
There’s no cure for Asperger’s, and no medical treatment. It’s on the autism spectrum, though there’s some debate as to whether it really belongs there. It’s neurodevelopmental in nature and is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Like autism, it presents differently in different patients and is present to varying degrees. As the saying goes, “if you’ve met one person with Asperger’s, you’ve met … one person with Asperger’s.” High intelligence is typical, as is stilted, formal behavior and speech and a narrow focus of intense interest (to the layperson: Monologues about weird obsessions).
In addition to this, Kelsey has what we call “trouble switching gears.” He has the ability to multitask but has tremendous difficulty switching between tasks. Asking him to stop doing something he’s engaged in and do something else is akin to shifting your car into sideways. The gear doesn’t exist. This peculiarity has been the cause of more trouble than any other thing that most couples argue about – maybe any two. One would think that, now that I understand this quirk of his nature and have accepted it, that it wouldn’t frustrate me anymore. One would be wrong. If I’m in the wrong mood, it can still very much send me into orbit. I was in the wrong mood the other day.
I noticed evidence that a task I’d been asking him to do for days was still undone, despite numerous assurances that it would be taken care of. I, if I may be indelicate, flipped my shit. I stormed; he defended. I raged; he raged back. I escalated and he began to retreat, and that’s when realization broke over me. My anger drained away, replaced by weariness and a tentative light of hope. I asked him, “is this as good as it’s ever going to get?”
He was mistrustful. “No,” he replied. “I’m trying. Can’t you see that I’m trying?”
I told him that I knew he was trying, but that it wasn’t going to get any better. I could see that it hurt him, but I had to keep going. I asked him again and said that he needed to admit that the current state of affairs was the best I could expect. He didn’t understand.
“Can you honestly say that I haven’t improved at all? If you can, then I’ll tell you anything you want.”
I thought about backing down. I did – I could see that he was confused and hurt, and I didn’t want to prolong it or cause any more, because, in fact, he has improved. He truly is trying, very hard, to improve himself and his habits all the time. I have always been careful not to squelch this. I had to, though. Something had to give, and unfortunately, it was this. I said yes.
He mumbled, “Then things are never going to improve. This is as good as it gets.”
I explained what was happening and he nodded. The next morning, I could report to him that it had worked. The symptoms of the terrible stress I’ve been under for months had already started to lift. I had slept better. My jaw wasn’t sore from clenching it all night. I had no headache, either that morning or in the evening, and I didn’t feel sore all over. Within the week, I had stopped clenching my jaw during the daytime too, and other nagging little issues that had been plaguing me resolved. My mood was much lighter and I stopped feeling persecuted by life (back to my usual level, anyway).
It sounds like I gave up on my husband, but all I did was manage my expectations. I had to stop expecting him to perform at an unreasonable (for him) level, and in doing so, I’ve gained the ability to really see and appreciate the great strides he’s making. Losing hope was one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done.