Several years ago, I read John Robison’s autobiography, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder and without going into great detail, one of the main difficulties for individuals with this pattern of brain development is to make positive social connections with others. People with Asperger’s also typically have narrow interests, which can contribute to unusually well developed specific abilities. It is an excellent book and I love his story of transformation. John Robison is a successful businessman. Although he never graduated from high school, in the 70’s, he worked for the heavy metal band, KISS, designing their fire breathing and rocket launching guitars. He also worked designing electronic toys for Milton Bradley.

Robison was not diagnosed with Asperger’s until 16 years ago at age 40. As he got older, he gradually improved his abilities to form meaningful social connections, to make eye contact, to demonstrate empathy and perspective taking, and to have a more integrated flow of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive functioning. He remarried and found lasting love. But there were trade-offs to his transformation. Robison could no longer understand the technical designs he had previously made. Robison’s brain was able to function less narrowly which meant that he could no longer focus such a large proportion of his mental energy on his complex pyrotechnic designs. If memory serves, I believe he was happy with the trade off.

As I have written in the past, I have experienced changes in my cognition since my cancer diagnosis. Although overall, things have improved, I still have concentration difficulties and difficulties integrating information and making simple conclusions. It doesn’t happen all of the time but every so often I find myself thinking, “D’uh!” The most persistent difficulties have been with my writing mechanics. It’s not like I never made errors before because I did. But I make so many more spelling, grammatical, syntax, and punctuation errors than I used to. Sometimes I think of a word and write down something else entirely. That is a new problem. I don’t remember doing that before. It is a language processing problem and I don’t like it at all.

My writing errors have caused me variable amounts of frustration and embarrassment. However, it has not gotten in the way of my posting in my blog, anyway. The objective part of me figures that I am not a professional writer and should not hold myself to that standard. Additionally, I think I have interesting things to write and a number of people seem to like to read my blog. Finally, carefully combing through my writing for errors frankly requires more brain energy than I can spare right now. My job requires intent concentration and I just don’t have much left by the time I write my posts. Any that’s leftover really needs to go to having conversations with my family, which was something that was hard for awhile from a concentration perspective. I still have trouble following the train of thought for my husband and daughter at times. Neither of them consistently use topic sentences in their oral language. My husband often leaves the point of what he is saying until the end of a several minute explanation. In my current mind space, especially after a work day, I feel that my brain may explode. I need clues to organize what he is saying. Is it good news or bad news? Is he telling me about the status of a work project (so hard for me to follow as I am not an engineer) because he just wants to share about what he is doing or because he is going to tell me that he has to work late tonight? I feel frustrated with my brain for not being there for him as much as I’d like to be. I also sometimes get frustrated with his communication style.

I saw the book, Look Me in the Eye on my coffee table yesterday. I’d taken it off of the bookshelf to give it to one of John’s coworkers, who used to design pyrotechnics for Billy Idol. I figured he’d get a kick out of reading it. But he either forgot to bring it with him or didn’t want it because it was still on the coffee table after he left our house. When I looked at the book I remembered John Robison’s trade off and saw a parallel in my own life.

I may never get back my consistent attention to detail or all of those thinking skills on which I used to be able to rely. But I have much less anxiety and a lot more meaning in my life. I have a more interesting life. I have a lot more fun. I’d say that this trade has worked in my favor.