The First Sign of Madness..?

2 August 2015 at 15:57 (Random Randomness) (, , , , )

You’re bound to have heard this one:

They say talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.

The ever-elusive “they”! But is it really? You see, for me as an Aspie, talking to myself is the only way I can effectively interact with the outside world.

Verbal communication does not come naturally to me. My way of thinking is primarily visual and abstract. If I don’t rehearse what I need to say before-hand, all that will come out is a jumbled mixture of sounds and random syllables. So what I spend a lot of time doing is something called “scripting”. Although this is different from the echolalia-type scripting, which I will talk about later.

If you were to be creepy and place a spy-cam in my room, a good deal of the time you would see me, sitting on the bed, doing what appears to be talking to imaginary friends. What I’m doing, then, is practising how to talk.

You know when you have a job interview coming up? Or a speech? And you might spend some time rehearsing your lines, practising tone of voice, etc? Well, I have to do this for every single social interaction I have ever. Yes, every single one. What I do is build up a database of scripts that I can use. And I have to do this for every situation I can think of, otherwise I will get totally stuck and end up stuttering, producing nothing but the jumbled sounds and random syllables I mentioned above.

I really do have a big database of scripts, and while I might not be consciously aware of them all the time — for instance, I can’t just recite a list on demand — basically a trigger situation/phrase will enable me to pull up the appropriate rehearsed dialogue.

For instance, when I started this job, which is in a big department store, and therefore lots to learn — a customer came up to me and asked me where the ladies’ evening wear department is. And the answer came to me straight away, I had a clear picture there in my head. The problem is, there is no way to project that picture directly from my head to the customer’s. So for what seemed like ages, I just stood there while my brain worked frantically to translate the picture into words, and I just ended up coming out with those blessed random noises and eventually a “downstairs”. This happened a lot in the first few months as I had to work all these things into rehearsed scripts. A lot of the time it makes me come across as an incompetent idiot, even though the information is all there in my brain. I just can’t get it out in a way other people will understand! I had a customer say to me once, “You obviously don’t know. Why don’t you ask your colleague there?” And I’m thinking, I DO know! You can only claim student discount on homeware right now, and I’m more senior than my colleague there anyway! But because my brain isn’t so good at translating picture-feelings into words, I give the appearance of being stupid.

And because Aspies aren’t very good with criticism, especially when it’s undeserved, something like that can (not so much these days, but a lot back then) push me into a mute/semi-mute phase. The worst was actually when someone forgot to refill the till roll (receipt paper), and a customer (highly strung already, because she’d recently had her card cloned) paid by card, and what happens if there is no till roll is you get a message saying the transaction couldn’t be authorised and needs to be authorised manually.

Anyway, I didn’t know about this as it had never happened to me before. And so what I did was press the cancel button, and the screen said the charge was reversed. But because there was no paper in the till, the cancel receipt didn’t print either. At this point, I realised what the problem was, and the customer was getting annoyed, and I told her the payment was reversed and nothing was taken, she’d see when she got her statement, then she started going on about her card-cloning incident and basically accusing me of cloning her card. And I just totally shut down at this stage. I’m terrible at conflict as it is, even watching strangers arguing on the street can push me into a mute phase, and I had this woman shouting at me and accusing me of telling her to go home (I didn’t) and trying to clone her card (yeah, right) and outside I might have looked calm, but inside all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and rock, stim, whatever, to feel better. I just so badly needed to get away from that, it was so stressful, and all because I hadn’t an appropriate script for the situation. That was actually the incident that led to this piece (see the scrapbook version for how I felt at the time).

After that, I frantically scripted in case it happened again — and of course, it has happened a few times (because that’s the kind of colleagues I have), and all these other times I handled it with ease and had a happy, or at least indifferent, customer at the end of it.

So you see how important for me it is to have this database, and why I literally spend hours every day practising these scripts.

Having said that, because I am such a bad predictor of how people will behave, unless I know them REALLY well, usually the real-life interaction rarely actually goes the way I planned. But basically, the more scripts I have, the more likely I’ll be able to survive an interaction. I don’t tend to do much socialising, most of my conversations with colleagues are just whining about work anyway, so scripts come most in handy when it comes to serving customers. Sometimes though, I’ll have spent so much effort on a script, that I’ll be determined to use it even if it doesn’t fit in with the context. And people will be like, “She’s weird!”

So as I said, mostly I script when I’m totally alone. Occasionally, for instance if I’ve just had an interaction where I didn’t have an appropriate script and needed to improvise, my brain will automatically do it on the spot, but rather than mouthing/whispering the words, I will do it silently in my head. My brain will then go over everything that was said, by both sides, and then try to work out what was a good response by me, what was bad, what I could have said better, what I should have said, etc etc. Then it’ll start to rehearse lines, and sometimes you might hear me squeak or make weird noises, facial expressions or gestures, and as my brain is so into it, I can’t actually stop parts of the scripting leaking out. I don’t know if anyone has actually seen me doing this, though! So far, no one has commented on it, but that’s evidence of nothing.

Sometimes my brain will go into overdrive and a long interaction, even if it went well, will cause insomnia and general brain exhaustion. This happened when an internet friend wanted to voice chat with me on Skype. This was during the evening. And it went on for over an hour, and I didn’t really feel that stressed during it, though I had the feeling of starting to feel tired, but afterwards I was exhausted. And my brain wouldn’t switch off. All night it went over and over and over all the dialogue we’d had, and I didn’t get to sleep for absolutely hours.

Now, if you’re still watching on your creepy spy-cam, some of the times that you might catch me doing what appears to be talking to my imaginary friends, I really am actually talking to my imaginary friends. It really depends on what takes priority. Before I was working, more time was spent with imaginary friends, because of course, I just didn’t need to concentrate on scripting when I interacted so little with others. Now, it’s mostly scripting, because I have to interact with so many people at work.

Talking to imaginary friends is of course, my inner worlds spilling over into reality. Of course, I can distinguish between the two, but sometimes I let my imaginary friends come over here, as a soothing thing, and this leads me onto echolalia.

Yay, echolalia! Here are some definitions from

The immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases just spoken by others, often a symptom of autism or some types of schizophrenia. Also called echophrasia.

Psychiatry. the uncontrollable and immediate repetition of words spoken by another person.

(psychiatry) the tendency to repeat mechanically words just spoken by another person: can occur in cases of brain damage, mental retardation, and schizophrenia.

Okay, so what I do is slightly different, in that it’s generally not immediate, and it’s not uncontrollable either.

I like memorising and repeating passages from my favourite books, favourite cartoons, games, TV shows. I re-watched Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left a couple of years ago, and for months I was repeating the “I am a family organiser” speech to myself, making sure I got the accent, intonation, speed exactly the same as X’s actress.

In my early twenties, I memorised huge chunks of dialogue from my favourite childhood shows. Evidence of this is found in Lana’s story, if you care to read it (shameless plug for abandonware!).

There was a book I really loved as a teenager. It was the book that got me into sci-fi (even though the school library classified it as horror, I would call it sci-fi) and also the first book that made me cry. It was called See You Later, by Christopher Pike. I loved it. I read it over and over. I copied out the sad scenes, my favourite passages, and memorised them, then read them out over and over again.

The fact that the ending was left open distressed me. I used to wonder if I could write to the author and ask him what happened. I’d developed a strong affection for the protagonist and it distressed me that he may not have survived.

This ties in with my rehearsed scripts in that fiction especially provides a wealth of premade lines that I can add to my databases. I have to say, right now, I’m fascinated by the way Lucy Alexander from Welcome to Our Village talks. Especially the line about the corporate banking society and her songs from Tempting Fete.

As well as memorising passages, some words just have a nice texture to them. Like the letter Q. Just the letter. I can just say that to myself over and over again, it just feels really nice to say it. I applied the same principle when I changed my middle name. I changed it to one that had a really nice “texture” when I say it. These I would classify as stims rather than echolalia, it’s in the same sort of field as when I click my tongue, it’s just something nice and soothing to do. The longer echolalia scripts are somewhere in between stimming and practising speech. I’ve come far enough now to give an impression of being socially competent, but it’s still a major triumph every time I manage to put together a long sentence without any stutters or random noises.

Further reading:
Conversation via Templates
Echolalia in Children with Aspergers & High-Functioning Autism


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