Something is happening in my life. Something good. I can feel it coming – I’m not entirely sure of it yet, but all the signs are there. Yes, dear readers, I think I have a new special interest.
All autism bloggers I have read talk about special interests, and a lot of them don’t like the term. Personally, I don’t mind it. In fact, I quite like it. Some interests simply are more special than others. I will therefore keep using the term, and if you can read on without cringing, I will tell you how special interests work for me.
First of all, let me explain the difference between a common or garden interest and a special interest. I am interested in all kinds of things. For example, I like reading manga. I borrow them at the library and get into their strange (to me) and exhilarating world, but I don’t need to read every single one the library has to offer. I don’t need to buy any for myself. I don’t get excited when I find another good one. It’s just something I like and that brings some niceness into my life, but not special.
There are long-term interests which bubble along in the background. Nature. Space. History. If there’s a good programme on television about these subjects, I’ll watch it. I will also read books about these subjects, but not all the time. Again, these are interests that make my life, well, more interesting, but they don’t feel special.
So how does a special interest feel to me? In a way, it’s like falling in love. You can’t go looking for a special interest, it finds you. You can feel it when something is about to turn special. It’s a particular kind of excitement, a butterflies-in-your-stomach anticipation, an intense joy when you’re engaged with it. When I go to the library (libraries play an important part in my life), I can feel the butterflies. Will there be a new book on my interest, one that I haven’t read before? Has that book that I know the library possesses been returned by the previous borrower? Oh, the flash of joy when I find it – and the crushing disappointment when it’s not there. I start to scour some of the outlying branch libraries in the county – perhaps there’s something there!
The feeling a special interest engenders in me is difficult to describe. Happiness, bliss, joy – they all apply. Sometimes I get engulfed by such a wave of happiness that I want to hug the book or DVD box to my chest and go “squeeeee!!” Engaging with my special interest makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
But there’s more than just reading (or watching) about a special interest. It is inextricably intertwined with my very active imagination. For me, a special interest comes with a whole fantasy world that builds around me like a bubble. And while that interest lasts, I live in that bubble. I’ve also compared it to a room off a corridor. Imagine yourself standing in a corridor. This is your situation when you are between special interests. You’ve gradually lost interest in one thing which might have occupied you for the last two or three years. You can feel your interest waning gradually. It’s actually quite sad. You don’t want to leave that world behind that‘s been home to you for so long, but it’s impossible to force yourself to stay. Slowly you move into the corridor and close the door behind you. That world is still there, in the room behind the door. There are other doors, and behind each one is a special interest world you lived in for a time, and then left. Sometimes you can go back into one of these worlds, and it can be very pleasant to revisit them, but it’s never the same as it was the first time.
So there you are, alone in the corridor, with nothing but closed doors around you. It’s a bit sad and a bit lonely. Without a world, a bubble, around you, there’s something missing from your life. But you can’t force yourself to be interested in something, so you have to be patient. Distract yourself with your background interests and wait for The Next One to come along. And then suddenly there seems to be a new door. You feel drawn to it. Is this it? You open the door cautiously and peer inside. Looks good. You could spend some time here. Don’t dive in straight away, just dip your toes in. Can you feel a pull on your heart? Does this have the potential to grow? It’s impossible to predict how long you are going to spend in a particular world, but if it makes your heart beat a little faster, step inside. You won’t regret it.
And that is what is happening to me at the moment. I had been standing in the corridor for a few weeks, sad at having had to say goodbye to a world, but I have just opened a door to another, and I think it might become my new home. And it’s out of this happiness that I am writing this post now.
I need to explain a bit more about my worlds, and how they make my special interests special. They have been following this pattern since my teens, and this is how it works:
It usually starts with either a book, or more likely a series of books, or a film or TV series. There’s something about it that captivates me, and there is usually one character in particular I latch on. My feelings for that character are quite complicated. In a way I fall in love with them, but I also identify with them and want to be like them, all at the same time. In order to be like them, I immerse myself in their world. This is what creates the bubble I live in most of the time. Inside that bubble, I actually am that character. Yes, I spend most of life being someone else, and nobody notices! I live in a fantasy world, but in such a way that I can also live in the real world – always protected by my fantasy/special interest bubble.
I said it starts with a book or TV series, but it doesn’t stop there. In order to be more like my favourite character and construct the imaginary world, I have to know more about them and their world, and that means reading and learning loads more, always connected to the origin point.
The world I have just left behind was created by the TV series Person of Interest, and my favourite character was Harold Finch. I have watched most of the programme, but I actually gave up on it halfway through the last series. It just wasn’t what I wanted anymore. But the world was still intact. I have lived in that world, that bubble, for about three years. This is a list of things I’ve done because I lived in that world: discovered that I actually like Dickens (I didn’t before) and read four or five of his novels; visited a couple of big art exhibitions; read a couple of books about the history of computing; took some programming online courses (never used for anything, but at least I think I grasped the basic principles); took an online course in cyber security; handmade a couple of waistcoats (my first attempt at tailoring!); there was suddenly a lot more shirt-ironing and shoe-polishing involved; and of course I travelled to New York; oh, and I wrote quite a bit of fanfiction.
So you see, a special interest never stays with its small origin point. It spreads out, it mushrooms, it grows tentacles, one thing leads to another – books breed books, I always say – but it’s all connected. It all helps to build whatever world I currently live in.
However, I have just left that world behind. Interests don’t last forever, not even special ones. It’s always a bit sad, but you can’t cling to a world that’s fading. Fortunately for me, like I said, a door into another world is opening.
A while back my colleague recommenced a series of books to me. Written by C.J. Sansom, it’s set in England at the time of Henry VIII and centres around a lawyer called Matthew Shardlake, who solves crimes. So basically they are detective stories, but the historical detail in them is rich and accurate. Many historical persons appear alongside fictional ones. I got hold of one of the books at the library and devoured it over the course of a long weekend. I was hooked very quickly. I took to the main character immediately – he could well be my new favourite. I’m not entirely certain yet, but all the signs are there: the urgency to get more of those books (only six in the series so far!). Deciding that actually, 5 hours of sleep is enough if it means you can read another chapter. Being impatient to get home from work because you know that book is waiting for you. The first “mushroom” has already budded off the main stem in the shape of a non-fiction book about Henry VIII which I got from the library yesterday. I can glimpse a whole enticing hinterland of a historical period to explore, biographies to read, more non-fiction on the history, culture, music etc. of the period. More novels written by others set in the same period. I can feel myself getting very excited – I want to go there!
I think I’m about to disappear into a new special interest world, and the prospect fills me with an intense happiness. 16th century England can be a dangerous place to live, but I can see that I’m going to spend a lot of time there in the near future. Wish me luck!