I recently had an “OMG I’ve found my people!” moment.
I’ve been a member of an autistic women’s group online for a while now, and someone posted something there that could have been written about (or by) me.
It was about a seemingly common trait in autistics where we fall down a metaphorical rabbit-hole when something triggers a need to know more about something.
An example (and it’s long because this is something I could talk about for hours!):
Several years ago, I found someone in my family tree who was killed in battle in WW1. This was the trigger. It made me need to learn all about him and how & where he died. I say “need” because although it’s also a ‘want’, it feels urgent when this kind of thing happens, like I have to know everything about him, right now.
I couldn’t get enough of trying to find out everything I possibly could about him. I even wrote to the War Graves Commission for this photo of his memorial stone (slightly grim fact: it doesn’t mark where his body is – he is buried in this cemetery but it was badly bombed and his remains were never found / recovered).
I just kept needing to know more and more so I got into reading books and memoirs on WW1 in Europe. I mean, literally, that’s the only thing I read for 2 years. Interspersed with the reading I was looking at maps online and finding the places mentioned in the books. I was using Google Street View to explore these places as they are today. I scoured the internet looking for photos and information of my lost ancestor. All I could find were his War Office records, including this document about the medals he earned.
Eventually I’d pretty much learned everything I needed to know about WW1 and it led on to reading about the Second World War. I’m still reading about WW2 a couple of years later and now I’ve got a massive work-in-progress online map of Europe pinpointing all sorts of things from that time period.
Here’s a small part of it:
The red outline shows the borders of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland that was already out there, online. Everything else is stuff I’ve added. On my map I’ve got pins showing where certain events took place – from big things like the Warsaw Ghetto to numerous Nazi death camps to random things like the location of a cafe where Władysław Szpilman played the piano (Have you seen the film The Pianist? It’s excellent) and where Oskar Schindler lived. And this image above is just a very small part of my map. My map covers the entire European continent.
99% of the books I read are personal memoirs of the Holocaust and the Polish people. Why Poland? No particular reason, but it’s all fascinating stuff.
And I’m even learning Polish because there’s a book I want to read that’s only been published in Polish. Can you believe that? I’m learning a whole other language just to read one book that probably won’t even tell me a great deal about war-time Poland that I don’t already know.
An aside: this is the level of my learning so far – Czy koń jest kotem? Nie, lew jest dużym kotem! 😆 Here’s the translation to English. I’m sure you’ll agree, I’ll be able to read a whole book in no time 😆 I’m thinking it’ll be a few years before I can read the book…
All of this because I happened to discover an interesting ancestor.
So I’ve always felt like this, but pre-internet it wasn’t as easy to access the information I wanted / needed. I’d just read and read, and ask questions or sit daydreaming and wondering about things. I didn’t know I was autistic then, and I guess I assumed everyone was like this. There have been many nights where I haven’t even gone to bed because I was too busy researching this Poland stuff. I get lost down the rabbit-hole. Except in our house we say I ‘got lost in Poland’. And according to the other commenters on the group I mentioned earlier, this happens to them too. It’s the whole ‘special interest’ thing. The obsessive thing. The ‘I need to know this thing now, sleep is for the weak, and I will go off on tangents until I burn out and move onto something else’ thing.
I don’t really know why it’s only referred to as a ‘special interest’ when the person concerned is autistic/aspergers though. In neurotypical people it’s just called a hobby or an interest…
It’s a thing about me that I really enjoy though; something sparking my interest and getting deep into the research, learning all there is to learn. I love it!
What’s your all-consuming hobby, special interest or current obsession?