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My Obsessive Son: Just Like His Dad & Grandpa

I write about Mattias a lot. There’s plenty of material there. It’s become particularly interesting since we’ve discovered in the past year that he has Asperger Syndrome. We’ve also realized, though non-medically, that I most likely have many or all of the same traits.

And really, if you look back through the guys in my family, it’s pretty easy to begin seeing the threads.

My dad had entire rooms (not just closets) filled with clothes he had bought. Some of them, he’d never even worn. He keeps stack of magazines and shelves full of books all over his house, some of which he will never open.

My grandfather wrestled with insomnia, and spent about a year living by himself in the basement of the family house. To pass the time, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, cover to cover.

For Mattias, he has been diagnosed with what’s called an “obsessive personality type.” This basically means that he fixates on all kinds of things, but that it doesn’t creep over into the formal category of “disorder.” So although it’s fascinating to watch (sometimes verging on maddening), it doesn’t entirely take over his life.

But it can be pretty damn close.

Last week, his obsession was on the hit points of various characters on Pokemon cards. Before he even had any cards of his own, he could rattle of a hierarchy of hit points for dozens of cartoon figures I’d neither heard of nor cared to. But you have to realize that, for an obsessive type like Mattias, whatever his fixation is, that’s the most important thing in the world to him in that moment. So because it’s important to him, it’s important to me, if grudgingly so.

This week’s topic: bug eyes.

Apparently he came across a close-up picture of a tic at school, because he came home with an exhaustive description memorized about the qualities of a tic’s eyes. “They’re red and big and spongy,” he said. “I wonder if that’s because they store the blood they suck from people’s bodies in their eyes?”

“I don’t know bud,” I said, “but I need you to stay focused on getting ready for school.”

All he heard: Tic eyes, tic eyes, tic eyes. He decided he had to find a photo online to show us so he would know for sure that we knew what they looked like. When he couldn’t find exactly what he was looking for, his voiced reached a shrill pitch, betraying his distress.

“It doesn’t show their eyes, dad. It only shows their bodies.”

“Dude, you are going to be late for school.”

“Dang it! Why don’t they have pictures of their eyes?”

“We have to leave in three minutes, and you still have to comb your hair, brush your teeth…”

“Oh, no, none of these show their eyes!”

The good thing about sharing his tendency to obsess is that I can share a few coping strategies with him. I always have a fixation of my own. Usually, it has something to do with writing. for me, I came to accept that I was going to have obsessions as long as I was living, so I might as well find ways to use it in productive ways. For me, writing touches on all the key needs I have in an obsession. There’s no end to it, so you never run out of things to obsess about. There are millions of readers in the world, so if you’re good at it, obsessive writing can actually connect with people rather than alienate you. It’s a great means of personal expression, so for folks like me who have trouble expressing ourselves face to face, this helps us “be known.”

And regardless of how good or bad we may be at it, we all long to be known.

“Little man,” I said, squaring his shoulders and waiting for him to look me in the eye, “I need you to take this part of your brain, put it in a box and put it up on a high shelf so you can move on with your day.”

“Tics are parasites,” he said, “but skin mites can actually be helpful.”

“In a box…”

“And bees have five eyes.”

“On the shelf.”

He let out a sigh of resignation. “Okay dad,” he said, looking at the floor. “But it’s really, really hard.”

“Dude, I know. Really, I do.”

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