Medical student's syndrome, I hope

So, the other day I went to visit a friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in quite a while. Surprise, surprise, we got to talking about books, and right away I mentioned Animals in Translation, which I thought she'd like not only for its own sake but also because her son is autistic. She in turn lent me her copy of Songs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes. And as I mentioned before, two days later I'd finished it.

Unlike Animals in Translation, which is really a treatise, Gorilla Nation is the memoir of a woman who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 36. She has a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary anthropology, and she studies gorillas. Spending time with gorillas enabled her to come to terms with her own problems and even appreciate her different way of viewing the world. Similar to Temple Grandin, she felt a special empathy with the gorillas because of her autism. The thing is, Dawn is a poet. She writes so beautifully and vividly and honestly about herself that you really do see the world through her eyes.

Too vividly, perhaps. Now I'm worried that I have Asperger's Syndrome, too! That is to say, so much of what she described about herself reminded me of me, although to a much lesser degree. For me, too, even very small social interactions are somewhat stressful, especially if they involve me talking about myself. I am likely to obsess over what I said to the cashier at the grocery store for the rest of the day. I mostly don't know what to say, and I sometimes wish I could take notes on what other people say in certain situations so that next time I could do the same. Like Dawn, I am very bad at recognizing faces, though I'm great with names. Like Dawn, I have a one-track mind and it's very hard for me to switch gears when I'm in the middle of something. I easily get overstimulated by auditory stimuli, at least to the extent that I cannot listen to talk radio or books on tape, though I have music on all the time. I like being by myself; I'd probably make a pretty good hermit.

The main thing I share with Dawn, though, is her obsession with the gorillas. Well, I'm not specifically obsessed with gorillas, but I am absolutely obsessed with early humans. It's like a religion for me, the way the gorillas took on religious significance for Dawn. I guess it started when I read Clan of the Cave Bear as a teenager. (Let me hasten to add, it's not the soap opera aspect of the book that attracted me; it's the idyllic life and culture. Nasty, brutish and short? Au contraire!) Frequently in the course of a day I have imaginary conversations with a Stone Age cave-dweller who might as well be called Ayla. I think this is how I come to understand and cope with life: I try to explain things to Ayla. And, half-joking, I say to myself: WWAD? What would Ayla do? And again, I don't mean specifically Ayla from the books. I know what she'd do: she'd save someone's life or invent some new technology. But "Ayla" symbolizes for me precisely what the gorillas meant to Dawn: they are innocent, simple, honest, unaffected, dignfied, and nonjudgmental.

Honestly, I don't really think I have Asperger's Syndrome. I think I have Medical Student's Syndrome. (I had that once before, as an undergrad, when I took Abnormal Psych. It's a very unpleasant condition!) But it's a testament to the power of this woman's writing that she made me think I did.


  • Julie,
    Just tell the cashier 'hello'. And when she/he says, 'Have a nice day!' You respond, 'You too.' ;)

    Interesting post. Do you think a book is more memorable if we see/find ourselves in it?

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 9:35 PM  

  • OK, I will memorize that phrase. Thanks, mrsd! :)

    But seriously, I would have to say no, a book is not necessarily more memorable if we see ourselves in it. Much of the joy I get from reading lies in escaping myself & my humdrum life.

    However, if you follow my link from "medical student's syndrome" you'll find a different answer to your question. I guess it depends on how you define "memorable."

    posted by Blogger Julie on 9:51 PM  

  • I followed your Medical link. I couldn't understand what I was reading! I felt like you standing in the grocery store line...'huh'?


    posted by Blogger mrsd on 10:58 PM  

  • Well, I barely read the article either; just enough to find the explanation of MSS. But the gist of it was that you are more likely to remember something if it relates to you personally. And mrsd, you had asked if a book was more "memorable" if you see yourself in it. So, according to the article, yes, you'd remember the book better if you could see yourself in it. But I assume when you said "memorable" you didn't mean literally "easy to remember" but rather, "a really good book." Whatever. I'm actually running a low grade fever right now. Can you tell????

    posted by Blogger Julie on 11:11 PM  

  • Maybe the word I'm looking for is closer to our hearts. :) But you know, I agree with you. I read to escape, not to find more of me.
    But in 'real' life, we tend to drift to those who are like us.

    Hope you feel better, Julie. Take medicine and get some rest. (But with three kids, good luck! ;) )

    Warmly (no pun intended...)

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 11:26 PM  

  • Really interesting post. Made me want to read more about what you were talking about.

    Autism and Asperger's just seem to be everywhere I look these days. My cousin's son also has one or the other--I'm not real sure which.

    posted by Blogger Sleeping Mommy on 11:55 AM  

  • Interesting post. Julie, I'm relieved by the last paragraph, b/c I was ready to email you ASAP. I worked with autisic clients and those who had Asperger's Syndrome. I'm not doing that anymore, only because my life has taken a different bend. I've not read that book yet. Another one to go on my list. Thx :)

    posted by Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) on 9:11 PM  

  • Feel better Julie

    posted by Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) on 9:12 PM