Reflections From a 22-year-old Volvo

I recently bought this 22-year-old manual transmission Volvo (s80) from my uncle. It has quite the character. With its age, it has become picky. I enjoy the Russian roulette that my dad and I play every time we turn on the engine. On lazy Saturdays, we explore and drive the car around neighboring towns. One time, as we're leaving this mangrove eco-park, I switched the car on; there was no sound. I knew nothing about cars, so my dad took the wheels and started debugging. A couple of test runs, some clink-clanks on the battery, and the engine hummed its beat. "This is the way it goes for a 22-year-old car", my dad says. And then we drove home.

A couple of events these past weeks made me realize that we're a bit similar, this car and I. I got fired yesterday from my job, a foreseen event. In the past ~3 years as a software engineer, I've realized a pattern of how I work, or to be more specific: how my mind works. It seems to be similar to this Volvo. On good days, I work with intensity and focus. In the initial months on the job, I move towards the crest of my performance. The peak state impresses employers (and gives me enough leeway for my later undoing). But how I perform is in terms of waves; as with Newtonian mechanics, things that go up must come down. Like this Volvo, my ability to jumpstart and perform seems to be cast upon by some magic faerie that randomly sprinkles reward and motivation dust. On the days they don't show up, pushing through "boring" work feels like trying to go 60km/hr while being stuck on 1st gear.

Weeks leading up to the firing, I was already researching reasons why I'm having these issues. The consistent burnout, an either/or thinking towards work (to do, or not to do) has been a pattern that I've noticed but only recently acknowledged. An article interested me regarding autistic burnout [1]. I've already had experiences with burnout. I wrote about it [2]. The thing that bothers me is that I feel I encounter burnouts more often than most people. I checked out the symptoms of Aspergers. Relating to some of it, I went down the rabbit hole of reading Reddit discussions, watching youtube videos, and reading books about Aspergers. I also took the Ritvo test and scored 158 (the average score for males diagnosed with ASD is 148.5 [3]). I didn't do an ounce of work that day.

In the movie Insidious, the only way to control the demon is to know its name. Curious and very eager to put a label to this looming problem, I dug in deeper. I read this autobiography Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate [4]. I relate a lot to the inner workings of the author's mind. Additionally, I read The Complete Guide To Asperger's Syndrome [5]. But it made me doubt my hunch because I do not relate with some of the manifestations, especially ones in early childhood. It didn't complete the puzzle. The latter book talks more about the externalities and the physical symptoms; the former talks about the inner mind and perception of an autistic person.

To put some consistency to an old and unreliable car is to uncover its mechanisms underneath and find its likely breaking points. So, I scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist. It's been a slow process to get an appointment (a busy period due to the pandemic), but I got one because of a cancellation. The hour-long meeting was insightful. I talked about why I think I might have Asperger's. As we wrapped the meeting, the initial hunch of my psychiatrist was ADHD. More tests and appointments are needed to reach a diagnosis. With the nudge towards ADHD, I've refocused my search towards it (I ruled it out because I didn't feel like the typical ADHD kid). One possible scenario is that I might have both Aspergers and ADHD (common comorbidity). Having it together can mask the symptoms of either, especially the social problems people with autism have. I don't know what the final diagnosis will be (or if there is any). I'm anxious for a resolution.

To end this note, my dad has been slowly ordering parts of this Volvo. He looks for the most probable point of failure, buys it online, and replaces these unreliable parts. Then, we test-drive it again to find and expose other problems. Test by test, weaknesses get uncovered; part by part, the car becomes more reliable.

Update (10.06.2021): I got diagnosed with ADHD by a psychiatrist.