… I was Autistic.
It dawned slowly, but I assured myself that I was not ‘Autistic’ per se. I wasn’t like ‘them’. I had ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’, and that made it a whole lot better! Hell yeah! I was a member of the autism elite; I had high intelligence and I was socially functional and I could easily pass for a regular bloke and succeed in life.
Which was what I had already been doing, I assured myself often.
Yup, my ego climbed aboard this revelation and rode it like a shiny new bicycle. In my own eyes I was Even More Awesome Than Before! I was ‘Gifted’. I had brain-magic that the average plonker-in-the-street could never dream of! So yes: I treated it as a plus. It helped my life make sense. I had something to be proud of! Not a disability, but the exact opposite! I was enhanced. I had super-powers. No wonder I never had time for beer and parties and sports-ball; I had Higher Matters to attend to; Better Perceptions! All that sneering judgmentalism I’d practiced during my teens and twenties turned out to be entirely justified!
And every few days, now that I was in this new state of perception, my little boy ‘M’ would trigger yet another memory of the quirks and trails of my own childhood. As his micro-dramas unfolded at home or at play-group I’d flash-back to a similar situation or feeling or action that had run its course for me 45 years earlier. “Oh my God: that used to happen for me too!” I’d blurt out, “I remember how …”
“It’s not all about you, you know!” ‘A’, my wife, always trying to deal with M’s here-and-now stuff and not mine. “You’re supposed to be the other adult here!”
Yes, but it so was! Simultaneously to ‘M’s dramas I was undergoing life-changing realisations. It WAS about me! (And yes: there was a kid in front of us freaking out or getting into vapour-lock and needing some stiff parenting too, but I could do both, and I needed to talk about it too.)
But ‘A’ wasn’t crediting me with being able to run a parallel process which was HUGELY important to me, so after a while I gave up trying to share my inner revelations. I did some reading on Asperger’s and became more self-observant, and slowly, over the next decade, I became (almost entirely) self-aware and comfortable with my particular type of autism.
But I long regarded it an advantage – and not a disability. It took me the better part of that decade to even begin to see the dark side. to actually see the damage that had already been done.
I am disabled, by Asperger’s Syndrome. It is an ‘invisible disability’. I look normal, but I don’t behave that way. There’s the ‘neuro-typical’ of this world (statistically, you’re one of them) and there’s the ‘neurologically a-typical’. That’s my group, and what a wildly variable mob we are. But one thing is for sure – there are scientifically identified differences in brain structure, and of brain function. and huge differences in social function.
I’d always congratulated myself on being socially adept, likable, adaptable, and a ‘team player’. At that time (1998) I was part-way through a 1-year Diploma in Event Management. Those qualities were being emphasised. Yup, I had ’em all! I was perfect event-manager material!
But as that year progressed my training wheels finally fell off and I began to wobble terribly. I was going and chatting with a psychiatrist almost the moment the course was over because my falsely constructed self-esteem had been thoroughly savaged. I’d been in a class with about five or six other men – very typical New Zealanders; ‘blokes’. There was drinking and sport-talk and those kind of “Hey, mate, can you lend me all your notes? I’ve done nothing on this assignment …” pressures. “Maaate. Come on, mate!” (I got moralistic and didn’t give him what he wanted. Bad call, apparently.)
After that the shock and dismay began to creep over me: I suddenly realised that I was different. I didn’t fit, and I just had to deal with it. But it was easier to start thinking I was the faulty one. Most of the world was blissfully normal, and I was Mr Oddball; that everything that had ever transpired – my inability to find a career, or stick to a job or a relationship, or settle into a community … My constant travels; my hitch-hiking; always fleeing from whatever began confronting me. Things like: success, people liking me, people wanting to give me more responsibility, people treating me as a solid regular community member worthy of respect and inclusion … RUN! FLEE! ARGH, terrifying stuff!
In fact I was socially inept. It ruined numerous wonderful opportunities to settle into really supportive situations. It blew apart a dozen potential careers (I’m gifted and very multi-talented). It trashed some potentially wonderful relationships, and as for the rest of them: it led me into bad ones. Stupid ones. Brief ones. Sad ones.
I am still socially anxious. I still retreat. I’m permanently unemployed, with a work history so erratic, with so many glarring gaps, with fractional experience and nothing in the way of a qualification to match up with that work-history …
My autism has led me here. There’ll be no retirement. I’ve nothing to retire from. No golden handshake, No nest-egg. It looms over me. It hurts. I regret so much! And it’s still freaking difficult to tell myself, “I didn’t fuck it up, my autism did.”
Autism, even the creme-de-la-creme autism once called “Asperger’s” – it can be disabling. VERY disabling. It can fuck up an entire life. It can cause so much waste. And I hate waste.
Bit of a downer to end on, but I don’t profess to being an optimist, and I don’t try and use this blog to impart any smarmy ‘wisdom. this is my story, is all. Cheers.