It’s been almost 6 weeks since I began to I wander through the half-battlefield/half-enchanted-forest that, for me, is my recent Asperger’s/autism realization. During this time, I’ve been proverbially soaked by a torrential wave of “a-ha!” moments during which the answers to lifelong burning questions “clicked” into place so perfectly and completely that it was almost audible. For about a week (when the research and its new insight was the most intense), I began a disproportionate percentage of my sentences with “so that’s why I….!”
Everything became clearer, more logical. Everything made sense. Everything could be explained.
Everything that set me apart from the rest of the world could be bundled together under one concept (autism), neatly wrapped up in a little proverbial package, with a ribbon and everything.
It was almost too neat.
I began to feel the early pangs of self-doubt. The explanation was almost too simple, and everything in my life thus far had been anything but simple. “Simple” made me nervous. “Simple” meant that it wasn’t really that simple, but it only appeared to be that way because I had overlooked something.
So naturally, my tendency to over-analyze kicked in, and it kicked in hard. This is probably why I did so much research and self-reflection since it struck me that I was a part of the spectrum.
I began to take stock of my life, looking back as far as I could remember, and also assessing the present.
Realizations and explanations came like falling dominoes, one after another, and one often led to the next. Suddenly, I knew the “why”s behind a lot of “quirks”.
Now I know why I didn’t talk until I was two years old but when I did, I spoke in clear, complete, compound-complex sentences. I now know why feeding me (as a baby) was an ordeal; it took forever. This is likely due to my dislike of the texture of mushy food; it tends to hit my gag reflex, even today.
I also know why I remember my second and third birthdays, and many events that occurred during those years. Now I know why I always ate slowly and had a tough time with other textures, too, such as chunks of well-done steak, or seemed to taste things intensely, such as peas and lima beans (ew! to both)
Now I know why, during Montessori school when I was three and four, I was quite content playing by myself and often had a tough time playing with anyone else. I also know why I learned to read at age three, why I read early and often, and why it didn’t stop there. By the time I was entered kindergarten, I knew all my letters, numbers, basic addition and subtraction, colors, basic words/concepts such as Right and Left, shapes, all my pertinent information such as full address and phone number, and I also knew how to count from one to ten in French. Now I know why I remember my mom holding me on her shoulder as though she were burping me, and I asked her how old she was; she said, “twenty-nine”. I knew that I was four, so without missing a beat, I said, “that means you had me when you were twenty-five”. All of those mysteries were solved; I now know the root reason behind those quirks.
Now I know why I was obsessed with rainbows, feathers, and the color blue. I collected everything that feel into these categories, along with rocks. In kindergarten, I even had an unofficial Rainbow Club, with one member: me. But I asked high school seniors who sat behind me on the bus if they wanted to join it, and when two or three of them did (to humor me, of course), I presided over the Rainbow Club meeting with complete authority, ignoring the fact that I was bossing around people who were seventeen or eighteen years old, when I was only six. “Little Professor” indeed.
Obviously, the Rainbow Club didn’t last very long, because I began to get the sneaking suspicion that the high schoolers weren’t genuinely interested; they were merely a captive audience on a 45-minute bus ride. I know why I found kids my age absolutely disgusting. They usually had yellow-green discharge or some other runny substance coming out of at least one side of their noses. They often lost their stomach contents, without warning, on the classroom carpet in the afternoon. Some of them smelled. Most of them had the nerve to make fun of me. They thought I was snobby or stuck-up; I had never known this, because although I thought many of them were gross, I always tried to be nice to everyone, and even to reach out and make friends every so often; now I know the answer to all of those.
So instead, I drew inward, constructing a rich fantasy world and populating that “neighborhood” with plenty of imaginary friends. As my own style of play developed, I became more confident and entrenched in it. This meant that play with other kids was Not An Option, because in my child-mind, I had control issues; I wanted to direct the methods of play. I didn’t understand sharing and giving and taking. I was bossy. Now I know why.
This fantasy world and its imaginary inhabitants, along with having learned a lot of basic education before starting school, eventually cost me, though. First, I got bored in class. A lot. I didn’t see the point in doing repetitive worksheets and “Daily Work”, including homework later on, and I didn’t realize that I had to do it in order to satisfy everyone, so I didn’t. Immediately, I was an “underachiever”, who tended to be “lazy” and “didn’t apply herself”. Now I know why. (School/education will probably get its own post at some point!)
Now I also know why I was generally a good kid, who aimed to please, especially parents, teachers, and other adults. Babysitters were a different story; they were on my turf. I had My Way of doing things, and I was used to My Way. I had developed specific characteristics of–and procedure for making–a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I knew when my bedtime was, and that I could play with my Legos or read my books until then. If this routine was disturbed or deviated from in any way, a meltdown was eminent and instant. It wasn’t a tantrum; it was simply my last straw after spending the day at school so keyed up. It also made several babysitters cry. (Not that I’m proud of that. But I also no longer beat myself up for it. Because I now know what happened and why it happened.)
Now I know why my teen years were exceptionally stormy. Meltdowns were more frequent, especially peaking during certain parts of hormonal cycles. By now, I had lost most interest in most of my school subjects, because I felt like the mass-produced kids in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” video, having to force my circle-self into a square-shaped hole, an involuntary member of a system I had no say in building and don’t ever remember agreeing to be a part of. I aced all my exams, which saved my butt in terms of grade-point average, but homework was arduous; just trying to motivate myself to begin was hard. I used to beat myself up over that, too. (“Why can’t I just get it done already? Why am I sitting here debating it? I know I have to do it, and I could be halfway through it by now if I had just started, and the sooner I get it done the sooner everyone will stop nagging me and I can emerge from my room and go outside to play.” And so on…) Now I know the reason for all of that.
Now I know why I lost more house keys than I can count, to the point where by the time I was in high school, I would purposefully leave my house key at home (can’t lose it again if it’s just sitting on my desk where I’d left it!) and use my driver’s license or library card to jimmie the lock open when I got home. Now I know why my Mom always had a tough time pulling me away from what I was doing so that we could leave when we had to go somewhere.
I also know why, by then, I had cultivated a few hand-picked, trusted, close friendships, probably due to my conscious effort to observe the girls in class and “pick out” the one that appealed to me most, and “mimic” or copy her style. I started dressing as close to her tastes as possible, talking like her, wishing I had her voice, wishing I had her hair, her name; hell, I even copied her handwriting. I would walk over and look at the assignments tacked up on the wall, pick out hers, and make mental notes of how she formed various letters, then go back to my desk and spend hours practicing her writing style. I began to watch the movies and listen to the music that the “popular girls” referenced and discussed. I was “playing catch-up” and leaving my “lame” former, childhood self behind and taking on the personalities of other girls in order to be accepted; but the inner social awkwardness stubbornly remained, refusing to budge. I now know why.
Now I know why I changed college majors eight (yes, eight) times. Now I know why I struggled hard through medical school, often lamenting about having to try and absorb information from “just reading words on a page”, which “mean nothing to me!” It was impossible for me to listen to a professor give a lecture and then try to form the information into a mental image in my head. Written notes weren’t much more help.
Now I know part of the reason that self-employment suits me so well. I also know why I have to make several types of “to-do” lists in order to be productive, and why I have to shape my schedule so carefully around my stress threshold. Now I know why I can’t seem to change my planned schedule for the day, and why I get antsy and cranky when forced to do so. I now know why it takes me so long–and is often difficult–to “switch gears”, and why I need about fifteen-minute “transition time” break between activities. And I know why I involuntarily get irritated at any interruption (cue the “Death Glare”). As an employer, I now know why I have a tendency to over-explain things; I’d rather say too much than too little, to prevent being misunderstood.
Now I know why I still have a tough time seeing the big picture and I can learn so much faster if I learn visually, preferably through pictures and diagrams. I know why, at 38, I still have a hard time spending time out and about, I still carefully select my friends, and I still insist upon dressing in comfortable clothes (usually rotating between a limited set of similar things).
Now I know why stress, anxiety, and taking criticism personally seem to be bigger issues for me than they are for many people. I know why my threshold for stress seems lower than most, and when the stress is caused by criticism that’s directed at me personally, I often shut down for a good day or two.
Speaking of stress, now I know why driving, other drivers, and traffic in general seem to stress me out more than most people, to the point where I simply will not go out in rush hour traffic at all, nor do I tolerate shopping well. I also know why a simple request from my non-driving partner has frequently elicited a strong negative reaction and emotion from me (usually involving irritation, fatigue, and then guilt, shame, and confusion, because I hadn’t known why these innocent requests caused such a seemingly-uncalled-for knee-jerk reaction from me). I know why I get “people’d out” and feel a strong urge to get home and “nest” or “hibernate” for a long while.
Now I know why I can often feel other peoples’ emotions, either those of specific individuals in close proximity, or the overall “vibe” of the population in general. I also know why I can’t, for the life of me, understand how other people think. At all. I know why I long ago gave up on “fitting in” with society and made a voluntary decision to remain different, a decision that I’m quite–and increasingly–comfortable with. I’m no longer interested in the conventional mainstream or what they consider interesting, important, or customary. And I know why I still have involuntary meltdowns, even as an adult, followed by confusion, shame, sadness, and possibly temporary depression.
Now I know why I don’t wear my hearing aids unless I have to, why I take them out as soon as I can, and why, when I wore them all day at first, I would get irritable and “fried” by the end of the day and feel a sense of relief when I took them out and “turned the world off” for the night. I know now why my body sometimes can’t tolerate a full-on chiropractic adjustment or acupuncture needles (forcing us to use alternative, needle-free acupuncture methods and gentle, low-force chiropractic manipulation instead).
Now I know why I’m very uncoordinated, always bumping into things, tripping over things, knocking things over, or dropping things. I know why I fidget and why I absentmindedly scratch a spot in the center of my palm, enough to have a formed a small callous there.
I now know why I will lose track of something I need, and look in every spot five separate times, ending up frustratedly asking my partner for help, only for him to say (30 seconds later), “um, it’s right here…” and point to a place I had indeed looked multiple times. Apparently, I had missed it each time, even though it’d been right in front of me, because it was nestled among other objects, and a perceptual vision delay is common on the autism spectrum.
Now I know why I’ve rarely needed–and have found it difficult and distracting–to make eye contact. I know why I take things literally. I now know why I’ve always found it so much easier to express myself through music, whether playing my own compositions or listening to other peoples’. I had always thought I was “weird” when I’ve hated the sensation of water on my skin; now I know the reason behind that, too. I thought I was being oversensitive or tomboyish when I hated every minute of wearing dresses, tights/nylons, slips, dress shoes, make-up, or having my hair curled, but now I know that the drafty sensation on my legs, the scratchy quality of polyester/zippers, the tightness of the clothing in general and the overall discomfort are due to a heightened sensory perception.
And I know why I need to retreat to my home sanctuary, and engage in my special interests. I know why I need to get away, out of town, every so often and take a drive through some remote part of the state. And I know why I’ve always loved animals and nature, always having been extremely sensitive to them and their Being, and usually preferring their company over that of the vast majority of people. I now know why I’ve always found it hard to know what to say to people.
I know why I can be alone without feeling lonely, and why I can feel lonely even when I’m surrounded by people.
My Aspie-ness/autism provides a concise explanation for everything. It sums it all up perfectly, in a suspiciously-neat profile. This explanation and its simplicity have provided me with a lot of relief, liberation, and even a sort of self-forgiveness over the past few weeks. It’s a process, and I’m early in the game. But so far, it’s been a good thing 🙂