My autism blurs conventionally-sacred lines – between male and female, science and spirituality, logic/reason and intuition, childhood and adulthood, innocence and jaded cynicism.
The fact that a belief is conventionally-held is not enough for me to subscribe to an idea. I do not substitute other peoples’ judgment for my own and take it on faith that “boys don’t do [this]” and “girls don’t do[that]” or that “God created Eve from Adam’s rib” or that the Big Bang “just happened”. I don’t believe that I should simply chop all my hair off or that I should stop wearing tie-dye T-shirts just because I’m approaching 40, nor do I think it’s too nerdy to listen to Milli Vanilli every so often. No, I haven’t “grown up” and “moved past” that, because it’s still a part of who I am, and I still like it, and therefore, why should I just stop doing it? “It’s time”, some might say. Time for what? Who set the clock? Did some alarm buzzer go off over my head that somehow has a tomboy tie-dye Milli Vanilli long-hair expiration date? If that alarm clock goes off for some people, well, then that’s their problem, not mine.
My autism keeps me awake at night, a blend of curiosity and anxiety (although the two are unrelated). Half the time, I’m wondering about something; the other half, I’m freaked out about something.
The curiosity could be about anything. When I was seven, it was Winnipeg, Canada. When I was 10, it was codependency. In Grade 6, it was tarot. In Grade 7, I can remember going to the library each week for about a month during a “library unit” in English class. I broke away from everyone else and went off to study my own thing. One week it was Lupus. Another week it was CB radios. The next week, it was the Alamo. And another, it was Roman numerals. Another, Egyptian hieroglyphics. In 1998-1999, it was Mendelbrot fractals. In 2004, it was Tantra and kundalini energy. In 2008, it was Wicca. In 2012, it was medical bioethics. In 2014, it was spy novels. Last year, it was the Shetland Islands, forensic science, and goth Americana music from Colorado and Arizona. The year before that it was Aussie rock and organ donation horror stories. This year, it’s Native American tribes and pantheism, Asperger’s/autism, medical thrillers, medical history, microbiology, sociology, and adult-geared coloring books.
My autism is like having a creative muse sitting on my shoulder. And holy god(dess), has she been busy! She’s been very generous practically all my life.
My autism straightens things out for me, bringing into fine-tune the aspects of life that seem to be blurry to other people (mainly because they appear to be oblivious to it). It cuts through like a knife through hot butter, revealing to me who are real (genuine) people/friends vs the fake and superficial. The genuine and laid-back are differentiated from the posturing. Small talk is separated out from real discussion. Alone time is siphoned away from peopling. My autism sets things straight in my head, divvying them up between “This” Box and “That” Box, helping me sort everything out and bring it into sharper focus.
My autism mystifies other people. It usually takes them a while to figure out that they can be straightforward with me without putting me off or rattling me. If it’s the truth, I can handle it. And then–the really interesting part–is that it takes them another while to figure out how to be straightforward. It’s like they’ve forgotten. They’ve spent so long “faking it” to other people, sanitizing themselves so that they have a “socially acceptable” avatar to display to the world.
It also takes them a surprising length of time for other people to realize that I’m not bullshitting them. It’s almost like they can’t believe I’m for real. That I really said that. Or that I really did mean it that way (and that my intended meaning actually matches the words I chose–what a novel concept!) They’re not sure how to follow my thought-trains. At first, they’re not used to my quirky methods of communication, so it takes them a while to learn and understand my movie references. Or to understand how I do things – that yes, saving PDF format research studies really does relax me enough to fall asleep. (And that no, that’s not what’s keeping me up.)
My autism is full of dichotomies that sometimes get along, and sometimes clash. Example of a clash: when I go bat-shizz up a tree because my desk is a mess, but I lack the executive function to bring myself to organize it. Another example: given sufficient resources, I love a fully-active fairgrounds….but I still hate the mall. This causes people to wonder, “what’s up with that??” But I can’t explain it. Maybe that’s a manifestation of alexithymia, or maybe not. I still haven’t figured that out.
My autism is entertaining and interesting, even sometimes borderline psychedelic. If I have any synaesthesia, it’s so mild that I barely notice it half the time (although I’m giving myself wider berth and more permission to stop and smell the roses and actually notice it now). I don’t see magic mushrooms or moving caterpillars, and I don’t hear screaming colors. But I do make unusual connections between concepts (I’d share them with you, but usually it happens so fast that I forget to write it down, and by the time I sit down to blog, I’m all no-nonsense and straight-laced; I should try writing them down sometime, if I can!) So anyway…unusual connections…sometimes they might sound as though I’ve dabbled in a little psychedelic agency. I do like psychedelic digital art; it has always drawn me in. Even in the days before digital art, there were psychedelic posters, of which I had several in my room. And psychedelic music, depending on the type, has been prone to ignite my spirit.
My brain does meditate; that might be what might be happening in some of my instances of staring in silence. My brain does visit faraway lands, faraway times (future or past–I’m equal opportunity), and faraway spirits. Sometimes it feels like a galactic world tour that crosses time and space. It feels otherworldly. And I don’t need any pharmaceutical or recreational “assistance”; just maybe the right music, the right art, the right mood, the right weather…or maybe nothing at all except some spare time.
My autism requires respect; in this instance, I’m referring more to my own as opposed to anyone else’s. We, the people on the spectrum (understandably and rightfully) have expressed a metric tonne of thoughts surrounding our perception of how much respect we (and our neurotypes) receive from the nonautistic world. Not a week goes by that I don’t start, respond to, engage in, or passively witness a conversation, blog post, or other reference involving the issue of other peoples’ respect for autism and autistic people. And I’m certainly not knocking these discussions; they need to happen. They’re part of the acceptance phase. The privileged world does need to have its own inventory taken periodically (regularly). The LGBT community, I’m sure, went through similar growing “pains” (the word “pain” referring to the very fact that they had to have these conversations in the first place because acceptance was not the default mode of the world at large). And we’re following in line, as civil rights movements tend to do. And this is indeed the next chapter of civil rights movement.
Oh my, I’m digressing. And in so doing, I’ve avoided my ownership of this issue…
My own respect for my own neurotype. It’s not that I don’t respect it. I do–or at least, I should say, I’m learning to. It’s not that I didn’t before; I didn’t know that I needed to in the first place. When you don’t know that you are indeed (comparatively) “abnormal”, and you think you’re “just like everybody else”, then you don’t know you need to make accommodations for yourself, and you don’t know that your more-sensitive system might need a little extra gentleness, protection, etc. So now, I’ve realized that I need to respect my nervous system. When it starts “buzzing” (my term for getting antsy and irritated), and I start to feel over-stimulated and overwhelmed, I need to respect that. I need to not tell myself to bury it, ignore it, move on, keep going, forget about it, keep working, and all of the other ugly disciplinary tactics I used to abuse myself with. I’m still figuring all that out, too.
In fact, I’m still figuring everything out. I still have a lot to figure out. Autism is complex, even within a given single one-person example. And each of us is our own example. Autism will mean different things to different people. For some, it’s a blessing and an advantage; for others, a curse or a nemesis. For me, it makes some of the aspects of my life easier, and others more difficult. But it’s there, it’s mine, and I’m becoming good friends with it.
(Image Credit: Android Jones)