It fascinates me how, when thinking back over a previous 12-month time span, I’ll feel “closer”, in a way, to the same point in a previous year than I will to the opposing time of year, even though it was a mere 6 months ago–half the elapsed time in question. (Did that make sense? I have a feeling I’m going to ramble poetic today.)
Maybe that involves something cosmic; or maybe it has more to do with neurology. Our brains find it easier to recall previous events when the conditions (surroundings) are similar. Summer (here in the Northern Hemisphere) seems so far away, much further than last winter.
What was I doing last winter-spring? Oh, nothing much… Just beating myself up as I experienced a growing cognitive dissonance between what I expected of myself, versus what I could actually pull off. The mask I didn’t know I was wearing was beginning to crack. I was coming up with phrases like “anxiety levels”, “peopled out”, and “well, those are just my quirks (even if I don’t understand them, either)”.
What else was I doing last winter-spring? What I had done throughout my entire life, of course. Scribbling notes furiously in classes, knowing I was having trouble forming the mental picture of what was being taught, and also knowing instinctively that I would need to write down everything I could so that I could go back, review those notes later, and conjure up my mental picture then. I didn’t realize why I was doing this in a conscious sense; I was just doing what I instinctively knew I had to.
I was also trying to figure out why I was so resistant to any type of suggestion. I either 1) interpreted it as criticism and tuned out, or 2) I reacted with exasperation because I had already tried what was being suggested (probably several times), without any success. Beating myself up became a Lather, Rinse, Repeat kind of pastime.
I was gradually-yet-suddenly becoming increasingly aware of my need for “transition time”, “alone time” (two more new phrases), and my extreme distaste for being interrupted when I was “deep down” (yet another new phrase) in thought.
I was beginning to recognize myself. Except that Myself didn’t yet have a name.
It only had faulty wiring, glitches, bugs in the system. That’s all I saw, so that’s all I knew.
I figured I needed fixing, but couldn’t find the answer. I figured that if I just did something different until I succeeded, I would eventually figure it out. I reckoned that eventually, I would run out of wrong ways to do something, and all that would be left to do was the right way. It would simply take time, right? It was merely a process of elimination, a numbers game. If I could/would just be patient, I would eventually see the light.
Well, I saw something that’s for sure. As it turns out, the joke’s on me! I did indeed see the light, alright. I’ve mentioned before that it struck me like a lightning bolt. This “thing”, this way of being, that it turns out that I was (am), that had never occurred to me before, was now staring me in the face, unearthed, dusted off, fully revealed. Shining, almost blinding me with its brightness.
The code-key to my life had just been handed to me. I felt like a wealthy person’s sole heir.
Because I truly believe that my autism spectrum status is, at least in (a large) part, my fortune. A lottery ticket I drew and won. Oh, it comes with its fine print, of course. But it’s mine, and no one can take it from me.
A year ago, I was simply bumbling along, alone, confused, and inadequate. Wondering why I couldn’t do “this” or “that”, like “everybody else”.
It turns out that I sucked at being neurotypical. But I’m awesome at being autistic/an Aspie. (It’s OK – NTs are great at being NT, but they’d suck just much at being autistic.)
I proceed forth, down my path, code-key in hand. Life has changed, and yet it’s the same. It’s not like I’ve said, “I’m autistic, so I’m quitting my job” (although sometimes, I’ve been tempted to do just that). I still have my same friends, and we still interact in the same way, with the same frequency. I still live in the same apartment, and I’m married to the same partner.
But life has indeed changed, in ways that are less tangible, yet (much) more meaningful. I’ve reunited with myself; for the first time ever, there is actual continuity between my little-girl self, my adolescent self, my younger-adult self, and my now-middle-aged adult self. My selves are finally somewhat recognizable as the same person, whereas they weren’t before. (Oh my, I’m referring to myself in the third person plural form. Lol)
As the sun waxes and the chill wanes and the air expands to hold more warmth and humidity (I live in a warm climate), I hold my head with a slight height for the first time. Not to look down my nose at anyone else, of course, but rather, because I finally feel solid in my own frame. I finally feel OK about who I am.
I still scribble my notes furiously during classes and conferences. I still pack my meetings into the mornings, when I’m at my social best and wanting desperately to get them out of the way so that I can sit back in my office and work in solitude for the rest of the day. I still get “peopled out” (socially exhausted). I still get a bit ruffled at thinly-veiled criticism marketed to me as “suggestions”. I still take things way too personally. There’s no magic wand that’s going to wave away all that.
But I’ve quit beating myself up. The Lather, Rinse, Repeat pastime has been given the final rinse and shoved down the drain, where it belongs. I’ve been in the process of identifying, putting words to, and embracing my quirks.
I may still be running a different operating system in a world predominated by the conventional one. But at least I know now that what I have is indeed a different operating system altogether, and not a corrupted conventional one that needs debugging.
And I’m quite all right with that. I’m not going to say that life is perfect. I’m not going to say that it’s easier, either. In some ways it is, but in other ways, it’s harder. Self-awareness is a double-edged sword; it points out my advantages and it lets me off of some hooks by spelling out what I really can and can’t do. It vindicates me. But it also illuminates challenges that I hadn’t realized existed. It’s not that those challenges didn’t exist, it’s just that I hadn’t been aware of their presence. Becoming aware of them can make one more aware of stress. While that’s helpful, it can also be unpleasant. But, well, that’s life, and overall, I’m relieved to have finally made the discovery.
Next up: conquering the world. 😉