I’ve no idea where this blog will go. Maybe I’ll post a couple of times, and forget about it. Or maybe I’ll find its my latest special interest and I’ll be posting in every spare minute I have. To be honest, with me, it’s almost always all or the nothing, I don’t usually do balanced and in between. So bare with me for these first few weeks and we’ll see where it ends up.
I am 56 years old. I have always felt a little bit outside things. On the edge of the playground, whether as a pupil or a mother collecting my children from school. I was there, but not quite belonging to the rest of the group. I didn’t know why or what exactly was different, although I definitely knew I was no where as sociable as most people, often preferring my own company to time with others. I loved bringing up my children, I love my husband, but I even need alone time from them. I preferred being a stay at home Mum, although I did earn money working at home for most of the time. Then when the empty nest really got to me, I got a part time job. And that’s probably the first event that led to me learning that I am indeed different.
This blog is going to be about what I have learnt and I’m going to record my progress from identity crisis to hopefully a reconstructed new Me, one that I can accept fully. So here goes.
A couple of months ago I had a bit of a crisis. Well, “a bit” is understating the situation as I experienced it. I was suspended from my job. I went into near catatonic shock. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for several days. My family had to put food in front of me to try and persuade me to eat, but I didn’t take much. I wanted to go to sleep and just fizzle away in the night and be gone by morning. I felt an overwhelming sense of injustice. It was so overwhelming that I couldn’t function, I simply wanted to shut down. I had spoken some blunt truths to a senior manager. I had said it more forthrightly than was wise. It didn’t go down well. It wasn’t a suspension level misdemeanour but none the less I was suspended. There’s rather more to it, but that’s the short version. If I start telling you everything you’ll be asleep in no time at all, bored with my level of detail as I relate the events.
So, I was at home, deep in research on the ACAS website and any and every other website that could fill my need for information about work place bullying, grievance and discipline. When I want to know about something, I mean I really, really want to know everything, every small detail. If I say so myself I’m pretty good at research. Along with the uncontrollable deep sense of injustice I also had a great disappointment in myself. Why had I done it again, charged full on at someone, blurting out how rubbish something is, why can’t people just do their jobs properly, it’s so simple, they need to do this that and the other, these people are idiots, why can’t they see how important it is to do things right? And so on. The way I always do……the way I always do……. Then that’s the point that I realised, yes, I keep doing this. I’ve always had emotional blow ups from time to time, especially at people I believe aren’t doing something or their jobs properly. I’m not physically aggressive, but I am louder than I should be, and generally I suppose my tone could be perceived as aggressive. In the moment I’m certainly convinced I’m right and they are wrong and they are idiots for not seeing my point of view.
So I sat and cried while I began to question why I kept getting into these conflicts. It has certainly got worse in the last 18 months or so, the exact time I’d been in my job. My first job outside my own home since 1981. Why is this happening, why can’t I keep my opinions to myself and my mouth shut?
I’m not sure what it was that made me look up Aspergers syndrome, I honestly can’t remember. I’m guessing I can’t remember because of the shock that followed. Within about an hour my whole self image was blown apart and I knew I would never ever be able to think of myself the same again.
I found a survey online , what I now know to be an AQ10. A score over 6 means you might lean towards the Autism spectrum. I scored 8. To be honest I knew very little about autism except what I’ve learnt from Rainman and The curious incident of the dog in the night. One of my daughters is a Speech and Language therapist (a SALT) and she had told me something about it from time to time, but I’m not autistic, so it wasn’t that relevant to me. At least that was what I had always believed. I mean, how could I be autistic? I talk, I’m very intelligent, I’m married, I have 5 children who have an grown up to be well adjusted and wonderful adults. Yes, I’ve always been very shy meeting new people, I’m not comfortable with eye contact, I had very few friends as a child. I loved learning but I hated school, there were far too many people there. I was bullied for being bright. I don’t like social situations, too noisy, chaotic and unpredictable. I hate cities, they make my head “buzz”, too much noise, too many people, too many smells. I love the country though, green, peaceful, solitude. I found it hard to settle into work outside the home. I felt outside the team for a long time. Not quite one of them although none of them gave me reason to think that. I put it down to being a “mature” woman with next to no experience of the workplace with actual work colleagues. I found team working hard, I kept wanting to do it all myself. But hey, I’m normal. Aren’t I?…….. So what is that score of 80% about?
I sent a text to my SALT daughter. What did she think about my score? It turned out that she wasn’t at all surprised. She’d thought I showed autistic traits since she learnt about them at university. My sister, a head teacher with a specialist Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also said she’d thought I leaned that way for a long time.
What? What? Seriously, what? How? I mean…… No. Can’t be. No. Not possible. No.
A couple of days later I had a 3 hour phone call with my daughter. She used phrases I’d never heard. Apparently she thinks my executive functioning is poor. What’s that? Sounds like something from a company board room meeting. She informs me it’s why I struggle stay organised and why the house is always untidy. It’s hard work trying to have a conversation with me. I tend to do monologues rather than 2 way conversations, I don’t know how to take turns, and I keep bringing the topic back to what I want to talk about. I don’t do much eye contact (I’m aware that I tend to recognise people by the mouth area more than eyes). I like to correct people if I think they are wrong about something, and when I’m right I make sure everyone else gets to know it as well. I like rules and I get very upset when people try to break them. I’m truthful, brutally so at times and I hurt feelings by being so blunt at times. I don’t do friends. I do acquaintances, or maybe that could be called structured friendships, for example dog walking friends/acquaintances, there’s a beginning and end to the contact time, and I never ever see any of those people at any time other than when walking the dogs. Same for work friends/acquaintances. Friendwise, as a child I wanted friends, but I had only one in any place, never groups of friends. I found more than one at a time too difficult to cope with. My husband is now my “one”. I’m a geek. I’m good with computers. I “get” maths and I like the solidity and predictability of numbers. I love science. I love technology. When we want to buy something new, I go into research mode. I read all the technical information on the back of brochures and compare different brands and models that way (yes, I really do). I calculate how much they will all cost to run based on our own predicted usage. It becomes my special interest for a week or two until there literally is no more information available for me to read. And then I’m shocked that the sales people don’t seem to know as much as I do and off I go in my head again, they are idiots, it’s so simple, learn about the products you are selling,that’s your job, etc, etc. Of course I don’t usually say that out loud, but I certainly think it.
So, three hours later, my daughter had broken me down into pieces, traits, aspects of personality, call it what you will. In my head I felt like I had been dropped from a great height and my sense of self had shattered like glass on the floor. No matter how I pick up those pieces and try to glue them back together, I will never be the same person. It’s not possible to ever go back to the innocence and ignorance of the few minutes before I somehow got the idea to do an online AQ 10. I am a different person now.
So not only do I feel different now with this new knowledge, I also now know I am physically different. Not in a way you can see by looking at me (except that I’ll give very little eye contact) but I have learnt that my brain is different from the majority of humans. People who fit the profile of a normal person, roughly 99% of the population, are called neurotypical. I am neuro-atypical. I would appear to be on the Autistic spectrum. There, I’ve said it. I probably have Asperger’s syndrome. I’m an Aspie.
I’m still struggling with this. I don’t quite know who I am at this moment in time. Objectively I can see I have many of the traits of a high functioning person with ASD. Subjectively I don’t feel like that. After all, I don’t know any different, I’ve only known my own perspective (oh, and I find it hard to see the view point of other people – so I’ve been told). So I’m having a bit of an identity crisis. And that is why I’m writing this blog. By writing it down I hope to make more sense of things. To come to accept this new identity. To feel less faulty, less defective, to find a way to balance the good and bad traits.
So here goes, step one onto the ladder that will take me up through the 9 degrees of autism. I’m not sure what I’ll write about next time, but I’ll be back in a few days.