I’ve spent most of my life feeling out of place. Sometimes I felt like an alien, a visitor from another world, sometimes it seemed like I was floating above my body, watching someone else live their life. I spent my high school years isolated, only interested in books or the fantasy worlds in my imagination. When I got to university I made an effort to change things- I went to parties, I started drinking, I tried to make friends, I got a boyfriend. I tried to do normal things, but it didn’t last long. I started avoiding going to lectures because I couldn’t face leaving the house, sleeping all day, cancelling plans with friends, and I had intense angry outbursts over nothing. I cried on the bus, I screamed at my boyfriend in public, I thought about killing myself, and I talked to psychologists, lots of them.
It took six years for me to get a diagnosis that made sense- high functioning autism/Asperger’s. The more I read about it, the better it fit. In some ways I was relieved- finally I had an explanation for why I had always struggled so much, even when I tried so hard. Finally I had a reason for why I wasn’t normal, why I’d been called weird, antisocial, cold, and crazy. But on the other hand, it also made me question my identity- almost everything that I’d considered unique or special about myself could be considered an autism trait.
You’ve probably seen these lists before, but I wanted to write my own.
- I like doing things alone, and I don’t often get lonely
- I need a lot of time alone to recover/recharge
- I have difficulty expressing emotions- I’ve been called ’emotionless’ many times
- I’m bad at identifying my own feelings- sometimes I won’t know I’m upset until I’m literally crying
- I have difficulty expressing empathy, even though I consider myself an empathetic person
- I have difficulty picking up what other people are feeling
- I find most physical touch from other people incredibly painful- haircuts and having people touch my head are literally torturous
- I find physical sensations (eg. from clothing, sheets, jewellery) very irritating- I have to wear soft, loose or stretchy clothing, I find wearing bras painful
- I’m very sensitive to temperature, particularly cold
- I’m very sensitive to noises
- I feel like I’m always putting on an act, pretending to be normal- and I often practice this act when I’m alone. I practice facial expressions in the mirror, and I write out entire conversations
- I spend a lot of time studying other people, reading about social interactions
- I’m really bad at listening, I have problems processing speech- I always watch TV with subtitles, and I prefer to read lecture notes rather than listen to lectures
- I find boredom torturous- listening to someone speak about something I’m not interested in makes me want to scream
- I’m super clumsy and bad at all sports
- I don’t lie, and I don’t understand why other people do
- I get obsessed with things- my ongoing obsession is with books
- I spend a lot of time daydreaming, living in fantasy worlds
- I find it difficult/painful to make eye contact with anyone
- I hate crowds and busy places, I find them overwhelming
- I have severe anxiety every day- about leaving the house, making a phone call, taking public transport
- I have an intense sense of justice and fairness- I’m passionate about education equality and animal welfare
- I fidget a lot
- I have difficulty recognising people and faces- I find it difficult to follow movies/TV shows with lots of characters that look similar
- I’m constantly making plans and backup plans, and I can’t deal with things that don’t follow one of my plans
- I like to be in control, I don’t like to leave things up to chance, and I don’t like letting someone else take the lead- this is also why I don’t drink or do drugs, because I can’t handle not being in control of myself
- I have meltdowns or panic attacks when something goes wrong
- I’m not good with group conversations, I usually go silent
- I find it impossible to focus on a task, unless it’s something I’m really interested in. I get distracted easily
- I never relax, I’m always stressed- which manifests as constant headaches and neck pain
- I find it difficult to observe normal self-care and hygiene routines
- I’m creative- I paint, draw, and write
So, if all of these things are common traits for people with high functioning autism, where does that leave me? I’m an autistic person, but is that all? What else is there? Who am I?
I don’t have any answers yet, and I suspect it’ll be a long journey.