All of my life, I knew that I was different. I basically functioned by watching others to learn appropriate responses.
When I went to grade school at the age of 6, I was often left out. Not chosen for teams. Basically looked over. I was a very quiet child, so that comes as no great surprise.
I often sat alone with a book. That’s when I became a voracious reader I guess. By staring down at a book, I was not likely to be bothered, or asked questions. Or expected to act in a certain way.
I really wanted to be invisible.
The world was a confounding place for me. It seemed to me that others had been given a life manual at birth, and I had somehow been skipped over.
How did other people know how to act, how to respond? When to laugh, when to cry? Why a joke was funny? What sarcasm was? How to read others’ facial expressions?
This led me to live in my head much of the time. It is where I learned to write. It became my way to communicate. It became my safe place.
Today has been a deal changer for me.
I have had emails wondering what’s wrong. Am I okay? You all know me well. I have always been pretty transparent here, and in that vein, I am going to tell you what I learned yesterday.
First, I have been given various mental illness diagnoses for 30 years. I have gone from town to town, office to office, with an ever growing chart. I have been given psychiatric drugs to help me function in life.
But basically it has not changed my behavior of living in isolation. Or helped my fear of social situations. Even those with my own family. Maybe especially with my own family.
Four or five years ago, a member of my maternal family, the only one I still have communications with and who is my age, mentioned that she always felt I had Aspergers. She was around me more than anyone else when we were children. As an educator and principal, she had dealt with a lot of children.
I pushed this notion aside. I had been given all sorts of psychiatric diagnoses. Why rock the boat? I was in the middle of trying to end my marriage. There was too much to think about. But it stayed in the back of my mind.
Last week I got up the nerve to take a battery of tests. I was tired of feeling like I lived on one side of a fence, and everyone else, or so it seemed to me, lived on the other side. And I did not know how to bridge the barrier.
And so yesterday I got the results. My friend Kay, a retired social worker, went with me for support.
I have autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. I say autism because the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” is being done away with. And instead will just fall into the spectrum of autism. Or ASD. Which stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder.
This happens about four times more often with males than females. I am in the minority there.
In some ways I am relieved. I finally fit somewhere.
In some ways I am horrified. How did it happen that I came to this point in my life and just now find this out? Something so utterly life changing.
If I was a child in a school system today, it likely would have been picked up early. There would be programs at my disposal. Ways of learning how to deal with the deficits.
And so what ensued was a lifetime of trying to look normal, trying to do and say the right thing at the right time. Trying to fit in.
But I never really did.
This explains much to me of my absent mother, a person I met a total of three times in my life. Many suggest there is a genetic component. I have not looked into that avenue yet. I knew something was wrong, very wrong, with her. I just didn’t know what it was.
Never having met my father, I don’t know much of anything about him. Didn’t know my siblings.
I live my life trying to avoid the things I cannot tolerate. Noise, crowds, traffic. It is sensory overload for me.
I have worked at jobs for a few months at a time, but my tendency toward compulsiveness and being so concrete made it difficult for me to follow instruction. I was disturbed and distracted by noises no one else seemed to hear. It just never worked out.
Which always made me feel like such a failure. Other people did it. What was wrong with me? I became depressed as a result and had no self-confidence.
I have lived within the confines of a very small world. I avoid groups and social contact. I never attend holiday dinners. I walk across the street if I see someone I know walking toward me without giving it any thought. What if I do or say the wrong thing? Easier to not be seen at all.
Still wanting to be invisible.
I am happiest when being with the pupsters, or being on the computer, or dabbling in my gardens. Things I do alone.
The things he said yesterday; it all finally made sense. The things that baffled me about myself, for so many years, now finally answered.
The relationships that faded, the friends who went away. My inability to understand why.
So I looked across at this psychologist who compiled this data of me, and I said: “So all this time that I have been labeled with these other diagnoses, it was untrue?”
“That’s right,” he said. “You do not have those other things. You never did.”
Spring is just around the corner. I will be taking photos of my beloved outdoor birds. Happily tending my container gardens. Being out in the fresh air.
And maybe I can finally forgive myself for feeling like I just don’t have what it takes to be normal. For being different.
Perhaps the word “normal” is simply a misnomer anyway.
We all have a story. This is mine. A life of missteps. Bad decisions. Broken and strained relationships. A fractious relationship with my adult children, which I hope to mend.
I wrote this because there are probably many other people out there, people you know and possibly love, who are walking around with labels. And maybe they aren’t the correct ones. Maybe that person is even you.
Don’t live underneath the umbrella of a label if you believe it to be untrue. I don’t care how many years down the road you have carried it on your back.
If you have had any dealings with this, any information for me, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Otherwise, I know, come hell or high water, that you all have been there for me through the years. Through all the things that have happened, you have always expressed your concern. That means a lot to me. Accepting me as I am.
And for that I thank you.
There is sunshine outside. I am going to go outside and stand in its warmth.