Saturday, July 13, 2019

Part 2 of 2

Signs/symptoms that showed I had autism”: Facebook introduced me to Robert, a young man from Wales who also shared my obsessive interest in the program Archer. I didn’t know he was Autistic until he posted a meme about the unique ways Autism can manifest which aren’t part of the stereotype; the one that shocked me was about sock seams. Horrible, horrible sock seams. My old foe—the battles I would give to avoid wearing the cheap, abrasive socks my parents bought with those massive, agonizing seams that made me scream in pain and fear. This stunned me; I thought everyone screamed in pain at the rubbing seams of awful socks. I can’t remember why it stopped being a problem. Was this part of my personality makeover? Was I so scared of my dad “giving me something to cry about” that suffering in silence was preferable?
My head spun as I realized I had a huge hole in my memory—what had happened? And how did autism come into all this? According to those news programs my grandparents watched Sunday evening, Autism was sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth. Autism was playing a piano concerto perfectly at first reading or drawing cityscapes from memory. Autism was screaming kids wearing helmets, strapped down to their beds to keep them from wandering off, or old people with vacant eyes who spent their whole lives in the care of the state, shuffling silently around a locked ward. I wanted nothing to do with this, but the genie was out of the bottle. I had to know more.Robert was amazed that I didn’t realize I was probably Autistic—he’d figured it out long before through nothing but our rapid-fire, word-for-word recitation of whole scenes of dialogue in Archer and The Simpson’s. The kind of recall for which Autistics are legendary. I said there was no way I was autistic because everyone knew that only boys have Autism. Same with ADHD: this was a boy’s only club. Now, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists diagnosed me with Depression, OCD, Anxiety, a smidge of Multiple Personality Dissociative Disorder, an Electra Complex, and even had one therapist suggest that what I needed was a good screw—but not once had anyone ever said anything about Autism. Once I started to dig into it, it was like falling down a rabbit hole: walking on tiptoes; unusually intense interests; social ostracism; a desperate need for control and stability; extreme reactions or underreactions to sensory input; explosive, uncontrollable reactions to an overload of sensation or strong emotion; repeated activities which soothe, etc.

Learning about what the Autism Spectrum actually is, versus what is sufficiently comedic or dramatic for the purposes of Hollywood, was way more than a terrifying, infuriating fall down a rabbit hole; this was now a Neo-Meets-Morpheus, “what if I told you…?” moment that ended in a hollow, betrayed feeling of “how the f*ck did no one see this? Am I that unimportant, even for the people in schools whose entire job is to find kids who have a disorder or condition?”
Upon reflection, I had to say that I either wasn’t that important to anyone who had a chance to make a difference when it counted the most, or I needed someone who understood what they were seeing, and that certainly wasn’t the anyone in the employ of a public school.

How I felt when I first received my diagnosis: My first feeling was surprise; after my assessment I spent the ensuing weeks telling myself that there wasn’t a chance I would be so fortunate as to have a good reason for being such a dismal failure in life. I knew I fit much of the diagnostic criteria, but would the neuropsychologist also figure that out? And just how much of the diagnostic criteria was necessary to make the jump from “neurotic head-case” to “Autistic”?My friend Robert insisted that if even half of what I described was true, there was no question that I was Autistic. Even so, I pointed out that if no one cared about my difficulties back when I couldn’t hide them, why would anyone care now since I knew how to fake normalcy? After all, who would ever know the difference if even I didn’t realize I’d trained myself to override my natural thought process and instincts with another, learned set of behaviors? But while the Autism diagnosis wasn’t entirely a shock, the diagnosis of combined-type Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder was a total surprise. I just thought I was scatterbrained and probably a bit below average intelligence since I needed so much more time to learn a new concept or to get anything done.

How I feel about my diagnosis today: I am honestly amazed that I am still alive. Now that I understand that some or most of my spectacularly bad judgement comes from a brain not firing fast enough to get that life-saving second thought to the front of my mind before my very fast impulsive thoughts become actions, I realize that I have been very, very lucky. As I said earlier, if most people understood the self-destructive nature of ADHD, more people would be clamoring for a cure. With no diagnosis I took on every criticism as an assessment of my value as a human being, every insult as fact, every failed attempt at friendship or romance as a reminder of the obvious: I was a biological error. A mistake. Or possibly, with my terrible coordination, utter lack of charisma, and pronounced obesity—literally cursed. But according to everyone who could have helped me, there was nothing wrong with me that couldn’t be fixed through a little hard work and perseverance on my part; and even though there was so much to fix, all the cruel bullying was good for me—they were reminders that I’ve forgotten something that I’m supposed to do. I should be glad that someone cared enough to point it out in a memorable way.

Obstacles I have faced & Overcame in life are: My most consistent obstacle is bullying: no matter what, no matter where, bullies will find Autistics. I am a satisfying target, being tall, heavy, incredibly gullible, and very easy to work into an ADHD meltdown, or a dissociative Autistic shutdown.

How have I gotten through them? Well, mostly luck or pity, I think. My mother’s second husband was the worst bully I’ve known to date, but what agony I endured from his forced eye-contact, his rages at me for hints he dropped that I missed, his demand that all my stimming behaviors ceased, among the many other horrors I endured, nothing has been quite as cathartic and liberating as seeing him brain dead after an unexpected seizure. Not everyone is so lucky as to have the embodiment of their misery drop dead, but I won’t lie about it—my life became so much better once that man was dust in an urn.
I do still have nightmares about him though, so his damage lives on. In time I hope it will fade.    

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