A short piece of writing I recently posted on the writers' website I've gone back to using. I thought I'd post it here in case it's of interest to anyone...
Who's an Autie Boy?
I was finally diagnosed with Asperger's three years ago, aged 56. It's really hard to put across the impact of that. You go through pretty much your whole life - from the age of 5 for me - feeling different. You don't know why you're different. But you are. You can't make friends. You can't make sense of your lessons at school. You can't work to the plan that's laid out for you - the plan that everyone else seems to understand and follow by some kind of magic instinct. But you don't understand it. You try, but you fail. Constantly.
So you have to put up with what goes along with that. Bullying. Ridicule. Being called an idiot. Stupid. Incompetent. Incapable. Dull. Unfriendly. And on and on. And why should you expect anything less? You get things wrong all the time. You can't keep pace. You don't fit in. So maybe that's what you deserve.
There's something wrong with you.
So, you fail at school. You carry that with you into the world of work, where you still don't quite fit. You still feel you're getting laughed at, talked about. You still get things wrong. You still can't make friends. You still don't understand whatever it is that everyone else seems to understand. And the problem is - no one will tell you what it is. It's like a conspiracy going on around you.
You develop tactics to try to deal with this situation. You study others. You try to see what it is they're doing. You try doing it yourself. But somehow, it doesn't work. You get it wrong in some way. You over-compensate. Or you make a fool of yourself. You get your leg pulled all the time because you're an easy target for leg-pullers. You're a cat in a world of dogs. You try your hardest to be a dog. But you're a cat. And all the dogs are looking at you and not seeing you as a cat at all - but as a poor excuse for a dog.
So you try something else. You become a people-pleaser. You agree with what the purple people are saying one day, to keep in with them. Then, the next day, you agree with what the green people are saying. Then the blue people. And so on. You have these conflicts going on in your head, because you think some of what the purple people are saying is wrong. But you don't want to upset them. Likewise, with the others. And then one day you end up not really knowing what you know. It's all confusing. There are all these different wiring arrangements and cross-patches and conflicting codes... and none of it makes any sense. And in trying so hard to please everyone, you end up displeasing the one person who really - in essence - matters. Yourself. You feel like a cipher. Or a puppet, with your strings pulled in all directions at once.
You go from job to job to job - never sticking around for too long because you invariably end up with too many people not liking you for one reason or another. Maybe you just don't seem friendly enough. Maybe you don't enjoy the gossip. Maybe you don't fit with any of the cliques. You never seem to progress with anything because you're not in anything long enough. And so you go on, through life, finding the whole thing a puzzle. You take refuge wherever you can. Often, in a room by yourself with your head buried in your special interest. Computer gaming. Reading. Writing. Collecting car registration numbers. Whatever. You might even turn to something that gives a bit of relief from the weirdness, and the anxiety it all causes. Some form of self-medication (because the prescribed kind never seems to work). Something that makes you feel more like you can fit in. Or something that makes you not care less that you can't.
And so you wind up at a certain age - perhaps middle-age - and you look back at it all and wonder what it was all about. And you wonder if the rest of it is going to be any better. You have a bit more wisdom and insight now - you can pass yourself off out there with reasonable authenticity because of what you've observed and learned. But you're still different. And you still don't know why. But you have to go on. Because what else is there? You don't know if it can get better without trying it. But your past record doesn't give you much hope.
And then, one day, something remarkable happens. Thanks to an observant therapist, an open-minded GP and an expert clinical psychologist, you wind up with a piece of paper that changes your life. Your autism diagnosis. The answer to all these problems and difficulties and confusions is suddenly right there in your hand. It's like the Turing machine that has been running in your head for the best part of your life has finally stopped. The tumblers have all fallen into place. The Enigma code of your life has been broken.
It's double-edged, of course. Yes, you can now make sense of your life and go forwards with it more confidently in your new-found knowledge. On the other side of it, you cannot help but look back - with far more of your life behind you than remains ahead of you - and wonder What if?
What if I hadn't been born this way at all? What if I'd been diagnosed as a child (all the pointers were there) and got the appropriate support at the time? What if? What if? What if?
It's the 'what ifs', though, that will kill you. You have no choice about it now. As Kierkegaard said:
'Life can only be understood backwards. But it has to be lived forwards.'
So that's what you have to do. Live forwards.
And hope it gets better.
So much resonance here.. I have so much to say... but I can't right now, so what I will say is
Thank you x
Wonderful Tom, reading that brought a tear to my eye (figuratively and literally).
Your feel for metaphors that explain the experience clearly is really quite something (I'm afraid I may have to steal some of them!). Your concise sentences, free of sub-clause gymnastics makes it a very engaging read, too (I always notice this because I'm so terrible at it (and I must do something about these damned parentheses of mine (I've been a programmer for too long!), I just can't help myself) - and I'm going to shoot myself if I use the word "actually" one more damned time in a post this year!)
Literary criticism aside, there's barely a word that I can't immediately identify with. You've captured really well the absence of a feeling of agency that masking all the time can lead to. The Kieregaard quote couldn't be more apt for describing the double-edged sword of finally finding the answer. As the old chestnut goes; hindsight is an exact science. It's also a cliche that Aspies much prefer their analytical "exact sciences" to ambiguity. Is this just coincidence, or does our need to analyse the world so much so that we can mimic it make us more prone to dwell on the past?
You have it in you to write a very well received book about the experience of late-diagnosed autism, I think; should that be something that you'd consider.
(Thanks to DC, too - if you hadn't "liked" Tom's post while I was typing, I'd never have seen the "Like" button to be able to click on it!)
P.S. Cracking pun for a title, too!
Thank you so much for posting this Tom.
I agree with everything Lou13 and Trogluddite have said.
This really is an incredible piece of writing. Reading it will help a lot of people.
I don't know how to edit an original post. But I'd just like to add another line at the end...
'And maybe, now, it will...'
I like what you wrote. and it fits me. perfectly. i wish i could copy it and put it on my fb