Life with A

For years, I didn’t think of myself as being autistic: l just thought I was odd or perhaps, eccentric. Small talk and sociability, which came easily to others, was hard work for me. I would engage in conversation but find I could only discuss intellectual topics like politics. The easy, breezy chatter which was readily available to the rest of humanity seemed to be a gift which I did not possess. I recall being at many parties and uniformly feeling awkward: people raised glasses, chatted, laughed, smiled, and toasted. There I was in the corner of the room, feeling excluded from the flow of conversation, cut off, blockaded.

I find being around other people draining; however, this used to indicate to me that I am just an introvert.  My preference is for quiet spaces, quiet music, quiet pursuits.  I do not have feet that itch to go into the centre of a town unless there is a bookstore or a classical music concert involved. Even then, I am often reluctant to go.

At times, I find interactions with others incredibly difficult. If a situation is completely illogical, it’s tough for me to hide how disconcerted I feel; I have had to learn how to hide my emotions and I am not always successful. Complex emotional scenarios, like those in romantic relationships, often leave me bewildered. Whenever people get angry with me, I find it deeply threatening. I try to avoid confrontations. I do my best to go through checklists of things to do in order to avoid people getting angry at me. I have often felt like a burden on others, as if their happiness hinges on my avoiding dumb mistakes, and the pivot often breaks. There is a disconnect: because I am educated and well read, there is an odd assumption that somehow I should always know better.

Thus the world is a confusing, often terrifying place. I find being in my home office with my books, my cats, my CDs and vinyl records is my sole respite. If another person steps into my office, I feel like my sanctuary has been invaded.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe I am a misanthrope. I mean well. I do my best to be kind. I do my best to cope. This often requires a great deal of effort. I have lived like this for as long as I can remember.

At the suggestion of others, I have tried a variety of “remedies” for my condition: for example, I’ve taken anti-depressants. The drugs only put a floor under my anxiety, and not a particularly strong one. The floorboards were often creaking. Eventually, I stopped taking them and apart from once hallucinating that my cat was a wolf, it was a largely trouble free detox. I can’t say that losing the “floor” was particularly harmful, nor was it beneficial.

I sought counselling. During one session I filled out a questionnaire. Lo and behold, it’s highly likely that I have some form of Aspergers. I am apparently high functioning: this prognosis is based upon my ability to deal with social situations, even though it doesn’t come naturally to me. I even ran for office for three times; probably because there was a purpose in my communications, I found it relatively straightforward to talk to others in that situation. However, my inclination is towards the quiet of open spaces and to get as much peace as I can possibly get.

The world is not geared for someone like me.  I am aware that to do anything in life, you have to “put yourself out there”.  We are pelted with the incessant din of idle chatter. I am certain this is challenging for anyone.  For me, however, it requires an additional layer of determination: I don’t even like using the telephone.

The mismatch between how I am and how the world works sometimes leads to darker thoughts. I recently had a skin blemish which I thought might be cancerous: it was not, but I had to ask myself if it was, how would I feel? If I am really honest, abandoning the struggle that life represents sometimes seems ideal. I recall the anger and upset of others in the face of my incomprehension; there is a part of me that wants to shrink back into the tightest corner to avoid any blowback. It’s perhaps natural to have the desire to disappear.

Matters become even more difficult when those around me don’t understand my motivations.  I want to keep saying, “I am trying.  Please, I don’t mean any offence to you or to anyone.  Can you hear me?”  I am rarely heard. 

I am frequently tired.  I keep myself going with coffee.  Animals are also a source of comfort because they understand with just one gesture or word that one means no harm.  Love on their part is uncomplicated and pure; it’s easy to express it in return.

But this is living with “A”, at least it is as how I define it. Perhaps others have better support structures. Maybe others find help more available: to get a referral from the NHS for a therapist would take years. Apparently Elon Musk is “on the spectrum” too; if so, I don’t recognise it. I worry about offending people; he apparently doesn’t care. I worry about making mistakes, he apparently revels in them. If he too is living with “A”, he clearly feels that money shields him from consequences; he does not have the impulse to care or improve. No one said that having “A” as a constant companion made one a nice person, I suppose.

I have not written this piece to inspire sympathy or pity. Despite my obvious hangups, I have achieved much in life. As previously stated, I ran for office. I have channeled my energies into academic and literary pursuits. When I am focused on a piece of work, I can stick with it for a long time without losing concentration. In a way, the “A” can be a strength.

There are comforts too; when my dog Jenny Penny, a bright-eyed long haired dachshund, climbs onto the sofa beside me and falls asleep, I smile. I hope, however, that anyone who has someone like me in their lives can try to understand that this individual is coping, not thriving, feeling under threat, not comfortable. Maybe, just maybe, that awareness will lead to a bit more kindness.

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