I discovered I was autistic two weeks ago. Since that day I've spent much of my time in a frantic state of overwhelm, swinging rapidly between elation that I finally have an answer and bitterness that life will always be filled with misunderstandings. My world has been chaotic for the best part of seventeen years. I've searched and reached for answers that seemingly never came. Mum always knew there was something not quite right. She asked for help but for various reasons I became lost in the system. The idea that I might be autistic is something I have considered during the past couple of years while I awaited my assessment, but not wanting to jinx the outcome, I never looked into how it might present in myself or what a diagnosis might mean for my life. The only thing I knew was that school was horrendous and I wanted closure from some of the things I went through. I wanted to know why I was so misunderstood in school and why the world in general seems like such a frightening place. Why I feel a childlike need to retreat into the safety of my home and hide under the duvet so often. Am I depressed? I would ask myself every so often. I don't feel depressed.
But now I have the diagnosis, an abundance of information has gripped me, forcing me to understand much more about myself. The reasons for needing the safety of home. The endless retreating. The never belonging. I have found myself in tears most days these past few weeks as I find out autism is the reason for pretty much all my daily struggles. Tears of joy, you see. Joy and relief that I have a tangible answer in my hand, shimmering and flittering in its first light. This feeling of being unable to cope and feeling inherently unsafe, The world is a scary place, you know. There is too much happening. Too many thing we are supposed to pick up on and know. Too many rules to follow.
I have been bubbling with information trying to push its way out of me, but who wants to listen to me drone on about it all day? Although, my mum has sat patiently on the other end of the phone multiples times since my diagnosis as I've monologued about my findings. I'm thinking of writing a one woman show titled 'the tale of an obsessive narcissist'. Thankfully the diagnosis was as much as relief for her - if not more so - as it was for me, so she is interested in sharing my newly acquired knowledge.
I laid in bed this morning, considering my frustration as being unable to express everything I have learned, before I realised that I should use my most cathartic tool in order to get it all out and make sense of it. Once the idea pinged to life in the form of a lightbulb over my head I positively jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. I'd love to tell you that I went straight to the sofa to retrieve my laptop, but I'm not a complete maniac. First things first; a glass of water, ingest my tablets, boil kettle whilst I wee and brush my teeth, before a mug of coffee, one scoop normal, one scoop decaf, no milk, in the Winnie the Pooh mug my fiance, Kieren, gave me last year for Christmas. It is my morning mug the one I drink from when I have nothing to leave the house for. I have a Chip mug from Beauty and the Best for mornings when I have to go to work, I only put one scoop in him, he's much smaller. And I have another honey pot, Winnie the Pooh mug that I use for the swathes of decaf coffee I drink during days chained to my desk, writing my novel, doing uni work, but mostly procrastinating on Instagram. This is all very important, and Kieren no longer offers to make my coffee for me in the morning.
So, my first blog about ASD. What should my topic be? I've decided on the photographic memory. Or at least, a brain that produces memories as though they are happening right here, right now. My memory for detail is wonderful when Kieren loses his keys or when I've misplaced my shopping list. It is less than wonderful when painful memories are thrown at me to dodge like a rogue boomerang. Most days I am reminded of the time I was beaten up in school, or the time I started my period on the school bus. They happen in real time, like a flashback, I relive every emotion, every feeling. It is exhausting and it is painful. I spend a lot of time angry over things that happened up to twenty years ago. I spend a lot of time on the brink of tears due to a memory of a dream I had when I was fifteen in which my mother fell out of a window and died. Or the time when I ran away from dad to get drunk and left him standing at the side of the road (SOB - this is a particularly painful memory for me). My connections to people and objects are so viscerally strong that the slightest imagined negative that might happen to someone or something I love is too much to bear. If I forget to put the usual two kisses at the end of a text to my mother, I panic in case she thinks I don't love her anymore. The positive quality to all this is that I am brought to tears every time I remember the night Kieren became my fiance. Each and every Christmas is tucked away inside my brain, ready to be whipped out and basked in. All I have to do is think about the smell of the mountain air as I drove through Arthur's Pass and I am immediately transported back to my trip through New Zealand. The little boy I took care of still lives on in my memory, forever a giggling two-year-old, as vivid as the day I last saw him, six years ago.
I think the hardest thing about these flashbacks is that no-one on the outside knows what is happening in this little brain of mine. How could anyone know that I've just relived the time my mother had to retrieve my sister's dead rabbit from the jaws of the dog I failed to look after? There is a common misconception that those on the spectrum have no empathy. My experience is quite the opposite, and upon researching the experience of others, I have found it to be untrue for not just myself. Perhaps due to the profoundly sensitive nature of our condition, we find our empathy is overwhelmingly intact. I often find myself blocking out the pain of others because I simply cannot carry another ounce of feeling. Feelings that are difficult to decipher at the best of times. It is too easy to be in their shoes. Incidents that happened when I was a child, my parents can no longer even remember, yet I hold that memory in my heart, to be paraded invasively through my thoughts at the most inappropriate of times. Forgiveness is too hard. I hold grudges that I'd much rather be without because the pain of the misdeed lasts forever.
This post might feel maudlin, depressing, but for me it is finally understanding. It feels like a light has switched on in my life, illuminating everything for the first time. Now I have the knowledge, I can change things for the better. I can equip myself with the distractions and comforts I need to get through. I'm finally armed with the tools I have always needed.