“The truth will set you free” is an adage in which I firmly believe. I have only to look back at the evidence in my own life to see where this has applied. Time and again it has released me from the frustration and futility of blundering on in the wrong direction, pointing me in the right one, and endowing me with a clarity of vision that would draw from me an oft-heard exclamation along the lines of, “But that’s so obvious. Why couldn’t I see it before?!” Unfortunately the answer to this plaintive question is not so obvious and continues to elude me. I make very slow progress along the path of enlightenment, but now I have another truth I’ve realised, to add to my list of truths, which explains this: I am autistic, and progress means change, and autistics HATE change!
It’s been almost a month now since I was formally diagnosed as having Aspergers, and it hasn’t fully sunk in as to what that really means. It doesn’t quite compute. I haven’t yet managed to process it. It’s still just a word and, as I’m now finding out, whilst I am very good at understanding the literal meaning of words (English was my favourite subject at school) the actual significance of them often eludes me or takes a very long time before understanding dawns. And then it’s just like seeing the truth, as described above: “Why did I not see that before?! That’s so obvious!”
It seems a little illogical to me that, having discovered the truth about myself last year, I should be having some difficulty coming to terms with the formal diagnosis. I do understand that there is a process of acceptance which has to be gone through, but perhaps I have taken too literally the idea that we autistics come from another dimension, and so therefore are a completely different species to the rest of society, immune to all the strange emotional processes that neuro-typicals have to endure. It appears that we are not, which is a bit of a bugger. They just take longer in us, it seems, like everything else!
Perhaps, too, it’s down to the fact that, unlike some aspergers, I haven’t always felt or been aware of the fact that I am odd, that there is something so different about me that sets me apart from other people. My oddness has been masked and hidden (from me at any rate!) behind labels. If I were a suitcase you wouldn’t be able to see me beneath all the labels signposting where I’ve travelled.
Now labels, I know, can be useful. After all if no-one had given a name to the condition we now know as aspergers and autism then people like me would still be being treated with varying degrees of ignorance, not to mention intolerance and the like. And had I not been given the label alcoholic then I would never have found a solution to my drinking.
But they also have their limits, and they can often turn from being an aid to self-knowledge and freedom into a prison cell, especially when you have aspergers and you take everything so literally. So the labels which seemed to pinpoint what was “wrong” with me gradually became barriers to progress and understanding, until it finally became obvious that they did not encompass and explain all of my peculiarities, and the boxes into which I had tried to fit myself were now confining and constricting any growth.
The other barrier which exacerbated this lack of self-awareness was the fact that my life was not exactly “normal”, a fact which seemed to give me a genuine and rational cause to feel different from other children. My mum left when I was seven years old, and I was raised by my dad, a man whom I now believe had aspergers too. He taught my sister and me how to do all the domestic work, and we became his little housekeepers, having to take care of him and ourselves because he couldn’t do it himself. Our daily life involved having to come home from school and do housework and cooking, ready for when he came home from work. Week-ends and holidays were more of the same, with the added “joys” of shopping and laundry. None of my friends lived like this, and nor did they live in houses full of stuff that their parents would not get rid of. By the time I left home there was hardly any room for us to move about, so extreme was my dad’s hoarding.
What I believed was that there was something wrong with my life, and not that there was something odd about me. And the moment I came into contact with therapy (via the psychiatric unit and a rehab unit for my drinking) they added fuel to this fire, and off I went on a journey of self-discovery and psychobabble, ending up more lost and at sea than when I started out! I don’t know whose “self” it was that I discovered, but it certainly wasn’t mine!
And so now here I am, with another label, one which finally fits. Or should I say two, as I have also been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which also fits. It’s a bit like finally finding a pair of jeans that fit perfectly and are just what you were looking for, after years of frustration never finding exactly what you want and having to make do or go without. Now I just have to adapt to the fact that they are the right ones (another change!), stop looking for the flaws in them, and stop trying to compare mine to everyone else’s!
It seems that I have grown so used to being uncomfortable in my own skin (and my ill-fitting jeans!) that I can’t quite get used to the idea that I don’t have to fight any longer to make myself heard, and to find a place for myself in this world. I don’t have to become neuro-typical, or a pale copy of one, in order to be accepted and to be happy. Hell, my misery has always been caused by my constant attempts to fit in and become one of them, whilst the truth was I never did want to be just like everybody else, long before I ever became aware that I wasn’t. I inadvertently lived a lie, which kept me a prisoner.
And the ultimate truth is that God (whoever or whatever you might perceive that to be) accepts and loves me for what I am, because He/She/It created me this way, and if They wanted me to be neuro-typical then I believe that I would have been born that way. But what a boring world it would be if it was only full of them or us! So who am I, or anyone else, to argue with Creation and the infinite variety that springs from It?
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."