You know, I often feel as if there are two of me, and now I know why - there are. I’d like you to meet my Imaginary Self. She’s the one who convinces me that I am who I’m not, that I can do what I can’t, and, as a result, leads me off down rabbit holes which result in frustrating dead ends - not to mention time wasted on yet another distraction, of which my life seems to be one long series.
She’s been with me throughout most of my life, and has become so interchangeable with my true self that I often can’t tell which of us is real, and which the fantasy. Even as I’m writing about ‘her’ now, I’m not quite sure whether I should be referring to her as being the one who has created, and believes, all of this false stuff about myself, and therefore convinces me of it; or whether it’s that I have created her, through the combination of ignorance, confusion, the influence of the neurotypical world, and (in recent times) resistance to accepting being an autistic with adhd, and what that really means. As you can see, she has almost literally taken on a life of her own.
However, this life she imagines is real doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one I inhabit, which is part of the problem - we are frequently in conflict because I cannot live up to her expectations, and she refuses to accept that I can’t do what she wants me to do, rather choosing to believe it’s because I’m refusing to try (that way she retains the illusion of being in control).
I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks, now, and I’ve floundered around in the introduction, attempting to explain what I mean by her, instead of allowing the rest of the post to do that. So I’m going to cut this (relatively) short, and try to be brief and succinct - though that, too, is an example of something my imaginary self can do, and I can’t. Brevity is not my strong point: everything I write requires extensive editing. You should see the draft notes for this post.
1 My Imaginary Self has both autistic and neurotypical wiring, which means that she thinks both autistically and neurotypically. She isn’t clear on the exact details of how this works (details and logic not being her forté, unless it involves getting lost in the minutiae of the English language), just that she believes it does. As such, she thinks she can suppress/control/manage some of her autistic/adhd symptoms by applying some of the neurotypical techniques she has learnt in her extensive research. My real self has been trying to do this for fifty years (unconsciously for the most part): it hasn’t worked yet.
2 As I mentioned above, details and logic are not my forté, but she harbours the illusion that she is a logical, linear, concise, analytical, academic thinker. She’s not. She couldn’t think in a straight line even if she had a ruler, and she cannot get from A to B without having to detour through the rest of the alphabet - usually more than once, and often encompassing the alphabets of any other random languages which might happen to be lying around to distract her (hello Sanskrit).
This illusion is compounded by the fact that she loves writing and everything about the English language, which she mistakenly believes means that she must be academic. It doesn’t, and she’s not. She’s a creative thinker - it’s just taking her a long time to figure this out, because she thinks in words not pictures (though she does paint pictures with words, which confuses her further). Plus, she harboured a dream to go to Oxford University and be a scholar (like her hero, C S Lewis), even though she found school and college incompatible with her personality and mode of learning. In her classically rigid autistic way, she thinks there’s only one way of learning in order to prove your intelligence, which requires the acquisition of a lot of information on a wide range of subjects, most of which actually bore the arse off her.
3 My Imaginary Self is a frustrated musical prodigy. My real self has no musical talent whatsoever. Based on this delusion, I spent one hundred and fifty pounds on a music keyboard to fulfil this supposed lifelong ambition to learn to play the piano, only to find it tedious beyond measure. After hardly using it, I gave it away.
4 This same musical genius also believes that she’s a stifled seamstress waiting to burst forth and make her own clothes, because she thinks this would be easier than having to shop for them. Unfortunately, the real me happens to be as interested in, and adept at, dressmaking as I am spot-welding, and my talent extends only as far as basic repairs, which I procrastinate over doing - a fact I should have taken notice of before I decided to fork out another hundred and fifty quid on a brand new sewing machine, which has now sat, hardly used, in a cupboard for about three years. Another item to be donated.
5 My Imaginary Self believes that putting off doing things will not only be temporary, but also make them easier to do later, when she feels better able to face them. My real self is a chronic procrastinator who just defers action automatically, no reason required. And it never makes it easier, but we always forget that.
6 My Imaginary Self thinks she’s tidy at heart, that being a minimalist would suit her, and this way she would get more writing and art done because this, she has read, is the way to combat clutter, and eliminate distractions. My real self is chaotic, loves collecting and displaying things (like books), but also hoards things which she often doesn’t want to do, but can’t seem to let go of easily (paper, boxes, and containers in particular). She’s attached to things more than people, and she’d panic if she had to live in a home with very little on display to stimulate her senses. And it wouldn’t matter how clinically organised her environment was, something would still distract her - most probably the fact that her environment was too clinically organised.
7 My Imaginary Self thinks she’ll get bored if her choices are limited, so she needs lot of options to assuage my adhd; plus, she thinks this way she can overcome the narrow-focused obsessiveness of my autism, and become a more interesting, fully-rounded person. My real self gets overwhelmed and in a flap if she’s faced with more than one alternative, and will often end up doing nothing at all because her brain has had a mini-meltdown and temporarily stopped functioning. Or she won’t be able to focus on the thing she is doing, because she’ll be wondering whether she should have chosen one of the other options.
8 My Imaginary Self is erudite, and able to express this in a calm, relaxed, thoughtful, measured way when speaking in person to people. My real self either clams up entirely because her mind goes blank when faced with another human being (or is reduced to repeating the few inane bits of small-talk she has learnt to express in such situations), or explodes into full-on twitter like a demented sparrow, where she just cannot shut up, and everything that comes into her head leaks out of her mouth. This is often mistaken for garrulous sociability, when in fact it’s a sign of overstimulation and social anxiety. Her erudition is confined to the written word, and she’s always relieved when she can escape back into blessed solitude.
9 My Imaginary Self chooses the ideas which are useful to her that she allows into her mind, and discards the rest. She can distinguish between what’s meant to be taken literally (not to mention seriously, and personally), and what isn’t. My real self is a sponge - a literal-minded, gullible, easily influenced, sheep-like sponge. And, contrary to what my Imaginary Self believes, she hasn’t got a clue half the time what’s in her own mind, or why she does what she does - except that it’s usually as the result of something she read or heard somewhere…
So, there she is - my Imaginary Self. It took a while to wrangle her onto the page, but she’s there now - in the only place where she does exist, other than my own mind. Now to try to leave her here…
Namaste - I bow to the real you