Colds and Coming Out of the Neurodiverse Closet
I haven’t been sick in at least four years. I used to credit that to my amazing immune system, but now I think it had more to do with the fact that I spent the majority of my days in the small, private-practice dental office that employed between 10–12 people. Now, I have a cold, and the only thing that’s changed is I now work in a large office with lots of people who touch things all day.
I have been a little slower this week as a result, due in part to the heaviness in my head and in part to the deleterious effect DayQuil has on my brain. More than once, someone asked me a question or tried to explain something to me only to be met with a blank stare. More than once, Mitra (my fellow editor-in-crime) cocked her head to the side and asked, “Does that make sense?” Luckily, I was able to just blame my overall aloofness on the cold and its related drugs, ad luckily, they’ve seen my work and already know I know my shit. I also noticed my reading comprehension was suffering and Mitra was catching a lot of things I missed when proofing my edits. I really hope I’m better next week (I don’t see any reason why I won’t be).
I am reminded of the blog I read by musingsofanaspie about being “not ‘a little slow.'” I’ve had those experiences more times than I can count when not suffering a cold. My boyfriend was a regular offender until I flipped out on him one day for always following explanations with, “Does that make sense?” Yes, I’m not stupid; it’s just multitasking for me to remind myself to do things like nod and say, “ok,” and “right,” while someone is talking lest they think I’m deaf or uncomprehending. Also, my concentration face apparently looks more like a confused face, so I have to constantly remind myself to relax my facial muscles when listening to someone.
I guess I will consider this blog to be my “coming out of the neurodiverse closet” post. I first really started to learn about Aspergers Syndrome and high-functioning autism while doing an assignment for a clinical psychology class during my graduate program in which we had to choose a movie with psychological elements and use it as the basis for a research paper. I chose Mary and Max, an Australian clay-mation film about a man with AS and a lonely little girl who started an unlikely pen-pal relationship with him. Halfway through he movie, I thought it was all about social anxiety disorder (which I have), so I’d been taking all these notes in relation to that to start my paper, and then the real diagnosis was revealed. Granted, I am not completely like Max, but so much of what he said hit home, and I started immediately to read everything I could on the topic after watching the film twice more and subsequently reading the script. Then, I started collecting peer-reviewed studies to use for my master’s thesis on the widely understudied gender differences in autism phenotype. Suddenly, every issue I’d ever had growing up and still deal with daily was explained. It had a name.
Kind of. It’s been almost a year since I graduated, and I have not sought formal diagnosis for many reasons: 1.) I was broke and it is not a cheap undertaking, and 2.) I can’t find anyone who appears to be knowledgeable in that area of diagnosis with adult women (I didn’t even know about it until halfway through my own graduate program in psychology!) 3.) Living in the U.S., I am very aware of how shockingly low our country rates in the health care arena, and even with the Affordable Care Act, which is wildly unpopular among Republican politicians, loss of health care access is a very real concern.
I wish it weren’t an issue though, because I feel like I really need a professional to tell me this is not all in my head. That there’s a reason why small talk terrifies me—why I hate busy shopping malls and loud music and clubs and crowds in general. Why I don’t really “hang out” with anyone on weekends and not having a bunch of friends is not a problem for me. Why I am always bouncing my legs, picking my skin, swiveling in m chair, biting my lip, rubbing my hands, twisting my fingers, stretching, twirling my hair, or rubbing my lip. Why eye contact is so intense and I have to remind myself to look up at and stop looking past people while I talk and try not to stare at their teeth so much. Why I didn’t grasp the concept of show-and-tell in elementary school or why a dirty, battered teddy bear could possibly be “very special” to someone, or why no one clapped at the conclusion of my showing of the dictionary I brought twice. Why I laugh at jokes I don’t get and have to Google popular expressions or have someone explain. Why I get enjoyment out of reading The Chicago Manual of Style (no, this is not a book about fashion in Chicago) at work and why the most exciting thing about being a graduate alumnus is my lifetime access to PubMed. Why I get lost so easily and refuse to drive downtown by myself and had to GPS my boyfriend’s parents’ house literally the first 15 times I drove there myself, even though they live less than five minutes away. Why I am never interested in what typical females talk about and have no clue how to shop for fashionable clothes or do anything at all with my hair besides up, down, or bun. Why I can never seem to use the appropriate voice volume. Why the worst thing about someone I know losing a loved one is that I am unable to form words of condolence that don’t sound rehearsed or copied and I am terrified they might want to talk about it and I that I won’t look empathetic enough, so I avoid reaching out to them altogether. Why I am so smart academically but will also believe almost anything someone tells me (see: not getting jokes). Why I got the highest grade in my high school AP English classes but failed the AP exam, or why I spent almost 7 years as an undergraduate and wasted tens of thousands of borrowed dollars taking unnecessary classes because they “looked interesting.” Why I seem to hit it off with a new person I meet but then we never end up becoming friends, or we exchange contact information but no contact ever takes place, or I contact them and am ignored. Why my peers at work hit it off and end up hanging out on weekends but I am always just the work acquaintance nobody even friend requests on Facebook. Why I couldn’t cry at my friend’s funeral in 9th grade after he shot himself in the head despite that I was sad, or why I do tear up every time when watching the newer Alice in Wonderland when Alice starts rehearsing her “six impossible things” while slaying the jabberwocky. Why people tell me to “stop smiling” when telling an upsetting story, and people I used to work with nicknamed me “Tourette’s” because of my unpredictable facial expressions, and friends (I do have a few, and I’ve known them all for 15+ years) still call me Eeyore because of my monotone voice. I apparently smiled while breaking up with a boyfriend who then called me “cold and callous.” I had another one tell me I never open up. My current one tells me I am unaffectionate. A guy I dated in high school told me I didn’t ask enough questions about him and therefore didn’t care (I did care; I was practically obsessed with the guy), so when I started making it a priority to ask more questions, he told me I was “asking the wrong ones.” Why I stutter when trying to answer a question on-the-spot but can communicate it so eloquently in writing. Why I can never tell when it’s my turn to speak. Why it sometimes takes me a long time to answer a question in general, leaving an awkward pause. Why I always felt different from my peers. Why I’m 30 but my brain is still in denial about being a real “grown-up.” Why I still throw temper tantrums when pushed past that limit where I say “stop.”
Why I don’t wish I were any different.