I have Aspergers.
I’ve been obsessed with this topic ever since halfway through my master’s degree program, when I was first introduced to the notion that autism isn’t only for people who can’t talk and spend their days punching holes in walls. I’m not trying to be mean here; I have a cousin who has autism and that was what she was doing when I first met her (punching walls/biting her own arm).
It’s funny (funny ironic, not funny haha). I have done those things, and still do. I am told of how hilarious my brother and aunt thought it was when they would push me to the edge with taunting and I would stiffen up like a board and throw myself head-first onto the floor of our living room—over and over—seemingly without feeling any pain. They would get a good laugh and I would retreat to my room after to stare at the wall in silence for I don’t know how long. I was no stranger to biting myself when significantly frustrated/angry. Always in the same place, on the meaty part of my hand. Something about the pressure seemed (seems) to calm me down a little bit.
I remember once, when I was 14, my mom coming into my room where I was sitting on my bed, talking to my friend, and slapping me across the face. I have no idea what I did, but apparently, it was disrespectful.
Since I made this discovery over a year ago, I was happy—maybe not happy per se, but relieved that there was an explanation for why I always felt so different and so confused.
I was also partly in denial. I can’t have this thing, because if I did, someone would’ve noticed. Someone would’ve noticed and I would’ve been referred to someone.
Except I was. My family grew tired of my frequent emotional outbursts and my middle school depression and I saw two professionals—a nice, soft-spoken counselor who diagnosed me as being a “teenage girl” and psychiatrist who misdiagnosed me with bipolar disorder (which my dad has). I have never, ever had a manic episode.
The point of this post was not to start talking about all the reasons why I know I have Aspergers. I was in denial before slightly, but the other night, while trying, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep, it all came pouring down on me. Every telltale childhood sign, every bout of genuine confusion, and the clarity with which I observed that somehow adults are able to live their daily lives and do productive things even when in the midst of experiencing extremely emotional life events without completely losing their shit and melting down in public, when I cannot. I was happy before because I had an explanation. The one-sidedness of my conversations, my hyperlexia, my inability to do even the simplest hair and makeup styles, my obsession with medieval fantasy and vampires (the cool ones, NOT the ones that fucking sparkle), my pedantic correction of peoples’ errors in grammar and mispronunciation of words or incorrect rendering of song lyrics and movie/TV show quotes, my ability to watch The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland over and over and over on a loop—and then the painful memories. The feeling of confusion and dread when faced with situations where I am expected to just find people and make normal conversation. Showing up at school early; I would hide in a bathroom stall or behind a building, or in the woods behind the school. My struggles with understanding math verbally and having to take summer school in 9th grade even though I secretly enjoyed math, but didn’t understand the way it was being taught at the time (I excelled at geometry, and later, statistics). How upset I was when I failed the AP English exam—twice—despite having the highest (or at least among the highest) grade in my actual AP classes. (I ran out of time during the reading comprehension sections). Thousands of other just plain painful memories came flooding back to me—my rape when I was 25 and the fact that I smile inapproprately when telling someone about yet become overcome with emotion while watching The fucking Chronicles of Narnia with my fiancé—and I lie awake wondering how in the hell was something not noticed? I had more than one parent-teacher conference about my being withdrawn and too quiet and not fitting in. Anyway, I didn’t sleep well the other night. It was all flooding to me. One massive wave of a lifetime of confusion and incompetency. WHEN will I feel like a grown-up? I feel like a perpetual 22-year-old stuck in the body of a rapidly-aging 30-year-old with zero conception of office politics who is just terrified that I will commit a social faux pas that will eventually cost me this new job I love so much (I’m an editor), mostly of course syllabi.
I broke down and cried. Quietly, of course, because I didn’t want to attract the attention of my new fiancé. Why? Why can’t I just be normal?
Actually, no. I like who I am. But I wish this had been recognized sooner. I wish I’d had access to the supports young women have today who are recognized in time. Or do I? I don’t know. I don’t know how much different my adolescence would’ve been had I known, and I certainly would not have wanted to be placed in special ed. I was smart. AP smart and math stupid, but geometry and statistics smart. I actually like algebra, when it makes sense. Hyperlexic. Appalled to discover, when I started kindergarten, that most of my classmates barely knew the alphabet or how to write their names legibly while I was reading books. Writing chapters of fiction in a composition book when I was as young as 8. Tutoring my brother, seven years older than I, in English. The fact that using the word “me” just then in place of the overly pedantic although grammatically correct “I” would’ve been physically painful. “She’s just shy,” or “She’s a sneaky girl,” or “she’s obviously lying,” because eye contact was hard for me.
I broke down. Why did no one notice? It was so obvious! It should’ve been, anyway.